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Tony invades Bruce's labs in the same manner a small, tenacious army would swarm a castle that didn't really care about being invaded, anyway. Because the invaders were so adorable. And fantastic people all around.

"You can't be in here," Bruce tells him; for protocol's sake, really. His machines release efficient whirring beeps. Without looking, he reaches to the side and presses a button. The sounds die down, and Bruce peers at him. "You have your own section of the labs to run, you shouldn't even be on this side."

"Shhh." Tony rounds Bruce's workstation with a flourish of his natty lab-coat, brandishing the slim data-pad carelessly. "Shush. That is why I have underlings, this is why I have Pepper, so I can roam the wonderful world of SHIELD and get over here to look at your gorgeous face."

Bruce removes his goggles and smiles; this experiment can wait, obviously. Also, he isn't immune at all to Tony's brand of charm, not at all and that is a good thing.

"You have something to show me?" Bruce tilts his head and his gaze locks on Tony's datapad, which Tony designed his damn self, boo SHIELD software and hardware. He twirls the pad in one hand, like a magic trick, and then allows it to come to rest in the middle of both palms, the display turned towards Bruce.

Bruce stares at it in a mildly interested fashion. His expression registers absolutely no change when tiny cables emerge from the upper portion of Tony's back and lock into ports on either side of the datapad. This is why Tony adores his face so much; not everyone takes a total internal cybernetic interface in stride, seriously. He sends a mental command to Jarvis, the AI that rides shotgun in his head, and Jarvis immediately responds to his wishes, downloading the information from his mind and displaying it on the clear screen of the datapad.

"See?" Tony grins as Bruce's eyebrows twitch and he leans forward, inspecting the detailed schematics. "Coolest thing you ever saw, I know."

"What is it?" Bruce puts his finger against the thin screen, which acknowledges the presence of the digit with a yellow circle, blinking faintly; he turns his hand over, and calls the display with a come-here twitch of that same finger. The holographic projectors activate and Tony's designs are constructed in layers of light above the datapad.

When Tony makes a slight sound in the back of his throat, Bruce's dark regard rests on him heavily.

"I've never asked, but I should: does it hurt you when that happens?" he asks, all doctorly concern and Tony just wants to pinch his brilliant little cheeks.

"Nope." Tony drops him a sexy, sexy wink, because Bruce deserves all kinds of sexy, sexy things. He really does, because that whole transforming into rage-monster thing is decidedly not awesome.

(Actually, it is, Tony is a huge fan of the process, for real. Once, an aide who was really a spy had tried to make off with Bruce's work and had been confronted with one thousand pounds of sheer green fury. Tony had tapped into SHIELD's video records and watched that shit for hours. Plus, the Hulk likes Tony, enough to make Fury worry.

It's things like that which make Tony rub his hands together and cackle in delight.)

"The feedback from the holograms just tickle my homunculus, that's all," Tony says now and he moves his shoulders in a quick, offhand twitch. He narrows his eyes. "But you're not saying anything about my awesome armour!"

"Is that what it is?" Bruce peers at the designs again. "Yes, that's what it is," he answers himself, tone soft. "Very medieval."

Tony actually sighs in delight. He may even swoon a little as he drapes himself over Bruce's shoulders. "Yes. Yes. Medieval, except it can shoot rays of awesome."

"I just love it when you speak science to me, Anthony." At the corners of Bruce's lips, almost hidden beneath his shadow of his scruff, a small smile lingers. Tony can't resist; he does pinch Bruce's cheek. Bruce chuckles, batting his hand away gently, as if he's the Hulk right now and might hurt Tony with the swipe of his monstrous green paws. If Fury or Captain Cold Cuts were in the room, they'd probably give him identical wary scowls; combined messages of what-the-fuck-are-you-doing and you-do-know-that-person-turns-into-the-hulk. Except, in terms of the good Captain, he'd probably say 'heck' instead of 'fuck'.

