"I feel like I should warn you," Pepper said to him, the night it all began. "He's going to try to give you things."
Steve, lying in a post-coital haze of happy emotions and physical exhaustion, did not react as swiftly as the finest military mind of the century probably should have. "Huh?" he managed.
Pepper, lying unabashedly naked on top of the sheets and facing him, beautiful pale face almost ethereal in the dim light cast by Tony's arc reactor between them, smiled.
"Tony. He's a gift-giver. It's okay to tell him when he's gone way overboard. In fact he encourages it; he knows he sometimes needs recalibration."
Steve looked down at Tony between them, sleeping so hard it was almost audible. He looked younger in sleep, and it was strange to see his usually mobile features still. Like looking at a different person, almost.
"Isn't it a little early for presents?" he asked. "I mean, tonight was really nice and...and I hope we can do it again...sometime..."
He trailed off, unsure if that was presumptuous. He wasn't a complete innocent, but he didn't know exactly what it meant when a couple as visibly in love as Tony and Pepper invited another man into their bed. For all he knew he was a fun sex toy to them. (He thought not, hoped not, but he was so lonely sometimes, and they were so perfect with each other -- he'd take what he could get.)
"We don't do this as a habit," Pepper said, apparently reading his uncertainty. She reached across Tony and stroked Steve's face with her fingertips. "You're special. We'd like to do this again too, with you. As far as Tony is concerned, saying yes to sharing our bed means it's time to start properly paying woo."
"Paying woo," he said, unable to suppress a smile.
"Tony charms people he wants to have sex with. But he courts people he wants to have a life with," she said, and Steve flushed, imagining that -- that these two might consider keeping him in a permanent kind of way, when it seemed like there wasn't anything else they could possibly need outside each other.
"He thinks so highly of you," she said. "I do too, but I don't know you as well as Tony does. So you and I will get to know each other better, and meanwhile Tony will trip over himself trying to get you to stay. You just need to know it's okay to tell him when he goes overboard. He'll feel hurt for two minutes and then he'll recalibrate and the giant rabbit will be totally forgotten."
"I'll show you a photo sometime," she said. Between them, Tony snuffled in his sleep and rolled towards the sound of her voice, leaning into her and clinging gently. Steve felt a strange twinge, envy and fondness combined. Pepper reached out her free hand and took his wrist, pulling him closer until his arm was over Tony's waist and his hand rested on her hip.
He let out a sigh of satisfaction, envy fading, and buried his face in Tony's hair.
"Tomorrow we're going shopping," Pepper said, but Steve fell asleep before he could ask why.
"Look, what I'm saying is, since dating you I have consistently had to shop for the woman who has everything, including my heart and my company," Tony said at breakfast the next morning. Well, Steve assumed breakfast. He wasn't fully awake yet, but he could smell eggs and hear forks on plates. He was enjoying lying in a warm bed and lazily pretending to still be asleep, not to mention the novel sensation of listening to his lovers bicker with each other.
"I have given you a list of things you can always buy me, Tony," Pepper replied. "Shoes, handbags, Legos."
"What do you do with the Legos, anyway? I never see them."
"They're stress relief, you don't need to see them."
"The point is that now, for once, I'm semi-dating -- does he know we're dating?"
"Yes, I explained to him after you crashed last night."
"I'm dating a man who has nearly nothing, I can give him so many things he doesn't have! And you, treacherous delight, want first dibs? Not fair at all," Tony said, sounding genuinely annoyed.
"I usually have to shop for you! You think shopping for you is easy?" Pepper asked.
"I used to pay you to shop for me!"
"My point exactly!" Pepper made a frustrated noise. "Steve and I don't know each other as well as you two do, because I don't save the world with him on alternate Tuesdays. We need some get-to-know-you time."
"Get to know him in a library or something."
"A library," Pepper said, echoing Steve's own questions about that suggestion. "How do library dates work?"
"I don't know, do I look like someone who goes on library dates?"
"Do I?" Pepper asked, and Steve opened his eyes, just barely, just enough to see Pepper reclining on a low chair in a gauzey, see-through robe. The only other clothes she had on were a pair of panties composed mostly of blue lace.
"If you went to the library in that you'd certainly get offers," Tony remarked. He looked fine himself, Steve thought, copper-olive skin glowing, hair tousled, slouched in a pair of sleep pants that were riding low on his hips. He knew, intellectually, that he himself was as attractive as either of them and that wasn't why this had happened at any rate, but he still felt like scrawny, chicken-chest little Steve with the perpetual cough and the limp, who never got his promised growth spurt in high school. The idea of both of these gods being his, arguing over him, was breathtaking and strange.
"You have meetings with R&D, Legal, and the Avengers Communications team today," Pepper said, taking a bite from a breakfast pastry. "Your day is full. I can't even take the day; after lunch I'm doing budget stuff all afternoon. But this morning I'm going to take Steve out and spend some time with him, and you are going to put up with it because you love me and understand that Steve is probably significantly freaking out about this."
"We did have threesomes in the forties, you know," Steve said, and was gratified with their heads whipped around, startled. He pushed himself up on one elbow, running a hand through his hair to smooth it down. "I mean, in my case they were theoretical, but i'm sure they existed, so that's not a reason I'd be worried. Unless you think I'm prone to homosexual panic, but I feel pretty good about all the man-on-man sex so far."
"Eavesdropping weasel," Tony said, tossing him an orange -- more accurately, throwing it at his head, but Steve caught it out of the air. He sat up, crossing his legs, blanket barely preserving his modesty, and began to peel it with his fingers.
"Well, I think a fella's gotta know a few dirty tricks to keep up with the pair of you," Steve said. "We really don't need to go shopping," he added, blushing a little. "I've never been on a library date either but I'm sure we'd make our own fun. Or we could go for a walk in Central Park."
"As charming as that sounds, I have ulterior motives for shopping," Pepper said. Tony was watching Steve's fingers pull the orange apart with bordering-on-inappropriate lust.
"You need someone to tell you how fine you look in a new dress?" Steve asked, tilting his head, chewing on a segment of orange.
"No, honey. I want you to see how fine you look in something that's not khaki," Pepper said gently.
"Or star-spangled. Not that the star doesn't suit you," Tony said. "Flip you for it, Pep."
"No," Pepper said calmly, finishing her pastry.
"I've got a quarter right here," Tony threatened.
"No you don't," Pepper said. "You haven't seen cash money in months."
"Steve probably does."
Steve looked around the bedroom. The previous night's foreplay had been intense and somewhat...abandoned. "I don't think I know where my pants even are," he said.
"Gentlemen, this isn't up for debate," Pepper said, dusting her fingers off daintily. "Steve and I are going out. If you ask nicely and Steve says yes, we can have dinner together, all three of us, somewhere discreet and expensive, and you can pay."
"Done," Tony said. Steve wondered if he knew he'd just been snookered into paying for dinner, or if he even cared.
