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When I Think (Oh, it Terrifies Me)

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Look, some mornings you wake up and little green men are invading New York City; some mornings you wake up and you can hear Captain America's voice in your head. Tony has been an Avenger long enough that he saves his freakout for important things, like DUM-E rearranging his tools.

"JARVIS, protocol 26.3, me and the Cap," he says. The twenties are "presumably magical interpersonal interference." Point three is telepathy, point four is phasing out of this dimension, and point nine is sex pollen, which Tony put in there after reading one of Pepper's supernatural romances back in the day.

"Summoning the car and notifying SHIELD, sir," Jarvis says.

"You're a peach," Tony says, and thinks at Steve, Meet me downstairs in fifteen.

Steve's answer is more of a vague sense of panic than actual words. Tony sighs. Some people are so sensitive to these things. Breathe, he thinks, and heads for the shower. He's got a day of uncomfortable medical experimentation in front of him, and he's damn well going to have good hair for it.

***

Steve is worse in person; Tony's afraid to touch him in case their brains just mutually explode. "Calm down," he says as Happy pulls away from the Mansion. "JARVIS, can we get some nature sounds or a yoga tape or something?"

"I'm sorry if suddenly developing telepathy is a bother," Steve says over crickets and a woman with a soothing Australian accent.

Tony rolls his eyes. "I'm just saying, you're bouncing around in my brain like a--what's it, the thing with the string and the bouncy ball--and if we both lose it, we'll be the feedback loop from hell."

Oddly enough, being irritated with Tony seems to calm Steve down, maybe because it's so familiar. He folds his arms and slumps back in his seat. Tony closes his eyes and tries to imagine water lilies and ladybugs or whatever the hell that woman is talking about.

A minute later, Steve says, "You know I can tell you hate this stuff too."

Tony cracks an eye. "You know I know you can do something about it."

"JARVIS, TV screen." Steve concentrates, and it's like a tickle in Tony's brain. Weird, but not bad. "Um...The A-Team?"

A rattle of machine-gun fire replaces the meditation thing, and Tony grins. "Well played, Cap."

They watch a plan come together in companiable silence the rest of the way to SHIELD headquarters.

***

Having Pepper, former employee and former love of his life, as Deputy Director of SHIELD and Tony's de facto boss is occasionally just as uncomfortable as people might think. But on days like this, when she's interrogating him about where he went wrong to get mind-warped and looking at him with her patented "Really, Tony?" look, he thinks that they were pretty much destined for this.

She's being kind of hard on you, Steve thinks, the first clear sentence Tony's gotten from him brain-to-brain.

She's been worse, Tony thinks back. At least no possibly underage starlets were involved?

Across the room, Steve makes a choking sound and slaps his hands over his eyes.

Whoops.

"You haven't been anywhere else in the last two weeks? No snacks on the way home from a mission, no solo heroics, no--"

"--potentially underage starlets?" Tony finishes, and Pepper gives him a look sharper than a repulsor blast. "That's everything I can think of, I swear. And you've got JARVIS to corroborate 90% of it."

"All right," Pepper says. "We'll compare this with Steve's and see if anything raises a red flag while you two get screened."

Tony sees Bruce standing with the rest of the scientists and sighs. "Try to leave some blood for my vital organs." He starts rolling up his shirtsleeve.

***

For a man who was packed in ice for decades, Steve handles the claustrophobia of the MRI remarkably well. Such a hero. Tony makes sure that Steve is in the next room before he heads for the machine.

It's just like being in the helmet, he tells himself as he slides into it. Just like the helmet. Just like the helmet.

It makes the first clanging noise, and Tony freezes like always. There's no way to move, there's not enough air, he can't move, it's hot and his chest hurts and the Ten Rings are out there and Yinsin's not going to make it and--

Tony. Tony. He can sort of hear Steve's voice, which doesn't make sense, because Steve's not in the cave. Tony!

He can't quite get words to send back, but whatever he's sending, Steve seems to understand. Tony. It's okay. You're at SHIELD. You'll be done in a few minutes, and then you can get out.

I want out now. Tony would bang his fist against the machine, but he has just enough rational thought left to know that would only mean doing it again, and he can’t do it again.

Just…think of something else. Can a thought have a tone of voice? Because that is a very Captain America thought.

Tony is just irritated enough--think of something else? What an original concept!--that he’s trying to decide what would embarrass Steve more, “Star-Spangled Man” or porn, so he can think about it really loudly, except as soon as he decides (porn) the machine gives one final clang and he’s done.

He sits up, rubbing his hand over his face, and looks through the window into the next room over. He can see a blurry handprint on it, just the right size to belong to a super-soldier.

***

After the physical exams are done, they start with testing. Can you send words? Images? Feelings? "Yes, all of the above, next" is apparently not enough; they work down a list that someone inexplicably had handy: Standing a foot from each other. Ten feet. A room apart. A floor apart. Who even comes up with the protocols for testing Avengers randomly become telepathic anyway? Coulson, Tony bets. He probably sits around at night coming up with superhero doomsday scenarios.

At some point during all this, Bruce shows up with test results from the rest of the Avengers; Tony is totally not surprised that it's just him and Steve, since he didn't hear anybody else flipping their lid in his head today.

Hey, Steve thinks. Tony hasn't figured out the mental version of making a face at Steve, but it's pretty high on his list. He goes back to sending armor schematics instead, and Los Angeles from the air, and the molecular structure of caffeine.

(Steve prefers works of art, with the occasional fighter jet and Central Park path thrown in for detail.)

