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The Shadows Have Their Seasons Too

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Moving into the mansion was a quiet, uneventful ordeal. There was no reason for it not to be, but the entire shift back home seemed somewhat anticlimactic in comparison to what they’d gone through to get there. Tony, at least, seemed grateful for it. They’d both seen enough drama for a lifetime. It helped that they owned next to nothing between them, and the mansion was already fully furnished with the remnants of Howard and Maria’s life together. Even more helpful was the fact that the property, the company, and everything that Howard—and therefore Tony—owned, had been left in the care of Howard’s fiercely loyal butler, Jarvis.

Steve had never met the man before, although he’d heard Howard mention him a number of times over the years, and he hadn’t known what to expect. When Steve and Tony had let themselves in to the mansion, expecting it to be empty save for the dust mites and completely unkempt, they had both been shocked.

Jarvis was wary, at first, but after introduction had been made and proof of identification provided, he happily turned over everything to Tony. Steve found out much later that the only thing that made the board of Stark Industries angrier than being left in the hands of Howard’s butler, was being returned to Tony after the fact.

 

They settled into a comfortable existence, and then, because their lives could never be that simple, it all went to hell.

 

Steve pressed his back against the wall, as far away from the edge of the awning as he could stand without phasing through the brick entirely. A large poster displaying the words Duck and Cover with an equally large cartoon of a turtle hiding under a desk was clinging to the wall a few feet away, limp and print somewhat blurred from hanging in the pouring rain. He reached out to try to re-fasten the tape, but eventually gave it up as a lost cause.

When he’d woken up this morning to sunshine and birds singing, and the weather man had called for rain, Steve hadn’t believed them. He hadn’t grabbed an umbrella, either, but he could have at least remembered his hat.

The bricks were cold against his back. Water was pounding against the sidewalk and streaming off the roof in sheets, and Steve found himself wishing he hadn’t been so stubborn. There hadn’t been a cloud in the sky when Steve left the mansion a little under an hour ago.

Steve glanced at his watch and then back at the street. They’d promised to meet Bucky and Natasha for drinks tonight, and the two of them were already inside ordering rounds and getting them a table. He’d expected Tony to be late; Tony had warned him this morning that he would be coming straight from the office today.

Stark Industries took up most of Tony’s time—especially the Research and Development, which held more power over the company than Tony liked to give them credit for now that Stark Industries was cutting weapons contracts.

Tony always complained that they were completely incapable of being left alone, but Steve suspected that had more to do with Tony’s inability to leave them alone. They were close to finally making the breakthrough that Tony claimed would revolutionize energy, based on the scraps that Tony had managed to carry with him over thousands of miles. Steve was inclined to believe him.

He glanced at this watch again. Bucky had already poked his head outside once to try to convince Steve to come inside. It wouldn’t be the first time that Tony had let time get away from him. When he was in his workshop at home, Steve could go downstairs to fetch Tony for dinner and the man would look at him, bewildered, and wonder where lunch had gone. There was a payphone on the corner, and Steve was just beginning to contemplate how soaked he would be by the time he managed to place a call to the Stark Industries office when Tony’s driver rounded the corner.

Happy slowed the car down in front of the building, clearly trying to find a parking spot that wasn’t too far from the door. Tony was having none of it, simply throwing the door open in the middle of the street.

“Thanks, Hap!” Tony shouted over the rain. Despite running to meet Steve, he was still dripping by the time he reached the awning.

The streets were dark and completely empty in the downpour. Steve glanced around carefully to check that they were alone and then leaned down to kiss him. “You could have waited for Happy. Or brought an umbrella.”

“You could have waited for me inside,” Tony countered. He tugged on Steve’s sleeve. “Come on, I promised Pepper I wouldn’t catch pneumonia and die. ”

The bar was warm and muggy from all of the people packed inside to avoid the rain. It was loud, too, and the commotion was a slap in the face after standing outside listening to nothing but the sound of the rain and the city. He spotted Natasha and Bucky almost immediately, tucked away into a corner table, and Steve was grateful for it if only to get away from the worst of the noise.

“You look like a drowned rat,” Natasha said, plucking at Tony’s dripping clothes. Tony shrugged out of his jacket and draped it on the back of the chair before running a quick hand over his hair to flick off most of the water. Tony grinned at her.

“I bet you say that to all the boys,” he said. She snorted and cracked a little smile, and Tony looked inordinately pleased with her reaction. He glanced at Bucky like he was verifying that someone else had actually seen that, which just caused them both to roll their eyes at him. Bucky pushed two beers across the table at them.

“It’s nice of you to finally join us, Stark. I thought Steve was going to catch La Gripe waiting for you,” Bucky said. Tony looked like he was trying to decide if he should be guilty about that, so Steve brushed a hand over his knee.

“What took you so long, anyway?” Steve asked, trying to change the topic. It worked like a charm. Tony’s face lit up while he explained his latest project.

Steve listened with only half an ear, partly because he knew he wouldn’t understand what Tony was talking about anyway, but mostly because Tony was still soaked from the rain and he cut a very… distracting picture in the low light.

Natasha actually looked interested, which was more than he could say for Bucky, who looked instantly bored of the topic (though it was just as likely that he was just trying to be difficult for the sake of antagonizing Tony). Bucky drained his glass and set it on the edge of the table.

“I’ll get another round,” he announced. Tony stopped mid-sentence .

“I’ll buy,” Tony offered. “It’s only fair, since I kept you waiting.”

Bucky grinned. “Fine by me,” he said. Bucky headed over to the bar, pushing through the crowd of people, and Tony hopped up from the table to follow after him.

Steve watched them go, smirking into his glass. “I don’t know if we should let them choose what we’re drinking,” Steve said.

“Can’t possibly be worse than last time.” Natasha shrugged. “Besides, they’ll get sloppy long before we will.” She winked at him and then tossed her drink back for emphasis.

“That’s what I’m worried about,” Steve joked. He looked down at his glass and dragged his thumb through the condensation in a simple pattern. Steve stared at it for a long moment, then said, “How are you, Tash?”

“I’m fine,” she said. Then, because she was more intuitive than he gave her credit for, Natasha added, “Bucky’s fine, too. He misses you at SHIELD—everyone does—but if you’re worried about him, you don’t need to be. Contrary to popular belief, he does actually know how to take care of himself. When he’s not too busy being an idiot, anyway.” She didn’t smile, but her eyes were playful when she continued. “It’s really not any different than before, if you discount the lack of on-base mother henning after missions. You do that at bars, now, apparently.”

Steve had the good sense to look embarrassed. “I can’t help it,” Steve said. He knew firsthand how dangerous Bucky’s job was, and he was Steve’s best friend. He couldn’t help but worry about him, especially now that he couldn’t demand to partner with him on particularly dangerous assignments.

“For what it’s worth, SHIELD decided it was in their best interest to let the two of us work together,” Natasha offered. That made Steve smile—he could only imagine what the two of them had done to arrange that. He would have liked to see it.

“I know. I know, just…” Steve shrugged, not really sure what to say. Finally, he settled on: “I’m glad he met you.”

“I’m glad he met me, too,” she said, a small smile playing on her lips. She twirled her glass between her fingers. “Don’t tell him I said that. I have a reputation as someone who doesn’t put up with his shit.”

Steve laughed at that, choosing not to point out that she put up with Bucky more than Steve did. “He doesn’t need the encouragement.”

