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Practical Mathematics

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After averting the giant crab invasion - Namor had a lot to answer for - the Avengers crashed in Tony Stark's living room. It had sofas, alcohol and a convenient fly-in entrance. Sadly, it had sofas, alcohol and they'd been fighting giant crabs all day, which was why Steve Rogers (a super-soldier) was left with only Tony Stark (a lifelong insomniac) awake for company. Steve wasn't awake enough to make himself stand up from the soft, soft couch, but he couldn't fall asleep either. That left him to Stark's tender sleep-deprived mercies and Stark, in his infinite wisdom, had decided to bond with Steve by talking about his favorite subject. Well, third favorite, after building things and smart-mouthing people.

"... So I told her I didn't speak Portuguese and didn't stop walking until I was out of the hotel."

Steve closed his eyes and nodded politely. "You've got a lot of stories," he said.

Tony sat back, sprawling his arms over the back of the chair. "But you've been quiet, what's your number? Four? Six? You can tell me."

"I don't know, I guess," he said, shrugging and sinking deeper into the cushions. He tried not to bump the snoring Thor, who took up most of the long sectional sofa. "Does it even count? I mean, it's not like there are rules somewhere. I was always waiting for the right partner, mostly."

Tony's eyebrows raised. "Mostly?" he asked.

Steve shrugged again. No help for it. "It was just kid stuff, I guess. Does it count if you don't, you know, slide home?"

Stark smiled sleepily and waved his hand around in a negligent gesture. "Sure, let's count it as a quarter of a time, why not?" he said. "So spill, start talking."

Steve nodded. "You know I did time on the war bonds circuit, right?" he asked. "I didn't know anything. Not how to dance, not how to project, not how to throw a punch right, nothing. Chorus girls had to teach me. They were real nice, too. Patient. They kind of made a pet of me."

"So one of them took you aside and had pity on you?" Tony asked, leaning forward to pick up his glass of something dark and plum-colored.

"Yeah," said Steve. "Dolores said the girls had been thinking, and they'd do me a favor if I behaved myself."

Tony's eyes shot wide open. "Wait, the girls?" he asked.

Steve nodded. "Nothing big, but you know. Out on the road it gets lonely. You can't meet anyone, most of the musicians had girls..." he said. "I guess it was kind of strange, all of them together like that. But Sally said it was friendlier that way, and I guess it worked."

"So your count would be..." Tony asked, slowly.

Steve screwed up his face in thought for a moment. "There were eight of them. So by your rules, in this case, two?"

Tony blinked. "Two? Eight?" he said, shaking his head.

Steve sighed. "It wasn't like that. They were nice girls, they were just blowing off steam," he said. "And they had jobs to consider. They couldn't run off and get married."

"I'm sorry, I'm still hung up on eight of them. What are you talking about?" Tony asked.

He shrugged uncomfortably, the line of his back tense. "I mean, they didn't, we didn't. You know. That. It was just fooling around, I guess," Steve said.

"But to clarify," Tony said, very seriously, "There were eight of them, and all of you were naked and touching for entertainment purposes?"

"Yeah, mostly," admitted Steve.

Tony propped his arms on his knees and his head in his hand to stare at Steve. Bruce muttered unhappily in his sleep at the shift. He was asleep against the chair and Tony's leg. "So eight showgirls got together to give you pity sex? Really?" he asked.

"Of course not!" protested Steve. "They just, you know, let me join their regular thing."

"Their regular thing? Wow, that's... impressive. So while you were touring the country selling bonds to grandmoms and schoolkids, there was this one night when the showgirls let you join their traveling orgy. The things no one tells you about history," Tony said, and shook his head. "So what next, Casanova?"

Steve stopped to think for a minute. "A quarter of Bucky, I guess, if we're going by those rules," he said.

"Yes, yes we are. Because you obviously don't need the help," Tony said firmly.

"Well, there was Bucky before the war. When we were kids. Well, teenagers. You know how it is at that age," Steve hesitated. "Most boys do, right? And no one ever wanted to say no to Bucky, not his girls, not me."

"You followed your childhood sweetheart to war? That's bizarrely sweet," said Tony, smiling.

Steve looked torn, like he wasn't sure what to say. "It wasn't like that. I mean, he always had girls. And then there was Peggy..."

"Captain America met the girl of his dreams and that was it," Tony said, with a teasing edge to his voice. "Hearts, flowers, wait for me; no little French resistance girls like in the movies?"

