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There was Classic Rock blasting from the car stereos and the vehicle left a cloud of smoke in its wake on a deserted road. For miles and miles around them there was nothing but sagebrush standing against the sun. They hadn’t seen another car in hours, but that had been the point of choosing a small side-road that led to no place special.

Tony craned back his neck, wind whipping against his face and exposed skin. The car slowed at the curve then accelerated again, creating a delicious twist in his stomach.

Opening his eyes and looking to the left through his sunglasses, Tony regarded Steve Rogers at the wheel. Wearing one of those plain gray t-shirts and simple jeans, there were spots of dampness on his skin. However, there was a relaxed expression on his face – one that was usually related to the man driving his motorcycle – so he couldn’t be feeling too hot. Besides, if he did get too hot and decided to remove his shirt, Tony had nothing against it.

Not that any sane person would, but Tony had always been appreciative of the finer things…

His own dark jeans had long since begun to make him sweat, but then, the plan had been to drive to Vegas and stop there. Leave it to Captain America to come up with a new, improved plan.

“I don’t think we can make it to Vegas in time for the Cirque du Soleil show,” Tony shouted over the noise of the wind and the music.

“Did you really want to go?” Steve asked, giving him a brief look, both hands on the wheel. At the speed he was going, it was a good thing he had a solid grip.

“Nah,” Tony shook his head. It had been something he’d thought Steve would like, since circus acts and acrobatics took discipline and a lot of practice – which the man was notorious for – plus the costumes, lights, sounds and sets were an art form of their own. “We can go another time.”

Steve focused on the road again and put the pedal to the metal; Tony felt like he was experiencing his first flight in Mark II all over again, with a certain lack of control over what was unfolding. He had built the engine, though, and every sound it made was something he understood. Much like with the suits.

They drove on.

Tony checked the readings from the car computer build into the dashboard, to see how the new power cells were faring. The levels were exactly as expected – not that he doubted his own genius – and even in the heat of the desert, all levels were within acceptable limits.

“Something wrong?” Steve asked.

“Do I look like I think something’s wrong?” Tony asked in return.

“Sometimes it’s hard to tell with you,” the blond admitted, eyes on the road again. They were still going fast, but there was no one to ticket them out here – if they could catch them. Tony had a feeling no one was going to pull over Captain America unless he wanted to be pulled over.

“Everything’s fi–”

“Sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S.’s voice cut him off, the music turned down as the AI began to speak.

“What’s up, J?” Tony asked.

“There is an unauthorized entry in progress at the Dushon facility.”

“And why are you calling me and not their security?” Tony asked with a frown, pressing at the screen to get a map open.

“Because you personally flagged that facility as a top priority location during its shut-down,” the AI replied.

Tony found the map which showed the facility’s location in the middle of nowhere, and then opened the data package that came with it. His mood plummeted instantly. “I recall,” he mused. The fact that he remembered that place, amongst hundreds of other locations he had ordered to stop production when he halted weapons manufacturing in his company, meant Dushon was special. Located in an unpopulated area, the closest structures being a few ghost towns long since abandoned, there was nothing out there but land owned by SI – and the testing facility with minimal production and storage areas. “Who’s trying to gain access to it?” Tony asked.

“There is a break-in in progress; they have disabled surveillance in the area, which is what triggered the alarm.”

“Any tech on site that we need to worry about?” As he asked the question, he opened a file detailing the materials located at Dushon. He frowned and once again told himself he really should do more spring cleaning with his facilities, or stuff like this would happen. “We’re about fifty miles away; we’ll check it out,” he decided, closing the file.

Steve gave him a look but didn’t slow down.

“Take the next right,” Tony told him.

“What’s in there?” Steve asked.

“Some tech I would rather not have anyone get their hands on, especially if they’re going through the trouble of breaking into a sealed Stark Industries facility.”

“Would you like me to send out a suit, sir?” J.A.R.V.I.S. inquired.

Tony threw Steve a look. Neither of them was prepared for this. All they had was Steve’s shield on the backseat. On the other hand, it would be more than plenty. “Nah,” Tony decided. “I’ll let you know as the situation progresses.”

“Shall I inform someone else of the situation, before it progresses?” That mostly meant Pepper, who was still the CEO of Stark Industries, but after she and Tony broke up, soon after the Extremis mess – and especially after she and Happy found themselves in a new and improved, highly unprofessional relationship – Tony wasn’t certain whether he wanted to throw this kind of mess onto her desk.

“Let’s… keep this under wraps for now.”

“Very well, sir.”

Steve took the right turn once they came to it and kept speeding down the road, following Tony’s instructions. The last stretches forced them to slow down due to the poor conditions of the road that hadn’t been used in years – save for the persons who were busy breaking into the facility.

“So, they’re stealing weapons,” Steve spoke up as they drew near.

“More like weapon parts,” Tony corrected, then guided Steve to park the car at a sheltered spot. They continued on foot, Steve with his shield and Tony carrying a pair of binoculars.

“Dangerous weapon parts,” the blond guessed, continuing on topic.

Tony supposed he would have to tell Steve what they were walking into, although he doubted most thieves would even comprehend what they were getting their hands on. However, on the black market, someone smarter might find themselves in possession of the stolen parts. “Let’s just say they tested some of my personal designs here. Future warfare – something not intended for this generation. Advanced tech, most of it mere theories.”

“But there’s something here worth stealing, other than theories,” Steve noted flatly.

Tony nodded, refusing to feel guilty. “Back in the day, when I was cleaning up my act – my company’s act – I didn’t trust anyone to handle the transaction. Trust issues were a mild word for it. At the same time, I was busy flying around in a metal suit and attempting to achieve world peace, so places like this got shut down, sealed up, and have waited for spring cleaning ever since.”

They walked to the top of a small hill and Steve crouched down, shield angled so that the rays of the sun wouldn’t catch it. He made no comment to imply that Tony deserved what was coming to him; those days were long past between them. Steve had told him, many a time, that he respected what Tony was trying to do – had done, to ensure his legacy would be more than just body bags.

Tony lay down on the ground and raised the binoculars to his eyes, seeking the main entrance of the facility. Most of it was located underground, but the above-ground structures stood behind tall fences. Crates and containers were lined up, waiting to be filled and taken away. All of them had been waiting since the closing of the facility, so they couldn’t be considered as signs of intruders.

Beside him, Steve looked down at the scene with a steady focus, probably mapping out buildings in his head. Tony thought, belatedly, that maybe he should have pulled some blueprints from the computer to show him – which was why he was a genius and fished his phone from his pocket, opened the right file and shoved the device at the other man. “The good stuff is underground,” he explained.

Steve took the phone and started scrolling. “That’s where they’ll be?”

“Most likely. And the loading docks, but I don’t see any movement from up here.”

“So, we get closer,” Steve decided, scrolling back up before handing Tony his phone back. Knowing him, Steve had already memorized the entire layout of the place.

“Yeah,” Tony agreed and rose to his knees. He debated calling J.A.R.V.I.S. and have the AI fly one of his suits down, but there would be plenty of stuff to use as a weapon inside the facility. Besides, Steve looked like he could use a little exercise after sitting in the car for hours.

They moved downhill until they reached the fence. The facility sat in a basin-shaped area, gentle slopes with a few higher peaks rising all around it. The rising terrain gave the facility a sense of privacy from prying eyes, but it also left them pretty vulnerable during their approach. There was no movement amidst the buildings, crates and containers, however, and Steve looked up and down the fence, no doubt plotting a way in.

Tony, on the other hand, walked slightly to the side like he owned the place – because he did – and found a side-gate, firmly locked and the hinges and lock welded shut for emphasis. “Your shield, Captain,” he called out, and Steve came over, adjusted his hold on his trusty shield, then slammed it down first at the lock, then at the hinges, and the gate fell spectacularly flat on the ground before either of them could catch it.

Even at the sound of the crash, no one came to investigate, and Tony started to wonder whether it was a false alarm. Perhaps they could have just entered through the main gate.

Steve moved in ahead of him, walking over the fallen gate and onwards towards the cluster of large buildings. He was hunched a little lower than usual, and Tony knew that pose well enough from all their battles together; Steve was wary, every muscle ready to jump into action at any given second.

As they neared the main buildings, they could see no one. Tony slid out his phone, checked the records sent to him by J.A.R.V.I.S., and an update suggested the alarms had been cut off. Someone was definitely on the premises, but keeping quiet about it.

Steve veered off to the left and discovered a door. He glanced back at Tony, then broke the lock with a single swing of his shield. Not for the first time Tony hoped there was a way to synthesize vibranium; there were so many ways he could use it in his suits.

With the door open, they slipped inside. The air was musty and still – save for a very faint draft coming from somewhere. There were no voices, not even when they had walked all the way through the building to a control room that Tony made Steve break into. “If they heard us come in, they’re taking their sweet time coming to investigate,” Tony noted as he sat down in front of a control panel and checked it for power. Just as it should be, the main power was turned off, so he moved over to peer out through the side window and tried to locate something useful among the machinery around them.

There was no way Tony was letting anyone walk out of here with his tech in tow. He might not have a suit to stop them, but that hardly made him powerless. With a grin, he noticed something useful and exited the control room in favor of walking over to a series of pipes running across the floor and then disappearing as they headed towards the lower levels.

“You’re planning something,” Steve observed.

“A little farewell gift to our friends, should they not want to surrender and leave when they’re told,” Tony mused and forced open a grill on the floor, leading into a small access tunnel that followed the pipes down. He started lowering himself into it, then looked up at Steve. “Coming?”

