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Captain Planet

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Tony lounged at the bar, sipping his vodka martini and keeping an eye toward the back. The place was truly tacky, a monument to working class Americana from the bull's head mounted on the wall to the neon beer signs. Sometimes tacky wasn't bad, as long as the drinks were good, but no such luck at the Shooter. The bartender must have been trained at church. Still, a hunter went where his quarry was, no matter that he had to wade through mud, muck and magenta barstools.

He didn't pretend to be a mind reader, but Tony really didn't have to be to know what Steve was thinking, sitting alone in a dark corner of an empty bar in the middle of the day, holding a beer that wouldn't do anything for him. It was a road Tony had gone down more than a few times, some of them recent, and watching Steve follow his footsteps was...

Pitiful wasn't the word he'd have chosen, not the least because Steve wouldn't appreciate the sentiment, but the shoe fit.

Of course, everything that had happened the week before was officially classified. Word still got around. It didn't take much to put the pieces together when a known terrorist went from most wanted lists to nuclear meltdown levels of high alerts at the same time that Captain America went AWOL. There hadn't been a security system invented that could keep Tony out, since all the ones that might have stood a chance were the ones he'd invented. If finding out the truth about the Red Skull had shaken Tony, he could imagine what it did to the fed's favorite beau.

At the back table, Steve stood enough to catch the bartender's eye, and another beer was sent his way. By Tony's count, that was number six, maybe seven. The clock on the wall said it was fifteen to midnight; reinforcements were due on the hour.

Close enough.

When the bottom of the glass came up, Tony got his next round of poison and slipped off the stool toward the back. Steve didn't look up from his thoughts as Tony slid onto the chair next to him, but Tony didn't doubt that he was being watched. Sneaking up on Captain America wasn't something that promised a long, pain-free life, after all. He got his thrills in less dangerous ways, like flying at Mach 2 through the Grand Canyon in 200 pounds of metal and jet fuel.

Up close, Steve looked worse off than Tony would have guessed. It wasn't one of his better looks, and Tony had spent a sinful amount of private time considering some of Captain America's better looks. A couple of places on Steve's shirt had neatly stitched rips, and his jeans had mud stains on the knees. Neon lights glinted off a short scratch of blond stubble, and a couple of fading bruises were still visible on his face. As fast as he healed, there was no way they'd come from the Red Skull incident.

It took half the mug of cheap American beer before Steve spoke. "Why are you here?"

"Can't two friends have a drink after a tough week?" Tony lifted his martini in a brief salute before taking a long swallow and setting it down again. The constant buzz from alcohol that he usually had was getting a little thick, and he wanted his wits about him, ghastly things though they could be. "Want to talk about it?"

"You wouldn't understand."

"Can't say I would." When Steve's head jerked up, the corner of Tony's mouth quirked and he shrugged one shoulder. "Can't blame a man for honesty, can you? You're right; I probably wouldn't understand, but I know a couple of guys who might."

Steve's eyebrows pulled together in a glower. Like everything else about him, it was a little intimidating, but not one of his best. Small children might have cried, but it wasn't up to the pants-wettingly terrifying scowl of doom Tony had seen him direct at a few choice political talk show hosts. "Tony—"

"I have this therapist," Tony continued, keeping his voice down just enough to be discreet without letting Steve talk over him. "Dr. Mosley. Exquisite woman, a wall full of PhDs, really knows her business. And see, one of the things she tells me is that when something's wrong, talking to people can help." He paused, glancing up at Steve, whose expression hadn't changed at all. At least he wasn't looking violent, which was good enough for Tony. "Now, me, that's what I pay her for, but you don't have a Dr. Mosley—"

A sound like a displaced bear stopped Tony mid-sentence. "I'm not going to see a shrink," Steve growled. His grip on the handle of his mug had tightened just a little. "I'm not crazy."

Twin shadows loomed—that was really the only word for it, loomed, like a pair of mountains appearing out of nowhere to block the neon and bare incandescent bulbs. On the surface, Thor Odinson and Sam Wilson might have been the two most different people to have ever stepped in the bar together since it had co-hosted a knitting circle with a Hell's Angels meeting, but they were wearing identical expressions of concern.

Thor smiled gently and sat down three empty mugs and a pitcher of more beer. "No man is an island, Steven, no matter how sane."

"And everyone needs a hand now and then," Sam added, putting a bowl of pretzels down.

They maneuvered like men handling a half-wild animal that had been injured. Sam slid into the spot on Tony's other side, while Thor took the seat immediately to Steve's left, leaving him an escape route if he needed it. Neither got close enough to be snapped at, keeping their body language soft and their eyes low.

Tony had to fight the urge to applaud and wondered if they might be available for some workshop sessions. Instead, he restrained himself and slid off the chair. "I'll leave this to the professionals, but you've got a place in my penthouse if you want it, Steve. No questions asked."

Steve didn't say anything, but he nodded, and Tony let his imagination paint a hint of gratitude into the gesture. Scooping up his glass, Tony headed back to the bar to make sure their drinks were covered. Thor and Sam would sort Steve out where he couldn't.

That was one good deed for the day. Better stop while he was ahead.


4 Months Later
"Mr. Stark," the dulcet tones of Tony's latest secretary, Bambi, echoed over the intercom. "General Fury is—"

"It's the same answer as last week: I don't know." Tony didn't lift his eyes up from the stack of paperwork he was signing. He dedicated one day a week to it, but that never seemed to be enough. Eventually, the pile would always get deep enough that Pepper threatened to bury him under it, and it was just easier to get it over with than to hire extra bodyguards. "Tell him I'll call him back later, and if he really wanted to know where Steve Rogers is, he'd put some of those billions of dollars of federal funding to good use instead of pestering a small businessman."

"A small businessman?" a deep, masculine voice asked over the intercom. "Is that how you see yourself, Tony?"

"General Fury is here to see you, sir," Bambi sighed. She'd only been in the position for a month, and already, Tony suspected she was going to magically develop a better job offer any day now. "Would you like me to send him in?"

"No."

"Sir—"

The door opened, giving Bambi's protests an odd echo as Fury let himself in. The moment she gave up and went back to sorting out Tony's schedule echoed as a loud, frustrated growl before the intercom cut off.

Fury, dressed in an impeccable black-on-black suit, helped himself to Tony's visitor's chair. It sighed rather than creaked, in the way really good leatherwork had. "Nice," he approved, rubbing the leather arm appreciatively. "Doing awfully well for a small businessman."

"Funny how that works." Fiddling around with his paperwork, Tony pretended to give a damn about the latest DoHS contract before giving up and pushing it to the far side of the glass desktop.

Since they'd last met two weeks before, Fury had developed a cast on his left arm and a healing scratch across his forehead. It was a bit of a struggle not to ask what had happened to him. When the team had split off from SHIELD, Tony made it a hobby not to ask questions he didn't want the answer to. When dealing with Fury, that meant not asking questions. "You know what I'm going to say."

