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Courtship Rituals of the World's Most Awkward Superheroes

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Steve's a lot bigger now than he was the last time he sat at a desk in a classroom, and he shifts, trying to get comfortable. The teacher, a silver-haired woman wearing a lot of chunky jewelry, smiles at them and Steve smiles back awkwardly, reflexively.

"Welcome to Introduction to Photojournalism," she says. "My name is Marjorie Kiernan and I'll be your teacher this semester."

The classroom door swings open and a lanky young man in worn blue jeans and a gray hoodie stumbles in. When he notices everyone looking at him, he waves, tips of his fingers poking out from beneath overly long sleeves. He smiles crookedly and says, "I'm just gonna--" He points at the desk in front of Steve and throws himself into it, long limbs flailing a little.

"And you are?" Professor Kiernan asks.

"Peter. Peter Parker. Hi." He turns and smiles that crooked smile at Steve this time and Steve blinks, surprised at the force of it.

Steve realizes they're waiting for him to introduce himself next, so he says, "Steve Rogers." Marjorie beams at him, and Peter's eyes widen, but nobody else seems to recognize him. It's a pretty common name; Steve's been grateful for that more than once.

The others introduce themselves, but Steve's attention is repeatedly drawn back to Peter, who's now wrestling with his bag violently enough that Steve's afraid he's going to knock his camera off the desk.

"Are you okay?" Steve whispers, ancient fear of talking in class apparently still in effect. Score one for the Sisters of Charity.

"Yeah," Peter says. "Yeah." He grins again, a little manically, as he finally pulls a spiral notebook and a pen out of the bag. "It's all good." He sets the notebook down on the desk and pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose, marking it with a thin blue line of ink. His fingers are long and there's dirt under his nails, and Steve looks away because he thinks he might be staring.

Professor Kiernan starts talking about the goals of the class and hands out a syllabus, and then asks to see the portfolios she'd asked them to bring to class. The rest of the time is taken up with critiquing the composition of their photographs, and though the lingo is a little different from his art classes, Steve's familiar with the experience, and he loses that feeling of awkwardness, enough that, when they're packing up, he's able to say to Peter, "You're good at this. You have a good eye."

"Thanks. Lots of practice." He nods at Steve's portfolio. "I didn't know you were a photographer. It wasn't in any of the comics."

"Oh geez," Steve says. "Almost nothing in those things is true."

"You mean you didn't actually sock old Adolf on the jaw?" Peter asks, grinning. Steve groans softly and covers his face with his hand for a moment. Peter elbows him gently. "My uncle loved your movies. But it's okay. I didn't think that part was true."

They walk to the subway together, discussing this week's assignment, and when the E comes, Steve gets on with Peter, even though he'd intended to head back to Brooklyn for the evening.

"Why don't you give me your number and we can grab coffee before class next week?" he finds himself saying as the train pulls into 51st and Lex, where he has to get off or he'll end up in Queens. Peter's face lights up with surprise before he rips a page out of his notebook and scribbles his number down.

Steve barely makes it off the train before the doors close, and he walks the six blocks back to the tower with his hands shoved into his pockets and a goofy smile on his face.

*

The assignment is more difficult than he expected, if only because it's kind of awkward to pull out a camera during a fight, and it feels kind of callous to do it after the fight's over. Even so, Steve ends up taking pictures of the EMTs while they wrap blankets around the survivors of a hostage crisis at the World Financial Center.

"I don't know why you're taking pictures," Tony says. "I recorded the whole thing."

"You've never been the type to take souvenirs before," Natasha says.

"And these pictures have no strategic value," Thor says, "since the battle is over."

Steve takes a deep breath and counts to ten. "It's for a class," he says. He clears his throat. "I'm taking a class in photography."

"Oh great," Tony says, "the paparazzi are coming from inside the tower now."

"Don't worry, Tony, I have no plans to take any pictures of you." He snaps a shot of Thor, and then one of Natasha, who scowls at him. "Not when there are much prettier things to shoot."

Tony flips him off and Steve laughs.

