At first, Tony didn't even realise he'd been turned into a woman. His initial response to being hit with a quantum transformer was to shut his eyes against the spin of the sky and snap the command to manually restart his repulsors. He knew he was flying too low to recover, though, and the stunning impact came as no surprise. Light bloomed briefly behind his eyelids, and he wheezed in a breath, and another, and the readouts that flickered to life helpfully informed him that all systems were intact and functioning, no damage done, and he was at an altitude of thirty metres. And moving sideways.
He opened his eyes to darkness, and when he moved, he found his torso wrapped in a constricting prison - he kicked, and light broke in as - giant tentacles? unwrapped from him. A confused moment as he tried to make sense of the sight above him, and then it all came into focus and he realised the vast white crescent was a smile. A huge smile, in a huge face.
"Hi," said the giant girl whose palm he was lying in. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, I - " he pushed up on his elbows and looked at her, the ruddy hair and the purple mask with the antennae, and tried desperately to think of a giant female superhero. None sprang to mind. "Where'd you come from?" he said, and put a hand to his helmet as his lunch tried to make a comeback. Throwing up in his helmet was the worst.
"I saw the robots on the news," she said, and Tony nodded, carefully so as not to jar his aching head. Robots, right, they were fighting Doom and Doom's big robot had had fired some kind of - "Captain America knocked over the scout walker thing that shot you. What now?" And if he was up here, Steve was fighting Doom all on his own.
Explanations could wait; Tony scrambled into a crouch and peered over the wall of her thumb. Steve had tangled the big robot's legs with a cable - it did look quite like a scout walker, perhaps Doom had been watching Return of the Jedi - and it was rolling about in the road, kicking feebly. Doom had been knocked into the gutter, whcih wasn't going to please him at all. The smaller robots, waist-high quadrepedal things with bulbous heads that chanted Doom in high pitched voices, were converging on Steve, their energy blasts splashing harmlessly off his shield. More and more were skittering into range to train their weapons on him, though, and Doom was picking himself up, anger in every line of his body. Tony checked his readouts; everything seemed to be functioning normally, although some of the armour's responses were sluggish.
"Okay. I'll go after Doom - see if you can take out any of the little robots."
"Will do!" She tossed him into the air as if releasing a butterfly, and Tony plunged earthwards. He buzzed Doom so close his cloak whipped in the wind, and then pulled a showy turn that his unsteady gut regretted.
"So was that supposed to hurt?" he said, and Doom stared up at him.
"I believe it will be sufficient," and there was satisfaction in his grating voice. Tony brought his hands up and blasted his repulsors; Doom staggered under the impact, but didn't fall. A gesture Tony suspected to be arcane in nature, and Tony flipped out of the way of the sizzling energy beam, grunting as the armour dug in hard under his arms. Something wasn't right, despite what the damage reports said.
"Last chance to surrender," he said, and plunged in on a collision course. A noise like a car crash as they impacted, and Doom's body collapsed and expanded in his clutch in a most disturbing way. For a moment, Tony thought he'd crushed him, and visions of diplomatic disaster danced in his head; and then Doom's arm wrapped around him, far further than it should have been able to. It wound all the way around Tony's helmet, fingers digging into the eye slits, yanking his head back painfully. Metal groaned, and a readout popped up in Tony's peripheral vision, no doubt to tell him more about the groaning metal.
Tony put his hands flat on the neck joint of Doom's armour, and blasted the repulsors at full force. A wrenching, cracking sound, and sparks showered over him as the arm went limp and fell away.
"Doombot," he said disgustedly, and stood up just in time to see Steve smash his shield through the big robot's metal carapace; it kicked once more, and then fizzled out.
"You okay?" Steve asked, and he nodded.
"Yeah, I as soon as I realised it was a 'bot, I could overload it."
"I meant that ray that hit you." Steve took a step closer and looked him up and down, eyes warm with that comradely concern that was always such a delightfully novel experience. Steve never called him a reckless idiot, which was just one of the reasons Tony liked him.
"Seems to have damaged my armour." Tony stretched, wriggled; all the joints seemed just a hair off, and the armour was constricting in places it didn't usually. "Some kind of... not sure. But it's functioning, I'll..." it occurred to him that he hadn't heard anything chant 'Doom' for a while. He turned, and stared.
The giant was carefully piling the squashed remains of the robots into a dumpster. Each round metal head was crushed flat, as if they had been squished - almost certainly because they had been squished - by giant fingers. The woman was some eighty feet tall, her costume outlining a shapely figure in loving detail. Tony kept his helmet turned up towards her face while squinting at the curve of her hips as she settled back onto her heels.
"So who's your lady friend?" Steve said.
"I have no idea," admitted Tony. "But I think I like her." She turned her head towards them, smiled, and Tony took a step towards her, ignoring the grinding noises from his armour. "Hi there!"
"Hi!" She pointed at the dumpster. "Are these okay here? What about the big one?"
"They'll be fine. The big one... I expect Reed Richards will want it, he likes to keep track of Doom's projects. Could I persuade you to take it to the Baxter Building?" He tried to make the metallic inflections of his voice sound charming. It wasn't like he couldn't arrange transport, but just carrying the thing off would be much easier.
"Sure!" she said. "Happy to help." She put out a hand, and rolled it onto its back. "It's not that heavy." The armour's sensors estimated the robot at about three tons; he glanced at Steve, who was looking up at her with wide approving eyes.
"I - " he took another step forward, an ungraceful heavy step as the armour pinched. The awkwardness of the fit was quickly becoming unbearable. "The armour needs some attention, I think. Ma'am - Giant... "
"Giant, uh, Girl," she said. "Is that a good name?"
"It's very descriptive," said Steve, smiling, and she giggled like soprano thunder.
"Giant Girl, can I have your phone number? I'd like to talk to you about - " He took a careful breath. "Ow." Cap stepped forward and took his arm, brow crinkling. "I'm okay."
"Sure, I guess." She leaned down, and in a gust of breath that smelled slightly of apples, murmured a cellphone number. "Is that - "
"That's great, thank you. Cap," he touched his gauntlet to Cap's shoulder, and was treated to a brilliant smile. "Stop by and see Mr Stark tomorrow, okay? Come by for lunch. He needs to talk to you about stuff."
"Sure. Will you be there?"
"I'll try to make it," said Tony, in what technically wasn't a lie. "Thanks for your help, Giant Girl." He lifted off carefully; in flight, arms held straight out, the fit wasn't so bad. He could hear Steve introducing himself, and when he glanced back, the girl had Steve perched on her shoulder and the robot tucked under her arm as she made her way down the street.
He didn't risk any aerobatics on his flight, just flew straight towards Stark Tower; he was pondering whether to go in through the office or the workshop when a flash of ginger hair caught his eye, and he pulled up sharp in front of the window; Pepper was in the outer office, which meant he'd have to be dead quiet, or go in another way. She always -
Pepper didn't work for him any more. He'd sent her off with Rhodey to run the Peacekeeper initiative. But there she was, sitting at her desk, tapping away at the computer. If she looked up, she'd see him hanging there in midair, staring through the big glass windows. He gained a little height, and for a moment contemplated the possibility that he'd been zapped into a parallel universe.
No, that was ridiculous. More likely she was here on a visit, and if she was here, that meant -
He looped round the building and settled on the broad balcony outside his office, and sure enough, there was a familiar figure sitting in his chair.
"Rhodey!" he said, pushing the doors open, and Rhodey swung the chair round and grinned at him.
"Hey, you!" He grunted as Tony threw his arms around him. "Careful, there."
"Rhodey, it's so good to see you," he said, suppressing the urge to clutch Rhodey to his metal bosom. Dammit, he missed Rhodey. Steve was all very well - all right, Steve was awesome - but Rhodey was Rhodey, and sometimes a man just needed to someone to tell him he was a reckless idiot.
"I brought Pepper, too." Rhodey gently disentangled himself. "I have a bunch of meetings about the Peacekeeper initiative."
"Help me get the suit off so I can say hi." He put a hand to the tight place under the arm. "The armour got kinda mashed, it's not really fitting well right now."
"Always in trouble," said Rhodey, and went to hit the button to call the elevator. "It looks all right."
"But it feels like hell. Can you stay long?" Tony tried not to sound too hopeful; Rhodey would only tease him about his inability to cope without a supporting cast.
"We're here a few weeks," he said. "I heard a rumour you have big news?"
"News, news..." he said musingly, and let the grin take over his face, because Rhodey couldn't see it. "Oh, news? You mean like getting clearance?" said Tony, and Rhodey's eyebrows shot up.
"Full clearance? Already? I thought - "
"Takes forever, unless you have Captain America on your team. I took him along to the meetings, and they just stared and nodded and asked him to autograph things. You ever seen a four star general squeal with happiness? It'd be scary if Cap wasn't working for me." He stepped into the elevator and released the catches of his helmet.
"I find that pretty scary. You told him yet?" said Rhodey.
"Told who?" he said casually, feeling his face heat. On second thoughts, the helmet could stay on a bit longer.
"Cap," said Rhodey, a laugh in his voice, and Tony shrugged.
"No, I'll... maybe pop by the Mansion this evening," he said as casually as he could. No need to mention the lunch date. Rhodey had a nasty suspicious mind.
"Uh huh," said Rhodey, in that nasty suspicious tone.
"Jarvis will want to know that we'll be using it as a base of operations soon."
"Hey, shut up." Tony pointed a finger at Rhodey threateningly, which didn't seem to impress him. Normal people were intimidated by the world's most advanced battlesuit, but no, Rhodey just laughed at him. Jerk.
"You want to go make eyes at America's sweetheart, be my guest. But most people settle for flowers, not sponsoring a superhero team."
"This is a benevolent and charitable act. You know I wanted smarter weapons, with less collateral damage; what's better than superpowered people?" Tony nodded firmly. It was a perfectly logical conclusion, and had nothing to do with the fact that his first meeting with Captain America had rendered him almost incoherent with possessive desire, for the legend, for the highly advanced technology he and his shield embodied, and for the ridiculously gorgeous man. He might have gotten over that, even, except that Steve, unlike the vast majority of people, got nicer the longer you knew him. Every week, he seemed to display a new charming habit or endearing quirk. Tony felt convinced he could study Steve for a lifetime and never reach the end of his niceness. Rhodey was looking at him with gentle disapproval.
"One side effect of your benevolence being that Captain America is living in your house, thinking you're awesome."
"Well, I am pretty awesome."
"And you are not at all motivated by the desire to follow him about while he wears tight leather," Rhodey said.
"Well, it is pretty tight leather. I mean, shut up!" The elevator doors opened into the workshop, and he stomped foward. Should he run some diagnostics while he still had the armour on? It might be the best way to figure out the mobility issues. Rhodey was still talking.
"So is the team just you and him? How romantic."
"Yeah, well, now we're actually a team we can start recruiting. How 'bout you, Rhodey? I'll build you a suit, you can be - Tin Man, or Ironsides, or - "
"I'm out in LA most of the time, Tony, you know that."
"Maybe I could recruit Pepper. I bet she'd be mean in a battlesuit." Tony grabbed up his stylus and began to sketch, suddenly charmed by the thought of Pepper wearing armour.
"Hey, some people have to concentrate on running this company while you're off fighting crime. Do you want that armour off?"
"Yeah." He tossed the notepad aside, making a mental note to draw it later and send the design to Pepper. Something with built-in heels and a rack like a mountain range. It'd been too long since Pepper had thrown something at him. He lifted the helmet off, and tossed it aside. "Help me with the - " he coughed, and swallowed, trying to clear his throat, and pawed at the chestplate locks. "God, what's happened?" he groused, and his voice still sounded all wrong.
"Uh, Tony," said Rhodey, and Tony glanced at him. His eyes were so wide Tony could see the whites all around the iris.
"What?" Tony looked down at the armour, which still looked perfectly normal from this angle.
"You. Uh." Rhodey didn't break his gaze, just lifted a hand and pointed towards the sink. Tony frowned, and took a step towards it. He caught his own eyes in the mirror, and froze.
"Oh no," he said. "I - what?"
For a second, he couldn't identify the dark mass around his face, and then he realised it was hair, dark curly hair hanging to his shoulders. The other differences were subtle, but distinct. Eyebrows plucked and arched. Lips a deeper shade, more defined. And of course - he scrabbled off a gauntlet and put his hand to his chin, and felt the bare skin there - soft silky skin, a woman's soft, cared-for skin, and a woman's hand -
"Are you - " Rhodey made a vague gesture over his torso.
"That's why the armour - help me get out," snapped Tony, and he'd never gotten out of the armour so quickly, not when it had been melting under an acid attack, not when Pepper had been banging on the door and demanding he open up. He kicked and clawed it off, grabbed himself between the legs, and gave a moan of dismay. His dick was gone. For a hideous second, he thought he was going to faint, and shut his eyes tight.
"Oh man," Rhodey whispered. "You're - how the hell, Tony?"
"It must have been that ray Doom hit me with," Tony said, only years of experience with emergencies keeping his voice steady. Okay. He could cope. Thank God, he was almost the same height, if he'd lost much height he could have been seriously injured trying to work the suit, with all of the joints out of place - he moved his hands a higher, cautiously exploring. His boxers didn't fit properly, unsurprisingly, tighter across the hips and loose in the waist. He was still pretty muscular, though slimmer. He had - he had breasts. He opened one eye, and looked down. Nice. The arc reactor was still there, set maybe two inches higher, tugging at the fabric of his undershirt; the design wasn't identical, the metal was cut differently. Just cosmetic differences as far as he could tell, the clear blue glow was the same as always.
He adjusted the undershirt around the reactor, smoothing the fabric, and when his hands brushed over the new curves he jerked them away. "Jesus," he said, drymouthed. "Oh fuck, Rhodey, what - " He swallowed, and again, trying to focus. His hands, his hands were slimmer and the wrists were narrower - he turned them over to look at the palms, and felt a lurch of relief at the sight of his callouses, arranged in the familiar pattern. He held them up in front of his face, focusing on the roughness and old scars, the smooth patch at the base of his right thumb from where he'd burned it on an engine at the age of six. They were still his hands, really, just - a different shape.
"Tony?" said Rhodey carefully, and Tony glanced at him. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah." His voice cracked. He closed his eyes for a moment, but that was no help, the - weight was different, he was heavy in different places.
"You're kind of hyperventilating," said Rhodey, and the hand he put on Tony's shoulder felt too big, Tony was smaller, not much shorter but lacking broadness in the shoulder, no wonder the armour wouldn't fit - he thought of schematics, adjustments, fitting the iron skin, and the tight feeling in his lungs eased. Okay. It was fixable. It had to be. In the meantime - "Oh crap, what will we tell Pepper?" he said, and the breathless vertigo was subsumed in a more familiar panic.
"Oh no," said Rhodey, eyes widening, and Tony pinched the bridge of his nose. He was a genius. He could think of a way around this.
"Okay. Okay. I'm - I need to get to the Baxter Building."
Rhodey called ahead while Tony sent an email, trying not to abuse the capslock key, and within fifteen minutes Rhodey deposited him at the rear entrance to the Baxter Building, bundled up in a tracksuit and heavy overcoat, head wrapped in a scarf. He shuffled up the steps in his ill-fitting sneakers and was met at the door by a bored-looking Johnny Storm.
"Lab's this way," he said, and Tony followed him to the elevator.
Reed's testing lab was a large, vaulted underground chamber; Tony had helped him design it, because Reed might be the greatest scientific mind on earth, but no one knew more about the art of explosions - and of containing those explosions - than Tony Stark. The lab was stacked full of the usual assortment of novel devices that Reed had acquired on his adventures through time and space; the robot that had got Tony into this mess was by the door, settled down on its folded legs like a broody chicken. He gave it a nasty look, and followed Johnny to the centre of the lab, under the apex of the vaulting, which was a smooth shining bowl that gave him a feeling of smug achievement every time he looked up at it. That was some fine engineering. Sue was directly under it, drenched in blue light, watching Reed with soft eyes as he poked thoughtfully at a control panel, cycling the light through into green, which was less attractive on her. Johny whistled, and they both turned to look, and Tony pulled the scarf down.
"He-llo," Johnny said, perking up, and Tony gave him an incredulous look. "What's your name, sweetheart?" Tony blinked, and then decided it was all too horrifying to deal with right now, and turned back to Reed and his bemused smile.
"Reed, I need you," his voice came out unpleasantly high and breathless, and Reed tilted his head, bemusement deepening.
"Uh - what for?" he said. "Rhodes wasn't very clear on the telephone - "
"Did you not read my email?" Tony reined in the urge to swear at him. "I sent it fifteen minutes ago, Reed, it amazes me you get anything done, you need to prioritize-" he trailed off into a hiss as Reed backed up, eyes wide, and reached for his computer. Sue folded her arms and cleared her throat pointedly.
"Uh, hi, Sue." Her eyebrows shot up. "I mean - " he looked back at Reed, who was scrolling through his email and shaking his head. "Here," Tony leaned past him, and jabbed a finger at the screen. "That one."
"But that's from - "
"Read it," he snarled, and Reed gave him an alarmed look and shut up. After a second, Tony realised his left breast was sort of propped on Reed's shoulder, and backed up fast. He gave Sue and Johnny a weak smile, and then looked at his feet to avoid the glare and the leer.
"Fascinating." Reed sounded altogether too happy. "All right, yes. I'll need to run some tests."
"Awesome," said Johnny brightly. "What can I do?"
"No, I need to talk to, uh, her alone." Reed made shooing motions at him. "Please, Sue," he added, and Sue gave Tony a long, lingering look that sent a chill down his spine. Green seemed a remarkably appropriate colour on her right now.
"All right, Reed," she said finally, and left, dragging a reluctant Johnny with her.
"You know what, you can explain it to Sue, okay? Because I like living."
"What do you mean?" Reed blinked at him in apparent confusion, and Tony shook his head. For some reason, Reed was convinced his girlfriend was a sweet, docile girl. Tony knew women, though, and he sure as hell didn't want Susan Storm considering him a rival for Reed's attentions. He'd long believed that if science were a woman, it would have had a nasty accident by now. He eyed Reed's expression, and decided not to explain.
"Just run your tests."
"Does this have anything to do with the robot that was delivered?" Reed said. "A nice girl with antennae - "
"Yeah, it - shot me. Iron Man and Captain America took it out. Don't tell anyone. Run your tests!" He throttled back so it wasn't quite a scream. The higher ranges of this voice were - well, higher.
Tests run by Reed tended to involve a lot of standing around being bathed in different coloured light while machines beeped and crooned. It was like rather like the Eighties. Tony stared at the blinking lights and tried not to think too hard about anything.
"Well!" said Reed far too cheerfully. "It looks like some kind of probability effect. I would guess that this is the body you would have if you'd been born a woman. Sit down, I'm going to take some blood samples."
"So it's from an alternate universe?" Tony held out his arm for the needle, and Reed waved his free hand vaguely.
"I... wouldn't think so. Not precisely. There is an alternate universe - probably lots of them - where Mr and Mrs Stark had a girl and not a boy, and I theorise that this is a duplicate of her body, rather than being her actual body. I think. All the components of the body show every sign of being an integral part of this universe, whereas - " Tony tuned out the flow of theoretical physics, and considered. Probability effects were annoying, but by their nature were correctable, even if it took a while. He'd get his own body back.
The surge of relief made his knees weak; or maybe that was blood loss. It was lucky he was already sitting down, anyway. He looked down at himself. This might, actually, be quite fun. In the meantime, however...
"Reed, I'm going to need a favour." Reed capped off another vial of blood, and looked up with a smile.
"Sure, Tony," he said. "I'll be happy to help. This is a fascinating project, and I'm sure - "
"Good, because you're getting the blame for it."
"I'm going to tell Pepper that you were futzing around with quantum again, and this happened." Reed's face dropped cartoonishly.
"But why?" he said plaintively. Reed did, at least, have a full understanding of what Pepper's wrath was like, ever since he spilled corrosive ooze on her new shoes.
"Because I can't tell her what really happened," Tony said patiently.
"Why can't - wait, what did happen?" Reed looked back and forth between Tony and Doom's robot. "I thought - "
"I can't tell you."
"But - "
"Sh." He put his free hand over Reed's mouth, and Reed blinked at him; then he realised how it would look if Sue walked in, and whipped his hand away and put it behind his back. "I need you to call Pepper, and tell her to send a car for me, because there's been a lab accident."
"But - "
"Oh come on, Reed, you have lab accidents every week. Giving me boobs wouldn't make the top five worst things you've done." He pointed to the phone. "Make the call. No, wait, get this needle out of my arm first."
Pepper goggled at him as if he'd turned up on time for a morning meeting, and he gave her his best smile. Rhodey was doing a dreadful job of faking shock, but fortunately Pepper was far too preoccupied to notice his wide eyes and flailing hands.
"So I think I'm pretty cute. Right? What do you think?" He raked a hand through his dark curls, which had reacted poorly to either the helmet or the scarf and were fizzing out uncontrollably. He was already remembering why he never skipped out on a hair cut; curls were just ridiculous and undignified.
"You're a woman, Tony," Pepper said with quiet despair. She put her hand over her mouth and shook her head. "How are we going to explain this to the board?"
"I think my butt is too big. Rhodey, how's my butt?" He turned round and waggled his rear -which was actually really nice and in no way too big - in their general direction. Pepper stared at it with no change in her pole-axed expression; Rhodey covered his eyes.
"Hell no, don't start," he said firmly. "Don't make me slap a sexual harrassment suit on you, Tony."
"I'm just asking for a friendly assessment. Maybe I should post a picture of it on the internet. There's special websites for this kind of thing, right?"
"Tony!" said Pepper, suddenly all business. A personal assistant who took these little incidents in stride was worth her weight in gold, really. "The board. Shanghai?"
"Uh... yeah! That could work. The plant manager there's a good guy, he'll cover for me. I'll tell him I'm having surgery on my bunions or something, and can't risk stock prices falling. Rhodey, look at my butt, seriously."
"But who'll - "
"I can teleconference. Delegate everything non-essential, and I'll teleconference to the rest, I have a program that'll show a Tony instead of whoever's really talking."
"Oh, really? And what do you use that for?" Pepper put her hands on her hips and glared. Damn that suspicious mind. He tried for an innocent look; by her expression, it didn't work any better on this face.
"For... when I haven't shaved," he said feebly, and Rhodey rolled his eyes. Jerk. It wasn't like he hadn't begged Tony for a similar one. Tony was totally going to rat him out if he was busted.
"Uh huh." Pepper tapped her foot ominously. "So when you - "
"I think we're moving from the topic here," Tony said. "Can you get me some clothes that fit, Pepper? Did you get a good look at the size of my butt? I'll start emailing the necessary people." He moved towards his desk, and Pepper tutted, but headed to the door. Then she reappeared.
"What happened to the new PA I got you?"
"She got mono," said Tony. "I'm coping."
"Really? Your three o'clock meeting rang."
"I had a three o'clock?" he said doubtfully, and Pepper sighed. He thought she looked a little pleased, though; she liked to be reassured he couldn't manage without her. "Could you maybe - "
"Not a problem." She vanished back towards her desk. Her old desk. Tony turned to Rhodey.
"Why did I ever let you take her away?" Oh, sure, appointing Rhodey company president meant he needed a competent assistant, but there were hundreds of competent assistants out there. Giving him Pepper had been far too generous.
"I don't know, but you can't have her back. I think she was surprised to find the place still standing." Rhodey sat down, and Tony dragged his chair round the desk to sit next to him; it made it easier to kick him in the ankles when he wasn't showing sufficient respect for Tony's genius. "I guess you made up for it with this trick, though. Why does this kind of crap always happen to you, Tony?"
"Just lucky, I guess. At least no one noticed. Can you imagine if it had hit Cap?"
There was a pause while they both considered that.
"Yes," said Rhodey finally. "In surprisingly great detail."
"Yeah." Tony reluctantly dismissed thoughts of gorgeous blonde Amazons in blue leather and called up his schedule, which was already beginning to show signs of Pepper's hand, each event annotated with instructions. "God, I still have to make the marketing meeting? She's so cruel. Oh, apparently you're going to go to my morning meeting with the Japan distributor, good work Rhodey."
"You're feeling better, then?"
"Shut up, I was fine." Tony directed a scowl at him.
"Sure." Rhodey grinned at him; apparently feeling better meant that teasing could begin.
"I'd like to see your reaction to suddenly discovering your dick was missing," muttered Tony, and one hand strayed to his distressingly flat groin, just in case the problem was correcting itself. It wasn't.
"I'd scream like a woman," said Rhodey cheerfully. "Like you did."
"I did not scream. Anyway, it's temporary, so what the hell. It's like a holiday. With boobs."
Rescheduling the meetings took hours, even with Pepper's help; he couldn't take phone calls until he got a voice synthesizer set up, and that took until past midnight. Then he remembered that he'd have to remodel the armour if he wanted to use it, and he couldn't have Tony and Iron Man vanishing at the same time. Simple enough, but time-consuming; it took until six in the morning, and it made him feel grumpy to build armour for a good-looking woman and have it hide all her assets. The body, fortunately, was strong. It wasn't quite as strong as his real body, but muscular enough to get the job done, hands and arms strong enough to wrestle the metal into submission.
With that down, he flopped down on the couch in his office just for a moment, and Pepper woke him up at eight, carrying a bag with jeans and a t-shirt that more or less fitted - she must have taken a good look at his butt - sneakers in several sizes, and a variety of bras, none of which were anywhere near comfortable. Pepper took a tape measure to him, tutting, and then gave him a list of people to call. He spent most of the morning working his way down the list with the voice synth, making earnest apologies for his absence while tightening and adjusting the Iron Man gauntlets. The circuitry was so tightly packed together in the hands, making them much smaller was near-impossible - he was just going to have to cope with some reduced sensation.
Finally, at noon, he took off the headset, lay down on the couch and considered the advantages of a nap. There was a vague feeling that he should be somewhere, doing something, but he couldn't quite place it. Pepper would tell him if there was something, though. It was so nice to have her back. He should poach her back from Rhodey. She had to miss New York, even if she didn't miss him.
"I'm going to lunch," Pepper's voice came from the doorway, and Tony made an agreeable noise. "Your cousin telephoned, by the way."
"What'd he want?" said Tony drowsily. Stupid Morgan.
"Gambling debt. I covered it out of the petty cash, and now I'm buying myself lunch out of it to make up for being called 'sweetcheeks'. Does he get all his talk out of black and white movies?"
"Probably. Morgan thinks the way to a girl's heart... well, I don't even know." Could he be bothered to walk all the way up to his apartment? No, this was a very comfy couch. For all its austere grey appearance, it was soft and plushy and wonderful.
"Right. I'll see you soon. I'm taking Rhodey out, so try to stay out of trouble for just an hour, okay? Maybe two."
"Sure, Pep," he said, and settled deeper into the couch. "You guys have a great time." He heard the door shut, and put his arm over his face to block out the light.
"Mr Stark?" called a familiar voice, and Tony sat up, rubbing at his face.
"In here - " he said, and then realised what he'd said and made a bolt towards the door. He reached it at the same time as Steve, who stared at him with wide eyes.
"Oh! I thought - you're - uh - " his eyes ran up and down Tony, and Tony was abruptly conscious of two things; one, that he was looking very scruffy, and two, if he told Steve he'd been turned into a girl shortly after Doom had hit Iron Man with a mysterious ray, there was a very low chance he wouldn't put two and two together. He tugged the hem of his t-shirt down, ran a surreptitious hand over his hair, which was kind of matted at the back, and tried to think of something to tell him. "Miss Stark?" Steve said doubtfully, and frowned.
Tony considered it. He'd answered to Stark, he bore a striking resemblance to, well, himself and he was hanging out in his office -
"Yes! I'm Morgan Stark. Tony's cousin." Steve was here to have lunch with him, of course. "Tony's been called away on business, and he doesn't know how long it'll be - some kind of management problem with a plant in - in Shanghai, and so he asked me to stop by and keep an eye on things - " Tony babbled, and Steve frowned.
"I didn't realise," he said, pouting very slightly, and Tony winced. The pout was possibly the most lethal weapon in Steve's armoury.
"Well, you know Tony," said Tony dismissively, and snorted. "So unreliable!"
"I've always found him very reliable," said Steve, and Tony grinned.
"Oh, well. I'm sure he'll get in contact when he has the time. It was very sudden, no warning at all."
"I expect so." Steve's pout smoothed away into a smile. "So, I'm Steve Rogers." He held out his hand, and Tony shook it. "Am I meeting with you about - " he gestured mysteriously, and waggled his eyebrows. Tony stared, taken aback by the sight of Cap trying to look conspiratorial.
"About - " he prompted, and Steve looked anguished, and Tony caught on. "Oh! Yes, yes, I know about the - Tony's told me everything. Um, about you. You're - Captain America." Steve gave him a relieved smile. "Yes, let's - lunch, let's go. No, wait, let me brush my hair."
He retreated to the bathroom off his office, which was poorly equipped with styling tools, but at least had a comb. Yanking the snarls out took far too long - he'd only been asleep ten minutes, how had it gotten like that? - and he didn't have anything to tie it back with, so he spent several minutes trying to secure it with a piece of wire found in his pocket. It didn't work at all, and he gave it up as a bad job.
Steve waited docilely, which was a treat; usually he'd stand over Tony and frown at whatever was causing the delay. Of course, in his time, waiting for girls to do girl things was pretty much required. He probably thought Tony was powdering his nose, or putting on a girdle, or something.
When he came back out, Steve was playing idly with the gauntlets he'd left on the table.
"I didn't realise Iron Man had such small hands," he said.
"Well... he does!" said Tony, and Steve smiled at him as if that hadn't been a stupid thing to say. "Ready to go?"
"Sure." Tony made for the door, and Steve darted forward to get it for him. Tony choked back a remark, and walked through, feeling rather silly.
Steve appeared bound and determined to open every door in the place for him, and he had the reflexes to get his way; when they got to the garage, he looked about at the half-dozen cars with a frown, and Tony suppressed the urge to snicker. He took the keys from his pocket and pressed the button, and the Lexus flashed its lights and its locks clicked. Steve opened the driver's door for him with an air of satisfaction, and Tony settled in and fought briefly with the seatbelt, which interacted oddly with his newly reshaped chest. The pedals were fractionally too far away, as well, which meant adjusting the seat. Steve waited patiently; the passenger seat was already correctly positioned for his long legs, because this was Tony's newest, shiniest car and therefore designated for showing off to Steve.
"Tony must trust you a lot if he lets you drive his cars," Steve said as they pulled out of the garage. Tony conscientiously did not rev the engine and screech out at high speed in his normal fashion. "He doesn't let me drive his cars in the city."
"That's because - that's probably because you're not accustomed to modern New York traffic." And because he rigorously obeyed the rules of the road, and would pull to a halt to give an old lady time to un-parallel park while traffic stacked up behind them. Life was too short to let Steve drive.
"Probably. So where are we going?" That was an excellent question, because he didn't have reservations anywhere, and he couldn't exactly trade on his name right now.
"What would you like?" he said to buy time, and Steve shrugged.
"Chinese food?" he said hopefully. Tony opened his mouth to make a jibe about the kung pao chicken Steve would undoubtedly order, and then realised that would be very silly, and groped for words. Steve glanced across at him. "Or if you don't - "
"Chinese is fine."
He might be lacking the name, but the Lexus was definitely an advantage; an advantage that he lost as soon as the maitre d' took in his clothes. Still, they got seated, albeit near the back of the restaurant, and Steve deliberately stepped in front of the waiter so he could pull Tony's chair out for him.
"What's so funny?" Steve sat down, and Tony tried to control his grin, with little success.
"You. Seriously, the glare you gave the doorman when he opened the door for me. And did you actually step on the waiter's foot?"
"No," said Steve with dignity. "If I had, I would have apologized. I was just - " a look of alarm crossed his face. "Do you not like having doors opened for you? Is it a feminist thing? I can stop if - "
"No, no need." If it made Steve happy, Tony could cope. "Open all the doors you like, what do I care?"
"Right," said Steve. "Glad to amuse you," and from anyone that would have been sarcasm, but Steve was smiling as if amusing Tony was just how he wanted to spend his day.
The waiter took their orders - and Steve did indeed order kung pao chicken - and gave Tony what he was sure was a disapproving look before departing with their menus. Tony was beginning to wish he'd worn one of the bras. Steve kept giving him surreptitious glances from under his eyelashes, and several of those glances drifted down below his shoulders. Of course, in the Forties women wore girdles, or maybe corsets; Steve probably wasn't terribly well-informed on modern women's undergarments, and wouldn't be in a position to be judgmental about Tony's lack of support. Still, Tony put his elbows on the table and folded his hands under his chin for some camouflage before directing his best disarming smile at Steve.
"I'm not really dressed for here," he said, and Steve shook his head.
"You look beautiful." He gave Tony his million-dollar smile. Tony blinked at him; he didn't blush, and after a second Tony dropped his eyes with the realisation that Steve wasn't looking at him with suspicion or disapproval. "So, I didn't know Mr Stark had a cousin working with him," said Steve after a moment, and Tony nodded.
"Oh, we - " he hesitated. If they didn't get along, he wouldn't have left himself in charge - "We tend to argue a lot, you know? We're fond, and all, family, but I travel a lot. Taking care of things. But the Shanghai business required his personal attention." Steve opened his mouth to ask another question, and Tony cut him off.
"So! Big news – I know Tony wanted to tell you himself, but he asked me to pass it on, so, we've gotten our, your, the team approved." Steve's reaction was everything he'd hoped for, face lit with joy; he practically squirmed in his seat with excitement.
"Really? That's amazing!" he said in awed tones. "So soon?"
"Isn't it? And it's all thanks to you."
"No, no," Steve disclaimed. "It's thanks to Tony. Without him – "
"It's your influence that persuaded SHIELD and the Pentagon to give the go-ahead," said Tony. "Who can say no to you? Anyway, now we can start recruiting! That very large young woman from yesterday. Pretty impressive. Iron Man said she was interested in joining the team. Did you have a chance to talk to her?"
"Oh, is Iron Man not in Beijing?" Steve looked surprised, and Tony hesitated. That was good, actually, it would increase the separation between him and Iron Man.
"He's staying here with me. Tony's supposed to be taking a low-key trip, so having Iron Man hanging about..."
"He seems quite subtle to me; I never see him about when I'm with Mr Stark." Steve's expression was bland, and Tony matched it.
"Well, he has his moments of flamboyance," he said.
"He does." Steve's mouth curved in a fond smile. "But yes, she seemed a nice young woman. Very public spirited."
"Pretty, too," said Tony, and then remembered himself. "I mean, that's good for public relations. Everyone likes pretty girls."
