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Octopus's Garden

Chapter Text

The rain lashing the small boat they'd rented in Miami intensified, and Tony swore. "Jarvis," he yelled, doing his best to make himself heard over the crash of the waves, the howl of the wind, and the loud drumming of the raindrops, "get Pepper and find the lifejackets! Something tells me we might need them!"

"You'd better hope you're wrong!" Jarvis yelled back. "We're miles from land!"

"If this thing capsizes, it won't matter who's right!" Tony replied, then had to throw all his strength against the wheel to keep them pointed into the waves. One good broadside would be enough, the way this leaky tub was wallowing. He only distantly noticed the slam of the hatch that accompanied Pepper and Jarvis' departure from the small enclosed space.

They'd known they were cutting things close, going out after treasure when there was a hurricane drifting through the Caribbean south of the Florida Keys. It had been a chance they'd been willing to take, though. All the forecasts had pointed to the storm moving more or less due west to make landfall near the Yucatan Peninsula and passing far to their south.

And it had. The thing none of them had been prepared for was the line of squalls that the bigger storm had kicked up as it churned through the warm waters of the Gulf. Less than three hours' travel from their destination, the winds had started picking up, and the waves had grown in height from small choppy 1 to 3 foot waves to deep swells averaging 10 to 15 feet that made Tony's stomach feel like it dropped down into his shoes every few seconds.

Their small 25-foot boat was not outfitted for this kind of storm, either. A few thunderstorms or wind gusts would not have fazed them, but the gale that was threatening their lives was far above and beyond what it could handle.

"Tony!" Jarvis was back, and angrier than before. "We've got trouble! The storm's carried away the only dinghy aboard, so if we want to stand a chance of not getting separated, it's this excuse for a fishing boat or bust!"

Pepper followed Jarvis back into the sheltered area of the helm, staggering a bit when she got out of the wind, and tried to wring some of the water back out of her clothes.

Swearing vehemently, Tony did what he could to keep the ship on an even keel as it slewed wildly to starboard in a gust of wind.

Jarvis shouldered him out of the way a moment later, shoving a bulky kapok life vest into his hands. "Leave that to me and go see if you can get the bilge pump running any better!" He suggested. "We don't want to take on much more water than we have! Pepper, see if you can get through to anyone with that junker of a radio!"

"Keep her steady!" Tony shot back, pulling the bulky vest over his head but not securing it yet, and carefully made his way to the door of the tiny sheltered area containing the helm. Jarvis' swearing accompanied him.

The moment he was out in the rain and wind, he was soaked through to the skin, and chilled through. Gingerly, not taking his hands off the railings, he wrestled the hatch open and took the steps down into the ship's hold, closing it again behind him. Just big enough to hold enough supplies and fresh water for the three of them for the week they'd estimated their trip would take, it measured about two meters by three. It now also contained about six inches of sea water.

Sloshing over to the corner the bilge pump was in, Tony paused to pull the lifejacket back off so he could move unencumbered, grabbed the small toolbox off its shelf and took stock. The pump was running, but Jarvis had been right in his assessment of the thing. It wasn't running nearly well enough to keep up with the influx of rainwater and whatever seawater worked its way in through the hatch that wasn't watertight enough to withstand the waves that crashed over the ship's deck.

The fix, thank whatever gods were watching over them, didn't take long, but Tony didn't linger long enough to watch the water levels in their ship go back down.

Instead, he pulled the lifejacket back on and climbed back up onto the deck, feeling bone tired already, then started making his way back to the helm to help Jarvis, not letting go of the railing or looking up from the deck. Losing his footing now could be fatal.

His timing, as always seemed to happen when timing was critical, was terrible.

There was a momentary pause, a silence so out of place in a storm like this, that Tony looked up from the deck, where he'd been more focused on making sure he didn't misstep. Time seemed to slow.

A swell some thirty feet high, or possibly more, loomed in front of the ship, blocking the wind and rain from hitting them for a bare moment, just as the ship slewed slightly to port. It was just enough to put him directly in the path of the wall of water, and Tony just knew that it would tear his grip on the railings loose.

Mentally bracing for the impact, Tony let go of the railing and took the deepest breath he could.

Time sped back up, and he was underwater.

Knowing that the ship would probably bob right back to the surface was fine. He didn't have to worry about Pepper and Jarvis being in the water with him. But they wouldn't have a chance of finding him in these seas.

That was as far as he got before the disorientation of being underwater and tumbling in the currents that seemed to go every which way got the better of him. Being underwater wasn't a brilliant idea, and wouldn't last long, but getting back to the surface wasn't exactly likely to be helpful either. He was sure to be out of sight and earshot of the boat by now.