The super-solider looked left and right, searching the large, abandoned space with his eyes, then strapped his shield to his back and proceeded to climb down after Tony. The shield barely fit in the hole, but they made it down to the maintenance level and Tony made himself busy, rigging a few of the power generators to overload at a signal from his phone. The plan was to overheat the system before any of the safety functions – which Tony disabled to the best of his ability – had time to respond.

It was crude and clunky, but Tony was convinced it would work. Blowing up the entire facility sky high would be the last resort if he and Steve couldn’t take on the intruders.

“There,” he finished, cutting a few more wires.

Steve gave his work a doubting look. “Did you just sabotage your own factory?”

“Pretty much,” Tony grinned. “Let’s go greet our visitors.”

They set off, Tony in the lead although Steve probably had an idea where they were headed, after going over the blueprints. It was all going according to plan as they moved down a few more levels and exited the maintenance area – only to finally spot their companions.

Tony swore and pressed himself to the nearest wall.

“Who are they?” Steve asked, voice low. He kept looking at the group of people who were loading equipment onto heavy-duty carts.

“AIM,” Tony whispered.

“As in…”

“The people who blew up my house. And gave Pepper Extremis,” Tony confirmed. He knew Steve knew more than the basics about the whole AIM/Mandarin business. While Pepper had been fixed and there had been no further sightings of Advanced Idea Mechanics, there was no mistaking the faint orange glow of one of the men who appeared to be a look-out, and the very knowledgeable way the others were selecting what to take and what to leave.

Steve shifted his shield to a better battle-position.

Tony looked around, wondering if there was anything useful lying around; it was a little late now to call for the suit.

“I can take him,” Steve noted, as if thinking Tony doubted his prowess against someone with Extremis enhancement.

“No doubt, Cap,” Tony agreed. “But, while you two butt heads, it leaves me dealing with all the rest of them.” There were close to two dozen people moving around, lamps set to give them light as they proceeded to rob the abandoned tech.

“Can’t you take them?” Steve asked, a small tease in his voice.

“Not on such short notice.” Tony took another look at them, then around the space. “Then again…” He slid quickly from one wall to another, sliding along it and then looked at the shelves where several items were stored. Clearly the AIM goons hadn’t gotten to this side of the room yet.

Steve followed him, moving quickly and silently, not making such a big effort to blend in as Tony did. Well, he probably knew what it took to hide from enemy eyes, plus he didn’t have a glowing circle of light beneath his shirt. Belatedly, Tony considered that maybe he should have put on a jacket to cover the arc reactor, but right now it was their only source of light since the AIM lamps weren’t directed this way.

“Can you make some of this work?” Steve asked in a hushed tone, looking at the gadgets. He didn’t ask what they were, or what they would do; Tony would give him a technical answer, just to piss him off, and it would be a waste of time.

Tony just hummed and picked a few things from the shelves, then pulled open a tool box that was sitting on another shelf nearby. It seemed that when this place was shut down, people didn’t even bother to pack their things. They had just left them there. At the same time, Tony knew these were just prototypes of actual models, and without detailed instructions or knowledge about the devices, they couldn’t be used. After all, people had been trying to reverse-engineer his suits for years and they weren’t any closer than on day one. These weapons here were so futuristic that Tony himself had to take a pause to recall how exactly he had planned they would work.

“Be patient, old man,” Tony told his companion.

“It’s not my stuff they’re trying to steal,” Steve feigned indifference.

“Good point,” Tony agreed and worked a little faster.

In five minutes he had combined two weapons into one that would accept his arc reactor as a power source. The end result was a little like a Star Trek phaser, which was amusing, but the reference would be lost on Steve so he didn’t bother. He took the cables and brought them up to his chest, sliding the arc reactor out a little. At first it seemed the pieces wouldn’t fit together, but with a little cramming, the weapon powered up on the table and Tony grinned.

“Is that safe?” Steve asked, looking at the wires disappearing under the edge of his tank top.

“Genius, remember?” Tony challenged him and turned to go and greet their guests.

“That’s not an answer,” Steve complained but followed him.

“Trust me,” Tony offered instead.

He heard a sigh and then Steve moved slightly ahead of him, shield in position. The sigh didn’t mean Steve didn’t trust Tony; it was merely an expression of slight frustration towards Tony’s unforthcoming, sometimes careless, attitude.

This time they advanced without an attempt to hide, and Tony picked up the pace to be at Steve’s side when the AIM lookout noticed them. Clearly they hadn’t expected company, which was a little insulting. Where did they think they were breaking into?

“Alright, people!” Tony called out boldly. “I’m sure you all noticed the ‘closed’ sign sitting outside. Drop whatever you’re holding and maybe we can settle this without troubling the authorities.”

Steve gave him a look which clearly said, ‘really?’.

Tony responded with a shrug.

Sure enough, the AIM goons dropped what they were doing – in favor of picking up their guns. None of the goons glowed an ominous shade of orange, save for the one man, which was a relief.

“Guess we’re not just going to talk this out,” Tony murmured, then launched to the side when he was shot at. He rolled over his shoulder, arms stretched in front of him – in a pretty good imitation of what Natasha had taught him, he might add. Before he was even properly back on his feet, he fired the gun he had put together, a beam of light leaving the barrel and cutting through one AIM goon and hitting another behind him. Both of them fell down.

“Oops,” Tony murmured and looked down at the gun, supposing it had a bit too much kick in it. He didn’t have time to adjust settings, however, before he was being shot at again and had to seek refuge whether or not he planned on returning fire.

Off to the side, Steve and Mr. Glow-stick were butting more than just heads. Steve seemed to be hard-pressed to keep up with his adversary, which made Tony feel a little smug – for about two seconds before the crate next to him exploded in a shower of wooden pieces and he had to move and shoot, no matter how brutal the outcome. The beam from his gun cut through a few more adversaries, but also bore deep, smoking holes in the far wall.

After finding another safe location, Tony crouched down, trying to spot Steve. He spotted him just in time to see the vibranium shield slamming against the Extremis soldier’s face, bones crushing and the glowing body slamming into a container, denting its wall beneath the strength.

As much as a futurist as Tony was, in this instance he appreciated the old-fashioned version over the new one.

Steve halted, panting hard, steadying his breathing. He appeared unhurt, a few bloody scratches already fading on his skin, the battle speeding up his healing due to the adrenaline rush. The blue eyes soon sought out the room at large, looking for something, and Tony waved his hand – only to almost have it shot off.

As Tony drew his limb back from the line of fire, he lost sight of Steve – but heard him soon enough, bullets bouncing off the shield and grunts following soon after. It was followed by the familiar sound of something flying through the air and the vibranium shield bouncing off several solid surfaces on its way to embed itself into a wall, cutting a group of pipes neatly in two, releasing steam into the air.

Tony straightened, peering around the machinery he had been hiding behind. All AIM goons were down and Steve was striding over to retrieve his shield. “See? We did okay,” Tony told him.

“You almost had your arm shot off,” Steve argued, wrenching his shield free of the concrete and narrowing his eyes against the steam.

“I thought you were looking for me,” Tony defended himself.

“I was,” Steve admitted and walked towards him. He looked Tony over, more thoroughly than when Tony was wearing his armor. He supposed being in his civvies made a difference, because no one could really ever tell how badly he was injured inside his suit. “Shall we –”

Steve was cut off by a bang and the sound of running. They both looked towards the sounds, seeing an orange glow disappear, and then something like an industrial elevator starting. Steve frowned, as if not believing the guy was still walking, much less running after the beating Steve had given him.

Tony supposed he could save the tale of how his armors had beaten up a whole lot more of the Extremis soldiers for another time. “We should get topside, see if there are any more of them hiding up there.”

“Good idea,” Steve agreed. “Stairs are that way,” he pointed and started striding over. He didn’t look twice at the bodies on the floor – that had to be a habit from the war, where there were a whole lot more bodies involved – but he did regard the smoking holes in the walls. “I would say your gun worked fairly well.”

“Too well,” Tony noted. He held onto it, though, just in case there was a surprise party waiting for them upstairs.

“What were they trying to steal?” Steve asked as they jogged up the stairs. He didn’t sound winded, but he wasn’t running, probably so that Tony wouldn’t fall behind.

Although he would have preferred to focus on breathing, Tony had never been particularly good at admitting defeat, so he opened his mouth: “A few of them looked like prototypes for frontal and temporal lobe manipulation through auditory weaponry.”

Steve slowed down minutely, looking down at him in the dark stairwell. “Controlling the brain through sound?”

“Yeah,” Tony confessed. “Mostly envisioned to cause a controlled, catatonic state to suppress any hostilities in the affected area. Imagine dropping a weapon like that in a hostile city and then just walking in to contain the situation. No civilian casualties, no cross-fire victims…”

“Why wasn’t it finished?” Steve asked.

“Well, we created a smaller, close-range device that actually went into manufacturing. At the time, the military or the government didn’t like it well enough, and…” He remembered how well the device worked, from personal experience. Lying on the couch in his own home, with Obie leaning over his paralyzed body… “I haven’t looked at those plans in years. I’m not about to, either,” he noted and kept walking, forcing Steve to continue ahead of him.

“But it sounds like a non-violent method of subduing the enemy,” Steve pressed. “Or are there side-effects?”

“We didn’t really get that far. I knew the world wasn’t ready for that kind of warfare, and I’m glad I was right.”

“But these AIM people are looking for it.”

“Probably looking for scraps. They know to lay low after the last time they crossed my path,” Tony scoffed. “Can we focus on the mission?” He wasn’t usually one to request that, but he didn’t want to talk about the weapons he had designed in the past. The genius behind this invention hadn’t been its non-lethality, but its effectiveness. Of course the lack of civilian casualties had been a big plus, but Tony’s main concern had been the safety of the American troops – something he had failed to ensure, in the end.

