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Science and Progress (do not speak as loud as my heart)

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"...Uh, Jarvis?"

"Good morning, Captain Rogers. How may I assist you?"

Steve scratches the back of his head, feeling stupid and awkward and like a bother. This much hasn't changed since before the war, before the serum and the Commandos and this new world he has found himself in. Still, the itch behind his eyes is too strong; it feels like it might send his head splitting to pieces, if he lets it.

"Tony said you might be able to help me. I... are you busy right now? I don't want to interrupt any of your tasks..."

"Not at all, Captain. I am fully able to process Sir's requirements and other tasks at the same time. Please, tell me how I can help you."

Steve winces. "Um, could you maybe call me Steve? I'm... off the clock right now, so to speak." So off the clock he's in a different time zone altogether, it feels like. And no, Steve isn't really thinking straight just then, per se. He can't help but feel that Jarvis is the only thing, the only person in this place who can spare the time to help him find out what is happening to him, what has been happening to his mind all the while that he'd been too busy fighting a war to figure out.

"Of course, Steve. It would be my pleasure. I am at your service."

Okay. Okay. Let's start at the top.

"After the serum, I started... picking things up. Really fast. And I have absolutely no frame of reference for whether they are the right things, or just my imagination running riot. Could you maybe... listen as I try to pick them apart, and correct my assumptions where I'm wrong? That would be hugely helpful."

"Very good, Steve. I am ready to begin at your leisure."

"Okay. Perhaps we could start with German? Can you speak it?"

"Yes, Steve."

"After a while, after we got dropped in Germany, I started understanding it just from listening to people speak. I'd never heard a word of German before that. So perhaps, if I were to start speaking, you could correct me? And then afterwards, I would like you to test my math and physics knowledge. I... hanging around Tony is making my head hurt, and I know I'm way below his level, way below his building, even, but maybe if I started understanding one word in five, things might go smoother."

"Certainly, Steve. Please switch to German now. Erzähl mir von dir."

---

"Jarvis?"

"Yes, Steve?"

"I... thank you so much for doing this for me. Tony is always so busy with really important things, and the others... Well, I know I'm not exactly from this time, and it's understandable that their patience runs out fast when I ask all these stupid questions. So I guess I just... I really appreciate you taking the time.

"...Jarvis?"

"I am sorry, Steve. You are very welcome. You may call upon me anytime, day or night. Is that agreeable?"

Steve thinks about stifling the sound of overwhelming relief trying to claw out of his throat, that he's not crazy, that someone as utterly, unquestionably sane as Jarvis thinks he makes perfect sense -- but there's only Jarvis in the room, and Steve knows he won't be judged for it.

"Yes. Yes, it's a deal."

---

"Sir?"

Tony grunts under his breath, fingers dancing over the keyboard, pausing to make notations on a tablet hooked up to JARVIS' interface.

"Sir?"

Tony sighs irritably. He hates being interrupted when he's on the edge of something--

"Sir."

Tony throws down his stylus and glares at the screen. "What? Can't you see I'm busy?"

"I really think you should see this, sir."

This number is out of place. This can't be right. "Unless Banner has Hulked out in the middle of the lab, sort it out yourself."

The screen he's been staring at abruptly switches off. Tony rears back, shocked. "What the hell?" he demands loudly. "JARVIS? Are we having a malfunction? Do I need to reprogram you not to shut your creator out of his work while he's busy changing the world?"

"Sir, you need to come to the ground floor sitting room right now."

JARVIS sounds... oddly reproachful. Has Tony forgotten someone's birthday?

"What do I need to do when I get there?" he asks cautiously, hunting for clues.

"Learn."

O-kay. That is something Tony can't pass up. The assumption that he isn't brilliant at everything grates.

He stomps into the room in question, mind still tangled up in calculations, ready to be singularly unimpressed. "What the fucking hell could possibly be so important that my AI considers employing psychological warfare acceptable--"

--And stops.

