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A breaker thundered in through the gap, building power along the narrow channel to dash itself against the rocks. A fine spray of salt water enveloped both of them, and leaked into Tony's suit. The water pulled back, gathering itself for a new assault, leaving Captain America dripping, muscles gleaming under skin-tight leather.

Under his helmet, Tony licked his lips, while his mind scrabbled at what to do. Jan and Hank were already gone; so was the Falcon. Wanda and Carol were... Jesus, God. He had to get out of here. He was having trouble thinking.

"Iron Man," Cap said, voice low and strained. Tony needed to boost the suit's audio input to hear him at all. "I feel, there was something... there was something in..." He broke off, rubbing a hand down the outside of his thigh and shuddering.

Tony broke. He closed the distance between them in a single step, scooping Steve off the ground. His vision was starting to blur red and all he knew was that he had to get them out of there. Now.

Moaning, Steve rubbed his crotch against Tony's armour and nuzzled his face plate.

"Hang on hang on hang on," Tony chanted, not sure who he was talking to. "Almost there."

The rocky coastline blurred under them, then it was there ahead of them: the smallest house Tony Stark had ever owned. He landed on the deck with a thud and half tore the door off getting it open. Who had time for keys? He needed to get inside, needed to get to the bed, and away from prying eyes.

Steve hadn't let go, still grinding against the armour. "Get your armour off," he gasped. "Oh, God. I gotta touch you."

Iron Man's gauntlets tore at Cap's uniform, tearing bits of mail free, shredding the top until Steve's chest was bare, glistening with sweat and sea water. Both his nipples were tight and hard from cold and excitement. Tony ran his hands down the sculpted muscles, making Cap whimper and surge against him, but he couldn't feel anything. It wasn't enough.

"Get it off," Steve muttered; he caught one of Tony's gauntlets and worked at the clasps with shaking hands.

Tony brushed him aside, dropping the armour away from him and exposing skin to the wrists. Steve immediately pulled his fingers into his mouth and sucked hard. The helmet speakers broke Tony's whimper into a burst of static. It still wasn't enough. He needed to get more, feel more hot skin on skin. Sliding his free hand down under the edge of Steve's belt and pulling him forward wasn't enough. When Steve said again, "Get it off," he nodded and started to work at his boots.

It was only Steve's fingers scratching at his neck, trying to find the edge of his helmet that pulled him back. "No," he said. "I can't." He couldn't let Steve see his face. Not now of all times. It would ruin too much.

"Shell-head, please, you can't leave me."

"I won't. I won't. Just wait, I'll..." The last of Cap's shirt came away in a long strip, and Tony twisted it, wrapping the heavy cloth around Steve's head. If the knot was too tight, Steve didn't say anything. He'd pulled his gloves off, and now more nimble fingers found the release on Tony's helmet. He only just had enough time to raise it up and clear before Tony jammed their mouths together. God, he'd wanted this for so long, since before he'd even met Cap, even.

Steve was pulling at his chest plate now, and Tony grabbed his wrists, sliding his hands down to the place where their hips joined. A moment later, the rest of the armour lay in a heap with Steve's belt on top of it.

He felt a growl of frustration well up inside him as he pulled at Steve's pants. The leather clung to his skin and refused to pull free. Snarling, Tony pulled out of the kiss and dropped to his knees. Steve's erection pressed into the blue leather, and Tony leaned in, running his tongue along the seam.

"Do that again," Steve demanded, twining one hand in Tony's hair, and pulling forward in time with thrusting his hips out. With no room to manoeuvre, Tony pressed his mouth against Steve's crotch, licking and sucking at the shape of Steve's cock. With the other hand, Steve managed to pull the button clean off his fly, and Tony latched onto the zipper with his teeth.

All at once, he had what he wanted, warm hot flesh pressing into his face. He opened his mouth and swallowed it whole.

Steve cried out, sounds tearing from his throat and resolving into, "No!"

Oh, God. He couldn't be asking Tony to stop. Tony couldn't stop, not now. He tried to hang on, fingers digging into Steve's ass, but Steve was already pulling away.

"Shell-head, stop," Steve choked out. "Stop. I need more. Oh, God. Please."

The words were almost enough to make Tony come then and there. "Yes," he said, struggling to get off his knees and onto the bed. "Anything."

Tony sprawled forward, one arm caught awkwardly under him, but not caring, so long as he could spread his legs a little bit wider. He tried to rub himself off against the quilt, but a hand grabbed his hip and held it flat. Steve's blunt fingernails probed his ass, and he gasped, "Lube. There's lube in the drawer."

He heard a thud then the screech and splinter of wood giving way, and Steve swore softly, but then Tony felt cool gel squirted across his ass and dripping down his crack, and, sweet Jesus, one rough finger pushing into him. He thrust back against him, but Steve still held him down, grip unrelenting. He moaned again.

"You ready?" Steve asked, and Tony nodded frantically, not caring that Steve couldn't see him. Thank Christ, Steve listened to him, and next thing he could feel Steve's cock slowly breaching him. Tony thrust back, and this time Steve couldn't hold him. His lube-slicked fingers lost their hold on Tony's hip, and Tony slammed home. Steve fell forward, flattening them both into the mattress.

They lay there for a moment, panting. Tony felt his ass burning and stretching, and arched for more. More contact. More anything. "Please," he whimpered, and Steve pushed himself up. One hand on Tony's shoulder, pressing him flat against the bed, and the other wrapped around his hip, pulling them together, he started to thrust.

Squeezing his eyes shut, Tony bit the quilt at the edge of the bed and tried to stifle a scream as he came. The orgasm racked his body, and he heard fabric tear under his fingers as he tried to find purchase.