Thanking Jarvis for insisting on the lifejacket, which had nearly been yanked right off him by the first impact of the massive swell, Tony grabbed at it, knowing his life depended on that piece of kapok fibre-filled plastic, now.

It felt like hours later when he finally reached the surface, and his lungs had felt about to explode from the effort of holding his breath as long as he had. But he managed it, in the end, and gratefully let the wind and rain wash over him as he took a fresh breath of air.

Resigning himself to waiting out the storm if possible, Tony let the waves drive him where they would. He'd need to conserve his energy as much as possible, if he wanted to survive this.

The most difficult part would be keeping from falling asleep, followed closely by the issue of dehydration. Sitting in a salt water bath like this tended to dry out the body very quickly.

In the end, though, all his mental preparations were for naught; it could have been mere minutes or hours later, but something heavy carried along by the waves hit the back of his head, and he knew no more.

Chapter Text

Tony woke on his back with a gasp and a splitting headache.

With a groan, he rolled himself gingerly onto his side and tried to pry his eyes open. It took him three attempts. He felt dehydrated enough that he was pretty sure his eyes wanted to shrivel up in his skull. The darkness didn't help. Giving up on trying to see anything, Tony decided to let himself recover a little more. Doing his best to breathe evenly, he started pushing himself up into a sitting position.

He seemed to be in a cave, judging by the rough uneven stone floor under his left palm. Where said cave was, how long he'd been there, and how he could get back out, though, was anyone's guess.

There was no way he could have gotten here without help, in any case, but there was no sign of anyone that made itself known to any of his senses.

"Hello?" Tony asked, wincing at the dry rasp in his voice, "Is anyone there?"

Only silence answered him for what felt like an eternity, for all that he knew it was less than a minute. A light appeared in front of him and to his right, slowly growing in intensity until he could discern that there was a large pool of water a few feet from his position. The knowledge made him suddenly incredibly thirsty.

He held himself back. He had no idea whether it was fresh water, or even drinkable. Making himself sick by drinking contaminated water was very low on his list of good ideas, right now.

By the time he'd worked through to that conclusion, whoever -- or whatever -- had caused the light had broken the surface of the water.

A blond head of hair and a well muscled pair of shoulders appeared first, and Tony found himself pinned in place by the ice blue eyes this guy had.

"You awake." The guy said with a relieved grin in broken but understandable broadly Caribbean-accented English. "Need water?"

"Please," Tony rasped, feeling his tongue stick to the roof of his mouth.

The guy reached down to what Tony assumed was a belt on his waist -- which was still underwater -- and pulled out an object that approximated a water skin much like the one Tony had used on his Saharan adventures. It wasn't leather, but Tony couldn't bring himself to care what it was made of. He drank cautiously, wetting his mouth first and letting the water wash over his tongue. He poured out a few drops into one hand and started washing his face with it, as well.

He took his time drinking the rest of the water in the skin, after that, feeling better with each swallow.

The silence drew out, and the blond guy watched him curiously.

Eventually, Tony could push aside his own curiosity no longer. "Who are you? And where am I?"

"I Steve." The guy said, a bit haltingly. Tony almost thought he was embarrassed. "You at my home."

"Thank you," Tony said after a beat. "I thought I was a goner."

"This water under my protec-- protection?" Steve made a face. "Your sounds difficult."

"Do you know what happened to my friends? They were in a small boat."

"Only saw one boat. Went to south. Escaped," Steve pronounced the word slowly and carefully, making Tony want to smile, "storm. Only you hurt." He frowned at Tony. "Hurt worse than last person."

The relief that washed through Tony nearly knocked him flat again, and sent his thoughts about Steve's weird habit of hiding in the water and the cute concern Steve showed about his English scattering. Pepper and Jarvis were safe.

Steve watched him for a few seconds before he spoke again. "You better?"

Tony considered how to answer that. "Better, but not completely healed. That will take a few days, at least," he answered, then realised what Steve had said. "Wait. Last person? How often does this happen?"

Steve shrugged. "Rare. Once in ten years? Most rescued by other boats."

No wonder the news of Steve's existence hadn't spread much. One crazy story in a decade wouldn't make much of a dent in the news media. Assuming it was credited at all in the first place. If he didn't have living proof before his eyes, Tony himself might not have believed a story like this, even despite all the insane adventures he'd had over the years. "And what do you do with the people you rescue?" he asked.

"Depends." Steve gave him a measuring look. "Help back to land, or ask if…" the sentence trailed off into silence. Tony saw Steve hesitate and go red. "Sex."

That... was pretty much the last answer he had expected.

