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Mergers & Acquisitions

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Steve Rogers begins his Monday at Oh-five-thirty, just like every other day of the week. He starts with a 10-mile run, then hits the coffee cart on the corner of his block to pick up a cup of the best coffee on the upper east side before he goes back up to his penthouse to shower and dress for the day.

Omar, the owner of the cart, smiles as he sees Steve jog up to the cart, already pouring Steve's half-caf soy milk latte. Steve grins back, pulling out one of his earbuds and fishing in his pocket for the $10 bill he keeps in the zip pocket on the side of his running shirt.

He makes small talk with Omar while the man finishes making his coffee. Listens to Omar's story about his daughter's school play the night before, chats idly about the weather.

He places his cash on the counter with a smile, taking the proffered biodegradable cup and refusing his change.

He always refuses his change.

Omar only charges $3.50 for the latte, but Steve can afford to tip well, so he does. He knows Omar has five kids at home, knows that his wife, Adara, is unable to work. He also knows that Omar and his family are refugees, and that they have very little – only the coffee cart and their small home.

And it really is the best coffee on the upper east side.

Omar thanks him profusely in both English and Arabic, and Steve raises his cup in salute and heads off down the street to his building.

He gives the doorman, Luis, a jaunty wave as he heads for the elevator, sipping his coffee on the ride up. He inputs his personal seven-digit code in order to access the penthouse while he hums along to the upbeat folksy roots music he likes to listen to on his runs.

The elevator slides open silently to the foyer of his floor, and he punches his code into the door to open it and goes inside.

He scrubs down and shaves quickly in the shower, and dresses in a navy Van Dyne trouser and vest set. It's too warm for the jacket, so he leaves it in the closet. He loops the tie around his shoulders but doesn't tie it yet. It's all very routine, and he goes through it methodically by rote.

Finally, he sits down at his breakfast bar with his coffee and pulls his tablet over to start flipping through the financial news sites. He flicks open his inbox to find a string of emails from Amadeus Cho, his financial analyst. They all tell him the same thing.

Hydra International is at it again. They're quietly buying up stock in what can only be another hostile takeover attempt. They've been going through the industry, buying up and decimating other corporations; they purchase the company, claim the assets and the patents, and then they get rid of all the staff. They quietly disavow every safety regulation and ethical trade philosophy, replace products with cheaper, subpar versions, and undercut every other company on the market.

There are rumours of human rights violations, workers' rights violations, and insider trading, but none of them have been proven. Hydra has enough shell companies and overseas accounts to keep their noses clean. If one of their subsidiaries steps over the line, they leave the corporate staff to twist in the wind and sell off the assets, keeping the patents and turning a profit. Hydra's CEO and sole shareholder, Johann Schmidt, is a xenophobic, classist, unethical son of a bitch.

They've come after the Rogers Corporation a couple of times, but Cho is damned good at his job, and he's managed to give Steve enough of a heads up to keep them at bay.

The third email tells him who Hydra is trying to buy this time around.

Steve has never actually met Tony Stark, CEO and COO of Stark Industries. Stark tends to hit the flashier parties, and they don't have the same product lines. Stark Industries had, once upon a time, been the biggest name in weapons manufacturing and defense contracts, but when Stark took over from his late father, he steered the company in a different direction. Even now, Steve is reading the emails on his StarkPad.

There are rumours that Stark is working on something game-changing, but there haven't been any details released. Steve is fairly certain that Schmidt wants to gain control of S.I. before that happens and the stock skyrockets, so he's been buying small chunks of shares, and, according to Cho, he's up to a 12% ownership stake – since Thursday.

It shouldn't matter to him, he knows. Stark's company isn't any of his business – it's not really competition. They don't design and manufacture the same things. R.C. tends to work more on emergency medical technology. Their contracts with the defense department don't conflict with what S.I. used to have – contracts now held by Hammer Industries. Rogers Corp works on evac equipment, medical diagnostics equipment, and environmentally friendly transportation. Beyond that, they have subsidiary companies that specialize in a multitude of ventures. Steve does what he can to make sure everything they do is socially conscious, ethical, and somehow influential to the betterment of mankind.

Stark's work is flashy, all about working its way into every aspect of people's lives. Tablets and phones, computers, convenience tech, life management and robotics.

So, they're not in any kind of competition. If S.I. were to be swallowed by Hydra, it wouldn't necessarily hurt Steve's business.

What it would do, however, is give Hydra one more stake in the corporate world, and give them that much more power. The more power Hydra has, the more companies they can swallow up and fold into themselves.

That's the part that worries Steve. He knows that the more power Hydra has, the more influence over the market, the worse it will be for the entire world. They've shifted enough of their operations to various countries, enough that they aren't breaking any monopolization laws. They have absolutely no regard for human rights, for the environment, for ethical business practices. Hydra is nothing but bad news, and Steve is, frankly, tired of their shit.

He taps out a message to Natasha Romanoff, Rogers Corp's executive secretary. Most people would think that a secretary is nothing more than a personal assistant, but Nat is anything but. She's the one who keeps everything at R.C. organized and running smoothly. She knows everyone and everything about the business, has contacts all over the corporate world, and is singularly proficient at manipulating those people and facts to suit her needs – and, by extension, R.C.'s.

I need everything you have on Stark Industries by the 10:00 am. Products, speculation, personnel, the whole list.

He slugs back the last dregs of his coffee, then pulls out one of the pre-blended green smoothies in his fridge. His personal chef usually does a couple of them in advance, since Steve doesn't have her come in on a regular schedule – his own schedule is too fluid to plan for regular meals at home, and more often than not, he's eating take out at his desk or having business meetings in restaurants. He slots the bottom of it into the power blender (an Iron Will product, which happens to be a subsidiary of Stark Industries, and the thought makes Steve roll his eyes a little) and gives it a burst to mix up the drink. While it whirs, impressively quiet, he loops his tie into a double windsor. Then he grabs the smoothie and makes his way out the door.

Clint Barton, his driver and bodyguard, is already out front with the car. The back door opens and Bucky Barnes, Steve's personal assistant, pops his head out with a grin.

Steve supposes he should be embarrassed that his personal assistant has become his best friend, that he doesn't really have friends outside the workplace, but it doesn't really bother him. He's surrounded himself with good people, so it only stands to reason that he'd be on friendly terms with them.

"Mornin', Cap," Bucky says, handing him a fresh coffee – procured from Omar's cart, and therefore a testament as to how well Bucky knows him. Steve takes a long sip.

The 'Captain' nickname had started as a joke years ago. Steve had been barking orders at staff in the middle of an important deal and a vile mood, and R.C.'s COO, Peggy Carter, had snapped off a sharp salute and clipped out, "Aye, aye, Captain!"

Steve's face had gone ashen with terror before he'd even turned to see the joyful smirk on Nat's face. Bucky had guffawed shamelessly, and Peggy had just stood there, posture straight as an arrow, lips barely twitching with the desire to grin in a manner that Steve would have described as 'shit-eating'. His service record — the army had put him through university — hadn't helped matters any.

His fear had been fully justified, because now the whole senior management staff made a point of calling him 'Cap' or 'Captain' at least once per day.

"Hydra's comin' after Stark Industries," Steve says without bothering with pleasantries. Bucky's eyebrow went up and he took a long swallow of coffee.

"Got a plan?"

One of the many reasons Steve had kept Bucky on as his P.A. for so many years, and paid him very well to be there, was that Bucky didn't stand on bullshit. He'd been with Rogers Corp long enough to know that Steve had a singular vendetta against Hydra International. That Steve would want to do something to stop Hydra's slow but steady conquering of the corporate world is a no-brainer for him.

"I've got Nat pulling me up some background on Stark, but I don't have a lot of time to waste. Can you get Walters in my office before lunch? Pull regular updates out of Cho, and read Peggy and Sam in when we get to the office. I need all hands on deck for this one."

"Want a memo going out, or you wanna do this quietly?"

"Let's keep it to the higher ranks for now – I don't want Stark to know we're coming until we get there."

Sam Wilson, Steve's CFO, is the first one to storm Steve's office after Bucky touched base with those he needed to, but Peggy comes in right behind him. She closes the door with a soft snick.

"Right, then, Steve, what's all this about?" Peggy asks, her precise accent melodic in the otherwise silent room.

"Hydra's going after Stark Industries," Steve says. Sam flops down in one of the executive guest chairs, rubbing a hand over his close-cropped hair.

"And you wanna stonewall them," Sam guesses.

"Best way to keep them from getting their claws any further into the market," Steve nods. "This morning they had 12% ownership stock, they're already up to 13.5."

"Hmm," Peggy hums. "They're moving quite quickly."

"Which means we don't have a lot of time."

Steve nods at Sam in agreement. "Exactly. We've got to move on this before Schmidt sees us coming."

"What's our plan?" Asks Peggy, her no-nonsense approach somehow calming for Steve, even as the adrenaline of making a plan starts to creep in.

Steve gives a curt nod before he begins speaking. "Sam, get Legal on drawing up some offer bid papers for S.I. I want everything above board. Stark isn't going to want to sell, and we need him to change his mind. Total analysis, down to the investment profiles of all their 401(K)s." Steve leans back in his chair a little, tapping a pen on the desk blotter. "Go through Stark's public finances, stock history, everything. If there's a weak spot, rumblings of any kind of market surge, patents, I want to know about it."

"Got it," Sam replies. He doesn't wait for Steve to continue or give Peggy her marching orders – he stands up and leaves the office, heading out to get his job done.

Steve turns to Peggy. "Can you work on looking through their personnel lists? I want to see where we can fold their people into our own operations, and where we can work in some big efficiencies. See if there's anyone over there who's dead weight, and what we can do to either motivate them, or show them the door without too much fuss."

Peggy remains seated, crossing one impossibly high heeled foot demurely over the other to the side of her chair. She tilts her head, studying him. Part of him wants to squirm under her gaze, but he shoves down the instinct.

"Did I ever tell you I interned at S.I. while I was working on my Masters degree?"

Steve blinks. She'd never told him, no, but it had been on her C.V.

She continues on, not waiting for a response. "It was, of course, back when Howard Stark was still alive, and running things. Tony was already the head of R&D at that point."

"Well, sure, his father owned the company," Steve says with a one shoulder shrug.

"Oh, no, there was nothing nepotistic about it. Howard was a shark when it came to business, but I don't think he was ever terribly comfortable with fatherhood. He treated Tony with, at best, ambivalence most of the time. Tony had worked his way to the head of R&D, and rumours around the office were that Howard had actually voted against promoting him to the position. Even though his patents and designs were miles above everyone else in the department."

"So why didn't Howard want his son running it?" Steve asks. If it were anyone else telling him the seemingly innocuous story, he would probably kick them out to get to work – they're on the clock, after all. But it's Peggy, and she wouldn't be initiating the discussion if there weren't a reason behind it.

"Ego, mostly. Hubris. Howard Stark was a brilliant man. Tony Stark was light years ahead of him, even at 21. Tony would spend hours down in R&D, working at project after project. He easily could have stuck only to a managerial role, but instead he insisted on remaining directly in the thick of tech development. Almost all of S.I.'s most impressive advances over the past 10 years were a direct result of Tony's projects."

"Sounds like an impressive guy," Steve responds.

"Oh, yes, he's very impressive. When his parents died, he inherited the CEO position. Within a few years, they'd taken on shareholder investments and were making money hand over fist."

"He'll be a good man to have on the team, then."

"Oh, heavens, no," Peggy laughs. "Tony still spends most of his time in R&D. He skips shareholder meetings, avoids operational decisions, and up until very recently, would rather have spent his time racing sports cars in Monaco, drinking and gambling with beautiful, somewhat vapid people hanging off his arm."

"What changed?"

"I'm not entirely certain, though I've heard rumblings of an inner coup attempt. If there was one, they did a wonderful job of keeping it quiet. Obadiah Stane, who had been S.I.'s CFO for 18 years, resigned quite suddenly just before Tony seemed to clean up his act, though."

"Could be the rumours are true, then."

"Could be," Peggy agrees. They sit in silence for a few moments while Steve thinks over this new information.

"So, knowing what you know about Tony Stark, what do you think should be my play?" he asks.

"Don't try to come in around the side door with him," she says without hesitation. "Tony will appreciate your candor. He does not approve of 'subtle'."

"I can work with that," Steve says, one corner of his mouth turning up in a smile.

"Yes, well, you are quite allergic to 'subtle' yourself, aren't you?"

"Been told that once or twice," he agrees.

Peggy stands to leave, not waiting for instructions from Steve. "I'll get started on putting together some incentive packages, shall I?"

"See if you can find anything in our subsidiary companies that might make some of Stark's products or projects better — batteries, casings, whatever. Anything that might make it worth the company's while, not just the people."

"I'll see what I can find," she says on her way out the door.

Steve leans back in his chair and begins to pour over files and charts. They have a lot to do, and not a lot of time left to do it.

It takes Natasha three calls, half an hour on the phone, and a promised 'to be collected at a later date, no questions asked' favour owed, to convince Stark's executive assistant, Pepper Potts, to get a meeting on the docket with him, and a second favour to convince Potts to help them get through the firewall that is Stark's artificial intelligence personal assistant.

For all the work that had gone into putting together Steve's presentation, and all the negotiating that had gone into getting him into a room with Stark, it's more than a little insulting when the first thing the man does upon glancing down at Steve's offer paperwork is laugh.

"That's a fair offer," Steve says. He can feel his brows drawn together, feels his chest tighten with irritation. He'd been warned that Stark would be arrogant, smug, even, but he still hadn't quite been prepared for the reality of it. On top of that, he also can't help but be very aware of the way Stark's eyes glint with intelligence and, if he's not misreading it, the joy of a challenge. The laughter isn't honest amusement — there's an undercurrent of disdain in it. Stark is clearly a sharp man, and Steve had known he would be insulted by the offer to sell. He'd just been hoping Stark would see the necessity of it before dismissing it out of hand.

"Maybe it's a fair offer for your average robotics company, but it's not a fair offer for Stark Industries," Stark says, pushing it away. He takes a sip from the glass of neat scotch he'd poured for himself at the beginning of their meeting, and Steve watches him with disapproval. He'd declined the offer of scotch, himself, and instead has a cup of surprisingly good coffee on the conference table between them.

"That offer is leagues above what any other robotics company on the market would expect to receive. Your work in the fields of robotics and intelligence coding is above and beyond anything else the market has been able to produce, and we know that. It's factored into the deal. There is no reason for you not to accept this deal."

Stark snorts. "I'm not selling you my company, that seems like a pretty decent reason to me."

"It's not a sale, Mr. Stark. It's a merger."

"It's not happening," Stark answers with an edge of a growl in his voice.

Steve splays out pages of data — Hydra International's recent stock purchases, Stark Industries' management employment contracts, and more.

"Look at this. Hydra is coming for you, Mr. Stark. They've gained a seven per cent take on your stock prices in the last two days alone. They know what they're doing. They've taken over larger companies than yours without so much as breaking a sweat, and you don't have any poison pill defenses at your disposal. Someone wrote it into your shareholder bylaws, and it was sloppy."

Stark laughs again, but this time it's almost hollow. "Oh, there was nothing sloppy about it — that's exactly how he wanted it written."

Steve looks up sharply at that, but Stark doesn't elaborate.

"The point is, Hydra is convincing your shareholders to sell. He's offering incentives that look great on paper, but before long, they'll be the ones left holding the bag, and your company will be in tattered remains."

"But lo, a white knight appears," Stark says sarcastically, tipping his glass up in a salute.

"I don't want your company," Steve tells him. "I never wanted your company. What I want is your people."

"Don't bullshit me, Rogers."

"The Rogers Corporation is doing fine," Steve continues. "Of course we'd benefit from your tech. Some of your robotics punched into our navigational systems would make us the literal only choice for most markets. We have all the same corporate ethics. Our companies together would be unstoppable, with all the good we could do in the world."

"And that's all you're here for, is to do good in the world."

It's not a question. It's meant to be cruel, really, but Stark's golden brown eyes flash when he says it, and Steve is struck by just how attractive the man is.

Not that it matters, because Steve is here for business, not pleasure.

"You're being stubborn," Steve says, leaning back in his chair. "The merger offer outlines how your company would keep its autonomy. We aren't looking at mass layoffs. If anything, we're looking to fold your staff into our own as much as possible. We'll only clip the dead weight."

"And who decides who's dead weight?" Stark challenges, bearded chin jutting out determinedly.

"You do," Steve says immediately. "You decide, and then they still receive a hefty compensation package. Hydra is coming for you, Mr. Stark. This is the only way to protect your company, and your tech, from them."

Stark stares down at the sheets of paper for a long moment.

Steve decides to double down — he can't leave this meeting without a 'yes'.

"There are rumours that you have something coming down the pipe to market — something the world has never seen before. I'm willing to bet anything that whatever it is, it would be very, very dangerous in the wrong hands. You know Hydra's are the wrong hands."

"Anything?" Stark says, and that devilishly handsome smug look is back. His eyes are filled with fire — anger, challenge.

Steve feels himself nodding, even though, somehow, he gets the feeling that he's just stepped into a trap of some kind. "I'm asking you to do this, Tony," Steve says, voice softening. "I'm asking you to give your own company a chance, and to help me keep Hydra from gaining anymore market control. The human rights violations that they're guilty of… The more power they get, the more they get away with."

"They've never been convicted," he says with a shrug. "Nothing's ever been proven."

"And you know as well as I do that that doesn't matter."

Stark shuffles the papers in front of him, mixing them up into a neat little stack.

"Say you're right," Stark muses, leaning back and sharpening his gaze on Steve. He suppresses the urge to squirm under the scrutiny.

"I am."

"So, you're my only hope. You get to fold S.I. into the Rogers Corp, you get control of all the tech, the facilities, the patents."

"No, Tony. We control the tech and facilities and patents. I meant what I said — this isn't an acquisition, it's a merger."

"Of which you get controlling interest."

Steve shakes his head. "50-50. That's the deal."

"What's the catch?"

"S.I. doesn't go back to weapons development."

Stark blinks at him. "Seriously?"


"S.I. has been out of weapons for six years. What makes you think we're going back to it?"

"Nothing," Steve replies honestly. "But you weren't going to trust a deal without a catch."

Stark stares at him again, just watching him for a long moment. Steve's toes curl a little in his shoes, the only concession he allows himself in his need to shift uncomfortably at the intensity.

"There's one more thing I want written in the deal," Stark says, and this time the grin on his face is shark-like, predatory. Steve's skin prickles, and he knows that whatever is about to come out of Stark's mouth will be dangerous.

"I'll do whatever is in my power to make sure you get it," he says, though. He's been trying to stop Hydra for so long — this might be his only real chance.

"I want you."

And that's not at all what Steve would have expected.

"I'm sorry, I don't think I understand. I was always still going to be co-CEO —"

"Oh, no, Rogers. That's not what I meant. I want you. One night; you spread out naked for me, in my bed, for me to do whatever I please."

Steve's face heats up, and he's sure they'd be able to see the force of his blush from space. He lets out an indignant noise and growls out a response.

"What the hell kind of deal —"

"I want to be clear, here, that I'm not just talking about sex. You want me to trust you on all this? I don't trust easily, Rogers. Trust is about give and take. If you want me to give you my trust, then I need you to prove to me that I can trust you – by trusting me" Stark says, grinning smugly. "I'm not interested in just coercing you into my bed. I need more than that. I need you to give yourself over to me, completely trust me to do what I want to you without hurting you. You'll get a safeword, of course, and using it won't kill the merger. But I need you to trust me if I'm going to trust you, and this is the quickest way for me to find out."

"You can't possibly think —"

"You've been watching me, staring at me, wanting me, through this whole meeting. I can see it. You've stared at my mouth every time I took a drink. You can't take your eyes off me."

