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Structural Integrity

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Steve stood squinting into the blinding lights, wishing that he were in his uniform. If he had his shield, at least he'd feel like he could do something worthwhile, something worthy of Captain America. Instead, he was stuck here, trapped without shield, escape, or backup.

His hands twitched at his sides at the thought. No backup... that he could see. Blinking, he forced his eyes to focus. There, beyond the lights, in the shadows of the enormous room, he could make out shapes. People. A swell of hope rushed through him. Maybe he'd make it through this after all.

**
One week before

"Natasha, I swear... you're the only one who can help me."

A single raised eyebrow was her only response, and Steve dropped backward into the couch, his breath rushing out of him in a sigh. "Fury gave me this assignment, and... I don't like it. But he won't let me back out of it. That means I need someone there, someone who I can rely on... someone who can make sure that I don't end up--"

"In the clutches of a big, bad, evil society matron?"

Steve glared as Tony threw himself into the corner of the overstuffed couch, mouth twisted in a smirk. The man's amusement at his situation was almost palpable.

"It's not a joke, Stark! If I'd known this was what Fury wanted from me, I never would have agreed to it in the first place, and he knows it," Steve snapped, crossing his arms over his chest and straightening up.

Tony only grinned at him, knocking back the rest of the coffee in the mug he held before setting it down on the table with a careless movement. "Rogers, you're making it sound like the end of the world. Or some dangerous assignment that could end up being the end of the world, God knows that we've had enough of those—" With an obvious effort, Tony caught himself. "Anyway, it's a charity auction, Capsicle, not a date with Doctor Doom. Although I suppose if he’s there and bids high enough, things could end up getting pretty interesting."

From the corner of his eye, Steve caught Natasha's lip curling in the way that meant anyone else would have been laughing hysterically. "Why aren't you in this thing, anyway?" he asked crossly.

"Because I've been in them before." Tony's lips quirked. "And obviously even Fury's not desperate enough for good Avengers PR to take a chance on that history repeating itself. I don't think the Sedgwick Hotel's ballroom ever completely recovered its structural integrity, now that I think about it."

Natasha went into a sudden coughing fit and excused herself hastily. She made it into the hallway before she began laughing.

**

A week later, here Steve stood, alone on a platform, blinded by spotlights and camera flashes, and all too aware that he was being ogled like the most mouthwatering side of beef ever seen. He didn't see a flash of red hair anywhere, and his heart sank. If Natasha really had abandoned him, he didn't dare think of what might happen. He'd seen the people that attended these sorts of events, had had to mingle and chitchat with them more times than he could count thanks to the shield and to the Avengers, but one of the worst things he could think of enduring was an entire night alone with any one of them. He'd take dealing with a drunken, angry Tony over that any day.

Sunk in his own thoughts, Steve wasn't paying any attention to the auctioneer. His practiced "For America!" smile gleamed on his face as he turned, looking over the crowd, taking in the location of exits and strategic points out of long habit, but that only occupied his surface thoughts. The rest of him was gibbering in terror.

While he wasn't a virgin, regardless of what his teammates seemed to think, Steve had little experience with women, or wooing, or dating at all. Or men, for that matter. That was an option Steve was still getting used to the idea of, although lately he’d been more appreciative of the thought.

He still had trouble talking to Pepper, for heaven's sake, and she was one of the nicest people he'd ever met. He wondered where she was; normally, he knew, she would have forced Tony to be part of the charity bachelor auction for the sake of Stark Industries, but she would have been the one to bid him out. Now that she and Tony weren't an item any more, it was almost surprising that Stark wasn't here anyway, just to stir up trouble. He stopped his wandering thoughts before they could suggest the image of Tony taking a random stranger to bed; Steve knew enough of Tony's past to know it would be nothing new, but the thought was still troubling.

Pushing the strange feeling away, Steve snapped back to the moment when the auctioneer slammed his gavel down and shouted, "Sold! To number 616, for one million dollars!"

Steve blinked in shock. Surely he hadn't heard that amount correctly? No one could think a date with him was worth a million dollars, surely...?

At the auctioneer's impatient gesture, Steve moved offstage with unsteady feet. Who...?

For an instant, Steve remembered Tony's teasing words and feared it really would be Doctor Doom, maniacal and gloating and... wanting a date with him? Steve shook his head, almost laughing at himself. Besides, he told himself firmly, if Doctor Doom ever wanted a date, he wouldn't attend a charity auction and spend a million bucks—he'd just kidnap whoever he was interested in. No, spending a million bucks on a random date in a very public setting sounded more like...

"Tony?" Steve heard the uncertain crack in his own voice and hid a wince. He cleared his throat, meeting the gleaming eyes of one Anthony Stark, smirk firmly in place as he waited at the bottom of the stairs descending from the side of the stage.

"None other." Tony's gaze swept over him, and Steve felt ridiculous all over again, dressed up in a penguin suit that was surely too tight, given the way it kept clinging uncomfortably when he moved. "Hope you don't mind, Cap, but Natasha couldn't make it."

