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  Tony throws his head back and makes an inarticulate shout so anguished DUM-E stops sweeping his scraps in the corner. Every lead in his research comes to the same dead end. He scrubs his eyes and bites his tongue and frowns at his bots, all standing at attention. It’s not their fault this database was built by a moron. Tony stops (not that he feels like he ever got started) with what he’s doing and wanders over to the refrigerator in the corner of the workshop for a shake. In the metal shine of the door his reactor glows unapologetically- unaware that it’s simultaneously his salvation and his sentence. He wrestles with himself about whether or not he should take a look at the swelling veins surrounding it again (not that it would change anything) and gets caught up, staring into space.

  “Would you like to stop for an actual lunch, sir?” JARVIS asks.

  And no, Tony doesn’t feel like eating, really. He snaps out of it and grabs his drink and heads back to his chair where he can half-heartedly sip and brood.

  He’s discerned there was some success with manipulating the magnetic susceptibility of red blood cells with palladium in the 1940’s- and he thinks he can reverse engineer the antidote to his poisoning using this technique, but every time he checks a footnote for the study it refers him to an archive that isn’t on SHIELD’s mainframe.

  “J, is this archive of fame and legend perhaps a physical archive?”

  “It is a library in the basement of the Triskelion, sir. You may request access.”

  “Will they send me a library card by carrier pigeon?”

  “It may seem to take as long by your standards, sir.” JARVIS sounds apologetic.

  “Request access. I’ll just hop over in the suit - tell them I’m on my way.”

  Tony jumps out of his seat and walks up to the armor that immediately folds open to envelope him. In a mercy to the stacks of noted and blueprints scattered on every surface he refrains from jetting out of the shop and minds his manners until he reaches the chute.

  On board JARVIS chimes in, “If you continue to use the suit for casual trips like this you’re going to reduce your life expectancy by-”

  “If these files put me on the right track we won’t have to worry about that anymore, all right buddy?”

  “As you say, sir.”

  By suit it's only about a half hour to DC, so it’s not all that different from going to NYPL, he reasons with himself. The weather is clear, a perfect day to stretch one’s legs, even if one's legs are powered by jet boots that are slowly eeking the life out of him.

  Fifteen minutes to Washington the exertion of the reactor makes him queasy. To distract him, JARVIS updates him on the whereabouts of all the other Avengers: Thor- off world, Barton and Banner- still in the Himalayas, Romanoff - in midtown with Daredevil. It’s been a quiet week so he doesn’t buzz anyone to say he’ll be out of town. Finally he comes up on the Triskelion, lands, and manages not to retch when the propulsion systems switch off.

  It’s always a treat to walk into SHIELD’s headquarters in full armor. The agents’ heads all snap around when he walks in, boots clacking on polished floor, helmet jauntily tucked under his arm. Several people nod hello, but one of the more senior agents sighs in exasperation when Tony gets into the elevator.  Tony wonders why they can’t just give him points for not using the suit to pipe in his own music.

  When he gets to the door he’s looking for he lightly touches a gauntlet to the ID pad and the lock releases. A thin man in a sweater vest looks up in surprise.

  “I thought it was a prank from reception when they said Iron Man wanted an appointment,” he says, getting up nervously from his desk. He’s barely any taller standing up than he was seated.

 Tony looks around the room. While the rest of the Triskelion is a masterpiece of chrome and glass, this room is stuffy, stacked in cardboard and green lacquered shelving that must have been around for a few decades. The phone on the librarian’s desk has a cord on it, for crying out loud.

  "You don't even have a computer on your desk, is this the 50's?”

  "This is the SSR archive, so basically yes."

  "Right. I'm looking for a hardcopy report on a program that I've seen mentioned in mainframe files- Magnetic Manipulation of RBC; uppercase ‘P’ lower ‘d’ Trials? I believe it would have been between '40 and '42 by context, but I'm standing here in your weird little library cave, so I am literally taking a shot in the dark."

  The librarian laughs. "I can find that for you, sir."

  "Tony, please- and you're... Agent 12?" he spots a badge ID, when no reply is forthcoming.

  "We don't permit hardcopies to leave the archive, you'll have to use the photocopier."

  "We? You mean you and this desk lamp?"

  "I admit it's a pretty low-tech setup. This department has lost its sparkle since the Cold War ended."

  "And you were what, three years old? If you’re my age you look fantastic for it." The librarian turns red and walks right up to a particular shelf without checking any reference numbers, and pulls out a handful of folders, selecting one from the middle.

  “You really know your way around the stacks, huh?”

  “Sure, I’ve read everything down here. Some of it twice,” he says, while Tony pages though the folders to find the particular entries he’s looking for.

  “Well I bet the Captain America files were worth a second look,” he says. Those would have to be down here, by the age of them.

  “She was great,” Agent 12 says, Tony thinks- wistfully.

  "Here’s the one.”

  “I'll fire up the copier for-"

  Tony starts flipping through the file on the table, holding his phone over it, which projects a holographic image of the pages, the text and images digitizing before his eyes. About a dozen personnel portraits flash up, most of which have a black bar blotting out the eyes- redacted. The last one they both recognize. Subject 13 was very famously transformed into a superhuman by a serum that worked in tandem with the technique he’s researching. Peggy Carter’s dark eyes peer back at them, life-sized in a flickering blue face.

  "That phone’s really something else," Agent 12 says, reaching into midair as if he could pluck her holoimage into his hand like a photograph.

  "You want one? It's yours. JARVIS upload this to my personal server then clear this model for our new friend Agent 12. Set him up with a computer, too."

  Tony flips the phone into his hands.

  "Gee- a month with this thing I could do the whole archive and put myself out of a job."

  "Get in touch after, I'll find you a new, way cooler one."

 


 

  Tony spends weeks with his nose in buried in the files. The notes regarding the relative success of magnetized serums asserted that it had entirely to do with the individual subject’s antibodies, which was not something they could control or adequately document at that point. Luckily, Tony had seventy years of progress in the field of genetic engineering in his favor. Subjects 1-8 had been terminally ill volunteers- all dead within a month, 9, 10 and 11 were soldiers who were killed later in the war, and 12 was supposedly healed of several chronic conditions- MIA of course. None lived long enough to have any children he could test the genetic markers of. That left him with the famous success case, Captain Carter, who fulfilled every inch of the superserum’s promise and then some. Tony was reasonably sure that with Bruce’s help he could have found a way to perform some kind of dialysis, but any blood sample left after her death in 70’s had long since been squandered by SHIELD scientists.

  “I think I’ve had enough.”

  “Sir?”

  “It’s time to think about the future,” he tells JARVIS. “Make an appointment with the full board for when Pepper gets back from Tokyo.”

  Meanwhile, Tony and JARVIS plan how many flights he can afford to take week by week, if he resigns himself to living another four months. No more joy rides, that’s for sure. He decides that if he can’t reverse the palladium poisoning the best use of his time is in recruiting a new Iron Man to replace him on the Avengers. There are a handful of obvious candidates, but Rhodey is already tied up in the military structure with War Machine and Peter’s got his own sticky shtick. He even considers Clint or Natasha. After dwelling on what it would be like to train a friend with his imminent demise hanging over their heads, Tony figures it would be better to get someone fresh. Then they can just focus on getting the gig down perfectly and he can feed them some line about wanting to kick up his heels on a tropical island somewhere without messy emotions.

  “You get a vote too, J.”

 JARVIS hesitates. “Thank you, sir.”

  “Well, you’re the one who’s gonna have to put up with this sucker after I’m gone,” Tony says, wagging a wrench at the ceiling.
  “Our years together should be ample preparation to coexist with even the most eccentric persons, sir.”

  He spends a sleepless weekend wading through resumes submitted to Stark Industries, and on Monday hacks into Google and Oracle’s HR files to scope out someone worth poaching.

  Nothing.

  “Ms. Potts has left yet another message asking why there’s a convening of the board, sir,” JARVIS alerts him.

  “Tone?”

  “Irritation.”

  “You think she’s irritated now, just wait until she finds out what I’ve been keeping a lid on,” Tony says. He shuts all the files and makes his way to the elevator.

 


 

   Once the reigns of the company are in Pepper’s hands and a timeline for retirement is announced to his team Tony’s main task is to train a protege. If he can focus long enough find one, that is. It’s pretty distracting to get a call once an hour from every reporter who ever managed to ferret out his private number. JARVIS promises to filter out any contacts who took even two college credits in journalism, and preemptively arranges a peanut butter and bacon sandwich apology for lunch.

  “You know the way to my heart, J.”

  Tony munches on a sandwich with one hand and flips through a dossier of Avenger equipment requests with the other. He runs the numbers on how many arrows, bites and unstable-molecule purple pants he’d need to mass produce to keep the team happy for another ten years.  As he goes, he jots down some estimates in the margins. Heck, if he spent the next month building bots for their fabrication he could probably keep them stocked until the rest of the team retired too.

  “Your one o’clock appointment has arrived, sir.”

  “I don’t have appointments anymore, I’m retired,” Tony reminds JARVIS.

  “You may want to take this opportunity to peruse his resume, before the interview.” JARVIS flashes up a document a foot away from Tony’s face. After a glance he waves it away to his personal server to pull up later.

  “Who the heck is Steve Rogers?”

  “The gentleman currently waiting in your 46th floor office,” JARVIS sighs.

  His curiosity gets the better of him, so Tony finds a jacket with a lapel to throw over his grimey t-shirt on the way out of the workshop and wishes he’d showered more recently.

  The blonde head bent over a sketchbook snaps up when he enters the office.

  “Agent?” Tony asks, surprised to see the librarian from the SSR archive a week earlier.

  Steve Rogers stands up, flops his sketching into the chair he’d been sitting in, and offers a handshake.

  “Good afternoon,” Steve says, “A Mr. Jarvis called asking me to come in today?”

  “Oh, did he?” Tony glances at the ceiling.

  They both take a seat and Tony pulls back up the resume and clunks his heels on the desk top. He stares back and forth between Steve and his qualifications. So this is JARVIS’ hand pick, huh? If his resume had crossed Tony’s desk before now he might have placed him as Pepper’s new Pepper- or written him a grant to do a pet project. His breadth of expertise made it hard to believe he’d ever been content with SHIELD shuffling him into a department with no upward mobility.

  “A SHIELD analyst with top recommendations, fluency in six languages, a pilot’s license, a masters in philosophy and an MFA in-” Tony squints.

  “Islamic architecture, sir.” Steve smiles politely as Tony continues squinting. When on earth did this skinny kid in front of him have time for all that?

  “Oh god, don’t call me ‘Sir’, I feel old enough as it is. Tony, please.”

  His smile transforms into a smirk, and Steve tilts his head. “Is this an interview?” he asks.

  “I’m retiring as Iron Man.”

  “Really? Why?”

  Tony hasn’t actually admitted this to anyone outside of the team, yet. He supposes he should start getting use to the jaw dropped expression now. He smiles a little sadly and shakes his head, turns the question back around. “Why are you keeping up on SHIELD tactical certifications without ever applying to field duty?”

  “I have,” Steve says resolutely. The steely look on his face makes Tony sit up straight.

  “-But?” If Tony had been in charge of field assignments and was fixed with that determined look, Steve would be deployed, no question.

  “You’ve seen me right?” Steve gestures at himself. “I’m a shrimp, they can’t clear me on most of the practicals unless I magically double my weight. Believe me, I’ve tried.”

  “I don’t know about magically,” Tony starts, his mind made up, “-but I know mechanically. I plan to continue equipping the Avengers, and I’d like that to include you.”

  “Me.” Steve sits very still.

  “As my replacement.”

  Maybe SHIELD overlooked a promising agent for his persistently small frame, but in an iron suit, it could be an advantage. All of Tony’s diet and exercise was engineered around maintaining biometrics that fit the suit- even bulking up on muscle was to be avoided. A smaller pilot meant a more streamlined and maneuverable Iron Man. Tony’s retirement might be the best upgrade yet.

  “I- I would be Iron Man-  with the Avengers,” Steve talks himself through it, “Put on a robotic suit and go fight monsters for a living? Me.”

  “You.” Tony shrugs, “And you can have any color scheme you want!”

 


 

 Three weeks later, Steve has moved into the tower, met 4/5ths of the Avengers, and barely slept a wink since the interview. Before he left Tony’s office he was saddled with years of notes and schematics, so he’s basically spent every moment since studying in anticipation of his first day.

 The first time Steve walks into the workshop Tony has some remarkably appropriate heavy metal playing on the radio. It underscores the moment with a bright, electric sensation. The sight of Tony’s armor collection is undoubtedly intimidating to the average visitor but Steve feels like he must have a unique front row seat, considering he’s expected to strap himself into one of these contraptions and become a human missile. Steve can’t deny they’re beautiful, though- all edges and shine and symmetry built to go the distance with death itself. Apparently the Avengers have agreed he’s qualified to give it a shot, but that doesn’t stop his stomach from turning.

  Tony motions for him to go ahead and touch, if he likes. He gets his hands on one- earlier model, he thinks- and he loves it. The seams between the plates are deeper than he expects, and he tries to slip his fingers between them. This suit has strips of gold that echo a ribcage, which he likes. Something of the man that comes through the machine.