"You think she just fell into my arms?" Steve asked, with a bit of laugh in his voice. "We met when I got recruited, then I ended up on tour. Then there was the thing where she shot at me. It took a while."

Tony rubbed his hand over his eyes and shook his head. "Wait, excuse me, wait, the thing where she shot at you?" he asked.

Steve lowered his head, embarrassed. "I'm not exactly smooth with women," he explained.

Tony took another drink. "I'll take your word on that. No, please, go on," he said, waving Steve to continue.

"After I got Bucky out of the camp, you know what they did to him, right? He wasn't doing so good. So I comforted him as best as I could. That was rough," Steve said. He stared blindly out over Natasha and Clint, passed out on the floor mid-anecdote. "When I took him along to say goodbye to the girls, they thought it might do him good. And, well, one more to the usual..."

"One more to the usual?" Tony asked.

"Well, it wasn't just once," Steve said, as if it were obvious. "It was a long tour. I guess it got boring. Then we were in the field with the Howling Commandos and..."

Tony rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on. You're not telling me you did it with the Howling Commandos..." he said.

Steve gave him an irritated side glance. "What? No. I mean, they were there. Where else would they be? You sneak off, maybe you get shot. It was the war," he explained. "No point in being too fussy. One of them knew this nurse, she was loud. Me and Bucky were nothing to that."

"And they just watched," Tony said, dryly.

"Yeah, I guess, if they wanted to. It wasn't really a secret," admitted Steve. "So it was me and Bucky again. It was nice. Familiar. "

"And then you and Peggy...?" asked Tony, trailing off in a meaningful way.

Steve shook his head. "The time was never right. We wanted it to be special. It was the middle of a war, we had to be careful. And a baby, it wasn't a good idea," he said.

"So you never," Tony asked gesturing suggestively.

"I just told you. No, not really. I mean..." Steve said with a shrug.

Tony gave him a look filled with amusement and skepticism. "Please, explain what not really was. Was there a trapeze?" he asked.

"Tony," Steve scolded and rubbed his forehead. "No, just, you know. Fooling around. There were a few times in her jeep, a couple in the tank, and that one time with Bucky."

"Ah yes, that one time with Bucky," mocked Tony. "You say it so easily. You find the true love of your life and of course you have to share her with your best friend. Yeah, that makes sense."

Steve shook his head. "Look, it wasn't. Bucky had a bit of the devil in him. He was always, you know, competitive. He wasn't sure she was good for me, I guess," he said.

"So he decided to have a threesome with you and your girlfriend to make sure she was good enough for you. Public spirited of him," Tony said, his eyebrows going up again.

Steve smiled, remembering. "Peggy never backed down from a challenge. She made sure he kept his hands to himself," he said.

"He kept his hands to himself?" Tony asked, leaning forward. "How did that work?"

"I mean, you know. Off her. They both sort of..." fumbled Steve, rubbing the back of his neck.

"Shared you. Of course," Tony said, in a weary voice.

"What do you mean?" asked Steve.

"I'm sorry, for some reason I wasn't expecting a definition of inexperience that included your girlfriend, your 'best friend' and eight chorus girls at once," Tony cracked.

There was an awkward pause. "You're still hung up on that? Haven't you ever..." Steve asked.

"… Not with an entire kick line, no," Tony said, darkly. "Pretty sure I would remember that. Two, sure; two with an extremely close and lucky friend watching, once or twice. Sometimes, for effect, I'll even say three."

Steve looked as if he was going to say something, thought better of it, then started again. "Right, you were born too late, I guess," he said thoughtfully.

"For what?" asked Tony.

"The girls are married and have grandkids now, mostly. The ones left," said Steve.

"How do you... Wait, wait. The old ladies you took out to the deli? Them?" Tony asked, remarkably scandalized for Tony Stark.

"No, not anymore. They have some great stories, though," Steve said, smiling wistfully.

"I'll just bet they do," said Tony with a rueful respect.

Steve closed his eyes again, and he almost fell asleep before a thought struck him. "Tony?" he asked quietly.

"What," groaned Tony.

"Could you not tell the team?" Steve asked.

"Your dirty secrets are safe with me," Tony mumbled, and turned his face back toward the soft side of the chair.

"No, I mean it," Steve said, intent on his point. "People today are funny about that, and they need to take me seriously. Could you just not tell anybody that I'm still a.... you know."

Tony sighed. "Oh, I'm pretty sure they'd never believe me."