Steve's secret guilty fantasies had frequently involved some variation on what Iron Man looked like partially or entirely naked. He had also wondered occasionally what Tony Stark looked like naked, usually after a particularly intense training bout, when he was remembering the way Tony's sweaty t-shirt had clung to his body. In the most secret depths of his imagination -- the daydreams he'd never admit to anybody because they were so damn ridiculous that Clint would never shut up about them until he died -- he sometimes thought wistfully about what it might be like if Tony was Iron Man.
Some of the Naked Iron Man sketches Steve had torn into tiny, embarrassed pieces and thrown away over the years had been very detailed. The Iron-Man-is-Tony-Stark daydreams had also been very detailed, and were usually filled with the kind of over the top romantic gestures that would have made Steve look like the world's biggest sap if he'd ever actually performed them in real life.
Both scenarios -- nudity and Tony and Iron Man being one and the same -- were things to which Steve had devoted more thought than he would admit to over the years, but the very last thing he had every expected was for his secret fantasies to come true.
And now they had. All of them at once. In front of an audience.
Steve ought to have been focusing on the fact that his team were hiding in the basement of a violent madman's fortress, with only two fully operational Avengers and probably only minutes left to stop said madman from trying to destroy the world. Or at least on the fact that Thor was nowhere to be seen and Don Blake had inexplicably joined them in captivity.
Instead, it was all he could do not to stare openly at Tony's naked body.
The Molecule Man had destroyed his shield, his shield. It was irreplaceable, un-duplicatable. President Roosevelt had given it to him personally. The balance was so perfect that it felt like a part of his body.
He didn't have time to think about that. It was beside the point, anyway; a good solider relied on more than weapons to win. Much better to concentrate on naked Tony.
No, not naked. Naked might actually have been slightly less distracting. Tony was… almost wearing… a tiny, tight scrap of red fabric that most definitely didn't hide anything.
As Steve watched from the corner of his eye, trying to pay attention to whatever the Silver Surfer was saying to him -- something about using his cosmic power to rescue them from Molecule Man's death machine -- Tony tied Don's suit jacket around his waist like a kilt, hiding the, well, thong, from sight. Rather than helping, it created the illusion that he was truly naked beneath the borrowed suit jacket.
Steve tried desperately to drag his attention away from the lean curves of Tony's muscles, the ugly, white scars in the center of his chest, the line of dark hair he could see disappearing into the make-shift kilt. This was ridiculous. Tigra wore almost as little, and he was able to function like a rational human being around her. "Wait a minute!" he finally managed to blurt out, feeling his face heat at how strangled the words sounded. "Where's Thor? And... Tony Stark… you're-" Naked, he almost said, but managed to stop himself just in time.
"Iron Man," Tony muttered, meeting his eyes with an embarrassed grimace. "I know. I… feel a little foolish keeping it secret from you 'til now. I'm sure Don feels the same way."
'Probably not,' a semi-hysterical voice babbled in the back of Steve's head. 'He's not naked.' Then what Tony was implying actually penetrated. "You're Thor?" he asked Don, feeling suddenly stupid for not realizing it immediately -- where else would the man have come from?
Don gave an embarrassed looking shrug, and began explaining that his walking stick was actually Mjolnir in an enchanted disguise, and that without it, he was stuck as Don Blake, "for the duration, I guess."
"The 'duration' of this planet will be short, I fear," the Silver Surfer said, his usual near-emotionless voice sounding decidedly annoyed, "unless we act quickly."
In other words, it was time for them to stop standing around staring at one another and get down to business. "We've got to strike before the Molecule Man learns we're still alive," Steve agreed. He glanced at his team once more, this time looking at them as a soldier, as an Avenger, evaluating their chances if it came to a fight -- which it certainly would. All of them were unarmed, but the Surfer had his silver coating and his powers, and Steve had years of unarmed combat training; he didn't need a weapon. Iron Man and Thor were usually the Avengers' heavy hitters, but without his armor, Tony was just an ordinary man, and a horribly vulnerable one. And Don didn't even have Tony's small amount of sparring lessons, not to mention his leg… "The Surfer and I will handle it," Steve went on. "Tony and Don -- you'd better stay hidden."
