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Drifting Ain't so Bad

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There was flotsam washed up on Tony’s beach.

The storm hadn’t exactly been kind to the rest of his island, either, but the multitude of broken ship washed upon his personal high tide line was particularly irritating. All the valuables would have sunk, unless there was a barrel of coffee…he scanned the junk to no avail, and anyway, he really should fix the shingles on the east side of the house before he headed into port to see what the storm had done to his operation. And Dummy had had a hard night so his stall needed work–

The flotsam groaned.

“Merde–” Tony dropped his tools and jogged to the shipwrecked sailor. It’d already been hours since the tide had fallen, and the sun was fierce; they were lucky to be alive at all, sunstroke would be the last thing they needed. Fair hair crusted with white sand, golden skin crisping towards burnt red, and clean shaven–

“Commodore?! Oh honey, who did you piss off this time?”

His accursed heart leapt into his throat; Steve was unconscious, his breathing tight and harsh, a bare gasp of air. Scrapes scoured clean by salt water littered his face and shoulder, but whatever good the sea had done them, they were crusted with sand and the flies were beginning to show interest. His splendid blue coat was lost, and the linen underneath had been torn half off, tangled in flotsam around his chest.

The man was half covered in spars and bits of tangled rigging and Tony threw the worst off easily, but the tangle of shirt and rope binding his chest resisted, tied in a true knot and, as Tony picked at it, staining pink from beneath.

“Steve, what the bloody hell did you do? Breathe for me, sunshine, that’s it…” He fumbled, nervous of the pink spreading along the rope and pulled his belt knife out when the knots proved far too stiff to manage with any haste.

The freshly sharpened blade sliced through the linen, exposing the rope to his fingers, but it was dug into the skin and dried tight with red salt.

Steve stirred as he felt along for a place loose enough for his knife to slip under the rope without sticking Steve too, and a limp hand knocked into Tony’s knee. He grabbed it up and pressed to his cheek, heartbreakingly relieved that Steve was moving.

“Hey! Hi, I’ve got you, Commodore. Chose the right beach to wash up on.” Tony watched his face desperately for any recognition, and a shard of blue flickered briefly before closing against the sun. Steve’s mouth creased briefly into a lopsided grin, then crumpled back into stoicism.

Tony went back to the rope; it was crushing Steve’s chest, the man surely couldn’t draw enough to speak–

“Had to…see you–” Steve tried, on a bare hiss of air, no more than a whisper.

“Shut up, you ass, and breathe all the way out, I need some slack. Why were you even out of harbour in a storm like that– no! Don’t you fucking talk, I am not done. I knew that storm was coming for days! Don’t you dare say you didn’t– and where’s the rest of your ship? Did you try to row your… self… Here. Oh.”

The flotsam was the remains of a dinghy, and just as Tony sliced the rope off, he realised that Steve had tied himself to an empty barrel, which had shattered on the same rocks that had scratched up his shoulder.

“Who was it?” Tony asked, low and furious. “Who set you adrift in this? It’s murder, Steve, you should be–” he choked off; Steve should be fine, he fucking would be, it wasn’t that bad, but Tony wasn’t bloody cursing it by saying shit as stupid as 'you should’ve died’. He pulled the rope away, exposing the raw, crushed skin beneath and loosening the blood to well up red.

“H–” Steve gasped in air, bruised and rope-burnt chest finally heaving to its proper size. “Hydra!” he hissed furiously, before coughing hard enough to shake him to his bones.

Shit, shit; he probably had water in his lungs –Hydra, fuck– Tony heaved him onto his side and propped him up, head on Tony’s lap, until he coughed it out onto the beach. Damning fuck, they’d been circling Hydra for months, trying to find their port to no luck. They’d had no idea they’d been made, there hadn’t been so much as a hint of anything like that.

Steve had made a decent sized puddle in the sand, vomit and salt water, but thank the moon, no actual blood. Tony threaded his fingers through Steve’s hair to soothe him into rest, let him get his breath back. Tony couldn’t lift him, he’d have to get Dummy, but he wasn’t stepping away until he was sure Steve would keep breathing.

“P… Pierce, trr- traitor.”

Tony’s hand froze, tangled in the mess the water had made of Steve’s queue. “Your passenger. From Port Royal.” Steve nodded slightly. “Well, fuck. The British gentry are bastards, I knew that, but fuck.”

Steve chuckled and lifted his head off Tony’s knee. A few bellows-deep breaths and he made it up to his hands, though he wobbled.

“I’ll get Dummy, get you out of the sun, yeah? Where’s your hat? No upstanding captain should be without a hat.” Tony whisked his own off his head and dropped it on Steve’s, to protect his already reddening skin. Salt made sun many times stronger, and Steve desperately needed a cooling bath.

Dummy was loose in the paddock, so Tony whistled sharply for the ass while he grabbed a halter. The dumb old thing waited stoically for him, then followed down the beach without qualm. Apparently he was over the storm after all; he had a robust constitution.

“Hey, Dummy. No sugar today, buddy,” Steve wheezed. He’d made it all the way to his haunches, his back to the unforgiving sun, and Dummy nosed at his pockets thoughtfully, just in case Steve was lying.

“How’re your legs, darlin’?”

Steve scratched idly at Dummy’s star and grimaced. “Still in the ocean. Has your beach always had waves like this?”

“Yeah, you’re riding today, sorry Dummy. World spinning?”

Steve winced and lifted a hand to his temple. “Remember Guadalupe?”