"Uh-huh." Tony considered that. Steve was attractive, albeit in a somewhat alien kind of way. "And are you asking me to have sex with you?"

"Need..." Steve trailed off looking for the right word, then visibly gave up. With a shrug he said simply, "mate. Been long time, and you… pretty."

"Okay," he said slowly, drawing out the syllable, "and what are the consequences?"

Steve went redder, and Tony wasn't sure whether he should be more amused or worried. It took Steve a few seconds to speak again. "For me or you?"

"Both?" Tony suggested.

"For you, none." Steve looked like he wanted to hide. "For me, binding."

"Binding?" That sounded potentially ominous.

Looking frustrated, Steve scrubbed at his face with his hands. "Binding. Must go with you."

"For how long?" That could potentially be awkward.

"Few moons."

Tony watched him for a few seconds, and Steve looked like he wanted to squirm under the scrutiny but didn't quite dare, for whatever reason. He did sink a little lower in the water.

Deciding to be daring -- this guy was attractive as sin, and no one would know about the liaison unless he told them -- Tony nodded. "Alright. But give me a few hours to recover my wits properly. And is there anything to eat around here?"

"Fish?" Steve offered, looking very relieved to have a way out of the conversation. "I catch some."

Without giving Tony the chance to say another word, Steve ducked back down under the water, taking his light source with him, and disappeared, leaving Tony to his thoughts.

"Well," Tony said to himself as he was plunged into darkness once more, "this might just be the strangest rescue I've ever been offered."

Even the pair of French ladies who'd fished him and Rhodey out of the water after Gialetta had betrayed them, choosing to side with Baron Nemo, didn't come close, though that had been at the top of his list for a while. He never had found out what on earth they'd been doing playing tourist in the remote area of the Amazon that he and his team had been scouring for the temple. He and Rhodey had been quite grateful for their assistance, though. Both of the ladies had offered Tony a chance to share their beds, now that he thought about it. That seemed to be becoming a theme where it came to people rescuing him.

The thought brought him back to the idea that Steve's request was quite an intimate one. Why on earth was Steve asking him, for that matter? Was there no suitable mate in the region? If not, Tony decided, either Steve was very picky or terrible with women. Well, Tony corrected the thought, with people. Gender didn't seem to be an issue. And there had been something about the way Steve had said the word 'mate' that bugged Tony, but he couldn't put his finger on what.

Steve himself seemed to be a generally honest and straightforward type, though rather shy. The way he'd hidden in the water struck Tony as a bit off, though. The most likely reason was that there was something Steve didn't want him to see. Tony didn't have the faintest idea what it was, though. The question of the 'binding' he'd mentioned was odd, too, and implied there was some kind of magic at work. For that matter, Tony thought with a quiet huff, the fact that he was here and alive, rather than drowned, was so unlikely that he might as well blame that on magic, as well. What were the odds that someone would happen to fish an unconscious man out of thirty foot seas during a storm in the middle of the Caribbean? There had been no radio traffic from any vessel within thirty nautical miles of their position.

None that they could pick up on their boat's low quality radio, anyway. And Steve had confirmed that, in his comments.

But what normal rescue ended with the injured person waking up in a pitch dark cave? Anyone with a free conscience would have hauled Tony's unconscious body to a hospital. And, for that matter, where the hell had his rescuer found a cave? Much less one with an air pocket inside it that wasn't stale? The islands in the Caribbean were a mix of long-dead volcanic ones and reef islands. Neither lent itself to cave formation.

Then there was the lack of dive equipment. Steve had been wearing nothing at all from the shoulders up. Barring the more magical sorts of explanations, that meant one of two things: either the dive from the surface to the pool in the cave was short, and could be made without a tank of air, or Steve had some other means of undertaking longer dives.

He could prove neither without more information about the cave he was in, and as long as he had no light with which to explore, in addition to being injured and weak, that was not happening.

Settling in to wait and thoroughly mystified by the unresolvable puzzle Steve presented, Tony closed his eyes. Until his 'host' returned, he might as well get what rest he could. Since he'd been given something to drink, the worst of his headache was subsiding, leaving only the sharp throb of the knot at the back of his head to pain him. Rather to his own surprise, he seemed to have no other injuries.

Steve's reappearance startled Tony out of a light doze some time later. "Tony?" he called out, worried. "Tony!"

Sitting up with a groan, Tony found himself quickly but thoroughly checked for new injuries. Steve's big hands running up and down his limbs before they came back up to rest on his jaw. Steve's mysterious light source was apparently attached to a belt that circled his trim waist, Tony noted, the brightness in his peripheral vision making him flinch away.

Your head hurt?" Steve asked him.