Tony and Don were less than agreeable to this suggestion.
Thus it was that Steve found himself, an hour later, handing the Molecule Man over to the police in the company of Don Blake, Tigra, the Surfer, and a still-nearly-naked Tony, who had tied a handkerchief around his face to conceal his identity. For all his protestations that he and the Silver Surfer could handle the Molecule Man, and that Don and Tony ought to stay safe, it had been Don and Tigra who had taken the man down in the end, through a combination of hitting him with a lead pipe and verbally browbeating him.
It was nice when supervillains could be talked into giving themselves up. It was especially nice in this case, because it meant that Steve hadn't had to give serious consideration to Tony's suggestion that they might have to kill him in order to stop him.
As they watched the police escort Molecule Man into custody, Steve made a mental note to apologize to Don for implying that he would be useless in a fight.
His couldn't quite bring himself to apologize to Tony. Not yet. Not when he could still hear the rasp in Tony's breathing from the dust cloud the Molecule Man had nearly killed him with. As Iron Man, the armor's filters would have kept him from breathing it in, but as Tony Stark, he had nearly been suffocated.
He had never worried about Iron Man this much before -- over things like Iron Man being thrown through walls or zapped with energy weapons or framed for murder, yes, but not over things like his lungs or heart giving out.
The Iron-Man-is-Tony-Stark fantasy was turning out to be not quite so much fun in reality as it had been inside Steve's head.
"Thank god the army wouldn't let any reporters into the area," Tony muttered, tugging at the suit jacket that just barely covered his groin. "I'm grateful for the effort, Don, but I think your handkerchief's probably the most useless disguise ever."
"No one's going to be looking at you as long as the Silver Surfer is standing next to you," Don told him. "He's wearing even less, and he's much flashier than you are."
Steve privately disagreed -- even after an hour's worth of exposure to Tony's nearly naked body, it was still hard to keep his eyes off him, but he nodded in support of Don's theory and took Tony by the arm. If it weren't for his gloves, he would have been able to feel Tony's bare skin under his fingers. "Come on, 'Iron Man,' let's see if these nice army boys will give us a ride home in one of their jeeps."
Tony raised his eyebrows. "Iron Man," he repeated. "You know, you don't seem quite as surprised as I'd expected."
Steve felt his face heating once again. "I'd, um, given the possibility some thought," he admitted.
Tony must have noticed the blush, because his look of faint suspicion changed to an amused little smirk for a moment. Then he shook his head. "I ought to have told you, I know, but I'd kept it a secret so long… I've never actually come out and told anyone. Pepper and Happy both found out by accident."
Pepper and Happy both knew? Steve supposed it made sense, but he felt a faint flash of jealousy anyway, that they both knew something so personal about Iron Man that he hadn't. Tony was their boss, but Iron Man was Steve's teammate, his friend.
Thinking of the two of them as one person was going to take some getting used to.
"Do you think we can leave now?" Tony asked, frowning down at his lack of clothing. "I might be less noticeable than the Silver Surfer, but all someone needs is a good look at these scars, and figuring out that Iron Man is Tony Stark will be a no-brainer."
"The scars aren't that bad. The only one that would be really obvious from a distance is this one here." Steve reached out to touch the largest of them, drawing a finger along its length, and only when Tony made a faint sound in his throat did he realize what he had just done. "Sorry," he said hurriedly, snatching his hand back. "I just meant, they're not as obvious as you think." They were, actually, but bystanders were not likely to connect the ragged mess of scar tissue in the center of "Iron Man's" chest with Tony Stark's well-publicized heart surgery, no matter what Tony thought. The neat, straight line of the surgical scar was almost totally obscured by the ragged shrapnel scars that surrounded it.
Tony was staring at him, Steve realized. More accurately, he was staring at Steve's hand, the one that had just been pawing at his chest. He reached up to rub his own hand over the scar Steve had touched, as if wiping the touch away.
