Tony Stark is many things - brilliant, outspoken, charming, occasionally overly hasty, good with machines, incredibly good-looking - but stealthy is not really one of them. He can, on occasion, manage to sneak up on people, as he proved when he was going after the Mandarin and that one time he caught Barton off-guard, but it doesn’t really come naturally to him.
Steve Rogers, who can take down entire armies using only his left hand, is about as inconspicuous as a fox in a henhouse.
And they’re both such public figures that it’s almost impossible for them to leave the house to get a pretzel without getting recognized these days.
So it’s a little weird, Tony thinks as he jogs up the steps of the bridge, that they are here, in Venice, trying to stop AIM’s plan without getting spotted by any of the agents (and tourists) the city is crawling with.
But Super-Spy Numero Uno, Natasha, is still sidelined from that gunshot to the thigh she caught during their last mission, and Tony had been in Rome for a tech conference that Steve had tagged along on to do some art touristing when the call came in, so they’re the closest to the action.
They’re doing alright, though. Steve’s idea of going incognito seems to be to go full-on American Tourist with his outfit: cargo shorts, an FC Milan shirt, a backwards baseball cap, aviator-style sunglasses and - he’s actually done it - blindingly white sneakers. Tony opted for the more traditional route: black pants, black shirt, black shoes, dark sunglasses. “You’re gonna get recognized as soon as we step outside” Steve had objected, so now Tony’s got a black fedora perched on his head. After Steve’s persistent insistence that it wasn’t enough to hide his identity, Tony had very reluctantly shaved his facial hair.
“Do you have any idea of the effort it takes to create a signature style?”
“Do you have any idea how much I will personally kill you when your signature style gets us killed?”
“That doesn’t even make sense, Capsicle.”
Steve just held the razor out at him with that look on his face that said he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
Tony barely even recognized himself with a clean-shaven face.
“Hold up.” Steve grabs Tony’s wrist, pulling him back into a doorway. “Two agents, three o’clock.”
They wait, squeezed together into the narrow space, until the agents pass before heading out again. Tony looks down at his phone, which shows the latest information FRIDAY has compiled. It’s not clear yet what AIM is planning, but there has been a surge of activity in the city in recent days, so whatever it is, it's going to happen soon and it’s probably not going to be good.
“The only way in and out of the city is by train or by boat, so it’s probably going to be somewhere along the water.”
“FRIDAY, you’re up. I want you monitoring every photo uploaded by every tourist in Venice. Let me know where the agents are and where they are headed.”
“We should follow those two that just passed, see where they’re headed.”
“Rogers that.” It’s a corny joke, but Steve gives him such a hilarious look of ennui every time that Tony can’t resist saying it.
Tony steps out of the doorway to follow the agents but Steve catches him by the wrist. “We should follow inconspicuously.” Tony gives him a questioning look and Steve continues. “For starters, put those glasses on. And try not to strut so much.”
Steve leads the way and Tony fights back an annoyed sigh.
It’s a warm clear day, the sun glinting off the green water of the canals. Tony’s glad for the sunglasses. They follow a good five yards behind the agents. The narrow alleys are crowded with people, which makes it easy to go unseen but also easy to lose the agents. They almost do when the two turn quickly down a side alley. The alley is clear of other people and Tony’s worried they've been made as one of the agents starts to turn around. Steve grabs him by the collar and pulls him back against the wall with a hand looped around Tony’s neck, and then Steve’s lips are pressed up against his. Tony lets out a muffled squeak of protest but Steve just pulls him closer.
The footsteps fade away and the alley is empty when Steve lets him go.
“What the fuck, Rogers?” Tony wipes his lips reflexively.
“They were starting to notice they were being followed,” Steve says with a halfhearted shrug. He doesn’t wipe his lips, Tony observes, and he can’t help but notice a little drop of saliva on Steve’s lower lip. Why am I staring at his lips?
“And attacking me with your face helps?”
“We didn’t get made, did we?”
Tony squints at Steve, who just turns and heads down the alley the way the agents went. He’s walking fast, forcing Tony to jog to catch up.
“Call it a spy trick I learned from Nat. Public displays of affection make people uncomfortable.”
