Alcohol's done nothing for Steve since the serum, so he's still nursing his first drink of the night as he watches the room, excitement and trepidation in equal parts gathering low in his belly. The dance floor is tiny and crowded, and the air in the room is thick with cigarette smoke, the sort of thing he'd have been choking on a year ago. He never could have come here before, for so many reasons. Hell, he shouldn't even be here now.
The men are dancing with each other. Some are fairies, dolled up in their prettiest outfits; some are just ordinary guys, the kind of man Steve might see walking down a street, or -- more likely -- marching in formation. It's a pretty good bet that some of them are his fellow soldiers, but there are no uniforms here. And no names, or at least not real ones. You can't tell what you don't know.
Steve had gotten the name of the club from Percival Pinkerton, a fella in the Howling Commandos who everyone knew was that way inclined, as the saying went, but everyone did him the courtesy of officially not noticing it, because Percy also knew ten different ways to kill a man with an umbrella. Percy had thought he was joking at first, Steve knew, remembering that goggle-eyed stare -- but he'd given him the name and address. Best club in town, he'd said. Use your leave well.
Steve's never done this before. Not with anyone, not unless fooling around a bit with Arnie when they were fourteen counts for anything. But he knows that he wants, he wants so much that he hurts with how much he wants it, and he knows Captain America can't. Even Steve Rogers can't.
Tonight he isn't Captain America. He isn't even Steve Rogers. He's no one, and he needs more than anything to know what it's like, how it feels to do what he's been dreaming of for years.
But the years of being skinny, scrawny Steve Rogers have left him unprepared for this: he doesn't actually know how to go about it.
There are a couple of other men alone at the bar, and a few more men have been leaning against the walls of the place on their own. Most of the people are already paired up, and Steve eyes the man drinking alone a few seats down from him. What is he supposed to do? Is he supposed to just pick someone? Is he just supposed to ask? What in heaven's name is he supposed to say?
"I was going to offer to buy you a drink, handsome," says a low, amused voice from somewhere behind Steve, "but you've been sitting there for a good half-hour and you've hardly touched your first one."
Steve turns around, and there's a man standing next to him, leaning against the bar, wearing an expensive suit and smiling a brilliant smile that makes Steve's heart pound and his palms sweat. He's maybe in his early thirties, and almost as tall as Steve, but built with more of a wiry strength in him. He's clean-shaven, as most men are these days. His dark hair is slicked back and pomaded, save for an unruly curl lying just so on his forehead. His eyes are a gorgeous dark blue, and his gaze is stunningly intense, like there's nothing in the room but Steve.
Yes, everything within Steve's body says, in one almost-frightening rush of arousal. This one.
He is absolutely, perfectly Steve's type -- Steve's type having been formed by an adolescence of reading Marvels magazine cover-to-cover every month and lingering longingly over the drawings of Tony Stark, the world's greatest adventurer. Steve wonders if people ever tell this guy he looks a lot like Tony Stark, except without the beard. It's something about the eyes. He's not even entirely sure if Tony Stark is a real person, or if he's a composite of invented tales and a pretty face for the covers. He wonders if that comparison is the kind of thing a fella wants to hear, or if it cements Steve's place in the social hierarchy as the pitiful kid who spent his youth reading adventure stories rather than doing anything interesting. God, he doesn't know what to say.
He feels like such an idiot.
The stranger had been one of the men standing along the wall when Steve came in, he realizes belatedly. Has this man been watching him this whole time? Steve can feel his face heat up.
"So I thought," the stranger continues, still smiling, "that clearly I was just going to have to abandon the pretext and come say hello to the most gorgeous guy in the room."
Steve's mouth has gone dry. He can't quite form words.
And then something softens in the stranger's eyes; there's something human and real there, something understanding, beyond all the games. "You want to work with me here, handsome?" he asks, gently. "Don't let me do all the flirting by myself. I mean, if you're not interested, I can take a hint, but you're looking a little more terrified than is generally a good sign at this stage." He frowns contemplatively. "Or ever. Terror is never a good sign, gorgeous."
"Me?" Steve manages to say. He doesn't even know why he thought he could do this. God. He can't do this. This man is just going to laugh at him, or-- or-- he doesn't know what. He has no idea what he's doing. "The most gorgeous? Here?"
"He speaks!" the stranger crows, with a ripple of amused laughter. "And, yes, you. Good lord." He holds out a hand to the rest of the crowded club. "Have you seen yourself? Do you see anyone else who might be the most gorgeous guy in the room?"
Steve swallows hard and smiles back. He thinks of combat, of how he always takes risks on the field -- surely he can be that brave here? "Well," he says, and he can't make himself say it very loudly but he thinks that's okay. "My money's on you."
The stranger's face lights up with joy, and the smile that curls now around his lips -- is it okay to stare at his mouth? Steve wonders -- is bright and warm. "There we go," the man says, and his voice is filled with a kind of reassurance. "Some interest, huh? I can definitely work with that." He leans in toward Steve, like they're sharing a secret, just the two of them. He looks at him through long, dark eyelashes. "I'd ask you if you come here often, but honestly I think I can guess the answer."
Steve goes hot again. "First time," he mumbles. In so many ways.
"Hey, shh." The stranger's hand, warm and calloused, settles on Steve's, where he's been resting his hand on the polished wood of the bar, and the rush of heat that runs through him is entirely different than embarrassment. But something about it is a comfort, too. "There's no shame in that. We all have to start somewhere." He smiles again. He hasn't taken his eyes off Steve, this entire time. "So what's your pleasure?" he says, and his mouth curls around the word in a way that makes Steve go even hotter. "Another drink? Dancing?" He tips his head at the dance floor, but he's still smiling at Steve. "I'm afraid I have no sense of modesty whatsoever, so I should inform you that I have it on good authority that I am an excellent dancer and I know exactly how to show a fella a good time."
And that-- well, at least there's no question of what else he's offering with that, is there?