Steve expected a laugh, but instead Natasha suddenly tensed, looking over Steve’s shoulder toward the bar. Steve quickly turned to see what had drawn her attention. Tony and Bucky were at the bar, standing next to a couple of men who were too far into their personal space to not be trying to pick a fight. From the look on Bucky’s face it was working. One of them was drunk enough to be swaying slightly on his feet, and he was saying something to Tony, who was steadfastly ignoring him in favor of trying to urge Bucky to let them be.

Irritated at being ignored, the man grabbed a fistful of Tony’s shirt to turn him around. A muscle ticked on Bucky’s jaw, and that was it.

“Ah, hell,” Steve said, at the same time that Bucky reeled back to deck him across the jaw.

The guy staggered and fell back on his ass, too drunk to keep his footing, and immediately half the bar’s patrons rose to their feet. Steve questioned his judgment on picking this particular bar on a night where the weather forced everyone to look inside for entertainment, but he was suddenly reminded of how easily he and Bucky had started bar fights when they were young and had something to prove.

Bucky clearly hadn’t lost his touch.

Most of the patrons weren’t even aware of what had started the fight, simply happy for the distraction, but it made it much more difficult than it should have to push his way to the front of the room. The fight didn’t seem to have any real focus, and it took him a moment of scanning over the chaos to locate Tony and Bucky again, this time closer to the edge of the violence. He breathed a sigh of relief at that. It would have been much more difficult to get out of here with everyone in one piece if Bucky or Tony was invested in the brawl.

Steve ducked and a bottle sailed over his head. He grimaced and glanced in the direction it had come from just in time to see someone thrown over a table. Steve didn’t envy whoever had to clean up the aftermath.

Natasha beat him to the bar, finding it much easier to slip through the crowd unimpeded while Steve forced his way through. When Steve finally came out on the other side of the crowd, the two men who had started the fight were on the floor. Natasha was already nudging Bucky toward the door. She paused when one of them started to get back up to put one heeled boot on his chest, almost gently, and guide him back to the floor.

He put one hand on Tony’s elbow, and Tony jumped before he realized it was Steve.

“You okay?” Steve asked.

Tony nodded. “Let’s just go.”

Steve didn’t argue with that, though he did shoot the bartender an apologetic look on his way out. She didn’t seem too bothered by the fight—she actually looked entertained, wielding a serving tray as a shield with a grin on her face—but Steve didn’t want to push their luck.

The street was so quiet in comparison to inside that it set Steve’s ears to ringing. The rain had died down to a trickle when they stumbled out onto the sidewalk, and Tony stared at the door for a moment, to be sure that no one decided to follow and take the fight out onto the street. When no one did, he turned back to the group and crossed his arms.

“Well, there’s another bar we can’t go back to. At this rate we’ll be banned from every place in the city,” Tony said. He looked pointedly at Bucky, but the look carried no heat.

He looked unapologetic. “Night’s still young. Want to go somewhere else?” Bucky asked.

Tony hesitated at that, just barely. Steve wouldn’t have even noticed, if he hadn’t known what to look for. Before Steve could interject, Natasha was hailing a cab.

“We’re on a plane ungodly early tomorrow morning,” she said. She glanced up at the sky, and then stuck out an arm to hail a taxi. “Not to be cliché, but rain check?”

Tony blew out a breath, not fooled by Natasha’s attempt to provide him an easy excuse. “Yeah, sure.”

A cab pulled up to the curb. “Do you want to split the fare?” Bucky offered.

Steve shook his head. “We’ll walk,” he said. The mansion wasn’t very far away, and now that the rain had mostly died down Steve was eager for the fresh air.

“Suit yourself,” Bucky said. He pulled the door open and let Natasha slide in first. “We’ll see you both later.”

“Stay out of trouble,” Steve said.

Bucky laughed. “Yeah, right.” He slid into the cab after her, and they watched from under the awning as the cab pulled away from the curb.

“What did that guy say to you?” Steve asked once their cab was out of sight.

Tony shrugged. “Just the usual,” he said, and then in a bad imitation of an American accent: “Go back to Russia. That type of thing.” He shrugged again, like he was trying to emphasize how unimportant it was, and Steve scowled.

Steve was ready to go back inside, knowing that Tony was likely playing it down quite a bit. His intentions must have shown on his face, because Tony grabbed his hand. “It’s fine. He was really drunk. I think it just struck a nerve with Bucky, on account of Natasha.”

“He did it for you, too,” Steve said. Because while Bucky wasn’t necessarily quick to make friends, when he did he was fiercely protective of them.

“Yeah,” Tony agreed, though he didn’t look completely convinced. “Anyway, remember what I said about not catching pneumonia? The whole walking home thing is a little counterproductive, so let’s get to it.”

 

 

Steve should have known it was coming.

Tony startled awake in Steve’s arms, and he rolled, pushing away from Steve with enough force to topple himself over the edge of the bed. He didn’t seem to notice, just pushed himself up to his knees. Tony was speaking anxiously in Russian.

Still foggy with sleep, Steve had to focus on translating what he was saying to English.

“My boots—where, who took my…” he was feeling along the floor, panicky motions that made Steve’s heart clench.

“Tony?” Steve said quietly. Tony’s head snapped up, and that was good, it meant he was awake. He had this twisted expression on his face, but his eyes were fearful.

Tony’s nightmares were coming less and less often, but Steve would bet that something said in the bar last night was the cause of this one. Sometimes Tony woke up, and he was still in the camp. He’d wake terrified that he’d slept through the morning bell, terrified that the guards would be coming for him soon. There was no reaching him then.

Steve watched for that now, the dread, the flinch that told him he was doing more harm than good.

Instead, Tony’s eyes met his, and there was recognition there. “Steve,” he breathed, quiet as though the word was some magical thing too ephemeral to touch. “I’m late for lineup, I have to—” Tony trailed off, and he seemed to realize something was off in the statement before he said it, because he clamped his mouth shut so abruptly his teeth clicked.

Tony scrubbed a hand over his face and sucked in a deep, shuddering breath. He looked to Steve again and this time Steve could tell he was much more lucid.

“Okay?” Steve asked.

Tony nodded, his expression pinched. He kept his eyes carefully averted, though. Steve had found it was better not to press him about it, especially with the nightmare so fresh in his mind. He tried to convince Tony to see a therapist, back when they’d first arrived in America. He’d even offered to go along, but after their first visit together, Tony just never went back.

Steve lifted the covers for him wordlessly and Tony crawled underneath. He pressed his body up against Steve’s from head to toe, and Steve could feel him shivering from phantom cold. Tony’s arms snaked up the back of Steve’s shirt, grip tight as though trying to leech the heat from his skin.

The clock on the nightstand told him that they had a little over two hours until they had to be up. That probably wasn’t enough time to convince Tony to go back to sleep, but he thought he should try.

Steve combed his fingers through Tony’s hair, and Tony shivered. He rested his cheek on Steve’s shoulder and tucked his head under Steve’s chin. Steve let him settle, rubbing small circles on the back of Tony’s neck with his thumb. He could feel his shirt was wet where Tony’s cheek rested, but aside from the occasional hiccupping breath, he was silent.

Steve watched the clock and wondered if the cold would ever really go away.

