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The Ultimates were called in by SHIELD after a group of unnamed terrorists started a series of riots in the subways. As the trouble spilled up onto the streets of New York, they left the mob to be handled by the police and SHIELD and went right after the source. The goons they’re fighting at the subway entrances now are wearing some kind of hazmat suit; yellow bulky things with strange grid-like masks. It should have alerted them that this was more than just scare tactics, he realized later. One of the ones he’s fighting ducks under a feint by two others, and Steve’s distracted for a moment breaking their arms and taking their guns away so the spray hits him right in the face when he turns to deal with the last man.

He breathes in before he can stop himself, feels the cold, faintly oily mist enter his nose and mouth even as he breaks the man’s neck.

He stands for a moment over the twitching bodies, shaking. He looks up, hand clenched at his side, other tight on his shield’s straps. The sky seems brighter now and there’s a halo of rainbows suddenly breaking in the clouds around the sun.  Not a good sign. It takes very strong drugs to affect him.  

“Tony!” he bellows into his communicator. The suit should protect him, he thinks. “It is confirmed they have chemical agents! And I am compromised!” Then he moves, chasing another group of yellow-suited terrorists down the street. He’s watching for the sprayers now and throws his shield at the one in the group wielding it. He breaks this one’s neck too.

“Fuck,” is Clint’s contribution over the headset. “I see them. Short-range sprayers of some kind.”  Steve can hear the pop of his guns so Clint’s likely at range, and so safe unless they surround him. “Think getting to us was their real plan?”

Jan’s voice is slightly breathless over the channel as she’s obviously fighting someone. Or dodging. She’s field leader this week. “No, they’re spraying everyone they see. Right in the face. At least it doesn’t seem to be generally airborne- it takes direct inhalation.”

“Oh my this probably won’t end well,” he hears in his ears from Tony, and the words are only faintly slurred. “Jan, dear? Did you listen to what our stalwart Steve said? They got him.”

“I heard him, Iron Man. Someone grab one of those goddamn sprayers.” Her voice is tight. Unhappy. He can hear the whine of her bio-blasts in the background too. “We’ll need a pure sample if we’re going to be able to do anything about it. Everyone, to Captain America.”

“No!” he shouts into the communicator. And he can feel things going on inside him now. Disconnecting. In his head. Feelings. Impulses. Things loosening. “No one who isn’t protected gets close to me. Hawkeye, if you’re not already moving, get to high ground and shoot any of them who come close to you. Don’t get exposed.” He hears a snort and another swear from Clint. ”Where are you, Tony?” he snaps, looking up into the too-bright sky for the red and gold of the suit. He needs someone he can’t punch out immediately and Thor didn’t answer the call. Either did Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, but they, at least, were on planned leave. “I need you. Get me to SHIELD. I have to go into containment ASAP.”

“Patience, my dear,” he hears in his ears and they start to ring ominously –  he can think of a few sure ways to stop those smart-mouth comments at the source – and he shakes his head sharply to clear it as Tony adds, “I’m almost to you now.”

“Don’t call me that,” he snarls before he can stop himself – it’s outside communications protocol. Two more armed goons go down under his boots, shield deflecting the bullets they sent his way with ease. They’re protecting the third. He sees the pattern now. They’re definitely trying to apply their unknown chemical to their targets. Him. Civilians. Anyone. They shoot only to distract or defend themselves. Which minor mercies don’t matter because they’re goddamn terrorists taking cowardly advantage of the world’s disruption after an alien invasion but the Ultimates are here to stop them. He throws his shield and crushes the last man’s throat, then looks around for more enemies to fight. There’s another trio of enemies just down the street so he starts toward them.

He hears Tony’s amused chuckle in his ears even as there’s a roar of boot jets behind him. He pauses, bends down and scoops up the sprayer the first man had dropped when he killed him. Tucks it into his belt. He straightens, turns to face the Iron Man and the fractured rainbows at the edge of his vision waver. Coalesce. Brighten. Rush inward toward him. He staggers. Hears the distinct ring of his shield as it falls to the pavement.

“Steve? Steve!” The red and gold suit is reaching for him from the mouth of a long, bright tunnel

“Too late,” he says as everything goes sideways.


The really nasty part is that he remembers it all. It seemed as if he’d suddenly been shunted to the back of his own skull, rendered little more than a passenger in his own body. Yet he felt nothing. No rage. No fear. No hatred. He just acted. He remembers bending and picking up his shield, then spinning up and slamming the face of it into Tony’s helmet with all his strength. Remembers the way the suit reeled back, how he’d followed up the opening, bowling him over completely before bringing the edge of the shield down with both hands and his whole body behind it onto the joint of shoulder and chest over and over and over again – remembers the way he got his fingers into the cracked seams of the armor and had actually pried parts of the chest plate off before Tony’s frantic shouts brought Jan and Clint sprinting to his rescue.

Later he’ll tell them how stupid that was. Tony was armored. Protected by layers of metal and poly-carbon that even he couldn’t get off all the way. Probably. While they were not. He could have killed them both. But even when they’d shown up, tried to pull him off Tony, they’d earned little more than shrugs and un-aimed swats of his arm. It had been hard to distract him from his goal. Which still wasn’t clear to him.

All he knew was that he’d been focused on Tony alone. No, on the suit. His vision narrowed down to the barrier of gold and red metal. The inhuman glow of the eyes. The armored hands scrabbling at him, trying to push him away, repulsors unaccountably quiet in the palms. The blank faceplate that belied the frantic shouts in his ears. On how it covered the other man completely. Hid him away. Those smirking lips and sardonic eyes. The languid posture. The knowing lift of brow. And all he’d wanted then was to peel every scrap of metal off Tony. So that he could reach the skin of him. Touch him. Get inside. See if he was real flesh and blood after all or if Tony was all metal, all the way through, a machine that ran on alcohol and bitter wit alone.

And he’s just not sure, now, why that had seemed so imperative. He’s seen Tony out of the suit probably more than in it, but in that moment, as soon as he saw it he had to get it off Tony. Find the man beneath it. And touch… touch…

He’s still surprised that Tony hadn’t just blasted him with his repulsors.  He’d been yelling and swearing enough about the damage he was doing to the suit to have tried, Steve thinks. And he probably would have survived close range blasts – if they weren’t at full power. Probably.

It did take a couple of high-powered Taser darts from Clint, a right cross from Tony’s armored fist and a steel cargo net dropped from a helicopter to finally get him under control. And even then he’d almost fought his way free.