Steve stands in front of a glowing wall that Tony recognises from his own notations into space. He is holding one of Tony's spare stylus pens, and he's writing on it with the kind of single-minded focus that reminds Tony of his most-obsessive creating processes.

On the wall is the simplest, most perfectly beautiful math equation that Tony has ever seen. It's like staring at pure, unquestionable truth, something so undeniably right that even Tony has to shut down and stare, mind doing that "why the fuck did you never think of that, you moron" song and dance that he hates more than anything else in the world.

The kick of it is that this is Steve's familiar cursive, shaping forms and symbols like he's been writing them all his life. Tony is helpless to do anything but stare and whimper quietly at the unequivocal evidence that Steve -- raised-in-the-40s-Steve, super-soldier-Steve, benchpresses-a-truck-without-breaking-a-sweat-Steve -- might have just found the secrets of the universe hidden in his back pocket.

"How long's he been like this?" Tony whispers, terrified like he's never been in his life that he might interrupt this--this miracle of mathematics, and it would all fracture like spun glass in his clumsy hands.

"Steve has been working on this equation for the past eighteen hours and forty-seven minutes, sir," JARVIS tells him.

Tony notes the 'Steve', but lets it pass, for once recognising that this isn't the time. Nineteen hours, and Steve might have just proven the correlation between String Theory and Electromagnetism without a shadow of a doubt.

"Have you been running the calculations for him?"

"Indeed, sir. They are, for lack of a better word, flawless."

Uh huh. Holy shit. Tony stares some more, before his clearly useless brain starts firing again. "Hell," he grumbles. "I can already see this going down the drain, but we have no choice, not with this going on. We need to get Lehnsherr in here."

---

"I don't understand," Stark keeps repeating, which is frankly driving Erik up the fucking wall. "How did this happen? He used to say that the helicarrier ran on some kind of electricity, for fuck's sake!"

Coulson sighs, shaking his head. Erik likes Phil Coulson, inasmuch as he likes anyone who isn't--well.

"Mr Stark," Coulson says, put-upon. "You're forgetting that Captain Rogers had no proper training in Physics or Mathematics before the war and administering the serum, and after that there was no time for a university education. No one could have known that the serum would affect his cognitive processes like this. He did pick up French and German remarkably fast for someone who had never studied them before, but it was thought that he had a hitherto undiscovered affinity for languages. They could never have supposed that his learning abilities would speed up on par with his physical reactions, and there was no way to test it."

"It's all really remarkably easy to grasp, once Jarvis explained the essentials," Rogers says distractedly, staring at his work through narrowed eyes and ignoring the way Stark pretends to choke on thin air.

"You couldn't understand a word Bruce or I said before!" Stark yells, with the air of someone producing a rabbit out of a hat.

"I didn't understand the jargon then," Rogers says calmly, which only seems to wind Stark up more. "I do now. Jarvis filled me in. Wasn't that what you wanted him to do?"

That seems to have some hidden meaning, because Stark shuts up all of a sudden, looking stricken.

"It's okay, Tony," Charles says quietly at Stark's side, touching a comforting hand to his knee. Erik glowers at it.

"It's not," Stark says gruffly, so quiet Erik almost doesn't hear him. He looks away, and Erik is the only person in the room watching him closely enough to see the way his eyes squeeze closed, and the corners of his mouth turn down, weighed with guilt. Erik would wonder what that was about--if he cared. These days (and let's be honest, for a long, long time now), he leaves the caring to Charles, who has always done too much of it anyway.

Besides, he's too distracted by the wall of symbols. Once again, he marvels at the sheer simplicity of it. It's so very clear once he has seen it. It's impossible for things to exist in any other way that isn't this perfectly logical system. There is no doubt in his mind that Rogers is exactly correct in both his assumptions and his calculations.

"I'll be damned," he murmurs under his breath.

Rogers' head comes up, and he looks right at him. Erik feels like a deer caught in the headlights for only the second time in his life. Strange, what effect a pair of blue, blue eyes can have on a person.