“Uh, yes, they do,” Tony adds petulantly as they turn another corner. There’s no sign of the agents.
“Did a little kissing make the self-proclaimed playboy Tony Stark uncomfortable?” Steve says, and damn if he doesn’t have a devilish twinkle in his eye.
Tony huffs and follows in silence. The alley ends when it hits the canal.
“Damn. They must have had a boat waiting.”
“Oh shut up, Tony.
Tony jeers at Steve as he pulls out his phone. “Any news, my gal FRIDAY?”
“I’ve picked up their boat in a photo that was just posted to Twitter. It’s headed up the Grand Canal.”
“It’d be great to have a boat of our own right about now.”
“In fact, you do, Sir.”
“You do now. It’s waiting for you at Rio del Frari.” A map appears on his phone, blinking to indicate where the boat is.
“You’re a wonder, FRIDAY.”
They head to the place indicated on the map. The boat turns out to be one of those wooden motorboats that everyone seems to have around here. Steve unties the boat as he hops in while Tony starts the engine.
“Ah, purrs like a kitten.”
“The AIM boat appears to be headed for the island of Murano,” FRIDAY informs them.
“Where the glass comes from?” Steve asks.
“Indeed. There are a number of abandoned glass-blowing workshops on the island. They could be using the space to store something.”
“Well then,” Tony says as he pushes the throttle forward.
Once they hit the open water of the lagoon, he gives it full power and the boat skims over the small waves. Steve is leaning back against the side of the boat, his arms spread wide and his feet crossed at the ankles. He’s taken off that ridiculous hat and his hair is blowing in the wind, the sun giving it a golden tinge.
He looks happy. In a way that Tony hasn’t often seen.
Murano turns out to be a bust, though. There’s no sign of the boat and too much activity on the island to be able to pick out anything unusual beyond another pair of suspected agents. Steve spots them coming over a bridge towards them and alerts Tony with a nod. This time it’s Tony who pulls Steve in for a kiss.
Tony tries not to think about how good it feels, having Steve’s body pushed up against his.
When they pull away from each other, the agents are gone.
“FRIDAY, you got anything for us?”
“Not on this island. But there’s a concentration of activity in Venice proper on Campo del Monte. A number of suspected agents have entered and left the building at the end of the square. ”
“Alright, let’s go check it out.”
It’s a large open square, the kind one finds all over the city. There’s a canal on one end, and on the corner a trattoria with outdoor seating in the center of the square. An accordion player has set up just next to the tables. It’s dinner-time anyway, so Steve and Tony take a seat; when the waiter comes over, Tony orders in Italian.
That earns him a smile from Steve. And damn if that doesn’t send a weird surge of something to his stomach. What the heck?
“Three agents, five o’clock, coming out of the building.” Steve’s words tear him out of his thoughts.
“Anything noteworthy about them?”
Steve shakes his head. “They don’t look like they’re headed anywhere in a hurry. So whatever it is they’re doing, they’re probably doing it in that building.”
It’d be great to have some scanner equipment right about now, Tony thinks.
“Yeah, that’d be real inconspicuous. Pretty sure no amount of kissing would keep them from noticing that,” Steve says with a smile before taking a sip of the wine the waiter has brought out.
Oops, Tony was thinking out loud again.
“Yes you are.”
Luckily their food comes soon after, which provides a welcome distraction. Tony hadn’t realized how hungry he’d been, and Steve practically inhales his pasta. They’re so busy eating that they barely even speak, but when the food is gone, both lean back contentedly. The accordionist has been joined by a bass and a saxophone. Now they’re playing classic jazz, and some people have started dancing.
“That was great,” Steve says, brushing his hand down his shirt. Tony catches himself following the path of Steve’s hand with his gaze.
“Yep,” he says, hiding in his glass of wine. “Can’t beat real Italian pasta.”
Steve’s face goes serious in an instant. “Four agents in front of the building. Two just came out, two headed in. They’re talking about something, but I can’t hear it from here. I gotta get closer.”
“Well then, Cap,” Tony says, pushing back from the table. “May I have this dance?” He stands and holds out a hand to Steve after depositing a wad of bills on the table.