They got back to ground level and Steve opened the stairwell door carefully, listening to any sounds that might suggest their enemies were waiting for them. “The coast is clear,” he finally decided and slipped out, leaving Tony to follow. The door almost slammed him in the face, falling heavily, and Tony shoved it further open to let himself through, then remembered to slow it down as if fell shut again, muffling the sound.

Around them, the building was quiet – deceptively so. Tony didn’t think AIM would just hightail it out of here like common crooks. Most likely they were looking for bigger, badder weapons. Well, let them: it wasn’t anything Steve and Tony couldn’t handle.

Empowered by those thoughts, Tony followed Steve through the dim hallways between machinery, observation rooms, testing rooms and crates. He could barely hear the blond ahead of him, and Tony tried to hold back his own breaths, not wanting to be the one to expose them to their enemies.

He needn’t have worried: as soon as Steve slipped out from another tight space, shots were fired at them, rapidly, and Steve threw himself backwards. All Tony could do was raise his weapon hand out of the way and hope they didn’t both fall down. One shot ricocheted off the shield while Steve was still finding his balance and almost took out Tony’s right eye. The shot hit a valve on the nearby wall and steam began spreading out, the temperature in the enclosed space rising by a few degrees almost instantly.

“Uh,” Tony started, looking at it, then slid his free hand to his pocket to find his phone. The signal he had built to blow up the facility hadn’t been accidentally activated, but it was clear pressure was building in the pipes – some of which were beginning to tremble.

“Not a good ‘uh’?” Steve asked him, daring a look out at their opposition and then pulling back again before they could fire at his face.

“Not so much,” Tony agreed. “We need to leave. Now.”

“I thought you had it on a timer,” Steve looked at him in alarm, then at the spreading cloud of steam.

“Something we did downstairs must have amplified the chemical reaction. No big deal. We just need to find an exit,” Tony summarized the situation.

Steve gave him a dirty look, as if Tony were holding back vital information.

Well, none of the details would do Steve any good, so Tony just arched an eyebrow and started to look for a way out. When he found none that didn’t include the shooting gallery, he aimed his weapon at nearby crates and fired. All it did was cut chunks out of them like a laser – and set one of them on fire.

Steve gave him a quick look that may have been amused if not for the situation itself. He then looked at the gun. “Does it store a charge?”

Tony frowned at him.

“After you remove the cables,” Steve explained further.

“Yeah, I think so. Enough for one shot at least. Why?”

“Give it to me,” Steve demanded and stepped a bit further away from the burning crate.

Tony did as he was told. “You know, I’m a fairly good shot,” he complained; it just always happened he was paired up with someone who was an amazing shot.

“I’m not going to use it to shoot,” Steve reassured him – or was it criticism?

Tony disconnected the cables and threw them to the floor, then reluctantly gave Steve the modified weapon. “What are you –?”

“Prepare to run,” Steve told him, then stepped out to the open, threw the gun into the air – then slammed it towards their hiding enemies with his shield. It may have been the impact of the shield, or one of the shots fired at the projectile, but the gun exploded mid-air between them and the AIM goons, the pressure wave almost blowing Tony off his feet as everything that wasn’t nailed down or didn’t possess sufficient mass was picked up and slammed away from the explosion. He felt a hand around his arm, a vice-like grip pulling him forward, and he hoped it was Steve.

When the smoke and debris cleared, there were no more shots fired. Steve kept moving them towards the nearest door. For a moment Tony wasn’t sure why they were still in such a hurry – surely they could have stopped until his ears stopped ringing – but then they ran past a pipe that was positively vibrating and glowing hot from the inside. Right: the big explosion was just waiting to happen.

Tony made an effort to run a little faster.

They were a hundred feet from the door when the Extremis enhanced soldier appeared in front of them. His clothes were torn and burnt, and he was still healing from the blast. He also looked determined to go another round with Steve, but they didn’t have time for it. The floor was shaking, just a little, and Tony tried to count how long it would be before structures would begin to crack beneath the pressure and it would all release itself in one mighty eruption.

Steve let go of his forearm. “Soon as you have an opening, get out and keep running. I’ll be right behind you.”

“Can we –”

“Go!” Steve ordered and launched himself at the last standing villain. The man met him half-way and they slammed to the floor, rolled, then kept grabbling. Knowing that he had no business getting between them, Tony ran to the door, opened the lock and then found the door jammed. He shoved his weight against it, then slammed harder against the door, but it wasn’t even shaking.

“Shit,” Tony swore, taking a step back and looking for an alternative. The AIM people had come in from somewhere, and… One of the loading dock doors was slightly ajar; so little that it couldn’t be seen from afar. He looked back at the fight, hoping Steve saw him take off in another direction, then picked the quickest path to the door and ran out through it, temporarily blinded by the bright sun.

Eyes stinging and watering, Tony struggled to see where he was going. He tried to walk carefully, but suddenly there was nothing beneath his foot and he almost fell forward until someone grabbed him by the shoulder and hauled him back from the edge. Blinking, he looked over his shoulder, dreading that it was a villain, but in that case he would have been shoved forward, not pulled back.

It was Steve, blond hair sweaty and shining in the sun.

Tony looked forward the way he had been going, finding that had he taken that last step, he would have fallen off the loading dock and at best sprained an ankle when coming down.

Inside the building, something blew up.

“We need to keep moving,” Steve urged, then jumped down with the agility of a cat and offered to soften Tony’s fall with a hurried gesture. Tony took it, although he leaned as little on Steve as possible: he was no damsel in distress.

Behind them, the door they had used came off its hinges and the AIM soldier seethed at them, eyes burning. Inside, another explosion sounded, and something flew up through the roof, arching high before falling back down; Tony thought it looked like a piece of a pipe, or a valve.

He took a step away from the building, signaling to Steve that they really had to get going. To the Extremis soldier, he said: “As our esteemed colleague Hawkeye would say: tick, tick, boom.”

The man frowned, then looked behind himself just as the entire building blew up, cocooning him in flames and debris.

Steve, moving fast, pressed Tony against him and sheltered them with his shield to the best of his ability. Ten seconds later the blond lifted his head and looked around. “That wasn’t so bad.”

“That was just the first layer, releasing some pressure; it will keep on building below ground as the power generator stores too much energy, until the entire place goes boom and probably leaves a rather impressive sinkhole behind.”

“Start running, then,” Steve suggested, and Tony nodded, taking off towards the fence in the distance.

The ground trembled beneath them. Tony could hear Steve running behind him, not urging him on but a constant pressure at his back, telling him to go faster. They had gotten past all the structures, just dodging between crates and containers, when they ran out of time: the ground seemed to ripple and the facility was pushed upwards from below, like a fist shoving through.

Tony lost himself for a moment. He wasn’t sure whether he was running, falling or flying. His brain felt like it had been forced to shut down and reboot, and by the time it all cleared, all five of his senses were still ringing, blinded or blocked, leaving him disoriented. Once things began to clear, several slow seconds later, something like an adrenaline rush washed over him and he spotted Steve beside him, looking equally messed up.

“Phew!” Steve breathed, coming to a halt. “That was too close!” he observed, sound barely carrying over the continuous ringing in Tony’s ears. “I’m glad we’re both fine,” the blond added, looking at him.

Tony bent over at the waist, leaning his palms against his knees, trying to catch his breath and give his head time to get with the program. “We succeeded in getting some people really pissed,” he noted – mostly meaning AIM, who had probably thought a closed-down facility would be easy pickings.

After his ears had calmed down a little and he could hear more than the rush of his own blood, Tony straightened up and took a few careful steps. On his right, there was a lone crate standing in the midst of destruction, and he went over to it, planning to sit on top of it until he properly found his legs. They could both use a break. “First, let’s –” His hand moved to touch the crate, to help settle his body on top of it, but instead of touching the rough wood, his hand sank through it like a projection. “What the…!” Tony stared at it – at his hand disappearing inside the fairly real-looking wooden container.

“Tony… look!” Steve’s alarmed exclamation made Tony pull back from the fairly disturbing vision of his hand rising back out of the crate. He raised the hand up, clutching it, feeling that it was very real and there was nothing at all wrong with the limb. “There,” Steve pointed, and Tony followed his finger further ahead of them with his eyes.

There, on the sand, in the midst of rubble and debris, lay two bodies.

Their bodies, to be exact.

“Oh, shit!” was the first thing that came out of Tony’s mouth.

“My feelings exactly,” Steve echoed beside him.

Tony took a step forward, then stopped. He looked back at the crate on his right and tried touching it again, first with his right hand, which had already gone through it, then his left, and finally his foot. “You touch it,” Tony ordered, stepping aside to let Steve move towards the crate. He hadn’t been this nervous in a long time and became even more so as he watched Steve reach out towards the wooden surface – then witnessed his fingers sinking through it.

Steve jerked his hand back as if he’d been burned.

They stood there for a moment, in mutual indecision. Then, as if to break out of it, Steve circled the crate, poking and prodding at it – or trying, because you couldn’t poke or prod something you couldn’t touch in the first place. Tony guessed the other man had the right idea, and he leaned down in an attempt to pick up a stone from the ground. Just like with the crate, his fingers passed through it. There was no sensation of cold or hot, wet or dry. It was like touching air, without a draft forming against his skin.

To do another kind of test, Tony pinched his own arm, starting a little at the sensation that followed; he definitely felt that.

In growing dread and confusion, Tony moved around, trying to touch anything: pieces of metal, wood or stone, a lone dead plant. None of it made a difference and he finally stopped, hugging himself, watching as Steve slowly and resolutely arrived at the same conclusion:

“Something’s wrong,” Steve stated as he stopped and looked at Tony.