 

Steve found Tony on the living room sofa under a mound of blankets. He was staring vacantly out the window, watching two robins as they pecked around the yard through the steadily greening grass, fighting each other for worms. It wasn’t cold today, but Steve could hear the heater humming as proof that Jarvis had already been through earlier.

There was a bowl of oatmeal settled on the couch next to Tony, already grown cold and lumpy from sitting out too long. The food looked almost untouched, but Steve hadn’t expected anything else. Tony never had much of an appetite after dreaming of the camps, and he usually made himself breakfast just to leave it uneaten. Steve didn’t know why. To prove to himself he could, maybe.

He knew what it was like to really be hungry. Steve had experienced it first hand, and he understood. After getting used to eating nothing, sometimes the appetite just wasn’t there.

Tony had put on weight since coming to America. The gaunt hollows in his cheeks were almost gone, and though Steve could still see his ribs, it was much less pronounced than before. It wasn't much, but it was progress, and it made Steve happy to see it. He was still sure Tony didn't eat enough. It was like he didn't even remember he was hungry, and Steve suspected that maybe after going so long with so little food he'd just grown accustomed to ignoring the feeling.

Steve wanted to ask Tony to come back to bed with him, to cancel everything for today and just trace the hard lines of his shoulders with his tongue until the tension wasn’t there anymore—but Steve knew he wouldn’t. Tony had mentioned last night that he had meetings later today, and he knew that his personal assistant was likely to come beat down the door if Tony didn’t make an appearance.

“Something on your mind?” Steve asked instead. Rather than answering he stood from the couch, nearly turning over the bowl as he did so, and flicked on the television.

The television clicked on will a dull buzzing noise. The picture was very clear and in color, something Tony had been ecstatic about when they first moved in. Tony clicked through a few channels, pausing on each to show that they were all playing the same story.

"—why now, I bet the Soviets are just lining up at the door—"

"—Of course he is! I mean, just look at how he talks—"

"—it's selfish and downright un-American—"

Finally Tony stopped on a talk show, where two men were seated on plush red sofas angled toward a live audience. Steve didn't watch enough television to recognize the host, but when Steve saw who the guest was his stomach dropped.

Steve had met the man sitting in the guest’s chair once before, when he had stopped by Stark Industries unannounced. Steve had walked into Tony’s office to find the man shouting at Tony. He hadn’t noticed Steve come in, but Tony had, and he’d warned Steve off interfering with a significant look. Steve waited by Pepper’s desk for almost an hour before he finally left. After he’d asked Tony about him, and Tony had explained that Stern was a member of the board who had strongly disagreed with the decision to stop weapons production.

From what he’d seen, strongly disagreed was an obvious understatement, but Steve had let the issue slide.

Steve hadn’t heard anything about him since then, and he’d assumed that the issue was dropped. Now he felt a little foolish for assuming that Tony would mention Stern giving him more trouble. He glanced at Tony, but Tony didn’t seem surprised to see Stern there. Steve wondered if Tony had seen this coming.

"All I'm saying," the host explained, "is that Stark Industries is an American company. And, well..."

"No, no that's a very good point," Stern said. "I mean, look at Howard Stark. That's a true American. The man was a household name during the war, and now Tony Stark has come along and--"

"And you’ve gone from actually useful military contracts to making batteries—” the host said.

"Exactly. Not going to do us much good when the USSR comes knocking. If you ask me, it seems a little fishy," Stern said.

"Fishy how?" The host asked, but he was already nodding his head slightly in anticipation of the answer.

Stern leaned back in his chair thoughtfully. "Well, I wouldn't want to speculate," he said, and Steve heard Tony mutter of course you wouldn't under his breath, "but Stark shows up, and suddenly one of our biggest weapons manufacturer stops manufacturing weapons. You do the math."

Steve had seen enough. He laid his hand over Tony's where it was resting on the dial and flipped the TV off. The room dropped very suddenly into silence, and Steve grasped Tony's hand and squeezed it.

"Everyone's talking about it," Tony said. “I guess I kind of bring it on myself.”

Sometimes, when Tony was excited or tired, he’d slip up and forget to speak in English. It had earned them plenty of dirty looks, but Steve didn’t care. People could think what they wanted. Tony’s accent was good, but it was clear that he wasn’t American, and with the times being what they were the way he spoke tended to make people wary. There was a veritable witch-hunt going on for communists and their sympathizers, and he’d had his fair share of accusations because of his heritage.

Tony usually took it in stride. To see the morose way Tony was watching the segment was unsettling.

"They can't do this. This is slander," Steve said.

"Of course they can," Tony said. "Nothing that they're saying isn't true." He sounded resigned to it, which just made Steve's blood boil more.

"Where is this even coming from?" Steve asked angrily.

Tony just sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. "Senator McCarthy is convinced that the government is crawling with communists, and he's out for blood. Stern is just riding his coat tail and hoping to make some money on it," Tony explained.

"He's been pushing for the company to go public for a while now, especially after I closed weapons productions, but I won't do it. It would be too easy to slip back into weapons productions that way. He's so sure that Stark Industries won't succeed without any weapons contracts that he won't even acknowledge how good the change has been for the company. Of course, if he could give them a reason to suspend me, he'd be free to do what he wants. And going public is a big deal...there's a lot of money in it for him. Especially if they get a hold of my shares."

"That's—who does he think he is?"

"I know. Capitalists," Tony said, laying the accent on extra thick.

Steve gave him a look. "This is serious."

"I am serious," Tony said. He pulled his hand out of Steve’s grip, and huddled back down into his blankets.

"You're not helping," Steve said. "I hate this. They make you sound like...like..."

"A communist?" Tony supplied.

"Well, yes," Steve said. "If they knew—" He cut off abruptly. That was it, though, wasn't it? They didn't know. Steve's mission was classified, and the circumstances of Tony's arrival in America could very easily become an issue if the truth ever got out. As far as Steve could tell, no one had made the connection between the escaped prisoner and the American businessman. Steve imagined that if it had--if the Soviets had any idea that an American spy had assisted in his escape...well. Steve was sure they'd have heard of it by now.

It left them in a tough spot. They had SHIELD on their side, at least, but that didn't make it much easier to explain where Tony had been all this time, and the odd gaps in logic were bound to cause suspicion.

Hell, people were ready to condemn Tony just from hearing him talk. If not for his very obvious interests in capitalism, and the fact that his inventions were clearly well received by the public, they'd probably have a lot more than public scrutiny to deal with.

At this rate, it might not matter anyway.

Tony seemed to know what he was thinking, because he just smiled sadly. "It's all right, Steve," he said. "Besides, freedom of speech! It's a good thing, even when I'm on the not-so-enjoyable end of it."

"What do we do now?"

"I don't know about you, but I'm just gonna sit here and mope until Pepper shows up to tell me how much of a nightmare I am," Tony said. He burrowed a little deeper in the blankets to emphasize his point.

Pepper would likely be by within the hour, as she had every other morning that Tony managed to end up in the news. She usually came with some sort of PR statement for Tony to sign off on, and she was amazingly good at knowing what to tell the press to satisfy them.

"Well, I'm going to make us breakfast," Steve said. Cooking was technically part of Jarvis's job, but neither Steve nor Tony tended to bother him every time they wanted to eat. Jarvis didn't mind, as long as they weren't trying to use the kitchen at the same time that he was, though he did have a healthy (and admittedly justified) amount of suspicion if they tried to cook anything beyond the basics. Steve was thinking eggs and sausage. It was hard to go wrong with that.