"You're the only other person in the room, of course I'm looking at you," Steve argues, aggressively ignoring the pounding of his heart that knows Stark is telling the truth.

"I'm going to go up to my penthouse and get things prepared. If you want me to sign this paperwork, you'll be there at nine o'clock, and you'll spend the next few hours tied up for me, so I can fuck you," Stark says, gesturing at the offer contract in front of him. "I'll give it to my lawyers this afternoon, but you seem like an upstanding guy." One corner of Stark's mouth twitches as though he's trying to hide a smile. "I'm sure everything's on the up and up. If they don't find anything alarming, I'll sign it after we're done tonight."

Steve valiantly ignores the southward rush of blood, the dizzying arousal those words evoke. He can't. He can't. He's a professional. Tony Stark is about to become his business partner and co-CEO.

"We're going to be working together," Steve protests.

"We'll never speak of it again. It will happen before I've signed anything, so right now, we're just two people with no connection. I'll sign that paperwork, and that will erase the evening completely."

Steve stares at Stark's mouth. His lips look wicked. His hands are graceful, his whole posture confident and sensual. Steve has no doubt that Tony Stark could play him like an instrument.

"You can say no," Stark says, his voice soft and gentle. "Schmidt's been knocking on my door for a long time, so I knew something was coming. I thought I could — it doesn't matter. You can say no."

"What if I don't want to?" Steve whispers.

"Then you say no." Stark's eyes shutter almost imperceptibly. Suddenly he looks closed off and small.

And the merger falls through, and Schmidt gets controlling interest in Stark's company, Steve thinks. But that's not the only thing keeping him from stalking out the door, back to his own company.

His entire existence is routine. Every day is the same as the day before it. He's good at what he does, his business is flourishing. He has friends – they're also his coworkers, but they're still friends. He has his health. But there's no spark. Something is missing. He gets up every morning and goes to bed every night and nothing matters.

What Stark is offering him… It's an escape. It's a way to get the merger in place, sure, but it's also something that intrigues Steve. Something he's wondered about, but never had the opportunity to try.

He doesn't think he'll get off on pain, but he can handle it, if he has to. The part he will like is what Tony had described so far – giving over that control, tied down and helpless, to be used and fucked however his partner wants.

He's hard just thinking about it.

"No," Steve says, voice still a whisper. "What if I don't want to say no?"

Tony smiles at him, then, and it's sweeter than Steve ever would have expected.

And he knows he's just made a deal with the devil. He should regret it. He should walk away, leave Tony to his own problems.

But, god, he wants this.

Tony shows Steve out of the conference room and heads for his private elevator without saying goodbye. Steve, knowing his face is probably still flushed with embarrassment, makes his way to where Clint is sitting in Stark's executive waiting room. He seems to be ignoring everything around him, but Steve knows better than most just how attentive Clint Barton is to his surroundings.

"All done, Mr. Rogers?" Clint gives him the polite, formal greeting because they're out in public. When Clint's driving him around or pulling bodyguard duty anywhere that isn't out in public, they keep things friendlier. When Bucky's with him and Clint's driving the two of them from place to place, Bucky and Clint tend to gang up to mock him for whatever they can pounce on that day. Most recently, it had been the lack of social engagements on his calendar.

Well, that's what Steve would tell anyone they had been teasing him for. In reality, it had been more about mocking him for his lack of a sex life.

It's not that he doesn't enjoy sex. He just so rarely has time for it. Beyond that, he has, as Bucky would say, 'no game' whatsoever.

Apparently, what he'd really needed was for someone else to do all the gaming.

"Let's head home, Barton," Steve says, doing his best to project an aura of calm confidence. He has a feeling some of the awkward nerves manage to shine through on their own.

"Seemed like a pretty short meeting" Clint says, and Steve can see his body tense minutely. Like he thinks the meeting had gone poorly, and that, maybe, he'll need to protect Steve from Stark Industries security.

"Mr. Stark and I are going to meet again later tonight," he explains, stepping closer to Clint and lowering his voice. "To go over things a little more specifically."

"So home, not the office?"

"Yeah.. Thanks, Clint."

Clint flicks a sloppy salute in answer and wheels around to head for the elevator. His eyes aren't nearly so nonchalant, though. Steve knows he's a terrible liar, and Clint must have picked up on his discomfort. If it were anyone else, Steve would be peppered with questions, harangued and interrogated until he broke and told them the truth. Clint, though, is the model of discretion. Honestly, Steve sometimes wonders if he has the same psychic power Natasha seems to have, and always just knows things without having to ask.

Steve pulls out his phone in the elevator and taps out a quick message to Bucky about keeping his calls held for the rest of the night, and that he's going to be negotiating with Stark. Bucky doesn't comment on that part, but does let Steve know that he's pushed all Steve's meetings and calls to next week. The whole upper level of the company is working on the merger, and Steve had known most of his week would be swallowed up by it.

Not necessarily like this, though.

They don't speak on the ride to Steve's building. Stan is the doorman on shift in the afternoons, though Steve rarely ever sees him because he's never home in the afternoons. The man looks like he could be over 90. He peers up at Steve through large-framed, thick glasses, lips pursed under his thick white mustache.

"Afternoon, Mr. Rogers," Stan greets him, voice gruff. Steve'll give him that – 90-something and not used to seeing Steve around, but at least the old man remembers his name and that he lives here.

"Afternoon, Stan," Steve answers on his way to the elevator.

His stomach is leaden with nerves. Over the course of the afternoon and the evening, he almost calls Pepper Potts, Tony's assistant, a dozen times over to say he won't be coming. He considers just not showing up, and telling everyone that the deal fell through.

They don't have to know why.

He showers and shaves. Eats dinner methodically, even though he has to choke it down. Paces the floor. He changes his outfit three times, even though he knows – because Tony had told him – that he won't be spending the evening with his clothes on.

He finally settles on a clean suit, tie and all. He wants to look like he really is going to a meeting, even though it's not what one would call a conventional meeting..

Is he really doing this?

He gets a text from Clint when the car is out front, and he takes a deep, shaky breath before he goes down to meet him.

The streets are quiet, even for a weeknight, and they get to Stark Tower quickly. Steve moves to exit the car, ignoring the way his hand is shaking.

"Want me to wait here?" Clint asks, and his voice is quiet, gentle. Like he knows Steve feels like he's hanging onto his sanity by a thread.

"I don't – it might be a couple hours," Steve says, unsure. "I don't know how long –"

"It's okay, Steve. I got nowhere to be."

Steve thinks about facing Clint when he comes back down to the street. Thinks about how Clint will look at him, judge him for prostituting himself for a company merger.

"It's fine. I can take a cab home."

Clint gives him a look, clearly unimpressed. "Listen, I'll go down the block – there's a nice little diner down the way. I'll have some coffee, eat some waffles. You call me when you're ready to go home, I'll be here in a minute."

Steve gives him a grateful, shaky smile and exits the car. He steps through the tower's main doors, turns to watch the car drive away.

He takes a deep breath, squares his shoulders and turns toward the security desk. The woman sitting there gives him a vague, expectant smile.

"Good evening, and welcome to Stark Tower. How can I help you?"

I'm looking to go upstairs so your boss can tie me down and fuck me.

"I have an appointment with Mr. Stark," Steve answers.

"Ah, yes, Mr. Rogers. I was told to expect you. Please make your way to the private elevators to the left. Jarvis will help you the rest of the way." She gestures to the left, to a sleek, out-of-the-way elevator. Steve walks there without thinking too much about it, as though his feet know how much he wants this even if his head doesn't.

The doors open when he approaches, and he steps inside. The deep red carpet is spotless, looking fresh and plush.

"Good evening, Mr. Rogers." The voice over the intercom is smooth, accented British. "Mr. Stark asked me to show you up to the penthouse. The elevator will take you there directly."

The elevator is already moving before the voice finishes the sentence.

Everyone has heard of Tony Stark's artificial intelligence creation, which Tony uses as a personal assistant, building manager, and more. Stark had only created the one, for personal use. Other companies – Amazon and Google – had marketed knock-offs of the creation, but none were close to the complexity and integration of Jarvis.

Steve quietly, in the back of his mind, respects that Tony had kept it for himself. It feels a little bit like a rebellion of the expectation that everything he does is for the money. It shows that sometimes he creates just for the pleasure of creation. He knows there have been rumours that the system perhaps doesn't live up to its reputation, and that's why Stark hasn't released a commercial version, but Peggy and Natasha had assured him that those rumours were patently false.

The elevator comes to a stop after a long ride, and the doors slide open silently.

Tony is leaning against the wall across from the elevator, hands loosely in his pants pockets. The added volume makes the dark grey fabric stretch tight across his hips, his thighs, and Steve swallows drily. Tony is wearing a soft-looking, well-worn T-shirt, and his feet are bare. Steve finds himself speechless at the picture. He's impressed with himself for not stumbling on his way out of the elevator.

"You came," Tony says after the doors have closed. Steve stands ramrod straight in front of him.

Steve doesn't answer. He doesn't know how to. Of course I came, you said I had to would be a lie – Tony had very clearly given him a choice. The Rogers Corp. doesn't need this merger as much as Stark Industries does. Steve could have walked away.

He still could.

He stands where he is, ignoring his hot, flushed cheeks as he meets Tony's eyes and holds his gaze.

"So, what's your safe word?" Tony asks after they stare at one another for a moment.

Steve's face grows even warmer. "I don't – I've never…"

"Don't worry about it, Rogers. We can stick with the stoplight system. Green means go, red means stop, yellow means slow down."

"Call me Steve," he croaks out. "If we're going to — if we're doing this. Call me Steve."

Tony gives him a small smile. "Steve."

Tony turns without another word, leading Steve down the hall. The hallway opens into an opulent, magnificent penthouse suite. It's all open concept, white furniture and sleek lines, contemporarily shaped tables and seating. It's decorated perfectly, muted colors, pops of deep red here and there. The walls are adorned with an eclectic mixture of classic and modern art — there's a Monet, a Richter, even a Portinari. Steve had grown up thinking he'd be an artist, and he still studies as much art history as he can, so he's a little surprised to see such a mixture of styles. The most surprising part, though, is how well they go together, when they really shouldn't.

His eyes are drawn to a sculpture in the corner which, if he's not very much mistaken, is an original Rodin.

Tony watches him as he takes it all in, as though trying to gauge Steve's reaction to the house.

It's beautiful. Everything about it is perfect, put exactly in its place, and impeccably styled.

And it feels just as sterile and cold as Steve's own place.

"Can I get you something to drink?" Tony asks him, and Steve glances at him. He'd sort of expected Tony to simply lead him to the bedroom and debauch him, and he can't decide if he's disappointed with the pleasantries or charmed by them.

"Sure," he answers, because, well, he feels the need for a drink.

Tony pours them both a glass of top shelf bourbon, and Steve relishes in the warmth that glows in his belly when it hits.

Tony's suddenly there, in his space, taking the glass gently from Steve's hand and placing it with his on the side table.

Steve thinks for a moment that Tony might kiss him, then, but instead, Tony's hands slide up Steve's chest, over his suit jacket to his collar. He turns the folds of it up and slips his fingers under the neck of Steve's tie, gently pulling the silky red fabric out of the neck loop.

The only sounds in the room are the whispering of silk as Tony slowly removes Steve's tie, and the deafening pounding of Steve's heart.

He can't bring himself to break eye contact, as much as it seems too intense. Tony's eyes are boring into his own through his inky black eyelashes as he works the tie off and then slides it out from around Steve's collar.

When Tony's nimble fingers move to the tiny little pearled button at the top of Steve's collar, Steve can't help the convulsive bob of his throat as he swallows. It makes Tony's skin brush against his neck, and it makes the back of Steve's neck tingle a little.

Tony's eyes stay focused on him, and he deftly, but slowly, undoes the small row of buttons down Steve's shirt. His tie may be on the floor, but he still has his jacket on. When Tony's progress is halted by the top of Steve's pants, the silver buckle of his belt, he still doesn't look away from Steve's eyes. There's a heat there Steve has never seen, like Steve is the only thing in Tony's entire world right now. He feels hot under the gaze, the pinpoint focus. By feel, Tony tugs the silk shirt out from Steve's waistband and then plucks at the last few buttons until the shirt is undone all the way, leaving a strip of skin bare in the cool room. Tony's hands glide up his belly, his chest. His palms are sure and dry, fingers caressing him teasingly as Tony's hands push in under the shoulders of his shirt and push back, down his arms, neatly and efficiently divesting him of both shirt and jacket in one smooth motion.

Only then does Tony let his gaze move down, and he does so slowly and deliberately. His eyes rake over Steve's skin, his chest, his abs, his shoulders.

"I knew you were hiding something beautiful under that jacket," Tony murmurs, and Steve blushes at the compliment.

Tony continues to run his hands over Steve's skin. He moves back up Steve's arms, fingertips trailing hotly up to his shoulders, his neck, then back down his chest and belly. The contact leaves shivers in its wake, Steve's skin somehow waking up in a way he's never felt before.

Tony's thumb flicks softly, carefully, over Steve's right nipple, and it's so light he barely feels it, but it's enough to make him twitch. Tony's tongue darts out to wet his lip and he looks back up at Steve, studying his eyes intently as he tweaks the nipple again. This time, he does it a little harder, and Steve betrays himself with a sharp intake of breath.

"Are you sensitive here?" Tony asks softly.

"A little," Steve admits, not sure why he's being so honest. Proud of how clear and smooth his voice is.

Tony watches him and then flicks at both nipples experimentally, and Steve's eyes flutter at the sensation. His cock gives a twitch in his pants, and he can feel the blood rush south as Tony plays with the pebbled skin of his nipples.

"Don't close your eyes," Tony instructs him, and Steve's eyes snap back open of their own accord. He swallows hard, caught off guard by the order, and the way his arousal reacts to it.

"Very good," Tony purrs, and Steve wants to rub up against him like a cat.

Tony's hands move back down Steve's belly, fingers tracing the ridges of twitching abdominal muscles as he makes his way back down to the waistband of Steve's pants.

He thumbs at the clasp of Steve's belt, the silent hinge giving way and allowing the butter-soft vegan leather to slide out. Steve's hands clench by his sides. He's not sure if he's trying to stop himself from grabbing at Tony's hands to push him away, or to push him out of the way so Steve can strip himself faster.

"Tony," he says, and his voice is a little ragged now.

"We have all night, honey," Tony says, and somehow he manages not to make the endearment sound mocking in any way. "I wanna take my time."

Steve swallows hard, spine stiff.

Tony pulls Steve's belt through the rest of the loops and lets it fall to the soft rug beneath their feet. He grins up at Steve, then steps back and admires Steve's body for a moment..

Tony grins darkly before he steps right up into Steve's space, pressing his chest against Steve's so that the soft cotton brushes against Steve's hot skin. There isn't so much of a height difference between them that Steve can't feel the hardness of Tony's erection nudging into the base of his own.

Tony's warm breath ghosts across his chin, but he still doesn't tip up for a kiss. It makes Steve feel like he's little more than a prize to be won, and it somehow manages to make him feel hot and chilled at the same time.

"Last chance to back out, Rogers," Tony says, his voice low and warm.

It's the tone there, the low, seductive register that keeps Steve from taking him up on the offer, and instead, Steve finally participates, hands coming up to grip Tony's biceps. He leans forward, tips his chin down, presses Tony backwards until he's flush with the wall, and brings their mouths together for a searing kiss.

The obscene groan that rumbles against Steve's lips is one of relief, lust, encouragement. Tony brings his hands up to wrap around Steve's neck, fingers digging into the short, bristly hair at his nape. Tony's tongue flicks at the seam of Steve's lips, insistently seeking entry, so Steve tilts his head a little to the side to deepen the kiss as he lets Tony's tongue in, licks at it with his own.

Tony wraps himself closer, wrapping his hands around Steve's neck instead of just his hands, trapping Steve against him and forcing Steve to move his hands around Tony's back, arms sliding against smooth, heated skin.

Tony moans again, grinding his hips forward to rub himself against Steve, and Steve can't help the groan that escapes from his own chest.

Tony slides against the wall to the side, dragging Steve with him, making his way to the end of the wall and then backing out of the room, deeper into the penthouse. Somehow, he manages to do this without breaking their embrace, mouth still sliding wetly over Steve's.

Tony walks backward, pulling Steve along, until they reach a doorway down the hall. He turns them, then, and pushes Steve backward instead, pushing and pushing until Steve is almost at the wall. His calves hit a small step, and he glances down and back. It's a small platform, just wide enough for a person to stand on. The wall behind it is adorned with two brass vertical rails, and there are D-rings attached to it in various places.

Steve's knees go weak. He looks back up at Tony, who is watching him carefully. Tony steps back, moves to the extravagantly large bed, and picks up a bundle of deep red rope.

He looks at Steve, and it's like a question. One more check in to make sure Steve knows what's going to happen here.

Steve holds the stare, ignoring the nerves, and moves his hands to the fly of his slacks.

Tony watches him raptly as Steve unfastens his pants and pushes them down to the floor, stepping out of his shoes and socks at the same time, until he's standing there completely naked and on display.

Tony stares at his cock, standing hard and proud, and completely unbothered by Steve's fear.

"Oh, that's excellent," Tony says, his voice a low rumble. He flicks his eyes back up to Steve's face, gaze sharp. "Do you remember your safewords?"

"Yes," Steve whispers.

"Say it."

"Green means go. Red means stop."

"And yellow means slow down. You can call yellow or red whenever you need to, Steve. I don't want to hurt you, here. That's not my intention."

Steve swallows the sound of relief his throat wants to make at that declaration. It's enough to put him a little more at ease, to make the lump in his throat and the weight in his belly lighten.

"Put your arms behind your back," Tony tells him, and Steve obeys.

Tony carries the rope over to Steve, walking around behind him. He repositions Steve's arms a little, places his warm, dry hands on Steve's shoulders to shift him.

Then he begins winding the rope over Steve's wrists.

At first, it startles him, and he almost jumps. But then, even as Tony is looping the rope over itself and securing his wrists together, Steve feels his mind settle.

It's an odd feeling. He can't say it's a feeling of finally getting what he'd been waiting for, because this isn't something he'd known he was waiting for. But it's akin to that – a feeling of satisfaction. Warmth, soothing and sweet, and a feeling of – of being safe.

Cared for.

Tony loops the rope around his chest, over his shoulders. He tightens it, wrapping it around Steve in multiple coils. Two loops around his upper chest, two loops a bit lower, so that his pecs are pushed out, turning red and heavy with the pressure.

The ropes are tight enough to press into his skin, but not so tight that they're cutting off his circulation anywhere. Wordlessly, Tony places a hand on the inside of Steve's knee, and after the initial twitch of surprise, Steve obeys the unspoken command and spreads his legs apart.

Tony loops the ropes around the tops of Steve's thighs and over his hips. His hands are gentle, almost reverent, as he smooths the ropes across Steve's skin. Steve can't help gasping when Tony's knuckles drag across the side of his sac as he works a knot. Tony doesn't stop to touch him, or cup his balls, as Steve expects – he just keeps working the ropes.

It takes Steve a moment to realize that Tony is done. He stands back, admiring his handiwork. He quirks his head to the side as he examines the ropes against Steve's skin.

"How does that feel?" Tony asks, voice low. "Is anything pinching?"

"No, it's – it's fine."

"And your shoulders? You shouldn't feel any straining."

"No, they're fine, too," Steve says. His mouth is dry, but his breathing is steady and he feels a little bit like he might float away.

Tony walks to the dresser and takes a bottle of water from the top of it. There are several, lined up in a neat row. He brings it to Steve while untwisting the cap, and tips it to his lips. Steve drinks, wondering how Tony had known he was thirsty, but not sure how to ask.

