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When Steve Rogers woke up, they told him a lot of things.

They told him they’d fixed things been wrong back before, and that the world was better now.  They told him that SHIELD was where he belonged, that they took only the best and the brightest and the bravest.  They told him that with his help, they were going to save the world.

They also told him Tony Stark was dangerous.

But Steve Rogers once jumped on top of a grenade, so really, it’s all relative.  

-

It started - well, Steve would have said it never started at all, that it only ended, but that would be a lie, because for Steve, it started at the beach.

It started on the first hot day in June, with his toes buried in the sand and the sun burning the back of his neck a bright pink that would go away five minutes after he went inside.   He could smell the smoke from the barbeque, and he was thinking about the last time he really went to the beach: a muggy, crowded day in 1936, the beaches of Brooklyn packed with girls in bathing suits and boys swigging cokes and kids chasing each other through the surf.  He was thinking about Bucky, laid out in the sand with a cigarette in his mouth, going on about the dames they were gonna take out that night, and Steve rolling his eyes and trying to stay upwind.  It was a good day, Steve remembered, at least until he got sunsick and had to go home in the late afternoon, had to curl up in his sticky apartment and wait for his mom to get home from her shift with a cold compress.  Bucky went out anyway and told Steve the next day he’d gotten to second base, and then described in detail what second base was.  Steve had laughed to cover his blush, punching Bucky in the arm and calling him a liar, and Bucky had grinned and punched him back harder, and Steve had folded up the memory and tucked it away but it was drawn out in the salt air and stinging, just a little bit, just enough.

“You okay?”

Tony had said he dragged them all to the beach for the weekend because he had a house in the Hamptons that he never used, but they all knew it was because Pepper had been photographed moving into her own place in Malibu the week before, and so they went, Natasha packing up the coolers and Sam running the grill and Clint showing up with the kids, doing what they could as Tony pieced himself back together.

“Yeah,” Steve said.  “‘Course.”

“It’s just that you had that look,” Tony said, staring out at the waves.  “The one you get when you’re thinking about kerosene lamps and Model Ts and, like, polio.”

Steve arched an eyebrow.  “I have a look?”

“Yeah, a look,” Tony said.  He took a swig of beer.  “So what were you thinking about?”

“I was thinking about how poor kids from Brooklyn didn’t get to spend their summers in the Hamptons,” Steve said.  “It’s nice.  Plenty of space.  Nobody kicking down your sandcastle.”

Tony snorted.  “After all the summer camps kicked me out, my parents used to send me here for weeks at a time over the summer.  Just me and the cook and Jarvis, no other kids for a mile in any direction.  So, yeah.  I could build all the sandcastles I wanted.  You gonna swim?”

Steve dug his toes further into the sand, finished his beer.  “Hadn’t thought about it.  You?”

“Hell no,” Tony said.  “Come on.  Do you know how long it takes to get my hair like this?”

Steve set his bottle down in the sand.  “A long time?”

“Let’s just say this look is not saltwater proof - oh no you are not - ”

But Steve was already running, Tony slung over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry, and he could hear Clint and the kids laughing and Tony cursing loudly and he ran straight into the waves, dumping Tony on his ass in four feet of water.

“Are you gonna be the sea monster, Mr. Iron Man?” Lila yelled, splashing her way over to them as Tony spit out mouthfuls of salt and sand.

“You are gonna pay for this, Rogers,” Tony said, getting to his feet.  “You are so gonna - ”

And then he flew at Steve and tackled him, and Steve let him, laughing, let himself stumble backwards into the cool water, let a wave crash over them and their legs tangle together, let himself think, just for a second: maybe.

-

(Tony, if you’re curious, would’ve said it started with Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, and Steve would’ve just laughed.)

-

Steve could afford a place in Brooklyn, it turned out.  Nobody knew where the place was except Sam, who’d helped him carry a ratty old sofa up the three narrow flights of steps and then laughed at his view directly into his neighbor’s window.

It was small and the air conditioner rattled noisily in the window and the paint was chipping, sure. But it was twice as big as the place he’d grown up in and the bathroom wasn’t down the hall and it was good enough for Steve, Steve who barely had anything of his own anyway, who’d barely ever had anything even back before, whose personal effects were laid out in the Smithsonian for tourists to take selfies with.

-

Steve had been seduced before, but he still didn’t see it coming.

The thing was that people liked the idea of the virtuous Captain America, and Steve let them think what they wanted, because Captain America had always been whoever people wanted him to be more than he’d ever been Steve.  In retrospect, he started to wonder if maybe he’d started to convince even himself that he wasn’t interested in that kind of thing.  

And so maybe that’s why it didn’t click, not right away, when Tony asked him to come see his latest project - “Invisibility suits,” Tony said, “I’ve miniaturized the helicarrier’s shields, do you know how hard it is to make something that big microscopic?  People are impressed with size, and I get the appeal, but small is where it’s at.  Don’t worry about it, they only catch on fire for a second” - and then got him to stay for dinner and walked him to the elevator but didn’t say goodbye.  

Instead he smiled up at Steve through those dark eyelashes, and it fell into place, all at once, and Tony must’ve done this a million times before because he stepped forward, unconcerned and unhurried, and kissed Steve gently, his lips tasting like red wine.  Steve kissed back because he didn’t know what else to do, because he’d forgotten how to even want this.

He was breathing hard by the time Tony pulled away grinning.  “I knew this was a good idea,” Tony said, and Steve grinned back, and then Tony was pulling him down the hall, stopping every few feet to kiss him again, press him up against the wall, tangle his fingers in Steve’s hair.  When they got to Tony’s room, Tony shut the door behind them and looked at Steve, his pupils blown wide.

“You’re gorgeous,” Tony said quietly, and Steve wanted to say something back but it got stuck in his throat as Tony slammed him up against the wall and dropped to his knees.  Steve barely caught his breath Tony made quick work of his jeans, and then there was a moment of cold air before Tony took his cock in his hand and slowly, slowly licked from the base to the tip.  “Gorgeous,” Tony repeated, and then he took him in deep, his tongue working its way along the sensitive underside of the head of Steve’s cock.  Steve shut his eyes and clenched his fists and tried not to thrust forward as Tony moved faster, his head bobbing and his tongue twisting.  Tony hummed lightly around his cock and gripped the back of his thighs and looked up at him, a smile playing at the corner of his eyes.  He kept his eyes on Steve’s as he drew out his own cock and stroked himself slowly, and suddenly Steve needed him closer.  

“Come here,” Steve said, his mouth dry, and Tony didn’t argue; he got to his feet and kissed Steve hungrily, his tongue salty with precome, and Steve gripped the front of his shirt and held on for dear life.  

