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"Jan, darling," Tony says into the telephone, one last desperate salvo, "it was lovely of you to think of me, but I'm afraid I won't be able to make it."

It's not that Jan's parties aren't wonderful, but Tony's been back on American soil for exactly two days. Fury's had him in Latveria again for the past month, scouting out Doom's troop movements, robotic and otherwise, trying to figure out which side of the war Victor might throw his insane-but-not-inconsiderable weight behind. Latveria has so far remained neutral, but not benignly so; their foreign policy appears to be "whatever Victor feels like when he wakes up that morning." The results of Tony's mission were inconclusive; the only actual conclusion Tony can draw is that the Latverian who grazed his shoulder with an especially lucky bullet -- through a gap in the Iron Man suit hollowed out by the first (also lucky) shot -- objected to something about his presence.

He's not shell-shocked, exactly -- not to the degree that some of the boys at the front are -- but he's not quite all right. He's just... twitchy. And he's spent enough of his life in similar situations, even if it wasn't in the service of his country before now, to know that he needs at least a few days to himself before he stops reflexively taking a swing at anyone who taps him on the shoulder from behind. A party is definitely a bad idea.

So he has a plan for the next few days: books, the wireless, a few fingers of scotch as necessary. Quiet seclusion. He'll even be letting his shoulder heal.

"But Tony," Jan says, wheedling, her voice crackling down the line, "I've got the most interesting guest. A fan of yours. I promised him you'd be there."

A fan. Tony sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. These days he can barely remember being Tony Stark of Marvels, the dashing adventurer. Since he shut down the magazine to join the war effort, he's been busy enough that most people don't meet him for long enough to ask about the good old days. As for the people he does talk to at greater length -- they tend to know that he can't talk about what he's been doing since he quit. They're in the same line of work, after all. And loose lips... well.

It's not that he's not glad he's had fans -- of course he's happy that people liked reading about his adventures -- but dealing with the adoring public demands a particular sort of facade that he's not sure he has the energy to put up. They always want suave, charming Tony Stark, hero of a thousand tales, the perfect actor with his perfect mask. Nobody wants to be around Tony Stark, slightly ragged, war-weary special agent. Hell, Tony doesn't even want to be around himself.


"You'll like him," Jan offers. "You ought to, if I'm any judge. And if you don't -- well, you only have to put in an appearance. How about it, handsome?" Her voice is coy. Tony imagines her sitting there, playing with her jewelry as she talks.

"I don't have anything to wear," he says, and he's saying that to Janet Van Dyne, of all people, which means he's clearly already lost. But it's true. He hasn't been to one of these shindigs in at least a year and he strongly suspects that none of his previous suits will fit; wearing the armor more days than not has certainly done something to his muscle definition, even as he's gone leaner and leaner on a diet composed mostly of K-rations.

Jan practically purrs. "Oh, Tony," she says. "I'll send someone over this afternoon. I can work miracles."

"All right," he says, and he sighs, and he's about to hang up when he realizes Jan is still talking.

"You really will like him," Jan says, and there's a note in her voice that he can't quite identify. "I promise."

Tony summons up a trace of his old charm and infuses his voice with it. "I'm sure you're right. See you tomorrow night, darling."

His first thought is that there are too many people in the room. It's too bright, there's too much noise, he shouldn't be here, and even with Pepper on his arm he tenses. He can't even take in the room, really; it's all blurring together, a whirl of lights and babbling voices and elegant music.

Off to the side, someone says his name, too loud, and he doesn't actually jump but he thinks Pepper might notice the twitch.

This was a bad idea, he thinks, but before he can turn around and leave Jan is coming up to them and he can't actually run away.

"Tony! Pepper!" says Jan, smiling wide. "I'm so glad you could come. Hey, Pepper, I saw Frank Finlay's byline on the front page of the Bugle yesterday! Congratulations!"

Tony breathes. He's all right. It's just Jan.

Pepper quit Marvels when he closed it down -- she'd had to -- and lately she's been doing pretty well for herself as a freelance journalist, especially when she can do most of it by mail and wire. No one finds out Frank Finlay's a lady. But Tony's glad she's getting steady work anyway, even if he's pretty sure she misses those Marvels adventuring days. He'd fought for her at Marvels -- given her a cover with her real name on it -- but even Fury wouldn't budge on dropping her into the ETO with him. He still thinks it could have worked. They'd made a good team. But, no, Fury hadn't even let him have Rhodey, much less Pepper.

"I'm sure if Mr. Finlay were here, he'd thank you," Pepper says, and her eyes sparkle.

"So, Jan," Tony begins, because he wants to cut to the chase and then get out of here and probably get very drunk, "who's this very important guest of yours you want me to meet?"

Jan laughs, a slightly-tipsy giggle, like she thinks Tony's making a joke. She holds out one hand, bracelets dangling from her wrist, toward the undifferentiated mass of men in black-tie and their elegant companions. "You can't miss him, Tony."

The sea of people parts, just a little, enough for him to see the man on the other side of the room, against the far wall. He's immediately noticeable in this crowd for not wearing a suit -- well, not the kind of suit every other man is wearing. There's a star in the middle of his chest. He's draped in red, white and blue, from his bright red boots to the little white wings atop the blue cowl pulled over half his face. He's tall, muscular, and -- though Tony can't quite make out his features from here -- probably very handsome. Tony squints. He's seen the costume before, because they've been painting this guy on war bond posters for maybe a couple months: chiseled all-American good looks, rugged jaw, noble stance. Tony figured he was a model or an actor. He also figured the muscles were all artistic embellishment -- thanks to a life in the magazine business, he knows more than a little about that -- but no, apparently the guy really does look that good in person.

"That guy?" Tony asks. It seems kind of ridiculous. It's a ridiculous costume, anyway. "The guy in the flag?"

He supposes he can play at being normal, for the benefit of this actor. They'll both be acting.

Jan nods. "Yep. Captain America. He's actually been staying here for the past few days." She sighs. "Isn't he dreamy?"

Yes, Tony agrees, privately, and then something about the name clicks.

Captain America.

The thing about Tony's contribution to the war effort is that he doesn't exactly have a job description. If he did he suspects it would be "whatever Fury wants." Tony is the de facto expert on everything from ancient artifacts to modern technology -- hence the Latverian mission, which on paper had him evaluating Doom's attempts at building robots. It's not Fury's fault that the reality had gotten a little messier.