*

"Photography's not my usual medium," he tells Peter when they meet for coffee the next week. "I'm used to pencils and charcoals. Now I can even afford oils, if I want to paint."

"Photography's cheaper than it used to be," Peter says. He inhales the sandwich he brought with him and goes to the counter to buy another. "I spent a lot of my allowance on film and dark room chemicals before I finally got a digital camera. I still like working with film, but my job requires digital."

"At the Bugle?"

Peter looks up from his ham and Swiss. "You've been checking up on me?"

"No, no. Honest." Steve holds up his hands. "I just noticed your name in the paper after we met. Your pictures of Spider-Man were on the front page and all."

"Blue car syndrome." Peter nods and sips his coffee. "I believe you."

"What's that?"

"You know, how you see something--like, say, a blue car--and then all of a sudden, it's blue cars everywhere."

Steve smiles. "Exactly like that." He takes a sip of his own coffee. "Anyway, I'm not sure I'm such a great fit for this class. I guess it's good that I already have a job." He laughs softly.

"Well, this is my job right now," Peter says, "but it's not what I plan to do with my life."

"No? But you're really good at it."

Peter ducks his head and grins. "Thanks, but what I really love is science."

"Science?" Steve tries not to sound dismayed but he doesn't think he manages it.

"Genetics, mostly. Bioengineering. Like the supersoldier serum." He blinks and holds up his hands. "Not that I have any intention of trying to recreate that."

"Please don't," Steve says. "It's cost a lot of people their lives."

Peter nods, and there's a look on his face like he actually understands. "Anyway, I'm only taking this class because I need three more humanities credits to graduate and I figured it'd be an easy A."

"You're still in school?"

"Um, we met in a classroom, Steve."

"Well, yeah, but I'm--I never went to college. I'm just taking classes now because everybody told me I needed to have a hobby." He taps his fingers against the thick white ceramic mug his coffee came in. "It was so different during the war. We dreamt about having the money to take classes or the time to have a hobby. And before that--" He shakes his head. He's seen the damage the recession has done (not to mention the Chitauri), and he knows it's nearly as bad as when he was growing up, but it felt like in those days, sometimes he and Bucky did nothing but hustle from one odd job to the next, trying to scrape up enough money to pay for rent and food and maybe a secondhand pair of shoes that they couldn't even share because Steve's feet had been so narrow.

Peter nudges his ankle. "You okay there, big guy?"

"Yeah, sorry. Sometimes I--Yeah, I'm good. I just thought you were closer to my age." Peter's eyebrows go up. "I mean, my age without the time in the ice."

"Hey, I'm almost twenty-two."

"Yeah?"

"I mean, I'll be twenty-one in a few weeks."

"How few?"

Peter flashes that ridiculous crooked grin again. "Thirty-three."

Steve can't help but laugh.

*

After that, they meet for coffee every week before class, as long as neither of them is working. Sometimes, they meet at other times, too. Steve invites Peter to the Met and they wander around the Greco-Roman sculpture gallery and Peter makes Steve blush when he says, "If you stripped off, you'd fit right in here."

Steve makes a soft, embarrassed noise and goes on the offensive. "What about you?"

Peter starts laughing and plucks at the oversized sweatshirt he's wearing. "What do you think?"

"You wear so many layers of clothes, I don't know what you're hiding under there," Steve says. He doesn't say, but I want to. He doesn't know how Peter would respond to that. He doesn't know if he even wants to find out. While Bucky wasn't the only man Steve had been attracted to back then, he'd been the only one who mattered. Peter matters now, and Steve doesn't want to ruin one of the only friendships he's got that doesn't involve weekly world saving because he might be a little gay.

So Steve puts the thought of what Peter looks like under his clothes out of his mind. Mostly. The sketches in his notebook don't count.

Still, it comes up again, in less pleasant circumstances, a couple of weeks later, when Peter cancels their coffee date and shows up for class with a black eye and bruises on his knuckles.

"Are you okay?" Steve whispers while one of their classmates discusses the photos she took at a protest over at the UN.

Peter gives him that crooked grin, an amused look in his eyes. "You should see the other guy."

