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The Best Policy

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A bitter Norse God and some of his magically conjured minions were attacking Manhattan. The Avengers were fighting for their lives. All in all, it was a normal Tuesday.

“At your five o’clock, Cap,” Tony warned, dodging a blast of fire from the dragon Loki had created in Times Square. Seriously, a dragon. And Tony had thought Thor was old-fashioned. It was nearly three stories tall, tar black, and glowed faintly with the bright green light that marked all of Loki’s magic.

Thor used his hammer to sock the dragon in the jaw, making its head jerk sideways, but it reoriented itself looking angrier than ever.

The Hulk appeared again after having been knocked aside a block earlier, and the green monster launched himself at the dragon. He landed a solid punch to its side, making it twist sideways in pain, but the moment Hulk was on the ground, a flick of its thick tail sent him flying into a nearby parked car. Tony had seen Bruce take far worse damage and just come out angrier, but the Hulk was getting smashed more than he was doing any smashing today.

Another arrow bounced off one of the large scales and exploded, but the blast left no mark.

“How do we kill this thing?” Clint said over the comms, frustrated.

The team had been together for a little more than two months, and already worked together smoothly in the field. Despite that, they weren’t making much progress here.

“Does anyone have a sword? I’m pretty sure that’s what the knights of old used,” Tony said, dodging another burst of fire and shooting back a repulsor blast. “Widow?”

“No, I don’t carry around a sword,” Natasha replied drily after rolling out of the way of the dragon’s thrashing tail.

“Well, your weapons just appear out of nowhere,” Tony pointed out. “It was worth asking.”

Down on the street, Cap turned in time to deflect a bolt of magic from the God of Mischief, sending it to the side to hit a neon sign on one of the surrounding buildings and charring it. Loki’s spells were never lethal for any of the Avengers, but Tony wasn’t sure that wasn’t from lack of trying, no matter what Thor said.

When he saw Cap narrowly dodge another blast and realized that the rest of the Avengers were focusing their attempts on containing the dragon, Tony flew down to give the Boy Scout some help with the god.

He landed on the asphalt heavily, cracking the ground beneath him, but the suit absorbed the shock so that he could immediately take the offensive. “Need some help?” Tony asked Steve.
The other man didn’t lose his focus on Loki, but manage to convey his irritation with Tony’s flippancy through his posture alone.

“Hey Loki, maybe you should just call off the attack,” Tony called to the god, using the speakers on the suit to make sure he was heard. “You’re looking a bit tired. Isn’t it time for your nap?”

“I’m just getting started,” Loki replied, smirk firmly in place. “Maybe it’s you who needs some rest?” He shot a double-burst of magic from his staff directly at Tony, who dodged the first, but was clipped by the second. The suit took most of the damage, but Loki had managed to knock the breath from Tony.

And honestly, Tony really did want to rest. At least, he wanted to go back to his workshop and unwind with a few hours of tinkering and about ten gallons of espresso. They had been steadily fighting for more than an hour, and Tony wasn’t a super-soldier or a demigod like some of his teammates. And this megalomaniac was making that dream far away for Tony. “I could go for hours. If you know what I mean.” He shot out a repulsor blast, making the god duck and retaliate with another beam of magic.

“Less chatter,” Cap instructed, using his shield to repel another blast. Though Loki was in just one body this time, he fought like two men, able to divide his attention between the two superheroes without appearing fazed.

Tony ignored him. “I don’t see why we have to rearrange all of our plans every time Loki can’t deal with his daddy issues.” Loki caught Steve with a blast that sent him backwards through a shop window. Suddenly, Tony was facing the god alone. “Which, obviously, is always. Seriously, why don’t you just take the rainbow bridge back home and stop being a little brat. You know the only reason we haven’t squashed you yet is because it’d make Thor get those puppy-dog eyes he gets sometimes, and we all hate that. Not that you deserve it.” He dodged a blast, and the follow-up punch to his head. “Sorry, did I press a button? I guess the God of Lies can’t take a little honesty.”

“Honesty, Stark? You’re one to talk. You’re all bluster, no truth,” Loki spat. His attention had all centered on Tony now, and the inventor was forced to counter the sudden onslaught of punches, kicks, and magical blasts.

“Me, bluster? Maybe you’re mistaking that with me being actually awesome,” Tony countered, though he was starting to hope Cap would recover and break up their fight soon. Loki was practically spitting with rage. “I’m the poster boy for honesty. It’s called tough love. Just ask any of my teammates. Maybe you could learn something.”

“You hide behind your mask and spit out clever things, but you wouldn’t know honesty if it knocked your head off,” Loki snarled. Tony managed to hit him with a repulsor beam. It barely glanced his arm, but the crazy in Loki’s eyes shot up a few notches.

“You may want to implement a tactical retreat, sir,” JARVIS advised in his ear.

“You can beg me for mercy once you’ve learned your lesson,” Loki said, leveling his scepter at the Avenger.

“What the—”

Loki’s next blast was wider than his usual, creating a wall of green light that washed over Tony. He was knocked straight backwards, skidding across the pavement.

By the time Tony made it to his feet again, Loki and the dragon had vanished. The team dragged itself from where had been spread across the square to circle around Steve. Everyone was accounted for, and apart from a few burns and bruises, looked like they'd escaped unharmed.
Thor was sporting the kicked puppy expression he always got after a fight with his little brother, looking around the square as though he hoped Loki would pop back up and apologize for everything.

Though everyone looked fine, Cap asked, "Injuries?"

"Fine," most everyone muttered. Even if there were a few scratches, they were all too macho to admit it, though Steve insisted they should be honest.

To his own shock, Tony found himself listing, "A few bruises, possible mild concussion, slightly twisted ankle—JARVIS, mute comm set and speakers—and I think Loki hit me with a truth spell," he finished to himself, eyes wide. "Fuck."


Though Steve ordered him to report to medical before going to be debriefed, Tony flew straight back to Stark Tower. It had been renamed the Avengers Tower by some newspapers after the rest of the team had moved in, and the name had mostly stuck, but Tony had built the tower, dammit, and he was going to call it what he wanted.

Once he got to his workshop and shed his armor, he went immediately to one of his more recently built machines. "JARVIS, run a scan on me. Search for traces of magic." He had planned to use the machine on the suit to make sure its tech remained influence-free, but apparently the suit wasn't the only thing that had been at risk.

"Sir, it does indeed appear you have been hit with a spell."

Great. "Well, that's upsetting," Tony said. He swore. "What, I can't even hyperbolize? JARVIS, anything about this in SHIELD's files? Hack whatever you have to. I want this gone."

"It may take at least an hour to find anything," the AI warned him.

"Just do it."

As JARVIS searched, Tony quickly wrapped up the worst of his bumps and bruises before turning to work on repairing his suit. While he had robots who could do it for him, and robots who could fix those robots, working with his hands gave him something to do while he desperately tried to lie.

I bought the Iron Man suit off eBay. "I made my first suit in a cave in Afghanistan."

Pepper’s a skank. "It's my fault Pepper and I didn't work."

The name is Bond, James Bond. "My name is Tony."

I love-- "Jar Jar Binks ruined Star Wars."

Nothing. Even the most trivial lies were beyond his reach. His tongue simply said the truth, no matter what his mind told it to do.

"Sir, Captain America is requesting entrance."

Tony had deliberately not given any of his teammates access to his workshop. He came down here to think, not to be pestered by people or food or sleep, or whatever else people kept throwing at him. Tony ignored the request.

"Sir, he's threatening to bench you if you don't open the door."

What a dick. "He thinks he has good intentions but he really pisses me the hell off," Tony said instead.

This was Not Good. He didn't want to see anyone while he was like this. Then again, it would be good to test how this spell-thing reacted to questions. Tony never could resist an experiment. "Let him in."

The doors slid open, but Tony didn't bother turning around, steadily reshaping a dented piece of his suit.

"Stark, medical says you didn't check in," Steve said. "And you missed the debrief. Again."

"Tell me something I don't know," Tony replied, analyzing the part of suit where he was working while he congratulated himself mentally on his short answer. Good, there was still some snark left in him.

"You said you were injured," Steve reminded him.

"Yeah, well, I patched myself up here, obviously," Tony told him, finally putting down his tools and turning around to show off his bandaged arm.

The blonde soldier was still wearing the stars and stripes, though his cowl was pushed down. Apparently his duty wasn't done until he finished nagging Tony. "Why won't you just go to medical, Stark?"

"Look, I don't really want SHIELD poking and prodding me right now," Tony snapped. I can do it just as well myself. "I'd rather do it myself."

“You wouldn’t even need the patching up if you had listened to me out there. There’s no need to antagonize the super villain every time,” Cap said, changing tactic. He had that look on his face, the one where he can’t believe that he has to deal with Iron Man as his subordinate. Well, the feeling was fucking mutual.

“I’m not a soldier. I think we’ve been over this,” Tony reminded him, but then his mouth just kept moving. He was used to it doing that, but normally he just relayed a bunch of nonsense, and any hint of truth thrown in was overshadowed and forgotten. “And I won’t let you or SHEILD turn me into a robot.”

“We’re not trying—”

“I’m close enough to being one already. If I started snapping out salutes and obeying all your orders, what’s the difference between me and a hunk of metal?”

Steve’s brow furrowed, but then his eyes flickered down to the arc reactor glowing through Tony’s black shirt. When he looked back up, Tony raised his eyebrows, and Steve flushed slightly. “Stark, you’re on this team for more than just your witty comebacks and suit. It wouldn’t kill you to follow orders.”

Tony snorted. “Just get out of here, Cap. Go save a kitten from a tree, or help an old lady cross the street, or spend an hour trying to figure out how to work the TV remote again.”

“Fine. You know what? Whatever,” Steve said, shaking his head as he left the workshop.

Tony flipped off his retreating back with both hands, and then turned back to his work.


“Talk to me, JARVIS. Good news, please.”

JARVIS sounded hesitant, if that was even an emotion an AI could have. Since Tony didn’t bother keeping up with what should and should not be possible, his inventions sometimes exceeded those parameters. “Sir, SHIELD has no data on any sort of spell such as this before. They have several files on truth serums, but those are chemical, rather than magical. I fear they would not be able to help in this matter.”

“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t have asked them anyway,” Tony grumbled. Until he figured this out, he needed to watch what he said. His habit of talking without paying attention to what was coming out might completely screw him over. That meant Tony’s security was relying on his ability to keep his mouth shut.

He was so fucked.


Tony ventured out of his workshop for food slightly after midnight, hoping against all odds that his team would be all tucked away in their beds. Of course, he had no such luck. Today was really not his day.

Natasha was at the kitchen counter, eating an apple with a knife that had probably slid through someone’s ribs at some point, watching Bruce pour several boxes of noodles to a series of large, boiling pots on the stove. Feeding this crew took more calories than an army usually consumed, so Tony had given them all a towering stack of take-out menus and access to one of his credit cards. Those meals had come in free for a while, since they were the world’s mightiest heroes, but that had quickly stopped once local restaurants had realized just how much food they consumed. Bruce must have been in an extremely patient mood to be attempting home cooking.
At least, Tony hoped so. Nothing ruined a midnight snack like a raging, green rage monster coming out and smashing the entrée.

In the connecting living room, Thor and Clint were watching their weekly TiVo’d recording of The Bachelorette. Well, Thor was watching it—Clint was more interested in watching Thor. The mighty Norse god was hugging a pillow tightly to his chest, eyes wide and entranced.

"You'd make an adorable housewife," Tony told Bruce as he entered the kitchen.

"Thanks, honey," the scientist replied wryly.

Tony darted past where Natasha sat on the counter on his way to the fridge. "You, on the other hand, not so much."

"Thanks, honey," Natasha replied sweetly before deftly slicing off another apple slice.

"Yeah, see? Scary," Tony said.

"If you're up here for fuel, the pasta will be ready in about fifteen," Bruce told him.

Tony glanced in the fridge. Even though it was specifically stocked with the type of foods that could usually convince him to eat even during the middle of inventing, nothing seemed appealing now, so he shrugged. "All right."

Since Bruce was focused on making him food and Natasha was, as he'd—honestly—said, scary, Tony made his way into the living room to wait.

He sprawled onto the couch next to Clint, managing to take up even more room than Thor.

"How's he holding up this week?" Tony asked.

"Not well. He—"

"No! Why would you send such a valiant warrior home? He has professed his love to you, whereas Jef is an imperfect fit. He shall make a poor husband and father." Thor turned to Clint and Tony. "Why would she give the rose, the key to her heart, to those so unworthy?"

No one had had the heart to tell Thor that most of the reality show was probably staged. Well, Bruce and Steve hadn't had the heart. Clint and Tony just wanted to keep watching his reactions. Tony wasn’t sure where Natasha landed in the equation.

"I don't know, big guy," Tony told Thor before leaning over to Clint. "You getting this?"

Clint gestures to the camera phone resting casually in his hand. "Too bad Fury would literally flay me alive if this got onto the Internet," he whispered. "It's YouTube gold."

“Oh, do not apologize to him! Such an apology degrades his earlier profession of love, and shall leave him with doubt as to the true desires of your heart!” Thor yelled at the television.

Sitting there beside the emotional demigod and the snickering assassin, Tony felt a bit of tension leak out of his shoulders. Sure, he was still under some kind of freaky-ass truth spell from said demigod’s whiny little brother, but for this one moment, he could pretend that things were all right.

“Oh, hey Steve,” Bruce greeted, and Tony let his head fall back on the sofa with a thunk. Great.

“There’s enough pasta for you, if you want some. I’m just draining it now.”

“Thanks, Bruce, that sounds great,” Steve replied.

Natasha appeared behind the couch and smacked Clint lightly on the head. “Dinner’s ready. Get up, guys.”