"Good. I'm going to help you up onto the platform," Tony says, taking hold of Steve's elbow. He guides Steve gently back, steadies him as Steve takes a step up to the platform. It's not too high, only a foot or so, but it's enough to bring Tony's face level with his chest.

"You look beautiful like this," Tony says, but it's so quiet that Steve's not sure he was supposed to hear it. "Look at you." Tony's hand brushes over Steve's pectoral, slides down the slope of his flank to his hip.

Tony picks up the ropes on the floor beside the platform and continues his work. He puts the rope through the D-rings, loops it around Steve's biceps and above his head, so that he's tied to the wall. He has room to move a little, he's not strapped up against it, but the ropes are high enough he doesn't have much give. He imagines it will also help keep him upright if his legs get tired..

Tony loops knots around the ropes on his legs so that his hips can't move forward, only back, and then ties ropes around his ankles, securing him to the platform. His feet don't have any give – they're strapped right where they are, so he can't step forward or back. He can only lean away from the wall or toward it.

Tony looks at him again for a moment.

"I want to blindfold you," he says. Steve's heart pounds. "You can use your safeword if you want, but it will make everything a little more intense for you. Would you like that?"

Steve doesn't know how to answer. Does he want that? He loves looking at Tony, but if what Tony wants is for him not to see….

He's not sure when this became less about doing what he needs to do for the merger, and more about doing what he needs to do to make Tony happy. He imagines it's somewhere around the time he'd walked into the penthouse. Or possibly when he'd walked into the Stark Industries conference room.

"I don't – I can try. I've never…"

"There's a lot of things you've never done that we're doing right now, aren't there, Steve?"

Steve swallows and nods.

"Okay. I'm going to put the blindfold on. Let me know if you need me to take it off, okay? But try it, first."

Steve nods again, and Tony goes back to the dresser to retrieve a length of black silk. He wraps it around Steve's head, tying it deftly around the back of Steve's neck. He can't see, and he has a moment of panic at the loss of that sense. It settles, though, as Tony runs his hands down Steve's chest, his belly, his thighs.

"How are you doing, Steve?"

"Um. Good. I'm good," Steve says. The floaty feeling is back.

Tony touches him all over, running his sure hands smoothly over Steve's elbows, his shoulders, neck, knees and ankles. His hands keep moving, roving along Steve's skin. It has the dual effect of settling Steve's nerves and ratcheting up his arousal.

Finally, Tony wraps his hand around Steve's cock, and he begins stroking it. Not particularly hard, just a little bit of pressure. More of a comforting stroke than a titillating one.

Of course, it's still plenty titillating.

Steve's cock is slick, giving Tony's hand an easy slide, which is how Steve knows he's been leaking pre-come.

"You're so wet," Tony murmurs. Steve wants to writhe, feeling a hot humiliation in his belly at the way Tony is just saying it like that. The curl of arousal, though, grows with it.

Tony's hand grows tighter, moves faster, and Steve can feel himself already starting to get close. Tony twists his hand on the down strokes, rubbing the pad of his thumb over the sensitive spot just under the head of Steve's dick.

"I want you to tell me when you get close," Tony tells him, and this time there's steel in his voice. It's not mean, no, but it brooks no argument. This is clearly an order.

Steve moans, eyes fluttering behind the blindfold.

Tony strokes him faster, harder, and Steve can feel his balls tighten. His thighs tense, and he can't help but step up on his toes, trying to push into the sensation. "I'm – oh, god, Tony, I'm going to come."

Just as he feels his balls draw up, feels the perfect, hot sensation of orgasm start in his groin, Tony pulls his hand away. The sudden loss of sensation feels like hitting a wall, and Steve moans as the orgasm doesn't come. He's panting, breathing hard, but he just can't tip over the edge.

He hears a low, devious chuckle from Tony in front of him, and the sound sends a shiver up his spine.

"Tony…" Steve says, trailing off. He wants to beg, wants to ask why, but he supposes it makes sense that Tony wouldn't want him to come so early in the evening.

They've just started, after all, and Tony is still, as far as Steve knows, fully clothed.

He wants to fuck you.

No, Tony doesn't want him to come yet.

Suddenly Tony's hands are back, but this time they're up at his chest. He rolls Steve's nipples between his fingers, pinching and caressing. Steve moans and throws his head back, trying to push his chest forward. Tony doesn't change the way he's touching Steve, continuing to tease him with clever fingers.

Steve can't help but pull against the ropes holding him there, trying to get closer to Tony. Or maybe further away, so he can pause, catch his breath, calm down a little.

Tony doesn't give him either, and Steve isn't able to move more than a fraction of an inch in any direction, the ropes just tight enough to keep him where he is.

The pressure on his nipples starts to get close to the line of uncomfortable – it's too much, now, Tony is relentless and as much as each touch sends a bolt of pleasure through him, it's beginning to become tinged with pain.

Tony pulls one hand away, and then there's hot, moist breath over the freed nipple. Steve moans, and then Tony sucks it into his mouth, tongue flicking wetly over the abused flesh.

His knees want to buckle. Tony's still working his other nipple with his fingers, pinching and rolling and twisting, but the other one feels soothed, and so, so sensitive to every lick and suck of Tony's mouth. He scrapes his teeth against it, but doesn't bite, then licks at it gently again.

"God, Tony," Steve sighs, panting.

"You're very sensitive," Tony murmurs against his skin, kissing his way across Steve's chest. He brings a thumb to rub over the damp nipple he's left, but this time he brushes over it gently, over and over again. It sends sparks directly down to Steve's cock.

Tony closes his mouth over the other nipple now, sucking and licking at it in the same way.

Steve's arms strain against his ropes. Is he trying to free his hands so he can pull Tony's head against him, hold him to his chest, or to push him away to give Steve a rest from the onslaught.

After what seems like an eternity, Tony kisses his way down Steve's belly, meandering a path over the ridges of his abdominal muscles. His nipples feel cool but swollen as Tony slides his hands down Steve's sides, brushing over the ropes around his thighs.

His mouth is sinful – hot and wet and talented, and Steve wants to feel it on his cock, but Tony bypasses his erection to lick and suck at his balls. He takes one into his mouth, lathing it gently with his tongue, and then releases it and pulls the other one in.

He brings his hand around Steve's cock again, and begins stroking it. His hand is tighter than the first time, but still not as tight as Steve wants it. He moves at an even pace, pulling almost all the way off before he strokes down to the very base. It's good, and Steve pushes up on his toes again, huffs of air rushing out of his lungs as Tony mouths at his sac and the crease of his thigh meeting his groin.

He strokes faster, tighter, and Steve can feel his balls tightening in Tony's mouth. He's getting close again, can feel the edge of orgasm rushing up at him, and for some reason he doesn't even entertain the idea of not mentioning it, of letting Tony take him into climax.

"Oh, Tony, yes! I'm going to come," Steve says breathlessly. Tony strokes him again, twice, a third time and then he pulls away, stepping back, gripping Steve tightly at the base of his cock. It's just painful enough to distract him from the impending orgasm, and Steve lets out noise like a wounded animal, straining against his ropes as his whole body tenses with the need to come.

"Fuck!" he cries, his whole body shivering, nerves sparking across every inch of his skin.

"That's lovely," Tony says, and Steve can hear the smile in his voice. "Would you like me to untie you? We could move over to the bed."

"Please," Steve gasps, knowing he wants that, wants to feel Tony shattering him apart from the inside.

"I just – you have such a beautiful, perfect cock," Tony says, musing. "I think I'd like to suck you off before I let you out of these ropes. You look so pretty."

A whimper creaks out of Steve's throat, and then Tony is true to his word. His hot, plush mouth is on Steve's cock, sucking him in, lips stretching wide around the girth of it.

Steve clenches his hands into fists, panting breathlessly as he tries to push his hips forward, to get more of himself into Tony's mouth, more of Tony's mouth on him.

Tony spends a few minutes sucking and licking at the head, and Steve knows he's leaking, knows that Tony has to be able to taste the pre-come there. Tony flicks his tongue over the slit, over and over, lapping it up, and Steve wants to see. It feels amazing, feels like everything Tony is doing is the most intense thing he's ever felt, and he wants to know what it looks like.

Tony bobs his head, up and down on Steve's cock, and each time he pulls Steve further into his mouth, a little bit at a time until Steve can feel himself nudging at the back of Tony's throat. It's good, so good, but then it somehow manages to get even better as Tony swallows around him, tips his chin down a little, and takes Steve all the way in. He can feel Tony's tight throat around him, the extra wetness of the added saliva, the way Tony's nose is buried in his pubic hair.

He can't help the cry of pleasure he makes, and Tony just keeps going. The filthy way Tony gags and chokes on his cock is killing him. Tony pulls back, completely off Steve's cock, and gives a little cough, but then he's right back down again, gagging and choking himself on Steve's full length.

Steve moans, feeling every nerve ending spark with pleasure.

Tony sucks him and licks him, takes him into his hot, tight throat, over and over again. His two almost-orgasms have him close to the edge, so it doesn't take long for Steve to feel like he might be rushing toward that edge, like heat is spreading through his whole body from his cock.

His vision is black from the blindfold, but it starts to flash white. He squeezes his eyes, tipping his head back and moaning continuously. It's an embarrassing, humiliating sound, but Tony just keeps going, lips around the base of Steve's cock, nose pressing against his pubic hair. One hand is braced on Steve's thigh, the other is cradlings his balls in the palm of it. His fingers are pressing gently against the flesh behind them, pressing against his prostate from the outside, and Steve feels his whole body begin to tremble and shake.

"Tony!" he calls out, and that's enough warning for him, because Tony pulls back, pulls off, pulls away. The sound Steve makes this time is a mix of frustration and bereftness, a howl of almost-pain and too much pleasure.

Tony is breathing hard, Steve can hear it through the rush of blood in his ears.

"God, oh, god, Tony," Steve gasps, rocking against his ropes, trying to get his cock back into Tony's mouth.

The blowjob had been more than a little unexpected, considering how Steve had thought the evening was going to go. He'd thought he was going to come here and have Tony tie him up and whip him, or something. This, though, this push and pull to the brink of orgasm, this teasing, is bringing Steve's whole body into a heightened sense of awareness, of pleasure and sensation. It's its own kind of torture, and by now, Steve is desperate to come.

Tony's hands are suddenly on the back of his head, fingers untying the knot on the blindfold, and then Steve can see again. The lights are dimmed, to protect him from the harsh glare, but the room is otherwise the same. His eyes find Tony immediately, and he looks… Steve doesn't think he's ever seen something so sexy, the way Tony's lips are red and swollen, his face a little reddened and sweaty from the effort of taking Steve into his throat again and again.

"There you are, honey," Tony croons, hands petting soothingly down Steve's heaving chest. His voice is rough, hoarse, and it makes Steve shiver because he knows why. Steve feels like the only thing in the room he can see is Tony. He's still clothed, and Steve wants to touch him, wants to see his body, but at the same time, he's overcome with a sense of patience. The floaty feeling is back, and there's nothing in the world except Tony, and the pleasure Tony gives him.

Tony brings his hands back up to Steve's face, pressing his palms against Steve's cheeks, holding his head steady. "Steve, honey? How are you doing? Still okay?"

"Mm-hmm," Steve sighs, blinking slowly. "Feels good."

"Good," Tony says, smiling at him indulgently. "I had no idea how well you would take to this. It's like you were made for it."

Steve likes the sound of that. That he was made for this feeling, that his existence has all been leading up to now, when his body is an instrument for Tony to play.

Tony bends at the waist, then, and his fingers work at the knots around Steve's ankles, unlooping the smooth rope, sliding it over Steve's sensitized skin. He works quickly, untying Steve's ankles, and then he unties the knots from the D-rings in the wall. He guides Steve down the step off the platform, holding him steady as Steve moves. His legs feel like they're weighed down with cement, heavy and slow, while his head still feels like it's floating, light as air.

"You're so pretty with these ropes on you," Tony sighs. "But I think I'd like to have you spread wide on my bed."

His fingers are already working at the knots around Steve's arms, his wrists, around his chest and shoulders. He leaves the ropes around Steve's thighs, palming Steve's ass gently. "Can't bring myself to take these off. Look at how they frame your ass. It's perfect."

It's like Tony's talking to himself, so Steve lets it happen. He lets Tony guide him toward the bed. Tony is squeezing and massaging the muscles of Steve's shoulders and biceps, and it's intense, but it's a good pressure against the tension. Tony kiss him then, a slow, wet, slick press of lips and tongue, then leads him onto the bed, helps him crawl onto it, face down. He pets his hands down Steve's arms, his legs, his back, nudging his arms out wide and his ankles out wide so he's lying across the large bed in an X shape.

Tony walks around the bed, picking up black leather cuffs attached to black silk ropes. They're already attached to the bed, so Tony just wraps them around Steve's wrists, around his ankles, and tightens them so that Steve can't get enough leverage to move around. He can only barely rock his body forward with his toes, but certainly not enough to get any proper pressure or friction against his straining cock. It's tucked under him, between his belly and the bed.

"That's perfect," Tony says after a few moments of staring at him. Steve looks over his shoulder at him, and Tony begins to strip his clothing off. He doesn't try to be enticing about it, he's just undressing efficiently, like he's the only one in the room, like Steve isn't strapped to his bed and waiting for him. Somehow, that makes it even hotter, and Steve moans a little as he watches Tony's skin being revealed.

Tony's muscles are more compact than Steve's own, but he's still well defined. His skin is a warm golden colour. His nipples are a warm brown colour, unlike the light, rosy pink of Steve's own. Steve wonders if they would taste as good as they look.

When Tony shucks his pants, Steve's mouth goes a little dry. His thighs are defined, and his ass is… it's very round, and pert, and Steve desperately, desperately wants to feel the heft of it in his hand.

Tony's cock is an average thickness, but it's long, straight out from his body, curved slightly upward. He's hard as a rock.

"Do you have any idea what watching you like that was doing to me?" Tony muses, eyes smouldering. "I thought I was going to come in my pants."

The visual makes Steve's cock throb with want, and then Tony is crawling up beside him on the bed. He kneels right up close to Steve's face, legs spread wide, straddling Steve's right arm so he can get his cock closer to Steve's mouth. Steve knows what's expected of him, now, but even more than that, he wants to suck Tony into his mouth, wants to feel the heft and weight of Tony's cock on his tongue. The angle is awkward, but Steve doesn't care, tipping his head to the side enough to slip Tony's cock between his lips. Tony holds himself at the base to keep his erection steady, aimed for Steve's mouth to suck and lick and kiss, so Steve does.

He lets his mouth flood with saliva, makes his tongue dance around the sensitive head, trying to give Tony even a tenth of the pleasure Steve has been feeling this evening. Tony moans, and then he starts thrusting. He keeps it shallow, and Steve is grateful because he doesn't think he could get Tony all the way to his throat from the side like this. Steve sucks deeply when Tony pulls back, then lets his mouth be soft and wet and welcoming when Tony pushes in, revelling in the little sounds of pleasure Tony makes above him.

"You have a mouth made for cocksucking, did you know that?" Tony says. His tone is conversational, if a little breathless, as he works his hips back and forth. "I should keep you tied up here forever, just come and fuck your mouth whenever I feel like it. Would you like that?"

Steve wants to shake his head, deny it, but right now he doesn't even care – the idea of Tony using him for his own pleasure, of being able to just shove his dick in Steve's mouth so he can suck it, makes him moan, and he sucks a little harder at the hot, hard flesh.

Tony makes little noises of approval, combing his fingers through Steve's sweaty hair. He keeps pumping his hips, fucking his cock shallowly into Steve's mouth. He's not moving fast, this is clearly not about him trying to get off. Steve works his lips and tongue as well as he can, anyway, feeling a deep, internal need to make it good for Tony.

"That's it, Steve," Tony groans, thrusting in a few more times. "Are you ready now?"

Steve moans, because he's not, not really, but he wants it anyway.

Tony pulls back, and Steve whines when his mouth is empty, Tony replaces his cock with two fingers, letting Steve suck them into his mouth. He does so, bathing them with his tongue, until they're slick with his saliva. Tony grins wickedly at him, then crawls down Steve's body so he's kneeling between Steve's spread legs. He uses his thumb and forefinger to spread Steve's cheeks, and Steve feels open, raw, fully on display. Tony's fingers slide over his hole, slick with Steve's own spit. Tony circles the furled opening, chuckling darkly as Steve's body twitches, straining up toward the touch.

The click of a lid, and then cool, slick lube is being poured directly onto his crack, down over his asshole, down to his balls. He shivers, and then Tony is pressing into him with a thumb, pushing the lube inside, making him slick. He pushes lube into Steve's body for a few moments, and then he switches to his index finger, presses his middle finger in beside it.

It's a quick stretch, hot and intense and sharp, but Steve is so ready, so wanton and turned on, that he just shifts up into it, gasping as Tony pumps two fingers in and out of his body.

He twists his fingers, and Steve punches out a moan when the pads of Tony's fingers slide over his prostate.

"Please, please, please," Steve moans, but then Tony just keeps fingering him, rubbing that spot over and over again, making stars flash behind Steve's eyelids.

"That's it, honey, there you go, feels good, doesn't it?" Tony murmurs, rubbing and pumping his hand faster, until Steve is sure, absolutely certain that there is no stopping his orgasm, it's definitely imminent, but just as he's feeling his body tense, just as his vision is dimming, Tony stops, ignoring the whining keen from Steve, and pulls his fingers free, breaking all contact, and stopping the orgasm in its tracks.

Steve wants to sob. His cock is so hard it almost hurts, and that while the wonderful, floaty feeling in his head is still there, it's now joined by a pounding, thrumming need – a need to touch and be touched, a need to give his body over to pleasure. His own, Tony's, anything.

He hears the sound of a condom wrapper, the slick sounds of lube being spread, and then the head of Tony's cock is at his entrance, Tony's body draping itself over Steve as he slowly, steadily, pushes in. He feels huge, feels like he's sucking all the air out of the room, leaving Steve breathless and open and needy.

"I'm not going to do this slowly," Tony says, and it's a warning and an apology at the same time. He pushes all the way, gets his cock seated deeply into Steve's body, filling him completely. Steve moans, beyond words, but what he means is Yes, go hard and fast, it's perfect, I want it.

Tony pulls most of the way back out, and then he thrusts forward, harder and faster, and it's so perfect Steve has to take a gasping, shuddering breath in, and then Tony is fucking him, pistoning his hips, pushing hard into Steve's body again and again and again.

His cock is hitting Steve's prostate as unerringly as his fingers had, and the force of Tony's hips is enough to strain Steve's body against the bonds holding him down better than he had been able to do for himself. It gives him blessed pressure on his cock, sensitive and hard, against the silky bedding under his body.

There's a wailing, desperate sound filling the room, and it takes Steve entirely too long to realize it's him, he's the one making that sound, and it's the sound of begging, pleading, wanting.

Tony is grunting and whispering in his ear, his whole body draped over Steve's as he fucks him, saying filthy, wonderful, nonsensical things as his cock pounds into Steve's body.

This time, Steve knows there will be no stopping his orgasm. He is rushing toward it with the force of a freight train, and Tony is methodically, wonderfully tearing the world down around them.

Steve cries out with every thrust, ears ringing with the sound of Tony's balls rocking forward and slapping into his own. Tony is panting, breathing hard and fast, his hips grinding and pushing. Steve feels it, a building low in his belly, a heat in his balls, a throbbing in his cock, and then the sparks behind his eyelids are an explosion of light. It's like everything in the room slows down to an impossible crawl, and every moment feels like an eternity of pleasure, drawn out and intense. He comes harder than he ever has in his life, the linens beneath him suddenly soaked, and it just adds one more level of sensation on his cock. Tony grinds and stutters his hips over him, and then there are teeth in the meat of his shoulder, hot breath and hot, slick tongue, and it feels like a second orgasm. It feels like nothing Steve has ever known, like there is nothing in the world but this pleasure, this moment.