“You think?” Tony arched an eyebrow, then slowly looked over at where their bodies lay in the sand. Steve lay on his back, like a rag doll someone had just tossed there, and Tony lay half on top of him on his stomach. From a distance, Tony couldn’t see any blood, but both figures were awfully still. He was starting to come to a rather horrible conclusion about all this. “I think we’re dead,” he finally said it out loud, testing the word. It didn’t fit, didn’t feel natural, but then, if they were dead, was it supposed to sound right?

Steve shifted uneasily, looking at the bodies and then at Tony. “Maybe we should go over and make sure.”

Tony’s eyes flew from him to their unmoving copies. “Okay,” he replied, and they started in unison, but the closer they got, the less Tony wanted to touch his dead, cold body, and finally he stopped. “I changed my mind,” he blurted out, and Steve halted, a few steps ahead of him. “I don’t…” Tony pointed at himself and shook his head.

“Do you want me to?” Steve asked.

“I would rather you didn’t,” he replied, although it was stupid and ridiculous. He took a few shuffling steps back – shuffling, because it didn’t matter whether he dragged his feet or not, and suddenly he realized something else and his entire body froze. “Oh my God!”

“What?” Steve asked, alarmed, taking three steps towards him as if something were wrong with Tony.

“Don’t move,” Tony ordered.

“Why not?”

“I think… I mean, we can’t touch anything, right?”

“Right.”

“So, one wrong move, and we might sink.”

“Sink where?” Steve frowned.

“Anywhere!” Tony exclaimed. “To the core of the Earth, to the other side – I don’t know. But it stands to reason…” He felt like hyperventilating, but if he was dead, what was the point of that?

“Tony,” Steve called out, moving towards him, “we’re not sinking.”

“But we don’t know if we will,” Tony reminded him. “We can’t touch anything; we shouldn’t be able to touch the ground, either,” he reasoned.

“I think we would have sunk already, if we were going to.”

“Yeah…” Okay, so that made sense, a little. It didn’t calm Tony down more than a little bit, but he did dig the toe of his shoe into the dirt. It sort of happened. He didn’t start sinking uncontrollably. “No sudden moves, though, okay?” he pleaded. “No jumping or running.”

“Okay,” Steve nodded. It looked like Tony’s irrational fear was getting to him a wee bit, and he looked at the ground suspiciously, like it was going to swallow him, literally. “So, if we’re dead…”

“I’m pretty sure we are,” Tony agreed, casting a look at his prone form on the ground before moving a bit further away, biting his thumb thoughtfully. “This must be Limbo.”

“Say what?” Steve frowned.

“The in-between. Not life, not death; the bus stop before you’re shipped to Heaven or Hell. We’re stuck, for some reason. We’re ghosts.” That was why they couldn’t touch anything. He’d seen Ghost enough times with Pepper, he knew how this worked. They were neither here nor there.

Steve cast their bodies another look, like he was debating going over and checking, just in case. “I though you didn’t believe in that stuff,” he finally said, looking at Tony instead.

“Well, I don’t think out-of-body experiences usually happen to two people at once, and…” Tony looked at himself, then away. “Great. Just fucking great,” he muttered and walked away from the bodies. He wanted to kick something, but that outlet for his frustration was no longer accessible to him.

“I think we need to look at this rationally,” Steve said behind him, and by the sound of it, he followed Tony.

The genius stopped and whirled around, looking at the blond. “Rationally? You want to… Okay, fine. I killed us. Are you happy now?” Tony cringed at his own words. He didn’t want to take the credit for this, but it had been his idea to rig the place to blow, and something had backfired very badly.

“That’s not what I meant,” Steve stated. “I just…” He cut himself off and looked to the right, then started jogging. Tony opened his mouth in alarm, but Steve didn’t sink into the earth, instead running smoothly, quietly – was it quieter than usual? – over to something in the dirt and stopped by it. His shield. It must have rolled over there after the impact from the explosion. The blond crouched down and reached out to touch it, but just as with the crate, rocks and debris, his fingers couldn’t touch the vibranium.

Tony felt something clench in his chest. For some reason he believed that if they weren’t dead, Steve would have been able to pick up his shield. It wasn’t rational thinking, since there was no logic to it, but his logic was lying face down in the dirt on top of Steve Rogers’ body and Tony was ready to flip out, just a tad.

Steve rose back to his feet and gave his shield one last mournful look, then walked back to Tony. “Okay, so… we’re dead,” he finally agreed. “Why are we stuck?”

Tony frowned. “Well, the usual crap suggests that there’s some unfinished business to attend to; that a spirit can’t find peace before the score’s settled.”

Steve nodded slowly, looking thoughtful. He was awfully calm for someone who had just figured out he was dead, whereas Tony was screaming internally. It was like a bad joke. “What haven’t we finished?” the super-soldier asked at length.

“I have a very long list of things I haven’t finished,” Tony offered.

“I don’t think those would hold you here,” Steve noted dryly.

He was probably right, the bastard. “Whatever it is, for me… I don’t think I’ll do it.”

“Why?” Steve frowned.

Tony gave him a rueful smile. “Because the only place I’m going to spend any form of afterlife in is Hell, and I ain’t going there. I’d rather stay here, thank you very much.” Tony may have dedicated his life after Afghanistan to cleaning up the mess he had made, but no good deed erased his past. He had always known that, but had hoped it wouldn’t matter when the day of reckoning came. Here he was, though. What a cosmic fucking joke. “You, on the other hand,” he pointed at Steve, “are going upstairs in first class. What do you think it is that’s holding you back?”

Steve blinked at him. “I have no idea,” he confessed.

“Think harder,” Tony ordered. “It has to be something significant. Something deep and meaningful.”

The blond appeared to think about it, but eventually shook his head. Tony was getting frustrated. He started pacing back and forth, decidedly not looking at their sprawled bodies in the dirt. Steve stayed still, like the calm fucking saint he was, thinking deep thoughts no doubt. “Stop moving,” Steve ordered at length. “You’re starting to bother me.”

“Bother you?” Tony stopped and stared at him. “You’re not bothered by any of this?” he motioned around them.

Again, Steve shrugged. “It is what it is.”

How he was so calm, Tony would never know. And since he didn’t possess that wisdom, or whatever, he resumed pacing, just to give himself something to do while he tried to plot a way out – or back. But, if they were dead, there was no going back, was there?

Eventually Steve reached out and grabbed him by the arm, bringing him to a halt. At first neither of them realized what had happened, but eventually both stared down at where they were touching each other, gaping at the connection. “Okay,” Tony said slowly. “So, we can touch each other.”

“Clearly,” Steve agreed. To test it, he released Tony’s arm and dragged his hand up to his shoulder.

“I can feel that,” Tony told him.

“Me, too.”

“So, we cannot touch anything else, but we can touch each other? Figures.” Secretly, Tony wasn’t sorry about it. Not by a long shot. And, from where he was looking, Steve didn’t seem upset either. Both of them were probably pretending it was some kind of test that Steve’s hand remained on Tony’s shoulder long after they had established that both of them could feel the touch.

They were still standing there like that when a Quinjet arrived and landed at the edge of the debris. Both of them perked up at the familiar sight, especially when the other Avengers moved out.

“Guys!” Tony started and grinned, then froze. He had spoken, quite loudly, but none of them seemed to hear. Bruce spotted their bodies on the ground and ran over, kneeling by them. He looked deeply unhappy. “Um…” Tony started walking closer and Steve followed hot on his heels. “Bruce? Big guy?” Tony waved his hand, raised his voice, but nothing happened. The others gathered nearby, faces grave and pale.

“Thor?” Steve called out. It was a good choice, since the Asgardian might hear them, being an alien and all. Tony moved over to the tall blond and tried to touch his arm, but his fingers went right through him. He tried again then stepped back, frustrated and a little scared. Clint had returned to the aircraft and came back with two stretchers.

“Okay, now we’re getting somewhere,” Tony clapped his hands together and moved back as their limp bodies were maneuvered to the stretchers.

“What do you mean?” Steve asked, a confused frown on his face.

“When they move our bodies, we’ll have to follow,” Tony explained a bit smugly.

“Why?”

“Because they’re our bodies, and even in death we’re bound to them,” Tony added impatiently. “You’ll see. We’ll feel some… weird power forcing us to follow.”

The stretchers were lifted off the ground and carried into the Quinjet. Tony made a point of standing still so that he would feel it when the pull came.

“Now?” Steve asked, looking at him and then at Natasha who came back, fetching Steve’s shield from the ground and running to join the others.

“Soon,” Tony replied.

The ramp of the Quinjet rose.

“How about now?” Steve asked again.

“Wait for it,” Tony snapped. “Any minute now… Wait… hey!” he shouted as the Quinjet took off. There was no pull, inexplicable or magical. They weren’t teleported to the Quinjet, to stand beside their bodies, nor dragged along. The aircraft hovered for a moment, then flew over to where the sides of the basin rose up. It flew lower, then someone – Natasha – got out. After a moment they could see their car appearing, briefly, before it drove off. “She took my car,” Tony frowned.

“Is that what you’re worried about?” Steve asked, voice a bit higher. “They just took our bodies! And we’re not with them!”

“Okay, I…” Tony felt a tide of panic rise in his chest, which was still annoying as hell because he was dead, dammit! “Why are we still here?”

“I don’t know,” Steve snapped, flustered. “You said we couldn’t leave our bodies.”

“I don’t exactly have a manual on how to handle this!” Tony snapped back at him.

“Then stop making wild assumptions!”

“How is it my fault that this isn’t going according to every ghost movie I’ve seen?”

Steve opened his mouth, then heaved out a lungful of air and turned away from him. “Now what?” he asked after a bit.

