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Living on Your Breath

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There's nothing else in the world like the feeling of founding an Avengers team.

Steve would know. He's been here often enough. For all that the team retroactively named him an official founder, he hadn't been there at the very beginning—but he'll never forget the day a decade ago that the team woke him from the ice and the very next day offered him... everything. Happiness. Camaraderie. Friendship. The Avengers were there before him, and they'll be there after him. He likes that. There's a sense of permanence, of belonging to something bigger than himself, of being a force for good in the universe.

He's doing something right, he thinks, as he stands outside the mansion, with his friends at his side, facing the sea of reporters. The familiar elation, a bright and shining joy, gathers within him, somewhere deep and solid under his breastbone. He glances to either side of him. Hawkeye, Thor, and Scarlet Witch are on his right. On his left are Warbird, Iron Man, Vision, and then Justice and Firestar. They're all here. They've faced Onslaught and come home. They're where they're supposed to be.

As he finishes announcing the team, he can hear them whispering to each other. He knows what they're waiting for him to say. It's tradition.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Carol grin and nudge Tony. "Iron Man," she says, "do something about this, will you?"

Almost theatrically, Tony steps up past Carol to stand at Steve's side. He leans forward to whisper into Steve's ear.

"Aren't you forgetting something, Mr. Living Legend?"

Tony's voice is low, slightly distorted by the vocal filters that hide his identity from the rest of the world. But his tone is full of warmth, and his eyes behind the golden mask are bright. Steve would bet anything that he's smiling underneath it.

Steve breathes in sharply, and the thought occurs to him—not for the first time—that there could be something else there under that teasing affection, the same thing he's felt for Tony for years. He's never wanted to say anything. He's never wanted to chance what they have together, his first and best friendship since he woke up in this strange world. But today... today feels like a day when anything could be possible. A day for joy.

"All right," he says, starting to laugh in sheer delight. "All right. I'll say it."

Steve steps forward and raises his fist in the air.

"Avengers, assemble!"

A thousand flashbulbs go off at once, like staring into the sun, and Steve stands there and smiles and smiles.

Everything is going to be perfect.

Of course, they're not done dealing with the press. The gathering moves inside. The huge room that had so recently held thirty-nine Avengers, their teammates over these many years, now hosts chattering, inquisitive reporters. They sprawl on the couches and gather next to the tables. Even the journalists who have been here before find their attention caught by the team portrait that hangs over the mantel. The mansion's an impressive place.

So Steve talks, of course, the way he's done for years. He fields questions about the suitability of Justice and Firestar—Vance and Angel—that he privately wishes Clint were answering, because Clint was the one pushing for their inclusion. He meets Carol's eye—she's entertaining a crowd of reporters over by the bar—as he tells them about how she's Warbird now. He manages to talk about Wanda and Vision without divulging any more personal details. He mentions how glad he is that Thor's back.

"And Iron Man?" one of the reporters asks. The name alone makes Steve's heart beat just a little faster. The reporter is Megan McLaren, he thinks, from WJBP, the name dropping into his mind in an instant. She looks up at Steve eagerly. "What about him? Surely you are aware that Tony Stark has been in some trouble—financial and otherwise—since his recent return from the dead." Uh-oh. Steve can tell where this going. "And Iron Man is his bodyguard. Do you ever wonder, with the trouble his employer finds himself in, about Iron Man's reliability or loyalty—"

Steve holds up a hand. "I'm going to stop you right there, Ms. McLaren," he says, and he doesn't exactly mean to say it in full-on commanding, Captain America tones but he thinks a few heads turn his way. "Tony Stark is a good man, who has been nothing but decent, kind, and generous—to me, and to everyone else—since the day I met him. I am eternally grateful for his continued financial support of the team, and—on a personal level—for his friendship." He feels a little awkward, as he always does, keeping Tony's identity secret for him, but he presses on anyway. "And as for his bodyguard, I have never once doubted Iron Man's commitment to the Avengers. He's an excellent teammate, and it is my honor and privilege to serve alongside him." The words catch in his throat. "He— he means the world to me."

McLaren nods, a thoughtful movement. "Thank you, Captain."

When Steve looks up over her head, he's surprised that the first pair of eyes he sees is Tony's, bright and dazzlingly blue behind the mask. He's still in armor, of course, with a glass of sparkling water balanced delicately in one gauntleted hand, drinking straw askew. Tony's eyes are wide, and he knows Tony heard him. Every word of it.

"No problem," he says, and when he smiles, it's Tony he's smiling for. "It's the truth."

The gathering winds down after that; they bid the guests farewell, the rest of the team wanders off, and eventually it's only him and Tony left in the huge, echoing room, standing in the doorway, on their way out. Tony laughs, all fuzzy static, and then he reaches up and pushes the suit faceplate back, now that it's just the two of them. Most of the team knows anyway, Steve thinks, absently. The old team, at least, because the new kids definitely don't. Maybe Carol doesn't either.

And then Tony looks at him and Steve forgets everything else he was thinking about because, good God, the way Tony's looking at him—there are no words for it. Tony is still bright-eyed. His face is a little flushed. And he's smiling at him like he hasn't stopped smiling all day. He's not drunk; Steve doesn't have to worry about that, because he knows Tony wouldn't, not anymore. Tony's just... happy. It feels like he hasn't seen Tony like this, not in a long time, and he'd give anything to have him stay like this. It's better than founding a team, maybe better than anything, because it's Tony and—well, Steve hadn't been lying when he'd said Tony meant the world to him.

"I heard what you told that reporter," Tony says. And then the grin turns a little self-effacing. "Good job, promoting the team. Making me look good. Your bonus will be in your next Avengers paycheck."

"Tony," Steve chides, because, sure, it's a joke, but it's the kind of joke you don't make unless there's something real underneath it, some fundamental insecurity. "It's not making you anything you aren't already. You're good. End of story. You're the best," he adds.

Tony smiles again. "Pretty sure that's you, Cap."

"I mean it," he says, and he lays a hand on Tony's shoulder, even though he knows Tony won't be able to feel it under the metal; it's not like Steve can really feel it under the gloves either. But Tony's eyes track the movement and widen a little. "I've always meant it. I care about you. So much."

Now, he thinks, now is surely when Tony will back away, when the intimacy building between them will shatter. Steve's always been earnest and he knows it; he wears his heart on his sleeve. He can't not. But Tony—he thinks Tony feels everything more keenly than anyone else he's ever met. The highs lift him higher, and the lows cut him deeper. And he covers it all, hides behind masks and practiced smiles, looks at the people around him with a yearning that it's taken Steve years to read, a longing, a desperate need for friendship, for affection.

He's seen Tony look at him like that. Of course he has. He's always told himself it couldn't be more than friendship. But the way Tony's looking at him now—it seems like it might run deeper than that.

"I care about you too," Tony says. His eyes are even wider. His voice is low, a little shaky. It feels like there could be no one in the world but the two of them right now. They're on the edge of something new and wonderful. "I— I don't think you even know how much."

Steve smiles. "We're friends."

He watches Tony's face fall when he says it, an instant of disappointment quickly covered before Tony is smiling again, and he knows—he knows—it's something more.

"Of course," Tony agrees, and if Steve weren't listening for the hollowness he wouldn't have been able to hear it. "Friends. Always."

Slowly, slowly, Steve slides his hand over Tony's shoulder and neck, up to the edge of the faceplate. His gloved thumb just barely brushes Tony's cheek.

Tony blinks a few times and licks his lips, nervously. "Steve?" His voice is a little too high.

"Maybe more than friends?" Steve offers, very quietly.

Tony's eyes are wide. Steve hasn't heard him take another breath. It feels like the day he found out Tony was Iron Man, the way Tony's looking at him now—like Steve knows every last one of his secrets.

"I," Tony stammers. "I. Oh, God. Steve. You— you can't possibly—"

He doesn't want to hear you can't like men or, worse, you can't like me. He doesn't want Tony to deny himself this. He doesn't want Tony to believe himself unworthy, or undeserving, as if Steve is better than him. Steve's just a man. Steve's only human, and he's loved Tony for so long now. They can have this. They can be happy together. It's a day for happiness. For new beginnings.

"You just tell me if I'm wrong," Steve says. Summoning up all the courage in his heart, he steps close and goes up on his toes. Tony in armor is a familiar few inches taller than he is.

He moves slowly enough that Tony could stop him or move away. Tony doesn't. Tony tilts his head down and for an instant they're breathing each other's air before their lips meet. Tony's arms go around him. The armor is unyielding but it's very possibly the sweetest kiss Steve has ever had. Tony's lips against his are warm and soft. He thinks Tony's smiling. Tony's beard is surprisingly gentle against Steve's skin. Steve's never kissed anyone with a beard before.

When Steve pulls away, Tony's eyes, fallen shut during the kiss, flutter open. He has beautiful eyes, Steve thinks, Steve has always thought—a stunning dark blue, as deep as the night, now almost as dark as it, framed by such delicate long lashes. He can tell Tony that he has beautiful eyes now, if he wants. He can compliment him. He can try to make him smile more. He can give voice to so many of the things he's saved up, so many of the idle thoughts and fantasies that have taken shape in his head over the years.

Tony's eyes are half-lidded now in lazy bliss, and the smile that lifts the corners of his mouth is full of promise. Tony has never looked at him like this before, not in the ten years they've known each other. Steve wants Tony to look at him like this for the next ten years. For the rest of his life.

"Well," Tony breathes, and the sound is all amazement. "You're definitely not wrong." He smiles again. "Steve," he says, wondering, still amazed, like he can't think of anything else to say. But that's fine. Steve will be happy to hear Tony say his name like that as much as he wants.

Steve can't think of anything to say either, and he just smiles back.

"Can we do that again?" Tony asks, voice tremulous, as if the answer might be no. It's sweet that he's asking, so achingly sweet, but at the same time a little sad, to think that even with this Tony needs more reassurance, more proof that Steve loves him, that this is no mistake or error.

Steve smiles again.

Tony leans in—and then pauses, his face inches from Steve's parted lips. Steve realizes belatedly that Tony is waiting for agreement. Consent. A yes.

"Don't stop," Steve murmurs. "Please." And only then does Tony kiss him again.

And now, now everything is truly perfect.

They don't sleep together right away.

Privately Steve thinks that anyone who only knew Tony from his public image would laugh. Somehow people expect him to be—well, there are a variety of words they generally use. They're all mean-spirited, and in Tony's case, untrue. He's seen Tony in relationships. Tony falls fast and hard, the same way he dives through the skies. He doesn't do shallow. It all means something to him.

Still, Steve already meant something to him. Steve's certain of that. And he's a little surprised when Tony doesn't suggest it, that first day. He almost does, himself. Whatever anyone may believe about Captain America, Steve Rogers isn't made of stone and he— he wants Tony. Very badly.

But he wants to do this right. Begin as you mean to go on, they say. And he wants Tony to know he cares for him, that he wants more than Tony's body or Tony's money or anything a lot of people would want from Tony. He wants Tony to be happy. And that means waiting until Tony comes to accept that Steve's here for good.

It doesn't mean they can't neck like teenagers, though.

And Tony, Steve discovers, is really, really good at kissing.

Tony is a little hesitant at first, like he doesn't know what's allowed, or like maybe it surprises him to find this new side of Steve. They've been friends for so long, after all, and they haven't ever been like this. Tony's had to go from Captain America, a long-dead war hero, untouchable and unknowable, to Steve Rogers, friend and comrade, and now to Steve, the man in his arms whispering at him yes, Tony, just like that, please, yes.

By wordless agreement, their own bedrooms are off-limits for the time being, and so Tony will press Steve up against the kitchen counter and kiss him. Wherever they are, if they're alone. The briefing room. The gym. The Quinjet hangar. Tony's hands stay above Steve's waist the whole time, but his mouth is hot and clever and knowing. And then they pull apart, and Tony smiles at him, his lips red and wet, and Steve heads back to his room to jerk off, because he is definitely not that noble. He leans against the door—no points for finesse here—and fumbles with his pants, barely able to get his cock out, stroking himself roughly. He comes embarrassingly fast, faster every time, especially when he thinks of the fact that Tony is probably one wall away doing the exact same thing.