Steve wants this. He wants this handsome man with his easy smile and warm hands to show him what to do, to show him how to do at least some of what he wants, to let him make him happy. They won't see each other again, but that will be okay. It can just be simple. A good memory.
So Steve turns his hand over and strokes the stranger's hand, running his thumb over the delicate skin of the inside of the man's wrist. His serum-enhanced hearing lets him know that the stranger sucks in a sharp breath at the touch.
"Maybe not dancing," Steve murmurs, "but I'm very interested in any other things you might want to show me."
The stranger's hand trembles under Steve's fingertips, and his eyes are much darker now. "Christ," he says, under his breath, "you are so goddamn sweet, you know that? It's killing me, how sweet you are. I don't deserve this."
Steve doesn't feel sweet. He can hardly think. There's nothing left in him but fire and dizzying determination. He thinks it doesn't matter what they deserve. It only matters what they want.
"But do you want this?" Steve asks, just to make sure, because even though it's been six months since Rebirth he still can't come to terms with the idea that someone might look at him and-- and just want him, just like that.
"God, yes," the man says, fervently, and Steve just barely remembers not to use his full strength when he drags him out the door.
The alley behind the club is dark, and even with Steve's eyesight he can't make out much of anything in the shadows. He can see the stranger next to him, and that's about it. Good enough.
The man's mouth is curved into an almost-rueful smile.
"Second thoughts?" Steve asks, because it's not like people haven't had a lot of those around him.
"Not as such," the stranger says, shaking his head, "but this is a hell of a place for a first time, sweetheart." He glances up and down the deserted alleyway and grimaces. "I wish I could do right by you."
Daringly, Steve reaches out for the stranger's hand, then past it, letting his fingers stray over the man's hip, learning the shape of him. "You already are."
"My living situation right now sadly isn't the kind of thing where I -- mmm -- can really bring strange men home," the man says, as Steve steps in and lets his hand splay over the man's lower back. "God, you've got incredible hands," he adds, like it's another observation. "And I have to be up early."
Steve understands that, all right.
Steve takes a breath and smiles. "I was hoping you were up now," he says. He imagines that he's the sort of man who can say these things so casually.
There's a flash of an answering grin in the darkness. "Darling, you have no idea."
Steve had the vague idea that fellas in these circumstances didn't kiss, really, or do anything other than get down to business, but the stranger apparently has never heard of that rule, because he puts his arms around Steve's neck, leans in, and kisses him breathless. He's like no one Steve has ever kissed before -- oh, Steve has fumbled around, but this is a kiss with intent, a kiss with certainty, a kiss that says I know where we're going and you're going to love it.
When they break apart, Steve is panting, his cock achingly hard, and he's exquisitely aware that the other man is too, pushing up against him with little jerks of his hips, grinding against him. The idea of being wanted fills Steve with a dizzying heat. This isn't a joke. This is really happening, and the stranger isn't laughing at him or mocking him. The stranger is, in fact, clutching him tighter.
"Oh," Steve breathes. There's no thought of any kind left in his head, except that he wants more of this.
"What do you want to do?" the stranger murmurs, low and easy. "Anything you want. Tell me, and I'll make you feel so good."
Steve knows the answer to that one.
He drops to his knees.
Above him, the stranger shudders, lust and incredulity combined. "Dear God. That, I was not expecting." His voice twists in uncertainty. "Are you-- are you sure?"
Steve tilts his head back and smiles up at the stranger. "Show me."
It's even better than Steve was expecting. The man is responsive, encouraging, effusive with praise, telling Steve how to move, what to do with his lips, his tongue, his hands. The weight of the stranger's cock is a pleasant heft on his tongue, filling him up in a way that feels right, like he was meant to have something in his mouth, and as he licks and sucks, everything in his mind fuzzes into a bright, easy, calm place, like there's nothing but this, like he could do this his whole life and be happy. It's like taking the best kind of orders, almost, the way there's nothing to think about.
The stranger's low, soothing encouragements start to turn into obscenities and breathless gasps, and the hand that had been petting his hair starts to clench and twist, and God, he's going to come, Steve's going to make him come--
The man pulls Steve's head away.
"Not in your mouth," he says, hoarsely. "Not for the first time. Trust me on this one."
His lips are red -- he's been biting them -- and parted as he breathes out heavy, rasping breaths. His hand is fisted around his cock, only a few strokes from bringing himself off.
"Let me help," Steve says, and he's reaching to replace the man's hand with his own as the man nods agreement, grinning down at him.
He can do this. It's not so different from touching himself. He sure knows how to do that.
The stranger's eyes are nearly all black now, with the barest ring of blue, and he's focusing on Steve's hand on his cock like it's a thousand times better than any of the dirty pictures Steve's caught glimpses of. "Fuck," he breathes. "Just like that, sweetheart. Yeah, let me see your hands on me--"
He chokes out a wordless sob and comes into Steve's hands and it's the best thing Steve has ever seen.
The stranger sags against the wall, offers Steve a handkerchief to clean himself off with, sets himself to rights, and then pulls Steve up and kisses him.
"You're wonderful," he says, and then his grin is devilish. "And now I'm returning the favor."
And then he kneels down, heedless of his expensive suit, and undoes Steve's fly. Steve isn't aware of anything after that but oh God, his hot, wet mouth, and he thinks he lasts a grand total of maybe thirty seconds before making an embarrassing whimpering noise and coming helplessly in the stranger's mouth.
His shaking legs are just barely holding him upright, and he watches as the stranger tucks him back into his trousers and wipes off his mouth on the back of his hand with a grin.
"Did I--?" Steve begins, and he doesn't even know how to ask the question. "I mean, was I--? Was I any--?"
The man stands up and kisses him. Steve can taste himself, salty and bitter, on the man's lips, and he wonders if it's odd that he likes it. "You were perfect," he says, and he says it like he means it, and Steve wonders if this is something that strange men in alleys just like to say after you suck them off, but he sounds so sincere about it. The man kisses him again. "If we were in New York, I'd bring you home with me. Do everything again and properly, in a bed. You're too good for this."