"Good. Now, I'm going to shower, and if either of you want to join me for the sake of efficiency, I might let you wash my back," she said, and Steve would have gotten out of bed but he was entranced by the sway of her behind as she walked away, and then by the flex and ripple of the muscles in Tony's back as he jogged to join her.
"Reveille, Rogers, come on!" Tony called over his shoulder, breaking the spell, and Steve almost tripped over the edge of the blankets in his haste to vacate the bed and join them.
Shopping that morning was strange and awkward and oddly pleasant, all at once. Pepper had the kind of money that bought you on-call personal shoppers at all the best department stores, when she deigned to go to a department store, but the shopping didn't end there -- it barely even started there. They roamed Manhattan in a town car, visiting boutiques where the owners knew her by name and brought out fancy bottled water and juice on serving trays; when Pepper pointed and said "one of those", whatever One Of Those was got whisked away somewhere, and she was never asked to pay for it or given a receipt or a shopping bag unless she asked for one of those, too.
He actually liked the little stores. They were quiet and filled with beautiful things, and the sales assistants were kind, not like some of the shops he'd gone to where his inexperience with fashion had been the source of amusement to the clerks who tried to help him. But he was also well aware he was out of his element, and the vast array of clothing Pepper asked him to look at or model for her was a lot to process.
It was a relief whenever they ducked into a store "Just for a minute!" and Pepper would disappear into a changing room to have a bra she liked altered or try on a skirt. Then he got to sit in a nice chair and drink the fancy bottled juice, and sometimes make small talk with an assistant who clearly recognized him but didn't ask for a selfie with him or tell him earnestly how much he meant to the city of New York.
He liked taking selfies with people, it just...felt nice to be treated at least somewhat normally, for once.
Pepper bought him stylish t-shirts and a beautiful leather belt, new pants that she said made his legs look even more amazing, a cardigan he'd shyly admired without knowing what he would wear it with (his arms got cold a lot, it looked so warm), linen dress shirts and cotton dress shirts and sweaters and more neckties than he knew what to do with, all of them silky works of art.
And he let her buy it all, because it seemed to give her pleasure. He'd never have bought this much for himself but he liked it, secretly, a little guiltily. If she liked to buy him these things, he wasn't prepared to object, and maybe it meant she'd like him to wear them for her and Tony.
His ingrained attitude from childhood said that it was madness to accept all this, that he could do perfectly well with the clothing and belt and ties that he had, but he reminded himself that those were the same instincts that had led to him hoarding stashes of food in his bedroom at the Tower for the first few weeks, until he'd realized that the kitchen never emptied. The revelation that the end of the month was the same as the beginning when it came to having chicken in the icebox and bread on the pantry shelf had been staggering and liberating.
There would always be more food, now. And that meant too that there was room in his life for nice things, even nice things someone else had bought him.
That afternoon, all of the things they'd bought arrived at the tower, and Steve busied himself taking the tags off his clothes and sorting out Pepper's things, making sure her parcels were stashed safely in her and Tony's bedroom. It seemed like so much more than it had earlier, all laid out on his bed, and for a few minutes he had to sit down and put his head in his hands, questioning his life choices -- not just allowing Pepper to buy all this, because Lord knew she had the money, but whether he should be accepting their offer, whether he was wise to even try to be with two people who had such different lives from his.
What finally snapped him out of it was a beep from his phone, a photo text from Tony. It showed half of Tony's face, an expression of mild panic, and behind him, an out-of-focus powerpoint slide covered in bullet points.
Rescue me the text read.
Steve squinted at the photo; that looked like the Avengers board room on the executive floor. He looked at his clothes, looked back at the phone, and made a decision.
He knocked on the boardroom door but didn't wait for a summons before opening it. When he put his head inside, everyone, including Tony, looked surprised.
"I'm so sorry to interrupt," he said. "I'm afraid Tony's needed on urgent Avengers business."
Tony's mouth was slightly open.
"Tony, can you take an hour or two?" Steve prompted.
"I -- yes, of course," Tony said, gathering up the papers in front of him. "Avengers business comes first. Let's circle back around on this in about a month. Keep on as you've begun, great work so far," he added, as Steve dragged him out the door and into the hallway. The elevator opened soundlessly, and Tony followed him into it, then herded him up against the wall and kissed him, handsy and eager.
"That never happens," Tony said, as the elevator headed for the residential floor.
"What?" Steve asked, confused.
"Pepper never comes to rescue me," Tony said. "She knows better."
"Oh, I thought -- "
"No, always come rescue me when I demand it, don't listen to her when she tells you not to," Tony said, still kissing him. Steve turned them and hiked Tony up against the wall, wrapping Tony's thighs around his hips. It only lasted a few seconds before the doors opened, so he turned again and carried Tony into his living room, dumping him on the sofa.
"Nooner, I love it," Tony said.
"Not without Pepper," Steve said, heading for the bedroom where all his new clothes were.
"You spent all morning with Pepper!" Tony yelled after him.
"And we didn't get up to any funny business either," Steve called back. "Got more important things to do, Tony."
"Like what?" Tony asked, twisting to look over the edge of the couch. Steve shucked his shirt and pants and came back to the doorway in his undershorts.
"I need you to tell me what to wear for dinner," he said. Tony scrambled over the couch and jogged to the bedroom, throwing himself down in the chair Steve had sat in earlier in order to freak out.
"Show me everything," Tony commanded, waving at the bed, an expression of genuine, serious focus on his face. "Ooh, I like that belt."
"I did too!" Steve said eagerly, and reached for the pile of pants to start trying everything out.
Pepper texted at six that she was still working out the last details of the budget, and would meet them at the restaurant at six thirty. They arrived just after she did, and she nearly choked on her wine when she saw Steve.
"I'm willing to concede his morning with you wasn't wasted," Tony told her, bending to kiss her cheek before he sat. Pepper never took her eyes from Steve, who wished he could tuck his hands up in the soft wool of his sweater like he used to when he was smaller. He didn't think he looked all that fancy -- just a pair of trousers that Tony had called "charcoal", a nice white linen shirt with a dark tie and the soft blue sweater over it -- but evidently Tony had been right about what Pepper would like.
"You two make a good team," he said, gesturing at his tie and sweater as he sat across from Pepper.
"We have good material to work with," Pepper said. She took Steve's left hand and turned it over, pushing up his sleeve. "I thought I saw a new watch," she said admiringly, looking at Tony.
"Tony loaned it to me," Steve said. It was an awfully nice watch, brushed steel and bright glass, with BVLGARI stamped around the edge of the blue-and-gold watch face.
"Looks better on him than it ever did on me. Big chunky band," Tony said, holding up his hands. "My hands are too small."
"Your hands are nice," Steve said.
"You should see what else I loaned him," Tony said in Pepper's ear. She gave him a questioning look. "After dinner."
Steve blushed scarlet. The underwear, which Tony swore was clean and new, was also skimpy and tight, but he couldn't deny it was flattering. And there was a strange, illicit thrill in wearing something fine like that, something so clearly meant to be seen by his lovers, under his quietly conservative trousers while they were out in public.