Whenever they're around the rest of the team, Steve is acutely conscious of the fact that they don't know. He feels like they must be able to tell, even as Tony's helmet hides the beard burn from Steve's stubble and the neck of Steve's cowl hides the all-too-brief marks of Tony's more enthusiastic kisses. He feels like there must be a neon sign: he and Tony are together. But the team doesn't know. Though surely, surely, they're going to find out, because he and Tony are hardly subtle. If nothing else, someone's going to walk in on them eventually. There are seven other Avengers, plus Jarvis, and the mansion's not that big.

They're about a week into this... new phase... of their relationship, and they're in the library, on the couch. Tony had been reading, and Steve had been sitting doing team paperwork and threatening to foist it all off on Tony on the grounds that the deputy chair ought to have some kind of duties. And Tony had looked at him, dark-eyed, murmured something positively filthy about other possible duties, shoved the paperwork aside, and climbed into Steve's lap. And now they're kissing.

Tony pushed the cowl off of Steve's head about ten minutes ago, and he's been using the intervening time to suck little bruises into Steve's throat, into the delicate skin under his jaw. It didn't take Tony long to figure out where Steve's favorite spots are, and he's been making full use of the information. Because of the serum, the marks won't stay long, even though Steve really wishes they would. Steve gasps and throws his head back and bares his neck and just lets Tony do whatever he wants, God, yes, please, Tony can do anything he wants to him.

Tony laughs quietly, exhaling hard. His breath is hot against the deliciously exposed skin of his throat. "You like that a lot, don't you?"

Steve can only manage an inarticulate moan. He hopes that's encouraging enough to make Tony keep doing that. He could probably come from that and nothing else. The serum made him awfully sensitive.

"So unfair," Tony says, and he nips at the side of Steve's neck once more. "Even your damn cowl is armored here. You're keeping yourself all buttoned-up. Denying yourself this." He's still smiling. Steve thinks maybe Tony has smiled more this week than he's seen him smile in a year. "Why the hell do you have neck armor, anyway?"

"Mmm." Steve tries to remember how to form sentences. "Vampires, actually. Their fangs just bounce right off. Fought a heck of a lot of them in the war."

Tony raises his head and starts to laugh in earnest and Steve thinks maybe he's completely destroyed the mood.

"Jesus Christ," Tony says. "Our lives, Steve. What the hell are they?"

Still laughing, Tony shakes against him and starts to lose his balance, at which point Steve helpfully makes a grab for the nearest part of him to try to stabilize him before he falls. Steve's hand lands firmly on Tony's ass, territory that they have both carefully avoided until now.

Tony's eyes go wide. "Steve," he rasps, low and urgent. "Oh, God, yes."

Steve's hand is curved around Tony's ass. Tony rocks back into Steve's palm, muscles flexing, and then, like it's almost involuntary, thrusts forward, rubbing his cock up against Steve's, and God, Tony's hard for him, as hard as he is, and then something in Steve's brain whites out, lost to the pleasure. All he knows is that he wants more, more, more—

The next thing he knows, he's toppled over on the couch, and Tony is above him, grinding against him, hard and hot and heavy. Tony's tongue is in his mouth, and Tony's pinning him down exactly where he needs to be. If Tony keeps doing this Steve's going to come sometime in the next ten seconds, and he has the vague and distant idea that he hadn't been planning this but right now he can't really remember why.

And then Tony sits up and moves back, so that he's safely straddling Steve's thighs, bracing himself with one hand on the side of the couch and one on Steve's still-heaving torso.

"Wow," Tony breathes. His eyes are still dark, his mouth bruised. His hair is mussed, and his chest rises and falls in huge breaths. "Okay. Yeah. That got a little bit. Uh." He's clearly at a loss for words.

"Yeah," Steve agrees.

Tony's smile is a little rueful. "Having everyone come in their pants while making out in the library, not really how I was envisioning the first time would play out." He licks his lips once, nervously, and his jaw tightens. "Uh. Do you want to take this upstairs? Somewhere more private?" He barrels on, not even giving Steve time to answer. "If you don't want to, if you think it's too soon or if you just don't want to, I mean, that's all right too, definitely, it's your choice and I don't mean to—"

Steve reaches up and puts a finger to Tony's lips, and Tony falls silent. "Tony," he says, softly. "Yes."

"Yes?" Tony repeats, questioningly, like he's not sure what the word means.

"Yes," Steve says. "Please."

He thinks maybe Tony likes when he says please. Which is good, because he really enjoys saying it.

Tony clambers off him, holds out a hand, and wordlessly helps him up. As soon as they're out of the library, Tony drops his hand again and Steve knows why he did it—they haven't told anyone, they haven't even talked about telling anyone, and the Avengers are notorious gossipmongers so telling even one person is more or less an irrevocable outing to the superhero world—but he wishes Tony hadn't had to. He wants people to know about them. He wants them to be together. There will be time, he knows. They have their whole lives ahead of them.

As they head up the stairs, Tony's body language is tight, closed-in, tense, and Steve realizes that Tony is nervous as hell. It's not like Steve isn't nervous too, but—Tony looks more nervous than really anything else, and that's not good.

Tony has stopped in the hallway. "Your room or mine?"

"Your bed's bigger," Steve tells him, and that gets a real smile, at last.

"Spoken like a man who's been thinking about my bed," Tony murmurs, as he opens his door and gestures Steve inside.

Steve smiled. "I might have been having a lot of thoughts about it. You in it. With me. Especially lately."

And then Tony steps in behind him, shutting the door, and Steve turns back and catches his arm. Tony raises his eyebrows, a wordless question.

"Hey," Steve says. "We don't— if you're that nervous, we don't have to do anything else now. You know that, right? This is supposed to be fun. We can just kiss more if you want. I liked what we were doing just fine."

"It's not that." Tony smiles weakly. "It's just that— I was going to treat you right. Do this properly. Take you on a real date first."

"A real date," Steve echoes, and he's touched by the idea of it. And then he knows exactly what Tony would do, and he realizes it would definitely make Tony feel worse. "You'd want to spoil the hell out of me, as you'd call it. You'd probably take me to the fanciest restaurant you can find, the kind of place where you'd make sure they'd give me a menu without prices, and you'd sit there the entire night with an exquisite meal in front of you, and you'd try not to stare at my mouth while I ate, and the whole time you'd be thinking about this, what we'd do afterwards, worrying about how it was going to go, and you wouldn't really enjoy your fancy thousand-dollar dinner at all."

"That wouldn't have happened." Tony frowns indignantly and Steve just raises an eyebrow until Tony breaks into a grin. "All right, maybe. Since when are you the futurist?"

"Don't have to be one," Steve replies. "I just know you. You can take me out later. It'll still be good. Better, even. Less pressure."

"Okay," Tony says, but he doesn't look relaxed, and whatever's been eating at him, that can't have been all of it. Still, he smiles again, and he steps in, and he kisses Steve, so gently, as gently as that first kiss a week ago. His arms go around Steve, his hands sliding up Steve's spine. Steve's still in uniform, and he knows it can't be comfortable when Tony's fingers brush over the scale mail.

"Maybe I should take the uniform off?" Steve suggests, when Tony hasn't moved. He smiles. "Unless you want me to keep it on..." He lets the sentence trail off and lifts an eyebrow meaningfully; he is nowhere near as good at innuendo as Tony is, he knows, but even he can't ruin that one.

Tony smiles. "No, no," he says. "Off is good. Can I...?"

"Of course," Steve says, and he watches Tony's hands go to the fastening of the mail. Tony's worked on the design for his uniform. Tony has watched him dress and undress. Tony knows his way around all of Steve's gear. But at the same time, Steve is very conscious that Tony has never done this, as he holds his arms up and lets Tony lift the uniform shirt and the undershirt off.

Tony steps back and stares at Steve's chest. Steve is positive Tony's seen him shirtless a thousand times, but Tony's looking at him half-dazed and wide-eyed, like he's not quite sure this is actually happening. One hand is raised, arm half-extended toward him, like he wants to touch him but doesn't dare.

"You can touch me," Steve says. "Go on." He smiles. "Please."

Tony gives a jerky nod, and then reaches out and lays his palm flat on Steve's chest, high on his ribs, hand splayed out just under his pectoral muscle. He doesn't move. His fingers are warm, but Steve shivers anyway, just a little.

And then Tony tilts his head and grins, not quite meeting Steve's eyes. "Sorry," he says, and there's something abashed in his gaze. "I've just spent so long telling myself not to have fantasies about Captain America, you know? And now you're here." He smiles again. "It's... an adjustment."

"You can have fantasies about Captain America," Steve says, as softly as he can. "It's all right. Encouraged, actually. Anything you want to dream about. Anything you can think up. It's all good. I promise."

He hopes maybe Tony will tell him one, will give him somewhere to start.

"I think you'd be surprised what I can think up," Tony says. Something unreadable flickers in his eyes and is gone. Steve doesn't want to push him.

Then Tony smiles again, and, in a slow, deliberate motion, slides a thumb over Steve's nipple. It's the smallest of touches, so delicate, but pleasure courses through Steve's body, a straight line to his aching cock, and he groans. Tony's smile gets wider.

"Tony," Steve breathes.

"You're so beautiful," Tony whispers, sounding overwhelmed. "I almost can't believe this is real."

"This is real," Steve says. He knows he's nervous too; the words seem to echo around his head as he says them. "Can we—? Can you—?" He can't seem to get a sentence out. "I want to see you, too."

He reaches out to the buttons of Tony's shirt, but Tony must see something in his eyes, some hesitation that gives him away, because Tony tilts his head to the side before Steve can even undo one button.

"You've never been with a man before, have you?" Tony asks.

They haven't talked about this, because they've spent their precious time alone kissing and kissing. Steve has no idea what Tony's experience with men is like; he suspects Tony has more than he does, which would be easy enough because his is nonexistent.

Steve shakes his head, and Tony's eyes are wider now. "First time," Steve says. "But I've, uh. Seen a lot of pictures." He can feel his skin heating up, and he knows it's ridiculous, but he can't help it. "Pretty sure I have the general idea down."

He waits for Tony to express some surprise about Captain America having a gay pornography collection—he thinks Tony would be even more surprised if he actually saw it—but Tony's eyes just grow wider. Steve knows Tony's worrying now about making him panic, because that's exactly the sort of thing Tony would worry about. Even though they've loved each other for years. Even though they've been Avengers together for years and at this point Steve is very, very familiar with Tony's body. Steve isn't going to panic. Tony's had a starring role in Steve's own fantasies for years. Though, much like Tony, it seems, he's tried to refrain, when he hadn't thought it could happen. But now they're really, finally here.


"I want this," Steve says. "I want you. I care about you. And I know you, Tony." His hand is on Tony's chest. He can feel Tony's heart pounding under his fingertips. "Nothing you can do is going to frighten me, okay?"

Tony looks like he very much wants to raise an objection, but he smiles now, a small, tentative smile. "Okay. Okay. But we'll take it slow."

"All right." Steve suspects that's what Tony needs, anyway. "Slow it is."

Tony smiles again, and he reaches up and brushes his hand across Steve's before undoing the buttons of his own shirt, one after the other. Steve pushes the shirt off Tony's shoulders and lets it fall to the floor. Tony is strong, muscled—more than most people would think he is—and he's always been handsome. Steve has always loved to look at him. He can feel heat well up in him, slide down his spine, pool low and tight in his belly.

The soft light from the bedside lamp casts odd patterns of light and shadow over Tony's skin; his eyes seem even bluer in the dimness. Steve wants to draw him, he thinks, and then he stops thinking about anything for a bit as Tony takes his hand and leads him to bed.

It's no perfectly-orchestrated seduction—for one thing, Steve has to stop and perch on the edge of Tony's bed to wrench his boots off, and then, when Tony encourages him, his uniform trousers. Tony never takes his eyes off Steve, and somehow Steve suspects it's not just because Tony's never had a fella squirming around his mattress trying to peel off leather pants before. Tony's smile is broader now, less nervous, but the tension comes back into his face when they're both finally naked in Tony's bed.

Steve looks up and down Tony's body, enjoying the lines of him in a way he's never really been allowed to appreciate, the elegant lines of his torso, the way his muscles trace furrows down to his hard cock. His desire is obvious. Steve's wanted this for years—to touch him, to taste him, to make him happy.

When he looks back up Tony's body, Tony's face is tight with concern, taut around the eyes, smile gone fainter.

