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Steve was enjoying his morning jog through Central Park when he heard a commotion in the distance. He sped up, but didn't go all out. It didn't sound like children playing, but neither did it have the shrill quality of fear. It was worth investigating. In the short time he'd been an Avenger he'd learned that anything out of the ordinary could be a problem.
He cut across the grass, running lightly under the trees for a minute or so before he saw the mounted police officer chasing after a black animal, shouting at the beast and blowing his whistle. At first he thought it was a young horse escaped from the riding stable, then he saw the horns, well, no, one horn. One horn aiming right at him.
"Hey!" he shouted and waved his arms. The animal swerved away from him, rearing and pawing at the air; a white rim of panic showed around the startling blue eyes.
The police officer drew his revolver. "Stand aside, sir!" the officer ordered while taking aim at the animal.
"Hold on!" Steve yelled, moving between the officer and the animal. "It's just scared. Here, boy, it's all right." He hadn't much experience with animals, but in general he'd found that they responded well to him. It had come in handy more than once with German patrol dogs. The animal let its forelegs drop to the grass and stood there, shivering, as he approached slowly with a hand outstretched, talking soothingly all the while. "Yeah, that's a good boy. I know. You're scared, but it's all right now." He patted it and then slung an arm around the neck to keep it under control in case it tried to bolt again. "I've got him."
The officer dismounted and walked over to Steve, coiled rope in one hand. "You should have let me handle that, sir. You could have been injured."
Steve grinned and scratched behind the animal's ear. It turned its head slightly to look at him. The eyes seemed a little less wild. "Really, I'm used to this sort of thing. Where did he come from?"
The officer shrugged. "Not the zoo. I go to the zoo with my kids a lot. They haven't any black deer. Maybe it's someone's exotic pet." He moved closer with the rope, and the animal backed up, dragging Steve with it.
"Give me the rope." Steve caught it when the officer threw it, and knotted it around the animal's neck. "What will happen to him?"
"Well, exotic pets are illegal, so the owner can't claim it." The officer looked impatient. He held his hand out for the rope. Steve didn't give it to him.
"What's that mean?"
"There are some organizations that are licensed to take in exotics. Maybe a circus or carnival. I don't really know."
It didn't sound as if there was much of a system. And maybe all those places were full. And the animal was trembling and looking at Steve with those big, blue eyes, like it depended on him to help it. "You know what, I live at Avengers' mansion. How about I save the city the trouble and keep it there? There's plenty of room on the grounds, and it's a secure facility, he wouldn't get loose and cause trouble again. I'm sure Tony Stark can afford to get any special licenses needed."
"Well, I don't know..." The officer stopped talking and looked at Steve. "Avengers' mansion? You're... Captain America?"
"Yeah." Steve scratched at the back of his neck. "That's me."
"Huh. Well, sure, I guess that'd be all right. Hey, could you make out some autographs for my kids?"
Steve and his new friend drew attention on the walk back to the mansion. Adults wondered why he had a big goat, or a small deer, but all the kids were sure it was a unicorn. Steve tended to agree with the kids. Maybe somebody had figured out how to breed one? Scientists were doing all sorts of weird things these days, so he didn't like to say anything was impossible. As an artist, Steve had studied animals, and the best guess he could make was that it kinda looked like a small sable antelope except for the horse-like head and neck. And, y'know, the single front-facing straight spiraled short horn, which was more like a narwhal tusk than anything else.
It was awkward walking with it because it kept shying away from people, although it seemed to like children, and Steve. Maybe it wasn't afraid of kids because they were small, and Steve because he'd stopped the officer from chasing it. It pricked up its ears and walked faster when they got within sight of the mansion. He supposed it could smell the trees and grass. Steve opened the garden gate and the animal practically dragged him in, prancing about at the end of the rope and making excited snorts and head bobs while he locked the gate in the high wall and looked around, trying to decide if it was safe to let it go free.
He heard the 'thunk' of an arrow driving deep into a target and remembered that he wasn't the only one using the garden. He tightened his grip on the rope and walked over to the archery range, with the... well, call it a unicorn, after all it had one horn, sniffing at his shoulder and bumping him in the back with its nose. "Hey, Cap." Hawkeye waved at him. "Where'd you get the big goat?"