He enjoyed dinner, too, allowing Pepper and Tony to pick the food and the wine, helping Pepper narrate their shopping trip and listening to Tony's account of the terribly boring meeting about the Avengers' new PR campaign.
People occasionally snapped cellphone photos of them, which made Steve a little nervous, but Pepper spotted it and leaned in, smiling reassuringly.
"Believe me, nobody thinks you're here as our date," she said. "And if they did, they'd think better of you for it. Everyone knows Tony's reputation, so he's safe. Honestly, I'd be in the worst trouble if it came out."
"But I don't want you to be in trouble," Steve said, distressed. Pepper patted his wrist.
"Don't worry about it," she said, as Tony poured him another glass of wine. "Let's have dessert. The almond torte here is amazing."
Steve didn't have a lot of experience in the romance department, but he'd picked up a few things from the Star Spangled Show dancers and a few more from Peggy, plus a sketchy but informative education from the queer club down the block when he was a kid. Obviously he wasn't as sophisticated about making love as Tony or Pepper, but he could hold his breath for a long time, which Pepper liked, and Tony was very vocally approving when he found out (well, when they all found out together) how sensitive Steve's body was.
"It's probably for the best there's two of us," Tony said, bringing a drinks tray over to the bed. He hadn't taken time to put on any clothes, but he had put little cocktail napkins under their drinks, affixed a lemon slice to Steve's club soda, and speared three olives in Pepper's martini.
Pepper still had her stockings on, which was an awfully good look on her, and Tony rested a possessive hand on the lace edging at the top as he climbed back into bed with what looked like a vodka tonic. Steve rubbed his fingers admiringly over the lace of the other one, and only then noticed that he himself still had his watch on.
"I should give this back before I forget," he said, turning his hand over and reaching for the clasp.
"Don't bother," Tony replied, covering the clasp with his fingers, thumb resting warm on Steve's still-rushing pulse. "Keep it."
"This is a nice watch," Steve said. "I couldn't. It must be worth a couple hundred dollars, Tony."
Tony and Pepper exchanged a brief look, and then Tony smiled. "It's too big for me, and I have a ton of watches," he insisted. "I don't have any use for it. And I like the way it looks on you."
Steve wondered briefly if this was what Pepper had meant, about overdoing it, but it was only a watch, after all, and Tony had said it wasn't useful to him.
"I like to see you wearing something I've given you," Tony continued, which did somewhat reframe the issue. Steve felt the same thrill of pleasure as he had earlier, at the restaurant; he supposed he liked wearing something Tony had given him, too. As much as he liked wearing those new clothes (and the very....successful underwear) for Pepper.
"It's beautiful," he said. "Thank you, Tony."
"Will you stay again tonight?" Pepper asked, leaning up against him so she could put her legs across Tony's lap. "Honey, take these off? Carefully, please."
"I think so, unless you don't want me to," Steve said, as Tony tugged her stockings down, bending to kiss the top of each thigh as he did so. It was a charming gesture, innocent in its honesty, not something Steve would have thought Tony Stark capable of doing when they'd first met.
Then again, he hadn't entertained the idea of kissing a beautiful woman like Pepper Potts while cheerfully letting a man put his fingers there either. Particularly not Tony Stark.
And especially not enjoying it as much as he had.
"Steve's in the middle tonight! I call big spoon!" Tony cried, flinging the stockings away and crawling over Pepper, then over Steve (tweaking a nipple on the way, to Steve's surprised yelp) before settling down on his other side. Steve rolled onto his right side, so that he and Pepper were facing each other, and Tony flung an arm over his chest and cuddled up into his back with a happy sigh.
"You're so warm," he said, pleased, and Steve and Pepper shared an amused grin. Pepper tucked her head under Steve's chin, her hair unbelievably soft, and relaxed into him.
In the dark, the numbers and hands of the watch gave off a gentle glow over Pepper's shoulder. Steve watched it tick away serenely until Tony and Pepper were both out, and then he let himself sleep as well.
Dating two people at once turned out to be shockingly efficient.
Steve hadn't really had time to prepare for polyamory; Tony and Pepper had simply fed him a good meal one evening, offered to watch a movie with him in the penthouse, and made advances on him sometime during the second act. They'd been reasonably plain about what they wanted, and Steve was too deep in the hormonal rush of being fondled by two people he'd already wistfully envied to consider saying no or even wait, let alone wait, I need to google how to do this.
But eventually he had Googled, and the reasonably trustworthy websites had all talked about working hard, communicating mutual respect and trust, and what a balancing act it could be to maintain a multiple-partner relationship. Steve had been prepared to work hard to make this work, because he'd die before hurting Pepper or Tony, and he desperately wanted to keep this one precious thing he'd managed to create in the new century.
He'd expected difficulties. But he supposed very few people in polyamorous relationships were in them with the CEO of an international corporation and a genius superhero.
Pepper and Tony added him to the Relationship Calendar that JARVIS kept, so that he'd know exactly when they were free, when they wanted to have a date night, when one or the other of them was going out of town. He had more time with Tony, true, but Pepper was more organized than Tony, more deliberate, and she found or made time for both of them, or sometimes just for him, which felt more special because of it. And when Tony was around, Steve had a fifty-fifty chance of holding his attention at best, but when he was with Pepper, all of her focus was on him (or them).
Tony was generous and tactile and fascinated by pleasure, and Pepper was kind and explanatory and she kept a rein on Tony that Tony seemed to love. When he was with both of them he felt like -- well, he felt like they were dancing and he could dance too, but he didn't have to. They would dance around him. For him. And the jealousy he sometimes felt, seeing how easily they moved with each other, didn't survive more than a week or two into the relationship. Their movements together always made room for him, somehow.
Pepper, after their first big spree, didn't often give him presents, though once in a while she'd present him with a box and it would have a tie pin or a cupcake or a book she thought he'd like inside. For a while he thought the occasional vase of flowers he'd find waiting for him in his kitchen sometimes were from her too, which was sort of correct. He learned later they were usually the result of Tony ordering some kind of extravagant monstrosity, the florist calling Pepper to confirm, and her reducing the order to something simple.
Secretly, he loved the flowers. He supposed it wasn't considered manly, but the bright, delicate blossoms in their slim vases delighted him. He kept the cards (on thick creamy paper without any names, just For last night or Reminded me of you or Thought you could use a smile) in a box from one of the tie-pins, on a shelf in his closet.
Tony did give gifts, and each time Steve wondered if he should ask Pepper if it was too much, but they were given so offhandedly, always with a good excuse. An upgrade to his uniform, or a shiny new Stark brand computer "to replace the junk SHIELD gave you, probably covered in Hydra bloatware", or a second, less flashy watch.
"A gentleman should have the right accessories," Tony told him, when he tossed him the wooden watch box, designed to hold a collection of watches, with a second one inside.
"How does that explain you, then?" Steve asked, grinning.
Tony clutched his heart. "Shade, nothing but shade from you," he said, as Steve leaned forward to kiss him.