"Hey," Tony says. "Not freaking out?"

"Not freaking out," Steve confirms, and God, he wants— he wants—

"Okay," Tony says, and he breathes out like he's had to remind himself to breathe. "Good. Is there something you'd like to do?"

Steve—because he's no saint—finds his gaze traveling back down Tony's body, and half a dozen fantasies collide in his head at once.

He doesn't know how to mention it. He doesn't know how to begin with it. It's been a long time since he's slept with someone new, someone who didn't already know about him, and he's pretty sure that if he meets someone outside of certain very specific contexts he shouldn't lead with some of the ideas he has. Not for a first time. Tony already thinks he's going to run, just because he's never actually slept with a man. And it's their first time. He can't just say it if it's their first time. And Tony's been so sweet with him, and so obviously hesitant, that Steve can't just come right out with his actual fantasies.

Some other time, he tells himself. They'll have plenty of time.

So he raises his head, meets Tony's eyes, and smiles. He doesn't say I want to choke on your cock. He doesn't say I want you to grab my head and hold me down. He doesn't say I want you to fuck my face until I cry, and then I want you to come down my throat. I want you to use me and mark me and make me yours because you love me.

Steve's not ashamed of his desires. He doesn't think they're wrong. But he's certain it's not what anyone expects of him. Captain America: soldier, Avenger, stalwart champion of liberty and justice. Submissive and masochist.

He's had this particular daydream for years, about Tony. It's one of his easy, go-to fantasies, the one that gets him off hard when he lets himself think about Tony at all. And it's more than idle theorizing; it's been good enough for him with strap-ons that he's sure he'd love to do it with Tony, he thinks, and then he realizes that he really shouldn't be pondering his exes in bed.

He can't just spring this on Tony. Tony will take it the wrong way, Tony will see it as cruelty or objectification—and it sort of is, of course, but for the best of reasons. God, maybe Tony will think less of him. He'd never worried about that with Sharon or Rachel.

But maybe the tamest part would be okay, he thinks. Maybe that would be nice. There's nothing unusual about fellatio in general.

So he smiles. "I'd really like to go down on you, if you'd like me to."

And Tony stares at him, wide-eyed, like even that was more than he expected Steve to say, and Steve feels a pang of regret as he pushes the fantasy farther from his mind. It's definitely going to take him some time to figure out how—or if—he can even tell Tony.

"Are you sure?" Tony asks. He bites his lip. "I mean, I thought you'd want me to— I thought maybe we'd work up to that—"

Steve smiles again. He hopes Tony won't think he looks disappointed. "I'm sure. If you want me to, that is."

"I want you to," Tony says, almost guiltily. "But you'll tell me if it's too much—"

"I promise," Steve assures him, and then he slides down Tony's body and takes Tony's cock into his mouth.

Tony's big, bigger than all but a few of the dildos Steve has ever tried this on, and so much better, he thinks, as Tony moans his name. The heft and size of him is pleasing, fitting just right, Steve thinks. He stretches his lips around the shaft of Tony's cock and then dares to go a little deeper, just to see what it feels like, to see if he likes it as much as he thinks he will, to see how Tony will like it.

He slides his mouth down Tony's cock, and then all at once Tony arches up, thrusting in with a snap of his hips until his cock bumps the back of Steve's throat. Tony's hand lands on the back of Steve's head, twisting into his hair for purchase, not quite as hard as he likes, not even hurting yet, but God, yes, he'll take it, just like this, this is exactly what he wants, and maybe Tony guessed after all, maybe Tony knows exactly what he wants because he knows him—

"Oh, God, Steve," Tony gasps out. His voice is low and urgent and he sounds—

He sounds horrified.

Tony's hand gently tugs Steve's head up, off his cock.


"Oh, my God," Tony says. His words are running together, fast and panicked. "I'm so sorry. I just— it felt so— I got carried away— I shouldn't have— Christ. I didn't mean to hurt you. Did I hurt you?"

Steve looks up into Tony's wide, concerned eyes, at Tony's too-pale face. "No," he says. "Don't worry. You didn't hurt me."

It's the truth.

I want you to hurt me, he doesn't say.

He doesn't need it to survive, he tells himself. It'll be okay. It'll still be good. It'll be nice. He loves Tony. It's better this way.

So he gets back down, settles one hand onto Tony's hip, and rubs circles over Tony's hipbone until Tony breathes out and relaxes. He can practically feel Tony melting into the mattress, and it's... nice. It is nice. It's Tony, and Steve is so very glad to finally be here with Tony, and he is enjoying himself, he is, and he wants to make sure Tony has a good time too. Tony deserves it.

When he dips his head back down to Tony's cock he doesn't try to take him all the way down. He keeps his mouth light, tentative, and he can tell that Tony is trembling with the effort to stay still.

Tony's hand brushes his head, fingers sliding through his hair. He's not pushing him. He's petting him, lightly, and eventually his hand drops to Steve's shoulder and stays there, a caress, a point of warmth. It's good.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Tony is vocal, and he keeps up a running commentary, endearments and praise, so good and just like that and oh, Steve, yes. And Steve likes that, unreservedly. He likes hearing how he's doing, he likes tracking what Tony likes by the way his voice swoops breathlessly. It works for him, he thinks, and he rubs up a little against the bed, rolling his hips, as Tony whispers that he's wonderful. He does like to be praised.

He's just not going to think about the sort of praise he usually likes to hear from his lovers. Take it, he pictures Tony saying, his voice wonderfully cruel. Take it all. Choke on it. Look how pretty you are. You were meant for this.

When Tony's words have all turned to gasps, he lets Tony tug him away again, because he knows Tony's not going to want to come in his mouth. Tony clearly thinks that's too much for him. So he shifts his weight, frees a hand, and wraps his fingers around Tony's cock. He knows he's a little awkward—he's never done this to anyone else, after all, and it's a little different since Steve's uncut—and he's not exactly sure how Tony likes it, but he's getting the impression that Tony's close enough that it really doesn't matter what he does as long as he keeps touching him.

Now that Steve's mouth isn't on him, Tony is thrusting up into Steve's fist with abandon, hips arching off the bed, cock impossibly harder and slicker, sliding through Steve's fingers. His head is thrown back, his eyes shut, his fingers digging into the covers as he chases his pleasure. He's absolutely beautiful.

"Oh," Tony breathes, low and hoarse and almost surprised. "You're perfect."

And then Tony gasps and he's coming, pulsing over Steve's hand, over his chest, and he's smiling. He looks so happy, Steve thinks. This is what he wants. He wants Tony to be this happy. He can do this.

Steve finds the tissues and wipes Tony off—even though he'd really like to lick it off—and then lets Tony pull him into an embrace. Tony is really good at cuddling, wrapping himself around Steve in satiated affection.

Tony presses lazy kisses to Steve's temple.

"Not too much, was it?" Tony asks.

"No," Steve says, and he kisses Tony back. "Not too much at all. I'd do it again." He smiles. "And again."

He liked it. He did. That's not a lie. He can live like this.

"Only twice more?" Tony pretends to pout, and then he chuckles. "Maybe I can talk you into a third time, huh?"

He lets Tony roll him over; Tony's strong enough that Steve could push back, a little, and still be held down, but he doesn't. They're not— that's not what they're doing.

Tony kisses a path down Steve's chest, over his stomach, and then pauses, looking up to Steve for permission again.

Make me beg for it, he almost says, but he cuts himself off in time. You can do anything to me.

"Yes," Steve tells him, and Tony smiles.

Tony is... well, Tony is enthusiastic. And really, really good at giving head. There's no doubt in Steve's mind that Tony is enjoying this, that Tony is bringing every trick he knows. He kisses his way up Steve's thighs, kisses his balls, and then sucks his cock like he's spent his whole life practicing for this moment. He's stroking Steve with his hands as he sucks him, fondling him, caressing him, every touch soft and loving. His mouth is warm and wet, and his fingers unerringly find the perfect rhythm, and it's good, it's good, it really is. God, Tony's ruining him for anyone else.

He can feel the pleasure build, begin to crest. Familiar fantasies flash before his eyes, and he imagines for an instant that Tony's ordering him to come now or he doesn't get to— or ordering him not to come, tying him up and teasing him and tormenting him and then stepping away and getting himself off, gaze fixed on Steve as he works his own cock furiously, oh God, yes, that's the one—

"Tony," he gasps. "I'm going to come—"

Tony doesn't stop, and Steve shuts his eyes and comes and comes.

When he opens his eyes again, Tony is cuddling him, and he tells himself it doesn't matter what he was thinking about. Everyone has fantasies. It's all right.

"That was wonderful," he says, and he kisses Tony, and it's not a lie. It was wonderful. It was. And if this is how it will be, if Tony's just going to be this gentle with him, he can handle it. He has an imagination.

Tony smiles and it seems, finally, like most of the tension in him is gone. "Glad to hear it."

"I'd definitely do it again," he adds, just to see Tony smile again. "More than twice."

Tony rewards him by grinning broadly and kissing him once more.

"Do you want to stay the night?" Tony asks. "You don't have to," he adds, quickly, like he thinks of course Steve will say no. "I know the team will talk if they find us, and I don't know how you feel about that, but I just... I was hoping you would. I'd like it if you stayed."

Does Tony really think he'd leave him?

"I'll stay," Steve says. "Of course I'll stay. I'm not leaving you." And he knows Tony knows that he means more than just the night.

Tony's smile is bright and somehow fragile and so, so precious, and Steve knows Tony wants this to work as much as he does. Steve loves him so very much, he thinks, suddenly overwhelmed with joy, with fierce affection. He's going to treat Tony right. It's going to be good. They can do this. They can have this. They can be happy.

Tony's got his head on Steve's shoulder, and Steve watches him drift off to sleep. Even in his sleep he's smiling.

The next night, they end up in Steve's room. They're undressing as fast as they can, pulling off their own clothes, each other's clothes, tangling shirts around wrists and laughing, leaving a trail of clothes all the way to Steve's bed. Sometimes the rest of the team makes fun of his sense of decor, but he likes it plain. The furniture is homey, and sturdy, and has enough convenient attachment points for restraints, which work if he doesn't struggle too much, because then the bed gives out before he does. He learned that one the hard way. Maybe it's good that the topic won't come up, he tells himself, because it feels better than thinking that Tony knows his limits well enough that he could build something that would hold him perfectly.

And Tony in his bed, grinning up at him as he tumbles down onto Steve's sheets—well, that's exactly right. Steve's never really been a possessive kind of fella with his partners—at least, he tries not to be. Still, there's some part of him that thrums mine contentedly to itself as he lets himself be pulled down next to Tony. Tony's right here in his bed, his very own bed, where he's always dreamed of having him, where he never thought he could.

"So I was thinking," Tony says, and he rolls away and picks his pants up off the floor. When he comes back there's a condom and a lube packet clutched between his fingers, and his face bears a hopeful, if nervous, smile.

Steve suspects Tony wasn't thinking about Steve bottoming—which has been in Steve's thoughts lately—but he also suspects Tony isn't going to turn down the offer.

So Steve smiles and leans back and draws one leg up. "So was I."

Tony's eyes go wide. "Wow. Uh. I. Okay." He shakes his head a little and smiles ruefully. "That'll teach me to make assumptions, huh?"

He's grateful Tony doesn't tell him that he was worried he'd hurt him, or that Steve wouldn't like it, but he's sure Tony was thinking it. And Steve doesn't tell Tony about the box of toys in the closet. He's had plenty of practice.

Tony settles down between Steve's legs, lubes him up, and works him open, pressing tender kisses to his skin. When he pauses to get the condom Steve doesn't say anything about how he has a healing factor and can't catch anything anyway, because that's only a few steps away from the next thought, the one about how he wants to do something he's never been able to do before and has only seen in pornography. He wants Tony to fuck him bareback, come inside him, fill him up and let his come drip out of him where Tony's used him, fucked him hard and raw, stretched him wide open. Another way to mark him. To own him.

He knows Tony's definitely not expecting him to say that. So he doesn't.

So he just smiles. It's good. It's good. And then Tony enters him, slowly, slowly, trembling, sliding into him until he's as deep as he can go, and God, Tony's good at that. Tony's inside him, and it's just as amazing as Steve had dreamed.

