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Avengers Journal of Unpublishable Science

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Avengers Journal of Unpublishable Science, v1, not pub. 08/2012.  New York, NY.

Dermal Uptake of Fluorescent Labeling in ‘SSS’-successful Subject

Abstract:

Understanding the process used to create the super-solider serum, or “SSS”-focused research, has been a classic goal of multiple disciplines for decades; however, to date, only one known SSS-successful subject, Captain Steve Rogers, is available for research data (Banner, 2004).  As such, extracting pertinent data points from Cpt. Rogers becomes a priority.  In this research, we propose to assess the effects of the SSS via extrapolation as to the effect of the ‘healing factor’ Cpt. Rogers displays (Erskine, 1944; Phillips, 1946).  Although Cpt. Rogers famously ‘does not scar,’ (Erskine, 1944; Nabokov, 1965) we theorized the existence of high-collagen regions of his dermis corresponding to what would otherwise have become scars (Cho, 2009).  Fluorescent labeling was absorbed into the skin, and then detected via Programmable UV-Visible Light Spectroscopy.  Green fluorescent protein (GFP) bound to nanofabricated pseudoenzymes (Stark, 2012) was found to fluoresce after illumination with 395 nm light, and was documented via 60kfps StarkCapture slow-motion camera.  Distribution of GFP fluorolabel indicated wound patterns which were subsequently confirmed via verbal history of Cpt. Rogers.  Potential future investigations include mathematical analysis of this wound history to determine the rate of Cpt. Rogers’ healing factor, with future monitoring of healing rate of Cpt. Rogers as the corresponding form of experimental testing.

 

"You seem a little too excited about this," Bruce notes dryly, showing Steve the duct-taped marks where he should stand before allowing him to drop onto a stool.

"What, are you kidding? I think it's going to be hilarious," Tony fires back, bouncing on his toes as he flitters around the lab. It's Bruce's lab, so Tony doesn't really know where everything is; some of the tech was his design, but really, this is Bruce's baby. Radiation, isotopes, biological micro-evolutions - not really Tony's field. He can play if he has to, but with this game, he prefers a spectator's role.

Which is perfect, because that's what he's got right now. "We can play it at movie night," he continues, watching Cap out of the corner of his eye, safety-glasses providing a distracting mask to hide the movement. "I'll make popcorn."

"I prefer goobers," Steve says, shifting on the stool, his robe gaping dangerously.

Steve's the only one in the lab who's nervous.

Still, he'd agreed, and with almost no hesitation: if it'll help Bruce understand the serum, and maybe find a way to reverse the effects on him - or rather, the effects on the Hulk - then it's worth it, apparently. So now they're all gathered in Bruce's lab early on a Saturday morning, where Bruce will hit Steve with a low-level fluorescence to see all the places where his skin bears extra metabolic processes: a catalog of all the places that would have become scars, if Steve weren't... Steve.

"Alright," Bruce says, then sighs with only a little shakiness. "It's that time."

Steve stands up and moves to the marks on the floor, standing with his arms held out from his body. Bruce coughs, and Steve removes the bathrobe, tossing it to Tony before resuming the position.

Bruce raises the high-tech fluoro-super-soaker, and starts to spray Steve down.

It's almost obscene. Well, no "almost" about it: it is obscene. Steve has his eyes and mouth scrunched closed, but the white, serum-thick liquid still looks an awful lot like ejaculate, and Bruce is just coating Steve. It's running across his face, down his neck, his shoulders... Bruce hits Steve's pecs, and Tony has to fan himself to hold back a moan.

Jesus, that should not be allowed!

It only takes about a minute and a half for Steve to be completely coated in the stuff, the small bathing suit he'd been allowed to wear soaked through.

(Bruce had been hoping for nothing, possibly in revenge for the Hulkeroos Tony had never managed to produce; Steve had requested boxers, and they had compromised on the thong-cut speedo. It was not helping Tony's mental stability right now.)

Bruce sets a timer. "Now stand there, just like that, and we'll let it sit for five minutes."

Tony loses his shit. It's only a little bit the Medical Miracle Thong's fault.

"Is that a kitchen timer? What, was the several million dollar budget I gave you not going to cover a stopwatch? I mean, seriously, is this the frontmost edge of scientific advancement?"