  “Go ahead, try and pull off a piece,” Tony says, behind him. “I’ll give you a crowbar if you want.”

  Steve gives a short laugh. He’s sure that would come to nothing. He knows both Tony Stark and Iron Man by reputation, and the words ‘Invincible’ and ‘Perfect Engineering’ are involved. He walks up to another suit, the most brutal and out of place amongst the collection.

 “Is this the first?” he asks, to be polite. He knows it is. Unpainted, barely planned, focused mostly on armoring the front of the body- knowing it’s only chance was an unrelenting forward march. This behemoth is the suit that clawed a desperate man to freedom and defeated an entire military complex. This first suit was built in a cave while its maker suffered catastrophic injury- and all Steve had to do for his first suit was submit a resume. He definitely feels a touch of Imposter Syndrome.

 “How long does it take to make a suit?” he asks. How much time is he potentially going to waste before Tony realizes this is all a mistake?

 Tony points at the Mark I. “This guy was over two months- and while it’s fun doing all those calculations by hand, but it is a time suck.” Steve hums. Tony points further down the line up. “In my workshop I have quicker fabrication. It only takes a day or so, depending on the artillery. It’s the coding and some serious face time with CAD that can take a few weeks, depending on what I’m up to.”

  Steve feels a little guilty that Tony will have to go out of his way to make suits tailored to him. He doesn’t even know if there’s any chance of scrapping some of the existing suits, or if would it be offensive to suggest such a thing. He keeps his mouth shut and lets Tony walk him through some of the programming differences between the many armors. Popping on a few different helmets to see the different HUDs is informative- at least they won’t have to start from scratch with how he might like to organize the suit’s input. His eyes probably start to glaze over, because Tony makes sure to explain how “Mr.” JARVIS is actually an AI program, and can consult with Steve about modifications and run diagnostics on the armor, using the feedback from its usage to design an upgrade when he’s ready.

  “JARVIS is your onboard OS in the suit too, he’ll do anything and everything he can to assist you in battle.”

  “With the utmost discretion, sir,” JARVIS chimes in.

  “Discretion?” Steve gulps.

  “I think JARVIS is referring to jettisoning pee, he’s a bit old fashioned sometimes.”

  The look on his face says Steve is a little old fashioned, too.

  “You’re so slim, we’re going to be able to get a much tighter profile. I can reduce some of the bulk that makes using chairs and vehicles that I didn’t design...prohibitive.”

  After that Tony sets him up between a collection of rods that form a three dimensional scanner to get all of his measurements and map the way his joints and muscles bunch. Steve tries not to balk when Tony pulls out a tray of syringes with glowing contents in the barrels.

  “Nanoprobes. I have ‘em. I used to do nodes, but those had to be removed periodically,” he explains, pointing behind his ears to little scars just within the hairline, and matching ones on the back of his wrists. “And a bunch of other places you’re gonna have to buy me dinner to get a look at,” he grins. Steve’s treacherous cheeks flush. Tony holds out his hands like he’s gentling a wild animal. “Trust me, it’s way better. And then you’re basically bluetooth capable! So there’s that.”

  It’s been years, but Steve has a long held wariness around needles. He calls on himself to remember that this is for the greater good. Not to mention he was sharing this experience with someone who has a much more dramatic implant- it would be borderline insulting to turn back now. He lets Tony beckon him and takes a seat obediently.

  Rough hands roll his sleeve and give his arm a quick swab before opening up a clean needle tip- and then it’s over before he knows it. Steve’s not sure if it’s his imagination that makes his skin feel creepy-crawly, or the actual nanoprobes activating throughout his blood stream. He shivers. While he rolls back down his sleeve, Tony pulls up a glowing blue holomodel with a little human figure and a grid of numbers.

  “Now JARVIS can keep an eye on your biometrics, and the armor programming will follow your movements, so you’re not forced to haul around deadweight,” Tony explains. He summons up another model, lines of white light forming an Iron Man suit, or template of the least common denominator of a suit’s design, anyway. From his pocket he fishes out a long, thin box that he hands to Steve.

  Turning it over in his hands, Steve wonders if it might be some kind of ignition key to his first suit- is that even a part of it? He doesn’t remember it in the schematics explaining the primary systems, if it does exist. Inside he finds what looks like a fountain pen, with a small white bulb shining on one end. “Is this... a stylus for your system?” he asks, gesturing into the air.

  “I noticed you sketching when you were waiting in my office,” Tony admits. “I thought you might like to have a hand in fine-tuning your own design.”

  It’s a very thoughtful gesture that Steve isn’t quite sure he deserves. “I’m not- it’s just a hobby,” he says, trying to excuse himself.

  “Nonsense, you have taste. I saw you ogling the armors.” Tony raises an eyebrow, daring Steve to disagree.

  Steve takes the stylus out of the box and waits for something to happen. One of Tony’s hands slips around his wrist and gets him to lift his pen point into the air.

  “Now that you have the nanoprobes, you can just reach out and grab it with the other hand,” Tony tells him, so he does.

  It’s probably 1:4 scale, but he’s not entirely sure. Steve looks to Tony like a dog has just dropped a stick in his hand and he’s never heard of fetch. “How do I make it bigger?”

  “You can pinch or unpinch your fingers, even pull it apart with your hands- or just tell JARVIS a scale or percentage you want. Just talk to the system, tell it what you want, it will learn what kind of language you use, what you’re asking it to do.”

  Steve fiddles for a while. He brings the holomodel up to 33%, and tips it on an incline so he can get up close and personal with it. He drags the stylus with a squeeze- which it takes as an intention to make a stroke. Good. He pulls several lines across the chassis- recreating the effect of the rib-like shapes he had liked on one of the armors.

   “Oh, no- not that one,” he says, and the line vanishes. He keeps drawing and all the while the lines echo across to the right, symmetrically. Tony sneaks up next to him, motioning to borrow the pen.

 “You’ll like this, you can use the bulb end to pluck out a curve on it, like string,” he demonstrates. “You can save-state at any point, or mix and match. Just talk to JARVIS.” He hands back the pen and steps back, fists planted proudly on his hips in the corner of Steve’s eye.

 “Can I get some color, JARVIS? Maybe start with blue all over.” The image fills with a jewel blue. “Maybe a little more electric? And a titanium white, here... and here.”

  “You can have any color reactor you like,” Tony reminds him, tapping his own softly glowing center.

 Steve bites the tip of his tongue in concentration, expands the display percentage to life size so he's standing face to face with his own persona to be. It’s about four inches taller than him, due to the boots and the height of the helmet itself- but it’s still diminutive compared to Tony suits that line the walls. He looks sheepishly over his shoulder at all that hot rod red... He still wants Tony’s Iron Man to be at the heart of the design.

  “Red. A red reactor.”

  The pulsor points fill slowly with a red that’s just slightly fuschia, so it zings with the blue. The chest and eyes finish deepening with color.

  Tony wolf whistles. “Patriotic, Rogers.”

  “I always liked the Captain America suit, what can I say?” He admits sheepishly.

  “I’m not knocking it!” Tony surrenders, hands up.

  “Just the helmet please,” Steve says holding out his hand, and it comes to rest weightlessly in his palm. With the bulb end, he plucks some of the contours- just a bit. Just enough to feel like it speaks to his more pointed features. He really feels like he’s getting the hang of it when Tony steps up beside him, leaning in conspiratorially.

  “It looks like you can keep yourself entertained if I step out for a bit, right?” Steve nods and Tony pats his shoulder.

  Just before he leaves the room, Steve turns to catch him. “Thank you, Tony. This is really incredible.” Tony smiles and gives him a little salute.

  With JARVIS’ help Steve makes his way through every aesthetic nook and cranny of the armor in a few hours.

  “Sir, Mr. Stark doesn’t wish to bother you if you’re ‘on a roll’, but there is a dinner scheduled with the full Avenger team in an hour if you are interested in attending.”

  Steve looks up, “I suppose I should put in an appearance, right?”

 “Mr. Stark will be happy to hear about your progress with the fabrication software, sir,” JARVIS says thoughtfully.

  He barely realizes how much he’s learned, just spinning off of the basic model all afternoon. It’s just aesthetic touches, he knows. It’s not much compared to the actual guts of the suit, but Steve can appreciate that Tony gave him the opportunity to get comfortable working with JARVIS on a piece of the puzzle.

  He tucks his personal stylus into his pocket. “Can we save this for now, please?” he asks.

  “Certainly. Mr. Rogers, if you’ll pardon my saying so- I’m glad you’re going to be working with us.”

  His chest warms a bit. “I am too.” He can’t remember the last time he left work for the night excited to get started the next day.

  “Mr. Stark will benefit from your company, sir,” JARVIS adds, in afterthought. “He was very excited by your profile.”

  That gives Steve a moment of pause. “Does he have my full record with SHIELD?”

  “Mr. Stark has the revision made July 4th, 1998.”

  That’s not exactly what Steve wants to hear, but there’s really nothing he can do about it at the moment. He has a dinner to get changed for.

 


 

   Bruce crowds over Tony’s shoulder while he checks the final renderings. Infected by some kind of scientific camaraderie Bruce had offered to help Tony polish the files before they export to the fabricator, since Tony is trying to beat the clock. He wants to have the suit readymade with all the bells and whistles when Steve reports to the workshop in the morning.

   The style lines Steve had mapped out on the holomodel didn’t need nearly as much editing as he expected, which was helping. It’s flattering to see what bits of design from Tony’s repertoire Steve chose to borrow, and fascinating to see them transform with someone else’s sense of visual balance. He especially appreciates the little handwritten memos Steve added, explicating what mark suit he had started with for a certain detail, or what amusing shape he thought the plate resembled, as though he were pointing out animals in the clouds. Come to think of it, Tony agrees there is definitely something feline about the oblique top flank plates.

  “He has lovely handwriting,” he mutters to Bruce, pointing out a memo about a grouping of stripes on the lower torso.

  “I don’t know anyone who uses cursive except my grandmother.”

  Tony nods. “Maybe its a librarian thing.”

  He renames the file from N16M35.stp to ROGERS1.stp and sends the final command.

  “Is that was he was doing at SHIELD when you recruited him?” Bruce asks.

  “Pfft. He was being wasted, with his qualifications. Their loss, our gain,” Tony declares, getting up from his seat to finally adjust the crick out of his back.

  Bruce nods politely enough. “I like him. But it’s going to be a big adjustment, you leaving.”

  Tony knows he’s been lucky to have gone this long having escaped this conversation. Of all the team he’s closest to Bruce, who’s been gracious enough to give him a bit of space until now. When Tony had announced his retirement to the team he made it very clear he would be on the roster until his replacement was trained up- but as there wasn’t a candidate at the time, he suspected they had all decided to believe it when they saw it. Now they’ve each had a chance to meet Steve and see that it’s really happening.

  Clint had cornered him first, very altruistic about the matter, ‘We can train a new Iron Man, but we can’t monopolize the only Tony Stark forever,’- so on and so forth. Natasha thanked him for having lead the team and for suggesting her as the new leader. Tony knew she was sorry to see him go, however verbally reserved she was about it. Thor was the only one who questioned what on Midgard had swayed him to this decision. It took some convincing to get him to accept there were no personal or professional grudge amongst the team that were causing his departure. Tony figured that Thor and Bruce would take it the hardest. They didn’t really have the option to be ordinary civilians, between the godliness and the gamma.

  Tony watches Bruce cross his arms and scrunch one corner of his mouth in a way that reminds him of muppets. If there was anything to be done, he would tell Bruce the truth and have an extraordinary talented doctor by his side, but failing that Tony would rather just have a friend.

  “I am sorry about that buddy,” he says. “On the bright-side, you can claim seniority and take the biggest, best lab space for yourself.”

  Bruce shuffles his feet a little. “Sure. And it’s not like you’re dying, we’ll see you around. I’m sure there will still be mad scientist conferences.”
  It’s like a punch to the gut. Tony stiffens, pushes past it for something else to react to.

  “We’ll always have Madripoor!” he says, in his best Bogey. Tony can hear the nerves in his own voice and it's grating, but it makes Bruce laugh. Always leave ‘em laughing.

  “I get it, though.” Bruce admits. “You’re not getting any younger, there’s a million more things to invent, and you’ve got a boner for Mars. There’s a lot more going on in your future than getting kicked around in a can. And you should do it.”

  “Yeah. Exactly.” Tony’s not able to muster much enthusiasm for all that future he’s never going to see. He contemplates establishing a codeword with JARVIS for these occasions.

   It’s lame, but he points at the ceiling like he’s forgotten something elsewhere, and makes his excuses. Bruce just calls out a happy-go-lucky ‘See ya later.’

 


 

  “Woah.”
  Steve’s eyes are saucer-wide, and Tony can’t help but flash his toothiest smile. This must be what Santa Claus feels like. Steve sprints from the door of the workshop to where his brand new armor stands, immediately running his hands over its shoulders and down its arms, testing the articulation. The suit’s response to his nanoprobes make it cooperative to his touch, almost featherlight, and Steve makes a surprised little noise.

 “Cool, right?” Tony leans a hip into a nearby countertop and crosses his arms.

 Steve’s mouth opens, speechless for a full beat. “I can’t believe it. Can I put it on?”

 “I insist.” Tony pulls a package off the counter and frisbees it to Steve.