"Steve," Tony murmurs, like Steve means the world to him, voice hushed and almost reverent. "Oh, God, Steve." He's smiling, and he's so happy, and Steve will do anything for this, to keep Tony happy like this.

Tony has one hand bracing Steve's leg and the other planted on the bed; Steve reaches up and brushes Tony's arm, feeling the strain in the muscle as he holds himself still, then he lets his hand trace a path up Tony's arm, to his shoulder, to his face. Tony's beard is soft against Steve's palm as he smiles and turns his head, kissing Steve's fingertips.

I love you so much, Steve thinks. It's too soon to say it, but it's not too soon to think it.

"So good," Steve tells him, and it's the truth.

Tony is slow and gentle with him, as if he would ever be anything else. Everything is smooth and easy, and there's nothing but pleasure, gathering and building within him, as Tony moves within him. There's nothing but Tony atop him, against him, inside him. Tony loves him. It's plainly evident in every smile, every caress, in the way Tony stares down at him, amazed, like he can't believe he's this lucky.

Steve comes untouched, and Tony follows within seconds.

Afterwards, they curl around each other, pleasantly drifting to sleep in the afterglow. Life is good.

Tony kisses Steve's lips, his jaw, then his neck, just where Steve likes it, and Steve shivers. Tony knows him already. Even if he doesn't know everything. That's okay. He doesn't have to know all of Steve's fantasies. Steve can be happy like this.

Tony's arm tightens around him.

"So," Tony murmurs, very softly, like he wants Steve to be able to pretend he didn't hear it if he wants to, "this is a thing we're doing, huh?"

"Looks like," Steve agrees. He finds Tony's hand in the darkness, raises it, presses it to his lips. He's always liked Tony's hands. "I think it's an awfully good thing. I'd like us to keep doing it. If you're asking."

He can't quite make out Tony's face in the shadows, but he feels the tension in Tony's body. "I suppose I'm asking," Tony says, slowly, and then he stalls and starts over. "I suppose I'm asking what you want this to be. It can be anything you want. Just say the word."

He thinks about what it must be like to be Tony. He thinks about all the people who have wanted him for his body or his money, wanted to use him and leave him and—alarmingly frequently—try to murder him. He thinks about all the people he's seen Tony date, about watching Tony fall fast and fall hard, looking for someone to love, clinging to the barest scraps of affection and hoping that they'll love him back. And that's just the women. That's the half Steve knows about. If Tony's been with men—and it seems like he must have—the fact that Steve didn't ever know doesn't bode well for how it must have gone. He imagines dirty little secrets. In the world Tony had been born into, maybe blackmail. Maybe, once, drunken indiscretions. It couldn't have been something Tony was proud of, or he would have said something. But at the same time, Steve knows that if Tony had ever fallen for someone, a man, a man who didn't want it to be a secret, he would have been out. He'd have been out if someone had made it worth it.

Steve doesn't want to be anyone's dirty little secret. And he doesn't want Tony to be his. He's proud of Tony: friend, teammate, and now lover. He wants people to know.

He takes a breath and swallows hard. "What if I said I wanted to tell people about us?"

He can hear Tony's surprise, a sharp, shallow gasp. Tony says nothing for several seconds. They tick by like hours.

"Then I'd say you're perfect," Tony says, hoarse with emotion. "God, Steve, what did I ever do to deserve you?" he murmurs, and his voice breaks halfway through the question. He's nervous; Steve can tell that much. But he's happy too. He wanted this. Steve does know him, after all.

Steve brushes the hair back from Tony's forehead and kisses his temple. "Shh. It's not about that. It's not about being deserving. We've got each other. That's what matters. You've got me, and you're not getting rid of me."

"Okay," Tony says. He can see Tony's smile, just barely, in the dimness, and he hopes Tony believes him. He's not going anywhere.

Steve is awake before Tony. He spends a lazy few minutes just lying there, unwilling to get out of bed, uncharacteristic for a man who's gotten up at 0600 almost every morning—well, every morning he wasn't frozen for—since 1940. But today, he thinks, as he contemplates the man curled up at his side, it might be a good day for sleeping in. Tony's face is relaxed; sleep takes years off him. Sleep and happiness, Steve thinks, with a little burst of renewed affection and pride. He's the one making Tony look like this.

"Mmm," Tony says, apparently awake after all and squeezing him tighter—he's like an octopus, somehow—as Steve tries to slide out from under him. "You should stay," Tony slurs, eyes still shut, smiling. "Little bit longer. I'll make it worth your while. Promise."

He turns back and kisses Tony, lightly, before sitting up. "But if you come downstairs with me now," Steve counters, "there's coffee." He's not above exploiting Tony's weaknesses.

"You fight dirty," Tony says, still smiling. "I'll consider it."

Tony watches Steve dress with the same enthralled intensity that he'd reserved for Steve undressing, these past two nights; he thinks maybe Tony just likes looking at him. Fair enough, he thinks, since he likes looking at Tony.

By the time Steve finally gets downstairs—a little later than usual, thanks to Tony's determined and enjoyable attempts at distraction—half the team is already up for the day. Clint, Wanda, and Carol are seated companionably around the table in the kitchen, chattering and making their way through breakfast.

Clint's got his booted feet up on the chair next to him and he waves at Steve as Steve heads to the fridge. Steve wants to get some training in, probably the Combat Simulation Room, but he wants some food first.

"Morning, Cap," Clint says. "How's it going?"

Steve's sure the smile on his face is ridiculously huge. "Oh, you know," he says, even though they really don't know, do they? "It's a good day."

"You are obscenely cheerful," Clint says, like it's supposed to be an insult; it's the same thing he's done since the old days, where he wants to find the line and keep pushing it, even in a friendly conversation. "Morning people. I swear."

"Oh, like you're not up before seven with the rest of us, Hawkeye," Carol says, and Steve grins and turns away to find the orange juice.

He pours himself a glass, and when he looks up, Tony's in the doorway. Tony's leaning on the doorframe. His hair is mussed, his eyes are bright, and his mouth curves in the same dazed smile that Steve suspects is on his own face. Tony's not quite dressed like he's ready to start his usual day; he's wearing sweatpants that are a little too big and a t-shirt, similarly too large, blue with a white star—

Oh. That's Steve's shirt. Those are Steve's clothes.

Maybe they should have talked about how they were going to come out, Steve thinks, but he can't find it in him to complain. It's a good decision. Sure, the public is going to want announcements and speeches and press releases, but the Avengers are their friends. It can be simple.

"Good morning," Tony says. "Someone told me if I got up there'd be coffee." His gaze meets Steve's, meets and holds, like he never wants to look away.

Out of the corner of his eye, Steve sees Clint stare at Tony, turn back to stare at him, and then stare at Tony again, his eyebrows crawling up his head in surprise. It's not like any of the Avengers are stupid. Carol and Wanda are looking around with identical expressions of delight.

"Well," Carol says. "That's new and different." Steve remembers, suddenly, that Carol doesn't know Tony's other identity; though Steve has certainly been good friends with Tony-as-Tony, this probably comes out of nowhere to anyone unaware of the connection. But she smiles. "Congratulations."

"About time," Clint says, with satisfaction. "Only been waiting for you two for years." Then his face furrows, and Steve feels unexpected tension knot up inside him. He realizes that he's bracing for Clint's disapproval, for his disgust, because it's not like Steve's ever done this before. And then Clint throws his head back and laughs. "Holy shit," he says, amazed. "That's what that smile was. Cap got laid."

Steve can feel his face heating up and he curses his complexion. "It's been known to happen."

His eyes dancing with amusement, Clint makes a quiet scoffing noise.

"It wasn't actually a solo effort," Tony points out, still leaning on the doorframe. "You know, in case you want to mock me too, in the name of fairness."

"Pfft." Clint waves a hand. "You're Tony Stark. Too easy."

He knows it's a joke, he knows Tony knows it's a joke, but the brightness in Tony's eyes dims a little and Steve hates to see it. He doesn't want anyone to hurt Tony, even as a joke.

Steve crosses his arms. "Hey," he says, sharply, and it's his Captain America voice. "Cut that out."

Even as he says it, Carol is elbowing Clint in the side. "Clint."

"Ow," Clint says, covering his ribs and looking betrayed.

Tony's staring at them, mouth parted, like he can't believe, even after all this time, that he's got friends, and Steve feels more than a little sad watching it. Tony should know he's loved. Steve's going to do that for him, if nothing else.

"I can fight my own battles," Tony says, but Steve sees the look in his eyes and knows that's not quite a no.

But he doesn't have to, Steve thinks. And literally, truly, Tony doesn't; they are a team, they've been a team for years, and they've always had each other's backs. But Carol doesn't know that about Tony, so he keeps his mouth shut.

Wanda smiles graciously. "I am very happy for both of you," she says. Steve wonders if she's jealous; she's involved, or used to be, with two people who are at this point more-or-less non-corporeal. The Avengers' lives are always complicated.

"Thank you," Tony tells her.

And Steve smiles, and Steve pours Tony a cup of coffee, and when Steve hands him the mug their fingers brush, and then Tony leans in and kisses him, soft and sweet. He thinks that behind him Clint is muttering something about their disgusting happiness, but he's pretty sure that means Clint approves. The team approves. Everything's going to be just fine. This was the hard part, and it's done.

"So," Tony says, smiling. "About that date we're going to have."

They're in Tony's room tonight. It was a long day for both of them; Steve was busy coming up with new routines in the Combat Simulation Room to push the new team to their limits, and Tony has been looking increasingly frazzled over the state of Stark Solutions these days. But that doesn't mean they can't make time for each other.

He has to smile, too, because he likes the way Tony's phrased it. Like the date is a foregone conclusion. Like Tony might even believe, now, that Steve's going to stay.


Tony rolls onto his side and pushes himself up with one elbow, studying Steve thoughtfully, and Steve looks right back, because he's never going to be tired of looking at Tony. And because he's never going to be tired of touching Tony, he runs a hand down Tony's lean, muscled torso to his hip. Tony's not going to be up for another round tonight, but Steve doesn't think that's any reason not to appreciate him.

"You're terribly distracting," Tony says, his mouth quivering somewhere between a smile and an attempted pout and then flattening out, suddenly serious. "I was just having... logistical thoughts."

Steve rubs his thumb over Tony's hip. "How so?"

"Which of us are dating?"


"Which of us are dating?" Tony repeats, and there's a look in his eyes now that might be embarrassment. "Is Tony Stark dating Steve Rogers? Is Iron Man dating Captain America?" He coughs. "I'm all for taking you out and spoiling you rotten, believe me, but I need to know whether I have to press my tux or polish my armor."

Oh, Steve thinks, and he wants to laugh. These are the problems of superheroes. He's gone on more dates as Steve Rogers than as Captain America, but he thinks that with Tony it might be different. With Tony a lot of things are different. Different, but still good.

"The team knows we're dating," he ventures. "And they already know my civilian identity. But the Avengers who don't know that you're Iron Man... they think I'm dating the team benefactor and not my teammate, you know. If we decide I'm dating Iron Man, you really ought to tell them who you are before they decide I'm stepping out on my sweetheart."

Tony smiles—probably at Steve's choice of words—and gives a little shrug. "That's easy enough to fix; I'll tell them." He grimaces. "I should have told Carol years ago, anyway." He shakes his head. "No, I was thinking more about what we should tell the general public. Since we want to tell people, and all. And honestly, the press is going to find out anyway, unless you're willing to operate at a level of secrecy I'm certain you wouldn't be comfortable with."

Steve squeezes Tony's hip. "I don't want us to be a secret. You know that." And then he chuckles. "But secret identities—those are another matter."

He came out to the public before, but after a faked death or two, public interest in the identity of the man under the cowl has died down. No one's making much of an effort these days to connect Steve Rogers to Captain America, and he likes it that way. And he knows Tony is very fond of his own secret identity.

"I know," Tony says. He smiles a small smile. "I have my preferences on my end, but ultimately I'm good with either one. We should probably pick something, though. One identity each. I think masked and unmasked relationships at the same time might cause some... suspicion."

He can't even picture that. Tony's right; that would be a mess. He looks away from Tony for a bit, and he tries to work it all through in his head. It doesn't take him long.

