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just another (drop in the ocean)

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My soul is full of longing
for the secret of the sea,
and the heart of the great ocean
sends a thrilling pulse through me.
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



There is much for me to say but little time to say it so I will cut straight to the heart of the matter.

Since my son was kidnapped from his nursery two decades ago, I have never stopped searching. Maria never recovered from the shock and with no trace of who took him or why, everyone had thought him dead. I’ve never given up on him, because I’ve always felt that he was still out there somewhere, but hidden. This morning, my belief was finally rewarded, and I have been given adequate reason and proof that my son is still alive.

I’m an old man now and I fear that my time is drawing to a close. Death’s rattling breaths come closer each day. I do not fear the end, for I have lived a long and fulfilling life, but it is my final wish to see my son, my sole heir, the rightful Prince of this kingdom, once more before I die.

Please, Nicholas, find him. I do not care how or what you have to do, just bring him home.


The Kingdom of Stark was a large fertile land, stretching much further than the eye could see and surrounded by the vast ocean. Its Capitol was a bustling trading point and the hub of creativity, with schools of higher learning, and churches that spiralled into the sky. It was the home of some of the most skilled craftsmen in all the land.

The people of the Kingdom were peaceful and happy for the most part, but they did field the largest Imperial Navy and had the most advanced weaponry, courtesy of their King, Howard, a gifted engineer as well as a talented statesman.

King Howard was a fair man, who ruled his Kingdom with a careful and steady hand. He wasn’t the most cheerful or well liked of men, but there was no one who didn’t respect his fierce intelligence and driving need to do what was right by the people.

Twenty five years ago, the King met a beautiful Princess called Maria from a neighbouring land and he fell in love. They were married shortly after, a true love match, a rarity in royal circles.

Twenty one years ago, King Howard and Queen Maria had a son, a Prince who they christened Anthony, in honour of the Queen’s late father, and the kingdom rejoiced that their King finally had his long desired heir.

Twenty years ago, Prince Anthony vanished, presumed kidnapped, from his nursery, in the heart of the palace. The King sent out countless men, turning the countryside upside down in an attempt to find his son, but it was all for naught.

The Queen withdrew, becoming more and more of a shadow with each day that passed with the Prince missing. She withered, faded, and finally passed away three years after her son vanished. And the Kingdom mourned, for while they respected and admired their King, they adored and loved their Queen.

King Howard was never the same after that.

Lord Nicholas Joseph Fury, Peer of the Kingdom, Admiral of the Imperial Fleet, scowled heavily and clunked his tankard onto the scarred wooden table.

A second man emerged from behind the counter. He was tall and scruffy, vaguely unkempt facial hair covered the side of his face and jaw. Despite his slouching pose and stomping walk, his eyes were sharp and the hands around the two tankards he carried were steady, not one drop spilling as he weaved his way through the rowdy crowd.

“Trouble in the Capitol?” he asked as he set both the mugs on the table, sliding one in Fury’s direction.

Fury darted a glance around, making sure of the lack of eavesdroppers before he leaned in, deciding that the noise surrounding them was enough to drown out whatever they spoke of.

“The King is very ill, Logan,” he said, quietly, pulling his tankard close, staring down at the brown liquid.

Logan snorted and dropped into the chair opposite Fury. “Bub, tell me something I don’t know.”

Fury’s scowl grew and he sat back again, withdrawing a letter from within his inner vest pocket. He slid it over to the other end of the table. “He sent me a letter, a private message with a private request.”

Logan picked it up and glanced over at Fury as he withdrew the single sheet of parchment from the envelope, paper creasing under his large hands. “This could be counted as treason,” he said, raising his eyebrows but Fury noticed that he flipped the paper open and read it anyway.

He tipped the rough earthenware mug in his hand back and swallowed the last few mouthfuls as Logan finished reading and let out a slow whistle, “The Prin…”
Logan’s words cut off when Fury clamped a hand over his wrist and shook his head sharply. “No one else is to know. So far only the King and I know about this. The man who brought the information to the King is dead, poisoned. There’s something bigger, more sinister behind this.”

Fury leaned back once more, face serious and slid the letter back into the envelope once more, securing it on his person once more. “I’ve spoken to the King’s Spymaster and he’s said that there are rumours floating around the Kingdom about an usurper to the throne and plenty of unease amongst the people.”