“Alright,” Steve accepts with a smile, taking Tony’s outstretched hand. “But I must warn you, I’m not much of a dancer.”
“Well as long as you let me lead,” Tony says, placing one hand at the small of Steve’s back, holding up Steve’s hand in dance position in the other, “I can make this work.”
“You can lead me all you want, as long as you get us close enough so I can hear what they’re saying.”
“Aye aye Cap,” Tony says and steps into the rhythm.
He’s long known Steve is a quick learner, but the man picks up swing dancing remarkably fast. He follows Tony’s lead as if he’s been dancing all his life. Steve gives him a quick nod when they get within earshot of the agents and Tony dials it back a little so Steve can focus on listening rather than dancing. Tony can’t quite make out what is being said, but he can tell from Steve’s face that it has to do with their plan. Steve gives his hand a gentle squeeze when he’s heard enough, so Tony dances them back towards the restaurant area. It’s important to end a dance on a high note, his dancing instructor had always impressed on him, so Tony pushes Steve into a twirl, catching him as he spins back and dipping him. The crowd is cheering, and Tony grins as he pulls Steve back up and kisses him.
All part of the show, he tells himself. “Oops, so much for low-key,” he says.
Steve laughs. “Low-key’s not really your style. It’s happening tonight. Something about San Salvador. The two that were leaving are going there now, and the others were just coming from there.”
Tony takes his hand off Steve’s back and gives Steve’s hand a quick squeeze before letting go. “Good work, Steve.” He pulls out his phone and taps it to activate FRIDAY. “Scan the San Salvador area for activity, FRIDAY. Come on, Cap, let’s go check it out.”
The city is much quieter at night. The alleys that were bursting with people a few hours ago are now almost empty. It makes it easier to follow someone, but a lot harder to avoid being noticed. Usually they would try to take a route parallel to the one the agents are taking, but that’s almost impossible in a labyrinthine city like Venice. So they keep their distance, take side alleys when they can, and do their best to look like any other couple heading back to their hotel after a long day of touristing. Steve insists they stop for a selfie on Ponte Rialto, the main bridge across the Grand Canal. To keep up the appearance, he claims, but Tony doesn’t see any agents so he suspects Rogers is actually just enjoying himself. At least he doesn’t have one of those stupid sticks for taking selfies that everyone else seems to have. Not that he needs it, with arms like that.
“Alright, one more for the photo album,” Tony says with a sigh. “Come on, gimme some sugar.” He taps his chin.
Steve rolls his eyes but presses his lips against Tony’s cheek anyway as he snaps another photo.
“I’m gonna send that one to Barton,” Tony jokes.
“You will not,” Steve protests, poking Tony in the ribs. “Mostly because it’s on my phone and I’m not gonna send it to you.”
“Aw, you don’t trust me, Cap?” Tony clasps a hand to his chest as if he’s holding his own heart in.
Steve shakes his head. “Not a bit. Come on, we’ve got agents to track.” He takes off trotting down the steps of the bridge.
“But Capsicle, trust is the bedrock of any healthy relationship.”
It was meant as a joke, but Steve stops in his tracks and turns to look up at Tony.
Shit. He’s doing that puppy dog face, his head tilted, eyes fixed on Tony, staring up through those gorgeously long lashes.
He says nothing for what seems like forever, just looks at Tony. Until he exhales, his whole body slumping slightly, and turns away again.
“Good thing this is all just pretend, then.”
The words are quiet, muttered just a little louder than if he had only been saying them to himself.
“Shit, Steve,” he wants to say - he’s about to say, but then FRIDAY pipes up.
“I’m detecting some very strong electromagnetic signatures a few hundred meters from your location. It’s marked on your map.”
There it is, a red beacon indicating where the signatures are coming from.
“Let’s go,” Steve says with a slight scowl.
“Hey, I’m sorry,” Tony wants to say, but he can’t quite get the words out. Steve is already a few yards ahead of him, and Tony speeds up to catch up.
Steve’s looking out over the canal as they walk. It’s a full moon, and the orange glow of the lights is reflecting in the waves. It’s pretty clear he doesn’t want to talk, so they walk in silence. They reach a corner and turn down the alley, following the beacon. The alley crosses over a side canal; the signal seems to be coming from one of the palazzos along the canal.