"Excuse me," Rogers says quietly, stepping closer. It's only when Erik wonders at the accent that he realises that his words to himself had been in German -- and that Rogers had replied in the same language.

{Be gentle, darling,} the voice in his head whispers, and he both wants to frown at Charles' assumption that he'd be rude to this baby chick -- and that Charles might have been correct in it.

"Yes?" he answers, making an effort not to snap, and feels the warmth of Charles' approval in the back of his mind.

"I couldn't help but notice that you spoke in German, Mr Lehnsherr," Rogers says, still in that language, and while the words are stilted, they are grammatically very much correct.

"That appears to be the case, Captain Rogers, yes."

Rogers flushes a little, dips his head. Erik is suddenly, violently reminded of the way Alex had acted, when they had first met all those years ago, the same resigned acceptance that he was somehow less, somehow not enough, never enough despite all that power inside him, and expected to be reminded of that fact repeatedly. The way it resonates with Erik's own history--his fist clenches, and it's only when Rogers frowns and looks to his shield, made of the strange metal that had tugged on Erik's consciousness all the while, that he realises that all the metal in the room has started vibrating with his barely-restrained fury.

{Easy, my love,} Charles says, concerned, and Erik makes himself calm down with some considerable effort.

{You don't even know, Charles, he--small, scrawny, defenceless, stubborn, hopeless, alone--}

{No. Hush, darling, no. Look.}

An image settles in Erik's head, of a tall man with messy dark hair and eyes full of fire, who looks at Rogers with unshakable, always-genuine kindness, a love that Erik recognises in himself for all his mutant brothers and sisters. Neither he nor Rogers carry the gene, but the two of them had been bound together all the same.

Erik doesn't need to know who the man is -- or rather, that question can wait. It's enough to know that someone was there for Rogers, even if there hadn't been for Alex, for Erik himself. It serves the purpose that Charles had intended, which is to calm him down, allow him to regain his equilibrium.

"You wanted something?" he says, and Rogers smiles shyly.

"I was wondering if we could talk a little. Also, I couldn't help but overhear you and Jarvis talking in another language. It sounded beautiful. May I ask what it was?"

Erik blinks, and replays the last half-hour in his head. He and Jarvis had discussed the theory behind Rogers' calculations in a mixture of German and Yiddish, the language in which Erik's background in Physics was based -- because those were the textbooks he could get his hands on, after the war.

"It's Yiddish, the language of--"

"The Jewish community, yes, I remember. We had several Jewish soldiers in the army," Rogers finishes with a sense of wonder. He looks like he's remembering things long forgotten. "Will you teach me?" he asks tentatively, and something foreign shakes loose inside Erik, something he'd thought he had lost a long time ago.

"It would be my pleasure," he says, dipping his head. Rogers smiles at him, then, a full-out beam that hits Erik like the sight of sunlight after the camps.

{Hey now,} Charles says petulantly. {You sound quite besotted. You're not going to throw me over for that strapping young man, are you?}

{Yes, Charles, that was my nefarious plan all along, you caught me,} Erik thinks at him dryly, raising an eyebrow that makes Charles grin. At his side, Stark is glaring at Erik, eyebrows low over his eyes, a frown on his mobile mouth. {What's his problem?} Erik adds, cutting his eyes sideways.

Charles smiles enigmatically. {It appears that jealousy is not an emotion reserved for old telepaths who have too much free time on their hands,} he thinks.

Erik has to actually bite at the inside of his cheek not to laugh out loud, which hasn't happened to him in a while. {Shut up, Charles, you have exactly zero free time on your hands} he returns loftily.

Charles sighs. {Oh, I see how that is. Yes, you are quite right, Erik, I am advancing in years faster than I would have liked. No need to point it out unnecessarily.}

For a very, very brief second, the sensation of a gentle hand running through flowing chestnut waves flashes in Erik's mind. He is quite certain it isn't his own thought.