“The King is without a direct heir,” Fury continued, snagging Logan’s mug and ignoring the other man’s protest, “When he dies, the right of succession passes to his closest relative, a distant cousin out on the edges of the Kingdom.”

Logan flagged down one of the barmaids and gestured for another drink. He turned back to Fury and asked, “But?”

Fury waved off an offer of a refill from the barmaid who set down Logan’s drink. He waited until he was certain she was out earshot before he spoke again. “The King has changed the law, quietly of course, but now his Council of Imperial Advisors have the right to elect the new king from within the Peerage of the Kingdom.”

Logan’s eyebrows shot up at this and tapped his fingers against his chin, eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “Stane?”

“That’s who I fear is behind it all. He’s the King’s oldest friend, but he’s a snake.” Fury shook his head once, sharply. “The King listens to none of us, not even his Spymaster, Coulson. He refuses to believe that Stane has other ambitions beyond his hereditary Dukedom.”

“Why are you here, Fury?” Logan’s arms were crossed and his eyes were narrowed. “I doubt that the King is going to listen to me out of all people.” He spread his arms out, encompassing the rowdy bar. The wickedly sharp knives Fury knew were always strapped to Logan’s wrists glinted when he stretched and his sleeves pulled back for one moment.

“I’m nothing but a lowly tavern owner, a former outlaw to boot.” Logan’s grin wasn’t bitter, but it wasn’t happy either.

Fury raised and lowered his tankard back onto the table not so gently. “You’re the best source of information in the Kingdom and beyond. You know everything that goes on, on land or sea, better than even Coulson sometimes, I suspect.”

Logan snorted a laugh. “High praise, Fury,” he mocked but nevertheless nodded, settling back against his chair a little.

“In regards to the matter mentioned in the letter, I haven’t heard anything solid. But,” here Logan paused and scowled, “there might be someone who can find what you need.”

“Where can I find him?” Fury asked, his one eye narrowed.

Logan took the last swallow of his alcohol and waved for another. “Don’t know,” he shrugged.

Fury sighed, “Name?”

A tiny smirked curled over Logan’s lips as he repeated,” Don’t know.”

“How am I supposed to find this ‘mysterious person’ then?” Fury growled, patience drawn out to breaking point.

Logan’s smile dropped and he leaned in, folding his arms on the table. “You need to catch the Ironheart,” he said, “They say that there’s nothing that her Captain can’t find.”

He pushed away from the table and nodded at Fury, “And that’s all I can tell you, Admiral. The rest is up to you.”


Steven Rogers, Captain of the Imperial Fleet, turned to find one of his senior lieutenants jogging towards him, one arm raised in a hail.

He waited until the other man was close enough so they could talk without raising their voices. “Lieutenant Barton, is something wrong?”

Clint Barton drew up and didn’t bother taking a moment to catch his breath, just handing Steve a folded square of parchment. “Admiral Fury wants to see you.” He pulled a face, “Wants to see your entire senior crew actually.”

Steve took a moment to read the brief missive before tucking it in a belt pouch. “Come with me then. We’ll find Lieutenant Romanov on our way over. It looks like we have orders to receive.”

Steven Grant Rogers was born as the sole child to his parents Sarah and Joseph. He had always held a fascination and deep love for the sea and so, as soon as he was old enough, his parents sent Steve to the Capitol to sit for the exam for entrance to the Imperial Military Academy with hopes that he would one day join the Imperial Navy.

Steve passed the tests with flying colours and entered the Academy at twelve years of age, one of the youngest students in its entire history.

During his time at the Academy, Steve discovered a talent for all things nautical and his instructors thought he had the makings of a fine naval captain one day with his calmness under pressure and instinctive head for naval tactics. He made several friends during his schooling years, including James ‘Bucky’ Barnes, a son of a minor baronet and James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes, whose father was on the Council of Imperial Advisors.

He graduated the Academy with honours at sixteen and once he served the required five years under an experienced Naval Captain, Steve was almost immediately given command of the newest and arguably the best ship in the Imperial Fleet, The Patriot, becoming the youngest Captain in the Fleet.

“Tony?” Bruce Banner knocked on the door to the Captain’s quarters again. “Tony, we really need to do something about the…”

The door swung open to display a terrifying expanse of tanned golden brown skin because of course Tony was not wearing a shirt. Bruce sighed but took the chance to do his customary visual check just to make sure Tony wasn’t bleeding from anything again, especially after the last altercation with the other pirate captain.