“I think we’re still stuck between worlds,” Tony ventured to guess. “There’s something holding us back.”

“What is it?”

“I don’t know,” Tony growled and started walking, then stopped and looked back. “Maybe it’s something in there?” he pointed at the crater where the facility had stood a while ago.

“I’m not going back there,” Steve said flatly.

“Fine,” he glowered for a few seconds, then looked up. “Maybe we should start walking.”

“Let’s,” Steve agreed, and they started off in tense silence.

A half hour went by with both of them scowling at the horizon, then finally Tony sighed. “Okay, this is crap,” he decided.

“Agreed.”

“Since this is my fault, probably, I’ll help you finish your… whatever it is you haven’t finished,” he offered.

“And then what?”

“You move on and I stay here,” Tony shrugged.

“Like this?” Steve asked.

Tony shrugged again. “Maybe I’ll go to Vegas,” he mused, then grinned. “I could haunt a slot machine. Imagine that; The Haunted Casino. They would make a TV show about it, for sure.”

“About a haunted slot machine?” Steve repeated, but a small smile tugged his lips.

“You make it sound much worse than it actually is,” Tony made a playful shove at him. “Or,” he ventured, planning his future as a ghost, “I could go and haunt Rhodey’s suit. That would show him. I could…” He halted altogether – talking, walking, even breathing, which was funny because he probably didn’t need to breathe as a ghost. Maybe he was only doing it because he had just been alive, a few hours ago. Maybe that was why he felt numb suddenly, like the blood had been drained from him and he would never feel alive again. “I can never talk to Rhodey again,” he said out loud. “I’ll never be able to finish that suit upgrade I wanted to give him. Well, maybe J.A.R.V.I.S. can finish it, with a little help.”

It was no consolation. The finality of this thing was starting to sink in, and he felt heavy and depressed. Was this why all ghosts in showbiz were such douches? “Is this what it feels like?” he asked Steve. “Losing everything?”

“I’m not sure,” Steve admitted. “I’m not feeling anything yet – now, I mean. But it felt pretty bad the first time around.”

Tony had never been able to really relate to Steve’s pain of losing his entire world and the people in it. Most people tried and came up with half-assed jokes to cheer him up, but none of them could really capture the essence of Steve’s loss. Right now, though, Tony had a pretty good idea that this was close enough: he would never be able to talk to his friends; he could never really go home, touch his things, work on the stuff that he had left half-finished. No one would ever know he was still there while the others moved on.

He desperately tried to think of something else, to direct his thoughts away from the horror of being dead, now that it was finally hitting home, and he looked at Steve who was standing there, looking awfully patient. “Tell me something,” Tony started.

“What?” Steve jumped at the chance to change the subject – or to cheer him up, Tony didn’t know which.

“When we were running away from the blast, you stayed behind me. You could have reached the fence at least twice as fast if you had wanted to – I’ve seen you run and do your thing,” he referred to the super-soldier serum. “Why’d you hang back? Was it some residual guilt about you not being able to reach Bucky in time? That if we went down, we would do so together?”

“I tried to protect us from the blast with my shield,” Steve explained, but his voice was too tight for it to be completely true. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“But I do,” Tony insisted.

“Maybe you should have tried running faster,” Steve snapped, and Tony fell silent. Essentially, he had blown them up, so he didn’t need to be an ass to Steve.

“Sorry,” he murmured finally. “You must be pissed that you’re stuck here with me, of all people.”

“I’m glad, actually,” Steve replied.

“Yeah?” Tony let out a wild, nervous laugh. “You’ll regret saying that in an hour.”

“I can always start walking that way if I don’t want to hear your voice anymore,” Steve threatened, pointing away from the road, at the dead desert.

“It will get really cold at night.”

“We’re dead; it won’t matter whether it’s freezing or blazing hot.”

“Well, you just went and ruined my suggestion to cuddle at night for warmth,” Tony joked – but it wasn’t a complete joke, of course; they were the only people they could touch, far as they knew, for the rest of their existence. If that was the case, Tony didn’t want to be in a constant argument with Steve. He had learned, a long time ago, that he didn’t want to be lonely, and right now he could hardly find someone else to fill that void.

Steve gave him an amused look. “So, if you’re going to haunt War Machine,” he said, returning to the subject of possessing items, “maybe I’ll haunt Fury’s eye-patch.”

It didn’t make any sense, and maybe that was why it made Tony laugh abruptly. “Why on Earth would you do that?” he had to ask.

Steve gave him one of those shrugs that made women go a little weak in the knees. Right now, Tony wasn’t buying the act. “Might be fun,” he replied.

“What you should do is go and possess a punching bag. Give people a beating when they’re trying to beat you up,” Tony offered instead. “It would be the new, modern version of The Sword in the Stone.”

“To defeat the evil punching bag?” Steve raised an eyebrow. “How about people?” he asked next. “Can you haunt them?”

“It’s not advisable; they’ll just send for a clergyman to exorcise you, and besides, making people crawl on the walls and twist their heads around isn’t attractive to anyone,” Tony cringed.

Steve chuckled and they went on walking for a few minutes in silence – but this time it was a companionable one.

“Why haven’t we ever done this before?” Tony asked at length.

“Talked about possessing inanimate objects?” Steve smiled.

“No; talked.”

“We have.”

“I don’t mean angry words and all that… bullshit.”

“I’m not sure this constitutes as actual talking,” Steve argued.

“It does, on a… weirdly emotional level,” Tony countered. “You said you weren’t unhappy to be stuck with me.”

The blond nodded. “I did.”

“Did you actually mean it?”

Steve gave him a look. “I’m not going to stroke your ego even in death.”

“It’s not about my ego,” Tony insisted. “It’s about… me. That you would choose me, over a lot of people.”

“That isn’t about your ego?” Steve smiled, clearly amused now.

“No!” Tony tried to shove him again, as if making him stumble off the road was going to make a difference. “It’s about feeling special, sort of.”

“Alright,” Steve finally stopped teasing. “Sort of, I’m happy it’s you, of all the people I know.”

“All the people?”

“All the people,” Steve repeated.

“Even Bucky or Peggy?” Tony knew he was pushing it, but they were dead so what was Steve going to do, punch him?

Steve was silent for a bit, looking ahead, concentrating on walking. “What do you want me to say?” he finally asked.

“I have no idea,” Tony admitted. “We’re stuck in this until we find a way to send you forward, so I guess it’s good to know I’m not your least favorite person.”

“You have never been my least favorite person,” Steve told him.

“Not even when we met?”

“Not even then. I fought a lot of bad people in the war – even before the war. Even when I thought you were an egoistical, selfish, unreliable man, I knew you hadn’t become a national hero just because you managed to build a suit of armor that flies.”

Tony felt like commenting on that statement, but he didn’t feel an overwhelming need for teasing or a harsh retort. Steve had just admitted something that was important to Tony, and he soaked in it for a bit. Better late than never…

“Are you disappointed you’re stuck here with me?” Steve turned the question back at him.

“No,” Tony replied. “I just wish we could have done this sooner…”

“Die?”

Tony gave him a look. “Now you’re being an ass on purpose,” he declared.

“Maybe,” Steve admitted, and appeared a bit sadder for a second. “I’m not sure I like being dead.”

“Welcome to the club.”

“Do you think there are others?”

“Ghosts? Maybe. Already ready to ditch me?” Tony supposed that if the two of them had ended up like this, there was a fair chance there were others, too. He wasn’t sure he liked that – especially if he had to share Steve with them.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Steve hastened to tell him.

“Well… good,” Tony said, because he wasn’t sure what else to say.

“Tony,” Steve said suddenly and stopped in the middle of the road. “Did you want to cuddle at night?”

“What?” Tony blinked, totally thrown aback by the question.

“You said –”

“It was…”

“A joke?”

“Maybe.” Because it hadn’t been, not for the longest time. Perhaps ‘cuddling at night’ wouldn’t have been his first choice, because Tony rarely slept at night and had some issues with people being near him when he wasn’t completely alert – mostly because of the arc reactor. In theory, however… “Yes,” he finally amended his answer. “Definitely yes.”

Steve nodded slowly. “Maybe we could do that, in case we can still get cold,” he reasoned.

“Are you coming onto me?” Tony asked lightly, although he was pleased.

“If I am, it’s because you started it,” Steve noted boldly.

“Maybe I did…” Tony was starting to think he had waited way too long to show his attraction towards Steve. “I take it you don’t have a problem with it?”

“Cuddling?”

“Flirting.”

Steve gave him an almost bashful smile, which was still way brighter than the sun that was slowly sinking into the horizon. “No,” he answered. “I don’t have a problem with flirting – or what comes after.”

Tony blinked and narrowed his eyes, just a little. “I’m beginning to wonder if any of this is actually real.”

Steve gave him an odd look. “You’ve never noticed? The long looks? Pretty much everyone else has told me, at one point or another, to simply ask you out. Some of them started before you and Pepper broke up. I thought it was… insensitive, and you weren’t interested. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, and as much as I may have enjoyed having a few drinks with you, pretending it was a date, I didn’t want to watch you hit on other people.”

“Huh.” Tony still wasn’t certain whether he was hallucinating all of this or not. Then again, Steve was real – too real – to be something torn from his sub-consciousness. “I’m pretty sure I would have known if I were on a date with Captain America.”

“Maybe that’s the problem,” Steve gave him another one of those sad smiles. “It’s not Captain America who wanted the date, but Steve Rogers.”

“Trust me, they’re one and the same,” Tony scoffed. “Let me get this straight: we’re both dead and confessing our long-buried feelings for each other?”

“I think so,” Steve agreed.