"Mr. Parker," Professor Kiernan says, "why don't you tell us about your project?"

Peter's got a triptych of Spider-Man action shots from really odd angles. They're dizzying, so Steve can understand why the Bugle wouldn't print them. What he can't figure out is how Peter took them, and Peter tapdances around the explanation, both in class and afterwards. It's only later that Steve realizes he ducked out of talking about his injuries, too.

A couple of weeks later, Peter misses class, and the next time Steve sees him, he's got a slight limp and he grimaces and hunches in a way that means bruised or possibly cracked ribs in Steve's unfortunately extensive experience.

"Look, if you don't want to tell me," he says, cornering Peter after class since he can't move as quickly as he usually does, "if this is some kind of fight club thing, I don't understand but I can help you learn to defend yourself." He reaches out and touches Peter's wrist, fingers sliding up underneath the cuff of his sweatshirt to find another cuff instead of the warm skin he'd been secretly hoping for. "But if you need help," and here he slips into what everyone else calls his Captain America voice, "if you're being bullied or abused at home or--" He doesn't expect Peter to interrupt him by laughing.

"Ouch, ouch, okay, please stop." Peter clutches his ribs and lets Steve take his backpack with arguing. "I'm not being abused at home. Aunt May would be horrified if she heard that. I had a skateboarding accident, went ass over teakettle and hit the concrete a little harder than usual. The concrete won."

"Oh." Steve deflates a little, relief flooding through him. He gives Peter a rueful half-smile. "Concrete usually does."

"Yeah, yeah," Peter answers. "We can't all be super soldiers with accelerated healing." But he lets Steve carry his backpack all the way to the subway. "You should come over," he says before they separate at the top of the stairs. "Not tonight. Aunt May would kill me--not literally--if I didn't give her any warning before bringing you home, but, uh, maybe Sunday night? Five o'clock?"

"Sunday night," Steve agrees. "Five o'clock."

*

Steve spends some time that night thinking about how he could reciprocate Peter's invitation. They've gotten coffee and had lunch and even spent an afternoon in the park taking pictures together, but there's one thing he has access to that most people don't, something he thinks might impress Peter the way him being Captain America thankfully doesn't.

"You're in a good mood," Tony says when Steve shows up in the lab the next morning. "Why are you in such a good mood?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"You're whistling," Bruce says, taking off his glasses and squinting at Steve.

"How long has it been since you two saw daylight?"

"Jarvis?" Tony asks.

"Twenty-eight hours, sir."

"Pepper's gonna be pissed," Tony says.

"Yes, sir."

"Come on," Steve says, "breakfast's on me."

"You really are in a good mood," Bruce says.

"Maybe he's finally gotten laid." It's Tony's turn to squint at him as they ride in the elevator up to the kitchen. "Did you finally get laid?"

"What? No. That's none of your business." He's pleased with how light and even his voice is.

"Okay, maybe not all the way, but there was at least a little second base action happening, right?"

"No, nothing like that." Though he can feel himself flushing thinking about it, his hands up under Peter's layers of clothes, Peter's long-fingered hands on his skin. He clears his throat and ignores the smug way Tony is looking at him.

When they reach the kitchen, Tony starts the coffeemaker while Bruce sets out some dishes and silverware. Steve grabs the eggs and bacon and heads for the stove.

"There's a guy in my photography class," he says, concentrating on beating the eggs. "He invited me over--"

Tony says, "Wait, did you say a guy?"

Bruce says, "That's great, Steve."

"I have to recalibrate my whole view of you now."

"--For dinner with his aunt."

"Meeting the family already? That's a pretty bold move," Bruce says.

"Not if you're Captain America," Tony says.

Bruce nods. "True."

Steve laughs. "It's not like that. He's just, we're friends. He's shown up for class pretty beaten up a couple of times, though, and I just wanted to make sure--"

"How old is this guy?"

Steve shrugs a shoulder. "He's twenty. His name's Peter. Peter Parker."

"You cradle robber, you," Tony says approvingly.

"Technically, I'm only twenty-eight."