For an instant, Steve didn't connect Tony's words with their implied meaning. Then the blood rushed to his face. "You... Did you really just spend a million dollars to buy me?" His voice sounded oddly high-pitched, and Tony's eyebrows shot up at whatever expression he saw on Steve's face.

"Well, I was thinking of it more like spending some pocket change to spare a teammate from a terribly uncomfortable experience, but if you'd like to look at it as purchasing your services..." The intonation of the words, coupled with Tony's gaze pointedly wandering over his body, left Steve speechless for a minute.

"That's not what I meant, and you know it!" he hissed, suddenly aware of the people surrounding them, several of them eyeing the two heroes with open curiosity.

Tony shrugged, an unfamiliar glint in his brown eyes as he stepped closer to Steve. "Too bad." Beneath the light tone, Steve could hear a note of... disappointment? His eyes widened, but before he could say anything else, Tony was pulled away to arrange payment.

Right. Steve took a long, deep breath, then let it out again, and followed Tony, determination in his step. If Tony wanted to pay for a date, then a date he would get!

**

Three hours later, Steve found himself regretting his decision. He knew Tony would have driven them both straight home if Steve had asked him to and let the night's actions be laughed off as nothing more than his normal antics. Instead, Tony's reaction to Steve's calm statement of, "You paid for a date, so you get a date," consisted of a thoughtful tilt of his head, a smirk, and a whirlwind of motion that had ended with Tony waltzing into a world-famous five-star restaurant and buying them out for the rest of the night. The other customers' anger had been ignored as Tony ordered them out, his eyes glinting with amusement at their reactions.

Sitting across from him at the small, intimate table, Steve wondered for the hundredth time what he thought was doing. He'd originally thought Tony meant the whole thing as a joke, but now... from the moment he’d locked arms with Steve at the auction until now, his fingers just brushing against Steve's on the white linen tablecloth, Tony hadn't stopped touching Steve all night, and Steve no longer knew what to think.

Setting down his wineglass, Tony leaned forward. Steve met his gaze, and was taken aback at the seriousness he saw there.

"I know this isn't what you wanted, but... thank you for humoring me, Steve," Tony said, voice quiet.

Steve frowned. "What do you mean?"

Tony picked up his fork in his free hand and played with it, staring down at it as he spoke. "I know you wanted this to be Natasha, and I can't say that I blame you; she is beautiful, if terrifyingly deadly, and instead you got me, someone you can barely stand. I just wanted to let you know that it's been... nice."

"I only wanted it to be Natasha because she's the only woman I know who could have been there tonight," Steve said, frowning. "I didn't... I'm not interested in her, if that's what you thought." He smiled slightly. "Because she is gorgeous, and terrifying, and I don't think I'd want to date someone who could break me without even trying."

Tony's mouth twisted into what could generously have been called a smile, and he dropped the fork as he met Steve's eyes again. "Then I must be even more insane than anyone thinks, because—" He pressed his lips together, stopping his own words, and stood up. Steve started to follow suit, only to sit frozen in his seat as Tony came around the table toward him.

Leaning in close enough for his breath to brush against Steve's ear, Tony murmured, "Because I'm pretty far gone for someone who could break me without even trying."

The words broke some sort of dam inside Steve, and he shivered with awareness of everything he'd been pushing away for the last few months. He brought a hand up to Tony's shoulder, holding him in place as he replied, "I would never do that."

Tony's eyes widened, but he shot back, "Not on purpose, I'm sure, but you can't tell me that you're doing anything but playing with me here, Cap, because you've never shown the slightest hint of interest, and believe me, I've been watching and—"

Steve stopped the flow of words the only way he could think of. A surprised squeak escaped from Tony as their lips touched, making Steve grin, but an instant later, anything other than the feel of Tony's mouth on his, Tony's tongue touching his, Tony's hands wrapping around his neck, fell away.

When they finally broke apart, both of them were breathing heavily. After a long moment of strained silence, Tony asked, his voice rough, "Are you sure?"

Steve tilted his head, remembering months of covertly watching the other man, irritation morphing into fascination, his nights turning from nightmares of loss to dreams of hope, and months of denying it all to himself. Until tonight, when a smirk and a glance told him that his worry had been groundless.

As the moment stretched, Tony began to draw back, and Steve's hands tightened on him. His own voice was hoarse, low, as he answered, "I'm sure. Tony... you could break me, too."

He watched Tony blink, process his meaning, and look at him with an expression of wonder. His lips curved, and he stretched, enjoying the knowledge that Tony's eyes were mapping every inch of the movement. Then he leaned in close and said, "Let's go home."

**

The next day, Fury summoned Steve and Tony to the Helicarrier. While Fury ranted at them about the headlines their antics at the charity auction had caused, Steve could only lean back in his chair, aware of Tony's hand on his knee under the table, and try, mostly unsuccessfully, to hide his smile. Finally, Fury stopped, glared at him, and threw his hands in the air.

"I'll be damned if I am ever sending you to another event like that again, if that's how you're going to handle things," he declared, and stomped out of the room.

"See? My methods work, Captain," Tony drawled, laughter dancing in his eyes. "And you didn't even have to destroy half a floor."

~ finis ~