Steve doesn't know how he feels about being too good, so instead he seizes on the one scrap of information, their one commonality. "You're from New York too?"
The stranger chuckles. "Upper East Side. You?"
"Lower East Side," Steve admits. They're both from Manhattan. He wonders, crazily, if they've met before, if they could meet again, if -- God willing -- they're both alive to see the end of the war. Everyone knows America's going to enter the war, sooner or later. It's not like Steve hasn't already been involved in his share of covert operations.
There's a real smile on the man's face. "Well, hello there, neighbor."
Steve laughs. "Same to you."
They stand there together, and the man rests his head on Steve's shoulder and this -- it feels real in a way Steve wasn't expecting. He'd been picturing hands and mouths and cocks, isolated body parts. Not a whole person. Not laughter and smiles and warm arms holding him afterwards, making him feel cared for.
Eventually the stranger sighs and lifts his head. "I hate to do this to you," he says, "but it's getting late and--"
"Yeah," Steve says, with unexpected regret gathering somewhere under his breastbone. He's going to miss this man. "Early morning. You said."
The stranger's final kiss is to Steve's cheek, sweetly, before he steps away. "It was a privilege," he murmurs, his breath warm against Steve's skin. "You take care, now."
"You too," Steve tells him, and he wants to catch him and drag him back, hold him tight, even though there's nothing he can do, no way he can bring this guy back to base, but dammit, he doesn't want him to just walk away--
Standing at the end of the alley, the stranger is outlined in the streetlights behind him. "Look me up when you get back home, eh? We'll do it all again, and more, if you want."
I don't even know your name, Steve wants to say, but he can't even open his mouth before the man's gone.
Steve's up just before 0600. He's the only one awake right now in the barracks; he rolls over onto his back and takes this opportunity to contemplate his life, since he knows that Sergeant Duffy's stentorian tones will certainly be awakening everyone else very shortly.
He doesn't feel any different.
He'd thought he would be a new person, the way he'd been after Rebirth, but last night he got on his knees and sucked a stranger's cock, and he's... still himself.
He wants to do it again.
And that right there is a dangerous, dangerous thought. Captain America definitely cannot be caught on his knees in an alley. Steve doesn't believe it's wrong, and he doesn't think that who he wants to love should affect whether he can serve his country -- but he knows that there's a difference between what he believes and what the rest of the world is going to think of him if they find out.
He can't do it again.
He certainly can't do it again with the same man, which is the direction his thoughts are straying in. When he shuts his eyes he sees a daring grin, a steady, knowing gaze. He wouldn't even be able to find the man again, and he knows he can't start thinking like that. He knows he can't want that. He knows he can't have more than one night. It's safer that way. Even though the stranger was so kind, and even though he'd looked at Steve like he wanted more than this--
At least he doesn't have to maintain his other secret identity for long, today. Clumsy, oafish Private Rogers managed to earn himself KP duty yesterday, because Captain America has a meeting with General Fury at 0800 and needs the cover. Which is good, but he wishes it weren't happening.
He's only here at all because Bucky broke his arm last week, an undercover mission gone wrong. Fury wants Steve in the field again and doesn't want to send him alone, so Steve's here to meet Bucky's replacement. His temporary partner. Steve knows nothing about the fella except that he's civilian, not even Army. He's trying not to let that fact bias him, but he can already picture it: some armchair quarterback, someone who's never seen any kind of fight, someone who Steve is going to have to babysit the whole way.
Well, at least it'll all be over soon.
Steve suits up with a minute to spare and is perfectly on time, gleaming in red, white, and blue, when Fury's aide tells him the general is waiting.
There are two men in the office. The one who isn't General Fury is facing away, hanging his hat on the hatstand in the corner, and Steve's attention goes automatically to the general, who is sitting behind his desk, omnipresent cigar between his teeth.
Steve salutes. "Sir, Captain America reporting." He uses only his codename when he's in this uniform, and he keeps the cowl up; the habit had been easy enough to learn.
The man in the corner jumps, like he's startled.
Fury returns the salute.
"Good morning, Captain." Fury smiles around the cigar. "This will be brief. I have a new mission for you, and your temporary partner, until Barnes can return." He holds out his hand toward the man in the corner.
The man turns around, and Steve thinks maybe his heart has stopped.
The stranger from last night is standing here. He's wearing a different suit -- though it looks just as expensive -- but he's unmistakably the same man. Dark hair. Blue eyes. And a very, very astonished smile.
Steve's mouth opens and closes and he can't think of a thing to say that isn't I had your cock in my mouth eight hours ago.
The stranger knows it's him, too, even with the cowl over half of Steve's face; Steve realizes he must have recognized Steve's voice when Steve saluted Fury. His eyes are wide, and his skin is pale with shock, but he's covering hard, and thank God, he's clearly a better liar than Steve is.
Fury's squinting at Steve. "Do you two know each other?"
"No," Steve says, quickly, and he hopes to God that sounds convincing. "I must have been mistaken. You, uh. You look like someone I met once."
"I get that a lot," the stranger offers, with a smile that is now bright and cheery, like what they're both saying is actually true, like this is the story they're both going to pretend happened. "I just have one of those familiar faces, I guess."
The look Fury gives the stranger is surprisingly sour, and Steve feels like he's missing something. He's still stunned, standing here, waiting for his brain to start working again.
Right. Introductions. If you've never met someone before, you introduce yourself.
Steve steps forward and holds out his hand. "I'm--"
"Code names only, Captain," Fury says, before he can finish. "Secrecy is paramount."
Steve may not know the stranger's name, but he already knows something far more compromising. They both do.
"I'm Captain America," he says, finally.