"Fantastic," the head of Neuropsych (Smithers? Smothers? Drummond, Steve thinks patiently) says after their signals, or whatever, stay clear from a block away. "We can try longer distances in the morning." He looks up from his clipboard. "Is it stronger when you're in physical contact, or does it remain the same?"

Tony and Steve shrug in unison. It doesn't seem like a good time to mention Tony's earlier brain-splody theory.

"Well," Drummond says, gesturing, and Tony leans forward, grabbing Steve's hand awkwardly.

The room spins once, goes blindingly white, and then disappears.

***

Tony wakes up with Pepper next to his bed and Steve still in his brain. Pepper's worry is nearly as tangible to him as Steve's.

"I'm okay," he tells her. Steve is tickling something in his brain again, so he probably knows that already. "How long was I out?"

"Two hours," she says. "Steve was only unconscious for a few minutes."

"Eh. Super-soldier," Tony says. He sits up carefully, but all that's left is a mild queasiness.

That's the signal for a flood of doctors to pour in, naturally. Tony makes a pathetic face at Pepper over Drummond's head, and she gives him a half-smile. "At least they re-ran the MRI while you were out of it."

"Tell me the truth, you have telepathy already," Tony says, and for a second they're just ridiculous Tony and long-suffering Pepper again, before she morphs back into Deputy Director Potts and starts saying things like "remain overnight for observation" and "take medical leave from your Avengers duties."

"Like hell I will," Tony says, loud enough to shut all the doctors up. "I am perfectly capable of doing my job. You're not pulling Steve off duty!"

"How did you--" Pepper sighs. "Right. Of course you know. I'm sorry, Tony, but he wasn't unconscious for hours."

"We'll be fine! I just, you know, won't touch him." Tony lifts his hands in the air. "No contact unless under controlled circumstances. I'd be in the suit anyway. And," he hurries on when Pepper shows signs of weakening, "think of what an advantage it'll be in the field."

She lets a sharp breath out her nose. "I'll talk to Fury about it," she says.

We're in, Tony thinks to Steve. The last time Fury overrode her, we had the thing with the giant octopus breeding in the sewers.

***

"We've been sitting on our asses for two days, and if Pepper thinks I don't know she asked the Fantastic Four to step in, she is wrong, wrong, wrong." Tony punctuates his last three words with hammer blows to War Machine's faceplate. He can tell that Steve is taking the same frustrations out on a sparring match with Natasha upstairs, having already beaten the crap out of a punching bag or three.

"Hey, can we not make me look like the Phantom of the Opera just because you're in a mood?" Rhodey asks from a safe distance away. "Christ, Tony, I've never seen anyone who hated being taken care of more than you."

"Bullshit, I love being taken care of. I hate being pushed out," Tony snaps. "Everything from the docs and SHIELD is negative. They're trying to get lure Dr. Strange back from whatever dimension he's vacationing in this month, but until then we're on hold." Tony shifts uncomfortably; he must have pulled a muscle or something, because he feels like he has a stitch in his side. Probably he shouldn't be swinging hammers around that hard. He reaches for the new shoulder plating. "DUM-E, bring me the arc welder. No, the new one."

The welding mask blocks his ears a little, but he can still hear Rhodey. "The universe will survive without Iron Man for a few more days."

"You don't know that," Tony mutters into the mask.

"What?"

Tony raises his voice. "Nothing!"

Rhodey keeps going, but all the reasonableness and logic just turn into "wah wah wah" by the time they hit Tony's ears. He just focuses on the weld instead; if he's stuck doing this, this bastard's going to be inhumanly straight.

The stitch in his side has gotten noticeably worse over the past few minutes. Tony is just focusing on how annoying it is when he feels a deep, sharp pain on the other side, between two ribs. His arm jerks involuntarily, marking a jagged line across the steel. The flame just touches the edge of his glove and--fucking naturally--he's been meaning to replace these gloves, there's some tiny little crack somewhere, and now his wrist feels like it's on fire.

He barely manages to turn the welder off before dropping it. "Fuck, fuck, fucking fuck! Rhodey--" But Rhodey's already halfway to the first aid kit. Tony sinks down on the nearest chair and starts to pull the glove away from the burn. "Fuck! JARVIS, I might need Bruce down here, I can't tell yet."

"Dr. Banner has just been summoned to the sparring room," JARVIS says. "It appears Captain Rogers has suffered an injury."

"What the fuck," Tony says, and nearly brains himself on the workbench trying to jump up and run for the door. Rhodey grabs him, and Tony doesn't even care that he's being mostly carried up the stairs, as long as it gets him to Steve.

***

Either Bruce or JARVIS--or Rhodey or Thor or Clint--tattles on them to Pepper, but now at least Tony is enjoying the aesthetic glories of a SHIELD hospital room with Steve in a bed a safe few feet away.

Tony pokes at the bandages around his ribs.

"Ow, stop it," Steve says. He might be saying it out loud or in Tony's head; by now, Tony can't really tell the difference unless he's looking straight at him.

"Shut up, you baby." Tony pokes his side again for fun. "You can't even see where it was anymore. I'm the one who has to knit together a bone."

Steve raises his left hand so Tony can see it; the white bandage stands out against his tan. "This isn't going away. I could poke it."

"I could punch myself in the face," Tony says. "...oh, God, we're a bad vaudeville joke."

"It's weird." Steve is still staring at his hand. "I haven't healed at a normal pace in a long time, even without--" He gestures with his other hand, waving away the whole frozen in ice thing. "It feels different."

