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It's Not the Size of the Boat (It's the Motion of the Ocean)

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"So, Steve. Could you tell me how this started?"

Steve frowned. He was sure that Dr. Faustus had his file, had probably read it back to front, so he must've known the circumstances that surrounded Steve's transformation. Tony made sure that he knew, actually. Steve had thought he was coming to SHIELD for a different kind of visit entirely before he ran into Tony on his way out of the mansion and Tony had wished him luck on his psych eval.

When Steve looked surprised, because Director Fury hadn't mentioned that at all, Tony had blinked at him owlishly before he said something about Fury wanting to make sure that Captain America was okay with being "small and fey again" and that Steve wasn't going to jump off the top of the tower at any given moment.

Steve knew that Fury was just being practical. It was what any commander would do for a soldier who had been through 'traumatic events' such as this. Still, it pissed him off a little bit that Fury thought he had to lie to him, even if it was only a lie of omission. Did he think that Steve wouldn't be able to handle it?

Was this how people would always view him from now on?

"Well, as you know Loki has been a rather unfortunate recurrence in our lives the past several months..."

"Brother! Desist this childish behaviour immediately!"

Thor's voice boomed from the sky and Steve looked up to catch Loki grin up at his brother evilly and raise a hand, which was crackling with brilliant green energy. He ran forward, getting enough momentum to jump up and land on the side of an overturned bus.

"Loki!" Steve shouted, trying to catch his attention and give Thor some time. "Under the authority given to me by the United States Army you are under--" Loki's head whipped around and the next thing Steve knew he was on his back in the middle of the street and everything was quiet.

"...eve? Steve! Can you hear me?"

"He's down for the count, I think."

"Well, don't poke him. Or slap him either, jesus. The guy was just knocked off a bus!"

"I can't believe he's so tiny. Is this what he looked like before?"

"You did read the files Fury gave you, right? They're not just acting as the world's most ineffective doorstop?"

"Pipe down, you two. The last thing he needs is to wake up to your bickering on top of what's happened to him."

The voices were familiar but they sounded far off, as though he was underwater. As Steve tried to open his eyes the rest of his body woke up and throbbed. He groaned.

"He's coming around, give him some-- Stark!"

Warm hands cradled his face gently and Steve's eyes fluttered open. He looked up and instantly squeezed his eyes shut again. The sun was still high in the sky so he couldn't have been out that long.

"Steve? Can you hear me?" Steve opened his eyes a crack and, blurry as his vision was, he recognized the building above him as the bank on 37th street. Right, there was-- a fight?

A face swam into view and it looked familiar. "Howard?"

"Oh, you've got to be kidding me." The hands let go of him and he immediately missed them.

"Steve, are you okay?" A different face, red hair and large eyes, appeared above him. Natasha, his brain supplied for him. Right, he was in the future. Where everybody carried portable telephones and hamburgers cost upwards of eight dollars apiece. And he was working on a team with a demigod, two government trained assassins, a man who turned into a twenty foot tall green rage monster, and a billionaire who built a flying suit of armour.

Speaking of, Steve turned his head and looked for his friend. "Tony?" He should apologize, because he'd read the file. Steve knew that the Howard he remembered and the one who had raised Tony were two very different people and Tony didn't like being reminded of it. Only when he opened his mouth to say something he coughed violently.

"Ow," he gasped out. He clutched at his stomach, which spasmed and clenched. "My whole body hurts."

"That would be what happens when you fall off a bus, Cap." Hawkeye knelt next to him and clapped a hand on his shoulder with what seemed like excessive force. Steve grimaced and the pressure lightened immediately. Clint and Natasha helped him to sit up and Steve swayed. He felt... off, somehow. Like his head was too big for his body. The way Natasha and Clint were looking at him confirmed his theory.

Something was wrong.

"What happened?"

"What do you remember, Steve?" Tony asked. He'd backed away a few feet and busied himself with putting his gauntlets back on. He'd also shut the faceplate, which Steve frowned at. Tony knew Steve didn't like talking to it outside of battle.

"We were fighting Loki again and-- Were there horses?" Steve tried. Natasha gave him a tiny smile and Clint outright laughed and clapped him on the shoulder again, much lighter than before.

"C'mon, Cap. Let's get you up." Steve watched Iron Man's impassive faceplate as he stumbled to his feet with Natasha and Clint's help. "We need to get you checked out by medical."

"Isn't anyone going to tell him? Somebody should let him know that he's--" Iron Man's mechanical voice was interrupted by Natasha's fierce glare.

"Medical first. The rest can wait."

Steve watched as Tony raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. Then he looked up to find that Clint was watching him carefully.

Wait. Looked up? Clint wasn't taller than him.

Steve looked down at his gloves, which seemed much looser than they ever had been, then he caught the baggy fit of his suit around his legs. A bad feeling rose in the pit of his stomach. Oh god, no.

"Too late." Iron Man cocked his head to the side. Steve reached up and felt his face. It felt thinner, his cheeks hollow and his cheekbones more defined. He dropped his hand and clenched it into a tight fist, a dizzying feeling sweeping over him.

No no no. Please god, not this. Not again.

"Can someone please explain to me what the hell is going on?"

Clint looked away. Natasha stared at him, a pitying look on her face. Iron Man's faceplate was, as always, unreadable, but still turned towards him. Steve couldn't tell if he was looking at him or not, because that damn faceplate was still down. He took a step towards Tony and his knees buckled under him. In a flash Iron Man was there, one hard metal arm around his waist supporting him.

He was much, much taller than Steve remembered him.

"Steve? It's okay, it'll be-- Steve!"

Tony flipped the faceplate up and the last thing Steve saw before he passed out was the concern lining Tony's brow.

Well, Steve thought as his eyes flickered shut. It's nice to know he actually cares.

"And later, when you woke up the second time you argued with the doctors and Director Fury and then you threw a mug at the wall." Dr. Faustus's voice was bland, very much like the man himself. He seemed to have no emotion at all, but there was something about the way his eyes watched Steve that set his nerves on end.

"Well, I was kind of pissed off." Steve could feel his face heat up in embarrassment. He might've been a little irrational at the time. "So much has happened to me in what feels like such a short time. It's been over a year now since I woke up and so far we managed to fill it with a scarily large number of supervillains. The bad guys got pretty creative while I was sleeping."

"The human race sure is plucky." Dr. Faustus quirked an eyebrow and the corner of his lip curled for a split second. Steve blinked in surprise but it was gone as quickly as it came. "Are you still upset?"

"Of course I'm upset," Steve snapped, then he paused. He was trying to get over it, he really was. Only people kept walking on eggshells around him, kept giving him those concerned looks and pitying glances, and if one more person asked how he was coping he would do something stupid like try to punch them. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

When he opened them Dr. Faustus was staring at him intently. "I feel like I was violated," Steve confessed. Dr. Faustus hummed and jotted something down on his notepad, giving Steve the tiniest bit of relief. He somehow felt better when those piercing eyes weren't on him. "The first time this happened to me I was well aware of what was going on. I knew that there would be something done to me, that I might not even survive the process, but I still gave my consent. This..." Steve trailed off and waved a hand down at his body. "This is very much not the same thing."

"Let's talk about your first week." Dr. Fausted shifted a few things around on his desk and pulled up a piece of paper that he squinted at. "Agent Romanov reported that you spent most of the first few days locked up in your room..."

Steve pulled his pillow over his head, hoping it might help blot out the world.

The damned knocking continued.

Steve let out an annoyed grunt and threw the pillow to the floor. He sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, glaring down at his feet. They were always bigger than he thought they should be. The summer he turned fourteen they suddenly grew three sizes and he remembered hating every time he had to tell his mother. She would always card a gentle hand through his hair and tell him not to worry, baby, it's going to be okay. But then at night he would catch her rooting through her jewelry box for something that might fetch a price at the pawn shop, just enough to buy him a new pair of shoes.

Steve never said anything, he could never bear to, but those nights he would lay awake in his bed and listen to her quiet crying through the thin walls of their apartment and fist the bedsheets in frustration.

When he became Captain America, when Erskine's formula had transformed him into what the rest of the world triumphantly called the 'peak of human perfection' there was a part of him that dreaded looking down at his feet, because then he would remember every time he had to curl his long toes in his shoes just so they would fit and now that everything had gotten bigger, surely they had as well. Then he remembered that the army was providing for him, now. They would give him boots that fit if his old ones didn't anymore, new ones even. Ones that three others hadn't already walked in with the soles worn down.

"Steve! Steve, let me in."

Steve had been avoiding Tony ever since he'd made that crack when medical cleared him. He realized, now, that Tony had been trying to lighten the situation, but at the time Steve had been angry and confused and, honestly, just a little afraid. But Tony had been knocking at his door for three minutes straight now. Steve shifted his glare from his feet to the door. "JARVIS," he called out quietly.

"Yes, sir?" The disembodied voice answered smoothly and immediately. It had unnerved him in the beginning, this person who lived in Tony's house that had no body or face, until he went up against a demigod for the first time. And then he went up against a legion of vampires, an army of Doombots, Loki again, a flock of giant killer owls, and a mist creature. It was around the time Loki, back for a third round, turned a street full of cars into ice cream that he realized a talking house was pretty low on the scale of crazy in his life and he just accepted it.

"Could you tell him that I don't want to see anybody right now?"

"I can hear you, blockhead. You haven't engaged the soundproofing like I told you," Tony's voice floated through the door. "Open up. This is important."

"Go away, Tony!"

"Unlikely to happen. This is my house, after all!"

"I mean it," Steve called out. He stood, the tension roiling through him forcing him to get up and move. He began to pace the room. "I want to be left alone."

"You can't keep me out, you know. I'm a genius. If I really wanted to get in I'd do it. This is me being polite! But I don't have to be, I could just force my way inside without your say-so. You think a mere lock is enough--"

Steve walked over and yanked the door open.

"--to keep out Tony Stark? Oh, hey you." Tony grinned and Steve scowled at him. He crossed his arms over his chest.

"I haven't engaged the soundproofing because it isn't safe. What happens if I slip and fall in the shower?"

"Don't be ridiculous, JARVIS would alert me and show me the video footage."

"There's video cameras in my shower? Nevermind." Steve stopped himself and took a deep breath. "What do you want, Tony?"

"Don't be like that, buddy," Tony breezed by him. It was futile to try to block him, especially now that Steve was inches shorter and a good hundred pounds lighter than he used to be. "This isn't a bad thing."

Steve gaped at Tony. He deliberately looked down at his once-again scrawny body and back up at him. "Look at me. Loki turned me back into a weakling. With asthma. There is no way that Fury will ever let me be Captain America again. Not like this. And that was the last thing from my past that I had to hold onto. How can this possibly not be a bad thing?"

"Please. It's not the size of the boat, it's the motion of the ocean. Besides," Tony said, waving a hand that Steve noticed was holding one of his see-through phones that looked like a miniature window, "you and I both know there's more to Captain America than your muscles. Don't get me wrong, they were very nice to look at and they have done great things in the 'saving my life' column. Great for punching things, too. But they're not all you were. Are," he hastened to correct himself.

"Maybe not," Steve agreed. Then he looked down at his thin arms, his short legs. "But they sure did help when the bad guys came a knockin'."

Tony grinned at him. "It's so cute and Beaver Cleaver when you say things like that." Steve looked back up at him with a confused glare and Tony held his hands up in defense. "Sorry, he was after your time, I think. And don't get all pissy, you are. Whether you're big or small. It's cute."

"Get to the point, Tony."

"Spoilsport." Tony held up a small device in his other hand that Steve hadn't noticed at first. "We've been going over the footage from the fight. Traffic cameras, surveillance videos from surrounding stores, things like that. We found something interesting."

Tony walked over to the electrical socket in the wall and plugged the small keychain looking thing-- Flash drive, Steve reminded himself-- into it. The glass of Steve's large window suddenly lit up, and Steve really needed to get over his awe at how far technology had come. Tony used his hands to move a couple of things around, and suddenly Steve was watching Thor fly through the air.

"Okay, see this here? This is cameraphone footage pulled from Youtube. Copy one." The video continued and Steve tried not to stare hungrily at himself, muscled and large, as he jumped onto the bus. The Hulk jumped into the scene directly behind Steve and there it was, the green flash that hit Steve square in the chest. Steve watched as his own body fell to the ground and shrank. "JARVIS, bring up digital copies four and eight. Play alongside and in tandem." He turned to Steve and added, "Internet cafe and Urban Outfitters security footage, from both sides of the street."

Steve watched again as his body was hit with the flash from two other angles and he flinched. "That's... not really something I want to be seeing."

"Hang on. JARVIS, playback point nine seconds aaaand freeze. Three hundred and sixty view."

Steve watched as the images blended together and panned, circling Steve's airborne body. He turned to Tony.

"You know, I was there. I remember all of this now." Tony huffed at him and waved an arm.

"Don't get snippy, I'm not done. JARVIS, replay all three, and bring in seven. Slow motion down to fifteen percent."

Steve watched again as he jumped, only this time Loki whipped around and looked up. Steve caught the way Loki's head tilted down slowly before he thrust his arm out and fired a flash of green light from his fingers. Steve watched as the Hulk dropped into the shot directly behind Steve.

"JARVIS," Tony said quietly. "Replay and add ten and three. Dim transparency to one, four and eight."