Tony did, and getting a Captain of His Majesty’s Navy blind swearing drunk was still the highlight of his pirating career. “Shouldn’t have had the last bottle, Steve, there’s a lot I don’t remember about that night. Did you go home with the brunette or the blonde? Never can– hup, God, did you absorb half the ocean? You weigh a ton-” he helped Steve drape himself over Dummy’s back and get a leg over, to the donkey’s vague irritation. “Never can remember.”

“…’S a brunet. Y’ dope.” He grabbed Tony’s collar and pulled him in for a clumsy, salty kiss.

“Oh, I think you might have jogged something, do that again and maybe I’ll remember that trick with the coconut oil.”

Steve groaned, half in mortification and half from his various aches and pains, and wound his hands in the donkey’s bristles. Tony noted a fresh trickle of darker red on his chest, the blood no longer diluted by seawater, and tugged the halter to get Dummy moving towards the house. It wasn’t the first time either of them had been washed ashore, and thank heavens they had running water and an actual bed to sleep it off in this time.

Dummy picked his way up the sand ever so daintily and Tony chattered nervously in the hope that Steve would not fall asleep and slide right back onto the sand. “I have oranges, did I say? Pepper bought a tree, and Dummy makes enough fertilizer for four like it. Do you like oranges? Limes are next, I can make–” he cut off as Steve opened his mouth, not wanting to talk over as much as a word.

“…’t’d be nice. I’m okay, Tony,” Steve slurred. “I want a drink, and to sleep.” Tony eyed him sideways and resolutely didn’t believe a word of it.

“Stand, Dummy, good boy,” he murmured to the donkey, then set his feet in the sand and pulled Steve’s arm over his shoulder. Steve slid sideways and did at least manage to get his feet under him before he crushed Tony entirely. They wobbled and staggered onto the porch, leaving Dummy to wander back to his breakfast in the paddock. In the shade, Steve’s skin felt unnaturally hot and Tony bypassed their big, delightful looking bed for the back of the house, where he’d diverted the stream into a basin for lounging in. There had been digging involved. The water was cool and fresh enough to drink, thanks to the stone it filtered through just up the mountain.

The palms here cast the dell into luxurious green shade, hot wind blowing through from the sun-scorched sand, but cool enough to be refreshing. Lush greenery grew alongside the stream, scenting the air with spices and citrus, and the stones underfoot were flat and water-smoothed. First priority was getting the sand off Steve’s scrapes, and then seeing what the rope had done to his chest, and in the meantime, Steve could rest out of the heat.

The first touch of cool water made Steve gasp and falter as he went a little limp, and Tony lowered him to sit in the flow while he fetched a cup of water from upstream of the sand sluicing off Steve’s pants. Steve drank it down in three long swallows, his throat doing obscene things under the shine of salt and sweat. Tony stopped him after the third cup, just in case, and Steve looked at him blurrily before understanding and handing it over.

They shuffled into the basin proper and Steve sank up to his scorched shoulders before Tony gathered him against his chest, and the look of bliss on his face was enough to make one swoon. His sticky, ruined clothes floated away from his injuries, and Tony stripped him down with gentle fingers.

“So worth it…love this place,” Steve mumbled. Tony got another look at sparking ocean-blue eyes, pleased and relaxed despite everything, and kissed the idiot on his salt-chapped cheek.

“Worth being stranded? Rowing however far in a storm? You’re an idiot, still.” Tony tore the linen shirt so Steve wouldn’t have to move (it was beyond saving, for all that Tony enjoyed the ragged, dashing look) and eased it off the rope burn, letting the water loosen it inch by inch.

Steve shook his head slowly, his fingers picking at his belt but rapidly giving up in favour of touching Tony. It was very distracting. “The digging. ’S nice to have a bath.”

One of Steve’s boots floated up, then washed ashore where the bath emptied onto the garden, getting caught on the irrigation filters. The other soon followed.

“Getting naked for me, Cap?” Tony pressed gently on Steve’s ribs, checking for breaks and trying to avoid the rope mark as best he could.

“Tony. Honey, I’m fine, stop poking.”

“Well, sorry for being concerned about my husband, you ass. You don’t look fine.”

Steve’s fingers closed over his and Steve drew them gently up to his mouth for a classical kiss on the knuckles, perverted just slightly by the tiniest touch of tongue.

“My ribs are fine, then. Peace, Tony.” He looked up at Tony with fire in his eyes and Tony swallowed hastily. How could such a cool blue be so– so– UGH.

“Damn you, Rogers. You almost died.”

Steve huffed, insulted, which he had no right to be, damn him twice, and said “I could have swum the rest of the way if it weren’t for the damn rocks; couldn’t get under the breakers.”

“What if I’d been at the office, huh? I could have missed you and you–” he cut off with a growl, his fingers punishingly tight on Steve’s belt. It wasn’t a good way to undress someone, so he peeled his fingers back and started jerking the leather out of the loops.

“Tony…”

Tony stopped and took a breath. Okay. What did Steve actually need? If he would be fine, what did he really need? Water, food, rest.

He got Steve naked in a flurry of wet canvas, got him rubbed down to a chorus of vague protests and bullied him up out of the bath like he was a recalcitrant donkey. With a limp.

“Did you hurt your leg? Tell me everything, Steve. I can’t–”

“Calm down, Tony. What you can’t do right now is have hysterics.”

This was true. Tony did the breathing Bruce had prescribed, and tried to 'resolve the stressor’. “Right, you, in bed. I will–”

“Get me some more water, and one of those oranges, and some sup. Okay? You’ll look after me.”