Thankfully, it seemed like Tony had received nothing but a few bruises over his ribs and had the lovely beginnings of a black eye. Bruce cast a quick look at the glow of the circle of light set into Tony’s chest, reassured that it was steady and not flickering. The light from the device threw the room into a sort of weird bluish cast, causing the tattoo on Tony’s left pectoral to seem like it was almost glimmering in the sparse light.

Reassured of his friend’s health, somewhat, Bruce wrinkled his nose and pushed past, picking up a blanket from the rumpled bed and shoving it in Tony’s general direction. “Put on some clothes, otherwise you’re going to catch a cold and die.”

Tony smirked and threw the blanket back at Bruce, pulling on a shirt he picked up off the floor instead, dropping a wink, sliding his arms through the sleeves and started buttoning the multitude of tiny pearl buttons along the front. “You do care, I feel loved.”

“Tony, we need to discuss your reckless behaviour. Again.” Bruce took a seat at Tony’s desk. They had been friends for long enough that neither Tony nor Bruce were going to even bother to pretend that there was any sort of difference of status between them. “Also, we might need to talk about how the Ironheart can’t possibly take another half-tonne cannon on the starboard side; we’re going to start listing soon enough as it is.”

The Ironheart might be Tony’s prized ship, and he her Captain, but it was Bruce who kept her running more days than not, when Tony couldn’t be bothered with the little repairs, instead spending his time inventing deadlier and more accurate rifles, or even bigger cannons that made a louder boom.

“Minor details,” Tony waved it off, “I’m sure we can remove something. There are a lot of unused components on the prow.”

Bruce pinched the bridge of his nose. “For the last time, we’re not removing the masts. How is a ship supposed to sail without masts?”

Tony strode to a chest near the foot of his too-large bed and opened it to withdraw a new jacket; the one he had been wearing was on the floor with several holes through the sleeve, courtesy of the Captain of the other vessel he had a run-in with. “You know I’ve been experimenting with extra mechanical components. The Ironheart already basically runs itself, I’m sure we can do away with the masts soon enough.”

Bruce held up a hand, stopping Tony’s explanation halfway through. “Let’s not start on how impossible the mechanics would be. No, I do not doubt that you can do it, because you’re a genius, yes, I know,” he added when he saw Tony’s mouth open accompanied by an indignant expression, “But you do know that no one else will ever take us seriously again, right? A pirate ship with no sails? It’s like having a guard dog with no teeth.”

Tony subsided, flopping onto his bed with a sulky expression. “Well, I could if I want to. And they’d learn to take us seriously when we blow them to kingdom come.”

“Forget about that for the moment, we need to talk about your reckless tendencies first.” Bruce pushed his eyeglasses higher up on his nose and frowned in Tony’s expression. “Explain to me just why you had to board the other ship today? We were definitely out-manned, even if we weren’t outgunned.”

Tony lost his sullen expression immediately and he bounced up, reaching down to rummage in his abandoned jacket, pulling out a battered piece of parchment. “The Tesseract, Bruce! I had heard rumours that Justin Hammer had somehow gotten his greedy little paws on a map to the Tesseract, I was just confirming the information.”

Bruce took the smudged and slightly torn offering from Tony, sweeping a practiced eye over it. It wasn’t to scale, so he had to do some quick comparisons to confirm the probable coordinates according to landmarks and the black dotted line that led all the way to the edge of the page and then just stopped, cut off. “Tony, this is…”

“Half!” Tony looked excited, “Half of the map. Someone out there has the other half, or at least I hope it’s half and not say, a third or a fifth, because can you imagine how much trouble it will be to try tracking down another four pieces of this thing? We’ve already spent half a decade looking for this and…”

“Tony! Focus.” Bruce’s voice cut into his thoughts again.

“What? Right. I thought we might just head over to where the edge of the map. There has to be a reason that they were split down the middle like this.” Tony told Bruce, sliding a finger over the cut edge. “It’s not torn, so it’s most likely not an accidental separation into halves. So maybe there’s a clue or something waiting there,” he jabbed a finger at the very edge, where the map suddenly ended.

Bruce squinted a little at the tiny letters that don’t resemble any language he’d ever seen. “And where is ‘there’ exactly?”

Tony eyes grew a little distant and he tapped his fingers against the wooden table, obviously doing some sort of navigational calculation internally. He snapped his fingers and looked back at Bruce. “About a month North-West, just beyond the far reaches of the Kingdom.”