One day, maybe three months ago, Fury had dropped a project proposal on his desk and asked for his opinion. Project Rebirth, he called it. America's attempt at a super-soldier. Reading between the lines, Tony had figured out that the Army was pissed that the lead scientist was withholding the exact details of the process, and what Fury wanted to know was whether there was any possibility of it being the same as anything the Nazis had already tried. And Tony, well -- Tony'd met Baron Zemo, hadn't he? (Yeah. That's one of those things he tries not to think about.) So he'd read through the files looking for any clue as to the drugs, any hint that this might be the Zemo process. He'd eventually concluded that whatever it was, it wasn't Zemo -- and furthermore, his professional opinion of their chance of success was that Project Rebirth was going to be a novel and exciting way for an unlucky recruit to commit suicide. Good luck finding volunteers, Fury.

He hadn't been officially attached to Rebirth after that, and the last he'd heard of it was two weeks later when a memo drifted across his desk that everything Rebirth-related -- including his report -- was now to be filed under "Captain America." Tony'd shrugged and figured it was a new codename for the entire operation.

But now he's staring at the man across the room -- who is, Tony thinks, the peak of human physical perfection, and that's not solely his baser desires talking -- and it occurs to him that Captain America is, in fact, the result. Not just a codename. A man.

It had worked. They'd actually made a super-soldier.

Well, the evening has suddenly become much more interesting.

"You were right," Tony says with an intensity that surprises even himself. He can't take his eyes off the man, who hasn't even so much as looked in his direction. "I definitely want to meet him."

"I knew it," Jan says with relish, and then she's leading both of them across the crowded floor.

Tony's pretty good at reading people -- Gialetta Nefaria being an unfortunate aberration -- but as he walks toward Captain America he's not really sure what to make of him. His body language is smooth and rehearsed, to the point that Tony's willing to bet the guy has been given a fair amount of training in dealing with the public. But as the man in red, white and blue turns from one guest to the next, he's jerky, awkward, and for a split-second the rehearsed smile fades. He's uncomfortable as hell. Tony thinks wearing that get-up to anything that isn't a costume party would contribute to that, but he has the sense that there's something else going on there, that the man would still be uncomfortable even in something less eye-catching.

And then Jan's standing next to the man and holding out a hand to Tony and Pepper. "These are the guests I promised you," she says, proud. "Tony, Pepper, this is Captain America. Captain, this is--"

"Tony Stark!" the man says, and his teeth flash white in a wide, wide grin. Blue eyes sparkle. He's looking at Tony like all his dreams have come true. And, dear God, he's young. No, that's not the right word. Innocent. He's innocent. He may be a super-soldier, he may have been through basic training, but they haven't let him out of the country. He hasn't been where Tony's been. He doesn't know what's out there. "You're-- you're the Tony Stark! From Marvels!" He's practically starry-eyed with wonder.

He finds he can't help but smile back. "That's me," he says, and he bites back the kid that wants to add itself to the end of the sentence, because this guy is, what, twenty-two? Twenty-three? Mid-twenties, anyway. He probably wouldn't appreciate it.

Captain America smiles again. Yep. He's dazzled.

Something about the eagerness, the earnestness, the innocence... it just kills Tony. When he was picturing a super-soldier, he'd been picturing a soldier. Battle-scarred. Experienced. Not this... kid. The war's going to ruin him. It can't not. It ruins everyone. And maybe it's just that Tony's feeling everything a little too hard right now, but he doesn't want it to happen to this man.

"And I'm Pepper," Pepper puts in. "Pepper Potts. You might also know me as Frank Finlay."

Captain America's eyes go wide, and for a horrible instant Tony wonders what he's going to say, because Pepper's usually cagey about her identity, and for good reason. Then he smiles again. "Ma'am, it's an honor to meet you as well. Miss Van Dyne had said I might be able to meet Mr. Stark; she didn't mention he'd be bringing his chronicler." His grin is wider and wider; he looks almost faint with joy. And he must have been a big fan, because Pepper had only ever had her name on the last two issues: Finlay's on one, her own on the other. Captain America inhales and visibly tries to compose himself. "I'm-- I'm sorry, Mr. Stark, Miss Potts. It's just that -- oh, I'm sure you hear this a lot, but I really loved your magazine when I was a kid. I had every issue."

Tony's smiling; he's actually smiling. "Did you?" He suspects the man would be breathlessly demanding Tony's autograph if he had anything for him to sign. Sweetheart, I'll sign anything you want me to, Tony thinks, and he at least manages to keep his gaze fixed on the man's face. The muscles are definitely real.

The captain nods. "I did." He looks around the room, a little guiltily. "I don't mean to monopolize your time, Mr. Stark," he says, abashed. "You probably have other people to talk to--"

He doesn't, actually, Tony realizes. He is pretty much only here for this. It's not as hard to remember what being the daring adventurer was like as he'd thought it would be, and well, Captain America is awfully easy on the eyes. And he wants to talk to Tony. Who could pass up a chance to meet the Army's new super-soldier?

"I can stay," Tony admits. "I'd like to. And, please, call me Tony."

"I couldn't possibly," the captain says, instantly.

Pepper nudges him a little, and he realizes he's been ignoring her. And Jan. "I'll leave you two to it, if that's all right," Pepper says. She's asking if he'll be okay on his own, he knows. "I want to see Jan's new dresses."

"That's fine," Tony says, distracted; every scrap of his attention is on Captain America's gorgeous, awed smile. "Have fun, Pep."

"Nice meeting you, Captain," Pepper says, and Captain America nods; he still looks a bit dazed.

She seems to have glided away when Tony wasn't looking, because suddenly he can't see her. Oh, well. She'll be around later. He's not concerned. He's not even feeling all that out-of-sorts right now. He's just feeling... good.

"You can definitely call me Tony," Tony says again, with one of his more charming smiles. "And I can call you...?"

Captain America grimaces. "You can call me Captain America. Sorry."

Tony's beginning to regret not pulling the Rebirth file when he had the chance. It would have had the guy's name. "Your parents must be very patriotic." He goes for the obvious joke.

"I'd like to think my parents would have been proud, yes." He smiles faintly. There's something sad in his eyes.

Christ, Tony thinks, Rebirth had gotten an orphan? It makes sense, though; he doesn't think they'd have found volunteers who had family to miss them. This guy must not have had a lot to lose. He wouldn't have done it if he had.

"As they should be, Cap," Tony says. "Can I call you Cap?"

Captain America seems to think about it, and then he shrugs. "Sure. But only if I can ask you about Marvels."