"I'm surprised Stark Industries doesn't play up your involvement more, then." Steve smiled again, and Tony opened and then shut his mouth. "Apparently her powers are built into her costume."
"Oh, good. I was afraid we'd lose her to the X-Men."
"I was quite surprised they approved a super team, with the X-Men so close," said Steve. "And the Four."
"There's still a lot of mistrust of mutants. And the Fantastic Four are completely disorganized, always off to other dimensions or galaxies. So we need a nice, organized, reliable team of superpeople to be called on in case of disaster." He stopped, realising he was falling into the familiar spiel, which Steve had heard dozens of times, but Steve was listening attentively. The man was ridiculously polite. "So! Recruitment."
"Well, Giant Girl first, and maybe Spider-Man can be persuaded."
"We'll be lucky. He comes and helps in fights sometimes, but apparently he's shy - Johnny Storm told me he keeps trying to get him talking, but he just goes scuttling off as soon as the danger's over." Tony nibbled on one of his nails, and then took a second look at them. A fraction longer than his own, and was that polish on them? There was a distinct sheen to them. He shook off the momentary feeling of displacement, and smiled at Steve. "Still, there might be ways to lure him out. Of course, he might be a mutant."
"Iron Man and I should interview Giant Girl. When will you be able to spare him?"
"This afternoon?" The girl parts had come with plenty of free time, at least. "I'll send him out to the Mansion to meet you, shall I?"
"That'd be great," said Steve. "We can take a trip round and look for Spider-Man, too." He grinned, and Tony knew he was anticipating the flight.
The rest of lunch passed making delightful plans for the future of their team. He snagged the check while Steve wasn't looking, and when Steve frowned at him, he rolled his eyes.
"Tony's paying, Steve, curb your chivalry."
Steve escorted him all the way up to his office, where Pepper leapt to her feet with a squeak. Pepper had a totally unreasonable crush on Steve. Something about appreciating men who could remember a basic social obligation. Well, whatever, Tony was a genius. He was supposed to be forgetful.
"Good afternoon, Miss Potts," said Steve, and Pepper practically cooed.
"Captain, it's so nice to see you." Her eyes flicked to Tony, and she made a very strange face, as if she'd bitten into something revolting and was trying not to show it.
"Hi, Pepper!" said Tony. "I was just explaining that my cousin Tony left me in charge while he's away!"
"That's right!" Pepper bared her teeth at him in what was probably a smile. There was a second's awkward silence, and then Tony lunged for the door to his office.
"Well, I should – " Steve's ninja reflexes had the door open before Tony could get there, and he followed Tony in and shut the door behind him. Tony turned to face him, and got the full blast of one of Steve's best smiles.
"So, uh," said Steve. "It was really nice to meet you."
"Yeah." Tony tried without success to think of something witty or original to say. "It was great. I really enjoyed lunch." Steve took a half step closer, right into Tony's space, and Tony was suddenly very aware of the couple of inches in height he'd lost as Steve dipped his head to look into his eyes.
"I'm glad, because I'd like to have dinner with you," Steve said, and Tony's eyes widened. "Are you free tonight?"
"Yes," said Tony instantly, before his brain could step in, and his heart sank. That was a really bad idea - Steve was talking again, and he nodded to everything, and then Steve curled his hand round Tony's for a second, squeezed his fingers, before he stepped back to let himself out.
He listened to the sound of Pepper's giggle as she flirted Steve out the door, and then she burst in, almost running right into him. She frowned at him, and he looked back. Then she put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him back a few steps so he wasn't blocking the doorway.
"Your cousin?" she said, letting him stop somewhere near the middle of the room.
"Steve just asked me on a date."
Pepper froze for a second, then took a deep breath, clearly preparing to scold furiously.
"Please tell me you – "
"It's Captain America," he bleated, and she put her fingertips to her temples and took another, deeper breath. "Be reasonable!"
"What's your name?" she said from between gritted teeth.
"What?" Had she developed spontaneous amnesia? It wasn't that bad. There was a faint grinding noise he thought might be her teeth.
"What did you tell him – "
"Morgan. Oh, God, I need something to wear."
"Morgan?" Pepper didn't quite shriek, and Tony threw up his hands to signal his complete surrender to Pepper's assessment of him as a idiot.
"I was asleep when he turned up! I did the best I could."
""Were you asleep when he asked you out?"
"Pepper, you're not helping!"
"Why didn't you just tell him - "
"I have my dignity." Pepper made a snorting noise that he was going to pretend was agreement and not laughter. "I don't want this getting out, the fewer people who know, the better." Pepper scowled, but apparently accepted that; which was good, because "I need to cover for my secret identity" wasn't really going to fly.
"I'll get you clothes," she said. "And you are going to go out to dinner with the nice man and give him the brush off, aren't you?"
"Sure." Pepper was right, of course. It was the only sensible course of action. She narrowed her eyes, and he smiled and nodded until she sighed and pulled out her PDA.
"Now, this afternoon – "
"I have a thing," Tony interrupted, and she tapped her stylus ominously on the screen. "A turning me back thing. Tests, and suchlike. Reed needs to do more tests."
That worked surprisingly well; Pepper was apparently almost as eager to get him changed back as he was. He took the elevator down to the lobby, then took another one back up to his workshop and put on the remodelled armour.
It looked almost indistinguishable from the old armour; the breasts were squashed down, but not uncomfortably so, and the line of the chestplate was barely altered. The narrower torso couldn't be concealed entirely without interfering with the shoulder joints, but fortunately it wasn't a big change - the female Tony Stark was a tall, well-built woman - so no one would notice unless they were comparing directly. Seeing his barely-altered metal form in the mirror was a relief, a lift of tension he hadn't really been aware of.
He was cautious in the air at first, but his weight distribution was only slightly altered, barely notable against the weight of the armour. By the time he reached the Mansion, he was comfortable enough for some showing off. Approaching from the rear of the building, in full view of the kitchen windows, he pulled a dramatic dive towards the lawn and then braked and twisted and rolled into a striding walk up the garden path, neat as you please.
Jarvis opened it for him with a look clearly intended to show how unimpressed he was with aerobatics. Steve was, as expected, sitting at the kitchen table, where he'd no doubt been telling Jarvis - oh.
"The Captain was just telling me about the delightful lunch he had with Miss Stark," Jarvis said in icily polite tones that reduced Tony to a five-year-old. He tried a placatory grin, and then remembered Jarvis wouldn't be able to see it. In fact, Jarvis couldn't really blame Iron Man at all, he was just glaring because Tony wasn't there to be glared at.
"Uh... yes." That didn't seem to help. "She's a nice lady?" he offered.
"Lovely," said Jarvis, which at least meant he hadn't blown the whole thing out of the water.
"Isn't she?" Steve was apparently oblivious to the undertones. "And she's so interested in the team, we had such a great talk about it. I can't believe Tony never mentioned her before."
"It's a mystery," Jarvis said, and his scowl deepened. Tony backed towards the door.
"Well, really can't stop. You ready, Cap?"
Steve threw an arm round his neck as soon as they were through the door, and they bumped hips for a few steps until Tony carefully insinuated an arm under the shield slung on his back and secured a firm grip around his waist for take-off. He hugged Steve maybe a little too tight, but he always did, and there was no way Steve could know it wasn't entirely necessary.
"Are you shorter?" said Steve as the earth fell away from their feet, and Tony shrugged.
"Had an adjustment to the boot jets, might be a bit shorter."
"Oh, right." Steve looked down at the dollhouse of the Mansion, a smile spreading over his face. "So, uh, let's fly?" and Tony grinned inside his helmet.
"We are flying," he said in an innocent voice, and Steve kicked him gently in the ankle. "Ow, my joints. Bully."
"Fly," Steve said again, laughing, and Tony carefully loosened his grip on Steve and spread his arms for balance as Steve ducked and scrambled round onto his back. "Okay," he said, arms locked round the base of the helmet, knees gripping Tony's waist.
"You sure? You're holding on." Tony shimmied, carefully, getting used to the weight change. He wasn't about to risk dropping Steve, no matter his blithe assurances that he trusted Tony to catch him. No one should trust Tony that much; of course, Steve didn't know it was Tony he was trusting with his life, but even so.
"I'm sure."Steve patted him on the shoulder, and Tony folded in his arms and fell into a spinning dive.
One of the disadvantages of the Iron Man suit was the lack of opportunity to show off to a passenger; even Rhodey was disinclined to go for Tony-rides, and Tony had to admit he might have a point about its unsafeness. Steve, however, had a grip like steel, didn't suffer at all from motion sickness, and could tolerate an impressive amount of G-force. It had taken only a few seconds to program Steve's tolerances into the Iron Man system, and now he could indulge himself in aerobatics with the best of audiences.
He took them uptown, towards the shiniest part of town, and pulled a series of sharp turns, jinking through a glassy maze of skyscrapers, skimming so close to them his proximity alarms went off. He buzzed past Stark Towers, and waved to Rhodey, who wouldn't be able to rat him out to Pepper without giving away his secret.
They spiralled up around the Empire State building, a treat for the tourists - Tony's sensors picked up the gasps as they passed the observation decks, and a couple of electronic shutter clicks. There would probably be pictures in the Bugle but it certainly wasn't a rare enough sight to warrant the front page. He kept spiralling, gaining height, and Steve's grip loosened and he leaned back to peer down. They climbed and climbed, and Steve's breathing came harder and harder with the altitude; at twenty-five thousand feet he was panting, and Tony wouldn't take him any higher, though he estimated Steve could survive at up to thirty thousand. It was one limit he had no desire to push.
They circled, idly, Tony levelling out so Steve could let go and drape himself along Tony as casually as if he were a hammock. Quiet up here, only the distant sounds of the airplanes making it this far.
Steve studied the city intently, leaning over Tony's shoulder; Tony could just see his face in his peripheral vision. He didn't know what Steve looked for when they did this. Finally, Steve sighed and knocked on his helmet.
"Ready?" he said, and Tony nodded, feeling the thrill of spiking adrenaline as Steve rolled off him and fell like a rock. Tony cut his jets, and followed. Gnawing fear in his gut, that he'd fail to catch him this time, that Steve would end up a puddle on Fifth Avenue, but he could see Steve's grin as he fell backwards towards the earth, staring up into the sky.
Tony watched the city grow, checking his readouts again and again, and he fired the repulsors and swooped down on Steve, wrapping his arms round man and shield and sweeping them into a deep arc, so that Steve was barely jolted as they shed velocity.
They landed on a rooftop in eastern Manhattan, and Steve's legs wobbled as he let himself down. Tony put out a hand, and Steve leaned against his shoulder, smiling.
"That was brilliant," he said. "Thanks."
"Not a problem." Tony looked at him, his chest heaving with quick breaths, eyes heavy with pleasure. He remembered Steve's warm hand on his; Steve was taking him on a date tonight. He could probably snag a goodnight kiss... he patted Steve lightly on the arm, and eased back, and Steve stepped away, shaking out his legs and bouncing on his toes.
"What time are we meeting Giant Girl?" he asked.
"In about an hour. Let's play some catch."
"Catch?" Steve's brow furrowed, but his smile stayed, only turning quizzical.
"With the shield."
"This is Spider-Man's stomping ground. I'm not going to play tag around the skyscrapers with him, because even if I catch him, that seems no way to recruit. We're going to have to lure him out with something shiny."
"No, you." Tony laughed at his confused face. "There's a definite theme to Spider-Man's appearances at our fights; he comes out to watch you. I've seen him on the rooftops, staring down at you with those big white eyes, and when he joins in he's always dropping in next to you."
"He does," Steve admitted. "I just thought he figured I needed the help more."
"I think he's a fanboy. I've tried hanging around down here, but he's never come out to meet me. I think he might for you. We just need to attract his attention." Tony launched himself off the roof, and spun to beckon to Cap. "So throw me the shield, and let's see if we can catch some attention."
Understanding came over Steve's face, and he whirled the shield into the air, and Tony caught it and hurled it even higher, the intense colours glowing in the sunlight. He deflected it down again, clumsily, and Steve took a running leap into midair; Tony had time for a graphic vision of Steve plummeting six floors to his doom before he landed neatly on the parapet of the next roof, poised as a gymnast, and put up a casual hand for the shield, spinning to absorb the impact and launching it back into the air. It flew past Tony at a ridiculous speed; he could almost swear it was accelerating, which would be in total violation of the laws of physics. He rose to meet it as it reached apogee and began to fall, and as he turned with it clasped in his hand, he caught another glimpse of blue and red. Spider-Man was swinging towards them, which was quicker than he'd expected; he must have spotted them playing around in the sky earlier.
Tony tossed the shield from hand to hand, and looked down at Steve, who was shading his eyes to look up at him. He jerked his head in the direction of Spider-Man, and Steve nodded. Whether he'd seen him already, or just took Tony's word for it, he couldn't tell.
He threw the shield casually, and Steve made another heart-stopping leap, catching the shield in mid-air and then actually swinging off a flagpole and flipping back up onto a windowsill, which had to be him showing off.
As he landed, Spider-Man threw out a particularly long line, and swung past slowly, positively rubbernecking at Steve, who turned as casually as if he wasn't fifty feet up on a narrow ledge of concrete and gave him a cheery wave. Then he jumped up and caught the edge of the roof with one hand before kicking off the wall and flipping himself over onto the parapet.
Spider-Man landed on the side of a building, and craned his neck to stare back at Steve, who waved again. After a second, Spider-Man peeled a hand from the wall and waved back. Steve beckoned to him, and Spider-Man glanced around, as if he thought there might be someone more worthy of Cap's attention stuck to the building.
Finding no-one, he swung back, releasing his line and doing what Tony judged to be a completely unnecessary double somersault to land just in front of Steve. Then he just stared up into Steve's smiling face. Tony drifted closer, and turned up his audio pickups.
"Hi there," Steve said after a moment, and held out his hand. "I guess there's not much point in introductions."
"Oh!" he took Steve's hand, gingerly. "Yeah. Um, hi!" He looked to their clasped hands, then up at Steve's face, and then when Steve let go, he stared down at his hand. "Oh, wow," he said softly, and Tony could sympathize. That was how he'd felt when Cap, still wearing the rags of his uniform, bewildered by the newness of the world, had pulled himself together, plastered a shaky smile on his face, and held out his hand.
"I wanted to thank you," said Steve, and Spider-Man looked up at him. "That house fire last week; I saw the weblines holding the walls. Without you, it might have collapsed before I could get everyone out." Tony's eyebrows shot up. Steve hadn't said a word at the time, serenely assuring Iron Man everything was fine while he fretted outside, his metal suit too heavy to risk in the burning building. Spider-Man was sheepishly disclaiming his contributions, hands waving deprecatingly, and Steve put a hand on his shoulder.
"Son, you've got a bad reputation," he began, and Spider-Man sagged, twisting his fingers together. There was surely nothing worse than being disapproved of by Captain America. "But I've seen some of the work you've done, and I've heard stories from some of the people you've helped, and you seem to be a person who's doing the best he can to help people, without asking for anything in return. And to me, that's the definition of a hero."
"I - " Spider-Man tried to interrupt, but Steve steamrollered on.
"We're putting together a team of heroes, and we'd like you to be one of them; you're a man I'd like to work with. What do you say?"
"Yes," Spider-Man said fervently, and then shook his head. "I mean, I'd love to, I would, you don't know - but I can't." He ducked his head, and shuffled his feet. Steve dropped his hand from his shoulder.
Spider-Man's arms came up, wrapping around himself as if he were cold.
"Well, I. I'm just - " he hesitated. "I'm not a big hero, like you, I just - "
"Spider-Man," said Steve gently. "Last time I saw you, you were doing exactly what I was doing. And together, we managed to save lives I don't think either of us could have alone."
"Yeah." Spider-Man kicked at the roof. "But - I'm. I have a really bad reputation, like you said, I wouldn't want to - put that on anyone else."
"I like good press," said Steve, unruffled. "Who doesn't? But you know, I'm not going to steer clear of people because of a bad reputation, when I know that reputation's not true." He looked up at Tony. "Now, I don't let it stop me associating with Tony Stark, do I?"
Spider-Man turned, and looked up at him with those big blank eyes. His body language was clear, though, doubt in the hunch of his shoulders, nervousness in the tension of his thighs. Tony settled the armour gently a few feet away from him, and Spider-Man cocked his head.
"Hi there," said Tony. "Cap's right, you know. We'd like to have you on the team, and we're not afraid of a little bad press." It was true enough; Tony had certainly had his share of it. He was more or less counting on Cap to acquire them favourable coverage; the media in general seemed almost as besotted with Steve as Tony was. It was probably the way he always looked pleased to see them. He had the delightful idea that television and newspapers existed to inform and edify the general public, and that journalists were champions of free speech. It was cute, really.
"It's hardly a little," said Spider-Man, but something in his voice said he was wavering. Steve frowned.
"What else?" Spider-Man shrugged.
"My secret identity," he muttered. "I can't tell anyone."
"You don't have to," said Steve instantly. "No, really. I don't even know Iron Man's secret identity."
"Really?" Spider-Man looked back and forth between them. "I thought you guys were friends."
"We are," said Steve. "Good friends. And it doesn't really bother me that I don't know his real name. I know who he is, and I like him and I respect him, and that's what matters."
"You're making me blush." It was true, Tony could feel the pleased embarrassment heating his skin. "But he's right, there's no need for you to reveal your secret identity."
Spider-Man wriggled with indecision, swaying on his feet, looking from Iron Man to Captain America.
"I'll... I'll think about it, okay?" he said finally, and he took a few running steps and dived off the building. After a second he swept back into view on the end of a webline, swinging down towards Manhattan.
"That didn't go so well." Steve shook his head, and Tony snorted.
"You kidding me? Johnny Storm says it took weeks to persuade Spider-Man to even say hi to him, and five minutes of you and he's practically signed up."
"I do. He's going to go for it."
Under Steve's direction, they flew to a small park, and Steve bought them Cokes, which had the added bonus of Tony getting to watch his hips wriggle as he dug small change out of his tight pants. Tony no doubt looked quite ridiculous with a straw poked in through the mouthpiece of his helmet, and Steve's amused look salved any guilt he might have had about leering at his friend's rear.
They wandered around the path, heads together, Steve wearing his most earnest expression, in the hope they wouldn't be interrupted.
"So," said Steve. "I guess you're bodyguarding Miss Stark, now?"
"Yeah." Tony fought only briefly with temptation. "So you're taking her out to dinner, huh?"
"Yeah." Steve grinned. "She seems really great."
"I didn't think you dated much," he ventured, and Steve tilted his head.
"Oh, no. I date all the time." Tony stared at him. He didn't seem to be joking. Steve did have an excellent poker face, though.
"You do?" he said cautiously, waiting for the punchline, but Steve just nodded.
"Oh sure. I get lots of letters from women asking me out on dates." He paused. "Some of them send pictures," he added thoughtfully, and the visible parts of his face pinked.
"And you - and you go?" Tony tried to reorder his thoughts into something that made sense. He didn't really bother Steve in the evenings, not wanting him to feel crowded. He'd vaguely supposed that Steve visited Fury, and did SHIELD things, or maybe spent his time touring the city and looking up old haunts. That was what he'd done when Tony first installed him in the Mansion; but then, that had been months ago.
"Well, sure. Why not?"
"Well, I - " Tony hesitated. There was technically no reason Steve couldn't go on dates with women who wrote in and asked, but really - "People don't usually just go on dates with strangers who write to them."
"I thought, nowadays, people did that kind of thing. I mean, that if you just liked the look of someone, you could just go and talk to them." Steve slurped at his Coke, apparently unaware he was saying anything at all surprising.
"Well, yeah..." And again, that was technically true. But things people did and things Captain America did were surely not necessarily interchangeable. Not that he'd thought about Steve's romantic life - well, hardly at all - but if he had, he'd've thought of Steve as more the type to meet women through rescuing them from danger. Untying them from train tracks, perhaps.
"And most of them were very nice women, and seemed to think it was all perfectly normal."
"How many women are we talking, here?" said Tony faintly.
"I go on maybe two or three dates a week."
"Just one date per woman?" That was... that was a lot of women. He'd known Steve got a lot of fanmail of course, sent by way of SHIELD, but he hadn't even realised he read it - he should have, of course, Steve would, he probably tried to answer it all - much less went out on dates with women. The idea that luring Captain America into an ambush was as simple as sending a nice letter and a flattering mugshot - he suppressed a snicker at the thought of Hydra sending love notes to Cap.
"I haven't really clicked with any of them," Steve said. "I just tell them that I'm very flattered and all, but I'm not in a position to commit to anything."
"Right."That was... okay, actually, he could go on one date with Steve. Getting brushed off by him sounded a lot easier than brushing him off. "And what, you're hoping to click with Ms Stark?"
"She was nice," said Steve vaguely. "Smart. Funny. And really pretty. I mean, wow, those eyes. And I felt a real connection, it was like I'd known her for months."
"Yeah," said Tony, and tried not to feel smug; his eyes hadn't really changed much. Steve thought he had pretty eyes. "She's smart, all right."
"Does she like pizza?"
"Oh, she loves pizza. She pretty much eats anything."
"Great." Steve grinned at him, and then nodded towards the gate. "I think our meeting just arrived.
Sure enough, a woman in a purple bodysuit had just hurried through the gates, and Tony looked her over in approval. Trim, topped with swinging chestnut hair and a mask with jaunty antennae, she had a wide smile on her face as she approached. Steve stepped forward and held out his hand, and she grabbed it in both of hers, eyes bright.
"Hi there! I should say I'm really excited, so excuse me if I say anything silly." She dropped his hand, and turned to Tony, who clasped her hand carefully in his gauntlet.
"Hi, Giant Girl."
"It's not a great name, is it?" she said with a giggle. "I sort of came up with it on the spur of the moment. You can call me Jan, if you like."
"Nice to meet you, Jan," said Steve. "My friends call me Cap. And of course you've already met Iron Man."
"I didn't thank you properly for catching me," said Tony. "That could have been a nasty accident." He gently took her arm, and they began to wander again, Steve at her other side. Standing still was practically an invitation to autograph hunters.
"Oh, yes. I mean, when I saw it on the news, there wasn't anyone there, so I thought I'd just run out and do what I could until the real heroes got there. And then you were there already, and I wondered if I should just go, but then he hit you with that ray - "
"Real heroes?" said Steve, and she nodded.
"Well, you know. I don't have... training, or anything. I just grow big. I can do tiny, as well, but I don't really see the point." She waved a hand. "I was just planning to step on them, or maybe lift people out of the way. It's hard, you know? I don't want to cause more trouble than I fix."
"Do you want to be a hero?" Steve said, and Jan gave him a puzzled look, wrinkling her nose in a way Tony judged as quite adorable. "I mean, we get called into these kinds of things - "
"I didn't meant to get in the way," she began, and Steve shook his head.
"No, no, you were very helpful. What I'm saying is, we'd like to have you work with us, give you training. If you'd like to be, well, a real hero, we'd like you to be one. We're starting a team, to co-ordinate responses to disasters and supervillains, and we'd like - "
"You want me to join?" Jan gasped and clapped her hands together, and Steve nodded. "Oh my God, yes. I mean, I'm never sure what to do, I don't want to just turn up and get in the way, but I could totally be useful - "
"You destroyed a robot army by pinching it," said Tony. "Believe me, you could be useful."
"So how does this work? Do I have to sign something? When do I start training? Is there a school?" She hooked her hand through Steve's arm and looked up at him hopefully, and he smiled and patted her hand.
"We're only just starting to recruit," he said. "Stark Industries will be funding us; we'll be based out at the old Stark family home on - "
"Oh, I know it, I used to go there all the time." Tony squinted at her profile, trying to see past the mask. Jan, Jan... "My dad does business with Stark Industries." Janet!
"Van Dyne?" Tony said. "You're Janet van Dyne?" Wow, she'd grown up. He vaguely recalled a small girl with pretty dresses, and her father wrapped around her little finger. She'd been doing humanitarian work in Africa, last he'd heard.
"Yeah!" She tore her gaze away from Steve and beamed at him. "That's how I got the powers, you know, they were invented by one of my dad's scientists, but he said they had too much potential for abuse, so he didn't want them marketed, but he's a real sweetheart and when I said I was looking for a new way to help people, he gave me the suit. Wasn't that kind of him?"
"It was," said Tony. If she'd smiled at the poor man like that, Tony couldn't blame him. He was half inclined to give her his jetboots already, and Steve was smiling foolishly at her. She'd be perfect for a superteam; she and Steve could win every heart in the state between them.
Steve started in with the lecture about truth, justice and blah blah blah, and Tony tuned him out and watched his lips move. Jan nodded along, seemingly entranced, whether by Steve or by Steve's rhetoric, Tony couldn't say.
"I have to head back," Tony said finally, and Steve blinked and looked up at the sky. "Almost five o'clock." It was impressive how long the man could hold forth for, given an appreciative audience.
"Yeah, I have to - I have a thing." Steve smiled down at Jan. "It was great to meet you, Jan, we're so pleased to have you on the team. We'll arrange a meeting with Mr Stark when he gets back."
"When do we start?" she said breathlessly, and Steve glanced at Tony.
"I think we'll need another few recruits before we start training," said Tony. "So very soon, I hope."
"Wonderful. You've got my number, right? Call if you need anything at all!"
He was able to sneak into his apartment without crossing paths with Pepper, and got into the shower to wash the smells of the armour away. He was rinsing the suds out of his long hair when it occurred to him he was, effectively, in the shower with a naked woman, and he should really take advantage of that.
His breasts were really very nice, he decided, trying to look at them objectively. There were scars radiating out from the arc reactor, of course, but they were fine and pale. Not really off-putting.
He cupped one breast, carefully. It was incredibly disconcerting to see the soft flesh dimple under his hand and feel the sensations tingle through him; strange, unfamiliar nerve endings firing. He closed his eyes, and it was easier, not quite pretending they were someone else's, just... detaching a little, letting his fingers work, trying to analyse the sensations. The nipples were very sensitive, wonderfully so; the feeling was good enough to distract from the weirdness, and he was sliding his other hand down between his legs when he heard the door to his apartment slam.
"Tony, you there?" called Rhodey.
"In the shower!" he yelled back, and for a moment was tempted to add come join me, because he could totally use some help exploring this new body, and Rhodey was really a very attractive man. He restrained himself, though, as Rhodey was also a man of delicate sensibilities, and was glad he had when he heard the familiar sound of Pepper's heels. Personal exploration would have to wait, and he turned off the water and wrapped a towel round his waist. Then he rewrapped it above his breasts, which didn't work nearly as well.
The bathroom door opened a crack, and Pepper's hand came through and hung a bag on the doorhandle. Investigation produced three more bras, all of which were torturous. He dropped them into the laundry basket, along with the towel that refused to stay in place, and put his robe on and padded out into the bedroom. Rhodey was lying on his bed with a copy of the annual report; Pepper was laying an assortment of arcane objects out on the dresser.
"Sit," she said briskly. "I'll do your hair first."
"How the hell, Tony." Rhodey raised his voice over the roar of the hairdryer, and Tony narrowed his eyes at him in the mirror, which didn't intimidate him at all. "How did you accidentally agree to a date with Captain America?"
"It just happened." Tony shrugged, and tried to look nonchalant. "I wasn't expecting it. Who asks random women from business meetings out on dates?"
"You do," said Pepper pointedly, and sprayed some kind of goo on his head and began brushing his hair far too briskly.
"Well, sure I do - ow, Pepper, ow - but tell me you expect Cap to run his romantic life like I do and I'll call you a liar straight out."
"You are, and I'm never repeating this, a pretty hot woman." Tony tipped his head, ignoring Pepper's tug on his hair, so he could bat his eyelashes at Rhodey in the mirror. "Man sees a babe flirting with him, he asks her out. It's not rocket science."
"I wasn't flirting," said Tony, and Pepper and Rhodey both snorted. "Quit that, it sounds like you're rooting for truffles."
"Tony, you flirt with Steve constantly." Pepper twisted his hair up, and began sticking pins in it; it was nice to feel his neck bare again, without the constant tickle of the curls.
"I do -"
"Shh." She poked a tube of something at his lips, and he shut up rather than get a mouthful of lipstick. He didn't flirt with Steve all the time, though. Just when he thought Steve wouldn't notice.
He sat docile for dark smudges on his eyelids and powder on his face, and then Pepper handed him a pile of black fabric. Rhodey prudently buried his nose in the report, and Tony wriggled into a not too short skirt and a black silk drapey top that covered the arc reactor and exposed his shoulders. Add a pair of flat black shoes, and he looked... boring. Pretty, but dull. Low-key. Subtle. All the things Tony really wasn't.
"I'm not trying to hide in the shadows, here. Did they not have anything red?" He frowned at the mirror, at the woman who would have blended seamlessly into any premiere or reception. All right, he wasn't trying to seduce Steve or anything, but he wouldn't mind just a bit of attraction. Cleavage wasn't really an option, with the arc reactor and all, but he had hoped to look... appealing. Did the other Stark dress like this? The idea that there was a version of Tony Stark who didn't like to stand out was disconcerting.
"You look fine," said Pepper, sounding exasperated. "Didn't any of those bras fit?"
"No, they felt weird." Tony did another turn, and put a hand to his hair, and Pepper slapped his wrist.
"Don't fiddle with it." It was piled up, with artful tendrils around his face, and Tony just knew it was going to fall down and he wan't going to be able to repair the damage. His experience in structural engineering didn't cover this.
"I don't look like I've made an effort," he said plaintively, and Pepper scowled terribly. "Uh, I mean, you've done a good job, I look pretty, but - "
"Shh. Repeat after me. I'm not really looking for anything serious right now."
"I'm not really looking for anything serious right now," said Tony dutifully.
"You're an amazing guy, but I've got so much happening right now."
"You're an amazing guy, but I've got so much happening right now."
"A girl said that to me last week," remarked Rhodey. "So she really meant - "
"That she's a shape-changed colleague, obviously," said Tony. "Hush now."
"So I think it's best we stay friends and colleagues."
"I got it." Tony smiled; Pepper scowled. "Don't worry; it'll be fine." Steve was far too nice a guy to pressure anyone; Tony would go to dinner, be nice, and gently let him down if he tried for a good night kiss.
Tony moaned as Steve's mouth moved over his throat, and ran his hands over those broad shoulders again. He should stop this right now - big warm hands were sneaking under the loose silk top, fingers tracing the line of his spine as Steve slowly eased him down on to his back on the couch. It had all been going entirely to plan; he'd managed to avoid telling too many lies, he'd driven Steve home to the Mansion, and Steve had asked him in for coffee, and Tony had honestly planned to give him the just-friends talk (and maybe give him just one quick kiss) but the second he'd set down the cup and turned to Steve, he'd been kissed.
"Steve," he said dizzily, and Steve murmured something against his shoulder, words inaudible but the tone throaty, and Tony petted his hair, just as soft as it looked. Steve's mouth was on bare skin, and there were definitely straps on this top, but Steve had managed to maneuver them out of the way without ever stopping the insistent stroking of those wonderful hands over Tony's back, and Tony was starting to wish he'd worn a bra, because any minute now Steve was going to - "Oh," he said, as Steve's hands cupped his breasts. Someone else touching them was much, much better than his own hands, none of the confusion of sensations messing with his head. "Yes, God, don't stop," and Steve was way too good at this, the firm, slow touches teasing gasps out of him, and he felt cool air on his skin and realised Steve was about to peel the top right off him - Tony's hands snapped down to grab it, hold it in place, and Steve lifted his head and looked at him.
"Sorry, is this not - " he was frowning, and Tony couldn't really blame him, this was definitely a mixed signals kind of thing.
"I," he started, then stopped. Steve gently eased his hands away, and dropped a light kiss on his shoulder, faint disappointment vanishing under a reassuring smile.
"We don't have to -" Tony made a noise of exasperation.
"I've got a pacemaker," he blurted. "And it looks really odd, it's - Tony designed it, it's weird looking." Steve brightened.
"It's all right," he said. "I've seen - really, I've seen some pretty outlandish stuff - " Tony grabbed a handful of silk and yanked his top off, and Steve's eyes dropped to his breasts, and Tony could see his expression flicker between hey, boobs and what the hell is that. He didn't comment on the arc reactor, just cupped Tony's breasts - Tony did have a fantastic rack, if he said so himself - and then Steve shifted down and that warm mouth - Tony arched his back, grabbed handfuls of hair, and Steve laughed against his skin.
"Not funny," Tony said, and Steve chuckled again.
"You're so beautiful," he said in tones of bliss, and Tony blushed. It wasn't even really his body, but the appreciative look in Steve's eyes made him feel hot and ready, and there was a definite feel of urgency building between his legs. He spread them, invitingly, and Steve settled in between, rucking Tony's skirt up so their hips were flush together. That was Steve's hard-on pressing into him, and Tony shouldn't be blushing for that, it wasn't as if he hadn't seen and touched plenty of them, but he felt oddly vulnerable, soft down there. Steve's mouth and hands were teasing at his nipples, sending heat echoing through his body, and he hooked a leg around Steve's and pulled, and instead of his body pushing back, it yielded and -
"Ohhhh," he said and Steve looked up at him, eyes dark and sleepy.
"Good?" he said, and pushed gently with his hips, and yes, that was touching him just right, he could feel Steve's heat and hardness even through the layers of fabric. Tony wriggled, feeling the pressure in new places, new soft slick places, and his breath caught at the thought of Steve touching him there. He tugged on Steve's hair, pulled him up for a kiss, and with Steve's mouth on his and Steve's body between his thighs, he could almost pretend everything was normal and this was his body, that Steve would be ready to stroke his cock and maybe let Tony slip his fingers inside him, take him - he shook away the thought and focused on the now, Steve's body pressed tight to him. This was enough, more than enough.
"I want to go to bed." Steve kissed him again, deep, and Tony kissed him back ardently, pushing up against him as invitingly as he could.
"That's an invitation, right?" Steve said breathlessly, and Tony nodded. He grabbed for his top and dragged it over his head - he was not risking encountering Jarvis while half-naked - and then Steve picked him up, and Tony didn't bother complaining, because Steve didn't even know it was him and who really cared. He just wrapped his arms round Steve's neck and nuzzled kisses and bites into the warm skin as Steve bounded sure-footed up the stairs, only the increasing speed of his heartbeat betraying the effect Tony was having on him.
They tumbled onto the bed with a grace that had to be attributed to Steve's abilities, and he pinned Tony down for more kisses. Tony wriggled free long enough to peel his top back off, and Steve took that as encouragement to unzip his skirt, and then he was down to just his panties and Steve sat back on his heels to take a good look.