And this was why Pepper ran the island. Calm returned over a couple of longer breaths, and he shouldered under Steve’s arm to help him inside. It was so warm, the air so dry, that Steve’s glistening, golden skin was almost dry by the time he eased down onto their bed. He groaned with a hedonistic enjoyment that made Tony’s hysteria ease off a good measure; it was hard to panic when your mouth was watering over the picture your lover made, sprawled naked on creamy sheets.

His poor chest, though. Starting now to bruise, the mark left by the rope missed his nipples by virtue of constricting just under his considerable pectorals and digging into the natural crease there. The wound itself was a high-contrast blaze of dark red and white, macerated skin swollen with seawater, while the spreading bruise was a wash of bluish purple.

The scrapes on his shoulder, the unmistakable marks of an altercation with a barnacle-encrusted rock, had also bloomed red; but that was no worse than a hundred times before. Tony had given him worse.

Breathe. Calm settled over him in a brittle shell of self control; Steve was right, his ugly wounds were skin deep. Tony would inflict Bruce upon him, of course, and he would be fine.

He fetched water, discarded his own soaked clothes in favour of dry linens, and picked an orange from the young tree. His yeoman, Happy, had left him a ham and a loaf of bread in hopes that he wouldn’t starve over the weekend, so he carved slices enough to feed Steve’s mighty appetite, then returned to his side.

Steve had manouvered himself and their many pillows into a luxurious sprawl, disdainful of the covers in the heat and unselfconscious of his nakedness. He blinked up at Tony with a languorous sleepiness that reminded Tony sharply of their first shore leave after the wedding.

(“–can’t have a child out of wedlock, of course,” Clint had cackled. To which Tony had beaten him soundly over the head with his hat, decrying; “It’s a ship, damn you, not a- a-” before stuttering into incoherency as he was called to the wheelhouse to be wed.)

“I have sup, so don’t you start.”

Steve smirked lecherously, though one hand rested close to the welt on his chest as though gentling it. “Food first. Of course.”

“Food and then sleep, you said it yourself. A long night deserves a long morning.” Tony passed him the food and sat back in the space obviously intended for him amongst the pillows to peel the orange. Steve was too warm to lean against, but he did so anyway; he needed his sweat on his skin and the heat of him to know he yet lived.

Bursts of fragrant yellow oil from the peel scented his shaking hands and the bed while Steve ate like a lion, and the breeze carried the scent of the ocean in through the veranda, shutters thrown wide. The sea was calm, now, but Tony could sense the distant turmoil signified by the loss of the America.

“Your ship, Steve.”

“My men are loyal. Nat will not suffer Pierce for long.”

Tony could believe that; Mr. Romanov was a fierce first mate, with the deep and abiding respect of her subordinates, Clint not least. The loyalty of the lookouts meant a great deal.

“And your other passengers?” Tony asked quietly, picking the pith off a segment with undue focus.

“Mrs. van Dyne is not to be trifled with. Tony,” Steve implored, covering his fidgeting fingers with his own. “It will be well. I will clean my house of this canker, and our alliance against the Spaniards will hold strong. It is only the avarice of the Nobility that cannot see the benefit of it.”

“Private enterprise,” Tony said, referring to himself, “and the British Navy. There have been stranger bedfellows.”

“But no happier beds.” Steve squeezed his hands, then released them with a friendly pat to steal a piece of orange. “The West Indies Trading Company has a certain ring to it,” he quipped, popping the segment in his mouth with a smug and jaunty grin.

Tony smacked him idly with the back of his hand, even as Steve’s eyes rolled back in pleasure at the sweet, juicy fruit. “I will not name my fleet after a bunch of drug-trafficking autocrats on boats. Have you no class, Commodore?”

“Not a whit. Remind me to marry Pepper at next opportunity, and hand me that fruit.”

Tony shoved a segment in his mouth then passed over the rest. Juice burst over his tongue in an overwhelming flood of sweet, sharp richness and he could have moaned himself. Truly a revelation after the shrunken, dry fruit eaten on board to assuage scurvy. He couldn’t even remember the rebuttal that had been on the tip of his tongue for the intensity of flavour.

Steve jealously hoarded his fruit, but soon tired now his belly was full, becoming slow and lethargic. Tony sobered and twitched the gauze curtains closed to keep off the insects.

Steve’s pleased hums as he savoured the orange incited a faint stirring of longing, it had been long months since he’d seen his husband, but it could wait; seeing him like this, his injuries drying and sealing with scabs was the finest dampener of ardour a man could be subjected to. Steve slept like a sailor once he had the opportunity, waking for no noise or movement but that which might need his attention; Tony could fetch Bruce once he fell asleep, avoiding the inevitable grouching.

Tony felt something cool touch his lips, and accepted the last piece of orange with a soft, pleased humm in thanks.

Steve’s hand dropped away from his face, and the Commodore was asleep as soon as it rested on the pillows. Tony took a deep breath and leaned down to kiss Steve’s injured brow before escaping from the insect curtains to find the stubborn idiot a doctor.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Steve drifted. It was nice, actually, and drifting wasn’t usually very pleasant. Hot, too still, and thirsty…

But he wasn’t thirsty, and there was something fantastically cool on his chest, subsuming an ache he expected but couldn’t feel. When he mumbled something that he intended to be thanks, someone put a cup of cool coconut water to his lips, and he drank.

Thirsty or not, it felt good on a sore, salty throat.

“Commodore? It’s Bruce, you want to wake up any time today?”