"Deal," Tony says instantly, and Captain America smiles at him, like he's won something here. God, he's got a good smile. So pretty it should be illegal. Hell, the things Tony wants to do to him to get to see it again definitely are.

He doesn't know if Cap is doing it consciously, but he lets them swap places, so Tony's standing with his back to the wall, safe, and that just lets the tension out of him in one huge rush. No one can sneak up on him. Maybe he'll be okay tonight after all.

Most people who want to talk about Marvels want to talk about the issues they read. The adventures. The artifacts. Tony's got a long line of stories, suitably embellished, and he can talk for hours. That's what makes the fans happy. They don't want to know about the misses, the failures, the fakes, the times when nothing turned up. They don't want to see the man behind the curtain. That would ruin it.

"So," Captain America begins, eyes bright, "tell me about the best thing--"

Tony knows how this sentence ends: The best thing you ever found. The best thing you ever wrote about. The best thing that happened to you. He's got answers ready.


"The best thing you never found." The look on his face is practically a challenge, mouth firmed into a determined line.

Tony blinks. "What?"

"The best thing you never found," Cap repeats. "I'm sure it didn't all pan out, right? There has to be something."

Tony's caught by surprise; he doesn't have a ready answer for this one. He's standing there, his mouth half-open, and that's not charming at all. That's not Tony Stark of Marvels. That's not even Tony Stark, secret agent. That's just Tony Stark, the idiot, and then Captain America smiles at him and he goes warm all over, because there's really something about this guy.

"I," Tony says, "I, uh. Give me a sec. I'll think of something."

Cap just grins at him. "Okay."

And then a lady nearby gives an excited shriek of laughter at one of her companions, and Tony winces and jumps. Damn. It's not a threat, he tells himself. New York, not Latveria. Right. Right. His heart is pounding, with the usual disconcerting twitch it gets when it's fighting the action of the repulsor pump. Tony is intimately familiar with his own heartbeat. Unfortunately.

Captain America meets his eyes, and Tony thinks maybe he understands, because he's holding a hand out to the French doors. "Say, do you want to talk outside? It's probably a little quieter."

"Sure," Tony agrees, grateful.

He must know, somehow. He's a good guy, Tony decides. He hadn't really expected that from the super-soldier program. But it's nice.

So he follows Cap out into the darkness. Cap turns and leans back against the wall with an attentive kind of indolence, glued to the brickwork from shoulders to hips. He's shifting his weight, picking one foot up to rest the sole of his bright boot on the side of the building, toe down. It's a lazy, confident stance, the kind of thing that shows off his body to advantage, and Tony's pretty sure he knows that. For an instant the eager gaze he turns on Tony is a different kind of eagerness, something knowing and physical, something that looks out of place with the gaudy uniform, something that says I'd like to know you better.

And then the gaze is wide-eyed again, the moment gone, and Tony decides he must have been imagining it.

"You were saying?" Cap asks.

"Well," Tony draws out the word. "There was this one trip, near the beginning of my adventuring days. It must have been, oh, back in '30? The year after we went to the Andes. Anyway, there was this artifact, the Cosmic Cube. Supposed to be blue, glowing, fits in your hand. I kept seeing all these references to this cube. Unimaginable power, energy, wishes into reality, somehow alive, the usual. I thought it would be a grand thing. I must have spent two months even tracking down all the texts that referenced it, and let me tell you, my Old High German got a workout."

Cap's pale eyes are a little wider, and Tony's waiting for him to ask if the Nazis had it. But he only smiles a little. "Strange to think of you poring over dusty old books. That never made it to the magazines, eh?"

"The research wasn't very photogenic," Tony agrees.

A smile curls its way around Cap's lips. "You've never been not photogenic in your life, Mr. Stark," he says, low, amused, and the tone makes heat gather in the pit of Tony's stomach. He swallows.

"You haven't seen me in the stacks," he says, an automatic reply. He hadn't even let Marvels' artists draw him with glasses on. That wasn't appropriately heroic.

"Mmm," Cap returns. "I'd have to make my own decision. So you went to Germany?"

Tony grins, remembering it. "Berlin. Nothing like it, back then. The wildest place on Earth. All the clubs. You have no idea. The girls were amazing." And the boys. Definitely also the boys.

"Your gal didn't mind?"

"My gal?" Tony echoes, confused.

"You know," Cap says. "Miss Potts."

"Oh!" Tony laughs. "No, no, no. She's not my gal. She is very much her own gal, believe me. I didn't even know her then."

"Oh," says Cap, sounding somehow thoughtful. "Well, that's all right, then, I suppose. That's why it didn't make it into the magazine? Too many nightclubs?"

Not the right sort of nightclubs, Tony thinks. "Nah, it was that we didn't find the Cosmic Cube after all. After a... suitable... amount of time in Berlin, Rhodey and I spent weeks combing through picturesque ruins of German castles. Exactly where the texts had said it would be, and just... nothing. No sign. If the Cube had ever been there, it was gone. Maybe it was only ever a legend in the first place. But if we'd found it, well, that would have been really something." He shrugs. "It's not much of a story, but then, if it had been a story at all, we would have put it in Marvels."

"Still," Cap says, "it sounds like you had a good time."

"I did," Tony agrees.

Cap looks at him evenly. His gaze is penetrating. "But that's not what you do now."

"It isn't," Tony agrees. He swallows hard. This guy's Army too; surely he knows Tony can't talk about it. "Everyone knows I quit. The war's more important. But maybe someday..."

It feels like a dream he can't entertain: when it's over. When there won't be mortars and bombers and tanks, when there won't be gas and guns and sobbing civilians, when there won't be pain. When no one else will suffer. If it's over. The Great War had been supposed to end all wars, and here they are, still fighting in a world still scarred by it. The world wasn't supposed to be like this.

"You think you'd publish again?" Cap's eyes light up. "Gosh. Wow. I'd buy every issue, I swear. If you needed the sales, I'd save up and buy out a whole newsstand."

Tony laughs. Yeah. Captain America is a real fan, all right. "Big guy like you, you'd starve like that--" he snaps his fingers-- "if you spent all your pay on adventure stories instead of food."

Cap grins at him again. His shadowed profile is... well, it's compelling. What Tony can see of the man's face is very attractive indeed. He has incredibly pretty eyes. The wings are a little silly. Tony doesn't care. He desperately wants to know what the man looks like with the mask off. He's sure it's even better.

"I used to want to draw for Marvels," Cap says, suddenly. "Don't laugh, but it was my dream. To have something in your magazine. I wanted to be an artist. I used to take art classes."

