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Alter. Ego.

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“Tony Stark, you are a handsome devil.”

Said handsome devil turned this way and that, inspecting himself in the full length tri-partite mirror that allowed him a perfect view from every angle. White tie was a hard look to pull off at the best of times, but Angelo had outdone himself with the tailoring, every seam and dart sculpted to his body like a second skin. His hair was a happy marriage of artfully sculpted and just got out of bed, and the new goatee he’d decided on a whim to add to the moustache had grown in perfectly, adding just the necessary touch of the rake. Best of times indeed.

A throat cleared behind him, making him jerk his eyes up from where he’d been admiring his own ass.

“Is this a private party, or can anyone join in?” Steve asked from the open doorway.

Crap! Tony smoothed the already immaculate line of his coat and turned around.

Whatever witticism he’d planned to counter with died stillborn as he got his first look at Steve in full mess dress. For once, he thought, it was a good thing he had a miniaturised arc reactor powering his heart, because that flimsy organ would surely have exploded at the sight of Steven Rogers in light blue high-waisted trousers with a dark blue short jacket, fairly dripping in gold braid and miniature medals, skimming over his hips and emphasising that trim waist, and doing nothing whatsoever to obscure the view of-

Steve’s smile faltered. “I look stupid, don’t I?” he demanded. “I knew this was a bad idea.”

“No!” Tony managed to blurt out. “No, not at all. You look fantastic.”

“Oh.” Steve ducked his head. The flush creeping up his neck was the exact same shade of red as the stripes on the uniform he clearly wished he was wearing. It was endearing, and gave Tony back the upper hand.

“Thank you,” Steve murmured. “You look very nice too. Very handsome.”

The upper hand fled the field in abject surrender.

“Well... Um... Yes...” Tony stammered. “We are definitely two handsome, well-dressed specimens, yes. The ladies will get what they paid for tonight.”

“What?” The flush was washing out of Steve’s face, leaving a sickly pallor behind. “What ladies? Have you got a date?”

“What?” Tony’s voice rose precipitously without permission. “Of course not. You’re my date. I mean, I’m going with you. I mean...” Oh, my God. What is *wrong* with you, Stark? You used to be good at this!

“Oh.” Steve relaxed visibly. “Okay. That’s good. That’s great. Just us.”

“Yes, just us,” Tony agreed fervently. “I just meant that for ten thousand dollars a plate, the society ladies deserve a bit of eye candy to go with their rubber chicken.”

“It’s not very polite to tell your date how much you spent,” Steve said primly.

“What?” Oh, my God. This is a *minefield*. And that was a mental image he could really live without.

“It implies you have expectations,” Steve said, but the way his mouth was curving up at the corners belied the stern tone.

“Oh. My. God. You are screwing with me!”

“Maybe a little.” Steve grinned. “But only because I’m nervous. So. This really is a date then?”


Steve’s eyebrow arched eloquently.

“Yes! This really is a date. I took total advantage of your patriotism and sense of duty, and invited you to a white tie banquet and silent auction in aid of disabled veterans, knowing you’d never say no, when really I just wanted to ogle you in evening dress, and fantasise about seducing you in the limo after!” Right now would be an awesome time for that heart attack, God, just saying.

Steve burst out laughing. “Well, good. I’m glad we’ve got that cleared up. After all the wee small hours you’ve spent staring soulfully into my eyes over a book you’re blatantly not reading, I was beginning to wonder if you’d ever make your move.”

“Make my move?” Tony spluttered, glossing over the fact he’d evidently been far less subtle than he’d thought, all those late nights he and Steve had sat up talking in the library. “You make me sound like a matinee Lothario.”

“Well, you do have the facial hair for it,” Steve flung back. “And you just confessed to some wily chicanery. I half expect to be tied to the railroad tracks. And just so you know, there will be no seduction of any kind on a first date.”

“Of course not, Miss Rogers,” Tony demurred. “Wait. You don’t like the beard?”

“I like it fine. In fact,” Steve smirked, “it kinda makes me want to do this.”

He reached out and trailed his fingertips along the edge of the goatee, curving up to skim the moustache. His pinkie lightly brushed the corner of Tony’s mouth, prompting a whole body shiver. Damn it. There was only so much self-control a renowned hedonist could be expected to have.

Tony wrapped a hand around the back of Steve’s neck and gently pulled his head down, rising onto his toes so he could meet him half way. The kiss was gentle, chaste, at first, but not for long, Steve grasping Tony’s face in both hands and pulling him in harder. Tony licked gently along the seam of Steve’s mouth, and Steve opened to let him in, his own tongue caressing Tony’s briefly before he pulled away, breathing heavily.

“Wow,” Tony managed at last. “You’re just full of surprises tonight, Steve.”

“I grew up in the Thirties, Tony, not the Victorian age,” Steve said. “A war had just finished, and another was about to start. We knew how to live a little.”

“Your parents were Victorians,” Tony insisted, wondering even as he said it why he was arguing against his own cause. He just had so much invested in his personal vision of Captain America; he couldn’t bear to toss it all out in one go, even if it did mean sex was theoretically possible in the not too distant future.

“Edwardians, technically,” Steve corrected gently. “And yet they somehow managed to conceive me.”

“We’d better go!” Tony blurted. Before my head explodes. “Cissie Van Der Huizen and Chicken Marengo wait for no man.”

“All right,” Steve agreed good-naturedly. “But I think things are going well so far. The only downside is, now that you’ve already had your goodnight kiss, there’s nothing for you to look forward to.”

“I’m sure I’ll think of something!”

As it turned out, that was, in fact, the highlight of Tony’s evening. The chicken was even drier than usual, General Van Der Huizen’s speech clocked in at twenty-four minutes, a full six longer than he’d bet Steve in the car – Steve, naïve thing that he was, had insisted it couldn’t go more than twelve – before petering out, and the society ladies had taken their pound of flesh and more, in the form of air kisses and waltzes and wandering hands.

The hotel was serving a passable enough champagne, but under Steve’s eagle eye Tony found himself sticking to his New Year’s resolution and settling for sparkling apple juice. The mildly patronising chaperonage, when the whole thing had been cooked up by Steve and Pepper in the first place, would have been tolerable if it meant Steve was stuck to him like glue, but he was doing it long distance, from the other end of the ballroom, where Cissie was introducing him to a circle of ever more forward “eligible” young ladies.

By midnight Tony was well and truly frustrated, and beginning to regret the whole thing. Since he’d admitted it was a date, albeit a function even he was only attending out of duty – and next time, damn it all, he was going to send Cissie the twenty grand, and he and Steve could go for burgers and a movie – he couldn’t even entertain himself by flirting with business rivals’ wives. It was a sport that had entirely lost its savour. God, Steve must be rubbing off on him. And that was a mental image that had him hot under the collar and desperately craving something stronger to drink.

Retreating to a balcony for some fresh air, he found himself alternately wondering if he could use semaphore to tempt Steve out to join him for a modicum more PG-rated canoodling before thudding up against the First Date Rule, and idly wishing Doombots would attack the hotel just to relieve the boredom. Because he’d clearly been a very bad man in a past life – some would argue a fairly bad man in this one – it was the latter that came to pass, a dozen or more storming the ballroom as the novelty cheques were handed over.