"I already ate," Tony said. Steve grabbed the bowl of oatmeal and gave it a skeptical look, and Tony frowned at being caught in a lie. "I'm not hungry?" he tried.

"Just a small plate," Steve decided. Tony didn't look very pleased with that, but he didn't object so Steve counted it as a win.

 

 

The mansion was much too large for only two people, and more often than not Steve felt a little unsettled rattling around the empty rooms. He mostly kept to a few choice rooms—the living room, the kitchen…their bedroom.

When he was feeling particularly restless, he would go paint. His impromptu art studio was on the second floor in one of the guest bedrooms. It was cozy, with big French windows overlooking a balcony. He loved the natural light—and the fact that the floors were hardwood, so he didn’t have to worry about ruining the carpet. The bed was pushed into the corner where it was hardly used, except when Tony decided to lay out and watch Steve work.

Another reason Steve liked it was because it looked lived in. With a mansion as large as this one, it would be hard to justify sharing a bedroom beyond the obvious reason. Steve didn’t think that it mattered so much now, but they’d been careful to establish that Tony was just putting up a friend when they’d first arrived in America. Then they’d actually met the staff—which consisted of a maid service who hardly paid enough attention to clean let alone notice the goings-on of the house, the gardeners, who had no reason to be in the house in the first place, and Jarvis.

Jarvis had seen right through them, and promptly asked if Steve would perhaps find it more convenient to have his effects moved to the master bedroom.

The bedroom made a nice art studio, though, and that was all that Steve cared about. He liked having his own space, far enough away from their bedroom that he wouldn’t wake Tony when the urge to create hit him too late at night. He’d slid out from beneath the covers some nights, when his dreams were too much, and he’d paint the artillery shells exploding and the ice cracking like a single gunshot all alone in the Siberian wilderness, all blues and reds and so much black.

It helped, most nights.

 

Stern’s little television appearance invited all kinds of inquiries, from politicians to television personalities, all trying to get a statement or their side of the story.

Steve was tired of listening to the phone ring. After two days he simply left it off the hook. That worked for a while, until Pepper stormed into their bedroom after several hours of trying to get ahold of Tony.

In their own defense, she probably should have knocked.

 

 

Steve came home one afternoon to find Natasha and Pepper settled at the kitchen table. Natasha was dressed as casually as he’d ever seen her when it wasn’t meant to be a disguise or work-out clothes, wearing sweats and a tank top, with her hair up in a loose bun. Pepper looked as though she’d come straight from the office, and the stack of papers settled on the corner of the table suggested she’d come to force Tony to get some work done.

Steve wondered how well that was working when he spotted Tony perched on the counter facing away from Steve, dressed somewhat similarly to Natasha. He had a book open in his lap, and he was looking at it as though it had personally offended him.

“I hate this language,” Tony grumbled.

“No you don’t,” she said.

He pushed a hand through his hair. “No, I don’t,” Tony agreed. “Okay, again.” He read a line out loud, and Steve could tell he was reading a scene from the Hobbit. He was carefully trying to match an American accent, and he was actually doing fairly well. When he got to the end of the paragraph he paused.

“That was pretty good,” Steve said.

Tony’s head snapped up, a proud little smile on his face when he realized Steve had been listening. “Steve! You’re home!” Tony said, and there was the accent again, as thick as ever.

“Thank god you are not a spy,” Natasha said.

Tony just stuck his tongue out at her and looked back down at the book, mouthing the words to test how they sounded in his head.

Pepper pushed herself up from the table. She smoothed down her skirt and picked up her purse in one fluid motion. “As much as I’d love to stay for story time, I have some morons to convince that Tony isn’t the next Stalin in disguise.” She sighed. “This would be easier if you hadn’t stopped weapons productions.”

“I’m not building bombs,” Tony said, offhand like they’d been over the topic a million times.

“I’m not asking you to,” Pepper said, and she sounded like she meant it. “Sign these. And make sure you actually read them this time.” She stuck a stack of papers under Tony’s nose.

Tony accepted the stack, smoothed them out on his knee right overtop the book. He started to read the first one out loud, his American accent back.

She snorted and leaned over kiss him on the cheek. “That’ll last until about thirty second after I leave,” she said. “Have fun with your speech lessons. I need those by tomorrow, so don’t put them off.”

 

 

Steve pulled on a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt. He started toward the park, hoping to get at least a few good laps in before he wore himself out.

The morning air was pleasantly brisk, and it felt good to get outside for a change. He couldn't run as far as he wanted--he was usually out of breath long before his muscles felt tired. After a while his lungs felt tight, like the asthma attacks he hadn’t had since he was a little kid, but it was much better than he had started with. Originally, while the wound was still healing, it had hurt to breathe too deeply. That coupled with Tony's leg had certainly put a damper on the celebrations when they finally returned to America.

His lungs had healed better than the doctors hoped, but it was still far more effort than it should have been to do simple exercise. His therapist said he was doing good, but to Steve it was just frustrating. His lungs couldn't keep up with the rest of him, and it more often than not left him feeling strung out and wired at the same time.

Training helped. He pushed himself to go a little further every day, until his chest burned and he could hear his lungs whistle with every breath.

He'd pushed himself too hard, sometimes, forgotten his limits and been forced to stop and wait until he didn't feel like he was drowning anymore. He hadn't said as much to Tony, but Steve suspected he knew anyway if the passive concern Tony expressed every time he took a little too long to get home was anything to go by. Tony never was very subtle. He'd even offered to go with him once or twice, to which Steve had just chuckled and responded, "Nah, you can't keep up with me, anyway."

Mostly though, he just didn't want Tony to pity him. Steve knew he wouldn't, logically, but it was still a little embarrassing to have his breath start rattling after going only a couple of blocks when he was used to running marathons.

He'd stormed the beaches, once. Now he was struggling to jog through Central Park.

Steve was ready to give up after forty-five minutes. He forced himself to go another fifteen and then turned back. The cold air was sharp in his lungs, and it helped to ease the ache a little. He took his time getting back to the mansion, letting his breathing settle back to normal.

There was a black town car in the drive when he returned. Steve wandered over to see who it was, but there was no one in the back. The driver tipped his hat to him, and Steve waved, polite but curious, before heading up the steps.

Steve’s first instinct was to look for Tony in his garage, but when he thought of the car outside he couldn’t think of anyone that Tony would actually let into his space that could have owned it. Steve changed directions toward the study instead. Technically, the room was Howard’s, but Tony never cleared it out, essentially leaving it to collect dust save for a few unwanted visits from businessmen.

The door opened just as Steve stepped up to it, and he almost ran headlong into the man on the other side. He was at least a head shorter than Steve, lanky and balding with a hooked nose. Steve didn’t recognize him.

“Excuse me,” Steve said, stepping off to the side.

“I’m not through with you,” the man snapped over his shoulder. “Don’t think for a second that you’re going to get away with this, this disgusting lifestyle.” The man’s eyes dragged over Steve, sizing him up. “That goes for you as well.” He brushed past him, stomping down the hall toward the front door like a petulant child. Steve watched Jarvis follow casually behind, most likely to verify that the man made it to the door.

Steve just stared after him. What the hell was that about?