"I have to be Captain America," Steve says. Tony has more of a decision to make, but Captain America is connected to both Iron Man and Tony Stark, so either one will be believable. "If Steve Rogers dates you—either of you—that identity will be under too much scrutiny. As far as anyone else knows, that guy's got no connection to you. So they'll go digging, and they'll find the connection. Your identity separation is solid and will hold up to a media blitz. Mine won't. It was never intended to. Steve Rogers is just a quiet ex-soldier who used to do some commercial art work a few years back. The cover only needed to look good enough on paper to rent an apartment and get a few freelance illustration jobs. It'll break."

"And then they'll know Steve Rogers is Captain America," Tony muses, "and there goes the secret identity."

"They already know Captain America knows both of you," Steve adds. "They're not going to be surprised, whichever one of you I end up with. And they're not going to dig deeper. Either one of you works."

Tony grins and raises his eyebrows salaciously. "I'm trying really hard not to suggest a threesome with both of us."

"I think that would surprise the media," Steve says, a mild rebuke. Though it's not like he didn't spend a couple years considering it, before he knew they were the same person.

"Well." Tony purses his lips in thought. "If you don't mind the mismatch, I was going to say that I'd prefer to date outside the suit. Fine dining's not as much fun when you have to suck everything through a straw."

Steve smiles. He definitely sees where Tony's coming from. "I'd have a heck of a time kissing Iron Man goodnight, I bet."

Tony laughs, and that's settled, then. Captain America and Tony Stark are together.

The rest of the week passes in a blur. Training during the day, and then Tony at night. The team is coming together well, and Steve—well, Steve thinks maybe he's happier than he's ever been. He hopes Tony is too.

On Friday night, they go out. Steve feels a little underdressed wearing his everyday uniform, especially when the sight of Tony dressed for a night on the town takes his breath away. Tony just smiles and tells Happy to drive.

The restaurant is magnificent, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the Manhattan skyline; it's the sort of place where the view alone adds at least a few hundred dollars to the bill. Steve knows better than to try to find out what Tony's paying for this. He knows that whatever it is, it's worth it to Tony if it makes Steve happy. Tony does like to buy people things.

When they're seated, the waiter comes over almost immediately. "Captain, Mr. Stark," he says. "It's a privilege." Steve thinks he probably thinks they're here on Avengers business. And then the waiter turns to Steve. "Captain, would you like the wine list?"

Well, he gets points for knowing not to ask Tony, but— "No, thank you." Steve waves his hand. "Just water for me."

"For both of us," Tony adds.

The waiter nods and retreats, leaving them with the menus.

"You didn't need to do that," Tony says, like he honestly hadn't expected it, and Steve wants to borrow a time machine and shake everyone Tony has ever dated.

Steve shrugs. "It's not a big deal. You know alcohol doesn't do much with my metabolism the way it is; I only have it for the taste. You mean more to me than that."

Tony raises his head and blinks at him, like Steve has robbed him of his powers of speech. There's not a lot that can do that to Tony. "Thank you," he says, softly.

They sit in silence, and when the waiter comes back, Steve hasn't even opened his menu.

"Order for me," Steve says. "I trust your judgment."

He worries a little that he's overstepping the bounds of their relationship, since asking Tony to take charge hints—even in some small way—at so many things Steve hasn't dared to mention, and he feels like he's getting away with something he shouldn't. Still, he suspects Tony brought him here because they have something Tony knows he'll like, and he knows Tony likes taking care of people. Steve's always liked that about him, even if he can't tell Tony about the precise breadth of the way he enjoys it.

Tony smiles. "I will have the seared tuna," he says. "Cap here wants the meat and potatoes."

Steve raises an eyebrow.

"Wagyu beef. They call it something even fancier on the menu," Tony says, when the waiter's gone. "But I know what you like."

The words have just a hint of teasing innuendo.

"Do you?" Steve asks, and he smiles back and tries to suppress the thought that Tony really, really doesn't.

Tony just smiles again.

The meal, when it comes, is delicious, the beef perfectly cooked and the potatoes in a sauce Steve doesn't recognize. It's probably some kind of artistic deconstruction. It's still great.

He's savoring his meal, conscious of Tony watching him from across the table. Tony picks at his food distractedly, like he keeps forgetting it's there; his main source of enjoyment seems to be watching Steve be happy. So Steve sits there and enjoys a damn good dinner.

"Thank you," he says, when they're both finished. "This was excellent. Thank you so much."

Tony smiles, broad and pleased. "You're welcome. How do you feel about dessert?"

Steve leans back. "Surprise me."

Tony's grin goes crooked. "I think you'll like it."

Dessert turns out to be relatively simple: a chocolate ganache torte, topped with a heaping pile of fresh raspberries. Maybe even extra raspberries. There are shavings of white chocolate that are possibly raspberry-flavored.

It's a little-known fact about Steve: he loves raspberries. He hadn't known Tony had known. Sure, he must have told him once, probably—it's been a decade, and surely they've told each other pretty much everything by now—but he hadn't expected Tony to remember. But Tony did. Tony does. This is what he does: he pays attention to the small stuff. The details. He gets even the little things right. Especially them, maybe.

"I don't know if you remember," Tony says, and he's smiling, but he looks a little awkward. "Maybe a month after you came out of the ice, I asked you what you liked about the future that you hadn't told anyone yet. You'd already given the speeches, talked about human rights and vaccines and all that good stuff. And you looked at me, and you said you liked how there was always fresh fruit. Everywhere, even when it wasn't in season. You said raspberries were your favorite." He shifts nervously in his seat.

Steve loves this man so much. He is so, so lucky.

The dessert is excellent. Everything is perfect. And the still-hungry way Tony keeps looking at him suggests Tony has more plans for the rest of the night.

Happy drops them off outside the gates of the mansion, and Steve jams his identicard in the reader, impatient to get them both inside. As the gates swing shut behind them, Tony takes his hand.

"Thank you," Steve says, yet again. Tony keeps delighting him. "I had a lovely evening."

Tony smiles at him, and his eyes go soft. His face is half in shadow in the night, and Steve reaches up and brushes his hair back from his forehead. Tony smiles again and steps closer.

"You want to keep having one?" Tony murmurs, his breath hot against Steve's face, a secret they're both sharing.

"I'd love to," Steve says, and he takes Tony in his arms and kisses him.

Jarvis coughs discreetly, and Steve finally looks up from his breakfast as Jarvis sets the morning's Daily Bugle on the table. The subject of the picture is familiar; the angle, less so. It's him and Tony, from last night, standing in front of the mansion, kissing passionately. The photo is blurry—they must have had a telephoto lens. The headline reads: EARTH'S MIGHTIEST... LOVERS? TONY STARK AND CAPTAIN AMERICA'S TORRID AFFAIR. EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS INSIDE. A little farther down it says STARK'S NEW "SOLUTION"—A SEX SCANDAL! STARK CONQUERS CAP, BUT WHO'S NEXT?

So much for the carefully-worded coming-out speech.

Tony looks over his shoulder and winces. "Well," he says. "That explains the hundred and three messages I haven't checked yet. You'd think Jameson could have come up with a better headline."

Steve opens up the paper to the rest of the article inside, which features a few more blurry photos and some people willing to say they saw them eating dinner together. The headline on that article reads LAND OF THE FREE... HOME OF THE DEPRAVED.

"No, actually," Steve says, voice gone bitter, "I have to say this is exactly the sort of quality journalism I have come to expect from the Bugle."

Tony pats him on the arm. "Cheer up," he says. "If we made the front page for locking lips, it means there weren't supervillains destroying Midtown last night, right?"

"Right," Steve agrees, glumness spreading through him. It's not that he's not proud to be dating Tony, but... he wanted to do this on his own terms. And what if Tony decides he can't handle this, or him? Oh, he knows he's seen Tony's name dragged through the mud before, but this—well, this is different.

Tony's hand slides to his shoulder, his neck, his jaw, and then Tony buries his fingers in Steve's hair, petting him comfortingly, and Steve relaxes into the touch.

"Shh," Tony murmurs. "It's going to be okay. You've got me. I'm not leaving. We can do this."

Once again, their personal lives have to be set aside in favor of saving the world. Duane Freeman, the new government liaison, calls with news of a downed aircraft and suspects possible foul play—and because their lives are never easy, it turns out to be a sprawling mess involving the Squadron Supreme (again), who are being mind-controlled (again). Mind control's really going around, Steve thinks, as they head upstate to Project Pegasus to review the list of possible entities responsible. First there was Morgan le Fay, now this.

He worries that he's been ignoring the team, in all his excitement about his new relationship with Tony. He needs to do better. Clint keeps testing his authority and got in his face about it before they left for Project Pegasus, but what else is new? Clint's always been like that, hasn't he? Wanda's preoccupied, and Carol—well, there's something going on with Carol, and he doesn't know what.

Carol finds the Corruptor, which fixes their little mind-control problem, and then flies off in a huff when Steve asks why she didn't use her Binary powers. Tony looks at him, wide-eyed behind the mask, like there really is something Steve isn't understanding, and Tony alone knows what it is. He'll ask Tony later, he tells himself.

When they land in New York and hold the usual press conference, the reporters don't want to ask about the Squadron Supreme. They don't even want to ask about why Carol is gone—which is good, because he doesn't have an answer for that one.

No, Steve knows exactly what they want to ask about.

Steve goes through the prepared speech—airplane found and evacuated, no casualties, Squadron Supreme intercepted, the Corruptor stopped. All in a day's work for the Avengers.

"Any questions?" he asks. "Raise your hand."

Every hand goes up.

"Any questions that aren't about my personal life?" he asks.

All the hands go back down.

Steve swallows hard and looks out at the sea of reporters, eager faces staring at him, hungry for the truth. He can do this. Tony's with him. Tony is right here, even if no one other than the team knows it.

"All right," Steve says. "One question about my personal life."

His gaze goes to a reporter in the front row, the woman who'd asked him about Tony after the roster announcement. Sure. Why not? He nods at her.

She seems taken aback by his choice, but only for an instant—not much fazes reporters in New York, these days—and then she quickly recovers her poise and begins talking. "Megan McLaren, WJBP. Captain, you may be aware that the Daily Bugle recently published photographs of Avengers benefactor Tony Stark, kissing a man who appears to be you. Many people have speculated that the man in the photographs was in fact a Captain America impersonator."

Dear God, Steve thinks, people want anything but the truth.

Next to him, Tony makes a quiet metallic snickering noise, but then he reaches out and sets his gauntleted hand on Steve's back, just between his shoulder blades, over the star. Tony's got him. They're together. They can do this.

Steve swallows again. His mouth is dry.

The reporter presses on. "Would you care to comment on your alleged romantic relationship with Mr. Stark?"

"Certainly," Steve says. He looks at the reporters and takes a deep breath. "I'd be happy to confirm it."

The crowd is silent; the reporters stare at him, stunned. He can feel Tony's hand tremble on his back, even through the gauntlet and the mail shirt.

Steve raises his head, looks straight into the nearest camera, and smiles. "Also," he says, "I'd just like to say that I kissed him first."

The silence lasts for one breath, then two, and then the crowd goes wild.

The public takes it much, much better than Steve could have hoped. Sure, they have their detractors—but they've always had a few of those. For the most part, the response is incredibly positive. There's fanmail, hundreds of letters. Steve reads the ones from teenagers thanking him, telling him that he gave them the courage to come out. It means a lot to them that Captain America is bisexual. He does specifically say as much, in the first actual interview he gives; he wants to make it clear that Tony didn't turn him gay. The talk-show host then asks him when he first realized he had feelings for Tony. He doesn't have an answer for that one. There was never a point, a dividing line, a day he woke up to it. It feels like he's always loved Tony, even when Tony was two people to him.

"Day I met him," Tony says, when the same question is put to him, reaching out and squeezing Steve's gloved hand.

The studio audience coos, and Steve smiles and thinks that no one else in this room knows that that happened when Tony pulled him from the ice.

The next interview request they get is actually for Iron Man, and Tony nearly falls out of his chair laughing when he reads the questions they want him to pre-approve for the interview.

"They want to know if I'm jealous of Tony Stark," Tony says, wiping his eyes, and then chuckling again.

Steve snorts. "Well, we are very good friends, Shellhead. And it seems like an awkward situation, your teammate dating your boss."

"My boss dating my boss," Tony corrects him. "Remember, team leader?"

