01. The Third Wedding of Timothy Aloysius Cadwallader Dugan
In retrospect, it was all Dum Dum Dugan’s fault. He’d been the one to say it, to take Steve by the arm after a rough mission and shove his bowler hat right in his face.
“You see this?” he said, shoving a finger through a bullet hole at the top. “Coulda been me, and not my hat!”
Then he started laughing, big full belly laughs that made his shoulders shake and his mustache quiver. He slapped Steve on the back.
“You crazy son of a bitch!” he exclaimed, grinning so wide Steve thought his face might break. “We survive this mess, you’re bein’ my best man!”
“Um,” Steve said, shooting Bucky an alarmed look over Dum Dum’s shoulder. Bucky, too busy laughing to be any real help, mouthed ‘do it’ back at Steve. “Sure?”
He wandered off after that, leaving Steve bemused and, seventy years later, in an itchy bowtie.
“You’ve got mail.”
Steve looked up. “I do?”
Fury held the envelope between two fingers and tapped it against the doorway. “Special SHIELD delivery,” he said, stone-faced.
Steve cracked his knuckles, stepping away from the punching bag. Tony had a gym back at the mansion, but Steve felt at odds in it, all gleaming chrome and shining surfaces, state of the art technology. He liked the beat up-looking SHIELD facilities much better.
He took the enveloped from Fury. It was cream-colored and soft to the touch. His name -- Captain Steven Rogers, c/o Director Nicholas Fury -- was printed on the front in flowing black script. He flipped it over; an address was printed on the back, along with a name: Timothy Aloysius Cadwallader Dugan.
“Who?” Steve said. Fury gave him a flat look.
“I promised I’d deliver this by hand,” he said. “Don’t make me regret it, Rogers.”
Steve looked at him for a long moment, then nodded. He slipped his thumb underneath the envelope’s flap, breaking the delicate wax seal. Inside there was small card, the same delicate cream color, inviting him to the wedding of the aforementioned Mr. Dugan and his doubtlessly lovely bride-to-be. There was also a photograph.
It was an old black and white, faded with age and yellow around the edges. It took Steve a moment to recognize it; he stood at the photo’s center in his old uniform with his arm around Bucky’s shoulders. To the far left was Dum Dum Dugan, one hand on his hat and the other on his gun. Steve flipped the photograph over. There was a message written across the back in a bold, messy scrawl: you made me a promise, Glamourpants. Time to pay up.
P.S. Wear a tux.
“What?” Steve said, eyebrows furrowing. Fury gave him a look that might’ve been fond, somewhere underneath.
He tapped the photo, right below the postscript. “He’s serious about those tuxes. Look sharp, Rogers.”
Dum Dum Dugan looked the same. Alright, he’d gone grey down to his mustache and his face was weathered with age, but his eyes still sparkled behind a new pair of thick glasses. He still wore a bowler hat perched proudly on top of his head.
Steve could have cried, the first time he saw him.
He embraced him instead, pulling Dum Dum towards him and clapping him on the back.
“Whoa there!” Dum Dum exclaimed, laughing. He embraced back, the same bear hug Steve had been surprised with during the war. “Easy, soldier!”
“It’s good to see you,” Steve said. He loosened his grip but didn’t let go. Dum Dum didn’t let go either and they stood there for a while, in front of Dum Dum’s hotel, wordlessly reassuring each other that they were both real and solid and there. At last, he pulled back. “You look…”
“Old?” Dum Dum said, eyes crinkling at the corners.
Steve clapped him on the shoulder. “You look great.”
Dum Dum huffed a laugh. “We can’t all be super soldier popsicles. Forget Disney’s frozen head, you make a great case for all that cryogenics mumbo-jumbo.”
“Disney’s frozen head?” Steve repeated, alarmed.
“What are they teachin’ you in that hero team of yours?” Dum Dum said. He clapped Steve on the back, leading him towards the hotel’s doors. “Come on, let’s get a drink.”
“I still can’t get drunk, you know,” Steve pointed out. Dum Dum laughed, a big full laugh. It brought back memories – good ones, and a lot of them. They settled, warm, in the center of Steve’s chest. He smiled and ducked his head and swung his arm around Dum Dum’s shoulders.
“Good,” Dum Dum said. “Then at least one of us’ll be sober enough to get me back to my hotel room.”
“What are you wearing?”
Steve tugged at one cuff. He glanced at the mirror – Natasha was standing in the doorway – and gave her a lopsided smile. “No good?”
She arched one eyebrow. Steve sighed. He readjusted his tie.
“I’m not used to this kind of thing,” he admitted. He gave himself the once-over in the mirror – sleeves too short at the wrists, jacket’s shoulders too snug over his own and a tie that just wouldn’t stay centered no matter how many times he redid it.
“Not used to what?”
Steve glanced up at the mirror; sometime in the last half-second Clint had joined Natasha in the doorway. He had half a poptart dangling out of his mouth, and there came a booming cry of rage from down the hall.
Clint broke the poptart off, chewed, and held the rest out to Steve.
“No, thanks,” Steve said. Clint gave a your loss shrug.
“What’s the occasion?” he said. Steve attempted to straighten his tie again – how was it that he could nail a HYDRA soldier with his eyes closed from a hundred feet away, but a strip of cloth managed to defeat him every time? – only to abandon it halfway through when it started looking less like a tie and more like the leftover pasta he'd found cleaning out the back of Tony's fridge.
“A friend of mine is getting married,” Steve said, stepping back from the mirror and stripping off the too narrow jacket. He hadn’t had to buy his own clothes since the serum, so when confronted with a department store full of suits he’d blanked and grabbed the first thing he saw.
It was Bucky’s size, too short in the ankles and the wrists and tight across the shoulders. Had he really been that much bigger than Bucky? It was hard to remember, and even harder to imagine.
“You’ve got friends who aren’t us?” Clint asked, quirking an eyebrow. He spread his hands wide in apology when Steve shot him a look. “Hey, no offense! I don’t have friends who aren’t us.”
“I guess I’m surprised, too,” Steve said, making one last sad go at his tie. “It’s – someone I knew, from the war. Dum Dum Dugan.”
Natasha made a faint sound of recognition. Clint snorted.
“Cut it out before you strangle yourself,” he said, ducking into the room and reeling Steve in by his tie. “Ol’ Dum Dum’s still around, huh? Last time I saw that guy he was shooting at me.”
“It was a training exercise,” Natasha clarified. Clint snorted again, viciously undoing the knots in Steve’s tie.
“Like hell it was,” he said, looping the tie over itself and pulling it tight. “I was minding my own business, waiting for orders to move in on Batroc, and next thing I know the crazy bastard opens fire.”
He stepped back, and Steve glanced in the mirror. His tie was knotted perfectly.
“SHIELD training,” Clint said, giving him a quick grin. “I can also poach an egg.”
The night before the rehearsal dinner he found a garment bag hanging from his door. Bemused, he carefully tugged at the zipper and revealed a pristine tuxedo beneath. There was a note pinned to the inside of the bag, and two ties looped around the hanger: one plain black, the other purple.
Steve felt a smile tug at his face. He tugged the note free and unfolded it.
I couldn’t stop him. Wear the black.
Steve headed down to Long Island the afternoon of the rehearsal dinner. He had planned on taking the train. He wasn’t technically supposed to – in fact he was pretty sure there was a list of SHIELD rules as long as his arm outright forbidding it – but he’d borrowed a baseball cap and sunglasses and Bruce had assured him that as long as he kept his head down he’d “probably go unnoticed. If you’re lucky. Maybe try to slouch a little more.”