Steve watched as, once again, he jumped, but this time the screen widened and he watched as the Hulk swung in from the upper lefthand corner of the window. Loki's gaze tracked the Hulk and, from the angle he was staring, it was plain to Steve who Loki had really been aiming for.

"So he hit me instead."

"Right on the money." Tony waved a hand at the window and everything vanished. He walked to the wall and unplugged the drive. "We think that the reason you haven't changed back is because he'd been aiming for mean and green. Thor believes that the Hulk would've changed back within a day, but considering the size and bulk of him compared to you -- well, the previous you -- you might be stuck like this for a while longer."

"Thor thinks I'll change back?" Steve blinked, because he hadn't even known that Thor was back. After Loki had zapped him Thor chased him off, and in a loud clash of thunder and lightning they'd both disappeared.

It'd been three days and Steve had spent most of them locked in his room. He thought of it as a 'strategic retreat' rather than 'avoiding everyone.'

Tony nodded. "He chased him off to some other realm, whatever the hell that means, and apparently, after he lost Loki, Thor went home to Asgard to visit their mother before he came back this morning." He stepped in close and clapped his hand on Steve's thin shoulder. "Thor says she believes that Loki's spell wasn't intended to harm. She thinks that he was just trying to hit us where it hurts, you know? Take out our really heavy hitter. The Hulk's probably the only one of us that could really hurt him. Besides Thor, of course."

"Well, that backfired." Steve snorted. Tony gave his shoulder a little shake.

"Well, yes and no," Tony said. "He did take out one of our heavy hitters, no, you are," Steve made a noise of protest so Tony just shook him again, "don't be ridiculous. So he did get a point in that column. But when Bruce and I figured out what he did a little while ago he Hulked out and went smash."

Tony began to unbutton his shirt. Steve's eyes went wide and round as he stared at Tony's chest. The white undershirt had a hole cut out of the center, showing off the arc reactor clearly. Tony caught him looking and leered slightly before he pulled an arm out of his sleeve and showed off some ugly purple bruising that went from his shoulder to elbow. "See? So he may have backfired in taking him out, but it also pissed him off enormously. Loki better hope that Bruce doesn't find him in a dark alley one of these days."

"My god, Tony! Are you okay?" Steve reached out a hand, then let it drop when it came into view. Still skinny and frail. He did his best not to glare at his own hand.

Tony shrugged and stuck his arm back in his shirt. He left it hanging open. "Yeah, I'm fine. Don't worry about it. Bruce said nothing's broken, so I'll be alright. The lab door isn't very happy with me. Or Bruce, actually. I mean the door isn't happy with Bruce, not that Bruce isn't happy with me. Actually, now that I think about it, Bruce probably isn't happy with me, either, seeing as how he smacked me hard enough to toss me through it. Probably because this little experiment was the reason he destroyed half of his lab equipment. No biggie though, I can probably replace most of it with what I've got in storage around he--"

Steve clamped his hand over Tony's mouth. "Jesus, do you ever stop talking?" he asked, exasperated. He couldn't see Tony's mouth, but from the twinkle in his eyes he was surely grinning beneath Steve's hand. When Steve slowly pulled it back, yeah, Tony's teeth were showing. "You should go to a hospital and get that checked out."

"It's cool, I'm great. Besides, I don't like hospitals."

"Too bad. You need to suck it up, because you're a liability in the field with an injury. We're going."

"It's fine, I told you. Banner looked at it a few hours ago, and he's a doctor," Tony whined, but Steve wouldn't have any of it. He gave Tony a look as he crossed the room to get his coat, and that only made Tony smile wider. Steve then grabbed Tony's arm, well below the bruising, and marched towards the door.

"We can discuss your lack of proper protocol when dealing with Dr. Banner on the way to the emergency room."

Tony protested at this, loudly and emphatically, but he allowed himself to be pulled from the room so Steve wasn't too worried. If Tony really didn't want to go he could just stop walking. Steve wasn't strong enough to force him. Not anymore.

Steve dragged Tony down the hall and into the main room. Natasha looked up from the folder she was skimming through and raised her eyebrows. Next to her, sprawled out with a matching folder in his lap, Clint let out a loud snore. She jabbed him viciously with an elbow and he bolted upright and gave all of his focus to the file in front of him before he realized there were other people in the room.

"Nice to see you out and about, Captain." Natasha looked between the grip Steve had on Tony with one hand and his jacket in the other. "Going somewhere?"

"Dr. Banner had an episode and smacked Tony through a door. I'm making sure he gets to a hospital."

"Ah," Clint said, dragging the back of his hand across his mouth to check for drool. "That would explain the empty Entenmann's cartons all over the kitchen."

"He ate my banana crunch cake?" Natasha dropped the file in her hands and turned to give Clint her full attention. Clint's eyes went wide and round and Steve took the opportunity to tug Tony towards the door.

"Right. We'll be back later, unless they want to keep him overnight."

"Don't be ridiculous," Tony started, but shut up when Steve whipped his head around to glare at him and let himself be led. "I mean, lead on Macduff."

"I told you he'd get Steve out of his room," Clint's muffled voice came floating down the hallway as Steve pulled the door open. Steve slowed his gait and gave Tony a suspicious look, but Tony pushed him through the door and closed it firmly behind them. He gave Steve a rather unconvincingly large wince and clutched his elbow with a pout.

"Right-ho. Hospital?"

"They didn't keep Tony overnight, though, so I guess he was being honest for once." Steve shrugged and scratched at his wrist. "It's so hard to tell when he's being serious. He's a lot like his father in that regard. Still, I can't be sure it wasn't just a plot to get me out of my room."

"Does Tony do that a lot?" When Steve blinked at him Dr. Faustus gave Steve a wan smile. "Pull you out of your own head, I mean."

"I guess," Steve said, shifting. "He's one of the few people I feel like I can talk to right now."

"How so? Are you not close with the rest of the Avengers?"

"No, no. I am. The rest of the team is... Well, they're great. They've been very supportive." Steve felt the tiniest bit uncomfortable talking about them, especially to a SHIELD-issue therapist who would undoubtedly report everything Steve said back to Director Fury, but that was what this whole thing was about, wasn't it? "It's just that Tony doesn't treat me any different. Mostly."


"I'm still just a dumb kid from another time to him. Whether or not I have muscles doesn't seem to matter when he's telling me off for touching his coffee machine thing."

Steve missed his reflexes the most, probably. He didn't mind not having the same strength anymore, not when Thor was around to open pickle jars. His height was one of the things he'd been saddest about, because it sucked having to climb up on a chair anytime he needed to reach something high. But it was his reflexes and agility that he missed most.

With those he might not have dropped the glass pot or the bag of grounds in his hand when Tony's outraged "What are you doing?!" filled the kitchen, making Steve jump a good foot in the air and clutch at his chest.

"Making coffee," Steve mumbled once he caught his breath. He looked down at the mess on the floor and grimaced. He turned around and began rooting through the cabinets under the counter, looking for the dustpan. "Or trying to. Your machine has a lot more buttons than the ones at SHIELD."

"That's because it's about a thousand times better than-- wait, what, stop that." Tony let out a sound of frustration and took the handheld broom and the large shard of glass Steve held in his hands. "Let go, you're going to get glass in your eyes or something and then Fury will never let you out of Coulson's sight and then I'll end up drooling on the carpet while he watches bad tv."

"I can do it," Steve ground out between clenched teeth. "I have swept before, Tony."

Tony blew his breath out in a huff and dropped the dustpan. "Fine. Just promise you won't destroy another eighty bucks' worth of my coffee and/or try to work the complicated machinery that you undoubtedly find a coffee maker again, and we'll be square."

Steve took the pan back and somehow, within thirty seconds of Steve proving he wasn't an idiot and could manage basic menial tasks, he managed to get a few grounds in his eye. "Ow! Oh, damn."

Through his good eye he could see Tony rolling his eyes towards the ceiling before his face filled Steve's vision.

"What'd I say?" Tony murmured, grumpy. His hands, though, were gentle on Steve's face as he tilted it. "This is just like you. You're like a puppy I have to keep my eye on at all times. I should just be happy it was only grounds and not actual glass."

Steve grumbled something unflattering about Tony and his lineage as he was led to the counter and instantly felt bad when Tony rubbed a hand over his back.

"Don't give me that. Remember when I had to teach you about the remote? It took twenty minutes for me to get the news to stop broadcasting in German." Tony's words were grouchy, which was normal enough for him, but his tone was soothing as he tilted Steve's head down and ran warm water over his face. "When are you going to learn not to mess with stuff that's beyond your comprehension, punk?"

Steve froze at that, because everything that Tony was doing and saying was so like something Bucky would've done and it made him miss his friend terribly. He opened his mouth to reply but Tony tilted the sprayer deliberately and Steve gurgled and choked, coughing violently.

Tony grinned madly at him and tossed a dishrag at his face. "So," he said brightly while Steve coughed and turned pink. "Want to run out with me for Starbucks?"

"But it's only been a couple of weeks. I'm sure this will get sorted somehow." Steve gave Dr. Faustus a bright grin and wilted a little when he got a blank stare in return.

"And if it doesn't?" Steve swallowed hard.

"It will, I'm sure of it." He shrugged and picked at the seam of his trousers. "And if it doesn't, I can live with that. I've lived in this body for most of my natural, unfrozen life." Steve tried a little laugh and was pleased when it sounded convincing enough to his ears. "I did it before. I can do it again."

"That's the spirit." Dr. Faustus scribbled something down onto his legal pad. Then he placed his pen down and stared at him. "The director would like for you to come see me once a week as long as you remain altered. Would Thursdays be okay with you?"

"Yeah, sure. Thursday's great." Steve watched as Dr. Faustus gathered some papers together and attached them to each other with a paper clip before he stuck them in a folder. "Is that it?"

"For today." Dr. Faustus stood and walked around his desk to shake Steve's hand. "I'll see you next week, Captain."

When Steve shut the door behind him he took two steps before he was jumping in the air again, clutching at his chest.

"Cap!" Clint stepped away from his lean against the wall and didn't look at all ashamed of how he nearly gave Steve a heart attack. "You all wrapped up here, big guy?"

Steve didn't scowl, but he could feel the corners of his mouth turn down a bit. That, right there. Clint would have never called him that before, even though Steve was bigger than he was. Used to be. It was like Clint was trying to overcompensate for calling him tiny that one time.

"Yeah, what's up?" Steve let Clint wrap an arm around his shoulders as they walked down the hallway to the elevator and if he felt dwarfed it was only for a moment, because Clint was chattering in his ear the whole time.

"Nothing much, just finished some target practice. I just got these new arrows back from the lab, see..."

Steve nodded and "uh-huh"'d at the appropriate places and didn't realize they were heading out of the building until they came to the main lobby.

"Oh, hey. Wait, I had some things I wanted to go over with Director Fury before I left." Steve paused. Or, well, he tried to, but Clint's arm was still around him and doing a good job of propelling him forward. "I wanted to see if there were any leads in the hunt for Loki."

"No need," he said as Steve frowned. "I just left his office. Apparently Loki's back, somewhere in Detroit they think. Natasha and I are leaving tonight to follow up on some leads."

"Oh! That's good news, then. I can be ready in a few hours." Steve tried not to let the hope he felt twinge in his chest make its way into his voice. But Clint just gave him a small smile and shook his head and Steve felt himself deflate.

"We're going alone," Clint said, and pushed them both through the doors into the street. "Sorry, big guy. I know you want to come, but don't worry. We'll find him."

Steve let himself be ushered into the waiting car and ignored the way Clint patted him on the back before he closed the door behind Steve.

Steve didn't turn around to watch Clint wave him off. He was too busy gripping the seat and trying not to feel like he was being purposely left out.

When he got back to the mansion his ire had only been stoked. He'd had ten minutes to wallow in the backseat of the car and the only thing that stopped him from telephoning Fury and demanding to know why he was being excluded was his cell phone.

Tony had given this one to him a few weeks ago. He had gone on and on about it, had told him it was the latest prototype and it could pick up satellite television, open your garage, even make your coffee for you or something silly like that. He'd gone over the features with him for all of five minutes before he'd wandered off to fiddle with the broken radio Bruce had brought down from his room, and Steve couldn't remember for the life of him how he was supposed to turn it on.

For some reason that frustrated him the most.

He slammed the door when he got out of the car. He stomped through the hallway as he made his way to the kitchen. He was in the middle of angrily chopping a bar of chocolate when Tony wandered into the kitchen with a tablet in his hands.

"Hey Cap," he said absently as he made his way to the new coffee maker. "What's shakin', bacon?"

"Pudding," Steve grunted. He kept his eyes on the chunks in front of him, and therefore he missed the way Tony's eyebrows rose to his hairline behind him.

"Yes, cupcake?" Steve huffed out a laugh and turned to face him, wiping his hands on a dish towel.

"I'm making pudding." He nodded at the countertop, which was riddled with bowls and cups and a small spill of cornstarch. "You're welcome to help."

"Oh no. No thanks." Tony held his hands up, one clutching his tablet and the other wrapped around an empty mug. "I burn water. But hey, if you ever need a cup of coffee, I'm your man." Tony edged closer, though, and peered at the things Steve had laid out. "Wait, are you doing this from scratch? Why not just get a box?"