The stranger favors him with a smile that's the barest echo of what Steve had seen on his face last night, but still friendly, and Steve shivers despite himself. "Yeah," he says, his voice full of that same quiet amusement. "I've seen you in the newsreels." He returns the handshake; his grip is strong, and Steve resolutely does not think about what else he's seen this man's hands doing. "I'm Iron Man, I suppose," he adds, like he's picked the name out of a hat, on a whim.
Steve wonders if maybe Iron Man is a fellow Marvels fan.
"Nice to meet you," Steve says.
Iron Man smiles. "Likewise."
Steve wonders what the hell they're supposed to do now.
He had no idea about Iron Man. He doesn't think Iron Man knew about him either, from the surprise on his face when he'd seen him. They weren't supposed to meet again. It was supposed to be anonymous. This is anything but.
"Iron Man will be your partner for the duration of this mission," Fury says, interrupting Steve's increasingly panicked train of thought. "He's not a soldier, but he can keep up with you, Captain. He won't hold you back. He's a hell of a pilot and a damn good shot."
"Nick briefed me about your sidekick," Iron Man says. "Sorry to hear it." And then he grins an irrepressible grin. "I don't think I can fit into the uniform, but I'd be willing to consider the tights if you ask real nice."
Fury harrumphs in disdain, looking at Iron Man, which is good, because then he doesn't notice the visible skin of Steve's face turning bright red.
"He's also a wiseass," Fury adds, "and I'll remind you that you're in command here, Captain, and you don't actually have to listen to anything he says." He gives Iron Man a considering look. "He does, however, have valuable experience with the current political situation at your destination."
Steve is still trying to get his brain to move past Iron Man in tights. "And that would be?"
"The Transian-Latverian border," Iron Man says, and his tone is brisk now, down to business. Steve feels bizarrely offended that Iron Man was briefed ahead of him. "Rumor has it that Victor Von Doom and Herbert Wyndham are in cahoots, and... let's just say I have a fair amount of personal experience with Doom."
Iron Man grins another crooked grin. "I'm practically on his Christmas list, if by that you mean that he's tried to personally murder me with an army of robots that look like him."
Steve really can't think. He's just going to give up on thinking. "An army of...?"
"Robots," Iron Man repeats, like this is a reasonable thing to say. "And if the High Evolutionary there wants to join forces with him, I can safely say that one thing we do not need in the world is mutated animal robots."
Steve's just going to wait for his life to make sense again. He thinks he might be waiting a while.
"Anyway," Iron Man says, "I have a lead on a research facility there, and it turns out the Army's interested in investigating and--" he shrugs, spreading his arms wide. "Here I am. All yours."
Steve shivers again. Iron Man has to have said that on purpose.
"All right," Steve says, finally. "Sounds good to me."
"Your flight out leaves tonight," Fury says. "Go pack and get acquainted. Iron Man will advise you on gear and your route."
"Yes, sir," Steve says, and he salutes Fury again and leaves.
Iron Man scoops up his hat from the hatstand, yells, "Bye, Nick!" and follows.
They're walking side-by-side down the corridor.
There's no one else around.
"I didn't know," Iron Man breathes. His eyes are wide. "I swear to God, I didn't know."
"Is this going to be a problem?" Steve asks, the words barely louder than a whisper.
And then a smile twitches across Iron Man's face, quick and secretive, and Steve is abruptly reminded, once again, that this man is absolutely beautiful.
"I won't tell Fury if you won't."
Iron Man, Steve discovers, is not just a pretty face.
No, Iron Man is brilliant, brave, strong, and daring. His grasp of tactics is incisive, and his actual plans run the gamut from merely lunatic to clearly an attempted act of self-sacrifice. The man has no sense of self-preservation whatsoever, but he makes up for it by being so incredibly good at what he does, so absolutely hypercompetent in the field, that strategies that would probably kill anyone else don't even make a dent on him. He can take all the crazy risks Steve would take and do it all, flawlessly.
Naturally, this means that they're getting along like a house on fire.
They landed three days ago and they've been making good progress toward their ultimate destination, but they've been tailed for two of those days -- by whom, Steve doesn't know -- and they can't shake them. They're near an airfield in Transia, trying to find a way in, and Steve is rapidly discovering that if it's a one-in-a-million shot, he can count on Iron Man to make that one shot. Repeatedly. Iron Man is taking out guards, picking them off one by one from afar as Steve sneaks around the fences with his shield and takes out the rest at close range.
They haven't talked about that night, other than the brief exchange in the corridor. There hasn't really been a good time, and Steve doesn't know how to bring it up.
He thinks maybe they're going to talk about it eventually. He hopes so.
There is one other upside to serving with Iron Man, and Steve feels guilty admitting it even to himself, but well, it's like this: Iron Man isn't Bucky. Oh, Bucky's a great partner, but Steve's always been acutely aware that Bucky is a kid, and he owes it to Bucky to set a good example. Captain America is a good man and a good soldier and a responsible adult. Captain America doesn't do half the reckless things he could do, because Bucky doesn't need to go getting ideas.
But the thing is, Captain America doesn't have to set a good example for Iron Man.
It's... refreshing, actually.
So Iron Man can say, like he said an hour ago, I think the two of us should steal an airplane and fly to the Latverian border and Captain America--
Well, Captain America thinks that pretty much every idea Iron Man comes up with is a great idea.
Steve thinks maybe that ought to terrify him.
He thinks maybe that makes it sound even better.
He doesn't exactly have a normal response to fear.
The guards are all down now, and they're running across the tarmac; Steve can see Iron Man climbing the fence and coming his way. It's broad daylight, but there's no one here to stop them. Iron Man motions toward the nearest plane, a little two-man dive-bomber painted bright with Transian roundels, blue and purple mountains in a white circle. It wouldn't have been Steve's first choice, but as he surveys the airfield, he realizes there aren't a lot of other choices. The other visible planes are either much larger than they need, or nowhere near ready to go, but the line of little bombers is just sitting here, waiting.