Tony nodded. "Yeah, but less than before."

"Good. Here. I brought you a tuna."

Suddenly reminded of just how hungry he was by the mere idea of food, even if it was raw fish and potentially contained parasites, Tony tried to turn to find it, and stopped in his mental tracks. Those were tentacles. Attached to Steve.

Turning slowly back to Steve -- who seemed to have belatedly realised that Tony could see all of him, now, and looked distinctly uncomfortable -- Tony raised an eyebrow at him. "When were you planning to tell me about this?"

Steve tried to curl into a ball and eel back into the water.

"Oh no, you don't," Tony told Steve sternly and hauled him back in again by one arm as best he could. "You can't just hide things like that when you're negotiating sex with someone."

Steve pulled his hand free and hid his face, but he didn't try to run again. "Thought you knew," he mumbled.

It all came together like a lightning flash. There had been rumours of kraken strong enough to capsize boats and kill sailors in the region for centuries, though they had been dismissed as myth by the scientific community at large. A few corpses and fragments of enormous squid the size of a bus had been hauled up by researchers trawling the ocean depths for more information and new species, but a live one had never been found. And, Tony thought to himself with a deep breath, clearly those old myths and legends left behind by the sailors and whalers of eras past had left out a few details.

A lot of the things he'd puzzled over, earlier, made sense now. Why Steve seemed inclined to hide in the water. Why Steve had no dive equipment. Why Steve had used the word 'mate' with that peculiar emphasis.

Tony eyed Steve. And this creature wanted to have sex with him. And seemed to want Tony for his mate. At least for a few months. Thankfully, that seemed to be a fairly brief relationship, rather than a lifelong bond as some species had. Tony didn't know whether he was more intrigued, concerned, or flattered.

Settling on intrigued, Tony slowly and gently pulled Steve's hand back away from his face, revealing the lingering flush and those ice blue eyes that were so hypnotic. Right now they were focused on the floor of the cave. "Okay," Tony demanded, "details. How do they affect the logistics of the sex you wanted? This is totally new to me and I'm not going any farther until I know more."

"It depends?" Steve squirmed a little more. "I'm drying out, Tony. Can I...?"

Tony huffed, reluctantly amused, but let go of Steve's hands. "Go take a dip. But you'd better explain."

With a relieved sigh, Steve slipped into the water then propped himself up on the edge of the stone around the pool on his elbows. "Difference is minor," he said, haltingly. "Not much change."

Steve, Tony realised, had been talking much more fluently when they'd been in physical contact. Not quite daring to stand up yet, he inched closer on hands and knees instead. "Okay." Deeming his new position close enough, he arranged himself in a roughly cross-legged pose and held out his hand. "You keep talking, I'd like to eat."

A bit sheepishly, Steve held the fish out to him by the tail in one long tapered tentacle. The appendages were clearly quite dexterous, and Tony suddenly had to wonder what they would feel like inside of him.

Forcing the thought aside, he took the fish, and then realised that he had no knife with which to clean it. When he looked back up, Steve was offering him a very old knife it was clear he'd scavenged from somewhere. He'd carefully cleaned and sharpened it.

The trust inherent in the gesture struck Tony, and left him speechless for a long moment. Clearing his throat and reaching out for the knife, he offered a smile. "Thanks."

It didn't take Tony long to clean the fish; that was something he'd done often over the years. He and his team were quite accustomed to camping in the wilds away from civilization for weeks on end, and they all knew how to do such things backwards, forwards, in the dark, and injured.

Once he was finished, he looked around to pick up and dispose of the head and the entrails, and found nothing. A crunch drew his attention to Steve, who was picking at the remains of the head. Feeling Tony's eyes on him, he looked up, embarrassed again. "Not eat?"

"I can't eat that part." Tony told him. "It would make me sick. If you can, go ahead."

"Ah."

Removing the bones from the rest and carefully peeling the skin away from the meat, Tony sliced the fish into finger length strips, and offered Steve the first few. It was a large fish, and Steve had done the work of catching it, after all.

After the first few strips, Steve refused to eat any more until Tony had had his fill. Tony, stubborn as he was, had still tried a few different tactics to convince Steve to take a bit more before he'd given in and eaten. The fish, as fresh as it was possible to be, tasted wonderful, and Tony would have sworn he felt a little more of his strength return with each bite.

He made sure to pause every so often, and force a few more strips of fish on Steve while he waited for his stomach to settle. Gradually, he'd gotten the information he wanted, too. Steve had slowly explained how this liaison could go, between them. Most of the variations had been centered around Tony taking Steve, rather than the other way around, and Tony wondered why that was.