“You can’t just bring us some plates over here?” Clint asked.

“No, you can get off your lazy asses and get into the kitchen. Bruce made the food—it’s not his job to plate this stuff, too.”

Tony stood up and yawned, stretching his arms high over his head. "If we have to."

They formed a clump by the food that only became a line by necessity, since they had learned early on in living together that fights over food were among the most dangerous. Once giant bowls of pasta, sauce, and cheese had been created, they all started for the living room.
Behind them, Steve cleared his throat. "Aren't we going to eat at the dinner table?"

The other Avengers stopped, looking between the couches and television and the long kitchen table.

"I'm going to let you in on a modern American tradition. It's called eating in front of the TV and ignoring everyone around you. It's pretty popular nowadays," Tony said.

Steve's brow furrowed, his bright blue eyes hurt, and a slight frown pulled his lips down.

"Oh God, stop making that face. I hate when you make that face. Seriously, did I kill your puppy? No, so stop it," Tony said. When Steve's hurt look only worsened, Tony sighed. "Fine, we'll eat in the kitchen. But we're not saying grace or playing a board game afterwards."

"I'd have thought you loved Monopoly," Clint quipped as they headed to the table.

Tony didn't dignify that with an answer. There's was nothing he could say that wasn't a lie anyway.

The Avengers sat around the table, chatting together. Bruce and Steve were discussing science, a topic Bruce usually reserved for talking about with Tony, but he was dumbing down some of the recent genetic innovations for the man from the 40s. Thor, Clint, and Natasha were discussing the recent developments on The Bachelorette. Though Clint had spent the whole show recording Thor's reaction, he seemed to have strong opinions about the contestants. Tony hadn't even realized Natasha had been paying attention to the television either, but in her line of work she probably absorbed everything which happened within earshot of her.

The pasta vanished from the table far more quickly than it should have, considering Bruce had made ten boxes. Even once the meal was done, the conversations continued, and the entire atmosphere was one of relaxed contentment.

Tony briefly thought back to his own dinners as a child, the few times they had occurred. His mother had asked him about his day, but his father was always focused on eating, treating it like another job to be done, or talking directly with his mother, leaving Tony to eat in silence.

By the time Tony got old enough to stick to his own decisions, he had begun avoiding group meals in general (when he remembered to eat).


He glanced up to see Steve giving him a look that indicated he's said his name more than once.

"Steve?" Tony mimicked.

His face, while relaxed before, tensed at Tony's tone. "I was just asking if you were feeling all right. You've been quiet."

Well, he couldn't say that he was fine. "I don't want to talk," Tony snapped.

"That's a first," Clint muttered.

"Son of Stark, this is most unusual. Perhaps you should speak of your thoughts. My Jane tells me that Midgardians find this to be a therapeutic endeavor."

"You know, I really fucking hate when you call me that," Tony said.

Everyone looked up at that. It wasn't unusual for Tony to be a bitch to Cap, but Thor was off-limits for everyone. It was something about his good nature, enthusiasm, and the way any sign of cracks in his new "family" made him look positively heart-broken.

"I did not intend offense," Thor offered, blinking.

"Don't apologize," Clint snapped, "Seriously, Stark, what's got your panties in a bunch?"

At the direct question, Tony could feel the spell begin summoning the truth from his mouth, so he shot to his feet. Physically biting his tongue, he escaped back down to his workshop.

The other Avengers may have found some sort of family here, and maybe Tony had too. It was too bad he fit here as well as he had with his actual relations.


JARVIS lowered the volume of the blasting AC/DC song to inform Tony that Bruce was at the door. It had been at least half an hour since Tony had bolted from the kitchen, and he had immediately set to work. Anything to keep his mind and hands busy.

Tony weighed his options for a minute, then said, “Let him in.”

"Hey Tony," Bruce greeted. "What are you working on?"

Tony had to look at the holographic blueprint in front of him to check. "New StarkPhone. I'm working on a no-touch touchscreen."

Bruce settled into the chair beside Tony's. "Show me?"

"Isn't it a little past your bedtime?" Tony asked, looking at the time, which was approaching two in the morning.

Bruce shrugged. "I'll survive."

That was all the invitation Tony needed to spend the next half hour showing Bruce the schematics he'd been working on. He added a note to remind himself to make at least one Hulk-proof version of the phone.

Finally, once they'd finished talking phones and had moved on to the possibility to tear-proof elastic pants for Bruce's big green friend, Bruce asked, "Do you want to talk about what happened at dinner?"

And that was what Tony loved about Bruce. The question wasn't what had happened at dinner, or why it had happened—both questions Tony would have been magically compelled to answer—but whether or not Tony wanted to talk.

"No," he said simply.

"I'm here if you decide you do," Bruce said, giving him a small smile. "Well, not here here, since I'm going to bed, but you know what I mean."

"To wait until you've crawled out of bed and had at least a cup of tea before dropping anything on you," Tony said. “I’ve seen you in the mornings.”

Bruce gave him an assessing look. "You could wake me up if it was something really important."

Tony tried to keep his tone flippant. "You might want to be careful who you give that invitation to," he warned.

Bruce shook his head. "Goodnight, Tony."

"'Night, Brucey."

Tony watched him leave, feeling the weight of his secret as though it were a steel vice around his heart.


Friday night was the Maria Stark Foundation annual charity gala. Though Tony argued that he had been to every other one in his life and should surely be excused from his one, Fury--through Coulson-- had insisted that all of the Avengers at least make an appearance. Tony knew what that meant. The others would be able to pop in and out, but it was Tony's job to schmooze. It wasn't that he didn't have decades of practice, but it would be a bit more difficult without the ability to bullshit.

Alcohol, that fickle tongue-loosening bitch, was probably not going to be his friend right now, but that didn't stop him from nursing a glass of scotch as he flitted from group to group.

Everyone wore the same high-brand formalwear and plastic smiles, making Tony wonder how his team of men in masks were more open than these socialites.

Tonight, of course, the Avengers were mask-free. While Tony was just as famous in costume as he was out of it, the others were less immediately noticeable, but as with any party with "Stark" in the title, the Avengers were a highly anticipated presence.

Thor, for all that SHIELD had wrangled him into a suit, was an unmistakable figure, unable to tamp down on his booming, enthusiastic personality even in the face of important political and financial figures.

Clint and Natasha were on the edge of the crowd, close enough to look like they were part of it, but far enough to avoid excessive contact. Natasha looked gorgeous in her gown. Its lack of sleeves and flowing material were stylish, but Tony was also sure the dress had been tested through the full gambit of assassin movements to make sure the woman could still kick ass if necessary. Clint was subtly checking the rafters and exits of the large ballroom, though Tony knew that if the archer was being obvious enough for Tony to notice, then he was already sure of the facility's security and was probably just considering ways to disrupt the festivities.

Bruce was sitting alone at a table in the back. Other than the rest of the Avengers and the occasional fellow scientist too socially inept to care about the potential danger of close contact with the Hulk's human form, Bruce was able to avoid social interaction completely at these events.

Before actually seeing him at a society function, Tony would have expected Steve to handle these events with the same easy confidence he maintained about almost everything. When faced with a mission, the good captain was usually earnest and impassioned, with a never-give-up sort of attitude. However, it appeared that the moment you put Steve Rogers in a tuxedo, he turned into a stiff automaton. Tony could make a robot that acted more smoothly than Steve in these situations with one hand tied behind his back.

Tony knew from past experience that SHIELD would quietly escort the rest of the team from the premises as soon as their presence had been noted by all attendees, just to avoid potential incidents. No amount of saving Manhattan could save the Avengers from a PR nightmare if Thor smashed an ale glass on some rich lady's foot, or if Natasha and Clint silently assassinated one of the more obnoxious guests, or if Captain America's brittle smile fell off his face and into someone's drink.

And really, if you were forced to rely on Tony Stark to smooth over ruffled feathers, something was clearly very wrong.

Tony had been at it for only a bit longer than an hour, but his smile already felt ready to drop off his face. He was under some freaky truth spell and a self-imposed alcohol limit, so he was ready to get the hell out of there.

However, he persevered. Speeches were given at the front of the room, and for once in his life Tony stuck verbatim to his notecards, having carefully prepared only the truth so he didn't accidentally blurt out something on stage, like the passcode to one of his bank accounts or that he was still pissed at his dad for driving drunk the night he and Tony's mom had died in that car crash.

...Did he even know the passcode to all of his bank accounts? Okay, so maybe not his bank account passcodes.

He was just deciding to say fuck all to the truth spell and chug the rest of his scotch when he spotted Steve still talking to a small group of people. Hadn't all the Avengers slipped away yet? A quick scan of the room showed that Bruce, Clint, and Natasha had indeed disappeared.
Steve's shoulders were tense, that much Tony could tell from across the room. He stood as if he had been called to attention. A month or two ago, Tony would have just blamed the stick up Rogers's ass, but he had seen that the super-soldier was capable of being relaxed if he was in the right setting. This clearly wasn't it.

Tony had crossed the room before he had time to rethink his actions. Or think about them for a first time. "Hey, Cap, come away," Tony said, barging his way into the small conversing group.

"What is it, Tony?" he asked, looking reluctant.

Again, Tony lamented the loss of his ability to bullshit. Instead, he labeled it as a question. You can't lie in a question, right? "Would I interrupt if it weren't important?"

Steve hesitated for a moment, and then excused himself from the group. "Have a lovely evening," he said.

"Drink some more booze. It's for a good cause," Tony said.

"Like you need an excuse," one of the ladies muttered, flashing Tony a smile that said she was kidding, but her eyes were full of contempt. Tony had always soaked in the limelight, but it wasn't all that fun when the whole world knew every detail of your highly-entertaining sordid past. Some days it felt like he was never going to be able to redeem his past sins.

Some days he didn't think he deserved to.

"I guess none of you are really here for the cause anyway," Tony said, equally fake smile in place. "Just ignore me and the captain here, we'll just be going. Return to your previously scheduled schmoozing and boozing." He clapped one of them on the back, not really paying them attention any more, before turning back to Steve and motioning for him to follow him onto the balcony.

Below them, New York was bustling, but they were far enough removed that it looked almost peaceful.

"Sit rep?" Steve inquired quietly.

"You looked as ready to get out of there as I felt," Tony said, leaning against the railing.

"You brought me out here because you were bored?"

"Please, it's not like you believed me about it being that important. You were just looking for an excuse to bail," Tony pointed out. When Steve didn't object, he continued, "Did SHIELD decide you needed to stay this time?"

Steve shook his head. The balcony was only dimly lit, but nowhere was truly dark in NYC, so Tony could see him relatively clearly. "I was talking to some soldiers earlier. They were talking about how the foundation funds some VA hospitals."

"And that stopped you from bailing when you had the chance?" Tony inquired.

"I stayed because this is a good cause. If my being here can help it, it's the least I can do," Steve said. "You set up the organization?"

"I... Yes," Tony said, cutting himself off with a blink. He couldn't brush it off, claim he was forced to by Pepper or stockholders, or say he wasn't really involved in the set-up. "I don't do much for it nowadays."

"Still, you started a good thing here," Steve said, ignoring Tony's dismissal. He looked out over Manhattan. "Your mom must have been an amazing woman. I never met her."

"She did her best to raise a kid who was too smart for his own good," Tony admitted. "She had a rough time of it, obviously." He kept a smile on his face, helping the words come out flippant.

Steve nodded contemplatively. "My mom was one of the strongest women I've ever met." He spoke without looking at Tony, leaning on the rail and looking out over the skyline.

"She worked two jobs, sometimes more. I, ah, had a lot of medical bills." Tony had hacked some of the files from the project that had turned Steve into the beefcake he was now, so he had seen a picture of the scrawny Steve from before the serum. It was nearly impossible to reconcile that image with the large man before him. "She was always cheerful, though. Never let anything get her down."

So it was a family trait.

Tony didn't realize he'd said it out loud until Steve glanced over at him, almost like he'd forgotten he was there. "I guess so."

"She must have been surprised when you came home one day with a hundred pounds extra muscle," Tony said. "No more doctor bills, but a lot more in groceries, I bet."

Steve sighed. They really should just make it illegal for Captain America to look sad. It was practically a weapon of mass destruction. They just had to slap it onto some billboards and crime rate would drop like a rock, since no one wanted to be making that face any sadder. "She died a few months before I managed to enlist," Steve confided quietly. He wasn't as stilted as he had been inside the party, but it was clear he wasn't entirely comfortable confiding in Tony.

"I, um, that's... Sorry to hear that," Tony managed to say. There was a moment of awkward silence, Tony wanting to offer some kind of consolation but not knowing if he should even if he knew how. He didn't think Cap would want his sympathy, not after all of their fighting. He wasn't sure why he'd been trusted with this information in the first place.

Steve gave him a solemn nod. He looked out of place on the balcony, backlit by modern Manhattan, the memories of an era long since passed in his eyes.

"You know what? Let's blow this party. Do you like burgers? What am I saying, of course you like burgers. Let's get burgers," Tony said.

Steve quirked an eyebrow. "Are you allowed to leave?"

"Like you said, it's my foundation. There's not much they can do to me. Besides, it's not like this is the last formal event I'll have to go to. I can bail a few hours early." He shrugged. "The ones who like me like me, and the ones who don't aren't going to change their minds tonight."

Steve just gave him a gentle smile. "Yeah, let's go get some burgers."


The first time Steve came down to the workshop after that night, Tony had been completely thrown off his guard. Sure, he had had fun just talking with the other man, but he hadn't expected Steve to see him any differently after just one night of not going after one another's throats. Surely Steve realized that deep down--actually, pretty much on the surface--Tony was still a self-centered jerk. Still, there he was.