"This is how I used to do it with my mother," Steve said quietly. He turned back to the countertop and began to dump things into the bowl, mixing them vigorously with a metal whisk. "When I was a kid I used to get into these awful scraps with the other boys from time to time. When I would come home, all beat up and dirty, my mom would tell me to go clean up and meet her in the kitchen. Then we'd do this and we would eat it right there, at the counter. She always kept a bar of chocolate around, just in case, even though it cost a pretty penny."

"Sounds like she was quite a woman." Steve shrugged and felt something flutter inside of his chest when it made his shoulder brush up against Tony's chest. Tony was standing so close to him, peering right over his shoulder, and it was... unsettling.

"She was." Steve cleared his throat and stepped closer to the counter. Thankfully, Tony backed up a step and Steve could breathe again. "It got harder as I got older, because we couldn't always get our hands on sugar and I only got mouthier as I got bigger. But every now and then I would come home all bloody and depressed and we'd do this and I just." Steve wasn't sure how to correctly say 'my boss benched me and thinks I'm moments away from a panic attack, and I wish everyone would quit treating me with kid gloves,' so he just shrugged. "It's just a thing. You sure you don't want to learn?"

"You know," Tony carefully set his tablet on the countertop and rolled his sleeves up. The look he fixed on Steve's face told him that he might've caught everything Steve hadn't said anyway. "I think I do."

Steve looked down at the bowl he was whisking and smiled.

"Well, the first thing you're going to do is boil a pot of water..."

"So, I heard there was a slight incident last week after our session."

Steve slouched a little in his seat and shrugged. So far Dr. Faustus hadn't felt any warmer to him than before. He just needed to give him time, he was sure, but he was essentially talking to a stranger.

"After I got back to the mansion I was making a bowl of pudding and asked Tony to help." Steve let the corner of his mouth curl up. "He told me he could burn water but I didn't believe him. He proved me wrong."

"He burned... water?" Steve was the only one who had to know that his grin was in triumph at getting Dr. Faustus to look shocked, and not at reminiscing over Tony's horrible cooking skills. "I didn't think that was possible."

"Well, he knocked a roll of paper towels onto the burner. That was close enough."

"I see." Dr. Faustus cleared his throat and Steve felt a tiny sort of victory. "I was informed of Hawkeye and Black Widow's failed attempts to pin down Loki."

"Yeah, they came back briefly a few days ago." Steve rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. He had a feeling where this was going.

Steve turned over in his bed and punched his pillow. He couldn't sleep. He knew it was futile to wish he was somewhere else, because he had learned early on in his life that wishing for things did no good, but he couldn't help but do it anyway.

Natasha and Clint had been gone for four days. And since then Steve had received no word on the situation at all, no matter how many times he'd called Fury.

"I promise you, Cap, we'll let you know the moment we have any solid information. Until then you need to sit tight and let us work on it."
"Yes, sir. I understand. But if there is any news at all--"
"You'll be the third to know. After myself and Agent Coulson."

Since that disastrous phone call hours earlier Steve had been, in Tony's words, sulking around the mansion and glaring at anyone who happened to cross his path. It didn't help that Tony had been berating him over how to properly use his cell phone at the time, either. Steve had snapped at him and Tony had snapped back and Steve had been saved from it turning into another of their mostly-extinct shouting matches by Bruce walking into the room and demanding to know the status of his radio.

Sometime around one am Steve gave up on trying to sleep and made his way to the living room, only to stop dead when he saw Natasha, Clint, Tony and Agent Coulson gathered around a file spread open on the coffee table.

"Wait, I recognize this guy." Tony picked up a surveillance photo of a man with dark hair. "He used to be a neurosurgeon, before the car crash that damaged the nerves in his hands. That was five, six years ago. You used to be able to find him on the floor of any dive south of Jamaica Ave, begging for a drink. Well, before he went missing. He's been assumed dead for years."

"Well, it appears the good doctor is alive and well. And has somehow captured Loki's interest." Coulson took the picture back from Tony and paperclipped it back into place. "Now we just need to figure out why."

"You're back."

Clint and Tony jumped at Steve's voice, making him smile just the tiniest bit. He might not have his stealth anymore, but it was good to know his footsteps were still light enough to escape their notice. Natasha just stared at him while Coulson gathered the papers on the table.

Steve took in their grim faces and felt his shoulders sag. "I'd ask how it went, but things don't look promising from where I'm standing."

"He was gone by the time we showed up, but don't worry, Steve." Phil gave him a small smile as he brushed past him, file clutched firmly in his hand. "We'll find him. Until then," he continued, swivelling around to slap Clint in the arm with the file, "you have four hours before you two need to be suited up and at the pier."

"What are you doing up, anyway? I thought you wore yourself out with all the skulking about the grounds you did today." Tony gave him a smirk and for a moment Steve glared at him. Then he recognized the barb for the diversionary tactic it was and he crossed his arms.

"Where are you going now?" Steve directed his question at Natasha, who was still looking at him blankly. "Was there another lead on Loki? Who is this neurosurgeon?"

"That's classified information," Natasha said quietly.

Steve narrowed his eyes. "But Tony can know?" The man in question raised his hands and backed up a few steps.

"All Tony knows is that he's got a board meeting in the morning and it's past his bedtime," he said as he walked backwards to the hallway.

"Such a shame that Tony hasn't noticed his bad habit of talking about himself in the third person," Clint called after him. He got a shouted "Tony also knows that he doesn't value your opinion, birdbrain," from the hallway for his troubles.

When Steve turned back around Coulson was half out the door with his file and Natasha was looking at him.

"Tony has higher security clearance than you do," Natasha told him. Steve opened his mouth to reply, but she kept going. "We didn't find Loki yet, Steve. But we will. We're looking. That's all you need to know right now."

Steve turned to Clint, but he looked away. Without another word, Steve turned around, marched back to his room and slammed the door.

Fine. If they didn't want to tell him, that was fine. It was only Steve's livelihood that was at stake, here. Nothing important enough to let him in on.

The next morning, Natasha and Clint were gone.

"I feel like they're shutting me out," Steve confessed, his eyes fixed on the floor. "I know they're not doing it intentionally, and I know they think they're being kind for my sake, but I'm still the same person that I was last month. I can handle knowing these things."

"Well, that's not technically true, is it?"

Steve looked up so fast he might've given himself whiplash. What was that supposed to mean? He was supposed to be evaluating him, not telling Steve what he could or couldn't do.

"You're not really the same person that you were last month. Last month you could've picked up my desk with me sitting on it and tossed it through that window." Dr. Faustus waved a hand at the large floor-to-ceiling window to their left.

"Not really, it's unbreakable glass," Steve said through clenched teeth. The doctor ignored him.

"You might still be the same person on the inside, Steve, but you aren't the same on the outside anymore. There is a possibility that you may never be that person again."

Steve felt his face begin to get hot. "What do you know about it? You don't know a thing about me, aside from what it says in that file of yours. You have no idea what I'm going through."


"It's not like having muscles was all I was good for as Captain America. I can do more than punch people." Steve stood, his hands clenched into fists. Dr. Faustus sat calmly at his desk and watched him unravel. "There are plenty of people around here that don't have brute strength yet you call them heroes. I may be limited in this body, but don't you dare think that being like this again suddenly makes me a different person. Nothing has changed about who I am. Not at the core. I still have the same values and the same beliefs and I'll be damned if you, or SHIELD, or Director Fury thinks that you can just take it away from me!"

Steve was standing in the elevator, shaking with rage, when he realized he'd repeated roughly the same thing that Tony had said to him in his bedroom.

It was true enough. He'd realized at the time that Tony wasn't just being kind, because that kind of behavior wasn't in Tony's skill set, but that Tony had really meant it. The values of Captain America had somehow lived beyond the handful of years he'd worn the cowl, had been embraced by the spirits thousands of Americans after the crash. There was even a monument in Arlington with the words Truth, justice, and the American way! carved underneath his feet.

When he'd been shown the monument he'd initially been embarrassed. Then Agent Coulson had explained to him that it wasn't the statue of his face, but the meaning of his morality that had lived on. Captain America had been a role model, not because he could punch Nazis in the face, but because he believed in the good of his people.

The elevator doors opened on the ground floor and Steve, calmer now, walked out with a purposeful stride.

Tony believed he still had things to bring to the table, even in this frail asthmatic body. Now all he had to do was stop moping around like a child and prove him right.

"I'm sorry about last week," was the first thing out of Steve's mouth when he sat down. Dr. Faustus raised an eyebrow at the honest contrition on Steve's face before he gave the man another one of his almost-smiles.

"That's quite alright, Steve." Dr. Faustus dropped the pen he was holding and leaned forward, folding his hands on his desk and pinning Steve in place with an intense stare. "To be honest I was expecting it. You've been through quite an ordeal, and a little anger is acceptable during trying times like these."

"Yes, that may be true," Steve responded with a shrug. "But it doesn't mean I have to snap and yell at the people who are only trying to help me."

"In that case, I accept your apology." Dr. Faustus waited a moment before he tilted his head to the side. "Is there anything in particular you'd like to talk about this week, Steve?"

"No, not--" Steve stopped himself. He'd been asked that question at the beginning of every session, and he'd answered it the same way every time. Maybe it was time to start working with Dr. Faustus instead of against him.

"Well, actually, there kind of is."

Dr. Faustus raised both his eyebrows at Steve's willingness to talk without being prodded.

"Go on, Steve."

"Well, as you know, Loki hadn't shown his face around here for a while..."

"Avengers, priority one! Loki has been spotted in the city."

Steve dropped his pencil and stood abruptly. He'd been in the middle of a sketch of the Brooklyn Bridge when the alarm had gone through the mansion. He heard more than saw Thor jump off of a high balcony with a loud battlecry, hammer in one hand and the Black Widow clutched to his side with the other. Seconds later the mansion shook as the Hulk took a running leap off of the roof. Hawkeye was a speck of black leather on his shoulders, his arms wrapped around the Hulk's thick neck.

In a matter of minutes he found himself in the lower levels of Tony's lab watching his robots assemble the armour around him. He was trying to open the locker to his costume when the little light flashed red instead of green.

He turned around and caught Tony's stare before Tony's focus was pulled back to the armour.

"Open it."


"Tony, open it now."

Tony snorted and snatched the helmet out of U's helping metal arms. "Yeah, still a no." He was looking down at one of his repulsor boots and therefore missed how fast Steve could still move.

Steve slapped the helmet hard enough to force it down and glared up and up at Tony's surprised face.

"I can help. Why aren't you letting me?"

"You want to help? The way you are now? Fine. You can help but staying here and not getting yourself killed." Tony yanked his arm up and slammed the helmet into place. It clicked a few times and the eyes lit up brightly. "Besides, that costume will drown you."

"What happened to 'it's not just your muscles, Steve' and 'you're still a force of good,' and 'you can still make a difference?' Was all of that bullshit? Were you just trying to talk me down, get me out of my room? Did you even mean any of it?" Steve tried not to let the anger that had been steadily growing in him the past two weeks flow out, but the betrayal he felt at being locked away from his own costume stung.

"Of course I meant it," Iron Man's mechanical voice responded, and for a moment Steve wanted to punch the metal face. He really, really didn't like talking to that thing. He only held back because he knew, like this, it would probably shatter his hand. And, you know, his pride. "But for now, let the big guns handle the bad guys."

"I'm going with you, I don't care if I have to walk." Steve folded his arms across his chest and lifted his head stubbornly. Iron Man regarded him impassively for a moment before the suit burst into movement and grabbed his hands.

Before Steve could fully comprehend how it happened, he found his hands tied to a workbench with what he recognized as the tie that Tony had on when he left the mansion that morning.

"Be a good boy and stay in the garage." Tony flipped the faceplate up long enough for Steve to catch the almost sorry look he shot him. "This is for your own good. I meant it when I said there was more to you than your strength. But if you go charging into battle against Loki right now, it'll do more harm than good. Please, Steve. Trust me. Trust your team to take care of this for you. That's all we want to do."

Then the faceplate slammed down and Iron Man's form was gone, flying through the car port too fast for Tony to hear Steve's muttered "I do."

"Is Mr. Stark in the habit of tying you up?"

Steve blinked at the change of tone in Dr. Faustus's voice, then he blushed furiously.

"Why does everyone keep asking me that? No! I mean. It's not like that between us. He was just trying to get me to stay in one place, and I get why he did it, but he's not... I mean we're not..." Steve swallowed hard at the mental picture Dr. Faustus's suggestion had painted in his mind. Tony, dangling a tie over his face, wearing that damned smirk of his and nothing else. He cursed his fair skin for surely giving away where his thoughts were leading him.

"Anyhow, I would have been stuck down there if it wasn't for his personal assistant..."

"Tony, I can only use the 'sorry, New York is on fire' excuse so many times before the members of the board begin to doubt-- Steve!"

Steve's head shot up at the voice. "Pepper! Thank god. Could you untie me? There's a bit of a situation and Tony just left me here like this."

"I can see that," Pepper deadpanned. She walked slowly over to where Steve sat, looking around the workshop with a careful eye. "Does Tony..." she started slowly, her dainty hands making surprisingly quick work of the complicated looking knot, "tie you up very often?"