 The wrapping paper is ripped apart in a flash, Steve’s so eager. He holds up a full body undersuit that’s a blue color a few shades deeper than the armor itself. A silvery white star marks the center of the chest, shooting off a network of stripes down each limb and around the torso.

 “I couldn’t help myself,” says Tony. “You’d be fine piloting for an hour or two in your street clothes, but the wedgies? Lethal.”

 Steve just stands there, undersuit draped over one thin arm, stroking the star.

 “Too much?” Suddenly Tony’s worried his little surprise is being taken as blasphemous when he only meant it as a good luck charm.

 “It’s sort of perfect, actually.” Steve smiles reassuringly and then starts to strip off so he can get suited up.

 Tony averts his eyes. Mostly. “You know, Spangles, there’s nothing nailing you down to the Iron Man brand. You could always resurrect the Captain America mantle.”

 “I’ll think about it,” Steve promises. His smirking face blushes pink when Tony catches his eye and he’s just standing around in his briefs.

 Tony coughs and makes himself busy with the blender and a number of exotic fruits that JARVIS feels will help lessen his routine morning ‘palladium hangover’. The disgusting taste may also distract him from how inconveniently adorable his new protege is, he hopes.

 “Good fit,” Steve says, pulling up the zipper. He stretches his arms and shimmies his shoulders a bit.

  Tony thinks he looks like a particularly fashionable acrobat, but as the designer he might be biased. “You look great. In the future we can go footless on the undersuit, or springload the boots to fit whatever shoe you’ve got on-”

 “This is as good a place to start as any,” Steve says, bouncing on the balls of his feet to test the flexibility of the sole. He steps up to the armor, tentatively. “Now how do I- YAH!” he shouts- the armor expands and begins to break apart, but quickly retracts back into place in response to his shock.

 Tony laughs, “Yeah that can take some getting used to. You might want to step into it from behind until then? We can do speed trials another day.” Lucky dog that he is, Steve will never have to deal with the rigamarole of putting on the armor in several chunks and snapping it all together. Character building stuff, sure- but no one can deny Tony likes to spoil his friends.

  The armor unfolds and wraps itself around Steve’s small frame, this time on his own terms. He reaches his arms out, flexing his hands bringing them to the temples of his mask, undoubtedly acquainting himself with the information display they selected for his helmet.

 “JARVIS?” says his slightly electric voice, “-you here?”

 “Good morning, Mr. Rogers. Iron Man at 100% functionality. If you prefer that when you address me the conversation is not emitted externally, please let me know.”

  “It’s all right for now, J,” Tony interjects. “We’ll get him trained up a bit first then you two can have your privacy”

  “Very good thinking, sir.”

  Steve shifts his weight between his feet and turns on the spot. One at a time, he bends each limb in every possible direction to get a feel for the range of motion. Not that he’s jealous or anything, but it's certainly better mobility than any of Tony’s suits ever had. Tony reaches for a rod lying on the counter and tosses it at Steve who catches it two-handed.

   “Can you golf?” Tony asks. Steve executes a respectable swing, uninhibited by the breadth of the chest plate. Okay so he’s a little jealous. “Alan Shepard had to swing one-armed on the moon because those 1970’s EVA suits were so bulky. I’ve never been able to get my form just right.”

 The head of the armor turns to look at Tony with an unfamiliar mannerism he’s never seen in recordings or reflections of himself. “May I bend this?” Steve asks.

  “Knock yourself out, Superman.”

  With his newly powerful hands, Steve pretzels the bar so quickly it’s probably not satisfying at all. “Oh,” comes his tinny little voice, through the armor. “What about flying? What about energy pulses? Or-”

  Tony grins. “You’ve read the manual, Steve. If you wanna fly, you can certainly try and-”

  Steve immediately fires off pulses from both hands and feet and careens directly into the ceiling. He spooks and cuts power, landing on the floor again in a clanging heap.

  “Yup.” Precisely as Tony expected.

  JARVIS makes an apologetic sound. “Much the same thing happened when Mr. Stark first attempted flight, sir.”

  Hooking an arm under Iron Man’s, Tony helps him up. “Now that we got that out of the way... Let’s just get you reacquainted with all the things you already know how to do, shall we?”

  As soon as he’s upright again, Steve takes off the helmet. “I suppose you got JARVIS to take a picture of that, incase I ever get too big for my rocket-britches.”

  “Oh honey. You don’t even know,” Tony chuckles. He remembers to finally pour himself out a smoothie and tosses his head towards the door. “C’mon. We’re going to the elevator. That’s a good ten yards of walking. Sixty if we take the south elevator.” He strolls across the lab to the exit with Steve trailing behind him one overthought step at a time like a newborn pony.

  “I get the feeling this is going to be a humiliating day,” Steve says, plodding along.

 By the time they finally make it to the elevator, Steve doesn’t have to think about walking anymore so it’s as good a time as any for his dexterity training to begin.

 “Hit the button for me will ya?” Tony prompts. Steve promptly obeys and dents the entire console with the force of his glove. Tony impresses himself but not laughing outwardly. “JARVIS, elevator door?”

 “Ugh, sorry.”

 Tony just smiles and steps into the elevator, remembering the dozens of doors he accidentally demolished in his early days. “I knew what I was getting myself into, don’t worry your little shellhead. Try again. Roof access.”

 Steve sighs and gently taps the button this time.

 “See? You’ll get the hang of it,” says Tony. Steve does his best not to frown. “It’s kind of like being a knight on horseback. You’ve got this badass advantage, so you gotta be considerate of all the little peons,” he explains. “And their door hinges!”

 Steve quirks an eyebrow. “You’re talking about mercy, the true definition of chivalry.”

 “Well whaddaya know, that masters in philosophy is a great prerequisite for superheroing.”

  The elevator reaches the top, opening up onto the patio usually reserved for Thor’s arrival and truly swanky cocktail parties. They cross out into the middle of the platform and Tony stops and has Steve put his helmet back on.

  “JARVIS, you ready buddy?” he asks, then turns to Steve. “I set up some clay pigeons for you. Well- biodegradable polymer pigeons... Fire away, J.”

  Steve spends a few hours getting used to targeting with the HUD, and by the third round of projectiles he doesn’t miss a single shot. Tony pulls up a chaise and lounges in the sun with his smoothie, snapping more pictures on his phone ‘for posterity’. It makes him a little nostalgic for his college days, actually. Every now and again he and Rhodey used to camp out on the bank of the Charles River and fire off rockets until the campus police made an appearance. Not something city ordinances tend to appreciate, but at least nowadays he pays his own fines.

  “I heard there was a free show up here,” says a voice behind them by the elevator.

  Steve and Tony swing around and Natasha appears, sporting sunglasses and holding a bag of takeout.

  “Checkin’ up on us, boss?” Tony says, sweeping an arm in invitation to one of the other chaise.

  “I’ll give you a burger if you shoot the ‘T’ off of Trump Tower, Rogers,” she says.

  Tony is so glad Nat stepped up to be team leader. “Don’t go giving the rookie ideas.”

  They decide to break for lunch and Tony is magnanimous enough to allow Steve to take off his gauntlets while he eats. French fries can be a bit fiddly when you’re only a few hours into not crushing everything you get your mitts on.

  “Are we still on for tonight?” asks Natasha.

  “What’s tonight?”

  “Tonight, dear Steven, is Weekly Game Night,” says Tony. “Team bonding and manual dexterity training, all rolled into one.”

  Steve grimaces. “Manual dexterity training?”

  “Yep. We’re gonna play Operation and Perfection and you’re gonna wear gauntlets the whole time,” he explains, shooting Natasha a delighted look.

  “If it makes you feel better, I’ll order Stark to do it too,” she shoots back.

  “Aww, c’mon.”

  Natasha sips her drink, eyes leveled despicably over the rim. “You would deserve it. After all, you’re about to make Rogers walk down 68 flights of stairs in the armor, aren’t you?”

 “Shhh, that was supposed to be a fun surprise.”  


 

  Operation is a total bust. Steve is still pretty shaken up from having slipped down the stairs of approximately sixteen of the Avengers Tower’s stories. He didn’t hurt himself at all- the armor saw to that, but the instinctive surges of panic every time he failed to find his footing are still swimming around in his blood. Tony was underselling it when he said walking down stairs was the parallel parking of armor wearing. Even if falling practice and board games aren’t what he expected from his first day in the suit it feels like a valuable lesson in humility for someone walking around in invincible armor. He shouldn’t be surprised that Tony would put him through some unconventional paces.

  After the team swears and drinks their way through the majority of Milton Bradley’s catalogue, someone suggests arm wrestling.

 “Aww Barton, if you want to hold hands all you gotta do is ask,” Bruce coos.

 “Bring it, egghead!”

 “I get winner,” calls Natasha.

 Tony leans back in his chair and laughs into his drink. When he catches Steve’s eye he gives him a sideways grin, “Bet you could take Thor.”

 Steve gulps. “Is that such a good idea?”

 “Oh he’s a pussycat. He can give your armor a run for its money but he’ll stop before he hurts you.”

 His arm was only armored up to bicep- Steve wasn’t sure that was quite enough reinforcement to match against a literal god. Tony wouldn’t actually let him get his arm ripped off, right? Just let him fly face-first into the ceiling?

 “I’ll do it,” Steve says, “-but then I’m coming for you next.” Payback time.

 Tony snorts and nods at Thor, “Hey big guy, Steve says he’s gonna whoop us.”

 With a hefty shove of his chair Thor stands, more than a foot taller than Steve. “You are ready to prove yourself worthy of being the new Man of Iron?”

 “No pressure, huh?” Steve crosses over to the bar, where Natasha is already duking it out with Clint while Bruce launches popcorn kernels at his face.

 They square themselves on either side and lock hands. Before anyone says go, he knows his best shot will be to use whatever mercy Thor initially gives Steve against him. Tony sets them off and Steve nearly pulls Thor down instantly- metal elbow screeching a nick into the stainless steel countertop- but Thor recovers and sets himself like stone.

  “A cunning tactic to exploit my hesitance,” says Thor.

  That might be all the advantage he was ever going to have, Steve thinks, realizing he could fit at least four of his biceps in Thor’s. He’s not even trying to pull Steve down, but Steve can’t budge him either. If he had a robotic shoulder to back him up he might stand a chance. After a few minutes Steve’s arm simply tires, and he slowly lets himself be taken down.

  “We will rematch another time?” Thor suggests, clapping him on the arm. Steve nods and Tony hip-checks Thor to take his place.

  “Sure, if there’s anything left of him when I’m through!” he declares, rolling his sleeve and planting his elbow on the bar.

  This time around Steve is certain he must have the advantage, but maiming his mentor on the first day of training would probably set a bad tone. He takes Tony’s hand and steadies himself.

   When Thor says go, he really does have to work for it. Tony packs a lot more power than it looks like, but Steve supposes that constantly hauling around a 300 pound suit of armor does a body good. He grits his teeth. Across from him Tony’s mouth squiggles into a frustrated shape, the corner of his moustache quirking into a charming dimple.

  “Justkiddingpleasebegentlewithme,” Tony cringes, giving way.

  Stunned and a little pleased Steve lets go. “You okay?”

  Tony rubs his elbow, but is smiling. “Looks like you figured out minimum necessary force. I might even let you ride in the elevator, again.”

  They all dig into the pile of games again after that, landing on charades but devolving into Bruce and Tony’s tandem impromptu presentation on The Invention of Glass and Its Impact on Scientific Scholarship and Western Civilization. (All a result of admiring the color of wine, apparently). It gets a little dry when they start waxing poetic about lens grinding, and one by one the other Avengers start to peel away and retreat for the evening. Eventually it’s just Steve and Tony sitting on one of the couches, an abandoned game of Scrabble and Steve’s discarded iron arm between them. Tony tells him about the follies of various sci-fi inventions and Steve watches as he slowly curls in on himself, gradually building up a nest of pillows that contradict his denial of being tired. Steve’s pretty sure Tony didn’t sleep last night in order to finish the armor. He really doesn’t know how someone can be so exhausted and still so technical and passionate. Tony rubs a sleepy, self-soothing circle around the reactor under his shirt and Steve catches himself wondering when and if he might get a chance to see it.

  “- You want a flying car, I’ll build you one tomorrow, but somebody else is gonna have to invent a way to make people take traffic laws seriously...” Tony rambles, eyes blinking shut though he keeps talking.

  That reminds Steve, “When can we go flying?”

   Tony opens one eye and fixes it on Steve. “I was planning on taking you upstate next week, where there aren’t so many well-insured obstacles as the city...Unless you can’t get enough of flinging yourself at the walls of my lab, it’s up to you.”

  “As fun as it might be to remodel Manhattan with a few Iron Man shaped craters...” Steve grins, and pushes himself off the couch. Tony holds out an expectant hand, waiting to be whisked to his feet, and Steve obliges.

  Standing very close, Tony looks down at him expectantly. Steve’s brain stalls trying to come up with just the right adjective to describe his eyelash curtained gaze and he wishes he had a paper and pencil to draw it with. He stares transfixed for several moments before realizing he’s meant to retrieve his armor.

  He points the arm toward the door. “Elevator?”

  “You may summon the elevator.”