Steve hopes Fury wasn't exaggerating about Iron Man's skill as a pilot. But then he thinks about how Iron Man's fought at his side better than probably anyone else Steve has been partnered with -- maybe even Bucky, he thinks, a little regretfully -- and he thinks Fury probably undersold his abilities.
By silent consent and a few quick hand gestures, they head for the first of the planes. They need to get off the ground quickly before either their tail catches up to them or the Transians stop them.
Iron Man is halfway up the side of the plane in an instant, popping the canopy, like he knows exactly what he's doing.
Steve... has no idea what to do.
"Ever flown in one of these before?" Iron Man calls down, as he clambers into the cockpit and stows his pack behind the pilot's seat.
Steve shakes his head. "Nope!" he yells back. He hefts his shield and looks around. No sign of pursuers yet.
Iron Man turns his head and gives him a wide, teasing grin; his eyes flash cobalt. "Well, then," he says, cheerfully. "Look at all the fabulous new experiences you're having with me, eh?"
Steve can't even think of anything to say to that. Now? Really? Now is when he wants to talk about it?
"Not the time," he says, sternly.
Smiling like he hasn't heard the rebuke, Iron Man heaves an exaggerated sigh. "Right. You know anything about being ground crew?"
"Still no!" Steve yells again. "You'll have to talk me through it."
Iron Man smirks down at him. "Don't worry, Cap, I already know you're great at taking direction." He flips a few things on the controls that Steve can't see from down here. "Ready for engine start. Give me a hand, would you?" He's still smirking. "I know you can manage that one."
Steve gets a good grip on the propeller, and he turns his face away so Iron Man won't see him smiling.
Steve is, in fact, excellent at taking direction, and they're aloft in what Steve thinks is surely record time, especially considering that he's never helped launch an airplane before. He's even taken his shield off and clipped himself into a parachute harness at Iron Man's insistence. The takeoff is a little bumpy, and as Steve watches the ground recede from his position in the rear gunner's seat, back-to-back with the pilot's seat, Iron Man is making half-obscene apologies in his ear on the headset.
"Fuck," he hisses, as the plane wobbles a little. "Sorry. Never actually flown one of these before."
A frisson of uncertainty twists its way through Steve's gut. "What does that mean, exactly?"
"Don't worry, I know what I'm doing," Iron Man says, calmly, and Steve relaxes. "And I've flown a lot of similar things, but not one of these junk heaps. This is a Latverian model. Basically, Doom's cut-rate Stuka -- though, hey, if he's selling these to Transia, now we know they're allied for sure." He swears again as the plane jolts. "It definitely wouldn't have been my first pick, but it was the best choice out of very poor options. I wasn't going to go somewhere else after we'd already broken into the airfield, after all."
Steve supposes that makes sense. He cranes his head, looking around at the bright summer sky, at the wispy clouds they're ascending through. They're the only plane in the skies. "You think we've lost our tail yet?"
"Hope so," Iron Man says, his voice crackling in Steve's ears.
"Any idea who they are?"
When Steve adjusts his headphones, he finds that the serum's made his hearing sensitive enough that he can pick out fabric rustling even over the roar of the plane, the shifting noise of Iron Man shrugging his shoulders. "None whatsoever."
It feels like they're on an adventure, just like Steve used to read about in Marvels, and Iron Man even has the code name to match. Steve realizes he's smiling.
He wonders if he should be enjoying this as much as he is.
Steve wishes he could talk to Iron Man, but he doesn't want to distract him; Iron Man is both flying the plane and keeping an ear out for Latverian radio transmissions, because apparently Latverian is one of the many languages he speaks. He's patched Steve in, so Steve's spent most of the hour listening to static and occasional overheard conversations in languages he doesn't know.
They're just east of Mount Wundagore, almost to the Latverian border, and Steve is watching the clouds drift by below them and cast shadows on the bare rocky slopes, when the plane suddenly banks hard to the right and then starts climbing.
"They're onto us." Iron Man's voice in his ear is low and grim. "There's our tail. Goddammit, they're Doom's men after all. You see 'em? Four Latverian fighters, below and on your left."
Steve looks over and down and sees fighters in a finger-four formation, wings splashed dark with menacing Latverian green and black insignia. "You positive they're here for us?"
"Well," Iron Man says, "they're sure talking about us."
"What are they saying?"
Iron Man sighs static. "Absolutely nothing good."
Suddenly the plexiglass canopy seems so thin, and the aircraft so fragile, and Steve is painfully conscious of how helpless he is. He's used to hand-to-hand fights, winning or losing because of his own strength, and he's abruptly aware that his life is in Iron Man's hands, dependent solely on Iron Man's skill. He eyes the safety on the rear machine gun, but he knows that if they're in a situation where four fighters are coming up on their tail, they're already as good as dead.
Steve swallows hard. "So what's the plan?"
They're still climbing.
"Ideally," Iron Man says, "we hope they haven't seen us. And if we get high enough, maybe they won't." He sighs. "If they do see us, they're going to eat us alive. We're underpowered, underarmed, and not maneuverable enough. This is not a plane you want to bring to a dogfight." His voice is clipped. "Those are."
Steve doesn't know a great deal about planes, but he understands the basics. They're in a dive-bomber, which is good at pretty much one thing: hitting fixed targets on the ground. They normally fly in formation, protected by fighters, because they can't stand up to aerial combat well enough on their own.
Below them, the little flight turns and the four planes start to ascend. They're heading in their direction. They're fast. God. The Latverians are so much faster than them.
"I think they've seen us," Steve says.
"Fuck fuck fuck," Iron Man says, but his voice is calm, and Steve gives thanks that Iron Man doesn't seem to be the kind of fella who panics in combat. "Watch them for me, Cap. Going higher. Hold onto something."