"Do you need something?" Tony asked, turning off the blowtorch and glancing back at the other man.

Steve shrugged and lifted the pair of plates he had in his hands. "You missed lunch."

Tony had been avoiding group meals more studiously than usual since the last incident. "I miss lunch almost every day," Tony said dismissively.

Steve raised his eyebrows. "You realize that's not a good thing, right?"

Tony just rolled his eyes, set down his blowtorch, and motioned Steve over to one of the cleaner work tables. After shoving a few spare parts out of the way, he deemed the table clean enough to at least put plates down on and grabbed a seat.

When Steve hesitated, Tony asked, "So are you joining me or did you bring me double lunch? Because, honestly, I don't have a super-soldier metabolism like you."

Steve snorted and sat down opposite him. He watched Tony expectantly until he finally took a bite of the sandwich. It was a simple ham and cheese, but the first bite made Tony realize how hungry he was. Since he and Pepper had split up, he hadn't had anyone nagging him to do the boring things like eating and sleeping.

Steve looked vaguely uncomfortable, sitting there in Tony's workshop. The inventor wondered how long it would take for the soldier to make his excuses and be on his way out of Tony's lair. "What have you been working on? If you don't mind me asking," Steve said, glancing around the workshop curiously.

Surprised by the interest, Tony spoke through a bite of sandwich. "New potential metal alloys for the suit." The sudden introduction of a conversation put Tony on edge. He had been practicing with JARVIS to say only what he wanted and nothing else, despite the spell, but he slipped up more often than he was comfortable with.

Steve's brow furrowed. "Is there something wrong with your suit?"

"The suit's fine," Tony reassured him, "but nothing's perfect. Yet."

Steve nodded contemplatively, still looking around.

"So you're here to check up on my work?" Tony deduced, oddly relieved to find an excuse for Steve's presence. "I don't spend all my time screwing around, you know. The 'genius' and 'billionaire' parts of 'genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist' take some upkeep."

Steve shook his head, looking at Tony steadily. "Just didn't want to eat lunch alone."

"And you thought I'd be good company?" Tony couldn't keep the skepticism from his voice.

Steve hesitated. "If you want me to leave, I can..."

"No, stay, stay," Tony replied, and so began a new routine in Tony's life. With the unpredictability to their schedules it was not something Tony could set a watch by, but at least once a day Steve showed up in Tony's workshop. At first, he brought a food offering each time, a reason for coming. Tony didn't always stop working to sit down and eat, but he could talk, eat, and work when he needed to multitask. Even when he was working on something that required and maintained his full attention, he would sometimes look up from his work to find Steve sitting on the workshop's slightly singed couch with a sketchpad or the tablet Tony had given him, looking like he'd been there for a while without Tony even noticing.

For the most part, Tony kept his workshop doors firmly closed to all possible interlopers because he liked being alone. Yet, somehow, Steve’s presence wasn’t a chore, something that he had to put up with. To his surprise, the super-soldier was good company, a solid presence that sometimes offered conversation, and sometimes remained silent, but never grated on Tony’s nerves.

Unexpectedly, he didn't spend every second of every conversation with Steve as hyper-aware of the lingering truth spell as he had at first. Steve was surprisingly easy to talk to for a Boy Scout, more dry humor and endearing earnestness than disapproving glances and reprimands.

Since Tony was Tony, and more interested in machines than his own life, it took him a while to realize this had become a thing. Steve was actively spending time with him, and Tony hadn't bribed him or coerced him-- he hadn't even realized it was happening until Steve had shown up with a pair of baseball tickets and asked Tony to come along.

That was how Tony found himself emerging from his workshop into the light of day on Saturday afternoon, dressed in a well-tailored gray suit. Add a pair of designer shades, and Tony Stark was ready for the crowds. Steve, on the other hand, had shown up in the workshop in a pair of pressed jeans and a plaid shirt, looking like any other baseball fan. Though Steve had listed the wonders of the New York subway, Tony had driven them in his Audi R8, zipping through the afternoon traffic.

When they got to the packed stadium, Tony glanced down at the tickets and realized why. “We’re going to a Yankees game?” he questioned. “You know that they’re the Mets biggest rivals, right? This is one side of New York you might not want to see.”

Steve laughed. “The Yankees were the Dodgers’ rivals long before they were the Mets’. I’ve cheered against the Yankees before most of these people were born.”

“Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Tony said skeptically. He couldn’t imagine Steve Rogers hating any team just because they were his team’s rivals, and was pretty sure that rivalries had gotten more violent since the 40s, but wasn’t about to tell Steve to leave.

When they got inside, Steve went immediately to the nearest merchandise stand and bought a Mets hat.

“I thought you were a Dodgers fan,” Tony protested.

“They’re in LA, now,” Steve pointed out. “And it’s the Mets playing the Yankees today.”

Tony looked at the blue hat. “If there’s a picture of you in that, you’re going to make a lot of New Yorkers angry.”

“New Yorkers are always angry,” Steve said, setting the cap on his head. It wasn’t the same color blue as his uniform, but the color made Steve look immediately more recognizable. “And it’ll make a lot of people happy.”

And that was only the beginning.

Tony bought a pair of hot-dogs and some beer for them, and settled in next to Steve in their seats. The view down here was not as broad as the one he got from the boxes, but it was more personal. In their spots by first base, they were able to see the dust kicked up by the player’s shoes.

Tony rarely got overly invested in sports games, making appearances to work the crowd or the people he was with. However, after the national anthem, to which Steve was just as attentive as Tony expected, Tony was surprised by Steve’s immediate passionate attention to the game. Though he laughed at Tony’s nearly non-stop commentary, he remained leaning forward in his seat, cheering and groaning depending on what was happening on the field.

Since they were mostly surrounded by fellow Mets fans, even Tony began to get swept up in the enthusiasm. He still gave the camera a cocky grin every time it panned over him and Steve, which it did with increasing frequency, but Steve didn’t even notice, too focused on what was happening in the field, and Tony found himself leaning forward slightly as well.

Steve may not have been cussing like the rest of the fans around them, but there was no denying his energy. “What? That was definitely in! Tony, wasn’t that in? Are they kidding me right now?”

“Looked out to me,” Tony admitted.

Steve gave Tony his usual disapproving stare, which looked hilarious with his Mets cap and the half-eaten bag of cotton candy in his hands.

“Just calling ‘em how I see ‘em, Cap.”

The soldier huffed and turned back to the game.

At the very end of the ninth inning, just when it seemed as though the game was going to remain tied and continue on, the Yankees scored a rapid series of runs, gaining the edge needed for the win. While the pair of lone Yankees fans in their section cheered, the Mets fans shouted obscenities at the field, and generally blamed the entire game on the referee and the fact that the Yankees bought every win they had.

“They think just because they’re rich, that they’re better than everyone else,” the man beside Tony was saying loudly, gesturing broadly enough that his hand kept brushing Tony’s suit. “They bought every scrap of talent they have, and they’re still not as good as our boys.”

“Good enough to win,” Tony muttered, edging away from the man’s flailing hands.

“What was that?” the man asked, turning to Tony challengingly. He was a large, hairy man, face flushed from the beer Tony had watched him down like water throughout the game.

The truth spell was what made Tony speak, but, in all honesty, he probably would have kept talking anyway. “Sometimes people aren’t good because they have money—They have money because they’re that good. Once you’re awesome enough, the money pours in. That doesn’t mean they didn’t earn it.”

The man’s companion, another drunk man, said, “Of course Tony Stark would be a Yankees fan.”

Tony raised his eyebrows. “Does being rich and famous means I’m required to be a Yankees fan? That’s not how it works. Welcome to America. Pretty much everyone wants to be rich and famous. Not everyone wants the Yankees to take the World Series. Though with how they played today, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.”

“You can shut up now, Tony,” Steve muttered beside him, standing up and gesturing for Tony to do the same. The stands were starting to clear now that the game was done, clogging the stairs towards the exits.

Tony rolled his eyes and climbed to his feet obediently. He had better things to do than argue with drunk baseball fans.

“You talk real big, tin man,” the first man said. “Can you back that up without your fancy suit?”

“As a matter of fact, I can,” Tony’s mouth said, entirely without his permission.

"We'll see about that," the man said, and pulled back his arm.

Tony was still processing that this dumbass was actually about to start a fight with a bonafide superhero when Steve shouldered Tony aside and stood between him and the two fans. Seeing that the tall blonde was getting involved, the surrounding fans who had been taking an interest in the proceedings, began shuffling back. "No, we won't," Steve said. "You need to go home and sober up."

The man, face red, ignored Steve's order and tried to punch him in the face. Steve's arm moved up before the other man could complete the movement, snatching the arm and twisting it so the man had to turn around or loose the limb. After manhandling the man back into his seat, Steve said, "We're leaving now. Further harassment will result in legal action."

"And I've got fantastic lawyers," Ton added, though he'd rather take the situation into his own hands. He glanced up and saw the cameras trained on them. "That's probably a good idea, unless we want footage of Iron Man pummeling some civilians leaking onto the web," he said, smiling at the cameras and speaking through gritted teeth. How dumb was this guy to try to punch out Captain America? With that on top of the earlier insults, Tony was having trouble thinking of a reason not to indulge in a fight.

Steve didn't wait for a response, just starting to walk down the aisle Tony was standing him, making him either start moving or get trampled. "I'm going, I'm going," Tony said, maneuvering his way around abandoned beer bottles, nacho baskets, and peanut shells.

When they got out of the stadium and back to Tony's car without further incident, Steve said, "You can't go anywhere without making a scene, can you?"

"Now that's a lie," Tony said. "I have been places where no scene was made. Like when we got burgers. Or that one time I went to the movies and only a few people recognized me." He was running out of examples. Steve was never going to leave the workshop with him again if this was how he thought every outing would go. "Anyway, it's usually just people asking for autographs or trying to take sneaky pictures. Threats of violence don't happen every single time I walk out of the tower."

"Well, that's good."

"Are you laughing at me?" Tony asked incredulously.

Steve shook his head, but his chuckles grew louder. "Only you would look a Mets fan straight in the eye and say that stuff, and then act surprised when they pick a fight."

"I was surprised," Tony protested, as they got into the car. "Most civilians don't pick a fight with Iron Man, no matter what my opinions are."

"And you were trying to warn me about crazy fans," Steve said, shaking his head.

"Hey, hey, I didn't realize you were such a baseball game expert," Tony pointed out.

"I'm an expert at which things might end up in a brawl," Steve said.

Tony raised his eyebrows. "Captain senses?"

"Skinny kid in Brooklyn with a big mouth and small arms senses," Steve corrected. "Though last time I got into it with a baseball fan, it sure wasn't on the side of a Yank."

"I'm not actually a Yankees fan," Tony assured him, racing under a yellow light. "I just don't hate them. I'm not all that interested in baseball."

"We'll get you into a team," Steve promised him. "You've just got to go to games until it gets in your blood."

"I've got plenty of stuff in my blood," Tony said, but he was grinning. "But that sounds fun."


Their new friendship made next time Steve started yelling at him even worse, because for once he found he actually cared what Steve thought of him.

They had just returned to the tower from their most recent mission. Tony had actually seen medical this time, but only because he'd been unconscious at the time of admission. He had been able to tell from the tense line of Steve's jaw and the sidelong glances he was shooting at Tony's various injuries that Steve was pissed, but hadn't had the energy to care.

Walking down to the workshop, Tony had become steadily tenser, since he had apparently acquired a blonde shadow.

"So we're doing this down here so the kids don't have to see us fight?" Tony said the moment the doors slid shut behind him, not pausing on his walk to his computers.

"You almost died out there," Steve said from behind him.

"Yeah, well, I didn't. And I saved the day not doing it," Tony replied, pulling up a screen in front of him. He had realized during the mission today that Clint could really do with a set of flash grenade arrows, to blind and deafen opponents without having to get too close.

"You completely ignored orders and threw yourself into an unnecessarily dangerous situation. Even with the Hulk catching you before you managed to hit the ground, you were unconscious for almost a half hour."

"Yeah, that's what happens when you get knocked through two buildings," Tony explained snarkily, playing with the schematics of one of Clint's regular explosive grenades. He could just switch out the interior, but for a real effect it would need to be larger. Still, he could adjust for that with—

"Do you even care about your own life?" Steve demanded, standing behind the holographic schematic. As cool as his holographs looked, sometimes their transparency was a flaw.

"Saving the world has priority," Tony said, minimizing the screen since Steve's expression of righteous indignation was disrupting his focus anyway. "It does for all of us."

"I know," Steve said, frustrated. "But this wasn't a saving-the-world kind of situation. The worst that bug-alien...thing could have done was smash a few buildings we had already evacuated. Maybe I was wrong; you're not the guy who can't lie on a wire--you're the guy who jumps on too many. It’s like you have a death wish or something!"

"I'm Tony Stark. No one you ask would say someone like me could have a death wish. Haven't you been paying attention?"

"I have. And I've seen you recklessly throw yourself into situations that I know you're smart enough to know are dangerous. I know that before this superhero thing, it was booze, dames, and tin-can cars."

Tony turned and went over to the row of sample alloys for his suit. He was in the process of testing the durability of each, and could use the excuse to hit something. "I still drink. In fact, I'll probably need to after this conversation. Have you declared yourself my therapist or something ? My Jiminy Cricket?" He took a hammer to the nearest sheet of metal, the hit bouncing off with a resounding clang.

"One day you're going to make a reckless decision that's going to hurt people instead of help them."

Tony dropped the hammer and whirled around. "Been there, done that, have the arc reactor to prove it, Cap. Now go bother someone else."

"Getting yourself killed isn't the way to find redemption," Steve said tensely.