When he wakes up again he finds he’s back in the hydraulic suspension bindings at SHIELD. Spread-eagle and bound at  the wrists by heavy metal shackles over the bracing structure. Likely the same ones they put him in after Black Widow framed him. He’s at least tilted mostly upright this time, if still completely immobilized, and he lets his head hang down to his chest.  It makes his neck sore, but it isn’t something he can’t endure. He’s been awake for a few hours already and the fugue state seems to have faded. He’s back to normal – at least as far as he can tell – but knows they need to keep him under observation until they can be certain that’s all the strange concoction has done to him.  He’s far too dangerous for them to be less than 100% sure. He approves of their caution.

The cell door opens suddenly. Despite himself, his heart rate picks up in anticipation. He lifts his head so he can watch his visitor enter. There are at least a dozen SHIELD agents outside in the hall, weapons trained on him, but only one person stands in the doorway. It’s Jan. She waves them off and walks inside. Lets the door slide closed behind her. Now they’re alone in the cell. But not really. He knows the whole place is heavily monitored.  He wonders what this incident will cost them. Cost Tony. Since they went independent, SHIELD’s assistance doesn’t come cheap these days. Fury holds a grudge.

Jan’s not in costume anymore, he notes, but in lab clothes. She has protective goggles pushed up onto her forehead, a filter mask under her chin as if she came here straight from the lab and her expression is carefully neutral. “How are you doing, Steve?” she asks him quietly. Her eyes are wary, he notes automatically. Her posture is a mix of defensive and aggressive. It’s nothing new. They still don’t quite know how to act around each other since she ended it.

He grimaces. Doesn’t want to think about their personal issues now. It was her decision and he’ll respect that. Even if he still doesn’t like the way she went about it. Or the lying to him and sneaking off to see Hank behind his back. “Fine. Not that it matters. Is it out of my system yet?”

She winces but doesn’t move any closer to him, which is telling. “It should be, but it seems you’ve had a slightly different reaction to it, which may have affected the duration.”

“How?” he asks, keeping his tone even. “I’m immune to almost everything.”

She looks up at him. Bites at her lower lip as she ponders her answer. And he knows she’s thinking about lying to him. He’s learned that much from their recent issues. He can’t keep from glaring as she says, “Almost everything. Not this.”

The intercom blips. “Tell him all of it, darling,” he hears said in a familiar drawling voice and suddenly his vision sparks again. He finds himself straining against his bonds, thoughts drowned by a sudden need to be elsewhere… no, just wherever that voice is. There’s a loud whine as the hydraulic system strains against his pull. He clenches his teeth and makes an angry noise. An alarm sounds, fast and insistent and annoying. He wants out. Now. Wants to find… needs to touch… to find out how that indecently pampered skin feels under his hands…

“Tony, you idiot, shut the hell up!” Jan shouts, angry and scared, and she’s backing slowly away toward the door, her gaze fixed on him. “Hank, mute the fucking intercom now!” The fear on her face startles him. He’s not interested in her he just has to get free, has to get to… but the break in his thoughts seems to be enough and before she reaches the door, he suddenly comes back to himself. Relaxes. Stops fighting. The hydraulic whine slowly fades away and the alarm shuts off.

“What the hell was that?” he manages to say, panting for breath and feeling the strain in his shoulders, his back. His wrists ache and he’s sweating now even though the temperature in the cell was cool before.

“We’re… not sure,” she says, glancing up at one of the monitoring cameras. “It probably wasn’t meant to do this, exactly, but you’re… different from most people.”

“Okay. The serum. I know. So what did it do to civilians?” he asks, shuddering slightly. She moves closer again, folds her arms over her chest and stares up at him.  She’s looking concerned now, rather than wary, he sees. That’s probably not good.

“The bulk of them just started looting. Vandalizing things. Throwing stuff at the police. It was sort of like a spontaneous riot after a bad football match or something, if a little more cohesive. Whatever this crap is, it seems mainly designed to remove inhibitions and promote mob violence – maybe to cause wide-scale disruption in the city for some reason. We’re still not sure why they decided here and now for their field test, but the victims definitely became violent. It caused a lot of problems, but they didn’t really focus on one thing, like you did.”

“Focus on?” he repeats blankly. The only thing he’d gone after was— “Iron Man.”

“Yeah,” she says, looking up at him again as he frowns.

For some reason he’d done his best to try to strip Tony right out of his very dangerous, very expensive armor. Deliberately tanned skin that did nothing to disguise the circles growing deeper under bloodshot eyes.  For no real reason, that he could figure. The bright, friendly, open smile that wasn’t really any of those things. Not one that made sense anyway. The pervasive scents of booze and sex. Mostly sex. The serum had enhanced all of him. Even his sense of smell. He’d learned to tune most things out. But those scents still taunted him, strong and thick and inviting, every time he was around him. He shook his head once, vaguely remembered wondering if Tony was made of metal all the way through. No. He knew Tony was human. More human than most of them, with his drinking and his inoperable brain tumor and his new dame every night.

“How long does it last?” he asks, mouth suddenly dry. He doesn’t like the way his thoughts keep blanking and jumping.

She moves closer now. “Most of the mob-induced civilians were over it after twelve hours.”

“Most?” It’s getting annoying, how she’s obviously dancing around something. He glowers at her, forces his attention to stay on her. “Just tell me, Jan.”

She’s standing close to him now, her expression somber. “Some of them did focus like you. A few of them, about 2% or so we think. They went after and… they attacked certain people known to them. Even though they’d never done anything like that before.”

The way she’s not really meeting his eyes tells him it’s something more specific than that. He sharpens his glare until she finally throws up her hands in disgust and shouts at him. “Okay! For Christ’s sake, sue me for trying to spare your old-man sensibilities! They ran off and raped people, Steve. People they knew and cared about. They hunted them down and raped them. That’s what you were trying to do to Tony!”

He stares at her, flat and forbidding. “That’s absurd. I went after Iron Man.” He tries not to remember thinking about the way Tony smells. The thick aroma of sex that clings to him like an expensive cologne no matter how much he washes up. Changes his clothes. Changes his women. “It must have made me think he was an enemy.”

She snorts, drops her hands to her hips and glares up at him. “Really? Then why were you breaking the armor off him after he was down, Steve? You were stripping him so you could rape him!