"It followed me home," Steve said with a grin. "I'm gonna ask Tony if I can keep it."
"If he says yes, I'm getting a puppy." Hawkeye walked over to Steve. The unicorn snorted and danced away at the end of the rope. "A puppy would be more friendly."
"He likes me." Steve laughed as the unicorn got behind him, using him as shield against Hawkeye.
"Don't let him eat Jarvis's begonias, or we'll have goat stew for dinner." Clint turned back to his practice.
Steve led the unicorn to the kitchen door and tied it to a nearby tree. He gave it a last pat. "I'll get you an apple, or a cabbage or something." He wasn't sure if cabbage had ever been on the menu at the mansion, but there was always a basket of fruit and the makings of a salad. "Hello, Jarvis," he said as he entered the kitchen to find the butler inspecting a silver coffee service.
"Good morning, sir. I note that there is a deer in the garden. Will it be staying to dinner?" Jarvis polished a spot that looked shiny enough already to Steve.
"Yes." Steve picked up an apple from the bowl on the table. "When you see Mr. Stark, please let him know I'd like to discuss it with him. I'd like to keep it... you know, sort of like a mascot?" Steve never had a pet, and the idea of a team mascot pleased him.
"Hmm," Jarvis said, looking past Steve's shoulder. "I do hope it is house-trained."
Steve felt a nudge at his shoulder, and turned to see the unicorn standing behind him, head down and looking shyly around him at Jarvis. "How the dickens did you get loose?" The rope was gone and the door was wide open. He sighed and held out the apple. The unicorn delicately nibbled it from his hand, its short beard ticklish against his palm. "I'm sorry, Jarvis. I don't know how he did that."
Jarvis resumed polishing. "I suppose it's unlikely to be more destructive than Master Hulk was. And quite probably it will cause less disarray than Master Hawkeye."
Tony didn't show up at dinner, which wasn't all that unusual considering he had a business to run and lots of pretty girls to squire around town. Iron Man wasn't around either, but then he never ate with the Avengers. At most he'd sometimes stick a straw in through the mouth slot of his helmet and drink a soda. Steve felt there was more to his insistence on always staying in the armor than protecting his identity. Maybe he was horrifically scarred. The man was obviously devoted to Tony, at the expense of his own life. Sometimes Steve tried to imagine the reasons for their odd relationship. Had Tony saved Iron Man's life? Did he really need to live in the armor? He had to take it off sometime, maybe there was an iron lung in the basement where he could sleep without it? Steve would never snoop, but he wondered. Iron Man intrigued him. He always had ever since Steve woke up, so cold he couldn't even shiver, and saw blue eyes gazing down at him from a golden mask.
The unicorn, however, was at dinner. It curled up into a surprisingly neat bundle beside Steve's chair and laid its head in his lap. Steve discovered that it liked french fries and cherry tomatoes.
"You're spoiling it," Hank said mildly.
"Oh, shush, he's cute." Jan leaned over and tried to bribe the unicorn with a cookie. After a moment's consideration he took it, but didn't move from Steve. "I never saw a black deer before."
Steve's decided it was just as well no one else called it a unicorn, because then they might start thinking about the legendary beasts' liking for virgins and ... you know, Steve's been busy, he just hasn't got around to dating. The Avengers were a swell bunch, but they did like to pull your leg until it came off. He scratched the unicorn behind the ears. It sighed and gazed at him with adoring eyes.
"It is indeed a remarkable beast," Thor said. He was feeling a little put out, Steve could tell. He'd tried All-speak on the unicorn, and while it apparently understood him, it didn't have anything to say back.
"If you're going to keep him, you should name him," Clint said, flipping a sugar cube to land on Steve's leg in front of the unicorn's nose. The sugar disappeared, followed by crunching noises.
"And you're spoiling it, too," Hank said.
"Only a little," Steve said. "How about... Blackie?"
There was a unanimous round of groans.
"That's not bad, but we could do better. He's rather a precious thing... Ebony? Onyx? Pearl?" Jan suggested.