Tony felt weirdly self-conscious for a moment, showing off a body that wasn't his; but it was a pretty damn hot body, so he posed, arching his back and twisting his hips. Steve hooked his fingers into Tony's far-too-sensible black cotton panties, and drew them down.
"You're beautiful," he said again, and Tony smiled at him, lowering his eyelashes.
"Don't just look." Steve grinned at him, and pushed Tony's thighs apart and applied fingers and mouth, and Tony muffled his yell with his hand.
It felt fantastic, strange and different but still amazing, like the first time he'd taken it in the ass, all new sensations. Tony didn't bother trying to show any restraint, just rubbed himself against Steve, gasping instructions - down a bit, harder, not that hard, yes, yes, oh god don't stop - and coming was incredible, a gloriously intense feeling that curled up his spine and made his skin tingle.
He stretched, and made a noise that wasn't too far off a purr; Steve's fingers were still inside him, and when Tony looked down, he was wearing a very smug smile. Tony frowned at him, and Steve smiled wider, and then his fingers turned and Tony was very aware that this body did not need nearly the recovery time of his old one, and Steve's mouth was on him again.
"Stop," he croaked finally, and Steve looked up at him, eyes dazed and mouth wet. "Come up here, I need - "
"Condoms," said Steve, and he staggered off the bed and clawed at the dresser drawer.
"Take your damn clothes off," said Tony, and Steve tossed the condoms on the bed and stripped. Naked Steve, naked hard Steve, breathing fast and wanting him - he could see his own wetness smeared over Steve's mouth and jaw, and that was - Steve leaned in to kiss him, and Tony lunged for him and dragged him back down.
"How - what would you like?" said Steve, rolling the condom over his cock, and Tony closed a hand over it. "Oh, yes."
"Like this is fine." Tony's voice was unsteady, but Steve looked about as desperate as he felt, so he didn't care. "I'd like it now, please." And Steve laughed, shaky, and shifted over him, and it was a smooth wonderful slide inside him, so very easy to take him all the way, and being filled like this made him shiver and gasp. It took him a moment to regain speech, Steve's mouth taking little nips along his jaw as he held still inside Tony's body. "I - oh God," Steve was inside him, God, he'd never thought he'd get this - "Make me come," he managed to say, and Steve hooked Tony's thigh up, spread him wide and ground in, watching his face intently, adjusting the angles of their bodies until Tony moaned and shuddered. The slow rock of him, the grind of Steve's coarse curly hair right there, and he gave it up shamefully easily, shuddering and gasping and clenching down. Steve was looking at him with soft eyes, lips parted, and he smiled when Tony blinked hazily up at him.
"What now, sweetheart?" he said invitingly, and rolled his hips, dragging a gasp from Tony. "You going to come for me again?" and that sent a flare of heat through Tony's body, he could go again, but he smiled and put his hand on Steve's neck and pulled him in for a kiss.
"I want you to," he breathed against Steve's lips, and deliberately gripped with his body, and Steve's eyes shut and he bit his lip. "Come on."
Steve didn't argue; he resettled Tony's leg around his waist and put his forearms down either side of Tony's head, pressed his cheek to Tony's and began to thrust. Tony arched his back, rocked his hips up to meet him, ran his hands down Steve's back and shoulders and arms - those wonderful arms, almost as big as Tony's new, slimmer thighs - he dug his nails in, and Steve groaned and writhed under his touch, working his cock inside Tony, and Tony moaned with pleasure and clung tighter. Steve's mouth on his, clumsy and ardent, and then Tony's body was rocking under the force of his thrusts, he put up his hands to brace himself against the headboard and pushed back, and Steve grunted and froze, deep inside, muscles hard and tense. After a moment he relaxed, slumped, and leaned his forehead against Tony's.
"Morgan," he murmured, and Tony suppressed a flinch; the instinctive hurt at hearing Steve say a name that wasn't his was ridiculous. He tipped his head and kissed him instead, Steve's mouth clumsy and gentle.
Steve was heavy; Tony wriggled, and Steve rolled off him. He got up to dispose of the condom, and then settled down and reached for Tony again. Tony was still breathing hard, and he felt alarmingly needy; Steve rolled onto his back, pulling Tony on top of him, pushing his muscular thigh between Tony's legs, making him whimper.
"Go on," murmured Steve, and he pressed up with his thigh and pinched Tony's nipples. Tony groaned and arched, and then he braced himself against Steve's shoulders and rubbed himself off. He was loud, this time, and Steve muttered encouragement as he squirmed and cried out and finally collapsed onto Steve, who wrapped in him a tight hug.
"You're too good at that," he mumbled after a while, and Steve laughed.
"Captain America shouldn't be so... well, frankly I'm amazed you even put out on the first date."
"I love the future," said Steve solemnly. "Some changes I don't like, but the sex is amazing. In the 'Forties, we could have dated for months and months before I saw you like this." He hugged Tony closer, and Tony breathed in the smell of him, the feel of his skin all damp with sweat. It was nice, to curl up against Steve's greater mass, but he couldn't help but think how much better he would've liked it in his own body. If Steve had held him down by the hips and gone down on his dick with such passionate enthusiasm... still, this was something. It was definitely something good. He stroked his fingers down Steve's cheek, and Steve kissed his fingers, and that sweet, satiated smile was completely worth the hassle and the inconvenience and almost puncturing his lung on a wire bit in a bra.
"What time is it?" said Tony after a moment, and Steve frowned and glanced at the clock.
"Almost midnight. You're not going, are you?"
"I... " Tony looked away. "I probably should."
"I'd really like it if you stayed." Steve kissed Tony's neck, stroked his hair, and Tony had to admit to himself that not only was he not leaving, he'd dig his nails in and cling if an attempt was made to remove him.
"You just want morning sex," he said lightly, and Steve grinned and kissed him again.
"That too," he said. "Don't you?"
"I suppose I can stay," Tony conceded, and Steve made a purring noise of satisfaction and nuzzled into his hair.
"Are you free tomorrow evening? I'd love to take you out again."
He really, really shouldn't. Tony wrestled with his better nature, and won. To hell with it; it wasn't like doing it again would make matters worse.
"I have a dinner meeting, but I can meet you afterwards for a drink." Steve looked ridiculously happy, and Tony just couldn't make himself feel bad about it.
Steve walked him out to his car in the morning and kissed him goodbye half a dozen times, and when Tony got to the Tower he felt, suddenly, deeply embarrassed about being clearly wearing evening clothes, and crumpled evening clothes at that. And his mouth looked - well, he looked like he'd woken someone up with a blowjob, which was exactly what he had done. He bolted up to the penthouse and showered and changed, and was safely immured in the lab with his welding mask on when Pepper came by to check on him.
"I've told your dinner meeting you're a consultant; they weren't exactly pleased at being fobbed off, so be on your best behaviour, you understand me?" she said, and Tony nodded obediently. It was a boring meeting, anyway, something about safety regulations in Brazil. He didn't see why they couldn't have sent a consultant. It wasn't like he knew much about regulation in Brazil; they just wanted to bend someone's ear for long enough that they felt loved.
"No problem," was all he said.
"I'll arrange clothes - "
"I can do that." She gave him the suspicious look that meant she knew he was up to something, but hadn't yet figured out what. "You'll still have to do my hair, though."
"I'm sure I didn't sign on for this." Tony refrained from reminding her that it wasn't even her job to babysit him anymore. After all, she might stop, and he had no idea what was going on with his schedule right now, and also he couldn't do his own hair. "All right, this afternoon you have to teleconference in to a board meeting. You've got the software all set up?"
"I've even put a bit of a delay on it so it'll look like I'm calling in from Shanghai instead of two floors up," said Tony. "It'll be fine."
"Right. That's at three. You need to be at the restaurant for seven; the car will be here to collect you at half-past six. Got it? That means straight after the board meeting. No sneaking down to the workshop, no phone calls."
"Sure." Tony smiled, and Pepper made a disbelieving noise, and turned to go. She paused at the door.
"How did the date go?" she said, and Tony shrugged.
"Don't think so. Thought I saw a flash go off when we were leaving the building, but I didn't see any photographers." Pepper sighed irritably. "Just tell them I'm a visiting lawyer or something. They're hardly going to leap to the conclusion I've turned into a woman. Well, maybe the World Weekly News."
"So what did you tell him?"
"Nothing, really. I mostly got him to talk about himself." It hadn't been too hard; Steve was too polite to pry, and Tony adored hearing Steve talk about himself. An excuse to badger Steve into telling stories was a gift. And it had been quite funny to hear the changes in the story when Steve was telling them to a lady; World War II sounded altogether more civilized than when he told the stories to Iron Man.
"So - " Pepper began, and Tony turned on the welding torch, the bubbling hiss making it impossible to have a conversation at anything less than a yell. Pepper slammed the door on her way out.
Rhodey brought in sushi for lunch, which was very nice of him; Tony was picking apart an onigiri when Pepper came in and slammed a vase full of tulips down onto the desk. She glared. Rhodey looked at her in confusion; Tony tried to look innocent.
"What pretty flowers," he said. "Really, Pepper, you shouldn't have." She didn't dignify that with a response, just held out the card in two fingers. Tony took it, and flicked it open.
I'm really looking forward to seeing you again it read, and it wasn't exactly a sonnet, but it set a warm feeling in the pit of his stomach. Of course Steve had sent flowers. He wrestled back the grin, and looked up at Pepper's scowl.
"What?" he said.
"You - " Pepper shook her head. "I thought you were - "
"It didn't quite work out like I planned." Tony hurried on before Pepper's scowl became scolding. "Anyway, that's the past, can't change it, I'm moving on. Have one of these marinated tuna things, they're delicious."
"Did you - " she hesitated, delicately, and Tony's poker face was apparently not good enough for Pepper, because her eyes widened. "Really? But he's so... I thought..."
"Seriously?" said Rhodey, in awed tones. "Holy shit, Tony."
"I was surprised too. I was going to tell him I wanted to be friends, but he just grabbed me." He threw out his hands in an extravagant gesture intended to indicate his total helplessness in the face of being grabbed by Captain America. "Apparently someone told him that in modern times, it was fine to just sleep with anyone you felt like."
"Was that you?" said Pepper suspiciously.
"I don't think so. Maybe it was Nick Fury." Tony would have to do something nice for Nick Fury. Maybe he'd like a flying car or something.
"Sure." Pepper looked rather like she'd like to slam something again; she looked at the vase, as if considering picking it up and slamming it down again, but settled for the door instead.
"You slept with Captain America." Rhodey shook his head. "You – "
"Let's not dwell," said Tony briskly. "Instead, let's talk about Doom."
"Is he your next conquest?" Rhodey snickered, andTony kicked him.
"Ha ha. I want to know why he's decided I'd be better as a woman."
"Maybe he wants you to be his girlfriend. Have you received any mysterious deliveries of flowers? I mean, apart from the one from Captain America." Rhodey was just jealous. He never got sent flowers by living legends. Tony should feel sorry for him, really.
"That wasn't very mysterious. Can we quit the jokes for a minute here?"
"You and Doom have so much in common, what with the armour and the overblown ego." Tony threw a packet of soy sauce at him.
"I swear to God, I will tell Pepper about that time with the stewardess in the – "
"Okay! Maybe Doom's..." Rhodey paused. "Maybe... he's planning..."
"I don't know, Tony. It seems pretty pointless. There haven't been any attacks on the company taking advantage of your..." he waved a hand in Tony's general direction. "Indisposition."
"Nothing. All quiet. I'm missing meetings, but there's nothing huge on except the team, and that's more Iron Man than Tony, so it's not slowing me down at all."
"Yeah." Rhodey stared down at his sushi as if the answer might be concealed there. "Maybe he was trying to incapacitate Iron Man? Maybe he thought you'd be one of those teeny women, and that the armour wouldn't fit you."
"It's a bit terrifying that's the best explanation we can come up with," said Tony. "I know Doom moves in mysterious ways and all, but turning me into a girl in the vague hope my armour wouldn't fit?"
"Maybe he's trying to send Cap into a heterosexual panic when he finds out – "
"Stewardess, don't think I won't." Tony frowned. He was going to choose to believe there was no way anyone could have predicted him sleeping with Steve, because the alternative was that he had an embarrassingly obvious crush. "Okay. How about you go bother the Latverian Embassy?"
"Hey, Ambassador, why did your boss turn my boss into a chick?"
"Get the hell out of here, I have a teleconference."
He got the software set up, and glanced at the clock; he was running early, for a change. He wandered to the tall windows, and on impulse, pushed them open and stepped out onto the balcony. He glanced down over the edge, and then looked up at the sky, wondering if he had time to grab the armour for a short flight; then he realised what he'd just seen, and looked down again.
"Hey!" he yelled, and Spider-Man froze in mid-scuttle. "Hey, come here! Yes, you, Spider-Man, I don't see anyone else leaving footprints all over my windows."
Spider-Man slunk up the wall towards him, guilt in every line. He rested his chin on the concrete balustrade and looked up at Tony like a sad spaniel.
"Wherefore art thou Spider-Man?" Tony said flippantly.
"Because I was bitten by a radioactive spider. Uh, I don't know who you are."
"I'm Morgan Stark," he lied easily, and Spider-Man's head tilted.
"I thought Morgan Stark was a guy."
"Well, that's another Morgan Stark," said Tony, cursing his luck. Who would've thought Spider-Man had time to read the gossip columns? "It's a family name." He sat down on the balustrade, and tapped on it; after a moment, Spider-Man eased up and perched next to him, glancing around nervously. "Relax, this isn't a trap."
"Of course not," said Spider-Man. "Okay, I was looking for Tony Stark, really."
"Try Shanghai." Tony shrugged. "Or talk to me."
"You're Captain America's girlfriend, right?" said Spider-Man, and Tony's eyebrows shot up. "Uh, I was... watching yesterday, you guys went out together. I mean, that was him, right? It was him. He had his shield in a bag. It had to be his shield."
"That was you taking snapshots?" It wasn't like Steve's identity was a big secret, really. Especially, come to think of it, if he'd been dating dozens of women who wrote in to Cap. Assuming he wasn't taking them out while wearing full costume - but he was sure that would've made the papers.
"Not me! Well, yes me, I was there, but it wasn't me taking pictures. I don't go around taking pictures of people. Why would I do that?"
"I've no idea."
"Anyway, never mind that." Spider-Man made a sweeping gesture, brushing the whole matter of mysterious photographers away. "So, Tony Stark left you in charge and you're dating Captain America."
"That's right. Let's get back to the snapshots. Who was taking pictures?" Spider-Man sighed.
"Some guy. All wrapped up in black, wearing a mask."
"Where'd he go?"
"I was following you. Sorry."
"Right." He drummed his nails on the balustrade. "So is this about you joining the Avengers?"
"Yeah," Spider-Man squirmed. "You see - "
"We'd be glad to have you," said Tony, cutting across the feeble excuses that appeared to be forming. "And if Cap thinks you're trustworthy, well, Tony and I trust his judgement. Jameson's a blowhard anyway. You should hear what he says about me - my cousin."
"I've never been on a team," he said. "And I don't, I mean, Captain America? He's a legend."
"Cap is - " Tony hesitated. "Cap is amazing. If we held out for people like him on the team, it'd be him and - it'd be just him, really. No one is expected to be as incredible as Captain America to be on the team, okay?"
"And I, I don't have much spare time, I have family... stuff, and my job - "
"We'll pay you." Spider-Man twitched, and then went very still. "Exact terms to be negotiatied, but I can promise you it's generous. And full medical."
"Medical?" Spider-Man breathed, rather as Reed Richards might say cold fusion?
"I don't - I mean, I'm not in it for the money," Spider-Man said weakly.
"We're paying Captain America," Tony pressed his advantage. They had, actually, almost had a fight about that; Tony had won by saying it would be wrong to restrict membership to people who could afford the time and money, and they needed to set the precedent. "Would it be sensible use of his time to make him get a paper-round?"
"If it makes you happier, we can just pay you the same as what you're making now, and you can work for us the same hours. It's not like you're getting extra money for that." He leaned in, and put his hand over Spider-Man's, dipping his eyelashes just a fraction. "We want to help you use your abilities, Spider-Man. For everyone's good. We don't have to pay you if you don't want to, but wouldn't you rather spend your time combating the forces of evil with Captain America? Isn't that the best use of your time?"
He thought maybe he'd laid it on too thick, but Spider-Man just stared at him. Okay, the flirting was much more effective in this body.
"Uh." He looked down at Tony's hand on his. "Uh, I'll think about it?" Tony lifted his hand and Spider-Man curled his feet up under him, shifting to a crouch.
"Let us know," said Tony, and Spider-Man nodded and leapt out into space.
The teleconference lasted the full, boring three hours, during which he sorted through the clothes he'd ordered from an upscale boutique in Manhattan. It wasn't the first time Tony Stark had ordered evening clothes for a woman; they wouldn't be suspicious. Deciding which of the clothes to wear was altogether a complex issue, though. Women had so many more options.
"Pepper," he said through the intercom. "Come do my hair."
"It's not my job to - you can't wear that to a meeting," said Pepper, and Tony scowled at her.
"I'm meeting Steve afterwards." Pepper sighed.
"Really, do you think Steve will - it's very - "
"Too slutty?" The slit up the side of the skirt showed the top of his stockings. The heels were low, but still gave the impression of precarious fragility. And the bright red halter top clung very nicely. He took another look in the mirror, at the woman there. Tony would totally have hit on himself; he'd been right, he looked great in red.
"I wouldn't say that," said Pepper. "But it doesn't exactly say 'take me seriously'."
"But he's pretty unlikely to refuse to sleep with me."
"Well, no," she admitted, sweeping her gaze up and down him. "Very unlikely, I'd say."
"Well, there you are. If he doesn't call again, all the better, right?" Scaring Steve off was probably the best way to go about this, really. He was used to women who were nice, after all, and if Tony was sure of anything about girl-him, it was that she wasn't a nice girl. He was going to be demanding and greedy and get exactly what he wanted from Steve, and he had every expectation of sending Steve into alarmed retreat. After Tony had had his way.
"You can't wear it to a meeting, though. Put on - " she riffled through the clothes, and unerringly picked out the skirt and blouse Tony had dismissed as being boring. "These are fine. I'll send the car for you to change in after the meeting, all right?" She frowned. "And put on a bra."
"I hate them," said Tony. "Seriously, I should engineer a better bra. To hell with weapons, I can do more good in the world by banishing those contraptions."
"I'm not going to discourage you from that," said Pepper, surprisingly. "But put one on for now, or your meeting will spend all dinner trying to peer down your blouse. Your car's waiting."
The meeting went swingingly; once they'd established that he could agree to things on the company's behalf, they got along splendidly, although there was rather more patting of Tony's hand that he would have expected. He wasn't entirely accustomed to being hit on by men old enough to be his father, although it wasn't totally unheard of. He ducked out as soon as he could, and changed his clothes as the limo drove him two blocks to the hotel he'd arranged to meet Steve in the bar of. He had to give up on his hair, taking out all the pins and letting it fall around his shoulders, but he added some red lipstick. Then he remembered how much he disliked it when women left lipstick everywhere, and wiped it all off again. He also ditched the bra, which had been making his back itch horribly since he put it on. It wouldn't work with a halter top anyway; he supposed there were specialized garments for that. Or maybe the straps adjusted? He peered at it, and then decided he couldn't be bothered. Steve hadn't seemed to mind last time.
He stopped at the reception desk briefly, and then headed into the bar. Steve's bright hair made him easy to pick out; he was sitting at a table with his chin in his hand, watching the door. He sat up and waved, and Tony picked his way carefully across the polished floor, because falling on his butt would just be humiliating.
Steve's eyes widened as he took in Tony's outfit, and Tony had a sudden moment of worry. How old fashioned was he? He didn't want Steve to bolt before they went to bed. But Steve stood up and kissed him, one big hand coming up to cup his cheek.
"You look stunning." He tugged gently on a stray curl, and Tony grinned.
"I have new shoes," he confided. "Do you like them?" He rested a hand on Steve's shoulder for balance and put his foot forward, twisting his leg to expose stockings and pale thigh, and Steve looked down.
"They're... very nice." It took him a moment to drag his eyes away; Tony leaned into him, and pressed a kiss against his cheek. "Uh. Drink? You want - "
"I have a room," Tony interrupted. "With a minibar, and there's room service. And these shoes actually aren't very comfortable, I'd like to take them off." He kissed Steve again, and Steve put a hand on his back, warm through the thin fabric.
"Sure," he said obediently, looking a little dazed. "Whatever you like."
He left the shoes on, and the stockings; they looked very nice wrapped round Steve's waist, and Steve made great noises when he dug the heels in. He was confident enough in the body to ask for more and harder, now, and Steve was happy to oblige, slamming their bodies together while Tony cried out and begged.
It turned out Steve's body didn't need much recovery time, either. He let Tony push him down on his back and stroke him back to hardness before straddling him, working himself to a truly amazing orgasm. It was jarring, when Steve whispered Morgan in his ear, but he pushed it away. This was more of Steve than he ever thought he'd have; wondering what his real name would sound like in that throaty voice was a waste of time.
After a while, he rolled away and carefully unpicked the fine straps of his shoes, and peeled off the stockings; he thought he might not bother with them in future. He had very nice legs. He ran his thumb down the smooth line of his shin, and wondered how the other Stark kept her hair gone. The bed shifted as Steve got up, and Tony turned to watch his back as he padded over to the little refrigerator.
"Water?" he said. Tony made an agreeable noise, watching the shift and play of muscle as he crouched and rifled through. His skin had a very faint sheen of sweat, and his hair was a wonderful mess; he was altogether a very enticing sight, and Tony was already starting to feel like another go. He tossed the shoes in the direction of the clothes he'd left piled by the door, and lay down across the bed in what he hoped was an inviting fashion. Steve sat on the bed next to him, and pressed the chilled water bottle against Tony's forehead. Tony curled around him, and trailed his fingers up the arch of Steve's spine, and he leaned into the touch, smiling.
Tony grabbed the water, and drank half a bottle or so before capping it and dropping it on the floor.
"So." Steve kissed his shoulder, then his neck. "You're an engineer too, huh? Did you go to MIT as well?"
"Uh... no. I had health issues." Tony tapped the arc reactor. "Most of my study was self directed."
"That's too bad," Steve said with warm sympathy. "You must be very talented, if Mr Stark lets you work on Iron Man's armour. I know how possessive he is of it."
"Oh, you know Tony," he said lightly. "He doesn't like anyone touching his work."
"He must trust you a lot."
"Mmm." Time to change the subject. He walked his fingers up the ridges of Steve's abs. "God, you're gorgeous." Steve laughed. "What?"
"Nothing. It's nice to be appreciated."
"Oh, you are," said Tony. "I'd like to appreciate you some more - "
It took about three hours for his body to start getting sore, which was better than his usual body managed. Steve looked utterly debauched, hickeys scattered over his chest and belly and thighs, nail marks in his back and ass, lips swollen and hair like a dandelion. He sprawled over the bed with his eyes shut, panting, and Tony seriously considered digging out his cellphone and trying for a souvenir picture. Instead he poked Steve in the ribs, and Steve's eyes fluttered open.
"C'mere," Tony said, and cuddled up to him, arranging him just so, shoulder for Tony's head to rest on, one big muscular arm around his waist. Steve let him, smiling.
"You're..." he began, and then shook his head. Tony raised an eyebrow. "You're adorable."
"Adorable?" he said, caught between laughter and indignation. Adorable, really. "Don't even." Steve laughed and kissed his brow, and pulled the sheets up over them.
"So where do you usually work?" he said, and Tony could field that one easily.
"Mobile office - I don't have a home base, really. I live out of hotels."
"What about your family?"
"My - mother's dead," he said carefully. "My father - " he'd told Steve his father had left; he hadn't told him he'd found him again. "My dad travels, too. I haven't seen him in a while. We email, sometimes."
"Isn't that lonely?" Steve's grip tightened a little.
"Well, I - there's always Jarvis, and the Mansion," he said. "I spent a lot of time there as a kid. I can always go back there."
"And Tony, of course."
"Uh, yeah," said Tony. "We're... not really close."
"I would have thought you'd get on." Steve smiled at him. "You're so alike. You're both so nice."
"Most people don't call Tony nice." He knew Steve would defend him; it wasn't really fair to fish like this...
"He's been so kind to me," Steve said. "I don't know what I'd have done without him, and inviting me to be on his team and letting me live in his own home - "
"You're doing him a favour," and suddenly Tony was irrationally angry. "Seriously, you're Captain America. You could go anywhere. Write your own ticket. Just because Tony's got a thousand contracts with SHIELD and got access to you first doesn't mean you're stuck with him, you know."
"You... " Steve bit his lip. "You sound like you don't like Tony much."
"No, I - " Tony turned his face into Steve's neck, feeling like an idiot.
"He's - he's my friend, and - "
"He is your friend. He is, he - he thinks you're wonderful, he really does, he desperately wants you on his team. Just, you have to look out for yourself, because Tony - he's kind of erratic. He gets into trouble and screws things up. He wouldn't do it on purpose, but - "
"You sound like Iron Man," said Steve, amusement creeping into his voice. "Always telling me Tony will do something terrible."
"He probably will." It was true enough. He was doing it right now, really. "We're just worried about you."
"Are you?" Tony kissed him for an answer, and Steve grinned at him, all sign of worry gone. "I am eighty years old, you know. I can take care of myself."
"Just be careful," he said, and Steve nodded. Tony settled back into his arms, and Steve gently combed through his hair with his fingers, tucking stray strands behind his ears. It was lovely to just lie still and be petted, breathing in Steve's scent. He closed his eyes, and tried to lock the feel, the scents, the slow rhythm of Steve's heartbeat into his mind, because this was the kind of memory he could really use in the dark times. He tipped his head back invitingly, and Steve obliged him with a sweet kiss, lips just barely brushing his. God, he could stay like this forever. He burrowed his face back into Steve's shoulder.
"Talking of Iron Man, can you spare him tomorrow?" Tony considered. Tomorrow was pretty empty - Pepper wanted him to catch up on paperwork, but what the hell.
"Sure. What are you up to?"
"Well, I called Professor Xavier."
"Professor X? Of the X-Men?" said Tony foolishly, as if there was another Professor X that Steve might call.
"Yeah. Apparently, their numbers are going up a lot - they might be able to spare us a couple of their guys." Tony propped himself up on his elbow to frown at Steve, who looked back with hopeful eyes.
"Mutants," Tony said, and Steve's hand hesitated on his hair. "We're already looking at getting Spider-Man on team. That's a fair bit of negative publicity."
"You... object to mutants?" Tony shook his head, putting a hand on Steve's arm to hold back the flow of earnest reasoning as to why mutants were wonderful people, really. It wasn't like Tony was opposed to mutants in principle. He'd yet to meet the mutant who could cause as much wreckage as, say, Reed Richards or Doctor Doom. But he didn't really want their team to be X-Men take two, either, not least because of the negative publicity they had.
"It's not that I object. But..." he frowned. "You, Iron Man, Giant Girl, that'll be fine. Spider-Man, mutants - okay, two mutants. If we don't get Spider-Man, three. Okay? We're going to be relying on co-operation from civilian authorities here, as well as military, and we need good press. Once we're established, it'll be different." Steve made a face, and Tony put a hand up to stroke his cheek. "Sorry," he said, and Steve sighed.
"No, it's - I know it's sensible. But sometimes I hate being sensible."
"Really," said Tony. "And you an icon of responsibility and virtue."
"Oh, you wouldn't believe the foolish things I've done for a good cause," said Steve, and that was definitely Tony's cue to dig more stories out of him.
They flew to Westchester with Steve firmly clasped in Tony's arm. The damage of the night before was entirely covered by his costume, but the dreamy smile on his face was telling. He seemed quite happy to gaze out into the sky and daydream, but Tony gave into temptation quite rapidly.
"So how was your date?" Steve grinned widely.
"It went well."
"Uh huh. You seeing her again?" Steve had said he'd call, but guys did say that, but Steve wasn't exactly the type to promise to call and then not call. He hadn't seemed at all put off, though. In retrospect, faking some kind of anti-mutant prejudice might have been for the best. Somehow it was hard to remember he was supposed to be discouraging Steve when Steve was right there.
"I hope so." He bit his lip thoughfully. "How soon is it okay to call? I don't want to make her uncomfortable; I don't want her to think I'm not interested, though. I mean, I guess she can pretty much take her pick of guys."
"You clicked, then," said Tony, and Steve nodded.
"She's amazing, really. You, uh - you're bodyguarding her, so you - probably know her schedule - " he gave Tony a hopeful look.
"I know you spent the night with her." Tony was torn between hoping Steve was about to gossip and kind of hoping he wouldn't. Steve blushed.
"Yeah," he said. "Twice, so it wasn't a one-time thing."
"Surprised you put out on the first date," said Tony flippantly, and Steve laughed.
"That's what Morgan said," and he said the name with a certain tenderness that made Tony's gut lurch. Really, it was lucky he was using a fake name; if Steve had been saying Tony like that, he might have just had to land and pin Steve against the nearest flat surface. "I don't get why everyone thinks that. The Forties weren't as buttoned-up as all that, you know, and now there's reliable birth control, and there's no... stigma, not really." He waved a hand. "If a woman wants to sleep with me, why not? I mean, they offer. It's great."
Tony opened his mouth to deny having offered, then shut it again. Then thought about that statement.
"You... how many women have you slept with since coming to the future?"
"I don't keep count." There was a pause as he screwed up his face in concentration. "Maybe... forty?"
"Forty!" Their flight wavered for a second, and he tightened his grip on Steve, who seemed unfazed by the turbulence. That was more women than Tony had slept with. That was - "You've only been awake six months!" That was one every four days, which was ridiculous. He looked at Steve again, who was nodding.
"Yeah, I went on two or three dates a week, and you know, I just wasn't feeling it, so I'd tell them I wasn't really able to commit to anything, and better than half the time, they'd offer to go to bed with me, no strings." Steve shrugged, casually, as if he wasn't blowing Tony's mind. And not in the good way. "Why would I say no? I mean, there were a couple I turned down because they seemed a little... not entirely stable, but mostly they were very nice, and, you know, it was very nice."
"Forty!" said Tony again. No wonder Steve was good at it. No wonder Steve was so calm and relaxed all the time. Tony felt entirely less special.
"Yeah. What's the big deal? You told me I should go out and look for a nice girl. Mr Stark said I should get out on the dating scene. Even Fury said I should go looking." Steve shot a worried look at him. "Did I... do something wrong?" he said tentatively.
"No, no." What the hell, if Steve wanted to sleep his way through New York, he could. Tony knew he'd been given the 'safer sex' talk, along with the 'please don't call SHIELD agents little lady' talk and the 'tabloid newspapers are the enemy now' talk, so what did it matter? And not so much as a kiss and tell story had gotten out, so he must be doing something right. "I'm just... surprised you devoted so much time to it."
"I like meeting people," said Steve simply. "And it's been... well, I have you and Fury and Jarvis for company, but you have so much going on, of course."
"You get lonely?" All this time, Tony had been giving Steve space and trying not to bug him, and Steve had been going out with total strangers for some company. Dammit, he really hadn't been a good friend to Steve. Steve shook his head.
"No, not - I just like spending time with people. It'll be nice to have a team again - I know you're so busy, of course, I'm grateful for the time you and Mr Stark have spared me." He shrugged. "Anyway. How soon can I call Morgan again? I don't want to screw it up."
"Why don't I drop you back at the office after this?" said Tony. "You can go in and report to her."
"You think that'll be okay?"
"Oh sure. I'm pretty sure you'll know if she wants to encourage you or not."
"She's very direct," said Steve, and pink was showing round the edges of his cowl again. "I really like that in a woman, you know?"
"Sure," said Tony. Oops.
"I mean, there's been a lot to learn and sometimes I'm not - I like women who know what they want," Steve continued.
"That makes sense."
"I mean, I've always - I had a girl - I kind of had a girl during the War, she was in the Resistance, she was amazing, so brave and fierce, I'd never met a woman quite like her; I thought, you know, after the War was over we'd - and nowadays there are so many women like that. They all know what they want, and they're going after it, and - uh, I want one like that. I mean, I want someone..." he waved his hand. "Strong and independent."
"Sure," Tony began, but Steve was still talking.
"Not too independent, though. I asked a SHIELD agent out and she turned me down because she had to focus on her career. Who does that? It's not like I don't have a career," he gave Tony an expectant look.
"Uh..." Tony tried to think of a good response to the flow of confidences. "Uh, it's different for girls?"
"Oh, well," said Steve. "I suppose SHIELD agents are very busy. Fury keeps them running."
"Fury keeps everybody running," said Tony darkly, and Steve laughed. The grey bulk of Westchester was coming up, now, which was just as well; any more revelations from Steve and Tony was going to need a cool drink and a lie-down.
"It's hard to refuse Captain America when he comes calling," said Professor Xavier. "And the good publicity that would attach to our participation such a team would certainly be desirable." He put his teacup down, and smiled at Steve, who gave him his public-relations smile.
"We hope that as well as protecting against super-powered threats, the team will also provide support to local law enforcement and perhaps some private enterprises that will benefit the public good," said Steve earnestly. "We'd like to make it clear that metahumans are still a part of humanity, and our powers and abilities are for the collective good of humanity, rather than being a point of division." It was amazing how he managed to make it sound so sincere. If Tony starting to talk about unifying humanity, people would think he was coming down with something, but Xavier and Storm and Cyclops were all nodding.
"That's a very positive point of view, Captain." Storm smiled approvingly at him. She was very, very beautiful, Tony noted jealously, and her voice was rich and soft, and Steve was smiling back at her with every sign of appreciation. "The X-Men do what they can, of course, but we are inherently an exclusive organization, and mistrusted by many."
"The initial manifestation of mutant powers can be very traumatic, both for the mutant and for those around him or her," said Cyclops, and Steve nodded.
"I worked with a young mutant during the War." Toro, of course; Tony had heard Namor was a mutant, too. "I've seen some of the distress it can cause."
"And you'd want the mutants to openly be members of your team?" Xavier said.
"Very much so. In fact, they can keep wearing their X-Men uniforms; we're quite happy to acknowledge a connection. If you have someone with some command experience, I'd like them to be a co-leader." Tony suppressed a twitch. Steve hadn't told him that, not as Iron Man or Morgan. "I'm leading the team in the field, but we need a back up. Iron Man has too many other responsibilities, and he's our main technical support, which means he's often busy. With that in mind, we could use another flyer, too." Tony folded his arms, and suppressed the urge to pout. It didn't matter that no one would see it; it was silly to pout. He wasn't being replaced.