Steve either didn't notice or didn't care, continuing to pound into Tony, hips working like a piston. He pulled Tony onto him, working his body as though he owned it, and Tony lay limp, letting Steve do as he liked. Drops of sweat splashed onto his back, and Steve's breath burned into this ear.

Then, all at once, Steve keened and pounded his fist into the mattress next to Tony's shoulder. The world went stiff and still for a breathless eternity, then Steve slumped forward.

Lips brushed against the back of Tony's neck for a moment before Steve passed out on top of him, softening cock still inside Tony, bulk still pinning him to the bed.

Tony woke to the pull and burn of Steve gingerly disengaging. He moaned softly and lay limp on the bed, trying to estimate the damage. Every muscle ached as if Tony had been run through a cement mixer, and his head felt clogged and slow.

It was only when the shelf tumbled to the floor, in an avalanche of books and profanity, that it occurred to Tony that if Steve took off the blindfold, the whole secret identity thing was done. His helmet was long gone, so he grabbed the edge of the quilt and rolled sideways. He hit the floor with a thud, safely obscured under a pile of blankets. A moment later, he heard the in-suite bathroom door slam shut.

"Great," he muttered. It took a lot longer to get untangled from the quilt than it had to get in it. Tony had a feeling that was going to be his theme for the week.

Once he was up, he collected his armour and tracked down the guest bathroom. It might be the smallest house he owned, but he would never consider putting money into a place that had less than three bathrooms, limited hot water and no place to charge his armour.

He worked through the familiar clean-up process on autopilot, and while his thoughts ticked back to damage control. Physically, it seemed to be mostly fine: a sore ass and a few bruises, and most of those were from the fight with the giant squid thing. His armour needed serious overhaul, especially the fissure that ran from shoulder to hip on the right side. It didn't seem to be affecting the charge or HUD, but it wouldn't hold up a minute more under stress, and it certainly wasn't airtight. He would get Mrs. Arbogast to hack ten hours of repair time into his schedule, but he estimated he could cover the worst of it in half that.

The team should be okay. Tony had taken the worst hits in the fight, but he'd have to make sure they all checked in over the next day or so. Once they got over whatever the hell that had been. If they got over it. If there still was a team after this.

"Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck," Tony moaned. He rested his head against the slick tiles and vainly wondered if bludgeoning himself unconscious would help. He'd gotten high and fucked Captain America. Or been fucked by Captain America, to be totally accurate, but somehow Tony didn't thank the distinction would make much difference. As enthusiastic as Steve had seemed at the time, he'd hardly had a choice in the matter. Fucked was what they both were.

This was the goddamn reason why Tony didn't sleep with friends. A good morning after was one you could walk away from. Anything else had always ended badly: witness the recent calamity with Whitney. This was the reason he was trying to stay hands-off with Beth, and she just worked for him. This time, he was on the same team with the man. Was Cap going to be able to even look at him after this? What if he wanted to leave the team?

Steve had grown up in another time, and he seemed pretty straight arrow even for the 1940s. He never looked too happy about Tony Stark's rotating ladies, and drugs made him downright disapproving. This wouldn't be, couldn't be, something he would just shrug off. Christ, hadn’t he once admitted that he’d tried to marry that spy girlfriend of his about fifteen minutes after he’d met her?

"Fuck." Tony slammed the faucet closed, killing the stream of hot water. The steam was doing something to clear his head, but it seemed like with every glimmer of clarity, the situation only looked worse. What Tony really wanted right now was a bottle of whiskey, he didn't care what kind, and a chance to slide back into oblivion uninterrupted. Who the hell had thought quitting drinking was a good idea? Beth again, of course, and damn her for being right.

The bathroom door rattled. "Are you okay in there, Iron Man?" Steve called.

Tony didn't answer. He didn't remember how much he'd said before, but he couldn't risk Steve recognising his unfiltered voice. Steve might hate Iron Man right now, but there was no reason for him to hold that against Tony Stark as well. Hopefully Tony would be able to save that relationship at least.

"Shell-head?" Steve's voice deepened with concern. "Just let me know you're all right." A pause. "Please?"

Damn the man. Scrubbing a towel through his hair would have to be enough. Tony shoved the helmet on and locked it in place. The faceplate immediately fogged up, but then then the fans and the external speakers came online. "I'm fine," he said. "Hang on."

He heard a thud on the far side of the door, and activated the thermal scanner. The steam-filled room distorted the readings, but Tony could just make out the outline of a man sitting on the floor outside the door, knees drawn up against his chest.

Tony put the rest of the armour on as quickly as he could, ignoring the rents and dings. His skin was still damp, but there was no way Tony was going to do this through a bathroom door, no matter how much he wanted to.

When he opened the door, Steve was still leaning slumped against the wall, arms on his knees and bare shoulders bowed. Bruises mottled his naked torso, and Tony wondered how many of them he'd made in his haste to strip away the mail shirt. The blond head rose as Tony stepped though the doorway. Another stab of guilt as Tony took in the tired lines etched around his eyes. He didn’t think he’d ever seen Cap this wiped out.

"Hey," he said, wishing the damned voice modulator wasn't masking his tone. "Are you okay."

Steve sunk even lower into the floor. "Yeah. Tired mostly."

"You sure?" Tony pressed. "I mean, I didn't hurt you, did I?" He could do this, deal with the physical fall out first, then after... he'd figure something out.

One shoulder moved up a quarter of an inch then dropped. "I'm still sore from the squid tossing me into rocks, but it'll mend." They both paused, then Steve took a deep breath, and looked up to fix his warm blue gaze on Tony's helmet. The stare had such intensity to it that Tony felt as though Cap were trying to peer though his armour to assess the flesh and blood beneath. "Are you okay, Tin Man?" Before Tony could answer, he pressed on. "It’s a heck of a thing to take in, all… whatever that was. We… neither of us, had a lot of control. I never wanted to hurt you."

