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Living In the Shadow

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Art by the talented Sivi

After he woke up, SHIELD decided he needed an apartment near headquarters.

It was small, little more than a place to lay his head, but it did come equipped with a television.

He wasn’t sure that was necessarily a good thing.

“The controversial Submissive rights bill seems destined to die on the Senate floor, with Republicans vowing to block it any way they can.”

“Really, what does this bill offer them that they don’t already have?  You don’t hear Switches complaining.”

“Switches are afforded the same rights as Dominants, they have nothing to complain about.”

“If you think they’re treated any better than Submissives in relation to Dominants, you’re deluding yourself.”

“But isn’t that the natural order of things?  Dominants are meant to be the leaders and protectors.”

Steve flicked the screen off in disgust.

Honestly, it had taken him a couple of months to realize things had changed so much. He’d gone under in a world based on the idea that Dominants protected and treasured Submissives.  They trained at pleasure houses for that very purpose, learning to master their own pleasure and recognize the needs of their future Submissives.

There had been restrictions, of course, on what Subs were allowed to do.  Parents or Guardians had final say on their pairings. High-stress jobs were out of the question, for the Subs’ own good.  In fact, Steve could probably count on both hands the number of Submissives he’d even seen after Project Rebirth.

Of those, only Peggy--beautiful, sassy Peggy--had been in combat.

In this new world, he’d seen collared Submissives in smart business suits, confidently walking into office buildings like they belonged there.  He supposed they did.

When he’d gone under, Switches were a concept that was just beginning to be realized.  Now, he’d heard, they were an accepted third classification, easily 20% of the population.

But despite all the changes he’d seen, any time he asked someone about how things worked between Doms, Switches and Subs in the modern world, the person shied away from a straight answer.  Two months later, he knew something massive had changed in the past 70 years, but he didn’t quite know what.

So when Nick Fury talked to him about the possibility of working with a team, it was a welcome distraction.

Steve frowned thoughtfully as he looked over the profiles.  “Who am I working with?”

“Three Doms, a Switch and a Sub.  Each with unique abilities detailed in their profiles.  There are other recruitment options later if we choose to expand.”

Steve raised an eyebrow.  “You sure putting a Sub on this is a good idea?”

“The world has changed, Captain.  Subs are still fighting for equal rights in some areas, but they’ve come a long way.  You might find they surprise you.”

“I didn’t mean it that way.  Most just didn’t have the temperament for combat.”  He sighed, looking down at the folder again.

Fury snorted.  “I’d advise you not to tell this particular Sub that.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Project Rebirth had made Steve an Alpha Dom.

It put him a step above other Dominants and would have made him the leader of the pack when man was still hunting his meals.  As far as Steve could tell, it just meant he won every pissing match before it ever got started.  On the front lines, at least, it had saved him the time of having to establish a pecking order.

He wasn’t sure if it was a benefit or a side-effect, but he’d also developed what Howard called a classification trigger.  Everyone he met from that point on had tripped the trigger in some way, allowing him to tell Doms from Subs from--though he didn’t realize what it meant at the time--Switches.

It usually proved accurate;  Howard himself had consistently registered as a Switch despite being an obvious Dom, but that was the only error Steve knew of so far.

Every Submissive he met recognized his Alpha Dom status as soon as he entered.  In the early days, it had made him blush when every Sub in the room instinctively glanced his way.  Even the collared ones couldn’t help themselves.

The Doms had reacted too, mostly with threat assessments, wondering if Steve intended to make a play for their Sub and knowing they couldn’t stop him if he did.  That usually ended with the other Dom looking away in acknowledgement of Steve’s Alpha status.

Tony Stark did neither.

Steve ran across his teammate somewhat accidentally the day before they were set to meet as a team. Stark was lounging on one of the couches in the lounge SHIELD had set aside for the fledgling Avengers, reading something from his tablet.  He ignored Steve’s entrance completely, even when the super soldier frowned and walked over.  “I’m Steve. Steve Rogers.”

Stark still didn’t look up.  “Captain America.  I know.”

Undeterred, Steve pressed on.  “You’re Tony Stark, right?”

“That’s what they call me, yes.”  This time, hazel eyes flicked up, passing over him carelessly.  “Something I can help you with?”

“I wanted to introduce myself, since we’ll be working together.”  There was a definite undertone to Stark’s look now.  Steve wasn’t quite sure what to think.

“Consider yourself introduced.  Have a good day, Captain.”

Steve stood there for a moment, blinking.  “Did you just dismiss me?”

“Apparently.  Go do soldier things or something.”  The hazel gaze flicked his way again, narrowing.  “I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot of each other.”  Stark’s tone was cold.

The tension between them stretched taut before Steve gritted his teeth and turned.  He had better things to do than deal with hostility.

He was nearly back to his room before he realized Stark hadn’t tripped his classification trigger.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thor Odinson was an Alpha Dom in his own right.  Fury cleared the area before he introduced them, but Thor acquiesced to Steve’s place as team leader nearly immediately.  “Great Captain, if you are to lead us, I will gladly follow.  Midgard is not a realm in which I care to rule.” Steve counted it as a victory when his knees didn’t buckle under Thor’s friendly shoulder clap.

Natasha Romanov looked him up and down for a moment, the Domme attitude rolling off her in waves.  Finally, she shrugged.  “Fine.  You can be the big boy.”  Steve barely resisted the urge to back out of the room.

Bruce Banner just eyed him.  Steve frowned back, not sure his designation could be right.  If the man in front of him wasn’t a Sub, he didn’t know the definition of the word.  “The--Other Guy--is apparently considered a Dom.  So they labeled me a Switch.”  Steve decided not to examine that too closely.

Clint Barton returned his gaze with a flat, even expression.  “Yes, I’m an uncollared Sub.  Yes, I’m sure I have the temperament for battle.  No, my orientation won’t cause problems in the field.  And no, I won’t sub for you.   Anything else?”  Steve just snorted and shook his head.

He tried to approach Stark again after meeting the other team members.  This time, he found the billionaire in one of the labs, manipulating components in one of their field communicators.

Steve’s approach was met with a condescending look.  “Not good at following orders, are you?  Let me guess, you’re that Dom who runs behind enemy lines to rescue some twinky Sub--twinks are what we call the little blond pretty boys now, you probably would have been one of them, I’ve seen the pictures--and then you sweep him off his feet and live happily ever after.”  Steve opened his mouth to reply, but Stark held up a hand.  “Rule number one, I hate being cut off.  So here’s the deal.  You want to be team leader, you got it.  Just don’t expect me to be a good follower.  If that’s all you wanted, you can leave now.”

Steve narrowed his eyes at the other man before he turned and left, his instincts finally pinging.  He knew what Doms were like.

Tony Stark wasn’t one, but he was trying hard to pretend.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Clint and Natasha’s handler--and by extension the default liaison for the rest of the team--was a Dom named Phil Coulson.  He had Captain America memorabilia in his office.

Steve really didn’t like to think about that part.

But he was also the first person to offer an honest answer when Steve asked how Dom/Sub relations had evolved over the past 70 years.

“For one thing, parents or guardians no longer have final say in the pairing of full-grown Submissives.”  Coulson slid a book across the table.  “Every respectable pleasure house across most of the planet offers equal training to Doms, Switches and Subs.  No more job restrictions, stricter regulations on equal pay.  It’s all in the book.”

Steve picked it up and looked at the cover.  Submissive Rights: A History. “Looks fascinating.” He looked back at Coulson.  “Fury said they’re still fighting in some areas.”

“They are.”  Coulson paused a moment.  “There are no longer protections in place if a Submissive is injured during a power exchange.  If a Submissive dies during a sexual encounter, negligence on the part of the Dom isn’t enough to bring a charge.  You have to prove malicious intent.”  Coulson’s face twitched.  “Difficult law to get changed when it’s still nearly impossible for a Submissive to win a public office.”

Steve shook his head in disgust. “How the hell did that happen?”  And people called his decade old-fashioned and backwards.  At least they’d known how precious Submissives were.  “More than enough reason for someone to hide their orientation, then.”

“It’s happened before.  Usually doesn’t turn out too well for the Submissive. People don’t exactly accept coming out with open arms anymore because there’s supposed to be equality. No reason to hide.”

Steve nodded distractedly, his mind racing.  “So Stark--”

“Is a registered and trained Dominant.  Subs might be able to pass to a degree, but pleasure masters are specifically trained to recognize them during training.”  Coulson raised an eyebrow at him.  “Whatever you’re thinking, I’d advise you to let it lie.”

“We’ll see.”  Steve scooped up the book and turned to leave.

“Captain Rogers?”  He stopped, but didn’t turn back.  “Why does it matter?”

Steve didn’t have a clear answer.  Honestly, he shouldn’t care at all.  The pull he felt towards Stark, that desire to know more, had no grounding in logic.

“It’s personal,” he said finally.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

They’d barely known each other two weeks when they got their first call-out.

All of them except Stark had been enjoying a rare quiet day, scattered around their lounge on the Helicarrier.  Even Bruce had left his lab to join them for some mindless television.

They’d managed to find a baseball game on, and Clint was trying vainly to explain the rules to Thor.  “I do not understand,” the Asgardian frowned.  “Why must they leave home only to return there, and why relinquish their only weapon?”

“It’s just a game, big guy.  It’s supposed to be fun.”

“Would it not be more challenging to simply use the bat and direct the projectile at your opponents?”

Fortunately, the alarm sounded before Clint could figure out a response to that.

“Suit up,” Steve ordered, regretfully switching the game off.

As soon as he had his cowl on, he tried Stark through the comm.  “Iron Man?”

“Already here, Cap.  You guys are missing one hell of a party on the edge of Central Park.”  There was a pause, then a pained grunt.  “Giant robot party, the best kind.”

“We’ll be there soon,” Steve said.  He tried not to read too much into Stark’s lack of reply.

At the Quinjet, Clint was already waiting in the pilot’s seat, Natasha sitting beside him.  They barely waited for Steve and Bruce to strap in before they took off.

Fortunately, the flight was short, and the four killer robots were hard to miss.

Steve barely waited until Clint got the jet to hovering distance before he hit the hatch, dropping to the ground.

A low thud told him Natasha had followed.  “Thor, give Iron Man a rest.  Get their attention.  Hawkeye, find us something to aim at.” A roar told him the Hulk had joined the battle.  “Hulk, smash the little one.  Iron Man, report.”

“Little busy here, Cap.”  Stark’s voice sounded strained.  “Hey, do you think you guys could work faster on that ‘get their attention’ bit?  I think I might have pissed them off a little.”

“Fall back and assess your status, Iron Man.”

“Nope, I think I got this for the moment.”

Even as Tony spoke, a fist the size of a car connected.

Steve watched in horror as Iron Man plummeted to the ground, the lights in his suit flickering weakly.  “Iron Man, I told you to fall back!”

“I’m fine, Cap.  Going back in.”  As he spoke, Tony sat up, clearly intending to get back into the thick of things.

Steve growled, feeling a protective instinct he hadn’t even known he had come to the surface.  “That hit nearly took you out.”

“We don’t have time to debate.” With that, Stark lifted off, jetting back towards the battle.

Steve followed, cursing, watching as another punch knocked the billionaire through a wall.  He didn’t emerge this time.

“Thor, you’re on recovery duty.  Retrieve Iron Man, get him out of here.  I don’t care what he says.”

If Steve was a little rougher than he usually would have been, no one called him on it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Stark ended up spending the night in the infirmary on the helicarrier.

Steve ended up putting a dent in the gym wall.

Staring at the damage, he tried to tell himself it was just because he cared about Iron Man as a teammate.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“You’re kidding, right?  I haven’t had a caretaker since I was 12.  I don’t need one now.”  Tony scowled at the doctor.

“Mr. Stark, in the interest of not overdoing things, you need someone to stay with you for at least a few days.”  The doctor’s return look was distinctly unimpressed.  “If for no other reason than to monitor your concussion and make sure you stay off your broken ankle.”  She stared Tony down.  “Unless you’d like to stay here so we can do it.”

“I’ll do it.”  No one was more surprised to hear Steve speak than Steve himself.

“Absolutely not.  I’m not spending any more time than I have to with Captain Boy Scout.”

Steve set his jaw stubbornly at Stark’s disbelieving look.  “You’re a member of my team.  I want to make sure you’re okay.”

Stark’s eyes narrowed at him for a long moment.  Steve stared back resolutely.

Finally, the doctor broke the impasse.  “Mr. Stark, is there anyone else who can stay with you?”

Tony’s glare shifted to her, which was answer enough.

Steve and Happy managed to get Stark home with little enough fuss, probably because the billionaire was still doped up on painkillers.  But once he was installed in one of the mansion’s living rooms, Happy wished Steve luck and made himself scarce.

The days that followed included long stretches of Tony ignoring him for hours in favor of a tablet or, every so often, glancing at him with suspicion or confusion.

For his part, Steve tried with mixed results to coax his companion into eating regularly and taking breaks from whatever project he was working on.  He passed time sketching, trying not to notice how slender and agile Tony’s fingers were as they moved over the surface of the tablet or the way his hair sometimes fell adorably into his eyes and made Steve just want to brush it away for him.

He especially had to ignore the way Tony tried push himself until his eyes glazed over, protesting weakly when Steve took his tablet away.

He maybe wasn’t very good at not noticing.

Now that the thought had been put in his head, Steve couldn’t help watching the other man for clues to his orientation.

Stark wasn’t comfortable being touched and actively seemed to flinch away anytime Steve came near.  That was a typical sign of a Dominant’s natural territorial aversion to other Doms.  But he also rarely held Steve’s eyes for a prolonged period of time or argued too hard against Steve’s more firmly-voiced decisions.  Steve actually doubted that Stark recognized either tendency in himself, but both behaviors usually pointed toward a Submissive nature.

Steve made it two days before he broke.  “Okay, I give. Dom, Sub or Switch?”

That earned him Stark’s undivided attention in the form of a frosty glare.  “You know that’s a completely inappropriate question.”

Steve winced.  At least one thing hadn’t changed since his time.  “I normally don’t have to ask.  I can tell by the way most people react to my presence.”

“And what did my reaction tell you?”

“You’re the first person I’ve met that didn’t have one at all.”

That earned him a pause as Tony tilted his head to the side, appraising, eyes half-lidded.  “Do you want me to be a Submissive?”

“I want to treat you appropriately if you are.”  Steve knew it was the wrong thing to say even before Tony’s face shut down.  He could have kicked himself.  “I just.  You’re an attractive man, and I--”  He took a look at his companion’s rapidly darkening face and stopped talking.

“I’m not a sex object.”  Tony quirked a slightly self-mocking grin.  “Well, okay.  I am a sex object, actually.  I’m a big slut.  And I’m a Stark.  In case you didn’t know, Stark males are always Dominants.”  Now his smile had plenty of teeth but not even a hint of mirth.  “Ergo, I’m clearly a Dom.”

“I thought you’d be a better liar,” Steve commented mildly.  “You’re a Sub if I ever saw one.  I’m starting to see the signs.”  He shouldn’t push.  Not about this.  Stark’s orientation was none of his business, he should just leave well enough alone--

“Don’t say that!”  Tony was desperately holding on to his crumbling facade, every muscle taut with something Steve couldn’t quite put a name on.  It looked a lot like what he would have once called fear.  “Stark men aren’t Subs.  Subs don’t have what it takes to run a Fortune 500 company.”  His voice didn’t quite waver, but he also wouldn’t meet Steve’s eyes.

“Except you.”  The words came without Steve’s permission.  “You’ll never be happy in a relationship if you keep denying who you are.”

“What business is it of yours?”  Tony seemed to shrink in on himself without actually moving a muscle.  “Just leave it.”  His voice was raw, nearly defeated.

Steve hated that for reasons that he didn’t want to explore too closely.  “Might have something to do with the fact that you keep lashing out,” he said softly.  “A Dom would help you ground yourself and keep better control.   Believe it or not, I don’t want to hurt you, Tony.”

Now Tony wouldn’t even look at him.  “Get out, I’m tired.”

Sometimes, discretion really was the better part of valor.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

They fell into an uneasy standoff, avoiding being alone in each other’s company at all costs.

The next day, a redheaded Domme breezed past Steve into Tony’s bedroom and closed the door firmly behind her, all without sparing him so much as a glance.

And that was how Steve met Pepper.  Sort of.

She and Tony stayed locked in his room until dinner, when she breezed back past Steve and into the kitchen.  Steve stared, not quite used to being thoroughly ignored, even by another Dominant.  He followed her.  “Hello.”

The look she gave him was unreadable.  “Hello, Captain Rogers.”  Her body language wasn’t threatening him for dominance in any sense of the word, but she also wasn’t quite backing down.  “Pepper Potts.”

“Nice to meet you, Miss Potts.”  He nodded politely.

She paused.  “And you, Captain.  If you’ll excuse me.”

Steve stood to the side, frowning slightly, as she left the kitchen with a tray of food.

Sometime while Tony was recovering, the other Avengers moved into the mansion.  Steve actually didn’t notice until he walked in on Clint and Thor facing off in ridiculous pajama pants--Clint’s had Angry Birds all over them and Thor’s sported a yellow cartoon sponge--over the last bowl of sugary cereal one morning.

He blinked somewhat blearily, walked over to the pantry, and grabbed another box.  As he set it down on the table, he gave them a stern look.  “Always check the pantry, fellas.”

Two days later someone--Steve suspected Clint--left a note on Steve’s door announcing a team bonding night.

The first movie night--Pop Culture 101, Clint insisted on calling it--Stark showed up with a gleeful smile.  If it was a little brittle around the edges, no one seemed to notice but Steve.  “Heard we’re catching the Capsicle up on pop culture.  So where are we starting?”

“I say we start with the modern stuff.  Let him see how far the industry has fallen,” said Bruce.

Natasha rolled her eyes.  “Don’t disillusion the man right off the bat.  Start with the classics, the good stuff.”

Clint furrowed his brow.  “Oh, come on, there’s some good stuff sprinkled throughout the years.”

Tony clapped his hands together decisively.  “You know what, my entertainment collection, my choice.  We’re starting classic.  Let’s build a little appreciation.”  Before any of them could protest, he’d whipped out his phone and was busily tapping at the screen.  “Here, the list of the 100  best movies of the 1950’s.”

“Let me see that.”  Clint nearly plastered himself to Tony’s back trying to get a look.  Oddly, Stark didn’t even flinch, just allowed the touch with an absent elbow aimed towards Clint’s ribs. Steve absolutely wasn’t jealous, and he certainly wasn’t taking the physical affection as proof of Tony’s Submissiveness.  “Oh, come on, no way ‘The Seven Samurai’ should be number one.  It was great, but not that great.”

Steve settled in on the loveseat as the rest of the team scattered to the various couches and chairs to watch the friendly argument.

Tony rolled his eyes.  “You’re a heathen with absolutely no appreciation of great cinema, and you no longer have a say in this conversation.”  He pulled away, ignoring Clint as he followed.  “JARVIS, put on ‘The Seven Samurai’.  Apparently, we’re schooling Thor, Cap and Hawkeye on what good movies are.”

As he finished, he turned around to find that every available couch had an Avenger stretched across it, leaving the the only free space next to Steve on the loveseat.  “A man can’t even get a decent chair in his own living room?  You people disgust me.”  He glanced at Steve.  “Guess it’s you and me, Cap.  Try to keep your hands to yourself.”

“I promise not to bite,” Steve snarked.  “Unless you ask.”

Tony flopped down.  “Promises, promises.”

If their thighs touched, they both pretended not to notice.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The next day, Steve took Tony his first meal in the workshop.

He ignored the warm feeling he got from Tony’s grateful smile.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“So are you going to tell me what’s going on with you and Captain Rogers?”

Tony didn’t look up.  “Busy doing that paperwork you wanted done, Pep.”  He waited, knowing full well he wasn’t going to get off that easily.

Pepper sat down on the edge of the bed.  “Am I going to have to go ask him?”

“He wants to go out with me.”  Tony kept his eyes on the paperwork.  They both knew he wasn’t reading it any longer.

“And what do you want?”

That was the question, wasn’t it?  He’d done his best to head Steve off at the pass, but not because his attentions were unwelcome.  In fact, Tony wanted to say yes in a way he never had before.  “Doesn’t matter what I want, does it, Pep?  Never has.”

She reached for his hand, stopped short.  “Your father’s dead.”

“Stark Industries is alive.  Do you know how fast the board would try to lock me out?  I just recovered from what Obie—“  Tony stopped himself.  “The company hasn’t recovered enough to survive it again.”

“You wouldn’t be the first Submissive CEO.”

“First one in the Fortune 500.”  Tony put the paperwork aside for the first time.  “Pepper, I’m rich.  I’m hot.  I’m a genius.  And I’m a fucking wreck.”  He shook his head.  “Never been in a relationship.  Never collared.  Two fucking people in the world actually know my real orientation.”

“Therapist’s wet dream, no, never heard that one before.” Pepper rolled her eyes.

Tony said nothing for a moment.  “You know if I planned on taking that risk with anyone—“

“Don’t.”  She cut him off.  “You’ve yet to tell me you don’t want to say yes to whatever it is Steve wants from you.”

“You hate it when I lie to you.”

Pepper had no reply.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Steve let two weeks pass after their movie night before he tracked Tony down in his workshop to attempt another private conversation.  “Tony?”

“What, Cap?”  Stark didn’t even glance at him.  Instead, he gave every impression of being immersed in the innards of the tablet he had taken apart and strewn across the table.

Steve might even have bought it if he hadn’t been able to see the way tension vibrated through every muscle.  “Can we talk about this?” he asked, venturing further down the stairs.

“Didn’t think armor upgrades were your thing,” Tony said breezily.  He was shirtless, his face, arms and chest streaked with grease.  Even the arc reactor looked smeared with the stuff.  Steve could feel his mouth grow dry, the instinct to possess rising.  “But I’m glad you’re joining the new century.”

“Tony.”  He could see the other man tense even more.  “I mean, how do you even have sex?”

“The parts function perfectly well, and I’m a trained Dom.”  Tony picked up a soldering iron.  “Are we done here?”

“You can’t live a lie your entire life.”  Steve took another step towards him.  “Why not find a Dom who’ll accept you for who you are?”

“Are you volunteering?”  Now Tony was definitely looking, a hint of a leer on his face.  “You think you have what it takes to dominate me?” He carefully put the soldering iron down before turning to face Steve fully.  “You know exhibitions are becoming all the rage these days?  Holding Subs down and using them in front of audiences?”  His smirk grew.  “You think you can handle that?”

Steve refused to be goaded.  “I don’t think you want that.”  He watched the smile disappear as if it had never been.  “I think you spend so much of your life in the public eye that you’d want to be somewhere you don’t have to perform.”  He pressed closer.  “I think you’d prefer a Dom who treats your submission like the priceless treasure it is.  You’d be a sensualist.  An overload of pleasure and sensation, no pain.  Maybe a little restraint, nothing serious.  And you’d want to be denied, wouldn’t you?  You always get everything you want everywhere else.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Tony breathed.  Steve could see his throat move as he swallowed.