When he got to the station there was a car waiting for him outside. The driver was leaning against it with a sign that said ROGERS in blocky letters.
“I didn’t order a car,” Steve said on approach.
“My boss likes to think he’s funny,” the man replied. He stuck his hand out; Steve shook it. He had a firm grip. “Happy Hogan, Mr. Stark’s chauffeur.”
“Tony’s chauffeur?” Steve repeated, frowning. “I think there’s been some kind of misunderstanding.”
“Not at all,” Happy said, shooting him a toothy grin. He opened the backseat and gestured for Steve to get in. “All the way out to Long Island, right? For the Dugan wedding. The boss couldn’t make it himself, but he’s sending me with his apologies.”
“His apologies,” Steve repeated, feeling a little numb. Tony-related situations often left him feeling a little numb.
“That’s supposed to be you, I think,” Happy said, shrugging. Steve shifted his weight and readjusted his luggage – a simple duffel and his new suit still in its garment bag. Happy followed the movement with his eyes. “Look, the way I see it, you got nothing to lose. Nice ride upstate, yeah? And hey, you’d be doing me a favor. It’s not every day a guy gets to drive a living legend around.”
Steve could see he wasn’t getting out of this. Not without some incandescent and confusing phonecalls from Tony, later. And SHIELD would probably be less upset about a private driver than the Long Island Railroad.
“I don’t know how Tony’ll feel, once he finds out you don’t quite consider him a living legend,” he said, putting a hand on the passenger door.
Happy barked out a laugh. “What my boss doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”
“I get the feeling there isn’t a lot Tony doesn’t know,” Steve said, ducking his head to hide a smile. “At least when it comes to what people think of him.”
“You’d be surprised,” Happy replied, and ushered him into the backseat.
There was a box sitting on the seat. It was plain and white and square, with a tag shaped like his shield attached. Steve snorted. He opened the box.
There was another tie lying within: red, white and blue with stars. Steve smiled in spite of himself.
Steve hesitated, long and hard on the morning of the wedding, trying to decide what tie to wear.
At last, he picked the one that had been left in the limo. At the very least, he figured, Dum Dum would get a laugh out of it. He was right; it started with a twitch of that esteemed mustache and ended with Dum Dum Dugan slapping at the knees of his wedding best.
“You always did know how to accessorize, Cap,” he said, wiping at the corner of his eye with his thumb. “No, don’t you say nothing, I don’t want to throw out my back at my own wedding. That’d be one helluva way to greet the news Missus.”
The wedding party was small – a handful of bridesmaids on the bride’s side, Dugan’s sons from a previous marriage on groom’s.
“It’s nice to meet you properly,” the youngest said, shaking Steve’s hand. His grip was firm, and he had his father’s ginger hair but a lankier build, and no mustache. (“Five bucks says that thing’s hereditary,” Bucky had muttered once as they hiked through snow and ice.) “I’m sorry, it just feels like I know you already. My dad used to tell me all kinds of stories about Captain America and the Howling Commandos.”
Steve gave him a smile and resisted the urge to duck his head and scratch his neck, embarrassed. Having stories told about him – other than “that kid I beat up in the alley, the one who wouldn’t back down” and “the shrimp who wouldn’t quit trying to enlist” – had been odd in the war, and it was odd now. He was more or less sure he’d never get used to it.
A small hand tugged at his jacket.
“This is my granddaughter,” Dugan said, beaming, as he settled a hand on top of the little girl’s pigtailed head. “Say hello, Sarah.”
“I’m the flower girl,” she said, face perfectly serious. She held up her basket as if for inspection.
Steve nodded at her, keeping his own expression equally serious.
“Nice to meet you,” he said, getting down on one knee and sticking his hand out for her to shake. She shot him a vaguely suspicious look, hesitating, before she placed her tiny, lace-gloved hand in his. “I’m Steve.”
“You’re Captain America,” she corrected. She looked at her shoes, then up at him again, worrying at her bottom lip. “Is it true that you punched Hitler in the face?”
Steve shot Dugan a nasty look; Dugan responded with a particularly unkind guffaw.
Nick Fury appeared halfway through the ceremony, standing in the back of the pews with his hands clasped and his head inclined. Steve caught his eye and Nick met his gaze with a steely sort of stillness.
Steve looked away first, but only because he had the rings.
“You old bastard,” Dugan said at the reception, cornering Fury by the bar. He embraced him, clapping him on the back. Nick returned the gesture, glancing over Dugan’s shoulder at Steve. Steve nodded, tight, and apparently that was greeting enough. “Thought you weren’t coming?”
“Like I could miss it,” Fury said. “You’d storm my offices. You know Hill hates it when you do that.”
“Why do you think I keep doing it?” Dugan replied with a wink.
Fury shook his head and clapped him on the arm.
“You don’t need another one,” he said. “And I like this one. Eyes where I can see them, soldier.”
“You don’t need to worry,” Dugan said with a fond eyeroll and a shake of his head. He cast a look around the room. “I see Stark’s boy declined my invitation. Again.”
“So Tony Stark was invited?” Steve said.
Dugan snorted. “Tony’s always invited, but he hasn’t been to one of my weddings since he was this high.” He held his hand up at hip level.
“Can’t blame him,” Fury said. “I’ve seen the video. You traumatized that damn boy.”
“We mighta given him a little bit of champagne,” Dugan said, waving a hand. He gave Steve a you know how it is glance, mustache twitching. “Next we thing know, scamp’s found his way into the cake. Popped out naked as the day he was born. Howard laughed so hard he actually cried.”
Steve could see it, if he closed his eyes. What it must have been like – Tony as a kid, bright-eyed and way too smart for his own good, Dugan younger and louder and brasher and Howard Stark laughing so hard he was doubled over at the sight of his son jumping out of a cake like a champion showgirl.
Himself, maybe, laughing alongside Howard, with his hand curled at Peggy’s waist. Her dress would be red and she’d laugh too, one hand held in front of her mouth.
In a perfect world, Bucky, rolling his eyes and snickering and being the one to pluck tiny Tony from the cake because Bucky had always been great with kids. He’d pass him to Howard and suck the frosting off one thumb while he playfully smacked Steve in the face with the other hand, getting cake on the bridge of his nose.
Steve took a breath and opened his eyes. The hall stretched before him, on Dugan’s first wedding and not his third. No Peggy, no Bucky, but Dum Dum Dugan and Nick Fury and cheap champagne that wouldn’t get him buzzed no matter what.
“You said you had this on video?” he said.
Dugan clapped him on the shoulder and led him away from the bar. “Howard filmed it. Tony tried to burn all the copies, this one time, but he didn’t get my copy. I’ll play it for you sometime. Serve him right, not coming to my wedding.”
Steve swallowed hard. “I’d like that.”
Steve got back to his hotel room late and thoroughly danced out. Dugan’s new wife had demanded a spin, then each of the bridesmaids, and finally the flower girl had spent a solid hour or so perched on his shoes.
He ached inside, but it wasn’t as bad as all that. He was happy too, in a way that sort of hurt if he thought about it too much, so he didn’t think but he tried to hold on anyway.
His phone went off, startling him out of his thoughts. It was the Avengers direct line, the SHIELD logo flashing across the screen, and he fumbled for a moment, shrugging his jacket off while he grabbed for the phone.
“What’s the trouble?” he said, picking it up.