"What? No, no this is the first time anyone's attacked since I've... been..." Steve trailed off when he saw the embarrassment and relief on her face, her eyes fixed on her work. "What? No!" he said again, at a much higher pitch. "Tony doesn't-- We're not-- It was so I wouldn't try to follow them. Loki's back. They're all out there fighting him and Tony locked up my suit and shield and tied me down so I couldn't go with them."

"Yes, I heard." Pepper gave the knot a final yank and it let go of Steve's wrists. He rubbed at them and looked up at her. She had a tiny smile on her face. "Loki's managed to wrangle himself an army this time. They managed to move the fight to Central Park."

Steve looked up at her with wide eyes. How the hell was Tony's secretary privy to this kind of information, and all he got was tied to a chair? She straightened and pulled out a tablet out of seemingly nowhere and tapped the screen a few times. The wall to Steve's left lit up with four different newsfeeds. He was reminded that this was Pepper Potts, and there wasn't much that she didn't know. For just a moment Steve wondered if she knew how he felt about... But no, surely she couldn't know that. Steve wasn't even sure of it himself.

He turned his head to stare at the wall, where every one of the news channels had live coverage of what was going on in Central Park at the moment.

"Are those... toys?"

"He is known for being a bit of a trickster, that Loki," Pepper replied lightly. They watched as a trio of giant brown teddy bears crashed into a lake and began to swat at the boats.

"I should be out there," Steve said tightly. He know, logically, that he was safer where he was. That Tony and Natasha and the rest of the team were just looking out for him. But he couldn't help the spark of anger he felt that he was here and they were out there, fighting the guy who had done this to him.

"You know, when he was little Tony had a serious case of hero worship for you," Pepper said suddenly. Steve blinked at the non-sequitur. "He had your comics, a Captain America lunch box. His father even dressed him up as you for Halloween once or twice."

"That's... cute." Steve wondered where she was going with this, but he had to admit he found the thought of Tony as a child dressed up in red, white and blue and clutching a tiny shield adorable.

"Of course, he'd deny it now if anyone ever said anything," she continued, her eyes on the wall of videos. He couldn't be sure, but he thought he saw a glimmer of something mischievous in her eyes. "But when I became his assistant I was given a list of passwords to the safes and overrides for his smart houses. It's amazing the amount of things you could've opened up around here just by saying your name back then. Of course, they've been changed several times over the years, but you must've really made an impact on his life when he was growing up. You were friends with his father, weren't you?"

"Yeah, I was," Steve said quietly. He stared at a video of Iron Man flying through the air, repulsor bursts shooting from his hands. Had he really meant that much to Tony? Why hadn't the man ever said anything? Maybe things between them had gotten off to a bit of a bumpy start, but Steve liked to think that over the course of the year they had gotten close. "I know things between Howard and Tony were difficult, though, so I try not to bring it up."

"That's probably a good thing." Pepper tapped her tablet again and the wall went dark. She gave Steve a small smile. "Well, I've got some feathers to go unruffle. Could you relay my message to Tony when you see him next? Let him know he can't just blow off meetings every time trickster demigods decide to rampage through the city."

"Yes, of course." Steve gave her a smile and she stared at him hard before she turned her head to look at the locker that held his costume.

She gave him another sly smile as she tucked her tablet under her arm and left.

The silence in the room was only broken by his footsteps as he walked to his locker. It couldn't hurt to try, right?

"Steve Rogers."

Nothing happened. He deflated a little, mentally cursing himself for being so silly.

"Perhaps you should try your other name, sir."

Steve startled when JARVIS's disembodied voice floated through the air before he looked up and caught the glare of light that was glinting off of his shield.

He smiled.

"Tony, look out!" Tony only managed to dodge backwards in time out of pure instinct, watching as a familiar red, white and blue blur flew inches past his face. It hit the wooden nutcracker square in the face and bounced off harmlessly, leaving tiny chipmarks in its wake. Tony used the seconds it took reorienting itself to give it a rough kick, knocking it backwards. It slammed into a tree and splintered into kindling.

Tony nodded at it. Then realized where his save came from and he whipped around. Steve lay on the ground at the edge of the park with his shield clutched to his chest, which was heaving in a rather frightening way. He was clad in his uniform, which looked four sizes too big for him, and his boots, that oddly seemed to still fit.

Tony saw red.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Tony shouted. He heard a low roar from his right and without looking fired a repulsor blast at the, jesus, giant stuffed panda that was charging him. He didn't bother to watch it go up in flames, even though he might've gotten a certain satisfaction from that at one point in time, because right now he was too busy marching over to where Steve was picking himself off the ground.

"What does it look like?" Steve scowled down at his shield. Tony would've found it hilarious under normal circumstances, considering Steve all but slept with the shield in his bed before Tony had put it on lockdown. As light as it was, right now it was about ten pounds too heavy for Steve's puny arms to wield easily and the sight was just sad. "I'm helping."

"I thought I told you to stay in the garage!" Tony yelled as he frog marched Steve away from the park and back to the street where the rest of the SHIELD agents were trying to herd the magicked toys into the park. "You just got knocked over by your own shield!" Steve opened his mouth to protest, his face reddening from either anger or exertion, when a giant block of Legos in the shape of a Stormtrooper burst from the windows of the FAO Schwarz in a hail of shattered glass and plastic. Tony reacted immediately, moving to cradle Steve's tiny body in his arms to shield him from the worst of it, and got shoved at weakly in protest.

"I'm okay, Tony! Geez." Steve pushed at the armour ineffectually. Tony glared down at him. "You're fighting kids' toys. It's not like there's any kind of real danger. I'm not some damsel in distress!"

"You and I are going to have a long talk later, do you understand me?" Tony gritted out. Steve responded with a glare of his own, which was familiar enough, but since it came from about six inches below his normal height it failed to have any effect on Tony.

"You can't just ground me like I'm some kind of a kid! Besides, I talked to Coulson. Loki's long gone," Steve said mulishly. Then his gaze fixed on something behind Tony. "On your six!"

Tony whirled around and fired his repulsors at the Stormtrooper, which melted immediately into a mass of slow moving plastic and then splashed to the ground, unmoving.

"You might not be a damsel, Steve," Tony spat as he whirled and fired his repulsors at the Barbie dolls that were surrounding the Black Widow. She gave him a crisp nod when two of them fell and worked on taking out the remaining three. "But out here? Like that? You're definitely distressing my fragile heart. These things could snap you like a twig!"

Steve's eyes widened right before he threw himself to the side to avoid being swiped at by a large Papo figure of an orc. He rolled and hoisted his shield, swinging it at the charmed toy. It slashed across its stomach and sliced it nearly in half, and Tony watched grudgingly as it fell backwards and flailed its appendages at them.

Steve straightened and turned to stare at Tony with a haughty look on his face. "You were saying?"

Tony narrowed his eyes at Steve, then turned and held his palms up, assessing the situation. The rest of the Avengers had the situation well in hand. Natasha was wrestling with the last Barbie, Clint was using his bow as a sword to fight a grim looking Samurai warrior, Thor was hovering in midair knocking what looked like Pterodactyls out of the sky one by one, and the Hulk was engaged in a game of what could only be described as "fetch" with a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex and the leg of an oversized Optimus Prime figurine.

He couldn't see him, but he could sense Steve's body behind his. They were back-to-back, a move they used often when fighting off the bad guys, and in a way it was comforting enough to know that Steve was there, that Captain America had his back. Then Tony turned his head to the side to catch his eye and when he had to look down he was reminded that Steve was tiny now, just a little guy with asthma who was holding a shield that was too heavy for him in the midst of a battle that he should never have been at.

"Widow," Tony said into his communicator.

"Yeah?" she replied, one hand wrapped in a fistful of fake blonde hair.

"You guys have this in hand? Good. I'm taking Chicken Little home," he said curtly. She looked up at him and nodded. Tony turned just in time to see the vicious glare Steve was giving him. "Not. One. Word." Tony wrapped an arm around Steve's waist, ignoring the way Steve's jaw clenched, and carefully air lifted them out of there.

By the time they reached the tower Steve'd only gotten angrier. They landed with a bit of a hop and Tony's robots began the task of getting Tony out of his suit the moment he stepped onto the right platform. Steve followed and glared at him.

"You can't keep me from doing my job," he started.

Tony opened his mouth to protest, but Dum-E chose that moment to poke Tony's thigh with a screwdriver and he let out a yelp instead.

"I'm serious, Tony. You're not my mother, so quit acting like it."

"Steve, be reasonable." Tony waved a gauntleted arm and U caught it and tugged. "Ow, hey. Easy, boy." Tony turned his attention back to Steve, whose face was bright red. "You weigh one hundred pounds soaking wet. You knocked yourself over with your own shield. Aren't you supposed to be a tactician? A strategist? How are you anything but a hindrance out in the field if someone always has to keep an eye on you? I could be out there right now, making sure Malibu Barbie doesn't rip Natasha's head off instead of making sure Captain America is safe and sound and, oh yeah, not getting smushed by orcs."

"I didn't ask for this!" Steve yelled. "You think I like knowing that my friends are out there without me to watch their backs? You think it doesn't kill me to know that you guys are out there, battling the forces of evil, while I'm stuck in this glass prison? I don't like being left behind, Tony!"

"Battling the forces-- no, nevermind. Goddamnit, get me out of this thing." The machines let out a series of whirrs and chirps and finally released Tony, who stumbled forward into Steve's space. "Nobody's trying to leave you behind, Steve."

"Well, it sure feels like it." Steve closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "I can still fight. I can still strategize."

"You can still get blown over by a stiff wind." Steve opened his eyes and glared at the arc reactor that was in front of his face. Tony was still on the platform, giving him the illusion of being excessively tall. "Your only defense has become too heavy for you to even sling around."

"I managed just fine," Steve grumbled. Tony snorted.

"Tell that to Fury. No doubt he already knows, if you've talked to Coulson."

Steve paled a little at this, but he stuck his chin out anyway. "I can still do this job."

"Steve, your only protection against your enemies is a leather suit." Tony plucked at Steve's sleeve, which was rolled up and bunched around his forearm.

"Yeah, and my best friend happens to be a mechanical genius who built himself a flying suit of armour." Dum-E let out a whirr from behind them and Steve fixed Tony with a determined stare. "Surely he can come up with something to help protect little ol' me from the evil masses."

"You have to stop talking like that, really. I'm supposed to be mad at you," Tony said through a chuckle. Steve tried not to grin in triumph, because that sounded as defeated as Tony ever got. "Alright. Fine. I'll do this for you, but you have to give me something back. Tit for tat, as they say."

"You'll build me a suit of armour?" Steve blinked, because he wasn't really angling for that. Not that he didn't find the Iron Man suit impressive, because it really was, but it wasn't for someone like him. Tony shook his head as he walked to one of his large desks and began typing at a computer with one hand. Steve followed him and stood at his elbow.

"No, not a suit. That really isn't your style, is it?" Steve opened his mouth to say something, maybe apologize for one of the first cracks he'd made about Tony's inability to be a decent person without the armour. "New costume. Leather alone just won't cut it. How do you feel about mail? Wait, nevermind. Don't answer that. I need you to promise me something first."

Tony turned sharply and suddenly he was right there, inches away and staring down at him with all of his laser-like focus.

Steve took a step back, out of Tony's space. Immediately he could breathe easier. Tony's gaze didn't waver, but from a little further away it seemed less intense, less scrutinizing, less... Less.


"Promise me that whatever the situation may be, if you aren't able to handle it you'll step back and let your team do the work."

"Tony," Steve started through a sigh, but Tony was firm.

"Promise me. If it gets too dangerous you'll pull back, or I won't help you."

Steve looked up. Tony's face was lined with what could have been worry, his brows furrowed, and Steve almost felt bad for being the cause of it. But the adrenaline from the fight was still coursing through his veins and it was so familiar to him that he had to hold back a smile.

"I promise," he said solemnly. Tony narrowed his eyes, as though he was looking for deception, but after a moment he nodded back at him and smiled and everything felt normal again.

"Good. Now tell me, because I'm dying to know; how did you figure out how to get the suit?"

A mental image of Tony, at age four or so, decked out in Captain America gear filled his head and Steve just laughed.

"I mean, Fury definitely wasn't happy that Captain America was running around looking like this," Steve paused to wave a hand down at himself, "but once he saw the security footage he didn't put up too much of a fight."

"I suppose helping to secure the city against a legion of angry toys helped with his decision," Dr. Faustus said. Steve laughed a little.

"To be completely honest I missed most of it. Iron Man freaked out a bit and flew me home shortly after I got there, but I was there long enough to convince them that I still knew what I was doing. It also helped that some of the others helped back me up. Like Tony, and Black Widow. And I heard that Agent Coulson went to bat for me with Fury. He's a pretty swell guy."

"I hear he thinks pretty highly of you himself."

Steve chuckled to himself. "Yeah, it's crazy. Everyone around here is some kind of a ninja and I'm the one people were dressing up as for Halloween."

"Captain America as an icon was a large part of our country's history. It must feel good to be handed back the reins."

"Well, not fully. Not yet." Steve shrugged again. "I mean, I still have to pass these evals. And Fury wants to do some additional endurance testing. I can't believe how far medicine has come sometimes. There are cures for things and conditions I've never even heard of."

"Yes, I suppose it must be a nice surprise for you."

"The medical doctor's given me some kind of special breathing device." Steve dug into his pocket and held up the purple disc. "Well, he had to give me a few. Tony asked for a bunch that we could stash around the mansion, just in case I have an attack."