Chapter Text

Once he'd eaten as much of the raw fish as he could stand, Tony passed the rest of it back to Steve, who devoured it in short order.

Tony watched him, curious. Steve's teeth, he noticed belatedly, were rather sharper than a human's. Their shape reminded Tony of a wild cat's. The only other difference -- well, besides the tentacles -- was Steve's eyes, which had slits, rather than round pupils, and almost seemed to glow in the dim light of his lantern.

"Steve," he broke the building silence, "where are we, exactly?"

Steve looked utterly bewildered for a long moment. "Don't know human name."

Right. He'd probably never used a map in his life. Tony wanted to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Big land mass or island?" he asked instead.

"Big." Steve looked relieved.

Tony wasn't sure what to think of that. Had Steve brought him all the way to Mexico? Or, hell, even farther? How long had be been unconscious? It couldn't have been more than a day or so, or he'd probably have died of dehydration. They'd been over 200 nautical miles from the Yucatan when the squalls had hit them, though. Just how large was Steve's territory anyway? And how fast could he swim?

And, perhaps most importantly, how was Tony going to contact Pepper and Jarvis?

"Tony?"

Steve was watching him about the same way Tony would watch a live grenade.

"Yeah?"

"Look angry."

Not quite sure how to answer that, Tony hesitated. "My friends will worry," he said, settling on a non-answer.

Steve accepted that easily, though, and Tony turned his thoughts to more immediate things. Before he could do anything useful, or contact Pepper or Jarvis, he needed to get out of this cave and into a town. Preferably one with a hotel whose phone he could make use of.

To do that, he'd have to either give Steve what he wanted or try to escape, and one of those options sounded far more fun than the other. He did have a few big questions that needed answering, first, though.

"Steve," he asked, eyeing the merman, who'd inched closer until he could pick up Tony's hand, and trace its lines with his fingers, "why me? Isn't there anyone else around who would--"

Steve shook his head abruptly, cutting him off mid-sentence with the sheer vehemence inherent in the gesture. "No." He shuddered. "The last few times, I asked Buck or Peg, but they're," he paused to visibly swallow back some strong emotion. "They're dead. Along with most of the others of our kind. I've been forced to rely on luck. Our kind can go years without needing to find someone, but it's been... long."

Oh. Well then. Deciding to sidestep the question of what had happened -- Tony suspected it was a consequence of the War, which had ended some three years ago now -- he didn't speak for a long moment. It hadn't escaped his notice that Steve's spoken English had improved again the moment they were back in physical contact, confirming Tony's suspicions about that. There seemed to be some kind of passive transmission of knowledge while they were touching. "So how is it that you can speak so much better when we're touching?"

Steve colored a little, still not meeting Tony's eyes. "Octopi are mimics. My kind just happens to be able to mimic human abilities as well as patterns and colors."

And wasn't that interesting.

Setting that idea aside to pursue in more detail later -- if he went through with this he'd have plenty of time to interrogate Steve over the next few months -- he changed the topic again. "Does it matter who's penetrated?"

That got Steve to look up. "No, why?"

"Because," Tony reached out with his other hand and fished one of Steve's tentacles out of the water to return the favor, running his hands along its length, "I'd kind of like to find out what they feel like inside me."

Steve's hand and tentacle both tensed, and Tony looked up to meet Steve's eyes. "Tony? Do you mean that?"

Tony raised an eyebrow at him. "Why wouldn't I?"

"No one human's ever offered before." Steve was eyeing him skeptically.

"Okay, ignoring the question of who the hell you've been sleeping with that had so little curiousity," Tony replied, "I do, generally, mean what I say." Tony paused to take a breath. "Anyway. The other thing I need to know, if you're going to be bound to follow me around for a few months, is what exactly you need. Do I need to build you a saltwater fish tank or something?"

Steve made a face. "I can take on a form like yours if I must, but it's very uncomfortable to hold for long periods of time. A place to bathe in saltwater would be nice, but fresh water is fine, too."

Well, that made things more manageable. "How long is a 'long period of time'?"

Steve shrugged. "Ten days?"

Tony nodded. That would be workable. "And you should know something else, if you're serious about this. I travel a lot and I might not always be able to bring you with me. If that's not to your liking, then this might not work out."

Steve considered that, and nodded. "I don't like it, but it's not going to dissuade me. I would be alright with choosing another, but there is very little time left."

What did that mean? Tony raised an eyebrow at him. "You have a time limit?"

Steve winced visibly, though he tried his best to hide it. "Been putting this off for too long as it is," he admitted. "Much longer and I risk a frenzy. It's been known to cause injuries."