Xavier's eyes flicked from Storm to Cyclops and back again; Tony knew they were communicating telepathically. Steve sipped at his tea with no sign of concern, apparently unfazed by the idea Xavier could be scanning his brain. One of the side effects of honesty. If anyone scanned Tony's brain, he would totally blow something up, and then sue.
"Well," said Xavier finally. "I do believe Storm might be suitable - she's led the X-Men on several occasions when Cyclops was not available, and her powerset includes flight."
"That sounds perfect." Steve smiled at her again. Was he flirting? "I suppose your powers are something to do with storms?"
"Weather control," she said. "Storms are the most obvious manifestation of my abilities; I use the winds to fly."
"Excellent," Tony felt it was about time he joined the conversation. Storm turned her pale eyes on him. "And you'd like to join?"
"Storm is an excellent representative of the mutant community," said Xavier. "I think her presence in your team would be beneficial for all."
"I think it would be a beneficial to us all," said Storm. "Now, you wanted two?"
"Uh, yes." Steve flushed. "I'm afraid - our support - "
"Mr Stark says no more than two mutants," Tony said flatly, and Steve arched an eyebrow at him. "Sorry, but bad publicity could stop this getting off the ground, and then nobody wins."
"We understand," said Cyclops.
"I'm sorry," said Steve. "I - "
"It's quite all right." Storm got to her feet, shaking out her gleaming black cape. "Why don't I take you on a tour of the Mansion, and you can meet some of the other X-Men?"
Tony trailed behind, glaring at Storm, who took Steve's arm and chattered away at him, making play with her pale lashes and smiling sweetly. Westchester was bigger than the Mansion, and had bigger grounds; it was a school, of course, not just a superhero headquarters. He could see what looked like a baseball game going on outside on the lawns. They headed upstairs, past the rows of bedrooms, and and Storm absently catalogued mutants for them.
"True shapeshifters are rarer than you'd think," she said. "Telepaths are rare, too - the X-Men can't spare us a telepath, I'm afraid. But of course, if we run into trouble, I can call on Jean to come and help. And they can't spare Bobby, he does the taxes. Perhaps - " Steve veered, suddenly, toward the window, plastering himself up against it. Storm cast a surprised glance at Tony, who shrugged and peered out. Two young women - girls, really - playing some kind of tag around the trees with an older man, who was armed with - a gun? no, a paintball gun. Bright sparks of light streamed from one young woman's fingers, and as Tony watched, the other ran right through a tree as if it wasn't there.
"Shadowcat and Jubilee are rather young, really - " Storm began, and stopped as Steve opened the window and vaulted out. "Is that normal?" she said to Tony, who shrugged again.
"Captain America doesn't need stairs," which was kind of a stupid thing to say, but never mind. He very carefully clambered through the window and with a quick blast from the boot jets, brought himself safely to earth, followed by Storm in a sharp gust of wind.
Steve was shaking hands with the two girls, who were staring at him with the usual entranced expression of women faced with an unexpected Captain America. Behind them, the man was sneaking off through the trees.
"Give me a second - " Steve said distractedly, stepping round the two girls. "Jim?" he called, and the short, squat man turned to glare at him.
"Logan," the man corrected.
"I know you," Steve said confidently. "We met in Madripoor - "
"Yeah, well, that was a long time ago," said, presumably, Logan. "What do you want?"
"We're recruiting for a new team." Steve smiled at him, not his usual open, friendly smile. It was... sharper, somehow. "You in?"
"To do what?"
"Save the world, kiss babies. All your favourite hobbies." Tony exchanged a glance with Storm. This was new. He'd never heard quite that tone from Steve before, somewhere between goading and teasing. "Come on... Logan."
"I'm not joining - "
"You're going to be on a team with Captain America?" said the taller girl in breathless tones.
"Sure he is." Steve's smile sorftened as he turned to her. "He's a big hero, y'know."
"Shut up," said Logan without rancour. "I'm not joining some kind of freakshow team with Captain America, what the hell do you need me for."
"I fought in World War II with him," Steve continued, turning to the shorter girl. "The stories I could tell you about Logan here."
"How about you don't," said Logan hastily. "What do you want me to do, flag boy?"
"Soak up damage," Steve said promptly. "You'll like living in New York. Lots of room for guests."
"Can we come and visit?" said the shorter girl hopefully.
"Of course you can," Steve flashed them the smile he gave reporters. They stared back, apparently dazzled. "You can stay in the Mansion and meet Spider-Man."
"I'm not - "
"Logan," said the two girls in unison, and Logan glared at Steve.
"Anyway, let me tell you about how I met Logan," said Steve, beaming, and Logan threw up a hand.
"All right, all right. You haven't changed much, have you?"
"I was deep-frozen, what's your excuse?"
"Well," Storm interrupted. "That's settled, then. We'll come out to the city... some time next week?"
"Any time that's convenient," said Tony. "We'll be ready for you."
Tony dropped Steve off at the front of the tower, and then blasted straight upwards. A lightning-quick change, and he sauntered into the office just in time to see Pepper pick up the phone.
"No, I'm afraid - oh, hold on." Pepper pressed the mute button. "Captain America's here to see you."
"Well, send him on up." Tony darted past her disapproving look into his office, and then into the bathroom to smooth down his hair in front of the mirror. Then he changed his mind and fluffed it up. The helmet had a terrible effect on his hair; how did the other Stark manage? He was still trying to bring about some order when the door to his office opened to admit Steve, and Tony bounded out to greet him.
"Hi." Steve gave him a goofy grin. "I've come to report in about the X-Men."
"Aren't you going to give me a kiss?" Tony stepped in close, and Steve's mouth tasted cool, he'd been eating mints in the five minutes since Tony saw him last. Tony slipped his arms around Steve's neck, and tugged the cowl down.
Steve kissed his brow, his temple, his cheekbone, and then buried his face in Tony's hair.
"You smell of Iron Man," he said, and Tony laughed.
"I've been working on a repulsor upgrade," he lied. "It'll increase Iron Man's speed and the amount he can carry in flight." Well, he was going to do that. He'd start tomorrow. Then it wouldn't really be a lie.
"Great." Steve tugged gently at him, steering him towards the couch, where he sat down and pulled Tony into his lap. Then he just looked up at him, smiling. Lap-sitting was good, Tony decided; he didn't get to do nearly enough of it as a guy.
"So how was Westchester?" Tony prompted after a moment, and Steve blinked.
"Oh, yeah. We've got two volunteers to come train with us, see how things work out. So... that's five, which is enough to start getting things together. I'm going to get in touch with Spider-Man, ask him to try things out - even if he decides to not join, if we can get used to working together, it'll be useful."
"Great," said Tony. "I'll email Tony about it."
"Tell him I said hi." Tony nodded. "Professor X is going to be sending their details over, but essentially, we've got a scrapper who can heal anything and cut through anything, and a flyer who can control the weather. If it works out, she'll be my co-leader. Wolverine and Storm."
"Sounds fine. So. You busy this evening?" Steve shook his head, eyes lighting up. "Want to see - " my apartment, he almost said, and settled for "My bedroom?"
"Uh," and Steve flushed pink. "Uh, yeah."
Steve dozed off after a couple of rounds, and Tony was able to sneak out of the spare room, grab an armful of his new clothes and stuff them in a bag to dump in the corner of the room. He was supposed to only be here a week or two, Steve shouldn't be suspicious. He took a shower, and spent absolutely forever drying his hair, and trying to force it to behave. Then he went back to check on Steve, who was still sleeping peacefully, and prodded him.
Steve opened his eyes, and smiled up at him.
"Hey, beautiful," he said. "Where've you been?"
"Bathroom. Hey, you hungry?"
"Yeah," Steve sat up and pulled him into a hug. "Want to go out?"
"Chinese food," said Tony, and Steve nodded. "Oh, wait, do you only have your costume?"
"Damn." That probably meant he didn't go on dates in his costume, which meant at least forty women knew his secret identity. Did Fury know about that? Well, Tony wasn't about to tell him.
"Okay, I can drive you by the Mansion to change. Let me just put some clothes on."
"I hear they prefer that in most restaurants." Steve yawned and scrambled out of bed, and Tony went to dig through his pile of clothes.
Of course, Jarvis was there to open the door for them, ready with an icy glare.
"Jarvis!" said Tony, in the most enthusiastic voice he could manage. "It's so good to see you again!"
"Indeed." Jarvis swept the door wide and arched his eyebrows. "What a surprise it was to hear you were in town. Miss Stark."
"Go change," Tony said to Steve, patting him on the arm. "Take a shower. Jarvis and I have so much to catch up on." Steve obediently trotted off up the stairs, and Tony turned to Jarvis with his apologetic expression already in place. Jarvis gave him a narrow eyed look, and then stalked off to the kitchen; Tony trailed in his wake, feeling five years old again. He sat down at the kitchen table, and Jarvis folded his arms and stared. Tony found himself wishing his skirt was longer, which was pretty ridiculous, really.
"What on Earth," Jarvis began, and Tony shook his head.
"It's me, Tony." Jarvis made an exasperated noise.
"Of course it is. Do you think I wouldn't recognise you? I suspected as much; even if Morgan Stark was posing as a woman, the Captain would hardly describe him as charming. What has happened?"
"Reed Richards," said Tony, and thanked Reed's reputation for the resigned expression that appeared on Jarvis' face. "Quantum. It won't be for long."
Jarvis frowned, and then turned to make the coffee, which was an improvement. By the time delicious coffee was placed in front of him, Tony was starting to believe that would be it. He was wrong; Jarvis was just lulling him into a false sense of security.
"What about the Captain?" Tony fought the blush. The blush won.
"What?" he muttered, and looked down into his cup.
"I do notice when one of your cars is parked here overnight, and none of the empty rooms are slept in," said Jarvis. "While it is not my place to pry into your personal life, it strikes me that carrying on a relationship with the Captain while he is unaware of your true identity - "
"Hey," interrupted Tony. "Did you know about all the women he was seeing?"
"The Captain spends nights away from home quite frequently," said Jarvis primly. "He generally sends me a text message to let me know I can lock up."
"Well, there you are. He's carrying on with all kinds of women. I'll just be another on the list."
Jarvis narrowed his eyes, and opened his mouth; Tony pushed on.
"We're going to have some people moving in," he said. "Superheroes. A couple of mutants from Westchester will be living here, and we'll need rooms for Spider-Man and Giant Girl to make them feel welcome, although they likely won't stay over much."
"The Captain told me that you'd received approval for your team," said Jarvis. He glared for a moment longer, and then sighed, apparently giving up on reasoning with Tony. "Well, it will be nice to have the Mansion occupied again. The Captain and I do rattle around rather. I'm sure we'll both enjoy the company."
"Sure," said Tony. He was definitely going to have to spend more time here.
"Will you be moving back in?"
"Well, I," He couldn't really live here if Iron Man was living here, and he wouldn't live here without his bodyguard. Stupid secret identity. "Maybe?"
Steve ambled in, smelling of soap and toothpaste, damp hair neatly combed down and already sticking into spikes at the back. Tony got up, and repressed the urge to pet the spikes down again. Steve looked from him to Jarvis and back again.
"There's no hurry if you want - "
"Jarvis and I will have plenty of time to catch up." Tony pushed firmly at Steve's shoulder, and he backed obediently. "I'll come by when we're moving people in, okay Jarvis?"
"Of course, Miss Stark," said Jarvis coolly. "I always say, we don't see nearly enough of you these days."
Tony behaved quite shamelessly during dinner, playing footsie, licking hoi sin sauce off his fingers with far too much care, batting his eyelashes, and generally making an exhibition of himself. Steve just grinned at him, and held his hand over the table whenever he could. He took every opportunity to flatter Tony, paying him compliment after compliment about everything from his eyes to his jokes, even managing some gentle innuendo, and by the time they finished dinner, Tony was about ready to pounce right over the table onto him. God, Steve was ridiculously hot. Tony kicked off his shoe and and slid his foot all the way up Steve's leg and into his lap, and Steve's eyes practically crossed before he dropped his other hand and grabbed Tony's ankle.
"Hey, now," he said, and Tony gave him the most sultry look he could, which was apparently pretty good as Steve's grip loosened. Tony flexed his foot and Steve caught his breath. "Uh - "
"Fortune cookies!" said Tony brightly, not stopping the gentle motion of his foot. He cracked it open and smoothed out the paper. "Do not believe in miracles," he said. "Rely on them." He glanced at Steve from under his lashes. "In bed?"
"Not the best I've heard." Steve's voice was unsteady. "Feeling the need for miracles?"
"Feeling the need for bed," Tony said, soft so only Steve's ears would pick it up, and Steve's thumb ran gently along the arch of his foot. Tony took a shivery breath. "Or maybe the backseat of the car."
"The car?" Steve looked extremely doubtful, and Tony grinned at him. The car had tinted windows, there was probably enough room in the backseat, and he'd brought some condoms just in case. He was pretty confident Steve would be persuaded of the virtues of sex in the car. It was a damn sexy car. "C'mon, your turn." Steve picked up his cookie; then his gaze caught on something behind Tony, eyes widening.
"What?" He heard the sound of tearing cloth through the chatter, and then a dozen indrawn breaths, and he started to twist round for a look. "Is - "
It was easy to forget how strong and fast Steve was; his gentleness, his smiles, even his bright costume all left the general impression that Steve was, essentially, harmless. Tony was abruptly reminded as Steve's hand on his bicep lifted him out of his seat and over the table. Steve dumped him on his butt, and shoved him back into the corner.
"Stay down," he snapped, and he peeled off his sweater to reveal the blue scales and white star. He dragged his shield out from its bag, and pulled up his cowl as he hurdled the table away towards whatever was causing the panicky screams. Jeans and sneakers didn't really go with the scale mail, but Tony supposed there were unlikely to be complaints.
For a moment, Tony just sat and felt affronted; then he reminded himself that Steve didn't know he was Tony, and that Steve further didn't know he was Iron Man, and Steve would dump any civilian in the corner and tell them to stay put. He peeked up over the table's edge, and took in a yelling, scattering mass of people fleeing a... a... Tony really couldn't say, but it was green and huge, and it threw Steve aside with ease; he collided with a wall, bounced off onto a table, and dived back into the fray.
Tony took advantage of Steve's preoccupation to bolt for the cloakroom; the attendant had apparently joined the exodus, which meant Tony had his hands on the armour in under two minutes with no need for explanations. Fortunately, Steve hadn't shown any interest in why his date was bringing a briefcase to dinner.
Getting the armour on over his outfit was awkward as hell; it fitted reasonably well over his skirt, although he had to hitch it up around his hips and his pantyhose got caught on a corner of a leg plate and he'd pretty much shredded them by the time he was done. Stupid things. He just dragged the neckline of his top down enough to expose the reactor to make the connections. Not exactly comfortable, but it shouldn't be for long.
It took altogether too much time; no more skirts in future. Or at least, no stupid pantyhose. When he finally strode back in, the monstrosity had reduced most of the furniture to splinters, and was attempting to punch Cap, who seemed to be focused primarily on avoiding the huge green fists.
"Iron Man!" he called, doing a handspring off a broken chair and using a light fixture to swing over another wild swipe from the monster, which promptly tripped over its enormous feet and let out a furious howl. "I'm not hurting him; he's just shaking me off."
"Okay - " Tony tried a repulsor blast, sending the beast head over heels.
"HULK SMASH!" it yelled, and threw the remains of the dessert cart at him.
"Right." Tony wiped cheesecake from the lenses of his helmet. "Open to suggestions here, Cap."
"Where did it come from?" said Steve in harried tones, and let his shield loose. It ricocheted off two walls, clipped the back of the creature's head, bounced off the ceiling and landed back in Steve's hand. The beast peered suspiciously behind it, rubbing the back of its head. Then it glared at Tony, apparently holding him accountable, and lunged.
The wall behind Tony wasn't terribly sturdy, it turned out. They crashed straight through, and ended up in a supply closet. Bleach splashed down on them, and the beast reared away and clawed at its eyes, bellowing.
"God bless health and safety violations." Tony blasted it backwards into the restaurant, where Cap was waiting to deliver a blow from the shield. It didn't seem to help much.
"Hulk will smash you, blue man!" it snarled, and backhanded him across the room. Steve rolled into a crouch, and looked over at Tony.
"Ideas?" He sent the shield flying again, tumbling in the other direction as three chairs were pelted at him.
"Lure it into the river?" said Tony dubiously, and used the repulsors to deflect its charge into a wall, which crunched ominously. "We're not doing it any damage here."
"Um, hi," said a voice from the window. "I was just passing by, and - "
"We need it restrained!" Steve snapped. "Where's a good place?"
"Oh, uh, maybe the corner?" Spider-Man crept over the sill, looking about him. Steve hurled his shield and rolled, and the beast lurched after the spinning disc, snarling. "Okay, I'm - " bright webs flew from his wrists, and wrapped around the beast, and it stumbled and fell before scrambling awkwardly up, tearing slowly through the webs. "Okay, that's pretty strong." More webs, and then Spider-Man jumped to the ceiling and lined up another angle.
"Hulk will," it pulled on the webs, and stared at them in puzzlement. "Hulk will smash?" it said, and caught at the trailing strands and tugged.
"Hulk, have you tried not smashing?" said Spider-Man, and Hulk looked up and scowled.
"Hulk squash spider." Spider-Man sighed and brought his hands up to take a shot.
"Get his arms," Steve ordered, and Spider-Man nodded, and then leapt away as the green beast caught up a table and hurled it at him. Webs and chunks of wood scattered crazily; Steve ducked out of the way, but a strand wrapped his ankle and almost tripped him. He barked a word that made Tony's eyebrows shoot up, and then brought his shield up defensively as the beast turned and smashed a fist down, hammering Steve downwards with the force of its blow.
Tony hurled himself bodily at Hulk, clawing at its eyes with metal fingers; when it turned its head, he shot a repulsor down its ear at point-blank range, which just seemed to make it angrier. He wrapped his arms around its neck, and kicked it hard in the kidneys, and it got one massive arm around his waist and started to squeeze. The armour creaked, warningly, and Tony grunted and kicked the beast again; red and blue shot past and then hit the beast in the back and bounced away, and goddammit, Steve needed his shield if he was stuck in place.
Another red and blue blur, and Spider-Man landed on the Hulk's shoulder, nose to faceplate with Tony, and grabbed handfuls of hair and yanked. The thick neck arched violently, tendons standing out, under what had to be a very strong grip - he hadn't known Spider-Man had superstrength - and then the pressure released as the beast let go of him and grabbed for Spider-Man, getting only a handful of webbing as Spider-Man cartwheeled away. Tony reeled back, almost tripping over Steve, who was trying to free his foot with no apparent success. Tony put himself between Steve and Hulk; Spider-Man had webbed Hulk's hands, now, and was trying to drag it away. Hulk dragged back, and Spider-Man rose onto his toes, legs trembling with strain as he tried to hold it.
Tony brought up his repulsors; a short blast to the back of the knees made Hulk stagger, and Spider-Man yanked him over and dived past him, then up onto his back again, trailing webbing, and down and round and over again. Hulk made a confused noise and struggled against the webbing as it pulled tight around him. Tony blasted him again as he tried to rise, and Hulk fell flat with a loud crunching noise; Spider-Man landed atop Hulk and webbed him down to the floor
There was a moment of silence; Hulk didn't move.
"Okay?" said Spider-Man hopefully, crouching on top of Hulk's back, and Tony shook his head. Hulk resembled nothing so much as a giant cocoon. Tony turned to Steve, who was smiling widely despite still being stuck to the floor.
"Good work, Spider-Man. Excellent timing!" Spider-Man puffed up.
"Yeah? I just, I tried - I'm sorry about hitting you - " he peered down at Steve's foot. "Uh, you're going to need a blowtorch or something - "
"Not a problem," said Steve soothingly. "It can happen. It happens less to people who train together, of course - Iron Man and I have learned to work well together, but we used to get in each others' way quite a lot."
"Sure, I stick Cap to the floor all the time." Tony crouched down to work out what was going on with the webbing. If Steve had been wearing his Cap boots, he might have been able to wiggle his foot loose, but the laces of his sneaker were all gummed up. He didn't really want to start using blowtorches on Steve's feet.
"Yeah, I - I was thinking about that," Spider-Man said. "The training, not the - ack!"
"Whoa," said Tony, looking up, and tried to work out what had just happened. Spider-Man was disentangling himself from his webs, and there was a skinny man curled up asleep where the Hulk had been.
"Well, that's weird." Spider-Man scratched at his head. "That kind of thing happen often?"
"Not so's you'd notice," said Tony. "Maybe we should ask a few questions."
"Yeah, I - " Steve glanced around. "Where's Morgan?" he said suddenly. "Iron Man - "
"She's safe, I got her out. Sent her back to the tower."
"Okay, we - should I go - she'll understand, right?" he gave Tony a doubtful look.
"Of course she will," said Tony, entirely truthfully. "Let's go question the waiters. Spidey, you want to tie this guy up again?"
"I got it."
"I think I recognise him." Steve stared down at the peaceful face, which emitted a rasping snore. "He was having dinner here earlier." He tugged at his foot. "Spider-Man - "
"I'm sorry," he said. "It'll wear off in about an hour."
"Okay." Steve gave up the struggle, and Tony got back on his feet. "Pass me a chair, and let's get the waiters in here to talk about what happened. And someone get me my shield."
Tony shut the door behind him just as he heard footsteps on the stairs; turning off all the elevators had bought time to get out of the armour - and the shredded pantyhose - and make it back up to his apartment. He was turning back to the door when it occured to him he'd smell of the armour again; he ran to the bedroom as knocking sounded, and after a frenzied moment of indecision splashed on the least manly-smelling of his colognes. He dashed back to open the door, and the beginnings of worry on Steve's face dissolved into a broad smile.
"Hey you," Tony said, and looped his arms around Steve's neck. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah - are you okay? You're not hurt?" Tony shook his head.
"I'm absolutely fine."
"Then everything's pretty great, actually." He looped an arm around Tony's waist to lift him off his feet, then stepped into the hall and kicked the door shut behind him. "Spider-Man's on the point of joining up, I swear; and we might have the green guy on board."
Tony was not at all convinced that Bruce Banner was going to be a useful addition to their team, and Banner himself had seemed extremely doubtful. He had an appointment with Morgan Stark tomorrow, which Iron Man was supposedly going to tell Morgan about in the morning, so he wasn't about to argue with Steve about it now.
"The green guy who smashed up the restaurant? What did I say about publicity?" Tony teased, and Steve patted his back, apparently disinclined to put him back on his feet.
"He's not always green, and he seems a nice fellow. Let's see how things work out," he said. "Anyway, this isn't supposed to be a work night." Tony put his hands on Steve's shoulders, and leaned back, bringing his legs up around Steve's waist; big hands slid down under his butt, probably for support, and squeezed, which probably wasn't, as he dug in the pocket of his skirt. Steve grinned as he pulled out a little clear plastic packet.
"Snagged you a fortune cookie," Tony said.
"Open it for me."
"You're supposed to open them for yourself." He opened it anyway, cracked it, and fed Steve the pieces. While he crunched, Tony looked at the slip of paper, and snickered.
"What?" Steve tried to peer at it.
"Engage in group activities that further your transformation."
"In bed," Tony finished, and laughed at his expression.
"How large a group are we talking here?"
"Two works for me." Tony kissed him on the nose. He dug in his other pocket, and pulled out a foil packet. "You know where the bed is."
"Too far away?" said Steve innocently, and turned to press him back against the wall, pushing his skirt further up his thighs. Tony snickered.
"Are you actually going to - " he caught his breath as Steve's hand slid down to trace the edge of his panties. "Oh God. If you drop me, I am going to kick your ass."
"I won't," Steve whispered against his lips, and his fingertips slipped under the fabric and Tony made a noise that definitely wasn't a whimper. "You're so hot," and that was probably a polite way of saying you're such a slut because Tony was wet already, just from the heat of Steve's body between his thighs and the easy way he held Tony, like he weighed nothing.
"Steve," he said, and moaned as Steve's fingers worked deeper into him. Steve's gaze was intent, flicking from his half-shut eyes to his parted lips, and Tony felt utterly exposed, helpless. "I don't need - I'm ready, now."
"You sure?" Steve clearly wanted very much to believe him, and Tony opened the condom packet with shaking hands and pressed it into his palm.
Steve shifted his grip, and his zipper rasped and he shut his eyes, breathing catching slightly as he touched himself.
"Come on," said Tony, willing to beg if it got him what he wanted, "Come on, Steve - oh, oh yeah, faster, come on," and Steve was nudging in altogether too slowly and carefully, holding the fabric of Tony's panties out of the way, and really he was going to have to start going commando if this kind of thing was an option. He was definitely feeling the advantages of skirts right now. "Faster," he said again, and there was nowhere reasonable he could dig his nails in on Steve that wasn't covered up, so he grabbed a handful of hair and tugged.
"Quit that," Steve rasped. "I - God, you feel good." He shut his eyes and rested his brow against Tony's, and Tony growled and pulled again. "I can't, I - just give me a moment, I - "
"You going to come?" Steve made a small desperate sound. "Yeah, go on, Steve, give it to me, let go, you can make it up to me later - "
Steve grunted, and his fingers flexed on Tony's thighs; then he pulled back and slammed into Tony, who choked out encouragement as Steve thrust into him, hard and fast, for about thirty seconds before making a broken sound and kissing Tony wet and sloppy. Tony could feel the shudders running through him, feel Steve twitching inside his body, and he felt himself tighten in response, which got a very undignified noise from Steve.
Steve leaned on him heavily, panting, and Tony petted his hair and kissed his neck until he lifted his head and grinned, sheepishly.
"Sorry," he said, and lifted Tony; the slide of him pulling out dragged a whimper from Tony, and Steve flushed. "Sorry," he said again.
"How about," Tony paused, and swallowed to clear the rasp from his throat. "How about you stop apologizing and just take me to bed, because that was great, it was, but I really want my turn now."
Steve departed early enough next morning to avoid Pepper's disapproving eye, and Tony took advantage of being wide awake so early to go down to the workshop and start work on his jet boots. He'd been meaning to work on them for weeks, but there was always something demanding his attention. The minutae of circuitry and chip occupied him happily for several hours, at which point he got a text from Rhodey demanding his presence. He considered ignoring it; Rhodey would come looking for him, and then he'd have someone to pass him tools. But it was coffee time anyway, so he stopped by the canteen for coffee - getting several puzzled glances, which he ignored - and headed up to his office, where there was something very irritating happening, judging by the volume of Pepper's voice.
"What's going on?" Tony edged into the outer office cautiously, in case it was something he'd done. Pepper barely spared him a glance; she was staring down a crew of confused looking men in overalls and dust masks, wielding paintbrushes.
"Do you remember anything about having the office repainted?" she said, and Tony considered.
"No?" He eyed the wall, which was half-painted raspberry pink. "I don't think I like that colour."
"It's vile." She waved him towards his office. "Never mind, Rhodey's waiting for you. And Dr Banner's due at twelve."
He dodged past her, and went through to his office. Rhodey was sitting in his chair; Tony debated sitting down on his lap, but decided to spare his feelings and sat on the desk instead, propping his feet on Rhodey's knees.
"So you're redecorating in pink. Is that because you're a girl now? You could have a mural of glittery unicorns, maybe," Rhodey said, taking his coffee from Tony's hand, and Tony kicked him.
"You can start shutting up any time now," said Tony. "Is that your latest theory for Doom's evil plot? He wants Starktech covered in pink glitter and thinks this is the way to get it?"
"I don't have any other theories." Tony sighed. He'd really hoped Rhodey would come up with something. Rhodey patted his calf. "Sorry. I nosed around the embassy some; doesn't seem like Doom's in residence."
"Gone back to Latveria, I suppose. Leaving me all girled up." Tony poked one of his breasts gloomily. Sure, they were fun and all, but why would Doom want him to have them? "Seriously, what is the point? Did he feel his heroes gallery needed more diversity?"
"I did a bit of snooping; apparently, they sent a report back to Latveria last night, and, well, it's a long story of stealth and bribery, but here." He tossed an envelope onto the desk, and Tony tipped out the contents.
He stared blankly at the photo of a beautiful woman scrambling out of a limo, skirt rucked up, exposing a lot of shapely leg. After a second, he realised it was him, on his way to meet Steve. He pushed it aside, with a mental note to be more careful getting out of cars, and there were more photos, several of him at dinner with Steve, smiling flirtatiously, laughing, gesturing expansively. A photo of him talking to Spider-Man, dark hair blowing out in the wind. A photo of Iron Man, arcing through the sky with Cap clasped firmly to his side, and Tony's mouth curved in response to Steve's smile. The next picture was very similar, but not quite the same - Tony flipped back, and realised the armour was slightly different - it was from before his body had changed.
"Just pictures?" he said, finally. "No written reports?"
"Just pictures." Rhodey shrugged. "I guess maybe Doom wanted proof it'd worked?"
"Or how it had worked," he said, flipping back through. "Maybe he wasn't sure what had happened. And maybe he wanted to know if I was still being Iron Man. If I'd changed height or shape significantly, it would have been obvious, I'd've had to get you to tool the suit around a few times to cover for me. But you were only here by chance, so maybe it was a plot to expose my secret identity?" Rhodey shrugged again, and Tony gnawed on his fingernail. There had to be some plan here. "All we can do is wait for Doom's next move, I suppose. Unless you're willing to be smuggled into Latveria - "
"No, Tony," said Rhodey, and Tony sighed noisily. Maybe he could alter the Ghost armour to his new body and sneak - "And you shouldn't either."
"Of course not." Tony widened his eyes innocently, and Rhodey shook his head. He started to speak, but then Pepper opened the door, and Tony stuffed the photos back into the envelope and grinned over his shoulder at her.
"Hey, Pepper. Are we still doing pink?"
"They're fixing it. Dr Banner is here to see you," and Banner wandered across the carpet as if he weren't quite sure where he was. Pepper laid a file down on the desk and made a shooing gesture at Rhodey, who followed her out, and Tony reclaimed his chair and tried to look professional. He didn't really know why he was bothering considering Banner had thrown a dessert cart at him yesterday. Banner hovered, awkwardly, and Tony waved him forward and pointed him to the other chair. Then he opened the folder and made a show of examining the papers, though he'd seen them all already. Steve was optimistically convinced that the Hulk could be an asset to them, but Tony wasn't entirely sure they wanted a Jekyll and Hyde type. Maybe they could just air-drop him on to enemies.
"So," said Tony, and Dr Banner hunched down in his chair as if he expected Tony to throw something at him. "Wow, you caused a lot of damage."
"It's not my fault," he mumbled. "I can't control it."
"Uh huh." Tony turned a page and frowned. "Says here you turned green and monstrous when your date threw her coffee at you?"
"I stand by what I said; Pluto should never have been a planet." Banner folded his arms and jutted his chin out, looking quite ready to fight about it.
"Okaaay." Tony raised his eyebrows "And then you destroyed the dessert cart."
"I can't stand lemon meringue. It's so gritty and sharp," he said sadly.
"Right. And you're like this because you ran onto the testing field of a gamma bomb to save a teenager from the blast, and didn't have time to take cover yourself. Why'd you do that?" He put the folder down and rested his chin in his hand, looking expectantly at Banner.
"What?" Banner stared at him as if he were a moron. "Did you even read that report? Gamma radiation of that intensity could have killed him. Well, look what it did to me."
"And your colleagues told you you'd never reach him and that you were throwing your life away?"
"I was pretty certain I could reach him," said Banner. "I calculated - "
"You don't think heading out into the testing field was a bit of an odd choice," Tony suggested, flipping over to the witness statements. Apparently, Banner had been told that it was certain death for him and the boy, and he had promptly hotwired a motorcycle and driven off over the field. It was quite hard to picture the skinny little man in front of him running a stop sign, much less riding a motorbike into a gamma bomb like something off the cover of a heavy metal album.
"Gamma. Radiation. Of. That - "
"Intensity would have killed him, I know." Tony smiled at him. Oh, what the hell. Tony could appreciate a guy with a taste for reckless heroics, and another scientist would be useful. "Would you like to join a team of superheroes? I'm sure you'd fit right in."
"Don't be ridiculous," snapped Banner. "I'm a scientist who occasionally turns into a freak. I'm not a superhero."
"Sure," Tony said agreeably. "But you know, we could use a science guy. Quantum, and things. The team's only got Iron Man so far, and he's an engineer and we need him up front soaking up damage. There's plenty of things we could use your help for, and - " he riffled the papers ostentatiously " - it says here you turn into the Hulk when hurt or panicked?"
"Sort of. It's... unpredictable." He stared down at his hands. "Mostly when I'm angry."
"You get angry when people shoot at you? Because you'd be safer than a normal scientist who doesn't turn into a big green troll." Banner nodded slowly.
"I have had... some trouble finding work," he admitted. "Labs are full of breakable things, you know."
"I know." Tony gave Banner his best understanding smile, and the man gnawed on his thumbnail, an expression of intense concentration on his face.
"So..." Banner paused for another chew at his nail. "I guess I could try it?"
The door clicked, and Tony looked up in annoyance as the painting crew shambled in.
"What - " he began, and broke off when one of them turned and locked the door. The others drew guns out from their overalls. Masked gunmen were, in general, a bad sign; Tony tripped the silent alarm.
"I hope you at least finished covering up that pink," he said coolly. The armour was in its briefcase under the desk, but there was no way he could get any of it out and on in time. Banner glanced over his shoulder, and then looked back and forth between them and Tony, as if unsure as to whether this was normal procedure. Maybe he thought it was some kind of superhero aptitude test.
"Hands up," one of them said, and Banner put his hands up. Tony folded his on the desk.
"Can I assist you in some way, gentlemen?" They fanned out across the room in a professional manner, covering all the doors. Now he was paying attention, they were all wearing the same uniform of identical black shirts under the overalls, all wearing thin black gloves.
"Put your hands up. You're coming with us," said the centremost one. Behind the dust mask, he looked magnificently nondescript, without a distinguishing feature that Tony could see. He supposed that must be an advantage in the kidnapping and general villainy line of work. Tony shot a glance at Banner, who was looking bewildered and slightly alarmed.
"Dr Banner, maybe you should - "
"Stay," said the gunman nearest to him. "Move, and I'll shoot you." Banner blinked at him, and then looked at Tony, who held up a palm to indicate he should stay. "You, on your feet."
"Security is on its way up." Tony leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs. "You won't be able to leave the building, and hostage situations - "
"Uh," said Banner intelligently, his gaze fixed on something outside the window, and Tony turned to see an aircraft bobbing awkwardly like a buoy in a current. A tiltrotor, he noted absently; a hybrid plane-helicopter with long-range capability and vertical take-off and, of course, the ability to hover. They were very expensive toys, and didn't usually bob in the air like a duck in a pond. The aircraft's door swung open and a man appeared in the space, shading his eyes with a handgun. A rough hand grabbed Tony's shoulder, and he was dragged out of his chair and away from the window as it shattered inward under what had to be a very high caliber bullet; the glass on the eightieth floor generally didn't break easily.