"Let's talk about Tony Stark for a moment. You said that he was one of the few Avengers who was still treating you normally last week, but you also said that he seemed... agitated when you showed up at the fight. Is that not the case anymore?"

"No, no. He still watches movies with me, and he still yells at me when I have problems with his tech, like his smart house or my cell phone. It's just..." Steve trailed off. Thinking these things in his own head felt stupid enough. He didn't want to have to admit them out loud.

"He keeps trying to... force me to do things."

"He what?" Dr. Faustus sat up a bit in his seat and Steve was taken aback a bit. "Steve, if Mr. Stark is forcing you to do anything with him--"

Steve flushed bright red. "No! No, I mean. He keeps insisting that I go for these walks with him, and he keeps trying to feed me, and. Um." Steve squirmed a bit when Dr. Faustus sat back in his seat and heaved a sigh. "Things like that."

"I must admit, for a moment there I was concerned." Steve was concerned for a moment himself when Dr. Faustus let out a small chuckle. Then he grinned. Maybe the guy wasn't so bad after all.

"He's doing things that Bucky's mother used to do," Steve admitted sheepishly. "It's kind of annoying. Nice, but annoying. If I'm hungry I'll eat, but it's like Tony's trying to fatten me up like I'm some kind of prized pig. And he's not the only one. I caught Dr. Banner in the kitchen one day and he tried to force his leftover pasta on me."

"I can understand why. You're quite thin." Steve groaned.

"Not you too," he said. Dr. Faustus gave Steve a smile and picked his pen up.

"I suppose those close to you will get over the urge to 'fatten you up' soon enough." He scrawled something in Steve's file. "You seem to be handling things much better. That's certainly an improvement over last week. Maybe next week we can discuss how your re-qualification training is coming along. In the meantime, I'm afraid I've got another appointment in ten minutes."

"That sounds great," Steve said as he stood up. Dr. Faustus reached over the desk to shake his hand. "Same time next week?"

"I'll be here."

"You've reached the voicemail of John Faustus. If this is an emergency, please contact the SHIELD medical facility at extension 8926. Otherwise leave a message after the tone and I will respond to your call shortly."

"This is Steve Rogers. Unfortunately I don't think I'll be able to make today's appointment. There's been a slight incident at the mansion today and Tony managed to land himself in the hospital. I'm hoping you might be willing to reschedule, though. Please call me as soon as you get this message to confirm."

"How many times do we have to tell you to stop poking at Bruce?"

Tony scowled at him and paused in his hobbling to lean down to rub at his injured thigh. They'd never get out of there at this rate. Steve smacked his hands away and placed them firmly back on his crutches.

"I'm serious, Tony. Next time you might not be so lucky."

"I've got sixteen stitches in my thigh from where his test tubes impaled me," Tony grumbled. "You call that lucky?"

"They managed to miss every major artery, so yes, I'm calling this one a win." Steve led Tony through the sliding doors at the front entrance of the hospital to find Happy was waiting for them outside, leaning against the passenger side door to the car and reading a newspaper. He put it down when he noticed Steve helping a limping Tony out.

"Happy!" Tony threw his arms open and dropped his crutches, jogging forward. He winced when the movement pulled at his leg. Steve bent down to pick them up for the fourth time with a sigh. "Boy am I happy to see you. Happy." Tony gave his face a sloppy pat that Happy endured with a crooked smile.

"Feelin' good, eh boss?" he said as he took his time ushering them into the backseat, crutches and all. He rolled his eyes when Tony 'dropped' his bottle of painkillers onto the pavement. Tony pulled the door closed and was typing something into the tiny panel of buttons on the door before Steve could lean out and pick them up. Steve tried to open the door and it didn't budge. He gave Tony an exasperated look.

"Tony," Steve said with a sigh as he sat back. Settling into the driver's seat, Happy managed to catch Steve's eye in the mirror and he and shook his head slightly. Steve ignored him. "Those are for your own good."

"I don't like drugs," Tony replied thickly. He must not have realized what it was they shot him up with when they first got to the hospital, blood everywhere. "I don't like the way they make me feel. Besides, I can't work when my head is floating around in the sky."

"You shouldn't be working at all right now."

"Have to finish your redesign," Tony said with an exaggerated sniff. "Fury said so. And Coulson. Coulson. Couuuuulson." Tony waved his hand around in the air. Steve dodged the flailing limb. "His name is funny. Did you know he watches Supernanny? What kind of deadly ninja agent watches Supernanny? I think he's an android."

"You're impossible," Steve said crossly. He looked out the window as they pulled out of the parking lot. "I don't even know what an android is."

"Very life-like humanoid robot. Don't worry," he gave Steve a very reassuring pat on the head when Steve gave him a startled look, "we're not there yet as a society. Maybe some places are a little more ahead of the game than others, but they won't be ready for the world in at least another twenty, thirty years or so." Tony made a soft sound when Steve scoffed at him. "No, no don't be like that. Smile. You've got such a lovely smile," Tony said as he poked at Steve's face. "It's the same, but different. Still very pretty."

"You think I'm pretty?"

"Usually I think you're very handsome, but now you're all frail and tiny and so, so pretty." Steve let Tony run his hands over his cheekbones with all the enthusiasm of a drunk, but only because he was staring at him in something like shock. Tony planted both hands on Steve's cheeks and pulled, tugging his mouth into a twisted grimace of a smile. "There it is! Happy! Happy look! I got Captain America to smile!"

"I don't think it counts if you have to pull his skin that way, boss," Happy replied after a quick glance at the rearview mirror.

"Whether or not I can still be Captain America hasn't been decided yet." Steve wished his voice didn't sound quite so forlorn. Fury wanted to run a few more tests, still. Two days ago Steve had nearly fainted at the end of a two hour long endurance trial, and Fury hadn't seemed quite as keen as he had been to get him back into the field. He plucked Tony's hands off of his face and lowered them, but Tony didn't let go.

"Nonsense," Tony slurred. "You've still got everything that makes you him. You. You know?"

"Tony," Steve started, but Tony steamrolled right over him.

"Really! You're still brave and smart and kind. And you still have the whole evil glare thing when I don't wanna listen to you."

"I'm pretty sure it's the same evil glare that everyone else gives you."

"We'll fix this," Tony said, resolute. He looked at Steve seriously. The fact that his pupils were dilated and his eyes were wide somewhat dampened the effect. "I promise. We'll figure this out, Steve. But if we don't--"

Steve gave him a small smile and interrupted him. "I thought you said there wasn't anything wrong with me like this."

"And there isn't, I swear," Tony said quickly. He let go of Steve's hands to pet at his face again. "If I can't do it that'll be okay, because you're perfect just the way you are. And I'm gonna make you a nice new costume that fits that little tushy of yours." Steve looked up to see Happy's grin, big and wide in the rearview, and mouthed 'help me.'

"You want me to stop at Burger King, boss?" Happy asked, and Steve could've kissed him. Instead he just let out a sigh of relief when Tony bounced in his seat and began rattling off a laundry list of things like whoppers and chicken fries.

He'd deal with the way his heart was pounding in his chest over being called perfect later.


"Hand me that mini torch. No, stop doing-- The torch. The welding tor-- fuck it, nevermind. Here, hold this."

Steve watched as Tony, bent over one of his many workbenches, scolded and sniped at his robots as he worked at a project. He resisted the urge to shake his head fondly at how he treated his robots. They were like Tony's wayward children. Maybe housepets.

"You gonna stand there all night watching, or are you gonna be useful and take this so I can... Jesus. How old are you? Maybe it's time for an upgrade."

The machine called Dum-E cooed sadly and delicately took hold of... Wait a minute.

"Is that my shirt?"

Tony turned in his seat and Steve tried not to laugh at how his goggles magnified his eyeballs comically.

"Steve! Come here, come here. Wait till you see this."

Steve took a few cautious steps forward to where Tony was sitting. He held out the plate in his hand as Tony lifted his goggles and stared down at it.

"Here," Steve said simply. Tony looked up at him, then back down at the plate. On it was a large turkey sandwich, sliced neatly from corner to corner. "You weren't at lunch. Or dinner. I figured someone had to make sure you were still alive down here."

"I missed lunch?" Tony blinked owlishly up at him and Steve felt something in his chest tug painfully. "What time is it?"

"One in the morning," Steve answered. He thrust the plate a little closer to Tony's chest, forcing the man to take it in his hands. "Will you eat that already?"

"Okay, okay." Tony took the plate from him slowly and looked down at it. He seemed surprised for a moment before he set it on the table to his right. He looked at the large glass of milk in his other hand and back up at Steve. "You don't expect me to drink that, do you?"

"You've been down here nine solid hours," Steve told him as he held it out. "Eat. Drink. Nourish yourself. Your body will thank me."

Tony looked down at the glass before he cocked his head to the side. "Call it an experiment if it makes it easier," he muttered to himself before he slowly extended his hand and took the glass from Steve's hand. Tony's eyes went wide and he stared up at him with something like astonishment in his gaze. "Thank you."

Steve furrowed his brows. What was that all about? "You're welcome."

Tony took a large gulp and set the glass down next to the plate, his eyes still on Steve. The air around them felt thick with tension, although Steve couldn't quite place why. Then Dum-E whirred and broke the moment.

"Here." Tony cleared his throat and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. "Do me a favor and lift this. Will it be too heavy across the chest, do you think?"

Steve took another step forward and laid his hand on the blue metal. It was smooth and cool to the touch, but it warmed under his hand almost instantly, leeching the heat from Steve's body. He held it up and the tiny pieces of mail moved smoothly. Under the mail he could feel leather, soft and supple against his skin.

"It's a reinforced alloy. Not as light as vibranium, obviously, but the best I could come up with on such short notice," Tony babbled over his shoulder. "The pieces are small enough that they'll move with you fluidly, but tough enough to withstand high velocity rounds from a distance. You'll need to be careful if you're facing someone with a gun point-blank, but you shouldn't need to worry too much about that. You did make a promise not to let yourself get into those situations, right?"

"Right, right," Steve nodded absently, holding up the shirt.

It was much lighter than it looked, and it jingled when he shook it. He held it out in front of him and stared at the white star emblazoned on its front. It was small, much too small to fit someone like Tony, or Clint, designed with his smaller frame in mind. The neckline was edged in blue leather, with mail reaching halfway down the arms and finished off with white sleeves that, when tugged, stretched a little. Midstomach the mail ended to reveal familiar red and white stripes that finished the effect beautifully.

It was perfect.

Something flooded his chest. He couldn't pinpoint what the feeling was, but it felt like relief. Gratitude, maybe. He couldn't believe what he held in his hands, what Tony had done for him.

He felt movement to his right and turned his head to see Tony beaming up at him.

"The fabric is a leather/Kevlar blend. I've got a friend in the fashion industry working to recreate enough of it for a pair of pants, so in a few days you'll need to see her to get fitted for them. Be careful when you go," Tony warned impishly. "She tends to get handsy."

"Tony..." Steve trailed off, unsure of how to articulate what he felt properly. He stared at the shirt with what could only be called a stupid smile. This was happening. He would be able to be Captain America again. There was no way Fury could say no now.

"Thank you."

"Well, it's not entirely finished right now. You'll need to try it on when I am. Give me another few hours..."

Steve turned his head to the side and caught Tony's tired grin. There were lines under his eyes, and the bandage around his thigh was lumpy and visible under his pants. He looked haggard, tired and worn out, but he was smiling. At Steve.

The odd feeling in his chest blossomed and it reminded him of when Peggy had pulled him down and pressed her lips against his in their first, and only, kiss.

Okay, maybe it was time to stop lying to himself. He knew what it was he was feeling. And it was far too late to stop it. If he was being honest with himself, he didn't want to stop it.

"You should go to bed. I can try it on in the morning. Besides," Steve said as he laid the shirt back down and nudged Tony's arm, "you still haven't eaten your sandwich."

Tony let out a huff of breath, picked up one half with a greasy hand, and took a large bite. He gave Steve a pointed look as he chewed, then he closed his eyes and moaned in bliss.

The feeling in Steve's chest changed to something hotter, then magnified tenfold suddenly, and he wondered just how long this had been going on inside of him without him realizing.

Tony swallowed and grinned at him, sandwich in one hand. Then he rolled his eyes when his stomach rumbled loudly. "Okay, fine. Point made. JARVIS, save and close all projects. Dum-E, U, clean this up." Tony took another bite and placed the half eaten sandwich down. "Leave the shirt on the table, though. We'll finish in the morning, boys."

Steve followed Tony as he walked around the shop, checking to make sure everything was off, before they walked up the stairs together.

"You want to watch something with me? Just for a little while. Long enough to put me to sleep, I swear." Tony limped to the living room and plopped down on the loveseat, setting his plate and glass on the table in front of him. Steve followed and sat down gingerly, unsure of how close to sit now that he'd admitted his feelings to himself. He left a decent amount of space between their bodies.

"Just for a few minutes," he said quietly. JARVIS turned the television on and an old black and white movie came up on the screen. They sat for several minutes in silence, the only sounds coming from the tv and Tony's munching, before Tony nudged him.

When Steve looked over he realized that Tony had moved closer. And was holding out the other half of the sandwich. Steve made a noise of protest even as he took it.

"Eat that, please. I'm seconds away from passing out in it anyway," Tony mumbled as he let his body sag against Steve's side.