“We’re not gonna be able to get any closer from here,” Tony says, leaning over the side of the bridge to try and get a closer view. “Maybe we can take the boat?”
“Not that boat. Only gondolas are allowed on this canal.”
Steven Rogers, ever the stickler for following the rules.
“Alright, then we get one of those. FRIDAY?”
“I’m afraid the rules are quite strict on that, sir. One cannot simply buy a gondola.”
“Fine,” Tony says with a sigh. “Then I guess we’ll just have to resort to good old-fashioned bribery.”
That works pretty well, it turns out. A handful of crisp hundred-euro bills even gets them a ride to their hotel to pick up Tony’s briefcase suit and Steve’s shield. Steve covers both with the seat cushions, then he pulls off his jersey and tugs on a striped shirt like all the gondoliers wear.
It’s a bit tight, but then again, so is just about everything Steve wears.
“It’s a good look for you, Cap. I know, you’d prefer it with more stars, but it works for you.”
“Just get in the boat, Tony,” Steve says. He sounds irritated, but there’s a hint of a smile on his face.
Tony does as ordered and Steve takes up the position at the back of the boat, paddling them towards the palazzo as if he’s been rowing a gondola all his life. The tight corner into the side canal proves a bit tricky, but Tony reaches out to push the boat away from the wall and together they manage it.
The electromagnetic signature is growing stronger as they get closer to the palazzo. Tony holds up his phone to determine which floor it could be on, but it fades.
“It’s not up, it’s down.” Tony holds the phone down near the water’s edge and the signature grows stronger. “I think it’s in the basement.”
“Tony. Houses in Venice don’t have basements.”
“Well, looks like I’m going swimming then.”
Steve slots the paddle into its holder and steps down to grab his shield. “Alright, you suit up and take the underwater route. I’ll go in through the canalside entrance and try and keep the coast clear for you.”
Ha, Tony muses, the coast. “Alright, let’s do this,” he says, picking up the briefcase. He hands Steve a comm unit, which he sticks in his ear. “Better do this inside. I don’t think this canoe can handle the weight.”
“Yeah,” Steve says, stepping from the boat onto the stairs leading into the palazzo. He leans down to Tony still in the boat and stretches out a hand to him.
Seriously? Tony can get out of a boat on his own.
“Fine, be that way.” Steve turns, so Tony can’t see his expression.
The boat wobbles as he steps off, and the step is slippery from the water, but Tony still manages to not take an unplanned swim. The door into the palazzo is locked, but Steve makes short work of it with the edge of his shield. There’s a long narrow corridor with two doors at the end of it: one leading into the palazzo and one leading to the indoor boat dock.
“Well, guess this is where our paths part ways,” Tony says as he pops open the briefcase. The suit assembles around him, but the faceplate stays up.
“Tony,” Steve says, his voice unexpectedly serious.
Tony cocks his head to the side questioningly. Steve steps towards him, closing the gap between them. He places a hand on either side of Tony’s face and pulls him in for a kiss.
“There aren’t any agents around.” For all his smarts, Tony is actually an idiot, he realizes after the words come out of his mouth.
“I know, I just wanted to do that.”
Tony pulls him close again and kisses him back, this time more insistently.
“Be safe, Tony,” Steve says, turning away and walking through the door into the palazzo before Tony can reply.
He wants to tell Steve to do the same, that he’s taken a shine to their impromptu make-out sessions and would like to continue them once this is all over, but Steve is already gone and Tony’s not sure he would be able to formulate those words anyway. So instead he lowers the faceplate and steps through the door to the dock. There are three agents guarding the dock, but a few repulsor blasts are all it takes to get rid of them. He steps off the dock, entering the water with a splash. It’s murky, almost impossible to see more than a few inches past his hands.
“FRIDAY, switch to sonar view.” The view comes up on the HUD, and Tony navigates his way around the pillars on which the building rests. Sure enough, there it is: the device that’s emitting the signature FRIDAY has been picking up is nestled in between the pillars.
“Cap, I’ve got eyes on it.”
Steve’s voice comes in slightly patchy through the comm unit. “Good. I’m doing my best to keep things clear for you.” It’s clear from the background noise that he’s wrapped up in a fight.