"Something wrong with the balcony doors?" he said irritably. Pepper was going to be furious, and he was going to have workmen in his office all day.
Of course, he might not be around to worry about that.
When he was yanked back towards the window, he twisted out of the man's grip and made to bolt for the workshop elevator. He was grabbed and dragged back before he'd gone two steps.
"Get the hell off me!" he snarled. He kicked out and hit someone's knee with a pleasing crunch, and took a blow to the jaw that made him reel. He wished he'd started wearing heels; a pair of stilettos like Pepper wore would have been very handy right now.
"Not the face," he heard one of them hiss, and then he was dragged towards the window, feet skidding on the smooth carpeting as he scrabbled to brace himself. He hoped Banner had the sense to go for help - there was a dull thud, and a yelp, and Tony's arm was released, and he looked round to see Banner wielding a desk chair somewhat awkwardly.
"Let go of her!" said Dr Banner in a high pitched voice. "You're - you're making me angry - "
"Hit him again, Banner!" yelled Tony. "C'mon, smack him right in the ugly mug!" If Banner got angry enough - Banner swung the chair again, and Tony lunged at the nearest gunman; there was a brief struggle, and then a dull crack.
Banner fell over.
"Banner?" said Tony, darting towards him. "Oh my God, did you - ow!" The gunman grabbed a handful of his hair, and yanked him towards the waiting aircraft. "No!" He struggled frantically, but to no avail; this body didn't have the mass of his own, and it wasn't as strong, and was wrestled up the wobbling ramp - Jesus, this was incredibly unsafe, who the hell was piloting this thing? - and then he was shoved down into a seat and his hands were cuffed behind his back, tight enough to be painful. "Ow," he said, and glared down the gun barrel pointed at him. "You want my hands to drop off, smart guy?"
"We'll loosen them later," said one of them, and then limped towards the cockpit and took the co-pilot's seat as the hatch was shut.
"Stark Industries doesn't pay ransom." Tony settled himself more comfortably, drew his composure around him. There was no point in pancking; they obviously weren't planning to kill him. "You are so dead when my bodyguard gets here." With any luck, Rhodey would put on the armour and come after him; there were only half a dozen of them, after all, and Rhodey was reasonably competent with the armour. Well, eight including the two who'd been in the ship. Maybe Rhodey could bring Cap along.
Steve was going to be pissed when he heard his girl had been kidnapped, and that - assuming Tony actually got rescued - had the potential to be fun.
"We've already got a buyer for you," said the nearest gunman. "Now shut up, or I'll gag you." Tony sneered at him, and then turned his attention to getting his fingers into the back pocket of his jeans. He'd definitely stuffed some odd bits of wire in there earlier; with any luck, there would be some long enough for him to reach the locks - yeah, that one was probably good enough. He half-shut his eyes, shaping the piece of wire with his fingers, watching the pilot work.
The engines growled, and they lurched forward, and then stilled. There was a pause; it felt as if they were hanging dead in the air, but the engines were still turning. Tony's eyes shot open. Were they teleporting? Some kind of new propulsion? They'd be much harder to catch if -
"Uh, boss? Why aren't we moving?" said one of them, and Tony rolled his eyes and settled back down. If he was being kidnapped in a broken plane, he was going to be very annoyed. He was starting to think this wasn't even their plane; if their buyer was Doom - and the odds were in favour - he'd probably supplied it to them. Too bad he hadn't supplied a pilot, too. He tapped his piece of wire thoughtfully on the cuff. He could slip his bonds now, of course, maybe even get the gun from the guy covering him, who was peering over his shoulder at the pilot. But there were half a dozen of them. Even if they wanted him alive and unharmed, it would be easy for an accident to happen.
No, he'd give it some time, see how it played out. He didn't want to risk bringing the plane down in New York, anyway.
"I don't know." The pilot was prodding at the controls. "The engines are responding..." The sound of the engines increased to a whine, and the plane shuddered.
"You're risking the hull's integrity," said Tony sharply. "If you're planning to take us up - "
"Shut up," but the engines quieted again.
"Did the ramp catch?" said one of them.
"No, I - " he scanned the dashboard again. "Maybe. Open the hatch." Tony craned his neck to see as the door was opened again, and frowned. They couldn't have gone more than thirty feet - the Tower was still clearly visible, with Stark security guards peering worriedly out the broken window. There was no sign of the ramp, or any impediment. "The fuck?"
The one who'd opened the door leaned cautiously forward, peering out, and then reeled backwards as a pair of red boots hit him in the chest, followed by their owner in what showed every sign of being a very bad mood. Tony suppressed the urge to whoop with joy. A proper Captain America rescue; that was worth being roughed up a bit. He slipped the lock of the cuff on his left hand, and as the gun pointing at him tracked away toward Steve, he folded the cuff around the fingers of his right hand, stood up and punched the guy as hard as he could.
He wasn't really a hand to hand expert, but the advantage of surprise and improvised brass knuckles sent the gunman reeling; Tony was wondering whether to go for the gun or just hit him again when Steve dived towards him, grabbing his shoulder and dragging him down to the floor, which didn't seem like a very good rescuing technique.
"Shake it!" howled Steve, and Tony had a moment of bewilderment before the aircraft lurched hideously back and forth like a ship in high seas, sending everyone but them tumbling. When it stopped, Steve dragged him up and threw him over his shoulder and leapt for the door. "Catch!" he yelled, and they fell for an interminable second before landing in a giant hand that - well, it wasn't exactly familiar, but Tony was not surprised to look up and see Giant Girl struggling to maintain her grip on the aircraft one handed. He could see news helicopters buzzing about behind her; so much for 'Morgan Stark' keeping a low profile. The aircraft's engines whined, and he could see Giant Girl's knuckles whiten as her fingers dented the hull. There was movement at the open door.
"Let go!" shouted Tony hoarsely, and she gave him a worried glance. "Steve, guns - "
"Let go!" Steve echoed, and she opened her hand and let it spin away. It jetted straight away, apparently not willing to tangle with a woman - a woman some hundred and fifty metres tall, wow, that was really impressive, Tony hadn't known she could get that big. Bullets probably wouldn't even affect her at that size, but who knew what might happen to them when she changed size again.
"Are you okay?" She lifted them towards her face, frowning. "I need to shrink, I can't maintain this height long."
"Put us back through the window," said Steve, and she tipped them very carefully in before she shrank away so quickly she seemed to vanish.
There were about twenty security guards clustering round them, and he could hear Pepper's anxious voice, but Steve lifted him into his lap and kissed him, and that seemed the priority right now, so he just grabbed on to Steve's broad shoulders and clung. Steve muttered something soothing and kissed him a few more times, it's all right and you're safe which Tony didn't really need to hear, but he supposed it was sort of nice to be petted and reassured. As long as it didn't become a habit. In fact, this was really a bit undignified. He pushed gently away, and started to get up, and Steve rolled to his feet and helped him up and led him over to the couch and urged him to sit.
"Where's Iron Man?" he said, scowling.
"I sent him - away." Oh, he could see fun conversations coming. "All right, shoo, the lot of you," he added to the security guards. "A lot of use you were. How did they get the guns in? Oh, smuggled them in in the cans of paint, I'll bet. Someone do something about that before it catches on. Where's Banner? Are you all right, Pepper?"
"Fine," she said, looking him over with the scowl that meant she was mad at him for scaring her. "Are you all right? Rhodey and I were just on our way out when you tripped the alarm, so I called the Captain. I couldn't get through to Iron Man."
"Where is he?" Steve said again. "There's not much point in you having a bodyguard if he isn't here when you need him."
"I sent him on a job." Tony applied his bit of wire to the handcuffs to avoid meeting Steve's gaze. This had the potential to be awkward. "I told you. A Stark Industries, confidential job. Pepper, call a glazier."
"I have a few other calls to make first." She flipped open her phone pointedly. "The police will want to take a statement from you, so don't go wandering off." Well, that ruled out one way of shutting Steve's mouth. Pepper retreated to the corner, and Tony passed the cuffs to Rhodey, who put them on the desk.
"If someone's trying to kidnap you, Iron Man needs to be with you," said Steve. "Call him back."
"No. They're gone now." Short of persuading Rhodey into the suit, there was no way he could have Iron Man hanging around him; but by the glower building on Steve's face, he wasn't inclined to take no for an answer.
"But they might come back." Steve grabbed his hand, and squeezed it with surprising gentleness, given the annoyance written clearly on his face. "Iron Man's going to have to concentrate on guarding you, not missions or the team - "
"Absolutely not," Tony interrupted. "The team is an essential part of - of Tony's long term - "
"It's not more important than your safety! You were almost - "
"I'll be perfectly safe," he said dismissively, and Steve shook his head. Tony arched his eyebrows at Rhodey, trying to signal rescue me! but Rhodey just shrugged helplessly.
"Like you were today? It's not acceptable. I'm going to tell Iron Man - "
"Excuse me, I am CEO - er, acting CEO, and I tell my - Tony's staff what to do." He glared; that worked about as well as he'd expected on a man who'd faced down the Red Skull without a blink.
"You need to - "
"You're not the - "
"Hey!" Jan was at the door. "What'd I miss?"
"Jan!" Tony leapt to his feet; a diversion, thank God. Jan gave him a surprised look. "Uh, Cap's told me all about you," he added. "I'm Morgan Stark."
"Cap said." Jan came forward, holding out her hands. "It's so nice to meet you!"
"The pleasure's mine." He took her hand, and she squeezed it and smiled warmly. "And thank you! For the rescue. How did you happen to be here?"
"Oh, Cap and I were going out to lunch," she said. "Then he got a call and we came here instead. Luckily I had my costume with me."
"Morgan," there was an edge to Steve's voice, and Tony put his hands on his hips and tried not to feel bad about what he was about to do. He really needed the diversion.
"So you and Jan were going to lunch?" he said sweetly. "How nice."
"I - " Steve cocked his head, apparently catching something in Tony's voice. "Yes, but that's not - "
"Some oversight that you didn't mention it to me, no doubt," and Steve's expression shaded into alarm.
Jan cleared her throat.
"So!" she said. "Who's that lying under the desk?"
"The - " Tony turned. "Oh God, Banner! Pepper, call an ambulance - "
"No, no, 'm all right," came a slightly slurred voice. "Some kind of tranquis- transli - sedative."
Steve picked up the desk and lifted it carefully to one side before kneeling beside Banner.
"How many fingers am I holding up?" he said, and Tony turned to Jan.
"The Captain called me saying he had news about the team and I suggested we meet for lunch," Jan said firmly. "You should come too! Because it was a team kind of thing, and Cap tells me you're involved with setting the team up, so you should totally come to our business lunch as Cap was very worried about you, because you are his girlfriend who he clearly adores and I think that's lovely."
"Uh... yeah." There was an awkward pause. "Look, I - "
"So do we need an ambulance?" Pepper tapped her phone impatiently.
"I don't think we do," said Steve.
"I don't. No ambulance." Banner tried to get up, and then lurched ungracefully; Steve made a grab for him, but Banner staggered a few steps before falling on to his face. Steve took his arm and helped him to his feet.
"Come and meet Dr Banner," Tony said to Jan. "He's joining the team, aren't you?"
"I, uh," Banner stammered, and Jan clapped her hands.
"That's wonderful!" She bounced over to grab his hand, and he wobbled under the assault. "Are you sure you're okay? You're looking very pale." She laid a hand on his forehead and peered into his eyes.
"Pale is fine. Green is a problem," Banner said, and she laughed as if he'd made a joke - she probably thought he had made a joke, they'd have to explain the whole Hulk thing sometime - and took his arm and helped Steve get him to on the couch; Steve tried to nudge Tony to sit down on it, but he resisted, scowling. He hadn't been tranquilized.
"So you have super-powers?" said Jan brightly, and Banner shook his head.
"Not really. I mean."
"He hit one of the gunmen with a chair," Tony said, and Steve directed an approving smile at Banner before remembering about the whole gunmen thing, and scowling at Tony.
"Morgan, can we talk?" he said tightly, and Tony scowled at him.
"Not right now. Anyway, aren't you going to take Jan out to lunch?"
"Uh, I - " Steve's eyes widened, and he directed a slightly panicky look at Jan.
"I was just saying that Morgan should come with us." Tony shook his head.
"Can't, there's police and things to deal with, and the press. Why don't you two take Banner? Then Cap can tell you both about the team."
"I'm not going to - " Steve began, and Tony cut him off.
"I'll be very busy. And Iron Man will be back soon, and we're on high security alert here. Go on, shoo. Jan, Dr Banner, would you like to come over to the Mansion tomorrow and take a look around? Several of our members will be living there, and you're quite welcome to have rooms."
"That sounds like so much fun." Jan turned her smile on Banner, who gave her a puzzled look. "Doesn't it?"
"Well, I - "
"Morgan," said Steve, and Jan's eyes flicked between them.
"Well, let's go!" she dragged Banner up from the couch and caught Steve's arm with her other hand. "I'm sure you're very busy, so we'll leave you to work!" Steve stood for a moment, resisting Jan's pull, and then gave a defeated sigh and turned away.
"Whew." Tony collapsed onto the couch. Rhodey sat next to him. "Well, that was exciting."
"You all right?" Rhodey put a hand on his shoulder, and Tony groaned.
"Don't you start." He patted Rhodey's hand, and got a gentle squeeze in return.
"What was that about, anyway?" Pepper, sat down on his other side. Tony put his head on her shoulder, and she elbowed him not-too-hard in the ribs. Getting nearly-kidnapped got him certain personal space privileges for at least an hour, which was just one of many benefits.
"Masked gunmen tried to kidnap me, could be anything. Industrial espionage? Maybe just hoping for a ransom?" Rhodey opened his mouth, no doubt to say something involving the name Doom, and Tony made a horrible face at him. Rhodey frowned, and Tony rolled his eyes towards Pepper.
"Lot of people it could be," Rhodey settled on, and Pepper clicked her tongue. Probably annoyed the kidnappers hadn't made an appointment.
"My face hurts." Tony probed at his teeth with his tongue. They all seemed solidly in place, thank goodness; that had been quite a clock to the jaw. Pepper clucked, and laid a gentle hand on his cheek.
"It's swelling." Her hand was pleasantly cool against his skin, and he tried to snuggled closer. "I'll get you some ice." She pushed him gently off, and headed for the door.
"And some painkillers!" he called after her.
"Doom," Rhodey said as soon as the door shut, and Tony nodded.
"Got to be. They barely knew how that ship worked, they were given it."
"So he turns you into a chick, and now he kidnaps you." Rhodey rubbed his chin. "Hey, maybe he didn't know what that ray did!"
"He was just playing around with some new stuff, maybe, and he wasn't sure what it had done to you. So he had the photos taken, and now he knows you're a chick, and now he wants you to study!" Rhodey beamed at him, and Tony had to acknowledge it was a good theory. Well, it was an adequate theory. It was the best they had, anyway.
The police were surprisingly easy to deal with; Rhodey hovered at his shoulder protectively, and Pepper talked over him whenever questions got awkward. Fortunately, they weren't too inclined to be suspicious of him. He was just an innocent - and clearly wealthy - victim, after all. They promised to give the matter their full attention, and departed.
"Right, I have a meeting, which I'm going to be late for." Rhodey clapped him on the shoulder.
"I keep forgetting you have jobs other than babysitting me now." Tony smiled at him, and he scowled back. "I don't think I like it. Pepper, do you like it? Wait, you have other jobs now. Wow, this was a stupid idea. You shouldn't have let me give you other jobs, I had been hit in the head a few times when I made those decisions." Rhodey shook his head, and Pepper handed him a folder.
"Thanks, Pepper. You! Stay out of trouble." He pointed a finger at Tony, who smiled sweetly. "Yeah, right." Pepper shut the door behind him, and turned to give Tony a nasty look.
"What now?" he protested. He hadn't done anything. Not in the last two hours.
"Steve's waiting in the lobby. He said not to disturb you, and he'd wait til you were free - "
"Oh boy." Tony pressed his fingers into his temples. An argument with Steve was pretty low on the list of things he wanted right now, but Steve would just stay there, he knew. "Oh, God, he's not sitting around the lobby in costume, is he?"
"No, Tony," Pepper snapped. "He's just wearing clothes. Have you thought of any more lies to tell him?"
"Do I need more lies to tell him?" Tony's mind raced, trying to think. There was the Doom connection - but Pepper didn't even - Pepper was glaring at him. "Oh, that was just a snide jab. Thanks, Pepper. I think I'm done here; send him up to my apartment, please."
Steve looked extremely hang-dog when Tony opened the door to him; he shuffled in silently, and laid his fingers very carefully against the reddened swelling on Tony's jaw. It was nothing, really, Tony had taken worse just from G-forces, but Steve stared at it as if it were gushing blood. He should probably have gotten Pepper to put makeup on it or something.
"Morgan," he began, and Tony shook his head and put a finger over Steve's lips.
"Steve." Steve blinked at him, and remained silent. "Listen to me. I know you're concerned. I get that. I'm touched. But I make my own decisions, and I don't need a hero to swoop in and take over from me, all right? If you can't deal with that, then - " his voice failed for a second, and he took a deep breath. Jesus, he was going to dump Captain America. "Then maybe you shouldn't - "
"I'm sorry," Steve interrupted, and Tony stopped. "You're right. I can't make your decisions for you." He put an arm round Tony's waist and pulled him close. "I'm sorry. I was terrified for you, love. I thought they were going to get away with you - " he cupped Tony's chin, and pressed a kiss to his cheek. "Please, please, just be careful."
"Okay," said Tony, and Steve gave him a hopeful smile. There was really no way Tony could say no to him, because he was weak. "Yeah, okay, we're good." He slipped a arm round Steve's waist, and tugged him towards the sitting room; they couldn't just stand here in the hallway like idiots. "So, did you have fun at lunch?"
"It was fine." Steve gave him a nervous look "I mean, I'd rather have had lunch with you - "
"Uh, I didn't mean it about Jan. Sorry. I was just being a pain to distract you."
"Thanks." Steve made a face at him. "Give me a heart attack, why don't you. Jan's nice and all, but you - " he kissed Tony, slow and sweet.
"Mmm. Okay," Tony sighed when their lips parted. He kept his eyes shut, but for some reason Steve didn't kiss him again, just kept talking.
"Anyway, yeah, it was good. They seem pretty excited. Jan's coming by in the morning to check it out - I have a SHIELD thing in the morning, so I'm going to pick up Banner on my way back."
"Yeah, great." He blinked up at Steve and tried to direct his thoughts away from the heat of Steve's body under his hands. "That's, what, six? Seven if we get Spider-Man." No, he really didn't care right now. "So, uh, we had a fight, right?"
"Yes?" Steve's brow crinkled.
"So... we should have make-up sex."
"But you - " he traced the bruise on Tony's cheek. "Aren't you - you're hurt, I mean - "
"I have slight bruising." Tony hooked his fingers into Steve's belt and backed towards the bedroom, and Steve let himself be dragged, though his expression was doubtful. "You can be gentle with me, okay?"
"Yeah?" Steve's mouth curved. "No 'harder, faster, more'?"
"...you can start out gentle."
He drove Steve to the SHIELD base next morning, and then had to suffer a good five minutes of lectures on personal safety interspersed with sad puppy eyes whenever he started to tap his foot irritably. God, Steve could look adorable when he was trying. It almost made over-protectiveness cute. Almost. It was just as well he had a prior booking or he would have likely hung around the Tower glaring suspiciously at all arrivals. Which would have been quite inconvenient in a number of ways.
Tony watched him pass through the security checkpoint, and drummed his fingers on the wheel, thinking about the upcoming day. Jan was clearly the chatty type, he'd have to field a lot of questions; maybe even girl-talk questions, which he felt totally unequipped to deal with. Except the inherent flaws of bras and high heels. He could talk for hours about that.
He didn't want to start another friendship under false pretenses. It was bad enough what he was doing with Steve.
To hell with it; Tony cancelled things all the time, there was no reason Morgan shouldn't. He drove back to the Tower and took the elevator to his workshop to put on the armour.
He hadn't had to assert his right to make his own decisions in years. Well, except to Pepper. Being treated like some kind of delicate female flower was... very odd indeed. Steve would not lift Iron Man into his lap to comfort him. And that was... Tony stared at the blank gold faceplate in the mirror over the sink.
"I'm not a woman," he told his reflection, and then touched the arc reactor that shone through the armour. The other Stark, the woman, had all his scars, not just the engineering ones, the little self-inflicted wounds built up over the years, but the fine pale starburst around the arc reactor. She had the same damaged heart he did; she'd built the arc reactor under AIM's nose and burned her way out.
Would she have let Cap pull her into his lap? Maybe. She probably wouldn't have let him tell her what to do, though. Not if she was - Iron Man? Iron Woman? If she was CEO, she had to be tough. Did she dress like Pepper, heels and skirts? Did she have a Pepper?
Was she dating Cap? If Tony had been in a position to grab Steve straight out of the ice -
The other Stark couldn't be so different, really. She probably didn't look that different from him, all armoured up, a woman of steel.
Tony was going to be very glad to get his own body back. He resolved to call Reed as soon has he had a moment.
He touched down on the doorstep, and Jarvis opened the door, frowning.
"Hey, Jarvis." Jarvis did not look pleased to see him.
"I was expecting Miss Stark," he said, and Tony shrugged.
"She couldn't make it." Jarvis sighed, and Tony pushed away the pang of guilt and turned to look down the gravel driveway. "Is this Jan?" There was a neat little sports car pulling in; it was indeed Jan, wearing jeans and a pink sweater and a huge smile.
"Hi there!" she said. "Oh, uh, it's Jarvis isn't it?"
"That's right, Miss van Dyne," said Jarvis approvingly, descending the white stone steps. "Let me take those for you."
There was a brief polite fight over the bags before Tony gathered them up and carried them inside and up the main staircase, Jan and Jarvis trailing him. He paused at the top of the stairs, and Jarvis took over, leading them to a large, light room overlooking the garden.
"I hope this will be suitable? If not - " Jarvis began, and Jan beamed at him.
"This is great," she said. "Of course, I live with my Dad mostly, but it'll be nice to have a place with the team, right?" She turned her smile on Tony.
"Cap already lives here. And I have a room." He never used it, of course, but it was there. He had a room for Tony, too, but he hadn't used it since moving Steve in. Not for a long time before that, really. Jarvis was right, it would be nice to have the place busy again.
"No, she - she's staying at Stark Tower." Perhaps she should have her own room. Then he'd have three. Jarvis gave him a nasty look, and departed on silent feet. He was clearly still annoyed about the whole pretending-to-be-his-own-cousin thing.
"Oh." Jan gave him a thoughtful look. "Well, tell her hi from me."
"Will do." There was a pause, and Tony tried to think of something to interest her. Was it too early to ask for a look at her tech?
She pushed the window open, and smiled down at something.
"Is that Tony's dog? Or does it - "
"Dog?" Tony crowded up behind her. There was a big, brown dog frolicking about in the garden, and there shouldn't be. "I have no idea."
"It must be lost. We should go catch it!" She bounded towards the door.
"Or we could call animal control," Tony said to the empty room. He glanced out of the window again - the dog was digging in a flower bed, which would defintely annoy Jarvis. Oh well, it wasn't like a dog could bite through his armour.
Tony hadn't spent more than a minute or two in the garden in the last five years. He'd had a vague plan of putting in a swimming pool, but then he hadn't bothered, because it was just one more thing for Jarvis to keep up. Maybe he'd put one in now. Maybe Steve would let Tony pick out his swimsuit. He followed Jan down the garden path, trying to picture Steve with a tan.
"It's exactly like I remember it." Jan wandered about the path, trying to look in all directions at once. "Only the trees are taller. Doesn't Tony change anything? I can't resist redoing our garden every few years."
"Well, I... I guess he likes it the way it is." Tony looked around, trying to find something intelligent to say about the garden. There were trees, there was grass. And flowers. What more could you want from a garden? A pool, obviously. Maybe he should just let Jan redesign the whole thing.
"Come here, boy." Jan clapped her hands, and the dog peered round a tree at them.
"Careful," said Tony. "It might be rabid."
"It doesn't look rabid at all." Jan crouched down and held out her hand, and the dog trotted towards her, tail up and wagging. "It's got a collar, look."
The dog stopped about ten feet away, and stared at Jan. It was big, looking something like a heavier Labrador.
"Who's a good boy, then? C'mere, come on." The dog swished its tail, and then barked and jumped away, running a few yards before turning back towards Jan, tail wagging. "Oh, he wants to play!"
"Try and get a look at his collar." Tony wasn't going to try grabbing it; animals didn't tend to like the armour much, and he didn't want his paintwork scratched. He followed Jan, who followed the dog as it frisked away, occasionally stopping to bark.
The far end of the garden was laid out like a tiny, tasteful wilderness, with rhododendrons and twining paths. The dog, predictably, made straight for the bushes and began to bark. It had probably found a squirrel
"Can you hear a humming noise?" Jan cocked her head.
"Probably traffic," Tony said absently, turning to assess the garden. If they took out all those pink flowers, they could fit a pool down the side there, with a deck for the sun.
"No, not the traffic. A generator, or something. Do you have a generator?"
"They're in the basement. Back-up power, and so on."
Jan trotted off down the path, and Tony trailed after her. Now he was paying attention, he could hear a low hum that wasn't the traffic. He started to run a sensor sweep, but was distracted by a small impact against his chest plate. H
He looked down and saw a metal dart, flat head stuck to his breastplate. "What - "
A crackle of blue electricity flowed outwards, and the suit hissed and overloaded and crashed, the familiar clicking and lights of rebooting. He tumbled over, and after a moment Jan fell to her knees beside him.
"Iron Man? Are you all right?" her hands hovered over him, unable to touch him with the power sparking off the metal.
"Go - " he started, then pitched his voice lower, because with the power off, his voice distortion was off. "Go! Get away!" Jan bit her lip, and then looked around her. Tony tried another tack. "Do you have your costume?"
"Oh!" she said, eyes lighting up, and bolted towards the house. Tony struggled with the armour, snapping commands, trying to get it online before anything terrible could happen. He could hear footsteps thudding on the grass; this had to be another kidnap attempt.
Jan screamed, loudly, and Tony cursed and tried to force the armour into motion; it was too heavy, though, and he didn't dare try and take it off with electricity still sparkling around him.
There was a deeper, masculine yell, and then swearing.
"Get her arms, get her - "
"She bit me - "
"Help! Help! Fire, police, murder!"
"Get the - "
There were more scuffling sounds, and then they died away, and Tony shut his eyes and muttered to the armour, trying to coax it into co-operation, but whatever was on his armour kept disrupting the connections, and it would reboot all over again.
"She still breathing?"
"Fine. Come on, before - look out!"
There was a wet, nasty sound and then a dull thud, and then more yelling; and then there was a vast roar and a sheet of blue-white flame filled Tony's vision.
When he blinked the glare from his eyes, the armour rebooted smoothly, and Tony scrambled to his feet and stared. There was a ring of charred lumps of metal, and in the centre, a burned carcass - a burned carcass that was twitching, horribly -
"He'll be fine," came a voice from above, and Tony looked up to see Storm floating down, light as a leaf in the wind, a battered canvas backpack dangling incongruously from her hand.
"What - " he looked back at what he saw now was Logan, new pink flesh already showing, crouched over Jan's curled up form. "How did he - "
"Logan has an adamantium plated skeleton," Storm explained, and Tony pursed his lips in a soundless whistle as she settled soundlessly to the earth beside him. Adamantium plating? That was... barely believable.
"He earthed himself. Clever."
"Combined with my control over the lightning, we could be sure the girl would not be harmed."
"How did you know they weren't human?"
"Could smell 'em a mile away," said Logan in a thick, wet voice. "Life Model Decoys. They gave the girl some kind of drug, we weren't close enough." He pushed himself up, staggering. "I need a beer." Storm tossed him the backpack, and he rummaged through it.
"Inhaled or injected?" Tony crouched over her and rested his metal fingertips on her throat. Her pulse was slow, but strong. She was breathing normally, and she looked pale but not waxen. He gently eased her eyelid up, and her pupil shrank in the light.
"Inhaled." Storm said. Logan was fully focused on his beer.
"She'll probably be okay. Let's call an ambulance." Tony gathered her up with care. If this was another Doom attempt, it was unlikely to be anything very dangerous; but you couldn't be too careful. "And get you some clothes, Logan."
"That would be best," said Storm. "I - "
"Hey." Tony turned back towards the trees. "Can you hear anything?"
"Lots of things," Logan grunted. "Narrow it down for me."
"A sort of hum, like machinery." Logan shut his eyes for a second, then shrugged.
"There was something earlier - " Tony glanced toward the back of the garden, and then down at Jan.
"I'll check it out," said Logan, and loped away filthy and naked into the the bushes. Tony shook his head, and turned back towards the house.
Jan came round within twenty minutes, threw up in a bucket Jarvis had thoughtfully provided, and proclaimed her total health to the paramedics. They took blood pressure and temperature and made a short attempt to persuade her to come to the ER, which failed.
Logan repaired to the front steps for a cigar, and Tony went with him.
"There were signs of some kind of vehicle parked among the trees back there," said Logan, and Tony nodded. That made sense. "You'll be wanting to rebuild part of your back wall. So who was trying to kidnap her?" Tony shrugged. He was pretty convinced that Jan hadn't been the intended target; probably the LMDs had been confused by the presence of both Iron Man and a young woman with dark hair. But you never knew. Perhaps Doom was starting a collection. Perhaps it was an entirely separate group of kidnappers. Jan's father was very rich, after all.
"Hey, there's Cap," he said instead, pointing at the taxi drawing up.
Steve, as promised, had Banner with him; he took the man's suitcase and took two steps before an expression of alarm crossed his face and he broke into a run.
"It's all right." Tony held up his hands. "Everything's fine."
"I can smell burnt flesh." Steve looked around, a line of worry between his brows.
"Just me," Logan growled around his cigar, and the tension ran straight out of Steve. That was pretty funny, as if Logan smelling of crematoriums was par for the course.
"Nice outfit," Steve said, and Logan just chewed on his cigar and glared. His broad, squat body was entirely unlike either Tony's or Steve's, so Logan was wearing a battered pair of Steve's sweatpants rolled up at the ankles and a pink t-shirt that Steve had bought before he'd been informed that it was really more of a girl colour these days. Not that it stopped him wearing it; with any luck, Logan would destroy it somehow.
"Some kind of robot tried to kidnap your girl," said Logan in what probably couldn't have been a deliberately misleading statement, give he didn't know about Morgan.
"Morgan?" Steve looked around, as if she might be hiding. "Where - "
"Not her," said Tony. "Jan. She's fine, she went up to change."
"Oh. Where is - "
"Couldn't come, sent me instead." Steve pouted like someone had told him his wings looked stupid, which was sweet. Tony really wanted to kiss him. Stupid secret identity. Not that he really wanted to make out with Logan and Banner watching.
"What robots?" Banner asked.
"Just some robots. Kidnapping. Like they do." Steve gave him a suspicious look; he shrugged. "What? I'm not the robot expert. I'll take one home, and Ms Stark can check it out." The less time spent discussing the kidnappings the better, really.
"Hi, Bruce! Cap!" Jan came bounding through the door with Storm at her heels. She was wearing her costume, the mask tucked into her belt, and looked entirely recovered from her near-abduction. "How are things? I was almost kidnapped, but Storm and Wolverine saved me."
"Not that we're not delighted to see you, Storm, Wolverine," said Tony. "But we weren't expecting you until next week."
"Well, we weren't expecting you to get started without us." Logan dug in his backpack. "You made the front page, Cap." He produced a somewhat battered newspaper from his pocket and tossed it over. Steve glanced at it and flushed bright pink. Tony was pretty sure of what he was looking at; he'd already requested a copy of the picture of himself sitting in Cap's lap being kissed. News helicopters were something of a nuisance. The main picture, though, had been of Giant Girl holding the airship in her hands like a toy; there had been some mention of the planned Stark superteam, which was good.
"Given that trouble had already found the team, we thought it wise to join you as soon as possible," said Storm smoothly, and Steve folded the paper and shoved it away into his back pocket. "Our possessions will follow us shortly."
"Soon, I hope." Wolverine tugged at the pink t-shirt, and scowled at Steve, who shrugged.
"That's two attempted kidnappings in two days." Banner, apparently, didn't let go of a train of thought in a hurry. "Why?"
Tony glared at him from behind the faceplate. Stupid Banner.
"Is someone trying to sabotage the new team?" Jan almost bounced with excitement, altogether too thrilled about having been almost kidnapped.
"That could well be it," said Tony. "I'm sure there'll be some clues in the robots; they can't have been totally slagged."
"Check the dog," Wolverine suggested. Tony frowned.
"You found the dog?"
"Where'd you put it?" Jan said hopefully.
"Stuffed it in the dustbin." He looked at Jan's horrified face. "What?"
"The - did you kill it?"
"Logan," Steve began, and Wolverine threw up a hand.
"LMD!" he protested. "Robot dog. No animals were harmed."
"A scout, I guess. Or maybe bait. It did lead us down the garden path." Still, it meant he had a specimen that hadn't taken a lightning bolt.
"Anyway, we should be on high alert," Steve said. "Jan, you should wear your costume under your clothes as much as possible, so you have it to hand. You're more dependent on it than any of the rest of us."
"Will do," she said cheerily. "What about Morgan? And Tony, I guess."
"Tony's been made aware. And there's extra security on the Tower now." Tony did not want more discussions of Morgan's security, or kidnapping, and really this whole conversation was very inconvenient. "Hey, we haven't really introduced everybody."
"Well, okay, right." Steve smiled round at them all. Jan sat down on the steps and hugged her knees, staring up as if she expected to be told a story. "You all know Iron Man and myself. And this is Wolverine. And Storm. Wolverine and Storm are previously of the X-Men, and have experience working with teams; Storm will be my second in command for now."
"I thought you said she'd be co-leader," said Wolverine belligerently, and Storm put her hand on his arm.
"We are a new team; having multiple commanders at this stage would only confuse. For now, I will take over only if the Captain is incapacitated. In time, as we learn to work together, a joint command will be easier."
"Exactly. I'm hoping it won't take too long; your flight will give you an excellent command of the field."
"So who're you?" Wolverine leaned over to peer into Banner's face. Banner wrinkled his nose and stepped away.
"I'm Dr Bruce Banner. I'm a nuclear physicist."
"Oh, that'll come in handy."