Steve shook his head as he took a bite. Again with the feeding. His chewing slowed as he mulled over what Tony's blatant mother-henning could mean. Probably nothing. Just like Mrs. Barnes, who used to tsk and tut over Steve's tiny body before forcing him to eat a thick slice of bread. It wasn't like it meant anything more.

Of course, Tony had spent the better part of the day after being flung around his house by their large green teammate stuck in his workshop building Steve a set of armour from scratch, but that didn't mean anything major. Tony liked tinkering around, and creating a new costume for Steve had given him an outlet for it.

He had seemed pretty pissed off when Steve had shown up at the fight, though. Concerned enough for Steve's safety to leave in the middle of it, which was something that Tony would never have done before.

He said that he thought Steve was pretty. And handsome. And perfect.

Steve spent so long thinking about it that he almost didn't realize when Tony's head landed on his shoulder. He looked down at the head of dark hair resting against his neck, then let his head fall back.

It didn't mean anything. It didn't. It was one friend being concerned for another. The whole 'pretty' thing was just an observation Tony would make about anyone. Hell, Tony had called Thor pretty once before. Steve kept telling himself that as he closed his eyes and rested his cheek against Tony's hair.

He'd only indulge himself like this for just a little while longer. He could figure everything else out in the morning.

"So, I see you've got a new costume."

Steve looked down at his chest. He'd come to SHIELD at Fury's request, more endurance training, and Tony had made it a point to shove him into his costume before he'd left. He'd felt a little silly walking the halls of SHIELD in this getup, in this body, but the look on Fury's face when he'd entered the training room had been worth it.

On his way out he made a point to stop by to see Dr. Faustus. He'd missed their appointment due to Tony's latest incident with the Hulk and his next appointment wasn't for days, but he had heard that the doctor was in the building. He'd seemed surprised but pleased to see Steve knock at his door. He mentioned that he had an appointment in a few minutes, but he invited Steve in for a quick chat anyway.

"Yeah. Tony put it together the other day after the thing at the hospital." Steve did his best not to grin like a fool where he stood leaning against the doorframe, his shield strapped to his arm. He felt like himself again. Finally.

"It looks good."

"Thanks. I'm considering a redesign if I ever get back to... you know." Steve rubbed the back of his neck where the cowl was bunched. It was sweaty, and he was still hot, but in it he felt amazing. It helped that he'd managed to handle everything that Fury had thrown at him today. He was still out of breath, but the little purple disc he held in one of his pockets had helped hugely.

"That's good to hear." Dr. Faustus smiled at him. "What about the hunt for Loki?" Steve shrugged.

"What about it?"

"He's been quiet since the real life version of Toy Story took over Fifth Avenue."

"Fury still has people out there looking for him," Steve said. He knew that was true, because Fury showed him the file three days ago. Unfortunately for him, however, the medical doctors believed that the longer Steve stayed like this the less likely he would change back on his own. Strangely, he didn't seem to mind as much anymore. "If we ever catch him, maybe he'd be willing to change me back. He's managed to evade us this long, though, so the odds of SHIELD actually catching him are pretty slim."

"And how do you feel about that?"

Steve shrugged and the metal clinked quietly. He liked the sound of it. "If it happens, it happens. I'm done being upset about it. There's plenty I can still do without the serum. And my shield still works the same way. I should just be thankful that it's so light."

"That's an excellent way of looking at it." Dr. Faustus's eyes flickered down to the shield at Steve's side. "I must admit, I've always been curious. May I?"

Steve raised his arm and ran his hand over the rim. He felt silly saying no, but there was no real reason to.

"Sure." He pulled it off and held it out. Dr. Faustus came around the edge of the desk and took it with both his hands.

"It's so light," he said, surprised. He ran his thumbs over the metal, then he tossed it at the wall. The shield hummed when it struck and bounced back right in his hands. "Amazing." Dr. Faustus stared down at it for a moment before he held it back out for Steve to take. At that moment a man walked to the door and knocked on the frame.

"John. Ready for lunch?"

"Of course. Just give me a moment." The man looked at Steve and gave him a sympathetic smile before he turned and walked out.

Steve felt some of his earlier elation leave him at the look and tried not to let it show in his body language. Dr. Faustus put his hand on his shoulder and gave him a smile.

"You've been doing very well, Steve. I think we'll be reaching the end of our sessions soon."

Steve perked up. "That's good to hear."

"Until Thursday, then."


Steve looked up from his sketchbook to see Tony lounging in his doorway. He made it a point to keep his door open now, so no one could accuse him of 'hiding in his room.' Knowing Natasha had said that weeks ago had stung his pride.

"Hey, Tony. What's up?"

Steve looked down at the cartoon he'd been drawing of Tony down in his workshop, his eyes disproportionately large behind his giant welding goggles, before he stuck a thumb on the page and closed it quickly, hoping Tony hadn't seen it. He'd done all he could over the past two days to stay out of man's way. It was purely selfish. Steve just didn't want to give his, oh god, his crush any more room to grow.

Right, his traitorous mind whispered guiltily to him. Because sitting around drawing his face is so much more helpful.

"As per Clint's request, I managed to get my hands on the new Batman." Tony held up a clear case with a DVD in it. "Come on. Family movie night."

"Sure, just give me a minute to clean up." Steve gathered the Prismacolor pencils that lay on the desk and placed them carefully back in their tin. He'd made the token protests when he found out how much they had cost, but Tony had insisted that they were the best and that a few hundred bucks on some art supplies was chump change for him.

Tony strolled over to the desk and knocked a knuckle against Steve's sketchpad.

"May I?"

Steve hesitated. It was one thing for him to know he was stupidly drawing Tony's face over and over, but another for the man to see it. Hopefully he wouldn't get that far. There were a lot of other drawings to do through first.

Before he could put up too much of a fight, Tony slid the book over and flipped the cover. A drawing of the Hulk, a motorcycle held high over his head. He flipped. A landscape of Central Park. Flip. Nick Fury as a cartoon, yelling at a faceless crowd of underlings. Flip flip flip.

"Well, hello there. Who's the babe?"

Steve looked down to see Private Lorraine, her red lips pulled back in a coy smile. He smiled down at it.

"A friend from the war." He found himself laughing quietly as he remembered her. He'd been sad when he learned that she had passed some time ago. "The first woman who kissed me, actually."

"Wow, your first kiss? Good for you," Tony said lowly. "Mine was Rick Davies, in kindergarten. He just grabbed me and planted one on me. Dad never let me forget it, either." His voice had dropped a register and Steve bent back over the desk, hiding his reaction to the timbre of Tony's voice from view as he continued to clean up his desk.

"It wasn't. Good for me, I mean. Not really," Steve admitted to the erasers in his hand. He dumped them into a drawer and began to search out the sharpeners on his desk. "She kind of mauled my face, and I was too busy being shocked to realize what was going on until it was too late. We had a good laugh over it later, though."


He could hear the sounds of Tony flipping through the pages as he brushed the remnants of his sketching into the wastebasket. When he turned around Tony was staring down at it with a surprised look on his face. The words 'deer in headlights' came to Steve's mind.

Steve took a few steps closer and looked down.

Tony stared back up at him from a drawing that Steve remembered doing months ago. They'd just come back from a fight with a group of superpowered thugs who called themselves the Wrecking Crew, and Steve had taken a hit to the face from Piledriver hard enough to knock him on his back, leaving him winded. Tony had lifted the faceplate long enough for Steve to see the concern and fear in his eyes and he'd done his best to capture it in extensive detail, even through the fog of pain the punch had left across his vision.

The effect had left Tony looking hazy and almost ethereal, his brown eyes and furrowed brow the focus of the drawing. Steve had to admit that on paper it looked compromising. But Steve could've just been projecting his own feelings, and good lord he should have realized what he was doing much, much earlier.

He hadn't realized it then, but when Steve looked down at his sketch now he recognized it as the hand drawn equivalent of a love letter.

He looked up at Tony's face and took a sharp breath.

Tony was staring down at him with wide eyes, and Steve knew the jig was up.

"Tony, look. It's not what you--" he started, before Tony dropped the book, took his face in his hands, and covered Steve's mouth with his own.

Steve let out a surprised squeak and closed his eyes. He was just moving his hands up to cup Tony's when Tony pulled back quickly.

"Oh, christ." Tony let go of his face and took a step back. Steve stared up at him in shock. Tony let out a humorless laugh and ran a hand down his face. "Oh, christ, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have. I mean, I really shouldn't have. I've been doing just fine this whole time, it's not like it's anything new. Obviously. I mean, you must've guessed, from the eyes and the--" Tony paused to wave his hand at the book laying on the floor. "But it's fine. I mean, it'll be fine. I'll be fine. It's not like we ask for these things to happen, right? Just give it some time and I'll get over it. Don't worry." As an afterthought Tony bent down and picked up the book, moving hastily to put it back on Steve's desk.

Steve blinked. He only took in about a third of what Tony had said, too busy remembering the feel of Tony's mustache against his face, the softness of his lips.

"You're worrying, aren't you? Oh hell. Look, I know you enjoyed the other Batman movies. Why don't you join the rest of the bat family in the living room? I've got some things to do anyway, I'll just get out of your hair."

"Tony, wait. Please." Steve reached out and grabbed his wrist as he tried to make his escape. Tony froze and looked down at his hand. "You'll get over it? Get over what?"

Tony just stared at his hand, the air between them heavy with tension. He gave Steve a crooked smile. "You."

"Yo!" Clint voice called from down the hallway. "We watching this or not? Thor, put the sofa down!"

"You should probably go wrangle the team before they destroy my living room," Tony said, tugging at his arm. Steve felt a small smile creep over his face. Tony had kissed him. And it was apparently not 'anything new,' in his own words. Tony thought he needed time to get over Steve.

Maybe not just projecting, then.

"It's your living room, you wrangle them. Besides, I thought you liked comparing yourself to Wayne." Steve tugged Tony after him through the door and down the hallway despite his protests.

"Look, I should really--"

"Talk about what just happened later, yeah. We will. At length." Steve led Tony into the living room where Thor and Clint were wrestling on one of the couches for control of the remote. Natasha was curled up daintily in an armchair and Bruce was on the floor, far away from Clint's kicking feet.

Steve let go of Tony's arm and sat on the loveseat, in the same place he'd woken up the day before, Tony a warm weight against his side. Tony stared down at him for a minute before he sat down next to him.

Steve felt his thigh pressing against his and fought back a grin.

"Can we get this show started please before Cupid and Goldilocks break something?" Bruce called from the floor.

"You know how creepy I think it is when you use his pet names for us when the Hulk's not around, right?" Clint's head appeared over Thor's shoulder for a brief moment before one of Thor's giant hands slammed it back down again.

"JARVIS, that would be your cue. Also, do me a solid and lock out the remote that's currently in Thor's mouth. We don't need a repeat of the Great German Debate."

"As you wish, sir."

"Director Fury cleared me for missions yesterday," Steve started in immediately. Dr. Faustus barely had to ask him anything this time around. It'd gotten much easier for Steve to talk to him. "Nothing major, though. He made it very clear that I was to pull back if Loki or the Wrecking Crew show up, but at least I'll be back out in the field."

"So I hear," Dr. Faustus said lightly. Steve gave him a grin.

"You wouldn't have had anything to do with that, would you?"

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about."

Steve shook his head fondly at him and Dr. Faustus raised his pen.

"We're still going to continue with these sessions, only with less frequency."

"Don't take this the wrong way, doc," Steve said, still smiling, "but that's great news."

"So eager to get rid of me already? For shame." Steve chuckled. "Now, as tired as you are of hearing me say this, is there anything you'd like to share about the past week and a half?"

"This is confidential, right?" Steve squirmed in his seat. "I mean, I know that you have to report to Fury about me, but do you tell him... You know. Everything?"

"Everything that has to do with your mental health, and how you have been dealing with this transformation."

"Good, good." Steve took a few deep breaths to compose himself. "Tony kissed me."

"I thought you said there was nothing going on between you."

"There wasn't. At least, I didn't think there was. On his end, at least." Steve blushed as he once again relived their kiss in his mind.

"I didn't believe you were aware of your feelings for him." Steve looked up at him sharply. Dr. Faustus gave him a wry grin over the rim of his glasses. "You speak of Mr. Stark a great deal during our sessions. It was a logical hypothesis."

Steve flushed. Had he been so obvious to everyone but himself?

"Why don't you tell me a little about it."

"Well, there isn't much to tell..."

They'd gotten about halfway through the movie before Tony's phone began to buzz in his pocket. He'd ignored it the first few times, but the fourth time it happened Steve felt him lean away long enough to pull it out and stare down at it.

"It's Pepper. I have to take this." Tony stood, untangling their fingers and Steve immediately missed their weight against his. Somehow in the first ten minutes of the movie they'd gravitated to one another, and they'd ended up watching the first hour pressed together from shoulder to knee. Steve had a hard time paying attention to the plot of the movie at that point. Then Tony had placed his hand over Steve's on his knee and Steve stopped trying entirely.

He'd spent the past ten minutes concentrating on Tony's thumb, where it moved rhythmically back and forth over one of Steve's nails, and missed everything going on around him. That was why, after he watched Tony stroll out of the room with his phone pressed to his ear, he wasn't surprised to see Natasha staring at him.