“Bed?  I’m thinking bed,” Tony said.  He laced his fingers with Steve’s and guided him toward the center of the room, pushing him backwards until they hit the edge of the bed.  Steve sat down, and Tony kicked his jeans away and climbed into his lap, straddling him, his hands running over Steve’s shoulders and chest and back. “What do you want?  Tell me what you want.”

“You,” Steve blurted out, because he hadn’t even known what he wanted until he said it.  “I want you.”

“Well, you’ve got me, so you’re gonna have to be a little more specific, soldier.”

“Do you want to fuck me?” Steve said.

“Um,” Tony said.  “Yes, obviously yes, I am open to absolutely everything, and fucking you is definitely everything.”  He tore off his own shirt and pushed Steve back until he was lying in the middle of the bed, naked and panting and achingly hard.  

Tony scrambled off the bed and opened up the bedside table.  “Friday, can you dim the lights?”  Steve, turn over,” and Steve did, immediately, without thinking, and Tony groaned.  “Christ, this ass.  What did I do in a past life to deserve this?  Spread your legs for me.”  Steve curled his legs up under his chest and bit his lip as Tony crawled back toward him and rubbed his hole with a lubed fingertip, lightly at first and then harder, circling it gently and then dipping it inside.  It had been a while, but Steve’s body allowed the intrusion, welcomed the pleasure-pain contrast to Tony’s other hand rubbing gentle circles on his back.  

“This doesn’t change anything, by the way,” Tony said in his ear, two fingers deep now, pressing in and out so slowly that Steve wanted to scream.  “Just because you’re taking my orders right now doesn’t mean I’ll listen to yours any more in the field.”

“Fuck you,” Steve said.

“Language,” Tony said, and then pulled his fingers away; there was the rip of a condom packet and then the tip of Tony’s cock lined up with his ass, and Steve closed his eyes because this was so much so soon, this was Tony, and Tony was complicated and difficult and dangerous and as Tony pressed into him he bit back a groan because he couldn’t let Tony hear what was happening to him, what he was doing to him.

“You good?” Tony asked, pressing his hand against Steve’s spine, his touch a firebrand and a comfort.  He pulled out and eased in again, too slowly, and Steve grappled for the sheet and wrapped his hand around his cock, still slick with Tony’s spit.  He pressed his face further into the pillow, clenching his jaw as Tony fucked him slowly into his own hand.  “You don’t have to be quiet, by the way.  This place is soundproof.  Hey, gonna need to hear your voice again real soon, are you - ”

“Tony, just,” Steve gasped, “faster.”

“You got it,” Tony said, and snapped his hips forward, again and again.  “Right there, you like that?  Fuck, you feel amazing.”  


And Steve couldn’t keep it in anymore - he moaned, the sound raw as it ripped its way out of his throat, mingling with the slap of Tony’s hips, and Tony was pressing fingertip bruises into his waist and then Steve was coming, hot stripes all over the crisp sheets, and he groaned and slumped forward as Tony fucked him through his aftershocks.

Tony’s pace stuttered and he moaned one last time and slowed, his grip on Steve’s waist loosening.  He pulled out slowly and pressed a final, lingering kiss to the back of Steve’s neck as Steve relaxed into the too-big bed, listening while Tony disappeared into the bathroom.

The bed dipped.  “If you want a shower, the bathroom’s all yours,” Tony said.  “Full disclosure, I think I’m gonna fall asleep in about 10 seconds.”

Steve grinned.  “Tired you out?”

“You could say that,” Tony said.  He leaned in and kissed Steve again.  “And here I thought you were the elderly one.”  

“Very funny,” Steve said, crawling out of the bed and padding across the room to the en suite.

Tony fell back against the pillows and smirked.  “Hate to see you go, but love to watch your ass as you leave.”

“Pretty sure that’s not how it goes,” Steve said.  He took a long, hot shower, then wrapped a towel around his waist and went back into the bedroom.

Tony was true to his word; he was curled up on his side, his freckled and scarred back visible above the white sheet pulled up to his waist.  There was an obvious space left next to him on the bed, and Steve hesitated, listening to the soft in and out of Tony’s breath, before he pulled on his clothes and headed for the door.  

-

Steve was repainting the living room the next day when somebody knocked on the door.


Steve looked out the peephole and pulled the door open, a paintbrush dangling from his other hand.  “How did you find - ”

“Come on, you thought I didn’t know you got a place?  Not that I’m stalking you or anything, that would be weird, anyway, this is nice,” Tony said, stepping in and glancing around the room, with its dirty dropcloths and half-painted wall and the fan blowing in the window.  “Very hipster.”

“Uh, thanks, I think,” Steve said, dropping his brush into the paint can and wiping his hands on his shirt.  “Do you need something?  I’m kinda busy.”

“Just wanted to see why you didn’t stay for breakfast,” Tony said, opening a cabinet door in the kitchen and then closing it.

Steve rubbed the back of his neck.  “I didn’t think it was that kind of thing.”

“Ah,” Tony said, leaning against the counter.  “So what kind of thing did you think it was?”

Steve shrugged.  “Just a, you know.  A one time thing.  I know how it goes, friends help each other out sometimes, and - ”

And suddenly Tony was right in front of him, crowding him up against the wall.  “That’s too bad.  Really too bad, because I had a good time last night.”

“I did too,” Steve said, swallowing.  

“And I mean, it’s hard to find, a, you know, arrangement.”

“You think you have it bad?  Try being in your 90s,” Steve said dryly.  “It’s just - ”

“Look, Cap, you say the word at any time, we go right back to normal,” Tony said.  He ran a hand up Steve’s arm, leaving a trail of gooseflesh in his wake; Steve suppressed a shudder.  “Seriously.  But this?”  Tony leaned in and kissed him, just a brush of lips, and Steve’s stomach flipped over.  “This is too good to quit after just once.”

And then they were on the ratty sofa, kicking off shoes and ripping off paint-spattered t-shirts, their skin sticking together in the heat.  “This couch is hideous,” Tony muttered as he pushed Steve’s sweats out of the way.  “Seriously, did you get this for free?  Maybe I’ll get you a new one as a housewarming present.”

“I like this couch,” Steve laughed, nipping at Tony’s neck in retaliation.  He slipped his hand through Tony’s boxers and wrapped his hand around Tony’s cock.  “If my couch isn’t good enough for you, you can leave any time.”

“And miss the chance to bend you over the back of it?” Tony said, arching his back.  “I don’t think so.”

“That’s what I thought,” Steve said.  

-

“Somebody saw him,” Sam said, and Steve jumped.

“What?” he said.  He tore his eyes away from where Tony was sparring with Natasha across the gym.  “How?  At my place?  What do you mean?”

Sam raised an eyebrow and finished wrapping his hand.  “What do you mean?  I’m talking about Barnes.”

Steve sagged.  “Oh.  Right.”

Sam glanced over at Tony and Natasha, then looked back at Steve, nonplussed.  “So, do you want hear about it?”