"Sorry," Steve repeated.
"Don't be," Tony said. "They're always the first thing anyone notices when they see me naked. I got used to it ages ago."
Considering the way he'd tried to scrub Steve's touch off his chest, Steve doubted that. "They're not the first thing I noticed," he objected.
"Really?" Tony scoffed. "Okay, what was the first thing you noticed, then?"
Steve had never been able to lie worth a damn, so he answered honestly. "The thong. It's, um, very red." And he was blushing again. He could feel it. "And then the way the muscles in your arms move, and the curve of your back. You would be a perfect model for a figure study."
Tony was staring at him now, half-smiling, as if he wasn’t sure whether to take Steve seriously or not. "You’re joking, right?" He turned to Don and Tigra, holding his hands out as if to demonstrate his helplessness. "He's joking, right?"
"To be honest," Don said, "the thong was the first thing I noticed, too. It's very…" he hesitated, lips twitching, "noticeable."
"Wait, he's wearing underwear under that?" Tigra pointed one clawed finger at the suit jacket. "Way to ruin a girl's fantasy."
"No," Steve said quietly, looking Tony directly in the eye and feeling as if he were about to spontaneously combust with embarrassment. "I'm not joking."
Tony grinned. "Are you saying you want to draw me wearing this, wearing only this?"
For some reason, Tigra and Don both started snickering uncontrollably. Steve exchanged a baffled glance with the Silver Surfer, and then took a deep breath and went for it. "Is that a yes?"
Tony slung one bare arm around Steve's shoulders. "Get me home before some reporter sneaks in and gets picture of me, and I'll let you draw me stark naked." He hesitated, then, "And that's probably going to be the Daily Planet's headline if they do get a picture of me."
Steve could feel the heat of Tony's arm through his leather and mail, feel every inch of contact across his shoulders and back. "You're giving them a swell photo opportunity right now," he pointed out, even though his skin cringed at the thought of the weight of Tony's arm moving away.
"Pictures of me kissing Tiberius Stone made every gossip column on the East Coast when I was nineteen," Tony said, his tone as casual as if he were discussing the weather. "My sexuality stopped being news years ago. My secret career as a naked superhero, on the other hand…"
"You like men?" Steve squeaked.
"I think he means, 'please stop draping yourself all over me,'" Don said dryly. "Save the flirting for people who're going to appreciate it, Tony."
"You like men?" Steve repeated, less strangled this time.
Tony let go of him, and stepped away, his movements suddenly awkward and stiff. "You didn't know? I thought everyone knew."
Steve shook his head numbly. This was obviously the day when all of his fantasies and secret wishes were going to come true, and he was going to steadily fail to take advantage of any of it. Tony thought he was disgusted or upset, thought he didn’t want Steve touching him now that he knew, thought--
Don and Tigra and the Silver Surfer were standing right there, so the part of the fantasy where Steve grabbed Tony and dipped him backwards into a kiss was out of the question. Tony wouldn't be likely to welcome it anyway.
"If I had known, I would have probably lost all ability to function around you," he babbled, desperately looking anywhere but Tony. It suddenly seemed monstrously unfair that he had to have this conversation while he could see the line of hair just under Tony's belly button and the jut of his hipbones. "Do you have any idea how good looking you are?"
"Lots of people have told me," Tony said, staring at Steve with so much sudden intensity that it felt as if the two of them were the only people there, and nevermind the dozens of policemen and soldiers who had turned out to try and stop the Molecule Man from destroying New Jersey. "I never expected you to notice."
Steve took a step closer to Tony, and put a hand on his shoulder, ready to pull it away if Tony flinched or twitched. Tony's eyes went half-lidded for a moment, and Steve took the expression on his face as permission to leave his hand where it was. "I notice a lot of things," he said.
"Oh," Tony said, his voice suddenly low and uneven.
"If you two are going to make out," Tigra said, "can I watch?"
When the Molecule Man returned Steve's shield to him a few minutes later, it was only the second best thing to happen to him all day.