"The fairer sex can be fierce on a battlefield, my friend," Thor laughed. "Our sister Natasha is the equal of any man I know."
"Don't think I don't know that," said Tony, and Natasha smiled brightly. "Scares the crap out of me."
"She reminds me of the Lady Sif, from my realm. Though somewhat smaller."
"That's part of it, to be honest," said Tony. "I don't mind some large Amazon named Brunhilda squeezing the life out of me with her strong muscled thighs, but all these little girls SHIELD has, it's like they have a Waif-Fu Academy or something..."
Clint laughed, long and loud. "It takes some getting used to. Lemme tell you, though, you have not lived until you've had a pair of those strong thighs around you in a more, um, personal way."
"Ooh, we are gonna have to compare notes on that," said Tony. He glanced down at Natasha. "And I mean, the fairer sex and all that, I know many of you are capable of kicking our asses to hell and back, I just want to know how SHIELD gets so many of you in one place."
"They order us in bulk," she said.
"Mail-order ninja brides? Come to think of it, the instructor was what, Thai? Filipino? And then there's you, Russian, and the one who sent me flying through the backdrop was Argentinian..."
"How do you know that?" asked Steve.
"I believe the Man of Iron was attempting to acquire a bedmate during break-time," said Thor.
"I think maybe we're on to something, though," said Tony. "Tasha, are you saying our American girls aren't grown as tough as you outside varieties?"
"Not sure I said anything like that," said Natasha. "And don't let Maria Hill hear you saying anything like it either."
"Not if you like the location of your balls," said Clint.
"I'm curious, now. Where was your girl from, Steve? England?"
"Love of your life, Agent Carter. She was from England, wasn't she? Pretty feisty, from what my dad said. Didn't she shoot you once?"
Steve's lips pressed together. "Yeah. England." He increased his stride until he was ahead of the others, who had slowed down, heading down the hallway for the change room. The silence in the corridor was sudden and baleful.
"What? What did I say?" said Tony, baffled, stopping and looking around at his team-mates.
"Tony," said Bruce quietly. "Try to remember, to you Cap's old life was seventy years ago. To him, it's not even one."
"Not sure that's quite long enough to just laugh off a 'love of your life' comment," Clint pointed out helpfully.
Tony's lips pressed together. Damn.
"An apology might be in order," said Natasha as she headed for the women's change room.
"Ya think?" Clint snorted. He gave Tony a sympathetic grimace. "Tony, it's not that you aren't a nice guy. It's more like you can't help being an asshole sometimes."
"Thanks, Legolas. Appreciate it."
"Hey, we assholes owe each other professional courtesy to point shit like this out."
They entered the men's change rooms, and Tony made his way to the locker where he'd left his clothes. He looked up as Steve came back from the shower, a towel around his hips, skin pink and steaming, rubbing another towel over his hair. Tony approached him cautiously, and Thor, Clint and Bruce headed off for the showers.
"Wow, king of the military two-minute shower," he said awkwardly, taking off his damp t-shirt. Steve glanced at him and took his clothes out of his own locker. The guy really had ridiculously well-defined pecs and abs, thought Tony irrelevantly.
"Look, I'm sorry, that was kinda..." He cleared his throat. "I'm, uh, ask Pepper how crappy I am at this, but I'm sorry I was kinda crass about your girl. We tend to forget that you - I mean, I tend to forget. It's... uh, yeah, sorry."
Steve's eyes were shuttered as he dropped his towel and pulled on his underwear and pants. "Don't worry about it." He pulled on his shirt.
"It just seems like all those people you knew... it was such a long time ago."
"It's all right," said Steve, sitting down to put on his shoes and socks. "It was all a long time ago. I know that. I got all their files when I woke up. They're almost all long gone."
"When did she die?" asked Tony quietly, sitting down next to him.
"Peggy? She didn't," said Steve evenly. He stood and started to put his workout clothes into a gym bag. "She's still alive. Ninety-seven years old, retired, in England."
Tony swallowed. "Really? Have you called her?"
"No." He zipped up the gym bag.
"The past is the past, Tony. She lived a full life. I'm happy for her. There's not a lot I could say to her." He quickly ran a comb through his hair. "She's also got memory problems, apparently. I'd probably just confuse and upset her."