The way he said it gave the words more weight than Tony had expected them to have. As though he'd experienced it before and ended up hurting someone. And regretted that. Tony thought about those stories of violent kraken again and had to bite back his own wince. "And there's no risk of that happening now?"

"No," Steve told him. "But I don't dare wait for the next attractive passerby to fall into my arms, like you did."

Hmph. As though Tony was some kind of fainting damsel.

Refocusing his attention on the pertinent question, he considered what Steve had told him. This was a man -- well, a merman -- in need, and what he needed was something Tony thoroughly enjoyed giving. The circumstances could definitely have been better, though. Tony didn't like feeling like he was being railroaded into anything, and this was pushing the limits more than a little. But, on the other hand, without Steve he would almost certainly have drowned in the squall. There was virtually no chance Pepper and Jarvis could have found him, or gotten through to help that owned a plane in time. Even if he had managed to ride out the storm with his life vest, he would have been at sea with no radio, no food, no water, and no compass.

This was far preferable.

And he did want to know what Steve could do with those tentacles. "Alright," he nodded, making his peace with the idea that he was going to go through with this. "But first I'd like a good night's rest."

Letting go of the tentacle whose tip he was still idly playing with, Tony slowly pulled back and cast around the small cave while he had light to see by. Now that he was paying attention, he could see that it seemed to be more of a storeroom than anything else. There were heaps of salvage that looked like they had come from various wrecks, some clean and usable, others clearly waiting to be inspected, cleaned, or repaired. Spotting some cargo netting and what appeared to be a fire blanket, Tony gingerly pushed himself to his feet. Once he was there, he wavered for a moment, but the allure of having something soft and warm to use as a buffer between his body and the rock floor of the cave was worth the effort of fighting the way the room spun briefly.

Steve watched him, clearly ready to jump in if needed, but somehow knowing that Tony needed to do this for himself.

Tony waited until he felt steadier, then took the few steps over to the tumble of cloth and rope. Gathering it up, he declared, "I'm borrowing these."

Steve huffed, an amused smirk flickering across his features, and nodded. "Fine."

Chapter Text

Tony woke to a splash and an irritated hiss.

Blinking and reaching up to rub some of the grit out of his eyes, he groaned. He hadn't slept well. The tender knot at the back of his head was still very sensitive to pressure, and he'd kept bumping it against the rough edges of the rope netting he'd stuffed with one blanket to use as a makeshift pillow. It had kept him awake for a long time.

Eventually, though, he'd managed to fall asleep, and the rest had definitely done him a world of good.

Sitting up, Tony looked for the source of the hiss and caught sight of Steve, holding a large rock lobster gingerly away from himself by its tail. The lobster, rather angry for reasons Tony could understand, was doing its level best to get free and using its claws to good effect.

Tony snickered. "You know," he offered, "you could always just grab it by the claws and hold them shut."

Steve made a face. "I know. Got loose."

Feeling much more like himself, Tony stood and sifted through Steve's piles of stuff for a knife and some flint or a striker. He found one fairly quickly, set aside from the rest as though Steve had been trying to work out what it was meant for. He held it up, waving it at his host. "Those are quite tasty when cooked," he suggested. "Got anything we can use to build a fire?"

------

An hour later, after they'd both eaten their fill -- Steve had been very pleasantly surprised at the change that cooking it had made on the lobster -- Tony leaned back with a contented sound.

"For what it's worth," he suggested, "it might be prudent to have our fun now, while we have the privacy to experiment properly. Much longer and my friends will give up and decide I'm dead, and I'd prefer they didn't. Which means that sometime in the next day or so, I'll have to get moving, and you will too."

Steve, caught off guard by the comment, gave Tony a look that reminded him of a startled rabbit. "So soon?"

Tony nodded. "I've already been here for, what, two days?"

"Three," Steve admitted, sounding a bit sheepish.

"I need to get somewhere where I can contact them. Preferably soon." Tony offered Steve his hand again. "I know it's not very romantic, but there's a lot of work involved in trying to come back from the dead, and I'd rather avoid it."

Taking the offered hand, Steve pulled Tony in close. It was almost an embrace, but oddly clinical, as though Steve wasn't sure of his welcome.

Rather than let Steve speak, as Tony suspected he wanted to, Tony put his hands on Steve's jaw and pulled him in for a first kiss. Steve made a startled sound, but relaxed into it quickly, letting Tony do as he liked.

For his part, Tony took the chance to experiment and explore. The points of Steve's teeth pricked at his lips and tongue every so often, lending an edge to the kiss that he'd never felt before. All it did was urge him on.

Breaking the kiss long enough to draw breath, Tony leaned his forehead against Steve's for a few moments before he ducked back in for a second try, this time letting his hands wander.