Bruce is unruffled. "The spraying process itself took about a minute, Tony. This doesn't have to be precise, it just needs enough time to absorb and attach, and then for the remainder to clear the cells."

Tony huffs.  

Bruce gets pissy.

"Oh please, don't tell me you - you, the man who injected nanites under his skin! - care about scientific process! You tested the first repulsors in your basement with no safety gear -!”

The rest of the lecture lasts the whole five minutes.

Steve shifts a little - mostly in the hips, he's careful not to move his feet from the marks - when the time goes off. "Now what?" he asks.

"Now, the fun part," Bruce answers in that mild way he has.

He picks up the hose.

 


 

"Alright, J, DV time," Tony calls as he and Bruce wrestle the large, multi-spectrum light around. "Steve, when it's time to move, you'll turn around completely, feet back on the same spots."

"Move your hands now, please," Bruce cuts in. "Palms flat." Steve obediently turns his hands to face the back wall, and Bruce twitches, but accepts the minor deviation from anatomical position. "Alright. Well, let's be quick, before the dye fades."

They turn on the big lights and turn off the overhead, watching as it starts in the ultraviolet and cycles downwards through the various settings. It hits 395 nanometers, and Bruce and Tony both gasp at the network of hot spots that flash across Steve chest, stomach, arms, thighs…

"Well, I think we know which wavelength is going to be the winner," Bruce says, sounding startled despite the fact that 395 nm was their predicted wavelength.

"Holy shit," Tony agrees rather more concisely, as the machine switches down to 380 nm and all of the scars vanish again.

A minute or two later, the machine clicks off, and Bruce directs Steve to turn around, fumbling his way through turning the light back on again to repeat the wavelengths.

They both gasp again at the 395 point, but it's not because they weren't expecting it, this time. Or rather, it is, but what they weren't expecting is different. That is, well…

Steve's back is a mess, a confusing welter of crisscrossing scars that resolve themselves, with a bit of thought and a lot of horror, into lash marks, interspersed with almost artistically-placed bullet holes.

"What the fuck," Tony says loudly.

Steve snorts. "Whatever you're looking at," he says with heavy irony, "I guarantee you, it was better that it happen to me than the alternative."

"What the fuck!" he repeats, indignant now.

"I'm the one with the healing factor -" Steve starts.

"Stop moving," Bruce interrupts, and they both quiet down.

When the P-UV-Vis stops again, JARVIS turns the lights back on and Bruce hands Steve his robe again. "Thank you, Steve," he says before Tony can get a word in. "This has been very helpful to me."

Steve's smile is warm and relaxed. "Thanks, Bruce," he says, slipping the robe on (tragically. No, wait -)

(Okay, the whippings thing is horrifying, and Tony will feel bad about this at some point, but Steve in a speedo is still a damned good sight, and it is still a crime to cover that up with terry cloth.)

They wait until Steve is in the elevator, heading back to his room, before either of them breaks the silence, and it's Bruce who speaks first. "Well," he says, taking his glasses off and cleaning them, which is totally unnecessary and absolutely an excuse not to look Tony in the eyes. "I certainly can't publish this."

It's only now, with Steve gone, the DV stopped, and just the two of them, that he puts it into words.

"What the fuck," Tony says again, then sighs and sits on the slightly-damp stool. "Who the fuck gets Captain Fucking America and decides, 'Oh, I know, let's use a fucking bullwhip on him!'?"

Bruce puts his glasses back on and tilts his head to the side, studying Tony. With one hand, he pulls up the image of Steve in all his nearly-naked, heavily-lined glory, and studies it. "That probably was a bullwhip, actually," he agrees, sounding surprised. "I thought it was a cane, at first - they're very linear - but some of them curve, you see?"

"Oh, well, that's fantastic. Not a cane, that makes everything better."

"Tony." Bruce sounds an awful lot like Pepper right now; Tony shifts uncomfortably on his stool. "You're looking at the wrong thing."

Tony frowns, and comes around the workstation, leaning into the hologram. (When Bruce magnifies it helpfully, he ends up with his nose practically brushing Steve's pubes. Not the worst place he's ever been...)

Still. He studies the side-by-side images, front and back, looking from one to the other.