"Dr Banner has great expertise in a number of scientific fields," Tony said, and Wolverine snorted. "We're sure his abilities will be very useful; physically, we want to concentrate on keeping him out of harm's way."
"Dead weight, then. What about you, kid?" His voice softened just a bit as he turned to Jan, and Tony remembered the way he'd played with Jubilee and Shadowcat.
"I'm Giant Girl." She grabbed her mask out of her belt and pulled it over her head. Then she grinned. "I can grow and shrink. I can grow to almost two hundred metres tall." That actually seemed to impress Wolverine slightly.
"Why not Giant Woman?"
"I like alliteration," she said promptly. "Why Wolverine?"
"Because they're pissy and Canadian." Jan giggled, and he gave a her a toothy grin.
"What are your powers?" she asked, and Wolverine crossed his forearms in front of his chest, popping out six wickedly sharp blades. "Oh, my. Doesn't that hurt?"
"Yeah," he said. "I heal though. That's my real power. I heal everything. That's how they gave me these claws. They'll cut through anything."
"Almost anything," Steve said, and Wolverine glanced at him. He tapped a finger on his shield, and Wolverine's mouth stretched into a grudging grin.
"Okay, America. Almost anything."
"And I'd like to remind everybody, at this point, that Wolverine will not be using the claws on living things. No one will be inflicting lethal damage; and we're going to be very, very careful about how much force we use." Wolverine made a rude noise, and Steve turned to glare at him. "Anyone who can't abide by that rule is going to have to leave the team, understood?"
"We understand," said Storm. "The X-Men operate under similar rules."
"Good. That's one of the things we'll be training for. Giant Girl, this will likely be something you'll have to work on; your changing size and strength levels mean you'll have to pay close attention; you don't want to hurt someone by accident."
"Will do, Captain!"
"In fact, if everyone's feeling up to it, why don't we go out back and get some practise in? Just some basic stuff."
"Yes!" Jan jumped to her feet. "Let's start now. Can we?"
Tony had to help Steve upstairs after the practise session, but they were both grinning like fools. He set Steve down on the bed, and crouched to pull off his boot.
"Ow." Steve wiggled his toes. "Just a strain. Can you bandage it? Top drawer."
Tony fetched a bandage, and began wrapping it. With Steve's healing factor, it would be fine by the next day.
"I think it's going well. Storm's a real team player, and that's good." He pointed a finger at Tony. "The rest of you need to work on that."
"I'm a team player," Tony said indignantly, and Steve chuckled.
"Sure you are, Iron Man." He knocked his shield gently against the armour. "We need you to be a team player with the whole team, not just me. You totally trusted Giant Girl to catch me, right?"
"Well, she hasn't had much practice," said Tony, glad the helmet hid his blush. Dammit, she'd almost dropped him.
"And she won't unless you let her practise."
"Can't she practise on Wolverine? We can't have you laid up with a broken leg." He tied off the bandage and stood up.
"It's important to show trust in your team. And we can't just use Wolverine as a punching bag."
"Did you know his whole skeleton is coated in adamantium?" said Tony. What he could do with that much adamantium. The upgrades he could make on the suit! "Seriously, he's probably worth more in spare parts than my armour is." It was like the team assembled glorious metal artifacts just to taunt him. He eyed Steve's shield enviously.
"Don't go selling him on the black market, now." Steve wiggled his toes again, and then started to work his sock back on. Tony turned away to put the first aid kit back in the drawer, and caught a glimpse of a stray photo peeking out from the folder on the dresser. He tilted his head, trying to make it out, and then put his hand to it, sure that it couldn't be what it looked like. Steve shot to his feet and made a lunge as Tony reached for it, and in the collision papers went everywhere. "Sorry." Tony crouched down to gather them up.
"Don't!" said Steve in a surprisingly panicky voice, and Tony did a double-take at the papers in his hand.
"Oh, my." He opened his hand and let them fall. "Sorry, Cap, I - what, you just keep this stuff lying out?"
"No, I was going to - I need to take them to SHIELD, I was going to take them today, but I stayed over at the Tower," he blurted, scrabbling them together. "I, you know, they answer most of my mail, I wrote some templates for them and I go by every week and sign them - but I keep some of the letters to answer myself - "
"Oh, these were ladies you planned to take on dates?" Steve scowled at him. "Hey, not judging, I - " He stopped, and then put out a hand and rested a metal fingertip on a photograph. "Well," he said, and then couldn't think of anything to say.
Steve froze, and then looked up at Tony, jaw setting like he was expecting a fight.
"Is this going to be a problem?" he said, and Tony shook his head.
"No, I - " he tried to drag his thoughts together, to say something that wasn't nonsense. "You're adapting fast, you know. Dating guys already?"
"I'm not dating guys." Steve plucked the picture up and glanced at it. "I just thought - he looked nice. He sounded nice. I thought I might... I hadn't - I hadn't gotten round to it. And I'm kind of hoping to not need any new dates for a while, so I guess it's moot."
"Right." Tony stared at him, the flushed skin. Steve was - that meant, maybe, when Tony was back to normal -
"You have a problem with this." Steve put up his chin and glared, and Tony threw up his hands.
"No, no. I - I was just - " Steve liked guys. How was there any reasonable response to that? "I was just thinking I should warn you, the tabloids can be quite - they like outing celebrities."
"Outing?" said Steve blankly.
"Exposing their sexuality."
"If I date a guy, I'm not going to keep it a secret." He stood up, leaving Tony with visions of terrifying headlines dancing before his eyes. There was surely no way Steve could successfully sneak that one by the tabloids, could he? Steve shut the drawer on the folder, and turned away. "Can we - "
"Steve," Tony interrupted, and Steve gave him a surprised look; Iron Man rarely addressed him by name. Tony stood up, and put one gauntlet gently on his shoulder. "Please believe me; it doesn't matter a bit to me."
"Okay," Steve ducked his head and then looked up with a sheepish grin. "Thanks, Shellhead."
"Sure." Tony tried to think of something supportive to say that wasn't seriously, that's awesome, in fact you should date me. Nothing sprang to mind. "Oh, uh, Ms Stark said she wanted to see you."
"What about?" Steve looked hopeful.
"She said she'd have made something up by the time I got you there," he said, and Steve grinned.
"Oh, yeah. I'll - yeah. Let me change." Tony wandered to the window and gazed out, as if he hadn't already seen Steve naked.
"Iron Man," Steve began tentatively, and Tony shook his head.
"I am under strict orders not to let you talk me into ditching the team to hang around Ms Stark more."
"I wasn't - " Silence for a moment, and then he sighed. "Okay. Please be careful of her? I know the team matters, but - "
"I do take my job seriously, Cap," he said, trying to sound distant, and Steve sighed.
"I know, I'm sorry, I just - they almost got away with her, if I hadn't been with Jan when Pepper called - "
"It's fine," he said curtly.
Steve skulked out next morning under Pepper's disapproving eye. As soon as the door shut behind him, Tony darted back into his office, now depressingly dim with the broken windows covered with plywood. Apparently the glass had to be special ordered. Pepper followed him, ignoring his cry of "Busy!"
"It's really not fair to him," she said, and Tony shook his head.
"You weren't going to - "
"Just a fling. He loves the future because of all the sex. Who knew Cap was a slut? Not me."
"He's sending you flowers - "
"He's an old-fashioned slut. Always seducing and discarding women. Like Errol Flynn, or something." She didn't look at all convinced, and she did have a point, but what was he supposed to do? Best he just stay quiet and wait for Steve to move on.
"That man is head over heels for you, Morgan."
"Not listening!" Tony put his hands over his ears. A Post-it note appeared before his eyes. Reed Richards called. "Damn. Did he say what for?" After a second, he took his hands away from his ears, and Pepper made a tutting noise.
"He says to stop by when you can."
Rhodey insisted on driving him over and walking him to the door, and refused to leave until he'd extracted a promise that Tony would call to be collected. What Rhodey thought he'd do against Doctor Doom was left politely unquestioned. Still, it was someone to carry the dog LMD he'd brought with him. He picked it apart while Reed ran tests, which today involved having a variety of wires stuck to his scalp while Reed put his chin in his hand and gazed at what appeared to be a lava lamp but was apparently a three-dimensional gauge.
"I heard Morgan Stark was in town," Reed said idly, as colours bloomed and died in the glass cylinder.
"Yeah." Tony removed a large section of meat and hair, and dumped it in the biowaste bin, which already contained a selection of neon purple tentacles. LMDs were gross. "I've put that about as a cover."
"Oh, it's you?" Reed.sounded mildly surprised. "How odd."
"What?" Tony pulled his goggles away from his face to give Reed a stern look.
"Well, you're in the paper kissing Captain America," said Reed thoughtfully. "And I thought Morgan Stark was a man." He spared Tony a glance, as if checking Tony hadn't sneakily altered his form again.
"It's complicated." Tony let his goggles snap back, and Reed nodded understandingly and returned to his lava lamp. Reed was really very restful company, when he wasn't shredding the space-time continuum.
"All right. Were you almost kidnapped? By Doom?"
"I don't know, was I?" Tony held up a circuit board and examined it. Generic tech, probably bought at Circuit City or something.
"I'm sure that was one of Doom's older-model ships," Reed said. "He went through a period of using odd-shaped aerilons on his tiltrotors, I don't know why. And it makes sense that he's doing something to follow this up."
"Hm. Do you know what 'this' is yet?"
"Possibly." Reed smiled, dreamily. "I have a hypothesis, anyway. If we assume that all universes spring from the same quantum nonlocality, then all Tony Starks have a resonance with all other Tony Starks, and in a sense every Tony Stark that ever existed in any universe is enfolded into you, and the way you interact with the universe is how your body manifests. If the... frequency, angle, wavelength at which your body interacts with the universe is altered, then a different Tony Stark will be the result."
"What if all universes don't spring from the same quantum nonlocality?" Tony said, and grinned as Reed opened and shut his mouth.
"I'm kidding. So can you fix it?" The dog's ribcage was hinged; a good blow to the spine from the blunt end of the screwdriver and the whole torso split in half. He should have borrowed an apron, he was fake blood from collarbones to groin.
"Well, I'm not sure if Doom's ray worked how he wanted it to. I can't think of any reason Doom would turn you into a woman. He might have been trying to kill you. Or perhaps he thought your personality would change too; he might have been trying to turn you into an evil Tony Stark."
"Would evil Tony Stark have a goatee?" said Tony absently, rummaging in the dog's skull. Nothing but sensor arrays, unsurprisingly. Evil Tony Stark might ally with Doom, of course. Or maybe he thought Tony would turn into someone friendly and unassuming, who liked Doom. Or a Tony Stark without the arc reactor, who'd never learned to build them, and so couldn't be Iron Man.
"What?" Reed actually turned to his computer, as if to rustle up a goatee/evil algorithm.
"Never mind. So how does this work?"
"Well, I don't know yet," Reed said seriously. "That's what I've figured out from studying your particles. I'm still unclear about how the ray works, and whether it's calibrated for a specific result. I thought maybe when you're done with your robot, and I'm done with my tests, we could take the big robot apart for clues." He smiled, as if offering a treat, and Tony forced himself to smile back.
"Right. So nothing yet." A little more time with Steve, but damn, he missed his body. He wanted to pee standing up again. And the constant lying - even for him, so practised in lying - was getting stressful.
"It'll be a while yet." Reed patted him on the arm. "But I'll fix it. I promise, Tony."
He must look bad, if even Reed was noticing. Tony sighed, and picked up the forceps.
When Tony finally got home, loaded with new data, he took another long look at himself in the mirror, and wondered who else might have come down the pike from the quantum nonlocality. Would Doom really have just thrown the dice at random?
The robots were Doom's, which was no surprise; they'd been able to match some of the components to some in the big robot, which was as close to proof as they were going to get. The question of why Doom was attempting to kidnap him remained unanswered, as did the question of what he'd try next. Stark Tower was crawling with security guards, and Pepper was armed with an earpiece and three panic buttons.
Still, he had other things to worry about right now; the dart that had taken out his armour, for instance. He dug a set of miniature screwdrivers out of a drawer, and set about dissecting it on the coffee table. The work made it easier to forget his body; the hands were as assured as his own, and the main difficulty was that when he hunched down over the table, his boobs ended up squishing on tiny components. He lost a microchip for several minutes before finding it clinging stubbornly to the underside of his right breast.
Some indeterminate but fascinating time later, he heard the sound of Steve's voice. Which was something of a surprise, as it had only been about six hours, but never mind. More of Steve was nothing to complain about.
"Come in!" he yelled, and bounced to his feet as Steve entered.
Steve shut the door behind him, and Tony wrapped his arms around his neck and kissed him.
"Hey, you," Tony said after a long moment. "What are you doing here?"
"I needed to talk to you." Steve was all serious frown and set jaw, and Tony planted another kiss on the corner of his mouth, because Steve's serious face was sort of adorable.
"Really talk, or the kind of talk where you bend me over the desk?" Tony batted his eyelashes, and Steve's eyes flicked to the desk and back, clearly tempted.
"Really talk." It really was serious, then. Tony sighed and stepped back, and Steve scowled. "I met Morgan Stark today."
"Morgan Stark. He stopped by the Mansion to introduce himself. Jarvis tried to get rid of him, but I was just on my way out."
"Ah." This was not good. This was very bad. "What did he want?"
"To borrow money. Never mind that. Morgan Stark is a man, and he's definitely not you. And it was pretty awkward, actually, because he'd heard on the news I was dating Morgan Stark and. Well. Awkward. I think he might have been trying to blackmail me." Steve rubbed at the back of his neck, cheeks flushing. If Morgan had hit on Steve, Tony was going to scratch his eyes out.
"Ah," said Tony again, searching for a better response. Damn Morgan, damn damn damn. "Well." No point in denying it; he was lucky Steve had gone this long without finding out. Steve's lack of interest in gossip columns was a blessing, really. He wiped his sweaty palms on his jeans and tried to think of a way out that wouldn't involve Steve hating him. Or at least, not the real him. Who was he, who was he...
"So who are you? Jarvis went all English Butler on me, but he wouldn't have covered for a stranger. Pepper knows you and trusts you. You're allowed in Mr Stark's office at will, and you're allowed to run things when he's not here, and you know the Iron Man armour - " Steve tilted his head, narrowed his eyes, and Tony saw an escape route and leapt for it.
"I'm Iron Man," he said. Oh shit he thought.
"You - " Steve's mouth dropped open. "What did we talk about yesterday?"
"How I'm not allowed to sell Logan for parts, and I have to let Jan drop you on your head for team-building purposes." This was - okay, this wasn't so bad. But now instead of Morgan just vanishing, she'd have to stay Iron Man, and their professional relationship - he'd worry about that later. "I didn't tell you the truth because, well, I have a secret identity, I've worked so hard to evade notice by anyone."
"You - " Steve stared at him. "What's your real name?" and Tony figured he might as well go all out.
"Tony," he said. "Short for Antonia. I'm, I am a cousin. But a more distant one. You can email Tony and ask, if you want."
"No, I - I guess that makes sense." Steve's frown had eased, and now a beatific smile was spreading over his face. "That's - really good." He slipped his arm around Tony's waist. "You're - no wonder I felt such a connection with you. You're already my best friend." He kissed Tony, and suddenly Tony realised the extent of the lie to which he'd just committed himself, but he pushed it away and concentrated on Steve's mouth. Then Steve pulled back.
"You - oh, you've been cheating," Steve said. "Asking me things - "
"Sorry. I didn't think it would matter, I figured... well, you date a lot of women, I didn't think it would be an issue, I thought it wouldn't last..." He looked down, feeling his cheeks heat.
"Morgan - Tony." He put his hands up to cup Tony's face. "I like you, okay? An awful lot. I know we've only been seeing each other a little while, but - well, I guess I've known you for a lot longer, and well, I..." He kissed Tony again, softly. "I care about you a lot," he said against the tender spot at the corner of Tony's mouth, and Tony scrunched his eyes shut and kissed him, trying not to think about it. "Tony," Steve murmured again, and he groaned, because it was his name, and that was -
"So about the desk," Steve said, and Tony smiled.
Afterwards, they curled up on the couch, and then Tony got up to lock the door in case Pepper wanted something.
"Not that it would be the first time she walked in on - uh, never mind," he said, settling back into Steve's arms, and Steve laughed.
"It would be the first time she walked in on me, and I'd rather avoid it, thanks."
"Oh, well. I remember once, one of my girlfriends - " he choked off the remark too late, and Steve's hand hesitated on his hip before resuming stroking. Tony peeked up at him. "So, I have girlfriends sometimes. I should maybe have mentioned that too?"
"Well, I. Um, it's not really my business, I guess?"
"You don't mind?" Tony said, relaxing. Not that he'd really expected Steve to, but - the Forties, after all.
"No, no. In fact, I. Uh." Steve seemed to be losing himself in a morass of monosyllables; Tony grinned at him.
"Like the idea?" hesaid softly, and Steve frowned before his eyes widened and he went pink.
"No, I - I mean -" his blush deepened, and Tony laughed. "Now I think of it like that, it is appealing," he said with a primness impressive for a naked, sticky man. "I just, I don't mind, at all. That sort of thing." Tony remembered the picture he'd seen; and now he could ask questions.
"No, of course not. You like guys, right?"
"Oh yeah. Iron Man," and Steve gave him a slightly exasperated look. "I. I, uh. Well, I've not had boyfriends."
"But you like guys," Tony said insistently. If Steve liked guys, he might like Tony - if his taste in men was at all similar to his taste in women, he had to like Tony.
Of course, it was entirely possible he wouldn't feel comfortable dating his ex-girlfriend's cousin. Which meant he'd blown his chance to have Steve while in his real body.
He'd worry about that later.
"I guess," Steve said uncertainly. "Sometimes. There was a guy, during the war... I only knew him a week or so, but I was so in love, I swear, my hands shook when I talked to him. That was the first time - I mean, I like women, there was a girl later, she was - I told you about her. I thought I was going to find her after the War, marry her. I was so - it's easy to fall in love, during a war. I guess at the time, with him, I didn't - I thought it was just - a fluke. Of some kind. But I've wondered, since I got here."
"Yeah?" Tony slipped his hand into Steve's hair, and Steve kissed the inside of his wrist. "But you never did anything."
"I mean, I couldn't then, I had to set an example - " he frowned. "It was illegal then. I couldn't."
"Sure." Tony smoothed his frown line away, and he sighed, lips curving upwards. He still looked a little sad.
"I suppose," Steve's eyes fluttered shut, and he kissed Tony's wrist again, slow, touching his tongue to the hollow under the thumb where the pulse was strong. "I suppose I would have been a better example if I had, and told them where to go, right? Being a hero, and all."
"You can't do everything," said Tony softly, trying not to picture Steve all young and wide-eyed, in love with... another soldier? A civilian?
"Maybe I should have done more." He opened his eyes, and smiled. "But I'm hoping to not be looking for new dates for a while." He leaned in to nuzzle at Tony's ear, ticklish breath making him squirm. "Have I told you how crazy I am about you?" he said quietly. "Seriously, I - I admire your bravery and intelligence so much, I love your sense of humour, and you're so beautiful - "
"Stop now," Tony said, and Steve lifted his head and then laughed, probably at the blush Tony could feel burning his skin. "Kiss me instead."
"Yes, ma'am," and he covered Tony's mouth with his.
"You told him what?" said Pepper in a strangled shriek, and Tony cringed, and then sat up straight and tried to look authoritative. He owned a Fortune 500 company and was one of the greatest minds on the planet, damn it. He didn't have to be scared of his personal assistant. Rhodey's personal assistant. Maybe he could threaten to fire Rhodey if he didn't keep his personal assistant in line? Maybe not. Rhodey was also looking at him incredulously.
"I didn't mean to." Tony tried a soothing tone, but it just made Pepper's glare intensify. "It kind of... slipped out."
"Of course it did," Pepper said wearily, and collapsed into a chair. "You accidentally went on a date, you accidentally went to bed with him, and now you've accidentally claimed to be your own bodyguard and his team mate."
"Sometimes things just happen," said Tony vaguely. It did sound a bit bad, put like that. He was just a victim of events, dammit.
"Tony, this is so bad." She raked a hand through her hair, disarranging it, a definite sign of upset. "What's Iron Man going to say?"
"Yeah, Tony, what is Iron Man going to say?" echoed Rhodey incredulously, and Tony glared at him
"He'll be fine with it."
"And when you change back and Steve is trying to work out why his girlfriend - " Pepper said in doom-laden tones.
"I'll tell him I've fired her and hired a new Iron Man," Tony snapped. "That she was a, a supervillain, or something." That would work; then she wouldn't have really been his cousin, and after an appropriate time Tony could ask Steve out -
"You're going to - " Pepper covered her mouth and scrunched her eyes shut. "That's awful," she said from between gritted teeth.
"No it's - " he looked at Rhodey, who shook his head. "It's awful, isn't it?" Rhodey nodded. "Okay, I won't do that, stop hating me Pepper." She slitted her eyes open and gave him a poisonous look. "I'll come up with something, okay? Something not-awful."
She turned and stalked out. Tony sighed and shook his head.
"Women," he said to Rhodey, who rolled his eyes.
"She likes Cap. I like Cap. Everyone likes Cap. Even villains like Cap."
"He once caught a shoplifter because the guy wanted his autograph," said Tony with a touch of pride. "He's pretty amazing, right?"
"You don't get points for boasting about your awesome boyfriend when you're planning to ditch him and grow a dick." Rhodey folded his arms, and looked at him disapprovingly. "The only thing you will get for hurting Captain America is universal disdain, and maybe Pepper will delete your calendar and leave you to figure it out."
"It's not my fault!"
"It is all, totally, your fault," said Rhodey. He didn't look like he was joking.
Tony's phone rang. He looked at the display; Jan. He would have answered the phone to AIM to leave this conversation, really.
"Hi, Morgan! I hope I'm not interrupting anything. Only, there's a problem, and Storm and Wolverine have gone out to lunch, and - "
"Well... it's Bruce, you see - "
Tony was making for the door when Pepper ambushed him.
"Iron Man," she said briskly, stalking across the floor. "Are you sure you'll be able to keep Cap fooled?"
"Oh, sure." He reached for the door handle, and Pepper put her hand on the door. Tony stuck his tongue out at her behind the faceplate. "He's a professional; and I'll just tell him it helps protect my identity, that I go off duty and then come back as someone else."
"Don't you think," Pepper lowered her head and frowned, and Tony felt a twinge of worry. Pepper rarely showed doubt. "You and Captain America are good friends."
"We're teammates," said Tony cautiously, and she snorted.
"Sure. You're friends - or at least, Cap is your friend. How - " She touched his armoured arm. "I'm worried about him," she said, and blinked her big green eyes up at him. Pepper so rarely showed concern without a veneer of irritation, it was easy to forget how soft-hearted she was. Tony let go of the door handle, and put a hand on her shoulder.
"It'll be fine." He swallowed round the lump in his throat. "Really. He's not so into Tony as all that, you know." I'm crazy about you he'd said - but he'd also said he could fall in love in a week, so who knew what kind of crushes and infatuation Cap fell in and out of.
"I think - I think he is," said Pepper, twisting her hands together. "He's - well, I promised him I wouldn't gossip, but I know he's getting very attached to her. I mean him. Don't tell him, but - he really is."
Tony desperately, desperately, wanted to gossip.
"He's never really dated anyone," she went on. "Tony's his first - proper girlfriend, God, that sounds so stupid, but all he's had is a wartime romance and a string of first dates. This is going to hurt him. Can't you - can't you talk to Tony?"
"I can't talk to Mr Stark about his private life," he said as remotely as he could, and Pepper made a furious little noise, like an angry cat, and pushed her face up close to the his; it was an effort to stay still, hold his blank faceplate steady.
"He's your friend," she said. "He's your friend, and you're going to let Tony hurt him?"
"Cap'll lose interest. You're right, he's never really dated before, and he's all excited and this is new. Once the shine wears off, he'll probably be glad to be rid of Mr Stark. He may be an eligible bachelor, but somehow I don't think Mr Stark's got the qualities Cap looks for in a long-term lover."
"Okay," said Tony, hovering at Jan's shoulder. "We're going to need to be very careful."
"Right." Jan put her hands on her hips and looked down at the zoo, laid out empty and silent beneath them.
"He's very dangerous."
"He's incredibly strong, but he's not very fast, and he's fierce - "
"He's petting a horse."
"I found him, he's petting a horse." She pointed.
"A horse," Tony repeated, staring down the line of her finger. The Hulk was, indeed, standing in a grassy enclosure which appeared to be a petting zoo. Bunnies were hopping around his feet, and he was gently patting a large brown horse, which didn't seem at all afraid of him. "Okay, he doesn't seem violent right now. Do you want to try talking to him?"
"Sure." Jan stepped over the row of trees next to them, skirted the snake house, and approached the paddock. Tony swooped down and landed to approach the fence as Jan put her feet down with great care, rabbits hopping away from her. "Um, hello?" she said, and Hulk scowled up at her. The horse was calm under the big green hands.
"What giant lady want?" Hulk said forbiddingly.
"I, um. I wanted to - pet the horse?" she tried, and Hulk visibly brightened.
"Horse is Hulk's friend." He stroked its mane down. "Horse doesn't shout at Hulk. Giant lady is too big to pet, though. She will frighten horse."
Jan shrank to normal girl-size, and Hulk nodded approval, apparently unconcerned by size-changing women. She stroked the horse's nose, and it whiffled at her hair. Hulk smiled, revealing big white slabs of teeth.
"Horse like giant lady," and then he caught sight of Tony standing at the fence and frowned terribly. "Hulk crush Tin Man." He bunched a fist, and waved it at Tony.
"No, no." Jan put her hand on his shoulder. "Tin - um, Iron Man is my friend. And he likes horses, too! Don't you?"
"Love them," said Tony. "Beautiful creatures. Very, um... ergonomic."
"Tin Man attack Hulk," Hulk insisted. "Hulk smash." The horse tossed its head and Jan tried to pat it and Hulk back to calmness.
"He's not, look. He's just standing there. You're making the horse upset, Hulk." She assumed an exaggerated sad face, and Hulk ducked his head and shuffled his feet.
"Hulk is sorry." He patted the horse again, and it nudged him with its nose. He looked back at Tony through narrowed eyes. "Tin Man not fight Hulk?"
"Not at all," said Tony. "We'd like to be Hulk's friends."
Hulk scrunched up his face and continued to pet the horse.
"Hulk would like more friends," he said finally. "People run away from Hulk, and shout at him, and hit him."
"Why don't you come to tea with us?" Jan smiled at him, and held out her hand. "Back at the Tower."
"The Tower?" Tony pictured the damage Hulk could do to all the ridiculously expensive equipment in the Tower, and all the employees he'd terrify.
"Yes, because it's so nice and close!" Jan continued, making an apologetic face at him. "Do you remember the Tower, Hulk?" Hulk frowned. It wasn't really clear how much Hulk remembered about Banner's life, although apparently Banner could recall most of what Hulk did. "Anyway, you can come and meet Morgan Stark, and Captain America, and we can eat. I'm kind of hungry, aren't you?"
"Hulk could eat," conceded Hulk, and let Jan take his hand, or place her hand in his huge palm, and lead him towards the fence. Jan started to climb the fence, and Hulk wrapped his big hand around her waist. She let out a squeak; Tony tensed. "Hulk help," said Hulk, and hopped the fence neatly, holding her steady. Then he looked suspiciously at Tony. "Giant lady sure?" She patted his hand, looking a little nervous.
"Of course, Hulk. It'll be fine. Put me down?"
"Yeah, bub," came a voice from above, and as Hulk looked about in bewilderment, Tony looked up to see Wolverine dangling from Storm's arm. "Put her down, or it's the worse for you."
"No no no," Tony waved his hands frantically, but Wolverine was already dropping out of the sky, gleaming claws extended. Jan shrieked; Hulk jumped.
There was a wet crunching sound as Wolverine hit the ground. He'd heal, though; Tony looked around wildly for Hulk, who had vanished.
"They're over by the monkey house." Storm rose higher on a swirl of wind. "Should I - "
"No! Is Ja - Giant Girl all right?"
"She seems fine." That was lucky. Getting their new recruit squashed by another new recruit would have been very bad press. Now, if they could just coax Hulk out without further disaster -
"I'm going to slice him up," said Wolverine dizzily, scrambling to his feet. He grabbed Tony's arm for balance, and almost tipped them both over with his weight.
"Wolverine, you idiot, he's on our team. Sort of." Tony pushed him back onto his feet, and held him in place until his eyes focused.
"He's kidnapped the girl."
"No, he - he was helping - never mind. Stay there a minute." Tony jetted up next to Storm, wobbling in the winds keeping her aloft. Hulk was wandering down one of the broad paths, carrying Giant Girl, who was patting his shoulder and talking animatedly. She looked up, and waved at them. "Okay, she's - " he looked down. "Oh, God, where'd Wolverine go?"
There was a nasty crunching sound from the Hulk's direction, and Wolverine flew past them. He landed in one of the enclosures, sending up a puff of reddish dirt.
"Ah - who is that green person?" said Storm.
"He's called the Hulk. He's - okay, it's complicated, but he's on our side, or he's supposed to be. If we stop attacking him. Is Wolverine going to be all right?"
"He'll be fine." It was hard to tell, with her opaque white eyes, but he thought she was embarrassed. "I'm sorry about this, we stopped by the Tower and were told you were here, and when we got here - "
"This is a mess." Tony glance back and forth. "We have to get the Hulk out of here without destroying anything - "
"If you fetch Wolverine, I will go to the Hulk."
"Great. Try and keep him calm; he was quite friendly to Giant Girl."
"Of course." She gusted down towards them, and Tony dived after Wolverine, coming to a stop above him. He was lying in a large dark patch Tony could only assume was blood, but he was already sitting up, rubbing his head. Those were impressive healing powers. If only all his attacks didn't seem to involve getting seriously injured, he'd be very useful...
"Get out of there, Wolverine, you're disturbing the animals." Two sandy kangaroos were regarding him with their dead black eyes. Like sharks.
"Where'd he go? I'll get him." He started to stand up, and groaned as his leg gave way.
"No 'getting' him," said Tony, and Wolverine bared his teeth and scrambled up again. "You can stay in there, then. No, I didn't mean it, get out of there before a leopard chokes on you or something."
"Fine." He stumbled off towards the high fence. Tony landed on the other side, and tapped one metal boot pointedly. Then it occurred to him that Wolverine must weigh far too much to climb the fence without damaging it, and he was going to have to airlift him over the fence.
"Excuse me?" said a strange voice, and he turned to see several men dressed in overalls. "Is it safe yet?"
"Uh, not - quite." Zoo staff, presumably. "Hey, do you have keys? Can you let him out?"
"Oh, sure," said the guy. He dug in his pocket, and pulled out a handful of junk. "Uh - hold this for a moment." Tony took a mobile phone, a Snickers, and some keys and waited as the guy ticked through his keys.
"Okay?" said the guy.
"What?" Tony heard a clicking noise from his palm. He looked down, and the small black keyring flashed a red LED at him. "What - "
Electricity sparked, and Tony closed his fist; the armour gave a warning beep and then settled back into the smooth low hum of power.
"So when I find out about a way to shut down the armour, a work-around's a pretty high priority," he said in conversational tones, and the other guy made a face.
"That was yesterday."
"So?" Tony lifted his hand, turning the palm towards them. "We going to do this?"
"I think we are," and the guy smiled at him. Then his smile widened, widened too far, flesh peeling back from raw pink gums and yellowed fangs like something out of a horror movie, and Tony took a fast step back. "Our Master demands your presence, and we obey." He lunged, and Tony fired the repulsor and launched into the air as it went tumbling back. There was a sound like chattering teeth magnified a thousandfold, and he glanced back to see five creatures like great fleshy bats in pursuit.
He tumbled, and fired the repulsors, and the one he hit lurched and screeched and caught its wing on another and turned on it, hissing; they plummeted, clawing at each other, and Tony gunned his boot jets to gain height away from the other three.
The screeching was deafening; Tony could hear the animals of the zoo panicking, roaring and howling. He could lead them away, but -
Something yanked at his ankle, and he cursed and kicked out at the creature, which sent him into a spin. He cut the power entirely, and fell onto it; it clawed at his armour as they dropped, leaving gouges but not breaking through, and Tony punched it as hard as he could in the jaw. Its head snapped back, teeth clicking together, and its grip loosed enough for Tony to twist free and fire the boot jets directly into its gut, sending it down into - into the polar bear enclosure, he thought.
Two more, and two became one when Giant Girl grabbed hold of one, and brought it up close to her face.
"What are - " she began, and then squeaked and threw it away, a blob of blood the size of a basketball flying after it. "It bit me!" she said. "What are they?"
"I don't know!" It looped round and came after Tony again, and he dived down toward the earth, fast, pulling up and away at the last second; it hit the ground, sending up a spray of gravel. Giant Girl put her foot on it, and there was a sound like a muffled firework; she lifted her foot to reveal a scorched circle.
"Are they magic?"
"Must be." Tony looked about. "Where's the - "
"Ack!" Giant Girl slapped at the air as another one of them dived in towards her face. "Ow, get it - " she grabbed at the air, but it was too agile.
"Shrink!" called Tony, and she shrank; it followed her down, and she ran towards Tony, who was lining up his repulsors when the world lurched and spun and he hit something squishy with crunching force. There was scorching smell, and an explosion.
"Uh," he said, and flailed out a hand. He was lying on his stomach in the middle of a scorch mark. "Storm, was that - "
"It was the Hulk." said Jan, running to his side to offer him a hand up. He waved it away; at normal size, he'd just yank her over. "He threw you at the thing. Are there more of them?"
"Hulk does not like the giant birds." Hulk scanned the sky suspiciously.
"There's - I don't know. There were five. That was two - "
"One exploded when a polar bear bit it," said Storm, appearing with a handful of ice cream cones. Hulk made a happy noise and took them from her. "What are those beasts, Iron Man?"
"I don't know," said Tony. "I - "
"There." Jan pointed upwards. The last two circled overhead, looking down at them. Storm frowned, and raised a hand, and there was a sudden feeling of heaviness in the air; the two monsters hissed down at them and then popped out of existence like soap bubbles.
"Did you do that?" said Tony, and she shook her head.
"They must have decided the odds were against them."
"Yeah. Well." Tony stared up at the empty sky. Doom was a sorceror, he knew that, but somehow, sending weird sorcerous things after him didn't seem fair.
"Where's Wolverine?" Jan asked.
"Last seen in the kangaroo cage." And hopefully he hadn't killed anything endangered. "Let's walk."
Hulk permitted himself to be led back down the path, and Tony grinned as he heard a familiar voice.