{You are an idiot, Charles,} he tells him, feeling his eyes soften when they look at his husband. He knows that Charles is well aware of what he's really saying when Charles' lips twist in that smile he has only ever reserved for Erik.

{I love you, too.}

---

"So what Xavier is saying is that the serum also enhanced the way his neurons process information," Fury says, sitting back in his chair and running a tired hand over his face.

"Yes, sir," Phil confirms, standing before Fury's desk, waiting for instructions.

Fury sighs wearily. "That's all we fucking need, a bunch of scientists wanting to study Rogers' brain as well as his body."

"We're also getting request to lend Captain Rogers out to several universities, including MIT."

Fury groans. "I'll just bet that Stark is loving that."

Phil lets his lips twitch, because this is Nick, and Nick is a part of a very small, very select group whose loyalty Phil will never feel the need to question.

"Sir," he says, and Fury glares at him, before cracking up.

"God damn you and that tone, Phil, seriously, tell me. How bad is it?"

Phil's smile fades at the thought of Stark locked up in his lab, punishing himself for missing something so obvious, for behaving like Rogers' body is the only thing that mattered and his mind was just tagging along for the ride.

"It's not good, sir," he concedes. "He's pretty far into blame land."

"Is Pepper able to fly in at all?"

"I really can't say, sir," Phil says, but what he's really thinking is that even Pepper can't drag Stark out of this one, couldn't have even when they'd still been together. From the look in Nick's eye, he concedes the point.

Phil hesitates before saying the other thing on his mind, not because Nick doesn't need the information, but because saying it out loud would make it... real.

"He's locking Jarvis out of the lab, too, sometimes," he says at last, knowing his concern is coming through when Nick sits up and looks at him properly for the first time.

"Motherfucker," Nick sighs, and Phil can do little else but nod along.

"Pretty much, boss."

"Can Barton or Romanov--"

"Already tried, sir. Clint says he's only getting Stark's back, and Natasha says that the team's access codes to the lab have been manually changed at least twice. Except for Banner's, he seems to be the only one still allowed in there."

"So how's Barton--"

"The vents. Jarvis isn't discouraging any attempts to get Stark to see sense."

"And Rogers...?"

Phil sighs. "He's this close to breaking inside the lab and dragging Stark out. I wanted to check with you on whether we should run interference."

Fury's smile is nothing short of evil. "No, Agent, we are not running interference. Let those two idiots sort it out between themselves. I'm not prepared to kill you off a second time just to make Stark see sense."

"Can't say that I'm a fan of that solution myself, sir, I'm still in the doghouse about that last one."

Fury levels him a look. "Your love life is complicated enough without talking to me about it, Phil. You and Barton can work out your shit on your own time.

"...I thought he was coming along," he adds after a moment, relenting, and this is Nick, Phil's friend, not Fury his boss, doing the asking.

"He is. It's slow going. It tore him up pretty bad."

Nick sighs, but he won't apologise, and Phil doesn't want him to, either. They're soldiers. This is not an arena where personal matters can be allowed to come first. Phil knows that Nick hopes it will work out between him and Clint, and it's enough for Phil.

"All right, Agent," Fury tells him, leaning back into his chair and letting his head fall back, exhaustion slipping over his face for just a second before he yanks it back in check. "You have your orders."

"That I do, sir. You should rest."

Fury groans. "I might have to fake my own death just to get some shut-eye one of these days."

"I'll keep that in mind, boss."

Fury's bark of laughter follows him all the way out of the door.

---

"Sir, I really wouldn't recommend..."

"Yeah, yeah, I heard you the first time. Just because I haven't slept in thirty-six hours--"

"Forty, sir."

"Thirty-six, forty, what's the difference? It'll work, you know it as well as I do."

"Indeed, sir, but I am certain everyone would prefer you didn't electrocute yourself while you finished the design for an aircraft only you can currently fly--"

"You'd teach Clint in no time, I have no doubt."

"Nevertheless, sir--"

"Hush, daddy's working. This is important."