It was a good thing they all had their own apartments, Tony reflected a while later as they headed to the Quinjet and home. Good thing all-team attendance was not a constant thing in their lives. Yeah, most of them ate breakfast and dinner on the common floor, and whoever wanted to could hang out in there whenever they wanted and find someone to chat with, but for the most part they each had their own apartments and used them. Otherwise Tony'd probably be offending his team-mates on an hourly basis.
"So what's the movie tonight?" asked Bruce.
"Ben-Hur," said Natasha, lifting off from the SHIELD roof.
"God, Phil loved that movie," said Clint. "'Member, Tash? Every cheesy line, he'd say something snarky. It was great. 'Hate keeps a man alive. It gives him strength.'"
Natasha laughed. "'And so does spinach!'" She smiled sadly. "Can you imagine his face if we'd told him we were gonna watch Ben-Hur with Captain America?"
"Like a kid in a candy store. Though he'd probably be too shy to actually do all the catcalls."
"Why Ben-Hur?" asked Steve.
"Oh his aunt was really really Catholic," said Clint. "Every time she babysat him, they'd watch a religious movie. Usually Greatest Story Ever Told or Ten Commandments or Ben-Hur. He kinda loathed it, so he started to make fun of it out of self-preservation. He told me about it during a long stake-out once." He smiled softly. "Then one time we're stashed away in this little tiny hotel room in Tigrit, for like two weeks, and the only thing the hotel has on their English playlist is A Chorus Line and Ben-Hur. I thought I was gonna go crazy. Phil's running commentary was hysterical, though." He laughed, then sighed. Natasha put her hand on his arm.
Tony looked away politely. It wasn't that he couldn't understand loss, and grief. He couldn't comprehend it on the scale that Steve had suffered it, maybe, but he'd been through his share. Why was it that he could relate to the Assassin Twins, still so shaken by Coulson's death, when he couldn't quite grasp Steve enough to not say stupid things to him?
He could understand Clint and Natasha a lot better, maybe. He'd known, for example, that it would take a while for Clint to get back up to speed after the number Loki had done on his brain, though he had no idea how bad it had been for him and suspected he didn't want to know. All he knew was the guy had gone on a road trip with Natasha for a few days, then been on 'Administrative Leave' for several weeks, then had shown up the next time the Avengers were called, looking cocky and talking constantly and only going quiet and pensive when Coulson's absence was felt.
Natasha... well, who knew what she felt, what kind of dark things were in her past and present. Tony still felt a little uneasy with her sometimes, if 'uneasy' could be seen as a euphemism for 'liable to occasionally be scared shitless.' But somehow he got along with her.
Steve, though, he couldn't grasp. Steve had come back from his own road trip and gone back to SHIELD, then accepted Tony's offer of a place at Avengers Tower, but Tony was very clear that it was due to his mistrust of SHIELD, not any deep-seated need to be around Tony.
They'd gotten along OK, mostly. Steve was an OK guy, mostly. If he was a little quiet, if he sometimes seemed a little withdrawn, that was fine; nobody expected him to be a party animal, and frankly, other than Thor and Tony and on occasion Clint when he'd been drinking, none of them were the life of any party. What drew them together was a passion for fighting the bad guys, not a passion for hanging around and having fun together.
Thank God Bruce was easy to deal with. A lab of his own, a little reinforcing on the floor meant to be his during the rebuilding, and it was all working out. And Thor was a no-brainer; Thor was all good humor and loudness and occasional culture-related hilarity. Not that he was around very much, what with Asgard and his pet scientist.
It was a good group. Tony got along with all of them. If he could just stop being an insensitive ass.
He looked around the movie room as he waited for the endless opening credits to stream by, and for his team to settle in for the movie. The room was comfortable, still a little generic, but already beginning to make itself homey with Natasha's crossed knives on the wall, Clint's arrows all over the damn place, and his own various tools. Thor had recently nailed to the wall what looked like half a Viking chest-piece; Tony was reminded every time of a line from a movie Pepper'd dragged him to, How to Train Your Dragon, where the main character inherited a helmet made from half of his mother's breast-plating, and called it his Breast-hat.