“Why is this my life?” Tony asked, rhetorically. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer.

“Well,” Steve started as he brought one of his hands up to Tony’s bare arm, “there’s something good about this situation.”

“What?” Tony asked.

“Even if we can’t touch anything else, we can still touch each other.”

Ah. “Your logic is sound, Cap,” Tony grinned brightly. “Want to test it, just in case?”

And before Steve offered him an answer in words – words were overrated, anyway – those large hands of his cupped Tony’s face and he felt the other man’s lips on his own. No kiss had ever been so satisfying. Maybe it was the fact that they could touch each other, but nothing else – it would have been too cruel if that hadn’t been the case – or that they were dead and this was their last chance to do any of this.

Steve pulled back after a while, just a little; Tony could still feel Steve’s lips touching his. “I felt that,” Steve murmured.

“Me, too,” Tony replied, and he wasn’t necessarily talking about his lips. Other parts of him were definitely taking notice.

Steve leaned back into the kiss and they kept making out in the middle of a road in the Nevada desert. It wasn’t what Tony had expected it to be; Steve moved like he didn’t have a whole lot of practice, but he was patient, repeating something until he got it right, and Tony was glad to give him a thorough example of anything and everything two people could do with their mouths. Some things made them break apart and laugh, just a bit, and then delve back into it. Also, at some point, Steve drew Tony deeper into his arms and he hadn’t felt so safe in a long time.

There was definitely going to be cuddling at night, cold or not.

Eventually they drew apart and mutually decided to resume walking. They didn’t have much daylight left and they were not going to reach any kind of shelter that night. It was getting cooler, but much like Steve had predicted, it wasn’t bothering them. Then again, maybe Steve’s hand holding Tony’s in a gentle yet firm hold had something to do with it.

As they walked, Tony resumed his consideration of their situation. It didn’t seem nearly as hopeless as in the beginning, now that he and Steve had aired out years’ worth of sexual frustration. It was still a sadly amusing thought that they had circled each other for such a long time, never making the final move. Sure, their friendship had grown firmer, over time, and perhaps they had both imagined it would be enough.

Now they only had each other, and when they figured out the other aspects of their ghostly new lives… perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad.

Well, as long as they stayed together: Tony recalled with terrifying clarity his first assumption that they were stuck in Limbo because there was unfinished crap they had to deal with. What if they figured out Steve’s problem? What if they managed to solve it? That would leave Tony to wander the Earth, alone, in this spirit state.

Perhaps there was no moving on from this, no unfinished, troubling task to finish. Or, maybe Steve would choose to stay with Tony, even if they found it.

Then again, who would want to stay like this, in the middle of a journey, never going home? Tony knew he had no right to ask Steve to stay if he was offered a chance to move on. The right thing to do was to try and get Steve on his last journey – mostly because it was Tony’s fault they were dead in the first place.

“What are you thinking about?” Steve asked. Tony hadn’t noticed, but his hand was grasping Steve’s a bit too tightly.

“The obvious,” Tony replied. “Death.”

“Don’t think about it,” Steve ordered.

“It’s pretty hard not to.”

“It’s not so bad,” the blond shrugged, stopped and looked at him. “We’re in this together.”

“But for how long?” Tony asked with a frown.

“What do you mean?” Steve replied with a frown of his own.

“Well, this is just a mid-way stop. There’s supposed to be something after this – otherwise it would be pretty crowded here,” Tony motioned at the desert with his hand. “Well, maybe not here, exactly, but you know what I mean.”

“Tony…”

“I’m still going to help you, to find whatever it is that’s holding you back,” Tony promised.

“But what about you? Where will you go?”

“Nowhere, hopefully,” Tony cringed. “Like I said, I prefer this to H–”

“You’re not going to Hell,” Steve told him and looked ready to grab him and shake him until Tony believed it. “You’re a good person.”

“Who’s done a lot of bad things.”

“You think I haven’t?”

Tony rolled his eyes and pulled away, resuming walking. “Don’t make this about you! Whatever you did, it was for the common good. I don’t even believe in this crap. The last time I prayed, I…” He tried to remember. Had it been with his parents at church? Most likely not. Besides, Howard Stark hadn’t been the most devout of men; he believed in science. They had that much in common. Tony may have prayed in Afghanistan, but not to any God with a name. Just, praying in general; to make the pain end, to let him die, to allow him to survive the ordeal, depending on the day. “I’m definitely going to Hell,” he muttered.

Steve gave a big sigh behind him and followed him down the sandy road. “Fine, you’re a horrible person and you have no right going to Heaven. We’re not there yet, though. We’re here, together, just the two of us.”

“Are you…” Tony stopped and whirled around, grinning. “Oh, Captain Rogers! Are you suggesting we get naked right here and endanger your safe passage to Heaven?”

Steve flushed, just a little. “I didn’t say that…”

Tony wiped the smile from his face. “I’m just teasing. Maybe.” He wouldn’t object to getting naked with Steve. In fact, they should make sure they were able to take off their clothes, and check that everything functioned properly. That would remove all kinds of nasty surprises later on.

“You don’t need to tease,” Steve informed him, stepping closer. He was standing straight, shoulders back, like he was preparing for inspection. “I’m not averse to the idea of… having sex,” he finished.

Tony felt like he had just swallowed half the desert. “Okay,” he said, just to say something and make sure he still had his voice. “I’m… on board with that idea, but… Wait!” Something dawned on him.

“What?” Steve asked, alarmed, probably afraid Tony had had another epiphany about their new state of being.

“Have you done it before?” Tony asked quickly.

This time Steve definitely flushed in the face. “I know the basics; I’m not a…”

“But have you done it, with someone?” Tony pressed.

“Does it matter?” Steve asked, eyes narrowing. He was clearly going on the defensive. “If you’re going to make another stupid Captain Purity joke, let me tell you, I’m done with those.”

“No, it’s not that, I swear,” Tony promised him. “It’s just… you’re a virgin, right?”

Steve let out a sigh, as if he had just disappointed himself and Tony both. “Yes.”

“Maybe that’s it,” Tony told him, excited. “Maybe that’s what you need to do, to move on.”

Steve raised one eyebrow doubtingly. “You think I need to have sex in order to gain access to Heaven?”

“It makes sense,” Tony noted.

“No, it doesn’t, Tony. We’re not… I’m pretty sure the Bible suggests people should be married before having relations, and there’re also many hints that two men are not the right combination for eternal bliss in the Lord’s garden.” Steve was starting to sound very exasperated.

“But that’s your personal hang-up; it has nothing to do with what the Bible says,” Tony dismissed his argument.

“So, what if that’s it?” Steve said, clearly humoring Tony. “In that case we can never have sex.”

“What do you mean, we can’t?” That was the total opposite of what Tony was planning.

“If that’s what’s holding me back,” Steve said slowly, patiently, as if Tony were a half-wit – which was kind of insulting, really, “then you’ll be left all alone to haunt slot machines in Vegas.”

When Steve put it like that, Tony vividly recalled the downside of helping Steve get into Heaven. He mulled over it again but always came to the same conclusion: “If that’s what you want, I would still help you,” he told the other man.

Steve’s expression softened, just a little. “Even if you would be left alone, afterwards?”

“Even then,” Tony confirmed.

“Just because you got us into this mess doesn’t mean you owe me that.”

“Yeah, it does, and besides, you deserve it.”

“Heaven? Without you?”

“Uh…” There was a slight accusation in Steve’s words, as if Tony were wounding him somehow. “I’m sure you’ll make new friends there,” he offered.

“None of them will be you.”

“That’s not fair,” Tony complained. “Just because we’ve started to unwind years’ worth of UST doesn’t mean we’re inseparable, or that you can’t live without me. Or, you know…” ‘Live’ was probably the wrong word to use, but Tony wasn’t sure what the afterlife was like, to those deserving the best of the best.

“Maybe I don’t want to move on without you,” Steve said stubbornly and crossed his arms over his chest. Tony could envision him as that small, frail boy of a man, wearing that same expression.

“Well, that’s… That means we’re both stuck,” Tony stated.

“Fine,” said Steve, rather snidely.

“Fine,” repeated Tony, just for the hell of it.

They stared daggers at each other; old habits died hard.

Eventually, though, Tony had to fold: “Are we really going to pick a fight over this?” he asked.

“If you insist.”

“I don’t!”

“Well, that’s preferable,” Steve agreed, unfolding his arms. “I don’t want to fight about it either, so can we just agree not to talk about me leaving you behind?”

“For the time being,” Tony nodded. They needed to talk about it at some point, though.

Once again, they began walking. The sky was growing darker by the minute. The wind was picking up. They eventually encountered a group of large boulders half a mile off the road and proceeded to it, settling down for the night. Maybe it was another old habit, seeking shelter; they couldn’t touch anything, so they might as well have curled up on the road and have cars run them over if any happened to pass by. Not that they had seen a single vehicle during their trek away from the destroyed facility.

Steve settled down first, in a shallow dent in the earth he had dug: they phased through the boulders, which was very annoying, so they were left with the minimal shelter of the rocks while sleeping on the ground.

“Do you think we even need rest?” Tony had been too preoccupied by everything else to actually notice whether he was tired or not from their long walk. Also, he wasn’t hungry or thirsty, so he supposed they could just keep walking indefinitely. Perhaps they would, once they learned rest had become obsolete.

“Just lie down,” Steve ordered, and Tony did, sliding down the right side of the other man and allowing himself to be pulled into the warm embrace of Steve’s body.

They lay there, listening to the wind and the sounds of the desert. For something so dry and lifeless, there sure seemed to be a lot going on at night, but none of the night-critters bothered them. What would they care about a couple of lost ghosts, anyway?