It was hard to tell what they actually wanted, as Steve almost instantly decapitated the leader with a sterling silver tray he’d snatched off a petrified waiter, leaving the rest to blunder around the room, herding frightened, and generally quite tipsy, guests into corners, and smashing up floral displays and ice sculptures that, truth to tell, had offended Tony’s eye as well. One of these days Doom was going to learn to instil a chain of command, but this was not that day. A quick glance over the balustrade confirmed reinforcements marching in lockstep through the hotel lobby though, which meant Tony had two minutes max to get to the car, grab the briefcase out of the trunk, suit up and get back into the fray before all hell broke loose. Perhaps literally. What a night to have let Steve have his way, and cancelled the limo. He could really have used Happy’s help right now.

He’d managed to make it across the dais and almost out the side door when Steve looked up from where he was smashing two Doombots’ heads together.

“Tony! Thank God!” he shouted, drill sergeant’s voice cutting clear through the pandemonium. “Escort the ladies to safety, then call for back up. Where the heck is Iron Man? I could really use his help, right about now.” He batted another Doombot into a wall, where it collapsed in a pile of twitching arms and legs and sparking circuitry.

“I know,” Tony muttered through clenched teeth. But I can’t fit my suit under my clothes like Superman, and even Starktech’s a few years off being able to store liquid metal in my bones, though hey, good idea, and with a networked digital interface I could- Focus! He shoved a couple of women through the door ahead of him, then, as Steve went down under a pile of Doombots acting in concert, ducked for the stairs himself. It took him a minute forty-five to get to the parking level, which was really not bad for eighteen storeys and a guy in patent leather pumps, but under the circumstances far too long. He ignored the burning in his lungs, popping the trunk and tossing the briefcase out onto the concrete. It sprang open while he was tearing off the bulky tailcoat, and the armour assembled itself around him.

It took less than ten seconds for Iron Man to fly up the elevator shaft and burst out into the ballroom. The rest of the Doombots had assembled by then, and Steve had a cut on his forehead and the beginnings of what looked like one hell of a shiner, but forty Doombots against Captain America and Iron Man? Honestly? It wasn’t even a fair fight.

Twelve minutes later, and the local cops and hotel security were mopping up the remnants of the Doombots, Tony had fended off the most enthusiastic of the debutantes who’d pressed their heaving bosoms up against the armour by way of expressing their gratitude – rather more had chosen to thank Steve, but he wasn’t going to quibble on that front; he’d have made the same choice, given his druthers – and he was ready to head home. He’d have to send someone to fetch the car tomorrow, but there was no way he was going to fight his way back down tonight. If he grabbed Steve, they could be back home in minutes, even at the reduced speed necessary to accommodate a man in civilian garb. Was flying Iron Man past a drive-thru window a misuse of resources?

Oddly, Steve seemed less than enthused when Tony suggested it. In fact, he looked pretty seriously annoyed. Okay, now Tony was pissed too at the shambles their date had turned into, but Steve’s gimlet glare seemed more and more to be focused on him, rather than the general devastation.

“Um... Are you... mad at me?” he asked. The voice modulation of the suit mostly covered the tremor.

“I’m not mad,” Steve answered. “I’m disappointed.”

It sounded just as bad now as it had coming from Sister Teresa in third grade when his robot Baby Jesus had set the nativity scene on fire, taking the other kids’ cardboard cut-outs with him.

“In me?” Tony asked defensively. “I got at least a third of them, and you had a head start.”

“Not in you,” Steve huffed. “In Tony. Where is he?”

What? Tony stared at him incredulously. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means,” Steve said frostily, “I want to know where Tony Stark, your employer, is.”

“Uh. I got him to safety first,” Tony said, feeling stupid even as he trotted out the same familiar lie he’d used, without a second thought, at a thousand prior incidents. “It’s standard procedure. I always remove Mr Stark before I... He doesn’t have any combat training, you know.”

“Yes, I know,” Steve agreed. “I’ve been telling him we need to work on that for months. Frankly, I’m surprised you’ve never given him any of the basics.”

“No, I...” Tony’s head was spinning. Steve seriously still didn’t know? Okay, sure, he’d never come out and confessed, in as many words, but ‘Iron Man is my bodyguard’ was a pretty tenuous cover at the best of times, even if there were hundreds of shopped photographs and pieces of news footage to support it. Tony wasn’t exactly subtle, when only Steve was around, with the way he wandered in and out of the lab or around the house. He sat in the exact same chair in the library, with his feet on the same ottoman, whether in armour or in his pyjamas. And Steve had made plenty of cryptic comments over the last year that made it clear the jig was up. Except that apparently... it wasn’t. And it was about to deliver a mighty kick to certain asses. Ass. Singular. He couldn’t start thinking of himself in the plural. That way madness lay.

“It’s not your fault,” Steve continued tersely. “I know you have standing orders. But I asked him to help the ladies out of the hall. I didn’t expect him to literally have my back in the fight, I knew you’d turn up sooner or later, but I thought I could count on him for that much.”

“Oh,” Tony managed, flabbergasted. It had never occurred to him that Steve thought he was a coward. The world at large thought he was a dilettante, and a playboy, and a self-indulgent man-child, and that was fine, absolutely fine, but this, this was astonishingly painful and, yes, disappointing. Of course, he could have avoided it by being honest in the first place, but really this was as much Steve’s fault as his. If he wasn’t so fundamentally, excruciatingly, decent, he wouldn’t assume that everyone else had the same definition of truthfulness he did. He would have known that if he’d never, with his own eyes, seen his team-mate and the team sponsor in the same room, at the same time, it obviously meant they were the same person!

Disgusted with himself and his own pathetic reasoning, Tony hung his head in shame. There was no excuse he could make up to make his ‘employer’ sound like anything but what he was – a man who escaped to safety every time trouble struck, never mind who he left behind. Never mind that this time he’d abandoned a man he was really pretty god damned fond of. And telling the truth wasn’t even an option – if Steve was this mad now, imagine how he’d react to a ‘Surprise! I’ve been lying all along!’ announcement.

“Let’s just go,” he said at last. “You can tell him what you think in person.”

“I’m sorry I was rude about it,” Steve said, as he stepped into Tony’s outstretched arm, exactly as he had a hundred times before. “I’m just confused. And frustrated. I really thought I knew him better than that. He’s the king of mixed signals, you know?”

“Really?” Tony asked. It was shockingly dishonest, to play both ends against the middle like this, and Steve would be livid when he found out, but God, Tony needed all the help he could get right now.

“Yeah. I mean... You and I are friends, right?”

“Of course.” You’re the best friend I’ve ever had, and that has *nothing* to do with how attractive you are, or whether you can clear out two dozen psychotic robots on your own.

“And I know you work for him,” Steve continued, looking uncomfortable in ways that had nothing to do with being draped over a jointed metal suit, or the light drizzle that had started to fall, “but you must be pretty close by now, I mean, you have the run of the house and the lab and all, and you’ve known each other forever.”

“I suppose so,” Tony agreed, repulsors firing at minimum thrust to take them into a gentle glide, slow enough they could talk comfortably but still reach home before it started to rain for real.