 


 

  The Avengers Lifestyle™ is full of detours. You think you’re going to Wyoming and then you wind up on the moon- or you plan to take a vacation and on your way to airport there’s a hostage crisis. ‘The best laid plans of mice and Iron Men.’ Tony likes to say. It’s as good a time as any for Steve to learn that lesson, he thinks.

  The call comes in and they’ll have to bump the trip upstate so the team can go deal with a cruise ship hijacked by robots. He sighs and takes the time to put on an undersuit before armoring up- he’s uncomfortable enough with the way the palladium poisoning has been affecting him in flight, he doesn’t need his jeans bunching up around his knees today. Especially wet jeans, if he makes any unexpected splashdowns.

 “JARVIS, make a note to schedule underwater training for Steve,” he barks out, rushing from his apartment to the auxiliary suit storage. The amphibious suit doesn’t have a summoning program because he’s only used it once with plenty of forewarning. He almost follows up with another note to JARVIS to remind him get on that- but what’s the point? If he’s averaging using it once every three years, he’ll be dead by the next time it comes up.

 “Should I wake Mr. Rogers, sir?”

 “Yeah, tell him to suit up and put him on Shadow Protocol.”

 “Yes, sir.”

 Tony skids to a stop outside of storage and smashes in his code. The lights flick on and he gets himself armored and out the chute to meet the other Avengers on the landing pad before a sleepy voice crackles in on his comms-

 “Is everything ok? What’s Shadow Protocol?” asks Steve.

 “I’m popping out to the middle of the Atlantic, need anything?”

 “...”

 “We had a call on some pirate robots- I’m having JARVIS clone my HUD so you can tune in and take notes.”

 “Copy that.”

 On the landing pad Natasha is just getting into the Avenjet. “Meet you there?” she asks.

 Ordinarily Tony would be content to zip along beside the jet on the way to someplace as remote as ocean coordinates- but he has no idea how long this mission is going to take. He’s got to start budgeting himself, as JARVIS keeps reminding him. An hour spent joyriding to nowhere is an hour that would be better spent training Steve so that he’s prepared to take over when Tony’s clock runs out.

 “I’m not too cool to get a ride to school from Mom.”

  Natasha lifts an eyebrow. “Carpool’s leaving.”

  When they come up on the ship it’s already obscured by swirls of smoke and the flurried assault of several dozen flying robots the size and shape of double basses. Natasha and Clint grapple line their way down to the deck, snagging shots on at least three bots a piece along the way. Tony edges himself up to the hatch, taking one last calm breath before he dives in on the bots he can see sparking under the water’s surface.

  “I’ll take the jet for a few laps and check for stragglers,” Bruce says, both next to him and buzzing on comms.

  Tony likes it when there’s a call where Bruce can help without Hulking out. He’s seen at close range the toll it takes on his friend, and any chance to keep him involved with the team without having to pay that price is an opportunity Tony will always opt for. Hopefully Steve will have the same point of view, too.

  The waves ripple out in the downdraft from the jet, making a bullseye for him, and Tony jumps. He allows himself what feels like entire minutes of freefall, revving up the suit’s power at the last possible moment. The suit slices into the ocean and once he’s under, it really feels no different than the control he has in the air. Tony hones in on the cluster of bots antagonizing the most vulnerable portion of the hull.

  He activates the shadow channel, off of team comms. “Steve, this is a pretty good example of what JARVIS can do prioritizing structural threats,” he explains, raising his arms to start cannoning as he makes his approach. “But don’t let it keep you-” he punches a bot in half that dared to separate from the pack, “-from noticing threats right under your nose.”

 The visual sensation of working underwater is pretty novel. It reminds him of fluidic space theory, which distracts from the tedium of smashing and bashing his way through a fleet of angry little bots. He clears the hull as far as he or JARVIS can see and makes a circuit to check for any damage he might be able to patch up with a bit of hydrophobic welding. He ducks under the ship to scan the starboard side and suddenly a shock of brightness fills the water, like lightning.

 “Is Thor here?” he asks anyone on comms with eyes on the sky.

 “No, but the daddy version of these jerks just rolled up,” says Clint.

 That was probably something he should take a look at. Tony glides back up towards the surface, switching propulsion systems and following the shifting flashes of light to angle himself toward the new threat. He bursts out of the water just in time to see the bus-sized version of the robots he’s been drowning for the past hour suddenly crack open into four parts.

  A glow manifests between the sections which spread apart and form a electric forcefield. Tony sees several threat blips from JARVIS as passengers of the ship jump, deciding to take their chances in the water over whatever this was. His weapons aren’t making an appreciable dent in the thing, so he can’t exactly blame them.

  “Mind if I crash your party?” says a familiar voice, accessing his friendlies-only channel.

  Tony can’t help but be a little relieved, “Rhodey!” He twists around so he can give War Machine a salute. “It’s BYO Water Wings, c’mon in.”

  “You know I want a piece of robot pirates!” Rhodey swings both arms at one of the smaller bots like a volley bump, propelling it towards him. Tony spikes it down into the glowing net, testing its properties. The thing bounces off the surface, unchanged. Probably a sling meant to cradle something in transit, Tony thinks.

  “If you’re here then...”

  “Military interest, yeah,” Rhodey confirms.

  “Peachy.”

  Rhodey shares with them the specs of a device on board that’s been bouncing around between paramilitary groups in Europe. Something that AIM had always wanted, and now that the US had finally apprehended it and intended its disposal they were running out of chances to snatch.

  “That sounds like Stark’s wheelhouse, to me,” Natasha says.

  This is exactly Tony’s wheelhouse. This is his wheel-several-mansions. He scans through the information on the device’s energy signature and- “We’re allowed to destroy it?” he asks.

  “If it means not letting AIM get their hands on it, so be it,” says Rhodey, deflecting a wave of blasts from the artillery tower on the 3 o'clock corner of the net.

  “No. We’re gonna get let them get their hands on it,” Tony says, formulating his plan.

  “That is the opposite of what he just said,” Natasha points out.

  “- but first we’re gonna light the fuse on this firecracker, and let it blow off AIM’s dumb robot thumbs for us.”

  “Now that brings back some memories,” Rhodey laughs. “Need me to keep this thing busy while you get your box of matches, then?”

  “Please and thank you.”

  “If we’re gonna let them grab it we’re gonna want to clear any passengers to the aft of the ship,” Natasha tells Clint.

  Tony jets down toward the ship, running analysis of the device’s frequency so he can hack it. He locates the unimaginative shipping container it’s hidden in and cuts his way inside. Before him there is a half missile, half Fauvist-sculpture-looking warhead. See, Pepper? He appreciated art.

  With less effort than it takes him to brush his teeth in the morning, he resets the trigger so it’s under his control then goes to join the others, scooping up three or four wayward passengers along the way. “Ok, Rhodey!”

  He deposits his cargo safely at the other end of the ship and goes back for a few more armfuls. On his fourth sweep he hears the rending of metal as the bots pull apart the container housing the device.

  “Sir, the water suction caused by blast of the device is likely to sink the ship,” JARVIS alerts him.

  Tony drops the people in his arms onto the deck and zooms back into the thick of things. The net is being loaded with the device by several of the smaller bots, and the corners of the larger metal beast begin to clutch back in on it’s prize. He dives towards the closest corner of the net and tells Rhodey to grab the opposite for him. JARVIS sets a timer for the detonation.

  “We’ll tow the whole package up to the edge of the thermosphere and let it do the dirty work for us,” he explains.

  They put everything they’ve got into shoving upward, miles and miles into the sky, bailing and shooting back down just as JARVIS insists they’re out of time to clear the shockwave.

  “That certainly gets the heart thumping,” Rhodey says during their descent. “Makes an Iron Man feel alive!”

   Tony winces. It makes this particular Iron Man feel like he’s going to puke, actually.

  “JARVIS, cut the shadow.” Steve probably won’t appreciate a front row seat to whatever pyrotechnics are about to happen. As soon as Tony touches boots to the deck of the ship again, he rips off his helmet and flops over the railing to throw up.

   “Woah.” Rhodey touches down beside him and gives him a manly pat on the back. Tony heaves a few more times before getting a grip on himself.

  “I always get seasick,” he claims. Rhodey shakes his head at Tony, wiping his chin and forcing a grin.

 “I’ve been on enough booze cruises with you to know that is bullshit. What’s going on?”

  Tony gets the armor to let him out for a minute, so he can just breathe. It feels fractionally better, but now he doesn't have armor to prop him up and make him look a hell of a lot more sturdy than he feels.

  “I’ve just got a bug or something, really- I’m fine,” he pants. He absentmindedly rubs the flesh around his reactor, he can feel the feverish heat of the infection even through the fabric of his undersuit.

  Rhodey pops open his own faceplate, which is cheating, frankly. Tony can’t lie to his actual face.

  “This bug have anything to do with why you’re retiring? Or why Pepper doesn’t really answer any of my questions about it?” Tony stares back at him, stone faced. “You can pretend you’re not going through something right now to your team if it makes you feel professional, Tones. But we are personal.”

    He’s right, and dammit- Tony hates it when Rhodey is right. Unless he’s right because he’s agreeing with Tony, which is actually most of the time. Even though he didn’t take the option to have Rhodey replace him as an Avenger, he shouldn’t have used it as an excuse not to tell his best friend of so many years that he had only a fraction of one left. Tony looks him in the eye.

  “Long story short, people aren’t meant to walk around with nuclear reactors in their ribcages.” He tries to shrug it off. “I should have something like three months?”

  “To come up with a fix?”

  Tony crumples internally. Somehow other people’s hopefulness makes him feel more helpless. If all of SHIELD’s horses and all of SHIELD’s men didn’t have the answer it probably didn’t exist. “To put my affairs in order,” he says gently.

  “Oh god, Tony.” Rhodey bends to wrap him up in hug, which is somehow comforting despite War Machine’s pokeyness.

  Tony trembles a bit. “I don’t want my friends to worry about it, you don’t need to fix it. Just be my buddy,” he sniffs.

  “You know I will.” He pats Tony’s back again and lets him go. “I wanna understand better but I won’t make suggestions if that’s not where you’re at.”

  “Later, okay?” Tony thumbs behind his shoulder, he can hear Bruce on comms returning with the jet to meet the team. Tony climbs back into his armor. Rhodey watches him carefully.

  “If you need someone to run drills with that new hottie of yours and give you a break- you’ll give me a shout, right?”

  “Who’s the big mouth that told you I thought he was hot?” asks Tony, scandalized.

  “You just did, dumbass.” Rhodey winks and shuts his faceplate, taking off again.

  By the time they get all the passengers squared away, fly home, and debrief with SHIELD Tony is basically dead on his feet. He is positively drooling in anticipation of the nasty health drink JARVIS will insist he let DUM-E prepare for him. So he doesn’t have energy left in any of the 37.2 trillion cells in his body with which to be surprised that it’s Steve standing in the door of his shop with a glass of green goop.

  “I was waiting up incase you still wanted to go upstate and JARVIS said you might appreciate-” Tony downs the entire thing before Steve can get his whole sentence out.

  “Thanks.” He collapses onto the nearest chair and drops his head onto the countertop. “I’m sorry we had to cancel. I know you were looking forward to it.” Tony was looking forward to it too. Instead he’s pretty sure he’s going to need to crash for the next three days to recover from this endless day.

  “Are you kidding? I got to fly with you into the thermosphere today!” Steve says with a glee usually reserved for children on swing sets.

  Well, Tony’s glad somebody got something positive out of it. “I think I’m just gonna sit here...with my head down...for a minute... Why don’t you read me your notes?”

  Steve pulls up another chair to the counter and goes through the operation blow by blow, detailing his own instinct in comparison to Tony’s, observations he made on the enemy and terrain, and even some math on how long it might have taken his own suit to make that final climb. Tony hmms and yesses in response, relaxed by just how perfectly suited for this gig Steve has turned out to be.

 


 

  They finally get their ducks in a row for the upstate trip a few days later. Tony packs several of his own uniquely-abled suits that he’s retooled to fit Steve, and when Steve asks if it’s okay to bring his motorcycle Tony gestures to a storage tupperware marked ‘Comics’.

  “What part of this looks like I’m a guy who doesn’t value a little R&R?”

 Tony also brings several stun cannons, Bruce’s patented Deathproof First-Aid Kit, his favorite joy riding suit, and swim trunks. Just in case.

  While Steve is collecting the last of his luggage from his apartment JARVIS tries to delicately remind Tony of their four month plan. “Remember, sir- one hour and ten minutes a day of sustained flight. Otherwise-”

  “I hereby give you permission to start playing that awful song on loop if I exceed your esteemed recommendations, JARVIS.”

  “The song that enquires as to what the fox would say?”

  Tony groans.

  “Very good, sir.”

  On the flight up, Tony is a little sorry it was impractical to drive to the lake. The leaves on the maple trees that line the roads below are beginning to change to red and yellow (he is partial to those colors). As lovely as they are from above, he fondly remembers learning to drive under the maple canopy of those winding New England roads. Maybe Steve will offer to take him on his bike and he can get the best of both worlds, he hopes.

  While he’s taking the jet in for a landing Tony can see Steve’s jittery knee, bouncing in anticipation. He’s not going to be the one to get between him and his first honest-to-goodness flight, so he powers down the jet, chuckling. “Go on, get out there Iron Man.”

