Steve had only just reached the ballroom where the gala had started an hour ago and where he knew both Reed and Tony were socializing with scientists and businessmen from all over the country. Jan was supposedly also somewhere among the panicking guests. He had been alerted to the problem of wandering Doombots around the Baxter Building and it had become very obvious suddenly that it had all been a distraction, when Tony’s alert came in via the Avengers identity card.
He spotted Reed and Johnny who were trying to get the other guest’s out of harm’s way. Then he spotted Doom. From where Steve was standing at the the moment it looked like everything happened in slow motion - and he was too far away to reach either Susan or Tony in time.
But while he tried to make his way through the panicking crowd, he clearly saw Doom striding towards Susan, who had her back turned, aiming something at her that looked like a yellow flask and Tony, clad in a tight fitting black suit complete with shiny red tie and looking good as always, charged towards them. Steve could see that his intention was to get Susan out of the way or warn her before Doom could reach her, and Tony would have a better chance of getting there than Steve.
Then Doom saw Tony; Tony saw Doom. It was like time froze as they stared at each other, both still moving.
The dictator laughed.
Susan turned and threw up an energy shield around herself as she realized what was happening.
Steve wasn’t able to tell if she had managed to put it up in time.
But he could see Doom looking from her to Tony, changing his aim slightly. Then he heard glass shatter and a yellow mist rose up between his friend and lover. Steve hurried forward, desperate now to get there before the magic could take effect. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be good.
“What the hell?” Tony said and started coughing. So did Susan, who went invisible a second later.
Panic was not his usual mode of operation and he kept eyes on his target, but Steve could hear his heart thump in his chest when he saw Tony go down on one knee. Tony’s eyes were still trained on Doom…. who looked over his shoulder to make sure where Reed was and apparently took note of Susan’s reappearance at her husband’s side. Then his whole attention was back on Tony and it made Steve’s blood run cold.
“Tony!” Steve yelled, but he still couldn’t get through to him. “Tony get up! Get away!”
Not surprisingly, Doom got there first. He held out a hand, as if he was offering to help Tony back to his feet - and Steve, finally close enough to see Tony’s expression, saw a flicker of distress on his lover’s face, as his hand shot out to reach for Doom, as if he wasn’t quite sure how not to reach for him.
Enough was enough for Steve. He jumped to the side to make sure he would not hit any civilians, took aim and threw his shield as hard as he could, knocking away Doom’s arm just in the split second before his armored fingers could touch Tony’s hand.
When he finally got there to be the one to help Tony back to his feet, he heard him whisper: “Magic, I hate magic so much, Steve.”
“Are you alright?” They were standing close and Steve made sure to shield Tony from another attack. Unsteady on his feet as he was Tony held on to his hand very tightly, molded himself to Steve’s side like he needed the reassurance, and that made it impossible to get a good look at more than his face. He looked unharmed, only his pupils seemed wider than normal.
“Yes, yes, alright.” But he wasn’t letting go of his hand, grabbed his arm with both of his, clinging for dear life.
Jan appeared from the crowd, hugged Tony quickly and smiled at Steve. “Nice save. Come on, Cap, I’ll take care of Tony for you.”
“Okay,” he said, but Tony still did not let go of his arm. “Tony? Come on? Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Don’t leave me,” he said and it wasn’t the plea itself, it was the shaken tone that had Steve freeze in his tracks.
Jan had pulled away from Tony to better look at him and it caused him to shiver.
Steve put a hand on his shoulder to steady him.
“It hurts… It physically hurts... not... not… to be touched.”
Jan’s eyes widened, and they looked over to Susan and Reed. Susan seemed to be fine. She was standing, fending off attacks that seemed to be coming from nowhere. But she was holding Reeds hand, while Reed had wrapped himself around Victor von Doom nearly across the room to immobilize him. It made for a grotesque picture.
But the pieces were falling into place in Steve’s mind.
Rage filled him at the thought of what Doom must have been trying to do here. “Jan? Get him out of here please?”
“Okay,” she said and her arms were coming up again to settle around Tony’s shoulders, to offer the comfort of touch and to pull him away so Steve could act.
Tony did not react to her, but kept staring at Steve. His hand was still holding on to his with a death grip, but then he shook himself and reluctantly let go. Unreasonably, Steve suddenly felt like he should snatch the hand back and not let go himself.
But he wasn’t the one who should be rattled. He needed to focus.
“Cap? Fighting to be done?” Jan reminded him. “Carol is on her way. I’ll take care of Tony, promise.”
He nodded, trying to forget about the protective impulse that wasn’t willing to leave Tony’s security to anyone else, even if they were the Wasp and perfectly capable, and instead hold on to the rage he was feeling for Doom right at this very moment.