"His wrists, Tony," Bruce sighs, and he looks closer.

The thing is, Steve's wrists are an even bigger mess than his back. There are all sorts of rope-marks there, for one thing; Steve has been tied up a lot . The rope marks are distinctive; they wrap around the wrists horizontally, one or two cutting across the palms of the hands, a couple going up almost as far as the elbow. They're evenly-patterned, if crossed over each other, and easy to identify. Along the same lines, there are a few crescent-shaped scars that appear to be where Steve had tugged too hard at some kinds of shackles. There's even a shackle-shaped scar on the right arm that shows lightning patterns: an electrified cuff that Steve had snapped.

In all of that, it's almost easy to miss the two marks - or rather, lack of marks - that send Tony's heart jumping into his throat.

On the left side: a single, deep cut, heavily disguised by its surroundings but following the artery faithfully, marching up the wrist to the mid-forearm where it is suddenly yanked aside, tapering swiftly into nothing.

And on the right: the tattoo.

But Steve doesn't have a tattoo, Tony thinks stupidly, before realizing why of course Steve doesn't have a tattoo. But he would have tried to get one when the rest of his team did, and there, on the hologram, is the ghostly yellow-green image of the coyote howling over crossed rifles, shield behind it, which the rest of the Howling Commandos had all born on that same wrist for the rest of their days.

Tony doesn't wait for the elevator; he hits the stairs at a run.

 


 

Okay, maybe Tony should have thought this through before rushing downstairs.  Fuck it, though, he’s already halfway to Steve’s apartment and also how was he supposed to stay still after that?!  

So Tony is already Steve’s door and knocking before he’s figured out what to say.  Which is bad, because Steve answers the door still in his bathrobe, and having something prepared would have been really helpful right about now.

Instead, what Tony says is, “Guh!”

Steve blinks.

“I mean - can I come in?  Pants!  You probably want to put pants on first!”  Tony puts a hand to his temple.  “But then can I come in?”

Steve blinks some more.  “Sure,” he says.  “You can come in right now.”  He smiles, and it’s just a little too broad, a little too toothy:  a fake.

Shit.

“I bet you want to put a pot of coffee on,” Steve says, “Why don’t you do that while I change?”  He’s wearing his dad-face now, the one where he pretends to be experienced and tired of all of their shenanigans even though he’s only twenty-five.  It should look ridiculous, but for some reason Steve always manages to pull it off.

“I will do that,” Tony agrees gratefully.  “Great suggestion.  Really.  A-plus.  You really are the star-span -”

Steve puts his hand over Tony’s mouth, and on any other morning, Tony would find that distracting.  “Don’t say it,” Steve advises, then pulls his hand away and, just-off-center expression still on his face, moves into his bedroom.  

“...Fuck,” Tony says to himself quietly.

Then he makes coffee.  

Priorities - he has them!

By the time Steve comes out - he hadn’t really need to shower to get the dye off, because Bruce had hosed him down pretty thoroughly, but Tony understands the impulse, anyway - not only is there coffee, but Tony has ordered up sandwiches from the cafe on level five and started re-designing the damned smartphone again, because fuck it, he was bored.  Steve starts to speak, but Tony holds up a finger, and three seconds later - seriously, bless whoever they’d sent - the guy with the sandwiches knocks on the door.  

And, honestly, Tony had ordered the sandwiches because a) he was hungry and b) if he was hungry, Steve must be ravenous.  Now, though, he’s just glad to have something to do with his hands.

Plus, the look on Steve’s face when he sees the sandwiches is absolutely priceless.  

“You have dishes in here somewhere, right?  I mean, dishes - above the sink?”  Tony reaches up before finishing the sentence, and pauses.  “Okay, that’s - sad,” he blurts, surprised into rudeness (it doesn’t take much surprise) by the sight of the lone plate and mug sitting in the cupboard, silver laying neatly on top.

“That’s the spare set,” Steve says primly.  “I have enough for guests.”  

There’s some kind of an undercurrent to his voice, some stubbornness, some pride - which, more power to you, big guy, but you don’t need to get prideful about your Failure Flatware - as Steve pulls the clean set out of the dish-drainer.  