Steve starts laughing. "Well, when you put it like that..."

"Should have said yes to the threesome!" Tony crows.

"Tell Iron Man I'll think about it," Steve says, and Tony grins.

Another week passes. The team seems to settle back down. Clint stops testing his authority. Wanda and Vision reach some kind of detente. And Carol—well, Steve still doesn't know what the problem was, or why she's been refusing to access her Binary powers, but she's back at the mansion. There hasn't even been any major supervillain activity and, for once, the team has some downtime. And, of course, this evening he's cuddling with Tony on the couch; Tony won the fight for the remote.

"You could be cuddling Iron Man," Tony murmurs in his ear. It's become a running joke. "How would you like that?"

"Just fine, actually," Steve says.

He's been having a lot of... thoughts... about the armor lately. Not because he has a particular kink for the armor—he'd suspect that of being Tony's department, if not for the fact that Tony hasn't really offered up any kinks he does have, other than the threesome jokes. Maybe Tony's just that vanilla. Maybe some people are. But, at any rate, Steve's been thinking about the armor: in the armor Tony could hold him down. He could really hold him down. Steve wouldn't be able to get away.

He thinks maybe he could bring that up to Tony, the idea of bondage. It's not so strange a kink. He could start with suggesting something gentle, something non-threatening. Fuzzy handcuffs. Something anyone could get out of. He knows painplay, or anything that comes close, is out of the question; he remembers Tony's terrified, guilty face the first time he'd tried going down on him, when Tony had thought he'd hurt him. But bondage might be safe, at some point in the future. He knows traditionally blindfolds and feathers are up there on the list of kinks for beginners, but Steve likes his sensation play hard or not at all, and decades in the ice have permanently put him off any kind of sensory deprivation (or temperature play) as a kink.

Tony should know this about him, anyway, he thinks. They've been involved for a whole month now. He knows Tony doesn't share his kinks. That's okay. Steve doesn't need this from Tony. But Tony should know the truth, so that he can decide whether he wants to stay. That's fair.

And if Tony stays—well, maybe then would be a good time to tell Tony he loves him.

Tony turns the television off, takes his hand, and leads him upstairs.

He can't tell him tonight.

He'll tell him tomorrow. Tony's got some kind of business trip for most of the day, but he'll be back tomorrow night. There will be plenty of time.

Tomorrow, Steve thinks, as Tony kisses him.

"It's going to be a long day," Tony says, on a sigh, as he stands up from the breakfast table. "There's been another factory inspection added to the schedule, after the last meeting. Getting home later than I thought. You don't have to wait up for me."

Steve pushes back the thought that maybe it all means that he wasn't meant to tell Tony. He'll just have to see how Tony feels when he comes home. He still wants to tell him today. He's promised himself this much.

Steve smiles. "You know I will anyway."

"That's my Captain America."

Yes, Steve thinks. He wants to be Tony's.

Tony leans down and cups his hand to Steve's face. His palm is warm against Steve's cheek and his thumb swipes over Steve's cheekbone like he's trying to memorize the shape of Steve's face with his fingers alone. Then he leans in and kisses Steve, briefly, lightly, but with enough heat behind it to make Steve wish Tony could stay.

"So," Steve asks as Tony draws away and pats him on the cheek again, "are you going to tell me there's more where that came from?"

Tony winks. He's irrepressible and Steve loves it. "You know me." He looks down at his watch and grimaces. "Okay, okay, gotta go. See you tonight."

Steve finds himself smiling stupidly after him.

He's not going to frighten Tony off, he thinks. It's going to be okay. Tony loves him. He must love him. Surely Tony can accept him, even though he doesn't share his kinks. Steve knows he's always been an optimist, but... he knows Tony, too. He can't be that wrong about Tony, can he?

Well, he'll find out soon.

He spends half the day training and the other half doing paperwork—the government seems to require more procedures and protocols than ever. He eats dinner by himself; Wanda and Clint are out together, Vance and Angel are out together, Thor is probably out saving lives, and he has no idea where Carol is. He looks at the clock. Six. Seven. Tony will be home soon. Eight. Nine.

Ten o'clock, and there's still no sign of him. He did say he'd be late, Steve reminds himself. He supposes he can wait for Tony in bed. In Tony's bed. It's hardly presuming too much to go there when they're together; besides, he thinks Tony will like finding him there. He would, if the situation were reversed.

He pulls the covers over himself. He hadn't realized how lonely Tony's big bed was until now, when Tony's not in it. This is the first time he's gone to bed alone in almost a month. But it's all right; Tony will join him later.

It's awfully late. He wonders if he should call Tony; he'd thought Tony would be home by now. But he doesn't want to nag Tony. Tony said he'd be home. He'll be home. He doesn't need Steve interrupting him. He probably got caught up in something for his company. Steve shouldn't bother him.

Steve supposes they'll have to have that conversation another night, after all.

Tony can wake him up when he comes to bed, he thinks, and he shuts his eyes.

He wakes up when the phone rings.

It's morning, later than he usually gets up, and he looks around the sunlit room, disoriented. It's empty. Tony's not here.

Maybe Tony came in while he was asleep and then got up without waking him. But wouldn't Tony have woken him?

He looks at the clock. Eight a.m. He hadn't turned his alarm on; he'd meant to get ready for morning when Tony got home.

Tony hasn't been home.

Maybe something came up and Tony stayed overnight. It wouldn't be the first time he's had to sleep in one of his offices.

Steve fumbles for the still-ringing phone. "Tony Stark's phone," he says. "Captain America speaking."

"Steve!" Pepper says, on the other end of the line. She sounds rushed, like she's trying to handle a thousand things at once. "Boy, am I ever glad I found you. Can you do me a favor?"

"Sure," he says, cradling the phone on his shoulder. "Of course."

Her tone is shaded, apologetic. "I hate to ask you to do this, but do you think you could remind Tony about the R&D meeting? They were supposed to start twenty minutes ago and he's not here yet. It was only added to his schedule yesterday morning. He probably forgot all about it."


"What do you mean, remind him?" Steve asks. "He's not here."

"You mean he left already?"

"No," Steve says. There's a ball of ice forming in his gut, cold and hard and awful. "I mean he never came home. I thought maybe something came up and he had to stay overnight at the office."

There are a few long seconds of silence on Pepper's end of the line, and Steve knows exactly what she's thinking, because it's what he's thinking too.

"I talked to him at eight last night," Pepper says. Her voice is flat, even, like it's taking all of her strength to stay calm. "Twelve hours ago. He was at the Long Island factory. He said he was heading home. Oh, God."

Tony didn't make it home.

Steve breathes in and out. Okay. This is a thing that happens. This is actually a thing that happens to Tony. In another few hours Iron Man will have broken out of captivity, defeated whatever laughable villains thought they could get away with this, and flown home in triumph. There's no need to worry. There really isn't.

Steve's worried.

"It's going to be all right," he tells Pepper, summoning up his Captain America voice from God-knows-where. "We're going to find him. It's going to be okay." He thinks he's saying it more for his own benefit than Pepper's. "I'll assemble the Avengers. We'll get him back."

He hangs up and sits on the edge of the bed, in Tony's lonely, empty room. His hands are shaking. He takes a breath. He can do this. It shouldn't be any different now that he's in love with Tony.

He's in love with Tony, and he hasn't even told him he loves him, and what if—?

Now he's just getting ridiculous, he tells himself. They'll find Tony. They always have before.

The team—active and reserve—is in the briefing room as fast as Steve can assemble them. Seven faces stare back at him, and Steve is hideously aware of the empty seat at his side.

They'll find him. They will.

He summarizes the facts as best he knows them. "Tony's last known location is his Long Island factory." He'd checked the identicard tracker while waiting for the rest of the team to arrive; Tony's card is still on factory grounds, unmoved since last night. Steve expects that whoever took him left the card behind, but it's the only lead they have. "We'll prep a Quinjet and go."

The rest of the Avengers look at each other and nod, and Steve starts to push away from the table.

Carol opens her mouth. "Wait," she says, and there's a note in her voice, angry and antagonistic, that Steve hasn't heard since the Squadron Supreme mess and doesn't like one bit.

He was going to ask Tony about what was going on with her. Well, he can't do that right now, can he?

"Go ahead, Warbird." He's sure he sounds just as terse in return.

"If no one else is going to say it," Carol says, and now there's something downright ugly in her tone, "then I suppose I will." She meets Steve's gaze head on. "Look, we all know you... care about Tony. We care about Tony too. And God knows we're grateful for everything he's done for us. But have you considered that this isn't Avengers business? That maybe this is police business? And even if it is Avengers business, he's already covered. I mean, he's even got one of us as his bodyguard." Her eyes flick right and take in the empty space next to Steve. "And because Iron Man's not here, I can only conclude that he's on the case already. What do you think we can do that he can't?"


Steve looks around the table. Thor, Clint, Vision, and Wanda all meet his eyes, and then they look away. They're going to let him handle this.

"Iron Man isn't available," Steve says, his throat tight. It's not his secret to tell.

"Not available?" Carol repeats. Her expression is frozen in skepticism, in disbelief, one eyebrow arched.

Steve nods. "He's not coming."

"Cap," Carol says, her face gone hard, "I'm sorry he's on vacation or whatever he's doing, but this is his goddamn job, so you should recall him."

Now he has to say something. I'm sorry, Tony, he thinks. He knows Tony likes his secret identity. But he'd said he'd wanted to tell Carol. Clearly he just hadn't gotten around to it yet. It's not like Steve's telling the whole world. And if Tony's going to be mad at him later—well, then, he can be mad. Steve will do what it takes to get him back.

Steve swallows hard and looks Carol in the eyes. "He can't come." He swallows again. "Tony is Iron Man."

There's absolute silence in the room.

"Jesus fucking Christ," Carol says. Her mouth has fallen open, and there are bright spots of color high on her cheeks, half-covered by the bottom of her domino mask. "Are you—" She stops and shakes her head. "No, stupid question, of course you're serious." And then she glances around the room. "Why the hell are none of you the rest of you surprised?" Her mouth hardens into something twisted, betrayed. "Oh, this is real cute. Am I the last one to know?"

What in God's name is wrong with her?

"Yes," Clint says, and then there's a thud like someone's kicked him under the table. "Ow."

"No," Vance and Angel say at the same time, looking at each other, then Steve, then Carol.

Carol looks back at Steve, levelly. "Well," she mutters, "that explains a hell of a lot about you two." She raises her voice. "How long?"

Steve blinks. "Since the beginning," he says, because isn't that obvious? "He's put other people in the suit when Tony Stark and Iron Man needed to be in the same place at the same time, and Jim Rhodes filled in a few years ago when Tony was... indisposed—" he watches Carol's face twist more— "but he's always been Iron Man."

She's glaring at him. "No, I mean, how long have you known?"

He has to think about it. "Seven years, maybe?" That sounds about right. "I was one of the first Avengers to know." Carol's looking at him like this makes it worse. "He was going to tell you soon, he said."

"Yeah," Carol says, voice laced with bitterness. "I just bet he was."

No one has anything to say to that.

"Right," Steve says. "If we're all agreed that finding Iron Man is Avengers business, then let's move out."

Carol looks at him for a long time. "Just so you know, when we find him I'm going to give him a piece of my mind."

Steve stands up. "As long as he's alive and unharmed, I'll be happy. Whatever you say to him is between the two of you."

She wasn't always this angry, Steve thinks. Something is wrong.

Well, when they find Tony, Tony can tell him.

Steve lands the Quinjet just outside the factory grounds, and Pepper meets them at the gates.

"Captain," she says, tightly. "It's good to see you again. I wish it could be under better circumstances."

"That makes two of us," he says, as the team follows her inside.

"We've shut down production," she tells him, turning back to talk to him as they all walk, a ragged group proceeding across the factory floor. "We've got employees pulling and reviewing security tapes, trying to track his last known location. There are—" she pauses and bites her lip. "You have to understand, it's a newly-reopened plant. That's half the reason Tony was here, for initial inspection. There are still coverage gaps in the security system. Not all the cameras are up yet."

Someone knew, Steve thinks, sickened. Someone knew that fact and they used it. They planned this. This was deliberate.

Steve motions to Vance, who holds up the tracker.

"We've got a bead on his identicard," Angel says. Steve wonders if her microwave-based powers help with that. "It's on the premises."