"I was absolutely clear about the no clawing living creatures rule, Logan. Don't even try to - "
"It was just a koala," snapped Wolverine.
"And koalas are alive. And will remain so, do I make myself clear?"
"Did Wolverine kill a koala?" said Jan in horror, and Cap looked up and smiled.
"No. It seemed to be winning when I - "
"I was just gonna - "
"No, you weren't, Logan, because - "
"Hulk smash hairy man?" Hulk took a step towards him, and Jan and Storm grabbed his arms.
"No, no," Jan said. "He's a friend."
"Logan is our ally, Hulk."
Hulk made a face that may have meant doubt, or maybe disgust.
"Hulk hungry," he announced.
"Then let us return to the Tower." Storm tugged gently, and he shambled off down the path between her and Jan, Wolverine trailing in their wake. Steve let out an exasperated breath, and then smiled at Tony.
"What happened?" They fell into step together, out of earshot of the others. "I saw you on the news - "
"Some kind of weird demon infestation." Tony shrugged at Steve's raised eyebrow. "Maybe not a demon; I'm not an expert. We took care of it. Hulk helped."
"I thought you came here after Hulk?"
"We did. But he was just here for the petting zoo. But I think we can give the impression Hulk came here to fight the demony-things in a heroic fashion." Steve looked doubtful.
"That's not entirely - "
"It's not like he was doing any harm, and he did smash - I mean, destroy one of them. I'm sure the zoo management will feel better knowing they evacuated the zoo for demons, and not just a man who wanted to hold a bunny."
"I suppose so." They exited the zoo; ahead of them, Storm was talking earnestly to a policeman, gesturing towards the sky. Hulk stood placid behind her, Jan's hand in his. "So why would demons - "
"Okay, well. Do you have to go back to work?" Steve said, and Tony shook his head. "After we finish here, and get the Hulk settled, I'd like to spend some time with you, uh - "
"Debriefing?" said Tony blandly, and Steve grinned.
"Something like that," he said.
Hulk liked the Tower, and Tony's office; he pulled down the plywood over the windows and peered over the balcony, and crammed himself into the bathroom to flush the toilet a few times. They finally got him settled down with a large stack of cookies, and milk, and Jan telling a story, and then Steve made unsubtle faces at Tony until he muttered an excuse and made for the door.
He should probably have gone to the workshop to take off his armour, but Steve knew now, it didn't matter, and Steve just grinned when he came into the bedroom to find him struggling out of the armour, grinned and kissed him, and Tony grabbed Steve's head with his gauntleted hands and kissed back, hard.
"Oh," Steve sounded surprised. "Oh." And his hands skimmed down over the shoulder plates, over the thin undershirt, tracing round the arc reactor. "Iron Man," he said softly, and then laughed. "This is strange."
"But you like it." Steve's short shivery breaths, his dark eyes were very clear on the subject, and when Tony rubbed the metal back of the gauntlet over the front of Steve's pants, he let out a high-pitched gasp. Tony fumbled with the zipper and got his hand inside, and Steve squeaked and pulled away.
"Cold," he said, and Tony laughed, and pushed his hands up under the red-and-white leather, spreading them over Steve's belly as he twitched and grumbled.
"Warm them up for me." Steve wrinkled his nose.
"You aren't going to take the armour off?"
"You do it, baby," and he batted his eyelashes extravagantly to make Steve laugh. Steve's hands fumbled over the catches and locks, the intricate fitting around his hips joints and groin, and Tony dragged his fingers downwards again, making Steve squirm. This time, when he closed his metal fingers around Steve, he didn't pull away, he pressed closer and breathed hard against Tony's neck.
Tony stroked him carefully, listening to his breaths get louder, more ragged, and finally Steve undid the last catch and eased the hip plates free. Tony obliging lifted a leg so Steve could peel it away without pinching any delicate areas, and Steve let it drop to the floor before grabbing Tony's ass and lifting him off his feet.
"Whoa," said Tony, letting go of Steve's dick to grab on to his shoulders, and Steve carried him to the bed and tumbled them both down. The bed creaked under their weight, but held. Tony went in for a kiss but Steve pulled away, hands going to his pants.
"Let me just take -"
"No you don't," Tony said, grabbing his hands and pulling him back. "You leave it on." And Steve giggled at him, and okay, this was pretty funny, especially when Steve gave up trying to ease Tony's panties down over the armour and just tore them free; Tony almost cackled with glee.
"I'll buy you new ones," Steve promised, scrabbling in the nightstand for a condom, and then he fitted himself against Tony and slid inside, and the scale scraping against his gauntlets, leather rubbing against the the inside of his thighs above the leg plates, he'd dreamed of having Steve, Cap, like this. He dragged off one of the gauntlets and threw it aside, ran his hand over the smooth blue leather and urged him closer until their lips brushed with every thrust, Steve's half-shut eyes gazing down into his.
"Tony," he muttered roughly. "Oh, god, Tony, yes - " he caught himself on his elbow, keeping most of his weight up, and pressed his face into Tony's hair. "I love you," he mumbled, and Tony stilled.
"Uh," was all he could manage, and Steve nuzzled into his throat.
"It's okay," he murmured. "I know it's soon. Don't mind it. I just do."
"No, I - " Tony choked to a stop. He was going to turn back. He was going to. "Okay then," he said, and felt Steve smile against his throat, like that was any kind of reasonable response.
He almost ignored the soft chime of his cellphone, but Steve lifted his head sleepily and peered towards the noise, and Tony decided answering might be quicker than discussing not answering it.
"It's Richards," came over the phone, almost drowned out by the hum of machinery. "I need you to come here; there's a molecular instability that could lead to catastrophic deconstruction. I was a fool not to see it before; my incompetence and overconfidence - "
"Don't beat yourself up, Reed." Tony muffled a yawn. "Catastropic deconstruction?" That sounded pretty bad. Was he going to blow up? Maybe it had been a delayed action explosive ray, and Doom was just waiting for him to blow up. Tony swung his legs out of the bed, and groped on the floor for his jeans. A arm snuck round his waist, and Steve nuzzled into his side.
"Very serious," said Reed, and Tony made a noise of distracted agreement, trying to wriggle out of Steve's grip without waking him up all the way. "Come to me."
"I am at one of my secondary laboratories - " he was drowned out by a crunching noise; Tony could just make out the address.
"On my way," he said, and tossed the phone down and peeled Steve's arm off.
"Mm?" Steve tried again to gather him back into the bed.
"Gotta - do a thing," Tony tried to push him away, but he was grabby. "Go back to sleep. Science calls."
"You want me to - "
"No, no. Stay put." He pushed Steve firmly back down onto the bed, and kissed him, and watched his eyes drop shut. "Go back to sleep, I - I won't be long." Unless he came back a guy. Or catastrophically deconstructed. Steve nuzzled into his neck.
"Mmm," Steve said, and managed to get a solid grip on Tony's butt while Tony was distracted by the nuzzling. "Who was that?"
"Just Reed," Tony said, and kissed him again. "Science stuff. I should - "
Steve's grip tightened just enough to indicate that he wasn't going anywhere very soon.
Crawling out of a nice comfy bed with his own personal super-soldier was never a great idea, but flying over the city almost made up for it. He'd have to take Steve flying at night sometime; maybe on the Fourth of July, and they could watch the fireworks from the sky. Assuming he and Steve were still speaking by the Fourth, that was. He pushed the thought away, and dived down towards the warehouse.
Brightly lit, well maintained, it could be any one of a thousand warehouses. Tony was pretty sure he owned some of his own down here. This one had a little plaque by the main door that read Richards, and a little buzzer. Tony pushed the buzzer. It crackled at him.
"It's Tony," he said. "Reed?"
"Good evening, Mr Stark," said an unfamiliar voice; a certain metallic tinge to it, a robot maybe, or distortion from the intercom. "Dr Richards is in the centre of the building, by the large tank." The lock clicked, and Tony put his hand to the door.
The stink of sulphur assailed him, and he wrinkled his nose. Cavernous and filled with boxes, lit with not enough flourescent lights. He padded in further, slowly; saw the spindly shadow that had to be Reed, and followed it.
"Huh." Some kind of robot, with telescopic arms; some strange machinery behind it. "Reed? Where are you?" He heard a muffled voice, and stepped towards it.
Nothing there, just another passageway of grumbling engines.
The smell of sulphur was making him light-headed. He should adjust on the air filters in the helmet. He should - he staggered slightly. He should really -
Tony woke up to itchy eyes and a sore throat; for a sleepy moment, he thought he'd fallen asleep on a business trip, but then he realised his arms were tied above his head; that wasn't totally unheard of on his private jet, but this was not his jet. The interior was darker than the sleek bright lines Tony favoured, the shapes not graceful but blocky and utilitarian. He looked around, suspiciously, and then down at himself. He was in his underwear, panties and tank top, which was never a good sign, and the armoured figure uncurling from the pilot's seat was a very bad sign indeed.
"Doom," he said. "What - let me go." He struggled against the shackles on his wrists - there was already a faint ache building in his shoulders, so he'd been there a while - and Doom stared down at him. Tony pulled up his knees to his chest, and glared. Kicking Doom in the groin wasn't likely to help, but you never knew. Armouring the groin was a delicate balance between mobility and protection, and Doom wore a tunic over his armour, which Tony had long suspected was to hide torso armour inferior to the Iron Man.
Doom turned aside, and took a folded piece of cloth from a cabinet. Tony eyed it suspiciously, but it seemed to be nothing more than a blanket, which Doom placed over Tony's lap, tucking it into the lap-belt, armoured hands avoiding contact with Tony.
"How did you get me out of the warehouse?" he blurted.
"There is a tunnel." Tony groaned. Of course Doom had tunnels. "I regret the necessity of your state of dress," Doom continued. "Given your ingenuity, I believed it wise to remove any possible tools from your person. This will have to suffice until we reach Latveria."
"Latveria?" Tony turned his head, peering about him. This plane was certainly big enough to cross the Atlantic, and to get them all the way to Eastern Europe without stopping to refuel. The sky he could see through the windscreen looked like early-morning light, and he'd been at the warehouse not long after one in the morning, so either he'd been out quite a few hours, or they'd flown across enough timezones to meet the dawn. Neither option seemed good. The only humans in evidence were himself, and Doom, and maybe the co-pilot, but squinting over his shoulder, he could see robots standing at attention in their racks. Maybe thirty; and thirty of Doom's personal entourage robots would be a real struggle even in his armour.
Doom had to have brought the armour. He wouldn't have been able to resist snooping through Tony's latest innovations. But where was it?
"You will enjoy Latveria," Doom assured him, and Tony tried to twist his head further. Was that the briefcase with his armour in, tucked onto a shelf? Possibly. He breathed out a sigh of relief, and turned his attention back to Doom, who was still rambling on. "It is a beautiful and prosperous country, and you will have the best of it. Everything will be of the finest; you will have servants and jewels and - "
"Can I just ask," said Tony, wondering what Doom expected him to do with jewels.
"Yes?" Tony turned back and looked up at him. It was hard to read expression through the iron mask, but Doom's blue-green eyes were not narrowed or widened, and there was no sign of a frown. He was gazing down with every sign of courteous attention.
"Why did you turn me into a woman?"
"To be my Queen," said Doom, in a 'duh' tone. "It is more fitting you be a woman; and of course, in time I will require an heir." Tony stared at him, waiting for him to say something that would make the situation less bizarre, but Doom was apparently done.
"You. I. You what?" Tony's voice wavered and died away. An heir? Was that empty ache in his gut fear, or his uterus attempting to shrivel up and die?
"My Queen," and Doom's voice had an edge of impatience. "You are to wed me, and be Queen of Latveria."
He didn't seem to be joking.
"One of us," said Tony, with deep conviction, "Has gone insane."
"You are eminently suitable, now you are a woman." Doom spoke as if nothing out of the ordinary was occurring, as if he regularly gave people forcible sex changes and married them. Maybe he did. Maybe he was a Bluebeard. Tony tried to stop the lurid progression of his thoughts. "You are lovely enough to wear a crown; I had my doubts, but you are entirely fitting. Once I had been assured of your beauty - and that the transformation was stable - I ordered you brought to me. I should have expected that I would need to attend to the matter personally." His eyes narrowed in a frown. "You just can't get the staff these days," he muttered to himself.
"I," Tony stopped. "I - Doom, I'm not marrying you."
"You may call me Victor." He thought Doom was smiling at him. "I have already had rooms prepared for you in the castle, as fine as can be managed with the necessary security concerns. In time, you may have more freedom, but for now you must be confined." He fiddled with the wrist joint of his gauntlet, and pulled it free; there was a black glove under it, silky against Tony's skin when it cupped his chin.
"This is the most skeeved out I have ever been," said Tony firmly, and Doom's fingers trailed up his cheek.
"You have beautiful hair," Doom murmured. "And very striking eyes. Yes, you will be very suitable. With your will, your genius to stand with mine, Latveria - "
"No," Tony snarled, and Doom's eyes narrowed. "I'm not going to marry you. I'm not even going to stay a woman, I'm getting changed back."
"You cannot change back." Doom folded his arms and glared. The mask gave good glare, Tony had to admit, but he'd seen worse.
"Yes I - "
"The change is irreversible." He spoke with calm certainly, and Tony's stomach swooped. "Your previous body does not exist anymore; it has been overwritten, like data on a drive."
"What - no," said Tony. "That doesn't - " he choked off but Reed said, because bringing up Reed was never a good tactic with Doom.
"It took me a long time to identify a universe close enough to have a Tony Stark so similar," he tapped a gloved forefinger on the arc reactor, "And yet so different." The finger touched Tony's lower lip, and he jerked his head away, and then took a half-hearted snap at it. It wasn't like biting Doom's finger was going to help, but appearances had to be maintained.
"You don't - "
"Your own body was replaced with the information from this one, destroying it," Doom said insistently. "The only way to alter it is to copy another body on to it."
"So I could - " he tried again, but Doom's voice drowned out his breathless protest. He felt dizzy, like he was about to faint, which he wasn't going to do because he wasn't a girl.
"Even if there is another Anthony Edward Stark out there, one close enough to you to be mistaken for you, it will take years, decades to find him in the infinity of the multiverse. No, you will remain a woman, and for a woman, what greater honour than to be Doom's bride?"
The plane shook and jolted; for a second, Tony thought that Giant Girl had come to the rescue again, but no, they had to be out over the ocean by now, many miles from Jan. He shut his eyes, and tried to work out what would happen when they realised he'd been kidnapped again.
Was he really going to stay a woman forever?
The plane dropped, hard, and then listed alarmingly. Tony blinked his eyes open. Doom grabbed the back of his chair to maintain his balance, and turned his head towards the co-pilot.
"Are you experiencing difficulties?" The co-pilot - apparently a human - cast an alarmed look back.
"I - forgive me, your Highness, there is a storm blowing up."
"Clear skies were predicted," said Doom flatly, and Tony felt a stirring of hope. Could Storm have ridden out here on the winds? Although what she could do by herself... He turned his hands, and explored the manacles as Doom took over the controls of the plane. Without tools, of course, he was largely helpless.
He saw a flicker of lightning through the windscreen, and Doom hissed, metal-clad hands clacking on the controls. Tony began to count as he probed at the lock. It felt like a standard enough lock, nothing fancy, but he needed a tool, a pin, something.
Six seconds, and there was a growl of thunder. Tony looked up, to the anchor point; the chain ran through a metal loop riveted to the roof of the plane. Nothing there.
The plane was heaving, now, like a restless horse. Manageable, with a decent pilot, and Doom was an excellent pilot. There was a faint rattling noise; it took him a moment to realise it was rain. It was getting dark inside the plane, only the coloured lights of the dashboard providing illumination.
He craned his neck to peer at the floor. There had to be something...
There was nothing.
The plane lurched, and then dropped sickeningly; the co-pilot made a choked sound, and Doom barked an order in a language Tony thought was Hungarian.
The angle of the plane changed; they were losing altitude. Was that deliberate? No harm in asking.
"What's happening?" he called, and Doom half-turned his head.
"The weather is forcing us down. There is no cause for concern."
"Right." On the ground was an improvement on in the air, and stopped was better than moving towards Latveria. "We are over land, right?"
"Yes," said Doom, some irritation shading into his voice. "We will land, and wait out the storm."
"Wonderful." Tony tugged at the shackles. Nothing yielded.
The winds lulled as they landed; surely, it had to be Storm. Maybe they'd borrowed the Fantasti-jet. Maybe -
"What's that?" The co-pilot was pointing out the window. Doom stood up, and leaned forward to look.
"Something is on the hull." He turned to look at Tony, who glared back. "Hm."
There was a thump on the hull, towards the rear, and then another thump over Tony's head.
"Multiple somethings," said Tony breezily. "Maybe it's rabbits."
"Silence." Doom stared at him, as if he suspecting Tony of causing the noises. Tony smiled at him.
"That's no way to charm a lady." Doom stalked past him to the door. "Hey, can you unchain me? My arms are getting sore."
"No," said Doom, and spoke in Hungarian - presumably to the robots, as they stood in clanking unison. "I will deal with this, Stark, and then we will resume our journey. Do not think of this as an opportunity to escape."
He opened the door, and the robots marched out; by the crackling sounds that followed, there was definitely something out there. A forceshield shimmered into place around Doom's body, and he followed them out.
There was silence for a minute. Tony cleared his throat to attract the co-pilot's attention.
"So... let me go?" he said hopefully, and the co-pilot looked at him as if he was insane. Tony couldn't really blame him. "Right."
There was a loud noise outside, as if something very heavy had hit the earth.
"HULK SMASH!" came a familiar voice, and Tony grinned at the co-pilot, who looked puzzled. One day, people were going to learn to fear those words. For now, he just had to hope Doom didn't have an anti-gamma ray about his person.
There were sounds of rending metal, and Hulk bellowing, and the crackle of lightning; and he could hear Jan's voice shriek "Ew, what is that?" and the high whine of energy bolts that would burn through flesh and bone.
In fact, he could smell charred flesh, and he was going to assume for his peace of mind that it was Wolverine.
There was the sound of someone impacting solidly with the floor; a familiar shining shape decked the co-pilot, and Tony sighed with relief as the shield bounced back past him.
"Tony," said an urgent voice, and Steve's mouth grazed his cheekbone for a second before he was tugging at the manacles, eyes narrowed.
"Pin, wire, something," Tony ordered, and Steve glanced around wildly. After long seconds, he lunged and grabbed the pilot's headset, and snapped and twisted before putting a thin strip of metal into Tony's hands. "Now get my armour! The briefcase - " He worked at the shackles, and by the time he had them unlocked, the briefcase was on the chair next to him and Steve was sitting in the pilot's seat, flicking switches.
"It's locked, or something," Steve said, and Tony grabbed the mini tool kit he kept in the briefcase and dived for the front of the console.
"What are we doing exactly?" He levered the front panel off, and Steve grinned down at him.
"Doom's after you, right? If he sees you're escaping - "
"Good call," Tony assessed the interior of the console. "All right, get rid of the co-pilot, and close the door, I got this."
There was a muffled thud, and then Steve settled back into the chair. Tony wired and clipped and sat back on his heels.
"Try it now," and under Steve's hands the plane lurched into the air. "Uh, can you actually fly one of these?"
"I am flying one of these." Tony scrambled to his feet to take over the controls, which meant sitting down in Steve's lap.
The sky lightened as they rose; Storm's work, presumably.
"Nice plane," Tony remarked as they levelled out, and Steve squeezed him.
"Not as fast as the Quinjet," he said, and put his face close to Tony's. They were flying clear, now, and Tony was just about to kiss him when his words sank in.
"You came here in the Quinjet? It's not finished!"
"What else were we supposed to do? How did Doom even get you out of that warehouse? We waited for almost half an hour before realising something was wrong."
Really, it was lucky that Steve's hearing was good enough to identify Reed's voice over the phone, although they should probably have a talk about eavesdropping on private telephone calls at some point. As cunning ambushes went, though, they'd failed almost totally.
"Tunnels." Steve groaned. "I know! Textbook evil dictator stuff. Lucky he brought the armour along."
"I was afraid you'd be out of range before we could follow you." Steve pulled Tony's head down for a kiss. Tony patted him reassuringly.
"The tracking device is good for a long way, and anyway, you knew where he was headed. Glad he didn't get to Latverian airspace, though."
"If you hadn't said you could cope fine," Steve began severely, and Tony made a rude noise.
"Because all of us bursting in would have made so much sense. He would've just sat on his diplomatic immunity and - "
"So did you actually get any useful information?" Steve interrupted, and Tony hesitated.
"Uh." Steve looked up at him expectantly. "Well, not - anything useful."
"Right." Steve's eyes narrowed.
"Have I thanked you yet?" said Tony hastily. "Thank you, Steve," and they kissed, slow, only to be interrupted by a soft beep from the sensors. "The Quinjet's on our tail. Uh, can you reach my helmet?" He settled it over his head, and Steve smothered a laugh; no doubt he looked quite silly with just the helmet on. Tony ignored him, and turned on the voice modifer. "Quinjet one, do you copy?"
"Hello?" said a male voice. "No, I got it!"
"Hi!" said a female voice, Jan, and Tony grinned. "Is that you, Iron Man?"
"I said I got it," said the male voice indignantly. "Do you copy, Doom's plane?"
"I copy. Who's flying? And who's that?"
"Storm is," said Jan. "She says we've got the fuel to make it back if the winds are favourable."
"And will the winds be favourable?" Tony asked, checking the fuel gauge of whatever this plane was called. Probably something grandiose like Invincible or Irredeemable or maybe Irritable. Enough fuel to make it back.
"I think I can make arrangements," came Storm's voice.
"Let me," said the male voice again. "Doom and his robots all broke off after you and we just all got back in the Quinjet and flew off, so he's stuck there in... wherever that was. Over!"
"Who is that?" Tony said.
"It's Spider-Man. Captain America said I could come."
"Hulk want to talk to the little voice."
"Doom's plane out," said Tony hastily, and threw his helmet onto the co-pilot seat. "Where'd you get Spider-Man from?"
"You lurk round warehouses in New York long enough, you're going to get either Daredevil or Spider-Man turning up," said Steve. "I figured he'd be useful." He slid his hand up Tony's thigh, and Tony wriggled.
"I am flying a high-performance aircraft here, mister." It probably wasn't safe to do anything while he was actually flying the plane. Inducting Steve into the mile-high club would have to wait.
"You do it very well." Steve brushed a light kiss over his cheek. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," said Tony. "Want a flying lesson? You'll have to sit on my lap, though."
There was, just, room enough for both planes in the grounds; the Quinjet out back, and Doom's plane (which had Irrevocable painted along the tail) parked on the front lawn. They assembled in the sitting room for breakfast; Jarvis served them bacon sandwiches and coffee, with a side of snide remarks about the state of the lawn.
"We were so worried!" Jan took his gauntleted hand and squeezed it. "When the Captain telephoned to say you'd been kidnapped we just all rushed over."
"Rhodey gave us the jet," Steve said. He wasn't eating, possibly out of sympathy for Tony, who was trapped behind his faceplate with only the smell of bacon and coffee to sustain him. "He said it was finished enough, Tony was just futzing over the interiors."
"Interiors my ass, you're lucky you didn't try to fly it through major turbulence, and the landing gear - well, never mind, you're still alive. It's a good little jet, really, I'll - uh, I'll put some pressure on Mr Stark to finish it up. When he gets back, from Shanghai." Interiors were important, dammit, no one would take them seriously if they didn't look the part.
"I can't believe we have our own jet," said Spider-Man happily. For some reason, he'd taken his sandwich and retreated to the ceiling. "That is so cool. Our own jet!"
"So you're on board now, huh?" Tony tipped back his head to examine the webbing all over the ceiling. Was this how living with Spider-Man was going to be? Jarvis wasn't going to like it.
"Spider-Man did a great job." Steve smiled up at him. "You too, Giant Girl."
"Yeah?" Spider-Man bounced on the end of his webline. "Did you see me with the webs and the feet?"
"I did. That was smart thinking."
"Hulk helped too," mumbled Hulk around about half a pig.
"Hulk was very useful," Steve said. "Thank you, Hulk."
"I found the webs acted as an insulator," said Storm. "It was very convenient, to have my lightning contained so - much less risky."
"Your timing was excellent, Storm - I'd like for us to get more practice in working together, though, it took us a while to co-ordinate. That's the kind of thing working together can result in." Steve beamed at them, and Wolverine made a rude noise.
"So is Doctor Doom behind all these kidnappings? First he tries to kidnap Ms Stark, then Jan, and now you, Iron Man." Storm arched her eyebrows at him, and Tony shrugged.
"But - " Steve started, and then shut his mouth and shook his head when Storm raised her eyebrows. "Nothing."
"Well, I doubt we've got two crazed kidnappers after the team," said Tony lightly.
"Got any theories as to why?" Steve was looking troubled, and Tony shrugged.
"Hard to say. Mr Stark has some history with Doom. I'll drop him an email, see what he has to say. Could be Doom's just trying to stop a new superteam forming."
"Could be." Steve bit his lip and looked away, then looked back with a smile. "Anyway, I think we did well. I think we can do better; but that'll come with time and planning. We should assemble for a more thorough debriefing and analysis... tomorrow morning?"
"Sounds good," said Logan. "I need a drink."
"Okay," said Spider-Man breathlessly. "Look, I - I'm going to trust you guys, okay? We're going to be a team. I want to be part of the team. I'm - " he hesitated, and then put his hands up, and pulled his mask off, revealing brown hair and brown eyes and worried but hopeful expression. "My name's Peter. I have some real vicious enemies, so please, please don't tell anyone, but - I trust you guys. I know you'll take care."
"Oh, Spi - Peter," said Jan, and she grew to ten feet tall and threw her arms around him. "That's so sweet."
"I'm glad you felt like you could tell us, Peter," said Cap warmly. "We're a team; and that means if anyone comes after you, or the people around you, we'll be here to help."
There was a pause, and then it seemed like everyone turned and looked at Tony. He took a step back.
"I - " he could take his helmet off right now. He could be Antonia Stark. What was one more secret identity? Steve was looking at him calm and kind, and Steve would - He squeezed his eyes shut, and blamed female hormones for the prickling behind his eyelids. "I have to go," he blurted, and took two steps and blasted out the open window, risky and stupid, and he gouged the frame on his way out.
Rhodey and Steve between them seemed to have kept his kidnapping secret from Pepper; she just gave him a fierce look of exasperation when he wandered in, and that could have been for anything.
He sat at his desk for a while, and then sent her an email, and started counting. He was on twenty-seven when she burst through the door.
"Are you serious?" she said, sounding like she wasn't sure whether to be angry or upset.
"I don't know." Something in his tone stopped her in her tracks. She stared at him, and then sat down in the chair in front of his desk.
"You want to stay a woman?" she said uncertainly.
"I just want to know my options. Legally. How it would work. If Reed can't change me back." Tony rubbed at the back of his neck. He kept trying to picture himself living life as a woman, managing the company, building the armour, teasing Rhodey, kissing Steve, and whenever he pictured himself he saw the broad shoulders and the beard and his real body. Would he get used to it, if he lived in it long enough? Get accustomed to his breasts, the way he'd gotten accustomed to the arc reactor?
He hadn't quite gotten accustomed to the arc reactor. Sometimes, the sight of it still made him catch his breath. But that was just because it was associated with a traumatic experience, not because it was an alien growth on his body that he didn't ask for and didn't want.
It wasn't even like he disliked the body. Given the chance, he'd happily put on a girl body for fun. It was really pretty darn awesome. But he wanted to keep it just about as much as he wanted to spend his whole life at some vacation resort. It wasn't real life. It wasn't home.
"Well, I." Pepper was looking at him with sympathy in her big green eyes; for the first time since this started, she didn't look angry with him. He must look like hell. "Would you - want to stay a woman?"
"I don't see I'd have much choice," he snapped, and Pepper shook her head.
"People have sex changes, Tony, without the aid of advanced physics. You're already legally a man, and while we'd have to talk to lawyers, the fact you've been living as a man all your life, and only became a woman due to a freak accident, should speed up a lot of the proceedings in getting you," she waved her hands vaguely, and settled for "Well, you know."
"So just... multiple surgeries to look forward to," said Tony.
"If you want your body changed, yes. Some. I don't know much about the procedures; I can look into it for you."
"I suppose so."
"If you want to keep living as a woman, it's more complex. We'll have to prove you're really Anthony Edward Stark - Reed's testimony will help, right? - and then you'll have to live as a woman for a while, I suppose, and then we can make the legal changes. Stark Industries' non-discrimination policy covers gender identity issues, so I know HR will have some stuff on - that kind of thing. I can have a look at it."
"You make it sound easy." He picked at an imaginary scratch on his gleaming desk, and Pepper frowned at him.
"You're in a pretty unique position. You've been trapped in a strange body by a lab accident; no one's going to be quite sure how to react. And being a billionaire helps. With pretty much everything."
"And sex reassignment procedures aren't easy."
"I really don't want surgery," said Tony quietly, and he put a hand up to feel the shape of the arc reactor under his shirt. Recalled lying on the table under all those lights while his chest lay open. "Pepper, I want - I want my dick back. I want my face back."
"Tony." She got up and came round the desk and crouched down beside the chair and put her arms around him. He leaned over and hid his face in her neck. "I'm sorry."
"It's all right for a change," he said in a wobbly voice he was going to blame on hormones again, "But I can't live like this."
"I'm sorry," she said again, and Tony realised, miserably, he might have to live like this.
Steve stopped by after dinner. Tony had been tempted not to open the door; but he knew Steve would be worried, and putting him off would only make him more worried. It wasn't like they had to talk. Steve put up only a token protest before submitting to being dragged into the bedroom, where he let Tony ride him, muttering soft encouragement as Tony writhed and panted and whimpered.
Afterwards, he straddled Steve again, sat on his hips and stared down at him. Steve looked back, eyelids drooping slightly, smiling. Lovely, lovable, wonderful Steve. Almost a fair consolation prize for being trapped in the wrong body.
"Do you ever feel - like you don't belong?" said Tony abruptly, and Steve raised his eyebrows.
"Well, yeah." He grinned, and Tony laughed, awkwardly.
"Not - I mean - in your own skin, like - the Super Soldier Serum. You changed, right? Your body." He laid his palm on Steve's belly, feeling the firm curves of muscle, and Steve made a soft noise of pleasure.
"Yeah. I mean - a couple of inches taller, my shoulders got broader - that really hurt, I remember that best, I thought my neck was breaking - and more... flesh, everywhere. I was skinny before, could never put on muscle, always sick. Even my face looked different. Not really different, but..."
"How did it feel?"
"Well, it hurt - "
"I mean afterwards. How did you feel. About being different. It was strange, right?" He watched the puzzlement flicker over Steve's face, as he tried to decipher Tony's meaning.
"Yeah, it was. Every time I looked in the mirror - looking for something familiar. It took me a while to get used to it, to realise it was me."
"But it is you," he said, and Steve frowned.
"You never wanted your old body back?" He dropped his eyes to his hands, the slim scarred hands resting on Steve's hard muscles.
"It was what I wanted. It was going to get me what I wanted." Steve shrugged. "I put up a fight to get the chance for this, and it was - I don't really talk about it much, but it hurt. I thought I was dying... I didn't find out until afterwards that other people had died. It was... a terrible gamble. Unethical, they'd call the experiments. But I wanted it. I didn't look back... not then."
"Later?" Tony said, and Steve shrugged again.
"Later - of all the things I lost, one skinny, unhealthy body was pretty low on the list. I miss the days when I was a kid, an art student - I don't miss being sick all the time." He drummed his fingers idly on Tony's thighs, and then shook his head. "No, I don't think I've ever regretted the body."
Tony sighed, and settled himself down, fitting himself into the curve of Steve's body, tasting soft salty skin against his mouth, trying to think of something other than the way his breasts squished almost uncomfortably against Steve's side.
"Tony? You were in your armour when Jan was kidnapped."
"Yes?" Tony tensed.
"Jan's a tall, pretty girl with dark hair, like you."
"I look nothing like Jan." A useless protest. Steve had clearly gotten a clue.
"No, but I don't think robots are great at likenesses. Iron Man, Morgan, Jan - it's you they're after. Doom knows you're Iron Man, doesn't he?" Tony could lie some more, of course, but Steve was unlikely to believe him.
"Uh - yeah."
"And Jan was a mistake?"
"I think so."
"And that time at the zoo - "
Steve sat up, pulling Tony with him, and he took Tony's chin and looked him in the eye.
"Doom is trying to kidnap you, and he almost managed it last night." Steve's steady gaze was hard to meet; Tony looked away. "I'm telling you what I'd tell any member of the team, when a supervillain is stalking you, you take proper precautions." He leaned into Tony's line of sight, determined, and Tony considered just shutting his eyes. No, that would be childish. "You're not just endangering yourself; the rest of us have to come after you."
"Low blow." It was fair, though, if Jan had been taken instead - who knew what Doom would have done with the wrong captive. "All right, all right. I'll arrange extra security, okay?" Not that they'd been the slightest use so far, and by Steve's frown, he was thinking the same thing.
"Do you know why Doom's after you?"
"I'm - " he shrugged. "It's hard to tell why Doom does the things he does. I've emailed Tony."
Steve stared at him, and he stared back, raising his chin.
"You know why," said Steve. "Why are you lying to me?"
"I'm - " Tony looked away, and considered. "Okay. He wants me to be Queen of Latveria."
"He wants - he wants to marry you?"
"But you're my girlfriend!" Steve's face was a picture; Tony choked back a laugh.
"Well, apparently Doom doesn't respect the Guy Code when, you know, kidnapping brides." No, it was too much; he started to giggle, at the sheer absurdity of the situation, at Steve indignant face.
"But - "
"Oh, quit making that face." Tony grinned up at him, and his mouth twitched, unwillingly. "At least it means I'm not in danger of my life, or anything."
"Doom said the information of my body was overwritten," he said, and Reed looked up from his computer.
"Hi, Tony. Well, kind of." Reed was very hard to surprise, possibly because he had so few expectations. "If Doom picked your new form deliberately, he must have made a huge investment of time and resources to find a suitable universe. I'm hoping to be able to cut that down, to scan universes for suitable bodies - a substitute for sex reassignment surgery is the obvious one, but it could also replace reconstructive surgery for those who've been injured - "
"Reed." Tony was not in the mood to listen to ramble. "If the data's been overwritten, how do you plan on changing it back?"
"Well, overwritten is too simplistic a term. I think - " he paused. "Oh!" he said, and turned to the computer. "Oh," he said, after a few minutes of tapping away. "Oh, I see."