"All right, Ben-Hur, let's do this," said Clint, popping a cherry tomato into his mouth from the tray of veggies Bruce had put on the table. The movie began in earnest. "Oh and Steve, fair warning despite Coulson's devout aunt: heavy homoeroticism alert. We'll wait while you look up that word."
"I may have come across it once or twice," said Steve. "Art school, remember?"
"Stop it, you're shocking my delicate sensibilities," said Tony.
"All right, does nobody remember that I was in the army?" Steve shook his head in amusement. "I grew up poor in the Depression, went to art school, toured with USO girls, and was in the army. Did I mention that last part already?"
Tony laughed. "It's just that-"
"It's just that you're convinced that because I'm not from your decadent time, I'm completely naive and ignorant."
"You just give off this... pure vibe."
"You know," said Clint. "All morally upright and shit."
"I quit swooning over all the bare ankles around me just last month," said Steve. "And Google is my friend too."
"Speaking of which," Tony said, "you do know your Google searches are visible to other people, right?"
"Yeah. They told me so at SHIELD."
"Is there personal interest in the whole gay issue?
Steve frowned. "Why?"
"Because the other day you went from Lady Gaga to cyber-bullying to Don't Ask, Don't Tell, to the Defense of Marriage Act, through a very interesting viewing of Zaphod Beeblebrox bar in Ottawa, Ontario, and then to Ex-Gay sites..."
"Wow, Tony, stalk much?" muttered Clint.
"And?" said Steve.
Tony grinned. "What did you think of it all?"
"It was interesting."
"Do you approve?"
Steve nodded, taking a sip of his beer. "Of some of it."
"I've never liked bullies. And I never believed you should be kicked out of the army for the mere fact that you were homosexual."
Tony raised his eyebrows. "But?"
"But I don't think gays should serve in the military if they're going to be open about their preferences."
Oh, nice. Bruce made a small noise in his throat and Natasha narrowed her eyes. "You do realize you're in the distinct minority on that, right?" asked Tony, amused. Hello, Captain Not-So-Perfect.
Steve shrugged. "It's bad for morale. A unit has to be cohesive, everybody has to trust each other; that can't happen if guys are wondering if one of their fellow soldiers is gonna make a pass at them."
"There's plenty of generals who disagree with you," Clint pointed out.
"Good for them."
"Would you refuse to serve with someone who was gay?" Tony asked. Natasha shot him a quick look.
"It wouldn't bother me. But I wouldn't speak for the other members of my unit."
"I can speak for the other members of this unit," said Clint. "I can guarantee you we don't give a shit."
"Are you sure about that?"
"I don't care," said Natasha.
"Neither do I," said Bruce.
"Nor I," said Thor. "Jane has spoken to me on this matter, and I confess I do not quite understand all of the details, but I can only rejoice in the ending of a law that requires warriors to lie in order to remain warriors."
Tony leaned forward. "Besides, following that logic, why stop at soldiers? Do you think it's OK for gay couples to be told they can't live together, because that might make people uncomfortable too?"
Steve scowled at him. "That's just narrow-minded prejudice - and it was in my time too."
Bruce frowned. "Hang on... you're saying landlords can deal with their prejudices, but soldiers can't?"
"Have you ever been in the army?"
"I've seen what finding out one of your comrades is gay can do to a unit," said Steve grimly. "It's not pretty."
Tony sneered at him. "What did you do, get some guy turfed because he played kissy-face with another boy and it made the real men pop a boner?"
Steve's eyes blazed and he set his beer down with a thump. "I tried to help that soldier," he said, his voice steely. "I stopped him from being beaten to a pulp by some of the other men. Some of them wanted to court-martial him, even though the army wasn't doing that any more during the war, just sending people home. You have no idea how much it cost me to get the Commandos back on track, between the ones who didn't care, the ones who thought he should be executed, the ones who--" he stopped himself. "And all because one guy couldn't keep it in his pants," he said bitterly.
"What happened to him?" asked Bruce.
"Colonel Phillips and I reminded the brass that he'd been a prisoner of war for months and then volunteered to go back to the front. Told them he was suffering from shell shock. They sent him home. Blue discharge, not Dishonorable." He sat back. "Not that it would've made that much difference. Everyone knew what a blue ticket meant."
"And then what happened to him when he got back home?"