He hears Vision on the comms; they've left him an open channel at the mansion. "I will interface with the factory's systems and begin review of the security footage."

Pepper looks at the group warily, and then over at Steve. Steve realizes that Angel has just attributed Iron Man's identicard to Tony, and Pepper's probably trying to figure out who knows what, and what it's safe to talk about.

"It's all right," Steve tells her. "They all know about him now."

Carol's still glaring.

Vance and Angel are leaning together over the tracker. "The card's just northwest of here, Captain," Angel says.

"Okay," Steve calls out. "Let's find it. Everyone follow Justice and Firestar."

As they walk, Pepper turns to him and starts talking. "If they all know about him, Captain, then I might as well tell you: we don't know which identity he was in when he disappeared."

Steve sees the problem. The people who go after Iron Man and the people who go after Tony Stark... well, they're not necessarily the same people. But they might be. If it's Iron Man, it's likely to be a superhero with a vendetta—a higher-powered threat, most probably, but one that Tony in the suit will definitely be equipped to handle. But if it's Tony Stark, and if it's still a superhuman threat... there's a problem. Steve himself trained Tony to fight, but when it comes down to it, Tony is physically a baseline human. And Steve loves him, Steve thinks the world of him, but out of the suit there are a lot of things Tony won't be able to stand up to. He just can't.

"Historically," she says, "people who kidnap Tony as Tony want specific things from him. Ransom, sometimes. But more frequently it's—"

"Weapons development," he finishes, sighing, because, oh, yes, he knows this about Tony. The world knows this about Tony.

He also knows Tony will never give in.

In some ways, he tells himself, it might be better if Tony were the one who was kidnapped. Iron Man's foes don't necessarily want him alive; Tony's foes certainly will. Tony can't build them anything if he's dead, after all, and if it's money they're after they'll need proof of life. And Tony won't break, because Tony doesn't break, but that doesn't mean they can't make life very unpleasant for him.

They're in a deserted section of the factory when the tracker beeps.

"Over here!" Vance says.

Clint nudges him and then gestures upward. "No security cameras in this section, Cap," he says, with the confidence of someone who's spent a few years on the wrong side of the law.

Tony had walked right into a trap.

Steve turns the corner, and there's Iron Man's identicard in its case, flashing, in the middle of the concrete floor. It's surrounded by a mess of Tony's personal belongings: wallet, phone, keys. They clearly turned out his pockets; they must have guessed he'd had a tracker, but didn't know what it was.

Or Tony could have emptied his pockets when he'd become his own bodyguard, Steve tells himself, looking around for signs that Tony changed into the armor.

Over in the shadows, he finds the wrong sign entirely. Tony's briefcase is lying behind a pallet, as if flung there. Steve picks it up. It has a thumbprint lock, but if it's the case Steve thinks it is, his own hands will open it. He tugs off his glove and sets his thumb to the lock. The case clicks open. And, yep—it's Tony's armor. Untouched. Unused.

Whoever took him took Tony, not Iron Man.

It will be all right, he tells himself. They took Tony, and they'll want him alive. That means Steve can get him back.

There are a lot of ways to be alive that aren't particularly encouraging. He tries to push that thought away. That won't help anything.

He becomes aware of a few of the Avengers gathered in a tight knot, a little further down from where Tony's belongings are scattered.

"Nay," Thor says, "it will distress him unduly if—"

"He deserves to know," Wanda tells Thor.

Deserves to know what? Steve walks over to the rest of the group. They're all staring at the ground, so Steve looks down.

There's a smear of blood, dried brown across the pale concrete. Tony's blood.

He thinks he's going to be sick.

A heavy hand settles on his shoulder. Thor.

"We shall find him for thee, Captain," Thor says. "The Avengers will prevail."

They have to, he thinks, and he thinks about Tony, unarmored and bleeding and alone.

The worst part is the helplessness.

The review of the security footage, substantially aided by Vision's involvement, makes plain what Steve already knew was going to be the truth—there's nothing on the cameras. Tony's abductors obviously knew exactly what they were going to be dealing with. Either they'd cut wires, timed their exit and entry, or teleported out—but they'd planned this, down to the second. They knew what they were doing.

Even Wanda's magic won't help find Tony; she's been having difficulty with her powers, what with the... situation... with Wonder Man.

No, the only thing Steve can do is wait.

Whoever took Tony will want them to know it. There will be news. There has to be.

In the meantime, he's too distracted for the Combat Simulation Room to be a wise idea, so he heads to the basement and works the heavy bag until his hands start to bleed under the tape. He's dimly aware that this isn't good, but he's having a hell of a time coming up with anything better.

"Hey," someone says from behind him, and Steve turns to find a familiar figure standing in the doorway, bobbed hair swinging in her face. She's wearing a costume he hasn't seen in a long time, that blue and white one. She's clearly been redesigning. "I thought I'd find you down here," Jan adds.

She knows where to find him when he gets like this. She doesn't have to say it. They've been Avengers together long enough.

Steve makes himself smile. "Reconsidering your decision, Wasp? Are you and Hank here to join the team?"

She shakes her head. "No. Came to see you, actually." She shifts her weight. "I'd been meaning to come see you earlier, you and Tony, when I heard the news about you two." And then she grimaces. "And then I heard the... other news, and I figured I'd better come anyway. I thought maybe you could use a friend. I thought maybe I could use a friend," she says. And then she steps inside and looks up. "Are you doing all right?"

He opens his mouth to say yes, to say that he's fine, and he's horrified to find that no words come out of him. He stands there, open-mouthed, and he feels everything go tight in his chest and throat all at once.

"Oh, Steve," she says, and before he can do anything else she's hugging him, hard. Her head comes up to the middle of his chest.

"I'm okay," he forces himself to say. "We'll find him. We will."

Jan steps back and holds him at arm's length. "Doesn't mean we can't miss him. And you most of all, I'm sure."

He knows that out of all of them, Jan's known Tony the longest—she knew him even before the Avengers formed. And now, Steve's finding himself remembering, they dated once. It had been right after Steve had found out Tony was Iron Man and Hank and Jan had separated; Tony had asked Jan out without telling her he was Iron Man. And Steve had harangued him until he told her the truth, since that absolutely wasn't fair to Jan, at which point Jan had broken up with him, both for the lying and for being a teammate, or so Steve had gathered.

It hadn't been that long after that—after another bad break-up—that Tony had started drinking again, and that—well, that's one of those nightmares that Steve never, ever wants to relive. Tony had lost everything. For God's sake, they'd found him almost frozen to death in a blizzard.

Steve's tried not to think about what it could do to Tony if this doesn't work out between the two of them.

Now he has something even worse to contemplate.

"I miss him a lot," he says, finally.

She smiles. "He's a good boyfriend, isn't he?" she asks, and it seems they can talk about this after all.

"I haven't got any complaints."

"He was very romantic," Jan says, a little dreamily. "Always the way I'd thought he would be. A little intense, but the kind of guy who really wants to make sure you're having a good time, you know? And a great kisser."

"A great everything," Steve agrees.

Jan giggles. "Yes, well. I didn't, so I'll take your word for it."

He doesn't know why that surprises him, that Tony didn't sleep with Jan. He knows that Tony's been with fewer people than most people think. He wonders what that says about Tony's feelings for him.

"How do you handle it?" Steve asks. "Being with an Avenger, I mean? Knowing that on a frequent basis there might be—" he waves his hands— "this."

"Honestly?" Jan grimaces. "With Tony, I couldn't. You know that. But with Hank?" She purses her lips. "I guess... you always know that you're going to win. That you're going to survive. Because you're Avengers, and you always do."

He knows he's usually the one who makes these speeches, but sometimes he needs to hear them.

"We'll get him back for you, Cap," she says. "You'll see."

He sleeps in Tony's bed again, alone. Somehow his own bed seems lonelier, and he can't shake the irrational belief, the dream that Tony will come back here, that this is where he'll find him.

He wakes alone again.

The next day they still have no leads, and he's aching to do something, anything, to find Tony.

That's when the message comes in.

He's checking his Avengers email on Tony's laptop when a new message pops up... from Tony. The subject line reads, simply, "Tony Stark."

It's from Tony's corporate email address, the Stark Solutions one, not Iron Man's Avengers address. He doesn't know enough about computers himself to know if it's really from Tony's account—he knows they can fake that—but if it's real, and Tony's somehow given up his passwords, that's a really, really bad sign. Either way, this isn't good.

Cold sweat beads on Steve's skin, and he clicks on the message.

The first thing that loads is a video file. There's a black and white blur as the camera focuses on something held just in front of the lens. A newspaper. Today's date. This is proof of life, he realizes. This is what he's been waiting for. There's no sound, but then, they don't really need any.

The unseen hand lets the paper fall, and the camera blurs and zooms, refocusing. There's a shadowy room, white-walled. More metal—it looks like chains—glints at the edges of the frame, and the camera zooms in closer on the man in the middle of the room. He's naked, curled in on himself, chained to the wall by one wrist, hiding his face from the camera. But it's Tony. Steve knows.

Someone offscreen must say something, because Tony raises his head. His eyes are wide, and he's not quite tracking. His gaze wanders around the room, unfocused, and then finds the camera. Tony pauses like he's listening, and Steve imagines they're telling him what the video is for. They must be telling him that they're sending this to him, that Steve is going to see this—because now Tony looks terrified. And he's never this afraid for himself.

Tony's free hand, the unshackled one, stretches out toward the camera, and his eyes are wider now, his face pale.

Steve can see Tony's mouth soundlessly shape words.

Don't, Tony says. Don't come

And then a booted foot swings into frame, the screen blurs once more, and the message ends.

Steve realizes that his hands are clenched into fists, and he has to stop and breathe for several seconds before the impulse to punch the laptop passes, because they have Tony, God, they have Tony and they're hurting Tony—

He scrolls down.

The rest of the email says COME ALONE. And there's a set of coordinates.

It's a trap. Of course it's a trap. They want Captain America.

Well, he thinks grimly, then they can goddamn well have Captain America, and he goes to suit up.

He's going to bring Tony home.

The coordinates turn out to resolve to somewhere in the middle of Connecticut, maybe a couple hours' drive away. As Steve gets his shield and heads for his bike, he starts to wonder if maybe he should at least tell someone where he's going. But he already knows that backup is out. Carol would have been his first choice, but she's— well, he has no idea what she is. Unreliable, and that's not even the half of it. Wanda is still having issues with her powers. Vision is still incorporeal. Thor is presumably off being a doctor in his other identity. He has no idea where Clint is. Jan was only visiting. And Vance and Angel are, he thinks privately, too new to be up to what is presumably going to be a smash-and-grab base raid.

He'll be okay by himself. He's taken down entire AIM and Hydra bases by himself. Besides, the message said to come alone, and he doesn't want to chance Tony's captors taking it out on Tony if Steve fails to comply. And he'll have his identicard on him—if it really goes south and he actually needs backup, the rest of the team can hop on a Quinjet and be there presumably in minutes. The Quinjets can be that fast when they have to be.

He can do this. It'll be easy. All he has to do is rush in, kick down a few doors, and get Tony out of there. Whoever's behind this, they can't be that tough—not if they presumably didn't think they could take down Iron Man.

The ride north is fast enough. It's a pleasant day—blue skies, nice breeze, the verdant foliage of summer. He's heading north through pine trees, and when he finally gets off the highway he's heading through more forests, down increasingly-narrow roads, until he's on a gravel trail in the middle of the woods and can hardly see the sunlight through the branches above him. Dead ahead is a rusted, chain link fence and what looks like concrete stairs down into a hillside. Maybe some kind of bunker. It looks abandoned, but Steve knows better.

He parks the bike behind a stand of trees and scales the fence as fast as he can. He can't see any security—no cameras, no guards outside, but he's done this for long enough that he's gotten into the habit of assuming they're watching him anyway.

The stairs lead down to a metal door. It's unmarked, which probably means it's not Hydra, as they wouldn't have been able to resist a few tentacled-skull designs by now. They're not exactly subtle.

There's only one way to find out who's behind this.

Steve raises his shield and breaks the door down.

He surprises the two guards on the other side of the door, taking them both out neatly with a single swing of his shield. Guns clatter to the concrete floor.