Tony let himself slide down the opposite wall, armour gouging a trench out of the drywall, until he was crouching in front of Steve. Steve who looked eaten up with guilt. Of course Cap would be taking this all onto himself. "I'm fine, Cap, really. You didn't hurt me, and it wasn't your fault." Steve sighed deeply, brows coming together as he apparently weighed Iron Man's synthetic voice for sincerity. Tony tried to think of something more convincing. "Honestly, I had a heck of a time. I know the circumstances weren't ideal, but hey, it was fun."

That seemed to satisfy Steve as he nodded to himself and sat a little straighter. "At least this time didn't involve the Howling Commandos or gun oil," he agreed.

Apparently Tony was entirely too late to worry about Steve's virtue. "And neither of us a supervillain or a foreign intelligence agent."

The corners of Steve's eyes crinkled in a smile. "You better not be, mister," he said, and Tony wished Steve could see him grinning back. "Or the Avengers are in big trouble."

Tony reached across and rested his armoured hand on Steve's wrist. "So," he said carefully, "Friends?" A good morning after is one you can walk away from, he reminded himself. Every other option had always ended in disaster for him, and he couldn't bear that here.

"You bet. These things happen." Steve rose in one smooth motion and braced to pull Tony, armour and all, to his feet. "We should check in with the rest of the team."

"Oh God." Tony had been trying not to think of that much. At least Jan and Hank were married: they should be okay. But Wanda and Carol on the beach, and what had happened to Falcon? "I'd better give you a lift back to the mansion."

They stepped through the broken door onto the deck, Steve wrapped his arm around Tony's waist, and everything felt right again. In deference to the drizzly November morning and Steve's half-naked state, he let his armour emit a little more heat than normal.

Wanda and Carol were already at the mansion, leaning into each other on the love seat in the lounge, a fleece blanket double wrapped around their shoulders. Cap and Tony tiptoed past as best they could – Iron Man was never designed for stealth – and settled into the monitor room to scare up the others.

The Falcon flew in to land on the roof just as Steve was trying to page his id card, so they looked up Jan and Hank.

"We'll be in tomorrow," Hank told Tony shortly. "If at all."

"We're fine!" Jan shouted behind him, and then the connection cut out.

Cap and Tony exchanged a look. "Do you...?" Tony started to ask.

"I have no idea, Shell-head. I guess we'll find out tomorrow."

"Or not at all."

"You two okay?" Sam asked. Leaning in the doorway, he looked fine, but Tony had long ago learned that fine was Avengers code for freaked out, insecure, neurotic and emotional. .

Steve did another one of his little half shrugs, as if to brush off the question, then rubbed the back of his neck. "Sure, partner." His eyes met Sam's and whatever Falcon saw in them was enough to reassure him.

"What the hell was that?"

Tony shrugged, but Cap was looking at him too, so he said, "Marine biology isn't really my area, but I'd say there was some kind of hyper-aphrodisiac in that ink stuff the squid creature sprayed out when it started to fall back." He'd been hoping Hank could explain everything, but that didn't look like it was happening any time soon.

"Hell of a defence strategy," Steve said. "Worked too. I wonder if there's a lot of those things out there."

Falcon grimaced. "Anyone want to find Namor and ask him?"

"I'm going to go find a shirt," Steve said after the pause that followed.

"I should check in with..." Tony trailed off as Steve left the room and Falcon followed him. Apparently, they needed to find Steve's shirt together.

Tony felt a flare of resentment that Steve was talking to Falcon rather than him right now. Hadn't he and Steve been the ones to go through everything together? Hadn't Steve said they were still friends?

In the past, Steve had often turned to Iron Man when he felt troubled or isolated in the twenty-first century. Iron Man had been there for Cap through countless changes in the team line up. Iron Man had listened when Cap had told him how worn thin he felt in this world, how he felt like he had no place. Iron Man had been the one to tell Cap to go out and find himself a life; the world could be his if he just reached for it. Iron Man had been there for him when Steve's girlfriend of three years had died tragically in flames.

True, they'd had differences, and Cap hadn't always ridden easily under Iron Man's chairmanship of the Avengers, and he could go into these massive isolationist sulks when he felt like the world was too much. But when it came down to it, Tony always made sure Iron Man was there to catch Steve when he fell, and Cap had said that he trusted him with his life. "Had" possibly being the key word.

The only thing that could have made this worse was if Tony actually had told Steve his secret identity that time he'd offered to. At least this way, Steve couldn't possibly be mad at Tony Stark as well as his bodyguard.

"Shit." The word seemed to hang in the silence of empty monitor room. Feeling suddenly oppressed, Tony pushed himself to his feet, battered armour creaking in protest. He really did need to check in with Stark Industries. Things at the company had settled down since Nick Fury's attempted hostile takeover, but he still couldn't afford to go haring off. He also needed to send a crew to clean up the beach cottage, and make some time to fix his armour. He could rely on his handy dandy back up suit if need be, but it just didn't have the same performance if it came down to a heavyweight slugfest.

He left a message in the system calling for a team meeting first thing the next morning and headed up to his old room to find clothes of his own. Tony Stark could make his way across town this time.

Tony groaned and flopped forward across his desk, ignoring the touch surfaces as they chirped in protest then locked down. His coffee mug teetered and fell over, last precious drop oozing down the inside.

Mrs. Arbogast had been waiting with a to-do list of missed memos and rebooked appointments, prioritised in order of urgency and the amount of shit the press would give him if he fucked them up. Six hours later, he could see the light at the end of the tunnel, but only just.