"If 'feels different' means 'hurts like a son of a bitch' then I guess you're right." Tony groans. "I am so fucked. They're going to put me in a bubble and they'll never let me touch my toolbox again."

"Bubble?" Steve asks, and Tony figures out that if he's careful, he can project entire scenes from movies into Steve's brain. They jump from Travolta to Bond to Star Wars, and Steve turns out to have paid a lot of attention to Bogart's early career.

It's almost distracting enough that they forget for a while how totally screwed they are.

***

Tony wakes up in the middle of the night, panting from a battle with some crazy amalgamation of Obie and someone he realizes after getting his breath back must be Red Skull. He looks over at Steve. He’s invisible in the darkness, but Tony doesn’t have that telepathy thing for nothing.

Allow me to apologize for my subconscious, he thinks.

He can hear Steve’s huff of laughter. Mutual, I think.

Tony closes his eyes. Try to dream about the USO girls or something.

Try not to dream about those underage starlets. Or Pepper.

“Potentially underage,” Tony says out loud.

Thankfully he doesn’t have that dream about Pepper, the one where he tries to give her his company again and she leaves him for the job at SHIELD that “nobody can say I didn’t earn, damn it.”

(Tony always had Pepper to care about what the rest of the world thought. He should have known that eventually she’d give up on trying to make him care, too.)

If Steve lives in his head long enough he’ll probably pick up on whatever he hasn’t already guessed, but Tony’s not handing it over if he can help it.

He doesn’t remember what he does dream, but he wakes up in the morning as rested as he’s been in a while, and certain parts of his body that he’s been neglecting since that whole brain-sharing thing started are rested and ready for action, too.

At first, he remembers vaguely that this is a problem, but it feels too good to dwell on it, and he rubs his hand up and down his cock, drifting in a feeling of lazy arousal. Then he opens his eyes and meets Steve’s.

Tony drags his hands out from under the covers--Steve's are held awkwardly up, as though he’s been arrested in bed. Which means that they were--and he was--

“Wow, this hasn’t happened to me since MIT,” Tony says.

Steve sticks his head under his pillow and thinks several words Tony didn’t know he knew.

“Don’t worry, today was going to suck anyway,” Tony says, and thinks about fantasy baseball until he can face the outside world with his usual elan and panache.

***

Lunchtime brings the return of their street clothes and Dr. Strange, who lives up to his name and then some. “Hmph,” he says, and sniffs the back of Tony’s neck. Tony sends ?! to Steve, and gets ! back.

Strange looks deep into their eyes, makes them poke each other’s wounds from across the room (fucking ow), and then starts talking about something nobody understands except, oddly, Pepper. She looks overly impressed, in fact, and Tony is reminded of why Strange works his last nerve: he’s all weird and wiggy and mysterious about magic, and it gets all the girls. Women. Peppers.

Steve looks over at Tony and raises an eyebrow. Tony grumbles back mentally. He’s not jealous, not really. He just thinks Strange is a dick.

Steve is trying really hard not to think takes one to know one.

Fuck it all. Tony ignores the conversation in front of him and starts mentally designing a new phone. He’s not sure if the technobabble inside or outside Steve’s head makes him fall asleep.

He’ll take it, though. Tony ignores Strange’s magical theories and his own revolutionary ideas for data storage and looks at Steve, leaning back against the wall, perfect as usual except for the bandage on his wrist.

Steve is ridiculously hot. But so is Thor, so are Clint and Bruce. Even Coulson has a nebbish but authoritarian thing going for him. And that doesn’t even include all of the many, many attractive women Tony has met since joining the Avengers.

He's flirted with Darcy, been blown off by Natasha in an incident that involved actually being blown off his feet, and gone undercover with Clint portraying his boy-toy, which...is not an unpleasant memory.

But Pepper leaving woke him up to things he'd still rather avoid. The company needs him to be brilliant, committed, and more or less stable. The Avengers need him to be fearless and think like a teammate. And Captain America needs to be, what's the phrase, beyond reproach. Tony's okay with his life, at least lately, but reproach-free, he is not.

Fuck, this is a really bad time for his dick to have an epiphany.

He closes his eyes. This'll be over soon. Dr. Strange will work his mojo, the Avengers will go back to fighting evil, and Tony will go back to being

noble. I think you're looking for the word noble.

Tony snorts. Pretty sure I'm not, he tells the insides of his eyelids.

You know, you don't have to be ashamed that you're protecting the people you care about.

Tony's heart does this stupid twisty thing that he hopes didn't translate over to Steve. Can we not talk about this? Or think about it, whatever?

"Gentlemen," Dr. Strange says. Tony blinks his eyes open and focuses on him, carefully keeping even the corners of his vision away from Steve.

"So?" Tony asks. "Ready to wave your wand and fix us?"

"As I said," as if Tony listened, "There is definitely magic about."

Tony feels a mental nudge from Steve just as he's about to say something like, "Really? The mindreading didn't clue you in?"

"But there is something else, as well." Strange sniffs the air again. "You are drenched in technology."

"Yes," Tony says patiently. "I fly in a giant computerized suit."

"Captain Rogers does not." More sniffing, ugh. "Yet he is surrounded by the same sickly aura."

Tony wants to say many, many things, but Steve sends him a warning look. "So you're saying that this is magical and scientific?"

"Find the technological roots of the spell and destroy them, and it will dissolve." Strange smirks. "You will be able to touch each other again."

"This is me not responding to your dickishness," Tony says. "What technology? Where do we find it?"