“Spare set,” Tony repeats just to needle him - because Tony’s an idiot, Jesus, what’s wrong with him.  “You have enough plates for a guest.  Which is me, right now.”

Steve glares, and sets the plate on the counter sharply enough that they both look over to make sure it’s not cracked.  

“A guest, fine,” Steve grumbles, agreeing, and, “Do you want a plate, or not?”

Tony wants a plate.  Because he wants a sandwich. He’s hungry, and needs something to do with this hands, and really, hadn’t he already established this?!  He feels certain he had.

“Okay,” he says, once they’re both seated at the kitchen table - Steve doesn’t have enough plates for a bridge club, but he has a kitchen table, and Tony pictures him eating alone with the empty chairs and almost loses it - “So your scars -”

He breaks off.

How the hell do you talk about this?!

“I don’t have any scars,” Steve says evenly, glaring for all he is worth.

Luckily, Tony has been glared at by the best - Nick Fury, his father - Pepper, Jesus Christ - so he can manage to not really pay any attention to that part.

“Alright, fine - your fluoroluminescently-labeled lack of scars -

Steve makes a noise halfway between a growl and a groan.  

Tony stares at him.

“What the fuck was that?!”  He snorts with laughter.  “Did you just - did you get hit by something juvenile and Asgardian?”  He squints for comedic effect.  “Steve, are you turning into a golden retriever again?”

Steve glares again, but the effect is pretty much spoiled by the smile twitching at his lips - win for Tony! - and he quickly gives up and laughs, too.

There’s a very odd feeling...

Suddenly, Tony is remembering how things had been this morning, before the fluoro-revelation of how deeply fucked up Steve is.  How they’d been three guys in a lab, joking and making cracks about being naked and secretly desperately hoping Steve’s bathrobe would drop while the lights were on - that last one may have been just Tony - and it’s…

It’s not precisely new.   Feeling like this, it’s not something that Tony’s never felt before, that would be ridiculous, it’d be pathetic, who hasn’t felt ever like they belonged, before?  But it’s…

...right, the overly-honest voice of his self-awareness says.  And, seriously, fuck self-awareness - what favors has that ever done him? - but it might have a point, here.

He and Steve communicate so much better as equals, is the thing.  Make one of them into a dad, make one of them into the settled one, make one of them nervous - make one of them the shrink - and it all goes to shit.  But when they’re equals - national hero and national idol, fuck it, that’s close enough to equals, isn’t it? -  they get along so well.  

Tony can’t make this about the suicide attempt; he can’t.   Not because it’s hard - it is, and thank god for this whole revelation he’s having, seriously - but because it won’t work.   Forget his feelings for Steve, forget Steve’s role in his life, forget their roles on the team and as friends and how Tony wonders sometimes if Steve even knows how much it means to him that the quintessential Good Man is willing to be friends with a scarred-up old warmonger -

Forget all that stuff.  From an engineering perspective, it still won’t work.

So Tony can’t mention the suicide thing.  

Not that it doesn’t still scare him - it scares the shit out of him, actually -  but if he does…

He gets a mental image of Steve’s face when he says it, and how Steve will just… shut down.  Close up shop - no one home, please leave a message with Captain Answering Machine, we will return your call approximately never.

No.  Absolutely not.

So okay - that’s off the table.  (It’s so far off the table it might as well be in truck in the basement, with fifteen padlocks and a keypad.)  Tony can adjust to the new reality of this conversation he’s struggling to have.

And the good news is, with that elephant off the table, Tony knows exactly what to say.

“Tell me about the tattoo,” he asks, and Steve’s eyes widen, his expression getting suddenly more real.

 


 

The tattoo had been Morita’s idea.  He ‘knew lots of fellows that’d had one,’ apparently, and if Tony privately thinks that’s an admission that Morita may not have been precisely straight, well -

- actually, history would be more than happy to confirm that.  Morita had moved to San Francisco in the seventies; he’d been a major advocate of HIV research in the eighties, donating his by-then-considerable fortune to HIV research; and in the late eighties to early nineties, he’d been run for Congress, where he’d served for ten years before dying of a heart attack a month before the Battle of Manhattan.  

Hopefully, Cap had gotten to see him again, first.