Steve considered saying no and rolling over to rest a little more, but Bruce prodded at his chest with searching fingers and there might be less poking if he woke up and told them he was fine, stop prodding.

The light was too bright, hot yellow with sunset and laying slabs of light across the ceiling, picking out the soft folds of cotton in the canopy.

“There you are. You’re doing fine, you’ll heal up in no time. I need you to cough for me, and I’ll let you go back to sleep.” Bruce looked soft and relaxed, his hair a wild tumble of windswept curls, and Tony stood at his shoulder, giving a little wave with a coconut.

Steve nodded and pushed himself up a little to cough. Bruce listened to it, his ear pressed to Steve’s chest and hair a soft brush against his shoulder, then sat up and nodded to Tony. Steve couldn’t stop once he’d started, and he coughed up the dregs of seawater.

“Like that, every hour in the daytime, and if he wakes overnight. Your watch still runs?”

“Of course, what do you take me for? Heathen.”

Steve gentled his chest with one hand and settled back into the pillows to let them bicker. By the sun, it was nearing dinner and he was hungry, but sleep seemed all too appealing. Food could wait.

He let his eyes closed and reveled for a moment in the ability to breathe clear air, without having to fight salt and spray and wind for each gasp. The edge of a cup pressed against his lower lip and he drank obligingly. Bruce always insisted on coconut water, and it was at least pleasant. Soothing, and far better than the watered down grog Hank fed him last time.

He fell asleep with the sensation of fingers in his hair as Tony picked apart his braid. Nothing could send him to sleep like the touch of Tony’s fingertips to his scalp.

He slid easily into a half-doze, warm and swaying with the movement of the ship, aware of the deck’s heat in the sun, the dappled shade of the rigging. Tony stood off to his left, their brand-new, glossy-gold rings matching on their fingers.

Soon, they would have to put them on their chains, to save their fingers and keep their secret, but for now, for this one blazing, glorious day, they would stand at the helm, matching.

Hydra, the Spanish harrier fleet, would intrude eventually; but he would treasure this moment for the rest of his life–

Tony had fortified a natural harbour into a hidden dockyard; Steve couldn’t quite believe it, even standing on an ocean dock big enough to berth the America. His crew, Tony’s crew, swarmed over the bay in unsuppressed glee. The air was heavily scented with the sap of trees sacrificed for real houses with and the smell of roasting spiced venison drifted to him from the exuberant party on the gradual beach on t'other side of the harbour. The ring dangling against his chest gathered the evening sun in its centre, marking a hot spark against his chest, easing the ache and fever curled around it.

but

It wasn’t the beach Tony was leading him to. His languid, lascivious smirk spoke of something more private, more like the night they met, pirate and captive, scoundrel and rogue, and they end up sprawled beautifully on a bed of cream cotton, in a house on the far side of the harbour peninsula. They stared out into the trade winds and watched the sea breathe.

Steve copied it, its quiet whispers urging him to keep on even when he wanted to just sleep. Peace lay in the furrows and foam of those waves, but she was a treacherous beauty, and Steve turned to Tony instead, to breathe the soft orange scent staining his hands, the musk of piracy, gunpowder and heat.

“Cough, Steve, you need to get it out of–…”

He coughed into something soft, his head feeling heavy and over full on Tony’s shoulder, then drew a deeper breath than felt entirely comfortable. His mouth tasted of salt and coconuts, so he twisted enough to feel Tony’s neck under his lips, and suckled there. He wanted…wanted to taste him, to be saturated in him, but Tony levered him away, laughing, and made him drink more coconut.

But he didn’t protest, because immediately after that he captured Tony’s mouth. He tasted much stronger there, of oranges and being held captive on a pirate ship, betting his life on a rumor and a dream. The cabin was more like a man o'war than Steve had expected; cramped but trim, easy to strike down into the hold for a clean sweep fore and aft, and this Captain was younger, cleaner, more breathtaking than even the wildest of tales told. He moved with the energy of a mako shark, and Steve didn’t stand a chance–

Until he did, and they were kissing instead of fighting, their hate of Hydra sweeping away the barriers between them and leaving the roaring pull between them unimpeded.

Tony left the shackles on, even when they’d lost the rest of their clothes, and Steve couldn’t find it in himself to protest.

“You’re a monster, get off your chest, you–”

Tony rolled him off, to Steve’s dismay, and made him lie still. A whine rose up, because he had missed this man, this body, this mind, in long hard months at sea, and it had been warmer closer to him. The pain in his chest was worth it.

“Either wake up, or go to sleep, you damned fool; no more of this in-between,” Tony said. But that wasn’t right, he’d been…just a moment ago…

“Wh’t? What’s …?”

“Shhh, Steve, you’re fine. Go to sleep, and for god’s sake lie still for once.”

He nodded muzzily, baffled but agreeable. A deep breath settled him into the mattress and Tony’s fingers laced with his, cooler and delightful. He brought their hands up to his forehead, because he felt hot and clammy where he had been cold before and Tony’s touch felt wonderful.

“You’re starting to sweat it out, not much longer, honey, I promise.”

A kiss on his temple and he managed to settle back into something more restful, though the sound of the waves followed him down into the comfortable dark.

XXXXXX

Steve fell into something approaching real sleep well into the night, just as the world started to lighten with a half moon. Tony managed a doze, but was too far gone for proper sleep; the world was cool and still, ethereal in the shockingly clear post-storm air.