"I think you mean, technically, you're almost ninety-five."

"Huh," Bruce says, ignoring them both. "Why do I know that name?"

"Because he takes pictures for the Daily Bugle," Tony says. "I'm surprised he hasn't asked you to pose for him yet, Cap." He smirks. "Or has he?"

"No," Bruce says before Steve can answer. "Why would I know that? Why do you know that?"

"Because Pepper makes sure I know all the legitimate press photographers' names and faces, so I only damage the paparazzi's cameras."

"Okay, it makes sense that you know his name, then, but why do I?" Bruce cocks his head thoughtfully.

"He likes science," Steve offers. "He's majoring in it. Genetics or bioengineering or something." He scrambles the eggs around the frying pan and then gets started on laying strips of bacon on the griddle.

"Oh, of course. That's it," Bruce says, snapping his fingers.

"Really?" Tony asks. "Why would you keep track of random science majors at Empire University?" His voice is scornful.

"We can't all go to MIT at fifteen, Tony," Bruce says mildly. "And it sounds like he's Richard Parker's kid." He looks away for a moment. "Betty interned for him at Oscorp. Richard, I mean. He was brilliant."

"I've heard of Oscorp," Steve says, avoiding the subject of Betty, the way they all still do, even though Bruce swears it's not a sore spot anymore (and given his relationship with Tony and Pepper, he might even be telling the truth, but Steve doesn't want to push it). "They're one of your competitors, right, Tony?"

"Yes and no," Tony says, making a half-and-half gesture with his right hand. "They do a lot more with genetics than we do."

Bruce fiddles with the napkins. "A couple of years ago, one of their researchers made what he thought was a breakthrough in cross-species genetics but, uh, it didn't work out well for him."

"He turns into a giant lizard monster," Tony says. "Not nearly as cuddly as Jolly Green over here."

"And that was when Spider-Man first showed up?" Steve asks, turning the bacon over and then dumping the first helping of eggs out onto a plate so he can start the next batch. Tony doesn't eat that much, but he and Bruce tend to need more fuel than regular people.

"Yup." Tony smiles. "I like to think I was an inspiration. Though my costume is cooler."

"Also, you can't pull off skintight spandex anymore." Natasha comes into the kitchen and pours herself a mug of coffee.

"Of course, you're going to defend your arachnid brethren. I understand," Tony says. "But I could totally rock the spandex."

"Please don't," Clint says, following behind her. "For the sake of my retinas."

"Anyway," Bruce says loudly, "if he's interested in science, you should invite him up to the lab sometime."

"He can't take any pictures," Tony says. "Well, not of the labs. If he wants to take naked pictures of you, Cap, I'll give him the password to upload them to Jarvis ASAP."

Steve pinches the bridge of his nose. "Tony."

Tony grins. "But if he's not a total idiot, we'll let him use the centrifuge."

Steve turns and grins back, mission accomplished. "Thanks."

*

The Avengers spend the next few days battling a HYDRA cell in Madrid, and Steve doesn't have a lot of time to think about anything but keeping himself and his team alive. When the mission is over and the reports are written, he sleeps most of Saturday away in his suite at the tower.

On Sunday afternoon, he thinks about taking the subway down to the East Village, but one look at the list of service changes makes him take his bike instead. He stands on line at Veniero's, one of the few places that smells just as good now as it does in his memory. Even before they'd had jobs that made occasional luxuries affordable, he and Bucky used to scrape up enough money for Christmas cookies from Veniero's every year.

He buys an assortment of cookies and another of sfogliatelle and cannoli, packs the boxes away in his bag, and starts his trip to Woodside. It's a clear, crisp, March afternoon, and while he knows it probably doesn't mean anything in terms of his relationship--his friendship--with Peter, it's nice to do something as normal as go to someone's house for dinner.

Peter lives in a rowhouse on a block where all the houses look the same, narrow and a little shabby but neatly kept. Steve finds a parking spot, climbs the steps and rings the bell, shifting the bakery boxes from hand to hand while he waits.

He can hear voices and then Peter opens the door. "Hey."