“Oh, good, Dugan and his band of old cronies didn’t kill you,” Tony replied, amusement clear in his voice. “That’s good to know. How’s it hangin’, soldier?”
“Tony,” Steve frowned. “You know we’re not supposed to use this line for anything other than Avengers business. Why didn’t you call my other phone?”
The other phone had been a gift from Tony, sleek and far too complicated and featuring a number of pre-programmed and absolutely terrible ringtones. (“Secret Agent Man” for Coulson not withstanding.)
“It’s late, I wasn’t sure you’d pick up,” Tony said flippantly. There was a pause, then he added, “Also, that phone is one of a couple I think might be, I don’t know, tapped by A.I.M.”
“What?” Steve said. He shot an alarmed look at the phone lying on his dresser.
“Nothing, it’s nothing, I’m – ninety percent sure it’s nothing,” Tony said. “I’m looking into it, don’t worry about it, seriously.”
“Tony,” Steve started, but Tony made a shushing noise, cutting him off.
“Seriously, Steve,” he said. “Clint and I are running some tests. Well. I say tests.”
Steve sighed, running his free hand through his hair.
“Do you need me?” he asked. Tony grunted.
“No, nah, it’ll be fine,” he said. “I mean. Probably. Worst case scenario, A.I.M thinks they’ve got a bunch of valuable SHIELD info and Clint gets to practice his aim – heh – on a bunch of guys dressed like beekeepers. Or is that the best case scenario. Hard to say.”
“Alright, alright,” Steve said. He realized he was pacing and forced himself to stop, standing in the middle of the hotel room’s narrow hallway. “You’ll call though? If you need me?”
The noise Tony made was noncommittal at best; Steve decided to take it as an answer all the same.
For a long moment, they were both silent. Steve could hear Tony fidgeting on the other end of the line; he was probably in the lab. It was late, so he was probably working on something dangerous and brilliant and world-changing.
Or he was making another blender. They went through a lot of blenders.
“Did you need something else, Tony?” Steve asked at last. He wandered back over to the bed and sat down on the end of it. It was too soft, sinking under him, and he stretched his legs out, drumming his fingers against his knees.
“Not really,” Tony said. A tiny pause, and then, “So, about the tie. You wore it, right?”
“I wore it,” Steve said, a tiny smile tugging at his lips. “Dugan got a real kick out of it.”
“That’s,” Tony cleared his throat. “Yeah, that’s good, I’ll bet he did.”
“He also told me some very interesting stories about you,” Steve admitted. Across the line there came the sound of something delicate shattering. “Tony?”
“I’m hanging up now,” Tony said viciously.
“He promised to show me the video,” Steve continued, and Tony swore.
“I thought I – find out where he keeps it. Help me destroy it,” Tony said. Steve laughed softly to himself, covering his eyes with his free hand.
“Goodnight, Tony,” he said.
“’Night, Steve,” Tony returned.
He hung up, letting the phone rest by his side and in the half-gloom of the hotel room he felt much less alone.
02. You are cordially invited to...
Natasha and Clint got married on a June afternoon out in the Arizona desert. Natasha’s hair curled loosely around her shoulders, her face serene and her dress swirling around her ankles.
“She looks beautiful,” Steve said, smiling. Tony made a noise of assent, adjusting his sunglasses. His eyes tracked some movement across them; he’d given them to Steve earlier, and Steve had slid them over his nose and stared at what looked like a dozen tiny transparent windows layered over the darkened scenery.
“How many knives do you think she’s got strapped to that garter?” Tony asked, flashing Steve a quick grin. Steve shot him a glower that went blissfully unnoticed.
The ceremony took place on the steps of a tiny chapel. It was warm and sunny, just like a June wedding should have been, and Bruce discreetly handed Thor a handkerchief just as Natasha began to ascend the stairs.
It was beautiful, right up until the part where Clint reached into Natasha’s bouquet, snagged his collapsible bow and started shooting at spacecraft.
Later, sitting in the helicarrier in charred formal wear, Nick Fury asked the obvious question: “What the hell is wrong with all of you?”
Steve opened his mouth to say something, but Fury just held up one hand. He flexed the fingers of the other like he was trying to resist the urge to shoot something.
“Do any of you know what ‘surveillance mission’ means?” he asked. “Show of hands? Anyone? No? Hulk?”
“It mean watch,” the Hulk grumbled, picking absently at the shredded cuffs of what had been Bruce’s borrowed dress shirt an hour ago. “It mean boring. Hulk smashed puny spaceship instead.”
Thor placed a companionable hand on the Hulk’s arm, nodding solemnly.
“You don’t need the Avengers for surveillance,” Clint said, standing against the wall with his arms crossed. “You need us to take the initiative. The initiative, in this case, being ‘Tasha and I get hitched and get the aliens wedding crashers to show up.”
The Hulk growled.
“And, you know, let Hulk smash them,” Clint amended quickly.
Fury took a deep breath in through his nose. Clint took the opportunity to add, “Oh, come on, we’ve done worse.”
“He’s right. They have done worse,” Coulson added from the background. Hill gave a derisive snort.
Fury fixed Clint with a steely stare.
“I’ll let it go this time,” he said, “on account of it being your wedding day.”
Clint’s lips quirked upwards.
“Sir,” he said with a nod. Fury shook his head and cursed.
“This isn’t legal, is it?” he said, glancing back at Coulson. He shook his head.
“Absolutely not, sir,” he said.
“Good,” Fury said. Then he sighed and nodded towards Natasha. “You look beautiful, Widow.”
Natasha smiled, closemouthed. “Sir,” she said, and went back to sharpening one of the many knives that had been under that aforementioned garter.
“Can I come in?” Steve asked, knocking on the frame of Tony’s open door. Tony didn’t answer, exactly, but there came a groan from somewhere within his bed. He’d taken the brunt of the damage in the fight, tossed around like a child’s toy while Clint and Natasha fired and Bruce, well. Bruce got mad.
One hand appeared in the air, giving Steve a lazy wave. There was a Starkphone clutched in it, so Steve figured Tony would probably be okay. He shut the door behind him and went to stand by the edge of the bed.
“Hey there, soldier,” he said, staring down at Tony’s prone form. He was half undressed, and Steve kept his eyes on the ugly bruise coloring Tony’s one bare shoulder and not the trail of dark hair that disappeared beneath his thin dress pants. “How’re you feeling?”
“Like I got thrown into a bunch of cars and maybe a semi-truck,” Tony grumbled, peering at Steve through his fingers. “Oh, wait.”
Steve winced in sympathy.
“You should get that looked at,” he said. Tony groaned again.
“I will, I will,” he said, waving his phone around again. “It’s fine, stop that, you’re not Pepper. Sit down, would you? I feel like you’re about to deliver my eulogy.”
“Here lies Tony Stark,” Steve said even as he sat down carefully at the end of the bed, where he wouldn’t be touching Tony.
“He died as he lived,” Tony continued, shifting so he was lying on his unbruised side, curled up like a parenthesis. His hair stood on end and his dark eyes glimmered in the gloom; Steve’s breath caught in his throat. “In bed with a blond bombshell.”
Steve ducked his head and let out a nervous chuckle. When he glanced back a moment later, just a quick glance, Tony’s eyes were closed again.
“We did good today, huh, Cap?” he mumbled. Steve’s fingers itched to smooth his hair back away from his face.
“I think the priest might disagree,” Steve said lightly, curling his hands together in his lap. “That was his car you got tossed into, after all.”