  He fits a comm link on his ear and watches as Steve bolts for the cargo hold and returns seconds later, armored and bursting out the cabin door. When they get outside he can tell Steve must have brushed up on his reading since his last attempt with propulsion, he asks JARVIS for a measly 2% power and gets his confidence, just three or four inches off the ground.

  “Four percent. Five. And Six...”

  “You can build up to starting at thirty five, once you have the muscle memory,” Tony tells Steve. Heck, he might be able to pull off forty or fifty if his suit’s maneuverability ends up being as superior as he hopes. Steve glides comfortably a yard above the ground, making a little loop around Tony.

  “I definitely like this,” says Steve.

  “Try it one handed.”

  Steve cuts power in one hand and gives him a little wave. He gains more height and does a larger loop over Tony’s head, then pushes more speed, spiraling up and up. He does a few barrel rolls when he gets above tree level.

  “Am I legally allowed to blast around up here?”

  “It’s my property,” Tony points out, “Besides, if someone shows up that’s capable of stopping you we’ll have bigger problems.”

  Steve shoots an experimental burst of his rays towards the sun, managing the transition from using his hands for propulsion to weapon very well. Tony gives him maneuvers to execute, correcting his form when necessary.

 “You’ve got the right idea taking the angle that gives you better lift,” he says over comms, “-but stop tucking your knee when you do that, I know it looks dynamic, but-”

  “Heaping onto my drag. Gotcha.”

  Steve’s a quick study. After a few hours the sun begins to set, and the red of his reactor points streak around in the the pink and orange sky. It’s a pretty sight, Tony thinks. No wonder people always stop and gawk at Iron Man.

  Night flying is just as necessary to the job as the day shift, so Tony puts on his infrared shades and gets ready to give Steve a bit of a challenge.

  Limiting themselves to a certain altitude, they practice with the stun cannons. A few more hours fly by while Steve dodges and does battle with everything Tony can throw at him. Deflecting and redirecting other people’s weapons fire is just plain good conservation of energy, Tony explains. Just because the suit can lay waste doesn’t mean they should be wasteful.

  “You getting bored enough to come down yet?” Tony asks. He looks at his watch, it’s past 9. It’s hard to believe Steve hasn’t gotten hungry yet, if nothing else. Then again, you couldn’t have gotten Tony out of his suit long enough to eat a meal in his early days. That’s what drive-throughs were invented for, he’s pretty sure.

  “I was hoping you’d be bored enough to come join me, actually.” He can hear Steve’s grin, even over comms.

  Tony considers- he’d hate to over do it and ruin the rest of the trip, but the invitation to have a little one on one fun doing his favorite thing with someone quickly becoming one of his favorite people? Life is short.

  He says nothing and summons his suit, rocketing up to the sky and swooping up behind Steve. He locks his arms around him and takes them for a tight roll.

  “Tag! You’re it,” he says, letting go and shooting off before Steve even knows what hit him.

  “You- you just!”

  “Keep up, slowpoke!”

  After thoroughly trouncing Steve in a tree top game of Hide and Seek, Tony finally convinces him to come in for the night. They camp out in the living room of the lake house with a crackling fire and Tony pages through some comics while Steve sketches a birdseye view of the lake and listens to Tony give dramatic line readings of the best jokes.

 


 

 Steve dreams of flying that night- how could he not? He dips in an out of clouds shaped like towers, glittered here and there with glass windows. He shatters through them for sport and the flecks of light shimmer like stars as the sky turns into night. Up in the distance he can see a bright blue spot. He burns to get closer to it, and strains every ounce of power at his fingertips to get there faster. It always seems to be just beyond reach.

 He wakes up in the dark of the early morning on one of the couches under a blanket he doesn’t remember arranging himself. With the curtains drawn over the windows he can still see that blue light when he half closes his eyes. He wants to chase that stain of blue in the darkness- or at least get better acquainted so he can paint it when he gets home to his watercolors. Steve tries to fall asleep again, to get another look.

  A clatter interrupts his plan.

  “Shh, cabinets. Keep your voice down, Steve is sleeping.”

  Another crashing sound in the kitchen finally convinces him to get up.

 When he ambles into the next room Tony is standing with his back to him, clattering around with a kettle and a french press. He peeks over his shoulder when he hears Steve come shuffling into the kitchen.

  “G’morning. Coffee?”

  “Well sure, but I generally try to eat something with it,” Steve says, noticing there are no other culinary endeavors on the countertop.

  “Picky picky.”

  Tony makes a second cup of coffee for Steve with cream, no sugar- apparently having absorbed the way Steve likes it over the past few weeks. Then he turns around and hops up to sit on the counter, kicking his mismatched socked feet a bit. When Steve approaches to fetch his coffee he finally recognizes that blue light.

  Not that it means anything. They’ve been spending a lot of time together, is all.

  “Let me take you to breakfast?” he asks. Because there’s no better way to prove to yourself that you’re not attracted to someone than to knee-jerk invite them out for a meal.

  Tony dips his nose into his mug to disguise a grin but Steve doesn’t miss it. “On your bike?”

  “Yeah, c’mon.”

  Tony pushes off the counter top, swills down the rest of his coffee and puts the mug down with punctuation. “I need pants,” he declares, presumably on his way to change out of pajamas. Halfway out the kitchen door he turns back to Steve for a moment. “Especially if you’re trying to charm them off me,” he adds.

  Steve’s face flashes hot.

  They have their pick of nearby sleepy towns to drive into, so Tony selects one with a diner that promises Belgian waffles. Steve scoffs at a mainly ice cream breakfast, but Tony is of the opinion that since breakfast is socially optional and sometimes even practiced at dinner, it is perfectly defensible to replace it with dessert. Steve listens to an entire tirade on the subject of cereals that dare to contain raisins while Tony’s chin is hooked over his shoulder, arms wrapped around his waist while they ride into town. He quite likes raisins, actually.

  “Of course you do, Steve. You are the oldest young person I know. I bet you like prune juice,” Tony hisses, squeezing him a little tighter.

  “It’s really good for you!” He can feel Tony trying to shake his head in disgust.

  “Oh god, it’s happened already- JARVIS has brainwashed you.”

  Steve laughs into the wind. “He said you’d say that.”

  After a week of flight camp they finally head back to the city. For the next five weeks they fall into a steady routine: Steve studies team combo maneuvers with Natasha on Mondays, does sky sparring with Rhodey or Thor on Tuesdays, and hazard containment with Bruce on Wednesday. On Thursday he lets Clint use him for target practice, which isn’t technically a lesson, but it leads to Friday. On Fridays Steve takes a look at the damage and learns how to do field repairs from Tony. Really, any break he gets from training with the rest of the team or running Shadow Protocol he hangs out in Tony’s workshop and watches him build a number of systems he’s designing for the Avengers. Steve helps when he can, which is more and more frequently, much to his satisfaction. On Saturdays they fly together, and that makes him happiest of all.

 One day a call comes in for the Avengers and Tony scratches his chin thoughtfully.

 “Set up Shadow Protocol?” Steve guesses.

 “I think this one is yours Iron Man. Go get ‘em.”

 And Tony’s right- it goes off without a hitch. Then another Avengers mission and another until Steve’s not really keeping count anymore. Tony even loans him out to the Fantastic Four once. Everything goes perfectly until it doesn’t.

 


 

  “Are you okay!?”

  “Tony, I’m fine!”

  “There’s no way that hit didn’t rattle the hell out of you! JARVIS stopped registering your respiration and blood pressure- what the hell?!” Something’s wrong.

  “I’m fine! I took a hit but the suit did it’s job,” Steve tries to assure him, fumbling for the manual catch on the helmet. That it doesn’t just come off intuitive to his body language doesn’t help to convince Tony that everything is as it should be. Steve finally gets the thing off and shakes the sweat out of his hair.

  “We’re still finessing the fit, you could have beaten yourself on the innards of this death trap, for all I know, get out! So I can-” Tony can feel himself breathing too fast, like he’s approaching one of the flare-ups usually reserved for after several hours in suit. “So I can-”

  Steve speaks softly. “I’m just stuck. You don’t have to worry about me,” He catches Tony’s hands as gently as he can with the gauntlets. “That’s all, Tony. Not hurt. I promise.” Tony struggles to grapple with the suit’s locks, but Steve doesn’t let him go until he breathes more deeply.

  “Okay. I’m- I’m glad you’re all right.”

  Steve smiles kindly. “I know.” Tony wavers, unsure how to react. “I’m just starving, honestly. Now how’s about you get me out of this thing?”

 “Yeah,” Tony knows when he’s being handled but doesn’t mind it, just this once. “I already thought of that” He grabs the suit by the waist and steers Steve toward a workbench with a box of pizza on it.

  “Of course you did, what was I thinking?” Steve says flatly.

  “I know how zipping around can be hungry work, so go ahead and get your cowabunga on while I crack you out out of your shell.” Steve’s head snaps over his shoulder to where Tony is already buzzing with a drill at his back. “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?” Steve continues to look clueless. “Who raised you?!”

  “I didn’t have TV when I was a kid.”

  “Which was where, exactly?” From time to time Tony wonders if Steve is an alien like Thor. There’s something between Leave It To Beaver and creepy-cult-child about Steve’s pop culture awareness. Or lack thereof. The most contemporary song he’s ever heard the guy whistle was ‘The Locomotion’, for Pete’s sake.

  Steve wolfs a slice of pizza instead of answering. Tony lets several bolts drop to the floor and roll away under the table while he hurries to get the armor open. It would be a disaster if this happened again when Steve was gravely injured inside, so he’s already working out a fail-safe. He’s nearly got the articulated exo-spine undone, but he won’t be fully relaxed until he sees Steve’s undersuit isn’t swimming in blood.

  “I think I could add a secondary circuit just to the locks that jumpstarts with a key that me or Natasha or somebody would have...” He’s going to have to make sure there’s another person brought in on this sort of thing, so that Steve isn’t totally adrift when he’s gone.

  Steve agrees, through a second piece of pizza. “Mmfp”

  “I’m gonna install it today and check the biomet relays for damage, too. Just in case.”

  “Well, okay,” Steve says, stepping backwards out of the armor when it opens. He faces Tony and defiantly lifts his chin to look him in the eye with crossed arms. “Just make sure you eat first if you’re going for it right now.”

 “Yessir?”

 Tony is pleasantly surprised by Steve’s bossy streak this afternoon. He watches him wipe his bossy-mouth with his knuckles before forcing himself to snap out of it. There’s no time for that kind of crap, anyway. Steve listens to him explain his plan for the new circuitry and gives him a bossy-pat-on-the-shoulder before he heads off to take a shower.

   Tony shakes his head and puts the helmet back onto Steve’s armor and stares into its empty eyes. Now, Tony always thought his own armor was sexy, but Steve’s Iron Man was something else entirely. The design is more understated than Tony’s, the colors are less commanding to the eye- the lines simply speak for themselves. It gorgeous. And he can’t help but admire the new mannerisms Steve put into it- the little difference in attitude his piloting gave the suit. Often it was dancerly, like sometimes he’d plant the flat of one boot toe, as though he might go on pointe at any moment. Or he would tuck the helmet between his knees when standing around for a long meeting, so his hands were free. Then there was the way he’d casually fold his hands behind his back - that was never quite comfortable in Tony’s own armor. Or the way he’d hook his hands on his belt when he was in street clothes... Which was getting a bit off topic. The empty eyes of Steve’s armor stare back judgmentally. Tony sighs.

  Okay, so it’s not just the armor- he has definitely got it for Steve. Not like it will matter in a month or two anyway.

 

~

 

  Steve towels off his hair after his shower, and for the first time since moving to the tower instead of remembering the presence of JARVIS and demuring, he’s glad. If he can find a way to explain to JARVIS maybe they can avoid another scene like today.

 “JARVIS? Are you available to talk about something right now?” he asks, wary.

  “I am capable of simultaneously conducting over 400 conversations, sir.”

  There’s that weird sense of humor Tony is always warning him about.

  “Today, when I took that I-beam to the chest- what happened?”

  “You called for a systems check, I reported operations at 77% and climbing, and Mr. Stark called for a biometrics report, and then-” Steve cuts JARVIS off.

  “The biometrics- how where they?”

  “They were remarkably static for an hit of that magnitude, sir.”

  “For me?” Steve prompts.

  “For an individual with a standard healing factor, sir.”

  Steve paces across the room twice. Three times. One of the benefits of conversation with JARVIS, he thinks, is that awkward pauses do not faze him in the slightest. Still, bringing himself to put words to his concerns is too overwhelming.

  “Does Tony know?” he finally asks.

  “I don’t believe so, sir. I don’t think it’s occurred to Mr. Stark to be on the look-out.”

  Suddenly he’s certain of three things. One- He doesn't want Tony to know; Two- Not wanting him to know means he really ought to tell him because; Three- He actually gives a damn about someone for the first time in decades.

  “I’m 95 years old, JARVIS. I don’t get sick and when get hurt I don’t stay hurt- but I don’t get any stronger either,” he admits. That last one was probably the hardest- physically, emotionally, whatever. He had spent years tormenting himself, thinking about how if he’d been able to keep up with Bucky or Peggy maybe things might have turned out differently.