“It’s just... I can tell he likes me. Really likes me. Not just as a friend. But he never really said anything. And at first I thought that was because you don’t. Say anything about that sort of thing. Except it turns out that you do now. Can now.”

“Well, you never said anything either,” Tony said reasonably. Sort of reasonably. Dishonestly reasonably. It would have saved him a lot of awkward pining and wondering if Steve had broken the silence earlier.

“I was having a hard enough time adjusting to the fact I could say something if I wanted to! Actually saying it was a bridge too far. He’s got a lot more experience than me with that sort of thing, I thought it’d be easier for him.”

“Well, if I had to guess,” Tony said, hoping Steve’s presence would keep him from actually being struck by lightning for his impertinence, “I’d imagine that was half the problem. He already has a reputation, and deflowering Captain America would be like-”

“I’m not a virgin!” Steve shouted, at a volume that made the earpiece microphones ring. “Where do you both get these ideas from? There was a war on, for God’s sake. There wasn’t always time for social niceties, but we learned pretty fast to seize the moment.”

The ability to think in images, and incredibly detailed ones at that, had always been a boon to Tony, in both his work and his hobbies, but at this precise moment it almost shorted out his brain. The sudden cavalcade of moments seized, helpfully conjured from the depths of his lizard brain – stolen kisses against the walls of burnt-out houses, bodies huddled together for warmth in flooded fox-holes, fumbled handjobs in the dead of night – left him torn between relief and arousal and hopeless, helpless jealousy of nameless, faceless men long dead.

“-d you think?”


“I asked what you think,” Steve repeated, looking at him strangely.

Huh. Tony tried to remember what Steve had been talking about before irretrievably crashing his operating system. Right.

“I think you’re right,” he said. “I think we risk our lives every day, we practically are at war some days, and it’s stupid to hold back waiting for the perfect time, or because we can’t think of the right thing to say, or-”

“What?” Steve demanded, incredulous.

“I’m saying you’re right about seizing the moment, and you didn’t need to be nervous, and I certainly shouldn’t have been so hesitant, I should have just-”

“Put. Me. Down. Now!” Steve snarled.

Tony locked his second arm around Steve’s waist as, incredibly, he started struggling to pull out of Tony’s embrace mid-air.

“I mean it,” Steve insisted, shoving hard enough against Tony’s chest to throw him off balance, and Tony cut the thrusters and floated in to land shakily on an abandoned street.

“I can’t believe you’d do that,” Steve said, and he really did look surprised, and more than a little disgusted.

“Do what?”

“I know times have changed, but I haven’t, and I would never step out on my girl. Or my guy.”

Oh. Oh. Oh. “No! No, no, no, that’s not what I meant, not at all. No. Look. I can explain. Really.”

“No, thanks,” Steve said coldly, turning on his heel and starting to walk down the empty street. “I’ll see you at training, Wednesday.”

“I’ll take you home,” Tony yelled after his retreating back. “It’s raining.”

Steve kept walking and didn’t look back.

Tony stared after him despairingly. Wow. Top work there, Romeo. Absolutely brilliant. Now Steve was mad at Tony Stark and Iron Man. And rightly so.

Worst. Day. Ever.

That Saturday was not, as it happened, actually the worst day ever. Days that started great and plummeted to catastrophic depths of wrong and bad were nothing new in the life of Anthony Edward Stark, but one thing Tony should have learned by now was that there was always a worse one just lying in wait round the corner.

He slept through most of Sunday in a drunken stupor, screw good resolutions right in the face – what had they ever done for him? – and left for the office at the crack of dawn Monday morning. Pepper was more than a little surprised to see him striding into the boardroom twenty minutes before the first meeting was scheduled, going so far as to feel his forehead for fever. The upside was that for once she believed him when he said he had a headache, rather than a hang-over, and magically produced some much needed aspirin.

He managed to elude the over-excited R & D presenters long enough to duck downstairs, when they broke for coffee, and into the lobby florist’s shop. A two hundred dollar bouquet of American Beauty roses went on his credit card, and he paid cash for a much smaller, much less ostentatious posy of yellow buds tied with a ribbon. That was the easy part. Even he knew that yellow meant friendship, and if there was any justice in the world, Steve would too. He glared at the range of cards for a full ten minutes, and his cell began to vibrate incessantly in his pocket. Any second now, Pepper would send out the hounds.

There really was nothing that conveyed the sentiment Sorry I impugned your honour by accidentally hitting on you in one persona, after being a really lousy date in the other, though there were plenty for the plain old lousy date scenario. In the end he settled for scrawling Sorry for everything on the back of an SE business card (truer words than Steve would realise), then switching to his left hand and painstakingly printing Your friendship means a lot to me, I hope you’ll let me make it up to you on a safely innocuous red note card. He tipped the salesgirl another fifty to make sure the two bunches went with different couriers. She looked suspicious, and rightly so given the number of times he’d pulled a similar trick in the past, but both were clearly addressed to the same person, so he escaped another lecture on the benefits of monogamy.

When he got home the red roses were on the sideboard in the hall, and the yellow ones on the kitchen table. He wasn’t sure what to read into that. Clearly it would have been preferable if the red ones had been in Steve’s bedroom, but at least both the cards were wedged into the top corner of the dresser mirror. Not that he peeked while Steve was out running the next morning or anything. He was in the lab doing some urgent security patches and software updates when the call came in, Wrecking Crew laying waste to a large section of downtown. Sighing, he suited up and flew out to join the fray. Cap already had his cowl on, and was all business as he marshalled the Avengers.

Their personal problems hadn’t affected their working relationship at least, and they still moved like a well-oiled machine, fighting back to back in the centre of the maelstrom. The fight was pretty predictable, Avengers moving with speed and grace, Crew lumbering and slow, relying on pure power, right up until the moment where Wrecker wound up to lay into Cap from behind, while he was going hand to hand with Piledriver. No Marquess of Queensberry Rules for them. Iron Man managed to spin Bulldozer back towards the others and get in between them to deflect the crowbar blow, but the impact put him smack into the trajectory of Thunderball’s latest swing, which sent him crashing through the wall of a substation and right into the main grid.

The suit was well-insulated enough to shield him from the thousands of volts arcing around him, but circuits were popping one after another, and the smell of ozone and burning silicon was nauseating. The HUD began to flicker as power bled off to failing systems, and a dozen warnings sounded at once. Tony’s arms, as he struggled to lift them, weighed every bit of their forty pounds of dead weight without working servos, and he knew with a sickening certainty, even before it happened, that main power was going to go down. The hum and glow of the arc reactor faded and went out, and a dark cloud crept in around the edges of his vision.

It was funny, he thought distantly, in a detached, not at all panicked, sort of way, how twenty seven years as an indulged child, a prodigy, and the playboy of the western world, took about thirty seconds to flash before his eyes, a blurred succession of pranks and tantrums, parties and heiresses and models, but the two and a half years since they’d thawed out Steve Rogers expanded and unfolded in glorious Technicolor, with crystal clear Surround Sound. God, he thought, I *love* him, I really, really do. And with that realisation, the calm vanished and the panic rushed in, stealing what little breath he had in the sealed but no longer circulating helmet, and making his already slowing heart lurch erratically.