Steve’s fingers traced lazy patterns on Tony’s hip. Tony shifted his head against the man’s shoulder and then peered up at him. He could make out the silhouette of his face and arched up to kiss the line of his jaw. He felt Steve’s lips draw into a smile and soon felt their soft, wet pressure against his own.

Their breaths were warm, making it easy to pretend nothing at all was wrong and they had just decided to camp in the dirt for the hell of it. Steve’s grip was firm, then hesitated before appearing again, as if he weren’t sure where to apply pressure or how much. He had always been careful with Tony’s chest area, ever since he saw the arc reactor embedded in his flesh for the first time; it was the kind of subtle consideration Tony appreciated, and which made him trust a person a bit more.

Tony shifted and moved his right leg over Steve’s body, still lying against him but getting himself fractionally closer. Steve’s left hand wandered up, briefly caressing Tony’s side before aiming higher, and for a bit Tony wasn’t sure what he was planning to do with it. When fingers less calloused than his own settled against the edge of his tank top, Tony looked down. Steve’s fingers seemed to decide that was a cue to move on, and they moved the cloth down, exposing the arc reactor to the night air.

It wasn’t the coolness that he couldn’t feel that made his skin rise in goose bumps; it was the sensation of Steve’s fingers on his scarred flesh, sensitive and usually awakening an old fear in him, but this time it was just sensation, caused by a man he trusted, admired, and possibly loved a little.

“It’s comforting,” Steve noted, “that it’s still there; that it still shines.” His fingers traced a bit further across the shining device. Tony couldn’t even feel the pressure.

Tony supposed it was comforting for them both: he still had nightmares about waking up with his chest dark, and then the slow, agonizing death that followed before he could relocate the arc reactor.

He let Steve explore, but the blond wasn’t too adventurous, withdrawing his fingers soon after and allowing the tank top to settle back into its original place. Tony felt a loss at the lack of contact, but then Steve’s fingers moved down again, to his side, brushing at another edge of the cloth closer to his armpit and delved down towards the center of his chest, purposefully caressing Tony’s right nipple.

A small sound left Tony’s throat.

Steve looked up at his face. “Good?”

“I’ll let you know if it’s bad,” Tony told him, wanting to press closer and let Steve touch everything he wanted, but instead he drew backwards. “We shouldn’t… not unless you think you’re ready for the plunge into the unknown.”

Steve’s hand halted and then drew away from his body. “I don’t think fooling around is going to make me any less of a virgin.”

He was so adorable, Tony had to admit. Precious and painfully honest, even in this. “Problem is, I won’t be able to stop. Or willing. Definitely not willing.”

Steve gave him an amused smile, relaxing a little. “Maybe you should work on your self-control, then?”

“Who made you boss?” Tony deflected the suggestion.

“One of us needs to be in control, and I don’t think it should be you.”

“We should put that to a vote.”

“I would still win.”

“Possibly,” Tony grinned, leaning close again and giving Steve a dirty kiss with a lot of tongue. “That’s just because I like big hunky blonds bossing me around in bed.” Steve grinned against his mouth and drew Tony into another kiss, hand firm in his hair. His other hand settled on Tony’s hip and pulled him close, and they settled into a rather frantic rhythm of tangling tongues that at some point began to include the grinding of hips.

Not wanting to see whether he could gain friction burns even as a ghost, Tony eventually lifted his hips. Steve groaned beneath him, trying to pull him back, but Tony slid his hand down and desperately yanked down his pants and underwear. Steve’s hand latched onto his bare skin, fingers digging into the flesh of his ass, and Tony did some groaning of his own before twisting his hand around and proceeding to free Steve of his own pants and underwear. Steve caught on pretty quick and lifted his hips, even with Tony’s weight on top of him, allowing the older man to release the most important bits of skin.

Not wanting to miss this moment, Tony looked down. In the dark, the view was very shadowy between their bodies, but he saw a dim silhouette of their cocks and felt them press together with every breath and minute shift.

“Stop looking,” Steve ordered, voice a bit strained. To emphasize his desire, he rolled his hips up and Tony closed his eyes, grinding down against him desperately. It was so damn good. If there was desert sand on their skins, he didn’t care. Steve’s fingers were going to leave marks on his lower back and ass cheek, but he didn’t care about that, either. He wanted to put a hand between them, to help things along, but Steve’s grinding movements would probably break those fingers, so he just thrust back down against him, riding the friction.

Eventually, though, it wasn’t enough.

“Stop,” Tony gasped. “I need to… I need a hand. I mean… Shit, just, don’t grind up for a bit, okay?” he asked, a little less coherent than he could have hoped for, but Steve’s eyes glinted up at him in the muted light of the arc reactor, his lips open, his breath audible in the silence around them.

Tony placed his hand between them, fumbling a little to find the perfect angle to stroke their dicks. He could almost count Steve’s pulse against his, which was insane because they were dead. He didn’t care.

Steve didn’t seem to care either: once he got the idea of what Tony wanted to do, he slid his own hand down to accompany Tony’s, and his larger grip definitely did the trick. The fingers pressed down on Tony’s, making the hold almost painfully tight, and Tony came so hard he swore he saw stars. It tingled for a moment, everywhere, until he fell down from his high and sat back, straddling Steve’s thighs.

Both of them kept still for a moment. Even in the weak light, it was easy to see that both their hands were a mess; Steve had come pretty close on his heels, and to his eternal regret Tony had completely missed it. The faint smell of sex was in the air, and Tony used his free hand to tug his tank top up to give them some more light. Their hands were definitely a mess, as were their lower stomachs and upper thighs. Semen, sweat and pre-cum didn’t make for an attractive mess when you had no bathroom nearby. Not even a damn towel.

“Uh,” Tony hesitated for a bit, feeling sticky. It would all start to cool momentarily and then it would be even more of a mess. He looked down at himself, debating whether he could spare an article of clothing, but neither Steve nor Tony was wearing extra anything. Maybe their socks? The idea made him shiver a little.

“I can tear off a part of my shirt or pant leg,” Steve volunteered, craning his neck to look down at the mess.

As attractive as the idea of slowly divesting Steve of his clothing in order to clean them up was, Tony knew it was a temporary measure at best. After all, he didn’t see either of them getting any new clothes. “I don’t think that’s gonna cut it for long,” Tony noted and looked at their surroundings. It was such irony that even if they had proceeded to fuck in the middle of a linen shop, they wouldn’t be able to use any of the materials available. “Okay,” Tony finally steeled himself before bringing his stained hand to his mouth, proceeding to lick it clean.

Steve’s brow furrowed. It wasn’t disgusting, per se, but it seemed he wasn’t completely on board with the idea.

“Got any better ideas that don’t include you getting naked in the end?” Tony asked once he was mostly done, then reached down for Steve’s hand and proceeded to lick it clean since the other man clearly wasn’t about to do it himself.

Steve gave a full-body shudder. “Tony…”

“Please, it isn’t even that gross,” Tony told him, sucking on Steve’s thumb for emphasis. He was rewarded by another shudder.

Now, to the harder part – or, not harder anymore, he joked to himself and leaned down over Steve’s crotch and drew a long line through the wet mess with his tongue. He lapped and sucked around, trying for a slightly more erotic effect to take Steve’s mind off the real purpose of this exercise.

When he looked up, Steve had leaned back and his chest was heaving a bit. And, just like that, Tony’s tongue darted out to clean his cock and he noted, for the first time, that Steve was getting hard. How he had missed it, he wasn’t sure, but he could feel the pulse beneath his tongue and the slight shivering of Steve’s thighs against him was rather delectable.

“I’m sorry,” Steve murmured through his fingers which he had spread to cover his face. “I didn’t mean to, but…”

Tony declined to answer verbally. Instead, he snaked his tongue along the hardening flesh and then wrapped his lips around the tip, figuring that he might as well continue cleaning up until Steve got over the excitement of it. Sadly, death hadn’t worked any kind of magic on Tony’s endurance, so his cock remained soft between his thighs. ‘Traitor’, Tony felt like hissing at it, but he proceeded to blow Steve instead, moving his mouth up and down, cheeks hollowing as he sucked in perfect precision with the movements of his tongue.

Steve’s breaths had turned into faint moans of pleasure.

“No one’s going to hear you,” Tony told him as he pulled off for a bit. He didn’t even need to hold the man’s cock up as he licked around it again, Steve was so hard. It was a bit unfair, but then, pinnacle of human perfection and all…

“That’s… not helping,” Steve ground out, raising his head a little to look down at Tony thoughtfully sucking at his shaft, just beneath the crown.

“What would help, then?” Tony asked playfully. The arc reactor threw weird shadows over everything, but he was fairly certain Steve’s cheeks were flushed.

“Put your mouth on my cock,” Steve told him. His eyes were glinting, as if he were imagining it as he said it. Being the artistic type, he probably was. Damn, that was hot.

“It already is,” Tony said as he kissed his way down the shaft, then up, making sure he didn’t miss a spot.

In your mouth,” Steve corrected himself. “Please, Tony. I want to feel it again…”

“You needn’t beg,” Tony informed him, but instead of teasing him further, Tony adjusted his position – mostly the angle of his throat, and dove down, taking Steve deeper and deeper with measured movements of his head. Swallowing around him was hard at first, almost prompting a rather unwanted physical reaction, but eventually Tony eased through it and felt like giving himself thumbs up when he had all of Steve’s length down his throat.

Steve made a sound like a dying animal and the slight shift of his body shoved him more firmly against Tony’s face, which forced him to back off quickly or suffer the consequences. Tony coughed once his mouth was free.

“Sorry,” Steve whispered.

Tony looked up at him, licking his lips. “Too much?”