“I think I do.”  Steve allowed his own smirk to come out.  “I’m not a little Sub playing at being a Dom.  I was born one, and I know someone who longs to submit. Tell me I’m wrong, Tony.”

Tony swallowed, biting back a groan.  “Why are you doing this?”

“Because I think it’s killing you,” Steve said bluntly.  “I’m not saying you can’t perform as a Dom or live as one, but it’s not who you are. That’s the entire point of orientations, isn’t it?  Submissives are born craving domination.”

He could see Tony trying desperately to rebuild his walls.  “So what, you can have me as your pet?”

Steve snorted.  “No. You’d probably be a constant challenge to dominate, and you’d need someone who gets you.”

Tony didn’t answer.  Instead, he kept his eyes down.  “Get the hell out of my lab, Rogers.”  When Steve didn’t move, he slammed his fist down on the workbench.  “Fucking go!”

Steve retreated.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Two days later, he walked back in without knocking. "Come on."

Tony, slumped over a set of designs at his workbench, looked up and blinked.  Steve tried and failed not to find it adorable.  “What?”

“Let’s go.  You’re going to the kitchen, and you’re going to eat lunch.” Steve crossed his arms across his chest.  “Then, we’re going to the gym, and you’re going to spar with me.”

“Why the hell would I want to do that?”  Tony was at least sitting up now, even if he was swaying back and forth slightly.

And oh, there were a thousand ways Steve could answer that question.  ‘Because I hate seeing you avoid me.’ ‘Because you don’t take care of yourself, and someone has to.’ ‘Because I’m falling for you and I want to be the one taking care of you.’ Instead, he quirked an eyebrow.  “Because I don’t want you vulnerable if you’re caught without your armor.”  He turned, marching back up the stairs without making sure Tony was following.  “Now let’s go.”  He smiled slightly at the sound of soft footsteps behind him.

Tony was uncharacteristically silent during the journey to kitchen.

Steve pointed him towards one of the stools situated around the island, studiously ignoring the looks their teammates shared.  Instead, he put a plate down in front of Tony, smiling affectionately as his teammate dug in.

A choked-off sound made Steve spin around, glaring at Clint and Natasha at the kitchen table.  They both blinked at him, clearly unconcerned.  Natasha raised an eyebrow and smirked.  “You follow Steve around now, Stark?”

The silence that followed was almost pregnant, and Steve’s heart leaped into his throat.  Tony hadn’t protested Steve ordering him around as if it was his right, but they were still on unfamiliar ground.

Tony paused and put his fork down.  “When he offers food, yes.”  His gaze hardened.  “Is that a problem?”

Natasha just smirked silently.  Clint didn’t even look up from his meal, but his smirk was still clearly visible.  Steve’s eyes narrowed at him.

“Huh,” Bruce muttered, half under his breath.  “Interesting.”

Steve’s glare darkened.  Natasha, Clint and Bruce suddenly found something interesting about their meals.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tony really needed to get in shape.

Not that he was necessarily out of shape, but really, stacked against Thor’s honestly godlike physique, Steve’s chiseled muscles and even Clint’s lean power, he didn’t fare well.

Case in point, his current position on the gym floor staring at the ceiling.

Steve leaned down to help him up.  “You’re barely even trying.”

Tony glared.  “Not all of us are at the peak of physical perfection, Cap.”  He was trying really hard to ignore the fact that the physical perfection in question made him want to pull Steve down ontop of him instead of getting back up.

Steve gave him a pointed look.  “From now on, you and I are having weekly sessions until I’m satisfied.”

“I’m not that bad.”  Tony finally sat up on his own.  “Just a little out of practice.”  He offered a wan smile.  “But what I lack in brute strength, I make up for in wit, brains, and kickass armor.”

Steve frowned.  “This is serious, Tony.”

Tony rolled to his feet, trying hard to ignore what Steve’s disappointment did to his gut.  “I know, see my serious face?”  He rolled his shoulders and took a stance.  “Come at me, old man.”

Steve didn’t bother hesitating long enough to roll his eyes.  Instead, he jabbed at Tony’s left side and they were off again.  This time, Tony concentrated on watching Steve’s tells, trying to anticipate instead of react.

“Not bad,” Steve commented.  He wasn’t even winded.  “You need to throw a little more power behind it, but you’re a quick learner.”

Tony wiggled his eyebrows, bobbing to avoid what would have been a well-placed punch.  “It serves me well from the boardroom to the bedroom.”  He threw a blow of his own.

Steve blocked it easily.  “Is everything about sex to you?”

“I’m a very sexual being.”  Tony fought the urge to pout when Steve didn’t give him a verbal response..  Instead, his next punch slipped through Tony’s defenses, catching his shoulder and throwing him off balance.  “What’s wrong with that?”

Steve actually seemed to think about it, though he still had enough presence of mind to easily deflect and counter the fist aimed at his ribs.  “You try too hard to come off confident.  For true Doms, it comes naturally.”  Steve used his defensive position to press Tony backwards, towards the wall.  “There’s no shame in it.”

Tony gritted his teeth, trying and failing to stand his ground.  Somehow, in the face of the conversation, even proper fighting distance seemed too close for comfort.  “Fine, you know my dirty little secret.  Happy now?”  He pressed forward a little, hoping for an opening of his own.

Steve stopped, dropping his stance so abruptly that Tony stumbled straight into his arms.  “You think it makes me happy to see you miserable?”

“I can’t think of another reason you’d press the issue like this.”  He wanted nothing more than to stay there, pressed against Steve’s chest, but he forced himself to pull away.  Suddenly, he felt more tired than he had a right to, even accounting for the physical exertion.

“Because I think we could be good together.”  Suddenly, Steve was standing in his space again, nearly toe-to-toe.  “Don’t tell me you disagree.”

And the truly terrifying thing?  Tony really couldn’t.  Whatever the connection that had grown between him and Steve, it was hard to deny.  The tension that stretched taut between them drew Tony in, made him want to let someone else take care of things for a change.  His eyes fluttered half-closed, longing to step back and acknowledge Steve’s dominance.

Steve took the decision out of his hands by stepping forward even closer, molding Tony’s body against his own and leaning down to brush their lips together.

Tony’s gasp was swallowed as Steve used the opportunity to add his tongue to the mix, his hand slowly trailing down Tony’s back as they shared a moan--

“Steve, I--wow, holy shit.”

The sound of the door opening then slamming again wrenched them back to reality.  Tony stood stunned as he struggled to regain control.  Their breathing sounded as loud as gunshots in the sudden silence.  He wanted nothing more than to slot himself against Steve again, pick up where they’d left off--

Tony Stark prided himself on being a practical man, so he took the most logical option.

He turned and fled the room, not meeting Clint’s eyes as they passed in the hall.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“So... you and Steve?”

Leave it, Clint.”

“Well, I mean, if you don’t want him--”


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Steve gave Tony nearly a week to panic about their kiss.  Predictably, Stark spent the time locked in his workshop.

The other Avengers, at least, had gotten the memo to avoid them both at all costs.  Steve’s new habit of putting punching bags through the cement wall of the gym probably had something to do with that.

The impasse lasted until Thor settled his enormous frame into a chair across from Steve at the breakfast table and pinned him with a confused look.  “I must confess, Captain, Midgardian courting rituals make no sense to me.  Why are you so lenient with your mate’s behavior?”

Steve paused with a spoon halfway to his lips.  “Excuse me?”

Thor ripped into a pack of Pop Tarts before replying.  “Your Submissive has avoided you for days, neglecting both sleep and food.  Why do you not bring his behavior under control?”

Steve tried not to notice the sudden silence in the kitchen.  “I don’t have a Submissive.”

“Surely you jest.  I have never seen a better-matched pair than you and Tony Stark.”

“Stark’s not a Submissive.”  Steve picked up his coffee mug, hoping to signal an end to the conversation.  Of course he couldn’t be that lucky.

At least the silence got a moment to breathe this time.

“I apologize.  I did not realize that you had yet failed to secure your mate.”

One day Clint was actually going to choke on his own laughter.

Steve wasn't sure how much he'd mourn the loss.  He frowned.  “What?”

“On Asgard, a Dominant is not worthy of taking a Submissive until he has bested his mate in a contest.  A great many of our Submissives remain uncollared because they remain undefeated.  Is that not your way?”

Steve fought the urge to bury his head in his hands.

"Inappropriate."  Tony didn't look at any of them as he walked in, his back ramrod straight.  "Thor, no beating mates into submission in this dimension." If Steve hadn't seen the minute tremble as Stark poured himself a mug, he might even believe the other man was fine.  "Besides, as Rogers pointed out, I'm not a Submissive, so it doesn't apply to me."

That was met with a long enough silence from the other Avengers that Stark actually turned around.  “What?”

“Well, how can we put this delicately--” Bruce started.

“We all know you’re not a Dom,” Natasha said coolly.  “In fact, you might be the subbiest Sub I’ve ever laid eyes on.”

The tremble in the hand holding the mug would probably have been indiscernible to anyone except Steve.  “I don’t know how you came up with that hypothesis, but it’s flawed.”  Tony’s voice was completely flat, devoid of emotion.

Steve could hear the pain underlying every word.  Before he knew it, he was halfway out of his seat.  “Tony--”

He was completely ignored.  “If you’ll excuse me,” Tony gritted out, keeping his eyes fixed firmly straight ahead as he turned to leave.

Steve reached out, barely managing to brush Stark’s arm before he was brushed off.  Tony didn’t acknowledge his touch or slow.

Steve slumped back into his seat, watching the other man leave.

“Okay,” said Clint, “I think that went well.”

Natasha punched him in the shoulder.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tony Stark didn’t hide from his problems.

It was a coincidence that he spent three days locked in the lab after the little scene in the kitchen.

He’d had a breakthrough inspiration on new material for Cap’s uniform and better arrowheads for Clint.  Nothing more, nothing less.

He’d ordered JARVIS into total lockdown so no one broke his concentration.  It had nothing to do with the fact that he didn’t want to face Steve.

Nothing wrong with him that a little hard work couldn’t fix.

Maybe if he told himself enough times, he’d start to believe it.

That had been one of Howard’s solutions any time he thought his son was having Submissive thoughts.  Give him something to concentrate on, a task he could never complete.

He stared at the delicate wiring of the arrowhead in his hands, tracing the connections he needed to make.  This was easy.  If you connected the right pathways, it would work.

So much simpler than people.

“Tony, you need to take a break.”

The voice was gentle, and Tony frowned in confusion.  “How’d you get in here?”  he mumbled as his project was taken out of his hands.  “JARVIS, I said lock the workshop down.”

“I did, sir.  Captain Rogers used his override code.”  And dammit, did JARVIS sound smug?  He needed to reprogram that.  Steve shouldn’t be able to command loyalty from his creations.

“You’ve been down here for ten days straight, and we haven’t seen you at all for three.” Steve’s hands on his shoulders steered him toward the stairs.  Tony tried not to notice that Steve had very nice hands.  “The others are worried that you died or something.”

“The others don’t really care about me.”  Tony stumbled a little.  Okay, verbal filter gone.  Maybe it was time for him to get a little rest.

Steve sighed.  “They were right, Tony.  What you’re doing to yourself--what you’ve been doing to yourself your entire life--isn’t healthy.”

“I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not,” Steve said firmly, helping him up the stairs with an arm around his waist.  “Being a Submissive doesn’t make you less of a man.  It doesn’t change who you are.”

“Howard Stark’s son is not a Submissive.  The CEO of Stark Industries can’t be a Submissive,”  Tony said firmly.  “Starks are Alpha Doms.”  Three broken ribs at age 14 when Howard caught him with a Dom had taught him that well enough.  “Starks have power.”

“Submissives have all the power in relationships.  A Dom is nothing without a Sub to treasure.”  And that.  That hurt somewhere in Tony’s gut.  Steve would make a great Dominant for some lucky Submissive.  But that wouldn’t be Tony.  It couldn’t be Tony.

Tony barely noticed when they reached the top of the stairs.  He was too busy focusing on the Dom herding him along.  “Why?”

Steve paused for a long moment.  “Were you trained as a Dom?”

Tony winced, just slightly, but he could tell Steve felt it where they were pressed together.  “Formally, yes.  My pleasure master recognized me as a Submissive and trained me secretly.  He told the House Master that my talents needed to be honed with one-on-one attention.”  He shrugged.  “There was still a lot about submission that I never learned.”

“There’s a Dom waiting and ready to give you the time to learn it.”

Tony pulled away from him, ignoring the chill where Steve’s hand had rested.  “You just want your collar around a Stark’s throat.”

Steve’s voice was soft.  “No.  I liked your father, but never like this.  Tony, I’ve never ached for anyone this much.  You can’t tell me you don’t feel anything.”

Tony screwed his eyes shut as they stopped outside his room.  The truth was, he really couldn’t.  He couldn’t fool Steve, and he was rapidly running out of steam on his self-delusions as well.  It would be so easy to give in, to let Steve take the lead and trust.

When he opened his eyes, Steve was standing inches away.  Tony swallowed as the super soldier’s hands came to rest on his hips, gently drawing him closer, lips already slightly parted for the kiss to come--

Tony steeled himself, pulled away.  “I need to get some rest.”  He groped behind him for the doorknob, backed into the room, still breathing hard.

Steve made a frustrated sound.  “Stop avoiding this conversation!”

Tony didn’t even reply before he shut the door in Steve’s face.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Steve was sitting outside Tony’s bedroom in a chair he’d hauled from somewhere, reading, when Tony emerged 12 hours later.  He calmly closed the book and crossed his arms over his chest.

Tony ignored him, heading towards the stairs and the kitchen.


“What, Steve?” He didn’t even intend to slow.  The last thing he felt like dealing with before his coffee was another ‘embrace yourself because I embrace you’ speech.

“Go to dinner with me.”

Wait, what? Tony’s step faltered as he turned, staring.  “How do you do that?”

Steve frowned. “Do what?”

“No matter where I’m facing, you come out of my blind spot.” Tony turned back to the stairs.  “Was there anything else?”  He’d be damned if he let Steve see how much this was getting to him.  He was better than that.

“That wasn’t an answer.”  Steve’s voice was resolute.  Tony heard the soft brush of cloth on cloth, his only warning before a hand landed on his shoulder.  “Tony, please.  At least give us a chance.  Give yourself a chance.”

And honestly?  He wanted to. In the pattern they had fallen into, wanting Steve was as natural as breathing.  He hadn’t had so many wet dreams since he was an adolescent fantasizing about the Dom that would collar him.   Those fantasies hadn’t ended well for him, either.  “You know what?  Fine.  One date. Friday night at six.  I know how this ends, and the sooner you figure it out the better for everyone involved.”  He started for the stairs again.

Steve didn’t try to stop him this time.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“I may need help.”

Slowly, ever so slowly, Clint looked up.  “Excuse me?”

Tony could see the hint of a smirk.  He scowled.  “It took everything I had to say it once.  You’re not getting it again.”

“You’re no fun.”  But Clint put down his magazine.  “So what’s up?”

“You’re a Sub.”

He could actually see the smartass response die on Clint’s lips, replaced by a serious frown.  “I am.”  The archer leaned forward.  “So are you, right?”

“I--”  Tony steeled himself.  Sub or not, he was a Stark, dammit.  “I am.”  He sat down on the other end of the couch.

“You know it’s not a disease.  And it’s not a test you can fail.”

“Natasha said I was the subbiest Sub she’s ever seen.”  Tony kept his voice even, not looking at his--friend?  Teammate?

“Of course you are.”  Clint held up his hands, palms out, at Tony’s sharp look.  “I just meant we met you after you met your Dom.  It changes a guy.”

“Steve’s not my Dom,” Tony said tightly.

“Right.”  Clint snorted, his frown melting into sympathetic lines.  “He might not have a collar on you yet, but you’d have to be blind not to see the undertone there.”

“Being a Sub is not something that’s allowed for me, Clint.  I can’t... it’s not who I am.”

“Being a traditional Sub isn’t who you are, I’ll give you that.”  Clint paused, apparently weighing his words.  Tony watched warily.  “But think about it.  Have you ever actually enjoyed dominating someone?”

“No.”  Tony didn’t even have to think about that one.   He’d never gotten any complaints and he’d usually gotten off in the process, but it made something crawl under his skin.  Part of the reason he made sure they left after sex was so he could vomit in peace.

Another thing Howard had taught him.

“So you’re not a Switch.”

Tony snorted.  “Never been a thought.”

“Then stop being an idiot.  If you’re calling Subs weak, you’re calling me weak, and I will put an arrow through the back of your knee.”

Tony allowed his smirk to come out.  “Try it, Paris.”

“If I wasn’t afraid of your Dom, I would.”  They grinned at each other for a moment.  “Being a Sub doesn’t mean you have to lose your... Starkness.”  He leaned forward to pat Tony’s knee.  “Steve’s the only one you have to submit to, and the two of you get to decide how that power exchange works. Even then, one of us would intervene if we thought it was abusive relationship.  You have a support team. So dammit, let yourself be happy before both of you explode from this teenage angst thing you have going.”

Tony thought about it for a moment.  “That--that actually means a lot to me, Clint.”  Then, “Are we having a Dr. Phil moment?”

“I think we are.”  Clint grimaced.  “Want to go do something manly together?”

“Baseball and beer?”

“Sounds like a plan.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

He’d forgotten their date.

Of course he forgot their date, he was a busy man.  He had board meetings, events, inspiration struck at the oddest times--well.

The point was, he’d forgotten, and now Steve was standing in the doorway to his workshop with his arms folded over his chest, looking disappointed.   Tony steeled himself.  “Yes, I know, I forgot, this is what a relationship with me is like, glad we’ve gotten this experiment out of the way early.” He fired up the blowtorch again, disappointment thick in his throat.  One date.  He hadn’t even managed to get one date right.

Steve didn’t move.  “Glad I knew that going in.  Our reservations aren’t for another hour and a half.  Go get dressed,” he ordered.

Tony opened his mouth, then shut it again.  No one ordered Tony Stark.  He’d lived his entire life calling the shots.

None of which explained why he turned the blowtorch off, put it carefully on the table, and headed towards the stairs. What. The. Hell.

Steve smiled a little as he turned to follow Tony up the stairs. “Good boy.”  Tony steadfastly refused to admit that the praise made him glow a little inside.

He thought Steve would leave him to his own devices when he got upstairs; instead, the super soldier followed him to his room and pointed him towards the shower with practiced ease.  “Your outfit’s already laid out on the bed.”

“You picked out my clothes?” Tony blinked.  “What?”

Steve looked uncertain for just a moment.  “Is that no longer a common practice?”  He blushed a little.  “When I was a young man, it was just a thing you did for a Submissive you thought was swell.  Just to make sure they always looked their best.”

The silence stretched out between them for a long moment.  Long enough that Steve started to fidget a little, his earnest expression slowly drooping.

Finally, Tony shook his head.  “You can’t be real.”  He pushed down the warm feeling in his throat.  “It’s very... sweet.”

Steve nodded.  “I’ll just leave you to your shower, then.”  He backed out of the room slowly.

Tony stared at the closed door.  He was so screwed.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

He found Steve in the living room with Bruce, Clint and Thor.

Their conversation stopped as soon as Tony walked in, but he ignored them all, stopping in front of Steve.  “Well?”

Steve inhaled slowly as he looked Tony over from head to toe, taking in the form-fitting gray slacks and deep maroon button-down he’d chosen.  “You look amazing.  I mean, you always look amazing, but--”  He stood slowly.  “Ready to go?”

Tony swallowed slightly.  “Yes?”  He shook himself mentally.  Tony Stark didn’t sit around letting hot Doms get him tongue-tied, and he certainly didn’t let them dictate to him.  He could figure things out for himself, thank you very much.  “I’m guessing we’re taking one of the cars?  You have a preference?”

Steve shrugged a little, endearingly.  “Whatever is the least flashy of the bunch.  It’s not my intention to alert the rest of the world that we’re on a date.”  One of his hands dropped to the small of Tony’s back as they walked out.  “Not until you’re comfortable with people knowing we’re together.”

They both studiously ignored Clint’s shouted, “Use a safeword!”

“But we’re not together,” Tony protested weakly.

The look he got in return made him think he was being patronized.  “True enough,” Steve agreed pleasantly, “I have to get through your thick skull first.”  He ignored Tony’s protests.  “But then we’ll be a pair.”

“This isn’t going to end the way you think, Cap.”

Steve stopped at the door to the garage.  “I know.  But I also don’t think it’s going to end the way you think.”

“Yeah, see, that’s where you’re wrong.  Things rarely don’t turn out the way I think.  It’s a gift and a curse.”

Steve let him brood in silence until they got to the car.  As he opened the passenger side door for Tony, he said gently, “There are variables even you can’t account for.”

For once in his life, Tony Stark hoped with all of his being to be wrong.  He could see himself on his knees serving Steve, somewhere he hadn’t been for more than a night at a time since his training.

The tiny restaurant Steve had selected was nice, but not nice enough for the paparazzi to be camped outside.  It was also far enough from the upscale restaurants that Tony was used to that he could relax a little.

The hostess, a pretty little redheaded Submissive, called Steve by name with a smile that made Tony want to bare his teeth at her.  Or maybe rip her throat out.

Steve seemed to sense his mood change.  His hand found its way to the small of Tony’s back again, thumb rubbing soothing circles.  Tony relaxed minutely.  “Becca, this is Tony.  I’m trying to talk him into a collar, and I figured this place was the best start I could make.”

To Tony’s surprise, Becca’s smile only widened.  “Oh!  I have a private booth for you.”  She gave Tony a longer look.  “Since it’s such a delicate situation.”  She winked at them before grabbing two menus and turning.  “Right this way.”

Steve’s hand fell away discreetly as they started moving.  Tony told himself he didn’t miss it.

Becca got them settled in a booth in the dimness at the back of the restaurant, her smile never dimming.  “I know Steve wants his usual lemonade.  Mr. Stark?”

Tony considered.  “Can I get a list of your house wines?”  He flashed his most charming smile.

Steve cleared his throat.  “Actually, Tony, I don’t think alcohol’s a good idea tonight.  Why don’t you try something else?”

Tony gaped at him for a moment.  “Excuse me?”

Steve raised an eyebrow.  “You’re not getting alcohol tonight.  Order something else.” And oh, that must be his Dom voice.  Tony got the feeling he’d be fighting not to slide to his knees a lot when it came to Steve Rogers.  “The lemonade is delicious.”

Tony dropped his gaze.  “Yes, sir.”  He didn’t look up.  “I’ll have the lemonade as well.”

“Yes sirs.”  Becca made herself scarce after writing down the drink order.

“I told you I wanted to take care of you.”  Steve put a hand over Tony’s on the table.  “That means making sure you take care of yourself.”  He rubbed a thumb over Tony’s knuckles gently.

Tony swallowed, eyes locked on their hands.  “I take care of myself just fine,” he croaked.

Steve chuckled.  “Not touching that one, but everyone needs a little help sometimes.”

Tony turned his hand over, linking their fingers together.  “You’re serious about this.”

“More serious than I've been in a very long time," Steve said quietly.  He squeezed Tony’s hand gently.  “We’re already friends.  Being more doesn’t have to be hard.”