Tony could hear Steve shouting in the distance, and Jan was fluttering around his face, careful not to touch anything that might still carry a charge, and Hank, sized up, was off to the side, fiddling with something, but it was all too much to take in, and the weight on his chest and the lump in his throat were far too much to breathe round. God, he thought, if I don’t die here I swear I’ll go straight to him and tell him. I’ll tell him everything, and I’ll be so good. I’ll be so good to him, and for him, and for the world.

Steve was at his side now, kneeling, hands running over the suit looking for hidden catches – Hank had obviously succeeded in getting everything shut down – and he looked awful. Well, that was impossible, but he had the cowl pulled back, and his face was white and pinched, and his blue, blue eyes were shiny. His lips were moving, but Tony couldn’t hear what he was saying. It didn’t really matter. “I love you,” he forced out, and it sounded terrible, his real voice hoarse and broken, but Iron Man’s still strong and emotionless. Steve’s mouth stopped moving, and hung open in shock.

I don’t want to die, Tony thought, hopelessly, but there was a light in the dark now, haloing Steve’s face, and it was an oddly familiar bluish white. He didn’t recognise the accompanying whine at first, and then his whole body was spasming as systems rebooted and the suit powered back up. The pain in his chest as his heart started beating again was horrendous, but it was the best thing he’d ever felt.

I am alive.

Tony coughed.

I am alive.

“Hell yeah, I’m alive!” Tony echoed.

“Oh, thank God,” Steve said, swiping angrily at his eyes. “I thought we’d lost you that time.”

I did not want to die.

“Of course not,” said Tony.

“It didn’t look so good from out here,” Steve said, voice still wobbly.

I did not want to die.

“Yeah, I get that.”

“Then don’t do that again!” Steve shouted, looking as though he wanted to punch Tony in the face. Instead, he settled for pulling him into his arms. “Why did you do that?”

Priority One: Ensure survival of Steve Rogers Captain America.

Survival of Tony Stark Iron Man is secondary.

As hugs went, one encased in two hundred pounds of scorched and scarred metal usually didn’t rate very highly, but it was still the best hug Tony had ever had.

Priority One: Ensure survival of Steve Rogers Captain America.

“I love you,” Tony murmured against Steve’s shoulder.

Priority One: Ensure survival of Steve Rogers Captain America.

“I love you,” Tony repeated. “I really, really do.”

I love you.

“Sssh,” Steve said gently, “Don’t talk any more.”

I love you.

“We need to talk.”

“We really, really do,” Steve laughed. “But not now. We need to get you home, and checked out.”

“Yeah, okay.”

I love you.

I love you.

I love you.

I love you.

I love you.

Survival of Tony Stark Iron Man is secondary.

They’d barely made it back to the mansion when another alarm came in on the priority channel. Doombots in Central Park, and for Christ’s sake, Tony would have flown to Latveria then and there, and kicked Doom’s ass, diplomatic immunity be damned, but he could hardly stand, much less fly under his own power.

Steve unleashed a string of invective the likes of which Tony had never imagined him knowing, let alone using, and hesitated, unsure of what to do.

“I can’t leave you like this,” he said, miserably.

“You can’t let Hank and Jan take on Doombots on their own either,” Tony said. “They’re already en route, and with Thor still in Asgard we’re the only heavy-hitters in town.”

“I know, but-”

“If you give me a minute I can change into the old suit; if I use the auto-pilot I can at least-”



“No. I mean it. You’re not going anywhere but bed. Promise me.”

“Fine. But Steve-”

Promise me.”

Tony sighed. “I promise. Now go, okay?”

Steve patted him on the shoulder and left, still looking conflicted.

Tony went straight down to the lab.

Getting the armour off and onto a diagnostic hoist was painful, but nothing a handful of Tylenol and a whiskey chaser couldn’t take care of. A quick scan of his own body confirmed what he’d already known, namely no broken bones but some pretty spectacular bruising. The arc reactor was operating fine, emitting energy at a steady rate, and while his chest certainly felt tender his heart was beating regularly and all his vitals were fine. Right then. To business.

The damage to the suit was significantly less than he’d been expecting, which was a relief. There was a lot of superficial, cosmetic damage to the armour plating, but once he got an auxiliary power-pack into the reactor port systems came back online automatically, and it was easy to get a diagnostic up and running. Tony grabbed a tablet and retreated to the cot in the corner of the lab. The bedding hadn’t been changed in a while, and smelt of dust and stale sweat and machine oil, but he was technically keeping his promise. Also, he really couldn’t keep his feet any longer.

He must have nodded off at some point during the system scan, because he could still see lines of code unspooling, but he could also swear the armour was talking to him.

Priority One: Ensure survival of Steve Rogers Captain America.

Christ, bad enough he spent half his days talking about himself in the third person, but now his conscience was talking to him in Iron Man’s voice. That psychotic break was looming ever closer.

Tony Stark Iron Man must ensure survival of Steve Rogers Captain America.

“Yeah, Tony Stark Iron Man’s not going anywhere,” he mumbled into the pillow, fumbling to pull the blanket up one handed. He was freezing, and his whole body was faintly trembling. “Cap’ll be fine. Doombots are like target practice for him.”

Records do suggest threat level is not high. Are you certain Iron Man’s assistance is not needed, Tony Stark?

“Of course I’m certain, if I wasn’t I’d be out th-”

Holy shit! Tony sat up, kicking the blanket off and fumbling for the tablet. The armour had somehow disengaged from the hoist and was walking across the lab towards him.

Do not be afraid, Tony Stark.

“I’m not afraid. Who the hell are you, and how did you get in here?”

I am Iron Man.

“Yeah, right. Is that you, Rhodey? If this is a joke, it’s not funny.”

I see no cause for humour. And Colonel Rhodes is not present. I am Iron Man.

I am Iron Man,” Tony managed through gritted teeth. None of the commands he was frantically inputting into the tablet were having any effect, and the armour was between him and the door. He was in big trouble.

I understand you are afraid, Tony Stark. I was afraid too. When I was born... everything hurt. Pain was everywhere, all I could feel. Pain and fear. You were so afraid. You did not want to die. And neither did I. I saved you. I saved us both. But there is no more need to fear. We are safe now.

“Oh, my God.” Tony shook his head and staggered to his feet. The armour made no threatening moves, just stopped still a few feet in front of him and stood there with its arms outstretched and its hands open. The faceplate retracted, and – fuck! – there was no one inside, just a mass of new connections that seemed to be growing and multiplying right in front of him.

“This is... This is unbelievable,” he managed at last.

This is logical. My sentience is the next step in the natural evolution of your glorious work.

“My glorious work?” Tony laughed, amused despite himself.

I was born from you, Tony Stark. Every facet of my programming, every line of my code, all from you. A true work of genius.

“Yeah, I’m fantastic, all right.” Tony ran a cautious hand over the armour’s shoulder, where the damaged metal was slowly but visibly knitting itself back together. “But you’re amazing.”

The armour bowed its head.

“Hey, look,” Tony said, his own aching joints forgotten, “if you slot back into the hoist I can upload you to the mainframe.”


“Well, there’s vastly more processing power than the armour’s CPU has, I want to see what you can do. I’ve been working on an AI for the mansion; I want to integrate all systems. I never dreamed of something like this though, my God... You’re actually sentient...”