  “I used to dye my hair, switch up things with a moustache, glasses... even hats when it was still fashionable,” Steve tells JARVIS. “It wasn’t like today with people like the Avengers out there. I know they’d believe me, even if they couldn’t understand it what it's like.”

  Steve can barely understand it, really. Living like this has made him older than he can explain, even despite all the philosophy he’s studied and all the science fiction he’s read. He’s already lived a whole life and outlived an entire generation of friends and can only see more of the same in his future. Not that he’s ready to drop dead- infact recently it’s been quite opposite- but he’d like to live in his skin knowing that’s not all there is. He’s not ready for Tony or anyone else to look at him like he’s their tombstone, but he’s going to have to tell them. It’ll be obvious eventually, one way or another.

  “I had to watch every friend I had in this world die, And...”

  “Sir?” JARVIS says, level. Whatever Steve confesses to him risks no judgement, he knows. It helps a little.

  “I just stopped making friends, JARVIS. I don’t think I’ve even gone for drinks since Howard died!” he exclaims. And isn’t that a can of worms.

  “I wouldn’t advise you to lead with that when you do tell Mr. Stark.”

 Steve huffs. “I want a little time where everything is normal. I’ll tell the team eventually but first I just want to be normal for a little while,” he says, feeling as absurd as only an immortal man can while begging for more time. “For me- today was just ‘expected parameters’, okay? I’m not asking you to lie, just-”

   “A repackaged truth, sir?”

   “Please.”

 


 

  After wiring a failsafe circuit, Tony wanders around the common floor, willing himself to run into someone. If he’s secretly hoping it’ll be Steve, he’s not at all disappointed when he runs into Natasha in the kitchen. She has a Better Homes & Gardens magazine open to a recipe, and is licking a spoon and sitting on the floor to watch the oven door. She offers him the mixing bowl, so he slumps down the wall to sit next to her.

  “Hey boss, how’re those new widow bites treating you?”

  “Fine, as always,” she says. “Like most of your tech.”

  Excuse her, ‘Most’ of his tech. But he likes when Natasha’s in a teasing mood. “Sure you don’t want me to whip up that superspy skateboard for you after all? Limited offer.” He waggles a dough coated finger.

  “Jealous as I am of your rollerskates, I’ll have to pass.”

  “Okay but I have a really important question-” he starts, and Natasha reels her head around to listen seriously. “Can I still have a brownie?”
 Natasha swats him with the wooden spoon.

  Tony rolls his eyes, then digs in his pocket for a mini-tablet to show her the circuit on. “I actually wanted to clue you in on the failsafe systems in Steve’s suit, just in case I’m not around.”

  Natasha scrolls through the diagrams on the tablet, eyes scanning. She looks up Tony when she gets to the last set of specs.

  “This isn’t really what you’re trying to tell me.”

  “Whaddya mean?”

  “This is about the ‘Just incase you’re not around’,” she says. “This is about why you’re retiring, right?”

  Natasha can be impassive when it counts, but they’ve been friends long enough that he knows when she’s giving him feedback that says she cares. She’s one of the best listeners Tony has ever met, actually.  Her mouth fixes into a small frown. It really is time to tell someone on the team, Tony decides.

 “I’m dying,” he says, as matter-of-fact as possible.

  She accepts it with a tiny nod. Natasha’s been by his side through enough battles to know he doesn’t admit the possibility of defeat if there are still ways he can think to fight.

 “Are you in pain?” she asks. Not ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ or ‘How long have you known?’ and he loves her for that.

 “Sometimes,” he says. “Mostly I’m tired.” Natasha scooches closer so he can drop his head on her shoulder.

  They sit a long while until the timer goes off, and Natasha asks JARVIS to turn off the oven for her. “You said you hoped to get Steve self sufficient in the next month. Is that how long you expect to have?”

 “Yeah.” Last he and JARVIS had calculated 30 days was a pretty optimistic figure. “It’s uhm- palladium poisoning? You know- from my reactor. I suppose I was running on borrowed time anyway,” he sighs, tapping the metal in his chest. He starts to sniff. “I’ve got JARVIS and the bots set up so they can restock you guys, after.”

  Maybe he sheds a tear or two, but she is graceful enough to just let Tony work it out.

   Finally, Natasha gets up to pull the brownies out of the oven, slopping a molten slices on little dishes for them both. She hands him one, crouching low so they’re at eye level. “I promise I’ll always keep an eye out, Tony. Just incase you’re not around.”

She sits back down next to him and they dine in companionable silence.

“Can I ask you for something, Nat?”

“You can even ask me for several somethings, you know.”

“If I’m just... you know. If it’s a matter of time- don’t let me wait it out in a hospital bed. They’re awful.”

“You just want your own bed?” She says it like it breaks her heart.

“Sure, I’ve had some really fantastic sex in that bed,” he grins. It’s not true, as he buys a new bed every year and is basically a monk since being gruesomely disfigured by most people’s standards. (But- Hey! Bucket list.) Natasha snorts and elbows him in the ribs all the same.

 “Will you be mad if I don’t tell the team until it’s happening?”

 “Not really. But I’d be disappointed if you let this keep you from saying anything else that needs saying.”

  Natasha takes his empty plate, kisses his cheek, and gets up to take care of the dishes. Tony goes to get some sleep, which he thinks might be a little easier with one more load off his mind.

 

~

 

   It’s a particularly slow Saturday after a particularly slow week of Avenging. Not that Tony is an Avenger anymore, per se. His retirement from combat is fully realized ever since Steve was deemed battle ready. He hasn’t gone out on a call in over two weeks, though he has done a few training sessions with Steve against JARVIS’s advice. In the past few days the spidering veins surrounding his reactor turned from an angry red to black and JARVIS is concerned that any of Tony’s flights might be his last if he can’t keep it to under an hour.

   Steve is in one corner of the workshop putting the last keystrokes on a simulation program he’s working on for Bruce, while Tony is on the floor modifying an old armor to better fit Steve. At this point, Steve could do this work himself- and has on a number of the other suits- but Tony just wants to keep his hands busy with some wires while he’s waiting for the inevitable.

  This must be why so many little old ladies knit.

  The pace of the morning was so low-key that Tony forgot to put on the radio when he was setting up his projects for the day. He keeps catching himself singing to the armor while he’s crouched in it’s innards.

  “Oh, I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road,” he half sings, half whistles under his breath. He hears Steve chuckle from behind his computer screen, the brat. He raises a challenging eyebrow at him and then turns back his work.

  Another plate of the armor snaps into place, he takes a measurement, and seals the seam. He clips the excess length of several wires so there’s nothing extraneous floating around in the joint. He pushes and pulls the limb to test the refit, and it behaves as anticipated. It’s soothing to have a task with a known objective. Not like this wishy-washy business where he wants to be honest with Steve, but he honestly doesn’t want to hurt Steve, most of all.

  He watches Steve out of the corner of his eye. He’s perched on a stool in his starred undersuit, alternately tapping away at the keyboard and stopping to pull up holomodels of the chemical bonds Bruce is analyzing, double checking his work. The softly glowing curtain of digital information scanning past his thin face him makes Tony feel like he’s sitting outside Steve’s window in the rain, or something equally teenage and melodramatic.

  Some very selfish node in Tony’s brain- the part that keeps stealing glances- Tony thinks, concocts a scenario where this is all okay. Ideally, Steve doesn’t feel the same way. He doesn’t want to talk to Tony most, or want to spare his feelings, or want to make the most out of every little kind word between them. Then, he can just tell Steve that he wants to get busy and Steve will be so taken with his moxy that he’ll agree to a meaningless one-off while Tony worships the moment privately in his heart. His very damaged and poisoned heart that can break anyway- it’s fine- whatever. He’s almost done with it.

  “You wanna go for a joyride, get some lunch with me?”

  Tony’s head snaps up. Steve has closed down his program and is labeling a hardcopy of his work.
  “Sorry Spangles, I can’t.” It was taking Tony disproportionately longer to recover between flights to the point that he wasn’t really recovering at all. He could have played off sleeping in for a day as battle fatigue when there was an actual battle, but needing to pass out after flying downtown for donuts was not appealing. “My favorite suit’s defragging,” he lies.

  “Well, we don’t have to fly. We can take my bike,” Steve offers. He joins Tony near the suit, dropping to one knee to get a better look at what he’s doing. He cranes his head close to Tony’s to see what he’s seeing.

  Tony can smell his aftershave and very nearly screams in frustration. “I guess I’m at a stopping point. Do you want to try this on first?”

  “After lunch,” Steve says.  He stands up and makes one of his bossy faces that boils Tony’s blood. “I know you skipped dinner last night, you should be starving. I’m starving and I matched Clint on buffalo wings.” Small as he was, Steve had miraculous gastronomical abilities.

  “You must be starving for me, then.”

  “Yes.” He reaches out a hand to pull Tony up from the floor.

  They go downtown to a place near one of Steve’s favorite museums. In a cozy corner booth they gossip about an unsightly new skyscraper in the area and share a raclette. Steve’s knee keeps knocking into his and Tony forgets for two entire hours that he’s living on a countdown. They give up halfway through their chocolate fondue dessert, but not before Steve does enough damage with his apple dippers that he decides to suck his fingers clean. Tony spills his drink.

  When they drive back to the tower on Steve’s bike and Tony has his arms wrapped around him again he can't help but shut his eyes and wish he could just die happy, right then.

 


 

  Steve doesn’t want this afternoon to end before he figures out how to capitalize on it. He takes his bike the longest possible way back to the tower, wanting to soak up every possible minute of being held by Tony. Somehow zipping around at bone-crushing speed with him is easier to navigate than standing still long enough to get the important words out. With everything that Tony’s given him- all the opportunities and patience- he really does owe it to him to try.

  When they get back into the workshop Tony prods Steve to try on the suit he was altering before they went to lunch, so he takes back off his jeans and leather jacket and activates the armor, leaving the helmet alone for the time being. It’s equipped to cope with arctic conditions which calls up images of fur lining and heavy layers in Steve’s brain, but the genius of this suit’s design was a solar powered climate system. It might even be lighter than his primary armor, he thinks, moving around in it.

  “Have you thought about repurposing the systems in this for orbital conditions?” he asks. Tony’s always interested in pushing the envelope when it comes to space flight capabilities.

  Tony stops measuring the tensile strength of the newly welded seams, looking bewildered. “No! I am an idiot. It would be so simple to integrate into your primary armor, too- with the way the ventilation is set up,” he says. He starts pulling up holomodels of the two suits in question and cross-checking the involved systems for compatibility.

  Steve frowns. He wasn’t supposed to give Tony a project that sucked him in for two days straight, he was supposed to use the momentum from their very lovely afternoon to level with him about his feelings, damn it.

  “It’s not worth taking my primary out of commission for this right now,” he argues. Maybe Tony will wait until next week when they fabricate his secondary and tertiary suits.

  “This is a piece of cake. You won’t even notice if I just work straight through until it’s done,” Tony claims, because of course he could.

  “I really hate it when you do that.”

  “Well I hate it when you do that crossed arm thing that looks like you wanna fight but you’re really just pretending you’re not thrilled.”

  “That is so specific.” Steve crosses his arms and furrows his brow. He doesn’t even mean to.

  “See!? You’re doing it right now! It freaks me out,” cries Tony.

  “It’s just what happens when you’re being you! What do you want me to do about it?!”

  “Throw me up against a wall, mostly,” Tony says under his breath.

  Steve knows Tony didn’t mean to say it outloud, but as he’s been looking for an opportunity to be upfront with Tony, he can’t get much more upfront than immediately crowding him against the nearest countertop, locking his hands on either side of the table edge.

  “Will this do?” he asks, low.

  “Sure,” Tony squeaks.

  “And then what?”

  “Then I know we’re on the same page,” Tony says, tossing his arms around the armors neck and leaning in to kiss Steve.

  Steve opens his mouth into the heat of it, inviting. A dart of tongue makes him want so much more and he lets go of the counter to circle Tony in his arms. Though he might prefer the feel of Tony’s body against him- like on the bike, he’ll take the physical advantages of the suit. It certainly doesn’t seem to bother Tony, at any rate. Steve hoists him onto the counter and thanks the structure of the suit for keeping him from oozing to the floor in a puddle when Tony starts biting his lip. His heels hook behind the legs of the armor to keep Steve close, not that he’s eager to be anywhere but here. He’s finally caught up with what he’d been chasing.

  Even with his eyes closed, Steve can feel the pull of Tony’s grin against his lips and makes sure to smile back while he carefully cradles his face in gauntleted hands and presses kiss after kiss along his jaw. Tony should know how happy he’s made him- how he dreams of flying with him at night and loves watching him in his element during the day. He should know how he makes Steve feel after so many years and that he makes the notion of many more years bearable again.

  “I should tell you-” he starts.

  He doesn’t finish.

  Their mouths slide together again, which feels like much better use of their tongues. And honestly, Steve thinks- they talk a lot. In the shop, on comms, sometimes even all night. So it’s easy to shelve it for later. There’s always time.