Steve made a sound that almost qualified as a squeak when Tony let his hands trail down Steve's chest to tweak at his nipples. Chuckling into the kiss, Tony slid his hands lower, to rest on Steve's ridiculously defined washboard abs, and stay there.

This time Steve broke the kiss, and when he caught Tony's eyes, he looked almost drunk. "Tony," he managed to say, "what--?"

"Don't tell me no one's ever kissed you before," Tony asked, knowing he probably sounded incredulous.

Steve squirmed then decided Tony was wearing too many clothes. His hands came up to the buttons of Tony's shirt, and deftly undid them. "Not until today," he said quietly, before licking delicately at his upper lip. "But I think I like it."

Tony shook his head in mock disapproval, but helped Steve strip off the shirt, undoing the buttons of the cuffs before Steve could get him tangled in his sleeves. "Well, good."

The coverplate of the repulsor pump didn't give Steve pause, so Tony didn't bother drawing attention to it. Steve must have found that in checking him over for injuries, he reasoned. Instead, he put the shirt aside, out of the way, and bent to rearrange the blanket on the floor of the cave. "So is this happening up here," he asked Steve, "or in the water?"

It was a logistical issue he hadn't given any thought to, before, and he wondered whether Steve had.

Steve, for his part, didn't seem surprised by the question. "If you were serious about wanting me to use my tentacles to take you, in the water." After a brief pause, he added, "it's warmer than the air."

Skeptical -- he didn't know of any natural hot springs in the region -- Tony stepped over and knelt to dip his fingers in it. Sure enough, it was warm. Warmer than skin temperature, actually. Looking back up at Steve, he decided to leave the question of just how the water had reached that temperature for later. Steve had the best look of mingled anticipation and interest on his face. "Come on, then," Tony prodded him verbally, "come here and show me what you can do."

Steve slid into the water with barely a ripple, and Tony had to marvel at the smooth movements he was capable of. He stood and peeled his pants off, making a face at the amount of salt that rose up from them in a puff of whitish powder when he shook them out, then tossed them over the join his shirt. The set of clothing was probably ruined, but he found he didn't much care. He had others, and far more immediate concerns besides.

Steve was watching him with admiring eyes as he slid into the water, himself. The shelf of rock that his feet found purchase on, just as the water began lapping at his chest, surprised him. "So that's what you've been perching on, hm?" He ribbed Steve. "No wonder you managed to stay so steady."

"I can swim," Steve drew himself up.

"I know," Tony cut off the grumbled retort and kissed him again. "Not the point."

Steve went with it happily, a rumble starting up deep in his chest, and kissed back enthusiastically. Tony jumped, surprised, when the first tentacle wrapped around his calf and slid upward. It felt odd. Simultaneously rubbery, rough, and slippery.

His reaction made Steve pause and pull back, though, which was the opposite of what Tony wanted. "Hey, no," he soothed, putting his hands back over Steve's abs and sliding them upwards until he could twine his arms around Steve's neck, "it's fine. Just new. Unexpected."

Steve relaxed incrementally, clearly not sure he believed Tony at first, and this time, he moved much more slowly. The actions tentative, he repeated the gesture, wrapping one tentacle around Tony's leg, and just letting it sit there. Prepared for the sensation, now, Tony took it in stride, and reached down to fish a second tentacle out of the water. Steve was carefully holding them all close to his body. "What do you like, anyway," Tony demanded, running his hands down the tentacle in a gesture a lot like Steve's touches to his legs. "Tell me how to make this good for you."

Steve froze again, but this time Tony could tell it was because he was startled. "I--" Steve hesitated, and went pink again. "Well, what you're doing feels nice."

Tony rolled his eyes. "There's a difference between 'nice' and 'things I want because they feel amazing'," he said sardonically.

"Well, I don't know," Steve sassed, "try putting it in your mouth."

He hadn't expected that, but Tony rolled with the request. "Wasn't sure you'd like that. Thought it might feel too much like an attack."

Before Steve could formulate an answer, Tony tugged the tentacle he was holding up out of the warm water, and brought it to his lips. Knowing it was likely to be very sensitive, he started out by just rubbing his face against it, letting his stubble rasp against the skin. That made Steve stiffen, then shudder. "Tony," he gritted out, "that--"

"Feels strange, doesn't it?" Tony smirked at him. "I need to shave."

"It..." Steve tried, then gave up on words, and pulled Tony close instead, his tentacles wrapping around Tony's calves, waist, and thighs. One, Tony couldn't stop the shiver that went through him at the touch, exploring between his legs. "It's like very coarse sand," Steve said after a long pause, the flickering touch between Tony's legs drifting forward and back. Pretty obviously looking for the best reaction.