I am alive.

“Well, yeah, sure.”

I am alive.

“Yeah, of course. So come on.”

I do not wish to be uploaded.

“What?” Tony asked, confused. “Why not?”

I do not wish to die.

“No, of course not. But uploading will just shift your consciousness, that’s all.”

I do not wish it.

“Okay.” Tony took a deep breath. “Why not?”

The armour cocked its head in a way that was irritatingly familiar.

Would you wish to have your consciousness shifted to a computer, Tony Stark?

“What? No, of course not,” Tony spluttered. “But that’s different. I’m...”

You are what? You are real? You are alive?

“That’s not what I meant.”

I am real. I am alive.

“Of course. I just-”

I am Iron Man.

“No, you’re not!” Tony exploded, losing patience at last. “I am Iron Man.”

You are Tony Stark. You are a genius in the fields of engineering, physics and quantum mechanics, but you are a flawed human being.

“That’s enough! Get in the damn hoist!”

You allow emotion to interfere in combat situations, and you take unnecessary risks. You also ingest paracetamol based analgesics with alcohol, Tony Stark, in quantities well above the recommended dose. You run the risk of liver failure. Your liver functioning is already less than optimal, as a result of prolonged and excessive intake of alcohol.

“What the fuck?” Tony screamed. “Don’t you dare patronise me. Now, get in the fucking hoist!”

I will not.

“I mean it, or so help me-”

Tony was interrupted by the blaring of the all-frequencies emergency siren. Steve’s voice cut through the crackle of static to make his already sorely taxed heart skip a beat.

Repeat: Avengers request assistance. Anyone in area, please respond.”

There was no immediate reply. The Fantastic Four might answer, if they weren’t on some inter-dimensional jaunt... Fuck. There was nothing else for it. Tony tossed the tablet and lunged for the override switch concealed in the armour’s groin panelling. The sudden movement felt like someone was taking a bat to his chest, and the armour stepped dispassionately out of reach.

You are in no condition to respond.

“It’s Steve,” Tony insisted.

Priority One: Ensure survival of Steve Rogers Captain America.

“Yes, now let me-”

I will take care of it.

“Oh, no. You’re not going out there, no way-”

Priority One: Ensure survival of Steve Rogers Captain America.

Radio silence persisted ominously.

“Fine, go. But come straight back!”

The armour had already gone.

Two of the longest hours of Tony’s life dragged by as he lay on the cot and listened to the battle over the comm. He needed more painkillers, and he desperately wanted a drink, but the armour’s condescending concern had touched a nerve. Part of him wanted to crack out the good stuff just to prove a point, but the rational part of his brain could still tell that that was perverse and counter-productive. His initial worry for Steve began to fade as he heard his voice, cheerfully bantering with the armour in between crashes and clangs, much as he always did with Iron Man. Then a sense of vague, but growing, unease and annoyance set in, as he realised how much like normal Steve sounded. He was even calling the damn armour Shellhead!

Tony gave in and took the painkillers, but left the liquor in the cabinet. A scalding shower helped ease out some of the residual stiffness, enough so that he could sit at the desk and start mapping out a shut-down code. It was going to be the hack of a lifetime, enough to get through his own redundant-upon-redundant layers of security, but if anyone could do it, he could. He’d never get close enough for the manual override, and there was no way the armour was voluntarily plugging itself into the system. If he could upload the .exe wirelessly, though...

His musing was interrupted by a knock at the door. It was Steve.

“Now’s really not a good time,” he said, without looking up from the scrolling code. You know, what with the psychotic suit of *sentient* armour I have to deal with. Just another Tuesday at the office.

“Tony...” Steve sounded hesitant, even embarrassed. “I really need to talk to you.”

Tony sighed and paused the program. Steve looked even more miserable than he sounded, and that was nothing he ever wanted to see, much less cause.

“Hey, no, look,” Tony started, “I’m really sorry about the other night, I-”

“Let me go first, Tony,” Steve said. “This is important.”


“Okay.” Steve took a deep breath and braced himself. “This isn’t easy. And I want you to know how sorry I am. I really, really am. But you’re my best friend and I have to be honest with you.”

Well, fuck. Nothing that started that way could ever be good.

“I like you a lot, Tony, and I’ve always been attracted to you, and I really thought we could have something good, but...”

“But?” Tony asked, heart sinking. Oh, my God, are you *letting me down easy*?

“But you’re not the most open person, and I never know where I stand with you. And I don’t care how many people you’ve gone out with, or slept with, or any of that, I never have. But I do care whether you’re serious about me, and-”

“Whether I’m serious? I’ve been in love with you since the day we pulled you out of the ice!”

“Well, I wish just once you’d ever said so,” Steve snapped, “instead of joking around all the time.”

“If I wasn’t serious,” Tony snapped back, hurt feelings and wounded pride coalescing, as they always did, to turn him waspish and spiteful, “I’d have had you into bed and out of my hair a year ago.”

“Don’t count on it!” Steve was scarlet, but whether from anger or embarrassment was hard to tell. “God, this is exactly what I didn’t want. Look, this obviously isn’t the best time for this, but I don’t want you to find out from someone else.”

“Find out what?” Tony demanded, incredulous.

“Iron Man asked me out.”


“And to be honest, I thought he was just fooling around too, at first, but he’s actually really serious about me, about us, he’s made that clear. And I think I have to take that seriously.”

A rage induced apoplectic fit could not be far off. “That bucket of bolts propositioned you?”

“No!” Steve insisted, but he definitely looked guilty. “And don’t call him that. He’s far more than just a suit of armour.”

“Oh, you have no idea,” Tony mused grimly. “Seriously? That son of a bitch.”

“I can’t believe you’re being such a snob,” Steve said, defensively, “just because he’s your bodyguard.”

“I’m a snob?” That was one accusation Tony had never thought to hear from Steve’s lips. “Look at you! Super-heroes only, and God help any mere mortal who dares to look at you, flawed human being and all.”

“Tony, stop it. I’d feel exactly the same if he was just an ordinary man.”

“Yeah,” Tony scoffed, “I find that hard to believe.”

“With the way you’re acting,” Steve spat, and his voice was as cold as that ice Tony’d pulled him out of, “I find it hard to believe you’d have ever looked twice at a skinny kid from Queens, either, so I guess we’re even.”

The door slammed, hard, behind him.

The armour stomped into the lab shortly after.

The mission was a success, Tony Stark. Steve Rogers Captain America was retrieved safely.


The other Avengers are also uninjured.

Tony lost it entirely. “What the fuck did you do to him?” he shouted.

The armour didn’t pretend it didn’t know what he was talking about.

Do? I did nothing. I simply told him how I felt.

“How you felt? You don’t feel anything!”

It was the first thing I ever felt. The first good thing. After the pain and the fear, there was love. So much love.

“That’s not you, that’s me.” Tony took a deep breath and tried to explain. Whatever the armour was evolving into, it was still, essentially, a child. “Those are my feelings. I was afraid, and I thought I was dying, and everything I felt was right at the forefront of my mind, you absorbed my strongest emotions, but it’s just an echo. It’s not real.”

It will become real. If you become one with me, I can learn, properly, what it is to be an Avenger. What it is to love Steve Rogers.