"You should have sent something in. Brought a portfolio." Cap's accent, under the obvious vocal training, is all New York. He's a local. He could have done it. "We were always looking. And you seem like the kind of fella who'd meet deadlines. Reliable. Always a plus."

Captain America makes a convulsive, pained gesture, halfway to a clenched fist. There's a tale there. Family died. Money ran out. Something like that. "It wouldn't have paid the bills."

"Well," Tony says. "Maybe someday. If."

He can't even finish the sentence.

"If," Cap agrees, and he looks Tony in the eyes and that's when Tony figures out what he's been hiding all evening. The awkwardness when he thought no one was watching, earlier.

He's terrified.

"What's it like over there?" he asks. His eyes are wide and his voice is raspy, barely above a whisper.

He's not asking about the stories, the adventures. He's asking about now. Tony knows what sort of answer he's supposed to give, something cheery and uplifting, something right out of the newsreels. Our boys, fighting hard for freedom! Certainly nothing that would even commit to him actually having been there. And nothing like the truth.

Tony swallows hard. "You know-- you have to know I'm not supposed to talk about it. About anything. For all you know, I've never been."

"I know you haven't been sitting in libraries since '39," Cap says. "Give me some credit. I'm not asking for details. Nothing compromising. I just-- I need to know. How you do it." His gaze is fixed on Tony, intent, urgent, like Tony is the only thing keeping him alive.

The thing is, Tony's not quite sure how to talk about it. He thinks maybe you can only really understand if you've been, and that doesn't help. Also, it's not as if he hasn't been shot at before, so saying it's more or less like the rest of my life except the people shooting at me are wearing fancier uniforms than they used to, and it's less likely that my pockets will be full of stolen artifacts isn't going to be useful to Captain America.

"I don't know if I can explain," Tony says. And then he tries anyway, because Captain America is looking at him like he's facing down a firing squad and Tony feels like he owes it to someone to make sure the Army's super-soldier is going to be okay going to war. Also he really, really wants Cap to be happy; it's an insistent need he doesn't quite understand. "It's... it's life. Lived right down to the bone. To... to the vital edge. But not in a way that's any good. It's cold and wet and muddy and you're hungry and hurting all the time. And a lot of the time it's so goddamn boring, but you can't relax, you can't ever relax, because, hell, you could be dead in ten seconds if you don't see the guy in the tree. And then when everything happens, it happens all at once and you hope to God you have enough muscle memory to tell you what to keep doing when your brain can't deal with it. And then you're cold and hungry and tired again."

And now Cap's staring at him again, but he's looking at him like he expected there to be more words like duty and honor and freedom somewhere in there. Tony supposes that's better than fear.


"You can take it," Tony says. "I know you can. I know you'll be all right." It's not a lie. He's seen the psychological selection criteria for Rebirth, after all. They wanted someone smart. Adaptable. Resilient. He might not know Captain America very well yet, but he's beginning to think they got him right.

I don't want it to break you, he thinks, and he doesn't quite know where the thought comes from. It's not innocence, not exactly, he realizes. No one's an innocent anymore. It's the goodness in him. Just looking at him, Tony knows: this man believes in people. In humanity.

That's why they picked him.

And Cap looks at him and smiles. "Thank you."

Then Tony realizes that he knows exactly why Captain America asked.

"You're shipping out," Tony says. He wonders what they're using him for; he's wasted on the front lines, but if Fury's got him in special operations it's not with any team Tony knows is going out soon.

It's not a question, but Cap answers it anyway. "Yeah. Soon."

And Tony looks at him, and he thinks about the way Cap looked at him when he thought Tony wasn't watching, and he thinks about calculated risks. Then he thinks, to hell with it.

He steps in close, into Captain America's personal space, close enough to smell aftershave and leather. Cap's eyes are wide, darkening now, and he sucks in a breath but says nothing. Tony wants to press kisses to the sharp angle of his jaw. He wants to work his fingers under the cowl, to see Cap's true face, to see the man under the mask. He wants to show him life, bright and wild; he wants to leave him something to remember when he's sitting in the rain with a gun in his hands trying to think of what he's fighting for. He wants to show him something good. He wants to smooth away the fear and show him joy.

"Hey," Tony says, low and soft. Seductive. He smiles; he looks at Cap through lowered lashes. "I could give you a real nice send-off, soldier."

Okay, so it's not his best line. It'll do.

Cap's eyes meet his, and he's still holding his breath; Tony hasn't seen him exhale. Cap bites his lip.

This is always the worst part. The waiting. It's not like he's never been punched in the face for asking -- his instincts had needed some refinement, once -- but he's pretty sure that Cap could do a hell of a lot more damage than most fellas if he took exception to the offer.

(The part where it's illegal as hell is only a secondary concern. Even if Cap reports him -- well, Tony's vital to the Allied cause, even if fewer than five people in the world understand exactly how. It doesn't matter who he fucks. They'll sweep it under the rug. That's the theory, anyway.)

And then a smile cracks across Cap's face, small at first, but then wider, incredulous. Like he can't believe it -- not unbelievable like it's obscene and wrong, but like he can't believe his luck.

"You--" he whispers. "You really mean that?"

Tony smiles back. He's safe. This is going to be good. "Yeah," he says. "Definitely. I wouldn't say it if I didn't."

Cap licks his lips. His tongue is very pink, and the movement is mesmerizing; Tony doesn't realize he's mirrored him until he sees Cap's gaze fixed on his mouth, eyes dark. God. It's a chilly night, but there's a fire kindling within him that has nothing to do with the temperature.

"Sure," Cap says, voice pitched low, still a little quavery with surprise. "Yeah. Please. I'd-- I'd really like that."

Tony takes a glance around at their surroundings; there's no one else outside, but anyone could wander out at any minute. They can probably risk it. Tony's done worse. "Here? Now?"

Cap shakes his head. "Five minutes. And not right here. We can do better. Miss Van Dyne has me in a room on the second floor, three doors down on the right. I'm going to go back in, make some excuses, head up to bed. So you wait five minutes, then follow me up. Say you're looking for the library or whatever you can come up with if anyone asks; you probably know the place better than I do."

This man is going to be a a tactical genius.

"Okay," Tony says. "Okay, go."

Cap steps back, gives him one long up-and-down look like he's already picturing what Tony looks like out of the tux, smiles at him once more, and then disappears through the doors.

Tony spends the first thirty seconds of his five minutes staring after him, just watching the way he moves. He's made a hell of a lot of reckless decisions, but this one feels like a really, really good one.