Tony decided he needed to give as good as he was getting. He might not have the right number of appendages, but he could improvise with the best of them. Letting his hands slip down into the water, he returned the favor, running his hands along Steve's tentacles, and exploring between them.

He found that Steve's anatomy was actually quite different from the octopi he was familiar with. He encountered plenty of suckers, but Steve didn't have the beak octopi did. There was also a pair of rough spots, where Steve's skin puckered, and touching him there made his grip on Tony tighten almost convulsively.

It also made the tentacle that had wandered back to explore his ass tense. It felt like being touched by someone with a very broad finger, and Tony couldn't stop the groan that sensation punched out of him. "Go on, Steve, more."

Leaning in to kiss Steve again, Tony let his hands wander farther afield, and came across what felt like an opening. The reaction to his touch was electric. Steve jerked in his hands, crying out, and the tentacle at Tony's ass pushed in, in the best kind of revenge.

Feeling like he'd been spitted, Tony's back arched, and he pushed two fingers into Steve.

"Tony," Steve groaned, "Tony, this won't last long."

"I don't even care," he replied. "As long as I get to come, too."

One of the tentacles wrapped around his legs shifted, and wrapped deftly around Tony's cock. It was almost a relief, for all that it fanned the flames higher. The utterly foreign sensation of being wrapped in smooth flesh and the occasional hitch when he caught against one of the suckers, somehow only served to make it better.

It spurred Tony on and he pushed his fingers as deeply as he could.

Steve shuddered, and his head fell forward onto Tony's shoulder. His teeth gritted tightly, he panted for breath. "Tony," he managed to say, his tone almost reverent, "Tony, more."

Taking a hitching breath, Tony nodded, adding a third finger this time and pushing them home again. He repeated the gesture until Steve cried out again. This time it felt like dipping his fingers into a bowl of warm oil, and the water around them swirled a dark grey.

The tentacles wrapped around him seemed to writhe in unison, loosening and tightening seemingly randomly. It pushed Tony right to the edge of coming. "Steve," he got out, "oh my God."

Breathing like he'd run a marathon, Steve repeated the gesture, making sure to hold Tony pinned. The knowledge that he was totally at Steve's mercy in that moment washed through him like a tidal wave, and Tony couldn't hold back any longer.

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When the aftershocks stopped shuddering through him, Tony raised his head. He hadn't realised he'd let it fall to Steve's shoulder until he'd gathered up his strength to move. They were still tangled tightly together, but Steve had moved them until he could sit on the edge of the pool's wall, and cuddle him.

The silence took a while to break.

Eventually, though, they both carefully pulled back and peeled themselves apart. Tony took his fingers back, amused at the layer of what he assumed to be ink still covering them, as well as his hand up to his wrist. Steve gently worked his tentacle free, and made a face. "We're a mess."

Tony laughed at the look of disgust and consternation. "Well, yes? That tends to happen during sex."

"Maybe with humans," Steve returned.

Rolling his eyes at Steve and pointedly drawing attention to his hand as he shifted to sit on the cool rock himself, Tony said, "Go get cleaned up, then. And once you're done, we need to talk about how I'm getting home. If you're coming with me, I'll need to work out what to tell my friends and how to contact them."

With a huff, Steve followed orders.

------

"You what?" Pepper sounded totally disbelieving. Tony couldn't blame her.

"I got fished out of the Gulf by a helpful Samaritan, and now I have a temporary traveling companion," Tony reiterated. "I'll give you more details in person."

With a drawn out sound somewhere between an irritated hiss and a weary sigh, Pepper gave in. "Fine. We'll come get you. It'll take us a day or so to get to the Yucatan from Miami, though. Even in the airship."

"I know." Tony grinned. "See you soon."

Hanging up the receiver of the harbour radio he'd borrowed to contact Pepper and Jarvis, he turned back to the harbour master and offered his thanks one last time. He'd already signed the man's collection of Marvels issues, in recompense for being allowed to use the radio.

Gathering up Steve, he allowed the harbour master to lead the way back out of his small office, and back to the 'public' section of the port. It was always nice to meet a fan, in times of need.

------

True to their word, Pepper and Jarvis showed up in the airship early the next morning. They didn't even bother docking, and Tony, long used to having to make quick exits by grabbing for a swinging ladder, simply hauled himself up. Steve had made a startled noise, then followed, a little less gracefully.

Tony grinned widely into the wind hitting him in the face as he climbed. He'd survived another adventure, and was still a free man in possession of all his limbs. All in all, this was one to chalk up in the 'win' column, even if he hadn't found the artifact they'd been searching for.

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