Tony made a tiny, sleepy, amused noise. Steve huffed a laugh.
“Get some sleep, alright?” he said, standing up. “And get that shoulder looked at later. I’ll know if you don’t.”
“Sir, yes, sir,” Tony mumbled, giving Steve a sluggish and highly sarcastic salute.
03. Loki Liesmith Gets Hitched
Thor looked like he might cry. Steve couldn’t honestly blame him.
Loki did not apparently share that opinion.
“Thor,” he hissed. He paced up and down the aisle. “You will stop that at once.”
“You are still my brother!” Thor boomed, spreading his arms wide. “Whatever else – you should have known I would be pleased to hear this joyous news!”
“Silence!” Loki commanded, eyes flashing. His fingers flexed like he longed for a weapon. “You will hold your tongue, brother.”
Steve looked on as Thor actually obeyed. For all of five minutes. Then, taking his brother by the arms, he drew him close and, pressing his cheek tenderly to the top of Loki’s head, said, “Forget our troubles, brother. None of us would want to miss this happiest of days.”
Loki made a sound like a particularly angry cat. “It is not a happy day. Release me at once!”
Iron Man shot Steve a look he knew was quizzical beneath the helmet.
“So,” he said, arms crossed. “Any ideas?”
“Not a one,” Steve confessed. He glanced towards the towering balcony far above their heads, where the alien princess sat. She blew kisses down to Loki while her attendants wove strange, anemone-like flowers into her long black hair. “You?”
“Bachelor party?” Iron Man said. The faceplate betrayed nothing, but Steve could picture Tony’s wild so this is completely crazy, now what? grin beneath it. Loki stiffened in the circle of Thor’s arms, shooting dagger glares that could have given Hill a run for her money.
“There will be no bachelor party,” he said, very slowly and very carefully.
“It is mortal tradition, brother,” Thor told him, taking him by the shoulders to stare down at him. “A glorious affair! There is mead and women and song! There may be battle!” His face brightened. “We shall call for the Warriors Three at once!”
Loki made a strangled noise.
Hawkeye started to snicker. Steve shot him a look, fighting valiantly against the twitch of his own lips.
“You will do no such thing,” Loki said, finally wrestling himself from his brother’s grip. He shook himself out and drew himself up, tall and regal and icy in a way that made the hairs stand up on the back of Steve’s arms. “There will be no wedding.”
Natasha glanced up again, and Steve followed her gaze, sweeping over the rows and rows of armed guards baring rifles that reminded Steve a little bit of HYDRA tech. Tony had looked like a kid in a candy shop when they’d first been summoned up, like he was itching to get his hands on one, to take it apart and put it back together.
“Something tells me your bride-to-be didn’t get the memo,” Natasha noted dryly. Loki bristled. “Anyway, this doesn’t concern us.”
“She’s right, you know,” Tony said, quietly and from just behind Steve so the others couldn’t hear. “Interdimensional shotgun weddings aren’t really Avengers business. Even if I would really like to grab one of those shotguns on our way out.”
“No,” Steve agreed. “It’s not our place. But…” he glanced at Thor. “This is family business. We’ll stay as long as he needs us.”
Which was how Operation: Take Back Loki’s Bachelorhood was officially started.
(“That is an awful name,” Steve said.
“Correction,” Tony said, knocking his fist against Clint’s. “It’s an awesome name.”)
Steve took no pleasure in the fact that Loki himself seemed to be enjoying it as much as he was – which was not at all. He sat folded in on himself, perched liked some giant disgruntled bird on the edge of the one of the many low couches in the room the royal council had so graciously allowed them the use of after Natasha and Tony spun a web of lies about “Asgardian matrimonial customs and traditions” so complex it hurt Steve’s head even to think about.
(The royal council, staring down Natasha’s pokerface and Tony’s smarmiest grin, conferred for twenty minutes before delivering their verdict: “You shall have two and a half of your Earth hours for your Asgardian ‘bachelor party’.”
The words were spat out with a disdainful flick of a purple tongue.
“Okay, that’s great, we can work with that,” Tony said. “Now what about the time-honored ceremonial str—”
Natasha placed a hand on the back of his neck and squeezed, smiling politely at the aliens. Tony made a squawking noise and promptly went limp.
“Ouch,” Clint muttered as Steve hurried to catch Tony beneath the arms.)
Thor stood before Loki, staring down at the top of his head.
“My brother,” he said. “You have my aid. You do not need to ask for that. I would not refuse you, not in this.”
Loki gave him a sideways glance, eyes cold and green. He inclined his head ever so slightly to the left. Steve shivered and hoped it didn’t show.
Thor smiled, strangely silent, and took a seat beside him.
Everyone was very quiet, trading looks amongst themselves. After a few minutes, Clint finally spoke up: “So, anybody got a plan?”
“A plan?” Natasha repeated, quirking an eyebrow. “A plan to rescue Loki from his apparently predestined alternate dimension interspecies space marriage?”
“So, that’s a no, huh?” Clint said. Natasha gave him a fond kick to the ankle.
“We’ve got about an hour and a half to think of one,” Steve said, with more confidence than he felt. Thor beamed at him, and clapped a heavy hand down on his shoulder.
“Worry not, my comrades,” he said. “This is hardly the strangest match my brother has ever found himself in.” He grinned at Loki, who looked terribly like he was just barely resisting the urge to strangle. “Shall I tell them about the time with –”
“You will not,” Loki said. “Not if you value your tongue.”
Thor gave a great sigh.
“I fear my dearest Jane would be most displeased if my tongue were not to remain in its proper place,” he confessed. Loki, if it were possible, glared harder.
“Speaking of,” Tony said, snapping his fingers. He removed his helmet; his hair was sweaty and stuck to his forehead, and his eyes gleamed. It was his I Have An Idea face in all its glory, the one that always made Steve feel fourteen and too small for everything and full of butterflies.
Steve kind of loved that face.
“Where would dearest Jane be today? I keep trying her cell phone, but no dice,” Tony said.
“You can get a signal out here?” Clint said, eyebrows shooting up. Tony shot him a smug look.
“I’m Tony Stark,” he said. “I can get a signal anywhere.”
Twenty minutes and three SHIELD employees reduced to near tears later, Tony managed to get Jane on the line. He produced a near paper-thin Starkphone about the size of Steve’s palm and gestured for everyone to gather around; on the screen Jane peered out at them, glasses eschew on the end of her nose and hair sticking up every which way. There was a Post-It stuck to her forehead.
“Stark,” she said, giving Tony the eye. Her expression softened a little when Thor poked his head over Tony’s shoulder. “Thor.”
“Jane,” Thor returned, gazing down at the screen in delight. “You are radiant.”
Jane gave him a crooked smile and a snort. “I look like I went five rounds with one of your warrior friends and lost,” she said, “but you’re sweet anyway. What do you need?”
“It is my brother, Jane,” Thor began, and Jane rolled her eyes.
“Oh, not this again,” she said, disappearing out of the frame for a moment in a flail of limbs and papers. She came back holding a coffee mug, downed the contents, then gestured with it for Thor to continue. “What is it this time? More giant robots? Grand intergalactic takeover schemes? Did he turn the US senate into a bunch of rats again?”
In the background, Loki sniffed disdainfully and muttered, “Nobody appreciates a clever joke.”
“I fear it is much more serious than that,” Thor said, attempting to take the phone from Tony (“No you don’t, seriously, do you know how much this cost, it won’t be on the market for – you’re crushing it! You’re crushing it!”), “Loki has found himself engaged.”