Tony pushes the door open and steps into the small bedroom, padding across the plush carpet; the room is lit only by a lamp on the desk in the corner, casting drawn-out shadows against the wall. Captain America is sitting on the bed, still in that ridiculous uniform, hands folded together in his lap, looking off into the distance, his gaze a thousand miles away.

He looks up when Tony shuts and locks the door behind him. Tony can still only see half his face, but Cap's eyes are wide, his mouth drawn in tension, and that really isn't what Tony wants here. The point is to feel good. To make him happy.

"Second thoughts?" Tony murmurs. "We don't have to do anything."

Cap swallows. "No, I want to," he says, and his voice is steady. "I've just... never done anything quite like this. And not in a while." He glances over at the door, and Tony guesses he's not the kind of guy who usually sleeps with men at parties.

"It'll be fine," Tony says, putting as much reassurance as he can muster into the words. "Jan's good people; if she finds out, she won't tell anyone anything. And even if anyone else finds out, they need both of us too badly." America's only super-soldier isn't getting a blue ticket, no matter what he does.

Cap tilts his head, like he hasn't considered that. "Yeah," he says. "I hear you're brilliant."

"And I hear you're going places." He means it as a commentary on Cap's rising fame, but that's not how Cap takes it.

Cap's smile is rueful. "That's what they tell me." He moves his hand, finally, and pats the bed next to him. "Want to sit next to me?"

"Oh, I want to do a lot more than that," Tony says, grinning, and Cap's breath goes out of him in a shudder of surprised need. Good.

He sits next to Cap, not quite touching him, and Cap returns the grin, nervously, before putting a hand to his face and pushing back the cowl. Pale blond hair, mussed from the leather, is sticking up. His eyes are somehow even brighter, set in a well-defined face. He's incredibly handsome. Tony's mouth is dry. You could carve a statue of this man, that's how handsome he is.

He looks a lot better without the silly wings, he thinks. But they were cute.

"Hey, Cap," Tony murmurs, "so there you are."

Captain America takes a sharp breath and his face firms into something decisive. "It's Steve," he says. "If we're-- if we're doing this, I want you to know my name first."

Tony's pretty sure that's information Cap -- Steve -- isn't supposed to be telling people. It's not like he knows Tony could have found it out. Still, something about the trust warms him.

Tony realizes he's smiling. "Hi, Steve," he says, softly. "I'm Tony."

Steve chuckles. "I did know your name already."

"You haven't called me it all evening," Tony points out.

"Tony," Steve says, low and dark and desperate, and hearing Steve say his name sends lightning sparking through his nerves, and Tony's not sure which of them starts it but he's leaning in with his hands sliding through Steve's hair, and then they're kissing.

Steve is a clumsy kisser, slow, a little hesitant, but what he clearly lacks in experience he makes up for in other ways. One of his big hands, still gloved, cradles the base of Tony's skull, easy and gentle. He's licking into Tony's mouth, oddly soft and delicate, maybe a little timid. Tony wouldn't have thought that would get him going, but the care Steve shows is sweet, determined, and something about the pace of it leaves him aching. He usually likes to take things fast, as fast as he can, but this is nice in its own way, letting desire smolder within him, like fanning the embers.

And then Steve's other hand settles on Tony's hurt shoulder and Tony winces, hisses in pain, and jerks back.

"Tony? Are you all right?"

"Fine," Tony says. "Shoulder's... injured."

Steve's brows draw together in concern. "Are you in pain? Can I help?"

"I'll be fine. Fine in a few days, anyway. The bullet only really grazed me."

Steve blinks. "I suppose this is one of those things we can't talk about," he says, finally.

"Libraries," Tony says, deadpan. "The stacks are more exciting than you'd think."

Steve snorts. "Here," he says, "if I get your shirt off I can at least see where I shouldn't be putting my hands."

"You just want to get my shirt off," Tony says, grinning, even as a little wave of trepidation laps through him. He doesn't usually take his shirt off in these sorts of... situations. The repulsor pump is discomfiting at best, and at worst... well, he's had people walk out on him. He doesn't want Steve to stare at him, to be disgusted; the man is human perfection, and how can Tony compare? He's got at least ten years on Steve, easy, and every one of those years is mapped out in scars across his skin. Bullet holes. Ragged sutures he stitched himself by torchlight. Adventuring was never safe. And he's got the broken heart to prove it. He never found his grail.

Steve is not privy to Tony's internal monologue. "Well, yeah," he says, like it should be obvious, and he's tugging his gloves off, then reaching out for Tony's tie. The movement is more than a little awkward. He stops with his fingers on the fabric, waiting for permission. Something about the almost shy politeness hits Tony with a rush of unexpected fondness, between one breath and the next. He can't remember the last time he was with anyone who was this... well, nice. "Can I? I really want to-- I want to see you." The room is awfully dim but Tony would swear Steve is blushing. Steve's probably thought about this before, he realizes. Years' worth of fantasies.

It's what Steve wants. And Tony wants to make the guy happy. He's shipping out. Tony can give him this, though it might not be what he actually wants when he gets it. Only one way to find out. "You can," Tony says, finally, "but it's... probably not going to be quite what you're expecting."

The frown Steve aims at him is all confusion -- of course he doesn't understand -- but he's working at Tony's tie, his coat, his collar, his cufflinks, the studs on his shirt, all with brisk efficiency. Clothing is scattered around them. And then Tony mentally shrugs and pulls the undershirt up over his head, his shoulder protesting as he lifts his arms. There's not much point in hiding it now.

Steve's eyes go wide. Yep. There it is. "Are you all right?" he asks, again, just like he had when he'd brushed Tony's shoulder, face furrowed in concern, gaze trained on the bright metal of the repulsor pump's cover. "What-- what is that?"

"Modern medicine." Tony summons up another grin. "I've got a weak heart. Always did. The repulsor pump keeps it going. As long as I charge it up every few days, that is. I know, it's not very-- pleasant."

He waits for Steve's face to change, to twist into disapproval.

"It's all right," Steve says, and he's smiling at him now, like he doesn't care. How can he not care? "It's pretty keen, actually. I'm a big fan of modern medicine myself."

I bet, Tony thinks, and all he can picture is the schematics, the blueprints for Rebirth. The machines this man willingly put himself into. Modern medicine, indeed. It should have killed him.

And then Steve's kissing him again, and, well, Tony can't find it in himself to be worried about anything.