Tony looked down at the menu without replying.  “So what’s good?”

Thankfully, Steve let the abrupt change of subject pass without comment.  “Pretty much anything on the menu.  Do you want me to order for you?”  His voice was uncharacteristically hesitant.

The question gave Tony pause.

Dating as a Submissive had never been an option before. Even sexual encounters with Doms had been few and far between.  In fact, the whole of his experience with Submission outside of training had been hidden behind closed doors.

On the other hand, he actually tended to date quite a few Submissives to keep up his cover.  He knew that traditionally, Doms ordered for their Subs during dates.  He'd done it plenty of times.

Tony took a deep breath. "Okay."  Such a small word for such a huge step.

The gentle smile on Steve's face made it worthwhile.  “I’ll make sure it’s something you’ll enjoy.”

That was exactly what Tony was afraid of.

To make matters worse, dinner with Steve was as comfortable as breathing.  He seemed content to let Tony talk about his latest designs and projects, asking only occasional questions. Even the strange twists and turns of Tony's thought process didn't throw him.

Their meal was delicious, with the homemade quality that usually came from small mom and pop restaurants.

Tony cleaned his plate under Steve's approving gaze, reaching for the check out of habit.

Steve got there before he could.  “I’m the Dom, I pay for the food,” he said pleasantly.  “Just relax and let someone else take care of things for once.”

Tony gave him a Look.  “Do I give the impression of being a man who’s content to let other people take control?  I give the orders, other people carry them out.”

“We’ll figure out what balance works for us.”

Tony considered that for a moment.  “I’m not going to be an easy Submissive.  You’ll probably end up wondering why  you bothered.”  He stared at the table, refusing to get his hopes up.  Men like Steve didn’t have to settle for broken Subs who didn’t even know how to be Subs.

“And then I’ll look at you and wonder how no one else bothered.”

“You’ll pretty much have to train me yourself.”  He was giving the super soldier an out, why couldn’t Steve see that?

“The return will be worth the investment.”

“I’ll bring you down.”  It was a last-ditch effort, grasping at straws now to prevent heartbreak later.

“And I’ll do the same to you.  We’ll both fuck up, but we’ll work it out because we care about each other.”  Steve pulled his hands back to his side of the table.  “If that premise is false, let me know now.”

Tony didn’t respond for a long moment.  Steve was his teammate, of course.  He cared about all of his teammates.  But Steve was more than that.  Steve came to his lab bearing food and dragged him upstairs for sleep before he became dangerously exhausted.  Steve humored Tony’s pop culture education efforts, watching movies that he clearly hated just because Tony insisted they were required viewing.  Steve cooked for him.  Steve threw him around the sparring room because he truly wanted Tony to be able to defend himself outside the armor.  But in all that, what did Tony have to offer Steve?

“Why are you fighting so hard for this, anyway?” he finally asked.

Steve met his gaze levelly.  “Why are you fighting so hard against it?”

Tony dropped his gaze again.  “Starks don’t get happy endings. It’s a universal law.”

“Since when do you accept universal laws?” Steve sounded amused.  “That’s not the Stark I know.”

Tony quirked a half-smile.  “Touche.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Steve held his hand on the drive back to the mansion.

Tony let him.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tony was practically vibrating by the time they got home.

He was used to accompanying Subs to their rooms and usually their beds after spending the evening out.  Steve had been a perfect gentleman all night, not even alluding to the possibility.  His 1940's sensibilities might prevent him from trying anything until they were practically engaged, for God's sake.

Tony's patience would never hold out that long.

On the other hand, Steve might assume Tony was a sure thing since the date had gone well.

The mansion was suspiciously silent when they let themselves in.  Tony spared barely a thought to wonder where their teammates had disappeared to. Instead, he focused on Steve leading the way upstairs, fingers still entwined with Tony's.

Finally, he paused outside Tony's door.  "I had a wonderful time tonight, and I hope it's not too forward of me to ask--"

Oh, thank God.

Tony surged forward for a kiss, catching Steve off-guard and pushing him back against the door.  A sharp gasp gave him all the opening he needed to snake his tongue into the Dom's mouth, hand drifting between them to Steve's chest, down his stomach and--

Steve pushed him away firmly before he could reach his goal.  "Tony!"  His blue eyes were wide, face flushed with arousal and chest heaving, but his mouth--kiss-swollen, Tony noted smugly--was turned down just slightly. "That wasn't what I had in mind."

Of course.  He'd had a wonderful time, just not good enough to take it any further.  Tony sighed, scrubbing a hand through his hair.  "Misread the situation, blah blah blah, sorry, won’t happen again, blah blah blah.”

He turned to open his door, only to find his wrist snared in a vicelike grip.  “God, will you listen for five seconds?” When Tony dared to peek, Cap’s face was set in lines of fond exasperation.  “I’m not rejecting you, trust me.”  He used Tony’s momentary shock to pull him back in.  “There’s nothing I’d rather do than take you inside that room, lay you on that huge bed, and take you apart cell by cell.”

“Then why don’t you?” Tony breathed.  They were close enough to breathe each other’s air.  Steve’s arms were firm around his waist, but he didn’t feel constricted.  He felt... safe.

“Because I’m not making love to you on the first night.  I respect you too much. Understand?”

Making love? Tony usually prided himself on having a smartass response for everything, but here, now, the words wouldn’t come.  “Yeah.”  It was little more than an exhale, but more than enough for Steve to close the distance and kiss him softly, chastely.

It wasn’t anything more than a closed-mouth lingering press of lips.  Nothing filthy or overtly sexual at all.

Tony was close to coming in his pants.

At least when Steve pulled back, he seemed similarly affected, licking his lips as if savoring Tony’s taste before clearing his throat.  “Spend the day with me tomorrow?”

Tony blinked, trying to clear his head.  “I, uh, I might have.  Stuff.”

“Checked with Pepper already.  Didn’t tell her why.  She cleared your schedule.”

“Oh.”  Tony swallowed.  “Okay.”

“Good night, Tony.”  Steve released him, stepping back and turning towards his own room.  “I’ll come get you at nine.”

If Tony spent half the night getting off with his own fingers in his ass and Steve’s name on his lips, only JARVIS was the wiser, and he directly forbade that traitor from talking about it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Steve fully expected to be ambushed by at least one teammate the morning after his date with Tony.  He didn’t expect to walk in and find a full kitchen of superheroes waiting for him at 6 a.m.

“Heard you didn’t seal the deal,” Clint started off bluntly.  Steve had to give him credit for not even flinching under the full weight of the Captain America Gaze.  “No sex noises, no walk of shame, nothing.”

Steve turned his attention to the coffee maker.  “One, a gentleman does not dominate and tell.  Two, I respect Tony and what we’re building too much to rush it.”

Bruce nodded sagely.  “Performance anxiety?  Can’t blame you, following up all those other acts.  It’s like being the last audition on ‘American Idol.’”

Steve frowned in confusion for a moment, then decided it probably didn’t matter.  “No.  I don’t care how many lovers he’s had. I want this to be special.”

“Aren’t you the one always saying people were having sex in the 1940’s, we didn’t invent sex, blah blah?”  Clint raised an eyebrow.  “Sounds to me like someone’s a little shy.”

“Someone needs to collar you.”  Steve poured the first mug of coffee and took a slow sip.  “Your mouth needs moderation.”

Clint’s smirk grew.  “So does Tony’s.”

“Guys, as much as we want someone to control Stark’s mouth, this has nothing to do with us.”  Natasha spoke from behind the morning paper.  If Steve didn’t know she preferred to get her news from her StarkPad and was simply holding the paper to keep him from hiding behind it, he might even be grateful for the support.  “He’s Steve’s problem now.”

Steve didn’t even try to stop the grin from spreading across his face.  “Yes, he is.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ambush aside, Steve was knocking on Tony’s door at 9 a.m. sharp.

Tony looked him up and down unabashedly for a moment.  “Wow.”  He whistled lowly.  “You look great.”

Steve shrugged, knowing it made his broad shoulders ripple beneath the sweater he was wearing.  “Thanks.  You don’t look bad yourself.”  He reached for Tony’s hand.  “Ready to go?”

Tony allowed him to link their fingers, smirking.  “You’re going to be a hand-holder, aren’t you?”

“I do like to touch what's mine, but I won't do it in public. Not until you're ready."

"And if I'm never ready?"

"I'd rather have you than the publicity." Steve squeezed his hand.  "But I think you'll get there."

"You know this is just our second date."  But Tony was smiling.

“I don’t think anyone was under the impression that we would have a normal relationship.”  Steve swallowed down his trepidation.  “Do you think we’re moving too quickly?”

Tony’s silence was long enough for Steve to start fretting a little, but he finally shook his head.  “This is me.  I move at the speed of thought anyway, and hello?  Genius?”  He quirked a filthy, promise-laced smile.  “I can take whatever you’ve got.”

Steve could feel the flush moving across his face.  “Tony!”

“What?”  Tony grinned wolfishly.  “It’s the truth.”

Steve rolled his eyes as they reached the garage.  “Come on, we’re taking this one again.”  He didn’t wait for Tony to respond as he opened the passenger door.  He hoped the other man didn’t protest too much; he’d already stocked the car with everything he planned to need`.

“Where are we going?”  Tony nearly vibrated with anticipation, though he tried to hide it.

Steve just smiled affectionately.  “Out of the city.”  He reached for Tony’s hand again, ignoring the Submissive’s eyeroll.  “Ever been up the Connecticut coast?”

“I’m sure you found something unique to show me,” Tony smirked.  “If not, I’ll settle for a look at what’s in your pants.  I think that qualifies.”

Steve chuckled.  “Patience, Tony.  I have conditions that have to be met before we get naked.”  He steered them out of the city, content to leave Tony alone with his thoughts until they were heading up the coast.  “But if things go well today...”

Tony actually flushed a little.  “You’re a tease, Cap,” he murmured, looking out the window.  Another five minutes of silence slipped by.  “What’s in this for you, anyway?”

Startled, Steve shot him a glance.  “Excuse me?”  Tony refused to meet his gaze.  “Not much of a genius right now, darling.”  He squeezed their joined hands.  “You’re gorgeous.  I don’t have to tell you that.  Brilliant, most of the time.  Generous beyond reason.  Deceptively flippant, but dangerous when the people you care about are threatened.”  He swallowed.  “You’re passionate, stubborn, and a hell of a friend.”

“And you’re clearly a better liar than I thought.”  Tony glanced over as Steve’s automatic denial leapt to his lips..  “No, let me break this down for you.  I was an asshole when we first met, I spent weeks alternating between locking you out and trying actively to push you away.  You have no reason to think the best of me.”

“You know, back in my time, there was this theory.  Each Dominant has at least one Submissive that calls to them. That Submissive is meant for them on every level.  With that partner, and only that partner, you can achieve a Bond, the highest form of joining.”  Steve’s fingers tightened on the steering wheel for a moment.  “You can’t tell me you don’t feel that connection.  You wouldn’t even consider giving us a try if you didn’t.”

Tony didn’t say anything for a long moment.  “I do.  And frankly, it’s a little terrifying.”  The fingers of his free hand tapped against the windowsill.  “My ego can barely withstand that admission.”

Steve just chuckled a little.  “Noted.”  He rubbed his thumb over Tony’s knuckles.  “But it’s just me.  Just us.”

“Just know I’m a mess.  I mean, therapists see me coming and start pricing the new Jag.  My daddy issues have daddy issues.”  The fingers tapped a little more quickly.  “I lose myself in work, I take stupid risks, I’m irresponsible, I drink like a fish--”

“You’re not telling me anything new here.”  Steve worked hard to keep his voice even as he took the freeway exit that would take them to their destination.  “You’re insane.  I get that.  Clearly, so am I, because I still think you’re worth it.”

Tony didn’t answer; instead, he furrowed his brow.  “Where are we going?”

“I rented us a place on the beach for the night.”

He could hear the disbelief in Tony’s silence.  “You can barely work the microwave, how the hell could you figure out how to rent a cabin online?  And it had to be online, there’s no way you had the time to set this up over the phone.”

Steve felt himself color a little.  “I may have had some help from Clint. And we may have set it up the night you agreed to the date.  And everyone but you has trouble with that microwave.”

“Oh, God, so you’re taking me to someplace Clint thought was  good idea?  There’ll be shag carpet and bead curtains and blacklights, won’t there?”

Steve blinked, not understanding the reference.  “I.  I don’t think so?”

“Don’t worry about it, ‘70’s reference.  I don’t know what we were thinking with that decade, really.  It would offend your delicate sensibilities, and for once I’d be in complete agreement.”  Tony rested his forehead against the window.

“Sounds dreadful.”  Steve quirked his lip into a small grin.  “I packed us clothes and a picnic, and the place comes with a private stretch of beach.”

“You packed a picnic.  That’s adorable.”  But the billionaire’s tone was affectionate.

“What can I say, I’m an adorable man.”

Tony just laughed.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The house was amazing.

It was smaller and less pretentious than anything Tony would have chosen for himself, with an open floorplan and a lofted bedroom that looked down over the first floor. Overall, the effect was cozy and romantic in a way that he wouldn’t have even thought to look for.  Also, the bedroom had a balcony that overlooked the private beach, so that was a plus.

Steve shooed him into the house while he unpacked the car, presumably so Tony wouldn’t see what supplies he’d packed.  He poked around downstairs for a few minutes before exploring the bedroom, where Steve found him a few minutes later.

“I think you lured me here under false pretenses,” he said, not turning away from the view.  “You asked me to spend the day with you.  The night was never on offer.”

Steve dropped their bags on the bed before joining Tony at the balcony doors.  “My mistake.  I thought we might be ready to make love tonight.”  He mouthed the dark-haired man’s jaw.  “I suppose I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions.”

Tony moaned softly, tilting his head.  “I might be persuaded to overlook your egregious breach of etiquette,” he allowed.

Steve’s chuckle was warm against his skin.  “Come on, I brought clothes that are a little less... you.  You need to change.”

“What’s wrong with being me?”  Tony’s voice caught a little as Steve nipped gently at his earlobe.  “I like me just fine.”

“Mm, I like you too.  But so does the press, and this is a date.  I’d rather no one outed you as a Submissive until we’re ready to take that step.”

“We?”  Tony turned back to the bed, not at all surprised to see that Steve had laid out jeans and a t-shirt for him.  He eyed them distastefully.  “You know that’s completely not me.”

“Yes, we.  You and I are a couple now.  That makes us a we.”  Steve watched as Tony changed, appreciatively.  “And the point of the outfit is to make sure no one recognizes Tony Stark and Steve Rogers out on a date in a quaint little Connecticut town.”  He passed the billionaire a Dodgers cap.  “I’ll even leave the shield here.”

“I mean more to you than your shield?”  Tony smiled, a warm feeling in his gut.

“Oh, don’t get too smug, darling.  I brought the suitcase armor and that’s staying here too.”  Tony’s face fell, and Steve gave him a small smile.  “Turnabout’s fair play.”  He put his arms around Tony’s waist, and the shorter man allowed himself to be pulled in.  “Besides, I want this to be a Steve and Tony date, not an Iron Man and Captain America date.”

Tony leaned back until their lips met.  It was a little scary, how quickly kissing Steve became familiar.  “Fine.  So where’s Steve taking Tony?”

Steve kissed him again before answering.  “We’re going touristing,” he murmured against the other man’s lips.  “Sightseeing, shopping, beach activities, wherever the day takes us.”

“Touristing?  What, is it our fiftieth anniversary?”  But Tony allowed Steve to grab his hand and lead him toward the door.  “Should we go antiquing while we’re out?”

“Wherever the day takes us, darling.”  Steve smiled as they walked out of the house, pulling his own baseball cap low over his face.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tony couldn’t remember when he’d had this much fun.

Steve was spooned against his back on a blanket on the beach, watching the ocean darken as the sun went down.

They’d spent the day wandering in and out of rustic little shops, enjoying fresh seafood for lunch.  Mostly, Tony had just laughed as Steve handpicked a gift for each of their teammates.  The afternoon had seen them on the beach. He’d given Steve a surfing lesson and rolled his eyes when of course Steve picked it up naturally.  Steve had retrieved the picnic basket from the fridge in the rental for dinner, and they’d spread a blanket.

Now, the remains of their dinner were long gone.  The super soldier’s body was warm against his, but Steve hadn’t spoken in nearly 15 minutes.

“Still awake?”  Tony asked softly.  “Or did you fall asleep on me?”

Steve chuckled.  “I’m not that old.”  He shifted.  “Just enjoying the moment.”

Tony squirmed around until he was facing his companion.  “You’re very cliche.  I think I like it.”  He smiled.  “So are we going to stay out here all night?  We have a perfectly good bed in the rental.”

“I was going to have you at least half undressed and ready to go.”  Steve leaned in and kissed him deeply, his tongue slipping easily into Tony’s mouth.  Tony arched against him, letting the Dominant have free rein.  For all his old-fashioned sensibilities, Steve was a filthy kisser.  The man’s tongue should be considered a weapon of mass destruction.

Steve groaned, pulling back.  “What’s your safeword?”

Tony hesitated.  “I’ve never really used one.”

That earned him a slight frown.  “Even with a Switch, you always need a safeword.”

“The switches I was with weren’t exactly the best Doms in the world.”  Tony tried to pull Steve back down, sighing when his lover resisted.  “Fine.  Rebirth.”  That earned him a Look.  “It was my safeword during training.”

That seemed to satisfy Steve for the moment.  “We’ll talk about that later.”  He leaned in for another kiss, rolling Tony underneath him.


Tony considered for a moment.  “You were right about what you said.  I don’t do pain, but I do like being restrained and denied.”  He arched against Steve, nipping at the blond’s lip when he was rewarded with a kiss.  “And I do love a nice long tease sometimes.”

A strong hand slipped under the hem of his shirt, tracing upwards along his abs.  Tony spread his legs nearly instinctively, slotting himself against Steve even through their clothes.  When Steve lifted away, the Submissive actually whimpered.

“House.”  Steve’s voice sounded wrecked.  “Or I’m going to top you for the first time on this beach for God and the world to see.”  He rolled to his knees.  “Come on.”

Tony swallowed convulsively.  “Right now, I’m a fan of that ‘on this beach’’ thing.”  He tried to pull Steve back down.

Steve groaned.  “No, Tony,” he murmured, his Dom voice leaking through every word.  “Our first time is just for us.”  He pulled the Submissive up, pausing to gather the blanket and their basket.  “And I don’t want it to involve sand.”

Tony followed him back to the house.  “You never mentioned being a sadist.”

Steve grinned.  “I’m a more of a sensualist, believe it or not.”  He smiled as Tony’s eyes dilated.  “I use extreme pleasure to get my Submissives where I want them.”  He pressed his soon-to-be lover against the back door.  “I get off on the trust.”

Tony rubbed himself against Steve’s body, letting a hard thigh slot itself between his legs as if it belonged there.  He ground against it impatiently.  “Steve, please.”

“Patience.”  Steve kissed him silent.  Dimly, he could hear the Dominant fumbling to unlock and open the door.

Later, Tony would never remember their trek to the bed, lost in a haze of Steve’s hands and mouth driving him insane.  He came back to his senses straddling Steve’s lap, one large hand cupping his ass, Steve’s mouth suckling at a nipple and his fingers toying with the other.  He had no idea when he got naked, or why Steve was fully dressed beneath him.  He threw his head back, groaning.

Steve rolled them, settling between his partner’s legs.  Tony let himself go limp, watching blue eyes darken as they swept down his body.  “You’re gorgeous like this,” the blond husked, lifting up to strip off his shirt.  “One night soon, I’m going to spend hours letting you service me.”

Tony closed his eyes for a moment, letting Steve’s words flow through him.  “Fuck,” he breathed, “yes, please.”  He could feel himself relaxing in a way he never had when he’d subbed before, his body thrumming with arousal.  “Want to serve you, Steve.”  He’d never said those words and meant them before.

Steve reached down, grabbing himself and closing his eyes in an obvious effort to keep from coming in his pants.  “Fuck, Tony.”  He rolled away, shucking the rest of his clothes quickly.  “You have no idea how hot it is when you submit to me.”

For the first time in his life, Tony Stark lay back submissively, waiting for his Dom’s pleasure.  And there was no real doubt in his mind anymore that he was Steve’s.  If he wanted to be brutally honest with himself, there hadn’t been any doubt since the first time they’d kissed.

Steve’s movements were controlled as he stripped, lit only by the faint glow of the arc reactor.  He turned, eyes dark as he watched Tony for a moment.  “God, Tony--”  He crawled back onto the bed, hands slipping downward--

Somehow, he lost more time in a haze of sensation: Steve still on top of him, a hand around closing around him and stroking slowly, writhing desperately as one sure finger breached him and turned into a pair, then three as Steve rolled his balls in one large palm, driving him insane.  He came back to himself as the fingers left him bereft, a desperate whimper escaping his throat.

“Shh, it’s okay,” Steve crooned, reaching down and grasping himself.  Tony arched, mouth open as he was filled completely in one sure stroke.  “Tonight, just enjoy.”  Steve peppered his face with kisses as he waited for Tony to adjust.  “Let me learn how to pleasure you.”

Dimly, Tony realized that he was acting like the Subs he usually held in disdain, clawing at Steve’s back and writhing, desperate pleas falling from his lips.  Steve thrust deeply but slowly, avoiding Tony’s prostate.  His hand closed around his Submissive’s erection again, holding but not stroking.

“So beautiful, Tony.”  At least Steve’s voice was just as wrecked as his own.  His pupils were blown with little more than a blue ring around them.  “I could take you like this for hours.”  A deep thrust punctuated his words.  “And I bet you’d let me.  You want to please me so badly, and it’s like you don’t even know that you already do.”

Tony gasped, relaxing as he submitted to Steve’s dominance.  The sensations roared through him, too numerous and too close on each other’s heels to name. His eyes fluttered closed as a particularly skillful movement hit his prostate just right, mouth open in a silent scream.

Steve’s motions stilled for a moment, watching Tony fight his way back from the edge of orgasm.  “Good boy,” he whispered against Tony’s lips, “waiting for me to let you come. Waiting for your Dom’s permission.”

That shouldn’t have been nearly as hot as it was.  “Please, sir.” The words fell from his lips before he could stop them.

Steve’s eyes widened even as his hips jerked uncontrollably, filling Tony from the inside with wet warmth.  He groaned, thrusting even deeper than he had before.  “Come, Tony.  Come for me.”

Tony didn’t need anything else as the world whited out around him.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When he came to, he was draped over Steve’s clean chest.

He shifted slowly, taking stock of the pleasant ache deep inside and the trickle of seed he could feel dripping out of him.

“Holy shit,” he murmured into the shoulder beneath his cheek.

Steve sighed contently.  “Agreed.”  At least he sounded nearly as wiped as Tony felt.  Apparently, some things could tire even super soldiers.  “How do you feel?”

“Like I just got used by an amazing Dominant.”  Tony stretched.  “Without a condom.”

“I checked your medical records.”  Steve’s hand drifted down his back again.  “And unless I’ve missed a hell of a lot in 70 years, I can’t get you pregnant.”