In the monochrome of moonlight, and then the first stirrings of dawn, Steve looked peaceful. The dark marks of scabs and bruises could be just another shadow. All the same, Tony watched him breathe peacefully until the cresting sun roused him and prompted him to leave his husband for his drafting board. They needed the bones of a plan; Natasha would guide Pierce nearby if she couldn’t retake the ship, and with his own anti-boarding defences, he would need to furnish Pepper’s Iron Calamity and possibly Rhodey’s War Bird with boarding harpoons at the very least. And a scuttlers’ ladder… Steve would kill him if they blew the hull below the waterline, but he’d conceed to scuttling the rigging.

“Sir?”

Tony looked up from his diagrams, pushing his glasses down his nose so he could see beyond his own hands.

“Jarvis! Good morning.”

“I brought breakfast, since the good Commodore eats rather more than Happy planned for.” The Englishman held up a basket, stuffed to overflowing with food.

“Well, you had better come in and visit. It’s about time the damned lump woke up in any case.” He gestured to the curtained bed and the dim shape sprawled in its center. Jarvis wouldn’t mind the nudity, and Steve was long inured to it himself. The Englishman courteously knocked the sand off his shoes as he mounted the veranda, then placed –rather less courteously in Tony’s esteemed opinion– a stack of missives atop the labours of Tony’s morning.

Tony groaned at the wax seal indicating correspondence from Pepper’s office as the Harbourmaster. With any luck it would need his signature and no more, but Pepper had been forging his signature for years, and it was far more likely to be actual work that needed his actual attention. He didn’t dare touch the pile, lest he spot another ill-omen.

Jarvis set the food on the table and insinuated himself within the curtains to greet the Commodore and, hopefully, undertake the truly arduous task of rousing him from slumber. Tony busied himself with collecting a cooled coconut from the net in the stream, and drilling it for its milk.

As he was winding the awl’s handle, his back to the bed, he heard a quiet groan and the muttered exchanges of a gentleman and butler. Jarvis laughed at something, presumably Steve’s attempts to reacquire sleep, and Steve reluctantly joined in.

Tony couldn’t help it, he had to smile, and took Steve his coconut water. (“No tea for three days, Tony, aye? It’ll slow him down,“ Bruce had cautioned. "And I don’t care what you say about your stream, coconut water is still cleaner!”)

“The fever broke around moonrise,” he told Jarvis, who had already levered Steve to sit up, though he wobbled. He was pale under a ferocious sunburn and the scrapes, scratches and bruises of his ordeal had blossomed into a constellation of blues and reds. He looked bleary, worse even than his usual slow-to-wake self, with dark circles under eyes that were slow to track Tony’s movements as he joined them inside the insect tent.

“Never rose too high, either, bless your iron constitution,” he commented, patting Jarvis on the shoulder as he passed, sitting on the bed. He bumped against Steve’s shoulder companionably and Steve swayed over to lean a significant portion of his bulk on him.

“…’d rather not fall sick at all,” the Commodore whined. Tony submitted to his nuzzling and snuffling all along his neck, sharing a helpless but amused glance with Jarvis.

“Well, I for one am glad to see you alive; it was a fair storm and you in a dinghy,” Jarvis commented, tugging at the sheets and neatening the bed around them. They would have to find Steve some very soft shirts, or he would refuse point blank to dress, and then where would they be. The memory of Steve’s torn and bloody shirt surfaced, and Tony felt a chill; a lesser knot on that rope, one that tightened a little more, or had not held at all, and Steve would have lost more than his hat and shirt.

Tony shivered at the very real prospect, though he hoped he kept it from Steve. “Drink, or Bruce’ll have my hat.”

Steve rather reluctantly accepted the cup of coconut water and drank it in one giant swallow before setting his eyes imploringly on Jarvis, who busied himself tying the curtains back. “I had rather hoped for some of your tea? Mr. Jarvis?”

“None of that ‘mister’ business, Rogers, or any tea. Though I imagine juice would be acceptable?” Tony directs this at Jarvis, who is rather more experienced with such things.

“Of course, sir. If you would help your husband dress, I will furnish you with breakfast.”

The butler took his basket to the back, leaving them in a semblance of privacy.

“Hey, Stevie,” Tony said, leaning in to press the diminutive into Steve’s un-plaited hair. It needed brushing, and tying into something more proper than a horsetail, but it could wait. Tony would get to it after Steve was a little less reliant on his shoulder for support. “How’re you feeling?”

Steve groaned and squirmed around to hide his eyes in Tony’s shirt collar. “No better than yesterday, if you can fathom it. The night was…”

“Bizarre? You were not entirely here, nor now, I believe. Fever is a fickle thing.” Tony smoothed escaped wisps of hair off Steve’s face, sticky with fever sweat. “You’ll perk up once you’ve eaten, you remember how this goes.”

“I suppose I do.” He sighed into Tony’s shirt again, but started making his way upright under his own steam. “Clothes?”

“Sure, honey. Will you manage a shirt? We daren’t cover the wound ‘til it dries true, but something loose perhaps?”

Steve nodded, and conceded to Tony playing valet. He was all soft and loose, his arms limp as Tony slipped a cotton shirt up over his shoulders. Breeches were easier, though Steve’s balance was poor, and Tony left all the laces loose. Steve was far from respectable, aye, he even looked fresh from the wedding night, but he was at least covered enough to sit at the breakfast table and regain a little dignity.

A little.

Jarvis puttered quietly about the kitchen –propriety be damned, Tony’d had enough of enclosed wooden spaces as Captain of the Iron Calamity and you could see the island out through all four walls of his manse– while they settled at the table. Tony pushed plans and correspondence both aside, and Steve let him, though he looked muzzily curious, in favour of leaning into his shoulder again.