Fuck, this was depressing

Anyway, Morita had known some sailors, and one day on leave, they’d all trekked out to find the local parlor and get the tattoos done.

 


 

“Oh god, it took hours,” Steve says, leaning his elbows on the table and grinning like a schoolboy.  “There were nine of us, you know?  And we all wanted the same thing, and you could see the old man who ran the place just rolling his eyes, but Dernier asked nicely in French, so he did it, and he didn’t even mess it up except that Monty’s wolf was cross-eyed, and honestly Monty’s accent was atrociously British, so I think that explains it.”  Steve relaxes into the back of the couch, sitting sideways because it’s more comfortable than twisting to make eye contact with Tony while talking with his hands.  

Tony’s trying not to grin.  Firstly, because he has a mental image of a cross-eyed wolf now, and fuck you, that’s hilarious, and secondly, because of Cap’s voice.   Over the course of the anecdote, Steve has gone Full Brooklyn:  “There were nine of us, ya know?” where the word were came within half an inch of being was and only got rescued at the last second by Steve’s muted but inherent sense of his own dignity.  (It’s occasionally easy to understand why Steve got beaten up so much; he must have seemed constantly above his station to the folks around him back then…)

So Tony’s sitting there, trying not to laugh at Steve, and Steve’s grinning back, happy just to be talking about them, these men that he knew so well who are all dead now, and then Tony ruins it by reaching out and grabbing Steve’s wrist.

Fuck.

Well, it was inevitable that he’d fuck it up, really.

Still, he can work with this.  He’s smart.

He can cover.

He brushes his fingers over Steve’s wrist - the right one, thankfully, the one where the tattoo had been, not the… other one.

“It faded,” he observes, and Steve mostly loses his smile.

There’s a big difference between mostly loses and completely loses, though, Tony thinks.  Mostly loses, is still slightly alive…

“Was it in color, before?”

“Yeah.”  Steve’s voice is soft, a little husky.  Fond.  “The shield, of course.  The wolf was brown or gray, usually - the artists actually individualized them to the guy whose wrist it was, mine -”

Tony feels his lips pulling back as he pictures it.  “Was it blond, Steve?”

“It wasn’t blond,” Steve replies, faux-snippy, “It was just an arctic wolf, they’re all white.”  A note of chagrin enters his tone.  “It seems sort of ironic now, considering where I ended up.”

Tony winces.  

Steve looks away.  

Of course, he knows:  If Tony’s seen the tattoo, he must have seen the other scar, too.  

Of course Steve knows that.

They are both completely failing to meet each other’s eyes, but Steve manages to speak first.

“It’s okay.  I’m…  I’m doing okay, Tony.  Now, I mean.  I - I am.”

Tony lets go of Steve’s right wrist, reaching out to grab the left.  He pulls it into his lap, Steve’s arm stretched - okay, a little awkwardly - across his body.  He puts his fingers on the pulse point, briefly, feeling the strong, slow, reassuring thrub-dub, thrub-dub of it, then runs them, lightly, up the artery over the smooth, soft, completely unmarked skin.

“Bruce,” he blurts, looking at his tanned, calloused fingers lying against Steve’s soft gold.  “Bruce was - he was worried about you.”  He can’t help it, his gaze darting up to check Steve’s face, and his eyes get caught.  

Steve’s staring right at him, so of course he can’t look away.  This whole thing feels completely inevitable.

After a minute, Steve sighs, and gently takes his hand back.  “Well, tell ‘Bruce,’ I’m doing alright these days.”

Tony opens his mouth to agree, but then hesitates, tongue darting out to linger in the center of his bottom lip as he thinks about it.  He shifts his weight, kicking off his shoes, and pulls his feet up crossways on the sofa.  “Do you want to talk about it?  Or - or any of the other marks?  Not in a shrink way,” he adds hastily,  “In a friend way.  Your wrists -”  Steve’s eyebrows are up.  “- The rope-marks, I mean.  Or any of the five million bullet holes apparently scattered across your body?  Or - what about the toe thing?”

The toe thing had been weird.  

Basically, all of the toes on Steve’s left foot - and only the toes, not the rest of the appendage - had all lit up greener than the Hulk’s, and just about as evenly.