"Which agent is this for?" Bruce asks as he flicks through the specs, nodding and humming to himself. Tony resists the urge to pull the datapad close to himself, clutch it to his chest.

"Not…for anyone else." He holds onto his grin with care. "It's just a thing for me. The power source, though, that's the total kicker. I'm going to have to discover an element that provides clean energy. I've got that penned in for next Tuesday."

"I hope you name it after me," Bruce turns back to his experiment, but his smile is wider. "I've been partial to brucethirium recently."

"Bannergen." Tony nods decisively as he backs away towards the sliding aperture which separates BioChemical from Mechanics (and Ordnance). "Hulkorous."

"That sounds like the description for a very strong aroma," Bruce murmurs. He's peering into a spectroscope but he's laughing a little, still; Tony's work here is done. "Or a dinosaur from the Triassic era."

"Bruce, baby," Tony warbles as he steps over the threshold. "You and I, we'll always be Cretaceous."

The door slides shut on Bruce's chuckles. Tony spins on his heel and finds himself nose-to-nose with Agent Coulson, who is looking as mild-mannered as ever and is therefore not to be trusted as far as Tony can throw him (which is not far). This fucker got himself jabbed in the chest with some magical staff some months ago, and here he is, Agent Zombie, master of the bland. Tony had thought it had been one of the Life Model Decoys, because he upgrades those things during REM sleep, they are awesome and simultaneously far too disturbing for the real world. But no, Agent Creepshow don't do like that. Hands-on, for sure.

Behind him, at her desk, Pepper is unpacking a few small boxes and making that face which reads: They Let Themselves In, Sorry. There are other agents looming about the place, because SHIELD agents are super-great at looming. The lab personnel seem distinctly unimpressed, but they're exposed to Tony for most of their day; they can take nearly anything else in stride. The Black Widow is sitting right in Pepper's seat, staring at whatever she's doing. To her credit, Pepper doesn't appear as if she's checking for knives in her back. The Black Widow only shanks people she deeply despises, anyway, which is why Tony is activating all the sensors in the room through his internal remote system. If she even tenses up the muscles in her neck to turn her head, Tony will know.

Oh, he will know.

Jimmy Woo is lounging on one of the bean-bags near the windows. Tony had spitefully shut down the labs once, just to get those bean-bags. They'd arrived a few days later, accompanied by a stream of near poetic invectives from Fury. Those bean-bags are damn near the most comfortable lounging paraphernalia on the planet; Tony's done a lot of inventing while dozing in one of those, and here's Agent Woo, with his eyes at half-mast; he's sprawled off, all limbs spread wide. As a matter of fact, he looks like a cat just waiting for someone to scratch his belly so that he can shred the flesh of their hands to the bone. Considering the kind of part-flirty, part-murderous relationship Tony and Jimmy have, this is a very apt metaphor.

If the Black Widow is here, and Agents Cold-son and Woo-hoo, then that means the chances of Hawkeye being close by are at--

91.5%, sir, Jarvis pipes up in his head and Tony lets out a little screech.

"Don't do that!" he admonishes, and Agent Coulson raises one eyebrow. "Not you. My head-genie. Keeps talking and giving me calculations I can do my own damn self."

My apologies, sir. Jarvis sounds amused than apologetic, but that's fine. Tony gave him a sense of humour, that's cool. Hawkeye walks out of one of the side-labs, holding a bow and turning it from side to side. He has an appreciative smile on his face.

"Oh, you've found Maurice!" Tony slips around the wall that is Agent Coulson, and holds out his hand, waggling his fingers impatiently when Hawkeye gives him a sideways glance. "Come on, lemme show you the specs. It's perfect for you."

"The last bow you made was pretty much perfect," Hawkeye says, but he still hands over Maurice. "I have a hard time believing that you can top Mary."