Sighing, Tony poked the mug so that it rolled across the desk to run into a stack of honest-to-God made-from-a-tree paperwork. If he thought about it really hard, he could remember a time when SI had mostly run itself, and he'd had all the time he wanted for tinkering in his lab and lounging on privately-owned Mediterranean beaches. Though he had to concede that he couldn't think exactly when that had been. It had certainly been prior to Nick Fury trying steal his company out from under him, and to his alter ego apparently committing murder on company time. It was possible that it had been before he'd had an alter ego at all.

Now the international media had its fangs in the back of his neck like a mountain lion; his shareholders were in an open state of alarm, and Tony had no free time at all. He rightly should stand down from the Avengers, but he couldn't bear to give them up.

Of course it wasn't possible to think of the team without thinking of Steve. He'd been such an integral part of it for so long, almost since the beginning. It just didn't feel the same when he left, when that steady presence wasn't there to rein the younger members in and offer a pat on the shoulder and a word of advice. Or, sometimes, to offer up his body to a teammate's needs when they all got hit with aphrodisiac ink from a giant squid.

Tony almost wished he couldn't remember what had happened only the night before, but at the same time he wouldn't trade the memory for anything. Dammit, why did Cap have to be good in bed too? Closing his eyes, he let his mind fill with images of taut muscles and planes of golden skin, smooth save for his hands. He could almost feel Steve inside him still.

Iron Man had been right: they were better off as friends and teammates, but there was something inside Tony Stark that had wanted to just stay in that beach house forever.

Sighing, he tried to push every thought of Steve out of his mind and focus on the work beneath him. If he got through the rest of the list before Mrs. Arbogast knocked off for the day, he could duck out and work on his armour for a bit, maybe even check in at the mansion, see how things were going.

He didn't move, however. If he let his head sink into his arms and closed his eyes for a minute, then maybe he'd have the energy to get back to it.

A gentle tap on his office door started him awake. Propping himself up enough to unlock his desk panels, Tony brought up the outer-office monitors. There was Steve Rogers, dressed in civvies – black slacks and an ironed azure button down – standing at the door holding a white cardboard box. Tony ran his hands through his hair a couple of times, then punched the lock.

"Hey," Steve said, smile spreading across his face like a sunrise. "There you are!"

"Steve! What..." Tony rubbed his eyes to make sure the image of Steve sauntering across the room to perch on the edge of the desk was happening. "What're you doing here?

Steve shrugged lightly, glancing down at the box in his hands then back at Tony. "I haven't checked in with you for a while. Not since that whole mess with the Carnelian ambassador really. I had the evening free." He leaned down a little, the movement pulling the shirt tight across his shoulders. Tony swallowed; he should not be thinking of how the muscles of that back felt under his palms. "So..." Steve continued, drawing out the word. "How are you doing?"

Tony straightened, pulling away a little. "Overworked, as always, but we're managing okay." He forced his voice to sound casual. "I tell you, even with all those space battles and arch-nemeses, there's times I envy my bodyguard. Oh to have the easy life."

"I'll tell him you said that," Steve said, grinning. "But think he'd agree. I can't see Shell-head trading flying with the Avengers for the hassle you put up with, not even for a better pay cheque."

"Neither of us are rolling in cash right now," Tony admitted. "Not after that S.H.I.E.L.D. take over, and won't be until I can pull something off to rebuild SI's image. Maybe I should just throw in with you lot: give up this CEO gig and and start wearing spandex." He help up his arms, flexing his biceps in a classic Popeye pose. "What do you think, Cap?

"Call me Steve; I'm off duty." Steve's eyes were fixed on the box in his hands again, thumbs running across the edge. "And I..." he glanced up through his eyelashes. "Well, I think you'd be good at just about anything, even wearing spandex."

Oh, man, Tony thought, shifting in his chair. I'm in trouble. "What's in the box, Steve?" The old topic was nothing but trouble.

"Just something I picked up on the way." Steve set the box in front of Tony and lifting the lid to reveal a row of gently steaming apple turnovers nestled in pastel tissue.

Tony stared. He recognised the sticker sealing the box as being from his favourite Midtown bakery. How had Steve known? Maybe he just recognised good pastry when he tasted it. "Thanks," he said, reaching into the box, mouth already watering.

"Or," Steve rested his hand on the lid. "You could let me take you out to dinner."

"I'd love to," Tony said without thinking, then glanced down. Mrs. Arbogast's tablet was still sitting on the edge of his desk, staring accusingly up at him. "But maybe a rain cheque? I don't think I'll have a clear desk tonight."

Steve frowned, his narrow lips pulling into almost a pout. "Okay, but let me give you my new number."

Leaning down to write it on the bakery box gave Tony a good look down his shirt as it fell partly open. Steve was not wearing an undershirt. Tony swallowed, remembering the taste of salt water and perspiration as he'd run his tongue over one glistening pectoral.

It wasn't until after Steve left that Tony realised that he'd signed his phone number, ♥ Steve.

The meeting the next morning might not have been the most awkward in the history of the Avengers, but it had to come close. Only Cap seemed unaffected, sitting straight at Iron Man's left. Carol and Wanda were still bunched hip to hip at the far end of the table; Falcon had spun his chair around and slouched forward against the back; Jan had what Tony thought of as her Happy Face on, and Hank hadn't shown up at all. He had, however, sent in his blood work with enough data to show, up to reasonable safety standards, that whatever the squid had hit them with had no lasting effects. Tony told Jan to test everyone else anyway.

No one seemed willing to take on the government-supplied counselling, though Falcon said he had resources through his civilian identity.

No one really wanted to track down Namor, but Cap eventually volunteered, which left only one major concern.