"Hey, come on in." Peter holds the door open and Steve brushes against him accidentally (on purpose) on his way into the house. "Aunt May, this is Steve Rogers. Steve, this is my aunt, May Parker."

"Mrs. Parker," Steve says, shaking her hand, which feels small and fragile in his. "Thanks for having me over."

"It's an honor," she says. "You're the reason my husband, Ben, served in Vietnam when his number came up. You were his hero."

"Ma'am," Steve says, letting her hold his hand for a long moment; he doesn't think he'll ever get used to the way people respond to him (he knows it's not him, but the title, the legacy, and tries not to take it personally), but he's developed strategies for dealing with it. May Parker reminds him vaguely of his own mother, another bright, fierce woman worn by time and work. "I brought some cookies and pastries."

"Ooh, Veniero's," Peter says, taking the boxes from him. "I knew there was a reason I liked you."

"I'm glad there's at least one."

"Well, let's not stand here in the hallway all afternoon," Mrs. Parker says, leading them into the dining room. "I hope you don't mind spaghetti and meatballs."

"Sounds terrific," Steve answers over the low rumbling of his stomach. "It smells great."

"Good, because I made a ton. You've seen the way Peter eats."

Steve laughs. "Yes, ma'am."

"Hey," Peter says, bumping his shoulder against Steve's.

"Please, call me May, Captain."

Steve nods and smiles. "If you'll call me Steve."

Dinner is excellent; May is as smart and funny as her nephew and Steve can see where Peter gets his warmth and basic decency from, as well as his sense of humor.

"You cooked, I'll clean," Peter says, when they're done eating, his hand on her shoulder when she makes to get up, and she smiles at Steve over the rim of her wineglass.

"He's such a good boy. I'm so glad he has someone else who understands." She leans forward and lowers her voice. "He had Captain America sheets and pajamas when he was little. I bet he didn't tell you that."

"No, no, he didn't," Steve says, torn between embarrassment and laughter.

"I told you, my Ben was a big fan, so Peter had all the comics, too, and the action figures."

"I hope you're not telling him embarrassing stories about me," Peter calls from the kitchen.

"Would I do that?"

"Yes."

"Okay, yes, I would," May says, and they all laugh.

When Peter's done washing up, he says, "You should come upstairs and see my collection of lenses."

"Is that like inviting me up to see your etchings?" Steve asks as they climb the stairs and then wants to kick himself when Peter freezes for a second, looking like the proverbial deer in the headlights.

Peter's mouth works soundlessly for a moment, and then he says, "Uh. If you want?"

Steve has to clear his throat before he answers, voice low and intent, "I do. I really, really do." And he proves it by pushing Peter up against the wall next to his bedroom door and kissing him.

They bump noses and they both laugh, and then Peter's mouth is soft and warm against his, and the touch of his tongue against Steve's sends a shock of heat down Steve's spine.

Peter's fingers curl into Steve's shirt and Steve's hands settle on Peter's hips, pushing the layers of material up so he can touch skin.

"Your ribs--Are you okay?"

"Yeah," Peter breathes into his mouth. "Yeah, I'm fine. Good. You?"

Steve kisses the corner of Peter's mouth. "Yeah."

They stumble into the bedroom and Peter kicks the door shut behind him. "Sorry about the mess," he murmurs against Steve's jaw as they topple onto the bed.

"What mess?" Steve asks, and then kisses Peter again before he can answer. He tangles his fingers in Peter's long hair and presses kisses along the line of his jaw and then down his throat while Peter clutches at him and makes low, encouraging noises.

Peter rolls them over and straddles Steve's hips, and Steve looks up at him in surprise. "Is this okay?" Peter asks.

"Yes. Is it--Are you okay?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I mean, yeah. I just--You're Captain America."

Steve looks away for a second. "Mostly, I'm just Steve. Is that--"

"Yeah," Peter says again, licking the word enough off Steve's tongue.

Steve curls his fingers in the soft material of Peter's t-shirt and holds him close. "I've never--with another guy, but I really like kissing you." He licks at Peter's lower lip and then sucks it into his mouth and Peter jerks against him.