He just stares at her. The statement is too ridiculous to even try to reply to it. A rough hand wrapping around his cock. The sharp scents of cordite and damp wool and blood. The scrape of stubble against his neck as he leans in closer. He doesn’t think of men that way. Anymore. He’s no nancy-boy; he loved Gail. And Jan. They’ve had sex dozens of times; Jan should know how stupid this theory is. He’s not that way…

Not since the liberation of Paris has he had this strong of an impulse to put his hands on another man for any reason other than training and he doesn’t welcome it here and now either. But there’s the elegant and handsome Tony Stark only inches away from him now, warm and slack and smiling honestly in the way he only does when he’s completely sloshed. His robe is only half belted and clearly showing the light dusting of dark hair on his bare stomach that leads down under the thin silk pajama pants where they lie low on his hips. Tony drops a careless hand on Steve’s shoulder. Pats it absently as he passes him on the way out of the room and Steve has to clench his hand into a fist to keep from reaching toward that loosely tied belt, drawing him back—

There’s just no way he would have attacked Tony for that kind of reason. He’s not like that. It was only once. Once doesn’t make him queer.

“Ease up, Jan,” Hank says over the intercom. “That’s not the real issue here. Steve had no control over it. It was a deliberately randomized reaction. It’s probably just because he called Tony for backup and Tony was primary in his short-term memory when the synthetic impulse override synapses set.”

Jan glares up toward the intercom, taking a precautionary step back from Steve. “Well, don’t let Tony say anything else yet, Hank. You saw how he reacted to just his voice.”

“Don’t worry,” Hank says grimly. “We have an… understanding going on up here now.”

 “Did you gag him?” she says, rolling her eyes, a smile tugging at her mouth.

“Not me,” Hank answers with a snort and a laugh. “Clint.”

“So how long will this stuff last?” Steve demands, cutting into their byplay. It grates to see them relaxed enough to joke together like that. Even now he has no claim on her any longer. He should have seen it sooner. Known it would never work between him and Jan as long as she refused to deny Hank’s ongoing hold on her. He still doesn’t understand dames. Jan scowls at him. Maybe just for the interruption. Or maybe because she just doesn’t like him all that much anymore. If she ever really did.

“We don’t quite know, Steve.” It’s not her but Hank who answers, his tone finally serious again. “They managed to set a tier of artificial synaptic connections into place in your brain simply through the aspiration of tailored fatty acids. Given the witnessed behavior of others exposed who exhibited reactions similar to yours, it may not go away until it’s triggered. It all depends on the inherent durability of their construct versus your enhanced metabolism.” Hank Pym, for all he’s a cowardly wife-beating son of a bitch and a possible traitor to humanity, is still one of the world’s premiere biogenetic specialists. Steve knows this. It still doesn’t make him like the answer any better. He glares up at the cameras where he knows Hank is watching.

“So your only real solution is to leave me hanging in here until I stop reacting every time Stark opens his mouth?”

“Basically,” Hank responds, his tone not even apologetic. Steve’s pretty sure Hank’s enjoying the situation. He frowns at the thought.

“Or you could just finish what you started and go ahead and fuck Stark,“ Clint injects with a bitter little laugh. “Sounds like that might clear it out of your head too.”

“Watch your mouth, Barton,” Steve says sharply and wonders what Tony thinks of all this. Tony’s a real Valentino with the ladies, this can’t be...  He can’t quite tear his gaze away from the vulnerable line of Tony’s bowed neck where it’s exposed by the low collar of his robe. He sits facing away from Steve on the plush couch in his penthouse’s lounge sipping at a fresh tumbler of bourbon in between long sentences explaining something about the capabilities of his metal suits to Steve in a voice that’s both amused and patient. Steve had been pretending an interest in the view of Manhattan – it’s spectacular, of course – but he’s turned back to the room now. Toward Tony. Who is focused on his drink and his explanation, and while Steve doesn’t really care about technical innovations unique to the Iron Man suit, he does find himself enjoying being able to watch the way the other man moves – loose and graceful – without being observed for once. His hands fist outside the broad cuffs that hold him upright and his body goes tense as his mind whites out again for some reason.  

“Don’t you think Tony might have something to say about that, Clint?” Jan is saying as his mind clears, disgust clear in her voice for Clint’s attitude.

“Right. It’s just Stark who fucks anything that moves. Even murdering traitors.”

Jan’s breath hisses in and she glares up at the cameras. “God damn it, Clint!”

“That’s enough, mister!” Steve barks. “Tony lost people too. This grudge of yours is childish and petty, Barton. Let it go.”

There’s the sound of a scuffle. “Oh I’d say you can go straight to hell, dearest Clint, – particularly since I was the one who happened to let you know which hospital she went to ground in – but it looks like you’re already there,” Steve hears Tony say clearly then, and there’s some angry shouting from Clint and Hank, more words from Tony that he can’t quite make out because his breath has gone fast and sharp; his vision glitters at the edges, tunneling further into dangerous brightness with every word. The alarms start shrilling again and the hydraulics holding his limbs spread apart whine louder and louder until the sound drowns out the shouting. Jan’s suddenly backing toward the door, a hand over her mouth, her eyes wide above it as he brings his arms slowly together in front of him amid the sounds of groaning metal and spraying fluid.

“Steve stop! Stop it! Stop stop!” Jan is shouting at him now.  And “Good God, those are adamantium reinforced tension cylinders!” he thinks he hears Hank yell.

“But the seals aren’t!” Tony shouts and Steve lifts his head and stares up at the intercom, vision gone white around the edges as he strains against what’s holding him back. “I told those fools to use lock-gearing and servomotors instead.”

One arm comes free suddenly and he reaches across and rips the other out of its bindings by twisting the bolts back and forth until they sheer off.  Jan’s in his face then, her hands tug on his shoulders as he works his legs out of the brackets holding him up.  “Steve, damn it, Steve, you can’t go out there—  they have orders to shoot to kill if you do!”

He looks at her, barely registering the dismay and anger and growing fear in her face, and his brows draw in. Circling her waist carefully with his hands – she’s always seemed so tiny – he puts her gently aside. She clutches at him desperately and he brushes her hands off with care. “I have to find out, Jan,” he says calmly, meeting her desperate gaze easily. It’s like staring through clear, sunlit water. There are sparks dancing in his vision. Bright and alluring. And he just has to know.

“Find what out? Oh for god’s sake, Tony! Tony! Stop him! They’ll kill him if he goes out there!” she shouts at the ceiling as he walks over to the room controls. He tries a code or three on the security pad, but it’s been scrambled from somewhere else. He surveys the room carefully for alternatives.

“Christ, Janet, what do you expect… oh hell, fine. Steve, are you listening? You’re making the SHIELD boys decidedly nervous, my dear. I’ll come down there if you promise to stop trying to get out,” he hears over the intercom. It’s Tony’s voice, strained but steady. Speaking directly to him this time. He looks up. Frowns.