"Like you would know shit about redemption, Captain Perfect," Tony snarled. He wanted out of this conversation, stat, but wouldn't run off while Steve was in his face like this.

Now the super-soldier looked like he was the one being attacked. "I've had men die under my watch. Good men."

"Right, all those men worth ten of me. I heard about them. Too bad they couldn't--"

"And I don't want you to become one of them," Steve shouted over Tony's vitriol. "God, Tony, can't you let anyone finish a thought around you?"

"I try not to," Tony admitted flippantly, still processing Steve's words.

"I just... Listen, Tony, you've got more issues with authority than most hardened felons, and I know you'd rather jump in front of a raging bull than lose a shred of that autonomy you're clinging to, but I'm just trying to keep as many people alive as I can. That includes you, even if you don't think it should."

Tony turned back to his metal samples. "We done here?"

"Just keep that in mind next mission. You've got a team now. We look after each other, if you'll let us."

Tony just hit the next metal with the hammer. The low clang sounded sour in the still room.
Behind him, there was a sigh and then fading footsteps as Steve left the workshop.


"Sir, Miss Potts is requesting access," JARVIS informed him, turning down the music just enough for Tony to hear him. The billionaire was testing a prototype arm for his new suit for flexibility and agility, making sure he could move quickly and easily. He didn't think it would be a problem considering the lighter weight of this alloy, but there was always the chance of unforeseen complications. Like, for example, the current CEO of Stark Industries, and former secretary and then girlfriend of Tony himself, showing up at his workshop door.

"Denied," Tony said calmly and returned to his testing.

A few seconds later, JARVIS said, "She is overriding the code, sir. She'll be entering the room right—"

The sharp clack of designer heels made the rest of Jarvis's warning unnecessary.

"You realize that was an emergency code. A code for emergencies. A series of numbers and letters to be used only in life-or-death situations, and then only for the important ones. Is someone at risk of dying?"

"Only if I decide to kill you for making me come all the way over here," Pepper replied.

"You wouldn't kill me," Tony said.

"I could get Natasha to do it."

"Point." Tony pouted at her. "I didn't make you come here. I don't know why you're here. I've even been doing all the paperwork you've sent me."

He had wanted to make sure Pepper wouldn't be tracking him down until he got this truth spell removed. He was still researching the spell, digging carefully through his contacts, but had to take breaks to work on his armor, on something physical he could manipulate as desired, to focus his thoughts.

"That's the problem," Pepper replied, crossing her arms. She was dressed impeccably as usual, professional and gorgeous at once.

"I don't do my paperwork, you yell at me, I do my paperwork, you yell at me. I'm not really seeing any incentive to keep doing it if I get the same result," Tony said.

"Tony, you've been filling all your paperwork out on time. It's understandable for me to be a bit worried," she replied.

"It's not your job to worry about me." The unspoken 'any more' hung in the air between them anyway. One of the many in the calmly explained list of reasons she had for leaving him had been her refusal to have to worry about him all the time. According to her, dating a superhero was too stressful to pile on top of her already-booked schedule. Since then, she had distanced herself from him, since apparently caring for Tony at all only led to heartbreak, and she had decided to end it on her own terms. He had always known she was smart. "Why are you here? You couldn't have called about the paperwork?"

"I did," she said. "A half dozen times. You never answered."

"That's not—JARVIS?"

"You have missed seven calls from Miss Potts in the last two weeks," JARVIS confirmed.

"I've been busy," Tony said.

"So I've heard. The team hasn't seen you for days. When's the last time you slept?"

"Fifty-two hours ago." Motherfucking truth spell. "But I've had lots of coffee," he reassured her.

She sighed. "That doesn't exactly fill me with confidence."

"Well, I want to finish testing this before I go to bed, so you leaving might be the quickest way to accomplish that," Tony said. Part of him was surprised at the irritation he felt with Pepper. At what point had the pain of her leaving dampened enough for him to feel anything but heartbreak when he saw her face?

"I heard you've been hanging out with Steve. Doesn't he tell you to sleep?"

"He does sometimes, but we haven't talked in a few days. And just where the hell are you getting your information from?"

"Natasha and I still hang out sometimes. She's fun to be around. She said Steve had gotten himself glued to your hip," Pepper said.

"Well, I wasn't the one who glued him there, so you can save your 'don't-corrupt-the-icon-of-our-nation' speech. Also, 'fun!?' You realize she's a trained assassin, right?"

"She mixes a mean Cosmopolitan," Pepper said calmly. "So why is he un-glued?"

"We had words," Tony said. And then Tony had blocked his access to the workshop. "And come on, we both know it's for the best."

"I actually think he'd be good for you," Pepper said.

"But we both know I'm toxic with prolonged exposure. And even the 'prolonged' part is up for debate," Tony pointed out.

"You're not toxic," Pepper argued.

Tony would be more inclined to believe her if she had been the one under a truth spell. "And I'm not dead, so you didn't need to drag your Jimmy Choos down to my workshop."

"I just wanted to make sure you were okay. That you weren't doing your paperwork because you got replaced by a robot. Or because you were avoiding me."

He means to say 'I could never avoid you, pudding cup,' but what comes out is, "Well, I was trying, but I obviously didn't think that plan through."

Pepper actually looked hurt by that, which was unusual considering the amount of insensitive things Tony said to her on a regular basis. There had been a time when Tony had thought he could tell Pepper anything, but now he couldn't convince himself that telling her about the truth spell was a good idea.

"You need to stop avoiding him," she said, side-stepping the issue of his avoidance of her.

"He's getting girls to come fight his battles now?"

"It's not him. Natasha said he's been walking around upstairs looking like a kicked puppy, and no one wants to deal with that face. Apparently it's soul-crushing."

"True story. Be glad you haven't had it inflicted on you yet," Tony said. "But how exactly is spending time with me supposed to fix him?"

"Honestly, Tony, I don't get it either, but Natasha said he's been happier since you two started hanging out. He hasn't made friends easily in this century."

"He's Captain America. Practically everyone loves him," Tony argued.

"Everyone may love Captain America, but I don't think very many have gotten to know Steve Rogers." Pepper sighed. "Look, I don't know him that well. I'm just relaying a message. But I do know you. I don't know why you're avoiding him, but I know you well enough to know it’s not because you don't like him. Get over your hang-ups and throw the Cap-dog a bone, okay? And if you turn that into innuendo, I will personally buy out your favorite Chinese place and force them to stop serving Orange Chicken."

Tony fumbled with a nearby screwdriver, tapping it against his hand as he spoke. "What's the point of getting close to him? I'll just drive him away within a month or two, or we'll stick around each other long enough to disappoint each other."

"It doesn't have to go that way," Pepper said.

"Doesn't it? You're proof that I'm right."

"Tony, what happened between us has nothing to do with you and Steve. If you like his company, don't push him away because of your insecurities. Especially not when he might be the one person with the determination to deal with you."

"Gee, Pepper, you sure know how to make a guy feel not better," Tony muttered. "Don't you need to get back to your life of not dealing with me?"

Pepper just sighed again. "Think about what I said, Tony," she said, before leaving the workshop.


The next night, Tony had JARVIS tell Steve that Tony had bought them another pair of Mets tickets, if he was free to go on Monday. Steve had shown up in his workshop a few minutes later, sketchbook in hand, asking if he could sit on the couch to work.

Steve didn't bring up Tony's recklessness again, and the next time they were out in the field,
Tony might have paid a bit more attention to Steve's orders. But just a bit.


A week after reconciling with Steve, the soldier managed to convince him to go to bed at a reasonable time, barely one in the morning. After a run of weeks with minimal sleep and occasionally crashing on the workshop's couch, it actually felt nice to settle into his king-sized bed.

That was, until he shot out of it a few hours later, a cold sweat on his brow. Panting, he took in his surroundings. He was in the Tower, not a cave. Not Afghanistan. The dark room was lit by the dull glow of the arc reactor, but Tony lifted up his shirt just to double-check that it was still in place. He put his hand against the glass, only a few degrees warmer than his skin despite the amount of power it was generating, tapping his fingers. He considered trying to go back to sleep, but a jitteriness had set in deep in his bones, and he threw off his covers and left his bedroom.
According to the clock glowing over the microwave, it was four in the morning, but Tony felt as though adrenaline had been jolted through his veins.

He went straight to the bar that lined the far wall, JARVIS turning the lights on the dimmest setting as he passed. Hands shaking only the slightest bit, Tony grabs a decanter of scotch and a glass.

"Up already?"

The glass hit the counter with a loud thunk, miraculously not breaking, as Tony looked up at Steve, who had just wandered into the room. He was in low-slung sweatpants and a plain white shirt, blonde hair slightly tousled.

"Well, yeah," Tony said.

"Couldn't sleep either?" Steve asked. Tony nodded.

"You know, I can't get drunk," Steve pointed out. Tony raised an eyebrow, waiting for that non-sequitur to make sense. Steve looked at the alcohol set out. "So I have to rely on other things to get me back to sleep, calm my nerves. Warm milk, hot chocolate, that sort of thing." Tony nodded, hand still clasped possessively on the bottle of scotch. "Do you want to give it a try?"

Tony looked down at the amber liquid in his hands. It had never been the best companion on these sleepless nights, but always a better option than being all alone with his brain. He looked up at Steve, who was looking at him with a bit of concern, but also the expression of a man who had his own nightmares to face.

"Sure, why not?" Tony said, leaving the scotch where it was and moving around the bar to follow Steve into the kitchen.

Steve made hot chocolate using syrup from the fridge rather than the powder Tony used on the rare occasions he had the drink. He leaned against the counter while Steve stirred and heated the drinks, his motions calm and methodical.

"My mom used to make us hot chocolate sometimes, when we had money to spare," Steve said as he worked. The tower was silent and dark except here in the kitchen, though even here Steve kept his voice quiet. "Back then I just had your usual kid nightmares, but she would still get up when I needed her to, even if she was exhausted."

"Sounds nice," Tony admitted.

"She always listened when I told her about the dreams, no matter how silly they were. It used to feel good to get them off my chest." Steve turned around, a mug in each hand. Tony silently accepted the mug, and let Steve lead them over to the plush couch in front of the television.

They sat in silence for a while, sipping their drinks, before Tony said, "Um, I could listen. Since she's not here to. If you want, I mean. Obviously I'm not your mom."

"Definitely not," Steve said with a soft laugh. He didn't talk for a moment, which Tony took as a dismissal until the other man suddenly began talking. "It's not usually about the ice. That happens, of course. I mean, the crash and the cold. But they're usually about before then." Steve took another drink, looking far older than Tony had seen him look before. "They're normally about losing people."

Tony was mentally cursing himself for offering to listen. He wasn't the person Steve Rogers should turn to for help. Tony never knew the right thing to say—how could he possibly comfort Captain America?

"I lost so many people then. But the worst dreams are when I see the people I lost then--Bucky and the others—and then see you all dying next, and I can't tell what's a memory and what's just a dream. I try to save you, but I never can. I have all of this extra strength and speed, and it never is enough. You're always so surprised, like you never expected it to actually happen, for there to be a time when the lucky save didn't come in the end." Steve sighed. "And then I wake up, and I still feel cold and trapped."

"I'll get JARVIS to up the heating in your room," Tony said immediately, and then bit his tongue.

Steve just grinned. "Sure, Tony." He leaned back on the couch. "Thanks for listening."

That was all he said. Tony had been waiting for him to push, to insist on a quid-pro-quo exchange of nightmares. Tony had a response queued up for that, to say that he'd grown up not needing to 'get things off his chest.' But Steve didn't push, just sat in the dark with Tony as if he were comfortable with the silence. Tony knew he cared though, that he would listen to Tony's stupid, irritating, haunting dreams if he needed him to. And that knowledge, in the end, was what made Tony's mouth open and say, "Mine are almost all just memories. I've got a vivid imagination, but I guess there's not much it can do to compare with real life. The only difference is that I never escape in the dreams. It's only ever the bad parts."

Steve nodded, expression telling Tony that he knew what it was like.

"I, uh, still can't go swimming. In the ocean or pool, you know. Or take baths. Even sometimes in the shower I get a gulp of water and it's just..." Tony took a deep breath, just to prove he could.
"It's ridiculous, I know."

Steve was giving him a wary expression, pain in his eyes on Tony's behalf. "What...?"

Tony laughed suddenly, the noise stark in the stillness of the room. "Oh yeah. Duh."


"I might have possibly hacked SHIELD's files and deleted just about everything they had managed to dig up about Afghanistan that I hadn't specifically told them. Anybody could see those files, anyone with access codes or an advanced hacking system, and I didn't want them to know that stuff. Tabloids are different, tabloids get what I want them to get. But they don't get what really matters. That's still mine."

"Tony," Steve said, voice deliberately steady. "What happened?"

At that point, Tony was ready to back off, to save the story for a rainy never, but the truth spell activated his vocal chords. "It turns out that terrorist groups don't mind a bit of torture to get what they want. They had a tub of water, and they, you know, drowned me. I had to stay alert during it too, keep the car battery away from the splashes and puddles. The thing keeping me alive could have killed me. That's a pretty constant theme in my life." Tony paused, the spell allowing him respite. Steve was looking at him with wide eyes, sympathetic and angry, and Tony shrugged. "But I'm still here."

Steve nodded, jaw clenched so tightly that Tony could see the tension even in the dim lights of the living room. "I'm glad you are," Steve told him, sincerity practically rolling off him. "You've survived a lot."

Tony nodded thoughtfully. "So have you."

"Thanks for telling me. And I don't think it's ridiculous to still be uncomfortable. All of us here have our things."

Tony wanted to argue that everyone else had science experimentation or extensive training or were literally gods, but in the end he just nodded. "I guess we do." They sat in silence for a moment, and then Tony frowned. "I still don't think I can sleep."