“What?  Of course.  Where was he?”

“Soup kitchen on East 2nd,” Sam said.  “Guy I know who volunteers there sometimes saw a guy matching Barnes’ description there on Saturday.  Said he self-identified as a vet, but wouldn’t say of what.”

“So he could be anywhere by now,” Steve said, shoving his hands angrily into his gloves.  

“Not anywhere,” Sam said.  “That’s the third sighting in New York in a month.  You know what?  I think he wants to be found.  Come on, I feel like punching some stuff.”

Steve grinned.  He felt like punching stuff too.

The gym had cleared out by the time Steve and Sam finished boxing, and as Sam headed for the showers, Steve ducked back into the hallway to find Tony leaning by the door, casually thumbing through his phone.  Steve’s stomach flipped over.

“Hey,” he said.

“Oh, hey,” Tony said, like he hadn’t been waiting for him.  “Good workout?”

“Sure,” Steve said.  “Wasn’t expecting you today.  Team meeting’s not til next week.”

Tony shrugged.  “Thought I’d stop by.  Just because I’m half-retired doesn’t mean I can’t keep in shape.”

“You’re maybe an eighth retired.  A quarter, tops.”

“It’s a slow transition.  You trying to push me out the door?  Don’t worry, Simba, one day everything the light touches will be yours.”

Steve rolled his eyes as he led them down the hall toward the mess and team quarters.  “So that’s the only reason you stopped by?  Team spirit?”

“That, and I couldn’t stop thinking about your ass.”

“Oh,” Steve said lamely, as Tony grabbed his sweaty t-shirt and dragged him down. “Wait - not here - anybody could - ”

“What are they gonna say?” Tony said, pressing his hips against Steve’s as he kissed a wet trail up his neck.  “We run this place, Cap.”

“Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t practice some discretion,” Steve said.

“Discretion, huh?” Tony said.  He worried Steve’s earlobe between his teeth.  “You sure you don’t want me to just turn you around and fuck you right here?”

Steve’s hips stuttered forward against his will, and he swallowed hard.  “No.  I want you to come back to my room and fuck me there.”

Tony pulled back, smirking.  “Lead the way, Captain.”

-

The apartment in Brooklyn was really coming together.

Natasha took Steve to a flea market in Williamsburg and made him buy an old lamp and an area rug he didn’t think he needed, and Sam replaced the faucet in the bathroom so it didn’t leak, and when the new mattress Steve had ordered finally showed up Tony insisted on coming over and breaking it in and they spent the whole afternoon in bed, the air conditioner rattling in the corner.  Steve started spending more of his time away from HQ getting reaquainted with Brooklyn, ducking into bodegas and hunting down old pizzerias and trying to ignore the Urban Outfitters and, more and more often, finishing up the night at Stark Tower.

“Have you been to Paris?” Tony said.

Steve pinned the phone to his ear with his shoulder and picked up his screwdriver.   “What?”

“Paris.  Have you been?  And World War II doesn’t count.”

Steve chuckled.  “No.  Why, what’s going on?”

“I have a work thing there tomorrow, big presentation to the board, and I’m leaving in, like, three hours.  Wanna come?”

“To your presentation?”

“No,” Tony said.  “To Paris.  Things are pretty quiet right now, so America can probably survive without your presence for the weekend.  It was just an idea, I don’t know, I thought you could use a vacation.”

Steve gave up on the bookshelf and leaned against the back of the sofa.  “We just went to the Hamptons two months ago.”

“That doesn’t count,” Tony said.  “The Hamptons are the worst, I’m selling that place before next summer.  Look, if you want to come, just meet me at my airstrip at 8.  It’ll be fun.  Pack something nice, none of your old man pants.”

“I don’t wear old man pants,” Steve argued.  “Anymore.”

“Uh huh.  See you soon, mon capitaine.”

Paris was sweaty and crowded and beautiful, and Steve would have spent the whole day sketching at the Orsay if Tony hadn’t texted him a bunch of times from a restaurant that was apparently in the Eiffel Tower.  They watched the sun set over a bottle of wine at a corner table in the suspiciously empty restaurant, and then Tony dragged him back to their suite and pressed him down on the bed and kissed him until he was panting for breath.  

When Steve reached for Tony’s belt, Tony stilled his hand and said, “Ah ah ah, not just yet.  You first.”

“Me?”

“No, the other guy in the room, what the hell, yes you.  I want to watch you.”  

Steve raised an eyebrow.  “Watch?”

“Yeah, I want to watch you undress.  Believe me, if you’d ever seen yourself undress, you’d understand.”  Tony leaned back against the headboard and waved at the middle of the room.  “Now, I know we really do have all night, but that’s no reason to make me wait.”

“Asshole,” Steve murmured, climbing off the bed and unbuttoning his shirt.  “I hope you’re not expecting this to be sexy.”

“Uh, I am, and it is,” Tony said.  Steve rolled his eyes and let his shirt drop off his arms, then reached up and pulled off his undershirt, feeling Tony’s eyes on him as he exposed first his stomach, then his chest, then his shoulders.  Steve toed his shoes and socks off, then reached for his belt as Tony reached into his pants, palming himself lazily, and Steve felt his cock twitch in response.  His slacks pooled at his feet and he slid his thumbs under the waistband of his briefs.


“Maybe I should make you wait all night,” he said, arching an eyebrow.

“Mmm, you could,” Tony said.  “But I don’t think you want to.”

Steve swallowed hard and pushed his briefs down, his cock popping free, hardening quickly under Tony’s gaze.  

“Touch yourself,” Tony said, and Steve opened his mouth to argue but found he had nothing to say, and took himself in hand.  “Mmmhmm.  Like that.  Faster.  Get yourself nice and hard.”

“Tony,” Steve said, half complaint and half moan.  He felt raw, on display, a hot rush of mingled fear and arousal in his stomach.

“C’mere,” Tony said, and Steve crawled gratefully across the bed.  Tony straddled him, his mouth quirked in a grin under Steve’s lips.

“You like this?” Tony said.  “Doing what I tell you?”

Instead of answering, because he couldn’t, Steve just grabbed his tie and pulled him down, kissed him hard and wet, his tongue telling the whole story.

“That’s what I thought.”  Tony pinned his wrists to the mattress and sucked a mark into his neck, a mark Steve knew would be gone before morning.  “Keep your hands here,” Tony breathed into his ear, and Steve gripped the headboard and arched his back, desperate for contact, but Tony just pulled back, crouched between Steve’s legs and stroked his own cock slowly.  “Is this what you want?”

“Tony,” Steve said.  

“You’re gonna have to say please,” Tony said, smirking down at Steve and making quick work of his own clothes, leaving them in a pile on the floor and taking himself in hand again.

“You’re going to be waiting a long time,” Steve said.