In his mind’s eye he could still see the way Doom had aimed the flask at Susan and Tony on purpose. As a way of keeping strong adversaries out of the game, it had been a little too effective, but it was Doom holding out his hand to Tony that was stoking Steve’s anger. A nagging feeling told him Doom’s plans had been much more sinister than keeping Iron Man down today. This was a test or a game and they were all just pieces to be moved around on a chessboard.
His shield crashed into the man’s armor with a satisfying crunch.
* * *
The Fantastic Four had helped with most of the clean-up. Susan had not actually breathed in much of the magical potion and had since recovered completely. “It was a terrible feeling,” she admitted to him. “I just couldn’t let go of Reed’s hand. I wanted to be held, but I knew it wasn’t the time.”
He’d called in as soon as he’d had the time. And Jan had already warned him that the effects on Tony were much more severe. Apparently he had taken a full dose of the magically potent mist he’d breathed in. “Is he alright?”
“No, but it could be worse. Get here fast. He needs you.”
When he arrived at the mansion he found Tony, Jan and Carol on the sofa in the living room. Carol was absentmindedly petting Tony’s hair, while she and Jan were watching the television screen, but Tony had his face turned away and hidden against Carol’s shoulder. He could have been asleep, but his breathing hadn’t leveled out. Despite both women being close and holding him near, he was still in distress.
Nobody had noticed him yet, and he felt strange, like he was barging in on a strangely fragile moment. But he bit his lip and cleared his throat to get their attention.
“Finally,” Jan breathed.
“Is he alright?”
Tony’s head shot up immediately. “Steve?” He sounded collected, much more in control than he had back at the gala fight.
Carol looked up too. “Wanda thinks it will work itself out. But if it hasn’t worked itself out of his system in a few hours we should ask Stephen strange to look at him.”
“Steve?” Tony asked and Steve tried to smile at him, and hoped it didn’t look like a grimace.
“Hey,” he said. “The good news is that Susan is already feeling better.”
After Doom holding out his hand to Tony like that Steve felt uncomfortable imitating the gesture, but before he even had to make any move, Tony extracted himself from their friends and made a shaky step towards him. Steve caught him around the hips and pressed him to his chest. “Long day?” he asked.
“I hate magic. I have no words for how much I hate magic. And I hate even more that I didn’t get to kick some ass, after I had my run in with magic for today. This would never have happened if I had been in the suit.” He sighed contently against Steve’s chest.
Steve chuckled. “I don’t think you should be mad at magic, for something one specific magic user put you through.”
“I don’t especially like him either. Pompous idiot doesn’t pull the armored look off half as well as I do.” Tony sighed. “Can we maybe just lie down for a while? I just want to sleep and forget this ever happened.”
He could feel the tension leave Tony’s shoulders as he started stroking his back.
Carol’s crooked smile and Jan’s thumbs up were not at all necessary to make him agree to his lovers request, but he threw a grateful smile in their direction, before he led Tony from the living room, careful to never let them lose contact.
They made for Tony’s own room, because the bed was bigger and - even though Steve usually didn’t admit it - more comfortable.
“Hey,” he whispered, when Tony tried to get his hands beneath his uniform shirt.
“I really, really need to touch you.” Tony gave him a crooked smile. “Nothing unusual there.”
He smiled back, glad that Tony’s mood seemed lighter than he would have expected. “Let’s take a shower and rest?”
Tony shrugged. His pupils were still widened, but Steve had the impression it wasn’t as bad as it had been at the beginning.
Getting clean turned out to be a challenge when letting each other go for more than a second caused Tony distress. But touching and hugging and caressing each other under the hot spray helped both of them to calm their frayed nerves.
“All the time, I’ve only been thinking of you,” Tony admitted.
“I was really worried about you.”
Tony leaned up to kiss his worries away, when he should be the one to comfort Tony.
With still damp hair and skin they crawled into bed, kissing, hugging, holding each other close. Steve could finally feel the anger and worry fall off of him. “Better?” he asked, placing a kiss against Tony’s scalp.
“I don’t know,” Tony whispered. “I might need you to take care of me for a little while longer.”
The desperation had left his voice and there was more of the usual flirting in it. Steve loved it. After the events of today it was like balm to his soul. “I’ll take care of you until this is over,” he promised.
“Might be a while,” Tony warned.
“As long as no more tyrants attack people in the city, I have the time.”
“Better to not waste any second then,” Tony said and kissed him. “This city has the attention of all the crazies.”
They’d never spent a lazy afternoon like this, cuddling and kissing and dozing off in each other’s arms. Tony finally drifted off and Steve took the time to watch his relaxed profile and commit it to memory. He loved seeing Tony relaxed and happy. Steve swore to himself that next time they would not need the kind of prompting for it that had pushed them here today. Stroking a hand along Tony’s naked back, he whispered: “Let’s stay in bed tomorrow.”
“Hm,” Tony said, but it didn’t sound like disagreement.