There was a pinched look in Bruce’s pale face. “No one really goes that far. They say there’s nothing but barbarian tribes that far North.”

“Where’s your sense of adventure, Bruce?” Tony grinned and rolled the map back up, sliding it into a waterproof casing for protection.

Bruce sighed, “I think I lost it when you kidnapped me from my laboratory a decade or so ago.”

Tony smacked him on the shoulder as he scrambled up from his seat and in the direction of the door, “Good man. Now, let’s go and have a look at the damage Hammer managed to accidentally inflict on our beautiful lady.”

Bruce shook his head but nevertheless stood to follow Tony. “At least promise that we’ll stop by the Wolf Tavern to check our information with Logan’s?”

“Fine, fine. If that will make you feel better, dear.” Tony huffed but waved a hand in acquiescence. Then he brightened, “We can also stock up on the alcohol there. Logan’s homebrew is something special indeed.”

Bruce could do nothing but sigh again, “Whatever you want, Captain.”

“Let me get this straight,” Clint started, standing at Steve’s shoulder on the pier, as they watched their sailors scramble up and down the plank of The Patriot, carrying all sorts of packages. “We’re going pirate hunting? Us? On the best ship in the entire Imperial Navy?”

Sir Phillip Coulson, the King’s Spymaster, who was overseeing the loading of supplies and weaponry, cast a raised eyebrow in Clint’s direction. “Is there a problem, Lieutenant?”

Clint had that stubborn tilt to his chin. “We have the best ship and crew on these waters, sir, not to mention the best captain by far. I think our talent is wasted chasing pirates,” he said, words bold, but tone calm, polite. The Spymaster was one of the few people he had a deep abiding respect for.

Coulson watched Clint with mild interest as Steve wondered if he should interrupt or not.

“Can I trust you with something told in complete confidence, Captain Rogers, Lieutenant Barton?” Coulson asked finally, glancing from Steve to Clint.

Clint blinked but nodded as did Steve, “Yes, sir.”

Coulson took a few steps away from the organised chaos of the pier and beckoned Steve and Clint to follow.

“The King is very sick, you both know this,” Coulson waited for the acknowledging nods before continuing, “What you probably do not realise is that we’re on the brink of revolution.”

“What?” Steve couldn’t help the startled exclamation.

“There is no one in direct succession to the throne,” Coulson held up a hand to forestall the protest he could see coming from both Steve and Clint, “I know that technically the Council is supposed to rule as Regents, sharing the power until a suitable heir is located, but you cannot imagine the exalted members of the Imperial Council don’t suffer from greed and a need for personal power above all else.”

Steve frowned and shook his head, “I know Sir James Rhodes and Lady Virginia Potts personally. I can assure you, sir, that neither of them holds any aspirations to a higher seat of power.”

Coulson nodded at this, “Individual members, like Sir James and the Lady Virginia, are solid, dependable people with the best interests of the King and the Kingdom at heart. But there are twelve members who sit in on the Senior Council, not to mention the multitude of members of the General Council, and all decisions are made via a majority vote.” He raised his eyebrows, “How many do you think will still be thinking of the King and the good of the Kingdom when the Imperial Throne is empty and available?”

“But what does that have to do with us?” Clint couldn’t hold his question anymore. He crossed his arms. “It’s not like catching a pirate or two is going to magic up an Imperial Prince to succeed to the Kingdom. King Howard’s only heir died two decades ago.”

Coulson smiled, the barest upwards curve to his lips, “Well, about that…”

Tony remembers nothing of his childhood, doesn’t remember where he’s from, doesn’t know his birth parents. He’s not quite sure if he wants to, since they seem to have abandoned him as a babe, left him to die in a little wooden boat floating on the sea.

Tony, instead, has Yinsen. Yinsen, a fisherman by trade, who lived on the edges of the sea and found Tony’s tiny little craft, not much more than a wooden crate, one morning when he casted his nets. It’s Yinsen who raised Tony, taught him about the world, about doing the right thing and being an honourable man.

It’s Yinsen who taught him the moods of the sea, taught him to appreciate the beauty in the endless stretch of blue reflected by the sky, of the breathtaking storms that crashed waves over the beach and rocks. It’s also Yinsen who introduced Tony to the flawless logic of science and Tony fell in love.

Yinsen used to be a great scholar in the Capitol, but due to an incident he never explained to Tony, he was disgraced and exiled to the outreaches of the Kingdom to live out the remainder of his life. But Yinsen, in his sparse free time, never stopped his studies.