"Where does one find anything in this backward dimension? Try the Internet."

"Wait, wha--"

Strange fades out of view.

"I really, really hate magic," Tony says. "Really. Hate it."

***

Pepper, Bruce, and the rest let them go back to the Mansion with a ream of instructions: no leaving the grounds. No sparring. No working directly with fire or metal at all, really. No touching. "We get it, we get it," Tony snaps. "Bubble time. Can we go now, Pepper?"

She gives him her usual exasperated look and then, to his surprise, hugs him. "Some of us care about you two as people, not just as superheroes." She plants a kiss on his cheek. A few feet away, Steve stiffens, and Tony can feel the pressure on his face echo back and forth between the two of them.

He shakes it off and smiles down at Pepper, who always has deserved more than half his attention and so rarely gets it. "Thanks, Pep," he says. "Really. Thanks."

"Get out of my hair, you two," she says, but her eyes are soft as she says it.

***

Back at the Mansion, they both do what they do best. Tony starts making plans for attacking the Internet, and Steve brings the other Avengers together.

"Director Fury has a request in to the Pentagon to have War Machine assigned to us if this isn't resolved soon. In the meantime, there's no point in keeping the rest of you out of the field. Black Widow, as of now, you're acting team leader."

"The hell I am," she says.

Tony saves his laugh for the inside of his head, but Steve glares him down anyway.

"You have the best strategic mind on this team."

"Cap's right, Natasha," Clint says.

She's still shaking her head. "But--"

"Hell is other people, I know," Steve says wryly. "But it's just these guys. They're all scared of you anyway."

"True," Bruce says.

Clint nods. "Totally."

Thor puffs up, then deflates when Natasha raises an eyebrow at him.

"You'll have me and Coulson on comms if you need us. But I need your help here, Natasha."

"Well, I suppose it's better than following one of Hawkeye's sad excuses for a plan," she says.

Tony grins and goes back to his planning as the inevitable squabble breaks out.

The team heads out--Steve can supervise drills just fine--and Tony heads down to the wall of computers in his workroom to do what he does.

"Okay, JARVIS," he says, wiggling his fingers above the keyboard. "Let's start with 4chan."

***

One day turns into two turns into four turns into a week. Tony works his way through the dark underbelly of the Internet. Steve coaches and trains. He spends some time drawing things that sometimes start out as still lifes and end up as circuit boards. He also works out, but only with a spotter, which Tony knows without telepathy frustrates the hell out of him.

The Avengers under Natasha's leadership show no signs of weakness. They borrow Agents Hill and Carter for one mission, Sif and the gang for another, and Johnny Storm until he sets fire to Thor's hair and there's nearly a superhero war.

Tony and Steve work at distracting themselves and giving each other as much privacy as possible, especially for the few things which, Steve would say delicately, really need no mental company.

And every night, after Tony's exhausted his brain and Steve his body as much as possible, they go to bed and lie in their mutual darkness, which erases the space between them as if it never existed.

Tony's lusted after people. He's been in love. But this mental/physical pull Steve has on him, one he can't act on now or ever--it twists his muscles into knots, gives him feverish dreams that never quite last long enough, makes his chest ache around his arc reactor.

I'm sorry, he thinks one night. His face is buried in his pillow and his hands are clenches around the headboard as he tries to keep from grinding into the mattress. Maybe we should sleep on different shifts or something.

God, Tony. Tony's brain translates the shape of Steve's thought into something that makes him moan softly into his pillow. Do you really think that this is something you're doing to me?

Yes?

He can tell Steve is shaking his head. Beyond reproach, right.

Right. So just--I'll just--

Tony, sometimes you're not nearly as bright as you think you are.

Tony sucks in an offended breath, and then chokes out loud as he feels Steve slowly, deliberately run a hand down his stomach and into his boxers.

Oh, God. Steve--

Think less, Steve tells him with quiet amusement, and Tony can feel Steve's hand like it's on his own cock, stroking and squeezing. He bites his lip, and Christ, it makes Steve harder.

Tony turns on his back, fighting to take a full breath, and grabs his cock. With his eyes still shut tight, he can feel everything Steve is doing, overlaid over his own sensations. Every move either of them makes echoes back, and back again. Steve's heart is pounding; Tony's hands are shaking.

Steve comes a split second before Tony loses control too. Tony's sure he can hear Steve saying his name out loud.

Huh, Tony thinks as he drifts off on a cloud of endorphins.

What you said, he gets back sleepily.

***

Everything is business as usual the next day, except that apparently when Steve blushes it makes Tony blush, Tony who stopped blushing in about the sixth grade, and from the feel of it Steve blushes from the second he walks into the kitchen and sees Tony at the coffeemaker until long after Tony makes a run for it and hides himself in the workroom. If he gets a silly grin on his face every time the back of his neck heats up, it's nobody's business but JARVIS and Steve.

Steve has a little too much time on his hands, since it's all quiet on the Avengers front, and somehow manages to work up a sweat and need to shower three separate times. Tony gets very, very little done.

***

And so it goes for another few days, until an explosion rattles the windows of Avengers Mansion.

"That's Times Square," Tony says, running for the front door. JARVIS is reminding him that he can't leave the grounds, but it's Times Square. Steve and Bruce are just behind him as he takes the front steps two at a time. The smoke is rolling into the air, dimming the noon sun, and through it Tony can just make out a familiar looking aircraft.

"Doom," he says. "I'm sure Reed and the rest are already on their way."