“Your body,” he asks, vision sparking, “is it made of metal?”

There’s nervous laughter from somewhere behind him. Jan. A string of cursing and disbelief from the intercom. Hank. Clint. None of it is relevant. He keeps his gaze fixed on the camera. Knows Tony is somewhere beyond it. Watching him. The rainbows at the edge of his vision keep him focused on that thought. But Tony doesn’t answer him. He can’t hear him anymore. He frowns and his hands clench at his sides. He turns and examines the destroyed restraints.  If he can get something wedged into the seam between the doors he should be able to force them open…

“Just stay out of his way, honey,” he hears Hank say. To Jan. “Don’t provoke him. We don’t know if the focus can shift or not…” He hears their exchange but takes only partial note of it. Neither is the voice he wants. The one he has to find.

“Oh good lord, I can’t believe I’m actually doing this,” he hears suddenly, and his head jerks up for a moment. Then there is Tony’s faintly breathless laughter, bitter and rich and sardonic. It distracts him briefly from his search through the scrap for something usable. Then he hears the sound of running feet over the intercom. Part of his mind notes that it could mean Tony is on the move. He’ll have to plan accordingly to be able to track him down, if he’s fleeing. “No, Steve,” he hears Tony say, a little breathlessly. Through a communicator now. “I’m not made of metal. I’m just flesh and bone. Like you. Flesh that won’t take kindly to several dozen anti-personnel rounds fired at point-blank range. So try to stay inside that cell a little longer for me, will you my dear?”

He finds a likely length of metal at last, a strut that’s intact and thin and long enough for his purpose. He wrenches it free from where it’s still attached to the unit with only a little effort. Moves back to the door with it in his hands and works the broken end of the bar into the tiny gap between door panels. Then he sets his grip, braces his foot against the wall and starts to pull back.

There’s the shriek of metal, the whir of hydraulics again and a thin space appears between the doors. Outside he hears the sounds of several weapons being readied. Hears an uneasy murmur start to rise from the men holding them.

“Dumb shits! God don’t shoot him he’s not after you!” Jan’s there then, at his side, tugging at his arm frantically. Distracting him. He shrugs her off absently, but she comes right back, tenacious. “Stop Steve! Tony’s on his way! Stop just stop!”

He hears the sound of running from right outside. A sliding sound – expensive shoe leather scraping against the floor – and someone gasping for breath. Then a shadow falls over the widening gap in the doors.

“Stand to your right, Jan,” Tony orders from just outside. Rainbows explode across his vision and he hauls harder on the bar. The gap widens more. He can see the line of Tony’s leg clad in elegant slacks now where he’s braced himself over the doors, between it and the agents outside. They’re yelling at Tony. Ordering him to move aside. Steve sees motion closing in behind Tony and strains harder on the bar even as Tony leans closer and shouts through the gap. “Steve! Steve, wait! I’m coming in – just let Janet out.”

“Are you?” he manages to say as he grunts with effort, even as Jan shouts out beside him. “Oh God, Tony, you can’t! He’s bending metal with his bare hands in here!”

“Yes. I am, Steve. Jan get ready.”

When the doors snap open, Steve falls back against the far wall in reaction – he hadn’t really believed Tony would do it; the man can tell lies like he breathes – while the pry bar goes tumbling the other way, clattering against the far wall. He stumbles, tries to regain his balance but it’s too much force released too quickly. He sees Tony then – reaching inside, grabbing Jan’s arm and all but flinging her outside the doorway as he dives inside the room himself, there are a dozen agents beyond with weapons raised, trained on them all but hestitating – and white explodes across his vision.

Even as the doors whisk shut behind Tony he’s moving across the room again. Slams him flat against the wall beside the doorway with a forearm across his chest, one leg between his thighs, one of Tony’s hands pinned above his head against the metal wall, palm tight over the racing pulse. 

“Ah!” Tony cries as his head hits the wall, the sound pained, breathless, but all Steve knows is the press of flesh under him, flesh against him, barely hidden beneath the flimsy barriers of fine shirt and finer slacks.  He buries his face in the hollow of Tony’s neck and breathes deeply. Smells sweat and spicy cologne and alcohol and, somewhere, somehow the scent he knew he’d find, wanted to find; the faint aroma of sex.

“Oh shit get him out of there! Hank! Hank! Use the gas!” he hears Jan shouting from outside. Someone pounds on the door near them, the sound hollow and trivial. He can smell Tony… feel him against him, warm and smooth and vibrant… it’s almost enough… almost…

“I can’t! The concentration we need to down Steve will kill Tony!” Hank shouts back at her.

Tony sucks in a breath that he feels under his mouth. He shouts and Steve feels the vibrations in his ear, his cheek, his face. “Run my program, Hank! Goddamn you, Pym, seal the room now!”  Then bolts slam through the door beside them, shaking it, and he hears something electronic in the wall behind them give a start up whine before it fades to the steady, low-level hum of a running state. Jan’s shouts and pounding suddenly fade to practically nothing.

Tony’s free hand locks on his shoulder. He arches against him, shoulders twisted where Steve has crammed him into the dim corner by the door. He just breathes in that scent, the one he was looking for, rich and earthy and all, always Tony. He holds his face tight against his neck, squeezes his eyes tightly shut against the flare of sparks in his vision, but they won’t fade. Won’t go away. And his grip slowly tightens on the tense form in his hold.

“What now, dearest?” Tony says, his voice faintly breathless, strained. “Going to snap my definitely-not-metal spine?”

“No,” Steve says, gritting his teeth against the brightness that continues to explode in his mind, to dazzle even his closed eyes. He can feel… he’s warm… but he needs to know. To finally see… “No.”

He drops down to the ground, taking Tony with him. The floor is bare industrial tile. Cool and smooth under his knees. He braces himself over Tony, the one wrist still held against the wall, his thigh between Tony’s. He works his other arm behind his back. Fists his hand in the smooth fabric of his shirt. The motion pulls the thin fabric tight across Tony’s chest. Limns his body almost as if he weren’t wearing it. The color of it is a rich maroon. Darker than the colors he uses on his Iron Man suits. The slacks he wears are a deep charcoal gray.

Steve sucks in a slow breath. Smells. Everything. “Skin,” he says against Tony’s shoulder, breathing hard against the cascading rush of sparks in his mind, urging him on. “I need… feel… your skin.”