   Steve runs his hands from Tony’s face down his neck to his chest on either side of the reactor.  Even wearing the suit he can feel the definition of muscle beneath his fingers- more than he expects, actually. He bends down to kiss the reactor, warm to the touch. Tony shudders when Steve feels out the the rest of his rib cage, rucking up his shirt until he gets a delicious sliver of skin to dance his fingers across. Tony’s hands stop him from pulling his shirt off any further.

  “Tickles,” he says, so Steve just laughs and promises to only give him Very Firm Touches. “In that case- JARVIS cut all access to the lab, would ya?”

  Tony leans easily when Steve presses hands to his chest again, flattening him back on the countertop and scattering a jar of pens along the way. He kisses that sliver of belly he managed to undress and digs his fingers into Tony’s hips. When he dips his tongue into Tony’s navel he bucks up into it and gulps down a swear, and that’s it for Steve. This new suit he’s wearing is officially Too Well Fit below the belt. Steve mouths lower and lower until he’s nuzzled into Tony’s groin.

  “Can I?” he asks permission, thumbs already hooked into the waist of his jeans.

  Tony exhales in disbelief. “Can you blow me in an Iron Man suit? Uhm yeah, yes. Definitely.”

  With extreme care, Steve gets Tony out of his fly and immediately swallows him down, rubbing a slow thumb at the root.

  “Uhn, that feels- that is so good,” he groans. “I was a little nervous but now I am so glad I made you play Monopoly...” Tony slips his fingers into Steve’s hair and pulls a little.

  Steve pulls off with an obscene pop and looks at Tony very sincerely. “I wouldn’t let anything hurt you, Tony.” It's only to be expected that Steve has a protective streak when it comes to him- he puts on armor and fights in Tony’s name nearly every day. He may as well get himself a shield and carry his token.

  “My hero,” Tony sighs.

   Steve laughs and returns to his cock, licking from bottom to top in little swirls and teasing the head. Tony groans and his legs lose their lock on Steve’s hips, so he grabs his thighs and throws them over his shoulders. Steve sucks him down again, relishing the scent of sex and the way Tony’s knuckles go white when he grips the countertop. He reaches up one gloved hand to caress his cheek and Tony nudges into it affectionately.

  “Steve, you're a sweetheart,” he says. Steve hums back and feels Tony’s legs shake. “Yes, oh- like that yesyesyes.”
  He works Tony up to the edge and refuses to quit when Tony tries to warn him off.
  “Excellent head and you’re a g-gentleman,” he says. “God bless America.”

  When he comes, Steve swallows as much as he can and licks what’s left off the fingers of the gauntlet. Tony’s eyes widen at the sight, and he tries to sit up and get a better look.

  “Oh fuckdamn that’s the hottest thing,” he says. “I would come again just watching if you hadn’t just sucked me dry.”

  Steve grins and wipes his chin then slips his arms around Tony and leans in to kiss him again. Tony whimpers into his mouth and tries to taste himself on Steve’s lips. His hands scramble at the release buckles on the armor, uncoordinated in his muddled state.

  “Please be naked immediately so I can rock your world in return,” he pleads pitifully.

  “I don’t really care about the reciprocity,” Steve laughs, shifting his hips uncomfortably. He’s pretty sure he wouldn’t last, at this point.

  Tony pouts. “Course you do. This is just for fun, right?” He kisses Steve again, but Steve pulls back after a moment.

  “What do you mean?”

  “There’s no sense in getting attached to an old geezer like me,” Tony says, like he believes it.

  Suddenly it occurs to Steve that Tony does know all about him- that he knows about his immortality and has done the math and wants to hedge Steve’s bets for him. That in his calculated way, Tony thinks the value of loving him isn’t greater than the heartbreak however many years down the line.

  “I’m already attached. Tony-” Steve reaches to hold his face in his hands again, let him see eye to eye that he can handle it. Tony shrugs away and starts to button his pants.

  “Then this can’t happen.”

  Steve bristles.

  Tony pushes past him to jump down off the countertop. He’s still a little wobbly. “I’m sorry, I can’t be responsible for-” Tony shakes his head with a grimace. “I’m just sorry.” Steve tries to catch his arm but Tony’s determination to make his exit prevails. He only stops when the door doesn’t open automatically. “Right,” he remembers. “JARVIS you can end restriction.”

  No sooner does the door than Bruce pushes into the room.

  “What on earth!?” he shouts. “There’s a call downtown and the rest of the team is already on their way.” He throws up his hands and looks at Steve for an explanation.

  Tony steps up. “That’s my fault, he’s on his way now,” he says. He doesn’t catch his eye, just crosses his arms and looks at his shoes.

  Steve looks at Bruce apologetically and goes to grab his helmet off of the workbench, hurrying out the door.

 


 

 This is the shittiest Tony has felt in a long time, speaking as a man who wakes up in cold sweat every night to hork up the bullshit shakes and supplements that have kept him clinging to his shit life this long. He doesn’t discount that there may still be puking in his immediate future. And he would deserve it- he was awful. He had been cruel to Steve, just when they had been having such a good time. And what's worse is that he immediately knew he was wrong- if he’d had another minute with Steve he would have taken it back. If he had another month with Steve he wouldn’t waste it either.

 Bruce sits next to him at the ops console, monitoring the team's movements and doing what he can to route traffic away and alert public safety. The blip representing Iron Man catches up with the rest of the group.

  “Is everything okay, Tony?” Bruce swivels his seat a bit, one eye on the monitor.   

  Ordinarily Tony loves that Bruce is the best adjusted of the lot of them, the normal kind of person who’s capable of asking such a question when he noticed a frowning friend. But today?

  “I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

  Bruce taps a button or two. “I’m going out on a limb here, but- I know a lot has changed since you decided to retire. For what it’s worth I think you’ve done really well,” he says. “You found a great guy,” he adds.

  “That I did,” Tony agrees. Well, technically it was JARVIS’ idea to hire Steve, but Tony invented JARVIS so he should get some of credit. Or blame.

  “Are you- it’s not really my business, but- I just felt like I interrupted something when I came into your lab before...” Bruce trails off.

  Tony groans and slides down in his seat miserably. “No, I pretty much ruined it before you came in.”  But Bruce isn’t wrong that this is really more to do with the reason he’s retiring than anything else. Bruce really does deserve some kind of response if he’s reaching out. Tony takes a deep breath. “A few months ago I found out-” he starts. Stops. Notices Bruce looking at him with concern. “I’m going to die. Pretty soon.”

 “I- I’m really sorry. Especially if I said anything stupid.”

 “Me too.”

 “When you said you were retiring I thought at first maybe you had a health scare, but- if you needed my help you’d ask right?”

 Tony shrugs. “Maybe I should have.” It’s too late now. Bruce puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes.

 “Would you mind if I take a look at your charts?” he asks. “I can at least see what I can do to make you comfortable. I’ll be there if you want.”

 Bruce won’t torture him with wild hopes of a cure if there’s nothing to be done at this point, he’s pretty sure. Tony nods.

 A light flashes and a buzz precedes Natasha’s voice.

 “Banner, are you there?”

 “Yeah, what’s up?”

 “We could really use another heavy hitter out here, if you’re ready to get angry.”

 Bruce sighs. “Sure, I-”

 Tony slams his own talk button. “I’ll get out there,” he interjects. It’s the least he can do for his team and for wonderful, sensitive Bruce. He resolves to tell them what’s been going on when they get back in from the call.

 “Stark? All right.”

 Tony stands up to head out but stops to touch Bruce’s shoulder. “When I get back, okay?” Bruce nods.

  He summons his armor and makes for the exit.

  When Tony arrives on the scene, he can see why the team might need back up. Covering the better part of three city blocks is a purple-pink dome of what JARVIS’ scans confirm to be plasma. A closer look at the landmarks and he realizes it’s only a block off from what he now realizes was a date with Steve only a few hours ago.

 Natasha and Clint are busy with several unsubs outside the west end of the thing, while Thor is doing his mightiest to penetrate it from above. Inside, Steve is singlehandedly halting a building collapse while several civilians escape it and many more are in panic around the edges. There’s a ring of rubble surrounding the area that he can only imagine is the offcuts of the severed buildings within.

  Flying in to get a closer look, he scans for weak spots in the surface while JARVIS feeds him numbers. In the two minutes he’s been circling the dome it’s shrunk an inch, crushing anything it its way.

  “Sir, if the mass continues to shrink at this rate it will demolish the entire area within 17 hours- however the interior surface is accelerating the production of CO2 and the air supply will fail to sustain the 372 people inside within the next three hours-”

  “That’s just fantastic.”

  Thor comes around his way to see if their combined firepower is any match for the strength of the surface. They put every ounce of directed force into a number of the dome’s thinner spots, but they only manage to further alarm the people inside. Tony suggests trying to burrow in from the outside, but once they make their way through the asphalt and concrete they discover the ground below is also shelled in. Several of the enemies on the ground swarm their tunnel, bringing the fight back to the street level.

  It’s only a guess, but Tony thinks their efforts might be increasing the temperature inside. As he fights off a wave he notices that the leaves are curling on the trees inside the perimeter, and the readings on the surface have changed incrementally. Thor throws the last their attackers aside and makes to continue trying to blast their way in. Inside the dome a small crowd have rushed up to their position, muted as though behind glass and unwilling to touch the surface but desperate to see what’s happening. Tony can see the shine of sweat on their faces, then one of the people in the front passes out.

  “Thor! We have to stop! We’re just agitating it and making heat waves,” he tries to explain. On the HUD JARVIS alerts him that he has surpassed his curfew, and he can no longer ignore that it feels like there’s fire in his lungs. Sustaining that kind of power output has completely winded him. “Just- let me think,” he gasps.

  Thor bellows and bolts away to help Natasha and Clint while Tony regroups. The people inside the dome scream soundlessly. Then it occurs to him

  “JARVIS, I think I can configure the sonic cannons to resonate this thing apart.” Soundwaves wouldn’t expedite the death of everyone inside, at least.

  “The strongest application of the sonic cannons would require a receiving antenna, sir. However-”

  “Are there any college radio stations in there, something with a location we can pinpoint?” Tony asks, eyes searching the billboards on the buildings for a clue. Before JARVIS finishes compiling the data, he lays eyes on one high-capacity receiver he already knows the location of.

  He recalibrates the frequency of the cannons and levels his aim directly at Steve.

 


 

  Steve’s ears fill with the crackling of static for several moments, then the color of the air all around him starts to change, the blue of the sky slowly surfacing again. The girders his hands are wrapped around stop tremoring, so he lets go and twists in the air to see what’s happening. The dome has disappeared, and suddenly JARVIS comes back online and zeroes in on the nearest hazard- a streak of red and gold, going down.

  “Tony, report!” he shouts on the comms. The other Avengers check in, but not the voice he’s waiting for.

  Steve darts upward to clear the building that Tony vanished behind.

  “JARVIS, what’s his status?”

  “Mr. Stark’s actual status, sir?”

  Steve can see him now, laid out on the ground below, and begins to dive down. “What the hell is that supposed to mean-”

  “His condition is within expected parameters,” JARVIS says evenly. Exactly the words Steve had coached him to use for himself.

  “JARVIS, you and me are gonna have a long talk after this.” He touches down and drops to his knees, pulling Tony’s head and shoulders into his lap. “Tony, please,” he urges, clawing at the manual locks on his armor. He pulls off Tony’s helmet and the neck and shoulders peel open, revealing his wheezing body inside. Veins black as ink are crawling out of the collar of his shirt and his eyes flutter but never really open. Even the light from his reactor seems oddly off color. The sound of running footsteps make an approach from behind Steve and when he looks up Natasha is standing over them, hair wild and face half plastered in dust.

“Did he take a hit?” she asks, instantly crouching and angling an ear over Tony to listen to his breathing. “It’s happening, isn’t it?”

Steve squeezes his shoulders, still hoping to rouse him. “What is?”

“We should get him home,” she says, standing up again. “Can you take us both?”

The dire look on Natasha’s face keeps him from asking further questions. Steve scoops Tony into his arms and stands up so Natasha can loop her arm around his neck from behind. When she has a good grip Steve tells JARVIS to send Tony’s armor home and takes off back toward the tower.

 On the way Natasha tells Bruce to get a medbay ready, so when they land on the jet pad he’s already waiting with a variety of injections. A shot of adrenaline gets Tony awake.

  “S-steve... Sorry. I didn’t mean...” he tries to say. Steve reaches to cover his hand. Bruce shushes him and straps on an oxygen mask, and pulls up Tony’s medical record.

  Natasha leans in to get a look. “He told me about the palladium poisoning, but it sounded like he had another month or two.” Her eyebrows are swimming in concentration while trying to make sense of the statistics in front of them.

  Bruce frowns. “His system is already at critical toxicity. Undeterred it could kill him in the next hour or two.”

  “He’s been poisoned?!” Steve tries to remember everything he’s ever heard about palladium- but other than the engineering of Tony’s reactor the only other notable reading he’s seen on the subject was the medical trials back in the SSR Archive. “Tony,” he says, trying to get him to focus. Tony’s eyes search for him and Steve feels the squeeze in his hand. “Is that why you were studying the Magnetized RBC trials when we met?” Tony nods.

  “Mr. Stark believed that if he could design an antibody based on one of the successful trial participants he could reverse the poisoning,” JARVIS chimes in. “He abandoned that research when he couldn’t find a genetic template to base the cure on.”