"It's beautiful, Tony. You know I like red," he said, examining the oxblood leather band and the muted scarlet face.
"You look better in blue, but Pep got you that red shirt, you need something to go with it," Tony said, fidgeting only a little. Tony fidgeted when he was worried about being awkward, so Steve always tried to touch him more when he was fidgety.
"Put it on me?" Steve asked, and took advantage of Tony's hands being busy at his wrist to kiss him again.
It wasn't like he didn't put any work into courting them, either. He gave flowers before their dates (probably why they gave flowers after), he brought Pepper lunch at least a couple of days a week, he found treats he knew Tony liked and brought them to him in the workshop. He shyly left cards for them sometimes, and once when he'd seen a pair of brilliant gold-and-amber earrings in a shop window, he'd bought them impulsively for Pepper. She'd said they looked like arc reactors, which Steve hadn't noticed until she pointed them out, and Tony's chest had puffed proudly (reactor glittering and making the amber glow) while she put them in her ears. She wore them to a TV interview the next week, and Steve began to understand why they liked to dress him.
In the end, it wasn't anything either of them gave him that caused the commotion, not really. It was Clint.
"Boy, I wish I had a sugar daddy," Clint said to him one morning, as Steve poured himself a coffee while he waited for his bread to toast.
"Are you no longer living in the rent-free Manhattan housing and eating the complimentary food provided by Stark Industries?" Steve asked, amused.
"Well, I'm not fucking the boss for it," Clint said, and Steve tensed.
"What do you mean by that?" he asked, voice tight, well aware that his own reaction was probably giving his secrets away.
"Nobody around here is stupid," Clint said. Steve's toast popped up, but he ignored it. "We don't care that you're sleeping with them, but give us a little credit."
"With who?" Steve asked, trying to sound neutral.
"Tony and Pepper. Don't get me wrong, if I swung that way I'd get down with them too." Clint took the toast out of the toaster and began buttering it.
"You don't know -- "
"Steve," Clint said, opening the jar of jam. "I know freshly-laid when I see it. You're wearing an eight thousand dollar wristwatch -- "
"Eight thousand dollars?" Steve asked, looking down at the watch Tony had casually given him.
"And Pepper makes Tony wear the same designer shirts you do," Clint said, tugging on Steve's lapels. "Why are you all dressed up today, by the way?"
"Fundraising brunch mixer at the Met," Steve said absently. "They make watches that cost eight thousand dollars?"
"You're adorable," Clint said. "And I know you're not just sleeping with one of them because they are really disgustingly into each other, plus Tony might not noticed Pepper stepping out but Pepper would definitely catch Tony, and anyway you don't strike me as the adulterous type."
He offered Steve the toast, but Steve's mouth was dry and he suddenly wasn't very hungry. Clint shrugged when he waved it off, and bit into it himself.
"Nobody cares, anyway," he said, perching on the kitchen counter. "Not any of us, I mean."
"Does everyone know?" Steve asked. Even to himself, he sounded small and anxious.
"Tasha definitely does. Which means Bruce probably does, not that it'd be hard for him to notice, working with Tony. Sam asked me if I thought you were and is still trying to decide if it's appropriate to ask you about it. I think he's worried about you. Thor might not know but I'm pretty sure given his family history he'd be cool with it. Have you seen the Ring Cycle? Daddy was a player."
"Why is Sam worried?" Steve asked.
"Well, I mean." Clint gestured at him.
"The clothes, the watch, the middle-aged power couple," Clint said. "It's always flattering, being the boy toy, that much I know from experience, and it must be a lot of fun to be a kept man -- "
"I'm not a kept man," Steve said.
"Oh, sweet summer child," Clint replied.
"That's not how it is!"
"Eight thousand dollars," Clint said. "On your wrist. Because he likes to see you in things he gave you, am I right?"
"Well, who doesn't?"
"And that's why Sam's worried," Clint said. "Because you don't seem to notice you're the kept man."
"You don't know anything," Steve said, anger mounting inside him, though he kept his voice as close to level as he could.
"Hey, I'm not scolding, I'm not shaming. I've been there, sort of. I'm explaining. You don't have to believe me, maybe I've got it wrong," Clint said with a shrug, chewing on the toast. "Just make sure you know what you've gotten into, Steve. None of us want to see you come out of this hurt. Even Tony and Pepper, I'm sure."
"I have to go," Steve said, even as his phone chimed to remind him he had twenty minutes to get to the Met.
"Drop a dime if you need to talk!" Clint yelled after him, before the elevator doors closed. Steve hit the button for the lobby, probably harder than necessary, and then looked down at his wrist, at BVLGARI staring up at him. He turned his hand over and unhooked the clasp, shoving the watch in his inside coat pocket.
He told himself it was because he didn't want to scratch the crystal.
The brunch at the Met was distinctly unhelpful.
Steve liked fundraising parties, though he hadn't thought he would. He hadn't believed Tony when he said he liked them. And there was truly something a little sleazy about spending his morning with a bunch of wealthy people who demanded to be convinced before they'd give money they didn't need to a good cause. It reeked of classism and preferential treatment. But Steve enjoyed separating rich people from their money and he found he was good at it -- the chat-up, the pitch, the ask, the close. He'd watched Tony do it, ages ago at other parties before they were together, and when he'd been allowed to fly on his own, he got a lot of pleasure out of a well-executed attack.
But once in a while you did get stuck with a dud, and the other fundraisers might be too busy to notice and come rescue you. This one was especially painful, because he was a gossip, but not one of the interesting ones.
"See her?" Ken Yacorn asked Steve, nodding at a well-coiffed young woman in an elegant vintage dress. "Trophy wife."
"I don't think I know her," Steve said.
"You wouldn't, she's new. Ralph bought her, out in Los Angeles somewhere."
"Bought her?" Steve asked, eyebrows drawing together.
"Not literally, of course," Yacorn laughed. "But you know how it is. He picked her out, found out she had a little taste, bought her a makeover and a wardrobe, and dragged her back here to show her off. That necklace? Same designer my wife goes to. She's going to have to find a new one, I think. Guarantee that's fifteen grand around her neck and she probably treats it like costume jewelry."
"I'm sure if she loves him, she thinks it's special," Steve said.
"Kid that age doesn't know if she's in love or having indigestion," Yacorn scoffed. "She just knows she's onto a good thing. I mean, I guess she should ride that train as far as she can, but when she loses her looks I hope she's saved up for a good divorce lawyer."
"Maybe he really loves her," Steve ventured.
Yacorn gave him a smile that said he clearly thought Steve was being naive. "Your first marriage is for love, Rogers. Your next one's for prestige. You'll see when you're my age; half the people you know will be paying alimony to one woman and credit card bills for another. Ralph cut her out of the herd like a prize cow and now he's going to dress her up like a prom queen."
"There you are," the curator of the Met said, appearing behind Yacorn and mouthing Sorry at him as he threw an arm around Yacorn's shoulders and gently turned him away from Steve. "There was a crowd at the drinks table asking about you, Steve. Mr. Yacorn, I need to have a word with you about the glorious Klee your wife is considering donating..."