Tony snorted.  “You know I’m not a cuddler, right?”

“Of course not.”  Steve pulled him closer.  “Now go to sleep until I want to take you again.”

Tony closed his eyes, ignoring the shiver of pleasure the matter-of-fact tone sent through him.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Tell me about your pleasure training.”  Steve’s voice was soft, barely more than a breath against the back of Tony’s neck.

Tony drew a breath, staring into the darkness.  “Not much to tell,” he whispered, tangling his fingers with Steve’s over his stomach.  “I was too young until after I graduated MIT.”  He paused for a long moment, gathering his thoughts.  “My father sent me to a pleasure house in England run by a friend of his.”

“He didn’t let you choose?”  The fingers of Steve’s other hand traced a gentle pattern on his stomach.

“No.”  Tony swallowed convulsively, his fingers tightening on Steve’s.  “I asked him to send me to Submissive training.”  He fell silent.  “I knew better.  I fucking knew better.”

The hand on his abs stilled.  “What did he do?”

“He reminded me that I was a Dominant.”  Tony rotated his left wrist.  “My first day in training, I had to tell the House Masters I’d broken my wrist during a lab accident.”  He fell silent for a moment as Steve’s fingers tightened almost painfully on his.  “He’s already dead, you can’t kill him.”

“It’s not--”  Steve’s lips pressed against the nape of his neck.  “I don’t want to kill him.  I want to let him know that he missed seeing everything that makes you incredible.”

Tony smiled into the darkness, warmth blooming in his chest.  “There is a lot that makes me incredible, isn’t there?”

“You’re amazing.”  Steve brushed his lips across Tony’s nape again.  “Go on.”

“Our first day, we were introduced to our pleasure masters, the men and women who would be in charge of our training, and split into groups.”

“I remember how it works.”

Tony shrugged a little.  “Every place is a little different.”

“Not that way.  Stop stalling and tell me.”  Steve’s grip tightened a little, warningly.

“My pleasure master was named Gregory.  He... he recognized what the house masters had missed.”  He hadn’t thought about Greg in years, had stopped trying when he realized even alcohol couldn’t dull the sharp pain that came along with the memories.

“He should have turned you in, right?”

“He had a responsibility to.  Part of his job was making sure no one slipped through.” He squeezed Steve’s fingers as tightly as he could.  “He should have fucking told.”

“Why didn’t he?”  Steve was tense against his back now.

“I don’t know.  Never found out.”  Tony took a shaky breath.  “Anyway.  He asked the house masters for a special exception.  The other members of my group were reassigned, and Greg trained me in isolation.”

“So he trained you in submission and let you graduate as a Dominant?”

“It wasn’t like that.”  Tony paused, choosing his words carefully.  He owed Greg no less.  “It was more like... the way Switches are trained.  We spent most of the time making sure I’d be able to pass as a Dominant, and the rest training in submission.”  Tony lapsed into silence.  He’d been 12 when he first realized he was a Submissive, but it hadn’t been until training that he’d first gotten to submit.  He’d had plenty of sex before that, but his experience with Greg was the first that had ever felt natural.

“Where is he now?”

And there it was.  A simple question; Steve couldn’t have known how deeply it cut.  “I don’t know.” He squeezed his eyes shut, as if that could block out the reality.  “Probably dead.”  He knew he was trembling against Steve’s chest.


“No.”  His fingers clenched almost convulsively.  “I have to--you need to know.  You should know how this ends.”  He took a steadying breath.  “A few weeks after I graduated from my training, a couple of months before my parents died--Greg disappeared.  Car accounted for, all of his possessions still in his quarters at the house, no withdrawals from his bank account--just gone.”

“You must have a theory.”  Now Steve’s voice was barely more than a breath against his ear.

“I always have a theory.”  Tony tried for a chuckle.  It came out as more of a sob.  “I think my father found out what Greg had done for me.”

Steve was silent for a long time.  Tony let himself indulge in memories of Greg, as clear and sharply painful as the day he’d found out his pleasure master was missing.

Greg had been young for his position; Tony would have been surprised if the man was even 30 when they met.  But the slender, clean-shaven redhead had been the first person in his life to accept Tony’s submissiveness without question or judgement.

“You think Howard was responsible?”

Tony rolled over and pressed his face to Steve’s chest.  “I never got a chance to ask.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

By the time they got back, Steve’s things had been moved into Tony’s room.

Tony swore he had nothing to do with it and didn’t know who had.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Of course it couldn’t last.

Four days after they returned from their beach trip, the Avengers got their next call.

“Good god, do they destroy things for fun?”  Steve could hear Tony grousing through the comm.  “This is just uncalled-for.”  He landed in the middle of the blasted-out street, apparently unconcerned that at least three dozen masked minions surrounded him. The briefing they’d gotten had identified them as members of an organization run by a man calling himself the Terminator.  Steve didn’t get the reference, but his teammates had groaned at the name.  “Seriously guys, let’s not destroy the world we want to conquer.”

Steve ignored him as the rest of the team spilled out of the Quinjet to join Iron Man on the ground.  “Hulk, take care of their transport, make sure they don’t have a way out of here when we’re done.  Hawkeye, I need you up top.  Keep them pinned down.  Iron Man, you’re on civilian protection duty.  Make sure everyone’s clear that doesn’t need to be here.  Everyone else, we’re on control and contain.”

Iron Man lifted off wordlessly as soon as he’d finished speaking without so much as an acknowledgement, but Steve didn’t have time to think about it as the minions decided now might be a good time to unleash their energy weapons.

He dived for cover, flinging the shield as he did so, and the battle was on.  It was easy to fall into the familiar rhythm, a combination of neutralizing and herding toward the round-up point that SHIELD was manning.

Nothing out of the ordinary for a day with the Avengers, until Hawkeye’s voice broke into the comm.  “Iron Man’s down.”  Anyone who didn’t know Clint would never have heard the tension in those few words.

Steve’s world narrowed.  “Iron Man, report status.”  He held his breath as the silence on the comm line stretched out.  “Iron Man!”

“Two blocks east of here, Cap,” Hawkeye said.  “We’ve got it on this end.”

Steve took off in that direction, barely noticing that Natasha followed. In some corner of his mind, he knew she was watching his back, helping him get to Tony safely.

He was prepared for nearly anything but what he found.

Iron Man was on his feet, surrounded by minions.  They were peppering him with bolts, but he was giving back just as good as he got with a ferocity that gave Steve momentary pause.  “Iron Man, you know this is a no-kill mission, right?”

His lover didn’t even glance in his direction.  “Little busy here, Cap.”

Natasha raised both eyebrows.  “Lovers spat?”  she asked, already diving into the fray.

Steve did the same.  “No idea.”

Despite whatever was bothering Tony, they worked together as seamlessly as always, and it wasn’t long before their share of the villains had been delivered to the round-up point.  Iron Man took off before Steve could say anything, leaving him standing in the middle of the rest of the team.  “What just happened?”

Clint gave him a pitying look.  “You don’t know?”  He sighed at the blank looks he got from the Doms. “Of course you don’t get it.”  He shook his head.  “You told him you don’t trust him anymore since he’s your Sub now.”

“What?” Steve shook his head.   “I never--”

“Except for the part where you put him and only him on civilian duty less than a week after he started subbing for you.”  Clint crossed his arms.  “You might as well have told him to sit it out and let the big boys handle it.”

Steve stood his ground.  “Everyone takes their turn protecting civilians.”

"I know that and you know that. Tony knows that his turn just happened to come on the very first mission after you two became a couple.  Just think about how that looks to him."  He turned and walked onto the Quinjet without another word.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Steve had thought he knew Tony’s avoidance techniques.  Apparently not.

By the time the rest of the team got back to the mansion, the billionaire had disappeared.

Steve checked their room, the workshop, Tony’s home office, the gym--anywhere he thought his lover might be hiding.  Finally, he asked JARVIS.

“Mr. Stark has expressly forbidden me from revealing his current location, Captain Rogers.”  To its credit, the AI sounded genuinely regretful.

Steve bit back a curse, thinking.  “Can you tell me where he’s not?”

There was a pause, presumably JARVIS checking Tony’s parameters.  “Mr. Stark’s instructions do not prevent me from ruling out locations,” came the eventual reply.

“Okay, has he left New York?”

“Mr. Stark is no longer in New York, sir.”

“Is he still in the country?”

“Mr. Stark’s instructions prevent me from confirming or denying that, Captain.”

Which meant yes.  Steve’s brow furrowed.  “Is he in the eastern half of the country?”

“No, sir.”

“Continental United States?”

“Unable to confirm.”

“West coast?”

“Unable to confirm.”

A suspicion formed in his mind.  “Is he at a Stark family property?”

“Unable to confirm.”

“Can you give me a complete list of all residential Stark family properties located on the west coast?”

The pause was longer this time.  “Transmitting the list to your tablet, sir.”

Steve’s face set itself in grim lines.  “Thank you, JARVIS.”  It was time to go get his Submissive back.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Three mansions into his search, Steve realized that ‘residential Stark family properties on the west coast’ was probably still too broad a parameter.

“JARVIS, is Tony in California?”

“I’m sorry, Captain Rogers, but Mr. Stark has changed the wording of his instructions.  I’m no longer allowed to tell you where he is or where he is not.”

Steve growled.  Fine.  Guess he was doing this the hard way.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

By the time the Quinjet landed at Tony’s mansion in Malibu, Steve was beyond exhausted.  His override codes were enough to grant him entry, but a search of the mansion and Tony’s workshop below revealed no trace of the missing billionaire.

Sitting on the beach outside the house, Steve finally took a deep breath and steeled himself to dial Pepper’s number.

She answered on the first ring.  “He won’t tell me where he is either.  What did you do to put him in panic mode?”

Steve sighed and let the entire story spill out.  “So yes, I need to apologize, but he’s playing to world’s biggest game of hide and seek and I’m losing badly.”

Pepper sighed.  “Tony’s good at hiding from his problems.  You can either lure him into the open or wait him out.  I wish I had another answer, Steve.”

Steve settled back on the sand.  “Yeah, me too.”

He wandered back into the house, scrubbing his hands across his face.  “JARVIS, can you pass a message to Tony?”

“I am in contact with Mr. Stark,” was the reply, which Steve guessed was the closest thing to a yes he was going to get.

He took a deep breath. "Tony, please, I know I hurt you, but we can't work through this unless you talk to me.  I'll be here at least until morning if you want to work things out.  If you don't come, I'll take the hint.  Take whatever time you need, and we can talk about how to transition back to friendship when you get back to New York."  He took a deep breath.  “JARVIS, is there a guest room I can use?”

“Just up the stairs, first door to your right, Captain Rogers.”

He trudged up, feeling every one of his years, even the ones he’d spent frozen in the ice.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Steve woke from a restless sleep in the middle of the night to the feeling of someone watching him.

He didn’t even open his eyes, just held out a hand.

When tentative fingers touched his, he pulled the other man close.

“We’ll talk in the morning,” he whispered, relief nearly choking him.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tony was sitting on the edge of the bed when Steve woke.

Steve lay still, watching the other man’s profile.  Tony was staring out the window, though Steve doubted he saw any of the view.  His shoulders were stiff.

“Come here, Tony,” he ordered softly.  He could hear the billionaire’s sharp intake of breath.  “We need to talk, and I don’t want you all the way over there.”

“Why not?”  But Tony scooted closer.  “Why did you come after me?”

“Because I owe you an apology.”  Steve sat up, letting the sheets pool around his waist.  “I wasn’t thinking about what it would look like when I gave that order.”

“It looked like you didn’t want me in the battle,” Tony grated.

“That wasn’t it at all.  It could have been Thor just as easily.  I needed someone up top to make sure everyone was off the streets.”  He reached out, touching his Submissive’s back.  “It wasn’t because I don’t trust you.  I don’t know that there’s a higher level of trust than protecting the innocents.”  He counted it as a victory when Tony didn’t pull away.

“Of course you would think that.  Why didn’t I realize that?  I’m supposed to be a genius.”

Steve cut his self-loathing short with a sweet kiss.  “But.”  He pulled back, infusing his voice with steel.  “You don’t run from me.  Understand?”  He held up a hand to forestall Tony’s response.  “We’re going to have problems.  I’m going to make mistakes, you’re going to make mistakes, but if you run from me again, we’re done.”

“That easily.”  It wasn’t a question, and Steve had to stop him from moving away again.

“Not easily.  The hardest thing I’d ever have to do, actually.”  Steve wrapped his arms around the tense form.  “Tony, it nearly killed me to know that you were actively avoiding me.  Do you know how much it hurt to give you an out, offer to let you go?  I know we’ve only been dating a few days, but I thought you knew what you meant to me.”

“So did I, until yesterday.”  Tony leaned against him for a moment.  “So I get my share of the action next time?”

“Promise.”  Steve pressed a kiss to his neck.  “And you won’t run from me again?”

Tony snorted.  “Not after seeing how much good it did me this time.”

“You did a damned good job of hiding from me even after I got here.”  Steve smiled.  “I just had a little help tracking you at first.”

Tony shook his head.  “I’m reprogramming JARVIS, I swear.”

“No you’re not.”  Steve moved to get up.  “Can we go home now?”

“Yeah, home’s sounding good.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tony dozed off against his shoulder on the plane.

Careful not to jostle him, Steve pulled up the email on his tablet and tapped out a few messages.

By the time they landed in New York, he’d made the arrangements he needed.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The days after Tony’s disappearing act were mostly what passed for normal at Avengers mansion.  They had a couple of minor missions, and Steve trod carefully while ordering his Submissive in battle.

Downtime was mostly spent together in Tony’s workshop. Steve worked on an apparently secret project on his tablet while Tony tinkered with whatever he was working on.

They also spent more time with the team.  Movie nights had become a tradition three nights a week, and Tony relished the time spent curled together on the loveseat, explaining hokey films to his Dom.

But despite all that, Steve had felt... distant.  He spent every night in their room, but most of those nights saw him working on some project on his tablet.  They still had sex, of course, because Steve wasn’t made of stone and Tony could be damned persuasive when he put his mind to it.  Still, every time Tony tried to lure him away from the tablet or get a look at it, Steve gave him a Disappointed Look and moved it out of his reach.

Which only made Tony more paranoid, but he couldn’t exactly snoop through his lover’s personal property, even if it was personal property he’d designed.

The impasse lasted nearly two weeks.  Then, one morning as Tony walked into the kitchen for breakfast, he found himself pulled into a solid lap and handed a piping hot cup of coffee.

He leaned against the strong chest, sipping gratefully.  “I think we’ve got this all wrong.  You’re the god among men.”

Steve just kissed him lightly, careful not to jostle the mug.  Tony had trained him well.   “Date night tonight.”

“You know, some of us are eating and would rather not throw it back up,” Clint groused.  “Seriously, you own the mansion and you can’t find an unoccupied room to get it on?”

“Because I own the mansion, I can get it on in any room in said mansion.”  Tony smirked.  “Don’t worry, Clint, one day you’ll trap a Dominant of your very own.”

Steve snorted.  “So you trapped me, then?” he asked good-naturedly.  “Maybe I should date Clint instead.  He seems on the level.”

“Which is proof that I’m involved with a madman.”  Tony stood, still clutching his mug.  “If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the workshop.”

“You’re done by seven for our date,” Steve called after him.

Tony waved his hand.  “Yeah, yeah, you’ll come get me anyway so let’s just plan on that.”

Steve’s answering laughter loosened the knot of tension in his chest.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When Steve went downstairs to find Tony that evening, he found the billionaire leaning against the table, the arc reactor in his hands and his tongue between his teeth, doing something to the core.  He stopped near the doorway, watching.

Tony slipped the device back in with a gasp.  “There we go.”  He looked up and noticed Steve watching, a smile sliding onto his face.  “Am I late yet, or are you just on time?”

Steve grinned back.  “I’m early, actually.  You have five minutes.”

Tony looked around the workshop consideringly.  “Yeah, not going to even try to start anything else.  You’d just drag me away.”  He washed his hands in the sink in the corner and reached for his shirt on the worktable.  “So what magical location are we gracing with our presence tonight?”

“The roof.”

“You’re kidding, right?  You could use one of the jets to take me anywhere in the world.  Literally, anywhere, and we’re not even leaving the grounds?”

Steve nodded placidly, taking his lover’s arm and steering him out.  “You’ll see.”  He allowed himself a small smile as Tony walked up the stairs ahead of him.  “I think this will be your favorite date yet.”

“See, now I’m intrigued.”

Steve just smiled mysteriously.  “Good.”  He ushered Tony into the elevator.  “The rest of the team will handle any emergencies tonight."

"Do I even get to change?"

"What you're wearing is fine." He ignored Tony's doubtful look at his grease-stained T-shirt and jeans and steadfastly refused to answer any other questions.

When they got to the roof, Steve turned to watch Tony’s reaction.  It had taken him all day and a fair amount of help from Bruce to string hundreds of fairy lights, until the rooftop fairly twinkled against the lights of the city.

One section, still darkened, stood off to the side, but Tony didn’t even glance that way.  Instead, his attention was fixed on the centerpiece of the scene--a table set for two, dimly lit by candles placed in the center of it.  “Wow.  You do know how to set a scene.”

Steve put a hand on the small of his back, leading him forward.  “Thought we established that.”  He allowed himself a small smile.  “We did know how to romance back in my day.”

Tony turned to him, eyes sparkling in the candlelight.  “Please never use that phrase again.  I feel like I’m dating my grandfather.”

“I could offer you some hard candy.”  Steve smiled slyly.

"Is this why you've been distracted?"  Tony slid into the chair Steve pulled out for him.  "I was getting worried," he said with a smirk that Steve saw straight through.  "Thought you'd found someone younger."

Steve rolled his eyes.  "The shine hasn't worn off enough for me to replace you," he replied dryly.  "Stop being paranoid and eat before your dinner gets cold."

"Yes, sir." Tony examined his plate critically.  "You did your research."

"I did,” Steve smiled smugly.  He tucked into his own plate, sneaking glances at Tony all the while.  He’d arranged for the meal from the restaurant where they’d had their first date.  It had a few of his favorites from the place, but he didn’t taste a bite of it.

Instead, his attention was riveted on the grubby, tired-looking engineer across from him.  Tony had a smudge of something across his cheek, and his hair was standing in wild spikes from running his hands through it.

Steve had never seen anything more gorgeous.

“Okay, famous and used to being stared at, but could you at least be a little more subtle about it?”  Steve blushed at being caught out, but Tony’s voice was amused.  “Maybe even eat something?”

The blond looked down at his plate.  “Just thinking about how lucky I am,” he said softly.  “It took me 70 years frozen, but I’ve finally found my something special.”

“Tell me about your pleasure training.”

Steve looked up, startled.  “It was nothing special.  The house I trained with joined with another house while I was frozen.  Even if it hadn’t, everyone I knew there is long dead.”

“Still.  Come on, give me something here.”

“Not much to say that you don’t already know.  I’m a sensualist.  I don’t get off on causing my Submissive pain, nor do I get off on feeling pain.  But I am well-versed in a number of objects and how to use the sensation they create.”

Tony took a swallow of the single glass of wine Steve had allowed.  “I feel like I’m missing out, here.  Not that sex with you is bad, but you haven’t pulled out any of the tricks.”

Steve shrugged, a little self-conscious.  “Time wasn’t right for them yet.”  He gave Tony’s plate a pointed look.  “You know dinner isn’t the only thing on the agenda tonight.”

“Yes, Mom, I’m eating.”  Steve exhaled quietly as Tony let the subject change without comment.  “So what else are we doing?”

Hopefully spending a lot of time making love.  The other Avengers knew to avoid the roof tonight on pain of possible exhibitionism.  He smiled mysteriously at his Sub instead of answering.  “You’ll see.”

“You know I’m not good with surprises.”  But Tony tucked into his meal.  Steve finished first, watching the way the candlelight illuminated the lighter highlights in the billionaire’s hair.  “Seriously, haven’t you noticed the Big Brother setup I have going at the mansion and the tower?”

Steve rolled his eyes.  “One, don’t get the reference.”

“You’ll love 1984, trust me.  We just have to work our way there.”

Two,” Steve continued, ignoring the interjection, “you’ll get your surprise as soon as you’re done with dinner.”

Tony smirked back over the rim of his wine glass.  “So maybe it’s a good thing I’m done?”

Startled, Steve glanced down at Tony’s plate and yep, clean.  He swallowed.  Showtime, then.

Tony was watching him with hooded eyes.  “Steve, what’s going on here?” he asked quietly.  “You’re about to jump out of your skin.”

Steve shrugged a little, trying to play off his nerves.  “I’m just hoping you’ll like your surprise.”  He stood, taking Tony’s hand.  “Close your eyes.  No peeking, I’m trusting you here.”  He filed away the little shiver that last part sent down Tony’s spine for future reference.  Instead, he took his lover’s hand, leading him across the roof to where the canopy stood in darkness, flicking the switch that controlled the last string of lights.  He let go of Tony’s hand just long enough to pick up the jewelry box he’d laid aside.

“Okay, open.”

Tony’s eyes flicked first to the canopy, lit up behind Steve.  “Nice.”  He turned back to the Dominant, his mouth open to say more, and noticed the jewelry box in Steve’s hands.  His smile faded away, replaced by a gobsmacked expression.  “Steve?”

Steve opened the box slowly, the plain vibranium collar nestled within glinting a little in the moonlight.  “Anthony Edward Stark, will you be my Submissive?”

The moment stretched out between them, taut.  Steve could practically see the thoughts fly across Tony’s face.

First came disbelief that Steve could be offering this.  That was quickly followed by doubt, fear, nervousness, and finally a blank expression that Steve couldn’t read.  “Are you sure, Steve?”

“Very sure.”  Steve held his voice steady.  Tony wouldn’t turn him down here.  He couldn’t deny them both this.

“I’ve been told I’m self-obsessed.”

“Whenever we’re together, I see nothing but single-minded focus on me.”

“Emotionally unstable.”

“And mentally unstable, but we can work through that.”  Steve allowed himself a small smile.

The look Tony gave him was distinctly not amused. “Not a team player.”

“I can teach you to get along with the other kids.”

Tony narrowed his eyes.  “I have a headlight in my chest.”

“Then I’ll never be in the dark,” Steve returned evenly. Tony didn’t reply, his eyes still locked on the collar.  “You know, Clint’s been teaching me slang.”  Hazel eyes shot to his at the apparent non sequitur, but he ignored it.  “To use that education, you’re a dick, a douche, an asshole and a jerk.”  Tony jerked back, but Steve shook his head slightly to forestall a response.  “And I still love the hell out of you.”

Tony examined his face for another moment in silence.  Steve held his breath, hoping, praying--

And slowly, painfully so, Tony lowered himself to his knees, head bent forward, his hands clasped behind his back.  “I accept this collar, and offer my submission in exchange.”  The traditional words were whispered.

Steve nodded.  “Look at me, Tony.”  When his lover complied, he gently fastened the collar around the Submissive’s throat.  The key was already on the chain around his own neck, with his dogtags.  Under normal circumstances, a copy would go to Tony’s pleasure house, but that was another situation they needed to deal with.  For now, Pepper would keep the spare in case of emergencies.