"So..." Tony started cautiously. "Wasp, do you know if we'll be seeing Yellowjacket this week?"

Jan sucked on her lower lip for a moment before answering. "You might want to call up a reserve for a bit."

"Is he okay?" Steve asked. His leather costume creaked as he leaned forward, just loud enough for Tony's helmet to pick up.

Why did everyone have to wear tight leather? Tony wondered, shifting inside his suit.

"Maybe. He said he just needed a break from the team. You know how weird it gets."

"Of course," Wanda assured her. "We understand."

A moment of heavy silence followed as everyone seemed to think that over, then Falcon said, "We should ask Hawkeye to stand in while Yellowjacket is down."

Tony blinked. If ever there had been two men on the team who had not gotten along, it was Clint and Falcon. Especially since Falcon had displaced Hawkeye from the team on two occasions, and Clint had taken it pretty hard. "Are you okay with that?" Steve asked, beating Tony to the punch.

"Someone needs to be adult about this," Falcon said, shrugging. "How annoying can he be?"

Jan and Cap exchanged looks, but it passed the vote, as did Carol's idea to send Wanda to go find him. She left, and Carol went with her; Falcon took monitor duty; Jan went down to the labs to start on blood work, and suddenly Tony was alone in a room with Cap again.

He thought of the little heart, drawn in blue ballpoint. He'd turned it this way and that in his mind, and he couldn't think of any other explanation other than that Captain America was trying to pick up Tony Stark. What he had not been able to figure out was why him and why now.

"Are you okay, Cap?" he asked carefully.

"You bet." Steve swivelled his chair to face Tony, their knees bumping. "Worried about the team, is all. This has been a pretty rough go for them." He paused, leaning in a little. "Worried about you, too."

Tony coughed, which came though the helmet speakers as a burst of static. "You don't need to bother about me. I manage." Steve's face was so close; if Tony flipped up his face plate, he'd be able to feel his breath on his cheeks. All he wanted to do was kiss him again, a feeling that wasn't helped by Steve's next words.

"Sometimes I feel like you need someone to look after you." Steve hesitated, resting a hand on Tony's knee. "I know you can survive on your own, you've proved that, but you shouldn't have to. I'm always glad when I can be there for you."

If Tony listened to that speech a second longer, he was going to demand that Steve fuck him on the conference table, so he asked, "How did Falcon um... manage?"

The question broke the tension, and Cap straightened, rubbing the back of his neck. "Poor Sam. He has a friend in Harlem, so he flew back to see her, but I guess she wasn't in the mood. He ended up locking himself in the bathroom and... giving himself a hand until the urge passed."

Or they could have done that. Tony flushed with embarrassment, feeling stupid. "That didn't even occur to me. I wish I'd thought of it."

Cap licked his lips, eyes widening, and the set of his shoulders softening. "Do you really? I thought you said you had a good time."

Where the hell was this coming from all of a sudden? Tony wondered. "Fantastic time," Tony assured him. "I just wonder if maybe Falcon's way would have been simpler."

Steve's laugh was a low easy sound that seemed to run down Tony's spine like cool water. "I don't always think simpler is better."

"That's not what I've heard, old timer."

"A lot went on in wartime that you don't hear too much about these days." Still smiling, Steve turned his chair to stand up. "Just so you know, Tin Man, if you ever decide you need to scratch the itch again, you have my number."

It was at that moment that it occurred to Tony that just because Hank and Jan's blood had showed clear of libido-altering substances didn't mean that that everyone else was okay too. "Why don't we get checking in with Wasp out of the way?"

"Sure," Steve said, damnably calm and open. He offered Tony a hand up, levering his weight back against the armour. "I feel pretty normal though. How about you?"

"To be determined," Tony said darkly. If this was normal, he could be in real trouble.

"So now that we know that neither of us are still infected with marine aphrodisiacs, I should tell you that I meant every word I said earlier." Cap was lounging in the co-pilot seat of the quinjet. His biceps bulged against his leather sleeves as he leaned back into the chair, folding his arms behind his head.

Tony tried to keep his eyes on the controls as they sailed over the North Atlantic. "I'll keep that in mind."

"Great." He still wasn't looking, but he could hear Steve grinning. "I'm not trying to pressure you or anything, Shell-head," he added. "I just want you to know the offer's open."

"I understand," Tony said, and they fell into silence.

Outside the window, the ocean streaked under them at Mach Two, mile upon mile of uninterrupted, undifferentiated blue. Somewhere below the waves lay Namor's kingdom of Atlantis, or so the story went. Tony had never been near it, nor did he have the slightest idea where any of the Atlantean colonies were in relation to the surface. Almost no homo sapiens had seen them and lived to tell the tale, and with relations with the surface world so tense, no one was likely to any time soon.

A year ago, that would have made finding Namor or any other Atlantean a problem. Atlantis was not represented in the United Nations, and the only reliable way Tony had found to get its Prince's attention was to do something unforgivably awful to the ocean. Which would have been fantastic for Stark International's shaky reputation he was sure.

However, in the past year, Namor had somehow acquired a massive artificial island, which he'd populated with odd mutated-human fishpeople along with Atlantean guards. It moved with the seasons, but could be reliably found somewhere in the North Atlantic, usually close to Cape Verde's territorial waters this late in the fall. The latest satellite data backed him up.

"Dropping speed and starting our descent," Tony said as the horizon rose to fill the window with ocean.

Steve unfolded and leaned toward the comm console. "I'll get on the blower so they don't shoot us down."

"Don't mention I'm here, then," Tony was only half joking there, considering how his last meeting with Namor had ended.

"Cute." It took Steve twenty minutes to clear for landing, and even then they found out Namor either wasn't there or didn't want to talk to Captain America.