“Maybe.”  Tony leaned forward until his cock jutted out in front of Steve’s face, the head glistening with precome.  “Maybe not.”  He stroked himself faster now, just out of Steve’s reach.  “I know you want me in your mouth.  You just have to ask.”

Steve kept his lips clamped together.

“Playing hard to get, huh?” Tony said.  “Okay, I can work with that.”  He reached down and toyed with Steve’s nipple until Steve arched his back, and then he switched to the other, the sensation sending an ache directly to Steve’s balls.  “Come on, baby.  Don’t you want to suck my cock?”

Steve groaned softly, clenching the headboard.  He could so easily push himself up, take his hands off the headboard, shove Tony away - hell, he could just say stop and Tony would kiss him again and whisper whatever you want and never do it again, but that was the thing: this was whatever he wanted.  And somehow Tony knew it.  Somehow Steve didn’t even have to say.

“You want my cock,” Tony said, his voice dropping lower and the tip of his cock pressing against Steve’s wet lips.  “You love taking it.  God, I just want to fuck that mouth of yours.  You’ll beg me for it eventually, and you know how I know that?  It’s because I know you, Steve.  I know you want to do whatever I tell you to do.  I know you want to beg for it - ”  

And apparently Tony was right because Steve found himself blurting out, “Please, Tony,” his hands gripping the headboard so hard that he thought he heard a crack, and then Tony was grinning and easing forward, guiding his dick between Steve’s lips and sliding in.  Steve groaned in relief around his cock and Tony brushed Steve’s hair out of his eyes, his fingers light, almost caressing.

“That’s right, baby, just like that,” he said, the slow slide of his cock torturous on Steve’s tongue.  “Now touch yourself, I want you to come while I fuck your mouth.”

Steve obeyed, taking himself in hand and stroking hard, his cock oversensitive in the cool air, his balls tightening at the feel of Tony’s cock filling his mouth, Tony’s hands gripping his hair as the tip of his cock hit the back of Steve’s throat over and over.  “God, I love how you look with my dick in your mouth.  You’re gonna look so good with my come dripping down your chin, so fucking gorgeous - ”

And Steve groaned as he fisted his own cock and came, hot white spurts splattering across his stomach, and Tony, that son of a bitch, Tony laughed and he thrusted once, twice, three times more, then pulled back and came on Steve’s face.  Steve shook through an aftershock he didn’t know was coming as he licked his lips and tasted Tony on his tongue.

Tony leaned down and kissed him, a soft swipe of lips.  “You okay?” Tony asked, brushing Steve’s hair out of his face and cupping his cheek.  

“Fuck,” Steve said breathlessly.  

Tony chuckled; he grabbed a towel and gently cleaned them both up as Steve lay back and tried to remember how to breathe.  Tony was gentle, almost reverent, pressing kisses to the inside of Steve’s thigh, along his ribs, right below his ear.  “You have no idea,” he murmured into Steve’s neck, “how gorgeous you are when you let go,” and before long he slung an arm over Steve’s chest and fell asleep.

And Steve realized he didn’t want to leave, didn’t want to extract himself and find his clothes and sneak out, he just wanted to stay, and stay, and stay.

-

That’s where it started.

-

This is where it ended.

-

On a steamy Friday night in August, Sam got a tip from one of his friends from the VA, and Steve broke a dozen traffic laws on his way through the city, wondering what he’d find, if he’d find anything at all.  What he found was Bucky, smelling of piss and greasy diner food, curled up in an alley in Queens with a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes and a too-large sweatshirt hiding his silver arm.  Steve approached him like he was a cat, liable to pounce or, worse, run, and with as steady a voice as he could manage, he said, “Buck?  Buck, it’s me.  It’s Steve.”

Bucky looked at him and looked at him and apparently found what he was looking for, because he said, “Stevie?” like he hadn’t since they were kids, and Steve swallowed hard and crouched down next to him and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.

“Want a smoke?” he said, and Bucky took a cigarette out of the box and lit it.  They sat in silence while he smoked.

“I can’t figure it out, Steve,” Bucky said finally as the cigarette burned down.  “I can’t understand any of it.  I don’t want them to find me, I don’t want them to - ”

“I know,” Steve said.  “I know.”  He wanted to sling his arm around Bucky’s shoulder, wanted to take him home to the ratty couch in Brooklyn, wanted to tell him everything that had happened since he’d woken up in this New York that wasn’t his at all, wasn’t theirs, but then Bucky stood up and dropped the cigarette butt on the ground.

“I gotta go,” he said, his voice rough.  “If they see me with you, they’ll - I gotta go.”

Steve scrambled to his feet and handed him a burner phone and all the cash he had in his wallet.  “Call me, Buck.  Anytime.  We’ll - we’ll figure this out, okay?”

Bucky looked down at the phone, then back up at Steve.  “Sure, kid.  Whatever you say.”  And then he was gone, his hands shoved in his pockets and his head bowed, and Steve thought about following but he didn’t know what he would say, so he got on his bike and went back to Brooklyn and laid in bed until the sun came up.

-

“You seem tense,” Tony said, frowning down at him.    

“I’m fine.”  Steve pulled him down to the cot impatiently and caught his lips in a rough kiss.

“Are you sure?” Tony said.  “Because I’m, like, the least emotionally aware person in the world, I think that’s how Pepper put it, but even I can tell that something’s up with you.  Spit it out, Captain Crankypants.”

“I said I’m fine,” Steve snapped, nipping a little too hard at Tony’s collarbone.

“Uh huh, that bite mark I’m gonna have for the next week says otherwise.  You’re stressed out about something.”

“I’m mostly stressed out about how Fury will be here in ten minutes and you’re still not naked,” Steve sidestepped.

“Can we not talk about Nick Fury in bed?”  Tony stripped off his shirt and threw it on the floor of Steve’s tiny standard-issue room at HQ.  “I feel like that should be a rule, no talking about Nick Fury in bed.”

“How about just no talking at all?” Steve suggested, kicking off his jeans and briefs.  “That’s asking a lot of you, I know.”

“Too much,” Tony said, his hands trailing down Steve’s ribcage to his bare hips and then his cock, already leaking against his thigh.  “And anyway, you know you like it when I talk.  Of course, at the moment, I think we’d both prefer if my mouth was otherwise occupied.  I’m only gonna have a few minutes to make you come.”

“Then you better get started,” Steve said, and they were late to their meeting with Fury, and Steve had a feeling Fury knew exactly why but chose, for everyone’s sake, not to mention it.

-

Steve didn’t expect Bucky to call, so when the phone rang at 4 in the morning he just stared down at it blankly as it went to voicemail.

“Whozzit?” Tony mumbled from behind him, but Steve was already jumping out of bed, reaching blindly for his pants and his shoes.  “Cap?  We assembling?”

“No,” Steve said.  “Go back to sleep.  I just have to deal with something.”