Natasha comes out the front door at a flat run, costumed and armed. Clint comes popping out a second floor window with his bow and uses a drainpipe and a low-hanging tree branch to get to the ground as quickly as possible. Thor floats down, and the wind ruffles everyone's hair.

"I'll have JARVIS send a car around," Tony says, but Bruce is already shrugging out of his shirt and tossing it to Steve.

"I'm faster," he says. "Somebody punch me or--"

Natasha kicks him square in the junk.

"I'm faster too," she says as Bruce collapses to the ground, already turning green. The rest of the Avengers--even Thor--flinch.

"I am so glad I only feel it when you get hurt right now," Tony tells Steve.

Clint launches himself up into the Hulk's outstretched hand, and Natasha--perhaps wisely--grabs Thor's cape and is swept up into his windstorm. Tony and Steve stay where they are until everyone disappears around a corner.

"This fucking sucks," Tony says, and then winces. "I mean--"

"Yes, and yes," Steve says. "Come on, let's have JARVIS find all the video coverage of that area."

They trudge back in.

***

Naturally, the Avengers, with the help of some of the nearby superheroes, save the day, but it's a few very tense hours watching it happen, and they're all exhausted when they stumble back in, covered in dirty smoke and road rash.

Clint tosses his bow up the stairs. "One of these days I'm going to string that dude up by his Latverian balls, and the U.N. will pass a law making it Hawkeye Day in every country in the world."

"Can we not talk about balls, please?" Bruce asks plaintively.

Natasha has already cornered Steve and is interrogating him about...something something strategy something. She looks wiped, too. Even Thor is resting Mjolnir on his shoulder like it's a little heavy for him.

Tony looks around at all of them. "I tell you what," he says, loud enough that everyone looks at him in surprise. "If you guys go up and scrub Times Square out of your hair, when you get back here, I will personally make each of you the best cocktail in human--and possibly Asgardian--history. Personal guarantee as a Stark."

"Deal," Clint says.

"But we should celebrate as a team," Thor says. "How shall we all partake when Captain Rogers cannot share the glory of drunkenness with us?"

"Glory?" Bruce asks under his breath.

Tony raises an eyebrow. Steve, who of course is getting it from Tony's brain before it leaves his mouth, chokes. "My children," Tony says, and smiles. "Hasn't it occurred to any of you that if I get hit and Steve feels it, what will happen when I get buzzed...?"

There's a mad dash for the stairs.

***

“The first rule of Stark’s Cocktail Lounge,” Tony says, “is that we leave stereotypes at the door.”

The team looks up at him from the hastily-rearranged couches. Steve is seeing it as a little theatre, with the bar as the stage. Tony grins at him.

“What exactly does that mean?” Natasha asks.

Tony points at her. “It means no vodka for you, Romanova.”

“But I like vodka.”

“I can’t surprise you with vodka,” Tony says. “No vodka for you, no mead for Thor, and nothing from the Forties for Steve-slash-me.”

He keeps talking, arranging bottles and glasses and garnishes. Are you really nervous? he thinks at Steve.

It’s not like I never drank before.

But?

Steve’s answering shrug makes Tony’s shoulder move a bit too.

I’ll be gentle, Tony thinks, and heads turn when Steve starts laughing.

A Dubliner, an Applejack Rabbit, and two rye Rickeys, what the fuck, later, Tony’s alcohol tolerance is actually starting to bore Steve a little. “Is there the equivalent of an arc reactor for your liver, Stark?” Clint asks as Steve takes him up on a dare and does a left-handed handstand against the far wall. “This is ridiculous.”

Tony looks at Clint, looks at Steve, and reaches for the bar fridge.

"That's disgusting," Steve calls.

"Trust me," Tony says.

Bruce--the only one of them showing any real effects--leans forward. "What is that?"

Steve looks at them from his upside down position. "It's whiskey with a pickle chaser--"

"Pickle back," Tony corrects.

"And it's disgusting."

"Blah, blah, little faith," Tony says. He tosses the whiskey back, then the pickle juice, letting the combination roll across his tongue before swallowing.

"Whoa." Steve comes down from the handstand with the least grace Tony's ever seen from him.

"Uh-huh," Tony says smugly.

Steve leans back against the wall for a moment, blinking slowly. The way the buzz radiates back and forth between the two of them is probably visible. Tony reaches casually for the edge of the bar.

Then Steve looks over at Tony, and the sleepy, dreamy look in his eyes is just--

"Can we have another one?" he asks.

Tony blushes.

***

Tony's a little reluctant to push the experiment too far--he needs some of his inhibitions at the moment, and sharing a hangover doesn't make it any more appealing. Which is why he ends up in bed, safely tucked away from Steve and Steve from him, while the party continues below. Thor and Natasha were proposing a mead-versus-vodka battle of honor or something as he left. Tony rolls his eyes right into sleep.

He wakes up a few hours later when his bedroom door opens. Steve's shadow fills the doorway; Tony jerks to a sitting position. What are you doing get out we can't--

"Shh," Steve says aloud.

Tony flails for the bedside lamp as Steve shuts the door. He's almost totally in costume--how drunk are they still?--the reinforced fabric that Tony designed and tweaked and redesigned until it was safe as houses and supple as leather. He's bootless and his cowl is pushed back to form a hood, but he's covered from neck to ankles and has his gauntlets on.

Tony stares at Steve's hands. "This is a dangerous idea," he says, even as anticipation shoots up his spine.

"You like danger," Steve says. "Don't you read your own press, Tony?"