Tony was a bright, capable child, a fiercely intelligent young man, who devoured books and knowledge, instantly picking up and understanding concepts and theory that took Yinsen decades of study to obtain.

The only thing that Yinsen didn’t do was give Tony his name. There were nights, back when Tony was nothing more than a child, when Tony would ask about himself, about how Yinsen found him.

Yinsen would smile, a soft fond expression, and brush Tony’s dark hair out of his eyes as they sat in front of the tiny little fire in Yinsen’s small hut.

“I found you floating in that tiny boat, wrapped in a fine blanket, stitched with ‘Anthony’,” Yinsen would tell him, the story never changing, no matter how many times he told it. Yinsen would show him the blanket, now nothing more than battered scraps of material, having being washed so many times over the years.

“Someone named you, Tony, someone who loved you,” Yinsen would tell him again and again.

“Then why didn’t they keep me? Why did they abandon me?” Tony would ask in reply, fingers running over the barely visible name on the ragged ends of the blanket.

Yinsen could never find a real answer for him.

Steve pushed open the door to the Wolf Tavern cautiously. He stopped at the entrance as every single conversation in the rowdy tavern petered out as they caught sight of him.

Clint, who followed at his shoulder like always, took one look at the clientele and sighed. “Told you to change out of your uniform, Captain.”

Steve looked back with a little crease between his brows, “But we’re on official business for the Kingdom.”

“No, you’re painting a giant target on your back,” a rough looking man told them from behind the counter, cleaning his hands off on a somewhat clean cloth. His broad shoulder and arm muscles flexed impressively, clearly visible since he was only clad in a sleeveless undershirt. “What can I do to help you, officers?”

Steve made his way to the counter, aware of every eye fixed on his every move and doing his level best to ignore it all.

Clint followed on his heels and nodded at the man, “We’re here looking for Logan.”

“That’ll be me,” the man at the counter told him. Logan looked them both over once and seemed completely unimpressed. Clint bristled a little at the unspoken insult but subsided when Steve put a calming hand on his arm and turned to the man, Logan.

“Admiral Fury sent us, sir,” Steve told him, earnest, standing up straighter. “We’re here for any information you might have on the Captain of the Ironheart.”

A low murmur swept through the tavern at that and Logan growled, slamming down two mugs on the counter.

He pinned a glare on the occupants of the tavern, narrowed eyes sweeping up and down the room. “I hope all of you are enjoying your time drinking and carousing because obviously you aren’t eavesdropping on a private conversation now, are you?” The sound of metal unsheathing was startlingly loud.

The sudden burst of noise, as everyone turned back around to continue whatever they had been doing before Steve walked in, was even louder.

Clint tilted his head and looked impressed. “You are good.”

Logan growled again in response and shoved the two tankards, now full, to Steve and Clint. “Don’t ever come here in your uniform again,” he grunted at Steve.

Logan cast an eye over the crowd and glared until anyone who still looked over at them were scared suitably into submission. He turned the look onto Clint and Steve for one long moment and then grunted. Jerking his head in the direction of a door behind the counter, he motioned for them to rise and follow. “Come with me.”

Tony slumped into his usual chair at his usual table in the Wolf Tavern. He waved one hand half-heartedly at the barmaid who came bustling over when she recognised him and greeted him with a smile. “Hello, Captain. Your usual?”

“Please, Lina, and that fancy herbal concoction that Bruce likes as well.” Tony offered a smile and Lina blushed before turning to fetch their orders.

A thickly rolled parchment smacked him over the head as Bruce passed by him and dropped into the chair across from Tony. “Don’t flirt with Logan’s staff. He’s never going to forgive you if a third barmaid runs off to stow away on the Ironheart.”

Tony gave him a lazy grin, “I can’t help being so attractive and suave that all the maidens swoon after me, Bruce.”

Bruce snorted, but nevertheless smiled at Lina when she returned to hand them their drinks. He did roll his eyes when she bent over a little more than necessary, giving Tony an excellent view down her top if he was so inclined to look.

Tony was never one to say no to a free show, and his fingers lingered over Lina’s hand when he passed her a couple of copper coins in payment and gave a wink, sending her away smiling and wearing another blush.

“Logan’s going to kill us,” Bruce groaned and took a long, fortifying swallow of still steaming water infused with a number of exotic herbs and tea leaves.