A teenage girl with long blonde hair and wings on her ankles greeted them on the main landed pad. Stepping up to shake hands, she introduced herself as Namorita (Call me "Nita"), Namor's cousin, adding, "Nice to have you boys out here. I wish you'd have brought Ms Marvel. I think she's just the best."

Steve's eyes, widened slightly in surprise, flicked over to meet Tony's. "I'll let her know you said that," he said, "She's spoken very highly of you. Now, ma'am, we were hoping you or one of your people could help us identify a new marine species." Cap went on to describe the squid in minute detail, including the effects of the ink-like substance it had sprayed at everyone, while Iron Man projected the few images he'd managed to capture in the free-for-all.

Nita's eyes grew wider as she listened, then crinkled at the edges, and her hand crept up to cover her mouth, clearly stifling a giggle. Steve continued, undaunted to the bitter end, but Tony could see the sides of his neck blushing faintly pink.

"Oh no," Nita said, still trying her best to stifle a laugh. "That's a" –something in the rolling clicks of the Atlantean language followed – "Oh the poor thing. Poor you, too. I'm so sorry!"

Tony took over, hoping to rescuing Steve. "So you're familiar with this monster?"

"Oh no!" Nita's eyes had grown even wider, and she looked like she couldn't decide if she was appalled or about to break down into helpless laughter. "It's not a monster at all. Our people farm them for... for, well, the stuff that hit you. It affects us a little differently, like not as strongly. It's more..." she trailed off uncertainly. Tony could sympathise. He wouldn't have wanted to explain escaped Viagra milkers to Captain America either, at least not before two days ago.

"I see," Cap said neutrally. "Then your herders will recapture the animal as soon as possible?"

Namorita assured them that she would personally look after it, apologised again, and promised to pass Cap's regards along to her cousin. "Do say 'hi' to Ms Marvel for me, too."

It wasn't until the quinjet's hatch closed behind them that Tony started to laugh. The sound crackled out of his helmet, filling the cabin, and Steve grinned up at him as he slid into the copilot's chair.

"That could have gone worse," Steve said. "What a friendly young woman."

"Hard to believe she's related to Subby," Tony agreed. Under his guidance, the quinjet lifted off and rose into the sky in a single smooth arc. "Transferring to auto pilot," he said when they hit five thousand feet.

Steve leaned forward on his elbows. "I think this one's better off marked classified."

Tony kept his eyes fixed on the readouts, auto pilot or no. It seemed safer than looking directly at Steve. He couldn't seem to think around him these last few days. "I don't think the public needs to know."

"Especially if some low life gets ideas about what to use those squids for," Steve added. "I'd get an earful from Sam, that's for sure."

"I don't know," Tony said. "Namor's people are usually pretty efficient in dealing with that kind of thing. It could cut down on crime."

Steve's disproving look seemed to have more habit than ill will behind it, but they both lapsed into silence.

With nothing happening on the screens, and acceleration proceeding normally, Tony found himself reflecting back on the past few days' events. He just couldn't seem to make sense of them. A week ago, he'd have sworn Steve Rogers was straight as one of Clint's arrows, but now he'd not only had sex with Iron Man, claimed to have enjoyed it, and claimed to have quite a bit of prior experience – with Nick Fury, no less – but he'd also distinctly hit on Tony in both of his alter egos. Tony wondered if there was some way what to discreetly ask Sam if Steve had chatted him up as well.

Maybe it was just some kind of identity crisis, and Steve wasn't coping with gay sex under duress as well as he initially claimed to be. Tony could admit that, in the past, he had seemed to attract potential partners of questionable emotional stability. Maybe Steve was hitting on everything that moved as some kind of coping strategy. Maybe he wanted someone to fuck the doubt out of him, or to have the doubt fucked out by someone. Which image sent Tony's mind into several satisfying but extremely unproductive places. He wrenched his thoughts back to the present to work though all the power output equations without computer aid.

If that were the case, it lead to the question: what would Cap do if both Tony Stark and Iron Man turned him down? Now that was worrying. There was Sam, but Steve might not have asked him. Where would he turn? Who else did he know? His lady friend was dead, and Tony was pretty sure he didn't trust Steve with Nick Fury or any of his crowd, not after what he'd just pulled.

Clearly, the best decision was to work out which relationship would be better for Cap, one with Tony or with Iron Man. To that aim, he said, "So, Mr Stark mentioned he'd seen you over at SI last night."

Steve glanced up from his study of his gloved hands. "Sure! He works so hard. I figure he could have used a break."

That wasn't at all how Tony would have recounted that meeting. "So I guess you like him, huh?"

"I like you both," Steve told him sincerely. His hands lay clasped loosely in front of him, and his shoulders bowed in a casual arc, but Tony could see fine lines of tension around his eyes. He's always been able to tell fake casual from the real thing, but he let Steve go on. "Mr Stark is just so amazingly smart, and resilient too, with all the things your company has been through. I don't know how he does it, how he keeps coming back like he does. I think most businessmen would have broken under the strain years ago, but he hasn't. He's always had a kind word for me, especially when I was new to this century, and didn't know my way around yet. I'll always be grateful for that, and for letting me stay in his home while I found my feet."

Tony must have made a non-committal noise, because Steve's eyes narrowed. "I like you too, Tin Man. I wouldn't have offered if I didn't. Besides Sam, you're the best friend I have here. I can always trust you to have my back, and there's been times when I've been down where you've been the only thing that kept me from giving in and giving up. I don't know if I've ever said how much I appreciate that, but I do."

"I uh..." Tony swallowed. "Thanks for saying all that, Cap. You mean a lot to me too, and well." He hesitated one more moment, then reached a decision. "I think that if you were to go over to Stark's penthouse tonight, he'd be pretty happy to see you." Was that too obvious? he wondered. "That's my guess, anyway."