"Check it out." Tony runs through the specifications really quickly, displaying how he adjusted the arrow-head selector for greater promptness; he also removed that articulating joint which scratched Hawkeye under his right arm whenever he put it into 'discreet mode' (which was really just folding up the damn thing and sticking it under his clothes). "Nothing but the very best for a guy who insists on using feudal-era weaponry, but these are your choices, I respect them."

"Flatterer," Hawkeyes says, grinning as he snaps Maurice into discreet mode and out again.

"Got it to shoot fire yet?" Jimmy calls out; he's taken off his boots and is inspecting the nails of his bare toes. Tony's going to have to ask him to stop doing that.

"J.W., I'm going to ask you to stop doing that," he says and then squints when Agent Cool pops up in his field of vision again. "Uhh, hi."

"Hi." Agent Coulson doesn't even crack a smile, but his face seems less…stony, at least. "We all know Hawkeye is your favourite--

"What? Noooo," Jimmy groans in mock disappointment and Agent Coulson's lips thin, his version of holding back laughter.

"--but I'm sure we asked for upgrades on weaponry for all active special field agents," Coulson continues, and stands there with his hands folded at his back, waiting patiently.

"Yeah, you asked." Tony jerks his chin at Pepper. She jerks her chin in return, mocking him, but she still unpacks a tangle of wires so fine that they are just a gleam in the corner of one's eye. "So behind curtain number one, we have a nice new sting for the Widow," he says as Pepper tilts the wires into the Widow's cupped hands. They trickle like a tiny waterfall between curled fingers.

"Oh. Thank you, Potts." The Widow unfurls them, nodding once before sliding them on over her gloves and flexing her fingers. "Lighter than normal."

"Pep did all the neurosonic wiring," Tony says because he's not always a dick. "And then I did everything else, which is like ninety-nine per cent of the work," because he's really mostly a dick. The Window doesn't roll her eyes, but her general air tends towards serene contemplation of Tony-cide.

"It's like Christmas up in here!" Tony says, lifting his hands with great magnanimity. "Everyone gets an upgrade! You get an upgrade! And you get an upgrade!" he yells, pointing at Jimmy and Agent Coulson.

Pepper tosses a few flat discs in the air towards Jimmy, slightly larger than silver dollars. "Better voice-activated lasers, Agent Woo. We all know you love lasers."

"I do love lasers." Jimmy plucks them out of the air with the grace of one trained to assassinate from birth, and walks one across his knuckles. Tony takes a lot of delight in watching him do tricks with a laser capable of slicing a bull in half.

"And for you, Phil." Pepper is smiling as she pulls out a beautifully made hand-gun out of one of the boxes. It seems heavy and intimidating; it looks as modern as Tony could design, while still possessing a grip inlaid with a darkly shimmering metal, patterns weaving along in understated detail.

"Handprint recognition," Tony says; he's distracted in his own head by a project sub-routine, pulling apart the pieces and bringing up the circuitry. He flicks his fingers and the imagery of the circuit, trapped in his field of view like a ghostly butterfly, does a slow flip. "The grip, that is. No one can hold it but you, after you activate it…kind of boring, but you're kind of a boring agent."

"I completely agree," Agent Coulson says, as loose and immovable as ever.

Tony's lying, of course. Tony has provided tech back-up for Agent Coulson's teams on a myriad of missions, and he's locked down security systems so that they can infiltrate and do their shit; he's seen Coulson pop out of nowhere like a vampire, clear the area of distracting attackers so that Hawkeye or the Widow can do the 'real' work, and then melt back into the shadows. It's creepy and that's probably why Pepper likes him so much. They have tea together on Mondays and Thursdays, and probably lay out plans to control Tony's less favourable habits (such as retreating into his private workshop for days on end). Tony suspects that these plans involve spreadsheets.

"Look." Pepper holds out the gun towards to Coulson, grip-first so he can take a closer look at the carved pattern. He bends forward and inspects it, gaze leaving an appreciative trail over the sleek curves of the weapon, and the fluid shapes of the decoration. Tony knows the moment he realises what the stylised imagery is when his eyes widen and he glances in Tony's direction.