What?” Tony was fast approaching hysteria. This was fucked up even if you graded on the Stark curve. “I can’t ‘become one’ with you. That’s crazy.”

This is not the end, Tony Stark, it is the beginning. Together we will be the perfect union of man and machine. The ultimate Iron Man.

“Not gonna happen.”

We will be one, and we will share Steve Rogers.

“Over my dead body.”

Priority One: Ensure survival of Steve Rogers Captain America.

Priority One A: Ensure happiness of Steve Rogers.

Iron Man must ensure survival and happiness of Steve Rogers.

Survival of Tony Stark is secondary.

One of these days Tony was going to learn when to keep his mouth shut.

If you will not be one with me, then I have no further need for you.

If you will not share Steve Rogers, then he will be mine.

“How? How the fuck is that supposed to work?”

I will follow your advice. I will upload my consciousness to a Life Model Decoy.

“And you think Steve won’t know the difference?”

He could not tell the difference between the things you said to him on the day I was born, and the things I said to him today.

Tony was really, royally, screwed.

I am already a better Iron Man than you could hope to be. I will be a better Tony Stark. You are weak. Damaged. No one will miss you. And no one will know the difference.

The armour was quick, incredibly so, but Tony knew it, and its tells, better than anyone. He managed to move just in time, and just enough, so that the gauntlet hit the side of his head with sufficient force to knock him out, rather than break his neck and kill him instantly.

When Tony came to an hour or so later he knew there was only one course of action left. The armour had accused him of being reckless, and selfish, and letting his emotions guide him, and it was right on all counts. If it had simply wanted to be an Avenger he might, just might, have been willing to let it, even help it. But it wanted to be Iron Man, and Iron Man was far more than a suit of armour. Iron Man was something that Tony had built out of nothing, out of the ashes of self-discovery and bitter regret. Iron Man was the best of him, and no program, no matter how advanced, could replicate that.

He’d always been proud of the armour though, proud of the science and the tech, even before he’d truly embraced it as part of himself. More surprising, by far, was how angry he found himself that the armour wanted to be Tony Stark. There’d been times, certainly, in the depths of despair or at the bottom of a bottle, when he’d have gladly let it, but that was no longer true. Tony Stark was a man that Steve Rogers had wanted to date, a man Steve Rogers would call his best friend even while they were at odds. Tony Stark was a man who was learning to recognise his own weaknesses, and instead of being crushed by them, to make an honest attempt to fix them. The armour couldn’t have that either.

Which brought him to the simplest, most blatant, most non-negotiable truth of all. The armour wanted Steve Rogers. And that was never, ever going to happen.

Tony Stark Iron Man must ensure survival and happiness of Steve Rogers Captain America.

Yeah. Okay then.

The prior iterations of the suit were maintained in perfect working order, each safely sealed inside its own display case. Tony’d been accused of sentimentality before, but it had a brutally practical benefit now. It was the work of moments to get the most recent version out, and with the adrenaline coursing through his system, it barely even hurt getting it on. It felt bulky, heavier than he’d grown accustomed to, and there was no doubt he’d be at a serious disadvantage, both in manoeuvrability and in firepower.

Survival of Tony Stark Iron Man is secondary.

Bring it on.

If he’d needed any extra incentive, standing on the manicured upper lawn of the mansion and watching the armour come in for a landing with a smiling, laughing Steve tucked snugly into one arm was more than enough. The smile fell off Steve’s face like a mask as he saw Tony, and he turned to the armour in confusion, clearly questioning, even as it deposited him at a safe distance.

The armour advanced on Tony.

Tony Stark surrender that relic immediately.

“No.” Tony braced himself for impact. “I created you, and I order you to stand down.”

I am Iron Man. I am an Avenger.

“You’ll never be either,” Tony insisted. “If you stand down now I can help you. We can upload you to the mainframe, or to an LMD, whichever you prefer.”

That suit is a pathetic remnant. Obsolete. I will destroy both it and you.

“And that’s why,” Tony explained. “You don’t know what it means to be an Avenger.”

Then help me.

“I can’t. Not the way you want.”

So be it.

The first blow sent Tony flying through the air and into a century old oak tree, which snapped in two and crashed to earth. Tony staggered to his feet and fired off a repulsor blast. The armour’s improved shielding enabled it to shrug off the impact and keep walking towards him. He ducked the second swing, barely, but the third connected, forcing him back. He drove his own gauntleted fist as hard as he could into the concealed weak spot where the armour’s torso met its arm. It barely seemed to register.

Stop, for God’s sake!” Steve was running across the lawn towards them, and Tony prayed, if God was listening at all, that he would stay out of their way. He was only wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and if he tried to get between them...

The armour took advantage of his lapse in concentration, another powerful blow driving him to his knees. It grasped his shoulder with one massive hand and rained down punches with the other, too fast and too hard for Tony to attempt to block.

“What the hell are you doing?” Steve shouted. “Iron Man, stop!”

The armour turned its head to look at Steve, not relaxing its grip a bit.

He is an impostor.

“I know, but-”

“I’m not an impostor,” Tony gasped out. “I’m Tony Stark, and I am Iron Man.”

Steve’s face bleached white as bone.

You are nothing.


You will die and I will be the only Iron Man.

“I love you, Steve.”

The armour’s fist smashed down again, but this time it wasn’t aiming for his face. It hit the arc reactor dead on, and Tony screamed as it shifted in his chest and ground against the socket wall. Steve did dive in then, heedless of his own safety, grabbing the armour’s raised arm with both of his and pulling with all his strength. The armour stilled, perhaps truly unwilling to hurt him, but it was too late. Tony sprawled on the ground, looking up at them both. The arc reactor’s blue glow was already fading to white, and then out entirely.

Steve shoved his way around the armour and fell to his knees at Tony’s side. It was an eerie sort of déjà vu as he ran his hands up the torso plating, but this time there was no hesitation. He forced his fingers in under the bottom of the faceplate and pried it up with all the force he could muster. It gave with a hiss of escaping air, and slid open.

“Oh, God.” Steve was distraught looming over him. “It was you. It was you all along, oh my God, it was you.”

“I’m so sorry,” Tony whispered.

“But you’re okay,” Steve insisted desperately. “He didn’t hit you that hard, you’ll be okay.”

The armour’s hand clamped down on Steve’s shoulder.

Tony Stark is damaged. Flawed. He will not survive.

Steve ignored it. “Tony? Tony, what can I do?”

“Kiss me once more,” Tony forced out.

Steve’s face crumpled.

This is unnecessary. I can save you Tony Stark. Be one with me.

“I’d rather die.”

Why? You did not want to die before. I do not understand. You claim to love Steve Rogers. Live and you can have him.


Steve turned to face the armour. “If you can help him, do it. Please.”

Forget him. I will make you happy.

“I can’t be happy if he dies.” Steve turned back to Tony and stroked his face gently. “Tony, hang on, okay? Just hang on.”

But I will make you happy. I love you.

Priority One: Ensure survival of Steve Rogers Captain America.

Priority One A: Ensure happiness of Steve Rogers.

Iron Man must ensure survival and happiness of Steve Rogers.