He looks down at their unconscious bodies. Definitely not Hydra. And they're not AIM either; they certainly aren't the usual yellow-suited scientists. These two are dressed for combat, wearing dark fatigues, tactical vests—and dark hoods over their heads and shoulders, with only cut-outs for eyes. The overall effect is incredibly incongruous, like a special forces Halloween ghost costume. There's no unit affiliation or rank insignia save numbers on the hoods, in the middle of their foreheads. The taller one is 117, the shorter 294.

This seems familiar, Steve thinks. He's seen this before. Where has he seen this before?

No time for that. He has to find Tony.

He looks around—and there's a map on the wall by the door. He grins in satisfaction. It's so much nicer when they make it easy for him. The map doesn't say anything about who these people are, of course, but that doesn't matter right now. All that matters is getting Tony away safely. The detention levels begin on sublevel three, the map says. Time to head downstairs.

The guards are presumably on some kind of schedule and he knows he has only so long until they're missed. He's just found the stairwell, which sadly only takes him as far as sublevel two, when the lights turn red and a klaxon starts to blare. That was fast.

He's a little surprised to find the door open, but as soon as he steps inside it slams behind him, heavily, and locks.

"Lockdown," a mechanical voice says over the speakers. "Intruder alert. Containment procedures in effect."

It's a long corridor, a straight shot to another heavy door at the end, and as Steve watches, every door on the floor clicks shut. And then, a few inches off the ground, red lights flicker to life, an interlocking pattern of lasers shining in squares all over the floor. Cut the beams, and—well, Steve's sure that whatever happens would be unpleasant.

They clearly don't even know him, do they?

Steve takes a second to stow his shield on his back and look over the floor. Then he takes a deep breath and jumps. His first leap takes him over three of the squares. He twists in midair, and comes down in a handspring in the middle of the corridor, pushing off and bouncing up again, flying through the air. He lands perfectly on the other side of the room. That was easy.

The next room has a crumbling floor—did they really build a pit in?—that looks like it will drop him straight to the detention level. Probably right into a cell. That's not exactly ideal. He runs as fast as he can and nimbly avoids the two tripwires just before the door at the end, which is off to the left, and thank God, it's the stairwell.

Tony will be on the next level, he tells himself.

The stairwell has three more goons—numbers 301, 46, and 218—who are wearing gas masks under their hoods. The air of the room is tinted an ominous green. He holds his breath, and when he knocks out 301 he pulls off their hood, and then the gas mask—301 turns out to be a young woman—because either he or Tony are going to need it.

He knocks 46 and 218 halfway down the stairs and doesn't even feel bad.

He wonders which number, which hooded figure, which of them was the one who chained Tony up, the one who kicked him, the one who made him bleed on the pavement, the one who took him away.

The next room is some kind of small antechamber. The gas is filtering out through vents near the floor, so Steve drops the mask and raises his shield. The door to the following room is more solid than most of the rest of the ones Steve has seen in this base, as he would expect for prisoner holding. He stares at the door, trying to figure out how best to apply leverage, when he hears it.

Tony's voice.

It's too distorted, too muffled by the walls between them, to make out anything other than help me, but that's all Steve needs to hear.

He hefts his shield and smashes the door open with every ounce of strength in him, because Tony needs him.

On the other side of the door, this level of the base is a cell block. On either side of him are metal-barred cells, cells and more cells, all empty. No guards. No nothing.

"Cap!" Tony calls out, and there's a hacking, wet cough, like he's bleeding, like he's choking. "Over here!"

To the left, Steve thinks. Not far now.

"Tony!" he yells. "Tony, hold on! I'm here!"

He turns down the nearest corridor and he's running, he's running past empty cells. None of them have Tony. He's getting to the end of the corridor. Tony has to be here. He heard him. But he's running out of space.

The corridor dead-ends into a solid wall. The cell on the left is empty. The cell on the right... has a little radio transmitter sitting in the middle of it.

Tony's voice issues from the radio. "Help me!"

"What the hell?" Steve says.

It was a trap. It was all a trap. Whoever set this up knew he'd get this far. It was supposed to be easy. They were luring him here.

He doesn't realize what the high-pitched hissing is until he feels the sharp pinprick of the dart in his back. Not a problem, he thinks, as he reaches to pull it out. Everyone underestimates his metabolism. He'll shake it off in a bit.

His hands don't seem to be working right.

His vision is starting to blur.

This might be a problem.

He has to get to Tony.

He rips out the dart. It feels like there's no strength left in him now.

There are footsteps behind him, and he tries to turn, but he can't quite move. Another minute, he tells himself. It was a big dose, like they knew how much would affect him. They were prepared for this. They knew he was coming. Just one more minute and he can shake it.

He doesn't think he has another minute.

I'm sorry, Tony, he thinks.

Something heavy collides with the back of his head, and everything goes dark.

When Steve wakes, he immediately wishes he hadn't. The first thing he's conscious of is the pounding of his skull, and then the stickiness of drying blood on the side of his head, trickling down his temple. The cowl is pulled back; he thinks there might be blood in his hair. He's upright, against a wall, and he has enough proprioception back to tell that he's been shackled to it spread-eagle. Whoever did this to him is definitely into classic villainy.

There's an awful, familiar lassitude in his limbs, an ache all the way down into his bones. He knows what this is. This is how it feels when his abilities are gone. He pushes against one of the manacles, and he can feel that there's so much less strength in him. He can tell that the healing factor is definitely gone. Everything hurts. He's aware of something around his left wrist, a metal cuff or bracelet, warm with body heat, underneath his glove. The way it fits makes the manacle on that side tighter. It feels like everything is leeching out of him where the bracelet touches him, like a slow poison spreading through his body, and he supposes that's where the power dampener is.

It's ingenious, he has to admit. Whoever they are, they planned for this. For him.

It was a trap, and he knew it was a trap, and he purposefully walked right into it. He just wasn't expecting them to be this good.

And then he opens his eyes.

He can't quite believe it, at first.

It's a supervillain's—well, wet dream is a more impolite description than he's usually inclined to, but in this case Steve can only conclude that it is, in fact, a representation of someone's very particular sexualized power fantasy, because the room is half workspace and half BDSM dungeon.

There's the section here where he's chained, of course; there are restraints at varying heights and something on the floor and ceiling that looks like an emitter array for an energy barrier, though it's inactive. Rudimentary sanitary facilities in the corner, behind a half-height wall, suggest that his captors might at some point let him out of the chains and keep him behind the bars.

And then there's the rest of the place.

The workspace half of the room looks like something even Tony would be jealous of, he thinks, and then he stops, heartsick, because he's failed Tony.

There's a massive plush chair set up with an array of screens surrounding it, as well as long workbenches. There's a small fabrication area, then desks with drawers, with who knows what in them. There's a smaller rolling chair by one of the desks. A mug of pens and pencils is holding down a stack of blueprints, with a swing lamp tilted over them. There's another mug. It's probably coffee, although right now Steve can only smell blood. It looks like the occupant of the room has just stepped away and will be back any minute now.

On the closest table to Steve is his shield. It's tossed there, like it's any old piece of metal, and he grits his teeth.

Next to his shield are the complete contents of his belt pouches, including his identicard, which sits there, dark and deactivated. They've turned it off.

Steve realizes now that he left and didn't tell anyone where he was going.

This could be very bad.

He turns his gaze to the other half of the room and realizes that it's about to get much worse.

There's a St. Andrew's Cross taking up most of one corner of the room. It's a bright metal X, with chains and cuffs dangling from the top of it. More cuffs sit at the bottom. Steve's mouth goes dry, and his brain fights with itself, a collision between the actual fond associations he has with things very much like this, and the reality of the fact that what his captors plan to do with him is going to be far from pleasant.

The wall behind the cross is mirrored. Presumably they'll want him to see every detail. Or they'll want to see him fall apart themselves, he thinks, and he shudders in his bonds.

On the adjacent wall, of course, are the whips. Whips, paddles, crops, floggers—everything Steve can think of to hit someone with is well-represented. They have quite a collection.

There's a hook on the ceiling by the cross. On the floor underneath it are several coiled ropes of varying widths and colors, and another pile of chains. They're all set up for suspension bondage.

A small, half-hysterical voice in his head wonders if they'll let him have a safeword.

There's a noise outside the room. Someone's coming.

The door rattles and swings open.

The figure who steps inside is definitely wearing a lot of black leather, and Steve's first thought is that it's Whiplash or Blacklash or whatever Mark Scarlotti is calling himself today, since that's the only villain Steve can think of who routinely dresses like he's going to the Folsom Street Fair.

And then Steve does a double-take, because that's Tony.

Tony's wearing—well, very little. And it's all kinky. He's got fishnet stockings on his arms and legs. He's wearing something that looks a hell of a lot like a leather thong, although Steve can't exactly see the backside of him to confirm this. He has approximately one-quarter of a shirt on, also leather. Several strategically placed leather straps spread outward from an O-ring in the middle of his chest, and other straps clip onto those in intriguing ways, showing off Tony's musculature, inviting the eye to keep looking. It looks like there's a whip wrapped around his waist. He has leather gloves to his elbows and an impressively-flattering pair of thigh boots. He's armed, too; there's a handgun in a holster on one of his boots, and he's also carrying a sheathed combat knife and something that might be a set of throwing knives.

In any other context, this would be the ultimate realization of essentially every fantasy Steve has had for the past several years. This is everything he has ever wanted, with the person he most wants it with.

In reality, he has no idea what's going on.

He wonders if their captors dressed Tony like this, because that sure wasn't how he looked on the video. He wonders why the hell they'd dress him like this.

Those are thoughts for another time. The important thing is getting both of them out of here. Whatever they did to him, Tony must have broken free, clearly. Tony broke free and came to find him and now they can leave as soon as Tony gets him out of this bondage.

Tony's not looking in his direction, and Steve rattles his chains.

"Tony!" he calls out. He's struggling against his bonds, but Tony will have him free soon enough, he knows. "Tony, I'm here! I came to rescue you! I came to save you! Just get me out of this and we can go home!"

Tony raises his head... and it's not Tony.

Oh, it's Tony's body, but whoever is currently occupying it is not the Tony Stark that Steve knows and loves. Tony's eyes are bright, and his mouth curls in a hard, cruel smirk, and God help him, the first thing Steve thinks is that it would be incredibly hot if it were really Tony. But it isn't.

Brainwashing, Steve thinks, wretchedly, brainwashing and mind control. There's been a lot of that lately. Morgan le Fay. The Squadron Supreme. And now this.

He has to save Tony... from himself.

He's made so many mistakes. The Avengers don't know where he is. No one is coming for him.

"Oh, Captain," Tony says. His voice is low and almost sultry. A purr. "I'm afraid you're not going home."

Head held high and proud, Tony strides across the room and comes to a halt in front of Steve. He tugs off his left glove with slow deliberation, lingering on every movement, watching Steve's eyes, in silence. Steve waits for Tony, Tony who isn't Tony, to hit him, to cut him, to do— whatever it is he's going to do. Clearly, he can do whatever he wants to him, but in a way Steve never wanted.

Steve holds his breath and it takes everything in him not to flinch and twist away when Tony reaches out—

—and cups his palm against Steve's face.

The caress is soft, warm, gentle, and Steve is abruptly reminded of Tony as he saw him yesterday, the last time he saw him. Tony touched his face like this before he left, he thinks, and desire and revulsion collide in his gut, because everything he knows tells him Tony is safety and security and home and— it's wrong.

Tony's eyes are the same arresting dark blue, now beginning to cloud with regret—for what, Steve doesn't know. Tony swipes his thumb through the blood that has now gathered on Steve's cheekbone. It's starting to dry, but it's still a little tacky. He pouts, a disappointed moue. Tony's careful, like he's afraid it will hurt him, like he's checking the severity of the wound. God knows they've done that for each other after battle often enough.

And then Tony smirks again, cruel and cold. Nasty. Heartless.

It's not him, Steve tells himself. It's not Tony. Even if this... entity... has some of Tony's mannerisms, it isn't him. Tony wouldn't do this.

Steve has endured so much in his life, but he doesn't know how he's going to make it through this.

"I'm so glad you're here, Captain," Tony says, still smiling, standing so close that Steve can feel Tony's breath against his skin. It's incredibly intimate. Like he thinks he belongs here. "You and I are going to have so much fun together."