“In the middle of the night?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Steve said, pulling on his t-shirt and heading for the door.  “I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

“Uh, sure,” Tony said, but Steve was already closing the door behind him.

“Buck?” he said as soon as he was on the street.  “Where can I meet you?”

-

“It comes and goes,” Bucky said from across the diner booth, staring down at his coffee.  They were in the Bronx, and Bucky was checking his quadrants every thirty seconds; Steve had had to let him sit with his back to the corner before he’d start talking.  

“Yeah?” Steve said.

“Yeah.”  Bucky took a sip of coffee; Steve had ordered him a plate of sausage and runny eggs, but he hadn’t touched it yet.  “Sometimes I remember, you know, before.  The war.  The guys.  You.”

Steve glanced around; the lone waitress was cleaning the coffee machine across the diner.  “And what about HYDRA?”

Bucky shrugged.  “That, too.  But that - that thing they use on me, on my brain - it fucked me up.  I don’t know how it works, but it does something to me.”

“I know,” Steve said.  

“I don’t know how to keep it all in my head, you know?  It’s like one second it’s there, all of it, and I know who I am, and what I’m doing, and what they did to me.  I know how many people I’ve killed.”

“That wasn’t you, Bucky,” Steve said.  

“Yeah, it was,” Bucky said flatly.  He picked up his fork, broke open the egg yolk and watched it flow over the hash browns.  “But then the next thing I know, it’s gone.  I’ll wake up in a shelter, or under a bridge, and I’ll have no fucking clue what’s going on.  I tried to go home a few weeks ago, you know, my mom and pop’s place, next to the expressway - ”

“I remember.”

“And I got there and it just - it all came back.”  Bucky stared out the window of the diner, the headlights from a passing car reflecting in his eyes.  “But even when I remember, I don’t know what to do about it.”

“You did this time,” Steve said.  “You called me.  Look, I have a place you can stay.  It’s in Brooklyn, not too far from - ”

“Don’t tell me anything,” Bucky interrupted, slamming the fork down.  “Don’t say another fucking word.  I don’t want to know anything.  If they get to me, they’ll use me to find you.”

“HYDRA’s getting weaker,” Steve said.  “And if they want to get to you, they’ll have to get through me.”

“Don’t count them out,” Bucky said darkly.  He looked over Steve’s head; the bell tinkled as somebody walked in the door.  “They’ve got people everywhere.”

“And I’ll find all of them,” Steve said.  “Just think about it, Buck.  The couch has your name on it. It’ll be just like the old days.”

“Sure, Steve.  The old days.  75 years ago.”  Bucky picked up his cup of coffee and drained it.  “I should go.  I’ll call you again when I can, okay?”

“Bucky, wait,” Steve said, but Bucky was already out the door, the bell jingling behind him.

-

Tony showed up drunk at Steve’s door three nights later, his bow tie hanging loosely around his neck and Scotch radiating off him in waves.

“Where were you tonight?” Steve asked, closing the door behind him before any of the neighbors noticed Tony Stark wandering around drunkenly in their building and sent in a tip to Gawker.

“Launch party for my new phone.”  Tony flopped down on the previously-hated sofa.  “Did you know I made a new phone?”

“No,” Steve said.  “I still have the old one.”

“I’ll have one sent to you,” Tony said.  “You ran off the other night.”

“What?” Steve paused in the act of filling a glass of water.  

“In the middle of the night.”  Tony tried to balance his chin on his fist and missed; he blinked and got it right the second time.  “Phone rang, you bolted.  I didn’t even get a goodbye kiss.”

Steve smiled above Tony’s head as he handed him the water.  “Something came up with a friend.  Was the party fun?”

“Pepper was there,” Tony said.  “With her new boyfriend.”

“That explains a lot.”

“He’s a congressman.  Ugh.”  Tony drank half the water and then crashed back down on the couch.  “I’m making a million dollar donation to his opponent next year.”

“That’s one way of dealing with it,” Steve said, settling down on the sofa at Tony’s feet.  

“I could also have him assassinated.”

“I’m gonna have to put in a no vote there.”

“You don’t own me.”  Tony pushed himself upright and drooped forward, wrapping a hand around the back of Steve’s neck.  “Wanna make out?”

“Do you want to make out because you want to make out, or because you’re mad about Pepper’s new boyfriend?” Steve said, arching an eyebrow.

“Both,” Tony said firmly.

“Yeah, okay,” Steve said, and closed the gap between them.  Tony kissed him enthusiastically, crawling into Steve’s lap and cupping his face with both hands, and Steve laughed against his lips.

“What’re you laughing at?” Tony said.  “Hey, how big a building can you jump off? I mean, how far can you fall before you start breaking your legs?”

“Uh,” Steve said, so used to following Tony’s train of thought as it jumped the tracks that he barely blinked, “I’ve never really thought about it that way.  Pretty far, I guess.  Depends on if I’m doing it on purpose or just falling, and if I can land on the shield or not.”  

“We should do some tests,” Tony said, mouthing down his neck.  “Get you on top of some buildings, see how it goes.”

“You know, that doesn’t sound very much fun.”

“No, no, it’s important.  I’m working on a new suit - ”

“The invisible one?”

“Nah, hit a snag on invisibility, this is another new suit, and I’m thinking about putting a tiny parachute in the back of it.”

“A parachute.”

“Yeah, a kevlar super-parachute that will detect if you fall from higher than your max dropping distance, that’s a measurement I made up just for you, by the way, but it’ll deploy automatically, you know, in case I’m ever not there to catch you,” Tony said, burying his neck in Steve’s neck.  “Cool, right?”

“Sure,” Steve said.  “Cool.”

“I’m gonna rest my eyes,” Tony slurred.  “Just for a sec.”

“Uh huh,” Steve said, and soon Tony’s breathing got slow and steady, and Steve carried him into the bedroom and put the rest of the water on the bedside table and curled up next to him, their shared heat pooling in the sheets as the air conditioner rattled in the corner.

-

“Are you happy?”

Steve swallowed a gulp of soda.  “Whaddya mean?”

Bucky took the Coke out of his hands and slurped on the straw thoughtfully; he’d already finished his own.  “Here.  In the 21st century.  I mean, do you have friends?  You got a girl?”

“I have friends,” Steve said carefully.  “No girl.”

“No girl, lookin’ like that?  Not still hung up on Carter, I hope?”

Steve snatched his cup back with a sharp elbow to Bucky’s side.  “I do okay.”

“But are you happy?”

Steve leaned back and stared out at the waves.  It had rained in the afternoon, and the beach had cleared out; there was a storm off the coast sending a cool breeze toward New York.  “I don’t really think about it much.  I’m here.  It’s no use wondering if I’d be happier back in 1944.”  He held out the pop.  “You want the rest?”  