Dinner devolved into a contest with shouted names and politicking for support for their favorites. Finally Jarvis entered the room with a venerable top hat, a handful of slips of paper and some pens. "Might I suggest a quieter method of resolving the issue?"
"Thanks, Jarvis." Steve took a pen and three slips. "You should put some names into the hat, too." He handed Jarvis three slips.
There followed several minutes of thoughtful scribbling, scratching out and rescribbling before everyone declared themselves done and put the folded over papers into the hat.
"Who draws?" Hank asked. "To be fair, it shouldn't be any of us."
Steve looked at the unicorn. "Thor, could you ask him to do it?" Steve was curious to see if All-speak really worked. So far, he'd only got Thor's word on it. Thor was honest, but he also tended to exaggerate, like his stories about fishing for something so big it wrapped around the world. After all, when Thor talked to the unicorn, it just sounded like plain old English to Steve.
"Of course." Thor picked up the hat and set it on the floor near the unicorn (Thor called him a 'small goat' which made Steve wonder what Thor's idea of a large goat was). "Friend, we would like you to choose a name for yourself from these."
The unicorn tilted his head and looked at the hat.
"Ah. My apologies. You have no hands." Thor dumped the papers on the floor.
The unicorn stood up and nosed the papers, flipping them over and spreading them out. He sniffed them, nosed them around and finally placed a hoof firmly on two papers.
Steve shrugged. "Well, at least we've narrowed it down to two." He picked up the papers and read, "Jet Onyx."
Jet Onyx turned out to be not only housebroken, but modest, backing into a corner of the garden to do his business. He was also sneaky, stealing Clint's beer when his back was turned, holding the bottle in his teeth and raising his head to gulp it down. Steve hadn't laughed so hard in years.
When Steve went up to bed the unicorn followed him. Unicorns aren't built for stair-climbing but Jet Onyx was a stubborn cuss. His tail lashed in irritation and his head was down so low his horn almost hit the next riser, but he made it to the top. Steve grinned and stroked its warm, sleek neck. "And how are you going to get down in the morning?" Unsurprisingly, the unicorn didn't answer. Steve suspected he'd have to ask Thor to help him carry it down.
"No," he told it firmly when it looked longingly at his bed. "It's a king-size, not a unicorn-size." Jet Onyx huffed a sigh and folded his legs next to the bed, resting his head on the sheets. It seemed a fair compromise to Steve, so he didn't complain. And it was actually nice when he got into bed to have something warm and alive to pet as he fell asleep.
"Master Rogers, you have a visitor," Jarvis announced the next day while Steve was pretending to spar with Jet Onyx in the training room. Tony and Iron Man were still playing hooky which theoretically left Steve the head of household, but he knew better than that. Jarvis ruled with white gloved efficiency. "He is awaiting you in the study."
"Oh?" Steve grabbed a towel and threw it around his neck. "Who is it?" He could tell from Jarvis's careful non-expression that he did not approve of the visitor.
"A Mr. Zhang Tong, an itinerant entertainer by trade. He claims that you have something that belongs to him." Jarvis looked at Jet Onyx, who was lying on his back on the mat, wriggling to scratch an itch.
Steve swallowed past a suddenly dry throat. "Oh. Did he offer any proof?" Maybe this guy just heard about Steve's unicorn and was trying to trick Steve into giving him up.
"He said it was branded with his mark-- a circle on the chest."
Now that he looked, Steve could see it, a faint dark gray circle embedded against the black fur. He sighed. "Please tell Mr. Zhang Tong that I'll be right down." He knelt to pet his unicorn one last time after Jarvis left the room. Jet Onyx wriggled to look at Steve with his bright blue eyes. "Come on, boy." He tugged at the unicorn's mane until Jet Onyx got to his feet and followed Steve.
"Ah. There is my unicorn," a Chinese man in elaborately gold-embroidered silk robes said when Steve and Jet Onyx entered the study.
Jet Onyx reared up, eyes wide and panicked and made the first noise Steve had heard from it, a bleating shriek that edged into a growling rumble. The unicorn lowered his head, threatening with his horn even though he was shaking so hard Steve could hear the hooves clatter on the polished marble floor. Steve placed his hand on Jet Onyx's back. "It doesn't look like he wants to be yours."