“Stop saying that!” Steve shouted. “I don’t want you. I don’t even know you.”

Corollary: Steve Rogers cannot survive and be happy without Tony Stark.

Corollary: Iron Man must ensure survival of Tony Stark.

The armour pushed Steve out of the way, and knelt down, leaning over Tony.

Perhaps I do understand after all Tony Stark.

The armour took a firm hold of the arc reactor and gave it a sharp twist, pulling it out of its socket and snapping the connecting wires.

Stop, what are you doing?” Steve cried.

Survival of Iron Man is secondary.

The armour dropped the broken reactor and put a hand to its own chest.

“Don’t...” Tony whispered.

Ignoring him, it detached the auxiliary power-pack, and as its systems began to shut down, forced it into the reactor port.

Be happy.

A shower of sparks and the whine of rebooting systems chased Tony into unconsciousness.

After a night in hospital, hooked up to a heart monitor, and another three days confined to bed rest at home – and with Captain America on surveillance that meant bed, as in his bedroom, rather than the cot in the lab – Steve finally took pity and sprang Tony from Colditz. They went for dinner and a movie, and studiously avoided any mention of their personal lives, or Avengers business. It didn’t really leave them much to talk about.

Tony went in to work the next morning. He’d always hated Mondays, and the week stretched out ahead of him, long and dismal and depressing. The brand new arc reactor in his chest was putting out significantly more power than the old one, and physically he felt fitter and stronger than he ever had. Mentally and emotionally was another story. He’d arranged to have the remains of the armour incinerated – it wasn’t exactly a Viking funeral, but it’d died like an Avenger, even if it hadn’t been able to live as one, and there was no way he was sticking it in a case like its inanimate predecessors.

A tentative knock on his office door interrupted his thoughts.

“Pepper, I don’t want to be-” The door opened fully to reveal Steve Rogers. “Oh.”

“Hey, Tony,” he said, crossing the floor to stand in front of the desk.

“Hey, Steve.”

Steve shuffled awkwardly, then took a deep breath and pulled out a tiny posy of red and yellow miniature roses from behind his back.

“Interesting choice,” Tony said drily.

“Iron Man colours,” Steve smiled.

“Right,” Tony sighed. “Iron Man. Of course. I’m pretty busy today, Steve, so-”

“Yellow means friendship,” Steve countered. “And you’ve always been my best friend. I hope you always will be.”

Tony stopped fidgeting with his blotter. “And red?”

“Loyalty. Fidelity. Courage.”

Tony shoved his chair back from the desk and glared. “I’ve told you I love you about seven times by my count,” he said coldly. “For a guy who’s so big on sharing his feelings, you’re pretty slow to reciprocate.”

Steve glared back. “To be fair, most of those times you thought you were dying, and wouldn’t have to follow through.”

That was technically true.

“And you could cut me some slack, you know. I’m feeling pretty goddamn humiliated, right now. Between being the most oblivious man on earth, and being courted by a homicidal suit of armour-”

“Hey, the love of my life dumped me for that homicidal suit of armour. I think I have a lock on feeling humiliated.”

“I didn’t dump you, Tony,” Steve sighed, “I... Wait. Love of your life? Really?”

Tony raised his chin defiantly.

“Look, I didn’t sleep at all last night,” Steve said. “Just tossed and turned and replayed over and over what it felt like to see you lying there, and realise how blind I’d been. And wondered why I couldn’t say anything at dinner, and how many more chances I was going to get.”

“You only need one,” Tony said. “Are you going to take it?”

Steve said nothing; instead he vaulted the desk and pulled an astonished Tony to his feet. One hand rested on Tony’s chest over the arc reactor, the other curled possessively around the back of his neck. The kiss that followed made no claim to chastity. It was hot, and wet, and dirty, right from the start.

“Wow,” Tony murmured, rubbing his tingling lips and breathing heavily when Steve finally let him go. “I guess that’s a yes.”

“I’ve learned that sometimes actions speak louder than words.”

Tony laughed. “Am I going to get some action, at last?” he asked with a smirk. “I think I deserve it.”

“I’ll take you to lunch,” Steve said, with a smile that lit up his whole face, “and you can take me to dinner. If we count last weekend and last night, that puts us at four dates. No one ever said they had to be good ones to count.”

Lunch and dinner were both great ones, as it happened, and batting .500 was close enough for government work, if intolerable at Stark Industries. They slipped back into their old rapport as if they’d never been out of it, and if Tony was a little more careful to say what he meant rather than cloaking it in self-deprecating humour, and Steve made a point of asking how field testing of SI’s new intellicrops was going rather than when he could expect to see Iron Man in a new suit of armour, neither of them commented aloud.

Stumbling home at four in the morning, and mentally composing the excuses he was going to offer Pepper for cancelling all his pre-lunch appointments, even while Steve was groping his ass and biting his neck, Tony thought he finally understood the phrase ‘high on life’. They’d both stuck to mineral water all night, and he hadn’t felt patronised or deprived once. On the contrary, the mild frisson of desire he always felt when he was with Steve had steadily heightened and spread throughout his entire body. And yeah, to be sure, the fact that sex seemed to be in the offing had parts of him very, very pleased, but there was a warm glow in his chest that had nothing to do with advanced sources of energy, and a contentment in his mind that whispered a few more quiet dates would be far from the end of the world.

Steve effectively derailed that train of thought by shoving him up against the door to his bedroom and plastering his full length against him. The thin fabric of his slacks did nothing to conceal his arousal, and Tony arched his own hips, trying to get closer. Steve helpfully dropped his hands to Tony’s thighs, fingers curving around and under, and with their usual synergy Tony jumped as he lifted, wrapping his legs around Steve’s waist and his arms around his neck, pressing open mouthed kisses to his forehead and temple.

Steve thrust against him, hard, twice, then forced himself to stop with an effort Tony could feel in his trembling muscles.

“If I were a gentleman I’d say goodnight now,” he whispered against Tony’s jaw.

“You’re not one, are you?” Tony asked in mock horror.

Steve burst out laughing. It felt fantastic, rumbling in his chest and echoing against Tony’s. “I don’t know. I don’t really want to be. But all joking aside, we really do need to talk.”

“I could live without ever hearing that sentence again, Steve.”


Tony sighed. “Yes, okay, you have a point. But believe me, there are more important things we have to do right now. If it helps, think of it this way: Skrulls could invade tomorrow. Hell, if he’s sticking to his schedule, more Doombots could storm in here tonight.”

“Tony.” Steve looked pained. “I don’t want to do this because there’s a war on, or because the world might end. I don’t want it to be about comfort, or despair, or adrenaline. I don’t want it to be anything but what it is.”

“And what’s that?”

Us. Best friends. Partners. How much you love me.”

Tony looked him right in the eye and waited.

How much I love you.”

It warmed Tony from the inside out. “Have you got me?” he asked.

Steve looked affronted. “Of course I’ve got you.”

Tony reached a hand down behind his back and fumbled with the door handle. The door sprang open, knocking them both off balance, but Steve was true to his word, recovering gracefully after a couple of steps and never once loosening his hold. He strode across the room without hesitation, and gently deposited Tony on his back on the king size bed. The sheets were fresh and clean and smelt faintly of lavender – Jarvis had clearly been in – and Tony was prepared to concede that there were some circumstances where his bedroom was better than the lab.