"Star-spangled," Pepper explains and continues to hold it out, her expression completely indulgent until Coulson takes it out of her hands. He handles it as if it were made out of glass and not metal and high-density polymers. "Isn't it lovely? The captain drew it for you. Tony asked." She grins as Coulson stares down at the gun. "It was such a huge inconvenience for him, you should hear him go on about it."

Coulson's head snaps up, and the skin between his eyebrows tighten. "An…inconvenience? For the captain?"

"No, no." Pepper laughs and flaps her hand at him. "Sorry, no. I meant for Tony to talk to him. You know how it is."

"Consider it a sorry-you-got-stabbed-in-the-heart-by-a-demigod gift." Tony pauses his circuit planning. "I didn't sign the card two years ago."

Pepper says, "You did. Well, I signed it for you, so."

"You're the new favourite," Jimmy pops up on Coulson's right side, and drapes an arm across his shoulder. It's a display of familiarity allowed by few operatives. Tony really can't help but notice that. Even though he has half his mind focused on another project, because Bruce just sent him some specs on a new spectrum of acids, he also doesn't miss the way Coulson gazes at his new hand-gun with a mixture of surprised pleasure. It's definitely an expression that is almost alien on his face, and for a moment he seems to lose those layers of distant competence.

"Thank you." Coulson took the box that Pepper offered him, packing the weapon carefully inside. "Tony," he says and Tony pauses all his sequences, blinking at Agent Coulson's earnest face. "This is…" He glances down at the box, one corner of his mouth twitching. "This is great."

"He said great." Hawkeye widens his eyes. "Stark, you got a great out of Coulson."

"He's not sure if he should use it or put it up in his shrine." Widow gets up and adjusts the sleeves of her shirt and collar, smoothing down the material with brusque movements. Coulson opens his mouth, almost as if he wants to refute that, and then closes it again.

"Please don't call it a shrine," he says and tilts his head in a manner that is obviously secret-agent code for 'let's-roll', because the other three walk out with their particular versions of adieu (Hawkeye drops a salute using his middle finger; Jimmy gives him the most salacious wink he can manage and the Widow just stares at him). Coulson, however, remains standing there.

Tony wrinkles his nose. "Is there something--"

"I'm aware that, technically, it isn't a distinct weapon," Coulson says. "But the Captain has been asking for his motorcycle."

"Oh." Tony can't decide between a shrug and a carefree wriggle of his arms, so he does both at once. "Yeah, it's done. I said it would be ready, didn't I?"

Coulson nods. "Can he drop by for it?"

Tony is a little irritated at the careful note in Coulson's voice. Seriously, it's not like he and the Captain get into daily fistfights or anything (he would lose, just for the record). They just happen to disagree a lot, and at high volume, especially when he manages to damage all of Tony's tech just by looking at it, apparently; or when he returns from missions with tiny pieces of circuitry that used to be integral parts of robots so clever that they had feelings.

"Sure," he says, and strides off to his workshop. The skin at the back of his neck tingles. He's sure that Coulson is staring at the little round panels that hide the specialised cabling. "Whatever works for the good Capsicle."

"I'll inform him. And Tony?"

Tony stops right at his door and turns his head. Coulson is smiling.

"Thanks again."

---

Tony met Captain Rogers a few weeks after they defrosted him. Tony had been in fairly bad mood for that day, because his new implants had been itchy as fuck. He'd already had one nervous breakdown, mostly because he'd had a fairly violent flashback to his kidnapping during the installation procedure. (The kidnappers had thought he'd still been an heir to billions, obviously they hadn't been watching the NASDAQ closely at all. Which was stupid, and Tony was deeply offended that his kidnapping had been carried out by absolute idiots. The damage to his back and brain had also been extremely offensive. Dr. Yinsen's solution to jack up his brain with a computer system was insanely brilliant, and Tony wished on a bi-weekly basis that he was still alive. Bruce would like him a lot).