"And you know that I think you're lying." Nick propped his chin up in his good hand and tilted sideways, regarding Tony with an unreadable expression. "You were the last person to see Steve Rogers. We know he's alive; we just want to know where he is. Keep an eye on him, make sure he's safe. You'd be doing him and your country a big favor by just spilling the beans."

"Give me some credit. If I were stonewalling you, I'd just say so." Leaning back in his chair, Tony let his head sag backwards onto the specially designed neck rest. "And if I did know where he was, that's what I'd be doing. He's not GI anymore."

For just such an emergency, he'd had a discreet monitor put in directly over his desk. It flashed a random stream of soothing images, from Stark Industry's highest stock prices to kittens in a field, with a few passes through tastefully lewd artwork now and then. It gave him something to focus on when he was ignoring someone.

The monitor scrolled through a few pastoral scenes, while in the background, Fury explained about how precious Steve's DNA was and how much danger he could be in. Secret organizations, villains bent on making an army, brainwashing, or whatever other narrative device Fury's imagination could conjure up. Tony knew all the reasons why it was a bad idea, and if it had been anyone other than the Director of SHIELD he might have been nodding along, but SHIELD's secrets were too deep to wade these days.

This was all Thor's fault.

Tony had told him and Sam to take Steve off somewhere to relax and get his mind off things. He'd thought they'd go camping, do some manly bonding, and be back in a couple of weeks. Months off grid had not been in the plan.

He needed a drink.

"—spotted in Colombia," broke through Tony's reverie. His head came back down, focus snapping into place. Fury sensed the break and worked it for everything it was worth, leaning forward intently. "He's mixed up in something bad, Tony. Really bad. We don't know who or what, but there's people out there who stand to make a shit load of money if Captain America's next sighting is in a body bag."

"Your arm." That explained why Fury hadn't been bothering him for a week, if he'd been out of the country.

"My arm."

"And Cap's in trouble."

"Serious trouble."

Twisting his mouth to the side, Tony considered Captain America versus hired assassins. Then he laughed. "Sorry, can't help you." Pushing up from the table, he made a show of pressing down the call button on the intercom. "Bambi, will you come escort the general out? I have a date with a lovely lady and an even lovelier bottle."

Fury had leapt to his feet, too. "You're really going to do this?" he demanded, as Bambi threw open the door and marched in to wait impatiently at his back. "Leave him to run with the wolves? I thought you were friends."

"Steve's a big boy; he can take care of himself." Sliding on a pair of sunglasses, Tony used them to tip a lazy salute to the general and left him there, headed for the staircase that led up to his private helicopter pad. "Have some faith, would you?"


2 Months Later
The penthouse was dim and empty when Tony stumbled in the front door, full of wine, women and song. That wasn't unusual. In fact, he rather preferred it that way, with only a few low panels for illumination, no bright lights to dazzle the eye or much furniture to trip over. Expensive and minimalistic didn't necessarily have to be mutually exclusive. A few comfortable pieces of furniture for utility and a little art were all a room really needed, in his view. He'd leave the old world clutter to Gregory.

No, being empty wasn't unusual for the penthouse. What was unusual was that the security systems had been disarmed, the alarm shining a peaceful green. Nothing prompted him to enter his all clear code.

Instant sobriety slapped Tony in the face like a sudden shower of cold water.

It was no accident. Very few people had the DNA to pause the alert, even fewer had the codes for a full disarming, and all of them would have sent a notice to Tony's cell phone. Just in case, he checked his messages as he slipped off his shoes, toes sinking into sinfully thick carpet. No alerts, no texts, not even an instability in the power flow.

Humming something he'd only half-heard over the Jacuzzi, Tony swayed his way through the sitting room. He took a pass through the liquor cabinet, palming a gun and a heavy bottle of rum. His rambling took him from the untouched living room to the balcony, where there were muddy boot prints on the smooth marble. Following the occasional clump of dirt, Tony wandered through the penthouse, passing through the guest bathroom and the kitchen before ending at his own bedroom door.

The windows in the bedroom were blacked out, a standing order for the nanites embedded in the material. It kept those pesky dawns from waking him up after a long night and was immeasurably beneficial to his morning hangover. But it also kept the room in near total darkness, without even a night light to let him see what was coming.

"Lights, five percent," Tony whispered under his breath, making a show of fumbling at the door in case he was being watched. His grip on the bottle tightened at the nanites obediently raised the light level, revealing...

Hippies.

In his bed.

"What the hell?" It felt like being in some particularly confusing remake of Goldilocks and the three bears. Details weren't easy to make out, beyond a tangle of long muscled limbs and hair and tie-dye bright enough that it made Tony's eyes water in protest. There were probably three of them, all male, one black and two white, tangled so close that he had to count feet and divide by two to get that answer. Even then, he wouldn't have been willing to swear there weren't more of them in there somewhere.

Reaching out, Tony hit the manual switch on the lights, immediately forcing them all the way up to one hundred percent power. "Okay, guys, rise and shine. Upsie-daisy, let's get moving." Tony pushed the door open wider and took a step in. Immediately, he was hit with the reek of unwashed bodies, laced heavily with the particularly verdant scent of marijuana. It didn't smell like they'd smoked it so much as like they'd rolled in it, rubbing the weed into their skin. He wouldn't have been surprised if they bled green.

The pile of horrible fashion on the bed shuffled around and made terrible noises, like a pig sprouting a sudden leak. The top of a head appeared somewhere in the mass, long blond hair dangling down to cover his face, and then vanished back into the mix. Someone kicked, and someone else elbowed, but no one seemed interested in actually getting up.

Tony gave them a minute before he started flicking the lights on and off, rapidly. The pile of men groaned and started moving more, obviously disturbed by the strobing but not enough to actually get up. "Come on, hup hup hup. First, you're going to tell me how you got here, and then you're going to go." And maybe shower. One sniff of them and every drug dog in New York City would converge, and that would just be the traffic jam from Hell. "How'd you get in here?"

"Came in through the balcony." One of them yawned and stretched. He scratched his belly lazily before sitting up a few inches. Bloodshot blue eyes peered sleepily out from behind an unwashed mess of shoulder-length blond bedhead. "We would have tried calling, but do you know what cell phone companies are doing to get rare earths?"

A gold hoop glinted in his left ear, and his shirt was the battered remains of a white tank top, dip-dyed in blue and red. Tony squinted at the coherent one; he knew him, the name was right on the tip of his tongue, but the reality was so far from real that he couldn't quite force his mind to accept it. There was just no way it was...

"Steve?"