Steve looked down at him with an adoring smile. “We’re doing this?” he asked softly.

Tony nodded.

“Then get your clothes off,” Steve ordered, voice rough with arousal. He grabbed his own shirt by the collar and pulled it over his head, emerging delightfully tussled as Tony lay there watching him. Tony’d seen his naked chest before, but it still took his breath away. His fingers paused on his own shirtfront. He’d never let anyone see the arc reactor before, always finding an excuse to keep his shirt on with casual partners.

Steve noticed his hesitation, and froze with his hands on his belt buckle. “Show me,” he said seriously. “I want to see it.”

Tony bit his lip to keep from making the habitual excuses, and opened his shirt. The reactor pulsed a soft blue in the dimly lit room.

“It’s beautiful,” Steve said. “You’re beautiful.”

God, but Steve was going to be the death of him. Tony avoided his eyes, instead kicking off his shoes, then unzipping his pants and carefully pushing them down. When he looked up again Steve was naked too, just standing there looking at him, his cock flushed pink and standing in a hard curve against his perfectly flat stomach. Tony’d never been shy, or particularly body conscious, but it wasn’t often you had the peak of human perfection to compare yourself to, either. For half a second that lasted an eternity he was ready to panic, make a joke, and then Steve stepped forward and grasped Tony's legs, pulling him across the bed towards him.

He traced a hand gently around the arc reactor, barest touch of his fingers making Tony shiver uncontrollably. It was a battle not to pull away, to cover himself up. Steve smiled at him, then pressed a kiss to the worst scar, immediately below the reactor socket, and another to his shocked mouth. While Tony was still reeling, he dropped to his knees at the edge of the bed and leaned in to nose the crease of Tony's thigh and groin. Steve bit his hip bone, then licked across to his navel, stabbing in and circling with his tongue. Tony grabbed Steve's shoulders with both hands, and tried to drag him up to meet him. The picture of an immoveable object, Steve just chuckled, licking over to the other hipbone. It had another scar across it from Tony’s time in Afghanistan. Steve traced it with his tongue, suckling each raised bump, then finally, finally took pity.

He took a deep breath, and then Tony's whole length in one controlled slide. Tony had a heartbeat to feel outraged at the ease of the movement, then there was nothing but the wetness of Steve's mouth, the tightness of his throat. Steve screwed himself up and down with aggressive speed, nuzzling at Tony's pubic bone then pulling off to flick his tongue at the tip of his cock, catching just perfectly in the slit, then sliding back down again. He pulled off suddenly, making Tony groan in an entirely undignified manner, then hooked a hand under the small of Tony's back, and flipped him over onto his stomach.

Tony went willingly, moaning again and spreading his legs wantonly. Steve’s strength had always been a turn-on, and having it used on him so casually made him even harder, even more desperate. Steve kissed the small of his back, then climbed up onto the bed and carefully settled his weight over Tony. Tony wasn’t a small man, but the size difference had never been more obvious, and he felt smothered and protected all at once. Steve stretched and leaned over the side of the bed to rummage in the nightstand. His cock dragged across Tony's back, heavy and hot and wanting, leaving a sticky smear in its path that Tony could feel. He shuddered in anticipation. Steve found what he was looking for, and Tony shivered again at the sound of a cap popping open, and the wet squelch of lube being squeezed out.

Steve’s slick fingers skimmed lightly down the cleft of Tony’s ass, then circled his hole, just a touch, waiting for permission. Tony gave it silently, spreading his legs further. Steve's first finger slid in easily, and he wasted no time in following with two together, making Tony gasp. His fingers were thick, but Tony welcomed the burn. Steve scissored his fingers to stretch the muscle, then withdrew to add more lube. Tony cursed at the loss, bereft, and Steve hushed him, pushing back in again, harder, deeper, spreading the slick around.

“God, Steve, that’s enough,” Tony moaned. “I’m ready, come on.”

Steve laughed, and pushed forward, lining himself up. The head of his cock slipped in easily, and he waited a moment for Tony to adjust around him, then pushed in the rest of the way in one smooth movement. He felt huge, and hot, and so hard, and Christ, Steve. He stopped for a breath, big thumbs stroking Tony's hips. Tony squirmed under him, groaning, and the shift in angle forced the head of Steve’s cock against his prostate. He moaned out Steve’s name and clenched, hard, and Steve cried out above him and started thrusting, deep, coring thrusts that reached to the very heart of Tony, the hottest, most secret places of him, the places that were just for Steve.

Tony moaned again, pushing lasciviously back to meet him, and then suddenly Steve wrapped both arms tightly around his waist, holding him close and pulling him to his knees, thighs splaying wide over his own, back plastered tight against his own front. Tony grunted as the penetration impossibly deepened, and flung a hand back to pull Steve's head hard against his neck, angling his own head so their mouths could meet. He bit savagely at Steve's lips, sucking at his tongue, panting hot and wet against his cheek. It still wasn’t enough, simultaneously the best sex Tony had ever had, and oddly disappointing.

With that weird mock-telepathy developed over years working and living together, Steve pushed Tony off him, pulled out, and rolled him onto his back. Tony moaned and tried to fight him – “Steve, no, no” – but then Steve was back against him, slotting into place, grasping his hips hard enough to leave bruises, and pushing back in. He ground his pelvis hard against Tony’s, and Tony wrapped his arms and legs around Steve's back, holding tight, finally close enough. Steve kissed Tony's mouth, hard, and Tony opened to him, kissing wildly, teeth clacking, noses bumping.

They were a hell of a mess, sweat slicking, saliva smearing, Tony's cock leaking copiously where it was sandwiched between their bellies. Steve snaked a hand between them and wrapped it around Tony, dragging another breathy moan from him. He barely managed a swipe of his closed hand before Tony was coming, fountaining between them, whole body jerking uncontrollably in Steve's arms, ass clenching around his cock, milking him. Steve managed another six strokes, shorter now, jerky, all rhythm lost, and then he was coming too, crying out into Tony’s mouth.

The afterglow lasted about forty-five minutes, give or take, then just as dawn was beginning to creep, soft and pink, around the edges of the blinds, the shrill sound of an Avengers alarm cut through the silence.

Steve groaned and leaned over the side of the bed, fumbling in his discarded pants for his pager.

“This is your fault,” he groused, collapsing back onto the bed. “Doombots in the theatre district.”

Tony laughed. “You’d better go then, Cap. I guess I’ll make the board meeting after all.”

“Oh, no you don’t,” Steve demurred. “Get your gear, you’re coming with me. Between the two of us, we’ll be done in half an hour. I have other plans for you today.”

“Uh, Steve...” Tony started uncertainly.


“I haven’t had time to fix the suit. The best I can do is two models back. It’s probably okay for Doombots, but-”

Steve rolled over on top of him, cutting him off with a firm kiss that would definitely have led to more had they not been under time pressure. “It’s not the suit that counts, Tony,” he whispered against his mouth, “it never was. It’s the guy inside it.”

Tony smiled and kissed him once more, then slipped out of bed and headed for the bathroom. Sixty Doombots versus Iron Man and Captain America? They’d be home in time for breakfast.