“Nah,” Bucky said.  “You oughta try to be happy, Steve.  You never did anything for yourself before.  Hey, you got any cigarettes?”

Steve pulled out the pack he kept for their meetings.  “These things are terrible for you, you know.  They proved it.”

“Haven’t killed me yet,” Bucky said around the cigarette, and he grinned, and through the greasy hair and the sunken eyes Steve saw Bucky again, standing outside a bar with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, his hair slicked back and a spark in his eyes.  

And if every single thing had been different, if they’d have lived out their lives at a normal pace, married nice girls and had families and grown old across town from each other - well, it still never woulda been exactly what Steve had wanted it to be once upon a time.  Steve realized all at once that he was more okay with that than he’d ever been.  

He elbowed Bucky again and looked out at the waves and grinned, the scent of smoke floating away on the cool ocean breeze.

-

“He seems like he’s doing better,” Steve said, throwing his shield in Sam’s direction; Sam shot straight up, his new rocket launchers propelling him toward the rafters.  The shield clanged off the roof, and Steve caught it and spun low to the ground as Falcon shot rubber bullets at him.

“Yeah?” Sam said, swooping down and hovering a few feet above Steve.  “How much better?  Did I get you?”


“Not even close,” Steve said, holding up his shield and sprinting away as Sam reloaded his shoulder cannons.  “He’s remembering more.  Talking about the old days.  And about HYDRA.”

“What’s left of it,” Sam said.  “So you planning to read Stark into this?”

“Tony?” Steve said.  “No.  Why do you ask?”

“You two have seemed close lately.  I thought maybe you were thinking about bringing him into the fold.”

“I’m not,” Steve said shortly.  “You ready for another round?”

“Always,” Sam said, launching into the air.  “And this time imma get you.  It might not be such a bad idea, you know.  Stark’s a genius, he might have some ideas, and - ”

“I’m not bringing him in,” Steve said.  “I don’t want anybody else getting hurt.”

“Yeah, you’ll take all the hurt yourself,” Sam said.  “Just think about it.  You’re strong, but you’re not invincible.  Stark’s suit is, just about.  He could come in handy.”

“If things keep going as well as they have been with Bucky, we aren’t going to need a suit.  And we definitely aren’t going to need Tony.”  Steve spun around and launched his shield toward Sam; Sam drew his wings in and dropped straight down, and the shield ricocheted off the wall as Sam slammed into the padded floor.

“You could warn a guy!” Sam yelled, getting to his feet and adjusting his wings.

-

The next time Steve saw Bucky, Bucky threw him through a brick wall.

-

“Ibuprofen doesn’t work on you, I’m guessing,” Sam said darkly, holding an ice pack to Steve’s swollen eye.

“I think the doctors said that my metabolism processes it in in about 1.7 seconds,” Steve said around a cut lip.

“Guess nobody’s perfect.  What are you gonna tell people?”

“You think anybody’ll believe I walked into a door?” Steve said.  

“I think they’ll believe that a door tried to kill you,” Sam said.  

“I’ll come up with something.”  Steve took the ice pack from Sam’s hand and leaned back.  “Listen, thank you for - ”

“Don’t thank me,” Sam said, crossing his arms.  “Just try not to make this whole getting beat thing a habit, okay?  We don’t want everybody thinking they can get one up on Captain America.”  He pushed aside the books on the coffee table and dug into the couch cushion.  “Where’s your remote?  I’m missing the game.  And no, don’t even say I can go watch it at home, I ain’t going anywhere.”

Steve settled back against the couch and focused on the burn of the ice on his cheek and and pulsing of the blood in his head, and the next day they went back to base and Natasha wiped the security cameras while Sam performed a small, contained explosion in the training room.  When the smoke cleared, Steve refused medical treatment and retreated to his quarters until the bruises on his throat faded enough that you couldn’t tell that they had been fingerprints in the first place.

-

Busy, Steve told Tony the next time he texted.  

I can be quick ;), Tony wrote back.  See you at the meeting tomorrow, and maybe after?  

Steve steeled himself and showed up early, knowing Tony would show up late, and by the time Tony waltzed with his nose in his phone, Fury and Natasha were elbow deep in an analysis of a potential HYDRA bunker in Taiwan and everybody ignored Tony until he blurted out, “What the fuck happened to your face?”

They all turned to look at him.  Steve narrowed his eyes.  “You got the brief about the accident in training, didn’t you?”


“Uh, I got a brief about a minor explosion, not a herd of elephants,” Tony said.  “Jesus.  Are you okay?”

“While I appreciate the unusual show of emotion from your cold dead heart, Stark, can we get back to business?” Fury snapped.

“No,” Tony said.  “No, we can’t, look, can I get a minute with Steve?”

Fury opened his mouth.  “Stark - ”

“Sure,” Natasha said smoothly.  “We’ll finish this after lunch.  Nick?”

“Right,” Fury said as he followed Natasha out, his eye glaring darkly from Tony to Steve.

Tony leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms, his eyes locked on Steve’s.

“Were you ever planning to tell me what actually happened?”

Steve swallowed.  “I told you, Sam’s suit malfunctioned and - ”

“And I know you’re lying,” Tony said.  “Falcon’s suit will have some minor damage if I check it out, I’m sure, nothing we can’t fix.  Clearly, Romanov and Fury are in on it too, they wouldn’t have bought that bullshit excuse, which means the only person you’re hiding it from is me.”

“Tony - ”

“You weren’t going to tell me,” Tony said, shaking his head.  “You weren’t going to tell me you lost a fight to the Winter Soldier.”

Steve narrowed his eyes.  “How do you know about him?”

Tony laughed, the sound harsh.  “Come on, Cap.  I have my sources.  Not as good as yours, clearly, but good enough.  The Winter Soldier’s been a myth for most of my life, but combine last year’s confirmed sighting with your Picasso of a face today and it turns out one of the theories is true.  He’s James Barnes.”

“I’ve been trying to bring him in,” Steve said.  “There was a - setback.”

“A setback, huh,” Tony said.  He stood up slowly and crossed the room, his eyes never leaving Steve’s face.  Steve pressed his lips together as Tony reached out and cupped his cheek, his touch feather-light, and turned his head from side to side, inspecting the split lip, the black eye, the purpling bruises.  Steve wanted to turn his head to the side, brush his lips across the inside of Tony’s wrist.  “Looks more like he kicked your ass.”

Steve didn’t reply, and Tony released him, clasped his hands behind his back.  “So, considering you tried to lie to me even when it was clear I knew, you apparently aren’t interested in bringing me into this.  Am I right?”

“I’m dealing with it,” Steve said.

“This is dealing with it?”  Tony gestured to his face.  “I don’t see how this is dealing with it.  Maybe as a team we could be dealing with it, but this?  This is definitely - ”

“He’s not the team’s problem, and he’s not your problem,” Steve snapped.  “He’s my problem.”