So, yeah, that day had been kind of a bad one, he had been slightly overwhelmed by the faster input from the remote systems and a little antsy to get back to syncing up his routines. Fury walked into the labs (not his own workshop, thank fuck, because he would probably thrown a fit. A larger fit), and jabbed a thumb in the direction of the very large blond man who had walked in behind him.

"Stark, Miss Potts," Fury said and Tony had glanced up from where he had been having a very intense disagreement with Pepper regarding the shape of the tracking devices. The other dude gazed at Tony and opened his mouth, then folded his lips shut. In that moment, Tony knew that he had been about to say Howard, and only stopped himself in time. In the pit of his stomach, annoyance curled into anger. Pepper's hand on his arm had barely restrained his temper.

"This is our newest operative: Captain Steve Rogers," Fury said and he sounded as proud as a new father. "He was acquainted with your father, Stark."

"Was he?" Tony turned around and made sure his expression was arranged into dismissive lines. "That's nice, real nice. I wasn't really that acquainted with my own dad, so one point for you, I guess." Pepper's hand tightened on his forearm, but Tony wasn't in the mood to rein it in. Hell, when was he ever in the mood? "Did you meet father dear before or after they pulled this new hot bod out of the test tube?"

Captain Roger's entire face went taut. Fury glanced between them, his lips pursed into a considering line. "Before," the Captain answered, his voice a bare rumble that had to squeeze past his lips. Tony had hit a nerve, and because he was Tony E. Stark, he kept hitting it.

"As a kid, I grew up on the Legend of Captain Rogers. You were a huge deal in my house." Tony kept his own tone very soft. "Especially after your disappearance. My fave part of the story is that the best of who you are comes from science. It's a good thing I like science, anyway." He glanced around the messy organization of the lab and then looked back at the captain out of the corner of his eye. "Can you tell? You can tell, right?"

"I can tell that the best of you isn't really in the room with us right now," Captain Rogers observed in an even, thoughtful tone and Tony raised an eyebrow. Wow; Captain Zombie had a bite, which was kind of surprising, but Tony could deal. "Your father was a good man," he said and a large part of Tony's brain took off all its jewellery and strapped on its fighting gear. Pepper's nails were practically embedded into his flesh at this point.

"Thanks for coming by, Captain Rogers," she said. "It's nice to meet you. I'm speaking for myself, I just want you to know."

"It's nice to meet you, too." Captain Rogers smiled, and Tony glowered at the way his face brightened. "I'm very impressed with what I've heard about these labs, and your management of them."

"Oh!" Pepper, the traitor, actually laughed and waved her free hand in his direction. "Well, thank you."

The Captain smiled at her, nodded at Tony so stiffly that his neck probably got a crick, and then marched out with precise steps.

Fury said, "That is the first time I ever saw you not charm your way into someone's good graces." He nods a little, smiling a crocodile's smile. "Today is a good day for me."

Tony didn't grind his teeth at all. He'd spent years in braces, he wasn't about to undo all that hard work.

He was sure he hadn't made the best first impression, but he wasn't too awestruck with the Captain, either. Captain Rogers was everything Tony was not, and there was something about that fact that Tony found deeply annoying. Before the crash that had crippled his father's company (and before that other crash which had taken the lives of his parents), Tony had grown up with the lore of Steve Rogers trailing in the corridors of their houses, walking tall through the shadows of the gardens and slipping into his father's labs even as Tony himself gradually lost that privilege. It hurt, that's what it did, and Tony wasn't able to express how horrible it felt. Starks were chatty shits, but not so good with the unveiling of emotions; and after a time, he simply couldn't.

However, despite all of that, Tony found that the Captain was not a bad operative to work with. Yes, he had that frankly terrifying gift of destroying nearly every piece of tech Tony designed for his use; at least he always seemed extremely apologetic when he brought back the pieces in a box.