Jane snorted coffee up her nose. Steve looked away out of politeness while she giggled behind her hand, wiping her face on the sleeve of her sweater.
“Wait, wait,” she said, “repeat that. Engaged? As in, Loki’s getting married? Where are you, anyway?”
“That’s not important right now,” Tony cut in, which Steve figured was hardly a better answer than we’re not really sure. “The deal is, we need to get Loki – not married. Unmarried. Single. Secure in his bachelorhood.”
Jane gave him a supremely unimpressed look.
“Uh-huh,” she said. She ran her hand through her hair, dislodging the post-it as she went. “So why are you calling me?”
Tony explained his plan. Afterwards, Loki, Thor and Jane all shared similarly horrified looks.
“Absolutely not,” Jane said.
“You would suggest such a thing? To my Jane? To her honor?” Thor said.
“I would sooner be married off to a thousand alien fish princesses,” Loki declared, pointing one long, regal finger directly at Tony.
“It’s not like we have another plan,” Tony said, throwing his hands up. “In case you haven’t noticed, they have an army. We’ve got a smart phone and a grand total of nada. We don’t even have a Hulk.”
“Wait,” Jane cut in. “Why don’t you have a Hulk?”
“They bribed him,” Clint muttered from the background. “With peanut butter.”
Steve leaned over Tony’s shoulder.
“It’s a long story,” he said, giving Jane his most reassuring smile. She raised her eyebrows and he admitted, “Look, it’s a bad plan –”
“ – we know it’s a bad plan. But we’re trapped here. They have Bruce. It’s a bad plan,” he said, looking her straight in the eye. “But it’s our only plan. If there’s any way you can help us, please.”
Jane pressed her lips together in a thin line. She rolled up the sleeve of her coffee stained sweater. She fixed Thor with a look, stern and a little soft, over the top of her glasses.
“You want to help your brother,” she said to him. He ducked his head, half a nod.
“Aye,” he said at last, in a voice very different from his usual booming tones. “That I do, Jane.”
She sighed and ran a hand through her hair again, locks escaping from her ponytail as she hid a smile.
“Okay,” she said. “I can’t help you. But I know someone who can.”
The first thing Darcy Lewis did upon materializing in a flash of silver-green light was put her hands on her hips and say, “I was promised cell phones.”
Tony tossed his phone at her. She caught with both hands and stroked a finger over the casing, cooing under her breath. She glanced up at Tony over the tops of her glasses.
“And this thing gets service, like, anywhere?” she said.
“I called your boss, didn’t I?” Tony said. “Overseas, underwater, in space, going into tunnels, the Negative Zone – you name it, you can text from it.”
“Unlimited minutes?” she said. “No roaming charges? I’m not going to end up two months from now with a twenty-five thousand dollar phone bill, right? Because I will come after you, Stark. Jane knows the access code to your lab.”
“No hidden charges, I’ll foot the bill, please don’t text all your friends from the moon,” Tony said, counting off on his fingers. “Also? I am changing that code.”
“Come to mama,” Darcy told the phone before tucking it away in her pocket. “So what’s this about crashing an intergalactic wedding?”
Halfway through Darcy’s impassioned and completely adlibbed speech about how she and Loki were destined soul mates torn apart again and again by the cycle of fate but recently reunited in Vegas, Loki betrayed them.
Steve wished he could have been surprised.
“That could have gone worse,” Clint said cheerfully two hours later when they were all in alien prison, stripped down to their underwear. There was ash in his hair and tiny arrows printed on his boxer briefs.
“You think everything could go worse,” Natasha said. She was frowning. “You thought Anchorage could have gone worse.”
Clint snorted, but didn’t reply.
“This is not how I pictured my first mission with the Avengers going,” Darcy said. Then she pulled the Starkphone out of her bra. Steve felt himself turn five different colors. “Oh hey, I really can get a signal down here.”
The phone’s screen lit up the other half of the cell – the only other light other than the soft, blue glow of Tony’s arc reactor – and threw Darcy, Natasha and Loki’s recently deposed alien fiancé into sharp relief. She turned her head and caught Steve gaze with her prism eyes. She tilted her head and uttered something harsh-sounding, her purple-tinged gills flaring out.
“Whoa there, girlfriend,” Darcy told her. Her thumbs flew across the phone’s tiny screen.
“Fish girl hate sneaky green man,” the Hulk grumbled, hunched double in the back of the cell. “Hulk agree with fish girl.”
Clint clapped him on one massive green elbow.
“Buck up, big guy,” he said. “It aint as bad as all that. You caught the bouquet, didn’t you?”
The Hulk grumbled under his breath. He held the bouquet close to his chest.
“Well,” Darcy said. She tapped a thumb against the screen. “Jane knows I’m going to be late getting back.”
There were footsteps somewhere down the dark, dank hall – they were faint, and Steve closed his eyes. Six soldiers. Probably armed.
Nothing they couldn’t handle, then.
“Speaking of getting back – anybody got a plan to get us out here?” Darcy said, glancing up. The alien princess leaned over her shoulder and attempted to snag the cell phone; Darcy slapped her lightly on the hand. “Nuh-huh, I had to pretend to be Vegas married to Loki for this.”
“Unwillingness to share is considered a weakness of character in my society,” the princess said, tongue flickering over every s sound. She crossed her arms. Darcy stuck her tongue out at her.
Steve and Tony exchanged a look.
“Well, Cap?” Ton said, dark eyes shining blue-silver in the light from his arc reactor. The footsteps were growing nearer. Steve got to his feet.
“Avengers,” he said.
“And guests,” Natasha pointed out. Darcy gave him a wave. The alien princess was still pouting.
“Avengers and guests,” Steve amended. “Assemble!”
Peggy looked beautiful when he met her for their dance.
The ring was heavy in his pocket and his hands were sweating. He felt clumsy in a way he hadn’t since the hours after he’d taken the serum, when he was still getting used to having – well, muscles, and a whole lot more height than he’d ever dreamed of.
He didn’t know what to say to her – or he did, but the words were stuck somewhere in his chest. Instead, he inclined his head and stuck his hands into the pocket of his jacket and cleared his throat.
She looked up at him.
“Captain,” she said, regarding him with knitted eyebrows and a hint of a smile. “You’re late.”
It wasn’t that I didn’t know it was wrong, he would tell Tony later, in the half-gloom of his lab, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and his shield resting against his legs. I knew. But it was – beautiful, and I wanted it.
Three dances later, she said yes.
Bucky was his best man. He grinned and slapped Steve on the back and joked that he’d lost the rings, that Peggy wouldn’t show up because she finally came to her senses.
And sometimes, when Steve looked at him, they weren’t in the reception hall anymore. They were on a train, and Bucky was falling, and he was reaching for Steve and Steve wasn’t strong or fast or smart or good enough.
Then he would blink, and Bucky would be standing beside him again, grinning with his hands stuck in his pockets.
The Avengers all sat on Steve’s side of the hall, smiling at him. Clint elbowed Natasha and pointed at people, whispering in her ear, and she gave him a look that was inscrutable except for the tiny twitch at the corner of her mouth. Thor waved, Bruce gave him a polite nod and Tony (“Cap! Cap, promise me you’ll wait for – Cap, answer me! Promise me you will wait!”) had his sunglasses on indoors.
Then Peggy was walking down the aisle and Steve couldn’t look at anything else but her.
If words were said, Steve didn’t hear them. He stumbled over the simple words, I do, and then Peggy was tilting her face up.