Tony was sitting at Howard’s desk, rifling through a stack of papers that were most likely years old. He wasn’t actually reading them, that was certain by the way he was flipping through them. From the look on his face, he was mulling over whatever they’d been discussing a moment before. A decanter and two glasses were sitting on the desk, though Tony’s looked (thankfully) untouched.

He must have heard Steve come inside, because he looked up from his hands with an expression that said he expected his visitor had returned. When he saw it was Steve, he froze. “Oh god,” Tony said, a little note of panic in his voice. “Did he say anything to you?”

“Who was that?” Steve asked in lieu of answering.

"He works for Stern,” Tony answered. “He came by this morning and practically forced his way inside. He wanted to look around, talk to the staff..."

"Talk to the staff? What on earth about?"

"Us," Tony said. "You and me. He's been a god damn menace at Stark Industries, trying to get half the fucking company fired for being commies or queers. I wouldn't let him, obviously, because he's a god damn moron and a bigot, and now..."

"He's looking at us," Steve finished.

"I don't know what to do," Tony admitted. "Stern’s been on the board almost longer than I’ve been alive. He has quite a bit of pull."

"We'll figure it out," Steve promised. He glanced back toward the door. "So who did he talk to?"

Tony quirked a smile at that. "Jarvis," he said. It was both a greeting and an answer, as the butler appeared in the doorway to verify that their guest had left.

Steve laughed. "I'm sure that was very enlightening for him," he said, looking to Jarvis.

“I simply informed him that, were there anything immoral going on in this household, I would certainly know it,” Jarvis said.

"He spent almost two hours giving him a tour, along with the complete history of the mansion down to where the wood had been purchased to build it," Tony said in faint humor.

“I thought it was a rather enlightening tour, myself,” Jarvis said.

“I doubt it was what he'd hoped for... no shrines built to the Motherland or kinky sex rooms in sight—”

“Tony,” Steve admonished.

Tony shrugged. “It's not like that wasn't why he was here. He didn't really know what to do with himself when he found out that you were a war hero. You could see the inner-patriotism warring in his eyes.”

“I can’t believe he had the nerve to come here,” Steve said.

Tony sobered at that. “About that. I think…we’re probably lucky it didn’t happen sooner. They haven’t been very subtle about their accusations.”

Tony looked guilty, though Steve didn’t know whether it was for not telling Steve sooner, or from some kind of misplaced self-blame. Steve wanted to believe it was the former, but… well, this was Tony. He grabbed the decanter from the desk and moved it back to the shelf.

"Are you okay?" Steve asked.

"Yep, I'm good, Captain." Tony's smile didn't quite reach his eyes, but Steve wasn’t willing to let it go.

“Okay,” Steve said. “Now tell me the truth.”

Tony worried his lip between his teeth, before finally sighing. “It’s only going to get worse from here, you know. They’ll keep looking, and…and they’ll probably start harassing you, too, when you’re out jogging and when you go for drinks with Bucky and when you’re sketching stupid pigeons in the park like an old man, and—and maybe it would just be, I don’t know, easier for you. Is all.”

“Tony, what?” Steve asked.

Tony screwed his expression into something that was supposed to be reassuring, but just looked pained. “I would understand, if you…” He trailed off, then tried again. “You don’t owe me anything, Steve.”

Steve’s breath left him in a rush. “Damn right I don’t. I saved your ass. If anything, you owe me,” Steve said. Tony chuckled, but it was a brittle thing. Steve squeezed his hand. “In fact, I think I’ll cash a favor right now.” He pressed a light kiss to Tony’s lips. “Stop talking. I’m not going anywhere.”

“I—okay.” He blew out a breath that turned into a relieved laugh. “Thank god,” Tony said.

“What’s for dinner, Jarvis?” Steve asked, grasping for a change of topic.

“It was going to be pot roast, but we would be eating rather late in the evening if I tried to start preparing it now.”

“Spaghetti?” Tony suggested. Jarvis looked amused.

“I believe I can manage that,” he said. “I’ll call when it’s ready. Will you be here?”

“I think I’m going to go paint, actually,” Steve said. He turned to Tony, who had an irritated look on his face.

“Paperwork,” he grumbled, pulling a stack toward him. He put a pen on top, and picked up the lot, “I’m sick of this room, though, and Steve’s too distracting. I’ll be in the living room.”

“Very good,” Jarvis said, dismissing himself. Tony leaned over the desk toward Steve, stealing a quick kiss.

“You know, you still haven’t drawn me that nude. I distinctly remember you promising me ten.”

Steve laughed. Leave it to Tony to remember that particular detail. “Oh, that’s a good idea. That way, when Stern drops by for another surprise visit, he can wonder why I’ve got a naked picture of you in my bedroom.”

Tony grinned. “It’s art. Not that I’d expect him to understand.”

Steve rolled his eyes, and when they reached the stairs he gave Tony a little shove toward the living room. “Go sign your papers,” he said, “and maybe later you can model for me.” Tony’s eyes flashed with interest, and Steve took his chance to head upstairs before he changed his mind and decided that the paperwork could wait.

Steve made his way straight to the closet, where he kept the stacks of drawings and paintings, all waiting to be worked on. It seemed he started way more projects than he could possibly finish, but today he was in the mood for painting, something bright and cheery to contrast the day they’d had.

He picked the canvas with an empty sketch of a train car, the top corner of the painting just beginning to show the warm blend of reds and browns he had planned for the piece, and propped it up on the easel by the window.

In no time at all the painting began to fill, and before Steve knew it Jarvis was knocking on the door to inform him that dinner was ready to be served. Steve packed up everything that couldn’t wait without being ruined, and then went to wash his hands.

He had just stepped onto the top stair when the sharp crash of shattering glass broke the quiet. He heard Tony shout, and Steve’s heart leapt into his throat. He sprinted down the steps, leaping the final five entirely, and bolted to the living room.

"Tony? Are you all right?" Steve called. When he came around the doorway, Tony glanced up at him, looking startled, but he didn’t look hurt, and just the sight of him was enough to put some of Steve’s anxiety at ease.

"Yeah," Tony said. "Just fine. Surprised me is all." He was leaning forward off the couch, his paperwork scattered everywhere around him, and something large clenched in one hand.

"Christ, is that a brick?" Steve asked. There was a large hole in one of the windows, letting in the cool night air, and Steve went over to it to scan the yard. "Did you see who threw it?"

"No. I think Jarvis went to check, but I’m sure they're long gone by now," Tony said. He made to get off the couch to check the window, and then thought better of it when he remembered his feet were bare.

"Just—here, let me...there's glass all over the floor," Steve said. He jogged out into the hallway to fetch his shoes and quickly slipped them on when he got back to the living room. Steve looped an arm around Tony's waist.

Tony just rolled his eyes but obliged him. He draped his arms around Steve's neck and Steve lifted him carefully. The glass crunched under Steve’s shoes as he crossed over to deposit Tony on the couch across the room.

“My hero,” Tony teased. Steve rolled his eyes, but he couldn’t keep the fond smile from creeping into his expression.

Jarvis appeared from the kitchen, composed as ever with a broom and dustpan in tow. "Shall I send to have the window repaired, sir?"

"Yes, Jarvis. Thank you," Tony said.

Tony tucked his feet under him on the cushion. "I need shoes."

"We should call the police," Steve said.

"We should call Pepper," Tony responded. "Who, by the way, would kill you if she knew you wanted to call the police first. I won't tell her."

"Tony," Steve said.

"You're welcome."