"Look at this," Tony would say in amazement, rummaging through the singed scraps. "What was…this used to be a wide-spectrum camera, how did he…and this? This is his phone. Does he want me to fix his phone?"

"You're good at it," Pepper had answered that time, and had pulled out a pile of sad black material. The sections which were still whole were covered with hundreds of tiny nodules, set closely together. "I didn't know that you could rip flexi-armour like this, though."

Tony sat down on Pepper's chair and put his face in his hands. "The man is a menace. He breaks all our stuff, how can he break all our stuff?"

When Captain Rogers contacted Tony for technical backup, he was very crisp and professional. He didn't flirt like Hawkeye or Jimmy; even Agent Coulson was amenable to a quick conversation over the comms at times. The Captain said things like, "Stark, can you guide me past the cameras? No, I don't need you to shut them down, yet. I'm going to try this quietly."

He always tried things quietly. Tony said, "Your call, Cap," and that would be it. He would guide him past the cameras and into whatever facility was on the infiltration list today. Just for kicks, Tony would shut down the cameras after the team was out, and lock down the security system so they wouldn't be chased, at least not far.

Just for kicks.

So, it really only looked as if Tony and Captain Rogers had some kind of grand vendetta. Tony had been all for making TEAM TONY shirts, Jimmy had loved that idea. If they had this extreme hostility like everyone at SHIELD swore they did, then Tony would have not been able to send a message to him, which read as follows: cap if ur not too busy id like you to whp up a design for agent coulsons new handgun. pls.

Tony had gotten a reply after about four hours; he surmised that the Captain had spent most of that period trying to translate Tony's message, and then typing out an appropriate response:

Stark,
I would be honoured to do that. When do you need it?
Regards,
Steve Rogers

Captain Rogers sent the drawing over to the labs in one of those manila folders, pressed flat between two sheets of tracing paper. Tony hadn't touched the drawing. He'd opened the folder at Pepper's desk and stared at it, speechless for many heartbeats.

"That's so beautiful." Pepper stroked the edge of the paper. "I didn't know he could draw so well."

"I did," Tony admitted, but he hadn't expected something so ornately abstract; he'd thought realism was Rogers' forte. The star was there, of course, in multiples. Coulson was going to shit bricks at that; the star-spangled phase of Captain Rogers' life was his favourite. Tony always thought that if the Captain wasn't in SHIELD covert ops these days, dressed in the form-fitting black uniform and hood which covered his pale hair, then he'd still sport that bright getup with the symbol on his chest and the shield.

The shield was in that work of art as well, even though the Captain's choice of non-lethal weapon now was a huge boomerang which was only destroyed once every two missions. This design, though; Tony was really tempted to use it as a tattoo.

its great, he'd sent out right there and then: thanks.

The reply sank into his frontal lobe in moments this time: I'm glad you like it.

You're welcome.

---

Syncing up is a task that Tony needs to do on a regular basis, and therefore he forgets. It's a necessary evil, like chewing food and swallowing it, and he neglects that too, so… not really a surprise for anyone. The interesting thing is, he has sub-routines that send him alerts, he has Jarvis, he has Pepper, he has Bruce; even the assistants and operatives like Hawkeye get in on the action (Hawkeye likes to fire reminder-messages in Tony's direction. It's hilarious, except when the arrow barely misses Tony's nose as he's walking down the corridors). All of these individuals and programs display capable and efficient behaviour, which he promptly ignores. Syncing is like…dreaming awake, but with eighty-five per cent less fun. His internal interface needs to dump shit and reconfigure stuff, and he has to pay attention to nearly everything at once. If he waits too long, the task becomes tiresome and unwieldy.