“Right,” Tony said.  “You know, I’ve tried the lone ranger thing, I get not trusting anyone, I really do, but - ”

“And who am I supposed to trust?”  Steve’s voice was loud, louder than he’d meant it to be, and Tony blinked at him in surprise.  “The army?  Fury?  You?  You can’t help him.  You’ll try to see what makes him tick.  You’ll take him apart and forget how to put him back together.  Experiments are what did this to him, and what’s going to bring him back is me.”

Tony stared at him, and then nodded, just once.  “Okay.  I think I get it.  This is between you and Barnes.  And between you and me is - nothing.”

Steve furrowed his brow.  “What do you - ”

“No, it’s fine,” Tony said, holding his hands up.  “Hearing you loud and clear, Steve.  Fun while it lasted though, right?  I guess I’ll see you around.”

“Tony - ”

“Next week’s team meeting, maybe?” Tony said, already pulling out his phone, already a million miles away, already moving Steve into the “past” column.  “Catch you later.”

The door swung shut behind him.

-

Steve, to put it mildly, knew a little bit about missing people.

Tony walking away was different.  It was an ache, a thickness he couldn’t swallow around, guilt and fury and a pain that didn’t have a name sitting in his gut because Tony wasn’t gone, Tony was right there -

He just didn’t want to come back.

-

“Champagne, sir?”

Steve blinked at the white-vested waiter.  “No, thanks.  Doesn’t work on me.”

The waiter nodded politely and hurried away, and Steve scanned the crowd, looking for his team; they were all there, somewhere, in the black tie crowd.  The party was in their honor - well, Tony’s, really, he was the one who donated the new wing but he did it in the whole team’s name, he said, and so they all had to show up, Natasha muttering that her dress only held three knives and Sam sending goofy selfies to his mom and Steve watching Tony, Tony who wasn’t speaking to him, Tony who wasn’t even looking at him.

There was a laugh across the room, and Steve turned toward it automatically, because that was the kind of laugh that went up around Tony Stark.  There was a crowd - there was always a crowd - and Tony was right in the middle of it, his face lit up the way it did when he was spinning up a story.  And suddenly Steve’s tie was too tight, cutting off his breath like a hand with metal finger, because halfway across the room Tony was leaning in to whisper something to a blonde in a dress that left little to the imagination, brushing a lock of hair off her neck, and as the woman smiled and put her hand on Tony’s arm Steve heard a rushing in his ears, and he wanted to hit something, wanted to -

“Fuck him.”

Natasha and Sam were on either side of him, suddenly, Natasha’s arm hooked through his and Sam holding a plate of appetizers out like a peace offering.

“What?” Steve said through gritted teeth.

“I said fuck him,” Natasha repeated, taking a graceful sip of champagne.

“Seriously,” Sam said.  “He’s an asshole.  Want a really big olive?”

“I don’t know what you guys are talking about,” Steve said.

Sam turned to Natasha.  “He thinks we don’t know.”

“It’s actually kind of cute,” Natasha said.  She patted him on the arm.   “It’s okay.  We know.”

“No judgement, man,” Sam said.  “He’s a good looking guy.  A total dick, but still - ”  

“It’s not - it’s not like that,” Steve said.  “We aren’t - ”

“Save it, Rogers,” Natasha said.    

“You don’t have to explain,” Sam added.  “You can if you want to, but right now, we’re going to think he’s a dick no matter what.”

“It’s not that simple,” Steve said.  Across the room, Tony’s hand was at the woman’s hip, and he was whispering again, and Steve could imagine what he was saying - You’ll beg me for it eventually - and his stomach flipped over.  “I have to get out of here.”

“Steve,” Natasha said quietly, “wait.”

Steve kissed her on the cheek and pressed past her.  “I’ll see you guys later.”  He pushed his way through the crowd, nodding and smiling at the faces that lit up as he passed.  He finally found the front hall and pushed his way into the sticky night, the sounds of New York at night filling the vacuum in his ears.  

He took a deep, bracing breath at the top of the stairs and weighed his nonexistent options.  He had to go back in, he knew he did, had to mingle and pose for photos, and Tony would smile at him in front of the crowd and slip away with his hand on the small of someone else’s back as soon as he could, and Steve would watch, and there was nothing he could do about it.

“Needed some air?”

Steve snorted.  “Something like that.”

Tony stepped up next to him with his hands in his pockets.  “Me too.  Too many beautiful people in too small a space.”

“Right.”  

Steve waited for Tony’s opening salvo.  The chasm between Steve and everyone else in the world, the one Tony had started a tightrope walk across, widened.  

“Glad to see you’re, uh, all healed up.”

“Yeah, I guess the black eye wouldn’t have been a good look for the pictures at your big party,” Steve said icily.

“Not what I meant, but sure,” Tony said.  “No lasting damage, then?”

“Not that I’m aware.”  

“Look,” Tony said, and then paused.  “So, here’s the thing, and I want you to let me finish because then I’m going to walk away and leave you alone and not bring it up again.  You’re still my teammate, and I just - be careful, okay?  With Barnes.”

Steve glanced at Tony.  “I know what I’m doing.”

“No, I don’t think you do,” Tony said.  “He’s dangerous, Cap.  I get that, you know, he’s back from the dead and all, and you want to be with him and I’d never stand in the way of - ”

“What?” Steve said.  “Bucky and I - it was never like that with us - ”

“Come on, Steve,” Tony said.  “It’s 2015.  You don’t have to pretend.”

“Bucky was my best friend,” Steve said.  “And even if I - he wasn’t - it was never like that.  It’s not like that now.”  Steve narrowed his eyes.  “Is that what this is really about, Tony?  Is that why you’re acting like this?  Because you’re jealous?”

“I’m not jealous.”  

“No?” Steve said.  “Because it kind of sounds like - ”

“I’m fucking terrified,” Tony snapped, and Steve froze.   “It’s one thing if you want to fuck him, Steve, you can fuck whoever you want, but I’m afraid you’re going to let him kill you.”

“And what if I do?”  The words echoed through the museum’s marble columns before Steve realized he’d said them, but he couldn’t take them back and he wouldn’t even if he could.  “What do you want me to do, Tony?  Abandon him to HYDRA?  They’ll torture him until there’s nothing left.  I have to do anything I can to help him, to get him back.  He’s my best friend, and he’s all I have.  Everyone I love is dead, everyone - ”

“I’m not,” Tony said quietly.  “Not that you - look, you have me, Steve.  Even if you don’t want me.  Just - don’t forget that, okay?”

Steve opened his mouth to reply but couldn’t think of what to say, and Tony turned on his heel and went back inside and left Steve on the stairs of the Met, staring at his retreating back and letting himself think, just for a second: maybe.

-

“He went home alone, if you’re interested.”

“I’m not,” Steve said as he dumped the last of the spaghetti onto Sam’s plate.  