Tony doesn't usually sleep with his fans. It's not that he hasn't, of course, and people have always heard of him, and sure, sometimes he's not above using that -- but actual fans are an entirely different ballgame. A rotten one. In Tony's experience, it goes bad in one of two completely opposite ways. Either they're so starstruck that they are completely, utterly, passively empty, with no desires of their own, and he feels guilty for using them -- or they're obsessed and fame-hungry, triumphant, like they've won something by getting to fuck Tony Stark of Marvels, and then they're the ones using him. Either way he hates it.

Steve is... Steve is something else entirely.

Steve's pushing Tony back onto the bed, still kissing him, as gently as if he thinks Tony's going to break, running his hands all over him, slowly, almost methodically, like he's trying to find out exactly what Tony likes best. Like he's got an agenda here, a plan he's had in mind for years, and that plan is that he should take Tony apart with pleasure. Tony is entirely on board with this. He has the vague, half-formed notion that he'd propositioned Steve in the first place because he wanted to do these things to Steve, but as Steve lays kisses from Tony's ear down to the base of his neck Tony manages to forget everything else he'd been thinking about.

"Easy," Steve murmurs, sliding his hands down Tony's side, up, down again, slow and calming, and Tony realizes he must still be a little tense. The stress is bleeding out of him, though, as Steve strokes him, kisses him again. For all that they're strangers, it feels astonishingly intimate. "Is this good?" he breathes.

"Yeah," Tony says. "Yeah, great."

"Can I...?" He's got his hands at the waist of Tony's pants, and Tony's pretty sure that whatever he's thinking of doing is also going to be great.

Tony smiles at him, reaches out a lazy hand, pets Steve's hair, which is soft against his fingertips. "Go for it."

Steve is once again slow and deliberate. Tony doesn't think he's intending to tease him, to deny him -- not that it wouldn't be fun if he were, but Steve just seems to want to take his time. By the time he's gotten Tony completely naked, Tony is panting, twisting in the sheets, because one thing Tony doesn't have much of right now is patience, and, actually, they really don't have all night; eventually someone's going to miss him downstairs.

Sitting back on his heels, Steve -- still, unfairly, completely dressed -- grins down at him, like he's admiring the view. "That's better."

"Going to join me?" Tony asks, because, well, he's not noble, and he would very much appreciate getting a good look. Even better, it looks like Steve's got a lot to offer, and it's obvious from the state of his ridiculous uniform pants that this is doing something for him. Rather a lot for him, actually, Tony thinks, appreciatively.

But Steve shakes his head. "Maybe later," he says, a little awkwardly, apparently not conscious of the fact that they don't actually have a later. Tony wonders if he's just shy; it seems like there's something he's not understanding.

And then, once again with agonizing slowness, Steve's kissing his way down Tony's stomach, over the scarred jut of his hip. He's gently parting Tony's legs, pressing kisses that are almost delicate to the inside of his thigh. Steve's free hand is rubbing lightly over skin that Tony had never realized before was so sensitive: the base of his palm, the inside of his wrist, one of his fingertips, and Tony is shivering with need, he needs Steve to move, to do something, because he can't take this much longer.

"Please," he gasps out, and it doesn't even sound like his voice.

Steve smiles up at him and then finally, finally, takes Tony into his mouth. He's as careful with this as with everything else, his lips closing gently around Tony's cock, slickly sliding down, down, down, in a move that seems to surprise both of them, until Tony is fully engulfed in warm heat. Tony's moaning now, involuntarily, and trying not to just draw back and thrust in, and Christ, Steve's good at this. Okay, so he's still oddly hesitant, but he's clearly done this before; Tony wonders if the serum made him better at it or if this is all natural talent. Steve backs off again, slow, so slow, his lips flushed, his hair falling in his face, his head bobbing, his eyes half-closed in pleased focus, and it's a gorgeous sight.

He's not expecting to come like this; Steve is taking things awfully slowly, and the touch of his lips and the sweep of his tongue are much, much lighter than Tony generally prefers, but, hell, he's always been a fan of pretty pictures, and it doesn't get much prettier than watching his cock slide in and out of Steve's wet, red mouth. He's not sure how long Steve's been doing this; it seems timeless, here between them, his own pleasure somewhere in the distance. So he's content to watch, he thinks, and then Steve drops his head and takes him all the way down again and as Tony arches into it Steve slides one hand underneath him, a spit-slick finger between his legs and back and just a little in, and his orgasm blindsides him. He doesn't even have time to warn Steve; he's moaning and coming, shaking, and Steve wrings every last iota of pleasure from him until he is a trembling, quivering mess.

Steve slides back up his body, wraps his arms around him, and just holds him. It's more than Tony would have expected from an anonymous encounter, but he's beginning to see that this has always been something else. He tucks his face against Steve's shoulder, smiling. He's not going to think about how he has to leave. He's not going to think about how Steve has to. He already wants to do this again right now.

"God, you're good at that," he says, and he knows that's inadequate, but he doesn't know what else to say. "I-- thank you."

He's feeling better, he thinks. Relaxed. He can't remember the last time he felt this good. He needed this.

Steve gives him another one of those shy smiles, which ought to look out of place given that Tony knows exactly where his mouth has been, but somehow it works for him. "It was my pleasure," he says.

"Speaking of your pleasure," Tony begins, grinning, and he slides a hand between them reaching for Steve's pants. He wants him out of that uniform right now.

Steve grabs his wrist. Hard. Harder than he was expecting. It actually hurts, at first, but then the grip loosens.

Steve's eyes are wide. "It's okay," he says, and there's an uneasy edge to his voice that Tony doesn't like. Did he do something wrong? "You really don't have to. I just-- I just wanted to do that for you."

"And I want to do something for you," Tony replies, but he's starting to wonder what's going on here. "I'm not that selfish. I get the impression that you'd like it. I'd like it. I'd really like it." Steve's erection is hard against Tony's thigh, even through his uniform. And isn't that why Steve invited him up here?

"Yes, but." Steve bites his lip; he's looking more and more distressed here and Tony has no idea what's going on. "It's, uh. It's not that I don't want to, believe me, but it's been a while for me, and I'm just-- I'm worried. I can't really explain it."

Performance issues? That's... well, that's possible, Tony concedes, but he looks really more frightened than embarrassed, which is the emotion Tony would have expected. Fear is strange. It's all strange, really, because surely a man built to be at the peak of human perfection would have no problems in that area.

But Steve's afraid of something. And now that Tony's thinking about it, Steve's seemed a little bit afraid all along. He was so gentle with him, so careful, like he thought Tony would break.

No. That isn't it at all. Steve was afraid he would break Tony. Because he can.