Tony sucks in a sharp breath. “Okay,” he says near his ear. And the hand Steve doesn’t have pressed to the wall above his head shifts forward and finds the taut buttons of his own shirt. With a skill that Steve can only barely appreciate, he slips them free one-handed, starting at the top and working his way quickly down. He watches. Eyes open. Staring through the flashes of light. His face still buried against Tony’s shoulder. Stares down the length of him as Tony strips himself. His breath is coming faster now. Taking in the warm, expensive body-scent of him. Tinged now with stress-sweat. With fear. Tony’s fear.

It’s something he’s admired about him for a while now. Even frightened to his bones, Tony still steps into battle beside them all. Knowing that he’s dying anyway from the tumor does nothing to dull his admiration of that choice Tony keeps making. Steve has seen far too many men, – knowing their lives were short –, turn and run to preserve even those last few moments instead of standing and fighting when it was needed most. When it would do the most good for all. Tony doesn’t run.

He takes a deeper breath. Takes in the scent of fear and nerves and sex… and watches as Tony finishes unbuttoning his shirt. His hand holding hard to the back of it makes it fall away from his body at once. After a pause, Tony pulls the tails of the shirt out of his pants. Tugs it free with little squirming motions that move him inside and against Steve’s hold, but he’s not trying to escape and so Steve just holds him. Watches. Watches as tanned skin appears before his avid gaze.

When he stops moving the shirt is hanging off his shoulders. His chest and stomach are bare. Exposed. Of course he doesn’t wear an undershirt. Not Tony. The pattern of dark hair Steve has tried not to notice before but recognizes anyway is leading in its sparse trail down the lower part of his belly. And he shouldn’t know the pattern of hair on Tony’s stomach. He shouldn’t know it already and want to trace it…

“Is this enough?” Tony asks, his faintly alcohol-scented breath washing past Steve’s chin, the tone of it too low for emotion.

When they put him in here, while he was unconscious, they had stripped him out of most of his Captain America uniform. No gloves. No boots. No belt. He’s still wearing the blue Kevlar-reinforced pants, but the shirt he is wearing now is a plain white SHIELD undershirt and not his uniform top.  Which leaves his own arms bare to absorb the warmth of skin directly. It’s almost enough. Almost… No. It’s not.

His breath is still coming far too fast.  His vision is still edged with dancing lights. He lets go of Tony’s shirt and slides his free hand beneath it and up the naked skin of Tony’s back. Lays his palm between his shoulder blades, spreads his fingers across the wiry muscle, the prominent bones of scapula and spine, and strokes. Up. Down. Lightly. Steadily.

He lets out a long, slow breath. Closes his eyes and just absorbs the sensation of skin on skin. Is grateful that Tony just lets him. That he waits. Silently. And doesn’t struggle.

He needs to feel this. To absorb it properly. So the driving sense of this and must and now will abate.

Tony’s skin feels smooth. Warm. Alive. Like skin. Human skin. Like his own. Like Gail’s. Like Jean-Pierre’s. Like Jan’s. He still remembers how her skin felt; smooth, curved, sleek. Tony’s is mostly the same, but unlike Jan, there’s little padding beneath it. He’s all lean muscle and taut sinew. He shakes his head, fighting the hot white glow in his mind. Tony’s lean and – Jean-Pierre had been lean too. Difficult to hold onto in the shadows of the abandoned house on the outskirts of Paris where Steve had chased down the two Chitauri agents who were trying to reach von Choltitz to replace him and actually carry out Hitler’s orders to burn the city to the ground. Where he had instead  found a single resistance fighter standing over two dead bodies instead, dark eyes gone wide with horror when death had revealed the truth. Where the man had frantically stripped off clothes covered in bubbling green blood. Thrown himself half-naked at Steve in a frenzy that somehow, some way turned from hysteria to lust. – well-muscled, but not rock hard. Strong, but not abnormally so. Just firm like a normal man.

Firm, but not metallic at all. Not steel-hard. Not cold and remote. Not red and gold. Not sealed away… forbidden… He’d spent two heady, blurred days fucking sanity back into a man who could kill two Chitauri and survive. Then left him behind in Paris with the mission to protect the city as best he could with his new knowledge of the alien infiltrators. Only to learn much later how Jean-Pierre had died in the firing of the Grand Palais just before the 2nd Armored and the 4th Infantry arrived to free the city from Nazi control – fucking French incompetents who got him killed...  Right now Tony’s live and there. Tanned. Warm. He stares down the length of his chest. There are no lines on Tony’s skin that he can see. No place where the sun hasn’t touched. The warmth of skin is mixed with the rich scent of him, rising off, stronger now. Male. Warm. Sex and alcohol. Fear and sweat. The wrist under his far hand shifts slightly. Tony’s head tips back and he lets out a slow, cautious breath. The sparks thicken at the edge of his vision. He doesn’t want them to obscure what he’s uncovered, but he still needs… needs to find…

“Is this enough?” Steve repeats, listening to the solid, rapid beat of Tony’s heart, feeling the throb of his pulse against his forehead. A pulse is blood. Beneath the skin. Heat and life. Tony’s life. Alive. “I can’t… tell.”

“What will help end this, Steve?” Tony asks, his voice calm, soothing, cultured and persuasive. As much a weapon as Steve’s shield, that voice. “Can you— Do you know what you need to… to do now?”

He turns his head. Puts his nose deeper into the hollow of his throat. Feels the faint scratch of Tony’s beard against his face as he breathes deep again.

The heady rush of scents makes him shudder. The sparks dance wildly in his brain.

“To trigger… I’m not sure…” But he is. And even as he speaks he’s sliding down, dragging Tony with him, pulling him beneath him. He throws a leg over Tony’s thighs. Straddles him. Pins the one hand to the floor beside them, beside Tony’s head. Frees his other hand and sets it on Tony’s quivering belly. Wide and splayed, his own lighter skin tone makes a marked contrast to Tony’s deeper tan, the rub of hair against his palm taunting him.

He looks up into Tony’s face. His eyes are mostly hidden behind lowered lids, lashes lying dark against his cheeks, lying in smooth arcs along the faint circles of stress that never quite seem to fade no matter how much sleep he gets. If he sleeps. He can see the faintest gleam beneath them. Knows Tony is watching him too. He lets his gaze track down. Over the neatly trimmed Van Dyke beard. Over the smooth-shaven neck. The carefully sculpted chest muscles. Tony has trainers to help him keep this shape, he knows. People of skill who work with him to craft his body just as Tony crafts his powerful metal suits. He’s no less a work of art and science than his own suit. Steve’s gaze pauses on the quiver and draw of diaphragm and belly as he breathes. The shudder-dip of belly-button. The soft line of dark hair framed by his own hand. The belt… leather and cloth beyond. Not skin.