"So is you not dying," Steve says from right behind him, and Tony jumps, fumbling the wires he'd been twisting together. Boy, does Steve sound pissed.

"How did you get in my lab?" Tony demands, not looking at him in favour of scribbling a correction on the corner of the schematics."

"JARVIS helped me hack the lock."

Tony wants to protest that his code is unhackable, thanks, but the evidence is standing tall and solid before him, so he doesn't bother. "Traitor," he mutters under his breath, then flinches when Steve grabs his shoulder and spins him around.

"He's worried about you, Tony, and it's not fair to call him that; he was only doing what you told him to when he helped me get a grip on all the things I'd been missing."

Tony can't, for the life of him, help the way his face falls at the mention of his latest in a string of monumental miscalculations. Steve stares at him, way too penetrating, like he's picking him apart, and how, how could Tony not have known, not have seen that Steve was drowning, cut off, begging for fucking scraps of attention while Tony made just like everyone else and ignored him. He can't even remember what the fuck must have been so important to blow Steve off for, but deep inside he knows that he is just that much of a waste of space -- he couldn't even be bothered to help out a fellow human being, no, he had to pretend to be all high and mighty, Mister Important, while Steve--

--Steve believed him. He believed that everything else was so much more important than what he might need, what he might want. Tony wants to kill himself, but that would be too kind. That would be over much too quickly, and he doesn't deserve the mercy.

"I know that," he says gruffly, trying to pull his shoulders out of Steve's grip. "I'm not angry at him."

Steve watches him, head tilted to the side, long, muscled neck stretching enticingly. Tony yanks his eyes away. He hasn't the right. His heart twists when Steve's mouth turns down and his eyebrows scrunch -- his frown is almost tangible. Tony doesn't know, hasn't the faintest idea when it happened, when Steve's happiness started to matter so much -- probably it was some time in between waving him off and realising what he'd done, what he'd almost squandered in his stupid, bumbling, clumsy way. It's been a couple of weeks since he walked in the living room and his world tipped on its axis, and in that time all he'd been able to think about is how utterly cruel he'd been to Steve from the start, the way he'd dismissed him as just another soldier with decent tactical skills. This is so much like him; he might be good at seeing the unseen potential in wires and metal, but give him a person and all he bothers to look at is the surface. He'd done it with Pepper when he'd first hired her, before she'd wormed her way under his skin by being--well, Pepper; and he'd done it to Rhodey at first, and Coulson, and Steve. Oh, Steve. Tony sometimes wonders what Steve is still doing here; why he isn't out there, where people will actually appreciate him, not just shove him in a convenient box and forget about him. Steve, with his mind and his heart and his integrity and his dry sense of humour; Steve, who has lost so much yet still stands strong. Tony wonders how a person like that can bear to be near a person like him at all.

Steve sighs, but doesn't let go of Tony's shoulders, sure, warm hands holding him fast.

"You shouldn't be angry at yourself, either," he says quietly.

And Tony? Tony sees red.

"The fuck I shouldn't," he snarls, suddenly furious that Steve thinks it's okay to say something like that. "I blew you off. You came to me for help, to someone who might understand, and I told you to go play with my AI. It's a wonder you can stand to look at me."

Steve's eyes widen, eyebrows trying to climb up into his hairline. "Tony, no," he says, sounding horrified. "I didn't--I never meant--"

"You didn't have to. You shouldn't have to, Steve, I should have made time, I shouldn't have let you think you aren't important."

"But you didn't, Tony, you just have other things--"

"No, I don't. Nothing is more important than you are," Tony insists, barely even aware of what he's saying, only that Steve's fingers are tightening on his shoulders, steadying something inside him that's been reeling for what feels like years.