“Uh huh.  We gotta work on your ability to lie, Cap, that’s a serious weakness in the field.  You ever think maybe you and Tony should - and I know, it sounds crazy, but hear me out - you ever think you two should talk to each other before you jump to conclusions?”

“Hadn’t considered it,” Steve said dryly.  

“He’s worried about you, man.  And he’s not the only one, but he is the only one who’s in love with you, so he’s probably handling it the worst.”

“He’s not in - look, he’s just pissed because I left him out of what’s going on with Bucky,” Steve said.  

“If you believe that, you’re a hell of a lot dumber than you look.  Listen, I can’t pretend to understand what’s going on between you two.  In fact, I’m pretty sure even you can’t pretend to understand what’s going on between you two.  All I know is that since you started up whatever it is, you’ve been - I dunno, happy.”  Sam shook his head and stuffed his last bite into his mouth.  “And I’m no mind reader, but right now?  I’m pretty sure you’re not.  Just think about it, man.  That’s all I’m saying.”

“Sure,” Steve said.  “I’ll think about it.”

“All right.  I hate to eat and run, but I’ve got a date,” Sam said, dropping his plate into the sink.

Steve raised his eyebrows.  “A date?”

“Yeah, a date.  That thing normal people do?  Come on, I know you’ve heard of Tinder.”

“What kind of date starts at - ” Steve checked his watch - “10 o’clock at night?”

“The good kind.”  Sam grinned and saluted.  “Don’t stay up too late, Gramps.”

After Sam was gone, Steve pulled on his sneakers and jogged down the stairs into the cool September night.  The humidity had broken and fall was on its way, and the streets were still busy but he ran outside anyway, trying to memorize the new way the blocks fell together on the way to Coney Island.  The amusement park had closed at dusk, but all the lights were still on, the boardwalk still full of people.  

Steve caught his breath at the shore, and he was about to turn around and head home when he heard someone coming up behind him.  There was only one person who could sneak up on him like that.

He held his breath.

“Steve.”

Steve looked around casually; the nearest civilians were a hundred yards away.  He’d direct the fight toward the beach, there wouldn’t be anyone on the sand at this time of night -

“Steve.  It’s me.”

“I know,” Steve said, turning around to face Bucky.  His face was drawn, miserable, his cap pulled down over his eyes.  

“They got to me, Steve, I couldn’t - ”

“I know, Buck,” Steve said, still tense, still preparing for the first strike.  “There wasn’t anything you could do.  I know.”

“I can’t see you anymore,” Bucky said.  “I gotta get out of here.  They know I’m talking to you, and they can still get into my head, they can still use me to kill you.”

“They’ll try,” Steve agreed.  “Bucky, listen.  I can’t help you.”

Bucky’s face hardened.  “I - I know, I’m not asking - ”

“I mean, I can’t help you alone,” Steve said.  “But I have friends.  Powerful friends.  I think we’ll be able to help you together.”

“Powerful friends, huh?” Bucky said.  “Yeah, I’ve seen you guys on CNN.”

“They never get my good side,” Steve said.  “Hey, you want a hot dog?”

“What I want is a cigarette.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Steve said.

Steve let himself back into his apartment after midnight, a promise extracted from Bucky that he’d keep his head down until Steve figured a few things out, his feet the good kind of sore from gripping the pavement.  He picked up his phone, then put it down, glancing at his watch, then picked it up again.  

“Tony,” he said when Tony picked up on the first ring.  “I need to see you.”

-

“Mr. Stark wasn’t expecting you to return any time soon,” Friday said as the elevator soared up to the top of the tower.

“Did he say that?”

“He implied.”

“So he doesn’t want to see me?”

Friday seemed to consider this.  “I wouldn’t say that, Captain.”

Steve pressed his lips together as the doors slid open.  Tony was in the hall, trying to look like he wasn’t waiting, his fingers flying over a tablet.

“Kind of late for you to be up.  Bingo run late?”  Tony set down his tablet and picked up his drink.  “What do you need?  I don’t have anything new for you to test, the invisibility is still in the works, there was a small explosion, very small, fire suppression systems took care of it but it turns out the semiconductors weren’t venting the suit’s heat build-up quite enough, I’m close, but - ”

“It’s not about that,” Steve said, and Tony took a sip of scotch, the ice rattling in the glass.  “I need your help.”

Tony looked over his shoulder.  “With what?”

“With Bucky,” Steve said.

Tony’s grip on his glass tightened.  “Oh.  That.”

“Yeah,” Steve said.  “I, uh - I should’ve asked you before.”

Tony shrugged, setting his glass down.  “You don’t have to explain.  I get it.”

“I don’t think you do.  Look, I - he’s dangerous, Tony.  And I didn’t want anyone else getting hurt.”  Steve took a deep breath.  “I didn’t want you getting hurt.”

Tony turned around.  “You’re not the only one who wants to protect people, you know.  You don’t have to take on every battle by yourself.”

“Yeah,” Steve said.  “I know.  So…”

“So,” Tony said.  “Guess we’d better get started.”

-

“I have some ideas,” Tony said, pulling back and tugging on Steve’s t-shirt.  “I mean, I always have ideas, I have a ton of ideas, but these are the good ones - ”

“Are you actually admitting that you’ve ever had a bad idea?” Steve said, pulling his head free of the shirt.  

“Hell no,” Tony said, leaning down and kissing Steve once, hurriedly, the way he did when he needed his mouth for more important things, like talking.  “I already have a microscopic GPS system that won’t show up on any scanners and can track his location to within three feet anywhere in the world.  I told the government it was impossible.  So we’ll set him up with one of those, and that way if HYDRA gets their hands on him we’ll track him down and, hey, new HYDRA hideout to blow up.”

“Nat will appreciate that,” Steve said, working Tony’s jeans over his hips.  “She’s been bored lately.”

“But we can also take steps to ensure they don’t find him again, I’m talking setting up a bolt hole so secure even you won’t be able to find it, and while we’re at it, we can start working on deprogramming whatever they did to his brain which, look, bio is Bruce’s thing, but I’m serviceable, at least until Banner gets his ass back here, I’ve already got Friday running scans on all known brainwashing tech so we can start matching up - ah - shit, Steve - ”

“Sorry,” Steve said.  “You were still talking.  Continue.”

“It can wait,” Tony said, and kissed him again, unhurriedly this time, his lips a question that Steve thought he finally knew the answer to, and they’d told him Tony Stark was dangerous, but Steve Rogers had never loved anything that wasn’t dangerous, so really, it’s all relative.

It’s amazing, the hole somebody can leave in your life when they weren’t even supposed to be there in the first place.

Steve hadn’t thought he could ever miss anybody like he missed the people he’d already lost - Bucky, and Peggy, and all the rest of the Howling Commandos, everybody he’d ever known.