"Tony, that's not—"

"Oh come on, Steve, it's probably just some punk kid who doesn't know that you can't trust everything you hear in the news—"

"Will you stop?" Steve said, and it may have come out more forceful than he intended, because Tony's mouth snapped shut. "Stop trying to play this down! Putting a brick through your window isn't the act of someone just messing around, Tony. That's violent and malicious and honestly it scares me that you don't see that. And right after that Stern asshole shows up here unannounced? Tony, this is your safety we're talking about."

“My safety? Just mine? What about you? Or does the dashing soldier not need protection?”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” Steve said. “I’m just sick of you never taking anything seriously.”

“Has it ever occurred to you that it’s possible to take something seriously without acting like I’ve got a stick rammed up my ass?” Steve clenched his teeth, a hundred different biting retorts running through his head.

“I’m not going to fight with you,” Steve said instead.

Tony’s eyes narrowed, and then he scoffed, stepping over the back of the couch so that he could storm out of the room without walking through the glass. Steve let him go, still feeling like he was itching for an argument, but knowing that it wasn’t Tony he wanted to pick a fight with.

Instead, he went to the kitchen and made himself a plate to take back with him to his studio. He switched the painting out for a blank canvas, too afraid that he would ruin his current project in the mood that he was in, and set about edging out the beginning of a new piece entirely.

Steve didn’t even notice Tony come in, hours later, until he felt a warm hand settle on his waist. He leaned in to the touch, and Tony took that as permission to move closer, until his breath was a tickle of warmth against his neck.

“I love you,” he murmured, and Steve turned into the embrace to kiss him.

“You don’t have to apologize,” Steve said.

Tony’s lips quirked up into a slight smile. “Who’s apologizing?”

Steve smirked, and in one smooth motion picked Tony up and gently dropped him onto the bed in the corner, covering his body with his own. His brushes would probably be ruined if he didn’t clean the paint out of them, but right here, right now, Steve couldn’t bring himself to care.

Steve kissed his way down Tony’s neck, rucking his shirt up with both hands.

“Well we can’t have make-up sex until we make up,” Steve said, stilling his hands.

“That’s okay, I’m up for angry sex too,” Tony said.

Steve sighed and leaned in, so they were just a breath apart, and waited for Tony to reach up the extra inch to kiss him.

“I’m not angry at you,” Steve said, “and you know it. I’m angry at—well, everything. I’m just angry.”

“I noticed,” Tony said, and he pointedly pried Steve’s fingers from the bed sheet, laced them with his own.

It took a little maneuvering, but eventually Steve managed to pull both their shirts away. Tony arched up into his touch, and Steve trailed his hand and eyes and mouth over every inch of him, reverent in his attention, because Tony was here with him now. Pliant and happy and safe beneath him, and that was all the mattered to Steve.

Tony leaned up to kiss him, hard and sloppy on the mouth, and Steve felt a thrum of desire roll through him. He thumbed open the button on Tony’s trousers, please with how eagerly he arched into the touch, and pulled them roughly down and away.

Tony shivered when Steve rubbed him through the thin fabric, little hitches of breath caught in his throat before they could ever form coherent sound. Steve kissed him again, and when Tony tried to urge him to roll over, he let him take control, pinning Steve between his thighs.

“I’m am sorry,” Tony said, leaning in to kiss the side of his neck, “for not,” his chest, “taking things more seriously.”

“Don’t be,” Steve gasped, and the sound dissolved into a groan when Tony grabbed the waistband of his sweatpants and his boxers and yanked them down in one go. Steve’s hand threaded its way into Tony’s hair before he even realized what he was doing, silently urging him down.

The first tentative lick at the head of his cock sent a jolt of pleasure up his spine, and it was everything Steve could do to keep from lifting off the bed. Tony hummed quietly, pleased, and before Steve could even form the coherent thought to beg, Tony was swallowing his down.

He groaned, fingers tightening and loosening sporadically in Tony’s hair, urging him to go faster and harder without any thought. Tony pulled off, kissing the underside with open mouth and tongue, and Steve groaned.

“God, you’re beautiful,” he panted, and pulled Tony up for a messy kiss. Tony stilled just slightly, his fingers still working gently at the head and Steve couldn’t repress his groan, hips canting up. “Don’t stop,” he begged, and he thought he saw the ghost of a smirk on Tony’s lips before he was leaning down to kiss him again, his strokes stronger and more even now.

“I love you this way,” Tony said, his voice strained. “I love you every way, but this is my favorite. All strung out and harried for me, barely…” he twisted his wrist, and Steve nearly shouted out loud, “barely able to contain yourself.”

Steve let his hands wander down Tony’s back, over the smooth plains of muscle and down below the waistband of Tony’s underwear. When he tried to push them out of the way, though, Tony just brushed his hand aside and pinned it near his hip.

“Wha—” Tony was peering at him through his eyelashes, an open smirk playing at his swollen red lips, and Steve felt a chill of anticipation shoot down his spine. Tony licked his lips, slowly, and then released his wrist, leaning down to swallow him again, and Steve lost himself in the sensation.

The sound of skin sliding on skin hit Steve like a hammer, the idea of Tony getting off on this too much for his already sex-addled mind to take, and he barely had time to push at Tony’s forehead, trying to warn him off, before he was coming.

Tony just swallowed him all with the sort of wanton moan that had Steve’s vision going white around the edges, and Tony kept sucking him all the way through his orgasm and into the realm of discomfort before he finally pulled off with a wet pop.

Steve melted into the sheets, panting, and a moment later he felt a solid warmth drop over him, pinning him in place. Steve smiled lazily, and when he finally worked up the energy to crack an eye open, Tony was staring at him with an expression Steve recognized well.

It wasn’t the sort of pillow talk he wanted but Tony had something on his mind, and after the day they’d had Steve new very well what it was. He brushed a hand over Tony’s shoulders, tugging him closer, and he happily settled into the empty spaces beside him.

"Tony,” Steve said. He pulled a sheet up to cover them, mindless of the mess they’d just made and sighed. “This is—"

"I know, Steve," Tony said, quietly into his neck. Steve wasn’t about to let himself be deterred, though, and pushed quietly on.

"It's getting out of hand. Bad mouthing you on television, that's one thing. I should have said something when they came to our home, but this—tonight someone could have gotten hurt," Steve said. "We have to do something about this."

"What do you want me to do, Steve? It's not like I can just throw money at it until it goes away. Believe me, I've tried. Stern is out for blood," Tony said, pausing slightly. "Maybe a little more literally than we'd thought."

“I’ll kill him,” Steve said.

“We have no proof it was him,” Tony reminded him.

“I hate the way you put up with this,” Steve said. “I know it’s the smart thing to do, that you have to, but,” He kissed Tony soundly then, dragging his hands slowly down the length of his arms before settling them on his waist. “I still hate it.”

“It’ll all blow over, eventually,” Tony promised, kissing him back sweetly. He didn’t sound convinced, but Steve let himself believe it, anyway. He drew a deep breath and blew it out slowly, feeling the warmth settle around him, and turned his face into Tony’s hair.

It took Steve a long time, an idea slowly forming in the back of his mind, but eventually with Tony’s quiet, measured breaths beside him Steve managed to find sleep.

 

He brought it up the next morning, while they were lounging on the couch together.

“It’s getting cold,” Steve muttered against Tony’s neck.