Tony does a quick review of his-slash-their intoxication level. Sober enough, and apparently stupid enough. "Fine." He lets go of his scared-virgin grip on the covers.

Steve goes down on his knees next to the bed, and Tony catches himself leaning in. Steve reaches out and they both hold their breath as he reaches a gloved hand back to brush Tony's hair back from his forehead and carefully, carefully touches his face.

There's no white light, nobody's brain explodes, and Tony huffs out a sigh of relief. He opens his mouth to say something, he’ll never know what, because Steve runs his thumb across Tony’s lower lip and all Tony’s words pack up and leave his head. All except the important one.

“Steve,” he whispers, and Steve follows the movement of his mouth with his thumb. Steve wets his own lips, and Tony has never, ever, wanted to kiss anyone so badly. He reaches out for whatever safe part of Steve he can touch.

Engineered fabric is still fabric, and running his hands over the curves of Steve’s biceps kicks his desire higher instead of soothing it. He wants to feel the dusting of hair low on Steve’s belly, wants those calloused hands on him. He has Steve, with his dry humor and his wistful memories and his driving need to protect everyone, in his head, but the rest of him, he’s going a little crazy with how badly he wants the rest of him.

He can barely focus on his own thoughts, so he’s not sure how much Steve can really pick out, but Steve lets out a half-laugh and grabs Tony’s shoulder and hip just a little painfully. Tony bites back a moan.

Tony, you—I used to wonder how your brain worked, and I still have no earthly idea, but I couldn’t even have imagined what you’re really like. I couldn’t have imagined how this would feel.

Tony’s hips buck up involuntarily, and Steve says, flushed and panting, “I want to—I don’t want to hurt you—“

“Fuck that,” Tony says, and stops clutching Steve’s costume long enough to grab his own dick. “Come on.” Steve wraps his hand around Tony’s, and the dual pull, smooth then rough then smooth, has both of them shaking and sweating their way to an orgasm so hard it hurts a little. Not that Tony is complaining.

He lifts a hand to where Steve’s resting his forehead on the side of the bed, then remembers and jerks it back just before he touches him.

“I’m going to need a shower and an awkward conversation with JARVIS, I think,” Steve says, sitting back on his heels.

“Hell, not another shower. Are you trying to kill me?”

Steve giggles, actually giggles, and Tony is probably the happiest guy ever stuck under an evil spell.

***

The next morning, all the Avengers assemble, if you will, in the kitchen, clutching coffee mugs in various states of desperation.

Tony lifts an eyebrow at Thor’s slightly pale face. “So there is such a thing as too much mead, big boy?” he asks, reaching into the fridge.

“Don’t say mead,” Bruce says. He’s wearing sunglasses indoors. Tony considers laughing at him, then remembers the bill the last time Bruce Hulked out in the Mansion and shuts up.

He perches on a stool at the kitchen island, keeping a safe distance (namely Thor’s body) from Steve, and gulps his orange juice. “So what’s on tap for today?”

Everyone’s looking at him oddly. He looks down surreptitiously.

Yes, you are wearing pants.

“Then what?” he asks aloud.

Clint looks significantly at Steve’s—

Coffee mug?

“Awk-ward,” Tony sing-songs. Thor reaches out and switches the drinks.

“You two get weirder every day,” Clint says. Natasha makes a face that suggests unflattering things about their baseline weirdness.

Tony downs half his coffee. “Yeah, well, what do you do? I’m pretty sure I actually hit the end of the Internet a couple of days ago.”

“That sucks,” Clint says.

Tony nods. “Although I guess there are worse things. I mean, I could be in your head.” Clint leans over and punches him on the arm, and Steve makes a pained noise. Tony rubs his arm. “It’s definitely been…” He doesn’t meet Steve’s eyes. “Interesting? But I miss working on my armor.”

“I miss drills,” Steve says. Clint rolls his eyes.

“Flying,” Tony says wistfully.

“Sparring.”

“Leaving the Mansion. Fighting crime in general, really,” Tony says, and Steve nods.

Natasha hands her coffee mug to Tony. “Get me a refill and I promise to feel sorry for you.”

“You truly have a compassionate heart,” Tony says. Since he needs more himself, he takes both mugs over to the pot. “Fucking Internet,” he says.

“Yeah, I guess it was too much to expect it to be somebody’s Facebook page,” Clint says.

Tony drops both mugs. His lands on the counter; Natasha’s ricochets off the edge and shatters when it hits the floor.

“Hey!” she says.

Tony is staring at Clint. “Son of a bitch,” he says, and hears the echo that is Steve saying the exact same words at the exact same time.

“Fucking--stop that,” Clint says. “And stop freaky-staring at me. What?”

Tony hurdles the broken bits of mug and takes off in a sprint for the stairs. “JARVIS! Up and running! Now!”

***

Tony puts his head in his hands. "Holy l33t n00b, Batman," he says. "We've been whammied by a Facebook page. A Facebook page with sparkly fucking hearts."

"Excuse me," Clint says in a high-pitched voice and slips out the workroom door. It shuts behind him, cutting off his shrieks of laughter.

"How do you know it's this one? There's a couple other--"

"Thirteen other fan pages advocating that you and I make out, get married, and adopt adorable underprivileged babies."

"Yes, fine." Steve's blush tickles the back of Tony's neck.

Tony pulls his head out of his...hands, and taps the screen. "Because only this one is run by a self-proclaimed "magic specialist" who encouraged the whole group, all 859 of them, to 'think warm thoughts about the union of our beloveds' souls' the night before all this happened."