Steve made his way to the drinks table, but he didn't linger long; the volunteer coordinator was there, and she gave him a brief smile, then a frown when she saw his expression.
"Sorry you got saddled with Yacorn," she said. "You look like you could use a Tequila Sunrise. I promise it's five o'clock somewhere."
"No, thanks," he said, waving off the drink ticket she held up. "Listen, I'm not feeling well -- "
"Say no more. The event is winding down anyway and everyone who wanted their five minutes with Captain America has gotten it," she said. "Need anything before you go?"
He opened his mouth, then paused. "Yeah, actually. That woman over there -- "
"Ralph's wife. Newbie; poor woman doesn't know anyone yet and his ex-wife's friend are all cutting her."
"Would it be politically awful if you asked her to volunteer? Seems like she could use a little backup," he said.
"Not politically awful, no, especially if Captain America suggested her. I didn't know you knew her."
"I don't," he said. "I've just been in her shoes. Maybe. Kind of. It's nice to have a purpose outside of yourself, you know?"
"Sure, I'll reach out. Remind me at the next planning committee meeting and I'll introduce the two of you."
"Thanks. See you then?"
"You bet," she said, and Steve made his retreat, collecting his jacket, the heavy weight of the watch bumping against his chest.
He didn't go back to the Tower immediately; instead he took the long way around Central Park, a northwest loop that at a slow stroll ate up almost an hour. it took him through the edge of the upper west side, not as stylish as the upper east but still populated by people carrying designer bags and wearing expensive shoes. He wondered if he shouldn't have caught the train out to Brooklyn instead, but Brooklyn was still a hard place to visit, simultaneously familiar and alien. The strangeness would have been fine, and the comfort of knowing nearly every street and alley would also, but the combination of the two...
"It's like someone built robot versions of your parents and the robots tried to hug you," he'd told Pepper once, explaining why he didn't want to show her his home. Pepper, born in California and busy with SI by the time they moved to New York, still wasn't familiar with huge chunks of the sprawl that the city had become. In his day, Brooklyn and Manhattan had barely been considered the same city.
"Well," she'd replied, "now I know what I'm having a nightmare about tonight."
He'd had warnings that the wealth might cause problems; that very first night, Pepper had warned him. But that had been about Tony going overboard (she had eventually shown him photos of the giant rabbit.) He'd had gut instincts too, about what he should accept from them, and it turned out he probably should have listened.
He was sure Tony and Pepper didn't intend to have...purchased him, but the trajectory was the same, and he didn't know what that meant. Maybe it meant that they'd get tired of him, which was an awful thought to contemplate, returning to the aching loneliness he'd felt before. But he didn't want to seem desperate either, to cling sadly to what little he could get before it ended. And he didn't want to be thought of as mercenary. He liked what they gave him, but it was because they were the ones giving. He liked wearing shirts Pepper had bought him because it made her happy.
He bought himself a coffee from the cafe he used to sit in and sketch, back before he'd even moved into the Tower. It'd been wrecked in the invasion, but it had rebuilt, down to the cheap, creaky outdoor metal chairs that he liked.
"Long time no see," the waitress said as she set down his iced tea. She gave him a wide smile. "Boss was waiting for you to come back," she added. "You should be glad he's not here today, he wants to throw a party for you."
"For me?" he asked.
"Well, the whole saving the city thing," she said, and he realized what that meant -- they'd recognized the sad one-black-coffee loser with the sketchbook as Captain America. At least he'd always tipped well. "He's planning to present you with a free iced tea for life card."
"That's...nice, but it's really not necessary," he said.
"I told him you'd say that, but he's the boss," she said with a shrug. "Have a good day, Captain."
"Steve," he said.
"Steve," she agreed. She hesitated briefly, hands folded in front of her. "Look, I swear this isn't because of the whole...hero thing, I wanted to ask before the city got, uh, invaded, but. Would you like to get dinner sometime?"
He stared at her, startled.
"Or, or not," she said. "You probably get tons of offers, you're really beautiful and heroic..." she closed her eyes and mouthed oh my God at herself.
"It's not that, I don't actually..." he fumbled. He could literally see the old guys sitting at the next table laughing at them. "I'm very flattered, and you're so nice. It's just that I'm seeing someone."
She gave him a nod. "Well, I had to ask," she said, smiling. "Enjoy your drink."
"Who's the bombshell you turned her down for?" the old guy at the next table asked, as soon as she was gone. He was always here; Steve had seen him plenty of times. Stan, he thought.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," Steve replied.
"She the one buying you those shirts? You're dressing a lot snappier," Stan said.
Steve looked down. "Yeah. Hey," he said, taking his watch out of his pocket, "What's your first thought when you see this?"
Stan took the watch from him, then to Steve's surprise took a jeweler's glass out of his pocket and examined it.
"Well, either she's rich and wants everyone who sees you to know you're taken, or she'd be pretty pissed you aren't wearing something she blew half a year's salary on," he said, passing it back. "You're looking well-turned-out but not well enough to be wearing this. Anyone who knows anything knows this wasn't something you bought yourself."
Steve took the watch back, looking down at it. "Thanks," he said, tucking it back in his pocket.
"Not wearing it?" Stan asked, and gave a low whistle. "Trouble in paradise?"
"Yeah," Steve said.
"Well, if you want some advice from an old man, listen here," Stan said. He leaned forward, so Steve did too. Stan lowered his voice like he was imparting a secret. "Shit or get off the pot, sonny."
The other man sitting with Stan cackled with laughter. Steve rolled his eyes.
"I'll keep that in mind," he said, standing. "Catch ya later, Stan."
"It's good goddamn advice!" Stan yelled after him, as Steve started towards Stark Tower.
Stan, at least, wasn't wrong about this: letting it fester would only cause problems. He resolved to deal with this as soon as he got home, which was just as well, since when he walked into the elevator JARVIS told him, a disapproving note in his voice, that he had missed the late lunch Tony and Pepper had been expecting him for, as well as an afternoon sparring session with Natasha.
"Tell Natasha I'm sorry, and I'll do a formal apology later," he said.
"And Mr. Stark and Ms. Potts?" JARVIS prompted snippily.
"Take me to the workshop level, I'll talk to Tony now," Steve said, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands.
"Acceptable," JARVIS pronounced.
Tony didn't seem to be actively working on anything when Steve let himself into the workshop; he was spinning gently in his chair, talking to JARVIS and occasionally poking at holograms floating around his head.
"Hey, you missed lunch," he said, when he saw Steve. "Fundraiser at the Met run long? That's what you get for being selfless."
"Sort of. Sorry about that," Steve said.
"No big, Pepper had to eat and run anyway," Tony said. "Pull up a chair, hang out for a while."
"I need to ask you about something," Steve said, leaning on the empty console near Tony's keyboard. Tony stopped turning, looking up at him curiously. Steve took the watch out of his pocket and rested it in one palm, weighing it thoughtfully.