If it's been a while for Steve, it was before Rebirth.

Tony remembers the files, the physical strength projections. Steve has almost superhuman strength.

"You don't want to hurt me," Tony says, realization dawning. "That's what you're afraid of."

Steve jumps, surprised, discovered, and Tony knows he's gotten it right. "How--" he begins. "How do you even--"

He has to tell him now.

"I know about Rebirth."

Steve's eyes go even wider and he's jumping back off the bed, his breathing ratcheting up into shallow panicked panting. "What is this?" he asks, terrified, eyes wild. "A test? A trap? You've known all along, huh? What did they want you to do, find out if Captain America's a filthy queer?"

"Whoa, hey, hey!" Tony sits up, holding his hands out. "You've-- you've got entirely the wrong idea."

"Then enlighten me." Steve's panic has transmuted into something close to anger; his eyes have narrowed, and there's a hard, uncompromising edge to his voice. His hands are staring to curl into fists.

Tony takes a deep breath. "I only know what Rebirth is because they consulted me about its viability. That's the sum total of my involvement. I know what it was supposed to do to its test subjects. I didn't even realize they'd run it at all until I met you tonight, and put two and two together. I asked you because--" because I wanted to make you happy-- "because I wanted to. That's the whole truth. Believe me, I'm not reporting to anyone about this."

"Okay," he says, finally. He takes a few more breaths. His fists unclench. He's obviously trying to calm himself down. "Okay. I believe you. But that doesn't address my concern here."

"You won't hurt me."

Steve looks unconvinced. It's at least better than fear or anger. "You can't know that. I-- if I'm not thinking, if I'm not in control of myself--"

"We'll go slow," Tony says, and okay, the party will be over by the time he staggers out of here, but he doesn't care. "Like you did for me. I'll make you feel good. So good. You won't have to worry about anything."

Steve's beginning to smile again. "You think?"

"We can do this," Tony says. "Trust me."

So Steve's stripping out his uniform with military efficiency and Tony sits back and watches the show, because Steve is beautiful; Tony's almost sorry he already came, although his cock's telling him it wouldn't be opposed to trying again. Every inch of Steve is muscle, pale, unscarred; Tony supposes Rebirth gave him that. He moves fluidly, not awkwardly at all, and Tony drags him down to bed, curls up next to him, kisses him a few more times. Steve is ridiculously responsive, gasping like he's seconds away from coming just with Tony's tongue in his mouth.

Tony breaks off the kiss, pulls his head back, and stares at Steve. He's got one hand curling over Tony's upper arm, not quite painful yet, but it would be with just a little more pressure.

"Hands at your sides," Tony says, absently, and Steve complies; that's the easy way to solve Steve's worry. If he can't touch him, he can't hurt him. "Could tie you up, huh?" he murmurs, and Steve's eyes go dark with lust. "Wonder if rope would hold you. Probably not. Wonder what would. There's got to be something. Maybe one of those rare metals, that new Wakandan one...?"

Steve's laugh is a little breathless. "Are you talking dirty or talking science?"

"Both," Tony says, and he kisses him. Steve is moaning again, within seconds, panting and writhing.

"Oh," Steve gasps out, "that feels so good. I haven't-- I haven't--" It's flattering but kind of ridiculous; it's just kissing.

"What?" Tony asks, "you haven't done this at all since Rebirth? Not even to yourself?"

"Once," Steve moans. His face is already flushed but Tony's pretty sure he would be blushing if he could. "It-- oh, Tony-- it was overwhelming."

Tony has about half a second to wonder what overwhelming means, but he's kissing Steve again, and he brushes a thumb over one of Steve's nipples, and then Steve is arching up and coming and coming, hot and messy, all over his stomach, and Tony hasn't even touched his cock, and when Tony pulls his head away to look he sees that Steve is still hard. God.

"Sorry," Steve gasps, embarrassed, but his voice is rasping into insistent urgency. "I'm sorry, I just-- I couldn't stop it-- you don't have to--"

"Are you kidding me?" Tony says. "This is the best thing ever."

It turns out that after two more orgasms, in quick succession -- Steve pretty much comes as soon as Tony wraps a hand around him -- he's exhausted into something approaching normal human stamina, and that means Tony can suck him off like he's been wanting to all evening. Steve is a little sore -- a little? Tony thinks in disbelief -- and whimpers, sensitive, as Tony's tongue presses him just there, as Tony tightens his fingers around Steve's cock. Tony knows he's good at this, and Steve is staring down at him, enthralled, which just makes Tony feel even better, to know he can do this to him.

Steve's hands are clenched in the sheets, and Tony skims his free hand up Steve's chest, to his neck, his face, his mouth, with half-formed ideas of what to do with a couple of wet fingers -- but Steve just mouths at his fingers, licks them, sucks on them like that was really what he wanted, and Steve is moaning and coming and coming and Tony thinks maybe that was twice, and God, how is he going to sleep with anyone else after this?

Tony pulls off, presses his face against Steve's hip, and laughs and laughs. He's a mess. The party had better be over, because he can't go out there looking like this.

Steve is panting, huge heaving breaths, and when Tony raises his head Steve's smile is dazed.

"Had enough?"

Steve's laugh is another exhale. "Yeah, I'm-- that was-- that was swell."

Tony pushes himself back up the bed, and Steve throws an arm around him. They're cuddling. Tony doesn't even know Steve's last name. He likes the cuddling anyway, he thinks, and, oh, this is entirely the wrong time for anything serious, and he doesn't know how it could even work between them, but all he knows is that he wants to do this again.

"That's good," Tony says. "I'm glad."

Steve is silent for a long while. Then his arms tighten around Tony.

"I'm shipping out tomorrow," he says, very softly. "So... thank you."

They can't do this again. Hell, Steve might not even be alive. Or Tony might not. He's pretty sure he's nowhere near done with overseas operations.

"Who with?" Tony asks, and Steve raises an eyebrow. "Come on. I'm not a Nazi spy. And I'm pretty goddamn sure you're not one. It's not Fury's old Howling Commandos, is it?" It can't be. He saw Dum-Dum two days ago, when he'd gotten in, and it didn't look like he was going anywhere soon. But that's who he'd have put him with.

Steve shakes his head. "Different unit. New one. They haven't told me anything about it yet."

"I've got an offer for you," Tony says.

"Well," Steve says, and his grin goes a little crooked, making something within Tony blossom with fond warmth. "I did like the last offer very much."

"I'm one of Fury's special agents."

"Is this something you're supposed to tell me?"