“Are you sure I can’t have any tea? Or… coffee?”

Tony sighed longingly, resigning himself to missing his morning tea also, if Steve was so desperate. “Where you you think we are, London? I haven’t had coffee since you– last year.” As anniversary celebrations went (even a month late– Tony could not care less about lateness) a visit from a Commodore and a sack of coffee beans went a long way towards making up for the long absences of Naval duty.

Steve sighed deeply into Tony’s collar once more, and if Tony reveled in the deep clarity of that breath, that was between him and the idiot himself.

“Sirs, breakfast.”

They ate quietly –it seemed Steve was not feeling up to coordinating both speech and swallowing– then spoke equally quietly once they were done.

“I wouldn’t discount the possibility that the America is still under Hydra control, Steve; there’s no saying how many of your latest deckhands were compromised.”

Steve made a face that spoke of disagreement, but conceded the point. “I don’t mean to say we should be incautious, merely that, should my ship somehow appear at our sea wall, there is a good chance–”

“Sir, Commodore, I rather believe the argument is moot. Ship ahoy.”

Tony looked first to Jarvis, then out to sea, into the tradewind. There, emerging from the shadow of Isle de Arbol, was the America. For a moment, they regarded her majestic bearing in the straits between the two islands with their mouths frozen in the shape of their last syllable before they gathered themselves to react.

“Oh hell, we need to get to the harbor,” Tony said, wiping mango juice off his fingers quickly.

Steve stood and went to the front stoop for a better look, and Tony hurried to unearth his glass to join him. The crew were crowding the rigging, preparing her to come about into the island’s lee; she was close-hauled now with a double-reef in fore- and topsail, and the hands were ready to shake out the reefs as she moved into the calmer airs. The way they did it, seamanlike or slovenly, would tell him a great deal about who was currently in command over there–

Out-of-focus foliage and rocks filled his view. The America was coming on quickly with the edge of the trades behind her, and she had slipped behind the other precipitous hill guarding the harbour.

“Jarvis, run ahead, get the lookouts up to the Point,” Tony ordered, handing off the glass to Steve while he pulled his boots on. “I want a report on her crew deployment in Pepper’s hand before we get there, and get the Calamity roused and ready to slip her cables.” It cost a pretty penny to leave an anchor on the seafloor, but better that than the whole ship.

Jarvis ran without more than a ‘y’sir’, vanishing along the path over the top of the ridge, and Tony grabbed a spare pair of boots for Steve. The Commodore was firming up, the languid looseness of their breakfast vanishing behind determination and sheer gumption.

“She’ll come about hard, into the harbour with the Calamity to port, if she’s coming to berth. If Natasha has control, she’ll raise the Stark colours and hoist our private signal,” Steve said, taking the boots and tucking his breeches in with the precision efficiency of the Navy. Tony was significantly more slap-dash, but he did at least have a hat to jam on over his sleep-mussed curls. He leant a pistol belt to Steve next, and they were out the door still buckling them on.

“And if she doesn’t? There’s only so much a Lieutenant can do, Steve.”

“Have you met Mr. Romanov? I know my crew, Tony; hell, why are we even running?” Steve was winded, but less so than Tony, the cad.

“We’re running because we don’t underestimate Hydra! With good bloody reason! So unless you need to stop and cough –which be my guest, dear husband, you damn well shouldn’t be running– we are going to assume that we’re running into cannon fire!”

“Tony, I love you, I’m fine. Stop fussing.”

Steve was indeed pacing him easily, even given the incline, but Tony remembered him delirious and lost in memories not six hours before and surely even a Captain of the British Navy needed more rest than that?

“You don’t call it fussing when I’m the one in bed with God knows what,” Tony muttered as they crested the ridge and began the rather quicker descent into the port town. Tony immediately knew what Steve was about to say and regretted his words deeply; he wasn’t usually so careless as to leave such a glaring opening.

“I don’t have a heart condition–”

“I used that as an excuse ONE TIME–” Tony objected, scrambling around the bole of a palm and hopping up onto the road.

Steve’s frown was palpable on the back of his neck. “It’s not an excuse if it’s true; it’s a reason.”

Tony threw his hands up in frustration as they approached the harbour master’s building, and levelled Steve a glare. “I am going to say to you what you said to me, then; 'rest, damnit’!”

“The moment I have the opportunity, on my honour.” He even put his hand to his heart, though the effect was ruined by the lack of proper coat or hat. Tony distrusted that look, deeply.

“Fine. See if I peel your carcass off the deck,” Tony muttered, spinning away to mount the steps to Pepper’s office. There was already a general sense of tension and tightly leashed action in the room; Pepper was barking instructions at Kitty, and Parker scooted around him on his way out the door.

“Tony! ” Pepper exclaimed upon spotting him, thought the Commodore quickly stole her attention and she stood from behind the desk. “Is the– Steve! Thank heavens you’re up. I couldn’t stand to fire on the America without your word.” She reached for his hand and they bussed cheeks in the French manner. Tony got no such affection, alas, and turned to the veranda to get a look at the America. She had entered the harbor, gliding along serenely under topgallants though much more slowly in the island’s calm. They had matched her speed well enough that she wasn’t yet in range of either of the ships currently in port, nor of the fortress’s guns, though she had the weather-gage and could force an engagement any time she wished. If she cared to sail into nearly a hundredweight per minute of flying metal. Barring a lucky shot, her thick timbers would survive the fortress’s little twelve-pounders, though many of her crew would not; and she could deal the lighter Calamity and War Bird severe blows indeed.