"Oh, Tony," Steve says, and god, Tony loves him for not sounding pitying, or condescending, or worst of all, disappointed--

He loves him. Oh, god, Tony loves him. He hates everything, because there's less than a snowball's chance in hell--

And then he's being tugged forward, enclosed in long, muscled arms, Steve's chest pressing against his, warm, so warm. Tony's head rests on one of Steve's huge shoulders, face buried in his shirt that smells of freshly laundered cotton and a bite of sandalwood and Steve. Steve holds him, tight, like--Tony can't remember ever being held like this, except for maybe when Rhodey found him in the desert, or when Pepper saw him after his trip to outer space (right before she'd slapped the living daylights out of him), with such desperate relief.

"It's okay," Steve says into his hair, "it's okay." Tony doesn't know what's okay, only that it must be if Steve is saying it. God, he has to do better from now on. He will do better, he'll pay attention, he'll listen, he'll anticipate what Steve might need and make sure he gets it, he'll get JARVIS to help, he and Steve seem close enough now--

Steve lets him go, and it hurts. Tony feels cold all over without those arms around him. Steve is beaming down at him, though, wide and happy, and god, okay, apparently somehow Tony has managed not to fuck this up beyond recognition just yet. There is hope, still.

Steve's expression turns shy when he looks around and his eyes fall on the Quinjet schematics, widening in realisation.

"Wow," he says, voice hushed with awe, and god, Tony hasn't blushed like that about one of his designs since the science fair when he was seven years old. "Maybe," Steve starts saying, stops, clears his throat. "Maybe we could work on something together? I mean, I know that you're light years ahead of me at this stuff, and I'll probably be a nuisance to explain everything to all over again, but I think I might understand now, so I was hoping--"

Tony must lose his mind for a long moment, because he's surging in and kissing Steve, tasting the startled sound Steve makes on his tongue, instantly memorising the way his lips feel, soft against Tony's, without his brain needing to be told.

Steve doesn't respond. He stands there and lets himself be kissed, but there's absolutely no reaction from him, and Tony's stomach plummets, ears pounding with humiliation when he pulls back, making himself look, needing to see the rejection in Steve's eyes, so maybe his stupid brain will finally realise that this isn't okay, they shouldn't be wasting time hoping for something they can't have.

Steve's eyes are closed, though, lips still pouting open, wet with Tony's spit. There's a deep flush in his cheeks, and as Tony watches, his tongue darts out, licking his lower lip before his eyelids flutter open. What Tony sees inside threatens to bring him to his knees -- a desperate hunger, and such tentative hope.

"Really?" Steve whispers, eyes glinting bright blue behind his lashes, and Tony can't speak, can't give him any reply that isn't leaning in and kissing him again. This time, Steve throws his whole self into it, crowding Tony against his workbench, leaning in until their mouths find the right angle and just slide together, like the most natural thing Tony has ever done.

"Steve," he finds himself whispering when Steve lets him go to lean down and suck a kiss right next to the hollow of his throat. Steve groans quietly, tongue flicking to wet the same patch of skin.

"Talk to me," he asks, voice gone rough with arousal, Tony assumes, please god let it be arousal.

"Talk to you, okay, right, I'm good at that, no problem, talk to you about what?" he babbles, hands fisting in the back of Steve's shirt, scared that he might disappear.

Steve's breath hitches, and he lets out a soft keen. "Talk to me about the Quinjet."

"The--" Tony starts, mind spinning. "The Quinjet? Now?"

"Please," Steve whispers, the edge of teeth catching on Tony's collarbone in the wake of it, and at long last, Tony thinks he gets it.

"About the mechanics or the coding or the theory or what?" he says, testing, pushing, always pushing.

Steve lets out a shuddering exhale, and oh. Oh.

"Wow," Tony says dazedly, reeling at the implications. "Wow, I am the luckiest person in the entire world. And so, by extension, are you, because if science turns you on, you'll never find a better person to fuck--"

"To date," Steve corrects him softly, pressing a small kiss right under Tony's ear, where he's always been hellishly sensitive. "To date, Tony."

"You're going to be the death of me," Tony avers, closing his eyes as a shiver runs down his spine, delighting in the way Steve's arms close around him again, holding him tight, keeping him close.

Steve smiles down at him. "And you'll be my salvation."