Clint sticks his head in the door, looks at the two of them, and starts laughing again.

Eight hundred and sixty. “Fucker,” Tony says under his breath.

***

"It's a very simple plan for something that might fry my brain," Tony says, scratching his forehead.

"Don't pull that electrode off again," Bruce says.

Tony crosses his arms. "Hey," Steve says before Tony even registers the tug of the IV. Tony huffs and balls his fists up in his lap.

They're in Bruce's lab, mostly because the main infirmary staff is becoming as allergic to Tony as he is to them. The rest of the Avengers are there on either side of him and Steve. Pepper, Coulson, Strange, and the medical folks who hate him least are all there. If Bruce Hulks out for any reason somebody's gonna get squished.

"Are you ready?" Pepper asks, looking around the room. Bruce nods; Strange inclines his head to her.

Steve nods with something on his face and in his mind Tony sort of doesn't understand and sort of agrees with. He buries his planned pessimistic wisecrack and just says, "Yeah."

"JARVIS, go," Pepper says into Tony's phone, and Doctor Strange starts chanting.

Tony waits for something to happen...and waits, and waits...and is that a tickling in the back of his mind? He automatically reaches out to Steve with his mind--and an unbelievable amount of pain sears its way through his brain and down his spine. He's screaming, or maybe Steve is, or maybe both of them. He wants desperately to pass out, but he can't, and oh God it's gone.

Tony sags over the arm of his chair. He’s busy for a few minutes throwing up on Pepper’s shoes, but as he recovers from that (and the Pepper Death Glare that accompanies it), he suddenly realizes that Steve is gone from his mind.

He flops around until he can look at Steve. "You okay?" he asks through a scratchy throat.

Steve doesn't seem to have puked, but he is pale and pained. "One time somebody threw a tank at me. This hurt worse," he says.

Showoff. It takes Tony a second to remember to say it out loud.

***

By unspoken agreement, Tony and Steve go their separate ways for the several days after the doctors and scientists and magicians (ugh) clear them. Steve has a backlog of sparring to catch up on, apparently, and Tony needs to implement all the armor ideas he's been brainstorming, do some of the work travel he put off, and be talked out of firebombing a certain "magic specialist" off the Internet. (Pepper finally promises to have Coulson go talk to her, and Tony agrees almost immediately. Maybe he'll tase her.)

So he and Steve aren't avoiding each other, not really. They're just doing their own things, in their own workspaces. And their own beds.

Tony isn’t at all sleeping on the cot in his workroom to avoid his own bed. That would just be stupid.

***

A mission comes in five days in, and nobody's been more excited to see a slime monster than this group of superheroes. Somewhere in the middle of the fight, blasting away and getting facefuls of goop, Tony hears Steve on the comms--in his head but not, not really--and feels a wrench of disorientation so strong that he bobbles in place in the air. His repulsor blast goes off-course and takes out a chunk of sidewalk.

“Sir,” JARVIS says, as startled as a computer can be.

“Tony, are you okay?” Steve calls. “Iron Man, report status.”

Tony gets his jets under him and swivels to face Steve, a tiny dot of concern and shield ten blocks down. Steve, who is a superhero and the most human of all of them, who does drunk handstands and dangerous sex, who is just...Steve, inside Tony’s head or out.

This is the perfect place for an epiphany, Tony thinks, and has to smother a laugh. “I’m good, I’m fine. Pipe down, JARVIS. Just had a slight...orientation adjustment,” he says, waving one hand in the air even though nobody can see it.

The tiny figure on the ground stays staring up for a moment more. “All right, then,” Steve says, and they’re back in it: Clint and the Hulk pinning the monster down with arrows and fists, Natasha being thrown in the air from the top of Steve’s shield to toss grenades in its open mouth, Thor flying down to scoop her away, and a giant, disgusting boom. Tony keeps grinning, even as he gets a mask full of yuck.

***

They debrief after more-or-less effective showers; Bruce's skin is stained faintly green thanks to the Hulk's shirt-optional lifestyle choices, which means that everyone is egregiously nice to him. Fury speeds through it, since the gunk is still clinging to everyone's nooks and crannies (even Tony, who the hell knows how, has some in his hair) and is starting to turn sour. He dismisses them to "go use a loofah or something, Jesus, don't come back until you don't smell like expired milk."

"Want a ride?" Tony asks Steve on the way out. "I need to get the suit to the cleaners, so to speak."

Steve looks startled, and then he smiles. Tony feels a little lightheaded at the sight, although that might just be the smell.

***

They don't talk on the brief flight back to the Mansion, but Steve keeps shooting sideways looks at Tony. Tony records video of it for posterity and ignores the readings JARVIS keeps flashing at him about his increased heart rate. JARVIS can suck it.

***

Tony all but falls out of the suit once he sets Steve down.

"You're not staying to clean it?" Steve asks when Tony nearly treads on his heels at the foot of the stairs.

"Oh, DUM-E can handle it," Tony says airily. "Right, JARVIS?"

There's a crash behind them. Tony ignores it.

"Indeed," JARVIS says.

Tony ignores that, too. He follows Steve--at a slightly less treacherous distance--up the stairs, down the hall, past the door to Tony's suite, and into Steve's.

Steve hesitates a few feet into the room, stopping with his back still to Tony. Tony lets the door fall shut and waits. He's pretty sure he's right here, but it doesn't hurt to be a gentleman, does it?

Steve turns. His blush makes the back of Tony's neck heat in memory. "Shower?" he asks.