Tony's hips have lost their rhythm, and Steve feels him press his forehead into Steve's shoulder blades, rolling his head from side to side as he pants for breath.

Steve is boneless, unable to move. His whole body is tingling, live wires of electricity under his skin, sending shocks and sparks to his extremities.

After a long moment, Tony pulls back, lifts up, pulls out, and Steve moans a little at the sudden feeling of emptiness, at the cool air ghosting over his sweat-slick skin. Tony kisses a line down Steve's spine as he pulls away, and he's only gone for a moment before he's back on the bed. This time he's beside Steve, looking flushed and criminally satisfied, smouldering and sexy. Steve wonders what he looks like, if he looks as debauched as he feels, and finds he doesn't care.

Tony lifts a weak, slightly uncoordinated hand and brushes it over Steve's hair, petting him, down the back of his neck. It's sweet, and kind, and gentle, and somehow it makes Steve want to burst into tears.

"That was wonderful," Tony murmurs, kissing Steve's shoulder. He sits up, then, and unbuckles the cuffs around Steve's ankles. He uses his thumbs to caress and massage the skin as he exposes it, and it feels heavenly. Once his ankles are free, Steve feels like he should close his legs, but he can't be bothered. He's riding high on the endorphins, his whole body still in shock.

Tony reaches over and unbuckles the wrist further from himself, and then the one closest. He leans down to press a soft, brushing kiss to the thin skin on the inside of Steve's wrist, and it makes him shudder.

Tony helps him roll onto his back, slides pillows under Steve's shoulders to lift his head, and then he reaches for the bottle of water that has somehow appeared on the nightstand. There's a luxury chocolate bar beside it. Tony tips the water bottle to Steve's lips, and suddenly Steve is parched, dehydrated, desperate as a man in the desert.

"Slow, Steve," Tony murmurs, and Steve consciously tries to slow down, taking smaller sips.

Tony takes the bottle away, quickly unwraps the chocolate and breaks off a small square. He touches it to Steve's lips, and Steve gives him an unimpressed, disbelieving look.

"Indulge me," Tony says, dipping his chin and looking up at Steve through his impossible eyelashes.

Steve opens his lips, and Tony places the chocolate on his tongue. It begins to melt almost immediately, the velvety richness bursting over Steve's taste buds.

"There you go," Tony whispers, popping a piece of the chocolate into his own mouth. He alternates like that until the bar is gone – one piece for Steve, one for Tony, and then he brings the bottle to Steve's lips again to wash down the sweetness.

"How do you feel?" Tony asks him.

Steve is about to say fine, but he stops to think about it, first. He takes stock of his body, of the little twinges of strain, the aches, the spot that will surely be an impressive bruise on his shoulder where Tony had bitten him.

"I feel… kind of floaty," Steve says, surprised at the rawness of his voice.

"Yes, I would imagine," Tony says, and there's a spark of amusement in his eyes. Steve stares into them, searching for something he can't name.

"Would you like to sleep for a bit?" Tony asks him, voice gentle. "It'll help, I think."

Steve should say no, should say he needs to get going, that he's fulfilled his end of the deal, but he's suddenly exhausted, his limbs heavy and useless. He nods, cheeks flushing, and Tony leans forward to press a chaste kiss to his lips, pulling a light blanket from somewhere, and pulls it over their bodies.

Steve is asleep in moments, Tony's head resting on his chest.

Steve wakes alone. The sheets beside him are cool, and the blinds are open. It's dark outside.

He sits up and looks around the room for a clock, but he doesn't see one.

"Greetings, Sir." It's Tony's A.I., Jarvis.. "The time is 1:32 am. Mr. Stark suggested I take the liberty of calling your driver to pick you up. The contracts you had given him are completed and signed, and will be delivered to your legal department first thing in the morning."

"Uh. How… how did you get Barton's number?" It's the only thing Steve can think to ask out loud. He has other questions, of course. Where is Tony? Is he coming back? Can we do this again? He doesn't ask any of them.

"Upon Mr. Stark's signing of the contracts, I was able to access the Stark-Rogers Industries' employee database."

Steve presses his forehead to his knees in defeat. Any access to the employee database is immediately flagged and noted for Natasha, regardless of reason or origin. Clint is good at keeping his confidence, and while Natasha is as well, she'll also more than likely save this little nugget for a later date, and use it against him in some horrible, unexpected way.

"Mr. Barton is waiting out in front of the building for you. I contacted him when your breathing patterns began to indicate you would be soon to wake."

"Right. Did, um, did Tony…?" He doesn't finish the question, unsure what he even wants to know. Did Tony say anything about me? Will he call me? Is it normal to feel like everything is different, now? Will he come back and fuck me again? He can't ask anything else.

He stands and finds his clothes neatly folded on the chair beside the bed. It makes him feel cold inside. Like this is the end point of some kind of transaction.

Although, he supposes, in a way it is a transaction. As of now, the Rogers Corporation is Stark-Rogers Industries.

"Mr. Stark made his way down to his private workshop several hours ago. I expect he will remain there for the duration of the night," says Jarvis, answering the question Steve couldn't quite finish asking,

Steve dresses without a word, trying not to think about what can only be called a walk of shame. He hopes Clint will think they had just spent the night negotiating, that it had been a long, long meeting.

He makes his way downstairs, and when the cool night air hits his face, he takes a deep, cleansing breath.

"Hey, Cap," Clint says as he hops out of the car to open Steve's door for him. He looks awake and refreshed, like he's had a full night's sleep even though it's the middle of the night. He seems cheerful, but neutral, which is how Steve knows that Clint has absolutely figured out what Steve had spent the evening doing.

Well, maybe not exactly what he's spent the evening doing.

He doesn't say anything, though, and Steve is grateful for it.

They don't speak on the ride home, and when Clint drops him off, they bid one another good night without delving any deeper than that.

Having slept for several hours in Tony's bed, however, makes sleeping now a pipe dream for Steve. Instead, he brews a pot of coffee and opens up his tablet to get some work done.

And if, every once in a while, he curls a hand around his own shoulder and presses into the tender skin from Tony's bite mark there, no one has to know.

He's running late this morning – he'd skipped his run, finally managing to fall asleep around five for a couple of hours. Bucky had actually come up the elevator, meeting Steve at the door with a large coffee and a big smile – a smile that falters and falls upon seeing Steve's face.

"You look like hell, Stevie," Bucky says, handing over the coffee. Steve takes a deep swallow of it. "Clint said you got in late but it didn't sound like it was that late."

"Didn't sleep well," Steve says, voice more gruff than he'd like.

"Too keyed up? Heard you managed to get Stark in bed, pal, that's good work." Bucky slaps him on the back and Steve doesn't even feel it, his whole body running cold at Bucky's words.

"What?" he says, panic creeping up his throat. "What did you say?"

Bucky looks at him askance. "That you got Stark to sign the merger?" The tone of his voice is one Steve knows all too well. It's his 'did you hit your head on something very hard?' tone.

Steve stares at him. "Right. Yeah, we, uh, we made a deal."

Bucky studies him for a long, long moment, and then a feral, shit-eating grin spreads across his face. He doesn't even get a chance to open his mouth before Steve knows he's blown it, knows that Bucky knows what Steve had twigged on in the phrasing, knows what Steve did last night.

"You fuckin' slept with him?" Bucky crows, entirely too loud and entirely too gleeful. He snickers and completely ignores Steve's most intimidating glare. "Oh my god, you slept with him to get him to take the deal?"

"I did not sleep with him," Steve says, voice low and dangerous. He completely ignores the heat flushing up into his cheeks, the tingle of embarrassment in the tips of his ears.

"Yeah, you totally did sleep with him," Bucky says, and it's not a question. He still looks like he's just learned the secret of life, and that the secret is 'embarrass the shit out of Steve Rogers'.

"We're not talking about this," Steve growls as the elevator doors open with a chime. He stalks through the lobby, barely grunting at Luis, and heads for the car, which Clint has parked out front. He looks fresh as a daisy, like he hadn't had to pick Steve up across town in the middle of the night and bring him home, then go back to his own home and get a couple hours sleep before being back on the job. Steve hates him a little for it.

"No way, man, you got it all wrong, I'll never stop talking about this," Bucky laughs.

Steve whirls around and glares, speaking in a low voice he hopes Clint, who is standing beside the car, will have the good grace to not hear. "Bucky, I'm serious. This isn't something that can – it was completely unprofessional, and you can't tell anyone. Do you understand? This deal is delicate, and brand new, and the ink is still wet. We put a lot of incentives into that paperwork, and if Tony – if Stark decides to pull out because this gets out, we lose more than just the merger. There were a lot of assurances in that contract. We took a lot of big risks. And if Stark wants to, he can ruin us. Do you understand me? Not another word."

Bucky rolls his eyes, because he is the absolute worst, and strolls past Steve to get in the car. "Come on, punk, I'm not an idiot. I'm only gonna make fun of you in private."

Steve pinches the bridge of his nose. He's tired.

"And in front of Clint," Bucky continues, sliding into the seat.

Clint meets Steve's eyes and gives him a wink. "Sorry, Buck, I went mysteriously deaf overnight, can't hear a thing."

Steve gives him a shaky smile. At least someone is treating him like the boss around here.

"Congratulations," Peggy grins, greeting him at the door of his office. There's a general air of joviality in the office. Everyone is laughing and celebrating. Steve takes a moment to wonder how everyone already knows the papers have been signed – especially since, as of yesterday, most of them didn't even know there were papers drafted at all.

Sam, at least, looks frazzled. "You know what woulda been nice?" he says, pursing his lips in Steve's direction. "A text. Maybe a call. An email. Carrier pigeon? Something, man, something to let me know I'd have to drop everything and deal with the paperwork involved in a no-advantage merger. That woulda been nice."

Steve quirks an eyebrow at him. "What, and give you time to resign and look for a new job? Not in this life."

Sam snorts, and takes his coffee to his office. As he goes, he calls out for his assistant and a few of the associates from the financial department. They're going to have a long couple of days trying to redistribute assets and fold in the various Stark departments, but they'll get it done.

After a few handshakes and congratulatory slaps on the back, Steve finally escapes to his office. Bucky tries to follow him in, but Steve closes the door in his face, completely ignoring the shocked, petulant sound from the other side of it.

He sits at his desk, places his coffee down, and scrubs a hand over his face roughly. He's exhausted, but at the same time his body is… well. As tired as he is, he feels more alive than he has in a long time.

It really has been a while since he's had any romantic entanglements. It's not that he doesn't like dating, it's that he doesn't like dating. It's awkward, and he feels like he can't say the right thing all the time – he's the CEO of a Fortune 500 company that he built from the ground up, but he doesn't know how to talk to someone on a date. More than once, he's managed to completely freeze and start talking about the weather. It's humiliating.

So, he'd more or less given up on it. He's no good at casual sex – he doesn't go out to clubs or bars. He's the first to admit he's a bit of a workaholic, so finding a willing sex partner without having to go through the pain of dating first is a trial. He doesn't usually care for it, anyway. He needs an emotional connection.

So it's been a while. But that still doesn't explain the way his body had responded to Tony, to what Tony had done to him. He knows he should have felt helpless, exploited, when Tony tied him up, and he had, but he'd also felt powerful. He'd felt, somehow, treasured.

But then Tony had gotten up and left, and Steve had to make his way home alone, not sure what he'd done wrong.

Had he done something wrong? Steve has never tried anything kinky in the bedroom. He knows it exists, but he's never had any interest. Or, so he'd thought. Maybe this is normal? It had been a business deal, after all.

It's not like it had been about making any kind of emotional connection. Steve had had to do it, had to let Tony do those things, for the sake of their companies.

Don't lie to yourself. You wanted him from the moment you laid eyes on him.

Steve shakes that thought away, too.

With a deep sigh, he picks up the phone, waiting for the beep that indicates Natasha has flicked her headset to intercom mode and is ready for his instructions.

"Nat, get me Tony Stark on the line, please."

She doesn't even speak, but the line clicks out. He waits for a few moments, listening for sound of the call connecting.

"Well, good morning, Rogers!" Tony says, sounding cheerful and abrupt. He sounds… polite.

"Tony. Hi. I, um… how are you this morning?"

"I'm good, I'm good," Tony answers, and it has a dismissive tone that makes Steve want to curl up in a ball. "What can I do for you, Rogers? You get the paperwork okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, it's fine, I was just… I wanted to talk to you about, um –"

"Oh, yeah, for sure," Tony says, sounding distant. "That was a fun negotiation, wasn't it?"

Steve can't say anything, his throat tight. Negotiation? It had been… it had been kind of a mind-blowing experience for him, something he had never expected to experience, let alone enjoy, but Tony is acting like they'd just made a normal business deal.

"Listen, Rogers, I've got a whole bunch of meetings to deal with today. Shareholders, senior staff – everyone, you know, affected by this little company merger thing we did last night. Can we catch up later?"

"I – sure," Steve says, stunned and unsure what else he can even say.

"Great, great, I'll have Potts shoot you an email."

Tony hangs up the phone without saying goodbye. Steve disconnects the call and stares at the polished wood surface of his desk for long moments, trying not to think about how summarily he's just been brushed off. About how completely fucked he is, in every sense of the word.

The next time Steve sees Tony, it's in a conference room. They're not alone, of course – R.C.'s lawyer, Jennifer Walters is there, as well as S.I.'s lawyer, Jeri Hogarth. Peggy, Sam and Natasha are there, and Tony's CFO, Jasper Sitwell, is there as well. Pepper Potts is conspicuously missing, but Natasha seems unconcerned, and Steve knows from experience that Natasha knows everything there is to be concerned about.

Tony is the picture of professional congeniality, and it leaves Steve feeling cold, lonely, and on the verge of anger.

He should know better – their night together had been a bargaining chip, a deal incentive. It shouldn't surprise him that Tony is acting like it hadn't happened. But Steve hasn't been able to think about much else since that night – the things Tony had said to him, the way Tony had made him feel. He'd felt safe, and protected, and worshipped, even as Tony had been teasing his body over and over again.

It had opened up a whole new world of sexual gratification for Steve, and something that went beyond sexual, as well. The feeling of the ropes on his skin, the immobility of his limbs, had done something to quiet his mind in a way nothing had managed to match. Not even running, or, when he was younger and more idealistic, art.

That surrender, the giving up of control, had made Steve feel powerful and strong, even as it had made him needy and desperate.

That it had obviously meant so little to Tony – that Steve had apparently been just another conquest – has Steve oscillating wildly between angry and miserable.

He's angry at Tony, for giving him this gift, for opening his eyes to this, and then snatching it away. He's angry at himself, for being so easy for Tony – for agreeing to the deal in the first place, and then for enjoying it so thoroughly.

"Steve?" It's Peggy, breaking into Steve's whirling thoughts. Her tone implies that it's not the first time she's said his name, that she's been trying to catch his attention for some time.

"Sorry." Steve gives his head a shake, clearing his throat and taking a sip of his coffee, trying to replay the last part of the conversation in his mind. Something about main corporate offices, about splitting their workforce, or… "Sure, I think it's a good idea," Steve says, finally, not entirely sure what he's agreeing with, but thinking that whatever it is, it can't be as bad as admitting he hadn't been paying any attention whatsoever to the meeting happening around him.

"Well, then, it's settled," says Hogarth from across the table, closing the luxurious black leather folio in front of her. She stands quickly, looking somewhat satisfied, even a little smug, and begins collecting her things. Sitwell begins packing his things up beside her, and Tony stands with a little smirk.

Peggy is blinking at Steve in surprise, and Sam has one eyebrow raised in his direction. Neither of them say anything, of course, but the looks on their faces tells Steve he's probably agreed to something he shouldn't have. Jennifer gives him an odd look, standing and walking around the table to strike up a quiet conversation with Hogarth – they're clearly chatting about the finer details of whatever stupid move Steve just made.

Natasha shows Tony and his team out, smiling and pleasant. Tony is tapping away on his cell phone, barely looking up as he trails after the group. Steve can't help but watch him go, though he does try to be a little more subtle about his staring.

"What the hell was that?" Sam hisses once the door closes and it's just him, Steve and Peggy.

"What?" Steve asks, frantically trying to figure out what he's done. "I don't know – what did I –"

"You didn't hear a bloody word in that meeting, did you?" Peggy growls, her accent clipped. She has one hand on her hip, and it somehow manages to be both graceful and menacing. "Where on earth has your head been at this week?"

"I wasn't – what the hell just happened?" Steve is woefully confused,

"You agreed to merge our corporate headquarters into one office – and move it into Stark Tower," Sam says, crossing his arms over his chest and giving Steve a disapproving look. "Turning this building into a satellite office."

"I did what?" Steve asks, gobsmacked. He'd agreed to move the corporate offices? Why the hell would he do that?

"Oh, yeah, and apparently Stark's R&D department encompasses multiple floors of the building, so you also agreed to move Shuri and her staff over there."

"Oh, god," sighs Steve, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"And in exchange, they'll be moving marketing, projects, I.T., and human resources over here," Sam continues.

Steve turns to Peggy, desperately hoping she has an explanation, or a way out of this.

"Sam, can you give us a few minutes?" Peggy says, voice calm and nonchalant, eyes boring into Steve's and not letting up.

"Yeah, I gotta go tell my department we're moving," Sam says shortly, leaving the room. Steve squares his shoulders and meets Peggy's gaze.

She stares at him for a long moment, and then sighs, sitting down again. Steve sits back in his own chair, and Peggy covers his hand with one of her own. It's a comforting gesture, and Steve knows that's actually not a great sign.

"What is going on with you?" she asks, brown eyes bright with concern.

"It's not – it's fine. I'm just distracted."

"Oh, I'm quite aware of that," Peggy answers. "I want to know what you're distracted by."

"It doesn't matter," Steve says miserably. "I'll – I'll sort it out. Dammit, I really fucked this up."

"Perhaps not," Peggy muses, perfect red lips pursing a little. "But only if we make the most of it. Some of the move does make sense. Part of the merger contract was that departments would merge as well, that there wouldn't be any staff downsizing for efficiencies – just a division of labour. As there isn't currently a COO for S.I., I'll be operations officer for the entire company. That means I'll be staying at this building, while you and Tony will be co-CEOs based in Stark Tower. Sam and his department are moving, merging with Sitwell's, and then, of course, Shuri and the R&D staff."

"She's going to kill me," Steve sighs.

"Don't be so dramatic," Peggy scolds. "Death will be far too quick – she'll want to see you suffer."

Steve gives her an unimpressed look.

"Seriously, Steve. She'll only be angry because you've made the decision without consulting her. I truly believe that once she gets into Stark Tower and is able to show up what she calls 'the uncreative colonizers', she'll be giddy with it. Tony's the head of R&D over there, as well, so she won't have to do too much sharing of those duties."

"What do you mean?"

"Do you recall what I said about Tony's heart lying in creating, in pushing the envelope, in designing?"


"Well, this merger really is the best thing for him, as well as his company – he can cede most of the truly daunting CEO tasks to you, and the managing of the R&D department and its staff, and concentrate on doing what he loves to do – inventing. Engineering. Innovating. It's what made Stark Industries such an attractive company in the first place."

"Right," Steve says, trying not to blush at Peggy's use of the word 'attractive'.

"So, I suppose all that's left is for you to tell my why, exactly, you slept with him."

Steve whips his head up in shock, feeling his face flame. "Excuse me?"