The hippie—Steve the hippie, what the hell had Tony's life become—nodded and squirmed around. Tony waited patiently for him to get up and come explain himself. Patiently and in vain. Rather than get out of bed, Steve just shuffled around enough to burrow under Sam's arm—it had to be Sam, which meant the other guy was Thor, the one to blame.

When it became obvious that no one was going to move and, going by the smell, probably no one was ever going to move again, Tony gave up. No matter how flower child Steve had become, he was the most stubborn person Tony knew, bar maybe Jan. If Steve wanted to sleep, Steve was going to sleep, and the best thing to do was accept it. Pulling off his tie, Tony flipped off the lights and headed for the den. A ten thousand dollar sofa had to be comfortable to sleep on, and there was no way he was going to marinate himself in marijuana BO overnight. There were shareholders and Fury to deal with, and that stuff never came out of silk.


Tony woke well before his guests did, somewhere around eight o'clock when the coffee beeped itself alive. The sofa, as it turned out, was not worth the money he'd paid for it as far as sleeping went, but it was undoubtedly better than trying to wedge himself into the pile on the bed would have been. While mixing his coffee—splash of cream, finger of rum and a lot of sugar—he sent off a text message to Pepper about acquiring a new one that was better for sleeping. But not a fold out. He had some pride.

It was nine forty-five before Steve rolled out of bed and ambled his way into the kitchen. It was strange, a complete change from Steve's usual forceful stride. Added to the hair and what Tony could have sworn was a hint of tattoo ink on his lower back, and it was like see a new species emerge from the primordial ooze that was the bedroom. Tony watched in bemused fascination as Steve poked through the refrigerator, the cabinets and even the electronics, giving absolutely everything a sleepy but firm inspection. There were a few smiles of approval, like the coffee that Tony had imported very specifically from a small grower he was friends with in Brazil. Most everything else got a shake of the head and a critical grumble.

None of that stopped Steve from making himself a breakfast that made Tony's arteries wince just looking at it. He completely bypassed the pastries and delicacies that Tony kept for the occasional breakfast guest and went for the classics: sausage, bacon, eggs, pancakes smothered in syrup and butter, hash browns, cinnamon toast, ham and more all ended up laid out in some way for Steve's enjoyment. It ended up with dishes dirty Tony didn't even know he'd had and more food than even Steve could eat laid out on the counter in great heaping piles.

Discreetly, Tony made another text to Pepper to have the usual grocery delivery moved up. And maybe sextupled. Pepper's return text that consisted mostly of question marks was subsequently ignored.

Tony waited until Steve had sat down with his four plates and three glasses before folding his paper and clearing his throat. "Good morning, sunshine."

"Morning." Better than some, surely, but not up to the usual standard of courtesy Tony was used to from Steve.

Then, surprisingly, the conversation was continued.

"Your eggs aren't from free range chickens."

Amused, Tony sipped his coffee. "Probably not."

"Have you seen a chicken farm?"

"Have you?"

"Blew one up last month." At Tony's appalled expression, Steve waved his fork in what was probably supposed to be a reassuring way. It ended up looking like he was trying to stab the air molecules. "We got the chickens out first."

"How reassuring." Leaning back, Tony examined this strange new creature that was Steve Rogers. Clearly, Thor had infected him. Or maybe they'd cross-bred, and this was the chimera that was their child, a bastard mix of Steve's ruthlessness and Thor's ability to be greener than the Hulk. Certainly, Thor had never seemed like the sort to blow up chicken farms. People occasionally, and sure there'd been a suspiciously effective protest here and there, but not farms.

At least Steve hadn't come back as a vegan. Tony didn't think his tumor could take the sight of Captain America eating a tofu burger. There were some things not meant for men's eyes. "Is that what you've been doing the last six months? Sneaking around, assaulting dastardly livestock owners? Fighting the good fight for feathered friends everywhere?"

"Mostly been down in South America. Sam has friends there. Thor, too." Food shoveled into Steve's mouth in vast quantities, but he managed to speak easily enough between bites, and his elbows stayed off the table. That was reassuring too. Somewhere under the tan and dirt was still someone Tony could recognize. "We've been hitting logging companies, the ones that level everything and then leave what they don't want to rot. Started to get noticed, came back to the states to lie low."

"Hmm." Tony stirred his now cold coffee with a spoon, watching the thin layer of congealing cream swirl on top. His nose wrinkled. Now that the food was starting to cool, the odor of Steve was rising over it. Some of it was probably his medication making him more sensitive, but he had a feeling that if he asked, Steve would say something about how bad regular showers were for the water supply, and maybe about soap poisoning fish. "Fury said that you had a hit out on you."

"Logging's a nasty industry." Steve glanced up through sun-bleached lashes, chewing thoughtfully on a slice of toast. "Were you worried?"

"Of course not." Something subtle in Steve's expression started to fall, making Tony hurry to qualify himself. "Okay, maybe a little. A micrometer. You can take care of yourself, and Fury had been trying to get your location out of me for months."

In just those few words, the damage was undone. Steve's face went back to his usual look of deep concentration. "We wanted to tell you."

"I was better off not knowing, I think." Certainly, he felt that way now. The mental images of Steve, Sam and Thor performing raids on loggers in the Amazon was just slightly terrifying. He'd be surprised if there were many companies left operating. "What are your plans?"

"Plans?" Steve's eyes and voice were utterly guileless. It was the best bullshit Tony had seen from a man since someone tried to sell him stock in Enron. "We don't have any plans."

Because Tony was going to believe that.

While Tony was busy glowering in Steve's general direction, Sam wandered in. Seemingly without needing to open his eyes, he helped himself to the pile of food Steve had prepared, though at only a quarter of the amount. He didn't do nearly as much inspecting, though he did give the toaster a hard look. Tony wasn't sure if it was because Sam trusted Steve to have checked everything over or if he just cared less where his prepackaged flour hailed from.

At Tony's hip, his cell phone buzzed with an incoming call. When he took it out, both Sam and Steve gave it the dirtiest, most hateful look Tony had ever seen, as if it had done terrible things to their elderly grandmothers, and maybe their puppies, too. Tony was a little surprised that it didn't burst into flames on the spot.

"It's my own work. I don't deal with shady suppliers," he told them, flashing the logo as he thumbed the answer swipe. "Pepper, dearest, I meant to—"

"What are you doing and how much is it going to cost?" were the first words out of her mouth.

"I don't know and I don't know," he answered truthfully, turning slightly in his chair for an illusion of privacy. Not that Steve or Sam were paying attention to anything but their plates. He'd known that Project Rebirth had amped up Steve's metabolism, but he'd never thought it was that bad. "You made those purchases I asked for?"

"Both of them." Pepper sighed, loudly enough that it was obviously meant to carry. "Just don't break anything irreplaceable. Do you need me to message Fury about—"

"No, I don't think that will be necessary," Tony cut her off hastily. "In fact, let's keep everything between us for now. Business as usual."