The aircraft abruptly goes nose-up and back, flying upside-down now, reversing course but heading higher and higher, rolling into a perfect Immelmann turn. Steve's stomach lurches and settles back into place, and he makes sure his shield is still tucked next to him.
He sees what Iron Man's trying to do -- if the fighters want to make an attack run, they're going to come from above and dive, and if Iron Man can get higher than them, they won't be able to. It's not much of a plan. But they can't outrun them. They can't shoot them down. They can only try to evade. It's all they've got.
The fighters are-- Christ, where are they?
Steve looks frantically around the even tinier landscape below them. He's lost them, he's lost them--
"Cap," Iron Man says. "Talk to me. Do you see them?"
Steve shakes his head wildly. "I-- no, I can't, I can't--"
He looks up, and there are three spots outlined against the sun, a little V rapidly growing larger. He doesn't think he'd have been able to see them at all without the serum; he'd just have been blinded.
"They got above and behind us, and there's three of them," Steve reports. "One of them must have peeled off. Don't know where he is. The others are closing in."
He knows they're going to fall in and fire soon, and every second counts. If Iron Man pulls up and tries to get higher again, it will just bring them in range of the enemy guns. Whatever they do, they need to get out of range, and do it fast. And Steve knows Iron Man knows that, even more acutely than he does.
Iron Man's voice in his ear is low and determined. "Well," he says, "this bucket of bolts is better than those fighters at exactly one thing, so I'm going to try the only trick I have up my sleeve." He pauses. "Fair warning: you might black out."
Steve blinks. "I might what?"
Iron Man laughs, and his voice is still low but shaded now, almost sultry, like he'd been on that night in the club. "I'm gonna make you see stars, sweetheart."
That's all the warning Steve gets before the plane rolls again, and all Steve can see is verdant land as they hang upside down. Then the plane's nose starts to tip down and, very distantly, Steve thinks, Oh. Right. They are in a dive-bomber, after all.
Steve's view out the canopy is all blue skies; the plane is actually vertical. Iron Man whoops jubilantly in his ear like he's cresting the drop on the world's best rollercoaster.
Dear God, Steve thinks, he's a madman.
It feels like he left his stomach somewhere at the top, Steve thinks, as they fall in a dizzying rush. In the sky above, the fighters are growing smaller and smaller; they either can't or don't want to match this dive. Steve feels almost like he's floating, or like he could if they went faster.
And then they pull up and out of the dive, hard and fast. Steve's vision goes gray and hazy as the world around him is suddenly far too heavy. He doesn't quite pass out, but it's a near thing. He's thrown forward into the restraints. He's sweating, and the sound of his own breathing echoes harshly inside his head.
Iron Man is laughing as they level out. Steve's not exactly sure how Iron Man is still conscious, but somehow he is.
"What did you think? Was it good for you too?" Iron Man drawls in his ear, like this is the damn afterglow.
Steve's still trying to get his breath back. "I think I had more fun the other night, Tin Man."
"Cap, you wound me." Iron Man laughs again, and his voice is still low and smoky. "I'll have to make it up to you, hmm?" And then he's deadly serious once more. "Do you see them? Counting on you here, Captain."
He looks around again. They reversed direction going into the dive, so the fighters are far above them and heading the other way, even as their own plane rises; he bets they're scrambling to turn.
"I see them," Steve says. "They don't see us, so we might be able to--"
Gunshots rock the plane. They're taking fire, and then, God, the fourth plane -- the one he'd lost sight of -- is alongside them, malevolent green and black in the bright blue sky. Steve scrambles for the gun safety, but the fighter keeps swerving just out of range, and Steve fires in vain--
Iron Man swears profusely and the plane banks; they're swerving too, they're both swerving, them and the Latverian fighter, trying to go nose-to-nose, again and again--
"Not gonna win this one, sorry," Iron Man grits out, and he's firing, but they're too slow, ungainly in the air next to the fighter's speed and grace--
They're still ascending, as fast as they can, and there's another hail of bullets. The fighter's fire hits them low -- that much Steve can tell by the way the plane shakes around them. The plane screeches and groans like it's going to break apart, and then it wobbles in the air and starts to descend. The engine sputters.
Iron Man, Steve thinks, is rapidly losing control.
"That was the gas tank," Iron Man says, in Steve's ear. Steve's amazed there's still power at all for the headsets, after that last pass. "That's not good," he adds.
"Can you put her down?"
Even as he asks, he's looking around. It's all forest beneath them. No.
"Time to bail out," Iron Man says.
Steve rips the headset off, unclips himself from the seat restraints, and runs his hands over the parachute harness. Still secure. He slides his shield onto his arm, and then he twists around in the seat with difficulty to see Iron Man unclipping himself. Iron Man reaches behind his seat to where they've stowed their gear and picks up... the pack they've been traveling with. Not a parachute.
Iron Man doesn't have a parachute.
Iron Man sees him and smiles a fey smile. "There was only one chute, Cap," he yells, over the roar of the dying engine, "and I gave it to you!"
But he's still strapping on the pack, and his hand is on his half of the canopy release. Like he's still going to jump.
He's going to die.
"What the hell are you doing?" Steve yells, in disbelief and sheer terror.
"I'm going to jump," Iron Man says, still grinning. "And you're Captain America, so you're going to catch me." The look in his eyes is fixed, solid. It's absolute, bone-deep trust.
They've known each other for three days, and Iron Man clearly believes in his soul that Steve can save him.
And then Iron Man opens the canopy and leaps into the sky, falling free.
Smashing his half of the canopy open with the shield, Steve jumps after him a bare second later, dropping away from the plane. If he wants to have a chance of catching Iron Man at all, he has to follow him right now.
He's turning around in the air, falling wildly, ground and sky spinning as the wind whips past him. He can't orient himself--
And then he sees Iron Man.
Iron Man must have clung to the plane a bit before dropping, because he's not quite as far below as Steve would have thought he'd be. His arms and legs are outflung and he's falling almost flat on his stomach, clearly trying to create as much drag as he possibly can.