"Oh, did it break? Clockwork's not my specialty, but I can have a look," Tony said.
"No, it works fine. It's a lot more expensive than I thought it was, though, isn't it?" Steve asked.
Tony frowned at him. "How do you mean?"
"When you gave it to me. I said I thought it must be worth at least a few hundred dollars, and you and Pepper got this look. I didn't get it then, but..." Steve looked him in the eye. "This is worth thousands. So I understand."
"Yes..." Tony said warily. "Did you take it to a jeweler or something?"
"No, Clint noticed it," Steve said. "Apparently Clint notices a lot. He knows about us."
"Well, they don't call him Hawkeye for nothing. Are you worried?" Tony asked.
"He says Natasha knows too, and Sam suspects."
"Yeah, but Natasha doesn't care about other peoples' relationships and Sam's like the most accepting human being on Earth, I can't imagine he objects," Tony said, still looking perplexed.
"Apparently he does. He and Clint both do. Kind of. They're worried about me."
Tony blinked. "About you? Why?"
"Because I'm seeing two people who were already in a relationship, and who do things like give me eight thousand dollar watches without telling me."
"Steve, honestly, I'm not following why this is worrying, and you seem angry," Tony said. "Are you embarrassed you didn't know?"
"Well, yes, but that's not the point," Steve said. "I just need to know. What is this about?"
"The watch? It was a gift."
"What kind of gift?"
"I...what? Like is it a Christmas or a birthday or a Valentine's Day gift? It was just a nice gift," Tony said. "I thought it was nice. I didn't have any malevolent intentions."
"You and Pepper give me things. More than most people do, in relationships, I think," Steve said. "And I don't know what it means. That you do that. And that I accept them."
Tony narrowed his eyes, fingers tapping on the console thoughtfully.
"Look, I don't know why Pepper gives you stuff, that's her own thing," he said finally. "I think she does it because she likes shopping and thinks it's a bonding activity."
"I'm not asking you to speak for her," Steve said.
"Well, good, because I avoid doing that, as a rule. But in terms of me, this seems like an ugly thing for both of us to consider. I don't do it because I think I'm somehow paying you for your company," Tony continued. "I didn't give you watches because I felt you needed payment for sex, or for your time with us."
"That's good, because I don't think I'm worth eight thousand dollars," Steve said.
"I prefer not to put a price on pleasure, but I assure you, you're worth at least ten," Tony said. Steve didn't smile. "Okay, look, I blow at relationships. It's frankly stunning I've kept Pepper as long as I have, let alone Pepper and you combined. I'm not great at expressing sentiment, particularly at expressing an appropriate, non-desperate, non-creepy level of sentiment. I go too big or not big enough, which is why until Pepper I mostly had one-night stands. It was easier." Tony shrugged. "But I can give people stuff. I'm rich and I have good taste. I can give you stuff I know you'll like and that I'll like seeing you have. That's how I know to confirm that you're happy, happy with me, happy in this relationship. The things I give you are...barometers, they help me track the...weather systems of our relationship," he finished, looking a little panicked. "That was a bad metaphor but the reasoning is sound."
"So I'm not your kept man," Steve said. He didn't feel as relieved as he'd hoped. He didn't quite feel as reassured, either.
"Not unless you'd be into that as a sexy roleplay," Tony said. "There's nothing wrong with that kind of thing, you know, it's not this weird shamey thing everyone seems to think it is. But no, as far as I was aware, you're my boyfriend."
"Is my girlfriend."
"Tony," Steve said, and Tony rolled his eyes.
"You are also Pepper's boyfriend, and she loves you a lot," Tony said. "You're probably better at boyfriending than I am, honestly. Which takes some pressure off, so thanks for that."
"It's an eight thousand dollar watch," Steve persisted.
"That I had no use for, could afford to give away, and was happy to give to you, because you liked it and it looked good on you," Tony said, beginning to sound frustrated. "I thought, you know, watches was going to be like our thing."
"Our thing," Steve repeated.
"Like you bringing Pepper lunch and her fixing my horrible flower mistakes. I'd give you a new watch for your collection and you'd know I...care about you."
"I knew that already, Tony," Steve said, but he kept his voice gentle, because through the shock and confusion he could register how sad it was -- how anxious Tony must feel, that he had to put his relationships into concrete terms or he thought they'd slip through his fingers. And that did what all Tony's griping about being bad at this couldn't. It assured him that Tony was sincere, that he meant this, that Steve wasn't a toy or a...a rental.
"Not every gift is about the person who receives it," Tony said.
"I'm getting that," Steve agreed, reaching out and reeling Tony into his body, hand on the back of his neck. Tony sagged against him in relief, and Steve felt unsteady with it himself.
"Oh, thank God," Tony said into his neck. "You're not dumping us."
"No, I'm not dumping you," Steve said.
"I was really freaked out I was going to have to explain to Pepper how I made you break up with us," Tony continued.
"I wouldn't have made you do that, I can handle my own breakups," Steve said. "Well, okay, I've never actually broken up with someone, not like this, but I'm sure the internet has a guide."
Tony let out a high, nervous laugh. "You could make a Pinterest board for polyamorous breakups. How to dump your lovers so they don't blame each other. Or if you're feeling really brutal, how to dump them so that they do."
Steve kissed the side of Tony's head. "I'm not dumping you, I love you. But we're going to have to renegotiate some boundaries," he added, before Tony would freak out about whether he should say it back. "No more eight thousand dollar watches."
"Actually, that one was a limited edition, it's worth closer to twelve," Tony said.
"I am putting a dollar limit on watches," Steve said firmly. "Two hundred dollars. Five hundred dollars at Christmas."
"Your watch collection is going to be a lot of Fossil and Swatch," Tony said.
"I don't care how much it's worth," Steve said. "My watch collection is from my boyfriend, it's special to me. I can't keep up with the two of you when it comes to gifts, but I can make sure both of you tone it down."
"So no beachfront property for your birthday?" Tony asked.
"We like to, you know," Tony said, leaning back, looking him in the eye. "The money doesn't matter to us."
"Then keeping it in a budget shouldn't be hard."
"Pepper loves those earrings you gave her," Tony blurted. "I think better than anything I've given her ever. Well, maybe the Lego Stark Tower kit, but even then..."
"You mean the seventy dollar earrings I got on sale for fifty?" Steve asked. "She likes those even though I didn't spend thousands of dollars on them?"
Tony opened his mouth, then frowned. "Okay, wiseass, point made."
"Good." Steve kissed his forehead. "We have dinner booked for tonight, we can set a few ground rules then. I like fancy shirts too much to give them up entirely."
Tony was opening his mouth to reply when Pepper came skidding through the doorway, apparently straight from the office.
"JARVIS said you two were having a relationship freakout," she said, breathlessly. "You're not allowed to do those without me, because I am the voice of sanity in this relationship."
"Since when?" Tony asked.
"I'm almost positive I have a signed affidavit from you declaring me the voice of sanity," Pepper said.