"In that case, you have a two o'clock about contracting for repairs to the Triskelion. According to the note, the engines are starting to seize up in cold weather. Fury also wants to discuss upgrades for..." Pepper's voice trailed off, and there was a distinct noise of paper being shuffled through rapidly. "Submersion and flight capabilities? Tell me he doesn't want a flying submarine slash mobile island?"

"He doesn't want a flying submarine slash mobile island," Tony lied through a smile she couldn't see. Fury very well did want that, and probably something to do with lasers. One day, the Triskelion was going to fly the Jolly Roger, and on that day, Tony wanted to be the one who knew how the whole mess functioned. It was his most likely ticket out of having to walk the plank. "Have Happy pick me up at one. And cancel the afternoon cleaning service; I'm pretty sure they're SHIELD plants." No one took a finger brush to the tile grout that often. No one.

"Will do, Boss." The call clicked to an end, and Tony was left with little to do but contemplate his new house guests. Two o'clock gave him about three hours to get ready and to figure out what to do with them. That wasn't nearly enough time.

He might as well get started. "Good morning, Sam. I was wondering—"

"No." Sam chewed on a piece of bacon, peeling the meat off from the fat and eating them separately in neat, quick bites. "I'm not telling you what we were doing in South America. Plausible deniability. It's safer that way."

"Steve told me about the chickens."

Sam turned his head just enough to raise an eyebrow at Steve, who kept on eating. Half of his plates were empty, and all of his milk and coffee. "He asked about chicken farms," Steve said placidly. "I didn't tell him where."

Rolling his eyes, Sam gave Steve a long-suffering look and started disassembling another piece of bacon. "Just as long as he doesn't ask about the fracking."

Fracking. In that moment, Tony decided that he really, really didn't want to know about the fracking. "Why don't I just go see if Thor's awake?" he asked, pushing to his feet. "And you two can get your stories straight about what I'm not allowed to know."

A pair of grateful smiles were his only reward. Close enough. Tony took the long way around the penthouse, poking his nose into cabinets and pantries to make sure he was stocked in places other than the kitchen. The master bedroom was at the far end of the hall, door gently ajar. Quietly, he peeked in.

Thor's blue eyes were already awake and on the door, stretched out across the mattress with his head resting on one bicep. He was like a great golden cat, owning the bed more thoroughly than Tony ever had, and he was the one who'd bought it. If he'd been in leather, Thor might have made a thousand rock and rollers weep. "Good morning, Tony," he rumbled, blinking bright blue eyes sleepily. "Have you consulted with Steve and Sam yet? I thought you might wish to speak with them before confronting me."

That answered that question—Thor knew what was coming. "We talked. They're eating breakfast." Tony finished letting himself in, closing the bedroom door behind him. "What happened out there? I told you to take him somewhere he could relax and get his mind off it, not to turn him into Captain Planet!"

Long blond hair shaded Thor's eyes as he stretched gently and sat up, forcing Tony to ignore the ripple of his abs in order to maintain maximum annoyance. "Did you think it would be that easy? After losing his faith in everything he has built his life around? I gave him something new to focus on, a raison d'être that could not be torn away by the secret atrocities of a nation. He's happy and has purpose. What more does he need?"

"And that purpose just happens to coincide with your favorite causes?" Tony ran his fingers through his hair agitatedly, leaving it to grip the hair at the back of his skull. He liked Thor, he really did. Thor was one of the few genuinely good people Tony knew. That didn't necessarily mean Thor was at the top of the list of people who made his life easier. "Do you know what Fury's going to say when Captain America comes back a granola-crunching hippie?"

If Steve came back. That question still hadn't been answered. He might have decided that a life battling polluting corporations was better than one in New York battling whatever petty thug wanted to take over the world that week.

Thor smiled benignly. "If Fury has questions, they're for Steve to answer. And I think he's more than prepared to do so."

"Okay. You win." Tony sagged back against the wall, hand sliding from the top of his head down over his face. "I won't argue anymore, and you can stay here until you all decide what comes after."

"After?" Feathery blond eyebrows rose in polite query.

"After you all shower."


Showers turned out to be less trouble than Tony had anticipated. Once he'd demonstrated how to turn off five of the six shower heads, all three of the eco terrorists were willing enough to climb in and scrub down with handmade scented soap.

Clean clothing was a little harder, since none of them would fit in Tony's without ripping out at the seams. He did his best, though, and through the power of the internet was able to get some organic-materials locally-made things delivered from a small owner-run boutique in Manhattan. Not that they'd requested it, but he had a feeling that if he offered them something else, he'd get a lecture on the textile economy. It would be a speech that he had no doubt would be full of fair points, but Tony had learned to pick his battles. Steve, Sam and Thor had apparently learned the exact opposite lesson.

The effort was worth it when Steve stepped out of the guest bath clad in a thin sheen of water, a knee-length fluffy white towel and absolutely nothing else. He had a smaller towel over his head and was wringing water out of his hair, displaying a long stretch of glorious muscles just for Tony. Just under the edge of Steve's towel, Tony could make out a patch of dark ink on the small of his back. It ruined the illusion that they were six months in the past back when Steve got antsy whenever his hair started touching his collar and tattoos were for hippies.

Of course, since Steve was a hippie now, it only made sense that he'd hadn't done it by halves. No amount of tie dye or tattoos could change that.

"Clothes are on the way," Tony offered as he sipped his bloody mary and ogled Steve over the top of his tablet. At any minute, he expected Steve to glare at him or try to cover up more. It was the usual course of things. Tony admired, Steve was uncomfortable, the world moved on.

But instead of flushing, snapping or anything else Tony could have predicted, Steve looked up from under his towel and smiled. He settled it around his shoulders, letting the tangled mess of his hair do what it would as he dropped down into one of the chairs in the den. "Thank you."

It was so entirely unselfconscious, even in the face of Tony's blatant admiration that Tony's eyebrows rose. Maybe Steve had been through more changes while he was out blowing things up in the name of Mother Earth than just wardrobe and the discovery of organics. Or possibly he was still high. "It was my pleasure." Since he'd all but been given open permission to admire the view, Tony sank back into the plush cushions of his chair and folded the tablet into its pocket-sized form. "So, do the capeless crusaders have any plans after this?"

Steve gave him the same guileless expression that he had the last time Tony asked. "No plans. Not really."

Of course, denial only made Tony more determined to press on. "Really? No wrongs to right, no evil corporations to bring to their knees?" His eyes brightened as something occurred to him. "If you're looking for an evil corporation, Gregory could stand to be brought down a peg or five. I'd even help."

In response, Steve actually laughed. "Maybe we'll think about it. There's a lot of wrongs to right out there."

Tony knew he wasn't going to get that lucky, but it was a shot in the dark anyway. There were other options available. "Then what about coming back to the team?" If he wasn't going to get his own private anti-Gregory taskforce out of it, Tony figured he might as well try to get Fury off his back.