"Me either," Steve admitted. "It was easier as a kid."

"Isn't everything? How about a movie? You haven't seen Jurassic Park yet, have you?"

They had been slowly introducing Steve to the important cultural highlights he had missed. The Star Wars marathon had been particularly memorable, with every member of the team showing up to watch.

Steve shook his head. "Sounds good."

Despite his agreement, Steve fell asleep a few minutes into the film, head resting on Tony's shoulder. Tony had lowered the volume and settled in. However, he lasted no more than fifteen more minutes before sleep washed over him as well.


"Guys? Guys, you might want to get up before Clint wakes up," a voice was saying.

Tony sighed and snuggled deeper into his warm body pillow...that was moving and was a bit too firm and warm to be made of fluff.

"Let him sleep," Steve replied softly as he slowly disentangled himself.

"'M n't ‘sleep..." Tony grumbled, not fighting as his head was gently lowered onto the warm couch cushion.

The other voice, which Tony realized was Bruce, agreed, "Probably a good idea."

Tony let his focus drift again, and it seemed like only moments later that the clatter of pans from the kitchen behind him slowly roused him again.

"Ah, I see you have made a mighty feast! How gracious of you, my noble comrade!"

Yep, Thor's booming voice was a sure-fire way to wake him up. He really should record him someday and use his voice as an alarm clock. He'd have him say something like, "Arise, valiant warrior! You must go forth and seize this day!" It was easily marketable what with the way anything associated with the Avengers was selling like hotcakes-- or, more accurately, like StarkPhones, since sales were through the roof now and, really, who ate hotcakes anymore--and America was sure to be more productive from it.

Tony sat up and rubbed at his face, clearing his eyes so he could look around.

Steve had, in fact, made an absurd amount of food for breakfast. Plates were spread all across the counters, laden with scrambled eggs, sausage, and pancakes. Tony stood up and stretched, and then glanced back down at the couch, stilling.

If Tony hadn't lost his ability to blush long ago, he was certain he would have gone red at the memory of his intimate chat with Steve, blabbing things at four in the morning not because of this truth spell, but because he'd wanted to. Would Steve treat him differently after his confession about his lingering hydrophobia? Maybe start wondering what else Tony had scourged from SHIELD's records?

Tony looked up and met Steve's eyes over a stack of pancakes. His baby-blues were relaxed and happy, and Tony hadn't realized how exhausted Steve had been until he now saw him looking well-rested.

Fears calming in his mind, Tony grinned back.


"Can I see?" Tony asked, looking away from a schematic for SI's new water-filtration system to look at Steve.

The soldier's fingers tightened reflexively on the sketchbook in his hands, but his voice was fondly exasperated. "The answer's still no, Tony."

"But Steeeeeve," Tony whined. "I bet they're great."

"Not really," Steve demurred, a blush rising on his cheeks. He was curled up on the workshop's couch, sketchbook in hand and a box of colored pencils open on the table beside him. "It's just relaxing."

"See, that blush just makes me want to see it more," Tony informed him, even as he turned back to the schematic. "You realize you're just building up the anticipation."

"There's nothing to anticipate. I draw as a hobby. It's not supposed to matter to anyone else."

"We're pretty open about our hobbies around here. I let you see my inventions," Tony pointed out. "Bruce does yoga in every corner of the place. Thor shares all the celebrity gossip he obsesses over. Clint shows off his arrows and plays Guitar Hero. Natasha... would share if she had any hobbies other than killing people and giving Pepper alcohol."

"Nice try, Tony, but still no. Also, Natasha plays guitar."

"You're kidding. When do all of these drink-mixing, guitar-playing shenanigans happen exactly? You know what, never mind. It might be better if I don't know." This stint of total honesty was making Tony realize just how much he was sincerely intimidated by the assassin. Tony mulled it over as he zoomed in on a tricky part of the schematic. Maybe if she cracked a real smile ever in her life he wouldn't be so convinced she was secretly dreaming ways to kill him.

"Besides, those are all just things people do when they're at home. It just means they're comfortable here."

Tony's lips quirked. "You know," he mused, "sometimes I think this would be what having a family would be like. A cliché family where people are comfortable and supportive, not the real kind where no one can stand each other."

"That is pretty much what we have," Steve said, smile obvious in his voice.

"Yeah, I noticed. I just meant if everyone wasn't just keeping me around for my money," Tony said casually, snatching a superfluous piece of the filtration system and tossing it in the trash.

"Tony," Steve said, and the way he said it made Tony immediately freeze and mentally go over what he had just said. It was that tone he got when Tony was hurting his feelings by just existing.

"Is that what you think?"

Tony bit his tongue until it was literally painful, since the truth spell would only embarrass him at this point. At his silence, Steve continued, "You're not just a suit. Or a building."

"Do you have to take everything I say so seriously? Not everything is a cry for you to swoop in and comfort me." Obviously some of it was, but that stuff earlier had definitely not supposed to have been conversation fodder.

"You spend so much time making these cutting remarks about yourself, and I never know when you're being serious. At first, I thought it was all just talk. Now I'm not sure any of it is."

"Is this conversation really happening? Because I never agreed to it." Tony fidgeted with the schematic, expanding it and shrinking it arbitrarily.

"Tony." This time the words were more of a growl. "Stop deflecting. Friends talk about things."

Tony wanted to deny their friendship instinctively, but the blatant lie wouldn't pass his lips. "I thought friends respected boundaries," Tony pointed out.

"Talking about the fact that the Avengers actually like you shouldn't be a boundary-pushing topic," Steve replied. "Where did you even get the impression that we didn't like you?"

"I thought it was obvious," Tony said. "Do you not remember the first time we met?"

"That was a year ago. I was obviously wrong about you then. Do you really think I would spend half my time down here if I didn't like you?"

"I'm loud and abrasive. I even manage to upset Thor, and he's the least easily offended of our group," Tony said.

"Yeah, well, you're still our friend and teammate, even if you piss us off occasionally. It happens when you live together. Even the men I was closest to in the army got on my nerves sometimes, and vice versa. I'm not going to say you're never annoying, but we still like you."

"Well, you keep sticking your nose in things that aren't your business," Tony said, "so I guess we all have our flaws."

"I'm trying to have a serious conversation here," Steve said, eyes flashing.

"Is that supposed to surprise me?"

Steve's jaw clenched. "I know what you're doing. I'm not going to drop it just because you're trying to pick a fight."

Well, Tony couldn't deny that. "Why not? You're not my therapist, Steve."

"Yeah, well, I'm your friend, Tony, and it's starting to piss me off that you're so determined to be hated that you can't even deal with that."

Tony talked over him. "Is Captain America allowed to say 'piss me off?' Shouldn't you say, like, 'bothers me greatly?'"

"What makes you so sure that no one could like you?" Steve finally asked, visibly frustrated.

"Maybe because no one does, not unless I'm paying them, and usually not even then. You read my file. They said I'm narcissistic and self-destructive, and they're not wrong. God, Steve, my own father could barely stand to be around me."

"That's not--"

"Oh, right, you think that because you knew Howard Stark in the 40s that you know the man who raised me. News flash: I wasn't a super-soldier. I wasn't Captain America. And didn't he remind me of that all the time. Do you know what's it like to fight against a dead superhero for your father's attention? It was pretty freaking impossible."

"I'm sorry," Steve said softly.

"You're not supposed to apologize," Tony lamented. "You were in ice. It wasn't your fault."

"I'm sorry you didn't get to know the man I knew," Steve pushed on, stepping closer to Tony. From his expression, you would think that talking to Tony was the equivalent of trying to take down Hilter in terms of daunting tasks. "And I'm furious that he made you think so little of yourself, especially in my name."

The image of Steve, kind Steve who spent his afternoons sketching in Tony's lab and still didn't understand the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek, looking so genuinely angry on Tony's behalf did something funny to his heart. Or his arc reactor was glitching. He glanced down at the steady blue light and decided, nope, it really was just his heart.

"I didn't tell you any of that to make you feel guilty," Tony said, deflating.

"I know," Steve replied levelly, "but I meant everything I said." He turned and grabbed his sketchbook off the table, tucking it under his arm, before looking back at Tony. "Think about it, okay? And not by just locking yourself in down here, even if that's how you usually process things."

Tony rolled his eyes. "You got it, Cap."

After another assessing look, Steve nodded. "See you later, Tony."

Tony puttered around his lab for the next hour, trying to work up some anger at Steve, or at least some apathy, but he was feeling oddly… content. He never liked being convinced he was wrong, but this time... The truth spell hadn't stopped him from believing things that weren't true, but now that Steve had pointed it out, Tony had to admit that maybe he had found... something here with the Avengers.


“I think I’m in love with Steve Rogers.” The words fell from his lips without prompting, a sudden realization that he couldn’t process in the confines of his own mind. “Wait, really?” he wondered. Waiting for the truth spell to kick in, to moderate his words, because surely he wasn’t stupid enough to really do this, he said, “I’m in love with Steve Rogers.”

This was terrible. Tony had flown through the crush stage with record speed, straight into real affection. Why did he have to get so attached to anyone who stuck around him long enough for him to start relying on? This wasn’t like Pepper, with her wry smile and soft eyes. This was Captain America, national icon. As in, way out of his league.

Tony wasn’t stupid, he knew there were plenty of people who would wait in line for a night with Iron Man, or billionaire Tony Stark. But how many people could honestly say they wanted a relationship with insomniac, narcissistic, just plain Tony?

The man shows Tony that he has a home here with the Avengers, and Tony immediately ruins it all by wanting even more. He needed to clamp down on this feeling, get it under control. It was bad enough that he couldn’t stop himself from hanging around Steve despite the truth spell in general, but now that he was sitting on a secret that could ruin their friendship, and possibly the team? Tony really needed to force some space in between them.

And yet, when Steve called on the comm to invite Tony out for pizza, voice warm and friendly, he couldn't make himself say no.

What the hell. He’d always been a masochist.


Two days later, the Avengers were battling the gigantic robot dog which had appeared in Central Park. Any thoughts that the dog might have just been there to enjoy the outdoors vanished when it started breathing fire, setting the expanse of trees ablaze.

"It's really sad that these things don't even surprise me anymore," Tony said, zooming around the dog's torso to search for any weak spots, avoiding being crushed by its two-story tall legs. "Is there a pound for dogs the size of a Macy's Thanksgiving balloon?"

"Isn't the question more whether there's a pound for robo-dogs?" Clint asked, firing an explosive arrow at the joint of one of the dog's legs. When the smoke cleared, the metal appeared barely scratched.

"Cut the chatter," Steve said firmly. "See anything, Tony?"

"Apparently, someone went to a lot of trouble to make this thing anatomically correct. Who does that?" When Steve's impatient sigh rattled over the comms, Tony added, "No obvious chinks in the armor."

"All right, then let's try this. Thor, zap him with the strongest bolt of lightning you can summon," Steve ordered. "Tony, you get ready to blast into whatever opening that makes before it heals up. Everyone else, keep trying to get some damage in. We can't let this thing out of the park."
Tony and Thor flew up, Tony stopping to hover by the dog's back, and Thor flying farther away until Tony could just see his billowing red cape. Black clouds swirled overhead, darkening Central Park.

Tony had JARVIS gather power, prepared for Thor's attack, and kept an eye on the rest of the team. The robotic dog let out another blast of fire, forcing Clint to abandon his perch as a patch of trees caught on fire. Overhead, the storm was still building.

Tony's HUD screen caught the motion of one of the larger trees suddenly falling, the fire weakening its rotten core. If Tony hadn't been glancing down at that moment, watching the spray of sparks as the tree fell, he might not have noticed Steve fail to roll out of the way in time, getting crushed under the trunk. Only yards away, the car-sized metal paws of the robot were closing in on the fallen soldier.

Tony didn't even need to think. He dropped from the sky even as he heard the sizzle of electricity and the crash of thunder, throwing the tree from Steve's body and scooping him up, moving him just before a metal paw crunched the ground where Steve had been laying.

Tony propped Steve against a tree stump, behind the dog's path of destruction. "Are you okay?"

Steve coughed, suit singed but looking mostly unharmed. "I'm fine," he said, waving him away urgently. "Get back in there."

Tony hesitated for a second, and then nodded, taking to the sky.

The dog's back had already healed from Thor's lightning strike, and the movements of the Avengers were growing more frantic as the dog exited the park. If it was able to decimate buildings as easily as trees, the city was in trouble. They were just lucky the portal the dog had fallen out of had been over a patch of forest instead of crowd of tourists.

Now, the streets had been largely evacuated, allowing the robot to smash the cars and asphalt while setting buildings ablaze without human casualty. Still, with the number of people in the Big Apple, it was only a matter of time before the robot stumbled upon some civilians.

"Hulk," Tony called over the comm, hovering beside the green beast. "Try to smash his head. His head! Well, neck preferably. Just avoid the flam—whoa!"

He dropped back as the Hulk jumped up and landed on a leg, denting the armor with his bare hands as he climbed up.

It took three solid punches from the Hulk's giant green fist to puncture the metal at the back of the robot's neck, but one of Hawkeye's arrows flew in the moment there was an opening, exploding violently in the spot the Hulk had been a few seconds earlier. That explosion opened up the metal even farther, and it took only a few more blasts from Clint's arrows and Tony's repulsor blasts to send it finally careening to the ground, squashing at least three cars.

"Take that," Tony exclaimed, landing beside the pile of metal.

"You never can just stick with the plan, can you?" Natasha said, appearing beside him.

"Sorry if I was busy saving Steve's life," Tony snapped. "Besides, it turned out okay!"

"The city is on fire," Natasha pointed out.