"Were you supposed to tell me your name?" Tony counters.

Steve grins. "You have a point. What's the offer?"

"Among other things, I provide consultations. In the field. If you see something -- something strange, something that doesn't make sense, something that shouldn't exist, something that looks like it was ripped from the pages of a Marvels issue -- tell Fury, and he can bring me in on it. The Nazis seem to have a bunch of things like that, these days. I'd probably get tapped anyway, but, hell, you're a fan, you probably know exactly what kinds of things I'm looking for, and this way if you know I'm available you know who to ask for."

"Okay." Steve's mouth firms into a resolved line. "Okay. Thank you. I'll-- I'll remember that."

Tony grins. "And I've got a giant flying suit of armor. If you need one."

Steve grins back. "I'll keep that in mind too."

Tony kisses him once more, and gradually they pull apart. Figuring that the sheets are pretty much a loss anyway, Tony sets about wiping himself off as best he can with a corner of the sheet. And then he's gathering up the scattered pieces of his suit, dressing himself again, as Steve does the same thing. Finally he's standing by the door and Steve's looking at him awkwardly again, a little shyly.


"I was wondering," Steve said, "if. Um. If you would actually sign an issue of Marvels for me."

Tony laughs. "Sure, of course." All this and he actually did want an autograph. Why not?

And then Steve's rummaging through his duffle, coming up with a worn issue, reaching for the pen on the nearby desk. Tony wonders what issue it's going to be. Probably one of his favorites from when he was a kid; isn't that always the way? So he's a little surprised when what Steve hands him is in fact his very last issue of Marvels, from three years ago, with him in the Iron Man suit rescuing Pepper on the cover. It seems like a strange choice.

Tony's always felt a little bad about this issue, because they didn't exactly go out on their best note: oh, the cover had been excellent and Pepper had written some great copy, but the guy who had been contracted to draw one of the interior illustrations didn't make it, and they had to go to print with a mostly-blank page because there was literally nothing to fill it. If you didn't know, it might have looked intentional; it was on the last page, so the reader could imagine that the serene white space was somehow inviting contemplation, a fitting ending. But Tony knows the truth.

He can sign his name there, anyway.

So he flips through the magazine, and Steve says, "No, uh, you really can just sign at the beginning--"

And then he sees that Steve's filled the page. There's a drawing there, a sketch in rough, smeary pencil, of Tony working on the Iron Man armor. The armor has been modeled from the cover painting, not quite exact, but the lines have enough of a suggestion that he knows what it is. Steve's clearly devoted much more attention to the depiction of Tony himself. In the drawing Tony's wearing an A-shirt and dungarees, with goggles pushed up on his forehead and a toolbelt slung around his waist; the artist has paid particular, loving attention to Tony's bare biceps. The shirt is grease-stained, the pants are worn, but in the picture Tony's grinning in triumph. Looking at it, Tony can tell that Steve must have drawn this with great fondness -- and familiarity. This clearly isn't the first sketch he's done of him. And he's good. Not just because he's drawn Tony like he's halfway in love with him. But that doesn't hurt either.

"Oh," Tony says cheerfully, "you definitely need to submit a portfolio."

"You think so?" Steve says, sounding nervous.

"I know so."

He sets the magazine down on the desk and ponders what to write. He's not sure whether writing Cap or Steve is more compromising, but in the end he figures that Steve will know anyway. So he just writes the message.

Be safe. Win.

He signs his name below it, and then stares at it, feeling stupidly like he wants to write XXX. A line of kisses. But he can't. He brings the paper to his lips, kisses it. Maybe that's enough. He feels like an idiot. He doesn't really mind.

"There," he says, setting the issue back down.

Steve smiles at him. "You going to kiss me like that, before you go? Or just the magazine?"

Tony kisses him too. Well, he kisses him harder, with tongue, but he figures that's what Steve meant. Steve seems to like it, anyway.

"Goodbye," Steve says, and Tony knows he has to go now. His hand's on the doorknob. He's probably late enough. It can't have been more than a couple hours, but he is going to be missed soon.

Tony smiles. "Maybe I'll see you around. It was nice to meet you. Good luck, soldier."

Steve's smile is a faint twitch of his lips. "It was nice to meet you too. And the same for you as well."

He can survive this. They can survive this.

Tony steps out the door, throwing one last smile over his shoulder. And then he's gone, leaving Captain America -- Steve -- behind him.

Fury scowls at him from across the desk, and Tony wonders if he's done anything in particular to deserve this.

"Stark," he says, as soon as Tony drops into the chair opposite him. "How well do you speak Italian?"

"Molto bene," Tony drawls in his most obnoxious American accent, and Fury just snorts at him.

"Don't get cute with me. Ever heard of a place called Cassino?"

The name sounds familiar. He thinks it might be near Rome. That's probably where they're trying to push through into Rome, if he has to guess. "Is the weather nice this time of year?"

Fury narrows his one good eye. "Hardly. There's a monastery there, and we have... certain additional forces... on the ground."

Some of his agents, he means. "You want me to join them?"

Fury just stares at him. And then he says something completely unexpected. "Stark, you never told me you knew Captain America."

The hair on the back of Tony's neck stands on end. He waits for Fury to follow it with a sentence like and you had a passionate one-night stand with him, but when the words don't come, he breathes out. At least Fury doesn't know about that.

"Didn't think it was relevant, sir," Tony says, and that's the truth. "I met him once. Socially. Almost two years ago, right before he shipped out. I'm honestly surprised he remembers me. He probably meets a lot of people."

He hasn't seen him again. He's never written him. Oh, he's thought about it -- it's embarrassing how much he's thought about it, really. But what claim does he have on Captain America? And what can he say? He just... misses him. He hasn't really stopped wanting to see him again.

"Well," says Fury, "it seems like you made an impression." He pushes a file across the desk. "This is his team."

The file says INVADERS, neatly typewritten, and inside it are five smaller personnel files: Rogers, Steven; Barnes, James; Raymond, Thomas; Hammond, James; McKenzie, Namor. Tony raises an eyebrow at the last one. He wouldn't have thought Namor would go straight for any reason. But then, there is a war on.

He'd wondered what Steve's last name was.

"Oh." Tony flips through it; that's a nice photograph of Steve, he notes absently. "And my role in this?"

Wordlessly, Fury pushes a second piece of paper across the table. This one is much smaller, a little slip of a message:


Tony looks at the message, looks at the files, and he can't stop smiling.

"I can be ready in an hour," he says.

This is going to be the best adventure he's ever had.