"The team?" Once again, Steve's expression went squirrelly. Someone really needed to take him aside and explain that no one was ever going to buy the innocent act from him. It was like looking at a tree hung with trout that someone was trying to convince you were fruit.

Leaning forward, Tony dangled his glass from his fingertips and did his best to look like he was thinking of things other than a world without regular disapproving visits from Fury. "The Ultimates. You're a national icon. There's a lot of good Captain America could do, just by standing up and speaking his mind."

"I've thought of that." Steve leaned forward, mirroring Tony's posture. It made his knees part just a little, and all of a sudden Steve's towel became a major obstacle for Tony's concentration. "But I haven't decided yet. Being Captain America is more than just giving speeches and taking on missions."

"Yeah, it is," Tony answered honestly. "And that's why they never managed to replace you." The noon alarm for Tony's meds went off, signaling an end to whatever deep discussion they might have almost dipped into. He flipped off the alarm and rose from his chair to get them from his travel case, where they stayed at all times rather than risk being forgotten on a long night. That had happened a few times, and it never really ended well.

Vomiting in public was so nineties.

Steve followed after him into the bedroom, clutching his towel to his hips like he'd suddenly remembered modesty. "You're still..." He trailed off, probably trying to find a word better than dying. Tony applauded the effort.

"Yeah, I am." Palming his pills, Tony swallowed them dry, then followed up with a swig of his bloody mary and tossed the empty dose-holder back in for Pepper to refill. "Haven't lost the fight yet."

"Good. That's... good to hear." Framed by the doorway, clinging to his towel and looking three inches high while still towering over most mere mortals, Steve looked awkward as a fundamentalist at Burning Man. Not too long ago, Tony might have described it as Steve at Burning Man.

Oh, how the times, they do change.

Smiling, Tony patted Steve's shoulder as he brushed by, headed for the kitchen. One drink didn't seem like enough anymore. He nearly ran into Sam, who was also in the requisite uniform of damp muscles and a towel. Thor hovered behind him, holding a cardboard box the size of a small television. His towel had been a casualty of the effort and really, at this rate Tony was going to die of blue balls well before his tumor finally took him out.

"Someone just delivered a box," Sam reported briskly. "Those clothes you promised?"

"Can't be anything else." Tony waved his guests off toward the bedroom. Alcohol. Vodka, rum, whiskey—whatever, he needed it. They were old enough to dress themselves. "Just dig through and find what you like. I ordered plenty."

"Our thanks," Thor nodded, shuffling his young protégés back down the hall. Tony paused to watch them go, admiring the flex and tug of their muscles.

Drink. Drink, then he had to get ready for his two o'clock.

He was going to have to find time to ask Thor what the hell he'd done to Sam and Steve. That would be easier once they were all dressed and he could concentrate.


Fury didn't deign to pay a visit to Tony himself to discuss making the impossible happen. Instead, he sent Carol, which gave the meeting all the charm of a date with an ex without any of the hot sex. Carol was cool and professional as she laid out Fury's demands, without letting their breakup interfere with business. To show her what she was missing, Tony was whiny and stubborn as he explained that it couldn't be done with the budget he was being given, how Fury was unreasonable and that even if he did make a flying island submarine he was more likely to keep it as his base for his inevitable descent into villainy than to give it to Fury.

He was pretty sure he'd missed out on being shot by less than a minute when Happy stepped in to remind him that he had other meetings. Other meetings that were pure lies and fancy, but Carol didn't need to know that.

It wasn't that Tony didn't like Carol. He did—she was one of those rare people who found his bullshit amusing, which was worth more than platinum and gold. SHIELD and her career were everything to her. But once the incredibly hot sex had worn off and relationship things started coming up, they'd started wearing on each others' nerves. Carol was a serious woman, with serious goals, and God help anyone who tried to get in her way. For his part, Tony had had enough serious with Natasha, and he wasn't interested in going down that ghost-ridden road again. When they'd broken it off, it had been a relief to them both.

That didn't mean he didn't like to pull her pigtails now and then. Like all the serious people in his life, she was fun to tease, and he knew exactly how far he could push before he had to start investing in a bodyguard.

Happy dropped him off at the penthouse and took the car back to the Stark corporate offices, where there were probably a dozen things he'd do to earn the six digits Tony paid him annually. Pepper was undoubtedly still in her own office, wrapped up in all the tiny details that made Tony's life easier. Which meant Tony was going to have to face his houseguests without backup again.

Tony pondered his predicament as he rode the elevator up. Sure, when Fury found out what had happened to Steve, he was probably going to tie Tony to some train tracks or have him tried under some archaic Homeland Security law, and there was a strong chance that the Three Musketeers were going to eat him out of house and home before jetting off to save the world's bunny population from poachers. But on the bright side, at least no one was actively trying to kill him yet. In Tony's experience, that was a major bonus and not to be taken for granted.

When he reached his floor, Tony paused in the open elevator. It was quiet. Too quiet, the sort of calm the preceded a scare chord and the death of a pretty brunette girl and her boyfriend in a horror movie. He couldn't hear anyone in the house at all—no music, no television, and no conversation. Quiet as the normal state of affairs was one thing, but when one's home housed a trio of Viking Warriors for Mother Earth, one expected a bit of audible destruction of the peace.

Cautious as he'd been the night before when he'd found the alarm turned off, Tony eased into the hallway and let himself in the main door. The den looked normal, untouched other than an empty box set neatly aside for later recycling. Using an educated guess, Tony tried the kitchen first.

Bingo.

Leaning against the doorway, Tony watched as Steve conscientiously unpacked what looked like a hand-made blown glass water pipe at the breakfast table from its storage container. A little frown of concentration was knotted between his eyebrows, and he'd tied his hair back with a ragged but clean bandanna done in the stars and stripes that was just barely hanging on. Marijuana sat in a little cloth bag off to the side, clearly the eventual goal of the whole endeavor.

Without looking up, Steve said, "Sam and Thor went to see about some things."

"Making more plans I'm not allowed to know? I'm hurt." Loosening his cuffs, Tony ambled over to the table and turned the chair around to sit backwards in it. The bong was actually pretty, a swirl of blues and purples of no particular pattern, and the holder was a little wooden box, probably also handmade. There didn't look to be any attempt to hide either pot or paraphernalia for what they were, but Tony supposed that Thor didn't worry much about customs.

How does it even work on him? Tony wondered. Slower high? If it was his metabolism and not just a general immunity, that might make sense, but biology had never been his strong suit. That was Gregory's game, or Jan's, and there was no way in Hell Tony was going to ask either of them about the effects of marijuana on a suped-up metabolism.