"Please," Tony says, and not just because the room is starting to smell like rancid cotton cheese. He starts to tug off his shirt, but Steve grabs Tony's wrist.

"I want to."

"Yeah, okay," Tony says, all his attention on the slide of Steve's thumb along the inside of his wrist.

Tony blesses his hedonistic bent as he follows Steve into the shower. Large enough to fit even the two of them comfortably, multiple shower jets, even a potentially convenient bench--yeah, it'll do. He closes the shower door. Steve stills in front of him again. Tony runs the tips of his fingers along Steve's shoulderblades.

Steve shudders, and before Tony can even register the movement, he's shoved up against the shower wall. He holds his breath, but the kiss, when it comes, is soft, tentative. Tony settles his hands against Steve's arms and leans into it.

They stand there for what feels like forever, pressed against each other, as the kisses get progressively deeper and more intense, until Tony's fingers are digging into Steve's arms painfully, and Steve's hands are moving restlessly up and down Tony's sides, until Tony finally turns his head away, gasping, and says, "Come on." He urges Steve over enough to reach out blindly and slap on the shower controls.

The blast of the water jets is almost too much against his already sensitized skin; he stands there for a second, forcing himself to breathe, and Steve closes his eyes. Then his hands start moving on Tony's skin again, and who needs oxygen anyway?

The slime isn't too terrible to get off, but Tony goes back for more soap over and over, running his hands over Steve's back, his chest, his ass, bumping into him as Steve does the same. He's painfully hard. When Steve's hand finally brushes against his cock, Tony can't help a needy whine, and Steve laughs--Tony's heart thumps painfully behind the arc reactor--and takes a firm hold.

"Much better this way," he says. Tony babbles some kind of agreement and leans back against the wall--good wall, he likes this wall--and watches Steve watch what he's doing. The sensations are an odd echo of what they were like before, but before didn't have Steve, flushed and intent, his teeth worrying against his lower lip as his hand moved on Tony's cock.

When the orgasm hits, it's several orders magnitude better than the earlier ones, and they had been intense on their own. Tony rolls with it, Steve's hand on him anchoring him, and then lets the momentum carry him down to his knees.

He puts his hands on Steve's hips and can actually feel Steve's knees start to wobble.

"I--sorry, I--"

"That's a compliment," Tony says with a grin, and taps the bench next to them.

Steve sits, spreading his legs so Tony can move between them. He puts his hands on Tony's shoulders; Tony gives a brief thought to super strength and broken bones and dismisses it. It's Steve.

The length of Steve's cock, the feel of it in his hand, is another one of those echoes. The textures and taste when he takes it in his mouth, though, that's totally new, as is the sound of Steve's voice speaking half-nonsense, half-encouragement. Tony loses track of skill and technique and sinks into the sensation: smooth skin on his tongue, taut muscle under his hands, and when Steve shudders and comes, it's both a surprise and a victory.

He shifts off his knees, which are starting to telegraph displeasure, and sits in front of the bench. He rests his head on Steve's knee and they sit there for a while more, letting the jets rinse them off. Steve lays a hand on the back of Tony's neck and rubs absently.

"You know," Tony says finally, "your body is nearly as fantastic as your mind."

Steve goes still; Tony looks up to see a painfully vulnerable look cross Steve's face, and then a blinding smile.

"Come to bed with me," he says, and Tony's heart does that thumping thing again.

"Yeah. Yeah, okay," he says and smiles back.

***

It's Worst Movie Night--so dubbed and organized by Clint and Darcy, who Tony considers to be deadly weapons even without a bow and a taser. All the Avengers are occupying sofas, chairs, and floor space in the Mansion's biggest living room, along with Jane, Agents Hill and Carter, and even Coulson, whose jeans have tuxedo-sharp creases. Even Pepper is there, looking on with a grin as Clint and Darcy fight noisily over which movie was the absolute worst.

Tony mostly tunes them out--Darcy's going to win, Clint should know better--and goes back to his tablet. He's sideways in his favorite loveseat, legs draped across Steve's lap, and Steve has one hand on Tony's knee and the other on his ankle as he foolishly tries to referee the fight.

"What are you doing over there?" Maria Hill asks, and Tony realizes she's talking to him. "You keep smiling. It's creepy."

"I am not!" Tony says.

"Smiling, or creepy?" Darcy asks.

"Listen--" Tony throws up his hands, which leaves his tablet free for Bruce to reach up from the floor--Tony thought the bastard was asleep--and grab it. "--hey! Hey!"

With a few quick movements, Bruce has Tony's screen displayed up on the TV.

"I thought you nuked that page," Clint says. He's right in front of the screen, but the Facebook logo and the (really well drawn) sketch of Tony and Steve kissing are still visible around him.

"Bruce, give me that back before I steal all your stretchy pants," Tony says. "It's a different page. Certified magic free."

"It's like watching porn about yourself." Clint leans in to look at something lower on the screen.

"Tony would know." Pepper smiles brightly when everyone turns to stare at her.

Tony gives her a wounded look for form's sake, but her laughing at him is actually a huge improvement.

"Darcy, put the movie in. Bruce, give Tony his tablet back." Steve busts out his Avengers Assemble voice, but his face is more Steve Rogers, Secret Introvert. Tony keys in a command on his rescued tablet; the lights dim and the sound of a popcorn popper drifts over from the kitchen.

In the flurry of motion that follows, the light from the screen isn't bright enough to show Steve leaning forward to kiss Tony, or Tony tangling their fingers together at his hip. Tony smiles into the dark, and he doesn't need magic to know Steve is smiling too.