Tony shrugged. “I’ve seen colder,” he said. Steve snorted.

“We should get away. For a while,” Steve said casually. He slipped an arm around Tony’s shoulders, repositioning themselves on the couch so that he could peer out the window. “We can…we can go to Paris, or…”

“Paris,” Tony said, slowly, like he was testing the word. He shook his head and sighed. “They’ll think we’re running.”

“So what? Let them. It doesn’t matter.” Steve tightened the circle of his arms. “I just think…it’s so exhausting, and I’m tired of not being able to go out without someone vilifying you when they can’t even begin to imagine how wrong they are, it’s—”

“It’s fine, Steve,” Tony cut in, laying a gentle hand on his arm.

“It’s not fine,” Steve said firmly, “but there’s nothing we can do about it. This country is crazy right now, and whether it’s with good reason or not there’s no excuse for it. We deserve a break.”

“Yeah, okay,” Tony said, because he couldn’t say no to Steve when he knew he was right. “I’ll just, I can call Pepper tomorrow, and then we’ll go.”

“Really?” Steve asked, equal parts surprised and skeptical. “Just like that?”

Tony nodded, and Steve felt him shrug beneath his arm. “Just like that.”

 

 

The sun was setting when they arrived at the hotel. Their room was on the top floor in what had to be the largest suite Steve had ever seen. They dropped their bags in a heap just inside the door. Tony looped a finger through one of Steve's belt loops and dragged him toward the bed, and Steve had to force him to pause long enough to flip the lock on the door.

The suite itself was much too large, and if Steve didn’t know for certain that it had been Pepper who had reserved it for them, he would have been annoyed.

The walls were painted red and white and the bedding was unbelievably soft across a bed nearly as large as their own at home. Steve let himself be pressed into the sheets, absolutely certain that nothing was going to happen right now, despite what Tony may be thinking to the contrary, but content to go along with it regardless.

Steve leaned in to meet the kiss readily, but after a few minutes when Tony tried to take things further, Steve laughed and nudged him back.

“I’m hungry,” he said, when Tony huffed at him, “and jet lagged.” Tony gave an over exaggerated sigh and rolled off the bed. He dragged their bags over to the dresser, and started sorting through them, while Steve leaned over to look through the room service menu.

The room had its own little kitchenette in the corner, but they hadn't brought any food with them. Eventually Tony got bored with unpacking and made his way further into the suite, intending to explore. Steve ordered room service—more food than they could possibly justify eating in one sitting—and asked the staff to call ahead before the food was brought up. He finished to find Tony staring very intently at the newspaper resting on the side table.

"Tony, what are you reading?" Steve asked. He tried to look over his shoulder to see, but the paper was in French. Tony didn't speak French as well as he did English, but he seemed to be reading the paper without any problems. Steve had to wonder what other languages Tony knew. The extent of the French Steve knew he'd learned during the war, and none of it helped him to see what Tony was so focused on.

Tony ran a thumb over one of the side articles (no pictures, unfortunately) before glancing up at Steve. "It's nothing," he said.

"Is it about you?" Steve asked.

Tony shook his head, then tapped a short column on the other side of the page. "That one is, though."

Sure enough, Steve could pick out Tony's name in the text. Of course, the news would follow them even here. Steve reached around Tony and slid the paper to the side. "I think that's enough news for one day," he said. Steve dropped a kiss onto Tony's shoulder, and Tony hummed and tilted his head to bare his neck. Steve kissed him there, too, trailing up his neck and then along his jaw. "Come on. Let's go test out the rest of the room. We can start with the shower."

 

 

Steve made a sleepy noise as Tony kissed him awake. “What time is it?” he asked, his voice rough with sleep.

Tony was already dressed, his coat hanging unbuttoned and his shoes dangling from one hand. “Late,” Tony said. “Let’s go for a walk.”

“Where are we going?”

Tony leaned over to toss Steve his own jacket, and said: “You’ll see.”

Steve dragged his feet getting dressed, still groggy and tired from the day, but eventually he followed Tony out onto the street. They walked close enough to each other that no one could see how their fingers were laced together. The streets were dark and mostly empty, and after wandering this far through narrow and winding paths the there was hardly anything to look at but tightly packed homes with ivy curling up the balconies, red and yellow with the seasons. But it was still Paris and even more importantly it wasn’t New York, and they could stand shoulder to shoulder and hold hands and not worry about which reporter was following them this time or who was going to see.

It was so freeing to be somewhere new, where no one would recognize them. Steve could smell Tony’s cologne at this distance and it was almost too much. He stopped Tony at the corner of an alleyway pushed him up against the ivy and kissed him soundly. Steve let the kiss linger, pulling only far enough away that he could still feel Tony’s breath feather across his lips.

Tony glanced back toward the street, to be sure that they were still alone, before placing a hand on Steve’s forearm. “What was that for?” Tony asked, fingers of his other hand curled reflexively around the trellis behind him.

“I love you,” Steve said, and it was maybe too honest, but it felt right to say. Tony smiled, a pleased little quirk of the lips, and brushed another kiss over the corner of Steve’s mouth.

“Come on,” Tony said. “It’s not much further.”

Steve rolled his eyes but followed obediently, until finally Tony came abruptly to a stop in the middle of the sidewalk. Steve gave him a curious look, and Tony just pointed at the building they’d stopped in front of. All the windows were lit, and Steve could hear music leaking into the street from inside.

“What’s this?” Steve asked. He scanned the building, trying to decide why Tony had brought him here and why he was looking at Steve so expectantly, when he caught sight of the banner—in French, but names were easy to distinguish regardless—and stopped short when his gaze fell on the name Van Dyne. “Tony, how did you…”

“Read about it in the paper,” Tony said matter-of-factly. Steve let his eyes flick away from the banner, and to the windows, scanning for a familiar face.

Steve and Tony stood in the street outside the gallery and watched the partygoers pass by. Though the night air was brisk the glow from the large windows seemed warm enough, like the light alone could chase away the cold.

Maybe it could. Or maybe it was the thick wool coats Tony had bought them before leaving. They were in Van Dyne clothing, the both of them. In fact, most of their clothes were. They’d needed to buy a lot of things, when they returned to the States—especially for Tony, who’s entire wardrobe consisted of the government issued plainclothes he was wearing and a closet full of Howard’s old clothes that had sat gathering dust since he’d died. Tony had completely flooded the mansion with new clothes, all from her line. Tony had the money, and it was, however subtle, Tony’s way of saying thank you.

Now Steve was grateful for them. The party was going strong, but admission was based on a guest list that the two of them weren’t on. Steve didn’t mind. He needed some time to gather his thoughts, and the cold air, as uncomfortable as it was, helped him think.

Now that they were standing outside the party he wasn’t really sure what they had hoped to accomplish by coming here.

Tony had read of the party in the hotel. They’d known that they weren’t going to be allowed inside. Tony tried, at first, but the bouncers posted at the door didn’t seem too interested in letting them pass even after Tony tried to bribe them. Steve finally pulled Tony away when they looked ready to drag Tony into the alley. The bouncers seemed satisfied with that, but they still eyed them suspiciously when they settled in front by the window.

They waited for a long time, and then suddenly Jan appeared in the window for the briefest moment and Steve felt Tony elbow him sharply in the ribs when he caught sight of her. She looked happy and just as beautiful as he remembered her. Hank was nowhere in sight, but Steve just assumed he’d retired for the evening. He really didn’t seem like the partying type.