"Was I drunk when I signed it?"
"What do you think?" she asked.
"She's making a compelling point," Tony said to Steve.
"Did you know this is an eight thousand dollar watch?" Steve asked, holding up the watch for her to see.
Pepper blinked. "Well, it was a limited edition, so really closer to -- "
She stopped abruptly, and Steve turned just in time to see Tony making a chopping gesture across his throat.
"Tony and I were just having a discussion of the definition of kept man versus boyfriend who gets a lot of presents," Steve said. Pepper swallowed nervously. "It's okay, we sorted it out."
"On the boyfriend side, right?" she asked.
"Yes," Steve said. "I realize if I wanted emotional maturity I probably should have come to you, but you were at work and I was having a moment."
"Moment over?" she asked warily. He held out an arm and let her duck into the hug, pulling her tightly against him.
"Moment mostly over," he said. "One or two slight negotiations, but they can wait."
"Oh," she replied, and was suspiciously silent.
"Pep?" Tony prompted.
"Well, I cleared my schedule in the elevator just now in anticipation of a relationship freakout," she said. "So I'm free all afternoon."
"Does she get to participate in makeup sex if she wasn't here for the fight?" Tony asked Steve.
"It wasn't a fight, it was a discussion," Steve said. "Of watches. Apparently I collect them."
"Is that yes?" Pepper asked. Steve let them both go and stepped back, crossing his arms.
"Okay, but we're still going out to dinner. We're not going to make love and then order in pizza and not have our talk," he said.
"These talks go better naked," Tony pointed out.
"I made reservations and this place supposedly has the best steak in New York, and Pepper's paying," Steve retorted. "It'll be well discreet enough."
"How far our beloved has come," Tony said to Pepper, grinning.
"You are on thin ice, mister, don't push it," Steve said, pointing at him. "Twelve thousand dollars," he muttered, crossing his arms.
"This really upset you," Pepper said, as if she still didn't quite understand. "That we spent so much money on you."
"It's -- it's not the money..." Steve trailed off at her look. "Okay, some of it's the money. But the money represented something. And I didn't know what that was, and Clint was mostly joking, but...and then I went to the brunch and this jerk was telling me about his friend's new wife he buys a lot of stuff for, and it just sounded so sordid. I didn't want to be that person. Or for you to be like that. But I didn't know."
Pepper rested a hand on Steve's chest. "But you did like the presents."
"Because you gave them to me, not because they were fancy or expensive," Steve protested.
"I know, baby, I know," she said. "That's what I meant. You like belonging to someone."
"Well, of course. Doesn't everyone?"
"Not quite the way you do," Tony said. He sounded like he was catching onto something Pepper was saying that Steve wasn't quite reading right. "You like wearing our things. You like it when people see them, even if they don't know. Because you know."
Steve swallowed and nodded.
"Let's go up to the penthouse," Pepper suggested, dropping her hand to his wrist. She took the watch from his hand and tugged, leading him towards the elevator. Tony followed, a hand in the small of Steve's back.
"Remind me later I need to return a thing," Tony said to Pepper.
"What did you buy me?" Steve sighed.
"Nothing," Tony said. Steve glared at him. "A desk toy. Like Pepper's."
"I don't have a desk," Steve said.
"I thought you could put it on the dining room table where you do all your paperwork."
"We have to eat there!"
"Well, I could buy you a desk -- "
"Argh!" Tony threw his arms up.
"Boys," Pepper sighed. "I'm about to fix this, if you two could stop fighting for ten seconds."
"Sorry, Pepper," Steve murmured.
"Sorry," Tony added. The door opened into the living room, and Pepper led them like a pair of slightly sullen ducklings into the bedroom, stepping out of her shoes at the doorway. Tony and Steve exchanged a look and began to undress.
"Here's how this is going to work," Pepper said, turning around and presenting her neck to Steve, hair lifted in her hands. "Unzip me, sweetie? Steve is going to lie back and relax," she continued, while he unzipped her dress and then unhooked the bra underneath it. "And Tony and I will look after you."
"Ohh," Tony said, and stepped up the speed on his undressing. "Oh, man, I'm no longer the smartest person in the room."
"When it comes to this, hon, you never were," Pepper told him, patting his cheek. "Nylons, please."
Steve shed the rest of his clothes while Tony knelt to help Pepper out of her underthings, and then, for lack of something better to do, he sat on the edge of the bed.
"Lie back," Pepper said, tapping him on the thigh. "Head on the pillow. Hands under it, and keep them there."
"This doesn't seem like it'll be that much fun for you," Steve pointed out, tucking his hands under the pillow.
"That's because you're new to it," Tony told him, looking unaccountably excited.
"So the way this works is, you keep your hands there, and you relax," Pepper said, sitting next to him, stroking his hair back. "We do all the work. You just have to do what we say. And if you want to stop, just say stop, okay?"
He frowned. "Okay. Is this...different?"
"It might be. This is for us to show you that you're precious to us," she said. Tony, leaning over her shoulder, was beaming. "I think you'll like it, and this won't scare you as much as a twelve thousand dollar watch."
"I wasn't scared -- " Steve began, but Pepper put a finger over his lips.
"Tony," she said. Tony nuzzled her neck.
"Yep," he said, and crawled down the bed, settling over Steve's thighs and bending to take his half-hard dick in his mouth. Steve groaned and instinctively raised his hands so he could reach down --
Pepper caught his wrists and held them down again, until he gathered his wits and shoved his hands back under the pillow.
"Good," she said, letting go and petting his shoulders, long strokes from neck to bicep. Tony's mouth was warm and tight, and the gentle brush of Pepper's nails down Steve's skin made his body tingle. He arched his back and rolled his hips carefully, giving Tony plenty of warning, and Tony rested his hands on Steve's thighs, a gentle command to stay still. Pepper bent and kissed him.
"Let us run the show," she said. Steve nodded and tried to consciously relax back into the pillow, closing his eyes. Pepper slid her thumb into his mouth and he sucked it deep, glad of something to do. She let him for a minute or two, then pulled her hand away, laughing when he almost lifted his head to follow her.
"Settle down, I'll have something for you in a second," she said, and he felt her straddle his shoulders, knees inside the crooks of his elbows. He let his mouth fall open, eyes still closed, and smelled thick arousal before her cunt settled over his mouth, already wet, hot and perfect. He felt with his tongue briefly, getting his bearings, and then started alternating, long strokes of his tongue and sharp sucking with his lips, the way she liked it. Her weight shifted and she groaned, long and indulgent. Her clit twitched under his tongue.
He didn't even notice Tony had slowed and stopped sucking him until he forgot himself again, raising his arm to grip Pepper's hip, and Tony's hand guided him back.
"God damn, I love to see that," Tony said hoarsely, his other hand resting on Steve's chest, occasionally slipping under Pepper's ass to guide her forward, giving Steve the resistance to push deeper with his tongue.