They breathe into each other's mouths for a few seconds and Peter says, "Me, too. This is definitely okay."

Steve doesn't know how long they lie there kissing, but they pull apart reluctantly when May calls them down for dessert.

"You're lucky I left you any cannoli," she says when they walk into the dining room. She gives them an amused once-over but doesn't say anything about their disheveled state.

"Thanks again for having me," Steve says when dessert is over and he's shrugging into his jacket.

"It was our pleasure," May says, hugging him. "We'll have to do it again sometime."

"I'd love to."

"I'm going to walk him out," Peter says.

May gives a soft huff of laughter. "You do that."

Peter walks him to where his bike is parked a couple of houses down, and they kiss a little more.

"I'll see you for coffee tomorrow, right?" Steve says.

"Yeah."

One last kiss, and then Steve gets on the road. He smiles all the way home.

*

They don't manage to meet for coffee on Monday, though. Peter calls him about a half-hour before they're supposed to meet and leaves a breathless voicemail saying he got tied up at work. He doesn't make it to class either, and Steve's not surprised when he sees Spider-Man fighting Electro on the news, and then the pictures on the front page in the morning are credited to Peter.

"I wish you'd call when you get yourself into these situations," Steve says a few days later, twining their fingers together under the table. He's pretty sure nobody in Starbucks cares if they hold hands, but Tony's lectures about paparazzi finally make sense now that Steve has someone he wants to be with. "I'm sure Spider-Man can handle himself, but you keep putting yourself in harm's way, and I worry."

Peter goes still. "I--I don't want you to worry. Spidey looks out for me."

"Should I be jealous?" Steve's joking, or at least he thinks he is, right up until Peter starts laughing. Then he knows he is but doesn't have to be. "I can at least teach you some self-defense."

"I do okay," Peter says, "though I guess I wouldn't mind rolling around the mats with you." He gives Steve a look that is simultaneously flirty and hilarious, and Steve doesn't know whether to laugh or kiss him. He settles for squeezing his hand and snickering, pleased when Peter squeezes back.

"Even if you don't want to spar, Tony said you should come by the tower sometime. I think maybe Bruce knew your dad?"

"Tony Stark and Bruce Banner want to meet me?" Peter says, sounding dazed. "That's--that's amazing."

"You're amazing." Steve can't stop smiling. "I'll check with them about a convenient time, okay?"

"Okay." Peter drains his fancy coffee drink and then tugs on Steve's hand. "But we should get going before it starts to pour."

They talk about the Mets on the way to Peter's house. "My uncle was a fan," he says. "He used to take me to games when I was little. It's a quick trip on the 7."

"I haven't been to a game since, well. It's been a long time."

Peter snorts. "I bet."

"We should go. I mean, if you want to."

"Yeah," Peter says, "I'd like that."

They hold hands for the rest of the trip.

The rain is pounding against the windows when the train comes up out of the tunnel, and neither of them has an umbrella. Peter pulls his hood up and Steve hunches his shoulders, but they both get pretty wet on the walk to Peter's house.

"Come on," Peter says, tugging Steve up to his room. "Don't want you to catch cold in these wet clothes."

"You know I don't get sick," Steve says, and then, "Oh," when Peter shucks his hoodie and unzips Steve's jacket. Steve shrugs it off and breathes in the scent of the rain in Peter's hair as he unbuttons Steve's shirt and Steve takes off the t-shirt underneath. Peter's fingers are cool and a little damp when he finally gets to Steve's skin.

"You're so warm," Peter mutters, tracing over Steve's collarbones and chest. "God, look at you." Steve flushes as Peter flicks one peaked nipple with his nail and Steve sucks in a shuddery breath. He nuzzles at Peter's temple and presses a kiss there. Peter tips his face up to capture Steve's mouth and the kiss goes from tender to scorching after a couple of seconds and leaves both of them breathless when they pull apart.

Steve puts his hands on the hem of Peter's shirt and says, "Can I?"

Peter nods. "Yeah." The word is a warm puff of air against Steve's lips. "Yeah."