Jan was the center of the throng, surrounded by designers and models and reporters with cameras. She looked completely in her element, smiling and laughing where appropriate. They all looked completely charmed.

Before Steve could stop him, Tony darted forward and rapped twice on the glass.

The whole group turned at the noise. Jan had a little frown on her face, like she was expecting to see some paparazzo hoping to snap a candid photo. She caught sight of them and stared, slack-jawed and completely unladylike. The wine glass fell from her hand—caught by a fumbling partygoer who huffed in irritation as wine slopped over the rim onto his sleeve—but Jan didn’t even seem to notice.

Steve had never seen anyone run so fast in high heels.

Jan pushed through the front door and slammed into Tony so hard she almost knocked him over. Tony just laughed and hugged her back, though much more gently.

“I think you promised us a tour?” Tony said.

“Oh my god,” Jan said. Tony laughed.

“It’s good to see you,” Tony said.

“Good,” Jan repeated flatly. “God, Tony, I wasn’t sure if—” she broke off, cleared her throat and tried again, “It is good to see you. I can’t believe you’re here. Wait, where’s…” Her gaze landed on Steve, and she broke away from Tony to give Steve a hug as well.

“You’re wearing my designs,” Jan said after a moment. She had a pleased smile on her face as she plucked at Tony’s sleeve.

“Yeah, well,” Tony said, “they’re tried and tested.”

Jan glanced up at him then, looking thoughtful. “Yeah,” she agreed.

She was quiet for a moment, hand still resting on Tony’s sleeve like she was afraid he’d disappear if she let go. “I saw you in the paper,” she said quietly. “American businessman, huh?”

Tony snorted. “Well, it’s certainly an improvement.”

“I’ll say,” Jan said. She reached out to straighten his collar, and as an afterthought, added, “Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.”

Inside a few people were watching the exchange with interest, probably trying to figure out who he and Tony were. Jan followed Steve’s gaze, and then smiled ruefully. “They just want to know if schmoozing with you would get them any points in the fashion industry.” Jan winked and gave the two of them a cheeky grin. “You look the part, anyway, you’ll fit right in.”

“Where’s Hank?” Tony asked. “I saw he’s got a new book out. And this one only slightly flawed.”

“Oh, he’s probably in our room,” she said. “He doesn’t like these parties much. Too much talking to people, not enough people worth talking to.” Tony got the impression that she was quoting directly but before he could ask she’d pinched the shoulder of his jacket between her fingers, tugging him toward the door.

"Come on, come inside, we'll go find Hank, maybe find somewhere that's less… in the middle of the street. If we stay out here much longer, we'll end up on more tabloids than you can count." She paused, thoughtful. "If anyone asks, you model for me."

"I don't think..." Steve trailed off, glancing down at what he was wearing. Other than Jan's coat, it wasn't anything fancy.

"Oh, trust me honey, they'll assume you're a model anyway." She reached out to tilt Steve's chin, a playful glint in her eye. She looked over the two of them like she was mentally taking their measurements. "Actually, now that I think about it, you two would...ah, but first things first." She clasped them each around the wrist and tugged them after her toward the door, with an excited little hop in her step.

The bouncer stepped aside wordlessly to let Jan pass. Tony looked like he was considering sticking his tongue out at him, and Steve tried terribly hard not to laugh at the bouncer's expression.

Jan stepping inside drew a reaction akin to moths drawn to a flame. She had been right in assuming that the guests would mistake them for models—a few people even tried to push themselves forward to shake his hand, probably assuming he was someone important after seeing Jan run outside to greet them. Jan just brushed them all off politely while Tony started to tell one reporter about his modeling contract in Italy. Steve elbowed him in the side.

Once the group realized that they were headed toward the elevator banks they trickled back into the crowd.

"Is it all right for you to just leave like this?" Steve asked. "I mean, isn't it your party?"

"They'll survive just fine without me," she said. "Besides, most of the people here already work with me or for me. If anything this party is more like a dress rehearsal. The important events start when we announce the new line in a couple weeks."

The elevator dinged open and they all stepped inside. The attendant shot them a disinterested glance and pressed the button for Jan's floor. They rode to her floor in silence, and it hit Steve just how surreal the situation was. That part of his life, when they'd first met the couple on the train, felt so distant from this one, it was hard to reconcile. He'd never imagined he'd be seeing them again in this lifetime. Steve reached out and brushed a thumb over Tony's wrist, the motion hidden between them from the other occupants of the elevator.

 


Jan threw open the door with a flourish, revealing a very large hotel room. It was bigger than the one that Pepper had booked, though the space was somewhat diminished by the rows of garment racks pushed up against the wall—most likely a part of the new line Jan had mentioned.

"Hank, look what I found," Jan sing-songed.

Hank took off his glasses with a sigh. "If it's more clothes I don't want—" He cut off mid-sentence but recovered quickly. "What is it with you and bringing strange men into our rooms?" Hank asked, but he was grinning as he stood from his desk.

"Does that happen often?" Steve asked.

"She finds them in the strangest places," Hank confirmed. His expression morphed into something more serious. "How on Earth did you...We were sure you'd been caught."

Tony shrugged. "It's a long story."

"I'd like to hear it," Hank said.

 

Steve let Tony tell the story, starting from the beginning. He left the worst of it out, simply glossing over the details or phrasing it in such a matter of fact way that it hardly scratched the surface of the truth, but Steve silently agreed that it was better this way. Whether it was for the Pym's sake or their own, living to see the cold and the death once was already one too many.

"...and then, they shot Steve instead." Tony's hand suddenly tightened around Steve's, hard and desperate like he could reach back through time and hold him then, too. "I thought for sure that he—" his voice quavered and he clamped his mouth shut for a moment before continuing. "Anyway, then all of the guards just started dropping, and to be honest I don't really remember much of what happened next I was so out of it, but I woke up in a coffin." Jan gasped and Tony crooked a grin at her and clarified, "Not by accident. That's how they snuck us through. They let me out when we were on the other side."

"My god," Jan breathed. Her eyes were shining and she wiped them on her sleeve. "I'm so sorry. Hank and I...we should have—"

"What? No!" Tony said. "God, no. You risked your lives for us and you didn't even know us. There's no way we could have made it without you."

"We wanted to go back for you," Hank said. "Jan was convinced that if we just toured the country by train eventually we would find you."

"It was maybe not the best thought-out plan," Jan admitted, "but... I don't know, it felt too easy. You jumped out of a moving train in the middle of nowhere and all Hank and I got was a little questioning and a sincere apology from the train company. It didn't seem right."

"It was enough," Steve said.

"We thought you were dead."

"It was enough," Steve repeated firmly. Tony nodded in agreement, leaning only slightly into Steve’s side.

Tony leaned over to rap his knuckles against the book sitting on the side table. “And anyway, if you’d been out there with your snowshoes and your shovels when would you have found the time to write this nonsense?” Tony asked.

The joke was an obvious attempt to lighten the mood, but the way Hank squinted at Tony looked sincere. Jan just rolled her eyes, an amused little smirk playing on her lips.

“So what are you two doing now?” she asked before Hank and Tony could gain any steam.

Tony flashed her a quick grin. “Moving forward.”

 

In America, Stark Industries finally announced its new initiative for clean energy. In France, Tony tucked his head under Steve’s chin and smiled.