"I don't know. It was three months before my plane went down."
"Maybe you should look him up," said Tony. "Maybe he found true love and lived happily ever after with some other defrocked soldier. Maybe even got married."
"Maybe. You think it was worth what he put the rest of us through?"
Clint tilted his head to the side. "All right, then, what about gay marriage? You gonna tell us that's a sacred thing between a man and a woman?"
"Why am I not surprised," said Tony. "So what are people supposed to do if they just don't go that way?"
"They don't need to do anything," said Steve. "They're still free to marry someone of the opposite sex."
"Would you, if you were?"
"Easy for you to say."
"Millions of people have done it, throughout human history. It's not a denial of human rights to reserve marriage as an institution--"
"It's absolutely a denial of human rights," Tony shot back. "And it's nothing but prejudice. It's easy for you to sit in judgment and--"
"Tony," Steve broke in evenly. "I fought against a power that believed in killing people because of their faith and race - and because of their preferences. That's violation of human rights, that's prejudice and cruelty and evil. Saying that you're not free to marry whoever you want, or that you're not allowed to go into any job you want? Don't try to equate the two."
"Just because something isn't as bad as the Holocaust, doesn't make it right," said Clint.
"Look, when I was told I couldn't serve in the armed forces, I was frustrated and tried to get around it," said Steve. "But I didn't feel that they were violating my rights."
"Maybe you'd feel differently if it was you being discriminated against," said Bruce. "If it was you being called immoral for something that isn't your fault."
"It's not discrimination. And freedom of speech means you have a right to call behavior immoral if you believe it to be. It's not personal--"
"Uh, yeah, actually, big guy, it is," said Tony, suddenly pissed off.
Tony lifted his chin. "I'm queer, Steve. Immorality's my middle name."
"No you're not," said Steve scornfully. "Unless you're a hell of an actor."
Natasha chuckled and Tony smirked at her. "Ooh, I made Captain America cuss."
"What about all the women you've been with? What about Pepper?"
Steve shook his head. "You're saying you can't make up your mind?"
"I don't have to. Bi. Means I like both. Double my pleasure, double my fun."
"Then why have I never seen a single picture of you with a man? You're all over the internet--"
"Yeah, well, Dad was a bit of a 'phobe, and Obie begged me to keep that one thing private. And I did, mostly. But I came out about a million years ago, and anybody who knows anything about me knows I've had some close encounters of the dick kind in the past. And loved it."
"What?" Steve was frowning now.
"Seriously," said Tony, grimly amused at Steve's expression. "Natalie Rushman here knew."
Natasha shrugged. "I knew that you were into girls. A lot. I thought the other was just youthful experimentation."
"Yeah, well. That's what it was played as in the magazines. It wasn't. See above re. 'phobe-Dad, and Obie trying desperately to keep me from tanking our profits with my 'antics'. That's the only reason I let them play it off as yet another Young Tony Makes Poor Choices story."
Steve's expression was unreadable. "And you're saying it wasn't?"
"No, it really wasn't. I'm not gonna repaint my suit in rainbow colors, but just keep in mind that when you say stuff that's disrespectful to queers, you're saying it to me."
Steve swallowed. "Noted." He paused. "Have I said anything disrespectful?"
Tony cocked his head to the side.
"I've said that I don't think marriage is for gays. Is it for you?"
Tony snorted. "I'm not the marrying type."
"And I don't think gays should openly serve in the military. Would you want to?"
Tony's face probably said it all.
"OK, guys, lets just watch the movie, OK?" said Clint into the silence. "Think we've missed about twenty minutes of homoeroticism, here."
"And I do not understand why that man is riding a small grey mammal," said Thor, squinting at the screen.
"Dude, I can't believe you just came out to Captain America," murmured Clint a little while later.
"Don't tell me you don't believe me either."
Clint snickered. "Pfft. I already knew."
"Never pegged you for a tabloid-reading guy," Tony commented.
"Nope, I never would've known, just SHIELD was thinking of sending me in to be your 'Cliff Baker from Legal' PA for about thirty seconds before they sent Natasha in instead."
Tony's eyebrows went up. "You do undercover?"
"Yeah. Mostly security guards, but sometimes other stuff. Bartenders, mechanics, counselors, ski instructors. Make-up artist once."