Tony looked back over the city blocks behind them to see, yeah, okay, maybe there was some fire.


"Sir, Agent Coulson is requesting entrance," JARVIS told Tony, barely lowering the music.

Tony glanced over. Coulson looked calm, as though he were just waiting patiently for an elevator that was sure to come, but his very presence was telling. "I finally pissed him off enough for him to show up in person," Tony mused, turning back from the window. He really needed to start keeping his workshop windows tinted. At this point it was useless, since Coulson had already spotted him. "How's the new override working for him?" Since Loki's truth spell, Coulson was the person Tony had decided to put the most effort into avoiding. The nondescript agent had a way of seeing when you were trying to hide something, and politely digging until all was revealed.

"Our security is holding steady," JARVIS assured him. "Our hacks into SHIELD's system have kept us ahead of their technology."

"Keep it up," Tony said, pulling up another diagram and focusing in.


It took more than an hour for Coulson to leave his vigil at the workshop door.

Tony threw himself into his work, determined not to worry about the retreat. Of course, if he had spared some more thought to it, he wouldn't have reflexively granted Steve's request for entry a half-hour later.

"Captain Rogers requesting entrance, Sir."

"Sure," he said immediately, and then flinched. "Wait, actually--"

But it was too late. The glass doors slid open to allow Steve to walk inside. His blonde hair was slightly dampened from a shower, and he wore the white shirt and sweatpants combo that he favored around the house, where he was able to just be Steve Rogers. His expression now, however, was all Captain America.

Tony turned back to the engine he was tinkering on, his usual silent request to be left to work in peace.

Steve wasn't having any of it. "You missed the debriefing. Again."

"Noticed that, did you?" Tony muttered.

"And Coulson told me that you locked him out of the workshop!"

"That I did," Tony said. "Any other observations to share?" Porcupines used spines to ward off attackers-- Tony Stark used verbal barbs.

"It's bad for the team if you refuse to cooperate with the basics, much less when you change our plan of attack during the middle of a battle."

"I wasn't changing our plan. I was saving your ass! Or did you get a concussion when the tree landed on you?" Tony exclaimed.

"Tony, I appreciate the sentiment, but I heal. If that robot had gotten to any civilians, they wouldn't have."

"You choose teammates over the main objective practically every other mission," Tony argued.
"You just don't like being the one needing saved."

Steve just shook his head. "Either way, if you're going to be part of this team, you have to come to debriefings. They're an important time to go over what went right and what--"

"What I screwed up? Yeah, I don't really see the appeal in that."

"Not everything is there to entertain you, Tony," Steve snapped. "I thought we were... You've been less cooperative than usual lately."

Tony couldn't exactly deny that.

"What happened, Tony? Why now, just when we were... Why won't you just come to the debrief?"

Tony tried to bite his tongue, to swallow the words that were bubbling up, but they burst forward. "I'm worried that Coulson will figure out what happened."

"That what happened?" Steve pressed, finally asking the golden question.

"That Loki put a truth spell on me."

Steve's look of incredulity turned quickly into frustration. "At least come up with..." But then he paused, and his brow furrowed.

"Stop that," Tony demanded. "Stop it with the eyebrows. Finish what you were going to say."

"Tony," Steve said very calmly, "are you really under a truth spell?"

"Yes," Tony said, "but for all you know that was a lie."

"I could ask you something that you would never tell the truth to," Steve said. "Something only you know the answer to. But something I could verify..." Steve trailed off thoughtfully.

"You could," Tony admitted. He hesitated, and then added, "But could you not?"

And that was apparently enough to push the doubt from the soldier's mind. "When's the last time you even saw Loki? You didn't say that he'd even come back after that last battle."

"He hasn't," Tony admitted tensely.

Steve thought that over for a moment, jaw clenched. "You mean you've been under a potentially harmful spell from one of our main enemies for weeks and you didn't tell anyone?"


"Tony, this isn't a game! This could have really put you in danger. What, were you just trying to see how long you could keep it under wraps? Is that how genius-millionaire--"

"Billionaire," Tony corrected.

"--whatever-you-are, get their kicks these days?" Steve looked angry, but there was a lost look in his eyes that Tony had put there, and he hated himself for it. "Was that the reason you've hanging out with me? To test how long you could go, how close we could get, without me figuring it out?"

"No," Tony protested. "Of course not."

"Then why, Tony, why didn't you just tell us?" Steve asked.

"Because I couldn't trust you, any of you, okay? This ridiculous spell makes me vulnerable, more vulnerable than I've been in..." He struggled to say something dramatic, like 'his entire life' or at least 'years,' but the nature of his life meant that it had been far too often. "It's not my life--not just my life-- that's on the line here, Cap. It's my brain. My work. The secrets of the Iron Man suit. The secrets of Tony Stark. It's all there, just waiting for someone to ask the right question. How am I supposed to let someone have that sort of power over me?"

Steve looked as though he had been slapped in the face. "We all have your back every day in the field. You trust us with your life every day. How is this different?"

"I might trust all of you with my life when we're the good fight, but when it comes down to it, I don't trust anyone with my brain. Not even you."

"But why--"

"This is why!" Tony exclaimed, slamming his hands on his desk and knocking over a jar of pens.
"Because you can keep asking questions, any question you want, and I have to answer you. I don't get to pick and choose what you get to know. Ask the right question, and the information just...comes out of me. I don't have a choice here, Cap. And you interrogate me like it's second nature."

Steve looked him over again, eyes wide. "I wasn't trying to..." He cut himself off. "Dammit, Tony. I'm not..." Steve glared at the other man, expression hard as he debated with himself. The engineer waited, tense as a piston preparing to fire. Steve took one step towards Tony, and then turned on his heel and stormed out of the lab.

Tony watched him go, feeling a wave of emotion crash on him. When Steve didn't turn around again, Tony sighed and raked a hand through his hair. "Fuck."


After eight hours, four martinis, and a marathon of metal welding interspersed with violent pacing, Tony made his way out of his workshop. The alcohol didn't loosen his tongue any more than it already was, but the familiar sensation of a slight buzz was like a security blanket for Tony as he searched for Steve.

The search wasn't very difficult, considering it consisted of Tony asking JARVIS to locate the soldier. At Tony's request, JARVIS informed that Steve hadn't informed anyone else of Tony's condition, at least not in any manner that the AI could detect. Since it took a lot to outsmart JARVIS, Tony took that as fact.

Steve was sitting on the balcony Tony often used to land his Iron Man suit, feet dangling off the ledge as he bent over the sketchpad in his lap. It was dark outside, the night illuminated only by the bright lights from within the Tower and the dancing lights of New York's skyline.

Tony paused for a moment, staring at Steve's broad-shouldered silhouette, and then strolled out onto the balcony. Steve didn't move other than to close the cover of his sketchbook, still staring out over Manhattan. Tony faltered slightly, the pause in his stride almost indecipherable, and then he sat down next to Steve. His Iron Man cuffs encircled his wrists, something he hadn't gone without since Loki had tossed him through a window, but he figured he would have to really piss Steve off to make the other man shove him off the Tower.

They sat in silence for a few moments, but even with his nerves, was never able to draw out a silence. He sighed softly, and then said, "You know how I ended up with the arc reactor?"

Steve paused, and then nodded once.

"Okay, so apparently you're not talking at all. Fine. I can have one-sided conversations. Have for most of my life," Tony said, before continuing, "It was...awful. Not only was I, you know, kidnapped and tortured and all that, but the things I found out... My weapons, the ones I had designed to make our side win, ha been sold to the other team, and then used to kill our boys. And those ideas, the product of my brain and my work, had been sold by the closest thing I had to a father-figure after my actual father died. Stane realized that I was onto him, so he came into my home, paralyzed me, and then snatched the only thing that was keeping me alive straight out of my chest. Stane ripped out my heart, in pretty much every way that phrase can be meant. So, no, I don't just give the people around me the keys to my brain, or an inside-look at my weaknesses, no matter how close we are. Because I'm a shitty judge of character, and always have been."

Steve took a breath. "Tony..."

Tony kept talking. "But you wanted to know why I still talked to you, even after that jerk cast the spell. It's because I wanted to talk to you, even when I didn't want to talk to anyone. Even when I was scared that any moment it would come out, I couldn't honestly tell you that I didn't want you around. And if anyone had to find out, well, I'm glad it was you. I'm not sure if I'll ever trust anyone completely ever again... but I trust you more than anyone else. I was a bad judge of character when it came to you, like always, but that was with my first impression of you. Now, I'm pretty secure in saying you're the best man I've ever met."

Steve was silent for a few more seconds, and Tony added, "Okay, please talk now. Is this a 'you're-mad-at-me' thing, or a 'if-I-don't-say-anything-then-I-can't-take-advantage-of-the-truth-spell' thing?"

"Both," Steve admitted, but there was a hint of a wry smirk on his dimly lit face.

"Well, just don't ask any questions you don't want to know the answers to," Tony warned. "And if you're waiting for me to say sorry, then you'll be waiting a long time."

"I've known you long enough to know that that was the closest to an apology I can expect from you," Steve said.

"You know me so well," Tony said, shoulders relaxing slightly.

"This spell puts you in a vulnerable position," Steve continued.

"Can't we just skip to the part where we're done being honest? Well, you, at least. I'll still be spouting the truth."

Steve continued as if Tony hadn't interrupted. "But that's why we need to tell the team. You've obviously not been able to break it on your own, and that says a lot about the size problem we're dealing with. The point of a team is that we're best working together."

"I hate your plan," Tony told him, but couldn't say he was wrong.

Steve's jaw tightened. "No one will ask you anything you don't want to answer. I promise."

A sudden image of Steve throwing his shield and trying to knock out Thor before he could ask Tony where the Pop-Tarts were hidden popped into his head, and Tony chuckled softly. "I guess we'll see, Cap."


After more than twenty minutes, which was even longer than it had taken Tony to tell the story to Steve in the first place, Steve finally called Tony into the living room. It doubled as a meeting room, but Steve insisted on retaining the room's original function as a place for the team to relax together.

The group was sprawled in various locations across the room. Thor was taking up the majority of the couch, though Natasha had commandeered the final cushion for herself. Clint perched on top of the couch, feet on the armrest beside the other assassin. Bruce was in his armchair, which no one dared tried to use, even if the scientist was out of the country at the time. Steve was standing in front of the television, at the center of the room, smiling at Tony as he entered the room.

"Hello, Tony," he greeted.

Tony nodded to him and looked around the room. When no one else said anything, he said, "I'm guessing he gave you the 'don't-talk-to-Tony' order already."

"Nay, friend Stark, we may speak as we please," Thor said. "We are merely absorbing this new information."

"And the fact you didn’t tell us,” Bruce added, voice flat.

“I think Natasha’s brooding that she didn’t figure it out on her own,” Clint added. His voice was casual, but he was watching Tony closely.

The woman speared Tony with a blank stare that made him put his hands up placatingly. "You probably would have caught on eventually."

"That's not exactly a ringing endorsement," Clint pointed out, nudging Natasha with his knee. Steve was watching the conversation tensely from the front of the room. He was practically a giant neon sign warning 'CAUTION.’

Just what Tony wanted. Everyone walking on eggshells around him because he was too weak to avoid a spell from Thor's baby brother. "I still think you have some sort of latent death wish when you do shit like that," he told Clint, gesturing to Natasha's deepened scowl.

"I think this is why no one figured it out," Clint said. "Maybe we were all a little surprised that you're really that much of a jackass."

"I'm not," Bruce muttered, but he looked more affectionate than green-tinged.

"Nor I," Thor conceded.

"Did you just call me a jackass?" Tony asked, looking at Thor in surprise. "Hey, I'm the one who funds your Pop-Tart addiction."

"You have always been one to speak your mind," Thor clarified, sounding as noble as usual despite being on the couch in sweatpants and an I Love New York t-shirt. "It may be occasionally expressed through sarcasm or hidden among layers of untruths, but your opinions are widely known."

Clint had his arms crossed, still looking petulant. "Death wish. I've seen your lab. Can you really claim that you don't have a 'latent death wish?'"

"Of course I--"

Tony suddenly found his words muffled by a large hand clasped over his mouth, and Steve began speaking loudly over him. "That counts a question none of us would want to get during a polygraph test."

Answer complete, even if no one else heard it, Tony pulled away from Steve's hand, a little disappointed that Steve relinquished his grip so quickly. He'd have loved to see Steve's reaction if Tony had licked him.

"Dumbass." Quicker than anyone could have avoided, she twisted up to smack Clint across the top of the head.

"Indeed, thou art a dumbass," Thor agreed.

"Whoa, I do not need a concussion tonight," Clint said, dodging Thor's reprimanding head-bop.

"It might shut you up," Bruce grumbled.

"It makes me feel better to know you're being snarky with everyone tonight, Brucie," Tony said.

Bruce met his gaze levelly. "You should have told us what happened."

"I plead the fifth, here," Tony said.

"Anyone have any ideas on how to break the spell?" Steve asked the group.

"True love's first kiss?" Clint offered, but his tone has finally shifted from pissed off to playful.

"If you give me a few days in the lab, I make be able to work out something. We'll need to run some brain scans, figure out what's making it happen."

"I'll do some digging, see if anyone's run into something like this before," Natasha said.

"SHIELD files were useless," Tony said. "And don't even give me that look, Steve. One of the first things I did when we met was hack into SHIELD."

“SHIELD is not my only source,” Natasha informed him.

"I can ask Loki to reverse it," Thor offered.

Tony laughed. "Maybe I'll just work on finding my true love," he said.

Thor's brow furrowed. "I am not jesting. I believe magic will be the only way to lift this spell, and my brother is a powerful wielder of magic."

"He's also the one that put it on me in the first place," Tony pointed out.