Tony frowned. Taking in the main and topsails and proceeding on topgallants only was what he’d have done in the light airs of the harbor, and it argued for an experienced seaman. But a fighting-cock who knew only to charge straight at 'em, spoiling for a fight, would have done the same to spare his larger sails and clear the vantage for the Marines and their small-arms fire, sniping from up in the rigging.

“How did they come about? Pierce is a dead albatross of a Captain–”

“Nothing to say for sure, and they’ve raised no flag other than the running silks. She’s neat and trim, topsails furled very seamanlike, but a good crew even with a terrible captain? I’ll need your eye to do more than speculate.”

“Do you have a spare glass?” Steve asked, melancholy stealing into his voice, “Mine is lost, I suspect for good.”

Tony’s stomach shrivelled, a black, wretched thing weighing as much as a cannon ball settling in his gut. Steve’s telescope. Tony had ground the lenses himself, it had been a labour of love before he had even known to use the word.

“I’m sorry, Commodore, here, you may borrow mine,” Pepper said, handing it over. Tony meanwhile, pulled his out to focus on a cluster of people on the quarterdeck.

There was the sound of a lense pulling out and Steve joined him at the rail just as he managed to pull the America into focus. A steady sweep from fore to aft showed him a tight knot of prisoners amidships, their dress implying officers at the least and noble passengers at the finest, and a steady swarming of sailors about the rigging. Pepper was right; organised as they were, he couldn’t say if they were under friendly command, or the threat of death. Possibly Natasha’s death. He slammed his telescope closed in frustration and looked to Pepper.

“So much for an incompetent attack… Though I wager they’ll not shoot so straight as a loyal crew–”

Steve closed Pepper’s glass with rather less aggression and sported an enormous smile.

“Ooohh, nononono, no. Whatever you are about to do, Captain, do not do it!” Tony warned, pulling out the Marital finger of judgement. Steve was unrepentant.

“Natasha’s at the wheel! I saw her hat, and her bird. Pepper, I’ll be needing another dinghy!”

“Watch out, he’s demoted you; you sure, Steve?”

“Thank you, Pepper. See, honey? Even the harbour master agrees that it’s a bad plan!” Tony exclaimed, though it did nothing to slow Steve’s pace for the quay.

“You don’t even know what it is yet,” Steve said with a sharp, amused glance in Tony’s direction. “I know my crew, Tony.” Steve was getting ahead of him, eyes now on a dinghy moored to the nearest pier, so Tony submitted to the indignity of running a few paces to catch up. “And there is no means by which Natasha can be coerced to stand meekly by while her ship attacks its own harbour.”

It was a valid point. “The fact remains that you were murdered by this man, and if he hasn’t 'coerced’ Natasha to stand meekly at his shoulder, why didn’t they make the private signal?! I won’t–”

Steve stopped abruptly, in the middle of a frantic street filled with sailors afraid for their homes and lives, and Tony crashed right into him, helped along by the firm grip Steve had on his shirt. Steve was having no more such talk, and by the time he was done kissing it right off Tony’s lips, Tony had no idea what he had been saying.

As they parted enough to breathe, a passing sailor whistled and Steve’s cheekbones flushed red as he grinned into the space between them, finally out of breath.

“Tony, if Mr. Romanov had been coerced they’d have made the signal and come in as sweetly as kiss my hand, to kill us when we stood down. The price of freedom is high, but not one we’ll have to pay today.”

“You– you trite, mad, idiotic idealist! Go, get off my island!”

Steve scampered back, towards the pier, and grinned like a damned fool. “I’ll be back for dinner and dancing!”

“You better bloody had. I’ll save you a seat!”

And with that, the idiot was leaping into a dinghy, yelling for ensigns and slipping the mooring lines. Tony stomped off in the direction of Rhodey’s ship, which would have the best chance of backing up Steve’s tiny, fragile vessel. Fat good it would do if he was shot out of the water with a cannonball.

XXX XXX XXX

No matter what Tony said, Steve knew his ship, knew here every deckhand and cannon, every spar and sheet. What he hadn’t told him was that Natasha was standing with Pierce because he held a pistol to her head.

Steve had no illusions that she wouldn’t be able to escape such a crude threat, and even if she didn’t find an opportune moment, the shadow on his mainsail would take care of Pierce, but Tony hated his habit of jumping in headfirst, claimed it reminded him of his younger, more reckless days.

Steve crouched in the dinghy’s prow, feet balancing the surge of oar and wave more easily than they had the floor of their landbound bedroom, and shaded his eyes from the sun with a hand. Aggressively hot already, he could feel the remainders of sunstroke in the fuzzy blurring of the world around him, but he could push it back enough to take back command of his own damn ship.

“Haul left, steady..” he commanded, raising a hand to the beatsman, Hill, keeping time. They were coming into the range of the big guns, if he was wrong, the call to abandon ship would need to be swift or they would go down with a nine pounder.

He raised Pep’s eyeglass to gauge whether Pierce’s men were on the move, but he coldn’t watch the forecastle guns and the riflemen at the same time–

The bright shot of a pistol signaled the start of true chaos on board, and the roaring rumble of anchor chain unspooling without check joined the reverberating crack of pistols. The anchor hit with a mighty splash, and the line rattled back against the hull. The America was coming about hard on her line, and he had to be aboard before Pierce and his men recovere from the knock she was …going.. to feel… there.