Peter's hands get tangled in his sleeves when Steve tries to pull both his shirts off over his head, and it takes them both a few moments to get him free. He tosses both shirts onto the floor and gives Steve a wide, goofy grin that makes Steve's heart lurch in his chest. His skin is supple under Steve's fingertips, and he's trembling under the touch, or maybe that's Steve's hands--he can't tell and he doesn't want to stop touching Peter long enough to ask. He gently traces the yellowing edges of an old bruise, watching Peter's face for any sign of pain, but Peter just shakes his head and presses Steve's palm flat against his ribs.

"I'm not gonna break," he murmurs against Steve's cheek.

Steve swallows hard and nods, running his hands up along Peter's sides and then tracing the ridges and contours of his muscles, enjoying the way they shift with his touch.

Peter swings them around so he can push Steve down onto his bed and Steve's so breathlessly turned on by being manhandled that he never thinks to wonder how Peter manages it. He just scoots up so he can sit with his back to the wall and Peter climbs into his lap, and then Steve loses all track of everything but the wet heat of Peter's mouth and the pliant feel of Peter's skin under his hands.

He's got his hands on Peter's fly and Peter's nodding that it's okay when he hears footsteps on the stairs and May's voice calling, "Peter? Are you home?"

Peter moves faster than Steve would have thought possible (well, for someone who isn't him or a mutant or something), leaping into the chair by the desk and yanking on a t-shirt.

"I'm in my room, Aunt May. Steve's here." He tosses Steve his shirts and Steve pulls them on quickly. When Peter unlocks the door for May, Steve's sitting neatly on the edge of the bed, and Peter's clicking around idly on his computer. "I was showing him some Photoshop techniques."

"Is that what you're calling it these days?" she says dryly, giving them another one of those amused appraisals.

Steve brushes his hair off his forehead and opens his mouth--he doesn't know what he's going to say but feels like he should say something--but Peter rolls his chair over and grabs his hand. "He's my boyfriend," Peter says, and if there's a little anxiety in his voice when he says it, Steve can't blame him.

May smiles. "That's nice. I suppose you're staying for dinner then, Steve?"

"Yes, ma'am. Thank you."

"I hope you like sloppy joes."

"Yes, ma'am." She laughs and heads back downstairs. Peter turns to look at him, smiling nervously, and Steve says, "Boyfriend? Really?"

"If that's okay. I mean, I don't want to rush you."

"No, no, that's great." He hooks his feet around the bottom of Peter's chair and rolls him close enough to kiss. "That's perfect."

May has to call them three times when dinner's finally ready.

*

Steve's a little afraid of how happy he is, how good things are with Peter. He's had happiness stripped away too often to really trust it; there's always the niggling fear in the back of his mind that it's going to end. And that's without even getting into how accident-prone Peter seems to be, and how dangerous his job is, as long as it involves following Spider-Man around. Steve wonders if he'd take an internship with Tony or Bruce (he's sure Pepper could find something for Peter to do at Stark Industries); he'd be safer at the tower than anywhere else in the city.

And it could lead to a full-time job once Peter graduates. Even though Peter still has another year of school, Steve wants to think about the future. Of course, the last time he did that, the future he ended up in wasn't his. Still, he squares his shoulders, faces his fears the way he always has, and takes the first step towards making plans.

"Can you come up to the tower on Wednesday to meet Tony and Bruce?" he asks, hooking his fingers into the beltloops of Peter's jeans and pulling him close for a furtive kiss inside a bus shelter.

"Wednesday? Yeah, I think I can manage to fit Tony Stark and Bruce Banner into my busy schedule," Peter says, laughing.

Steve presses him up against the glass, the ads for movies and shoes a scrolling backdrop for the enticing curve of Peter's throat. He's skimming his teeth over it, enjoying the low, encouraging noises Peter makes as his hips arch up against Steve's, when a booming explosion shakes the street.

Steve shoves Peter beneath him as the bus shelter shatters above them, and glances up to see what's happening.