"Okay, Thor, you see if you can find Loki," Steve said. "Everyone else, get to work."


"Where did you go to college?"

"MIT," Tony responded dully. "Bruuuuce," he whined. "Please tell me you're getting something. This is boring."

"The readings show a disproportionate increase in activity in the speech portion of your brain when you are trying to resist answering a question. It is as though your brain is functioning without your direction," Bruce said.


"And we'll keep doing tests until we get something we can work with," Bruce said, closing his eyes and kneading his temples.

Tony gave a dramatic huff and crossed his arms.

Suddenly, the door to the lab burst open, making Tony jump and Bruce flinch. People were usually more cautious entering Bruce's lab, since he had been extremely careful to avoid Hulk-outs in the fragile interior of his lab.

Bruce took a deep breath and turned around, and then began taking very deliberate, slow breaths.

Tony looked over, and then immediately sat up, tearing the sensors from around his head.

"Really, Thor?" he exclaimed.

The god of thunder had just entered Bruce's personal lab, tucked in the center of the Avenger's secure headquarters in Tony's own tower, with Loki in tow.

Bruce's jaw was tense. "If your brother makes me break my streak..." he said, pointing at the
'Days Hulk-Free' calendar on the wall, which read an impressive '23.'

"Loki is not here to cause mischief," Thor said.

"He is literally the God of Mischief," Tony pointed out.

"And yet--"

"I can speak for myself, Thor," Loki said, arms crossed. "So, Thor tells me that you wish to be rid of the gift I gave you."

"Um, yeah," Tony agreed. This could not be happening. "One of the most inconvenient gift in the world."

"But not the worst," Loki observed.

"I mean, you didn't drop one of my own bombs on my head and tell me it was for my birthday, but it wasn't exactly fun."

"Did you learn your lesson?"

"There was a lesson?" Tony exclaimed, racking his brain. What kind of fairy-tale bullshit moral would Loki try to teach him?

"Did you learn anything? Any sort of self-discovery? Or are you really so thick that this did nothing? If that's the case, perhaps it would be unwise to remove it just yet..."

"Fine, fine, fine," Tony interrupted, feeling the spell activate at the string of questions. He looked at Bruce and Thor, as uncomfortable with the audience as he was with admitting anything personal to Loki. "Well, I learned that people can still like me even when I'm not talking in circles around them. That some people are worth trusting. That I need to learn to ask for help when I need it. In special circumstances."

"Is that all? Didn't my spell do anything else?"

"I had to be honest with myself that I have feelings for Steve Rogers," Tony said, and then actively tried to chew off his own tongue. It was unsuccessful.

Bruce just snorted beside him. "Like that one was a surprise. You were still probably the last one to catch on."

"What kind of feelings?" Loki prodded.

"Gushy, romantic feelings, okay?" Tony exclaimed. "In addition to the sex feelings. I want him to fuck me in my workshop, and then cuddle with me all night long, and then make me eat breakfast. I want to do romantic, couple-y things, and silly mundane things, and all sorts of hot, sweaty things."

Eyes gleaming mischievously, Loki said, "What sort of--"

"Nay, brother. Tony has spoken his piece. Now, if you are satisfied, remove the spell," Thor interrupted.

"Fine," Loki said. "All right, Stark, you have learned your lesson." Tony flinched when the demigod fired a burst of green magic at him, but it didn't harm him.

"Spider-Man is a completely awesome, in absolutely no way slightly comical or pitiful, superhero," Tony tested, and then pumped his fist in the air. "Hell yes!"

"Be certain you do not anger me again," Loki warned. "I will not be so kind again."

"Thanks bunches. You're the best."

Loki scowled at him, and then disappeared from the workshop.

Tony held a straight face for several seconds, and then laughed. "Yep, my bullshitting ability has been returned!"

"Did anyone else know he could just appear and disappear from within the Tower at will?" Bruce asked, looking at the door with a furrowed brow.

"One does not simply Apparate in Hogwarts," Tony told him, slinging an arm over his shoulder.

"You're mixing your references," Bruce told him. "Also, I'm pretty sure he just—"

"It was but an illusion," Thor told him. "He is unable to appear without detection. I am certain."

"Thanks for that, Thor," Tony said, crossing the room to give the Asgardian a fist-bump.
Thor completed the action with great solemnity. "Of course, friend Stark. A tongue as clever as yours should not be fettered."

"Are you flirting with me?" Tony asked, winking.

"I do not believe our fearless leader would look kindly upon that," Thor said, smiling gently. "Now, I find I harbor a great hunger. Do we have a stock of Pop-Tarts in the kitchen?"

"No clue," Tony admitted.

"There is, indeed," JARVIS answered.

"Excellent!" Thor boomed. He patted Tony on the shoulder. "Enjoy your newfound freedom.
Though I suggest you use it to confess the great and epic love you harbor towards the Captain.
You would make a most noble couple!"

"Uh, we'll see," Tony said, and Thor's face fell. Oh wait, he could lie. "I mean, I'll get right on that."

Thor beamed, nearly knocked him over with another clap on his shoulder, and then left the lab.

Tony turned back to Bruce. "Did you see that? I lied!"

"Probably not something to celebrate in this case," Bruce said, cleaning his glasses. "You really should tell him."

"I think I've made an idiot out of myself around Steve enough the past few weeks to last me forever," Tony said.

"You're not a fool for loving him."

"Um, thanks."

"But you're an idiot if you don't tell him."

"Bruce," Tony whined. "I just got back my ability to lie. I'm not in the mood for honesty hour."

Bruce just sighed. Then he looked at the spot Loki had just vacated. "You know, I think he made you come up with a lesson you supposedly learned just so he could remove the spell without it seeming like Thor forced him to do it," Bruce mused. "Or to see how much he could make you spill before Thor caught on."

"Sonofabitch," Tony exclaimed.


When the workshop doors opened to reveal Steve clutching his sketch-pad and colored pencils, Tony beckoned him inside, but immediately lost the easy relaxation he’d possessed before.

"Hey, Steve," he greeted. "What's shakin’?"

"Do you mind if I draw in here for a while?" he asked. Though Steve had been in Tony's workshop for weeks, everything was different now. Tony could feel it.

What was their relationship when Tony was actually able to be himself?

"Take a seat," Tony said, gesturing to Steve's usual spot.

The soldier sat, but didn't open his sketchbook. "What are you working on?"

Conversation. Tony could do that. Probably. "An anti-Loki force-field for the Tower. One that Thor can't just waltz him through."

"Can you do that?"

Tony raised his eyebrows. "C'mon, Cap. I can do anything."

"At least we know the truth spell's gone," Steve teased, but his smile was cautious.

"Hey, I'll have you know that that was one thousand percent the truth," Tony said with mock-outrage. "Anyone who tells you different is a Communist."

"I'll keep that in mind," Steve laughed.

Tony turned back to his work, a small smile on his face. Steve's presence while he worked was soothing, an occasional breath of fresh air during the middle of an engineering spree. The soldier spoke occasionally, answering mutterings that Tony didn't even realize he was speaking out loud or commenting on something he had seen on TV earlier.

"Why not?" Tony asked, turning away from his virtual drawing board.

"Tony, you can't just block magic completely from the Tower. Thor lives here too."

"Yeah, but Thor's not a magician."

"He can conjure lightning storms and has a mystical hammer-- he's magic. And he won't stick around if you try to make him leave Mjolnir at the door."

"Mjolnir is not the hammer," Tony muttered, already turning back to his work.

Behind him, Steve either spluttered a laugh or choked on the Coke he'd grabbed from the fridge. Tony looked over his shoulder at him and narrowed his eyes. "Did you watch Dr. Horrible yet?"

Blushing fiercely, Steve nodded. "A few weeks ago. I think you fell asleep during the first phone call from the horse villain."

"Well, I guess I don't even have to finish that sentence," Tony said, laughing.

"Please don't," Steve agreed.

Tony turned back to his work. Could he make a magic-freeze ray? If they could just stop Loki from moving for a while, they'd be able to transport him away from any civilians before he managed to cause any damage.

He flicked away the files he was working on to pull up a new schematic.

"-ony. Tony!"

"Huh?" he asked, not looking up.

"Bedtime, Stark," Steve said.

"Yeah, just ten more minutes."

"You said that an hour ago."

"I did?" Tony blinked and looked at the schematic. He had made a lot of progress, though he'd strayed away from his original plan and begun building a portable freeze-ray for his suit. He didn't have anything viable yet, but the ideas were in progress. If anyone could do it, Tony Stark could.

"Of course you can," Steve said, and when Steve was being patronizing about things Tony didn't even realize he said out-loud, it was time for a break.

"Okay, okay," he said, saving the file and turning around. "Break time."


"What about dinner?" Tony asked.

Steve gestured to a pair of pizza-crusts laying on Tony's desk. "You ate."

"Bullshit," Tony muttered, staring at the crusts. "That's awesome."

"And scary," Steve corrected.

"Not scary. I just get really into things. It's a talent."

"Tony, you've got to be exhausted," Steve said.

"Nope," Tony retorted, popping the ending.

Steve crossed his arms. "Even I had to leave to go run a few miles. You didn't even move. You're pushing yourself too hard."

"Still not seeing it."

With a huff, Steve said, "You were so much easier when you couldn't lie about this kind of stuff. Honestly, Tony, you're just hurting yourself."

Tony's stomach dropped. "Well, good to know. I'll just call up Loki--"

"I didn't mean it like--"

"--and ask him to throw that sucker back on me."

"--that. I'm just worried about--"

"Clearly I'm inept at everything if I'm left with free will."

"--you. You're not inept, dammit, you're stubborn as a moose, and you don't take care of yourself."

"No, it's fine, I figured people would like me better without having to hear what I really thought all the time, that's how it's be for most people, but no--"

"You're being ridiculous. Of course I--"

"--not for Tony Stark. I'm the only person in the universe who's easier to deal with when he's being totally honest, rather than having a filter."

"--like you, Tony. You're frustrating, but I wouldn't change you."

Tony paused. "You wouldn't?" he asked skeptically.

"No," Steve said. "I want you to talk to me because you want to, not because of a spell. Also," he added with a smile, "your jokes are more effective with the hyperbolizing."

"Now that's just mean. I worked with what I had. You guys are honestly crazy enough for me to just say the truth and it be hilarious," Tony argued.

"I know you might be uncomfortable around me, since you've had to say so much in the past few weeks, but you should know that you can talk to me, whenever you want," Steve pressed on earnestly.

"That's sweet, but--"

"You don't have an excuse to be honest anymore," Steve said, cutting him off. "If you do it now, it'll have to be because you want to."

Tony watched the soldier warily, unable to formulate a response.

"And I'll take what you can give me."

"That's what she said," Tony blurted. "Ignore that, reflex. I... Thanks."

"You listened to me," Steve said, "even when it put you in an awkward situation. I'm sorry you had to deal with that."

"Shit, no, Steve, I liked talking to you. Like talking to you. It wasn't just the spell. You're easy to be honest with, for the most part. You're a good friend."

"Right," Steve said, but his smile looked slightly forced. "You really should go to bed."

"Come with me."

When Steve's eyes widened, Tony added, "Reflex?"

"That's not a joke," Steve said.

"I know, I'm sorry. 1940s sensibilities and all that. Got it."

"It's not that. I'm not a complete prude. I just don't sleep with people I'm not in a relationship with. So, even if I would..."

"Hold up, you would?" Tony exclaimed.

"I won't. Not just for fun." Steve looked physically pained.

"No, no, not just for fun. Well, it's totally fun, but Steve, I... I really like you. And now that you've said maybe, I can't stop thinking about it."

Steve's jaw clenched tighter. "Then stop."

"Not even a one-night stand. We could make this, you know, a thing."

"Tony," Steve said, and his voice was a distressing mix of firm and fragile, "I won't let you use my feelings for you so you can have sex."

"Whoa, feelings? There are—Wait, I'm not trying to manipulate you. Damn, where's a truth spell when you need one? Sorry, not funny. Okay, Steve, I really like you, too. Like, really really. Is it too early to say love? Because I think I might. Love you, that is. Too heavy for before a first date?"

Steve hesitated. "I don't—"

"I know you can't trust anything I'm saying, not anymore," Tony said, stepping forward but leaving breathing space between them for Steve's sake. "But I'm being honest here. I love you. You'll just have to trust that. Because if there's a chance you could feel the same way, I don't want to let this opportunity go."

"I trust you," Steve said.

"I'm not as bad as-- You do?"

"I do," Steve agreed, taking the final step closer, bringing him flush with Tony. "And I love you too."

"Oh, that's great. That's—mmmph." Tony's words were cut off by Steve's hands on his waist and his lips on his mouth.

For a moment, as Tony tried to wrap his head around what was happening, it was nearly uncomfortable, but luckily his body caught on before his brain, and he tilted his head, meshing their lips more smoothly.

Steve's arms were warm and strong, holding him gently yet irresistibly against the soldier's firm body. It still wasn't close enough for Tony. One hand moving up to run its way through Steve's hair, the other went around Steve's back so Tony could press in even closer.

It took barely a brush of Tony's tongue against Steve's lips for him to part them, and then their tongues were tangling, slick and wet, fighting for dominance as instinctively as the two men did on the battlefield. It was a thrilling give-and-take, but this was one battle Tony would surrender with delight.

It was perfect, but it still wasn't enough. Tony pulled away slightly, gasping. The sight of Steve, lips red and hair mussed, made another rush of desire go through Tony.

"Bed," recommended Tony.

Steve blinked, lust-filled eyes clearly slightly. He had his thinking face on, making Tony immediately nervous. Of course he shouldn't ask Captain America to jump into bed with him only minutes after confessing. The man may have had a tongue that made Tony practically weak at the knees, but he had standards higher than Tony Stark.