He can feel the warmth and flex of him between his thighs. Not cold, like the floor tiles under his knees. Not hard, like the metal walls around. But still hidden by cloth. He can’t see it… but he can smell it. Warmth. Flesh. Desire. Tony. Sparks close in, filling his vision.

Suddenly his hand is on that belt. Undoing it. He feels the startled arch of Tony beneath him. Holds him in place with no effort.

“Oh Christ here we go,” Tony says, his voice gone hoarse. He ignores the words as the belt falls free. Works at the hidden buttons and concealed hooks of the fine, hand-tailored pants for a moment in frustration, but just as he’s about to tear, to rip, Tony’s hand joins his and with the same easy, one-handed skill he used on his shirt has his own slacks open in moments.

His vision is nearly white now. Narrowed in the center onto the line of hair leading beneath some low-cut, slick-cloth, fancy underwear that Tony is wearing. Steve gets his fingertips under the edge of it and pulls down.  Tony arches and grunts as he yanks cloth – underwear and slacks both – awkwardly down over cock and balls and thighs.

As soon as he gets the clothing far enough out of the way Steve shifts down until he’s between those open thighs and buries his face in the seam of Tony’s upper leg. Presses his nose near the soft flesh of his cock, mouth against the skin of his groin, thigh muscles flexing  firm under his chin. Opens his mouth and breathes deep. Sucks in air filled with the smell of sex. His mind spins. Thoughts spark in sharp waves of brightness. He breathes again. Deep. Deeper. Breath warming the skin beneath him. Skin heating. Takes in that heat and flesh and the smooth-roughness of it and no metal no barrier no nothing but skin and warmth and hair and the smell that isn’t left from some dame after all it’s nothing but Tony Tony Tony himself, smelling better and more inviting than anything should.  Than anything he should want… but does… oh he does…

The flesh under his cheek stirs. Starts to fill. Tony groans somewhere above him. He just breathes. In. Out. Heavy and slow. Drowning in the scent that has been taunting him for months. Wallowing in heat. But he makes no move to touch more. Just feels. Takes it in. His hand flexes over Tony’s still-captured wrist where the pulse is racing under his palm. He feels a hesitant hand in his hair, stroking through it. Cupping the back of his head. The hips beneath him flex. Up. Into him. He smells heat and his mind spins faster. Heat and need and desperation.

“Oh God, this isn’t fair,” Tony says breathlessly, and Steve turns. Rubs his face deeper into Tony’s groin, into the hardening length against his cheek, mouth open against heat and flesh and closely trimmed hair. Even down here he’s pampered. Maintained. Indulged. He breathes on his skin. Sucks in the musk of him like it is air. Rich and full and necessary.

“It’s this,” he says, his voice harsh. “This is…  this… you always smell like sex. So much sex.” He grinds his face against skin and heat. Breathes. Deep. The smell is overwhelming now, his mind gone white with it. The scent. The rich, heady, thick scent of Tony’s sex. He’s loose, he thinks, his mind burning with it now. So loose and easy. He’s desire and indulgence and shamelessness. He’ll take any woman. Many women. Discard them and move on. Leave them behind. Then search for more. Smelling always of all the things he’s done with them. Dirty and perverted things. Things Steve can barely imagine. Or can imagine all too well. Things he wants to do but has no words for. Things he would never do to any woman he knows anyway because they’re ladies and one doesn’t treat ladies like that but Tony… Tony’s no lady and Tony’s probably done all those things and more… talking women into doing all those dirty, dirty things with an ease and a skill Steve can only envy. But now it’s Tony yielding to his hold, rocking against him, and this, this is what he wanted. This right here. Tony’s debauchery. Raw and open and waiting for him to indulge. 

A tremor starts in him. He slides his free hand up over Tony’s hip. Grips it carefully. Lets his thumb slide along the smooth inward arch of his hip bone gently. Back and forth. Over the sleek, soft flesh. No metal skin walling him away. No metal anywhere. Just soft skin. Firming skin. Arch of bone. Heat. Warmth. Sex. Tony.

Tony’s voice is low. Raw. “Damn it. All this build-up and you’re not even going to really touch me, are you?”

He can’t answer, lost in the smell, the heat, the whiteness in his mind. He rubs again. Strokes his cheek up the length of Tony like a cat might, rolls his chin over the taut end, then slips back down and does it again and again while Tony gasps, arches, twists against him. He feels slickness against his face. On his chin. The essential scent of sex grows stronger and stronger, making his head spin. The hand on the back of his head clenches tight in his short hair. It might hurt, he can’t tell, too focused on the thickening scent and slippery heat.

“Fucking cock-tease.” Tony whimpers, hips moving in a slow roll, thighs clenching around him. “At least you could make this worth my while, darling.”

Then he’s released his hair and he’s reaching down. Fumbling to get his hand between them, to Steve’s waist. Lower. And then his long fingers slide over the thick bulge between Steve’s own thighs – hard and urgent and throbbing. And he had barely paid attention to his own erection until this exact moment now when Tony touches it through his tight pants, distracting him, and then, suddenly, that’s all he can feel, his own length gripped by Tony’s knowing hand and he lets out a long, deep groan against Tony’s cock and Tony is thrusting up against his face, slick and hard, and he opens his mouth just enough to get a taste of that slick-bitter scent and then suddenly everything explodes inside his head and he’s shouting, thrusting up against Tony’s hand, his leg and Tony is groaning loud and long and it’s slick-hot against him and he’s shuddering to a release that whites out his vision, Tony, everything.

He finally comes back to himself sprawled over Tony’s half-naked body, his face against his lower belly, his body pinning his legs. Tony is still breathing hard. One of his hands is still caught in Steve’s grip. They’re lying in a heap on the cold tile floor. It can’t be comfortable for Tony, caught beneath him like this, but he makes no attempt to shift away from Steve’s weight.

His face is wet. He blinks. Licks at something on his lips. Tastes something bitter and thick and realizes, with a start, that it’s Tony’s semen.

His gut jerks. He lets go of Tony’s wrist and sits up, wipes at his face with both hands, then scrubs them off on the edge of the tee shirt he’s wearing. Tony groans beneath him. His eyes are closed, his free hand draped over his own face. “Say something,” Steve demands, glaring down at that hidden face. He can still feel the ghostly impression of... of warm fluid on his skin. As if it had branded him.