“Takes some getting used to,” Steve admitted. “It was good, though.”

“How about you show me what you like?” Tony offered.

Steve frowned, and his eyes flickered down to Tony’s crotch. “Do you want me to –?”

“Oh, no,” Tony gave him an easy smile. “That fellow isn’t joining the game again tonight. He likes to watch, though.”

“That’s…” Steve’s nose twitched, just a little, but he didn’t finish.

Tony gave him a roguish smile, to make him relax. “Just sit up, touch my head, and guide me through it. You won’t hurt me; I’ll let you know it if’s uncomfortable for me,” he added, settling one hand on Steve’s bare thigh and pressed his fingernails into the skin for emphasis.

Slowly, Steve nodded, then sat up and let his hands hover. Tony leaned forward again, taking the head of his cock in his mouth, prompting Steve to follow. Finally, he felt the other man’s hands settle around his skull, fingers gently digging in, caressing his hair. For a bit it felt like Steve would give him a head massage instead, but finally he pushed a little and proceeded to take Tony’s mouth for a test drive.

As amusing as that sounded, Tony took it as an opportunity to learn: Steve liked special attention attended to the head of his cock, but also enjoyed Tony taking him a bit deeper. Together they discovered a spot, just on the underside of the crown, that almost sent Steve hurling into another orgasm when Tony sucked on it after Steve had pulled his mouth off his cock to guide him around the shaft. Also, Steve liked it rough on his balls, and came almost completely undone when Tony snaked his tongue beneath them and laved at his perineum. However, knowing he would just have to clean up the mess, Tony headed back to the head of Steve’s cock and proceeded with old-fashioned, basic tricks to bring him off.

Steve didn’t taste like apple pie or America, but it was better while warm, Tony decided. He finished his cleaning duties, then sat back with an obscene smack of his lips which made Steve shove at him playfully.

“What about you?” Steve raised an eyebrow.

Sure enough, Tony’s own crotch was still in need of a little cleaning. His own tongue wouldn’t reach that far, obviously – not with all the yoga lessons Bruce had tried to influence him with – and it forced him to shrug. “Guess I’ll just…”

And just like that Steve moved over Tony, like a snake ready to swallow a rabbit, and descended his mouth onto Tony’s skin.

It was to Tony’s great regret that he wasn’t twenty anymore, yet that didn’t diminish the pleasant sensation of Steve’s mouth lovingly cleaning him up, even though it couldn’t have tasted all that fantastic at this point.

“We need to come up with a better game plan, next time,” Tony decided once both of them fixed their clothing back in place and curled up in their uncomfortable resting place.

“Your second option worked pretty well,” Steve offered his opinion.

Tony glanced up at him, then failed to keep himself in line and inched up for another kiss. As they settled down, apparently planning on sleeping, Tony guessed they would cross the issue of Steve’s virginal state at a later date. He was in no hurry to change what they had now – or lose it completely.

He closed his eyes and pretended to be able to sleep, felt Steve’s arms tighten around him fractionally, and listened to the sounds of the desert night they had drowned out for a while.

A few hours later both of them were still awake, pretending to sleep, although an occasional shift of Steve’s hand told Tony that the super-soldier wasn’t having any luck at catching shut-eye. Maybe sleep just didn’t happen when you were dead.

Tony opened his eyes, watched the darkness, then closed them again, debating on counting sheep, or recounting the periodic table – and then suddenly it felt like someone had stuck a live wire in his body and switched on the power, his entire form jerking, a cry escaping his throat.

He sat up straight, panting, sweat covering his skin in an uncomfortable rush. Lights momentarily blinded his eyes and he looked around, unfocused, not understanding what was happening.

The desert was gone. He was no longer curled up against Steve’s side but sitting on a hard, padded bed in what looked like his own lab in New York City. A figure moved beside him and his head jerked to the side to see who it was, his eyes landing on Bruce Banner.

“Hi,” the scientist gave him a bland smile. “How are you feeling?”

“What?” Tony asked, blinking. Bruce was looking at him – talking to him – and then reached over to shine a bright light in his eyes, making them water a little. “What the hell?” Tony repeated his question. It felt like he had fallen down from space all over again, which was giving him some difficulty breathing. “What…”

“You were in an explosion,” Bruce explained. “In Nevada, at a SI facility. Do you remember?”

Tony gave him a rigid nod.

“You were subjected to some unknown event that… well, for lack of a better term, you’ve been in a coma of sorts for the past fourteen hours – and occasionally brain-dead. We think it may have been caused by the tech housed in the facility. Do you know what day it is?”

Tony didn’t care what day it was, looking around instead. His eyes landed on Clint Barton, who stood at the foot of the bed with his arms crossed over his chest.

“Hi,” the archer said, then looked at Bruce. “Can you zap Cap next?”

Bruce moved around Tony’s bed and his eyes followed Bruce until he found Steve’s unmoving body on a bed next to his. Bruce arranged wires, then placed a pair of wand-like paddles on both of Steve’s temples – and zapped him.

Steve shot up straight as a ramrod, just like Tony had, eyes wide, senses disoriented. It took him a little less to acclimate to the change, and he found Tony a few seconds later. “What…?”

“Welcome back,” Bruce greeted and shut down the machines he had just used.

“Where are we?” Steve asked, looking back and forth between the three men.

“New York, Avengers Tower,” Clint informed him. “About time you woke up from your beauty sleep.”

“Sleep?” Steve frowned.

“Coma,” Bruce corrected. “We were not certain whether we would wake you up – or if there would be significant damage to the brain.” He looked at Tony. “How are you feeling?” he asked again.

Tony’s hands rose to his head. “Is something wrong with my brain?”

“It would seem all brain functions are within normal parameters,” J.A.R.V.I.S.’s voice answered him. “Congratulations, Dr. Banner. Also, welcome back, sir, Captain Rogers; we were very concerned.”

Bruce just nodded along and turned to look at a screen next to him. “Everything looks okay. We got away with a major scare.”

Tony was still clutching his skull, as if someone might harm his brain if he didn’t. “What happened?” he asked.

“J.A.R.V.I.S. alerted us to the situation you two went to investigate,” Clint recounted, giving them a hard look. “Really smart, guys. When we got on location, the place had been blown up and you were just lying there, dead to the world.”

Steve gave Tony a look. It was relieved instead of accusing. “So, we weren’t dead?” he asked to confirm.

“No,” Bruce said. “Well, technically, brain death is…” He looked at Tony and veered off, probably to not keep implying that Tony’s genius might have suffered from the experience. “Something in the blast clearly affected you, and it took me a while to sort it out. We brought you back here and some extensive tests later, here we are.”

“Dr. Banner is being very modest,” J.A.R.V.I.S. added.

“Your AI implied that the tech in the facility may have caused the problem,” Clint noted. “You can thank that deduction for being awake.”

“Good boy, J.A.R.V.I.S.,” Tony mumbled, slowly lowering his hands. “No lingering effects?”

“We’ll have you on watch for the next 24 hours at least,” Bruce told him. “Taking in the equipment in the Tower, we can arrange it so that you can be in your own rooms. That sound good?”

“Yeah,” Tony replied. He felt a little bummed, then poked his fingers against the bed, to make sure his hand didn’t go through it.

It didn’t.

“So, we weren’t really dead,” Steve murmured.

“Technically –”

“Give it a rest, Doc,” Clint snapped. “They’re back and right as rain. Right?” He gave both his teammates a sharp look.

“We’ll know after they’ve been awake a bit longer,” Bruce promised.

“Can we get up?” Steve asked.

Bruce nodded. “I’ll get you some clean clothes, then you can shower and get settled.”

Tony looked down. They were still dressed in the clothing they had been wearing at the facility – and during the period of time they thought they were dead.

Both Bruce and Clint left the room, and Steve turned on his bed to look at Tony as he allowed his legs to dangle off the side. “Limbo, huh?” he asked,

“How could I have known?” Tony defended himself.

Steve looked at him steadily for a moment, face blank.

Tony feared, for those long seconds, that the experience he had assumed was death had somehow distorted reality and none of it was real now that they were back.

Finally Steve glanced at the door, then slowly moved to stand up, shifting this way and that, testing his body. He seemed satisfied and looked at Tony again. “You didn’t blow us up after all.”

“I kind of did,” Tony replied, although it would have been better to just agree while he still had an out of the situation.

“But we’re okay.”

“Yeah…” How ‘okay’ was okay, Tony wasn’t sure; were they back to being friends? Had Steve experienced the same things that he had?

Steve nodded, as if agreeing to some inner monologue in his head. “Your room or mine?” he asked then, looking Tony in the eye, holding his gaze like a tractor beam. Tony blinked. Steve offered him a downright filthy grin. “We’re yet to fully tackle the issue of my virginity, right?”

Tony almost fell down as he stumbled off the bed, getting his feet under him at the last second.

Steve simply kept grinning and took advantage of Tony’s unsteady stance by lifting him up by the hips and pressing their bodies together, urging Tony’s legs around his waist to put their mouths within kissing distance. “How many ways are there to unvirginize someone in 24 hours?” he murmured against Tony’s lips.

“We’ll find out very soon,” Tony replied.

“Promise?”

“Promise,” Tony smiled.

“Until death do us apart?”

Tony tugged sharply on the blond hair, not appreciating the wording, then proceeded to silence Steve with a kiss.

The door opened again. “Okay, here’s something for you to wea–”

“They seem occupied, Dr. Banner.”

“Tell me when they’ve… untangled,” Bruce requested and shut the door firmly, leaving Steve and Tony alone.

They might not be dead, but it was good to be undisturbed once more – at least until they had ensured that there was no ‘unfinished business’ left for Steve in this world.

 

 

The End