But Steve's still above him, and he tips himself head down, he tucks his shield against his body, and he tries to streamline his fall as much as possible, because he only has one shot at this.
Miraculously, they're lined up.
Steve stretches out a hand--
It's a one-in-a-million chance. If he misses this, Iron Man is going to die.
He doesn't even know Iron Man's name, and Iron Man's going to die, and it'll be Steve's fault, and he'll never-- and they'll never--
Iron Man's wrist slaps into Steve's palm, and Steve locks his hand around Iron Man's arm, tight, tight, tight--
He's got him, oh God, he's got him.
Then the rest of their bodies collide, and they're tumbling together in the air, and it's all Steve can do to hold on. He gets a hand locked into Iron Man's belt, and he slides his hand from Iron Man's belt, through the belt, to his side, holding onto him with all his strength. There will definitely be bruises, but bruised is better than dead. Iron Man's nestling behind his shield arm now. And then Iron Man's in his arms, twisting around. Iron Man's got both his legs and one of his arms wrapped around Steve, as securely as he can be.
And he's laughing.
Christ, but he's insane.
"You got a good grip?" Iron Man yells at him, into the wind, and Steve thinks maybe that's supposed to be his line.
Without waiting for a reply, Iron Man flails out a hand and yanks on the ripcord. The pilot chute billows out, then the main chute, and it opens above them and Steve jerks in the ill-fitting harness like he's taken a punch, as their descent suddenly slows to a crawl. He clutches Iron Man tighter.
The parachute spreads out above them, a huge white circle in the sky.
Steve hopes Latverians don't believe in shooting at parachutes, but there's not much he can do about that one.
All he can do is hold on.
The ground looms closer, faster than he thought it would. Steve's had some parachute experience -- he's had some experience with pretty much everything -- but he's never tried to land while carrying someone else. When he judges that Iron Man's hold is secure, he frees a hand and tries to steer them toward one of the few clearings in the forest.
He can't think about anything he should be thinking about. The only thing pounding through his head is that Iron Man was going to die, Iron Man was going to die and now he isn't--
They're pretty low, so Steve yells, "Get up as high as you can!" and he hopes Iron Man hears him. He's going to need his legs; he can't roll to land, but, thanks to Rebirth, he can take the hit from landing on his feet. It's going to jar the hell out of Iron Man, but that can't be helped.
"I will climb you like a tree," Iron Man says, which is probably innuendo, but at least it's a useful piece of innuendo. He somehow wraps himself around Steve and gets his knees above Steve's waist. Good enough.
They're skimming low to the ground, in the clearing. Iron Man throws his pack to the ground, and Steve lets the shield drop off his arm. The less baggage, the better.
The landing is a mess. Steve lands on his feet, trips forward, and rolls with Iron Man, tangling them both up in the lines, and they tumble together in the grass. Iron Man's panting in his ear, and Steve can't tell whether he's hurt, whether he's broken anything--
Steve finally unclips himself from the harness and works free, and somehow Iron Man's already on his feet, grinning down at him--
"You're a goddamn lunatic!" Steve roars. His voice is hoarse. He pushes himself to his feet and stumbles. "You could have died! Are you trying to kill yourself?"
He's shaking, he realizes, numbly. The world doesn't feel real, like he's a ghost, like they're both ghosts, like they died up there. He's angry, or afraid, or-- or-- something else--
"I wasn't going to die," Iron Man says. His voice is low, pitched like he's trying to be calming. Soothing. "You caught me. I wasn't going to die."
Steve can feel his hands clench into fists. "And what if I'd missed, huh?"
"You weren't going to miss." Iron Man's voice is soothing and completely earnest. His eyes are wide. He believes what he's saying, one hundred percent. "You're Captain America. Fury briefed me on Project Rebirth. You're a superhero. You were always going to catch me."
Steve doesn't feel particularly soothed. God, Iron Man's insane, Iron Man's suicidal, Iron Man was going to die--
Steve's stepping forward and raising his hands. He wonders if he's going to hit Iron Man. He has no idea what he's going to do. He's still shaking.
And then he's in Iron Man's arms, and Iron Man's lips are locked with his.
Oh, Steve thinks, distantly. This is much better.
It's different than their kisses the other night. Iron Man's lips are dry and windburned. His stubble scrapes Steve's face. The kiss is raw, rough, bruising, pulsing with life and fire, like Iron Man can convince him he's alive with his body alone.
He's trembling in Iron Man's strong arms, and Iron Man breaks the kiss and pulls Steve's cowl back to run his fingers through Steve's hair, to cradle Steve's head with his elegant hands.
"Shh," Iron Man whispers. "Shh, easy, Cap, it's okay. I've got you. I've got you."
The next kiss is more tender now, long and lingering, and somehow they're sinking down into the grass, Iron Man on top of him, and, yes, this, this is what Steve wants, what he's wanted for days, what he wants to keep forever--
Iron Man's kissing him and rutting up against him, urgently, fumbling between them, fumbling with belts and flies, and then God, Iron Man's got Steve's cock in his hand, stroking him fast and sure, just like he needs, kissing him at the same time -- Christ, that's unbelievably good, why didn't they do that the other day? -- and stroking him and stroking him.
Then Iron Man pushes up a little and his grip shifts, a little looser but no less exquisitely wonderful; Steve looks down between them to see that Iron Man has both of them in hand, cocks pressed tight together, his hand sliding expertly over them both. It's the lewdest thing Steve has ever seen, unspeakably erotic, and he loves it.
Iron Man bites his own lip in concentration and groans. Steve leans up and kisses him. Iron Man's mouth is slack against his, almost passive, his attention is clearly elsewhere and he lets Steve direct the kiss, tasting deeply. Steve bites Iron Man's lip, experimentally, to see how he likes it, and Iron Man gasps and shakes and comes, and God, Steve can feel every pulse against him, and then he shudders and he's gone.