“Must I?” Tony says, his voice thin. “Though I suppose it’s far too late to ask if you’ll still respect me in the morning.”  The sound of Tony’s voice washes over him, familiar and wry. But it prompts no sparks in his mind. No white-rimmed tunneling of his vision. Steve swipes at his face again, relieved, even as he feels the uncomfortable stickiness in his own pants. The musk of spent sex is thick in the air around them. Now it only makes him wince.

But, “That did it,” he says, both relieved and annoyed. Mostly relieved. He didn’t like the way it had fractured and jumbled his thoughts. And he definitely hadn’t enjoyed the way it made him focus on something he normally had no interest in. Really. Not Tony. Not another guy.  Not again. He and Jan haven’t been broken up all that long.

Then he finally lets his gaze run over Tony. Sees the deep bruising on his wrist from his grip. The come smeared all over his stomach, clumped in the dark hair. The way his spent cock is curled against his thigh and how his clothes – not even completely removed – are tangled  and creased around his limbs. He looks thoroughly debauched and relaxed despite being flat on his back on the cold floor of a holding cell in SHIELD’s basement after having some kind of strange sex with a virtually mind-controlled member of his own team. He shouldn’t look as good as he does… and Steve clamps down on that thought angrily. He’s over it now. The white light is gone and there’s no excuse any more for those kinds of thoughts.

“It’s gone now,” he repeats, just to be clear.

“Oh good,” Tony says drily. “Because I don’t think I’m ready for round two yet, my dear.”

Steve looks up at the cameras. Tries not to flush and fails. “I suppose everyone saw that,” he mutters, trying not to think about the ammunition they had to have given both Barton and Pym.

“Good God no,” Tony says, a small smile tugging at his lips. “Once Hank locked the room down with the EM field I set up, all the monitoring – both internal and external – cut off. I made sure of that before I came down here.” There’s a small pause. “I do have a reputation to protect you know darling.”

Steve nods, more to himself than to Tony. Okay. That was a little reassuring. Even if everyone figured they knew what had to have happened between them in here, at least they hadn’t had front row seats for the show itself. He could live with that. Probably. Then the sheer riskiness of Tony’s action hit him.

That was reckless,” he says, sucking in a breath, glaring. “What if I’d injured you?”

“Oh please. I knew what you were after and it certainly wasn’t my blood, darling. Now pass over that charmingly appropriate rag you’re wearing,” Tony says, sitting up slowly before holding out a hand imperiously. Steve shrugs out of the stained undershirt and hands it over without another word.

After a sidelong look that lingers a little longer than Steve cares for, Tony scrubs himself dry with the shirt, then neatly and efficiently gets his clothes back in order again. When he’s done he looks like an only slightly rumpled version of his normal self. He leans back to the wall, head tilted, arms draped over his raised knees as he flashes Steve a wry smile. Somehow looking both composed and elegant and not at all ashamed of what just happened even though they’re both guys and teammates and he really never wants to think about this again. How could he have wanted that— even under chemical influence – with Tony? How?

“Feeling awkward, my dear? Don’t worry. It’ll pass.” Tony reaches out and pats his arm. “And if it doesn’t, I have a whole bottle of Stoli upstairs with my name on it that’ll take care of anything lingering.” Steve doesn’t even try to fight the flush or the flinch of shame and self-disgust. Just looks away, gaze falling on the destroyed restraints. Blinks a bit as he realizes how much damage he’d done while under the influence of that strange spray. Frowns. And Jan had come in here with him in an unknown, potentially dangerous state? Tony too? Willingly? It’s a daunting thought. That both of them considered his safety worth risking their lives to preserve. He remembers the armed agents waiting outside with a wince.

He doesn’t quite know what to think of that. How he should take the knowledge. About Jan. About Tony. So he turns his attention to practicalities. “If you’ve cut the cell off from the outside, how will they know it’s safe to let you out of here?”

Tony laughs. Pats his arm again. “I just shut them out of the room, not me,” he explains. He drops the crumpled tee shirt on the floor and then climbs unsteadily to his feet. “I’m much too sober for this,” he mutters only mostly under his breath as he gropes his way up the wall. And Steve stops himself from offering him a steadying hand by picking up the shirt instead. Which is petty because he’s a courteous guys and he’ll usually offer to help any of them to their feet after a battle. But this wasn’t a battle. Not really. And he doesn’t really want to test himself by touching Tony again anyway. Not yet.

Steve stands beside him, sticky tee shirt clenched in his hands, as Tony dances his fingers over the control pad next to the door. After a moment the intercom lights up again.

“Still scrambling to break my code are you, Hank?” Tony calls out in a deliberately cheerful voice. 

“Tony!” Hank shouts, astonished. Then there are several voices talking urgently over each other at once.

“Are you okay? What happened?” From Hank.

Jan. “Did it at least work, you stupid idiot!? How’s Steve?”

“Heh. Bet you’re walking funny now.” That one is Barton. Steve narrows his eyes at the speaker.

“Everything is sunshine and kittens in here again,” Tony says, his mouth twitching, “so call off the firing squad lurking outside and let us out.”

“Turn the cameras back on first,” Hank counters. “So we know you’re not under duress.” Tony rolls his eyes, but does something to the controls until Barton lets out a disappointed sound. “Screw you and your damn lockout, Stark, I wanted blackmail pics.” Tony’s grin turns both smug and condescending.

“Oh boo hoo, Clint. Believe your eyes yet, Hank? Wave to the cameras like a good boy, Cap, so they don’t think you’re still locked in relentless mission mode and secretly holding a broken bottle to my kidney or something.”

Steve shrugs. Manages to essay a smile for the camera that feels more like a grimace. “It’s gone, Hank. I’m fine now.”

He doesn’t actually feel fine, of course, not after that, but he’s not seeing rainbows and white light and doesn’t seem compelled to sniff at Tony’s crotch like a dog anymore, which he thinks is probably an accurate enough measure of his overall safety to pass as truth.

“Okay, but I want you in the medical lab for more tests, stat. And I’ll need Tony there too just to make sure you don’t start reacting again.”

“Well as long as someone fetches my bottle of vodka for me first, I could possibly agree to that,” Tony mutters, sways slightly on his feet. This time Steve deliberately puts a hand on his shoulder to steady him, and is relieved to find it’s just a cloth-covered shoulder under his hand and there’s no urgent need to touch more of him attached to the contact this time.

The door hisses open abruptly and Jan is standing there, frowning at them both. The agents outside have their guns lowered but still at the ready, he sees.