Tony tried to imagine what that would've been like. Cliff from Legal, fresh-faced and eager to please and taking notes on him for SHIELD the whole time. "So why'd they send her and not you?"
"She's better eye-candy, you seemed way more into women, she could bond with Pepper, and I can't file worth shit. Borderline illiterate, here."
Tony snorted. "Don't give me that." Clint played up his high school drop-out background, but it didn't take very long around him to realize that he was far brighter than he projected.
"Well I sure as hell don't speak Latin like she does. And trust me, my lingerie photoshoot didn't turn out anywhere near as fetching as Nat's."
Tony inhaled his whiskey and started coughing.
"You can't because you're high profile now, Agent Romanov!" Natasha could see Fury's eye getting twitchy, even over the relatively small screen on the Tower deck's communication console, his patience obviously tried. "You can't just waltz in--"
"With all due respect, sir, leaving us on permanent standby in case of alien attack is a stupid waste of our skills, and you know it."
Fury sighed. "Why is it that any time somebody says with all due respect, they follow it up with something that shows no respect at all?"
"We respect you, sir." Natasha took a deep breath. "But this assignment wasn't supposed to be--"
"We're living in a damn frat house, here," Clint broke in. "It's fun, but we could be doing good for SHIELD."
"Stark and Banner have their science," said Natasha. "And Rogers has his re-education; we don't have anything to do but twiddle our thumbs--"
"We could train recruits," said Clint. "Not just do occasional drop-ins like today, but actually train them. We know there's a new team coming in."
Fury paused, and Natasha could see him seriously considering it. They were both good at it, surprisingly, and it would be a chance to--
He shook his head. "No. Until you get further notice, maintain your current activities."
He flicked the switch and Natasha and Clint were left staring at each other in dismay.
"This is bullshit," said Clint.
Natasha sighed and turned to gaze out over the city, its bright lights snaking off to the horizon, frustration seething through her. Grateful as she usually was to SHIELD and the opportunity they had given her, there were days...
"What happened?" asked Bruce, coming out onto the deck with a drink in his hand. "I thought you had a training session?"
"We did," Clint grimaced. "Obstacle course. Shepherding baby agents through mud. Two hours. And that's it for the next two weeks."
"You know what?" said Tony. "I think you need to go out."
"We are out," Natasha said, waving a hand at the deck.
"Out of this house. Someplace fun."
"I wanna get out of the house," said Clint. "Come on, Mom, please?"
Clint slapped the counter. "It was a shitty training session, and I feel grit in places nobody should feel grit, and I wanna go out." He grinned at Steve. "Let's call it Steve-cultural education. Make us feel like we're doing something useful."
Funny thing, he and Bruce were the elders here - if you didn't count Thor - and Natasha and Clint the (relative) babies, but Steve had this wise grandpa/lost little boy thing going that was disconcerting, to say the least. And he'd stayed at their table with Bruce, nursing a drink, while Tony, Natasha and Clint all took their turns on the dance floor.
And now Tony was more than a little lit. And more than a little horny, from the ambiance and from the fact that, damn, it had been a while since Pepper had packed up and given him the dreaded Let's Just Be Friends speech, and for some reason it was beginning to piss him off that Steve was still sitting there, chatting with Bruce, looking subdued, All-American good looks totally wasted, as he seemed to have no intention of hooking up with anyone. Of course not. The guy had youth, muscles, grace, stunning attractiveness to anyone who didn't know he had a stick up his ass roughly the size of Staten Island... and he was probably gonna warm that seat till they went home.
"What's up, Capsicle? Why so blue?"
"I'm not blue. I'm bored. And a little curious." He glanced around.
Bruce smiled. "Tony, is there a reason you brought us to this particular club?"
"Oh - oh, I'm sorry, Steve, are you feeling a little uncomfortable with some of the couples around here?"
Clint and Natasha rolled their eyes.
"Part of cultural re-integration again?" said Steve.
"Nah, just showing you my homies."
Steve blew out his breath. "Tony, enough."
"You still don't believe me, do you?"
Steve's expression said it all. "I'll go as far as to believe that you experimented. But that you're still actively bisexual? No."
"You don't think I can get it up for a guy?"