"Doombots," he says as his phone starts screeching with the emergency Avengers alarm, and he realizes he doesn't have his shield or his uniform with him.

"Aw, man, I hate these guys," Peter says, pushing himself up and out of Steve's protective embrace. "They're totally ruining a perfectly good Monday afternoon."

"I have to go. You should come to the tower with me. You'll be safe there." Peter shakes his head, and Steve feels his temper rising. "I don't want to worry about you, and I don't think this is a good time to argue."

"I'll be okay," Peter says, as the sky starts to darken with clouds. (Thor always enjoys striking the Doombots with lightning.) He unbuttons his plaid shirt and tugs up his t-shirt, but instead of a glimpse of his flat belly with its enticing line of dark hair, Steve sees blue and red material shot through with webbing of some sort. He knows what he's seeing but still can't make sense of it. He wonders if this is what Bucky felt like when he rescued him from Zola all those years ago.

Peter cups Steve's cheek, startling him out of his daze, and gives him a quick kiss. "Seriously, I'll be fine. You go get your friends and meet me back here." He grabs his mask out of his backpack, shoves his clothes into it, and then takes off swinging before Steve can say anything else. As surprised as he is, some things make a lot more sense now.

He's still standing there in the wreckage of the bus stop when a black SUV pulls up, tires squealing. "Get in, loser," Clint says. "We're fighting Doombots."

Steve shimmies into his uniform in the relative privacy of the backseat and slips the comm into his ear. "Sitrep?"

"The Doombots are a distraction," Natasha says. "Doom is attempting to breach the tower. Tony and Bruce are dealing with him; Sitwell is organizing the evacuation. We're to stay here and help Thor with the bots."

"I can handle the robots of Doom," Thor says. He always sounds a little staticky because of the lightning. "The man of spiders has joined me and he appears to be a clever warrior."

"He's an amateur," Natasha says.

"It matters not," Thor responds. "He fights well. Captain, you should concentrate on protecting the civilians. They will follow you."

Steve takes a deep breath, squares his shoulders, and nods. "Okay. Clint, we need eyes up high." Clint hops out of the SUV. "Thor, can you--"

But Spider-Man swoops in before Steve can finish. "Pardon my interruption," he says, "but you look like you could use a ride." And then he's swinging away again, this time to deposit Hawkeye on a nearby roof. Spider-Man tosses off a salute in Steve's direction and then heads for another Doombot, tangling it in webbing to trip it up.

Natasha frowns but says, "Looks like it's you and me on the ground again, Cap."

"If it ain't broke," Steve says with a shrug, and then they're both too busy herding terrified New Yorkers to safety to do more than exchange terse updates with the rest of the team. Spider-Man--Peter--isn't linked into their comms and he's not used to working in a group, but Steve can't spend the attention or energy to worry about him. He just has to trust that he'll be okay.

At least now he knows where all the bruises come from.

*

When nothing's left but the clean up--"Thankfully, not our job," Hawkeye quips--Steve says, "I need to--I'll see you back at the tower." Clint and Natasha exchange puzzled looks but shrug and drive away without questioning him.

He makes his way back to the shattered bus stop and picks up Peter's backpack just as the man himself lands next to him. There are tears in his uniform, scrapes and bruises already forming on the skin underneath, but he's otherwise whole and alive.

"So," he says. "This wasn't exactly how I planned to tell you."

Steve reaches out and touches one of the tears and then pulls back, uncertain. "But you were going to tell me?"

"Yes. I just--couldn't figure out how."

Steve shakes his head. "No wonder you weren't impressed. Not that I wanted you to be. Well, not much. Maybe a little."

Peter cocks his head, but in the mask it makes him look buglike. Alien. "You're pretty impressive," he finally says. "Even without the spangly outfit."

Steve can't help smiling. "I could say the same to you." Peter rolls his mask up so Steve can see him smiling in return. He reaches out again, thumbs Peter's bottom lip. "I'd really like to kiss you now, but I can't be sure your personal photographer isn't hanging around."

"I'm pretty sure he'll respect our privacy," Peter answers, and tugs Steve down into a kiss.

end