Tony stayed on his knees, though his fingers traced the collar.  In the end, Steve had gone for a simple chain.  He’d designed the links himself, but it had been difficult to get a jeweler who could work with vibranium.  His name was engraved on an unobtrusive tag.  The entire collar was designed to rest far enough down that it wouldn’t show under Tony’s typical shirts, assuming said shirts were worn properly.

“How the hell did you get vibranium without me noticing?”

“I may have sent one of our teammates on a top secret mission to Wakanda while we were on the way back from Malibu.”

Tony chuckled.  “Sneaky and underhanded.  You might be able to dominate me after all.”  He tilted his head to one side, contemplating his newly-official Dom.  “So, I’m pretty sure I owe you a blowjob or five.  You know, for the priceless collar.”  His smile was filthy.

Steve fisted a hand in his hair, pulling him forward.  “No argument here.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The rising sun woke Steve first the next morning.

Tony was spooned against him, face buried in one of the pillows.  Steve shifted slightly, his hand moving from Tony’s waist to gently run his fingers over the arc reactor and the tracery of scars that radiated outward from it.  He’d come so close to never getting to meet this man at all.  If that explosion had killed Tony, if Steve had died in the ice--

Tony stirred.  “Thinking loud.  Shut up,” he mumbled, face still pressed into the pillow beneath his cheek.  He didn’t open his eyes.

“Sorry.”  Steve kissed his shoulder in apology.  “We should probably get back inside, anyway.”

Tony moaned.  “Too early.  Too tired.”  He burrowed deeper into the nest Steve had made under the canopy.  “You put down the netting, that’s enough privacy.”

Steve sat up.  “So you don’t want to have sex in your luxurious custom-made bed on silk sheets before your meeting?”

“Not going to the meeting.  Spending all day in bed with you.”

“Meeting at ten,” Steve said firmly.  “Followed by lunch with Pepper to go over this week’s schedule at noon, followed by the weekly update from R&D at two and tonight’s team movie night, so move.”

“You’re a slave driver,” Tony mumbled, sitting up and running a hand over his face.  He leaned over for a kiss.  “Morning, hot stuff.”

Steve smiled against his lips, catching the billionaire’s hand as it started wandering south.  “You’re not distracting me with sex.  If you’re a good boy, I’ll take you in the shower.”

“And if I’m a bad boy?”

“I’ll still take you in the shower.”  He watched appreciatively as his Submissive got up.  “Robes are hanging over there.”

“So we’re doing the walk of shame in robes now?”

Steve shrugged on his own robe.  “We’re both grown men, and you wear my collar.  I’m not ashamed.  Are you?”

Apparently, he said something right.  Tony turned to him, a small but oh-so-sincere smile on his face.  “Absolutely not. No shame, remember?”

Steve charitably didn’t mention Tony’s words from ten second before.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Steve adjusted Tony’s shirt just slightly, sighing as his thumb brushed the place where his collar should hang.

Logically, he knew Tony wasn’t ready to come out as a Submissive and every minute he wore the collar in public was risking that someone would find out  the truth.

That didn’t make it hurt any less.

Tony put a hand over his.  “It’s just for a few hours.  I’ll be home right after the presentation.”  He pulled Steve in for a kiss.  “Thank you for understanding.”

Put that way, Steve had no response.  He sighed helplessly.  “Understanding doesn’t mean I like it.”

Tony pressed against him for another kiss.  “Give it a few days.  Logically, I know it would be hidden under a shirt, but--”

Steve smiled against his lips.  “I said I understand and I do.”  He stepped away.  “You need to go or you’ll be late.”  He pulled Tony against him for one final deep kiss before watching the billionaire walk away.

Sighing, Steve headed into the kitchen.

And very nearly turned back around and walked out.  Instead, he closed his eyes.  “Have you been lying in wait all morning?  Is this going to become a regular thing?”

“Nah, we figured you’d show up after you got Stark out the door for that meeting,”  Clint said carelessly.  He leaned casually against the kitchen island.  Thor sat on the other side.  Bruce sat at the table, casually sipping his coffee and pretending not to be involved.

Which left Natasha leaning against the very fridge Steve was trying to get to.  She offered him a smile.  “So, none of us heard you come back downstairs last night.”

“But yet, there was a distinct lack of noticeable collar around Stark’s throat when he left,”  Clint continued.

“Considering the lengths to which I had to go in order to secure the materials for the collar, I should hope it did not prove a futile effort,” Thor said calmly.

Steve gave them all his Captain America stare.  “Not discussing it, but no.  Your efforts didn’t go to waste.”

“So things are still good between you two?”  Natasha seemed to relax minutely, which, for Natasha, meant she wasn’t about to kill him with her pinky.

“They’ve never been better.”  Steve knew  his grin was sappy.  Judging from the looks they exchanged, so did his teammates.  He ignored them as he poured himself a cup of the decadent coffee that always seemed to fill the mansion’s coffeemaker.

“Great,” Bruce chimed up.  “So we can tell you his best friend should be here within the hour without you freaking out.”

Steve choked on his first sip.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sizewise, Steve had the advantage over James Rhodes.

Sitting across the living room from the other man and his glare, he wasn’t quite sure that would be enough.  He was reminded of the few times he’d picked a Sub up for a date, fathers making sure he knew just when to have their precious son or daughter back home.  Not that Steve needed those; he was a respectful Dom, after all.

“So.”  Rhodes folded his arms over his chest.  “You’re the one dating Tony.”

“I am.”  Steve kept his voice steady.  Rhodes was another Alpha Dom, and he’d be damned if he would give so much as an inch.

“Why should I let you?”  Now Rhodes’ voice was edging towards dangerous.  He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.

“You think you can stop me?”  Steve stood.  “He already wears my collar, do you know what that means?”

“It means you think you can fuck him when and where you want.”  Rhodes stood as well, nearly as tall as Steve, his back ramrod straight with a posture that could only come from the military.

“It means I made a vow to protect him, to be the shield he needs from the rest of the world and the steadying presence he needs to ground himself.”  Steve took a step forward, fists clenching at his sides.  “It means I’m not planning to let anything or anyone take him from me.”

“Are you threatening me?”  They were almost in each other’s space now.

“Are you a threat?”

“I have years of evidence that I have nothing but his best interests at heart, what do you have?”

Steve stared into the brown eyes of the man in front of him.  “Tony,” he said simply.

Their silent standoff lasted a few more seconds.  Then, Rhodes dropped his gaze, just slightly.  It was enough.

Steve exhaled in relief.  “Thank you.”  He said, stepping back.  “I don’t plan to hurt him, and I don’t want to keep him away from his friends.”

Rhodes flopped back onto one of the couches.  “Good, then I don’t plan to hurt you.”  He cracked a smile.

Steve smiled in return, dropping onto another couch.  “So what do we do now that we’re done with that?”

Rhodey’s eyes danced with mirth.  “I say we disappear and let them think we killed each other.”

Despite himself, Steve laughed.  He could grow to like this man.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Steve and Rhodey had been alone all day.

No one at the mansion had seen them since noon.

Tony put his head in his hands.  “Fuck my life.”

Clint patted his shoulder.  “Look on the bright side.  It’s not likely they killed each other.  One of them is bound to have survived.”

Tony banged his forehead on the kitchen table.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

By Steve’s count, Tony should have been home no more than an hour when he and Rhodes--“Call me Rhodey, man, we’re practically family now”--got back to the mansion.

“So, I swear to you, he looks right at this guy, like, assault rifle and everything and goes, “Seriously, just let me touch it a little!”

Steve choked out a laugh as he locked the mansion’s front door behind them.  “That sounds like Tony, alright.”

“What sounds like Tony?”

Steve turned, smiling a little sheepishly at his Submissive.  “Hello, darling.  Colonel Rhodes and I were just--”

“Bup bup bup,” Tony held up a hand to stop him.  “Collar first, then yelling at you.”  He handed Steve the box.  Steve obligingly and carefully fastened the collar around his Submissive’s throat again.  “Yeah, going without it during the day isn’t going to fly.”

“It looks good on you, Tony.”  Apparently Steve wasn’t the only one trying to get back into Stark’s good graces.

“Yeah, yeah, stow it.”  Tony waved a hand.  “You and I will have words later about corrupting my Dom.”  He turned back to Steve.  “Why didn’t you tell me Rhodey was here?  More importantly, why didn’t I get to watch the two of you go at it to prove who’s Dommier?”

Steve sighed.  “Tony--”

“No, really.  Do you have any idea how hot that must have been?  You two deprived the world today.  I hope you’re happy with yourselves.”

Rhodey shook his head.  “Why did I even hesitate?  Steve, please for the love of God take him off my hands.”

Steve put an arm around Tony, kissing him.  “Gladly.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"You know, I'm starting to think no one trusts me to make my own decisions anymore."

Rhodey didn't look around from where he was carefully hanging up his uniform.  "It's not that and you know it."

Tony stepped into the guest room, closing the door behind him.  "Enlighten me, then."

"You don't date Dominants, Tony."

“See, that’s weird, I actually thought that was exactly what I was doing.”

Rhodey gave him an exasperated look.  “Exactly.  For the first time ever.”

Tony folded his arms stubbornly.  “I thought you’d be happy about this.  Aren’t you the one who thought I needed to leave Subs alone altogether because it wasn’t fair to either party?”

“Like I was the only one.”  Rhodey was silent for a long time.  “I didn’t think you’d ever actually do it, honestly.”

“Well,” Tony said wryly, “Steve’s very persistent.”

Rhodey went still.  When he spoke, his voice was deadly calm.  “Tony.  Did he force you?”

“It wasn’t like that.”  Tony sighed heavily.  “I wanted to, I just.  Took a little convincing to actually do something about it.”  Rhodey’s glare eased just slightly, but he still didn’t look convinced.  “If he’d done anything I really didn’t want, he’d have found himself on the wrong end of a repulsor.”

“So how did it go down?”

“I told him to fuck off a lot and spent a lot of time jacking off thinking about him,” Tony said matter-of-factly.  “He kept coming back.”

The silence stretched taut between them.  Finally, Rhodey nodded once.  “If I think he’s a problem--”

“You do know I can fight my own battles.”

“He’s your first Dom.  I’m just looking out for you.”

Tony turned to leave, but paused with a hand on the doorknob.  “You’re an overbearing, overprotective asshole.”

“You’re welcome, bro.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Are you happy, Tony?”

He looked up from the contract he was reading, startled.  “What?”

Pepper smiled a little.  “Are you happy with Steve?” she repeated gently.

“You’re kidding, right?”  He glanced back down.  “Not a helpless little Sub, Pep.  Wouldn’t be with him if I wasn’t happy.”

The Domme nodded.  “Good.  If that changes, I’ll have to castrate him.”

Tony laughed.  “Deal.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“It’s a nice collar.”

Tony grunted absently, not looking away from his contemplation of the sky.

“Seriously.”  Clint rolled onto his stomach on his lounge chair.  “Do you know how many strings he had to pull to find someone who could not only work with it, but create a collar you could actually wear?  The man was a headcase.”

Tony finally turned his head to examine the archer.  “You’re taking this whole thing surprisingly well.”  He elaborated as Clint flicked him a confused look.  “Me being a Submissive.”

“Never thought you were anything but a Sub, Stark.  But my childhood was fucked up too, so I get it.”  Clint paused for a moment, watching their teammates in the pool as he apparently tried to gather his thoughts.  Tony let him be.  “I figure there’s some serious shit in your past for you to hide it so long.”

Dammit, that was not affection rising in his chest.  Heartburn or impending cardiac arrest, but not an honest sense of kinship with his fellow Sub.  Time to head this off at the pass.  “What about you?”

“What about me?”

“You never date, and I’ve never seen you bring anyone back to the mansion.”

Clint squinted at him.  “Asshole as a defense mechanism.  Interesting.”   He ignored Tony’s spluttering denial.  “I have a semi-regular... thing... going.”

“But no collar.”

“Not because he didn’t offer.”

Tony raised an eyebrow.  “Someone I know?”

“Can’t tell you.”  But Clint’s gaze darted guiltily away from his, which said enough. The archer forced a grin onto his face with obvious effort.  “You kept your secret identity for about five minutes.  No way I’m telling you my most important secret.”

“I thought we were having some kind of Sub bonding moment, here.  Got out my good nail polish and everything.”

Clint rolled his eyes.  “Revealing our involvement would make his current position... awkward... and I really don’t want to deal with that every day.”

And that pretty much slotted things into place for Tony.  “So either a teammate or a regular SHIELD contact.”  He started counting on his fingers.  “Not Steve, clearly; I don’t share, so I’d have to kill both of you.  Thor has that weird... Asgardian... thing... with Loki going on; I don’t think he has the attention to spare.  Bruce is a Sub, and if you’re sleeping with the Hulk, I’m impressed for reasons that I’d actually prefer not to dwell on.”


The billionaire waved him silent.  “No, no, you said you weren’t going to tell me, so I have to figure it out.”  He frowned slightly. “You said ‘he’ so Natasha’s out.  Who does that leave?  Coulson?”  The frown deepened.  “Though I guess it could be Fury, but I wouldn’t have pegged you--”

“Okay, fine, point taken, geez!” Clint lifted his head, cast Tony a truly baleful glare, said “Coulson,” and dropped his face back into the pillows, mumbling something else that Tony didn’t catch.

Tony gaped for a moment.  “So what’s he--”

Leave it.”  The growl came through clearly where the words hadn’t.

Tony huffed, not really all that offended.  “See if I braid your hair with the cute little ribbons.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Steve Rogers was ready to kill his Submissive.


Every Avenger’s head snapped around, including Stark’s.  Hazel eyes widened as he took in the paper clenched the Dominant’s hand.  “Steve, wait, I can explain!”

“Please do.”  Steve slammed the paper down on the table, keeping a tenuous hold on his temper.

Tony snatched it up.  “You’re the one who told me I needed to maintain my image!”

“Making out with starlets on the front page of entertainment sections wasn’t what I had in mind!” Steve barely noticed as the rest of their teammates made themselves scarce.  In fact, he was nearly seeing red.

“I didn’t even slip her any tongue!”  Tony held his hands out in supplication, approaching slowly.  “If the press thinks I’m busy banging Submissive starlets, they won’t be looking for this.”  He pulled his shirt collar open, displaying the vibranium collar around his throat.

Just the sight of it, marking Tony as his, calmed Steve right down.  He still mustered up a glare on the principle of the thing.  “You know I hate when you do that.”

“What?  It never fails to soothe you.”  Tony finally approached him, and Steve allowed himself to be pulled into a kiss.  “Apparently, you’re a caveman like that.”

“I don’t hear you complaining about it.”  Steve pulled away slightly.  They still needed to talk about this.

“Maybe if you took the gag out, you would.”

“If I took the gag out, you’d never stop talking.”  Steve sighed as Tony nosed the sensitive spot under his ear.  “You know you’re being remarkably stereotypical right now.”

“Mmm?”  Tony didn’t seem to be paying attention.  Steve wasn’t fooled.  He pushed his lover away, ignoring the disappointed groan that accompanied the move.

“You’re not distraction-sexing your way out of this conversation.”

Tony sighed.  “What do you want me to say here?  Yes, I’m owned by a gorgeous Dom who fucks me silly and keeps me flying high as a kite every night.  By the way, submissive headspace might just be better than the sex itself and I don’t say that lightly--”

“You’re not tangenting your way out of this either.”

Tony frowned at him.  “I don’t think that’s a word.”

Steve refused to be deterred.  “Tony.”

“I can’t just suddenly become a monk.  Then they’ll be looking for a reason.”  Tony threw the paper in the trash.  “Besides, Justin Hammer was after her, and she needed a save.”

“Just don’t make it a habit, okay?”

“Are you including yourself in that, because I might have to protest--mmph!”

Steve took the quick way to shut Tony up: kissing him silent.  The billionaire leaned back against the counter, legs spreading naturally to let his lover between them as the kiss deepened.

“Okay, why did you guys send me to get sodas--oh, dear God.”

Steve pulled away, sighing.  “You know, when Dr. Banner told us he wasn’t much of a joiner, we should have just let him be.”

Tony laughed against his shoulder.  “Agreed.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“You know you don’t have to woo me anymore, right?  I’m signed, sealed and delivered.”

Steve folded his arms resolutely.  “I know.  Doesn’t matter.  We’re going on a date.”  He stared his lover down.  “Put the soldering iron away and go get dressed.”

Tony groused for a few more seconds, mostly for show, before turning and dropping a kiss on Steve’s lips.  “Fine.”

Steve grinned.  It took a rare man to get Tony Stark away from his toys.

He followed the Submissive upstairs, joining Thor, Clint and Bruce in the living room while he waited.  Bruce looked over from his spot stretched out on one of the enormous couches.  “Date night?”

Steve smiled.  “Are we that predictable?”

“We’re taking bets on when you’ll start having a bingo night,” Clint offered around a mouthful of popcorn.

Steve blushed.  “Quality time is a key to a healthy relationship.”  Not that he and Tony fit the traditional definition of ‘healthy’ most of the time.  He glanced at the television screen, then did a double-take.  “What are you watching?”

“It’s called ‘Bait Car.’  The police put this abandoned car on the street and wait for someone to steal it,” Bruce said.

Steve sat, brow furrowed.  “What’s the point of that?”

Clint was still trying to explain when Tony came downstairs and dropped into Steve’s lap fifteen minutes later.  Steve kissed his Submissive, smiling.  “For a man who doesn’t like exhibitions,  you spend a lot of time on my lap.”

“And you’re an innocent victim of my insidious and lewd attacks, Captain Grabbyhands?”  Tony rose to his feet.  “Come on, you promised me a date.”  He reached for Steve’s hand, pulling.  “Where’re we going?”

Steve smiled, rising to his feet.  “We’re having a picnic in the park.”  He ignored Clint’s muffled snickering.  “And then we’re going to the Museum of Modern Art.”

“You know I have a private art collection.  We can hang a few of them in our room for you to look at while you--”

Steve kissed him to shut him up.  “Sex isn’t the answer to everything.”  He linked their fingers.  “I want to go out with you.”

Tony rolled his eyes.  “Being in a relationship with you is tiring.  I could be wined and dined to my heart’s content, but no.  Picnic in the park and art museums, that’s my life.”

Steve would have been worried if he didn’t recognize the happy smile on his lover’s face. He’d had a lot more experience with it in the two months since Tony’s collaring. “Yours is a tragic lot.”  He hefted the bag with their lunches.  “Poor little genius billionaire.”

“Ass.”  Tony dropped his hand as they left the mansion, but stayed close.  They’d figured out pretty early on that as long as they weren’t actually holding hands or touching too often, most people would only see what they wanted to--a couple of Dominant friends.  It still saddened Steve that Tony passed so effortlessly in public when he was beautifully pliant in their bed every night.

“No heavy thoughts.  Date, remember?”  Tony bumped shoulders with him.

Steve smiled.  “Remember?  It was my idea.”

They walked in comfortable silence for a bit, side by side.  Steve took stock of the couples that passed them.  Most were holding hands or otherwise touching, and a few Doms had their Subs on leashes.

Tony twitched ever so slightly every time they passed one of the latter pairs, and Steve quirked an eyebrow.  “Problem?”

“Don’t see the point of leashing Subs in public.  It’s a cop-out so the Sub doesn’t have to talk to anyone.”  Tony watched a Dom in the distance leading two Subs by on leashes.  “And when you have more than one Sub, it makes them look even more like pets.”

Steve thought about it for a moment.  “Sometimes leashes allow a Dom to protect a Sub from encounters that might upset them.”

Tony snorted.  “That’s what got us into the mess we’re in with Dom/Sub relations now.”

“Leashes?”  That didn’t make any sense.

“No, Doms wanting to coddle Subs, and Subs wanting a chance to prove they’re more than just a collar.”  Tony stared into the distance for a moment longer.  “So Doms stripped the protections.  Said if Subs wanted equal treatment, they didn’t need special laws.  And since it wasn’t a crime if a Dom died during a power exchange--”

Steve stopped cold.  “Doms don’t die during power exchanges.”

“Exactly.”  Tony tried to make his shrug casual.  Steve wasn’t fooled.  “The Sub community has been trying to get it reversed ever since, but Doms still hold the power, and the assholes have just enough power to keep getting it blocked.”


His Sub waved him off.  “No heavy thoughts, remember?  I already broke the rule, you don’t get to.”

Steve ached to pull Tony into his arms, distract the billionaire with pleasure.  Instead, he nodded.  “Later, then.”

They walked in silence a few minutes more.  “Did you know about Soul Bonds in the ‘40’s?”

Steve blinked at the abrupt change of subject.  “What?”

“Soul Bonds.  That rare and beautiful joining of the perfect Submissive with the perfect Dominant.”  Tony smiled wryly.  “A mental and psychic marvel, really.”

“We suspected.  I heard rumors of partners so in-tune they could hear each other’s thoughts, but that was just talk.”

“Most of it’s still just talk.  As far as research has been able to tell, you can only Bond when there’s a very strong devotion on both sides.” He snorted.  “Do you know how rare that is?”  Tony shook his head.  “But Subs still chase it.  Still look for a Dom to be their world.”  His voice was bitter now.  “And a lot of them get hurt or worse in the pursuit.”

“So Subs are the only ones chasing it?”

“No, but they’re the ones who get taken advantage of most of the time.”  Tony shrugged.  “When you’re looking for something that hard, you tend to miss the obvious.  With no protections, you can imagine what happens.”

Steve studied his profile.  “You know we have that, right?”  Tony looked sideways at him.  “Strong devotion,” Steve clarified.

Tony’s cheek twitched.  Steve recognized the signs of an aborted smile.  “I know.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Sir, I just thought you should know Stark and I are involved in a relationship.”

Fury’s eye bored through him.  Steve fought not to fidget like a grade-schooler in the principal’s office.  Finally, Fury asked, “Are you asking me to remove him from the team?”

“No, sir.”  The thought had never crossed his mind, in part because he wasn’t absolutely sure he could take on an angry War Machine, and it would be slightly humiliating if Rhodey kicked his ass on Tony’s behalf.

“Are you aware of what I will do to both of you if your relationship interferes with Avengers business?”

“I can imagine, sir.”

“Somehow, I doubt you can.”  Fury paused for a moment.  “But I have to admit, the vibranium collar was a nice touch.”

Steve’s eyes narrowed.  “Sir?”

“Next time you have a date in Connecticut, it’s not the press you should be watching out for.”  Fury sat back.  “Stark’s your responsibility now.  Which means I come to you with any problems he causes.”

Steve nodded solemnly.  “That’s what I’m here for.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

There were few things in the world Tony hated as much as galas and political fundraisers.  Combining the two was a torture unlike any visited on this world or probably the next.

But he came because Pepper scared him, and he smiled at the right people and chatted politely.

It didn’t help that he was the only Avenger here.  He and Steve had decided after a long argument that the best way to keep their relationship under wraps was to not live in each other’s pockets all the time in public.