Steve gave him a pained look. "Frankly I'd rather not think about who you can get it up for. But you've proven you like women."
"On Youtube," put in Clint. "Repeatedly."
"And you disapprove, don't you?" asked Tony.
"It's not my business to approve or disapprove of your sex life," Steve protested.
"But you don't approve."
"Sex is supposed to be private. It's personal."
God, it was like talking to a nun. A big beefy blond nun with wide shoulders. "It's fun, Cap. Maybe what you need is to get laid."
"Maybe you do," Natasha told Tony. "There's no lack of willing partners here."
"Maybe I do," said Tony.
Clint looked over the people dancing. "Maybe I do too. It's been a while." He tossed back a shot. "First have to get the sand out of my ass."
"Thanks, we don't need to know about your ass," said Natasha. "I doubt too many people here would care, though."
"Definitely not the chick over by the bar," said Clint.
"Girl by the bar?" asked Tony.
Bruce choked on his beer and started to cough, excusing himself to go to the washroom.
Tony shook his head. "Wow. Now that's not supposed to happen at this club," he said. "Nancy'll be pissed." He glanced around to see if the owner was around.
"You gonna tell her?"
"What's not supposed to happen?" asked Steve.
"That girl just gave a guy a blow job under the bar," smirked Clint, gesturing towards a short brunette. "Then came out from under, and ordered a drink."
Steve blanched. "And that's normal?"
"Yeah, that's not really supposed to happen here," said Tony. He glanced around. "But the other stuff you're all uptight about - maybe those two girls with their tongues down each other's throats? That's perfectly kosher."
"I never said it wasn't."
"You're just about radiating disapproval."
"It's not for me. I'm not judging you or anybody else here." He paused. "But the way you're ogling those girls pretty much proves you're just pulling my leg with the bisexual thing."
"You think I can't ogle guys too?"
"I don't think you'd actually want to, or you wouldn't be looking like that at girls."
"Oh let me disabuse you of that quaint notion right now," said Tony, laughing. He glanced over at the dance floor. "See that girl with the long black hair? You wanna know what I wanna do to her? Pretty much what most guys would want to do. You know, feel her hair... kiss her... pull her close..." Steve swallowed, glancing at Clint, who was now looking at Tony with eyebrows raised. Natasha rolled her eyes and left for the bar, and Tony dropped his voice so that only the three of them could hear. "I wanna touch her tits and make her moan... feel all that smooth skin, and I want her to feel how hard I am for her. I wanna slip my hand under her skirt and touch her..." and Steve was probably gonna spontaneously combust if Tony went on. How he'd want to feel her wet and hot, taste her, smell her, and nearly come just from her scent alone, get inside her...
Steve was staring at him. Tony grinned. OK, maybe he'd had a little too much to drink. He hadn't done dirty talk to shock someone in a while - not that this would even qualify as risque to most people he knew, but considering the audience...
"But, the thing is, big guy, I wanna do all the same things to the red-headed beefcake dancing with her. I wanna feel his chest and his abs, see if they're tight and hard, I wanna run my hands down his back, and I want his hands on me too. I wanna know what his mouth tastes like. I wanna put my hand on his ass and squeeze. I wanna make him get hard. I want him to touch me, make me hard too, and then I wanna take him home, and do all sorts of things to him that would probably leave you blushing even harder than you are now." Like having him push into Tony, taking Tony into his mouth, like finding out what he tasted like when he came...
"And you, big boy," he said, leaning back and smirking at Steve, "are looking a hell of a lot more interested than you were during my first soliloquy. Is this striking too close to home? You do know current conventional wisdom says a lot of homophobia's just repressed homosexuality, right?"
Steve's lips pressed together, his face flushed darkly.
"Jesus, Tony," Clint snorted. "You know I'm straighter than any of my arrows and that made me hard too. Hell, I'd do him right now." He turned and looked for the man Tony had been talking about. "Wait, which one is he? I'd hate to go try and fondle the wrong guy."
"Believe me now?" Tony asked Steve.
Steve was staring at him.
"Hey, don't worry, your virtue's safe with me. I won't be coming on to you. I don't do unreciprocated."
"Damn it," said Natasha, coming to plop down at the table with far less grace than she usually displayed.