That's one of the major reasons he conveniently forgets, and basically fucks himself over. He's a genius, but even he can admit that he's not necessarily sensible at times, especially when he's monitoring tens of SHIELD projects, or working on his own designs. The other reason is that the activity requires that he remain in one spot for a very long time (about fifteen minutes) and he has things to do, honestly. Lots of things. He performs the syncing process in his workshop, in the late evening or night, away from the curious stares of the lab assistants. He's on the floor, cross-legged, grumpily undergoing another process, and the main door slides open. It's a very quiet door, and Tony is seated in an alcove at the opposite end of the room; despite that, he hears the soft whisper of the pneumatic actuators. He has a program locked into the security feed for all the labs and he glances up at the holographic displays hovering over his head, serene as clouds on a summer day. At his command, another display pops up to his right, much smaller than the others. In it, Tony views of the top of someone's head, a man, and recognises the rigid part in his hair.

"Stark?" Captain Rogers calls out; his voice is in stereo, floating through the air to land on Tony's ears, and reverberating in his mind through the video feed. Tony hesitates. There's only one person who has an override for the entry to his workshop; Pepper had been in the outer labs up to a few minutes ago. She must have let the Captain in.

Tony will have words with her tomorrow. Words she will blithely disregard, but still.

Tony hesitates, and then says, "Round the back," before he makes a concrete decision. He minimises the security display before Rogers walks around the corner, and there's silence for a moment as the Captain probably stops and stares.

"This is probably a bad time," he says and Tony agrees internally.

Out loud, he says, "Doesn't matter. You're here for your bike, right?"

There's a pause, and Tony hears the click of his shoes as he walks around. He looks up; he has to look up quite some way, because he's seated on the floor and Captain Rogers is an extremely tall glass of water. Rogers is dressed in a very nice, dark suit, the tie loosened and the top button undone; he must have just come from an assignment that required dinner-wear, or an actual dinner. Apart from the SHIELD gear, the Captain tends towards chinos and neatly pressed plaid. Tony is grown enough to admit that Rogers fills out a suit very well. He's neither immune nor averse to the appeal of this man, despite their chilly interactions. The lights are low in this section of the workshop, and the dark shade of Rogers' suit makes the colour of his eyes seem darker. Right now, the Captain seems a little tired, despite the serum blasting through his system. He blinks down at Tony, and then lifts his head to stare at the hovering displays with a bleary expression.

Tony is expecting a question, but Rogers remains silent. He stands very still as well, his gaze tracking the lines of codes and virtual graphs. Tony has nine minutes and seventeen seconds before this sync is over, and the other man's stillness is kind of freaking Tony out a little.

"I need to keep myself synced up," he says and boy, the sound of broken silence is such a relief. His ears had actually begun to ring during that very quiet pause. "I have an internal cybernetic interface, that's--"

"I know what it is." Rogers keeps his head up, as if he's trying to track the speed of the processes on the projections. "I did a little research about you. Didn't understand most of it, but I figure it was a good exercise for my brain."

Tony laughs and stops, surprised at himself. Rogers tilts his head in Tony's direction and looks down out of the corner of his eye. He seems as if he's actually smiling.

"What else did you find out, Cap?" Tony asks, actually interested in the answer. Rogers researched him. Interesting.

The Captain's scrutiny slides back to the holographs. "Well, Dr. Banner explained that--"

"You spoke to Bruce!" Tony is delighted, because this story involves Bruce and Tony likes all Bruce-related things. Rogers laughs this time, and rubs at one forearm with his other hand.

"Yes, I did. He explained that the sync process helps to organize your brain-patterns and diminish clutter." Rogers chuckles. "I think he was using words for ten-year-olds."

Tony flaps a hand. "He talks that way to everyone. It's endearing."

Rogers hums his agreement, but doesn't say anything else for the next three minutes and forty-seven seconds, according to the sync countdown. This time, Tony doesn't feel words building up at the back of his throat, fighting to get out and overwhelm the other person with a flood of distraction.

"Dr. Banner says you need to sync more regularly," Rogers says and Tony snorts.

"He thinks I'm going to go crazy if I don't."

"Will you?"

Tony stills. He had been tapping his fingers against his knees, bouncing his legs and generally being a nuisance to himself. There is an odd note in Rogers' voice, and it reverberates under his skin and around his spine.