Steve flushed in the darkness of the room and sank back into the cushions, embarrassed. He didn't miss the way she smirked as she turned her head back to the screen. He just thanked god that she was amused rather than disgusted.

It only took a few minutes before Tony came parading back through the room, shrugging into a jacket. There had been a slight emergency with a Stark Industries engineer and and Tony had to go, but the rest of them should enjoy the movie and he'd see them later.

Only Tony hadn't come back that night. Steve knew because he'd stayed up after the movie was over, sitting on the couch watching television until he finally fell asleep. When he woke the next morning he'd asked JARVIS where Tony was and the AI informed him that he hadn't returned yet.

That had been yesterday, right before Steve had been called into SHIELD by Director Fury. By the time Steve had gotten back to the mansion it had been late, and JARVIS had informed him that Tony had been locked up in his workshop and didn't want to be disturbed.

By the time Steve left the mansion that morning for his weekly session he still hadn't had the chance to talk to him, and he couldn't help but wonder if Tony was distancing himself on purpose.

"Mr. Stark does have a reputation for being a bit of a playboy," Dr. Faustus said mildly, and Steve winced.

"Well, yes, but that was before. When we first met he and Pepper were together, and even after they broke up he didn't seem to date much." It was true, now that he thought about it. Tony hadn't vanished completely from the dating scene, and he did show up to some charity event a few months ago with some debutante on his arm that the press had speculated wildly over. But compared to the files Steve had read on the man before they met the transition had been obvious.

"Perhaps he just needs time to get used to the idea of the two of you."

"To be honest, I kind of need some time to get used to the idea myself," Steve said through a chuckle. He still couldn't believe what had happened had been real. "We just need to talk about what happened, and pinning Tony down isn't always easy."

"What about the rest of your team? How did they react to finding out that you were going to be allowed back in the field?"

"They seemed happy enough for me. I couldn't promise that I wouldn't be a hindrance in the middle of a fight, but it felt good to know that they would have my back if I need them. Natasha gave me a stern talking to about how she wouldn't put up with me if I couldn't follow an order to clear out when I was told, but that she was glad that Captain America was going to be out there again. It was reassuring."

"Good for you." Dr. Faustus wrote something down and closed his file. Steve took it as his cue and stood up. Like always, they shook hands.

"Same time next week?"

"We'll see," Dr. Faustus replied with a grim smile. "I have a feeling I won't be seeing much more of you, Captain. You have been adjusting to your new life well, and pretty soon these sessions will surely be pronounced redundant."

Steve just gave him a big smile.

"Maybe if Daddy hugged you more as a child--" Tony was cut off in the middle of his sentence as a car slammed into him, the both of them flying backwards into a building. The car had Tony pinned to the concrete.

"You dare speak to me in such a manner?" Loki strode purposefully down the street. Steve could see his helmet glinting in the light through the screen.

"Tony, back off. Quit taunting him," he said into his communicator. He heard a scoff over the line.

"Yeah, Stark. You're the last one to start in with the daddy issues," Natasha's voice came through loud and clear over the comm line from where she was on the other side of the street, getting her leg dressed by a field medic. Steve tried not to snort. Nothing about this situation was funny.

Steve had only been back from his visit at SHIELD for an hour when Thor had appeared in the middle of the mansion, looking distraught. He'd had a brief altercation in Asgard with his mother over the status of her missing son. It was mere minutes later when JARVIS had patched through Agent Coulson to the house; Loki was spotted at the top of the Brooklyn Bridge, zapping great big flashes of light at passing cars in what Steve could only describe as a cry for attention.

Tony, who had dragged himself up from his workshop at some point when Steve had been out, had rushed through the room to make it to his armour and dragged Steve along with him. Steve wanted, dearly, to be able to talk to the man about the kiss but there hadn't been time to do much more than change into his new uniform before Tony had his arm around his waist and was flying them over the city.

By the time the Avengers had arrived Loki had graduated to casually tossing cars down the street. It only took moments before Steve realized dismally that he would have to sit this one out.

Giant stuffed pandas flying through the air were one thing. Five thousand pound cars were another.

He sat at a table at a restaurant SHIELD had commandeered down the street from the wreckage, an open laptop in front of him showing him the footage of the surrounding security cameras. Steve clenched his hands into fists.

He should be out there.

Thor landed a few steps in front of his brother, gripping his hammer in one hand.

"Brother, you do not need to do this," he started. Loki raised his hands and four doubles of himself stepped out from behind him. They all glared at Thor with hatred in their eyes.

"I am not your brother," they said as one. Thor raised his hammer but was struck back when all five Lokis shot green bursts of energy at him.

"Our mother misses you dearly, you little ass," Thor shouted, rushing at him. The Lokis all laughed and dodged his swings easily.

"You're not even trying," he accused. "It's almost like you don't want to hurt me. You should. I'm going to hurt you."

Steve watched as one of the Lokis grabbed Thor by the throat and his hand began to glow. Thor let out a choked noise and grabbed his hands, trying to pry his fingers from his throat as Loki lifted him in the air.

"You were given everything, have taken everything from me, everything that should have been rightfully mine. You acted as a barbarian and a child then, and you still do now. Did you really tattle on me to our mother?"

"Loki, please." Thor's speech was slurred, garbled, and Steve wished desperately that he could do something about it. He watched as the Hulk dropped into the scene and pulled at the car that had Tony pinned. "We love you. I love you."

Loki's face twisted as the doubles disappeared, sucked back into his body rapidly one by one. His eyes glowed briefly and the next thing Steve knew Thor was flying through the air. He landed so hard in the middle of the street that he ripped the asphalt, then lay there unmoving.

Loki laughed and devoted his attention back to the bridge, which he began to climb with alarming speed.

The Hulk let out a mighty roar and jumped in the air. Loki turned and raised his hand and Steve watched as the Hulk flew backwards, landing far away in the river with a great splash that would be seen from a distance.

"That's it," Iron Man's faceplate was, as always, a blank mask, but Steve could hear the ire in his voice well enough. "I've had enough of this guy."

"Iron Man, wait," Natasha's breathless voice came over the comms, and Steve looked through the window in time to see her race past, heading towards the bridge. "We already know what this guy is capable of. Look what he did to Thor! To Steve! We don't know what he could do to you."

"Then stick around and you can find out. I'm going after him."

"This is exactly what I was talking about when I put down 'not recommended,' damnit. You don't know how to follow orders!"

Steve gripped the tabletop and felt movement by his shoulder. He turned to see Coulson next to him, who was watching the screen with an impassive face.

"We have to stop him," Steve said. Coulson just tightened his jaw. "He's going to get himself killed!"

"He knows what he's doing," was all Phil said in reply. Steve turned around to watch as Iron Man shot forward and landed on the bridge. He could feel his hands clenching as Loki turned and fired off two green shots at him. Iron Man dodged them well enough, but the third hit him square in the chest.

The leather of Steve's gloves squeaked when he balled his hands into fists. "Iron Man, stand down," he tried in his most commanding voice. He was ignored. "I mean it, Tony."

"He probably cut his communicator," Coulson supplied helpfully. Steve grit his teeth and watched as Iron Man darted in and grabbed Loki, liting him high in the air. The last Steve saw as he turned on his heel was the two of them struggling as they lifted higher and higher.

"Captain Rogers!" Coulson said sharply from behind him.

"Somebody needs to do something," Steve called over his shoulder as he reached the door. He tightened his grip on his shield as he yanked it open. "I won't just stand by and let him blow up the bridge. Or himself."

Steve made it ten, maybe twenty steps out in the open when he heard it. A small 'boom!' went off, and Steve looked up.

The Iron Man armour was falling, picking up speed as it dropped from the sky.

"Tony!" Steve cried out and broke into a run. He made it to the edge of the bridge in time to witness the loud splash as the armour hit the river and sank. Steve watched, waiting with baited breath, but the armour didn't reappear. A clear laugh echoed from above and Steve looked up just in time to watch Loki land a few paces in front of him with barely a sound.

"Little Captain," Loki started, a smirk on his face. "How wonderful to see you again."

"Loki, why do you keep doing this?" Steve stared at the unmoving water as he spoke, anger and worry warring on his face when he finally whipped around to stare at him. He couldn't think about Tony right now, not when Loki was right there. "What is it you want? If it's Asgard, then take your fight there and leave it out of our world!"

"But this world is so much more fun," Loki sneered as he advanced on him. Steve held his head high. "You mortals are so soft. It's so easy to bend your weak minds to my will."

"Do you even realize what your fighting is doing to Thor? To your mother? It's killing them. They've done nothing but love you, and this is how you repay them?"

Loki narrowed his eyes and raised his hands. Steve lifted his shield and grit his teeth when Loki's energy blast zapped it hard enough to feel down his arm. He decided to try something else and let his shield drop. Loki watched him with curious eyes.

"I get it, okay?" Steve took a step forward. "I know what it's like to be overlooked, to always be the little guy in the shadow of somebody greater. You feel like you have nothing to give the world you love, the world that mistreated and disrespected you but that isn't true. Nobody is trying to hold you down-- they're trying to protect you."

"I don't need protecting," Loki snarled, raising one hand that was glowing with brilliant gold energy. Steve felt a spike of fear rip through him. Maybe this time Loki would wipe him out of existence completely. He did his best to ignore it. "And certainly not by those who have betrayed me."

"You think I don't know what it's like to feel betrayed? When the people around you, the ones who claim to love and care for you look at you with pity in their eyes? Like all you were meant to be was a joke? I know that feeling all too well, and you don't see me acting out in a fit of rage. This is the hand that life has dealt me, and if I have to stay like this forever, then so be it! There is nothing wrong with being the little guy."

"Being a little guy and being a monster are two very different things, Little Captain."

"You're not a monster, Loki."

Steve turned his head to see Thor limping towards them. He was bleeding from a gash on his forehead, but he was staring at his brother with imploring eyes.

"You may be a thief, a trickster, and a mischievous brat at the worst of times, but never a monster. Not to our family. Not to me."

"There's still room in this world for a little guy like to me to make a difference," Steve added. Loki looked from his brother to Steve. "I've still got a chance. And so do you, Loki."

"You would risk your life defending a world that has mocked and belittled you," Loki said with narrowed eyes. "Why?"

"Because there are those in this world that love him, no matter his many imagined inadequacies. Steve Rogers speaks true. Please, brother." Thor took a step forward and extended a hand towards Loki, palm up. "Come home."

Loki stared at Thor's hand for a long moment before he turned his head to look at Steve.

"We all play the cards that life has handed us, little Captain. Mine have been dealt years ago. It is too late for me."

"Loki, wait!" Thor cried, but Loki flung his hand out and Thor and Steve went flying backwards. By the time they stood up, there was nothing but a wisp of smoke where Loki had been.

At that moment the Hulk dropped back into the scene, dripping and looking sullen. "No brother?"

"No, Hulk." Steve looked up at Thor, who was staring forlornly at the spot where Loki had stood. Thor turned and walked away without a word. "No brother. But Iron Man is at the bottom of the river. Could you?"

"Hulk no like water," the green giant said stubbornly. He perked up and jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "Hulk smash bridge?"

"That would be a resounding no." Steve turned to see Natasha walking towards them. The Hulk let out a loud roar and smashed both hands on the ground hard. The wires of the bridge shook and Natasha hit her earpiece quickly. "Hawkeye, care to save the bridge?"

"Spot on." Steve heard in his ear, before he heard a sharp twang. The Hulk looked down at the arrow sticking out of his arm. It would've been funny how his eyes went wide before he dropped with a loud crash if he hadn't landed on an expensive-looking car.

"He'll change back in an hour or so," Natasha said when she caught Steve looking down at him sadly. "In the meantime, SHIELD has a few divers down there attaching cables to the armour so we can drag Iron Man out of the water."

"Is he..." Steve swallowed. Tony had been down there for a long time. Natasha took pity on him and put a calming hand on his shoulder.

"He's okay. JARVIS overrode the suit protocols and informed Agent Coulson that Tony is alive and well. He sustained minor injuries, but he'll be fine."

"Good to know."

Natasha turned to him and pinned him in place with a stare.

"You, on the other hand. You walked straight into a situation that was too big for you to handle, after you promised up, down and sideways that you would listen when we told you to pull back. What were you thinking, trying to take on a demigod?"

"I just thought I could talk to him, that's all." Steve tried not to sigh. Fury would probably be righteously pissed with him, would certainly put Steve back on the bench. But he could still see Tony's red and gold armour dropping from the sky in his mind, Thor laying unmoving on the sidewalk, the Hulk crashing into the water.

Steve had a nasty habit of disobeying orders when he felt they were wrong, and at that moment the only logical thing he could've done had been to help his teammates. His friends. And he would do it again in a heartbeat.

Natasha let out a small huff and nudged him with her elbow. "Well, good job."

Steve looked at her in surprise and she laughed. "What, did you think I was going to yell at you?"

"It did seem that way, yes."

"Maybe you got through to him. Maybe Loki won't be back for months. I don't know. But he left without leaving a smoking crater in his wake this time, so we're counting this one as a win." She leveled a fierce stare at Steve. "Just don't do it again."

"Trust me," Steve said as he replayed the moment in his mind when Loki had held up a hand glowing with magic at him. "I won't."