"Sam needs to drop his report on Amazonian logging and its effects on local bird populations off." Steve wiggled the stem of the pipe, obviously having trouble getting it to lock in right. It made his bandanna finish slipping back, until it was hanging on by inertia alone. "Thor offered to show him a club after. Nothing nefarious."

Tony couldn't resist. He pulled the bandanna free and stroked his fingers through Steve's hair. Since the shower, it had dried into thick, silky strands that had just a hint of curl at the end. It was the shade of gold that usually only showed up on boxes. Jan must have been jealous. "I didn't take you for the Mary Jane type, Cap."

With a delicacy that seemed out of place in his huge hands, Steve finished putting the bong together, twisting it around to make sure none of the pieces were loose. "Things weren't all Uncle Sam and flags back in the forties," he explained absently, rising up to put water and some ice cubes in it. "You'd be surprised what I'm the type for. So, do you want some?"

It had been years since he'd smoked, and he'd never really gotten into the scene. Pot had always made him too stupid to concentrate, too slow to react. For a man who did most of his thinking through electronics and welding, that was a terrible thing. But he didn't have any projects he needed to work on. "Sure, why not?"


Tony yawned and stretched, cracking his shoulders before settling back into his comfortable curl, pressing his nose into Steve's thigh. Sometime over the preceding hours, Tony had managed to lose track of jacket, shirt, shoes and socks. He could still feel his tie around his neck, the tail trailing down to tickle his inner elbow with every breath. Gentle fingers combed through his hair, making him even more determined not to wake up. Sleep wasn't something that he got easily, thanks to his medicines, and deep sleep was even more rare. He was in that sleepy place where he was fully aware of the world but far too comfortable to care.

Even when the world contained a pillow fort. Maybe especially when it did.

It wasn't that they had set out to make one. After they'd taken enough hits that Tony was relatively sure he couldn't do sixth dimensional geometry without a pencil and a piece of paper anymore, they'd made their way to the den, where picking between sofas and chairs had seemed like too much work. Once two cushions had been removed, it was natural to take the third, and then a fourth. Five blankets, multiple pieces of furniture, every pillow and cushion in the penthouse and a small robot guard later, and they were set. The construction process involved a ridiculous amount of tearing down and rebuilding to the accompaniment of giggles and frequent hits to keep Steve's metabolism from ruining everything.

Nap time had been an afterthought, and a spectacular one at that.

In spite of Tony's intentions to stay exactly where he was, Steve took his stirring as a sign of consciousness. His thumb rubbed the base of Tony's neck, where a nasty knot tended to put his masseuse into hysterics. "You didn't tell me it puts you to sleep."

"It didn't used to," Tony admitted, then pointedly buried his face more. For a moment, he wondered how late it was, and then he decided not to care. The worst thing that would happen would be that he'd miss a day of actual work, which wasn't that unusual. Between the Ultimates and his health, it happened all the time. Much too comfortable to move. "I got old. It happens to everyone."

Unsaid were the words old and sick, but they didn't need to be. Steve's hand paused at the back of Tony's neck, fingers tightening just a little. "Yeah. It does."

Humming contemplatively, Tony turned his head just enough to peek up at Steve from the corner of his eye. Once he got used to the hair and the earring, it wasn't really all that bad. Thank God the tie-dye was missing, and long hair didn't suit him, but altogether, it worked somehow. Steve would never have the easy, relaxed confidence of Thor it took to pull the look off completely, and it made his jaw look a little too sharp, too chiseled for reality. The earring was nice, though.

Reaching up, Tony grabbed one of Steve's locks and wrapped it between his fingers, tugging gently. He was distantly aware that he was probably still high, but not so much that it really mattered. "Going to cut this off?"

"Maybe." Rather than pull away, Steve leaned into the tug, putting his face closer to Tony's. "I haven't decided yet."

"You haven't decided anything yet," Tony huffed, tangling the hair around his fingers more. It took the curl far easier than he thought it should have. Did Steve condition? Tony would have pegged him as the bar soap to the skull type, but maybe Thor had ruined him for pampering along with the eco terrorism thing. No one who looked like Thor stayed that way without effort, god or not. "Not even if you're going to stay in New York."

Steve shrugged, jostling Tony's arm. "That's a big decision," he demurred.

For just a second, Tony outright hated this new, laid-back Steve. Maybe it was the pot, or maybe Thor had really done a number on his head, but it was just weird. "Six months ago, you wouldn't have come back without a plan. You always had plans."

"Six months ago I thought the United States was trustworthy," Steve replied, tone sharpening. At the back of Tony's neck his hand tensed, just enough to be noticeable. "There's a lot of good things I can do in the world. Things that can help people."

"There's a lot of things and people you can help here, too." Steve's hair was shiny and thick, fascinatingly so to Tony's still-addled mind. He combed his fingers through it more, wrapping it around his hand just to watch it unfurl. "Captain America's word means a lot to people, you know. They'll listen to Cap."

"And you?"

"Captain America's an upstanding citizen, but I prefer Steve Rogers' word." The hair at the base of Steve's skull was still the shortest. Tony couldn't quite get a grip on it the way he wanted to. It was like riding a horse, he reasoned. If you could keep a firm hand on the reins, you were mostly in the clear. Of course Steve wouldn't have reins. Knowing him, he chopped them off before running off into the brush, Tony reasoned.

Steve's fingers feathered across Tony's jaw. "You're still high?" While they'd been talking, he'd leaned lower and lower, until the hair of his forelock was tickling Tony's throat. Anyone else, and their backs would be aching.

In his head, Tony did a quick math check, and then shrugged. Forgetting to carry a variable didn't count when you remembered and did it right the second time. "Maybe a little," he admitted. "Not very much."

"Good." The fingers on Tony's jaw tilted his head back more, and then surprisingly soft lips were pressing against his. Sighing into the kiss, Tony gave up on Steve's hair and just wrapped his arms around his neck.

It quickly became obvious that upside down wasn't going to happen. Steve's nose kept bumping Tony's chin, and looking up into a clavicle was just disconcerting, to say nothing of managing their tongues. After a minute of messy trying, Tony giggled, sliding off to the side so he could laugh freely. Steve pulled away, nose wrinkled in a quiet snicker. They leaned in together and laughed, Tony still clutching Steve's neck.

When the giggle fit finally faded, Tony opened his eyes. Even in the shadows of their fort, Steve's eyes were ridiculously blue. Smiling was a good look for him, one Tony might have liked to see more of. He was uncomfortably aware of a flutter in his stomach that he hadn't felt since Natasha.

Enough of that, Tony chided himself. Natasha had been special—one of a kind, never to be found again. That fortunately meant she wasn't going to be repeated. Dwelling on the mistakes of the past was worse than useless when he had a tasty piece of forgetfulness at hand. A tasty piece of forgetfulness that had been his boyhood crush and the target of many illicit fantasies.