Shit. “FRIDAY, how’s Cap doing?”
“He seems to be holding his own, despite the large number of opponents. No major injuries.” The ‘yet’ remains implied.
“Alright, focus on the problem at hand,” Tony tells himself as he turns his attention to the device. It appears to be a pulsar device. Shit, something of this size could take out the whole city.
But luckily, Tony Stark is there to disable it. It’s tough going underwater - the device is built to be waterproof, obviously, so it’s tough to get to the circuitry in order to defuse it and he can’t exactly blast away at it since that would take out the pillars and bring down the building on top of him.
And Steve is up there.
So he has to take his time, carefully dismantling the device bit by bit. It’s slow going, but he finally manages to get to the circuit boards.
“Cap? I’ve almost got it.”
“Good. Shit. Look out, there’s two headed your-” the rest of the transmission is garbled, but the message is clear.
Especially when two agents in scuba gear start firing at him with spear guns. Spear guns? Really?!
The suit isn’t really designed for underwater maneuverability, so it’s tough to evade in the tight space between the pillars. Tony fires back at them, carefully, but any misdirected repulsor blast could take down a building. He adds close-range underwater combat to his mental list of things to equip the suit for as one of the agents grabs his legs and yanks him back. He tries to kick him away, but the water slows his movements too much to be effective. The mini heat-seeker guns still work, though, and they do the trick.
“Iron Man, what’s your situation? Report!” Steve sounds worried.
“Situation normal. Got those agents. Working on the device,” Tony replies as he pulls out a red wire.
The device lights up blue, illuminating the water around it. Shit.
“Iron Man? Tony!”
A force emanating from the device is pushing him away from it and he has to fight to get close again.
“Working on it, Cap!” Tony shouts. He quickly looks over the device’s wiring, at least what’s visible, and then he spots its Achilles heel. Sea water floods into the device as he pulls off the protective panel. He uses the suit’s laser to cut open the secondary panel and the motherboard sparks when the water hits it, then the device goes dark.
“Well, that’s done.”
A cleanup crew has arrived to take over wrapping up the mission, so Steve and Tony are left with little to do but sit and watch as the device is pulled from the water. Steve’s legs are dangling over the edge of the canal as he leans back casually. His foot is bumping against the wall in a steady rhythm. It’s oddly soothing.
“That was good work, Tony,” Steve says, nodding towards the device, which is now being loaded onto a boat.
Tony shrugs. “We wouldn’t have found it without you. Seriously, maybe you missed your true calling as a super-spy.”
That earns him a warm smile from Steve. He lets his head rest against the wall and closes his eyes, his face turned up towards the sun. “It’s probably weird to say this about a mission, but it’s been fun.”
Tony looks down into the blue-green water of the canal. A group of tiny fish is darting around just below. “It has been. We should head out together more often, the two of us.”
Steve opens one eye and casts Tony a sideways glance.
“On missions,” Tony adds hastily.
“Yeah,” Steve agrees, closing his eyes again. “I kinda wish we didn’t have to leave yet. I like this city.”
“We don’t have to.”
Steve tilts his head down and opens his eyes to look at Tony.
“We could stay, for a few days, if you want.” Steve isn’t showing any reaction, so Tony continues. “My conference is over already anyway. I can move some stuff around in my schedule. We could hang around, check out the beach on Lido, visit all the churches - you’ll love the paintings in them - have some more pasta…”
He ends that train of thought there since Steve is grinning at him like a big dumb fool.
“That sounds great, Tony.”
“Good.” Tony pulls his phone out and taps it. “FRIDAY, find us a nice place to stay. Somewhere overlooking the canal.”
“A lot of places are probably full up this time of year-”
“I’m sure we’ll find somewhere,” Tony interjects, too focused on the options FRIDAY has displayed to realize what Steve is getting at.
“-so we may have to share a room.”
That gets his attention.
“I mean, I wouldn’t mind that,” Steve adds.
“That sounds great, Steve.”
Steve smiles and leans back again, and Tony catches himself smiling as his eyes trace Steve’s jawline down to his neck, along his collarbone, down his chest, and he revels in the idea of sharing a room with him.