Peggy looks smug, but also mildly annoyed. He's not sure if it's because of what he's done, or because he'd thought he could hide it from her. Knowing Peggy, it's likely both.

"Don't play stupid with me, Rogers," she says sternly. "I'll keep your confidence, of course, but you need to be honest with me. Was it before or after the merger?"

Steve swallows, head fuzzy with shame. "Before."

She blows out a slow puff of air. "Right. So, we don't have to worry about any of those accusations"

"We're co-CEOs, it's not as though either of us could have been abusing our power," Steve says somewhat petulantly.

"Oh? No possibility of Tony suing you or the company because your unwanted sexual advances made him feel uncomfortable after you came in and took over his company?"


"Or, perhaps you slept with him for leverage, in order to get him to concede some terms by blackmailing him."

"Peggy!" Steve is shocked. She can't actually think that about him, can she?

"I know you wouldn't do that, Steve, but my personal friendship with you is no protection against the legal system should any accusations be made. This goes beyond simple fraternization."

"I wasn't – There's no – look, I can't talk to you about this, but I promise, none of those things is possible."

He tied me up and fucked me, he doesn't say. He was the one with all the power, there. Not me.

"How can you be so sure?" Peggy says, not giving an inch. "This deal is balancing precariously, Steve. The slightest breeze can topple it, and this entire company."

Steve buries his face in his hands, feeling the scalding heat of his blushing cheeks.

"If there were – if there was any possibility of one of us being blackmailed, it would be me, okay?"

Peggy quirks an eyebrow up at him.

"It was," he starts, then stops, hesitates. Is he really going to do this? Really going to tell Peggy the truth?

"Steve," she says, and this time her voice is kind, understanding. Coaxing.

"It was part of the deal," he says, finally, his voice practically a whisper. "He wanted – he wanted me to let him – to let him. Um. Do whatever he wanted. For a night."

"He coerced you?" And this time, Peggy's voice is tight, dangerous.

"No, it was – I chose to. I didn't have to, I could have said no. But he – I wanted – I went along with it."

"And he won't say otherwise? Perhaps a well-timed photograph of the two of you, a claim that you coerced him?"

"No, I, um. I was. Tied up." Steve wishes fervently for a hole to open up in the floor beneath him so he can drop through it to certain doom.

It doesn't happen.

"I see," Peggy says, and there's no inflection, no tone to read. "And was that – were you –"

"It was good," Steve whispers, a small smile on his face at finally, for once, rendering Peggy Carter somewhat speechless. "I was – it was all consensual."

"Well," Peggy says, clearing her throat. "That's – I'm happy for you. Is this a… relationship?"

Steve shakes his head, smile dropping from his face. His stomach sinks. "No. I, uh, I guess not. It was a one-time thing."

"And how do you –"

"Peg, listen, I really appreciate your help, your concern here, but I can't – I don't want to talk about this anymore," Steve says, standing up. That question, he won't be answering. "I have a lot of work to do."

She studies him, head tilted to one side, then gives him a small nod. "Of course. I'll see you later," she says. "It will be alright, Steve."

He forces another wan smile for her before he leaves the conference room and heads for his office.

God, he's managing to make everything fall apart.

The offices are moved around within the next week — far faster than Steve would have thought possible. Maybe 'things moving insanely fast' is just a trend he's going to have to get used to with Stark. Steve is pulling long hours, as are the rest of the company's employees, as they work to fold departments into each other. Shuri, as expected, is angry at him for moving her department without consulting her, but quickly switches her mood to anticipatory when she realizes what the R&D department is like at S.I.

Sam and his department are the first to move over, as the finances of the two companies will be the most complex to merge. Steve has his office moved without his own supervision – partly because he has so much else to do, and partly because he's not sure he wants to watch the movers deliver his office furniture and files to his new office in Stark Tower.

That turns out to be a mistake, though. When he gets to Stark Tower, Natasha shows him to his new office.

His new office that is beside Tony's office.

There's an adjoining door.

He's going to have to work every day knowing Tony is just beyond that door. Right there, almost within reach, and yet as far away from Steve as he could be.

Bucky's office is right outside of Steve's, while Natasha is given an office adjoining Ms. Potts'.

Bucky is probably the happiest person about the move – not only does he get a swanky new office, but he also gets to work in close conjunction with Jarvis. The A.I. is everything Bucky has ever wanted in a computer program, and he utilizes Jarvis to the best of his abilities. It maximizes Bucky's job efficiencies.

This, of course, means that Bucky has plenty more time to make fun of Steve whenever they're alone together. He leaves an old copy of People on Steve's side table – the Sexiest Man Alive issue where Tony was on the cover. He draws little cartoon doodles of Steve making heart eyes at Tony, and puts the doodles in Steve's desk drawers. Whenever Tony comes up the hallway toward his office (which is past Steve's own), Bucky greets him loudly, making sure his voice can carry to Steve's office.

That last is the rarest, though, as Tony spends very little time in his office. Steve finds himself doing the bulk of the work, which is actually fine by him because he'd rather be busy. Tony actually spends most of his time down in R&D. Steve asks Shuri about it one day, but she waves it away, unconcerned.

"He keeps to himself, mostly," she says, her accent soft around the edges. "He tinkers with things that already work, trying to improve them, or make them shiny, or something."

"He's not stepping on your toes?" Steve asks, a little surprised.

Shuri shrugs. "Not so far. He doesn't seem to have any interest in managing anything – and he's always down there instead of up here, so I assume he's not interested in managing anything here, either."

Tony, meanwhile, continues to avoid Steve. Tony's penthouse suite is only a few floors above them, and Steve can't stop thinking about it. Wondering if Tony's bedroom is straight above Steve's own desk. If Steve is in exactly the same place – but a bit lower – that he'd been when Tony had turned his world upside down. Tony is never alone with him, if he can help it. It's driving Steve crazy – he still can't get that night out of his mind, and Tony seems completely unaffected. It's almost as though it hadn't even happened, and it makes Steve doubt his own memory.

But he knows it had happened. He never, ever would have been able to dream something like that up.

It takes only a few weeks to get the merged companies working like they'd been the same corporation all along. Profit margins are up, employee satisfaction is up, and even Sam seems to be warming up to the idea. They're all working long hours, but everything is going well.

Which, of course, is why Steve should have known it would all go wrong.

He gets a message from Cho – he needs to meet with Steve, can Steve clear a block of time for him. Steve agrees, of course, and considers inviting Tony into the meeting. But he hasn't seen hide nor hair of Tony for days – he's frustrated about it, actually, because Shuri says he only spends about half his time in the lab. He gets more done than most of the staff that's working there full time, but it doesn't explain where he is the rest of the time. Jarvis assures him Tony is in the building and that he's working on a project, but won't give Steve any further details.

So he decides to leave Tony out of it for now. It's probably nothing – maybe Cho wants to talk about who Hydra might have set their sights on now, since Stark Industries is off the table.

Bucky blocks them an hour, and has coffee and pastries laid out in Steve's office by the time Cho gets there.

Cho doesn't waste any time on pleasantries, though he does pour himself a coffee as he sits down.

"Schmidt isn't giving up," he says without preamble.

"What do you mean? On what?"

"On the takeover. He's working on shareholders for both Stark Industries and the Rogers Corporation. He's trying to buy the conglomerate, now."

"He can't," Steve says, shaking his head. The legal department had spent hours drafting the merger agreement – it's impenetrable for outsiders.

"But he's still trying," Cho says. "He may not be able to get to majority shares, but he's doing everything he can to get every other share available."

"But – but that won't matter, he can't do anything about it anyway," Steve argues.

Cho gives him a look. "No? Not even if, say, there were a non-confidence vote from the board? Declaration of incompetence? If the stock took a nosedive?"

Steve scowls. "But that wouldn't… how would he even achieve that?"

"You and I both know that Schmidt won't stop at anything to get what he wants. Whatever he wanted from Stark Industries, he's willing to go through you to get to it. You need to watch your back."

Steve sits back in his chair, trying to settle his nerves. What if Cho is right? What if Hydra is still coming for them?

When a gas leak on the fourth floor of the building ends in an evacuation a couple of weeks later, Steve doesn't think too much of it. Tony looks annoyed, but Steve thinks he's been looking more and more tired lately, during the brief sightings he manages of Tony, so that might just be because he's exhausted.

The NYFD clears the building and everyone goes back to work.

When the power in the building goes out for four hours, Steve is confused, but not concerned. Looking out the window, he can see that there seems to be power everywhere else on the street. But there is construction on the corner, they're dealing with a water main break, so maybe they'd accidentally hit the line. It's been a month since the gas leak incident, so Steve doesn't connect them in his mind.

They're back to business as normal the next day, too, so Steve moves on.

It's another month before he figures out what's going on – and almost entirely too late.

Natasha calls up to his office in the middle of the afternoon. Her unflappable calm seems rattled somehow, like it's brittle and precarious. That's Steve's first warning that something is terribly, terribly wrong.

"The NYPD just called," she says, jumping right in. "They've received a bomb threat against the building. Building B is fine, but they're bringing in the bomb squad and we're to begin evacuating immediately."

The alarms are going off before she even finishes the sentence.

"Pardon the intrusion, Mr. Rogers, but I have already begun evacuation protocols. Please make your way to the nearest stairwell and begin your descent to street level."

"I'm on my way down," Steve says into the phone. "Do you know where Tony is? He's not in his office."

"Mr. Stark is aware of the threat, and is exiting his personal workshop as we speak," Jarvis says.

"See you downstairs," Natasha says, hanging up the phone. Steve grabs his laptop bag and his tablet, grabbing Bucky on his way toward the stairwell.

They begin to meet up with other people after a few floors – some slower moving staff, some stragglers. They run into Tony about 10 floors down, and Steve gives a sigh of relief.

"There you are," he murmurs, unable to stop himself from clasping Tony's elbow. "I was worried."

Tony narrows his eyes. "Jarvis says –"

"Yeah," Steve says grimly, not wanting Tony to say it out loud where other people are in earshot. It will just incite panic, and Steve wants everyone out of the building before anybody freaks out.

"Doesn't make any sense," Tony mutters.

"Doesn't it?" And now, the familiar resentment is starting to bubble up in Steve's chest. Tony treats him like a stranger, acts as though they've shared nothing, let alone anything special. Tony has to know that these incidents can't all be a coincidence. So why is he playing dumb?

"Maybe," Tony concedes, looking down at his own feet as he descends the stairs.

They walk the rest of the way in relative silence, Tony getting updates about successful floor evacuations from Jarvis on his cell phone as they go. It's a long way down to the lobby, but they get there eventually.

Steve grips Tony's elbow, then, and pulls him off to the side once they're outside. "We need to talk," he says, making it an order.

"Right, okay, but can we do it after my building blows up? Or doesn't blow up? I don't know how much focus I can manage."

"It can't wait," Steve says sternly, tugging Tony behind him. They make their way to Steve's Town car, where Clint is already in the driver's seat with the window open. "Nat and Pepper will oversee the rest of the evacuation and send everyone home." Steve turns his attention to Clint. "We're gonna need some privacy."

Clint nods, then flicks a switch up front that raises a partition between the front seat and the back. He doesn't start the car, just goes back to his tablet in the front seat.

"What the fuck, Rogers?" Tony says, wrenching his arm away. "This is not the time!"

"It really is," Steve says. "This isn't – these aren't accidents, Tony, or coincidences. Don't you get it? Hydra is still buying up shares – even for the merged company, they're buying shares. They can't launch a hostile takeover yet, but the gas leak? The power outage? God, a bomb threat in the parkade? It's all connected. They're trying to take this company harder than I've ever seen them try to do anything. I want to know why."

"Maybe Johann Schmidt is hoping he can get the same deal terms you did," Tony says, eyes flashing. It's the first time Tony has even referenced that night, acknowledged that it had happened at all. It makes something curl up small and tight in his belly, the callousness of the way Tony talks about it.

"That's uncalled for," Steve says through clenched teeth.

"Yeah, probably, but I'm an asshole, so it shouldn't be a surprise."

"Tony, I'm serious. I need to know why Hydra is so hell-bent on getting their hands on this company. They came at you when you were vulnerable, but they didn't stop coming when you weren't. They're desperate, and they're escalating. They planted a bomb!"

"We don't even know if there is a bomb. It's New York, Steve. The NYPD deals with bomb threat pranks all the time. It was probably kids thinking they were funny."

"God, why can't you take this seriously?"

"Because it's not serious!" Tony says, grabbing for the door handle. "It's pranks, and accidents. Did you ever stop to think maybe Schmidt is coming after Stark-Rogers because of you? They tried to buy my company and you swooped in like the world's most self-righteous white knight and saved the day. You honestly thought Schmidt would just walk away, like he didn't lose the fucking game?" Tony opens the door and starts to step out. "Don't be an idiot."

"Tony, you know I'm right. You know there's something they want from you. I can't deal with it, I can't stop them, if I don't know what it is!"

Tony slams the door, and goes to stand near Pepper, eyes bright with anger.

Staring at him, Steve can see that his hands are trembling minutely.

Steve knows he's right.

The building is mostly empty, still, with all non-essential personnel sent home for their own safety. The bomb techs have been through the building. They disarmed the bomb in the van in the parkade, and they hadn't found anything else concerning inside Stark Tower.

The fact that there had actually been a bomb makes Steve's blood run cold.

Once they've declared the tower safe for re-entry, Tony insists on going back home to his penthouse suite. Steve stares at him, gobsmacked.

"You can't be serious. Tony, they attacked the tower."

Tony rolls his eyes. "You honestly think Hydra would stoop to bombing my building?"

"You're goddamn right I do," Steve growls. "Someone did, and they've done this kind of thing before, Tony, and worse."

Tony meets his eye for a long moment, then sighs, looking defeated. "Okay, Steve. Come upstairs with me."

Steve blinks. Does Tony – does he mean upstairs to his penthouse? Are they going to… is this a proposition?

Tony's face flushes, just a little, and Steve swallows. "Not – sorry, I mean, come up to my workshop. The private one, not the one in R&D."

Steve tamps down his disappointment and follows Tony through the doors and toward the private elevator.

They ride up in silence, and then Tony uses a palm print and an ocular scan to open a door outside the elevator on the 73rd floor.

The room is huge, taking up the whole floor. It's gleaming, full of chrome and holographic screens, every surface littered with tools or parts, scraps of circuitry.

A whirring noise comes from somewhere to the left, and Steve turns to it automatically.

Coming at them at breakneck speed is a shining, speeding monstrosity. It has a joint halfway down the length of it, and seems to be moving of its own accord.

Without thinking, Steve's arm shoots out and he yanks Tony behind him, stepping in front of Tony to block him from the assailant.

Tony makes a sputtering, offended sound, and then he laughs. He laughs loud and long, and the whirring, rushing robotic death slows to a stop directly in front of Steve. There appears to be a three-pronged claw at the top, at the end of the… arm?

Steve's eyes narrow and he glances back at Tony, even as Tony pushes past his protective arm and moves into the room.

"Relax, Rogers. That's just DUM-E. He's… enthusiastic."

"He? What is he?"

Tony rolls his eyes. "He's a helper bot. I built him. I actually have two, but You knows better than to ambush guests."

Steve has so many questions, but he doesn't know what to ask first. Before he can try to figure out where to start, Tony is across the room, standing in front of what looks like a small vault.

"This is what they're after," Tony says, fitting his hand onto a small reflective screen. The vault opens with a hiss, and a pale blue glow emanates from inside. Tony reaches in, and brings his hand back out with a silver device. It's thick, a couple of inches, and the back of it narrows like some kind of fitting. The front is bright, clearly the source of the beautiful light. Steve doesn't have any frame of reference to compare it to.

"What am I looking at?" Steve asks. He doesn't reach out to touch it. Tony's reverence of the item tells him it wouldn't be appreciated.

"This is an arc reactor," Tony says, holding it up and twisting it a little for Steve to see.

"I'm gonna repeat my question," Steve tells him, deadpan.

Tony rolls his eyes. "This is the first prototype. I've almost got the math worked out to build a larger version, and then I'm going to start on the smaller one."

"What does it do?" Steve asks, trying not to let his impatience seep through.

Tony sees it anyway, though, and gives Steve a little smirk. "It revolutionizes the energy industry," he says. "Household, remote, batteries, the city grid. All of it."

Steve tilts his chin at the little device, skeptical. "That? You're telling me it's some kind of… power source?"

Tony shrugs one shoulder. "Kind of. It's more than that, though. It's completely sustainable energy. It's on a revolving cycle, and it produces its own energy. There were some, uh, issues with the core, but I solved that, and now it's totally fine."


"Palladium, you know, nothing major. It doesn't matter, now, though! I synthesized a different source, and now it's way more stable."

Steve blinks at him, mildly horrified at the idea of the little battery being powered by palladium.

"Look, Steve, the point is that this little thing, right here, has enough juice to power an electric car – no charging needed. The reactor will outlast the car itself."

Steve stares at it. "And you're making a bigger one?"

Tony grins, and this time it's a look of glee, almost childlike and innocent. It's pure joy in the invention, the innovation, of what he's doing here.

"Once I balance the output on the larger model and finish testing the cooling systems, it'll be able to power Stark Tower. We could be completely off the grid. Streamline the manufacturing process and spread 'em out right, these can power the entire city. The whole world, even. Renewable, sustainable, clean energy. It never runs out, or runs down."

Steve stares at him.

Of course Hydra wanted it. Steve thinks about the implications for the entire market – half of Hydra's subsidiaries are resource companies, mining minerals and drilling for oil. This little device, this amazing little battery, could put them entirely out of business – or, if they dump the companies and their staff, could make them the richest corporation in the entire world.

Schmidt would stop at nothing – as evidenced by the bomb in the parkade this morning – to get his hands on it before Tony could file any patents.

"How did they get so close, Tony?" Steve asks, stomach sinking. "How did they know what you were working on? Why did they turn their sights on Stark-Rogers after the merger instead of moving on to the next company?"

"I don't know, Steve! They couldn't have known about the reactor tech, no one knows about the reactor tech. I'm working on it in my private shop, and do you know how many people are allowed in that shop? Four. That's it, just four."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because of Stane! I'm sure you heard the rumours – everyone heard the rumours. He tried to oust me from my own company – he sold weapons on the black market, he blackmailed me, he –" Tony cuts himself off sharply. "We survived that by the skin of our teeth, and that's why Jarvis has been in charge of all background checks and employee communication since then. All new hires have been fully vetted by the most advanced artificial intelligence ever created."

Steve stares at him for a long moment. "What about the ones that were there before?"

That brings Tony up short. "What?"

"You said 'new hires'. What about employees that have been there for years, since before Stane? What if he wasn't the only person in the company dealing under the table?"

Tony swallows hard. "Impossible. Jarvis goes through all communications. Emails, texts, phone calls, notes written on the fucking bathroom stalls."

"Including outside the building? What if I go for a run, don't take my phone. I run into someone in the park and we talk. Does Jarvis hear that?"

"Well, no, obviously, he –"

"How can you be so sure no one else has access to your files? Someone has to have access. The I.T. department?"

"No, these are my private servers. No one touches them but Jarvis."

"Then it's someone who's allowed in the room. Cleaning staff?"

Tony snorts derisively. "It's a private workshop," he grits out.

"Four people allowed in, you said."

"And I trust them!"

"But should you?"

Tony looks enraged, looks like he's going to throw a punch at Steve's face, but Steve knows this must be how Schmidt has been getting in. One of Tony's trusted advisors, one of the very few people in his circle of trust, has been stabbing him in the back. Possibly for years. Steve knows he's not in that circle, knows he never will be, but it still makes his heart hurt for Tony.