“The toe thing?”  Steve frowns, clearly trying to remember.  “Oh!  Nah, that wasn’t a big deal.  Stepped in some acid once evacuating one of the HYDRA testing facilities, back in the war.  Didn’t even notice it had worn through my boot and dissolved my sock until Colonel Phillips point it out, back at camp.”  He grins sheepishly.  “There may have been some adrenaline involved.”

Tony laughs; he can’t help it.  He cracks up.  After a second, Steve starts laughing, too.  “You shoulda seen me,” he continues.  “Totally still in uniform and all, and it’d even been a pretty good mission, so it was still pretty tidy, the whole team was.  And there’s me with everything all in tucked into place, except my toes are sticking out, red and swollen enough that, uh, well -”

Tony gets the mental image, and now he’s really laughing.  “Oh god, they looked like dicks!  They did, didn’t they?”

“Well…  Yeah,” Steve admits.  “It was, uh, not the most memorable ‘Captain America’ moment I’ve ever had.”

Tony cackles.

And then, because he’s an absolutely terrible person, he asks, “Right nipple?”  

(Oh come on.  Like Tony was ever going to not notice that one. It was the best scar.)

“Shot off during the Battle of Manhattan - friendly fire, I think,” Steve explains, voice sounding grateful for the change of topic.  “It was a bullet, not one of those staff weapons.  It didn’t actually fall off, because of the armor, but it bruised so bad it went black, and only barely stayed attached, for a while, there.”

And then Steve - because he apparently hates Tony’s brain and doesn’t want it to work - lifts his hand and rubs at the nipple, seemingly remembering.

The nipple hardens under his touch.  As they do.

Tony’s mouth goes completely dry.

As it does.

“Jesus, Steve,” he breathes, and then completely regrets saying it aloud.  

For a moment, Steve looks up, blue eyes sharp and observant (as they are, contributes  Tony’s not-terribly-helpful brain), looking at him and actually seeing him, which is - bad, bad, so very bad, Steve has just been imported from the 1940’s, there is no way he is going to be okay with the depth and perversity of Tony’s habitual, constant lust for him, and Tony is about to get the shit kicked out of him any second now -

- Except he doesn’t.  

And that’s… incredible, quite frankly.

Instead, Steve just looks at him, peregrine-sharp, for a minute, and he’s going to say something - Tony knows he’s going to say something - and if Tony isn’t getting beaten up right now, then what exactly is Steve planning to say?!

- And then the silence in the room is interrupted by a loud thump - crack from upstairs.  

Within milliseconds, they’re both on their feet, heads tipped back to look at the ceiling.

“Do we need to look into that?” Steve asks after a second or two in which no succeeding thump-crack had come.  He cuts his eyes sideways to look at Tony.

“JARVIS?”

“I do not believe investigation will be providential at this time,” JARVIS answers after a nearly-indetectable pause.  “It appears that one of the pressurized oxygen tanks in your lab has had a failure of the release valve, sir.  After rocketing briefly and rather acrobatically around the lab, destroying fifteen priceless prototypes which you will no doubt completely disregard, it came to rest halfway through the workbench surface.”  He pauses.  “I have deployed all fire suppression measures necessary, sir, and I believe Dummy is eager to begin cleaning up the damage.”

Tony nods, picturing it and frowning.  “What caused the seal to break in the first place, do we know?”   Was it ninjas? he doesn’t ask.   Corporate espionage ninjas?  Intent on stealing my unique prototypes?

Alright, it’s not the most probable explanation.  To be fair though, it does have precedent!

Then JARVIS pauses again, rather ominously this time, and answers, “...Dummy is exceptionally eager to begin cleaning up the damage, sir.”

...yeah, that’s more likely, Tony sighs mentally.  

What is my life?!

“Tell Dummy that the next time he makes a mess for the sheer joy of cleaning it up, I’m leasing him out to the local high school to clean out the lockers at the end of the year.  Disengage.”  He rubs his forehead, and looks back at Steve, making a moue.  “Kids, am I right?”

Steve smiles his genuine, glowing smile - oh god - and laughs at him.  “You gotta love ‘em though?” he hazards, and Tony feels himself warming from the inside out.   