“Steven,” she said, soft and stern. “You need to wake up now.”
He held her by the elbows, the lace of her dress soft beneath his fingers.
“You need to wake up now,” she repeated, her voice shifting, becoming louder and panicked and –
Steve wrenched himself awake with a gasp and a feeling like the world was falling to pieces. Water rushed into his mouth and up his nose and he struggled out of it, coughing. Iron Man took him by the hand and hauled him to his feet.
“What –” he said, trying to detangle himself from the multitude of wires that clung to his bare arms. Where had his sleeves gone? He’d been wearing his uniform before, he was sure of it.
Across the room he watched as Thor sat by Natasha, wet and bedraggled with her hair stuck to her face like dark tendrils. Behind her Clint stood over a glass case filled with the same wires that had been attached to Steve and the same eerie blue water, frowning down at Bruce’s prone form.
He remembered a mission, dimly, and prisoners. He gripped Iron Man’s arm.
“The people,” he said. “Did they --?”
“They’re in SHIELD custody now,” Iron Man said. “You got them out. They’ll be fine, Cap. Do you remember what happened?”
“There was a mission. We went ahead,” Steve said. He looked up, alarmed, and said, “My shield –”
“Is right here,” Iron Man said, patting his back. “I figured you wouldn’t appreciate HYDRA putting their paws all over it.”
It was silent on the flight back. Thor and Tony had tried to talk at first, but the conversation had fallen flat, and Tony had returned to playing with some gadget while Thor swung his hammer in the kind of lazy, slow circles that would have made Steve nervous months ago.
Now they were almost a comfort.
Clint spoke first, voice strange above the hum of the plane.
“I was back at the circus,” he said, staring straight ahead. “Trick shots. Arrows on fire, that kind of thing. Shot an apple off your head, Stark,” he said, pointing at Tony and then cocking his finger upwards, raising his eyebrows meaningfully. “Clean in two. The apple, anyway.”
There was a long pause, and then he said, “My mentor, he – that guy tried to kill me. I know that. I knew it. But in there, it was back the way it used to be. He used to be.”
He swallowed audibly, then fell silent. There was a long moment and then Natasha spoke, shifting in her seat. It was a languid, slow motion, and she brought her arms above her head, impossibly graceful.
“I was dancing,” she said, her lips curving into a small smile. “You threw me flowers.”
“I was normal,” Bruce said, hunched and miserable in the corner.
Nobody asked Steve what he had seen, and he was thankful for that.
Steve liked Tony’s lab.
He hadn’t, at first. It wasn’t a welcoming place, but then Tony didn’t mean for it to be. The first time he’d looked at it all he’d seen was Tony written all over it, back when the only thing he saw in Tony that he liked was some fragment of Howard.
He followed Tony down to the lab, when SHIELD finally released them. Tony expected him to; he glanced at Steve occasionally on the elevator ride down, talking about – something.
Steve wasn’t listening, not really.
“JARVIS, do me a favor and lock the doors?” Tony said, once they were safely ensconced in his lab. “Don’t let anyone down here without my permission.”
“Very good, sir.”
Tony planted one hand flat in the middle of Steve’s chest and pushed. Steve let him; he fell backwards, landing in a chair, and watched Tony’s retreating back. He came back a moment later with a bottle and two glasses.
“Figure it’s as good a time as any,” Tony said. He pulled over another chair and sat down in it, close enough that his knees nearly brushed Steve’s. He poured two glasses and downed one, then held the other out to Steve.
“Super soldier serum,” he said, shaking his head. “Can’t get drunk.”
“That’s a flaw if I ever heard one,” Tony snorted and downed Steve’s glass too. He regarded Steve over the lip of the glass. “Have you tried?”
“Yeah,” Steve admitted, smiling ruefully. “I’ve tried.”
He didn’t realize he was dozing until Tony kicked his foot and said, “Okay, up and at ‘em, super soldier, you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.”
“I live here,” Steve mumbled, rubbing at his face with his hands. Tony snorted.
“Yeah, okay, you’re adorable, but seriously, up,” he said. “I’ve slept in those chairs before; it won’t do you any favors.”
Steve hauled himself up. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I should – I should go. Thanks, Tony.”
Tony stepped in front of him and put that hand on his chest again. There was dirt and grease smudged across his nose and in his hair, like he’d been working, and he was drunk. Steve could smell it on his breath.
“No, c’mon, I didn’t mean it like that,” he said. He spread his fingers, staring at them in the center of Steve’s chest. Steve stared at the arc reactor, just barely peeking out from Tony’s shirt. It glowed underneath it and – it was beautiful, Steve thought. “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to. There’s a cot in the back, for when I don’t feel like dragging my sorry ass back upstairs. That sound good to you?”
Steve licked his lips; they cracked, dry, beneath his tongue.
“Yeah,” he said, so tired he could barely stand it. “That sounds great.”
It wasn’t exactly how he pictured Tony Stark first getting him into bed, but it wasn’t half-bad either. The cot was narrow but Steve had slept on worse; he pillowed his hands beneath his head and watched Tony in the harsh overhead lights.
“Hey,” he said. Tony turned to look at him with something that wasn't quite a smile.
“Get some sleep, Captain,” he said. He waved. “Don’t hate me too much in the morning.”
“You should get some rest, too,” Steve told him, trying for his stern Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty of voice and coming up empty. Tony huffed a laugh.
“You sound like JARVIS – speaking of, JARVIS, dim the lights over here, would you?” he said. The lights immediately dimmed; Steve let his eyes drift closed.
“Thank you, JARVIS,” he said.
“My pleasure, Captain Rogers,” JARVIS replied. “Please let me know if you need any other assistance.”
“Even my house likes you better,” Tony groused, and Steve huffed a laugh, already halfway asleep.
05. In accordance with the prophecy...
Two weeks after the first year anniversary of the Avengers, Tony got married.
Then Steve kissed him.
Clint couldn’t stop laughing. He was bent over, hands clutching at his stomach, and occasionally he would stop, point at Tony, and then start all over again.
“This is my favorite thing,” he said at last. “My very favorite thing.”
“’Tis a joyous day indeed,” Thor agreed, arms crossed against his massive chest. “We will celebrate tonight and feast in the honor of this great union!”
“Please stop saying union,” Tony said, carefully looping his bowtie. “This is not a union. There will be no – uniting.”
His nose wrinkled when he said the word.
“It’s realer than ours,” Natasha said, gesturing between herself and Clint. “Realer than any of Clint’s, actually.”
“I object to that,” Clint muttered, just as Tony said, “That’s because Clint’s a tramp.”
“Tony,” Steve said from his position by the door. He couldn’t quite seem to get the knot in his chest to loosen, or to keep his fists from clenching. “You know you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”
Tony glanced at him over his shoulder. His beard was neatly shaved into a chin stripe and mustache; sometimes Steve thought he should make a chart of all of Tony’s different facial hair looks. This one, he knew, was picked because Maria Hill always got that twitch in her left eyebrow when she saw it.
“Okay, one,” Tony said, counting off on his fingers, “I do actually sort of have to do this, because ancient alien prophecy.”
Clint burst into another fit of laughter.
“I love this job,” he said. “I love this job so much.”
“Tony,” Steve tried, starting forward, but Tony stopped him with a glance and another raised finger.
“Two,” he said, “two, we’re Avengers. This is the shit we have to deal with. Sometimes it’s Doombots and Loki and the Grand Accuser, and sometimes it’s a –”
“Union,” Natasha cut in.