He's been watching Tony for weeks, he's seen the way Tony goes out of his way not to let anyone in. If one of his people has been betraying him…

But he doesn't have time to coddle Tony through it, not now. He can only hope Tony is resilient enough to do what needs to be done.

"Pepper has access, and she would never sell information on me. We literally hired Jasper away from the SEC, he can't lie to save his own mother. That leaves Rhodey, who I have known since I was 16 years old. He's known about all my top secret projects, and he's never sold a single one."

You said four people have access, Tony. Who's left?"

"You, you asshole. You're the only other person with access."

"I've never even been in your workshop," Steve says, glowering.

"Sure, says you. I set you up with biometric access the day I signed the merger contracts, Steve. How do I know the whole thing wasn't a plot to get closer, so you could get a look in my shop and steal my secrets?"

"Tony," Steve says, stricken. The anger deflates, and he feels small and hurt. What he and Tony had shared that night had been almost sacred to him. How could Tony honestly think it had all been an act?

He doesn't, Steve realizes. He never would have given Steve access to the workshop. All this time Steve has been wishing Tony would trust him, would let him in, and Tony had already done it. This is just Tony being defensive, protecting himself.

"Tony," he says again, and this time there's almost hope in his voice. "Tony, you know it's not like that. You know I – you know how I feel about you."

"Do I?" Tony asks archly.

Steve can't bring himself to say it, not yet, not until he's sure that Tony won't turn him away again. Steve steps closer into Tony's personal space.

"You do," he says, lowering his voice at the same time he lowers his gaze to Tony's mouth. Tony's pink tongue flicks out to wet his lips, and Steve can't hold back, he tips his chin and pushes forward and seals his lips over Tony's, pouring all the feelings he can't voice into the kiss. His tongue licks its way into Tony's mouth, and after a brief, frozen moment of hesitation, Tony's hands are on Steve's biceps and he's kissing back wholeheartedly. Steve brings his hands up to cradle Tony's face, keeping the kiss slow and deep. He doesn't want to push it into anything desperate or sexual, not yet. This is about acknowledging the trust Tony had given him, the trust Steve had had all along, and letting Tony know that it was reciprocated.

They kiss for a long time, and then Steve sighs, pulling back slowly. Tony's eyes flutter open, and he looks so vulnerable, staring up at Steve.

"Thank you for trusting me," Steve says, his mouth twitching in a half smile. "Even if I didn't even know I had access to your lab."

Tony rolls his eyes, licking his lips as though to chase the taste of Steve's mouth.

"So," Tony finally says, and Steve is awed by the way his body somehow looks more relaxed. "How do we find out who's a Hydra spy?"

That, though, Steve doesn't know.

He's in the elevator by himself. He'd left Tony in the workshop and now he's on his way down to the lobby so he can go home for the night. They'd decided to call it a day, and come back fresh in the morning with a plan.

The taste of Tony's mouth still lingers on his lips, and he likes it, but he also needs to step back and take stock. What he and Tony had done the night of the merger deal was the most sensual night Steve's ever had, and he still thinks of it constantly. He wants to do it again. He wants more.

But at the same time, Tony's staunch refusal to acknowledge it and the way he'd pushed Steve away stings. He knows Tony doesn't trust easily, and now he has a better idea of why, but that still doesn't take away the hurt of the past weeks, the confusion and pain that Steve has been feeling. Tony had given him workshop access, sure, but he hadn't told Steve. He'd decided to try trusting Steve, but he hadn't let Steve know about it, hadn't given Steve a chance to earn that trust and reciprocate it.

A loud noise, like a crack or a bang, interrupts Steve's musings. The elevator jerks to a stop, and the lights flicker.

Steve blinks, moves over to the elevator panel. He presses the button for the main floor again, but nothing happens. He presses the emergency call-out button, but still, nothing happens.


"I apologize, Mr. Rogers. It appears I am unable to regain control of the elevator system."

"I'm sorry, regain control?" Steve's stomach does a flip. Jarvis should have full access to every system in the tower. That's what he's for. He's the most complex artificial intelligence system in the world, there's no reasonable explanation for him to lose control of the elevator and not be able to get it back.

"There appears to have been a breach of the elevator system's firewall. Whenever I block the offensive source, a different source gains access."

"Put me through to Tony," Steve says, taking hold of the safety railing with both hands. The elevator remains motionless, but the lights flicker again. Steve has a terrible, terrible feeling about this.

"J filled me in, Steve, and let me assure you, there is not a soul on this earth that can hack my fucking building." Tony sounds enraged, deeply offended, as soon as he answers the call. Steve doesn't say that there pretty clearly must be a soul on this earth able to hack the building. "I think if I work on one side and Jarvis works on the other, we might be able to get control of the, er, elevator controls, and get you out of there."

"You think that'll work?"

"I think it's the only thing we can try, short of –"

Tony's words are cut off by another clang, and the elevator drops suddenly, several feet in freefall. It's enough to get Steve's heart pounding with adrenaline, and he feels his chest tighten with fear.

"Fuck, Steve, you okay?"

"Well, I mean, I'm trapped in an elevator, but otherwise…" Steve says.

"Ha ha," Tony says sarcastically. "Okay, I just gotta run down a couple floors to the server banks, see if I can play with a few wires or find the external breach source while Jarvis works the code side of things."

"Take the stairs," Steve reminds him, one corner of his mouth ticking up in a smirk, even if he doesn't really feel like joking at the moment.

Tony doesn't even bother to answer, but Jarvis keeps the lines of communication open, so Steve can hear him running down the emergency staircase, the huffing of his breaths, the loud slam of a metal door opening and closing.

"Okay, okay, just hang tight," Tony says, only a little out of breath.

"Doin' my best," Steve says, hands tightening on the railing.

Tony starts muttering to himself – Steve can hear words about firewalls and encryption protocols, about ethernet, about hardened hardware, but it's mostly white noise.

There's another thunk, the elevator drops another foot, and then the lights go out completely.

"Tony?" Steve asks, voice low and hoarse. Almost a whisper. There's no answer.


Jarvis doesn't answer him either, but before Steve can do more than take a deep breath in, the elevator brakes let go completely, and he can feel the little metal cab rushing 80 floors down to the ground, speeding toward certain death.

It's both entirely too fast and in slow motion at the same time. Steve feels a sense of weightlessness, a nauseating, rushing feeling in his belly. His hands are gripping the railing with all their strength, but he still feels as though his feet aren't solid on the floor of the cab.

He briefly wonders if the company will do okay without him. Wonders if Hydra is targeting him intentionally, or if they were just happy to have someone in the elevator.

He doesn't even question whether or not it could have been Schmidt.

He wonders if he and Tony could have had something real. He wishes he hadn't pulled away from him in the workshop, after their talk. Hadn't decided to head home – if he'd stayed with Tony, if they'd gone up to the penthouse, he wouldn't be dying right now, and he wouldn't have the regret of knowing that there won't ever be anything more with Tony. He's missed his chance.

But no, if he and Tony had decided to go to the penthouse, they'd both be dying right now, and Steve is suddenly very glad it's him alone. He wouldn't ever want anything to happen to Tony. He'll take dying alone in an elevator non-accident over that any day.

He's sure he's about to hit the ground, his whole body will shatter in a mess of steel and concrete, and then there will be nothing, and Tony will have to take over the whole company himself, and Steve knows he'll do all right, Peggy will help him, Sitwell and Sam, they'll all help.

But the elevator stops, almost suddenly. It's enough to make Steve's knees buckle, and suddenly he's on the floor, but the lights are on, and the elevator isn't moving, and he's not a smear at the bottom of the shaft.

"–ve! Steve! Can you hear me? Jarvis, did it fucking work? Is he okay? Steve! Was it –"

"I'm okay," he croaks out, a breathless, choked gasp of a response. He feels like all the air's been knocked out of him, his head swimming with panic and relief and disbelief.

Tony had managed to wrest control of the elevator away from the Hydra hack somehow, had stopped the elevator, had saved Steve's life.

"Oh thank god, oh fuck, I thought you were – jesus, Steve, you're okay, you're okay, right?"

Steve reaches up dizzily, slaps his hand over the 'open doors' button, and feels a rush of relief and joy when the elevator doors open. He rolls out, lays on the carpeted floor of what appears to be the fourth floor, and tries not to think about how close he'd come to dying.

"Just a little shaky," Steve says, panting, staring at the suspension tile ceiling.

"Just – just stay where you are, I'm coming to you," Tony says, and then it's silent. Steve hears the elevator doors close, hears it heading up, and he doesn't even know what to say to that.

Sure enough, a few moments later, Tony steps out of the elevator – the elevator that, not five minutes ago, had almost been Steve's grave.

"You actually got on that thing?" Steve gasps, still splayed out on the floor, giving Tony as incredulous a look as he can manage.

"Well, yeah, I fixed it," Tony says, as though Steve is the one being unreasonable right now. Tony drops a crumpled chunk of metal and plastic on the ground, dropping to his knees in front of Steve. He jerks his chin at it. "USB transceiver. That's how they got in, bypassed the firewall and proxies."

Tony's on the floor beside him, hands petting at Steve's arms, his legs, his chest, then his face. He strokes Steve's cheek and jaw, and Steve lets him.

There had been a moment, in the elevator, when he had thought to himself, I will never see Tony again, and it had been heartwrenching, painful, and filled Steve with such sadness and regret that he couldn't help but realize, in that moment, that he'd fallen in love with the man.

It makes no sense, he knows. They barely know one another. But Steve does know him. He knows that Tony is generous, caring, that he's had his heart broken. That he has trouble letting people in, but once he does he keeps them in forever. He knows Tony is funny, smart, brilliant, even. He knows Tony is amazing in bed – not just in a sexual sense, but in a sense of connection, a sense of closeness.

He knows Tony has shown him things about himself he may never have discovered otherwise.

"Thank god you're okay," Tony breathes, and Steve can see it in his eyes, too, that sense of realization, possessiveness.

Steve reaches up and cups the back of Tony's neck, then tugs him down for a slow, sweet kiss.

"I'm okay," he agrees.

Tony gives him another peck on the lips, then hauls him up into a hug. They sit on the floor, holding one another, for a long moment.

"Okay, I'm not fucking around with Hydra anymore," Tony says, voice low and dangerous. "They took a shot, and they missed, so now I'm coming for them."

Steve stays at Tony's penthouse. He has to force himself to step into the elevator, and only under multiple assurances from Tony and Jarvis that the systems are clear, and the elevator is completely under Jarvis' control, that there had only been one transceiver and it's in pieces on the floor..

They don't go to bed together. They sit on the couch, side by side. There are casual touches, though – Tony's feet end up in Steve's lap for a time. Steve interlocks their fingers loosely. They talk.

"Must've been the bomb," Tony says, scrubbing his hands over his face tiredly and leaning forward, elbows on his knees. "Disguised as a first responder or on the bomb squad. That's how they got into the server room and planted the scrambler."

"Thought you said it was a firewall breach."

"They had to put the scrambler in so they could get by Jarvis' first line of defense. This building's system security is too tight from outside."

"So the bomb was a diversion," Steve says, leaning back into Tony's ridiculously comfortable sofa.

"And they had to fuck up the elevator today – Jarvis does a scrambler check every 24 hours, just to make sure this doesn't happen. If they'd waited until morning, when the building was full, he'd have detected it and we would have been able to destroy it."

"They had to know we'd send everyone home after the bomb threat."

Tony nods, mouth grim. "Which means they were gunning for either you or me."

"Or both of us."

"Ownership defaults to the board, Hydra sweeps in to save the day, they get the company."

"And your personal lab, and everything it contains. Including the arc reactor."

"And all the specs for the other versions."

Tony leans back beside Steve, and they both rest their heads on the top of the couch and stare at the ceiling. It's a nice ceiling – pristine and white, soft glowing lights set flush into it every 10 feet. Steve wishes he could just stare blankly at it for the rest of the night.

"If Hydra could get in and get a scrambler into the server room, what's to say they couldn't get in and get a look at what you're doing in your lab?" Steve asks.

Tony furrows his brow. "I don't think it's likely, but I also didn't think anyone would be able to get in and plant a scrambler. I'm not sure how they'd get in without Jarvis noticing."

"That'd open up our suspect pool," Steve suggests with a groan.

Tony leans a little to the side, resting his head on Steve's shoulder.

"But it would make the most sense. I still don't think it's anyone I trust enough to let into the workshop."

"I know," Steve says, understanding. He wouldn't want to think any of his people were betraying him, either. Steve has to think Tony has a good enough grasp of who he's hired that the people who have been at his company for the last several years wouldn't turn on him and sell him out to Hydra.

But something in the back of Steve's mind keeps telling him that it doesn't make sense for the Hydra mole to be some stranger off the street who got into Tony's workshop. That it has to be someone who's at least close to the inner circle of Stark Industries.

It's the last train of thought he has before he falls asleep where he sits, only dimly aware of the soft snoring from Tony beside him.

"I hired him away from the SEC! He's got a stick up his ass the size of a broomhandle. There's no way he sold secrets to Hydra."

"The SEC," Steve says, mind flying a hundred miles an hour. "The SEC who, 10 years ago, investigated multiple complaints against Hydra and then dropped every single one of them?"

Tony blinks at him. "No fucking way."

Steve rubs at his nose. "I know someone over there. Let me make a call."

"You're barking up the wrong tree, Steve," Tony insists.

"Then at least we'll be able to knock him off the list, won't we?"

Tony doesn't have anything to say about that, but he looks annoyed.

Steve ignores it and pulls his phone out of his pocket, scrolling through the contacts until he comes to the one he wants. He hits 'dial' and brings the device up to his ear.

"Rogers," greets the man on the other end of the phone. His voice is pleasant, mild – completely belying the brilliant, ruthless agent underneath. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Hey, Phil," Steve says. "I've got a couple of questions for you. Don't suppose you have time to meet today?"

Phil Coulson makes a hissing noise through his teeth, then a humming sound. "I think I can get away after lunch. What's going on?"

Steve shakes his head even though Phil can't see it. "I don't wanna talk about it over the phone. Just let me know where and when, and I'll be there."

"I'll text you," Phil says, then disconnects the call without saying goodbye. A moment later, a text message pops through on Steve's phone with the address of a small coffee shop just down the street from the SEC offices. Steve sighs – Phil has famously terrible taste in coffee. It isn't that he likes bad coffee, it's that he doesn't care how his coffee is. As long as it has caffeine in it. Phil Coulson could subsist on nothing but gas station donuts and bad police station coffee for the rest of his life, and not mind a bit.

Tony insists on coming along to the meeting with Coulson. Steve can't say he's surprised, of course.

"So, what's new?" Phil asks, getting right to it as he takes a sip of his coffee. Steve takes a drink from his own and it's surprisingly inoffensive. It's almost good.

"Oh, you know, merged a company, had a bomb planted, Steve nearly died. Nothing out of the ordinary," Tony says, eyebrow quirked.

They don't tell Phil any details about the elevator mishap. They had decided the night before that it would be better to keep that one to themselves for now, if for no other reason than to make Schmidt doubt that they're onto him.

"Ah, yes, the merger. I heard about that."

Steve knows that's an understatement. Not only would the SEC be fully aware of the change in status of both companies, but Phil himself seems to know everything well before anyone else there.

"I wouldn't have been surprised if you knew before I did," Steve says with a smirk.

Phil just gives them a bland smile. "Well, gentlemen, you called for this meeting. What can I help you with?"

Steve sighs and glances around the coffee shop furtively. It's busy, but no one seems to be paying them any attention.

"Jasper Sitwell – he used to work with you, didn't he?"

"Sure," Phil says. He nods at Tony. "Until Mr. Stark, here, poached him away from us."

Tony doesn't say anything to that.

"What can you tell me about him?" asks Steve.

"Probably the best financial analyst I've ever seen," Phil says decisively. "Best forensic accountant, too. Jasper knows his stuff – he was at the SEC before I was, he even mentored me a little when I first got there. I don't think he ever put together a case that didn't end in a conviction."

"Sounds like a model agent," Steve says.

"He was," Phil agrees. "Which I imagine you both know, since, as I mentioned, Mr. Stark hired him away from the SEC."

"He ever get into any trouble? Under review at all?"

"No – I never heard a negative word about him, actually. There was never any question about what kind of agent Jasper was."

Tony, beside him, looks smug. Steve sighs and sits back in his chair, rotating his cardboard coffee cup around in his hands.

"What's this about, Steve?" Phil asks, voice softening.

"Hydra International is coming for us," Steve says. "We have reason to believe that they somehow obtained proprietary information from Stark Industries even before the companies merged, and we're trying to find out where the leak is."

"And you think it might be Jasper?" Phil sounds skeptical, which Steve had expected after Phil's glowing character references.

Tony snorts. "Well, I didn't, but we had to start somewhere."

Steve chews on his bottom lip while he thinks.

"Okay. Maybe we're coming at this from the wrong direction," he says after a moment. "What about Hydra, Phil? I'm sure you know their reputation."

Phil's expression doesn't change at all. "I've heard rumours. Unsubstantiated, of course."

"Of course," Steve says, somewhat bitterly. "Never seems to be any evidence of them doing anything wrong."

"Innocent until proven guilty," Phil says with an almost imperceptible shrug of one shoulder.

"Have they ever been under investigation?" Tony asks, taking a large bite of his doughnut. It looks ridiculous, covered in multi coloured sprinkles. His voice is obscured by the food as his cheek puffs out. "Maybe some complaints received?"

Phil thinks on that one for a brief moment. "Not as long as I've been there," he says. "I'd have to check the records room for anything else."

"Oh my god," Tony groans through a mouth full of doughnut. "Don't you people digitize things?"

Phil rolls his eyes, and doesn't answer. He stands up and re-buttons his suit jacket. "I'll check when I get back to the office," he tells Steve. "I can give you a call later."

"That would be great," Steve says, standing up to shake Phil's hand and give him a grateful smile.

Phil shakes Tony's hand as well, then leaves the coffee shop. Steve turns to look at Tony.

There's a red sprinkle clinking to his bottom lip. Steve would like to lick it off, but they're in public, and he doesn't think it's a good idea.

"Guess we need to start thinking about new suspects," Tony says.

"Guess so," Steve agrees. He sits back in his chair and stares at his coffee contemplatively.

If Sitwell isn't the leak, their job just got a hell of a lot harder.

Steve doesn't hear back from Coulson until the end of business day. He's actually packing up his things to head home when his cell chimes at him.

Phil's voice is grim when he speaks. "I had to go back a few years, but I did find something," he says. "There were two complaints logged for insider trading, and a couple of criminal complaints that didn't go anywhere."

"What do you mean, they didn't go anywhere?"

He can almost hear Phil shrugging.

"The complaints were logged, but there was never an investigation – notes on the file indicate there was no reasonable suspicion, nothing to investigate, no evidence."


"That's not the bad part," Phil tells him.

"So what's the bad part?" Steve asks, stomach fluttering. Is this something that might point them in the right direction?

"Ask me who the agent was that closed the complaint files."

Steve's heart pounds. "Who was the agent, Phil?" He knows what Phil's going to say before he says it.

Phil says it anyway, voice full of tightly controlled anger.

"Jasper Sitwell."

Steve sits back down in his chair. "That doesn't look good, Phil."

"I know. Goddammit. He comes over for Thanksgiving every year."

"I'm sorry," Steve says sincerely. This has to be hard for Phil, as well. "It's not proof of anything, though."

"No. It's not proof. Get me something I can prove, Steve." Phil sounds determined. "Get me something I can prove, and I'll take him and Hydra down."

Phil disconnects the call, and Steve stares at his phone for a long moment. He knows he needs to find Tony, tell him what Phil's discovered. But he also knows that confirmation of their suspicions about Sitwell will break Tony's heart.