When he can finally think again, Iron Man's curled next to him, head on his shoulder. He wipes his hand off on his shirttails, buttons his own pants, then Steve's, and finally flings an arm over Steve's chest.
"Well," Iron Man says, "that's one way to bleed off the leftover adrenaline, huh?" The words are joking, but his eyes are soft and tender. "You feel a little better now? How's your second time treating you?"
He wonders if he should worry about what this means to Iron Man. If he's just a quick fuck. If Iron Man just gave Steve his body to make him feel better. He feels like he can't worry about anything ever again, though.
"You promised me a bed," Steve mumbles, dazed. "This isn't a bed."
Iron Man leans in and kisses him, lightly. "That's in New York. We gotta make it home first, handsome. Well, to Latveria and then home. I promise there's a real bed. Several beds, actually. You can have your pick."
Steve wonders why in the world Iron Man needs more than one bed. This seems unimportant. Iron Man likes him. He feels like he's floating again. He feels no pain. He thinks this was the best idea.
He knows he should get up and hide the parachute and get moving, but instead he turns to Iron Man and smiles. If this is a thing they're doing, if this is how they're going to be, he wants Iron Man to know him. He wants Iron Man to know who he is.
"I'm Steve," he says. "Steve Rogers."
Iron Man's face is radiant with joy. His eyes are sapphires, shining in the sun. "Hi, Steve," he says, smiling like Steve has given him an infinitely precious gift. "Nice to meet you."
Steve waits for Iron Man to tell him his name.
Iron Man says nothing.
Iron Man frowns back.
"You can use my name, you know," Iron Man says, hesitantly, like he's been wondering why Steve hasn't said anything, like he was expecting Steve to talk even though Steve can't possibly say what needs to be said. "I've been waiting for you to use my name. I thought maybe you didn't-- maybe you didn't want to. You didn't want to be that close to me." He sounds almost wounded. "I thought that was why you didn't."
Steve stares. This isn't making any sense.
"I don't know your name," Steve says, finally, bewildered.
Iron Man's eyebrows crawl up his head. "You don't know my name?"
What in the world is going on?
"No," Steve repeats, a little more firmly. "I don't. I'm sorry. Should I?"
Iron Man's looking at Steve like he's insane, which is pretty impressive considering that Iron Man is the one who just jumped out of an airplane without a parachute. And then Iron Man shrugs and pushes himself up onto one elbow and holds out his other hand for a handshake, like they've only just met.
"Hi," Iron Man says, smiling. "I'm Tony. Tony Stark."
It's like being struck by lightning.
"Oh," Steve says, and he thinks maybe he's shaking again. There's nothing left in him but incredulous shock. It feels like his own voice is coming from a long way away. "Oh my God. You're Tony Stark?"
Iron Man -- Tony -- nods at him. A little smile is playing around his lips. He's still holding his hand out. "That's me."
"Tony Stark from Marvels?" Steve asks, just to make sure, even though now that he's looking at him he can see it. The beard is gone, true, but the face underneath is the same, and those bright blue eyes are the same ones he gazed at, in issue after issue.
Steve guesses all the stories in Marvels were real after all.
Tony Stark from Marvels is definitely the kind of fella who would throw himself out of an airplane.
"Yes?" Tony says, like he can't quite believe Steve didn't know this all along. "I thought you knew," he adds, and there's a flash of guilt in his eyes. "I swear I thought you knew. This-- it wasn't deliberate. I am so, so sorry." His hand sags away, like he thinks he's deceived him, like he thinks Steve's going to turn away because of it, and he's wrong, he's so wrong, but Steve still can't come up with words, because he's slept with Tony Stark and he didn't even know--
"Oh my God," Steve repeats. "I-- I-- you--" He takes a few breaths. "I've been sleeping with Tony Stark?"
Tony's voice is more hesitant than he's ever heard him. "Is-- is that bad?"
"No," Steve says, and Tony visibly relaxes. "It's just that I-- I lost my virginity to Tony Stark in an alley." He's not sure which part of this is the most incredible.
Tony's mouth twitches. "Technically," he says, "a lot of people wouldn't count that. But I can deflower you properly if you want, later," he adds, and that has to be the strangest pass any fella has ever made at anyone. "You know, if you-- if you still want me."
"But you're Tony Stark," Steve says, earnestly, because Tony doesn't seem to understand. "You-- you don't-- you can't want--"
"Aww, hell," Tony says, and he reaches over and brushes the hair back from Steve's forehead. "Don't be like that. I'm human, same as you are." He gives Steve a considering look. "Maybe less human. You're a lot of human to measure up to. And you're still the most gorgeous guy in the room."
"We're in a forest."
"My point still stands." Tony's mouth twists. "You honestly didn't know it was me? I mean, you, uh. I take it you're a Marvels fan. And I've got the Iron Man code name, and it's not like my handsome mug wasn't on every Marvels cover."
Steve gestures at Tony's clean-shaven face. "You had a beard." He feels a little betrayed.
"I had a beard," Tony acknowledges. "I also have a razor. Fury was giving me guff about military grooming standards."
Steve frowns. "You're not actually in the military."
"No," Tony says, "but he did mention that if I wanted to die a horrible death because my gas mask failed to seal over my beard, that was my business." He shrugs. "I thought it was a compelling point."
"So you're--" Steve begins, and then he runs out of words again. "Really you? And you-- me? Really?"
"Really me. And really you."
Tony's smile is incandescent, and he leans in and kisses Steve gently, setting something aching within him. It's a new kind of kiss, and Steve's looking forward to learning them all.
"I am kind of a lunatic, though," Tony says, voice laced with only the slightest of apologies. "I hope you don't mind."
"Nah," Steve says, grinning at him. "I think it's growing on me."
Tony pushes himself up, then offers Steve a hand. Steve takes it.
"Come on," Tony says, grinning back like the madman he clearly is. "Latveria's this way."