“Sometimes it’s an ancient alien prophecy demanding we take part in a ritual that looks an awful lot like a wedding,” Tony said, glowering at her. He turned back to the mirror, fixing his jacket. “The man of Iron and the woman of the Hill. This had better be time travelers fucking with us.”
“Is this because of Pepper?” Natasha asked. Clint’s laughter quieted and Tony’s hands stilled. At last, he glanced at Natasha, perfectly disbelieving.
“That’s crazy,” he said. “Why would this be about Pepper? Do I have to say ancient alien prophecy again?”
Natasha shrugged one shoulder. Tony turned back to the mirror, grumbling; behind his back she fixed Steve with a look that said he’s a bad liar.
Steve was inclined to agree.
Thor came up behind Tony and settled a hand on his shoulder.
“Do not fear,” he said. “There are far worse prophecies that could lie before you. It appears you will most likely not be eaten, nor the world destroyed!”
Tony’s shoulders slumped.
“Thanks, Thor,” he said.
The SHIELD helicarrier wasn’t exactly the best place for a wedding, but it could get them to the altitude the ancient tablets had specified, and Fury, with a pained look on his face, had insisted.
Maria Hill looked murderous in her pristinely pressed usual uniform. There was a veil haphazardly pinned to her neat hair. Coulson met her with an elbow extended; she took it grudgingly.
“Oh, come on!” Tony called down to her as they approached. “At least I dressed the part!”
Doctor Strange, standing behind Tony on what had, around three hours ago, been the helicarrier’s communication center but was now the ceremonial alcove, cleared his throat. He looked as uncomfortable as Steve felt.
“I would advise against bickering until the ceremony is complete,” he said, giving Tony a pointed look. “It might disturb the mystic energies.”
Tony shot Steve a look, mouthing, mystic energies? with a roll of his eyes and an exaggerated waggle of his fingers. Steve stifled a laugh with a cough, glancing upwards when Doctor Strange spun to glower at him.
“Let’s get this over with,” Maria said, shrugging off Coulson and stomping up the steps. Her boots were white.
Tony made a face. Maria came to stand next to him, and, with matching just-barely disguised looks of horror, they turned to face each other.
Doctor Strange cleared his throat. His red cape billowed out behind him seemingly of its own accord; Steve carefully settled his foot alongside one of the large vases of extinct flowers, the exact kinds and amounts specified (and kindly provided by Reed Richards), just to make sure it wasn’t knocked over.
“We are gathered here today,” he began, and Steve began to tune out somewhere around joyous occasion and blessed by the stars themselves and by the hoary hosts of Hoggoth. He found himself staring at Tony’s profile, tracing the line of his nose and downturn his mouth and chin. His fingers itched for a pencil.
It wasn’t a real wedding – well, for all intents and purposes, it was, but it wouldn’t stick. They’d all gone in knowing that. It was just a ceremony, just going through the motions, and no matter how many times Steve told himself that he still felt – jealous. It wasn’t right of him, but that didn’t change the facts.
Now, though, standing up there with Tony, Steve only wanted to wipe the sad frown and the worry lines off Tony’s face.
Preferably with his mouth.
“Now,” Strange said, breaking through Steve’s thoughts. He took Tony’s hands and placed them over Maria’s, and if Steve squinted he thought he could see something almost glimmering in the air around them. “You may pledge yourselves to each other.”
Tony glowered at Maria. Maria glared back.
“When this is over, I want a mystical divorce,” he said. Strange cleared his throat loudly, and Tony quickly added, “I do.”
“Me too,” Maria said. “On both counts.”
The rings – a pair of simple, silver ones that seemed to glow when they hit the light – were exchanged. On Steve’s left, Clint blew his nose loudly and said, “I always cry at weddings.”
Strange clapped his hands again and stood back with a smile.
“Then it is done!” he exclaimed. “May this union be one that is fru—”
“I don’t think so,” Maria cut him off. She pointed towards the door. “Don’t let it hit your magic ass on the way out.”
Strange sniffed and pulled himself up to his full height, cape billowing out as he left. “Wong will send you the bill,” he told Fury as he swept past.
He crossed his arms and the jewel at the clasp of his cape glowed, and then he was gone in a flash of white smoke.
“I just want to say,” Tony began, waving smoke away from his face, “I really, really hate that guy.”
Steve clapped him on the shoulder, still trying to ignore the twisting knots in his stomach, and jogged down the steps and over to the observation deck. Fury, Coulson and a few other agents – Steve recognized Agents Drew and Johnson among them, and Agent Quartermain gave him a what can you do shrug and a lopsided smile as he passed – were gathered there, staring out the large windows.
“What’s the situation?” he said.
The swirling, dark purple storm clouds that had been looming most of a week hadn’t dissipated. If anything, they looked angrier than before. Steve placed a hand against the glass then immediately pulled back when he was shocked. He shook his hand out.
“Not good,” Fury said, hands locked behind his back. “If anything, it’s gotten worse.”
“You mean I married her for nothing?” Tony exclaimed, throwing his arms akimbo. “That this whole mumbo-jumbo mystical prophecy was a great big probably orchestrated by time travelers lie? That magic is a load of-- ow, fuck you, Hill!”
She ground her heel into his shoe.
“Watch it, Stark. The prophecy didn’t say anything about me not shooting you,” she pointed out. She turned to look at Fury. “Sir – are you saying the… ceremony didn’t work?”
“We were always prepared for the possibility, Hill,” Fury replied. “You know that.”
“Right,” she said, moving to join them. She placed a hand on her holstered gun. “Plan C it is.”
“Plan C? What was plan B?” Steve asked.
“This was plan B,” Coulson said. “Plan A was shoot at it.”
“And plan C?” he said. Coulson frowned out at the swirling mass.
“Shoot at it some more,” he said.
“Maybe throw the Hulk at it,” Fury muttered. In the background Bruce paled.
“Look,” Steve said, already trying to think of a plan. Fighting a giant stormcloud was a little outside his realm of experience, but there had to be a better way to combat that then a) shooting at it, b) marrying Tony off again, or c) throwing Bruce at it. “What we need to do is –”
He was cut off when there was a great noise, like something being cleaved in two, and the helicarrier lurched dangerously to the side. Steve fell, sliding across the floor; he caught Johnson by the elbow as she slid by and grabbed at the railing with his free hand. Johnson all but scaled him in her attempt to grab onto it as well, muttering a quick “thanks.”
Steve struggled to his feet. The helicarrier lurched again, this time in the other direction, sending staff and the arrays of truly terrifying flowering vines sliding across the grating. Clint and Natasha were already on their way, perfectly in step with each other. Natasha caught Steve’s eye as she ran past.
Steve caught Tony by the back of his jacket as he went by, hauling him to his feet.
“Do you have your briefcase?” he asked. Tony smirked.
“Never leave home without it,” he said, winking.
The sinking sensation hit Steve before he heard the tearing noise or felt the lurching, but the next thing he knew Tony’s arms were wrapped around him and they were falling together. Steve flipped them before they hit the wall, taking the brunt of the impact, but Tony still grunted, hissing through his teeth.
“Go,” Steve told him. Tony’s face was very close to his own – he could count eyelashes and see the bit of stubble on Tony’s jaw where he’d forgotten to shave. The bead of sweat that ran down between Tony’s eyebrows. “Go now, Tony.”
“I can take you with me,” Tony said. “I’ll carry you.”
Steve shook his head.
“You’re faster without me,” he said. “We both know that.”