Without his Dom, his fingers ached to touch his collar and ground himself with the mark of Steve’s ownership.  But that would create an entirely new set of problems.

He was jerked from his thoughts by a hand landing on his arm.  He stiffened, wondering who would dare to touch a collared Submissive so casually--

But he wasn’t collared or a Submissive, was he?  Not officially.  Not as far as these people knew.  So instead of a cutting remark, he pasted a smile on.  “Senator.”  He hoped the man didn’t actually expect Tony to remember his name.

“Dickerson.”  Of course it was.  Tony kept his face blank and uninterested.  “I chair the Metahuman Investigations Committee.”

Yeah, Tony knew exactly who he was now.  “I remember.  So, how’s the latest registration act coming for you?”

Dickerson’s smile spoke of unpleasant things Tony was sure would see light if that legislation passed.  Things that could see his friends dead or worse.  “It’s meeting a bit of resistance now, but they can’t stall it forever.” He took a sip of his champagne.  “For now, I’d just advise you to watch the company you keep.  You don’t want to be on the losing side of this.”

Tony snorted.  “Senator, I rarely find myself on the losing side of anything.”  He bared his teeth in an approximation of a smile.  “Besides, the Submissive rights bill needs to be wrapped up before any metahuman regulations; it affects a much higher percentage of the people who voted you into office.”

The Senator frowned.  “That bill will die on the Senate floor like its predecessors.  They already have the same rights as Dominants and Switches, why are they whining?”

“Except they don’t.”  His brain was hissing at him to shut up, but his mouth wasn’t getting the message.  “The family of a Submissive killed during a power exchange currently has no legal recourse against the Dom who caused that death, and furthermore, that Dom has no obligation to lift a finger to pay for funeral expenses.”

“Be that as it may, it’s rare that a Submissive dies during a power exchange.”

“5,965 last year.”  Tony crossed his arms.  “I may not be a sadist or a masochist, but even I know that it’s a perfectly safe way to have sex and there’s no way it should have killed nearly 6,000 Submissives in the U.S. alone.  And that’s not even accounting for the injuries.”

Now the Dickerson sneered.  “Right, I forgot, you don’t enjoy any pain with your pleasure.”  He raised an eyebrow.  “Tell me, Stark, why are you advocating this so hard now?  Maybe you feel a little guilty about all the Subs you’ve used and discarded?  Have you ever even collared?”

“No.”  What galled the most was that the Senator was right, but for the wrong reasons.  Tony did feel guilty about the Subs he used.  He knew he might satisfy them for a night, but they’d eventually figure out his secret if he kept them any longer.

“Submissives lack the attitude to get ahead in the world, and letting them pretend otherwise is an insult to them and the Doms who would hold those jobs.”

Tony had to fight to keep his hands from balling into fists at his side, keep his posture relaxed. He wanted nothing more than to throw his Submissive status in the asshole’s face, but then there would be questions about whose collar he wore.

Steve didn’t deserve that.  “But they do have the right to feel protected under the law.”  He paused, taking a deep breath to keep his temper in check. “Senator, I really don’t think we have much else to discuss.  Have a good evening.”  He turned to go, nearly trembling with the need for champagne.  No, he’d promised Steve.  No drinking at the gala.

“Stark.”  Of course Dickerson had another barb left to throw.  “Like I said, you don’t want to be on the wrong side.  And when the day comes that you need my vote, I’ll remember this conversation.”



“I was hoping you’d be enough of a professional to realize that our disagreement on a few issues isn’t enough to warrant political suicide.”  This time he kept walking and didn’t look back.

He didn’t know where Pepper appeared from, but suddenly she was at his side.  “Here.”  He looked at the liquid she pressed into his hand blankly.  “Ginger ale.”  He drank a little, his hand trembling minutely.  “Tony, are you okay?”  By now they were outside on one of the balconies, seemingly alone.  “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Dickerson’s up for re-election this year, right?”

“Yes, but I don’t--”

“Is anyone running against him?”

“Um, yes, one person. No political experience that I know of--”

“Check the opponent’s platform.  If it meets the criteria, get them elected. If it doesn’t, find someone who has the right stances and get them into the race.  I don’t care what it takes.  Get that man out of office and keep my name out of it.”

“What the hell did he say to you?”  Now Pepper looked worried.  “Do I need to call Steve?”

“No!  The last thing I need right now is Steve showing up.”  Tony drank more of the ginger ale, by now desperately wishing it was alcoholic.  “It doesn’t matter what he said.”  He took a deep steadying breath.  “It doesn’t matter.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Steve knew something was wrong when his phone rang with Pepper on the other end.  “What’s wrong?”

“Physically, nothing.”  Her voice echoed slightly; she must have stepped into a bathroom or side room to call him.  “But about 20 minutes ago he talked to some dickhead Senator.  I don’t know what the guy said, but it shook Tony.  Now he’s in defense mode.”

Steve cringed.  “How bad?”

There was a pause.  “The starlet might not be the worst headline he makes this month.”

Steve’s fists clenched despite himself.  “Send him home.”

“I will.  Don’t know how, but I’ll get him out before he self-destructs.”  She paused again, and when she spoke, her voice was much softer.  “Whatever it is, he specifically told me not to call you because he thought your presence here would exacerbate the situation.”

Which meant it had to be something about Dom/Sub relations.  Steve scrubbed his hand across his face.  “Okay.  I’ll take care of him, just get him here.”

When he hung up the phone, he set it down gently instead of giving in to his urge to throw it across the room.  He sat still on the couch instead of punching anything, breathing slowly.  In. Out.  In.  Out.

He was still concentrating on his breathing when Tony got home.

One sniff was enough to tell him all he needed to know.  “You’ve been drinking.”  He kept his voice steady by pure force of will.

“I’ve been drinking,” Tony confirmed, making a beeline for the bar on the other side of the room.  Steve intercepted him before he got there.  “Had a couple in the car on the way home. But I’m not drunk, a condition I’d like to rectify as quickly as possible, so get out of my way.”

And just like that, they were regressing.  Steve gritted his teeth.  He’d be damned if that happened.  “No.  You’re going to sit down, and you’re going to tell me what the hell happened at that fundraiser to upset you this much.”

“You’re my Dominant, not my father.”

This time it took a couple of deep breaths to calm himself because that?  That was Tony deliberately trying to hit a nerve.  “I’m not going to fight you, and you’re not going to push me away.”  He kept his voice soft.  “But you are going to tell me what’s going on, and you’re going to do it now.”

“Or what, you’ll spank me?”  Tony’s voice was bitter.  “Maybe a paddling or a few strokes of the whip.  Hell, why not break out the cane, it’s a special occasion, right?”  All the fight seemed to go out of him.  “Not every day you find out you’re getting it from both ends at once.”  He dropped onto the couch like a puppet with its strings cut, leaning forward.

Steve sat next to his Sub, pulled the other man into his arms, and waited.

“Two pieces of legislation.” Tony was barely whispering.  Even with serum-enhanced hearing, Steve had to strain to hear him.  “One’s still in committee but nearly guaranteed to pass despite the fact that it’s fucked up, the other desperately needs to pass but is being held up on the Senate floor.”

“What’s so important about these two?”  From the way Tony flinched, Steve knew he’d asked the right question.

“One’s the Submissive Rights Act.  The other’s The Superhuman Registration Act.”

For a moment, Steve was silent, weighing words.  “You think the SHRA’s going to pass this time around.”

Tony nodded.   “Not much in its way.”

“You get in its way.”  Steve met his Submissive’s confused gaze.  “For the sake of yourself, me, our friends, hell, even the ones we don’t like.”  He reached out, taking Tony’s hand in his own; the slim fingers squeezed his tightly.  “Get in its way and take it down, no matter what you have to do.”

Tony tilted his head.  “Why are you so adamant about this?”

“‘We just want to know who you are’ is always how it starts,” Steve replied simply.

If possible, Tony turned a shade paler than he already was. But when he spoke, he simply said, “Whatever it takes.”  His eyes widened, flicked to Steve beside him.  “Whatever it takes.  That’s what it takes.  I’M what it takes, Steve.”

“Tony, what are you talking about?”

“Submissive rights. I’ve been putting my support and money behind it, but who pays attention to that?  What’s one more Dom paying lip service?  But if I throw my weight, my full weight, where my money is, someone will sit up and fucking listen.”

Steve could see where this train of thought was heading.  “Tony, no.”

Yes, Steve.”  Tony had that manic look in his eye, the one that usually preceded Steve trying to block out the glow of a tablet from the other side of the bed or giving up sleep as a lost cause while Tony sketched out a new schematic.  “It’s time for me to tell the truth.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Of course it wasn’t that simple.  First they had to pick a setting.

Tony outright vetoed a press conference.  “At least, not for the first appearance.  Shock value will get the word out more quickly.  We’ll be all over Facebook and Twitter within ten minutes, max.  No waiting for deadlines.”

“But we can’t just show up with you in a collar and no context.  We have to make an official statement at some point,” Steve pointed out.

“Okay, first, I’d like to know when this became an official Avengers thing,” Clint interjected.

They both turned to look at him.  “Probably when the rest of you heard we were planning on coming out and crashed the meeting,” Steve said, tone dry.  Tony was inappropriately proud.

“Oh God, Stark, you’ve infected him with sarcasm.”

“Damned right I did.  I’m more than just a pretty face, a pile of money, a stunning intellect, a good lay--where was I going with this?”

“Tony, Clint, don’t make me put you in the corner.”  Pepper had that furrow between her eyes that usually meant lightning and hellfire would rain down upon them all.  Or maybe Tony was just projecting a little.

“Such an announcement deserves a feast of its own!” Thor proclaimed.

“Brilliant,” Steve breathed.  “That’s brilliant.”  He glanced around, taking in the confused looks.  “I mean, we won’t tell people that’s what it is.  But the Maria Stark Foundation deals heavily in Submissive rights.  Why not have a fundraiser?  A gala, or a party or something?  Invite enough stars so the press will follow, and keep it casual enough that people won’t be afraid to bring their phones.”

Dear God, Tony loved this man.  “Cap, that’s perfect, we can make that work, I love you so much.”

Dead silence met his declaration.  Tony looked up to find everyone’s eyes on Steve’s suddenly spectacularly pale and gobsmacked face.  He mentally played back what he’d said to find the problem and--oh.


“Shit, that’s not how a first declaration should go.  There should be flowers and candlelight and just the two of us and I’m a huge asshole, aren’t I?”

Steve didn’t say a word.  Instead, he stood very slowly, grabbed Tony’s wrist, and deliberately started for the door.  When he got there, he turned back to look at Pepper.  “If you’ll excuse us, ma’am.  You’ve got a concept, let us know how soon we can make it work.”

Tony followed his Dom silently until it became apparent that Steve was heading for their room.  “Please tell me that’s a ‘trying not to jump you’ silence and not a ‘trying not to punch you in the face’ silence.”

Steve didn’t even slow.  “No, it’s an ‘I want to get you somewhere private before I push you to your knees and fuck your face until you can’t talk tomorrow’ silence,” he gritted out.

Yeah, teaching Steve about dirty talk was probably the best thing Tony had ever done.  Even above the armor.  “Oh.  Okay.”

The door was barely closed behind them before Steve was licking into his mouth, slow and filthy.  The super soldier pulled back slowly.  “Say it again,” he demanded.

Tony didn’t even hesitate.  “I love you.”

He went willingly to his knees when Steve pushed him, fumbling with his Dom’s zipper.  When Steve pushed into his mouth, he closed his eyes in bliss, opening his throat and taking what the super soldier gave him.

He put every ounce of the love he felt into the blowjob, working his Dom with lips and tongue and throat until Steve spilled hotly across his tongue.

When his lover pulled him to his feet and into a deep kiss, he melted gladly.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sometimes, Pepper scared Steve.

Like when she not only planned a fundraiser party for the next week, but managed to put together an impressive guest list and entertainment that Steve was clearly supposed to be impressed by.  At least, he thought that was why Tony kept giving him sideways looks about it.  It was hard to tell with Tony.

Who, somehow, had managed to use the one legitimate excuse he had to avoid Steve.  He’d barely seen more than glimpses of his Submissive the past three days; Tony was gone before he woke and didn’t return until Steve had nearly fallen asleep.  He was always impeccably dressed, the way that spoke of his office instead of his workshop.

The super soldier crossed his arms, staring down his lover’s latest secretary.  “Excuse me?”

She squeaked.  “Mr. Stark left orders not to be disturbed, no matter what.”

Steve fought back a sigh.  “Is he alone?”

“Yes sir, but--”

“Then I’m going in there, miss.”  Steve flashed her his most charming 1940’s aw-shucks smile.  “If he yells at anybody, it’ll be me.”

“Miss Potts--”

“Will understand.  Don’t worry.”  When no more protests seemed to be forthcoming, Steve skirted around the girl and opened the door to Tony’s office.

“Danielle, I told you no visitors, no exceptions.”  Tony pressed the intercom button on his desk without looking up.  He lifted his finger, cutting off her protests.  “What are you doing here, Steve?”

Steve closed and locked the door as he considered how to answer that.  “I was hoping we could have lunch?”

Tony glanced at him.  “Can’t.  I’m due at a meeting in an hour and I still have reports I’m supposed to pretend I read.”  He looked back down at the tablet in his hands.  “We can do dinner, though.”

Steve took a deep breath and let it out slowly, a coil of disappointment working its way into his stomach.  “I honestly thought this would take longer.”

“What’s that?”

“You feeling comfortable enough in this relationship to lie to my face again.”

That got Tony’s attention.  Steve watched, trying to read his Submissive’s face, as Tony slowly laid the tablet aside and leaned forward.  “Steve--”

“You come in late enough that all you have to do is sleep in the same bed with me.  You leave before I even get up for my morning run.  And now I apparently have to make an appointment to see you in your office.”  Steve raised an eyebrow.  “Are you denying any of that?”

“Sexual identity crises are hell on job performance.  I needed to catch up.”  But Tony’s gaze slid away guiltily, his hand unconsciously reaching beneath his shirt to where Steve’s collar lay hidden.

The Dom watched his lover steadily.  “Are there going to be many more of these?”  Then, at Tony’s confused look, “Freaking out and hiding from me.  I thought you learned your lesson last time.”

“I’m not hiding from you.  You know where I am.”

“When was the last time we made love?”

“Two nights ago.  I seem to recall silk scarves and a cock ring being heavily involved.”

Three nights ago, no toys whatsoever.”  Steve drew himself up to his full height. “Here’s what’s going to happen.  You’re going to be home by dinner at 6:30 tonight.  After that, you will attend team movie night because it’s tradition.  Then, if you’re good, you get time in your workshop before lights out at 11.  Understand?”

“And if I’m not good?”  Tony licked his lips.

“You’ll spend the evening leashed--yes, the collar has a matching leash--gagged and restrained, on your knees at my side while you think about what you did.”  He held his Submissive’s gaze until Tony looked away.

“I may have a few misgivings.  About things,” the billionaire admitted.  His fingers twitched, reaching for a small electronic device on his desk.  Steve was pretty sure it was a music player of some kind.

He watched Tony slowly take it apart.  “No, you think?”  He walked calmly around the desk, gently lifting Tony’s chin until his Submissive was looking at him.  “My question is, why are you freaking out alone?  This,” the fingers of his other hand found the collar beneath Tony’s shirt, “says you don’t have to.  It says you have a Dom to help you.”

“You don’t get over nearly 40 years of conditioning in a couple of months, Steve.”

“I know.  And you’re doing so well.  Just remember that I’m here with you now.”

“Yeah.”  Tony narrowed his eyes.  “So did you mean--”

“Oh yeah.  Home by 6:30, and I’m talking to Pepper about regulating your schedule.”

“I thought you said you weren’t a sadist.”  Tony’s smile was small but sincere.  Steve would take the victory where he could find it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“So, let’s talk about leashes.”

Tony scowled, not looking up from his paperwork.  “Let’s not and say we did.”

Steve frowned.  “Tony.”  Somehow, he managed to pour a lifetime of disappointment into that one word.  “It wasn’t a question.”

“You know I don’t do leashes.”  Which was ridiculous.  He knew what it meant to be a Sub.

Steve folded his arms, clearly prepared to argue the point.  “It’ll be expected for our first appearance together.”

“Never worn one before.”  Even as he spoke, Tony knew it was a weak excuse.

Apparently, so did his Dominant.  “Oh, so it’s no longer required that everyone learn collar etiquette during training?”

“Learning the theory and actually wearing it are two different things.”

“So you’re telling me you can’t handle it.”  Steve’s irritation seemed to melt away, leaving a tender expression in its place.  “Love--”

“I’m telling you I don’t know how I’ll handle it, and it’s not exactly something we can practice.”

Steve studied him for a long time with a steady gaze.  “Willing to try it?”

“You know I am.”  Because it went without saying that he’d try anything Steve wanted to.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The damned thing wouldn’t hang right.

Tony glared at the mirror as if his reflection was to blame, running a finger over the collar that encircled his throat.  Steve had bought him dress collars to wear after tonight, but he’d insisted on the original for their first public appearance as a couple.

As if summoned by the thought--and Tony wouldn’t put it past him, the intuitive bastard--strong arms encircled his waist.  “Stop fussing with it.  It’s beautiful on you.”

Tony leaned back against Steve’s warmth, humming a little.  “You think everything and nothing looks good on me.  Your opinion doesn’t count.”

“More partial to nothing than everything, actually.”  Steve kissed along his jaw.  “Seriously.  You look perfect.”

“This is the first time in more than a hundred years a male Stark has publicly acknowledged being a Submissive,” Tony snapped absently.  “Perfect isn’t good enough.”

He could see Steve’s eyes narrow in the mirror.  “It’s good enough for your Dom.”

Well.  There was no way out of that one.

Not that it had ever stopped him before.

Tony let himself go boneless, leaning back against his Dom.  “Come on, you’re effectively a billionaire.  You could have men falling all over themselves with jealousy even more than they already do.”

“Decking you out with expensive jewelry just makes you look cheap.”

Tony stiffened against him.  “What?”

Steve’s arms tightened, soothing him.  “If I deck you out in expensive things, it gives the impression that someone with the money to buy you MORE expensive things could steal you away from me.  But if you appear in public wearing a simple collar with my name, it reinforces that we’re actually in love.”

Tony tilted his head to the side slightly, breathing in his Dom’s scent.  “Fine.”  He mouthed along the strong jawline.  “We’ll do it your way.”

“Not my way.  OUR way.”  Steve indulged him a moment longer in silence.  “Come on, we have to go.”

Tony swallowed, linking his fingers with his Dom’s as they headed for the door.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When Tony was right, he was damned right.

The news of a Stark affair had drawn both the social set and the media to Stark Tower.

When Captain America stepped out of the back of the car with a leash in his hand, it drew attention.

When Tony Stark emerged at the other end, there was complete silence for a moment.

The cacophony that followed nearly overloaded Steve’s hearing.  He put a hand at the small of his Submissive’s back, guiding him toward the door.  They both ignored the shouted questions, and if Stark trembled ever so slightly, only his Dominant could tell.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tony didn’t let himself relax until the elevator doors closed behind them.  He leaned against Steve, closing his eyes.  “Fuck.”

“Yeah.”  Steve kissed his temple.  Tony concentrated on his breathing, slowly relaxing against his lover. “Hard part’s over.”

Tony pulled back.  “You’re very naive, aren’t you?”  He smiled at Steve’s confused frown.  “By the time we get upstairs, word will have spread.  Never underestimate the power of Twitter.  Let’s see, it took us two minutes to get to the elevator, another fifteen to get upstairs...”

“Wait, wait.  Fifteen minutes to get to the party from downstairs?”

“We’re stopping by my office first.”

Steve frowned.  “Why?”

“Two reasons.  To give the news time to spread, and because I’m feeling very unloved right now.”

Steve was silent as the elevator stopped.  He looked from Tony to the open doors, then sighed.  “You know I’m the Dom here, right?”

“You knew who I was when you collared me.”  Tony gave Steve his most innocent look for extra effect.  “But if you want to say no to a free blowjob...”

“You’re evil, you know that?”  Steve stepped forward, leading him out of the elevator and unclipping the leash.  “Knees.  And if you get so much as a drop on these pants, you’re not coming for at least two days.”

“Yes, sir.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

By the time they actually got to the ballroom, Steve’s face was flushed and Tony was smiling slyly on the end of his leash.

Steve stepped out of the elevator first, stopping as nearly the entire room came to a halt at the sight of them.  He didn’t even have to look to know Tony had shifted to his public smile, mask back in place.

The stillness lasted only until Steve pulled his lover in and dropped a kiss on his lips as he unhooked Tony’s leash.  That seemed to break the spell that had fallen over the crowd, and a low murmur started up again.

Clint and Bruce were the first to approach them.  “Nice, you’re already a hashtag on Twitter, and I think you’re on the way to flooding Facebook,” Clint grinned, waving his phone.

Tony produced his cell phone seemingly out of thin air.  “Let me see.”  His mouth turned down slightly.  “Seriously, SteveTony?  That’s the best they can come up with?”

“You’re trending number one after fifteen minutes and you’re complaining because your couple name sucks?”  Natasha walked up to them, stunning in a simple floor-length dress.

“Three words, Tasha: search engine optimization.  The one that gets searched the most is the one that sticks.”

Steve blinked.  “How much of that was English?”

“Most of it.  I’ll introduce you to social media later.  Pepper’s glaring our way, we need to mingle.”  Tony’s phone disappeared just as quickly as it appeared.

Steve put a hand on the small of his lover’s back, steering him away.  He pulled the leash from his pocket and clipped it on Tony’s collar again, ignoring his Submissive’s frown at the action.

Of course, Dickerson was the first person to come up to them.  Tony stiffened nearly imperceptibly, and Steve turned to angle himself between Dickerson and the billionaire.  Over the Senator’s shoulder, he could see Pepper watching them, shaking her head subtly.

“Captain Rogers, if I may speak with your Submissive?”  The man’s smarmy smile said he didn’t expect his request to be denied.

Steve looked him up and down.  “Why don’t you tell me what you have to say to him before I make that decision?”  His voice was cold.

“It seems he misled me during a recent conversation.  I simply wanted to set the record straight.”

“As his Dom, if he misled you it’s my job to set the record straight, actually.”  Steve stared at the man challengingly.  “What did he say?”

“He’s not the man I was led to believe he was.  I want to know why he lied about it.”

“Honestly, Senator, I can’t blame him.”  Steve took a step forward, taking care to keep his posture relaxed.  “He told me about you, the discussion you two had and your attitude on Submissive rights.”

“And he’s proven my point.  This is exactly the sort of irrational, inconsistent behavior I would expect from a Sub.”

“I assure you, he’s perfectly rational.  He had his reasons for hiding it before, and he has his reasons--reasons I agree with--for coming out now.  I can also assure you his behavior won’t change.  The only one he submits for is me.”

“If you think I’m going to talk to a Sub as an equal, you--”

“I really suggest you don’t finish that, Senator.  For the sake of your career.”  Steve leaned forward.  “There are people watching.”