Steve's face lit up with a grin, and he gave Iron Man a look so fond that Tony hesitated before he remembered that he wasn't giving this up. He was just experiencing it in a different format. "I'll take him up on that," Steve said. "If you see him, tell him I'll be by around nineteen hundred."

"Will do, Cap," Tony said, and wondered what the hell he was letting himself in for.

They got back to New York by lunch time, which meant that Tony had about six and a half hours to kill. Flinging himself into Avengers paperwork ate up the half hour it took to install Clint back into active status, and another twenty minutes of reports. Hanging around the mansion entailed running into Steve every five minutes anyway, which didn't help at all. Every time Tony saw him, he thought about that night, and that he had an assignation with Captain America, who he was going to have to pretend never to have slept with. Maybe he'd made the wrong choice after all; maybe it would easier to pursue a relationship via Iron Man. Only Steve seemed to like Tony better than Iron Man, for some reason, and Tony hated to disappoint him. Besides, it was too late to change his mind now.

So with five hours and twenty three minutes left, he headed back to Stark Industries to work on his armour. He felt sure he could lose himself in the intricate mechanics, and would hardly notice the passage of time. He an set alarm just in case he got carried away, then found he couldn't concentrate. His thoughts kept drifting back to Steve.

He wasn't even sure how this had happened. It should have been like any one-night tumble under the influence, get up and walk away in the morning. Now, somehow, he was thinking about how a relationship would work. Never mind how badly he'd botched things with Whitney, and that he'd put up a big "I like things casual" disclaimer for Beth, which she'd respected enough not to sleep with him at all. Tony and relationships with anything he hadn't invented himself came to a bad end. Always. In fact, he'd had pretty shitty relationships with his own inventions sometimes too. He scored better than Hank Pym in that regard, but not by a lot.

The worst thing was that, as far as he knew, Steve wasn't any better at this kind of thing. He'd more or less stalked his one and only modern girlfriend into dating him, and hadn't even known the name of his wartime lover. Plus whatever that had been involving the Howling Commandos.

So why on earth was he sitting down here staring at a digital circuit map moping over a pretty pair of blue eyes and a nice set of pecs (and deltoids, and triceps and biceps, and to say nothing of the wonders of his gluteus maximus)?

Maybe the sex had been just that good.

Tony decided a shower was the way to go and made it a long one. By the time he got out, he was cleaner than he'd been since his first day of school and only had three hours left. "What I need to do," he said to himself, "is de-stress."

Lying back on his bed, he let his robe fall open and ran the flat of his hand down his chest and stomach, then curled his hand to trail the tips of his nails over his cock. He shivered and closed his eyes, imaging that Steve was touching him. Tony hummed to himself and took a firm grip. He'd been so tightly wound that he came in under two minutes.

He had another shower.

By the time Steve knocked out a staccato beat on the oaken door, Tony was almost pacing in circles. He'd gotten a heads-up when Steve entered the building, but he still glanced frantically around the room, which was spotless of course. He had people for that so he didn't have to worry.

Tony smoothed down his black silk shirt, unbuttoned the another button, did it up again, then opened the door just as Steve started to knock a second time.

"Hey," was all he could think to say, then, "You look good."

Understatement of the century. In tight blue jeans and a scarlet t-shirt that might have been painted on, Steve didn't look good; he looked completely edible.

Ignoring Tony's stunned expression, Steve ducked under his arm and into the penthouse. "Nice place," he said, "I don't think I've been here before." On the surface, his voice sounded completely level and at ease, but Tony couldn't hear the light, buoyant tone that filled it when Cap was truly relaxed. When he patted Steve's shoulder welcomingly, then let his hand drift down to the small of his back, Tony could feel the stiffness in his spine.

"Would you like a drink?"

"Ginger ale, if you don't mind."

Tony nodded. It was about all he had around here these days anyway.

By the time he got back from fetching ice, Steve had settled onto the love seat. He sat legs splayed, leaning back so his hips didn't quite touch the cushions. One thumb casually stroked the black leather, while his other hand lay invitingly on his thigh.

Swallowing, Tony gripped the glass tighter. How the fuck did Steve even get into those jeans? he wondered. He must have used some kind of boot jack. Their fingers brushed as Steve took the drink, and Tony shivered at the contact. Glass clicked against glass as Steve set the soda aside.

Then Steve wrapped a big, warm hand around the back of Tony's neck and pulled him down for a kiss. Their lips met gently, just brushing. It felt so different from their first hectic kisses; this touch lingered and explored, but only on the surface. Only their lips touched, and yet Tony felt like he could read Steve's every intention through the kiss. It promised long, slow hours of pleasure, an intimacy and knowing that Tony hadn't felt since his first fiancée. Then Steve pulled Tony down into his lap, never letting their lips part, and it promised getting fucked so hard that he forget everything he needed to let go.

He could feel Steve's erection pressing against his thigh, hard and urgent, and man those jeans must be killing him, but Steve didn't seem to be in any kind of hurry. He kissed the corner of Tony's mouth, then sucked gently on his lower lip, his thumb tracing Tony's eyebrows. The callouses on his palm caught and tugged at the fine hairs on the back of Tony's neck, but Steve kept the pressure light, just enough to indicated that neither of them were going anywhere.

Tony sighed, and, as he let a long slow breath out, he felt himself sink down into Steve's arms. He let them encircle and caress him, the fine silk of his shirt magnifying every touch into something electric. Steve obviously liked the feel of it against his skin as he paused long enough to wiggle out of his own shirt and toss aside. He rubbed his chest into Tony's and moaned as the silk slid across his skin. Tony pressed his face into Steve's hair, hands dig into his shoulders, pulling them together. "Hey," he murmured, breath puffing against Steve's ear. "You like my shirt, huh?"