"Couch is closer," Steve said finally. When Tony blinked at him, Steve added sheepishly, "If that's okay? Sorry, I just—"

"You're so eager to have sex with me that you're willing to do it in my workshop? What part of that could be not-okay? Oh my god, come here, you," Tony said, latching on and pulling Steve in for another kiss.

Moving blindly, Tony backed them over to the couch, bumping against at least two table edges and not even caring. As they walked, Tony unbuttoned Steve's plaid shirt, and then ran his hands up the defined abs he had admired so often. Steve's mouth was exploring Tony's thoroughly, as though mapping out every detail. It wasn't Tony's first kiss. It wasn't even his thousandth. But it warmed him in a way no others had, knowing that Steve loved him, Tony, not just his body or his name.

"Wait," Tony muttered against Steve's lips, and then dove quickly at the drawer beside him. Fingers fumbling, he opened the middle drawer to reveal a bottle of lube and a row of condoms.

"You have all that in your workshop?" Steve questioned.

"I keep stashes everywhere. Habit. I swear, no one else has been with me here. It's too—" He couldn't bring himself to say the word 'intimate,' though it's true.

Steve understood anyway. "And you call me a Boy Scout," he said, hands drawing Tony back to him the moment he'd acquired the supplies.

Tony kissed him. "You made a joke," he said proudly, "about my horde of condoms. I love you."

The happy smile and blush on Steve's face were a beautiful contrast to the hand that was sliding lower and lower down Tony's back. "Love you, too."

Tony captured that irresistible mouth again, but moved them backwards with more purpose than before. When Tony got to the couch, he broke the kiss to lie down. Raising his eyebrows, he tried to pull Steve down to join him.

Instead Steve dropped to his knees, and pulled Tony into a sitting position. With large, deft hands, he pulled the t-shirt over Tony's head, revealing the blue glow of the arc reactor. The few people that Tony had slept with since the incident had skimmed over the device, moving on to more interesting parts. Steve, however, paused, dropping a kiss into the scarred skin above the reactor. He added a kiss on each side, and then onto the surface.

"Warm," he muttered. "Not hot."

"I know it's not hot," Tony grumbled. "The rest of me's better. C'mon."

Steve shot him an annoyed look that should have been undermined by his place on his knees between Tony's legs, but somehow wasn't. "It's amazing," he said firmly. "It's beautiful. You're beautiful."

Tony looked at Steve's face as his fingers traced the arc reactor, and could admit, yes, apparently in Steve's eyes, it—he—was.

The affection he felt at that turned into a deeper type of pleasure as Steve's kisses began to trail down his stomach. When he reached Tony’s jeans, he glanced up to meet Tony’s eyes.

“What, do you think I’m going to say no?” Tony asked incredulously.

Steve huffed a laugh and quickly unbuttoned the jeans, pulling them and his underwear off in one quick movement. Tony was bare and exposed on his workshop’s ratty old couch, watching Steve sweep his gaze across Tony’s entire body as though trying to memorize it.

“Why am I the only one without clothes?” Tony complained. “You’re killing me here.”

The solider allowed himself to be manhandled out of his clothes, though he had to stand to get out of his own jeans, and Tony lamented the loss of him between his legs. Finally, Tony could take the time to appreciate the work of art that was Steve’s body at his leisure, and knowing he had Steve’s full permission to ogle and touch made everything that much more beautiful to Tony. “I am the luckiest son-of-a-bitch alive,” Tony declared after a moment.

He lunged up and wrapped his arms around Steve’s neck, and then fell back on the couch. It would have been the perfect maneuver to pull the blonde onto Tony if Steve’s pesky super-strength hadn’t let him catch himself before landing on Tony, hovering just over his body. Steve was just inches away, held up by his hands on either side of Tony’s head. With a small smile, Steve dipped down to kiss Tony, a languid, sweet movement that only served to drive Tony crazy.

After letting the kiss remain slow for a few moments, Tony could resist no longer, and used his arms around Steve’s neck to pull himself up, flush with his chest, as his legs came up to wrap around Steve’s waist. At the contact, Steve gave a strangled gasp, and the kiss became more urgent. Rolling his hips in small, tight circles that made Steve’s breathing become labored, Tony nipped at Steve’s lips, and then trailed a kiss down that perfect jawline.

Slowly, Steve lowered them both fully onto the couch, his delicious weight resting on Tony’s body. Their hips were moving together, more frantic movement than any particular rhythm, but now that Tony didn’t have to use both arms to hold himself up, he slipped one hand between them to gather them both in his grip.

“Tony,” moaned Steve into Tony’s neck, before kissing everywhere he could reach.

Tony threw his head back on the couch’s plush armrest, his hand between them setting a fast, unforgiving rhythm. He thought about reaching over for the lube resting on the floor beside them, but dismissed the idea immediately. Pre-come was making the movement easy enough, and there was no way in hell he was stopping, even for a moment.

Steve was apparently thinking the same thing. “Don’t stop,” he mumbled, panting. “So close, Tony.”

“I know,” Tony said. “C’mon, Steve, come for me. I want to see you lose control. I want to see you…” Words kept coming out of Tony’s mouth, ranging from dirty to sentimental, moving on auto-pilot as he worked them to their peaks. “You’re so perfect. Can’t wait to have you inside me. God, I love you so much.”

At those words, Steve shuddered and came, repeating, “Oh, Tony,” as though those were the only words he could find.

Tony felt his own orgasm curl up rapidly and then release, sending waves of warm pleasure down to his toes and up through the rest of his body. He wrapped his arms tighter around Steve as he rode out the rush, breath slowly coming easier. Finally, he leaned back, wriggling down into the couch’s plush cushions, and sighed.

Steve rolled over slightly into the small space between Tony and the back of the couch, limbs still sprawled securely over Tony’s body. He pressed a series of light kisses up Tony’s neck, and said, “Wow.”

Though Tony agreed, he smirked. “And that was without the lube and condoms. Oh, Cap, we’re going to have so much fun.”

Immediately, Tony stilled, wondering at that implication. He was the king of one-night stands, and here he was, the one assuming that there were going to be more encounters just because of one shared orgasm.

But Steve just murmured his affirmation, face snuggled against Tony’s neck.

There was a mechanical whirr from above Tony’s head, and he glanced up with slight confusion. Sometime during their activities, JARVIS had dimmed the workshop lighting, so it took Tony a moment to realize that Dummy was hovering over the couch, Tony’s discarded shirt in his grip. “Is now really the time to clean up the lab?” he grumbled, and then Dummy dropped the shirt on Tony’s head. “Oh, you want me to clean up? Thanks, Dummy, no really, why should I get to bask in the after-glow after we made a mess? At least you didn’t try to do it,” Tony said as he carelessly wiped off him and Steve, tossing the shirt back over the edge of the couch. “Oh, thank you,” Tony said sarcastically as Dummy dropped a wadded-up blanket on his head. Tony snatched it up and tossed it over their bodies.

Steve chuckled sleepily. “You and your robots,” he murmured affectionately. “Now sleep.”

“This wasn’t just some elaborate plot to make me go to bed, was it?” Tony wondered out-loud.

“We didn’t even make it to a bed,” Steve reminded him, but his eyes were open. “I love you, Tony.”

“I know,” Tony said.

Steve looked over him, seeing through the cocky smile to the hesitation below. Tony hadn’t been with someone who loved him, not since Pepper, and even that had been a mistake in the end. He was too clingy, too quickly, and Steve was going to regret this.

“I do,” Steve insisted, lifting his head from Tony’s chest with obvious effort. One long arm reached over the couch’s armrest towards the side-table, giving Tony a lovely view of his biceps. The arm retracted too quickly for Tony’s liking, bringing Steve’s worn sketchbook into view. He set it on Tony’s chest, and then curled up into him again.

“Um,” Tony said.

“Look at it,” Steve told him through a yawn.

Tony raised his eyebrows, but obediently picked up the sketchpad with one hand, using Steve’s arm across his body to prop it up. The drawings, lit by the dim lights of the workshop and Tony’s arc reactor, were immediately recognizable. It was a face he saw every day in the mirror. The first page was a study of his face, the next, his hands. There were sketches of the armor in flight, conveying motion through colored-pencil lines.

Every page was Tony from every angle, attention put into every detail and expression. Tony looked alive in the smooth pages in his hands. There was the same care in the drawing of Tony in his workshop, directing his computer screens like the conductor of an orchestra, oblivious to the streak of oil across his face, as there was to the smooth curves of the Iron Man armor.

“You love me,” Tony said softly.

When Steve didn't answer, Tony looked over to find him asleep, looking peaceful with his head on Tony's shoulder.

Tony didn't like sleeping. It was a waste of time, and he always could find something better to do. But tonight, nothing sounded better than falling asleep there in Steve's arms, in the dark workshop.

He carefully closed the sketchbook and set it gently on the floor beside him. Then he rolled slightly so he was even closer to Steve, took a deep breath, and allowed himself to fall asleep.


"Pancakes or waffles?"

"Waffles," Tony replied immediately.

"Pancakes!" Thor said at the same time.

"You guys are way too awake this early," Bruce said, staring into his tea mug. The fact that Bruce hated mornings had surprised Tony at first, certain that Bruce's slightly masochistic tendencies would have him up at the crack of dawn every day, but the other man had a firm policy against alarm clocks. If he was unable to sleep in until noon anyway, he spent the morning taking calming breaths and glowering at his food.

"It's ten o'clock," Steve replied.

"That's early for most people," Tony pointed out, gesturing with his second cup of coffee. "This is my nighttime."

Steve smiled at him, knowing the reason Tony was up so early. Waking up to Captain America sporting adoring eyes and a spectacular case of bed-head, only an arm-length away from lube and condoms, was enough to convince even the staunchest of night owls to wake up quickly.

"Waffles take less effort," Tony added to Steve. "None of that flipping and waiting confusion."

"Thor wants pancakes. I can make both," Steve said easily.

"But then you'll be cooking all morning instead of eating."

"Waffles are acceptable," Thor conceded. "I find the hills and valleys inherent to the food to be optimum for the storage of maple syrup."

Tony watched Steve mix the bowl with barely veiled appreciation. Those muscles were beautiful whether making waffles or tossing his vibranium shield.

Natasha appeared in the kitchen, took one glance around, and said, “Finally.”

Tony realized that he had been smiling, and quickly straightened his face. “What finally? Finally what?” he demanded.

She just raised an eyebrow at him. “I don’t have to be a super assassin to recognize freshly-laid.”

Steve didn’t even have to turn around for Tony to know that he was blushing.

“Indeed, you are both most radiant this morning.”

Oh wow, and now even Tony’s face was attempting a blush. That was weird. That never happened. He quickly tamped down on the reaction and casually stretched his arms over his head. “Thor, you say the nicest things.” Inside, his heart-rate was picking up slightly. He and Steve hadn’t discussed this. Tony wasn’t usually one to worry about planning things, but this should have been planned. Did Steve care if the team knew? Or the world? Tony’s reputation was far from stellar, unlike Captain America’s spotless record.

Bruce looked up from his cup of tea, blinking at them. “Huh,” he said. “How did I miss that?”

“Are you guys serious right now?” Tony grumbled. “What happened to your general obliviousness?”

“She’s been watching you like a hawk since the whole spell thing,” Clint announced as he strolled into the room.

“Are you even allowed to use that phrase about someone other than yourself?” Tony asked.

Steve approached the kitchen table and set the first waffle in front of Tony. “Clint stuck his tongue out at me,” he complained loudly.

Steve just chuckled and quickly pecked Tony’s cheek. “Eat your waffle,” he recommended.

Despite the blush dusting his cheeks, Steve had just kissed him in front of the whole team. Well, almost. Unable to tamp down the smile on his face this time, Tony grabbed Steve’s wrist and pulled him down for a real kiss in appreciation.

“They’re going to be incorrigible, aren’t they?” Bruce said drily.

They broke apart, grinning at each other. Tony leaned back in his chair. “I’m always incorrigible, Brucey. Besides, you encouraged this.”

“Don’t make me regret it,” he muttered.

“Just drink your tea,” Tony said, rolling his eyes. “Grumpy Bruce isn’t fun.”

Steve straightened and looked around the kitchen, gaze determined. “This relationship will not interfere with our work performance. We are both professionals.” He shot a quick glare at Tony when he opened his mouth to contradict that. “However,” Steve continued once Tony’s silence was assured, “if anyone has a problem with it, they are welcome to leave.”

“I just meant that I don’t want to see you guys having sex on the couch,” Bruce said with a shrug.

“Any naked ass I see is open for target practice,” Clint agreed.

“Bullshit,” Tony said. “Thor walks around naked all the time.”

“Fine,” Clint said, rolling his eyes. “Any naked ass I see actively having sex is open for target practice.”

“But if you come sneaking into our rooms, you’re going to just have to deal with whatever you see,” Tony pointed out. “Or into my workshop. Or the elevators. Or—”

Tony was silenced by Steve’s hand coming to rest over his mouth. “Respect our space and we’ll respect yours,” Steve said.

Steve managed to move his hand just before Tony tried to lick it. “You know, there are better ways to shut me up,” Tony told him with a smirk and raised eyebrows.

He could see the exact moment when Steve understood what he meant from the way his cheeks turned red and his eyes became simultaneously embarrassed and interested. Tony threw him a wink and nodded. “Aw yeah,” Tony said.

“Absolutely incorrigible,” Bruce said.

Looking around the kitchen, at the good-natured eye-rolls of the rest of the team, and at Steve still standing by his chair, a hand resting warmly on Tony’s shoulder, Tony couldn’t think of any place he’d rather be.

And that was the honest truth.