He needs a minute or two before he does that to Tony.

He doesn't get a minute. His door opens before he can even stand up from his chair, but it's not Tony coming in.

It's Sam.

"Hey, Cap, you got a minute?"

Steve should say no, should say there are more important things to deal with, should go find Tony and break the news to him.

"Yeah," he says, knowing he's weak. "What do you need?"

Sam walks over to his desk with a large stack of paperwork, sits down in the chair across from Steve.

"I've been going through the last couple years of financials of Stark Industries. Trying to get my head around it, how they do things, see what we can make more efficient, that kind of thing."

"Right," Steve says. There's a niggling feeling in the back of his head, and he doesn't like it.

"And, I mean, everything looks fine. All the money is where it's supposed to be. Everything Is accounted for."

"So what's the problem?"

"I'm not even sure," Sam says, looking frustrated. "There's just something off. No embezzling or anything, but it's just… it's almost too clean?"

"What does that mean?"

Sam makes a humming noise. "Every corporation has money that can't be accounted for. Sometimes it's just a loss on an international exchange rate, or someone put the decimal in the wrong place, or whatever. But they've had zero discrepancy on their books for years. It doesn't make any sense. It shouldn't even be possible."


"And if the financial reports and files I've spent the last several weeks looking through can't be possible…." Sam says, voice leading.

Steve blinks. "They're not real."

Sam taps a finger to the tip of his nose. "Got it in one."

"So where are the real books?"

"Not sure," Sam says. "We may not be able to find them on our own. The person who falsified these records probably has a pretty good idea where they are, though."

"Sitwell," Steve says as it dawns on him. "Fuck."

"Right again, Cap," Sam says.

This is the evidence Phil has asked him for, Steve realizes. This is the thing that they can use against Sitwell, against Hydra, and get them shut down for good.

It's everything he's wanted since the beginning of his corporate war with Hydra. It had been a pipe dream – he'd thought the best he could do was to just evade them, try to keep them from gaining too much control.

But this could put them out of business. Hell, if Coulson can dig deep enough, it could get Schmidt thrown in prison.

The blinding rage at Sitwell for betraying Tony's trust takes a back seat to the elation of that realization.

The elation is short-lived, however, when he calls Phil back, and Phil breaks it to him that what they have isn't evidence of anything except a perfect financial department. He admits that it's suspicious, but the SEC can't charge Sitwell for not losing money anywhere.

"On top of that," Phil says, unaware of Steve's hopes going into a tailspin, "the fact that the books are 'weird' doesn't implicate Jasper at all. If there is paperwork somewhere that indicates that the file Mr. Wilson brought you is falsified data, then you would have to locate it. It may still have nothing to do with Hydra – it could be a second-tier associate embezzling money or manipulating stocks."

"So how do we find those books, if they exist?"

"That, Mr. Rogers, I can't help you with," Phil says, hanging up the phone.


Steve takes the file to Tony's workshop with him. He presses his hand to the palm scanner, leans forward for the retinal scan. The doors slide open with a whoosh (which Steve absolutely believes Tony just added so it would sound like Star Trek, and isn't an actual noise the door has to make) and he steps through.

Tony is sitting on a stool, flicking through holographic blueprints in the air above his head. His hair is in disarray, and he's stripped out of his dress shirt and tie so that he's only wearing his suit pants and a tank top. His feet are bare.

Steve can't help but notice how elegant even his toes are.

"Hey," Tony says, giving him a distracted, but shy, smile in greeting.

"Hey, Tony. You got a minute?"

"For you? Always," Tony says, swiping his hand across the air. The blueprints slide away, fade to nothing. Tony spins in his stool and turns to face Steve, folding his hands in his lap between his spread knees.

Steve holds out the file.

Tony stares at it for a long moment, then takes it from Steve's fingers. He mutters something about the corpses of dead trees, then flips the front flap open and starts reading.

"Huh," he says thoughtfully, eyes skimming over the pages. He flips through a few pages before he looks up at Steve with a self-deprecating grin. "Not gonna lie, Steve, I have no idea what I'm looking at right now."

"Stark Industries' financial reports for the last several years."

"Oh, hey, we're in the black. Go us. Oh, wow, we're super rich."

"Take a look at the section for differences and discrepancies," Steve says with a fond eye roll.

"Zeroes across the board. That's good, right?"

"Sure, good. And, I'm told, impossible enough to be suspicious."

Tony blinks at him, face blank. "Are you trying to tell me someone is cooking my books? I thought that only happened in bad mob movies."

"Sam thinks these are falsified."

"Oh, well, if Sam thinks so…"


"All right, sorry," Tony says, taking a deep breath and running a hand through his hair. It leaves him even more disheveled, and Steve ignores the spark of desire in his chest. "Okay, tell me about Sam's thoughts."

"It's worth checking into, isn't it? If these are the right numbers, that's great. If they're not, we might find proper evidence of someone from Hydra being on the inside, here."

"You say someone, but you mean Sitwell again."

"I do," Steve agrees. "I talked to Phil before Sam brought this to me. He said Sitwell dismissed more than one complaint against Hydra when he was at the SEC."

"What kind of complaint?"

"Insider trading and a couple of criminal complaints. Phil didn't go into any more detail."

"And he's sure Sitwell was the one who dismissed the complaints?"

"It's right there in the SEC's records," Steve says, pulling up a stool to sit in front of Tony. He spreads his knees a little wider than Tony's and presses the inside of the joints to the outside of Tony's own knees.

"So if Sitwell is a Hydra spy, and if he has been hiding a paper trail of that fact, and if these financials are fake… how has he been able to keep it from Jarvis? Jarvis has access to all Stark Industries records of any kind."

"Jarvis?" Steve asks. "Any ideas?"

"Actually, Sir," Jarvis answers, and he sounds hesitant. "Mr. Sitwell does most of his paperwork on his personal laptop, which doesn't have any network access. He simply uploads the files into the network periodically."

"Oh, for fuck's sake," Tony says with a groan. He pitches forward, slumping into Steve's chest. His forehead is hard on Steve's collarbone, but he ignores it and lets Tony lean against him.

"I'm sorry, Tony."

"Yeah," Tony says. "Me, too."

They sit in silence for a moment. "So if Sitwell is the leak, and if these financial records are falsified, then the real records would be on his laptop," Steve says.

"I don't even know what those records would show," Tony says. "The problem isn't our finances – Hydra is after us because of the arc reactor, not because the company is financially vulnerable. Especially after the merger."

"If he's hiding anything, it will be on that laptop," Steve insists. "We won't know what it is until we see it."

"So how do we get a look at it?"

Steve sighs a little. "Have I ever told you very much about Natasha?"

"Your executive secretary? No. She seems very competent, though," Tony says, obviously trying to sound magnanimous.

"She is also very… scary. If I ask her to find out what's on Sitwell's laptop, she'll manage. He'll never know."

"Is your executive secretary secretly a Russian spy?"

"Not as long as I've known her," Steve says, only half facetious.

When Steve gets to the office in the morning, he asks Natasha to get ahold of Sitwell's laptop and search for any evidence of illegal activity or financial misreporting. She simply arches one perfectly shaped eyebrow at him, stands up from her desk, and walks down the hall to the elevator. She doesn't say a word.

Tony stares after her for a moment, then stares at Steve. Steve only shrugs – he's used to Natasha.

"What if she doesn't find anything?" Tony asks, looking exhausted.

"Then we look for another way," Steve says gently.

"I'm still not sure I can believe he'd – I know it's got to be true," Tony murmurs ruefully. "But it's Jasper. He's worked for me for years. When Obie – he was angrier than I was. I thought he was, anyway."

"It's going to be okay," Steve answers, trying to sound reassuring. He thinks he probably misses the mark, and hits closer to 'hollow'.

"Everything's just so fucked up." Tony rubs his hands over his face. "What if Hydra gets another hit in before we can end this?"

"They won't," Steve says, and this time, he thinks he sounds more sure.

Natasha comes back a little over an hour later with a thumb drive in hand. She places it on Steve's desk.

"I found what you were looking for," she says. Then she turns around and leaves Steve's office without another word.

Tony stares after her, then looks at the little thumb drive for a long moment. "That woman is scary. What did she find?"

Steve picks up the thumb drive. "We're about to find out."

He plugs it into his computer, and Tony comes around behind his desk so they can both look at the screen. Steve uses his mouse to open up the files Natasha has copied onto the drive.

They both spend a couple of minutes staring at the numbers. It's definitely a second set of financial records – a set that shows small amounts of money being overpaid to vendors, expense accounts, service staff. A dollar here, a dollar there.

All in all, it adds up to about $2 million over the past six years.

"Son of a bitch," Tony growls.

"So he's definitely been embezzling," Steve says.

"I'll kill him," says Tony.

Steve closes the file and opens another. He tries to open it, but it's encrypted.

"Allow me, Sir," Jarvis says, and the screen flashes a couple of codes before the file opens.

It's a large file – it's a video. It looks shaky, as though the camera was on a person's body.

Tony's voice plays on the video. It's mundane conversation – how are things going in the financial department, etc. Jasper Sitwell's voice answers back, but the camera turns away from Tony while he's speaking. It seems to lock on the arc reactor prototype on the work desk, on the holographic blueprints in the air above it.

"Son of a bitch," Tony growls more forcefully. "I didn't put it away when he came in – why would I? He works for me. I didn't think he'd even understand what it was."

"He probably didn't," Steve murmurs. "He probably just gave it to Schmidt and he had people look at it until they figured out what it was. And what it could do."

"Jarvis, how the hell did Romanoff get these files?"

"I'm afraid I was sworn to secrecy, Sir," Jarvis says. Tony splutters in offense.

Steve ignores the conversation – he knows better than to question Nat's methods – and packages the financial files up. He types up a quick message to email along with it. There's also secretly recorded video of sensitive R&D material, which we believe was given to H.I. Is this enough evidence?

Tony sits heavily in Steve's guest chair, brooding silently while they wait to hear back from Coulson.

The reply comes in after a few minutes, and it's short and to the point.

It's enough for a warrant.


The investigation moves quite quickly after that. It will be a long time before there's any kind of trial, of course, but the courts serve injunctions against Hydra in the meantime, while the SEC goes through all the evidence.

Stark-Rogers takes a stock hit, and the office gets chaotic as the SEC more or less tears the place apart, looking for more on Sitwell as well as signs of any other individuals involved in the scheme.

Steve and Tony spend most of their time either fighting to get the stocks back up, dealing with their legal teams, or fielding questions from the media. It's exhausting. They're almost never alone together, and when they are, they're so busy working that there isn't time to even broach the subject of their burgeoning relationship.

The charges against Sitwell don't stop at corporate espionage or insider trading. He's arrested for the embezzlement, which turns out to be a completely separate thing from the espionage. He claims Hydra hadn't directed him to do that, but he wanted to make sure he got what he was owed.

Tony looks miserable when Phil tells them this at the end of a work day. Steve decides enough is enough. Tony needs to rest. He needs a night off from all of this. They both do.

Steve steers Tony toward the elevator, intending to send him to bed to, hopefully, sleep for a week. Tony insists that Steve come in and join him for a drink, at least.

"Guess he couldn't stop at just the one crime," Tony says bitterly, later, over their second glass of scotch.

"I'm sorry, Tony," Steve says. "I know how hard this is for you."

Tony shrugs one shoulder morosely, taking a sip of his drink. "I probably deserve it," he says.

"Tony, no." Steve takes Tony's drink away and sets it and his own on the table in front of them. He turns and cups Tony's face in both his hands. "You don't deserve it. You deserve success, and for people to see how good you are, how smart and funny and kind. You don't deserve to be taken advantage of by some slimy little worm like Sitwell."

Tony's mouth ticks up in the corner. "Slimy worm?"

Steve blushes a little and flicks his eyes down. "I might have a little bit of anger on your behalf."

"Oh yeah?"

Steve glances back up, and the expression on Tony's face has changed. It's no longer the shuttered, pained, closed off expression – there's a softness there, a spark of something in his eyes.

Steve wants to kiss him. He leans forward, almost gets there, but he stops, just a breath away. Tony's lips have parted, it's clearly something he wants, too.

"We never talked about that night," Steve says, voice low. "Tony, I –"

"Shh," Tony says. "I shouldn't have – I shouldn't have done that. I was going to sign the merger anyway, I just, I wanted you, so I let myself – it wasn't a nice thing to do. I'm sorry."

"No, it was – okay, in context, maybe not your best move, but I could have said no. I didn't want to say no. I wanted – I wanted you, too."

"At least I shouldn't have – I don't usually break out the kinky stuff the first go 'round, that was rude of me. And I shouldn't have left you alone after. That was stupid. I mean, Jarvis was keeping an eye, but..."

Steve huffs out an amused sound. "You mean the part where you tied me up? That was my favourite part."

His face flushes scarlet as soon as the words are out of his mouth, but it's too late to take it back. Tony pounces on it, grin turning predatory as he subtly improves his posture, setting his shoulders back.

"Well, that and the edging," Tony says. "You liked that?"

Steve swallows hard, eyes darting around for a moment until Tony's fingers touch his chin, tilt his head up so their eyes meet.

"I'd never – I'd never done anything like that. I never thought – it felt so, so helpless. But at the same time, so powerful. I felt like I was floating, like everything was just more. I'm not sure I can explain it."

"So you liked it?"

"God, Tony, I'm not sure I've ever come that hard in my life." The words come out in a rush, like he's trying to get them out as fast as possible before he loses his nerve.

Tony moves fast, and suddenly he's straddling Steve's hips on the couch, head tilted down to look into Steve's eyes. He takes hold of Steve's jaw, almost a hard grip, and holds him steady. Tony then proceeds to plunder his mouth, a rough, wet, possessive kiss. His tongue pushes into Steve's mouth, his lips press hard and slide slickly over Steve's. He nips at Steve's lip. It makes Steve shudder, his cock already hardening in his pants.

"Wanna do it again?" Tony asks, voice low and husky.

They haven't done more than exchange gentle kisses good night since the investigation into Sitwell and Hydra had begun. They'd been so busy with everything, and with trying to root out any other moles that Hydra might have had in the company, that they hadn't had time to do anything more about their burgeoning relationship.

Steve hadn't realized how desperate he'd been for it.

"Yes," he says hoarsely.

Tony surges down and kisses him again. It's deep, claiming, slow.

Steve expects Tony to drag him to the bedroom then, for it to be fast and hard, but Tony stays right where he is, straddling Steve's lap and kissing him. He grinds down on Steve's groin, pressing against Steve's erection as their lips move together.

Steve's hands grip hold of Tony's hips, fingers squeezing hard enough to probably leave 10 little bruises on the flesh.

"That's it, honey," Tony whispers against his lips. He nips his way up Steve's jaw to his ear, taking the sensitive lobe into his teeth and tugging.

Steve gasps, head dropping back. His throat is bared, and Tony takes advantage of it by lipping his way down to Steve's collarbone, pulling at the neck of his shirt to try and access more skin.

Steve takes the cue and pulls Tony's shirt out from the waistband of his pants, sliding his hands up the hot skin of Tony's back. He squeezes the muscles there, digging into knots and tension. Tony groans and rocks forward on his knees, pressing his hardness against Steve's belly, moving back to kiss Steve, sealing their mouths together.

Steve feels hot all over, like his skin is on fire, and he wants everything Tony will give him.

He presses his hips up, trying to get more pressure, more friction, something. Tony chuckles low in his throat, working his fingers into the buttons of Steve's shirt, opening it from the top with deft hands.

He brushes gentle fingers over revealed skin, making a point to flick and tease at Steve's nipples as he goes. Steve moans quietly, spreading his knees wide – it forces Tony's legs open wider, takes away some of Tony's leverage and presses their bodies together closer.

Tony scrapes his nails down Steve's sides, leaving eight lines of sharp heat in his wake. Steve retaliates by cupping his palms around Tony's ass. It's round, fleshy, feels as good in his hands as it looks. His hands are big enough that each cheek fits perfectly, and he squeezes the flesh.

Tony rocks down on him again, building a rhythm to it as he pinches Steve's nipples.

His mouth is sinfully hot, slick and perfect on Steve's. He loves the feeling of Tony's ass clenching and bunching under his hands as Tony moves over him. Tony rolls his hips, grinds down, scratches his nails across Steve's skin and teases at his nipples, making them more and more sensitive.

Steve is breathing hard, now, thrusting his own hips up into Tony's, matching his rhythm, hands cupping and squeezing that perfect ass, kissing back for all he's worth. He can feel the blood rushing through his veins, his heart pounding, and god, he's going to come in his pants like a teenager, he just knows it, because Tony is gorgeous, and perfect, and knows how to drive Steve entirely wild. He doesn't want to come yet, he wants to go to the bedroom and take his time, wants to get Tony naked and touch him all over, but Tony is moving faster and faster, not giving Steve any chance to protest, and Steve can feel the wave of orgasm rushing over him.

He's about to tip over the edge, his body shaking and tensing and hot, balls drawing tight, and then Tony is pulling away, pulling off, standing up and Steve whines, his body twitching at the sudden lack of stimulation, tensed for an orgasm that doesn't come.

Tony laughs, low and dark, licking his lips. His cheeks are flushed, his eyes huge and wide, and he's breathing a little hard. His trousers are tented in the front, cock hard and proud under them.

Steve tries to catch his breath, chest heaving. He wants to reach down, touch himself, go over the edge – but he won't.

He watches hungrily as Tony strips off his shirt, his pants, his underwear and socks. He's quick and efficient about it, and then he's standing there, naked and gorgeous in the low light. Steve's eyes roam over every inch of skin, wanting to touch and taste all of it.

"Come on, Steve," Tony says, gravelly. "You said you wanted to do it again, didn't you? Come to the bedroom so I can wrap you up like a present to myself." His eyes are dancing, anticipation and cheekiness mingled with lust.

Steve doesn't say anything, but his cheeks heat. He knows he shouldn't be embarrassed about how that makes his cock throb, how much he wants to let Tony tie him down and use him, but he can't help it. It's all still so new.

Tony takes his hand, thumb rubbing gently over the pulse point of Steve's wrist. It's soothing, grounding. It helps.

Tony pulls him to his feet, takes his other hand and walks backward toward the bedroom, pulling Steve along behind him. Steve is still clothed, though his shirt is open and his chest bare. The contrast of that while Tony is fully naked, on display for him, makes him feel powerful, takes away some of the sense of embarrassment.

When they get to the bedroom, Tony undresses him slowly. He kisses Steve's shoulders, his thighs, his elbows, as he bares the skin. Steve runs his hand through Tony's hair when it comes near enough, touches Tony's chest, his hip.

It's slow, almost worshipful of each other's bodies. It's a connection they had avoided the first time they did this, and it makes Steve's head swim.

They kiss; it's slow and chaste, and then Tony steps back a few paces, pulling away and opening his drawer. He pulls out the soft red rope, and Steve feels like time slows down. His heart thumps, his limbs feel heavy, but his head feels light.

"Do you have any preferences?" Tony asks, coming forward with the rope. He glances at the platform against the wall, where the D-rings hang.

"I, um… not really?" Steve's not sure that's the right answer, he's not even sure it's true, but he doesn't really even know what his options are. He wants to give Tony his body, but he also wants to see Tony fall apart. The first night they had done this, the first time they'd been together, he hadn't gotten that. Either Tony had him blindfolded and been driving him wild – edging – or had fucked Steve from behind, where couldn't see. "I want to – you. I want to make you feel good. I want to see you."

Tony studies him for a moment, head tilted, then gives a small smile. "I have an idea," he says. "You looked really gorgeous sucking my cock last time. Would you like to do that again?"