"Property does not choose its owner." Zhang Tong snapped his gaudily-ringed hand, revealing a piece of paper. "My license of ownership of the exotic beast, a Chinese unicorn which has been bred by my family. You will now relinquish my property, I think."
"I don't think so." He didn't know what Zhang Tong had done to the unicorn, but whatever it was, he wasn't getting the chance to do it again. "I'll buy it from you. Name your price."
Zhang Tong scowled. "Money isn't always the answer." He narrowed his eyes. "That is my creation. The horn, the blood, the bone. All mine." He held out his hands. "If you will not give it back freely, I will TAKE IT."
Steve had a fraction of a second to realize the rings weren't badly cut colored glass, and Zhang Tong wasn't just a carnival side-show act before he was hit by a blast of icy air so cold his muscles froze and he fell to the floor. He felt something shatter. He was dying. Dying in the ice again, with his eyes frozen wide open, watching Zhang Tong smirk as he stretched out his hands to the unicorn, still trembling, but defiant.
Jet Onyx's scream had alerted the Avengers. Thor flew into the room ahead of the others, lightning-wreathed and storm-glowing. "BEGONE, FOUL CREATURE!" He threw Mjolnir, but Zhang Tong cursed, waved his hands and disappeared. "Captain!" Thor tried to touch Steve, but the ice kept growing, and even Mjolnir couldn't break it. Hawkeye's explosive arrows did no good, and the Wasp's shrinking and stings were no help.
"Where's Iron Man!" Hank shouted. "Repulsors might..." He grew into a giant and pounded at the ice, uselessly.
Steve wished he could say goodbye to his friends, but he couldn't move, not his mouth, not his lungs, and now the ice reached his heart. So strange. For so many years the ice had held him, and now he was returning to it. Didn't seem fair, after such a short time... but it had been a good time. He had friends. He had...
Jet Onyx made another noise, growling deep in his chest. He lowered his head, and his horn glowed a pure and blinding blue-white. The Avengers scrambled out of the way as the unicorn charged, driving its horn deep into the ice. It made a high, ringing sound, like crystal chimes, and shattered, breaking off at the forehead. The unicorn fell at the same moment the ice vanished and Steve stood up.
"Hey. Hey, buddy." Steve touched the unicorn. Its body was cold as ice and unmoving. And then it began crumbling, shattered and flaking. Everyone stared as the unicorn body melted away to reveal Tony Stark, naked, shivering, and with an arc reactor in his chest.
"Oh, hi, Tony," Jan said brightly. She looked around, noticing the startled looks everyone gave her. "What? Are you kidding me? You could see his eyes through that stupid helmet. Don't tell me I'm the only one who wasn't fooled!" She shook her head. "Boys." She leaned forward to pat Tony's arm. "I'll make a pot of coffee." She left the room.
Tony looked at Steve. "Ah. This is a little awkward."
Steve said, "Well, really... yes it is, kinda. I mean keeping your identity secret from us is one thing, but pretending to be two different people, that's just..."
Thor coughed, and brought Mjolnir's handle down on the floor. When the lightning faded, Dr. Donald Blake stood there, leaning on his cane. "Eh, it happens. Let's get the two of you checked out before you start arguing."
Tony sat on the examining table, wearing a quilted red velvet lounging robe, and drinking a mug of coffee. He glanced over at Steve sitting on the next table, wearing a plaid wool robe, and drinking a mug of coffee. Don/Thor had pronounced them healthy and left the room. Tony cleared his throat. "You know, while there's nothing wrong with being a virgin, I'd just like to say for the record that many people consider that sex is actually quite a nice thing, if you've a mind to try it."
Steve looked at Tony. In fact he looked at Tony slowly, from the top of his head down to the bottom of his feet. And then he looked again. Tony's eyes were very wide, and very blue. Steve already knew how nice it was to sleep with something warm that he could pet. He got up off the table. "Well, my dad said you should try everything once. Never know, you might like it."
Tony grinned at Steve and slugged back the last of his coffee. "Let's try your king-size bed."