"Poor Victor," said Reed. "You know, he really is a genius, but he's so blinkered sometimes. He gets an idea in his head and sticks to it."
"Well, they way it's constructed - I found a lot of anomalies in the design of the robot's ray that I couldn't resolve. Victor thought he was importing the body - as if he were downloaded the information from the other universe, and wiping the information already here."
"But he wasn't?"
"No. That's entirely the wrong way of looking at it; reality stores data holographically. In a distributed form. All the Tony Starks that ever existed resonate with you, and are encoded in your existence. In fact, all of reality is encoded in every atom of your being - but the closer they are to you, the... well, the closer they are to you. The... angle the universe meets you at determines the manifestation of your form from the infinite forms encoded in you. So Doom's ray readjusted you, so the universe hits you at a different angle, so this form manifested. We just need to shift your angle back, and I've been trying to determine the correct angle. Which was quite tricky," and a frown creased his brow, "This is a little explored field of physics, you know."
"But you can do it."
"Oh yes," said Reed, and beamed at him. Tony stared at him; his smiled dimmed. "What?"
"When can you do it? How long?"
"Well, I was trying to work out the purpose of all those other calibrations, but now I realise they're unnecessary, we just need the main - "
"How long, Reed?"
"It's done," Reed said simply. "I can change you back whenever you like. Now, if you want?"
"You - " It took Tony a moment to understand. "You can?"
"Sure. Just stand - "
"No," he blurted, and Reed raised his eyebrows. "I have - appointments. For this body. Identity. I can't just vanish. Give me a - a few days."
"No problem." Reed turned back to his computer. "I'll be working with the machine for a while - it's really quite brilliant, I should write to Victor - so just let me know when you're ready."
"Fuck, Tony, no one has problems like you," said Rhodey.
"Yeah," he let his head flop down onto the desk. "Shit, Rhodey, I make an awesome girl. I should just stay this way, right?"
"You are not staying a girl, man. You can't do it." There was a pause. "Can you?"
"I... don't know. I could, for a while." The knowledge that he could turn back anytime he liked made the whole thing much less terrible. And the knowledge of what Tony Stark, man, did not have - it wasn't like he'd trade his dick to date Steve. But if he could get it back anytime...
"Can't keep secrets forever." There was a pause. "Okay, that's your disbelieving silence. Why are you disbelieving my totally accurate statement?"
"Because you never believe there's stuff you can't do," said Rhodey promptly. "Hell, you think you can keep Pepper in the dark about - "
"Oh, shut up. Look, I - " he paused, and pushed his face harder against the desk, smushing his nose sideways.
"What?" said Rhodey, softer. Good old Rhodey. What would Tony do without him? If Rhodey had ever been into guys, Tony would have snapped him up and settled down and just nursed a tiny wistful crush on Captain America and this whole mess wouldn't have happened. It was totally Rhodey's fault, and Tony was going to tell him that.
"Steve's not going to stay interested in me forever," he mumbled instead. "I figure, when he starts losing interest, I'll cut him loose, and turn back into a guy."
"Yeah, Captain America, known for his fickle ways." Rhodey said acerbically, and put his big warm hand over the nape of Tony's neck.
"He's slept with more women this year than I ever have." Rhodey tutted.
"Yeah, but you sleeping with a lot of people doesn't mean you're not that into him, does it? I'm just saying, seems like the man knows what he wants. Even if he does lose interest, I doubt it'll be fast."
"I'll screw it up," he said, and Rhodey kicked his chair.
"You'll do something dumb, sure, and then you'll fight, and then you'll convince yourself everything is ruined forever and turn back and then when Cap goes looking for his girlfriend to make up - " Rhodey paused. "I don't even know, man."
"Well, you want me to turn back into a guy now. How's that going to be better?" The hand at his neck squeezed gently.
"I think maybe you owe him the truth," said Rhodey, and Tony whimpered. "I'm sorry, Tony, but the poor guy's crazy about you."
Steve proved perfectly willing to skip dinner and just be dragged to bed. Tony had every intention of making the absolute most of what might be the last time; he even tied Steve's wrists to the bedposts and took shameless advantage, which had such a shattering effect on him Tony wished he'd tried it a week ago. He shoved aside the little voice that told him he could have it for weeks, now, if he just kept quiet.
"Steve?" said Tony, afterwards, against Steve's shoulder.
"Mm." Steve nuzzled deeper into his hair, and tightened his grip.
"We need to talk."
"Like, seriously." Tony pulled away and sat up. Steve cast an appreciative eye over him, and Tony pulled the sheets up primly. Steve sighed and shut his eyes. He didn't seem in any condition to have a serious conversation, which was probably for the best. "I know - look, I'm really sorry. I am. I just want to be clear that I never meant to hurt you - " Steve's eyes snapped open.
"You - are you breaking up with me?" He sat bolt upright, grabbing for Tony's hand, eyes wide.
"No, no. I don't want to. But you - you don't, this isn't what you - I'm sorry, I never meant - " Steve relaxed a little, but there was still a worried frown on his face. Tony took a deep breath, and tried to assemble a coherent sentence. He should have written this down or something. "This is going to come as a nasty shock, and I don't know how to break it gently - "
"Are you pregnant?" said Steve, and Tony's mouth dropped open.
"God no." Steve looked - disappointed? Jesus. "I'm really a man."
"Er - " Steve's mouth twisted, like he couldn't decide on an expression. "Ah - are you - serious?"
"I mean, obviously not now. But really."
"I - " Steve frowned, and rubbed at his head. There was a long pause. Steve got up, and fetched himself a glass of water, and drank it. Then he sat down in the chair. Then he got up, and sat on the end of the bed at Tony's feet. "I - okay, I - this is a bit of a shock."
"Uh, yeah," said Tony tensely. Any minute now, he was going to realise just who Tony Stark the man had to be, and then -
"You can't - " he stopped. "But - " he got up, and circled the room, and then came back to stand by the bed. "You're... sure? I mean, you've... seen people about it."
"Uh... yeah. Reed's going to fix it," said Tony, suppressing the urge to clench his fists. Are you sure, what a stupid question.
"Reed?" Steve's face showed confusion. "Are you sure - is he really the best - I mean, I'm sure you - " he shuffled his feet, and gestured awkwardly.
"Yes, I'm sure," said Tony tightly.
"Oh, well. I, uh - um." he frowned. "Seriously, Reed? Is he even a medical doctor? Surely you should see a real doctor, and a counsellor, and things."
"A counsellor?" said Tony. That was... a good reaction? If he was worried?
"I mean, what if - I mean, you seem to like - I just think you should talk to actual medical professionals before that kind of - " he waved his hands. "Thing." He looked at Tony, and Tony looked back, trying to translate those remarks into something comprehensible. It took a few moments.
"I - Steve, I don't mean I'm transexual!" Tony pinched the bridge of his nose and gritted his teeth. All right, he should have thought of that, it was more logical than a freaky girling ray.
"Reed's a physicist, not a - " Steve began, and Tony lunged forward and clapped a hand over his mouth.
"I'm Anthony Edward Stark, sponsor of the superhero team. I got turned into a woman by Doom's weird pink ray. Do you understand?" Steve nodded, eyes wide, and Tony took his hand away.
"Tony Stark is Iron Man!" said Steve triumphantly. "I knew it! I - "
"Steve, focus!" Tony said in what wasn't quite a yell. Steve raised a finger and opened his mouth, and then shut it again. Then he frowned.
"I don't - oh." His frown deepened. "But why did Doom turn you into a woman?"
"Because he wanted to marry me, I told you."
"He - what?"
"Apparently he figured I'd be the perfect wife if only I had, you know, girl parts."
"That's insane." Tony nodded. Steve shook his head. "Okay, so - so all this time - so wait, are you going to change back?"
"I - " Tony swallowed. "Steve, I have to. I'm not a woman. This body isn't me."
"You're - " Steve turned, and took a few steps away, folded his arms around himself. "Jesus, Tony."
"I'm sorry," he said in a tiny voice, watching Steve's magnificent shoulders rise and sink on a shuddering breath. Trying to memorize the sleek muscles, the dip of his spine, the curves of his thighs and ass.
"So this was all... what, a holiday romance?" He didn't sound angry. He sounded hurt, and that was much, much worse.
"No, I - well, I - I didn't mean it - you asked me out! And then - I didn't mean to, I just, I'd wanted you for so long."
"You - did?" Steve glanced back over his shoulder, and Tony could only meet his eyes for a second before looking down at his fingers twisting the bedsheets.
"Yeah," he admitted in a small voice. "Pretty much since I met you." Steve had been so alone, stuck in the centre of a base bristling with secrecy, surrounded by awed guards, and Tony had wanted to make it okay for him, give a new place to belong, and all right, plenty of people wanted to give that to Captain America, but Tony had known he could do the best job of it.
And he'd made a typical Tony Stark mess of it.
"I thought we were friends." Steve sounded lost. "Iron Man. Tony. I thought - but all this time - "
"Steve, no, I swear, I thought you were straight and I never expected a chance with you, and I didn't care. Just being your friend - "
"Why didn't you tell me?" said Steve. "Why didn't you just tell me you'd been changed?"
"I couldn't risk my Iron Man identity."
"Because you didn't trust me."
"No, I - no one knows except Rhodey. Not even Pepper. It's not that I don't trust you. And I've told you now."
"You pretty much had to," said Steve bitterly, turning back to him, and Tony shook his head.
"I didn't! I could have just vanished, and come back as Tony Stark and told you I'd hired a new bodyguard, and that the woman you met wasn't any relative - "
"You actually considered that?" said Steve, face flushing. "You would have - "
"No! I couldn't - I didn't want to lie to you anymore." Steve shook his head, and began collecting up his clothes.
"I think you've told more than enough lies," he said softly.
"Steve, I'm sorry. Steve? Please."
"I can't - " Steve darted to the door and closed it behind him. Tony listened, to the rustle of his clothes as he dressed, to his boots on the carpet as he walked down the hall, to the sound of the door to his apartment opening and closing. Then he curled up in a ball and put a pillow over his head.
It was all his own stupid fault, anyway.
Pepper was delighted when he told her he was changing back; they settled on a week, to avoid rescheduling any more meetings. There was no point in raising more suspicions than they had to. Neither she nor Rhodey asked about what had happened with Steve, but the fact he stopped coming round had to be a pretty clear signal.
He didn't go out to the mansion at all; Storm called him daily with reports of their training, and inquired courteously after Iron Man, and he fobbed her off. Simple enough; he was probably still in danger of kidnapping by Doom, so keeping Iron Man around made sense. He spent a lot of time in the workshop, and had a sleeker, shinier, more powerful suit of armour all ready to step into when he changed back.
Doom himself remained silent; his plane stayed on the front lawn of the mansion. Tony had sent a note to the Latverian Embassy, and they had responded with an invitation to a cocktail party, to which he'd RSVP'ed in the negative. He was reckless, but he wasn't stupid.
Every morning, he opened an email, and tried to think of something he could tell Steve that would fix it. Trouble was, there didn't seem to be anything. Maybe he should have gone to that cocktail party. At least a rescue would be something to talk about.
On the last day before his appointment to change back, he finally sent an email. Apologizing. Saying he never intended to hurt Steve. Apologizing again. Offering to leave the team, to find someone else to wear the Iron Man suit - the thought made his fists clench, but if it would make things better - and then apologizing again. He read it over, wincing at the triteness, and then shrugged and sent it. It was the truth, at least.
Then he put everything in order; like he was preparing for a vacation, or something;he cleared away everything, even emptied his drawers of half finished designs. He looked at the clear desk, the empty inbox, and thought about going down to the workshop to tidy up there.
"Hey," said a voice from the door, and Tony looked up. Steve was there, looking awkward. "You're still..."
"Yeah." Tony's mouth was suddenly desert dry. "Got an appointment with Reed tomorrow morning to be blasted with sex-change rays." Steve didn't look angry. Just a little unhappy. He closed the door carefully behind him, and approached to the other side of the desk, where he stared down at the smooth glossy surface.
"I got your email," he said. "I need to apologise," and Tony's mouth dropped open.
"You - "
"I wasn't kind to you, not at all."
"Steve - " Tony swallowed round the lump in his throat. "Steve, after the way I behaved - " he broke off, and put his head in his hands. Steve came round the desk, and leaned against it next to him. Tony didn't look up.
"I was hurt." Steve shuffled his feet. "I, uh, still am. But you know, I didn't have to be so mean to you."
That was, possibly, even worse than Steve yelling at him. He'd been such an asshole to the best person he knew.
"I'm sorry," he said again. "I really am so sorry I hurt you."
You - that - why did you do it?"
"I didn't mean to," he said softly.
"That's not good enough. You did it." Steve's voice was firm. Tony supposed he had a right to whatever explanation he wanted.
"I didn't... it wasn't a plan, or anything. I should have said no, right at the start, I didn't think it would go so far. But it just kept going, and I tried not to think about how it would end. I thought... I thought I'd think of a way to fix it."
"Get out of it without... hurting you, or making you hate me. But there wasn't anything. I'm really sorry. I can't say that enough."
There was a pause. Tony bit down on his lip to stop himself from apologizing again. After a while, Steve sighed.
"I don't hate you. I - I love you, Tony," and Steve's hand touched his shoulder, brushed gently over his hair, and Tony's gut twisted with hope, that somehow he'd be able to salvage something of their friendship from this mess. "I thought - I thought - well, I thought I'd found the woman I was going to marry. I can't - "
"You wanted to marry me?" said Tony, squinting up through the curtain of his hair. Steve was looking down at him, frowning.
"Of course I do. I'd just been waiting to ask you because I thought it might seem a bit weird if I asked you right away. I asked Pepper, and she said definitely not yet. I don't understand modern women, they sleep with you right away but you have to wait months to propose to them." Tone shading into irascible, like he got when talking about vending machines or MTV, and Tony gave him something like a smile. Steve smiled back, small and crooked but a smile, and dug in his pocket. "I bought you a ring - " it was, ridiculously, in a creased and battered little envelope. Steve shook it out on to his palm, and showed it to him. Smooth and gleaming silver, with a small diamond set in.
"You - " Tony put his hand over his mouth. There didn't seem to be words adequate to the situation. Sometimes Steve was just plain weird. "Have you been carrying it around with you?"
"I was hoping the opportunity might come up," he admitted. "I wanted - I want - " he took Tony's hand in his.
"I don't..." he trailed off as Steve slipped the ring onto his finger, where it was a perfect fit. When he ran his thumb over the diamond, there were no rough edges that might catch or slip; and when he looked closer, he could see the metal wasn't silver at all.
"The jeweller said you wouldn't be able to scratch it whatever you did. I thought it would be practical, with you doing so much in the workshop."
Tony looked up at Steve, who was giving him the puppy eyes, like - like he still wanted Tony. "You know I'm changing back."
"Steve, we - I lied to you. I fooled you into sleeping with me."
"You didn't." He said it like he believed it. "I slept with you because I thought you were smart and amazing and gorgeous, and that was true." He crouched down, and turned Tony's chair towards him. "Tony, I - I love you, I do, that's not changing just because you - well, I was mad, but I haven't stopped loving you."
"Steve, I - " He took the ring off, and put it in Steve's palm and closed his fingers over it.
"Oh." Steve bit his lip. "So you won't - want me? When you change back."
"Steve, yes," he said, and Steve brightened. "I, uh, I love you."
"Then - " he offered the ring again, and Tony shook his head.
"Are you just - Steve, you can't just forgive me," Tony said. "I don't deserve it."
"Probably not. But I think I do. I think I totally deserve the person I love, who loves me, even if they are kind of an idiot. And if their being an idiot brought us together, then they should use their famed genius to figure out that they got lucky this time, and never be such an idiot again." He put an arm around Tony, and tugged; Tony leaned into him, his warmth and strength. "I can't stop you beating yourself up, but I don't see why I should be punished. You can make up for it by never lying to me again, how's that?"
"Right," said Tony, and Steve, persistent man that he was, tried to give him the ring again. "No, I - it's not even legal, and I'm not wearing an engagement ring, and - and it won't fit when I turn back."
Steve pouted. It was - it was sweet. Tony leaned in to kiss him, slow and warm, and Steve sighed.
"How does it work, then, if I can't marry you?" he said a with a trace of irritation, and Tony gave a rusty laugh.
"We just... just stay together. Live together, maybe. Get a dog and some tropical fish."
"Oh, well." Steve looked away, and then looked back and smiled. "I suppose I should give up hope of my life being normal, huh?"
"It is normal," said Tony. "It's a totally normal way to live."
"Yeah. Well. As long as it's with you, I like it."
Sue was far friendlier when he appeared with Steve's arm around his waist; she also flirted with Steve in a way that made Tony's eyes narrow. Reed smiled at them benevolently, apparently completely unworried. Lucky bastard. Tony tried to imagine being so sure of being loved that you didn't even care when your loved one flirted with a gorgeous super-powered war hero. It was incomprehensible.
Sue eventually departed, and Tony rubbed his hands together.
"Okay." It was time. He looked at Steve. "You ready, Reed?"
"Yes." He looked at Steve too, and scrunched up his face like Steve was a particularly devilish equation. "You, uh - "
"Come on, Reed." There was no sign of worry on Steve's face; he kissed Tony lightly on the lips and gave him a push towards the empty centre of the room.
He waited an interminable time, while Reed hummed out of tune and calibrated and focused, and then with no warning a pink ray struck him in the chest. He hit the floor, gasping, and in a second there was a big warm hand under his neck, lifting his head.
"Ow," he said, and Steve made a comforting noise, and lifted him to a sitting position. "Hey, my head feels lighter."
"Your hair's short." Steve's thumb rubbed down the back of Tony's neck, warm and reassuring. "How do you feel apart from that?"
"Good."He put a hand down between his legs. "My dick!" he said gleefully. "Oh, how I've missed you."
There was the clicking and humming of various machines as Reed checked him over; Tony was too busy patting his biceps, his goatee, the flat planes of his chest. He held up his hands, and grinned at them. Correct down to the still-healing scratch at the base of his thumb.
Steve's hand was still warm at the back of his neck; he looked up, and Steve looked back at him seriously.
"All good?" he said, and Tony nodded.
"This is it." He gestured down at his body. "You, uh. Okay?"
Steve cupped his jaw, and touched his thumb to the corner of Tony's mouth, smoothing the short hairs there. He urged Tony's chin up, blond brows drawing together, his familiar determined expression usually seen when facing down bad guys, and Tony parted his lips, feeling the flip of nervousness in his belly.
"This is you," Reed announced, and Steve let go and stood up, offering a hand down to Tony, who suppressed a curse and scrambled up.
They walked back to the Tower, Tony almost bouncing, and enjoying being able to bounce without bouncing in any uncomfortable places.
"We'll go in the back," he said. "No one knows I'm back from Shanghai yet, we don't want to blow whatever story Pepper's cooking up." See, he was a considerate man.
"Sure. We should - uh, do you have meetings and things today?"
"Not really. I'm supposed to be just getting back today, so there'll be emails and calls and supposedly catching up with what happened in my absence." Tony put his palm on the sensor for the rear entrance, and Steve crowded him, following right on his heels, the closeness of him making Tony's heart skip. Jesus, this had better work, if Steve walked out on him again - he swallowed the fear as he stepped into the elevator, and Steve stepped up and slipped an arm round his waist and rested his chin on Tony's shoulder.
"You smell a bit different," Steve noted. Leaning back into Steve's arms wasn't quite familiar, he was that bit taller now, but the way Steve nuzzled his neck was. He was considering trying for kiss when the elevator dinged. Maybe later. Definitely later.
Pepper stared as they walked through the door, then stared at Steve's hand still on his waist, and then broke into a wide, happy smile. Rhodey, sitting on Pepper's desk, shook his head.
"I really don't know how you get away with these things." Tony gave him a dizzy grin.
"My astonishing personal charm," he said, and jumped when Steve pinched him firmly in the ribs. "Oh, and I surround myself with wonderful, tolerant people with the patience of saints."
"His real talent isn't engineering," he heard Rhodey confide to Pepper as he dragged Steve into privacy. "It's finding people to put up with his - " the door shut beside them, and Tony turned to Steve.
"So," he said.
"Yeah." Steve curled his hand around Tony's neck and tugged him into an embrace, tucked Tony's head down into the place between neck and shoulder. It was almost the same, except Steve's breath caught when his beard scraped.
Tony kept his eyes shut while Steve breathed against his neck, then nuzzled his jaw, lips dragging softly against the faint stubble he had, and maybe Tony should have found the time to shave nice and close. But Steve didn't hesitate, mouthing over the edge of his beard, and Tony let his head roll enough for Steve to reach his mouth.
Barely there, just the lightest graze of his parted lips. Tony stayed very still. If he spooked Steve - he laid one hand on Steve's shoulder. After a moment, Steve's tongue dabbed at his lips, and Tony's grip tightened, and Steve put his hands on Tony's waist and pulled him closer. Then he pulled away.
"Uh." Tony's heart plummeted. He turned his head back into Steve's neck. I can't do this or maybe I need some time. "This would be easier if, you know, you kissed me back?"
"I was!" he said, looking up, and Steve frowned at him.
"Well, not like you used to," he said. "I don't mind the beard, but it's weird not to have you all... " he waved a hand vaguely.
"Sorry," snapped Tony, too curt, and Steve drew back a little. Tony looked away, and after a moment Steve kissed his neck. Slow, passionate, the swirl and slide of his tongue as intent as if he were kissing Tony's mouth, and Tony could feel his breathing growing ragged as Steve's mouth moved down his neck, over his collarbone. "Sorry," Tony murmured. "I don't - don't want to ruin it all."
"You won't. I'm not going to run away." He lifted his head, and covered Tony's mouth, and Tony grabbed a handful of blond hair and kissed him hard, spread his other hand over the taut muscles of Steve's flank. "Yeah," Steve said, when he broke the kiss. "Tony, yes - "
The intercom sounded. Tony swore, and considered ignoring it; but if Pepper thought it was important enough to interrupt, she'd come through the door next. He stalked to the desk, and hit the button.
"Tony, Doom's at the Mansion," she began, and he swore again.
"I'll get Iron Man on it," and he bolted to the elevator, Steve at his heels.
They flew high, over the clouds, and when they were over the mansion, they drifted slowly downwards through the cool fine mist.
"There," said Steve, quietly. Doom was standing in front of his plane, and they could just make out Spider-Man, flat on the grass. Doom's metal boot was resting on his neck.
"Iron Man, Captain," and Storm swirled out of the cloud. "We think he took up position in the plane during the night; when Spider-Man and Giant Girl went out to... study it - "
"Play with it, you mean," said Tony, and Storm shrugged.
"Doom used some kind of gas. Giant Girl was able to alter her size sufficiently that the gas did not affect her; but Spider-Man was rendered unconscious."
"What does he want?" said Steve, and Tony was not surprised when Storm looked at him apologetically.
"He wants Iron Man to accompany him to Latveria. He intends to take Spider-Man as a hostage to prevent us from attempting a rescue."
"Well, that's easy enough to resolve."
"What if he wants you anyway?" said Steve. Tony gave him a reassuring squeeze.
"No, apparently a man isn't befitting his dignity, or something."
"I don't see why - "
"I don't follow - "
"I'll explain later, Storm. Steve, it'll be fine."
Steve gave a put-upon sigh, but didn't protest as they broke the cloud layer and circled down at a leisurely pace.
"Hulk will smash," Hulk said, and Jan wrapped her big hand round him.
"Don't," she said. "He'll hurt him - "
"And then I'll stab him." Wolverine gestured with his claws; Doom regarded him with disdain.
"I grow tired of playing games." Doom glared around him. "Unless Iron Man - "
"Present," said Tony, and did one more lazy circle just to annoy Doom before he dropped to the grass and set Steve down. He eyed Spider-Man, who was sprawled out on his back, making gulping noises. "Now, how did that happen?"
"Sorry," said Spider-Man in a groggy voice. "I - urk!"
"It is immaterial." Doom eased up on the pressure, and Spider-Man took a whooping breath. "I want - "
"No problem," said Tony cheerfully. "I'll give myself up." Steve twitched beside him, and then subsided. He was obviously dying to have a possessive brawl with Doom, but that would just be too damaging to Tony's dignity. However much it might gratify him to have Captain America fighting the ruler of a small country for his affections.
"You will?" Doom sounded surprised.
"That's what you want, right? I'll come quietly," and Tony took several steps towards him.
"Halt," Doom snapped. "Remove your armour first. No tricks, or I crush his throat."
"Oh, sure." Tony put his hands up, and took off the helmet. "You need me to continue?"
Doom's blank faceplate stared at him.
"What is this?" he said finally, voice a growl.
"You want the full Monty? I'm just being considerate of the ladies here. Of which I am not one. I am willing to show you my dick if it will avoid conflict." He put his hands to the catches at the hip.
"Is this really necessary?" said Spider-Man plaintively from under Doom's foot.
"It... will not be necessary." There was a long pause. "My compliments, Stark. Your resourcefulness, as ever, inspires my... admiration."
"Yeah, well, rein it in," Tony said. He considered, briefly, putting the credit on Reed, where it belonged; but no, Doom's respect was quite gratifying when Doom wasn't trying to marry him. "Let the spider go, and we'll let you leave without trouble. Just to get the damn plane off my lawn."
"Hulk would like to smash," said Hulk, and Giant Girl patted him consolingly.
"Part of being a superhero is learning when not to smash."
Doom paced up the ramp to his plane; Storm floated above, watching him closely, lightning crawling over her hands in a distinctly menacing fashion. Doom turned, and stared up at her, apparently unworried. His armour was probably a Faraday cage anyway.
"Your name is Storm?" he said thoughtfully, eyeing her. "You are the architect of the weather. Do you have any interest in... science?"
"None at all," she said firmly, and Doom sighed.
"Pity," and he turned away.
Unsurprisingly, when the plane left their sight, all eyes turned to Tony.
"So, uh, complicated story," he said, and Jan put her arms around his neck and gave him a smacking kiss on the cheek. "Oh, hello."
"Hi, Tony!" she said, and kissed him again. "It's been years, hasn't it? So have you been Iron Man all along? Why were you pretending to be in Shanghai?"
"Why did Doom lose interest?" Wolverine asked, and Tony grimaced.
"Well, it's complicated," he said again.
"Explain, then." Spider-Man's voice still wheezed a little, but he was back on his feet.
"Well..." he cast a glance at Steve who grinned back at him. No help to be found there. "Doom turned me into a woman because he wanted me to be his Queen."
There was a brief silence.
"So you were Morgan?" Spider-Man shook his head. "I knew there was something weird about that."
"So you're Cap's girlfriend?" Jan said.
"Boyfriend now, obviously." Steve didn't hesitate. "But yes."
"That's cute," said Jan. Logan snorted. "Too bad, though, I liked Morgan. The team needs more girls."
"Find us some to recruit, then," said Tony. "I'll sign the checks."
Tony settled them on the balcony, and opened the doors. Rhodey was sitting at his desk, feet up, talking on the phone. He raised his eyebrows at Tony, and then hung up.
"Hey, Iron Man," he said, and his eyebrows rose even higher when Tony opened the faceplate. He looked at Steve, who still had his arm wrapped possessively round Tony's shoulders, and then back at Tony. "Well, good for you, I guess. I was starting to wonder how you were keeping all your stories straight."
"Glad you're here, Rhodey." Tony was feeling lucky. He was going to need it. "I may need you to help defend me."
"What's up?" said Rhodey, and Tony touched the intercom.
"Miss Potts, do you have a moment?" Rhodey's eyes went wide with alarm.
Pepper stopped dead at the sight of him in the armour.
"Tony," she said from between gritted teeth, and he could see her adding it all up. She shut her eyes, opened them again, and then threw her clipboard at him and marched out.
"I thought that went well. Rhodey, did you think that went well? Rhodey, go after her and stop her from resigning. Take her out for lunch. A long lunch. Four, five martinis." Rhodey rolled his eyes and trailed after her. "Okay, she's mad," he confided to Steve, who tapped on the armour, apparently uninterested in Pepper's mood.
"Why don't you take this off, and we'll go talk in your apartment?"
"When you say talk - "
"I don't mean talk," and the smile on his face was entirely promising.
He didn't want to let Steve out of his sight; silly, but Tony had the creeping feeling that if he gave him time to think, it would all be over. So he ended up standing next to his bed with Steve sat on the edge, unlocking the catches and clasps that held the armour together. None of the impatience he'd shown when he'd been peeling it away from the woman's body, just the careful removal of each section and adding it to the pile on the floor.
Tony stepped out of the boots last, and Steve picked them up and set them aside. Then he laid his hands over Tony's hips, thumbs on the point of his hipbones where they jutted between briefs and undershirt, and just looked him up and down.
"Hi," Tony said when their eyes met, and Steve grinned at him, which was probably a good sign. He cupped Steve's cheek with his hand, and Steve leaned into the touch.
Steve slid his hands up Tony's flanks, pushing his undershirt higher, and then he leaned forward to press his mouth to Tony's skin.
"Hey," he murmured. "You know how earlier I was saying it felt weird for you to be just standing there - "
"Fine, yes." Tony grabbed a handful of scale mail. "Get this off, then."
Steve dragged the mail over his head and Tony took a breath and went for Steve's belt buckle. To his great relief, Steve was already hard, and when Tony got him in hand, Steve moaned and pushed up into his grip.
"Come here," he said breathlessly, and grabbed for Tony's head. His hand slipped through Tony's short hair, but he got a grip on Tony's shoulder and pulled him down and rolled him over onto his back.
"Naked," Tony reminded him, and Steve kicked out of his boots and then his pants, and then he just sort of leaned over Tony, staring down at him. "Okay?" Tony said after a moment, and Steve nodded. He touched the skin just below the arc reactor, and smiled when Tony's breath hitched.
"You..." he spread his palm over the plane of Tony's pectoral, and then rubbed his thumb over Tony's nipple. "Is that - "
"Fine," Tony assured him, and Steve pinched gently and Tony bit his lip. It wasn't quite as sensitive in this body, but it was still good, and when Steve lowered his mouth to the other nipple Tony moaned out loud.
Steve shifted, leaned up to kiss him, and Tony wrapped his arms around Steve's neck and kissed him back, ardent. He scratched his - shorter, blunter - nails down Steve's back, and Steve wriggled and panted in just the same way. Steve's hand stroked slowly down over his ribs, and lingered a moment in the hollow of his hip, and then he took a deeper breath and wrapped his hand firmly around Tony's cock.
"Steve," said Tony, and tried to get even closer, pushing up shamelessly into Steve's grip, and then he twisted his hips and pushed his thigh up between Steve's legs. Steve grunted, and rubbed against him, and they kissed messily for a few awkward seconds as the tried to find a rhythm.
Steve broke the kiss and pulled away, and Tony growled and tried to drag him back down, but he resisted.
"Do you want - uh. To, uh," Steve let go of Tony's dick to make a vague gesture, which in Tony's view was really poor prioritizing, and then blushed deeper. "Damn it, I'm an adult. Do you want to fuck me."
"Yeah." Like that needed deep thought. The mere thought of being inside Steve made his dick ache, and he was pretty sure if he tried it now, he wouldn't even last long enough to get in. Just the thought of Steve tight and slick around his fingers... "I really, really do, but not right now, okay? I don't have the patience. Let's - come here, like this." Steve looked faintly relieved as he settled into Tony's arms, between his spread legs. "Yeah, just - rub against me."
The rough jerky movements of their bodies together, Tony should have gotten some lubricant but Steve was panting and heavy-eyed and that was what mattered.
"This is enough?" Steve searched his face, traces of worry in his voice, and Tony wrapped an arm around his neck and brought their lips together for a slow kiss.
"This is great," he murmured when their lips parted. "You like this?"
"It's good." Another lingering kiss. "I like feeling you." He pushed his hips harder, and Tony moaned and tightened his grip. Steve kept looking at him, warm and intense, only affection in his blue eyes.
"This is great," Tony said again. "This is fantastic, we never have to do anything but this if you don't want to."
"Well, I." Steve dropped his head to nuzzle into Tony's neck, nibble the lobe of his ear. "I might want to," he murmured against Tony's ear. "But there's no rush."
"None at all," Tony agreed, and teaching Steve new things was going to be fantastic, Tony could hardly wait. But right now it didn't seem like anything could be better that this, Steve over him, Steve's dick against his, Steve's mouth on his neck.
He came with a loud groan, and Steve made a soft noise and ground down harder, took his mouth and kissed him deep. Tony squirmed a hand between them, got a good grip on Steve's cock and Steve arched and threw back his head and thrust into Tony's grip.
"You like that?" Tony muttered, and tightened his grip, and Steve made a raw sound. "That's right. Come on. Come on..." Steve shivered all over, bit down on his lip, and then Tony's hand was covered in warm slick and Steve was settling down against him, breathing slowing.
Steve flopped onto his side, and for a moment there was only the sound of their breathing. Then he got up, and Tony had a rush of panic before realising he was headed to the bathroom. He came back with a washcloth, and wiped Tony down. He was smiling. That was good. That was great.
Steve touched, carefully, over the lines of Tony's body, tracing muscles, rubbing gently through hair. He palmed Tony's dick, and looked up with a smile.
"Okay?" Tony ran his fingers up Steve's arm, and Steve nodded.
"Fine," he said, and his fingers walked back up over Tony's belly, rubbing against the growth of the hair and making Tony squirm. "I told you it would be."
"Well, pardon me for thinking this couldn't possibly end this well." Steve chuckled.
"You're such a pessimist," he said. "Is that a thing with you?"
"Course not," Tony lied, and Steve quirked an eyebrow. Tony sought for a change of topic. "So what'd you do with the ring?" Maybe that wasn't the best choice; but Steve didn't look annoyed.
"Oh, I took it back," Steve said, and he seemed to have quite gotten over his pout about it. "I only got store credit, but I expect Storm and Jan will like jewellery at Christmas. For quite a few years."
"Sorry." Steve's smile widened.
"Oh, don't worry. You're going to make it up to me."
"Oh, yes." He leaned over for a kiss. "You owe me big time, mister."
"I'm sure we can work something out," Tony said, and Steve returned to tracing his fingers over Tony's ribs with intense concentration. Tony watched him through half-shut eyes, and wondered how long it would take Steve to get tired of him. It wasn't like either of them had a track record of successful relationships.
"Stop worrying." Steve gave him a stern look. "Everything's going to be fine."
"Really?" Steve nodded.
"I promise," he said, and really, it was hard to disbelieve him; and Tony didn't want to disbelieve him anyway. A promise from Captain America was surely something to put his faith in. "Everything's going to be fine," he murmured, trying the idea on for size, and Steve smiled at him like he'd said something clever and insightful.
Maybe he had.
Everything was going to be fine.