"What? What's wrong?" said Clint.
"Fury called. He'd like us to go home."
"Because apparently a whole bunch of reporters are headed in this direction." She paused, glanced over Tony's shoulder. "And there they are."
He turned. Sure enough, there was a sizeable group at the entrance, looking like they were arguing with the bouncers to get in. "Wait, how did they know we were--"
"You're Tony Stark."
"How did Fury know--"
"What is it?" asked Steve.
"Papparazzi," said Tony. "I know you know what they are, Capsicle."
"Here? In a gay bar?" Steve rubbed the space between his eyes wearily. "Fantastic."
"Relax, it's not a gay bar, it's a... flexible bar. I'll handle it."
Tony laughed and patted his arm. "Steve, Steve, Steve, I have been taking on the press while drunk and stoned off my ass since I was thirteen years old."
"Maybe I should handle this," said Steve worriedly, as Bruce came back to their table and Natasha filled him in.
Tony chuckled. "Please. You? These two are experienced spies and they couldn't take these sharks."
"I could!" Clint glanced over at the cameras, and smiled at them politely.
"You look constipated."
"I feel constipated," he said. "Let me tell you about the grit in my ass-crack again."
"Please don't," said Bruce.
"Well Natasha's good at stuff like this," said Clint. "Playacting."
"I'm good at it too," said Steve. "I just hate it."
"Cap, I don't think the slavering paparazzi who think they have an exclusive of Captain America at a bendy pick-up joint are the same as the USO cameras for--"
Steve turned and looked over at the cameras, and flashed them an easy smile. Lights went off and Tony had to admit, he was impressed.
"You little ham, you." He paused. "So, can you play slightly confused, plucky, and stalwart?"
"I just might be able to manage that."
Tony stood up, making his way to the front of the bar.
"Yeah, hey, Mandy?" he smirked at one of the reporters. "Yeah, taking Captain America out, think maybe the music's not quite to his liking - no Charleston playing, is there?"
Steve gave a reporter a small smile. "I think he's confusing it with the Lindy Hop."
"Captain, what did you think of New York's night life?"
"Still adjusting to it. I'm sure it's very nice, but not really my style."
"Were you big on these places before?" asked another man.
"Too busy with the war," he said easily. "And too shy," he added, and Tony could see the reporters lapping that up.
"Captain America, did you see any same-sex couples in there?" yelled one from the back. "Were you shocked and disgusted?"
"No ma'am, not disgusted, just a little surprised," said Steve.
"Will you be coming back here?"
"Probably not, but I think my team-mates had a good time. I'm more of a movies kind of guy." He was moving quickly, and then they were past the reporters and at the private parking area.
"You go on, I'll walk," said Steve.
"You sure? What if you run into the press again?" asked Bruce.
"They're at the front entrance only," said Natasha, and how she knew, Tony didn't really want to know.
"Want any company?" asked Bruce.
"No, I'm fine," Steve said, and headed off.
Tony watched him go.
"You know what Steve's problem is," said Bruce, his voice pitched for Tony's ears only, as Clint and Natasha moved to the limo.
"His problem is, he's both in his nineties and in his twenties."
"Which means he's got an old man's morality, and a young man's certainty that he's right."
"Plus he's got the Captain thing going," said Tony. "I think he'll have the same certainty when he's actually in his nineties."
"Tony. Last year at this time, Steve lived in a world where a lot of people felt gays should be executed, or at least subject to electroshock therapy to cure them - and that was us, the good guys, never mind what the Nazis believed and did. Give him some credit for adapting as much as he has."
"But he thinks that--"
"You really don't know everything he thinks right now. Who knows? He may have some surprises for you." Bruce paused. "His attitude isn't going to be a problem, is it?"
Tony turned. "Are you kidding? Captain Homophobia can have whatever opinions he wants. Doesn't make any difference to me."
"Yeah, it does," said Bruce quietly, and headed into the limo.
Yeah, it does, thought Tony to himself. But what the hell. He wasn't really tempted to pick up some guy and rub it in Mr. Moral Uprightness's face tomorrow morning. Knowing Steve, he'd just politely offer the guy the newspaper and coffee, and then excuse himself to go work out. Which would not help Tony's mood at all.
Ah, to hell with him, then.