It was good, of course, he liked this as much as Tony liked watching it and probably almost as much as Pepper liked experiencing it. But he still didn't understand what this was meant to prove. Maybe, like Tony said, this wasn't for him; this was a gift for the givers.
He lost himself for a while after that, to the point where he whined in surprise when Pepper eased away, and only Tony's hand resting gently on his throat stopped him from sitting up to follow her. Tony, hand still firmly in place, bent to kiss him, licking wetness from the corners of his mouth. Normally Steve would have leaned up and grabbed his hair to hold him there, but he reminded himself to stay still, and there was an odd appeal in it. It was nice, in a dreamlike way, to lie there and not have to worry about what he ought to do or what was wanted from him.
He barely registered when Pepper guided one of his knees up and to the side, or the slick, momentary burn of her fingers inside him. He didn't have to; he could just let Tony kiss him, let Pepper touch him, enjoy the sense of physical being that was still often difficult to reach. Sometimes this big, capable body still seemed like a puppet he happened to have control of.
It felt like he was sinking deeper into his body, feeling every touch with a greater intensity and with less conscious mind to interpret them. When Tony leaned away he just let him, contentedly, waiting for what would come next.
He felt Tony run his hands down his legs, hooking deft fingers under his knees to spread them further apart, then gripping his thighs to pull his hips up. Pepper was stroking his side, then helping to lift his hips and settle him in Tony's lap. There was a thick, insistent pressure and then Tony was pushing inside him, slow and hot. Steve tipped his head back and breathed through the stretch, and was rewarded with Pepper rubbing his stomach comfortingly.
"You're doing beautifully," she said, and Steve smiled and basked in the praise as Tony began to rock his hips. He was warm all over, hot where Tony's hands and thighs touched him. He felt like he was floating, like nothing mattered but the bodies touching his. He didn't have to move, or even respond, though he could hear himself making quiet, breathy noises, as if from very far away.
Pepper's hand on his erection was like an electric shock; he'd been rushing towards orgasm without even noticing, and he heard Tony say his name like a curse right before his belly tensed, hips giving one single rebellious thrust as he came.
He was pretty sure he didn't black out, but the world went away for a while. He felt as though if he wanted he could reach out and he would find it again, but he didn't have to. He could smell Pepper's perfume and the weird stuff Tony put in his hair, and everything felt good and he didn't have to worry about anything. Tony and Pepper were there and would worry if someone had to. He trusted them, knew they'd protect him if something were to happen.
He came back to the world with a contented sigh, to find Tony lying on top of him, arms propped on his chest, reading an ebook on a tablet, and Pepper tucked along his side, head on his shoulder, telling Tony when to turn the page.
"Welcome back," Tony said, eyes crinkling in amusement. "Don't get up."
"How are you feeling?" Pepper asked, patting his chest.
"Quiet," Steve said thoughtfully.
"Yeah. Really...good. What was that?" Steve asked.
"That was what we've been trying to get across with pretty shiny presents for you. Not your fault, we were a little opaque," Pepper said.
"The point is, we like having you," Tony said.
"Well, that I got."
"And you like being had," Tony finished. Steve considered this. "It's not about ownership, exactly, but it's about belonging. You belong to us. For the long term; the presents are just symbolic. Important, but symbolic. And it can be a little scary to realize you like it."
Steve let his head fall back, and felt Pepper thread her fingers through it.
"You might be a little submissive," Tony continued. He pinched his thumb and forefinger together. "Just a little. Don't freak out, self-knowledge is good."
"I honestly don't think I could freak out if I tried," Steve said. His hands were still under the pillow behind his head; he rolled his shoulders and removed them, wrapping one around Pepper's shoulders, the other around Tony's waist. "I think I like belonging to you."
"Good," Tony said.
"We'll have to get you something special," Pepper said.
"Something really expensive," Tony agreed.
"We were going to negotiate some price limits on expensive," Steve reminded them.
"After the shiny expensive present," Pepper said.
"Just one more," Tony whined.
"Well, that depends," Steve said, rolling onto his side, which dumped Tony onto Pepper. Tony flailed awkwardly; Pepper squealed. Steve lay on his side, head propped on one arm, watching them until they sorted themselves out.
"What were you thinking of buying me?" Steve asked, when they'd settled down.
"Car?" Tony asked Pepper. "No -- motorcycle -- no, not obvious enough."
"A motorcycle isn't obvious enough?" Steve asked.
"You can't wear it. Would you consider piercing your ears?" Tony asked.
"Or your nose?" Pepper suggested, grinning at him.
"Ah, no, not really my bag," Steve said.
"Nipple," Tony suggested.
"No!" Steve yelped. "I'm not getting pierced and I can't wear jewelery in combat anyway."
"You should have something sparkly," Tony said. "Rubies. You like red."
"I do like red," Steve admitted, eyes drifting over Pepper's hair. She smiled at him.
"Cuff links," she suggested. "We got you all those french cuff shirts and you have the most boring cuff links ever."
"Shield cuff links," Tony nodded. "Captain America style. Sapphire and ruby chips in platinum. I know a guy who will make it look less gaudy than it sounds. He's outrageously expensive but worth it."
"Oh, is he the one who did that bracelet?" Pepper asked, and Tony nodded. "He is expensive. It'll be perfect," she said to Steve.
"I'll pay for the metal and craft, sugar mama can buy the stones," Tony said. "And when we pick them up we'll take you out to dinner and then have our way with you."
"Taking the payment in skin?" Steve asked with a smile.
"Any time we can get it," Pepper said, climbing off Tony and across Steve, cuddling up to him. Tony heaved a contented sigh and slung a leg over Steve's thighs, toes poking Pepper in the shin.
"We still have a reservation," he said in a wheedling voice.
"Yes, we do," Steve agreed.
"Or we could order pizza and eat it naked," Tony suggested.
"Second the motion," Pepper mumbled sleepily.
"It's a nice restaurant and I made reservations!" Steve protested.
"Yes, dear," Pepper patted his chest. Tony, on his other side, gave him a sad, handsome look, like a scolded terrier.
Steve rolled his eyes. "Fine."
"Yes!" Tony grabbed his tablet from the blankets and opened the app to order.
"No olives," Steve said.
"And no onion -- not even on half only, it contaminates the whole pizza," he added, when Tony opened his mouth to object.
"Spoiled brat," Pepper said.
"Your fault," Steve told her.
"I wish," she said, kissing his shoulder. "Someday."
Steve relaxed and lifted a hand to toy with her hair. "Sure. In the meantime I'm a pretty cheap date."
"Says you," Tony said, dropping the tablet on the bedside table. "I just blew an extra ten bucks on those chili chicken wings you like."
"I'll make it worth your while," Steve promised, pulling Tony's head into his neck. "Later. After pizza."
Tony was grumbling something and Pepper was answering; Steve ignored it and closed his eyes, let himself drift. He figured he had time for a nap before dinner, and if he looked adorable enough, Tony would be willing to be the one to put on pants and go meet the pizza delivery.
He was beginning to see how this kept man business might have some perks.