Steve nodded and rubbed against it again, a long sinuous motion that started at his hips and rippled up to bring every part of him in contact with Tony. Their kiss deepened then, as Steve licked at Tony's lips and pushed his tongue past his teeth. Tony felt Steve's grip tighten, and a spark lit deep in his belly. It turned the pressure and intensity of their embrace from generous and intimate to slow burning need. Steve was slowly unbuttoning his shirt, hands amazingly steady, and Tony let it slide off his shoulders and down his arms. "Want to see a magic trick?" he asked, and Steve nodded again. Tony knew he'd say yes to just about anything just then; they both would. "Hang on a sec."

Steve whimpered as Tony slid out of his lap to stand up. It took a little wiggling on his part to get out of his slacks and shorts, and a lot on Steve's to get the jeans rolled down as far as his knees. He wasn't wearing any underwear.

Tony paused admire the figure below him; Cap was laying sprawled back, flushed pink skin against black leather, eyes both wide and dark and insanely blue. His jeans were pulled down just far enough to expose his rock-hard uncut cock, jutting up towards the ceiling. "What's the trick?" Steve asked, panting slightly.

"Just you wait." Tony settled astride Steve's legs, sucking in a sharp breath as their cocks brushed. Then he oh so carefully wrapped his silk shirt around both their erections. He heard a gasp, and had to press his palm flat against Steve's hip to held him steady. Turn after turn, he bound them together, the silk resting around and between them. Inky against their flushed skin, it made even Tony's olive complexion look delicately pale. When he was finished, he tucked the ends of the sleeves in and drew his hand slowly upward.

"Oh sweet Christ," Steve swore, arcing into the pull. His hand came down to cover Tony's, following and deepening each stroke. "That's is magic. You've bewitched me."

Then Tony pressed his hips down and against him with the next pull. One of the buttons rubbed the tender place between their cock heads and Steve cried out, swearing again. As their grip loosened, he slumped forward into Tony's shoulder, making a sound that might have been a sob. His teeth found Tony's collarbone on the next pull, and he nipped and sucked and moaned against the sharp bone. He pressed his hips up into every touch, and kept his hand on Tony's. He squeezed harder, and their strokes grew quicker, becoming more immediate and intense with every motion. Tony had let his head fall back, and now Steve's teeth found his pulse point. He kept one hand on their bound cocks, and wrapped another around Tony's shoulders, pulling them chest to chest. He pulled Tony level with him so he could kiss his mouth. His movements grew short and jerky. His lips moved constantly, half in muffled prayer and half trying to catch Tony's own cries.

Tony's blood felt like it was on fire. He could hear it pounding past his ears, and the thump of their hearts as they beat together. He needed to press against Steve more and harder. He needed to press into him and take him until he screamed and knew nothing but Tony's name. He wanted to bend Steve over the back of the couch and fuck into him, but he couldn't move. He couldn't escape Steve's unbreakable embrace, and he couldn't bear to part where they were joined now, or end the blazing pleasure that flowed through him.

"Time for everything," he said, and Steve gasped, "Yes." He twisted his wrist as he pulled away this time, brushing his thumb across both their heads. The fabric had grown slick and shiny with their mingled precome, and Tony let go long enough to press his thumb to Steve's mouth, then to his, tasting them mingled together. He couldn't hold back after that, and pumped and caressed until first he then Steve came, faces buried against each other's necks.

They rested that way, trying to catch their breath, until Steve said, "I didn't think it could get any better with you, but it did," and Tony said, "What?"

"I think not being drugged to the gills helps," Steve murmured into his neck.

"What?" Tony said again.

He could feel Steve's eyelashes brush against his sweat-damp skin as he blinked. "You're not fooling anyone, you know."

Tony tried to pull away, but ended up toppling both of them onto the carpet. "Sorry, sorry." He rolled to one side and sat up. "What?"

"I've suspected that you're Iron Man for a long time now," Steve said, shifting to prop himself up one one elbow. His jeans were still wrapped around his thighs, but he didn't seem to notice. "Since last time I came back to the team." Tony remembered how good it had been to see Steve then, how he hadn't been able to stay away from him in either of his identities. "Known for sure these last few weeks with the trouble with the Carnelian ambassador." He glanced down, fingering the soft wool of the rug. "And I recognised your voice two nights ago."

"That's cheating," Tony accused, then realised that was tangential. "Why..." he trailed off, not quite sure what to ask.

Steve lifted one shoulder in a faint shrug. "You seemed so bound up in all that secret identity stuff," he explained, voice low and apologetic. "We've been friends for four years now, and there's only been that one time you've offered to tell me anything about yourself. I didn't want to push. I wanted you to know I'd take you on any terms, under any identity, and whatever you could give was all I needed."

"And now?" Tony asked. He felt like there wasn't enough air in the room, or he couldn't breathe, and he didn't didn't know if it was hope or terror.

"Now I can't stand not having it all," Steve said simply.

Lightening fast, Tony's thoughts jumped from one idea to another. Clearly he had to work on his security. Clearly Steve had relationship issues of his own. Clearly that had been some of the best sex of his life. Clearly... He got a little bit caught on the sex part, but when Steve said he wanted him, he felt his heart glow. He suddenly couldn't imagine living without that fond smile, without the rough hands running down his skin. He didn't know if he'd realised before how badly he'd wanted someone to need him like this.

"Tony?" Steve asked. His eyes narrowed with worry.

Tony swallowed. "How about... how about we just keep doing what we're doing now, and see where it goes?"

Steve rolled forward enough to lay a kiss on Tony's knee. "I can do that."

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