And then – maybe because that bead of sweat had slid down to the end of Tony’s nose, or maybe because of the look in his eyes, or maybe because they were on a great big airship that was falling, and the last time that had happened Steve had lost everything – he kissed Tony.
He’d meant it to be brief, just the brush of his dry lips against Tony’s, but Tony seized him by the back of his neck and kissed back. The rasp of his stubble burned against Steve’s jaw and his back ached where he hit the wall and he put his hand against Tony’s hip and held him against him for just a moment.
Then he pulled back, looked Tony deep in the eyes and said, “Go. That’s an order, soldier.”
The SHIELD helicarrier didn’t crash, exactly, so much as it was gently set down in the parking lot of a New Jersey mall.
A teal-faced man in purple and green armor regarded Steve with a cool look of superiority. Steve, battered and banged up and with the beard burn Tony had given him still tingling along his cheek, sort of wanted to smash his shield right into the stranger’s face.
“My apologies, Captain,” the man said, surveying the half-destroyed helicarrier and tsking under his breath. “The timing was wrong. My younger self’s work again, I presume. It is my fault – I appear to have underestimated myself.” He sighed. “Timelines.”
“I’m sorry,” Steve said. “Do I know you?”
The teal-faced man turned to face him.
“From my perspective, yes,” he said. “But not from yours. Do not worry. We will meet again shortly.” He glanced towards the sky. “But it seems your team is returning. I will take my leave – please apologize to good Director Fury for the damage, and to the newly wedded Mr. and Mrs. Stark for the cruel prank.” He shook his head. “Nathaniel meant no harm. Well. He meant some harm.”
“Wait,” Steve said, stepping forward. The man raised his hand and then it was like he just walked out in the air and was gone, leaving Steve alone in the parking lot with a half-broken hunk of machinery, a growing crowd and a lot of very angry SHIELD agents.
He looked up just before Tony landed. He removed his helmet and glanced the way the stranger had gone, frowning.
“Okay, what was that?” he said.
“I have no idea,” Steve answered truthfully. “He apologized for the mess. And the prank.”
“The prank?” Tony repeated, and then his eyes went wide. “Oh. Oh. That prank – I knew it, I knew it was a prank, it was time travellers, wasn’t it? Fucking with us? If Richards was involved, I swear I’m gonna –”
“Tony,” Steve said, shaking his head. “Tony. I kissed you.”
“Yeah, you did,” Tony said with a leer. Armored hands came to rest at Steve’s arms. He licked his lips, smirk fading, and said, “Do you want to –”
He made a gesture that could have meant half a dozen things. Steve snorted and covered his face with one hand.
“I kissed you,” he repeated, “on your wedding day.”
“Are you having some kind of crisis?” Tony said. “Do you need a paper bag? To stick your head between your legs – oh hey, head between your legs, now there’s a picture.”
Steve made a strangled noise, somewhere between horror and laughter.
“Hey,” Tony said, catching his face between his hands and holding on. “Look at me. You kissed me on my prank mystical alien prophecy wedding day. And I kissed back.”
“You definitely kissed back,” Steve said under his breath. Tony huffed a laugh.
“So stow the moral crisis, would you?” he said. Then, looking over his shoulder, he said, “Hey, Hill! I’m leaving you for a blond!”
Maria Hill, in the middle of shaking debris out of her left boot, looked up and nailed Steve with a look.
“Take my wife,” she said, throwing one hand up in the air. “Please.”
06. Here comes the bride.
“I’m not going.”
“You have to go,” Steve said, perched on the edge of the bed. Tony scooted away from him, tugging the sheets up over his head. “You’re in the wedding party.”
“Go as my stand-in,” Tony said, waving one imperious hand in the air. Steve caught it and pressed a kiss against the knuckles.
“You know I can’t do that,” he said. “I’m in the wedding party, too. Can’t play two roles at once.”
Tony finally emerged, hair sticking up on end. He hauled himself into a sitting position, knees drawn up and elbows resting on them. The sheets pooled at his waist. Steve tried not to let his gaze stray; it would be counterproductive.
Tony caught him looking anyway and leaned forward, wrapping one hand around the back of Steve’s neck. The kiss was slow and lazy and full of promises Steve knew they couldn’t keep if they wanted to be on time.
“Can’t believe Happy put you in the wedding party,” Tony groused against the corner of Steve’s mouth. “I’m his employer. No loyalty.”
“I think Pepper probably called dibs on you,” Steve said, humming. “Also, he did sort of help me save the city from Namor. It was a bonding experience.” He batted Tony’s hands away from the collar of his shirt. “No, Tony, we’re not going – we have to – JARVIS, a little help here?”
The blinds flew open, flooding the room with sunlight. Tony hissed and covered his eyes with one hand. He all but fell off the bed. He peeked out at Steve from between his fingers.
“And everyone thinks I’m going to become the supervillain,” he said as he stumbled towards the bathroom.
“Thank you, JARVIS,” Steve said under his breath, smoothing the covers back over the bed.
“My pleasure, Captain Rogers,” JARVIS replied. “Miss Potts also gave me implicit instructions for this morning, should you run into any more difficulties.”
“Traitors!” Tony shouted above the rush of the shower.
Tony met him in the kitchen twenty minutes later, somehow managing to fasten his cufflinks with one hand while he took the mug of coffee Steve had been holding at the ready with the other. He leaned in for another kiss, brief against the corner of Steve’s mouth.
It would have been romantic, if the rest of the Avengers weren’t sitting at the kitchen table staring at them.
Natasha folded her newspaper and gave them both a pointed look over it, “You’re going to be late if you don’t pick up the pace. We won’t wait for you.”
“Verily,” Thor seconded.
“You’re all moving out,” Tony said, and downed his coffee in one go.
Pepper looked beautiful walking down the aisle. Happy looked a little bit like he wanted to faint.
“She’s walking towards me,” he said under his breath. “She’s walking towards me right now.”
“You're doing fine,” Steve said. “Look, she’s smiling.”
“Oh, God,” Happy said, dabbing at his forehead.
Pepper hid a grin behind her hand.
“Did you know, this is the first wedding we’ve been to together where nobody was abducted by aliens, trying to set a trap or playing some kind of grand universal prank?” Tony said at the reception.
“I think that’s supposed to be one of those normal couple milestones,” Steve said. Tony snorted.
“You’re going to make me dance, aren’t you?” he said. “Bring it on, Rogers.”
“I’m not, no,” Steve said with a laugh, shaking his head. “But Pepper will.”
Tony glanced out at the dancefloor just in time to see Happy twirl Pepper around. His lips twitched.
“Somehow I think she’s going to be busy for a while,” he said, leaning back on his heels with his hands in his pockets. “You know, I never did get to go on that honeymoon.”
“You mean the one for your prophecy-ordered mystical wedding that nearly killed us all?” Steve said. “I don’t think Maria Hill is letting you sweep her off to Cancun anytime soon, Tony.”
“Fury needed a new helicarrier anyway,” Tony said with an elbow to Steve’s ribs. “And I got you out of it, didn’t I?”
He slung an arm around Steve’s waist, squeezing. Steve hummed along to the music and leaned into Tony’s touch.
“Yeah, I guess you did.”
(Epilogue. The Wedding Crashers
Then there was the time, two months after that, the team found themselves in Latveria, chained to the wall next to an enraged young man with white hair, awaiting the impending nuptials of the monarch Victor Von Doom, Dr., and a young woman dressed all in red.
But the less said about that, the better.)