The chain snapped taut and his poor damn ship groaned as her sails pushed one way and the chain dragged back the other. He could only pray that she was going slowly enough to avoid damage.

“Haul right! Bring me along side, Hill, I’ll do the rest.” He glanced back, taking his eyes of the now-empty gunwales to shoot her a grin.

“There’s no ladder, Captain!”

He grinned wider. “She’s mine, you think I need a ladder to get aboard?”

“I think you need a new damned head! Keep your powder dry!”

“Aye Aye, Lieutenant!” He saluted her with a snap of his wrist, then turned back to the looming, glossy hull of his dear ship, and leapt for it without pausing. There were handholds, carefully placed and invisible, carved and polished by Hawkeye’s fingers and wriggling toes. He clung desperately for a moment as his black and blue chest protested his impact with the wood, then he was off, up.

Weathering the lurching of his ship against her anchor, he scaled her hull like it was net rigging. The jolt and heave of wave, sail and anchor combined made it tricky going, he could admit, and he hoped Tony wasn’t watching his progress, but progress was at least quick. He heaved upwards with the movement of the waves, making upwards leaps when the ship dipped under him.

As he reached the gunwale, the sounds of fighting grew fiercer, the ringing of steel and bayonet loud but subsumed into the much louder bellows of fighting.

Hanging below the edge, as yet invisible from the deck, he breathed deep, focused, and drove away any lingering fuzzyness. He set his feet, adjusted his grip, and leapt.

He landed on the deck with the deep boom of his whole weight, and bellowed a call to arms before leaping headfirst for Peirce.

Locked in hand to hand, Natasha and Pierce were evenly matched, right until the moment Pierce spotted him. The momentary distraction was more than enough to send Natasha into a flurry of strikes culminating in the loss of the pistol, and Pierce’s introduction to the art of deck polishing.

Face first.

Raising his pistols, he followed Natasha’s nod and shot Rumlow in the chest, then leveled his loaded pistol at the crowd. He drew breath and opened his throat and shouted.

“Pierce is dead! The ship is mine! Surrender!”

Shocked silence spread, like ink on wet paper, from fight to fight. Pistols and swords fell as traitors saw their bastard leader pined to the floor by Natasha’s knee.

“Throw these bastards off my godamn ship.”

A roar rose amongst his crew, and some of the Hydra sailors needed no further encouragement to risk the sharks, and leapt off his deck to the ocean below.

Victory was theirs. Clint dropped to the deck nearby, his bow over his shoulder and quiver half empty, both pistols smoking slightly at his hips. Natasha took the rope he offered, and trussed Pierce up in moments. Steve watched as news of his survival dawned on the faces of trusted crew members, old friends, and felt buoyed by it.

He turned to the War Bird (because of all the schooners and lesser ships, Tony would find his oldest ally and friend in his worry,) and waved. It was done, easy and relatively bloodless.

“Raise my colours!” He called, looking back over his deck to the prisoners. “Signalman, get 'man overboard’ and 'enemies repelled’ both on the lines. Clint!”

“Steve!” The master-at-arms flexed said arms in a salute befitting Steve’s rank despite the utter failure to address a Gentleman and Captain in the proper way. Steve forgave him in the time it took to notice the offence, and draw the man into a rough, back-slapping hug.

“None of your insubordination, Mister Barton. Get me vanDyne, and see to the comfort of our passengers. did we lose anyone?” Steve could see blood on the deck, and there were cries for the surgeon, but Steve didn’t mean now.

“There was one, put adrift to die in a storm, Captain only of a dinghy, with a single shot and an eyeglass, I fear he’s a gonner–”

Steve scruffed Clint’s hair into disarray and stole his hat in the process, perching it on his own naked and sunburnt brow. “Scoundrel. Truly?”

“Aye, no one else, Cap. We’re …well. We’ll be grateful for a day or two in port.”

Steve conceded that, looking out over the deck, full of celebrating men and his Officers rubbing sore wrists. He rubbed at the bruises encircling his chest, and drew a deep breath against them. “Double rations tonight, lads! Today we feast in style, courtesy of Mr. Peirce!”

A roar of approval rose from the rigging, overpowering the ear and making the head ring. Steve grinned into both sensations, and lifted his pistol to the sky in salute.

“Ohrah!”

“OHRAAH!”

“Damned Marines, make such a daft racket…” muttered a familiar voice from the prow, quiet and onery. “What have they done to you, you beautiful girl?”

Steve spun, delighted, to see Tony Stark clambering over the capstan, examining the damage done by the anchor during their sudden stop.

“Tony.”

Tony stopped, brushed himself off, jammed his hat firmly onto his head, and marched over. “You damned, bloody fool, that was ridiculous.”

“I knew Natasha needed a distraction. Though I admit, I wasn’t aware she would drop the anchor.”

Tony huffed and raised his voice to Natasha, though Steve didn’t turn to look, to busy drinking in Tony’s blacksmith’s shoulders through his thin linens. “I’ll be billing you for the damage, Mr Romanov, sir! See that I don’t!”

A vague, unattended sound from her couldn’t distract Steve from his current goal, which involved his fingers, the laces of Tony’s shirt, and some semblance of privacy in the near future. “Oh dear, Mr. Stark, I do believe I have come over all faint. My ordeal, I am weakened.” He managed to keep a straight face, though Tony’s intense dubious expression made it difficult.

“Ass. Side of mutton. Toff. Get thee gone, you wilting wallflower and give me back my husband.”

“Take me to my bunk and I’ll show you him.”

Which, of course, Tony was powerless to resist.