Impulsively, he leans over, wrapping his arms around Steve, tucking his face down into the shoulder.  “Yeah, you do,” he answers, possibly with more intent than it should really have, and revels in the feel of Steve’s arms coming up to wrap around his back.  

Steve doesn’t say anything about whatever he saw on Tony’s face.

Tony doesn’t say anything, either.

Self-preservation, really.

 


 

“What about the vampire?” Tony asks later, when he has his breath back and Steve has brought him a fresh cup of coffee (bless him), and they’re back to talking about Steve’s somehow hilarious-sounding injuries with no more than the normal, low-level baseline of sexual tension.  He taps two fingers along the left side of his own neck - which, actually, was the wrong side, but whatever, Steve would get it - so that Steve can know what he’s talking about.  “It… I’m just checking here, it wasn’t actually a vampire, was it?”

Because the Norse god of the Thunder is downstairs, and sometimes it pays to make sure.

"Nah."  Steve laughs shortly at his phrasing, but loses some of his glow:  a bad memory, then.  “Attack dogs,” he admits, voice kind of down.  “We had to put them down, and I always hate that.  I mean, I guess in some ways it’s better than shooting people, but it isn’t the dog’s fault.”  It’s a perfectly Steve sort of thing to say, outraged at the injustice of hurting the poor dogs, genuinely distressed at having to hurt the dog himself, even in self-defense.

Tony puts his hand on Steve’s knee and rubs firmly, partly to comfort him for the dog thing, and partly to brace him:  “What about the, uh… the lash marks?  The whipping?  Whippings?  Maybe more than one?”

He seriously hopes it wasn’t more than one.

Steve looks aside.  

Shit, Tony thinks.

“Those -”

Steve stops, then starts again.

“Those were, uh… consensual.  Actually.”

Wait.

What?

What?

What?!!

Well.  

That changes things.

“They - sorry, what?”

Steve’s ears are turning red, and he isn’t looking Tony in the eye.

“I know you know about this stuff, Tony.  They were - I mean, they don’t leave marks, anymore, I wasn’t going to get caught.   Back when that was… you know, something I could have gotten arrested for.”  Steve’s voice is high and defensive, his shoulders hunched up by his ears.

Tony’s life is deeply unfair, because arresting only comes into it if it's something Steve was doing with another man, and here Tony's been hopelessly perving on him pretty much continuously for months (because come on), and what do you say to that?!

“You can’t just - you can’t just tell me things like that!”  Steve is literally going to kill him.  Seriously:  heart attack, waiting to happen, right here.  “Holy shit, Steve!”

“It’s not that unus -”

“Is that something you’re still interested in?” Tony demands before having properly thought it through.

Then he realizes what he’s said, and closes his eyes...

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck FUCK!

...and opens them again.

Steve’s eyes are wide, and he’s boggling at Tony with an incredulous look on his face, which, really, Tony can't exactly blame him, that was a really cheesy thing to say, and -  “...Yeeessss?” Steve - alright, from the sound of it, guesses, but come on, that’s close enough, here!

They sit on the couch, blinking at each other, mutually stunned at the sudden M. Night Shyamalan-level plot twist going on. 

Tentatively, Steve raises a hand and brushes his fingers across Tony’s cheek.  It’s the sort of thing you do right before you’re planning to kiss someone, and Tony leans into it a little bit, hesitantly and kind of scared because Steve is Captain America and there is literally no way this isn’t going to backfire horribly, but he’s also the hottest thing under the sun and it’s not like Tony was ever going to be capable of refusing this…

Steve leans in, softly pressing firm lips to - Jesus, to Tony’s jaw.   It’d be one thing if he were going for Tony’s mouth, but the jaw?   Steve's head is tilted to the side to get access, which means his neck is right there, and that’s just so…

...So perfect, actually.

Tony gives an embarrassingly high-pitched whine, winds his fingers into Steve’s short hair…

...and pulls.

 


 

Later, after sex and pizza and discovering that bondage is only as good as the bed frame it’s attached to and that, in Steve’s case, that bed frame is not good enough, and after laughter and bandaging of Tony’s forehead where the broken frame has embedded fourteen splinters but who cares because it was worth it…  

After all of that, Tony lays back against Steve’s beautiful, chiseled, extremely sweaty chest, and reflects that today has been a very unexpected sort of day.