“Okay you two. Medical, now.” Her gaze flicks over Tony searchingly, then to him, then back again, missing nothing of the rumpled state of Tony’s clothing, the crumpled wad of tee shirt in his hand and his bare chest, or the clearly visible finger marks darkening around Tony’s wrist.  And his hand still on Tony’s shoulder. He lets it fall as Tony steps toward her to pass out of the room and Jan whispers something to him that makes him smirk before rolling his eyes elaborately.

“Now, now Janet, do I ask you to tell all about your conquests?” His smirk widens as she winces. “But if you really want to trade stories about Captain America’s stamina…”

“Oh just forget it and get going,” Jan interrupts sharply, her cheeks reddening, her gaze skipping away from Steve’s frown guiltily.

They adjourn to the medical lab in uncomfortable silence.  The escort of armed guards is a precaution he understands, but still finds annoying.

Hank Pym may be under the probationary control of SHIELD, but he still has authority on matters of biology and bio-weapons. He and several staff doctors descend upon them both when they arrive, a list of tests ready. Barton, thankfully, is nowhere to be seen. Steve’s not sure he could brush off Clint’s needling right now. He feels raw and uncertain, as if the white light seared something to tenderness inside him. Or maybe just exposed it. He feels different and yet he doesn’t. It’s like the difference after a prolonged battle; he’s tired and a little unsure if all mission objectives have been met. At least so far he seems clear of the compulsion.

He still takes note when they pull Tony to the far side of the room, but that’s just his usual tactical awareness kicking in, of course, and he relaxes fractionally when it become obvious they intend to keep them in the same exam room for now.

The driving need to know, to touch that overrode his own sense of propriety and limits is definitely gone, at least. It doesn’t seem to matter where Tony is now. He’s lost the hyper-awareness, though he still knows exactly where he is. He can walk away from him without a qualm, he’s sure. The crowd around them both is just distracting, is all. It’s friendly concern as he frowns over the way Tony is resisting their efforts to check him over until Jan joins that group, giving sharp directions to the doctors over Tony’s indignant protests. It’s pretty clear she’s avoiding him, which stings a bit but no longer hurts the way it did a few weeks ago.

Still, Steve welcomes the distraction of the swarm of techs and nurses demanding his own cooperation. It drags his attention away from Tony and Jan as a young nurse asks him to sit on an exam table and, once he has, in short order the swarm of them have blood drawn, saliva collected, skin scrapings and hair samples taken in record time. He sits through it all calmly, steadfastly ignoring the sticky state of his uniform pants. He half expects them to ask for a sample of that too, but they don’t ask for that often anymore. Something about his vastly accelerated metabolism shortening the viability of his sperm too dramatically for lab study. It’s one small mercy at least. Though it makes keeping his gaze away from Tony harder; the damp discomfort is a constant reminder.

It’s only when they send him to the washroom to collect a urine sample that he gets the chance to clean himself up. The moment of privacy is welcome. And though his uniform pants are even damper and more uncomfortable when he’s done, at least he’s not sticking to them any longer. He leans against the sink for a moment, cupping his hands under the cold water and splashing it over his face. He will have to apologize to Tony. This never should have happened – strange chemical altering his brain or not. He should have been more wary. The fact that he was exposed to it in the first place was entirely his fault. He had been careless, and a team-mate had paid the price. He grimaces into the mirror as he dries himself off, frowning over a sudden flash of memory. Of Tony’s hand – those long, calloused fingers –  moving on him, causing the mess he just washed away, then shakes his head and focuses on the now.

He’s a soldier. He understands duty. Leaving Jean-Pierre behind… moving away from Tony sprawled half-naked on the floor… His fingers tighten on the edge of the sink. He hears the warning crackle of stressed porcelain and releases his grip. He gathers up the sample, straightens his shoulders, lifts his head and takes a slow breath. If he avoids his own gaze in the mirror, no one is there to comment on that fact.

As soon as he emerges, Hank descends on him, ready to drag him off to his scans and tests. A nurse hands Steve a loose smock to wear. He pulls it on over his bare shoulders as Pym rattles off a list of nearly a dozen scans he wants to do that Steve ignores as the noise it is. He’ll do what he’s told until they decide it’s safe to let him go. Being who he is, Captain America and the only completely successful super soldier, he learned long ago he had little choice about either of those things. There’s no point fighting it now. Not after the trouble he’s created already. He wonders if Tony will see they rebuild the restraints properly. He knows Fury will get someone to rebuild them regardless.

Hank is already theorizing counter-measures to the terrorist’s formula with the other doctors as they escort him out. Their words wash over him as Steve catches Tony looking his way. There’s cool appraisal on his face, a hint of his usual wry humor in the lift of his brow, the twist of his mouth, but no disgust, no anger. He doesn’t know if it’s a façade for the medical staff, for Hank and Jan, for him… or if it’s the truth. With Tony it’s hard to tell when he’s pretending, since he so seldom bothers. Steve hopes not. It’ll make it difficult to work together in the future if he is actually upset with him. It could damage the Ultimates.

That’s his main concern, of course. The team. Because Tony is the one sponsoring them now, not the government. Deliberately, he catches Tony’s gaze. Lifts his chin and meets it head on. Like he always has.

Tony’s expression shifts slightly. There’s something almost smug about it as he rakes his gaze over Steve’s face, down to his bare chest, down further to the distinctly damp pants, before coming back to his face again. Knowing. Speculative. There’s a lurching in his gut that he doesn’t want to analyze when their gazes meet again. He focuses on the fact that Tony isn’t smiling or frowning instead, and that he meets his gaze steadily, unashamed, but Steve suddenly finds his breath hitching slightly, his muscles tensing in readiness, almost as if he’d been thrown a challenge of some kind. A warning? A dare? He narrows his own eyes, fighting an odd sensation in his gut, but abruptly his lock on Tony’s gaze is broken as the automatic door slides closed between them.

He almost takes a step back. Opens the door again to try to figure out that expression on Tony’s face. But Hank and the doctors might interpret that the wrong way after earlier, so he forces himself to follow them down the hall instead.

They’ll meet again, after all. They’re both still Ultimates.

The next time he sees him he’ll ask forgiveness for the sacrifice Tony had made by coming to him under those conditions and let him know this whole incident was something best forgotten. Best to chalk it up as a fluke of science, like the serum that made him Captain America, one never to be re-created. It’s best for both of them. For Tony’s reputation. For his own.

He tries not to linger on the memory of Tony’s scent as they lead him away.

Tries and fails.