Dickerson stepped back, his face flushed with anger.  “You can’t hide behind your Dominant forever, Stark.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t recall giving you permission to speak to my Submissive,” Steve growled.  “If you need to talk with him on a professional matter, see Miss Potts about making an appointment.”  He turned away.  “Have a good evening, Senator.”

Tony waited until they were out of earshot before speaking.  “That was bullshit.  Unleash me.”

“No.”  Steve didn’t even look at him.  “And that’s not a demand Subs usually make.”

“I’m not a usual Sub, and I don’t need you to fight my battles for me.”

Steve was not about to be swayed.  “I said no.  You’ll stay on the leash until your speech, and I’ll decide who’s allowed to speak to you.”  He stopped, made a deliberate effort to soften the harsh edges that had crept into his tone.  “You’re having a really hard time with this.”

“You think?”  But Tony leaned against him slightly.  “Fine. Okay.”  He took a deep breath.  “I trust you.”

Steve rewarded him with a sweet kiss.  They both ignored the camera flashes that prompted.

They mingled for perhaps half an hour before Pepper found them.  “Tony, it’s time for your speech.”  She waited while Steve unclipped the leash, looking discreetly away as he gave his Submissive a kiss for luck.

Then they were off through the crowd.

“You look good on him.”

He turned to find Bruce at his side.  “Thanks?”

The Switch offered him a hint of a smile.  “He’s more relaxed.  A little less like he’s about to vibrate out of his skin.”

Steve smiled in return as they made their way toward the stage at the front of the room.  “That’s the point of having a Dom.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The instant Tony stepped up to the podium, a hush fell over the crowd.  His gaze found Steve’s in the crowd, nodding slightly at his Dominant’s supportive smile. “Good evening.  I’m not known for my seriousness, but right here, right now, I doubt I could call up laughter if my life depended on it.

“By this point, I’m sure all of you know that I haven’t been truthful.

“I would like to take this opportunity to first apologize for that.  I don’t have an excuse for my behavior, but I would like to explain what led to the choices I made.” He sought out Subs in the audience.  Half of them wouldn’t look at him.

“From the time I was a child, I knew Stark men were Dominants.  Period.  No exceptions, no arguments.  There was nothing wrong with Submissives, but they were meant to be cherished and pampered, not make the difficult decisions that came with running a company.  Stark Industries was dominant in the business world, and its leader could be no less.

“That was the environment I grew up in.  My father loved my mother, but he never truly saw her as equal.  But because she loved him in return, she accepted that.  That’s what being a Sub meant to me as a child.  Accepting.

“When I was around 12, my own Submissive tendencies began to show, much to my father’s displeasure.  I was... reminded... that Stark men didn’t do that.  That wasn’t who we were, and it couldn’t be who I was.  He set out then to teach me what he knew I would need to know, in order to spend the rest of my life living a lie.  He was a great teacher, and I learn quickly.” Now he had their attention.  There wasn’t an averted eye in the ballroom.

“Through pleasure training, through adulthood, I lived my life as a Dominant.  I lived as someone I wasn’t.  I don’t blame my father; he was doing to me what his father had done to him.

“The Maria Stark Foundation is named for my late mother, as you know, created in honor of her memory.  But it’s so much more than that.  It’s a way to ensure that Submissives have every right, every chance.

“It’s my way of honoring the mother I hurt every day by denying who I was, rejecting the bond that should have connected us.

“Tonight, I’m ready to admit that I’ve been a coward.  I knew who I was, and I covered it up.  I enjoyed the rights and privileges of a Dom-heavy society and pretended that giving money to Submissive rights causes was enough.  I sat by and watched, telling myself I had done all I could.  I never once stood with them.

“Worse, I used them in my cover-up.  I slept with Submissives who deserve better.  Who deserve an actual Dom.  To them, I can only offer my deepest apologies and sincere wishes for their future happiness.

“The man who put this collar around my throat makes me want to shout it from the rooftops.  He makes me feel safe, grounded, prepared to take on the world.  And with that support, that love, I can no longer deny the truth.”  He found Steve’s gaze again, marginally aware that their teammates were gathered around his lover in a show of support.

“Accepted, loved, collared, I stand before you finally ready to say the words I should have had the courage to say decades ago.  I am a Submissive.  Your fight is my fight.”

Tony took a deep breath, let it out slowly. “Thank you.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Truth be told, the amount of clapping after Tony’s speech was surprising.

Some--both Doms and Subs--stood pointedly with their arms folded.  A few others were making their way to the door.  But most of them stayed and clapped.

Steve looked around.  “I thought coming outs weren’t typically well-received,” he murmured to Clint.

“They aren’t,” the Submissive replied.  “But he didn’t just come out.  He put the entire weight of the Stark empire behind Submissive rights.”  He grinned a little.  “Hard to argue with that much money.”

“Though some people will probably try,” Bruce murmured.  “You ready for this, Steve?”

“I’ve never been deluded enough to think it would be easy.” Steve could see Tony on the other side of the room, surrounded by well-wishers with Pepper at his side.  His skin nearly itched with the desire to touch, to support.  Unconsciously, he started drifting in that direction.

“You’re not very subtle, are you?”

He barely glanced at Clint.  “Are all of you on guard duty?”  He could just see Natasha in the crowd around his lover.

“Of course not.  We left Thor at the Mansion.”


The archer sighed.  “Fine.  Maybe.  Not like we’re going to let anything happen to our power couple.”

Steve frowned a little. “Your what?”

“Power couple.  A wealthy or popular celebrity couple.” Steve decided he really wasn’t fond of that particular smirk.

“I’m about to hear a lot of that, right?”

“Oh, yeah.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

By the time he made his way back to Steve, Tony’s cheeks hurt from so much polite smiling.  He leaned in for half a second, accepting a peck on the lips.  “That sucked.”

“I know.”  Steve clipped the leash back on.   This time, Tony didn’t protest.

Instead, he eyed the waiter passing nearby with a tray of drinks, weighing his chances.  Maybe if he got drunk the story would turn from the Stark family’s first Submissive into the standard Tony Stark drunk at a party article.  One more of those wasn’t likely to hurt his reputation too much.  He shifted towards the tray when--

“Don’t even think about it.”  The words were accompanied by a sharp tug on his leash, and really, that just wasn’t fair.  The last thing he needed right now was for the guests to see him brought to heel like an ill-trained pet.  He was pretty sure at least one blogger had already posted a piece on tonight’s bombshell announcement and why Tony Stark had to be the worst Submissive ever born.

Tony glared at the oblivious waiter, now far beyond his reach.  “Fine, but if I lose my temper, it’s your fault.”  He turned the glare on Steve.

The blond just smiled.  “As long as you’re not drunk when you do it, I’ll take the blow to my reputation.”  He pulled Tony in by the leash, ignoring the flash bulbs that went off at the move.  “You’re better than that, sweetheart.”

Tony had to fight down a blush.  “Don’t call me that in public,” he muttered under his breath.

“What public?  All I see is you.”  Steve calmly slipped the end of the leash around his wrist.  “Come on, we have rounds to make, then I think you get some reward sex.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Mr. Stark!  Do you and your Dom plan to get married?”

“How long have you been a couple?”

“What does it feel like to be the only male Stark Submissive in recent history?”

The press was waiting for them.  Of course the press was waiting, and Tony wasn’t even sure why he pretended to be surprised.  Luckily, he was still leashed, so it was an easy thing to duck his head and concentrate on Steve’s feet two steps ahead of him.  No one could force a leashed Sub to respond except the Dom holding his leash.

Steve just smiled genially at them all.  “Sorry, folks, but Tony’s had a long night.  We’ll answer your questions at the official press conference tomorrow morning.”  He didn’t slow at all, forcing the reporters to fall back in order to give Tony a wide berth.  It was rude enough to talk to a leashed Sub.  Even Tony didn’t think Steve’s tolerance would hold out if any of them dared to touch him.

The walk to the car was thankfully short, and Tony leaned against his Dom in the darkness.  Happy said nothing as he pulled away from the curb.

Steve quietly ran his fingers through Tony’s hair.  “You okay?”  He kissed his Sub’s forehead softly.

“I’m fine.”  The silence was deafening, and Tony sighed.  Only Steve could make no sound at all and still be accusing.  “Really.”  He squirmed closer.  “Want me to prove it?”

The silence this time had a tinge of frustration to it.  “Sex isn’t the answer to everything.”

“Never heard you complain before.”  Tony straddled the blond’s lap, groaning in frustration when Steve ducked his attempt at a kiss.  “Steve--”

“You know better than to try distraction sex on me, Stark.”  Steve’s hands settled on his hips though, so Tony took that as a partial victory.  “I know your tells, and you’re stressed right now.”

“I just told the world I was Captain America’s Submissive.  What did you expect?”

“Doesn’t matter. We’re just Steve and Tony.  Possibly soon to be Steve and Tony Stark-Rogers.”

Tony tilted his head to one side.  “If that was a proposal, I have to tell you I got three more impressive ones before breakfast this morning.”  He smirked as he felt Steve stiffen beneath him.  “Jealous?”

Steve squeezed his ass.  “I’m not playing your game.”

Tony huffed, leaning forward to rest his head on his Dom’s shoulder.  “You’re no fun,” he mumbled.  Steve stroked his back, content to let him be as they headed back to the penthouse.  Tony relaxed slowly against him, sighing.  “Do we have to have a press conference in the morning?”

Steve’s chuckle felt good underneath him.  Soothing.  “Yes, we have to have a press conference in the morning.  You can’t drop a bombshell then go into hiding.”

“But I pay people to deal with things like that.”

“Fine.  You get to tell Pepper we’re canceling the press conference.”

Tony’s head popped up.  “You wouldn’t,” he breathed.  Weren’t Doms supposed to protect and cherish their Subs?  Not that Tony had ever needed much protecting.  Except against Pepper.

Steve smirked.  “So we’re having a press conference in the morning.”

Tony pulled away as the car stopped, dropping back onto the seat.  “Why do I put up with you?  I’m sure by now I have offers from Doms that would buy me more houses, you know.”

Steve hummed noncommittally, sliding out of the car first and reaching back to lend a hand.  “That true?” He pulled Tony out easily, wrapping an arm around his waist.  “I can’t compete with houses.  All I have is a perfect read on your preferences, a set of toys custom-built to drive you insane and a sex drive that--how did you put it--is going to kill you one day.”

Tony leaned up for the kiss he knew was coming.  “And my complete and utter submission.”

Steve chuckled against his lips.  “I love you.”  He started swaying them in place gently, humming a tune Tony didn’t recognize.

Tony just laid his head on Steve’s shoulder and allowed the indulgence, at least for tonight, with his own hum of contentment.  There were worse places to be.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“You crashed Twitter.  How in the hell did you manage to crash Twitter?!”

Tony didn’t even glance at Rhodey’s picture in the bottom corner of the bathroom mirror.  “I’m a little disappointed we didn’t crash Facebook too.  Zuckerberg has it coming.”

“Tone.”  Seriously, what was it with the Doms in his life and that voice?  “You know you could have called me.”

“You have a job, Rhodey.  People who pay you based on the expectation that you’re going to be where they tell you to be.”  Tony concentrated on shaping his facial hair.  “And I don’t need another babysitter.”

“Yeah, bullshit.  I’m your friend, Tony.”  Rhodey sounded frustrated.  “If you’d told me you were planning to announce it--”

“You would have dropped everything and flown here the way you did when you found out I was dating Steve?”  Slowly, deliberately, Tony put the razor down, rinsed his face and turned his full attention to his friend.  “I don’t need to hide behind the Doms in my life.  I got this.”

“You know I’m already getting interview requests.”

Tony grimaced.  He hadn’t thought the press would even think to drag Rhodey into this.  “Rhodey--”

“I don’t mind, okay?  You’re like my brother, I’m not turning down a chance to support you.  Rhodey smiled a little.  “And yes, I know you hate being interrupted, but when you’re being stupid I have no choice.”

“Keep that up, and I’ll tell Steve you’re ogling me while I’m wearing nothing but a towel.”

“Do that, and I’ll tell Steve you called me.

“You wouldn’t.”

“He wouldn’t have to.”

Tony spun to find his lover leaning in the bathroom door.  “How long have you been standing there?”

“Just long enough to hear something about you being stupid and a towel.”  Steve crossed the room.  “Morning, Rhodey.”

“Morning, Steve.  Make him call me after the press conference?  Good luck, Tony.”  Rhodes clicked off before either of them could reply.

Tony huffed.  “Coward.”

Steve chuckled, wrapping his arms around Tony’s waist.  “He was distracting you from getting ready.”

“No, he just acted as a pawn in my grand procrastination plan.”  Tony leaned back, hopeful.

Steve didn’t disappoint, dropping a sweet kiss on his lips.  “Now get dressed.  It’s our party, we can’t be late.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tony pasted on a fake smile and waved with the hand that wasn’t clutching Steve in a death grip.  Not that Steve was affected at all.  “Good morning.  I know most of you know why we’re here.  I showed up in a collar last night with absolutely no forewarning.  I’d say sorry, but who’d believe me?” That got a few laughs. "We've been together for about six months now, collared for about five."  He ignored the burst of questions that prompted.  “No wedding in sight; I’m waiting for my loving Dom to get off his ass and propose.”  Steve squeezed his hand, and he spared an undoubtedly sappy glance back.  “Love you.”

One of the reporters finally managed to get a word in edgewise.  “How did you two meet?”

Tony bit back a smile and opened his mouth to reply, but Steve beat him to the punch.  “The truth?  I walked up to him and introduced myself my first day at Avengers headquarters, he told me to get out.  It was love at first sight, right, cupcake?”

Tony really needed to get a new Dom.  Now that they knew he was a Submissive, there had to be Dominants coming out of the woodwork for the chance to collar Tony Stark.  For now, he contented himself with narrowing his eyes a little.  “Thought we said no nicknames in public, buttercup?”

“I know we did, sweetpea, but I just couldn’t resist.”  He had to be doing this on purpose.

Tony rolled his eyes slightly.  “Isn’t he great?”  He pointed at a random reporter.  “You.  What’s your question?  Don’t make it stupid, I don’t really feel like answering stupid questions when I could be getting laid.”

“Why did you hide your submissiveness for so long?”

He’d really been hoping to have longer before someone asked that.  Instead, he held onto his smile through sheer determination.  “You know, I do have a television in there.  I know what Submissive rights are like in this country, and I know that my stock took a dip when the market opened this morning because apparently my competency level magically changed overnight.”

“Are you going to become a champion for Submissive rights?”

Tony didn’t even spare that reporter a glance.  “What do you think I’ve been doing?” he asked carelessly.  “The Maria Stark Foundation works with abused Subs, working to help them realize that their worth goes beyond the collar.”  Unconsciously, his hand brushed the collar at his own throat.  “I donate from my own pocket to Senators who advocate for Submissive rights, not just with their speeches, but with their voting records.  I plan to not only continue that, but to step things up dramatically.”  He pointed to the back of the crowd.  “You.”

“So in effect you made two big announcements last night.  Not only are you a Submissive, but your Dominant is Captain America.  How do you see that changing your public image going forward?”

Steve jumped in before Tony could reply.  “Honestly, we don’t see his public image changing much, if at all.”  He spared a smile for Tony.  “The Tony Stark you’ve been seeing is the Tony Stark you’ll continue seeing.”

“Do you find him a challenge to dominate?”

Steve raised an eyebrow.  “Our private relationship is our own business, but no.  I find Tony to be a constant joy in my life.  We’re deeply devoted to each other, and our life together could not be more fulfilling.”

“Do you plan to propose?”

Steve’s smile was mysterious this time.  “With all due respect, if I do have a proposal in the works, I think my future husband should be the first to know.”

Tony felt the heat creeping up his neck.  Dammit, he hadn’t blushed in front of reporters since his teen years.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Looking back, Tony doubted he would ever fully remember the weeks following his coming out.

It was a blur of board meetings, fighting to keep cool and collected as they came up with reason after reason that he shouldn’t lead the company anymore, most of which boiled down to ‘you’re a Sub now and we don’t trust you.’  When that attempt failed, they insisted that he and Steve do public appearances together to raise the company’s image.

In addition, every media outlet on the planet seemed to want time with him to discuss his new status, his past, and his relationship.  Dr. Phil had even tried to book him to talk about his daddy issues.  Clint nearly ruptured something laughing over that one.

And since these things tended to come in threes, every member of Congress who’d ever thought about leaning towards Sub rights wanted a meeting with him.  Not to mention the various organizations, charities, support groups--Tony Stark had apparently single-handedly made it cool to support Submissive rights.

Which he couldn’t complain too much about; that was exactly what he’d wanted.

The fact that it ended with Dickerson resigning in disgrace when word got out about his conversations with Tony was just a secondary victory.  After all, it was one thing not to support Submissive rights.  It was quite another to publicly insult another Dominant’s leashed Sub.

At least his Dom had apparently given up on the leash.  Tony hadn’t seen it since that first night.

Unfortunately, it felt like he hadn’t gotten any alone time with Steve since then, either.

When Steve wasn’t holed up at SHIELD doing god-knew-what, they were usually making public appearances with little or no time alone.  The little bit of downtime they did get was spent in their room, too exhausted to do anything but sleep.

He hadn’t come in nearly a week, but he’d been too drained to even really notice.

Which, he supposed, was why it took him so long to notice Steve’s preoccupation.

They’d had a rare day without any appearances or meetings, and Tony had taken the chance to disappear into his workshop for some therapeutic poking around in his project folders.  It didn’t take long to lose himself in the familiar rhythms, fitting ideas together in search of the cohesive vision lurking just behind his eyes.  By the time he surfaced again, it was nearly lunchtime.

His appearance in the kitchen was met by shocked stares from his teammates.

Clint was the first one to shake it off.  “Um.  Aren’t you supposed to be with Steve?”  Tony gave him a blank look.  “He took one of the Quinjets early this morning.  We thought he’d taken you for a romantic weekend or something.”

Tony ran a hand through his hair, trying not to panic.  His Dom was gone.  His Dom was gone and hadn’t even let Tony know.  “Didn’t any of you try the comms?”

Bruce shook his head slowly.  “Steve made it very clear that when you two are on a date, you’re not to be disturbed unless it involves the Earth ending in the next half hour.”

“Yeah, and not pretend ending, either.  Real doomsday countdown that we can’t stop ending,” Clint chimed in.

Tony stared at them, still trying to process.  He fumbled his comm out of his pocket.  “Cap?”  No response, and a coil of dread rose in his gut.  “Steve!”

This time there was a rustling.  “I’m here, Tony, calm down!”  Steve was silent for a moment.  “I’m just running an errand.”

That didn’t do anything to calm Tony’s nerves.  “An errand?”

The silence this time had a guilty air to it.  “It’s a personal errand.  Look, I’m running late.  I meant to be back for lunch, but I’ll be home within the hour.  Just get some lunch and calm down.”

He clicked off the link before Tony could reply.

Tony stared at the communicator numbly.  What the hell had just happened?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Steve’s arrival at the mansion didn’t exactly clear things up.

He refused to talk about his errand, distracting his Sub with kisses whenever Tony tried to ask.  Other than that, though, they barely touched.  Tony could feel the distance growing between them emotionally if not physically.  His interview schedule was slacking off, but Steve still seemed to be out of the mansion whenever Tony went looking for him.

The tablet also made a reappearance, this time nearly attached to Steve’s hand.  Tony tried to ignore it, but it was harder to take in conjunction with his Dom disappearing for hours at a time.

Tony lasted about a week before he snapped.  Under the circumstances, he was impressed with his own restraint.

He tracked Steve down to the lower level of the workshop, of all places.  Tony paused for a moment, watching Steve concentrate on the tablet before he spoke.  “Wow, I thought you were avoiding me, but in my own workshop?  That’s low.”

Steve’s head snapped up.  “Tony--”

Stark talked over him.  “So tell me, were you getting things arranged before you dumped me, or is there some other reason you’re avoiding me like a groupie?”

They glared at each other for a moment before Steve’s eyes softened.  “Tony, you idiot.”  He held out a hand.  “Come here.”  When Tony hesitated, the blond sighed.  “That’s an order.”

Tony took a cautious step forward, letting Steve snag his hand and pull him closer.  “What?”

Steve tugged until his lover was sprawled across his lap.  “You’re a billionaire philanthropist still, but I don’t think we can call you a genius right now.”

“What was I supposed to think?” Tony murmured, burying his face in Steve’s neck.

“You’re right.  I’ve been distracted.”  Steve’s hand stroked along his back.  “But nothing should distract me from  you for this long.”  He pressed a gentle kiss to the dark hair.  “I’ve been working on a surprise for you.”

Tony squirmed around until he could look up into Steve’s face.  “You could have just told me.”

“And I should have.” Steve looked abashed.  “I’ve been looking up types of marriages in the 21st century.”

“Why would that take days?  You could just ask JARVIS to--”  Tony broke off as Steve’s words caught up to him.  “Wait, types of marriages?”

Steve leaned down to kiss him.  “That’s what I said.”  He pulled back to watch Tony follow the logical train of thought.

It took Tony a second to get it.  “What kind did you settle on, then?”  He breathed, tentative, nearly afraid to speak too loudly.

“I think a Bond would suit us best.  It’s physical as well as mental so you can feel how much I adore you every minute of every day, and there’s no divorce method involved, which isn’t an option for us anyway.”  Steve said all this matter-of-factly, nearly daring Tony to contradict him.

Not that Tony was inclined to.  “So you’re actually, legitimately asking me to marry you.  Seriously this time?”

“I am.”  Steve huffed in annoyance.  “But my Submissive ambushed me, so I don’t have the ring on me right now.”

“That’s okay, as long as it’s custom-made.”

“My fiance is a gold-digger.”  But Steve was smiling as their lips met.

Tony pulled back.  “Then it’s a good thing my future husband can afford me.”

“Mmm.”  Steve ran a hand down his back.  “Very good thing.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“So.  I hear you’re engaged.”

Tony winced.  “We’ve been engaged all of half an hour, how did you find out already?  No, wait--” he held up a hand to forestall Pepper’s response.  “--you’re Pepper, of course you know.”  He ignored her snort.  “Yes, we’re getting married.  Bonded, actually, because of course Steve can’t just get married, he has to get super-married.”

Pepper just waited patiently, eyebrow quirked.  “Are you done?” She asked finally.  “Because I apparently have a wedding to plan.”

“Who says you’re planning it?  Maybe I want to plan my own wedding.”

“I’m actually half-convinced that Steve dresses you in the morning, Tony.”  She gave him a no-nonsense look.  “Besides, I want to do this for you.”  She looked down at her tablet.  “Now, I’m assuming you want Rhodey as your best man. We’ll take suggestions from Steve about who he wants to stand with him.”

“Um, Pepper--”

She ignored him.  “As far as venue, we’ll need something smaller than the reception hall.  Of course there are a few people you can’t avoid inviting to the ceremony, but we’ll try our best to control that list.  The reception is a completely different thing.  With the number of people likely to attend, I’d suggest something outdoors.  Do you think Storm would clear the weather out for us?”

“Pepper!”  He waited until she took a breath and jumped in.  “I don’t even know what Steve wants.  He’s not exactly a big production type of Dom.”