  Steve’s heart sinks. If he’d just told Tony at any point in all this time- “He did!” Natasha and Bruce turn to look at him. Hands shaking, Steve disengages his armor and steps out, hastily rolling his sleeve. “I’m Subject 12, I was with the SSR when they were testing the technique,” he explains, offering his arm. “My blood will have the template antibodies.”

  “Dr. Banner, I can share Mr. Stark’s notes with you,” JARVIS adds.

  Together they discover that they can reprogram the nanoprobes in Steve’s bloodstream to scrub palladium. JARVIS and Bruce go back and forth on the procedure involved and write a new emitting pattern for the probes while Natasha draws several vials of blood from Steve and puts them through Bruce’s tests.

  “It's not that simple,” Bruce says, running into a problem. “We can’t just plug him with a transfusion from you and he gets healed. We need to separately infect your antibodies and let it cure itself, then reaccelerate the serum within you, and then feed it back to him.”

  “That will take a minimum of twenty two hours, Dr. Banner.”

  Steve looks up. “Why does it have to be separate? Why not just infect me directly? JARVIS?”

   “That would take approximately one hour, sir.”

   Natasha rounds on Steve. “We don’t know what it will do to you!”

   “Did you hear the part where I was with the SSR, as in the predecessor organization of SHIELD?”

   “Didn’t that dissolve in the fifties?” asks Bruce

   “1949,” JARVIS corrects.

 Bruce and Natasha fix Steve with an incredulous stare. He knows he looks younger than either of them. He feels Tony’s hand shift, and when he looks in his eyes Steve can tell he’s been listening just fine- there’s a weak grin on his pale face. Steve leans down to kiss his brow and whisper, “Yeah, I know. I look pretty fantastic for pushing one hundred.” Tony’s chest seizes in a pained laugh.

  “S-steve.”

  “Infect me, I can take it,” he tells Bruce resolutely.

  If he can’t, he’s lived long enough.

 

~

 

 Everything is in a haze. A bright bubble floats up in the distance before him and expands until it’s finally close enough to touch. With an armored hand Tony reaches out to meet the surface but it erupts and then he’s falling faster than that electric red light can come and save him.

  But he knows the smell of these sheets, and that’s definitely the usual 7:00pm shadow on the ceiling. He’s in his own bed. Natasha must think he’s a goner, then. Well world, it’s been nice knowing you.

  “JARVIS?” he croaks.

  “Hello, sir. You’ll be happy to know that with the combined efforts of the team your recent poisoning was reversed. You’ve been unconscious the better part of a day.”

 Tony flops his head around to see if there’s a glass of water nearby, the most satisfying toast he can imagine at the moment. On his left there’s a bottle on the nightstand and a seated figure asleep in a chair, chin dipped to the star emblazoned on his chest.

  “Well how about that?” he breathes. Steve stirs and his eyes light up like Christmas morning when he sees Tony awake and gazing at him. His arm flings out across the bed to reach for Tony’s hand. Tony does his best to shuffle up to a seated position. “Get in here.”

  Steve is out of his chair like a shot, climbing into his arms and bubbling with a relieved little laugh that was too prepared to be a sob.

  “I’m so glad that worked. I needed more time with you,” he says. He burrows his face into Tony’s neck and breathes deeply.

 “Me too, Steve.”

 Tony brushes his cheek into Steve’s hair and curls his arm around him tighter.

 “I get why you felt like you had to push me away,” Steve says, soft and forgiving. “I get why you didn’t tell me, too.”

  Tony laughs, “I’m beginning to think dying and never dying are remarkably similar social dilemmas.” Steve agrees.

   Tony reaches across the bed for the bottle of water and downs it in one go. Steve takes it from him to toss aside and leans in to take a cool, fresh wet kiss. However much he feels like he was run over by a truck, that was worth it. Tony clears his throat, and tries to think of the grown-up thing to say, since apparently this whole Thing With Steve is back on.

   “So. We’ll try for a little more honestly from now on, right?”

  Steve’s eyes glint in challenge and he twists around to straddle Tony’s lap and tangle his arms around his shoulders. Tony brings his hands to Steve’s tiny waist and pulls him close.

  “I saw The Godfather when it came out in theatres and you were still in diapers,” Steve confesses with a wry grin. “I didn’t care for it then and I didn’t care for it last month, either.”

  Tony feigns a gasp. “There are at least three very screwed up things about that.”

  “And I met Nixon, once.”

  “I swear to god if you say ‘He did good things in China’...”

 Steve squints as though he is searching very deep for more terrifying and ancient truths about sock garters. “And I don’t get Gangnam Style. Or the appeal of microbrews,” he says.

  “If you ever cared for me at all, you’ll stop being honest right now.”

  Tony draws him in to kiss him quiet and Steve sighs and lets himself be silenced. He threads one hand into Steve’s hair, combing his fingers at his nape until Steve is nearly in a liquid state. He kisses him until Steve’s lips are rosy pink and his cheeks stain with a matching blush. He pulls back to admire his handiwork. Better than any invention, he thinks.

  “I love you, if we’re being honest.” What a good policy.

  Steve’s brow creases in determination, his bright eyes looking back at Tony very seriously. “And I want to love you for however long you’ll let me- and then probably even longer.”

  Tony leans in to kiss him lightly. “I’d expect nothing less, you can be very stubborn,” he notes. Steve pouts.

  “Just promise you’ll tell someone with a social security number when something life threatening is happening to you.”

  Tony hopes JARVIS is covering his ears for that remark, but holds up one hand in oath. “Cross my arc hope to die.”

  “I am going to kick your ass,” Steve smirks.

  That dark flicker in Steve’s eyes has Tony pretty sure he’d let Steve do whatever he liked with his ass. “Promises, promises,” he says.

  What that, Steve tackles him to the bed and all the breath is out of Tony’s lungs- in the most pleasant way, this time. “All right, you wiseguy,” Steve growls.

  He rocks his narrow hips against him and buries his face in Tony’s neck. Tony’s stomach flutters and when he arches his back, Steve snakes and arm around his middle, holding him tight while he sucks a bruise on his jugular.

  Tony moans, deliriously happy and feeling like his body is being safely absorbed into another, making him stronger. He wants to fuse with Steve, share his life, share Iron Man, share a home- and lots of sweaty tumbles in bed. Just as long as they're together. He reaches out his hands to grip Steve’s behind.

  He stops what he’s doing and holds himself up on one arm over Tony. “I’m sorry, is this okay? You did just recover from a near-death experience and all.”

  Tony slowly grinds into Steve, feeling them both getting hard. “Does it seem like I’m looking for excuses to keep from putting out?”

  Steve shakes his head fervently and bends down to kiss him again, hot mouth open enough that Tony can hear a little hitch in his breath every time he rolls their hips together. He finds the undersuit’s long zipper and draws it down, plunging in his other hand to caress Steve’s warm skin as he bares each inch. Steve wriggles out and kicks it off the bed then drags down the rest of the bedding for more unimpeded Tony-access. When he takes off his shirt and bottoms they’re both relieved to see the the sickened viens around the reactor have disappeared.

  Showing his appreciation, Steve mouths his way across one pectoral, stroking Tony’s chest with his long, thin fingers. Unbidden, he remembers watching Steve suck those fingers into his mouth at lunch, and Tony grabs one of his hands to get a taste for himself. Steve stops what he’s doing, closing his eyes for a moment. Very interesting. Tony reaches down to get a handful of Steve’s cock and keeps sucking his fingers while pulling in matching rhythm, and Steve nearly bites his shoulder.

  “You’re so so sensitive, pumpkin,” Tony tells him, still mouthing at his fingers and rubbing an expert thumb over the head of his cock.

  Steve gasps. “Feels really good.”

  “That’s nothin’,” Tony promises, suddenly shifting and rolling Steve off of him so he can get into his nightstand. Steve objects for a moment until Tony tosses him a condom and lube.

  “If you wanna close the barn door after the horse it’s your call,” he says. Not like they didn’t just take part in an unregulated circular blood transfusion, but to each their own. Steve just opts for the lube, warming it in his hands before slicking himself up.

  “How do you...” Steve begins to ask, before Tony rolls onto his hands and knees. Question answered.

  “If I let you screw me on my back where I can see your pretty little face, Steve Rogers- I promise I will come instantly,” he says into the pillow. Steve kneels up behind him and gets a warm hand on his flank, traces a slick finger on his cleft. Tony’s heart races. “And I really really wanna get a crack at you when you’re through,” he teases.

  “You’re gonna need to pipe down about that for a minute or I’m not gonna give you much of a show either.” Tony can feel Steve’s arms tremble as he holds him around the middle and works him open, kissing the length of his spine and whispering little encouragements. Tony obediently keeps his plans to himself and leans into it. When Steve finally pushes in he completely forgets his vow of silence.

  “Jesusfuck.”

  “The mouth on you,” Steve sighs, rocking a hard thrust.

  “I can’t help it, you’re spectacular, stop it- oh. Uhn- do not stop it,” Tony pleads, matching Steve for every motion and bearing down. “When I get my mitts on you I’m gonna try and make you see stars like this, then you’ll- god- get it.”

  “Tony...” Steve plasters himself along Tony’s back and breathes hard into that spot between his shoulder blades, making him shiver.

  “That’s it, pumpkin,” he urges. He tells Steve to let go and enjoy himself. How he’ll take such good care of him, treat him so sweetly. He has to pinch himself so he doesn't spoil his plans when he finally feels Steve come in a hot pulse, sobbing his name. He eases down when Steve crumples on top of him, rolling his way off his belly so he can gather Steve in his arms to pet his hair and kiss his flushed face.

  Steve curls into him, one hand covering the reactor and humming in contentment and Tony knows he is going to be sickeningly in love with this man. There will be sanctions of some kind, most certainly. Other people will be so embarrassed they can’t match the level of single-minded devotion he intends to lavish upon Steve. Steve’s hand drifts downward. Other people will be so embarrassed of them groping each other. Nonstop.

  “What can I do for you, Spangles?” he asks, still petting the sweaty hair out of Steve’s eyes.

  Steve turns around in his arms, spooning up in front of him. “I always wanted- I liked it when you had your arms around me on my bike,” he admits.

  “Your wish, my command.”

  Tony repositions so he can hook the arm he’s laying on under Steve and pull him close. He’s all for fucking in ways so that you can see every expression on your partner's face, but there’s something exceedingly romantic to him about hugging up from behind, especially if Steve’s been wanting to be held this way ever since their first ride together. Tony closes his eyes and nudges his chin over his shoulder, letting the hand on Steve’s chest read his heartbeat.

  He listens to Steve’s little gulps and panting, waiting until his breath is as relaxed as his body feels on Tony’s fingers. When he rubs the head of his cock at his entrance Steve pushes back into it, begging to be filled.

  “Oh please, please,” he whispers, and Tony can’t deny that.

  He pushes in a long, slow stroke, pulling back and giving again just as slowly. “You tell me what you want, I’ll make it perfect,” he says, moving in and out slowly until Steve asks for more.

     Tony tells him how good he feels, how he loves every little shudder in Steve’s body and wishes he could bottle it. Put it on a shelf next to other precious things. He tells him how he wants to chase him through the sky in their armor again, catch him and hold him just like this, or kiss him and let themselves plummet until the last minute. Steve groans, whether because he thinks that's a bad idea or because Tony is dragging out a particularly slow thrust is anyone’s guess.

  “Harder,” he asks, arching his neck against Tony’s shoulder.

  Tony turns, mouth right next to his ear. “You wanna see those stars too, Spangles?” Steve grunts and rocks back into him, hard.

  Tony puts his back into it and gives back even better than he gets. Steve praises him and melts, the salty tang of his sweat on Tony’s lips while he tells him he’s perfect, tells him he loves him. “So good for me, gorgeous. So close,” he tells him. He squeezes Steve tight in both his arms, wanting never to let go. His legs start to shake, and his hips stutter as much as his broken little words, and when Steve tells him to come, he does.

  Because Steve is an actual angel- Tony’s pretty sure- he offers to scrub him clean in the shower, although walking to the bathroom seems to be neither of their strong suits at that point.

  Tony shampoos Steve’s hair, giving him a floppy soap-hawk. Steve has one hip leaned into the wall, hands steady on Tony’s waist, eyes closed. Tony might be rewriting the words of ‘Rubber Ducky You’re The One’ to sing to Steve. Depends on if Steve was too grown up in the seventies to tune into Sesame Street so that Tony can try and claim all the credit, really.

  “Should we go tell the villagers I’m alive?” he asks.

  “Depending on what floor they’ve been on, they might already know,” Steve points out, opening one eye.

  “Good point.” Tony grabs the showerhead to rinse away the suds then shuts the water off and runs his fingers along Steve’s dripping jawline. He notices a little red mark he had missed earlier. “Do you have a cut?”

  Steve reaches up to rub his chin where the mark is while Tony fetches a towel to wrap him. “I must have nicked myself shaving this morning. I was worried about you,” he says. He steps out of the shower in front of the mirror, checking. “Funny, that sort of thing usually heals by now.”

  Newly made promises of honesty aside, Tony figures he can give Steve a few hours to figure that one out for himself. “You wanna go for a nighttime joyride?” he asks, now that he can.

  “Absolutely,” Steve agrees.