"Yes," Steve says, because yes, exactly, that's perfect. He could have the heavy, tangy weight of Tony on his tongue, could have his lips stretched wide, could look up and see the look of pleasure on Tony's face, pleasure Steve would be giving him. Yeah, that's what he wants.

Tony walks back over to the bed, and Steve moves to follow him.

"Stay there," Tony tells him, and Steve halts, unsure. Tony comes back right away with a large, flat pillow from the bed, places it on the floor at Steve's feet. "On your knees, honey."

Steve's cock throbs at the order, how it's given so sweetly, so kindly. He kneels on the pillow, looking up at Tony.

Tony smiles down at him, then kneels down on the pillow beside him and gets to work on the ropes.

He wraps it around Steve's torso first – loops and knots in a criss-crossing pattern over his chest, his belly. Then Tony loops it around each arm, around and around and around, knotting Steve's wrists together in front of him. The way the ropes are wound around his arms keeps him from bending them much, but it's not uncomfortable. In fact, it makes Steve's skin feel warm and charged, makes that light feeling in his head flare up.

"Wow, honey, you go down so fast," Tony says, pressing a light kiss to Steve's cheek before he moves on to begin winding the rope around Steve's thighs. He works methodically, loop after loop, then starts making loops over Steve's calves and knotting them to the thigh loops, so Steve's legs are folded underneath him, so that he can't straighten his knees.

"Down?" he asks after a minute of watching Tony's hands work. His voice sounds hazy, but he doesn't care.

Tony glances up, gives him a half smile. "You weren't kidding about never doing this before, were you?"

"'Course not," Steve says. Why would he kid about that?

"Subspace, sweetheart. It's called subspace. It's different for everyone, but you look like your head is up in the clouds, lighter than air."

"Mm, yeah," Steve agrees, rolling the word around in his head. Subspace. Because he likes this, likes the feeling of Tony taking care of him like this. Submitting.

Tony chuckles a little, running a finger under some of the rope loops, checking to make sure nothing is pinching or cutting off any circulation. He wraps his hand around Steve's hard cock, giving it a quick stroke up and down. It makes Steve's back arch, but he can't push forward into the touch because of the way Tony has tied his legs.

Tony stands in front of him, then, hand wrapped around his own cock, pumping it slowly.

Steve's mouth waters, and he blinks up at Tony slowly, licking his lips.

Tony grins, steps forward a little, and pushes his cock down at the base, nudging the head of it at Steve's lips.

Steve opens his mouth instantly, pokes his tongue out to lick and taste, but Tony doesn't push forward yet, just lets Steve lick at the head, tasting pre-come and clean skin.

Steve looks up at Tony's face, chest warm as Tony's eyelashes flutter a little in pleasure.

Steve leans forward, closing his lips around the head and giving in to the urge to suck. He slides forward, forward, taking what he can of Tony into his mouth. He sucks and licks as he moves, starting a slow, bobbing rhythm.

Having control of the blowjob makes Steve heady with power, but it's balanced by the fact that he can't really move, his limbs tied together, holding him where Tony had placed him.

"You're very good with your mouth," Tony groans, hips hitching forward a little. Not enough to choke Steve, just a little thrust. Steve wonders how it would feel to have Tony push into his throat. He's never been able to do that before, but he wants it, wants to try it, so he pushes forward, tilting his chin to try and change the angle, and when the head of Tony's cock hits the back of his throat, he doesn't gag. He swallows reflexively, and Tony moans, so Steve does it again, pushing forward as he does it.

It feels strange, feels weird and wrong and different, but his whole body is loose and relaxed because of the ropes, because he doesn't have any choice but to be loose and relaxed.

"Look at you, honey," Tony murmurs, thrusting slowly between Steve's lips. Steve feels like he's floating, like everything is soft and warm and light. Everything is easy. It's easy to open his mouth wider, relax his throat, feel Tony's cock just push inside it. It's easy to kneel there, legs unable to move, hands tied together. It's easy to lick and suck and swallow around the heavy weight of Tony's erection.

He likes looking up from under his eyelashes, being able to see Tony staring down at him, looking lust-wrecked and pleasure-drunk. Tony's lips are parted slightly, and his eyes are dark, pupils blown wide. He combs his fingers through Steve's hair gently – not tugging or pulling at all, just petting, and it makes Steve give a creaky little moaning noise that makes Tony gasp.

Steve keeps sucking, bobbing his head in a smooth rhythm, working on taking more and more of Tony into his throat. He gets a little bit more down each time, and he's almost at the base when Tony pulls back, breathing hard and shaking. His cock is wet, glistening with Steve's saliva and his own pre-come, and Steve can't help it, he leans forward, chasing after it, because he wants it back, wants it in his mouth, wants to keep pulling those pleasure noises out of Tony.

"Tony," he whines, almost losing his balance as he tries to get his mouth on Tony's dick again.

"Shh, shh, honey, I know, it was so good, you're so good," Tony murmurs, dropping to his knees in front of Steve. Steve flushes at the praise, feeling light and warm and easy, and then Tony is kissing him, rough and wet and hard, like he's trying to taste his own pre-come in Steve's mouth.

"Want – wanna be good. For you," Steve pants when Tony slides his mouth down Steve's throat. Steve arches his head back, back, baring his throat to Tony. Yours, he thinks fuzzily.

"You are, baby, you're so good," Tony whispers against his skin. "I want – I need to untie you, Steve, so we can get to the bed, is that okay?"

Steve thinks about it. He would like to keep sucking Tony off, but he wants to be in the bed even more. Wants to have Tony over him, looking down at him with smouldering eyes.

"Yes," he says. "Bed is good."

Tony chuckles lightly, then walks on his knees around Steve to the side, and begins unlooping the red ropes around his legs and arms.

When Steve is completely free, he looks down at himself. His cock is still hard, but it feels separate, less urgent somehow. The ropes have left red marks in his skin – nothing that will bruise, just a flush from the pressure. Steve thinks it looks beautiful. Like art.

He can stand, so he does, letting Tony help him to his feet. He uses his physical freedom to pull Tony into another kiss, wrapping his arms around Tony's back to hold him close. Tony's skin is so warm, smooth. He wants to touch him everywhere.

Tony kisses him, laughing. "Maybe next time, sweetheart. I have another idea for right now."

Oh. He'd been saying that out loud. He blushes, and Tony strokes a thumb over his cheek, still smiling.

Steve feels less like he's floating now, though he still feels warm and loose.

"Yeah, look at you coming back up already," Tony says with a sigh. "Sorry about that, honey. We'll get you tied down again soon."

Steve's cock jumps at that. Yes, that's what he wants. To be tied down to Tony's bed again, at his mercy.

He moves to the bed, but he hesitates when he gets there. Last time, Tony had tied him down on his front, but he wants to see Tony's face, wants to watch him as he fucks Steve, watch him shake and tremble when he comes.

Tony notices his hesitation right away, touches his elbow gently. "Steve? You okay? Gimme a colour."


"Colour, Steve. Green, yellow, red."

"Oh, um, green," Steve says, not sure it's true.

"Steve. It's important that you be honest with me, here. Please. I don't want to do anything you don't want to do. That won't be good for me, I promise." Tony looks so earnest, so serious.

"Okay, no, it's fine, I just – I want to see your face? Last time, I couldn't – I want to see your face this time."

A slow smile spreads across Tony's face. "Don't worry, honey," he says. "That's the plan. Lie on your back on the bed. I promise, it'll be so good."

Steve smiles back, leans in and kisses Tony, then crawls up onto the big bed, lying on his back in the middle of it.

Tony crawls over him, straddling his hips, and leans down to keep kissing him. He rocks back and forth a little, sliding their cocks together, and Steve moans.

Tony's hands reach while they kiss, pushing Steve's wrists apart toward the corners of the bed. Steve shifts restlessly as Tony wraps the cuffs around his wrists, pulling them tight so that he doesn't have any slack to move with. Steve can already feel the warm, easy lightness creeping back in. Tony slides down his body, kissing him all along the way. Steve moans and writhes, lost in the sensation of Tony's lips and teeth and tongue all over his body.

Tony lifts himself off Steve's legs, turns, and wraps cuffs around Steve's ankles. It's only when Tony is finished, coming back up to place his mouth over Steve's, that Steve realizes Tony had tied his legs down straight. He can bend his knees up a little, there's enough slack for that, but he can't spread his legs, and he doesn't know how that's going to work.

"How…?" Steve asks, voice soft. "I can't spread my legs."

Tony grins down at him, nipping at Steve's bottom lip. "You don't need to spread your legs, honey. I've been wanting to get that great big cock of yours inside me since the moment I saw it."

Steve's brain grinds to a screeching halt. Oh, hell, Tony's going to let him – he's going to get to – oh fuck.

"You wanna?" Tony asks, casual, like he doesn't know the answer.

"Yes," Steve says, cock throbbing with need. "Tony, yes."

Tony grins down at him, then crawls over to the side of the bed so he can root around in the drawer for condoms and lube.

Steve is gripped by a sudden thought, an image in his brain that he can't shake. He's never – he likes doing it, he's always liked doing it, but he's never – obviously – done it while tied up. Never done it from this position. But he suddenly wants it, wants to do it more than anything in the world, wants it more than air, so even though his cheeks are hot with humiliation at asking for it, he can't stop the words from pouring out, as stilted and halting as they are.

"Tony, can you – I want to – I want to open you up," he says breathlessly, eyes struggling to focus on Tony's smirking face. "With my – with my mouth. I want you to – I want you to sitonmyface," he finally chokes out, and Tony's jaw slackens, his eyes going wide and dark.

"Oh, honey, yes," he breathes, very deliberately putting the lube and condoms down beside Steve's elbow. "I can do that, if you want me to."

"Please," Steve answers. His cock is hard and leaking, but his head is fuzzy and warm and light, and the fact that Tony had said yes, hadn't laughed at him or mocked him or made a weird face – Tony wants his mouth, he'll let Steve open him up like that, and god, it's just want Steve wants.

"We'll have to change our set-up, here, though – I want my hands free, but I still don't want yours free," Tony says, reaching for the drawer beside the bed. He digs for a moment, then comes up with a new apparatus. It's all black, and the first thing Steve thinks when he sees it is collar, which gives him a shiver of nerves and want and confusion all at the same time.

Tony holds it up for him, and now Steve can see that it has three loops in total, not just one round collar, and he's even more confused.

"Do you know what this is?" he asks. Steve shakes his head.

Tony smiles down at him, and spreads his fingers out in the biggest loop, so Steve can see how big around it is. "This goes around your throat – it's not tight, it won't choke you. Do you have a problem with having something like this around your throat?"

Steve thinks about it for a moment before he answers, and the pleased look Tony gives him tells him that was the right thing to do. "If it won't choke me, I think it would be okay." He thinks about that for a second, and maybe he – other people like that, sometimes, maybe he would want it, would like it. "I mean, I don't – I don't know if that's –"

"Shh, honey, it's okay, you don't have to decide anything else right now," Tony says soothingly, stroking Steve's hair. "We can talk about that another time."

Steve nods. "Okay."

Tony holds up the collar-thing again, picks up one of the smaller hanging loops. "These would go around your wrists," he says. "So your hands would be at your face, you'd have a little bit of room to move them, but not exactly free. And I want to strap the collar onto the bed, so you won't be able to move around, either."

Steve stares at him, and Tony chuckles. "Does that sound good?"

Steve swallows hard, then nods, because yes. He can use his hands, he can spread Tony's cheeks apart for his mouth, do a proper job of it, but he'll still be tied down, there for Tony's pleasure, only able to move if Tony decides he can. Yes, it sounds good.

Tony grins, and it's devilish, then straps the collar around Steve's neck. It's not tight – Tony can fit his whole hand in between the fabric and Steve's throat, and it still doesn't feel tight, so it's good. Then Tony uncuffs Steve's right wrist, putting it into one of the collar's cuffs immediately. He does the same with Steve's left wrist, then pulls a rope with a D-ring from the centre of the headboard, and attaches it to the ring on the collar strap.

Steve shifts experimentally. He can make fists just under and in front of his chin, but he can't do much else with his hands.

"What's your colour, sweetheart?" Tony murmurs, petting Steve's hair again.

"Green," Steve replies, and he thinks the smile on his face might be a little on the goofy side. "Now get up here, mister."

Tony snorts and turns away from Steve, straddles his chest, backs up and tucks his calves under Steve's bent elbows.

His perfect, round bubble butt is right in front of Steve's face, and he gives in to the urge to lift his head and bite at the fleshy globe, chest warming at the laughing yelp from above him.

"Oh, you're gonna pay for that," Tony mutters, shifting back a little more. He spreads his knees, and now Steve can see a hint of it, the furled skin of his hole, pink and clean and tight. It looks amazing, he wants to see if it feels just as good.

Tony lowers himself down, thighs resting on Steve's chest, and he's finally, finally in reach, so Steve stops wasting time and uses his hands to spread Tony's cheeks apart, and begins to kiss and lick at the tender, hidden skin. He slides his tongue up Tony's crack, circling wetly around his hole. The texture is rough, tight, but it feels hot against his mouth.

Tony moans, his hips shifting, and Steve shivers with pride at the knowledge that he's responsible for the reaction.

He begins to lick and suck and kiss in earnest, then, letting his mouth do as it will. When Tony's hole is slick and wet from his mouth, he starts pushing at the opening with his tongue. He darts his tongue in and out, in and out, over and over again as he licks and sucks at Tony's rim, until Tony's muscles have loosened, and then he starts working even harder, pushing his tongue in as deep as he can make it go.

Tony is rocking above him, balls resting taut under Steve's chin. Tony is tight, so tight, but hot and smooth around Steve's tongue, so he keeps licking and sucking and working. He knows his hands are clenching and releasing on the meat of Tony's ass, the top of his thighs, and he wonders if he'll leave bruise. He hopes so, he wants to see marks on Tony's skin, marks that prove that not only had Steve gotten to touch him, he'd gotten to claim him, just as much as Tony has claimed Steve.

A sudden sharp sensation in his nipples – it's Tony, pinching and rolling them – makes him cry out, head snapping back and pushing his chin into Tony's perineum. That makes Tony buck down, bend at the waist, and then his mouth is on Steve's cock.

Hot, wet, silky suction, and Steve can't do anything but moan and redouble his efforts and shove his tongue as deeply inside Tony as it will go. It's an echo chamber, a reverberation of pleasure – Tony sucks Steve's cock, it makes Steve moan and lick and suck, which makes Tony moan and suck, and Steve knows, he just knows he's going to come, hard and hot and sudden, but then Tony is pulling off him, pulling away, and Steve's head surges up, trying to get back to that sweet, tight hole, trying to taste Tony again.

"Gonna – gotta get lube, honey, just a second," Tony groans, breathless and hot, spinning to straddle Steve's hips and face him. He rips open a condom with his teeth and rolls it down over Steve's straining cock, then he grabs the lube, pouring it over his fingers even as he bucks to ride the desperate roll of Steve's hips, and then Tony reaches back behind himself, crying out and closing his eyes tight. Steve wishes he could see, could see Tony shove slick fingers inside himself, see his hole stretch and open for the intrusion, but Tony doesn't waste any time, doesn't make a show of it, just spreads some slick over the condom on Steve's cock and then pulls his left ass cheek aside while he uses his right hand to grip Steve, holding him steady, then presses down. He's hot, tight, slick, and so, so fucking hot, Steve can't help but cry out as he sinks into that perfect, clenching heat.

Tony moans, bringing both hands around to Steve's chest, steadying himself. Then he's moving, hard and fast, riding Steve with rolling, grinding hips. The silky, sweet grip of him around Steve's cock is relentless, unbelievable, and Steve bends his knees a little, as much as he can, and it's just enough to get a little leverage so he can pump his hips up, fucking up into that tight, tight heat, pushing his cock as deep as he can into Tony's ass. Tony is crying out, head thrown back, and Steve knows, he just knows that Tony probably wasn't prepped enough, that the little bit of rimming and lube wouldn't have been enough to stretch him out properly to take Steve's cock, but Tony looks like he's in heaven, bouncing and rocking over Steve's body.

Steve thrusts up, trying to fuck as deeply as he can into Tony's body, panting with the effort and groaning with pleasure. Tony looks like a god above him, golden and warm and lost to pleasure as he fucks himself down on Steve's cock.

There's tight heat, silken smoothness, the view of Tony losing control above him, and then Tony moves his hands, up toward Steve's, and wraps his hands around Steve's wrists, where he's cuffed to his own neck, holding and touching him and it's all too much, Steve can't take it anymore, and he cries out, his balls drawing tight, his whole body tensing as his head floats high and far away, and then he's coming, pumping hard and fast into the condom, keening as Tony ripples around him, clenching tight and releasing, milking his cock. The orgasm seems to last for ages, and Tony keeps riding, hands solid and hard on Steve's pecs. Tony pumps him until there's nothing left, until every slick tight slide is almost too much, until he's over sensitive and whining with the pleasure of it, and then Tony pulls off, moaning at the loss of Steve's cock. Steve moans, too, as his softening cock flops down onto his belly, and Tony shifts forward, just a few inches, one hand buried in Steve's hair and the other jerking himself off, hard and tight and fast, hips thrusting up into his fist as he pumps and strokes. He gasps out meaningless words of praise as he does it, and then cries out, one loud wail, coming all over Steve's chest, his throat, hitting his chin.

"– fucking come all over your amazing tits –"

Tony's not even making sense, just gasping nonsense words as his hips jerk and hot streaks of white come land on Steve's chest. Steve shivers, knowing he should be embarrassed, that he should feel humiliated that Tony had called them 'tits', but his body desperately tries to react with desire or orgasm or both. It can't, it really can't because he's spent, he's so spent all he can do is lie there and let Tony come on him, claim him and mark him and fuck, he can't not moan again, hips jerking uselessly into the air, even though there's nothing left.

Tony collapses over him, pressing their chests together, completely unconcerned about the mess of come all over Steve's torso. They're both breathing hard, hearts pounding hard and fast, shivering with the aftershocks. After a moment, Tony manages to lift his head and press quick, gentle kisses all over Steve's face – his jaw, his eyes, his cheeks, his forehead, then finally his mouth, and this is a longer kiss, deep and wet and soft, tongue licking into Steve's mouth.

I love you I love you I love you, Steve thinks. His whole body is vibrating and alive and floating. His head is fuzzy, is body spent, but he kisses Tony back, tries to pour everything he's feeling into it, and Tony matches him, Steve can feel it in his kiss, that same emotion reflected back to him.

The kiss takes a while to slow down, to cool off, and when it naturally ends, when they've caught their breath, Tony reaches up and pulls at Steve's wrist cuffs, slides the buckles undone and then massages his wrists as he frees them. Steve shivers, sated but needful, then wraps his arms around Tony's back and kisses him, kisses him until they're both breathless again.

Steve is half-asleep, then, when he feels Tony open the cuffs around Steve's ankles. He pulls a blanket over them, nuzzling into Steve's chest, his throat, and Steve knows they're going to regret the mess of come on his chest later, but he doesn't care, and clearly neither does Tony.

Steve's head is too light, too airy, to easy to worry about it, so he ignores it, pushes it away, and lets himself float in the perfect, wonderful feeling of Tony curled into him, body relaxing and feeling so warm, heavy, perfect.

"I love you," he whispers, and he shouldn't be saying it, he knows, but he doesn't care, just wants Tony to know, that after everything that's happened, everything Tony has taught him about himself, that's what's left – Steve's love for Tony.

"Love you, too," Tony murmurs sleepily against Steve's throat, and Steve hears it, feels it, and knows it. Knows it like he's always known it, like there's never been anything else but love between them.

And, like a switch has been thrown, Steve is asleep in moments, drifting warm and pleasant and easy until morning.