Using his grip to good effect, Tony pulled a pliant Steve down. The layers of sheets that made up the northern wall of the fort rustled as he pinned Steve to the padded floor of their fort by sitting on his hips. His tie pooled on Steve's chest, an s-curve of purple silk a bright contrast to Steve's tanned skin and the silver gleam of Steve's dogtags. There were probably a dozen ways Steve could kill him without even leaving the fort, but he didn't argue when Tony leaned down to pick up where they'd left off. Right side up, Steve's kisses were much better, tongue more coordinated at it slid along Tony's, nose nowhere near his chin.

"So," Tony breathed without letting go of the kiss, hooking his fingers in Steve's waistband. It was buttons all the way down, and judging by the lack of a second layer, nothing but American dreams between Steve and pure manly denim. There were probably an entire host of stereotypes in play for that alone. "Sam teach you all about those birds and birds while you were out in the jungle?"

"Among other things," Steve agreed easily. His teeth snagged Tony's lower lip and tugged. He slipped his hands down Tony's bare back, and then lower to cup his ass. "Want to see?"

A hot surge of lust spiked from Tony's chest down to his groin, tinged heavily with supposedly-forgotten teenage crush. He groaned and fell back into the kiss, which must have been a good enough answer. Warm, smooth stretches of skin were splayed out under Tony's seeking fingers, dips and curves of muscle that twitched and shivered at each little touch like he hadn't been touched in decades, which Tony knew for a fact to be untrue.

Tony splayed his hands over the sleek line of Steve's abs, thumbs brushing against the muscles of his hips in little circles. His tongue traced a line across Steve's collarbone, tasting sweat and pot and just a hint of soap that hadn't quite been washed away. They were a study of contrasts; even tanned as he was, Steve's skin was still somehow lighter than Tony's boardroom pale, lacking the olive tone that had been a gift from Maria Stark's genes. And Tony's manicured nails looked out of place next to the coarse golden fuzz that led a conga line down to Steve's crotch, where some very interesting things were happening. "Hard up, Rogers?"

Steve squeezed his ass, pulling Tony forward just enough that he could feel the effect he was having through the thick silk of his slacks. "Maybe I just wanted this for a long time."

Mouth suddenly dry, Tony curled his fingers in Steve's jeans again. There was a definite bulge there, hard to quantify with anything other than inarticulate groans through the thick, muffling fabric. At that point, Steve could have had a pencil for a dick, and Tony was pretty sure he wouldn't care. Buttons popped as he pulled on the denim with slow, deliberate pressure. They were snaps; easy to clip on, easy to take off, and blessedly not needing anything like coordination.

When Steve's fly finally came loose and Tony was able to curl his fingers down into the revealed goods, it was confirmed: not a pencil. Not oversized or undersized at all, which Tony wasn't sure to be disappointed or relieved about. Size was one of those mixed blessings that he really didn't want to try and work through while high and having sex in a pillow fort. Even his minimal dignity could only be compressed so far.

It came as a surprise when Steve found the hidden buttons on Tony's slacks—a trick that had kept many a debutante busy for tens of minutes in the past—in only a minute. And then there were hands on him and calluses rubbing in just the right spot and the bright glint of Steve's tags against his sweaty chest, a sight that deserved a porno all of its own. Tony groaned, sliding them together so their dicks lined up, making a single stretch of heated skin and friction that their hands could work together. Coordination had abandoned him long ago, but he made it work.

Taking it slow and enjoying the moment was surprisingly easy considering Steve's statuesque sort of flawlessness, but maybe that was the pot affecting Tony. There was something nice about just running his fingers up and down Steve's shaft, to lick at the sweat on his neck and not hurry onward. Steve's skin practically absorbs any bites he makes except the ones Tony puts the most effort into. So he puts in more effort, worrying at individual spots until he can feel the bloom of copper under his tongue that tastes like a forming bruise. Steve seemed to agree with the pace and the bites, muttering encouragements in Tony's ear, stealing his mouth for kisses whenever they passed close enough.

Time didn't mean anything in the fort, but it passed anyway. Hands got rougher, kisses messier and shorter. Eventually, Tony gave up on keeping more than ten hickeys ahead of Steve's healing and just put his head on his shoulder to breathe. Heat curled through him in little shudders, making his hips jerk into their combined hands. Tony could feel the pull of pending orgasm; like everything else, it didn't feel urgent, just inevitable.

Steve ended up coming first. His hand squeezed around them, jerking hard twice and shuddering. Come splattered against Tony's tie and stomach as Steve groaned and went still.

Tony couldn't quite stop himself from laughing, though he managed to muffle it against Steve's shoulder. His fingers were still tangled up in Steve's, slightly sticky as he pumped them across Steve's probably-sensitive dick. "Some gentleman," he teased breathlessly. Reward came by way of a hissed growl.

Just when Tony was about to say something about not leaving a man hanging, Steve rolled. It toppled Tony sideways, crashing him into the sheets and carefully braced cushions that made up the back wall. Blue satin sheets blinded him as the whole construction came crashing down.

But none of that mattered when Steve's lips wrapped around Tony's cock and slid down, just shy of swallowing it. He didn't even pull the sheet off, just pushed Tony's knees apart and attacked like giving killer blow jobs was his duty as an American patriot. Steve's tongue was a little rough and the suction a little much, and it was just what Tony needed. His sticky fingers clenched in the sheet as he came, hips pressing up against the weight of Steve's forearm holding them down. He felt the pulse and release as his come spilled across Steve's tongue, and blessed Thor because someone had taught Steve to swallow.

In the aftermath, Steve finally took time to tug down what used to be the ceiling. A wash of fresh air hit Tony's lungs, sweet and cool, and he hadn't even realized that he couldn't breathe under those sheets. Even once he could, it barely mattered. He'd gone limp and suspected he might never be able to feel his knees again.

"Am I a gentleman now?" Steve asked, a tad smug for Tony's taste, and kissed his stomach.

With a little bit of effort, Tony grabbed Steve's shoulders and pulled him up, arranging them so they could cuddle together under the sheet. The wreckage of the fort had plenty of pillows to lie on, even if they weren't as artistically arranged as they had been. "A complete gentleman," he agreed, settling Steve's head against his shoulder. It was a position that ensured he wouldn't have to move anytime in the future. Unless Steve moved first, that was. "I'll have to send a thank you card around."

"Just a thank you card?" A sleepy lilt dragged through Steve's voice, matching the sensation in Tony's bones. "Last time, you got me a helmet."

There was embarrassment, and then there was Steve finding Tony's hand-made Captain America uniforms that he'd worn every Halloween until he was twelve. "You only had one helmet to collect."

"You'll think of something." Steve's voice had deteriorated into a soft, barely audible murmur. "You're good at that."

"Sure," Tony murmured, eyes drooping.