They rode back to SHIELD in near silence, Steve with one eye on the truck following them that held the damaged Iron Man armour with Tony stuck inside of it. By the time they arrived he could hear Tony over his communicator slurring protests at the agents who were working on getting him out of it.

Unfortunately for Steve Fury had whisked him, Natasha and Coulson away for a status report and then had spent over an hour yelling at Steve for running off on his own against orders. By the time he'd been dismissed Steve felt every inch of his five foot four frame. But Fury had begrudgingly given him clearance to the medical facility, where Tony and Bruce were trapped, so the first thing he did after his dressing down was rush over to see them.

Bruce looked grumpy, was still shaking off the last of whatever was in the arrow that Clint had hit him with, but he was okay. Stuck in a bed and clumsily spooning jello into his mouth with a bandaged arm, but okay. Tony on the other hand...

Steve walked over to the bed that Tony was sleeping in. Someone had cut his undersuit off of him so he was shirtless, the arc reactor glowing dimly behind a layer of bandages that had been wrapped around his chest. He laid his hand over Tony's.

When the Iron Man armour had hit the water, it had bruised Tony's ribs hard enough for the man to pass out from the pain. Nobody could be sure what made him fall out of the sky, but once he was in the water JARVIS had taken over the suit and sealed the airtight locks. He had also pricked Tony with a low dose of morphine at some point, so that explained the slurring Steve had heard over the comm line.

He wasn't sure how long he stood there, but after a while he heard quiet footsteps coming up behind him. A large hand was laid on his shoulder.

"I am thankful for what you did today, Captain." Thor's voice was quiet. "My brother knows your plight well. It is good that you have overcame what you once viewed as a hindrance, enough so that you would willingly stand against him on the field of battle, and with great dignity. I am honored to call you my friend."

"I'm sorry about your brother," Steve replied. He turned to face Thor who was staring down at Tony's prone form.

"Loki has always been difficult, this I knew. I had not believed him to be lost to me forever, but I fear he may be this time. I have now truly failed the one person I was meant to protect above all others." Thor turned to give Steve a piercing look. "I beg of you, Steven. Do not let your chance pass you by. If you have the chance to bring happiness to yourself, you must seize it before it is lost to you."

Steve stared at Thor for a moment before he swallowed and nodded.

"I will."

Steve rolled onto his side and stared at the window.

The SHIELD medical personnel had released Tony shortly after he'd woken. They'd been unhappy, but there was little they could do, short of strapping him to the bed. Tony had been loopy off of the morphine and unsteady under Steve's hands as he and Bruce had helped him to the car.

Once again Happy had been long suffering but helpful in aiding them home, which only made Steve wonder how often Tony used to need this kind of help over the years. When they'd arrived Bruce had disappeared into his room, leaving Steve to help Tony stumble up the stairs and into his bed.

Tony had reached out and wrapped his fingers around Steve's wrist, giving it a little shake, before his eyes closed.

"Still need to talk about that kiss," Tony mumbled. Steve pushed his other hand into Tony's hair and rubbed his scalp gently.

"In the morning," he said simply. Then Tony was out. Steve extracted his hand from where Tony's lax fingers were curled around his wrist and left the room. He'd been lying down in his bed, staring up at the ceiling since.

Steve blinked at the window. It looked as though that shadow was... moving...

He sat up quickly and turned to see Loki lounging against his dresser, his green eyes piercing. Steve let go of the bedding and did his best to seem relaxed, as though enemies of his with mystical abilities always showed up in his bedroom.

"Loki," Steve started, then he stopped. He honestly had no idea how to approach this. "Come to finish the job?"

"You know, you mortals are quite resilient." Loki's eyes darted about the room and landed on Steve's shield. Ever since he'd figured out how to open the locker he'd kept it in his room, on a chair near the bed. "You always bounce right back after somebody shows up and tries to squish you."

"What do you want?"

Loki pushed himself off of the dresser and took a few confident steps around the room. "Many things, Captain. Most of which you cannot give me."

"Then why come to see me?" Steve cocked his head to the side. "You're afraid to talk to Thor, aren't you?"

"I am not afraid," Loki spat out. Steve smirked.

"Of course you are." Steve sat back and crossed his arms over his t-shirt. "You were crying out for attention and Thor told mommy on you and now you're embarrassed and pouting."

Loki snarled and took a quick step forward. Then he paused and his face smoothed out. Steve looked at him closely. Loki looked back at him, indignant. Steve let out a sharp cry of triumph.

"You went home, didn't you? That's why you're here." Loki let out a huff of breath and looked away and Steve laughed. "Your mother told you to come and, what? Apologize? For constantly threatening my people or for doing what you did to me?"

"You walk on thin ice, mortal."

"If you were here to hurt me, you would have done so by now," Steve said as he threw his covers back. He swung his legs around the side of the bed and looked up at Loki.

Loki stared down at Steve with pursed lips for a long moment. Then he rolled his eyes and stared upwards.

"It's not like it wouldn't have happened in a month or so anyway," he grumbled. He placed a hand on Steve's forehead and gave him a narrow-eyed look. "I want you to know I'm not doing this for you."

Then the world glowed white behind Steve's eyes and he passed out.

When Steve woke up it was to sunlight shining in his eyes. He squinted and turned over, pulling the blanket over his face. He'd forgotten to shut the blinds last night. Last night...

Steve sat up abruptly and stared down at his hands. His big hands. Attached to his big arms.

"Oh, thank god."

Steve ran his hands over his stomach before he threw back the covers and jumped out of bed. He looked at himself in the mirror above his dresser and just stared.

The t-shirt that Steve had worn to bed the night before was tight across his shoulders, the sweatpants clinging to his thighs.

When Steve grinned at his reflection, Captain America grinned back at him.

There was nobody in the kitchen when Steve made his way in, but he could smell the coffee that was brewing. He went to the counter and grinned when he opened the cabinets and pulled down the waffle iron from the top shelf. God, it was good to be back.

He was pouring batter into the iron for the fourth time when he heard shuffled footsteps in the hallway. He kept his eyes on what he was doing.

"Morning," he said. He got a grunt in reply. When he turned around Tony was staring at the coffee maker blearily, clutching an empty mug.

"Please tell me you didn't do this," Tony said in a flat tone. "How many times do we have to go over this? You aren't allowed to touch my..."

Tony trailed off as he turned around. He looked down at his mug then back up at Steve's grinning face. He blinked owlishly, then smiled back at him goofily.

"Oh. Hi."

Steve let out a quiet laugh. "Good morning, Tony."

"So it is." Tony put the mug down on the countertop and took a hesitant step forward. Then he stopped and his smile vanished. "Look, about that kiss--" he started, then he was cut off when light footsteps came from the hallway. He turned to the machine and busied himself with filling his cup.

Steve turned to see Natasha enter the kitchen in a pencil skirt and a light blue blouse. She gave Steve a crisp nod and a smile on her way to the coffee.

"Steve. You're back."

Steve opened his mouth to say that he didn't go anywhere, that he had been there the entire time, but Tony beat him to it.

"He was never gone," he said easily. Then Tony looked over his shoulder at him and smiled at that and Steve couldn't help himself. He smiled back.

Natasha was careful to keep her eyes on her cup as she moved in and poured out two cups of coffee. "Of course. Well, I've got a job to do. Steve, the Director would like to see you. If you'd like a ride to SHIELD I'll be leaving in half an hour, after I get Hawkeye out of bed."

"Guess I should go face the music, huh?" Steve sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. Was he ever going to get to talk to Tony about that kiss? "I'll be ready."

"See that you are." She gave Steve a wink before she turned and left.

Steve turned to finish his conversation with Tony to find Tony on his way out of the kitchen as well, coffee clutched in one hand. "Tony, wait." He took a step after him.

Tony turned and gave Steve a tight smile, nodding at the countertop. "Your breakfast is burning, and I've got work to do as well."

"We need to talk, Tony. Please." Steve ignored the waffle iron and stared at Tony with a pleading look on his face. The older man rolled his eyes and made his way over to the counter.

"You're going to damage it if you leave it unattended like that," Tony scolded. He placed his coffee down and opened the iron, dumping the blackened waffle out. Steve leaned in and put his hand over Tony's. He lowered he device and reached around his body with his other arm to pull the cord from the outlet.

"There, happy?" Steve said lowly, right into Tony's ear. Tony was right there, right in his space again, only this time Tony was staring up at him, looking up over his shoulder at Steve like he had no idea what to say next.

"Immensely," Tony choked out. He let go of the handle and curled his thumb around Steve's hand. He rubbed it against one of Steve's fingernails. "I shouldn't have kissed you. I'm sorry," he said.

"Why? I wanted you to." Steve let go of the cord and placed his hand on Tony's hip. He pushed and Tony turned around in his arms. Steve stared down at him head on. "If you don't want to pursue this because it's not what you want, that's okay. We can chalk it up to stress, or temporary insanity if you like. I can live with that. I won't like it, but I'll accept it. But if you're doing this because you think it's not what I want, you're wrong."

"Steve, I'm so bad at this," Tony said, waving his hand down at them. "Ask anyone."

"You don't give yourself enough credit," Steve said. Tony opened his mouth to make some sort of rebuff, but Steve didn't want to hear it so he leaned forward and kissed him.

Tony's lips were just as soft as he remembered, countered by the scratch of his facial hair around Steve's mouth. Steve closed his eyes and sucked at Tony's lower lip gently.

Tony made a soft sound and wrapped his hands around Steve's waist, pulling him against his body sharply. Steve let out a surprised noise into Tony's mouth and Tony took advantage and slid his tongue inside.

It was amazing. Steve slid his hand up Tony's neck to hold him in place as he twined his tongue around Tony's slowly. Tony tasted like coffee, smelled like metal and hints of his expensive cologne, and something sharp and astringent that could only be remnants of his stay in the infirmary.

It was perfect.

Tony pulled back slowly, leaning up for a tiny nibble of Steve's mouth. Steve tightened his arms around him to pull him back in and Tony hissed quietly. Steve dropped his arms in horror, remembering the bandages that were under Tony's shirt.

"Sorry, sorry. Damnit, I forgot." Steve made to back away but Tony followed, leaning heavily into Steve's space. Steve wrapped his arms gingerly around Tony's waist, mindful of his injuries.

"Don't apologize for your strength. It's sexy." Tony leaned in for another kiss. Steve obliged happily.

"I thought it wasn't the size of the boat," he murmured against Tony's lips, "but the motion of the ocean."

Tony grinned against his mouth. "Don't let Clint hear you say that. He'll never let you live it down. Besides, I have a feeling I'm going to enjoy taking the boat out for a ride."

Steve felt his entire body flush with the suggestion. Tony ran his hand down Steve's chest, let it linger over Steve's stomach, then dipped his fingertips just under the waistband of Steve's sweatpants. Steve's eyes crossed before he pulled away.

"SHIELD. Um. Shower." Before he could stop himself he ran his hands down Tony's arms once more. "Can we talk more when I get back, or will you be working?"

"I'll be around," Tony said. He used Steve's loose grip on his hands to tug him forward for one more kiss. "Find me."

"I will."

"I see you've had an eventful twenty-four hours."

Steve grinned at the doctor. It had taken a lot for him not to put on his old costume. He'd rationalized wearing civillian clothing because he liked the mail. He'd have to get Tony to recreate his costume once more.

"I guess you've seen the footage. Loki attacked the city yesterday, and Thor and I managed to talk him down. Then he showed up last night and..." Steve spread his hands out. "I woke up like this."

"After you left Director Fury's office he contacted me. It seems our sessions have come to their natural conclusion. To be honest, Steve, this was going to be our last anyway. You've made remarkable progress in a few short weeks. I'm sure it all seems redundant now, though. Anyhow, I'm pleased to see you looking so happy."

"I've gotta be honest with you, doc," Steve said as he rubbed the back of his neck. "It's not so much the, you know. Transformation. I'm still sort of pissed at that, actually."

Dr. Faustus cocked his head to the side and studied his face. "You are?"

"Something was done to me. Again. I was just getting used to the idea of staying small for the rest of my life when Loki told me that it would've worn off eventually. He only changed me back earlier because his mother made him. It was just another one of his thoughtless pranks."

"Yes, mothers are like that, I suppose." Dr. Faustus smiled at him. "So why is it you're so happy?"

"Tony." Steve let the goofy smile creep back over his face. "We managed to sort of talk this morning, and I think... That it's going to finally happen."

Dr. Faustus leaned back in his seat and steepled his fingers together. He chuckled a bit. "I must say, it is certainly about time."

"I'll say." Steve opened his mouth to say more, but at that moment the lighting in the hallway changed, flashing red.

"Attention all personnel, we have a code thirteen on our hands. I repeat, we have a code thirteen."

Steve stood abruptly and picked up the large portfolio that held his shield. He turned to the door, then changed his mind and turned back to Dr. Faustus.

Steve offered him his hand and the doctor stood and shook it firmly.

"Thank you for all of your help."

"Trust me, Captain. It was my pleasure. Now," he said as he nodded at the door, "go assemble your team."

With one last smile, Steve was out the door and down the hallway.

Dr. Faustus let the smile fade from his face as he sat back down. He picked up his pen and jotted down something at the bottom of the last page in Steve's file before he sat back and tapped the pen to his lips. He smiled and stared down at the single word he wrote before he closed the folder and placed it in a drawer.

Subject ready for further testing: Yes.