“Relax,” Tony paused to take a gulp of his malted beer, a drink that was somehow utterly unique to the Wolf Tavern. Tony had tasted a lot of other beers and none of them had matched the one that Logan brewed. “Logan loves us, I mean. We bring him all the best tidbits of information from the seas. You know that he sells that information on the side for extra income.”

“That’s not the point, Tony, we should…” Bruce’s voice trailed off when he noticed Tony’s fixed stare over his shoulder. He turned just in time to see two strangers walk in. The noise in the tavern dropped considerably for one long moment before it started back up again.

The two newcomers, one blonde, the other brunette, stood together, talking quietly to each other, both scanning the room carefully. The blonde was a good head taller than his companion and broader in the shoulder and chest as well, rather impressively if the way Tony was staring was any indication. His blue eyes fell on Bruce and Tony’s table and lingered for one long moment before moving on.

Bruce glanced from the two strangers, who had chosen a corner table right near the counter to settle at, to Tony, who was gazing speculatively at them, and knew exactly what was going to happen.

“Tony? Tony, no.” Bruce hissed and reached out a hand to grab Tony’s arm, but missed.

Tony tipped back the last swallow of his beer and stood. The drag of the wooden leg of his chair was mostly hidden beneath the raucous noise of the tavern. He grinned, eyes flashing mischievously, “I’m just going to introduce myself, Bruce. There’s no need to be jealous.”

“I’m not jealous,” Bruce snapped back, “You don’t know who they are. They could be bounty hunters or even the King’s men. They’re too well dressed to be one of us.”

“But very pretty, don’t you think?” Tony sighed, eyes not leaving the blonde. “Just look at those arms and shoulders.”

Tony turned back to his friend and rolled his eyes when he caught Bruce’s expression. “Relax, Bruce. It’s not as if the King’s men would ever come to a disreputable establishment like this. And well, if they do turn out to be bounty hunters after our pirate hides, we have a very fast ship, and knowledge of where all the back exits are.”

Bruce sighed; he did it a lot when he was around Tony and resigned himself to getting them out of another tight situation within the next five minutes. “Fine, but don’t say that I didn’t warn you.”

Steve noticed the other man the moment he walked through the door. He had a shock of black hair, messy as if he had been running his fingers through it all night, sharp, aristocratic features and eyes so blue that Steve could see them from here.

Steve let his eyes linger over him, sprawled carelessly at a table close to the back, with a companion, another dark haired man, opposite. A neatly trimmed goatee and beard framed his sharp chin and his full lips were drawn up in an attractive smile. Steve found it hard to draw his eyes away.

Clint paused at his side and followed Steve’s gaze and frowned. “Is it just me, or does he remind you of someone?”

Steve nodded distractedly, trying to pretend he wasn’t looking at the dark haired stranger, as they made their way to a free table near the counter. They had been hoping to speak to Logan again after the man told them exactly what he had told Fury and told them to return tonight without the uniforms. “No, you’re right. He looks really familiar, but I can’t remember who exactly he looks like.”

Clint flagged down a barmaid and ordered two tankards of beer since it was surprisingly good here. “Well, we can ask him directly since he’s coming this way, right to us.”

Steve jerked his head around to look and sure enough, the dark haired man was making his way to their table, blue eyes fixed on Steve.

“Well, right to you,” Clint amended and raised his tankard in a salute just as the man reached them, sliding into a seat right next to Steve.

He smiled, leaning forward, almost into Steve’s personal space. “Haven’t seen you gentlemen around here before, I would have definitely remembered if you had.” He was even more handsome up close, and his eyes were the exact shade of the deepest depths of the sea. Steve swallowed sharply.

It wasn’t until Clint kicked him under the table that Steve remembered to return the smile and forced his movements to be as casual as possible, inclining his head in response. “We’re here on business, just stopping by.”

Steve offered his hand, “I’m Steve.”

The other man tilted his head a fraction lower, looking out from beneath his lashes. It should have looked ridiculous on a man of his size and age, but Steve found it ridiculously endearing. “Just Steve?” his voice was almost a purr, and Clint looked suitably alarmed when Steve promptly flushed and opened his mouth to offer the rest of his name.

Another kick under the table made Steve remember himself just in time, and he shook his head, firming his voice. “Just Steve.”

“Well then, ‘Just Steve’, my name is Tony,” Tony said as he reached over to take Steve’s hand in a callused grip, eyes crinkling as he smiled, “and I’m the Captain of the Ironheart.”