And then he was asleep again, visions of besieged oil rigs and Captain America memorabilia dancing in his head.


Waking up in the pillow fort was less amusing the second time around. Whatever residual high that lingered the first time had worn off. Tony was left acutely aware that no matter the quality, sofa cushions were simply not up to defending against a hard floor; that come was a lesser evil than sweat in terms of stickiness; and that missing a round of medication was possibly not the best of life choices. His stomach roiled from missing the nausea meds, and the headache that sometimes hit him was back. He didn't care to imagine the state the rest of his body was in for the lack of appropriate pharmaceuticals. On top of that, he was pretty sure he hadn't had a drop to drink for twelve hours or more, and a hangover loomed heavy on his personal horizon.

Better sleep was possibly not worth it.

The only positive that he could see was that Steve had volunteered himself as a body pillow sometime while they were asleep. It hadn't saved Tony's left elbow, hip or knee, but at least he wasn't a bruised mess all over. He was surprisingly comfortable for a person who was at least ninety percent muscle. Tony splayed his fingers over Steve's abs, giving them an experimental squeeze. Maybe it's because he's not bony, Tony reasoned. Muscle or fat, it was still inches from razor sharp bone.

"Are you still high?" Steve asked. With Tony's ear pressed to his chest, he sounded like a mountain range in an old cartoon, gravelly and deeper than a person had any right to be. His hand came up to cup the back of Tony's head, thumb pressing against a tangle of knotted muscle at the base of his skull. It made Tony sigh and sink back into him, jaw finding a hollow to settle in.

"Distressingly low, actually," he mumbled, closing his eyes and willing wakefulness to happen. He needed a drink, his medication and a shower. In that order. It wouldn't happen if he couldn't bring himself to let go of Steve's incredibly well-made-in-America self. "What time is it?"

Steve's hand kept rubbing, as if he knew exactly how bad Tony's headaches could get. Which of course he didn't, since he wasn't around when the latest version of them developed. "Six in the morning."

That meant Tony had probably slept all evening. He didn't think he'd done that since high school. "Where's Sam and Thor?"

"Came in around eight last night, snapped some pictures and then left again. I think they decided to stay at Sam's place."

Probably they could be trusted not to sell the pictures to the tabloids. At least, Tony hoped. Not that Tony's reputation could be anything but bettered by sleeping with Captain America. It would blow his plausible denial right out of the water, but Tony would deal with that when Fury got around to having him arrested.

The pillow fort part might raise some uncomfortable questions.

Speaking of... Tony lifted himself up on his elbows to give Steve a long, hard look. "You've changed."

"Maybe." Even though Tony had moved, Steve's hand still hadn't stopped rubbing. It was an unfair advantage, but one that felt too good for Tony to demand he stop taking. "Not as much as you think."

"Smoking weed?" Tony's elbows started to shake from the combined strain of holding himself up and everything else that was wrong that morning, so he lowered back down to Steve's chest before he could collapse. It was easier to close his eyes than to keep them open at that point, so Tony did it. As a rule, he didn't do mornings after very much, so he might as well enjoy it.

Natasha hadn't done mornings after. She'd been a morning person, always up before dawn and off for a run. Carol hadn't either, usually—sneaking around didn't leave much chance for spending the night. The few times she had, there'd been too many duties begging for her attention for her to hang around in bed much.

Steve's sigh was pained, but still with that looming mountain quality that mostly came from being gigantic. "Bucky used to run with the art kids, back when he did photography," Steve explained, voice soft. "Jazz clubs and all that, and where Bucky went, I went. It helped with my knee and was less expensive than what the docs wanted to give me."

When he put it that way, it made a surprising amount of sense. Tony had always assumed that Steve was straight-laced as a priest, but look what they'd been getting up to lately. "Clubs? Tattoos?" A tattoo that he still somehow hadn't gotten a good eyeful of. Luckily, there was plenty of time for that later. It wasn't going anywhere, after all. "Gay sex?"

It wasn't really a laugh, but Steve's chest jumped under Tony like it almost was. Steve's fingers left his neck to comb through Tony's hair, which had gone spiky with sweat. "Jazz clubs," he repeated, and wow, Tony really needed to pop open some books and study the forties better. His history teachers had missed all the interesting stuff.

"I guess you'll be going back with Thor and Sam, then. Getting back to your roots and all." Which was disappointing, but if it resulted in a relaxed and happy Steve, Tony had a hard time thinking of any objections. As long as he'd known Steve, he'd been the embodiment of moping non-adjustment: renting a rundown apartment in his old neighborhood, listening to music on a turnstile when Tony had bought him a perfectly good sound system, reading the phone book for names he might recognize. By comparison with Steve's usual hobbies, the occasional Evil Logger/Chicken Farmer/Oil Baron beat down was a healthy outlet for his issues and a sign of considerable progress. One day, he might even be back to being a real boy again.

Silence was a long, comfortable thing, broken by the sound of Steve breathing under his ear. Tony actually started to feel a little awake and was seriously considering getting up when Steve said, "I've been thinking about that." And just like that, any urge to move evaporated like liquid helium on a warm summer day.

"Thinking?" Tony asked, because until he'd had a drink, he wasn't up to bringing his full wit to bear. Steve was still petting him, which didn't help the thinking process at all. It really wasn't fair, either—Steve was the one with the long, pettable hair, where Tony was only a week from his next stylist appointment.

"You made some good points. About me coming back to the team," Steve clarified when Tony opened an eye to look up at him doubtfully. "About how much of a good influence I could be as Captain America again—how even with Thor and Sam, we can't take on every single unethical company by ourselves." His fingers pushed through Tony's forelock, which probably stayed spiked upward, if Steve's little smirk was anything to go by. "And how some companies might want to be better, but they can't do it and compete with the rest of the rest of the industry."

"I said all that?" Tony asked doubtfully. It sounded like arguments he'd had with Thor before, but he didn't remember ever using them against Steve. "Was I high?"

"Very."

That answered that question. Well, if he couldn't weld while high, at least Tony could wax philosophical. Good enough.

"So does that mean you're going to rejoin the team? Become Captain America again?" The little note of hope in Tony's voice would have sounded more out of place if they weren't still plastered together mostly naked in the remains of a pillow fort. Dignity had long since left the building. "You'll need a haircut."

"We'll see." Steve laughed again, and really, that was just gorgeous. Tony could get used to seeing Steve laugh. He hoped this new Steve didn't get sucked back in to turnstiles and phone books. "Things are going to be... different."

Tony considered that—imagined Steve with his ridiculously soft hair and earring taking the shield back up, pictured Fury's reaction when he saw what Thor had wrought. The faces of every single right-wing commentator who'd spent the past few years trying to drag Steve unsuccessfully into the culture wars, and what they'd have to say now that he'd finally stepped up to the plate.

Then he grinned.

This is going to be fun.