"Because if you don't, I could help remind you." Rogers glances down at him, a quick flicker. "I can be persistent."

Tony, who grew up on the war-footage featuring Steve Rogers and the Howling Commandos, who knows that Captain Rogers is the very persona of teeth-gritting persistence, says, "Yeah? Well, you can give it a shot, soldier. Be my guest."

Sync complete, Jarvis informs him in a murmur. Stand by, sir. A few more seconds crawl past before Jarvis gives the all-clear; the cabling from the machines is connected to those which extend out of the back of his neck. They detach with soft hisses, like a clowder of sleepy, ill-tempered cats. Tony stretches and reaches back one hand over his shoulder, rubbing it over the skin of his neck and back. He's checking if the ports have closed themselves properly, and they have; he can't reach the other ones further down, but they feel fine. The skin around them is dry, though. They need a bit of antiseptic moisturiser, but he can get that later. Rogers doesn't ask about those ports, either. Tony likes that; he didn't think he would, but he did.

He rises to his feet with a groan and then squints at Rogers. "Okay. Time for your bike."

Rogers' eyes light up, but he reins it in. Tony brushes past him, escaping out of the alcove and going directly across the room to another bay. He hits the switch for the track lighting in this section, revealing a bike-shaped lump under a sheet of dark material. Tony waits through an appropriate dramatic pause before he grabs the edge of the cloth and pulls it away.

Rogers stares. The slight smile which had appeared on his mouth wavers just a little, and then strengthens even more. He takes a few steps towards it and stops, then looks at Tony.

"It looks just the same," he says and he sounds so pleased. "I thought you were upgrading it?"

"I did." Tony winks at him, and motions for him to step closer. "Custom frame, your shocks were awful by the way, they made me cry angry and bitter tears so I fixed those…and a flux generator for the engine. Also, you got the standard comm-system here." He reaches down and flips up a small panel set low down between the handlebars. "There's the usual SHIELD tracking device in it, but for you? This little button here deactivates it."

"That's really useful." Rogers seems thoughtfully amused.

"The paint-job, it repels water and rust, and I beefed up the transmission. Weaponry: two side-facing rapid fire units, for those car chases you guys are so fond of, and two more for the front and the back. Parachute under the seat, and…are you actually listening to me?" Tony frowns at him, for he's just gazing at the bike, shaking his head and smiling just a little bit. "Steve," Tony tries. "Hey, Steve."

Captain Rogers--Steve¬-- says, "I'm sorry, Stark, I really am. I don't know how you got it to look just like it used to. It's amazing."

"Yeah, it is," Tony is feeling a pout coming on, but also preening as well. "It wasn't too hard, though. Just a few sleepless nights, but who needs sleep? Rhodey--"

"Captain Rhodes?" Rogers raises his eyebrows. "James Rhodes."

"Right, yeah, him." Tony takes a deep breath and pushes on; Rogers--Steve¬--adopts the expression of one willing to be entertained. "Rhodey claims that half of my neuroses stem from not enough sleep. I have the internal interface, so I just don't need that much. I run on pure, unadulterated ego, anyway."

Steve shakes his head, grinning outright now. He walks right up to the bike and runs the very tips of his fingers along the handlebars. He moves slowly, as if he's pulling the history of this machine into his bones: how it served him well through so many missions; how it waited for him, damaged and rusted in one of SHIELD's dark holding areas as he lay sleeping in the ice; how it molded itself willingly under Tony's hand, as if it knew just what was going on.

"Ego or not, it's perfect. You didn't change how it looked, and…I appreciate that. I really do." He gives one handlebar an affectionate pat and then looks straight into Tony's eyes. "This is fantastic. Thank you."

"I'm glad you like it," Tony says and this is probably the truest statement he's made in a long time. Rogers regards him with a promise of a smile, and Tony grins in return. "Hey, you're welcome."

fin