She looked at him like he’d taken leave of his sanity.  “Tony, this is the wedding of the century.  You can’t exactly do it at the courthouse, even if Steve wants to.”

Tony crossed his arms and prepared to dig in his heels.  “It’s our wedding, and I want my Dom to be happy. That’s why I let him collar me in the first place!”

“Is that the only reason you wear my collar?”  Steve’s voice was quiet, barely louder than a whisper.

Tony spun to face him.  “Are you kidding?  I’m the one with the rampant commitment issues and please-dear-god-love-me complex!”  He crossed the floor almost before he knew what he was doing.  “I came out as a Submissive for you.  I just agreed to spend the rest of my life mentally and legally linked to you!”  He poked Steve in the chest.  “Only one of us gets to be a basket case, and I called dibs!”

Steve blinked slowly, then burst out laughing.  “Fine, you can be the basket case in the relationship.”  He shook his head.  “I wish we could have a small wedding, but we are who we are.”

This time it was Tony’s turn to blink.  “Who are you and what did you do with my fiance?”

Steve kissed him instead of responding.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“He asked me to marry him.  Fuck, Rhodey, what the hell is wrong with the man?”  Tony kept his gaze locked on the tablet in his hand, watching the diagnostics on the War Machine armor as they scrolled past.

Rhodey was silent where he leaned back against one of Tony’s work tables.  He didn’t even flinch when Tony turned to glare at him.  “What do you want me to say here?  I swear to God, if you drag an emotional best friend moment out of me--”


Something in his voice stopped his friend in his tracks.  Tony turned back to the diagnostics so he wouldn’t have to watch Rhodey’s face.  “Tony, Steve loves you.  Do you really think I’d be quiet about it if I thought he didn’t?”

“I’m nearly 40, and he’s the first Dom I’ve gotten involved with.  First collar I’ve ever worn.” Tony’s grip tightened on the edges of the tablet.  “Who marries their first Dom?”

“You do.”  Rhodey’s hand landed on his shoulder.  “Tony, I know you have your neurotic tendencies.  And you should know by now I’m not going to abandon you to them.  But I swear, if you don’t let yourself have a happy ending for once--”

Tony turned, knocking the hand off.  “Don’t, Rhodey.  I’m not marrying him.  I can’t ask him to tie himself to crazy for the rest of his life.”

Rhodey studied him a moment before slumping.  “Fine.  Go tell him, then.”

Tony narrowed his eyes, suspicious of the quick capitulation.  “Wait, what?”

“Go tell Steve you’re breaking the engagement.”

Tony stared at him for a moment to no apparent effect.  "Fine. I will."  He paused the diagnostics, setting the tablet aside.  He pretended not to notice Rhodey's smug smile as he stalked out of the workshop.

Steve was sitting on the roof with a sketchpad, graceful fingers moving smoothly and brow furrowed in concentration.  He didn’t say anything as Tony came up behind him.  "Wedding's off."

Steve didn't even glance up. "No it's not."

Tony spluttered.  "You can't do that!"

Now Steve did look at him, lazily.  "Can't do what, darling?"

"If I say the wedding is off, you can't force me to marry you!"

"No, that's Sub abuse," Steve agreed cheerfully.

"So the wedding is off," Tony said triumphantly.

The look he got this time made him suspect he was being humored.  "Again, no."

"Okay, why?"

"Because I talked to Pepper and Rhodey before I proposed, and they both told me you'd flip out and try to cancel the wedding at least once." Steve put the pad aside and reached up to snare Tony’s wrist.  "I take my responsibility as your Dom very seriously, and that means I give you what you need, not always what you want." He tugged until Tony was on his lap.  "Now what brought this on?"

Tony was silent for a moment, thinking about how to answer.  He could give the straightforward answer, tell Steve he was just worried about how good he would be as a husband.

Or he could trust the man he actually did want to spend his life with, all drama, angst and insecurities aside, and tell him the truth about what he was getting for the rest of his life.

He took a deep breath.  "When I was 12, my dad caught me with a Dom.  He flipped.  I mean, I already knew I was supposed to be a Dom because I was a Stark, but this... he put me in the hospital, told them I caused an explosion." He could feel Steve's arms tightening around him, and he took a deep breath before continuing.  "But I didn't want to let it go. I kept insisting that being a Sub was who I was, and every time I did he'd hit me.  No bruises, not where it would show, but anything else was fair game."

Steve kissed the crown of his head.  "Tony." The pain in his voice nearly undid Tony's resolve.  He tried to pull away, think of some excuse to end this pain, at least for his Dom, but Steve wasn't having it. "Tell me."

Tony still took a moment to compose himself.  "I don’t--it made him so angry.  He didn't just hit me to teach me. It made him legitimately lose his temper, and I don't.  I don't know why it pissed him off so much."  He took a shuddery breath.  "He said it was the same way his father taught him how to be a Stark, and the way his father's father--you get the point."

He could hear Steve's sudden intake of breath.  "Oh, Howard..."

"Steve, what--?"

But Steve was already continuing, the words spilling out of him as if he couldn't control them.  "I need to tell you something, but I need you to listen to it.  Okay? Listen and understand." He waited for Tony to nod before he continued.  "When we first met, when I first asked if you were a Dom or a Sub, I lied to you."

Tony renewed his efforts to pull away.  His stomach felt like he'd swallowed a ball of lead.  Even Steve, who claimed to love him-- "What?"

"No, you said you'd listen to me." Steve's hold felt like steel bands now.  "Trust me just a little longer." Tony relaxed slowly, and he could feel Steve take a fortifying breath. "I told you that I can tell Doms, Subs and Switches by their reaction to me. That’s not how it works. After the serum, I developed what your father called a classification trigger.  I don't know how, but I can just... tell orientations.  It’s never been wrong, and you were the first person to confuse it, even temporarily.  Your father registered consistently as a Switch. Always.  No question, no wavering.  But he acted like a stereotypical Dom. I just put it down to a glitch."

"But you just said it’s never been wrong.”  But even before he opened his mouth, he knew.  “That bastard.  That fucking--” He pushed back to look up into Steve’s face.  “Are you telling me he was a Switch?  The entire time he made my life a fucking hell for being a Sub, he was a goddamned Switch?!”

“Tony, calm down!”  Steve’s words barely registered through the haze of fury.  Tony wanted to break someone.  He wanted Howard Stark, alive and standing in front of him so the bastard could see what his lies had done to his only child.  “I know you’re hurting right now...”

“Fuck you, Steve!  You have no fucking idea how I feel right now.”  Tony tried to scramble backwards off Steve’s lap, but found himself held into place again.  “Let me go!”

Steve didn’t budge.  “No.”  His voice was soft now.  “What you need, not what you want, remember?”  He hauled Tony back in until they were pressed together.  “You’re right, I don’t know anything about how you feel, but I’m not leaving you at the mercy of it.”

He placed an achingly gentle kiss on Tony’s lips, and that was enough to break the floodgates.  “He didn’t need to.  Not--it would have been difficult as hell, but I could have run the company as a Sub.  Fuck, he could have run it as a Switch if he’d wanted to.  The bastard was fucking stubborn enough.”


“He robbed me of the chance to be a normal person, and he robbed you of the chance to get involved with an emotionally healthy Sub.”  He knew the tears were streaming, could feel them, but he paid them no mind.

The feather-light brush of Steve’s thumb along his cheek startled him.  “So that’s what brought this on.”  His voice was soft, full of affection.  “I’ve told you over and over that I don’t want an emotionally stable Sub.  I want the fucked-up mess of a man I’m holding right now.  I didn’t come into this under false pretenses, Tony.  I know exactly who I proposed to, and we’re going to deal with this together.”

“You deserve better than this in a relationship.”

“Nothing and no one else could make me happy.”  A strong grip forced Tony to look up into Steve’s eyes again.  “I love you more than I ever thought I could love.  You’re not a perfect Sub, but you’re the perfect Sub for me.”

“More than Peggy?”  And there was that self-destructive mouth again.

Steve didn’t even hesitate.  “More than Peggy.  I loved her.  I was crazy about her.  But I survived losing her.  I wouldn’t be able to survive without you.”

Tony closed his eyes, pressed his face to Steve’s chest.  “I still hate him.”

“No, you don’t.  Not really.  Not even after everything he did to you.  You’re just hurting right now.”

Sometimes, he wished his Dom didn’t know him so well.  “I want to hate him.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Seriously, a Bond?”  Clint raised an eyebrow doubtfully.

Tony sighed, lowering his tablet and rolling his eyes.  “Is this another one of those Sub bonding moments?”

Clint dropped on the couch across from him.  “Of course.  It’s part of the unwritten Sub manual.  The rest of us got it in training.”  He stretched out.  “We’ve got to stick together.”

Tony ignored the crack about training.  “If you want to be in the wedding, you need talk to Steve.  He’s still deciding on his best man.”

“That wasn’t it, actually.”

Clint fell silent long enough that Tony looked up from his tablet again.  “Spit it out, Hawkeye.”

“Funny, Phil told me the--”


The archer let out a slow breath.  “He wants to collar me.”

“Okay?”  Tony raised an eyebrow.  “We’ve already established that.”

“No, I said he offered.  Once.  This time he actually asked.  Like, with a date beforehand and everything.”  Clint covered his eyes.  “I think he really meant it.”

“Doms who ask more than once usually do.”  The billionaire put down the tablet.  “Seriously, are you trying to have a conversation about feelings?”  He turned his head to look at his fellow Sub.  “It’s been how long, and you’re still seeing him?  If the man wants a commitment, either give him one or let him go.”

Clint huffed out a breath.  “If it was that simple, I wouldn’t have needed advice.  Phil’s... a traditional Dom.  He’ll want me to move in with him.  Which is ridiculous, I’m not leaving the mansion.”

“No, really, don’t stay on our account,” Tony muttered.

CliSnt ignored him.  “So he’d move in with us.  And being with him wouldn’t be casual anymore.”

“My earlier advice stands, Link.”  Tony sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face.  “I can’t believe I’m about to do this.  Seriously, I might throw up, but--does he make you happy?”


“So go for it and get the hell off my couch.  I’m not your therapist.”

“You’re all heart, Stark.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Okay, so maybe Pepper had a point about the wedding planning.

Tony buried his face in his hands.  “Is there a reason our wedding can’t be red and crimson?”  He peeked through his fingers.  Nope.  The color swatches hadn’t disappeared.

“Because you’re not marrying yourself?”  Pepper sounded distinctly unimpressed.  “And because crimson at a wedding makes it look like one of you is bleeding.  Considering the guest list, evoking that kind of memory probably isn’t a good idea.”

“Fine, how about a star-spangled wedding?  Red, white and blue?”

Pepper gave him a Look.  “I’m going to pretend you didn’t just suggest that.”  She tapped the swatch book again.  “Steve liked the white and gold, but he left the final choice up to you.”

Tony groaned.  “You know white’s the color of virginity and purity.  Neither of us really qualifies there.”  Especially considering that thing Steve did with his tongue--

As always, Pepper had another option waiting. “There’s a gold and baby blue scheme he liked as a second choice.”

“That’s.  Huh.”  Tony squinted at it a moment.  “What about gold and a darker blue?  Royal blue, maybe.”  He didn’t have to say that it would incorporate both his motif and his Dom’s.

Pepper raised an eyebrow.  “Huh.  Wonder where it came from.”  She smiled a little when Tony’s gaze snapped to hers.  “The romantic bone in your body.”  She started gathering the swatches while he spluttered.  “Really, it’s a good look for you.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“The Fantastic Four.”

“Do we have to?”  Tony rolled his eyes.  “Have you ever seen Reed Richards at a party?  It’s not a fun sight.”

“I thought Johnny Storm was your drinking buddy,” Steve pointed out.  When his Sub stayed guiltily silent, he looked down at the head on his chest.  “Tony?”

“Remember those Switches I subbed for?”

Steve had to fight very hard not to stiffen, to keep his breathing smooth and even.  He’d known Tony had a past when they first started their relationship, and he’d made the decision--the promise--not to judge the Sub for that. “Does it make you uncomfortable to have him at our wedding because of your history?”

Tony paused for a moment.  “I can handle it if you can.”  There was another silence, then, “What about the X-Men?”

Steve gratefully let the subject of Tony’s former lover fade.  “Really?”  He craned his neck to look down at his Sub.  “Didn’t you once threaten to deball Scott Summers?”

“I was young, foolish...”

“According to the mission report, it was last year.”

Tony paused a beat.  “It was before you.”

Steve snorted.  “Flattery will get you nowhere.”  He rubbed a hand down Tony’s spine.  “If we want Ororo to handle the weather for us, we have to invite her teammates.”

Tony sighed.  “Fine.  But if I deck him at the reception, you can’t hold me responsible.”

Steve kissed the crown of his head.  “I’ll just have to keep you distracted.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

For all the chaotic rush of preparations, their actual wedding day dawned surprisingly quiet.

At least, from Tony’s perspective.  He began the day in one of the mansion’s many guest rooms, reaching automatically for the familiar warmth that was usually along his back.  His hand groped aimlessly along the cool sheets for a moment before he woke enough to remember that Steve wasn’t there.

Apparently, the 1940’s values extended to not seeing each other before the ceremony on their wedding day.  Tony threw an arm over his eyes and sighed.  Which meant he wasn’t getting laid again until his wedding night.  “JARVIS, time.”

“7:45 AM, sir.”  JARVIS sounded as chipper as ever, the electronic traitor.  Tony made a mental note to program some morning grouchiness into him on the next upgrade.  “Captain Rogers would like me to remind you that you’re expected at the barber’s no later than 9 o’clock for your wedding day trim.  After that, it’s off to the tailor’s for the final suit fitting, and you’re set to meet Captain Rogers and the Bonder at two o’clock for your bonding itself, followed swiftly by the traditional wedding ceremony.”

“Yeah, yeah, slave driver, I get it.”  Tony sat up slowly.  “Where’s Rhodey?”

“Colonel Rhodes is awaiting you in the living room, sir.  Captain Rogers has already left for his own pre-nuptial preparations.”

Tony rolled his eyes as he dragged himself into the shower.  Between the Rhodey and Steve, he was in danger of being mother-henned to death before he ever got married.  “Tell Rhodey to relax.  It’s not like they’ll start without me.”

Rhodey was actually tapping his foot by the time Tony got the living room.  Legitimately tapping, arms folded.  “Come on, we’re going to be late.”

“You know there’s no law against me relaxing a little on my wedding day.”

“Sorry, under instructions from the soon-to-be Mr. Stark-Rogers.” Rhodey smirked.  “Always best to humor the simple-minded.”

“You know, you’re not funny.  And his name isn’t changing.”  Tony planned to hyphenate his name after the wedding, a decision that would probably bring down the ire of traditionalists around the globe when it went public.

“I’m hilarious.”  His friend clapped him on the back.  “Come on, let’s get you dolled up and married before he comes to his senses.”

“If you ever refer to getting me dolled up again, I will punch you in the face,” Tony promised darkly.

That earned him a grin.  “Then you can explain to your Dom why your best man has a black eye in all the wedding photos.”

“You’re the one person on the planet who’s a bigger asshole than me, did you know that?”

“No one’s a bigger asshole than you.”  Rhodey put an arm around his shoulders.  “Let’s go get you in your wedding dress.”

Tony pushed him, laughing.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

For most couples, Bonding was a myth.

Most scientists didn’t even know how it worked, only that it created an irrevocable mental link between partners.   Standing with his soon-to-be husband in front of one of the low-level telepaths that served as Bonders, Steve could still hardly believe it was real.

Clark smiled at them both.  “Please, sit.”  He gestured to one of the couches.  Steve sat, not letting go of Tony’s hand.  Clark folded himself gracefully into a chair across from them, his face smoothing into serious lines.  “Are you both ready to begin?”

Steve opened his mouth to reply, but his Sub beat him to the punch.  “Ready.  Yes.  Let’s go so we can go get married, so we can go have bonded sex.”

Steve didn’t even try to fight the fluttering in his chest, turning his head and stealing a kiss.  “Tony.”

Clark’s face twitched a little, but he held it together admirably.  “Of course.  Now I need you both to close your eyes and relax for me.”  Steve did so, his fingers still entangled with Tony’s.  He concentrated on slowing his breathing.  “Good.  Concentrate on your love for each other.”  Clark’s voice was soft, soothing.  “Let’s begin.”

The brush of an unfamiliar mind against his made Steve jerk instinctively.  He could feel Tony’s fingers tightening against his at the same moment, and fought down his instinctive desire to protect his mate.

He could feel Clark’s approval, the slow soothing, and then--


Brilliance, arrogance and insecurity, love and self-loathing, selfishness and selflessness--everything he associated with his lover, every failed attempt to get his father’s attention, every arrogant smile to cover up the hurt little boy who never quite grew up--Steve could feel himself going under, drowning in the rush of sensation from his Submissive.

‘Steve.’  This time, he could feel Tony’s distinctive presence in the mind that brushed against his.  He barely noticed the third presence withdrawing as he wrapped himself tightly around his lover, entwining until he could barely tell where his mind ended and his Sub’s began.  A wave of euphoria washed over them both; Steve couldn’t tell whose mind it began in, but it didn’t matter.

He didn’t know how long they drifted, lazily enjoying their new bond, but eventually Steve became aware that Clark’s presence had returned.  Tony stirred against him, slightly agitated.  ‘Time to get married?’

Steve mentally nuzzled him.  ‘Yes.’  With difficulty, he pulled himself away from the warm embrace of his Sub’s mind, opening his eyes slowly.  He was thrown off-balance for a moment, seeing things from two different perspectives.  Carefully, he focused on getting back into his own head, blinking as his vision cleared.

Tony’s fingers tightened on his for a moment.  ‘I love you.’

Steve pulled him into a kiss, smiling against his lips.  “I love you, too.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

After the Bonding ceremony, the wedding was almost anticlimactic.

A simple canopy on the mansion rooftop, set up in the place where Tony had knelt for Steve’s collar that night a lifetime ago, shaded the altar and the minister. The small crowd included their teammates, various members of the X-Men and other friends the two of them had picked up along the way.

Tony’s throat was bare for the first time since the day after Steve had first collared him.  He felt naked, exposed without the physical symbol of his Dom’s love to ground him, but recollaring was a tradition that dated back to even before the ‘40’s.  Taking off the collar the day before the wedding, cleaning it meticulously and refastening it around the Sub’s throat was meant to symbolize a new beginning for the couple.

Tony thought it was an overly romantic notion, but Steve liked the idea, so here they were.

Rhodey stood at Tony’s side and a step behind; Clint mirrored the position behind Steve.  The minister smiled genially.  “Friends and family, we gather here today to recognize the union of Steven Rogers and Anthony Edward Stark.”

‘Last chance to back out.’

Tony fought a smile.  ‘Not a chance, Capsicle.’

“The union of a Dominant and Submissive is among the most sacred of our society.  When two people choose to bond their very souls together, it is an even more momentous occasion.  The love that burns between these two, through trials and triumphs, should serve as an example to us all.”

‘Could he have chosen a sappier opening speech?’

He could feel Steve’s amusement.  Just breathe, it’ll be over soon.

‘Why Cap, are you trying to say you’ll make my first time good for me?’

Steve flushed.  ‘Pay attention!’

“Steven and Anthony have chosen to write their own vows.  Anthony?”

Tony cleared his throat, turning to take Steve’s hands.  “You’re the most irritating man I’ve ever met.  Hands down.  You’re pushy, old-fashioned, stubborn, you have unreasonable expectations--and I can’t imagine my life without you.”  He paused for a moment.  “Hell, I can’t imagine the next five minutes without you.  You’re the only person I’ve ever known who pushed through the facade and not only accepted what you found, you loved it.  And that, Steve Rogers, is just one part of why I love you.  And I look forward to the rest of my life as your Submissive and your partner.”  He paused a beat.  “I hope you recorded that, because you’re not getting it again for a long time.”

Steve ignored the light chuckles from the crowd.  “When I first met you, I wanted to shake you.  I saw this gorgeous Submissive denying who he was.  You were and still are the strongest person I’ve met.  You made me work for your submission from day one.  I’ve chased you across town and across the country.  One day, I’m sure you’ll make me chase you around the world.  And I’ll do it gladly, because you were and always will be worth catching.” Steve looked down.  “I love you, and I look forward to showing you for the rest of our lives.”

Tony’s breath caught in his throat, unable to muster up so much as a witty comeback.  ‘If you make me cry, you’re not getting laid tonight.’

‘You and I both know that’s not true.’  He could feel Steve’s amusement.

“Having heard this declaration of love, who will give this Submissive away?”

“I will.” Rhodey stepped forward.  “Without hesitation or reservation, I give my blessing to Anthony as he embarks upon this journey, and to Steven as he joins himself with a Submissive I hold dear.”

Steve nodded, solemnly.  “And we will treasure your blessing.”

“And who will vouch for this Dominant?”

Clint took his own step forward.  “Without hesitation or reservation, I give my blessing to this union, and my word that Steven will love and honor Anthony each day of their lives.”

Tony had to swallow a lump in his throat before he could speak.  “And we will treasure your blessing.”

“Anthony, do you accept these promises and blessings, and pledge to be Steven Rogers’ husband and Submissive as long as you both shall live?”

And there it was.  No going back, no hesitation, no second thoughts.  Tony smiled slightly, meeting Steve’s gaze.  “I do.”  The blue eyes misted over just a little.

“And Steven, do you accept these promises and blessings, and pledge to be Anthony Stark’s husband and Dominant as long as you both shall live?”

Steve didn’t even pause.  “I do.”  If his voice wavered just slightly, no one would call him on it.

“Kneel, Anthony.”  Tony dropped to his knees without hesitation, bowing his head.  “Steven?”

He could hear rustling above him, but he kept his gaze on the ground until he felt Steve’s gentle touch, refastening the collar around his throat.  Tension he hadn’t been aware of melted out of him at the touch of metal, the mark of ownership.  He grasped Steve’s hand when it appeared in his line of sight, gracefully rising to his feet.

“And the final symbol of your lifelong commitment: who shall offer the rings to bind this couple?”

“I will.”  Rhodey and Clint stepped forward in unison.  Tony took Steve’s ring when Rhodey handed it, slipping it silently onto his Dom’s finger.  He wasn’t sure he could speak if he had to.

As Steve took his left hand, sliding the wedding band into place next to Tony’s engagement ring, he could feel the minute tremble in the strong fingers.  When he looked up, Steve’s eyes were wet, and he could feel his own misting over as well.

“What has been brought together this day, let nothing tear asunder.  I present to you Steven Rogers and Anthony Stark-Rogers.  You may--”

Tony didn’t wait for him to finish, pulling Steve in and crushing their mouths together.  He could feel Steve’s silent laughter, but he ignored it.  ‘Stuck with me now, Cap.’

The wave of love that prompted nearly knocked him off his feet.  ‘I think I can live with that.’ They separated, aware for the first time of the clapping and catcalls from their audience.  ‘Matter of fact, not sure I could live without it.’

There was still a lifetime of challenges and roadblocks to face, but they’d handle that when they came to it.