The Avengers Vacation Rotation had seemed like a great idea in theory. It’s a lot to ask people, even superheroes, to be on call 24/7/365, especially when at least three of them had jobs outside of the whole saving the world thing. And so Steve had drawn up a schedule and instated a rotation, first one Avenger off for two week stints every six weeks or so, and then two when their ranks swelled and they had overlap in specialties.
But the team very quickly noticed that there was one person who never, never managed to be on Vacation Rotation. Steve, for all his concern for the others, was always on call, always strategizing, always making contingencies, always on the phone with Fury or Hill or other higher-ups the other Avengers never even interacted with.
“Something needs to be done,” Natasha said, perched on a bar stool, beer in hand, Clint draped over one shoulder and Bucky over the other. Bruce, leaning on the other side of the counter with a steaming mug of tea in hand, nodded.
“It’s not healthy, even for someone with Steve’s immune system and metabolism. It wears on the mind and that’s something not even the super soldier serum could help with.”
“What do you have in mind?” asked Jan, hand flying over a sketchpad even as she looked up at the rest of him.
“Well,” said Bucky, tilting his head, “we’re gonna need Tony’s help. He’s the one with the jet. And JARVIS, to give him fake emails. And maybe Hill to corroborate.”
Clint snorted. “Fury hasn’t taken a vacation since 1974. He wouldn’t see the point. Hell, he’d probably rat us out.”
“Ok. Ok,” said Jan, nodding. “I like it. And maybe we can kill two birds with one stone.”
Sam raised his eyebrows and Natasha smirked. Clint’s brow puckered and he tilted his head to the side. “What’s the other stone?”
All the other Avengers turned and gave him a disbelieving look. Sam grinned and shook his head. “Man, you are the most oblivious moron.”
“Excuse me? Who’s the guy with the callsign ‘Hawkeye’ huh? I see like fucking Legolas.”
“Don’t let Tony hear you saying that. He’ll never let you live it down.”
“Hear him saying what?” Tony said, stumbling in looking bleary eyed and half-asleep.
“Someone’s got his grouchy pants on,” Rhodey mumbled from the kitchen table, and across from him, Carol and Wanda snickered. Tony groused, but he didn’t say anything, shuffling to the espresso machine and staring at the copper like his very life depended on the black liquid already dripping into a cup.
“JARVIS, don’t ever leave me,” Tony said, and JARVIS responded, “I wouldn’t dream of it, sir.”
Shortly after, Steve strutted in, shirt pristine in spite of the fact that his cheeks were rosy and his hair unkempt from what had clearly been a long run. They all watched as their Captain crossed to the refrigerator right next to Tony, digging around until he extracted a quart of milk.
“Long night, Tony?”
Tony’s grumpy-cat face, which had been so firmly entrenched for them, disappeared and he grinned tiredly at Steve. “Yeah, but I engineered a new elastic polymer that I think we could use to trap baddies without hurting them.”
Steve’s smile brightened and he clapped a hand on Tony’s shoulder. “That sounds great. We should discuss it later. After you’ve had some shuteye.”
Tony practically wagged like a dog under the praise and Clint’s eyes widened. “Oh! That’s the other bird!” Natasha and Bucky both smacked him upside the head as Steve and Tony continued to gaze at each other, grinning like idiots.
“Come on, Cap. Chop chop! The Secretary of Defense waits for no one.”
“I’m not the one who was ten minutes late,” Steve said, hefting his duffle higher up on his shoulder. Together they climbed up the jet bridge and slipped into Tony’s private jet. In a matter of minutes, the doors were shut and the jet was taxiing, Steve watching the runway slip by.
“Is there any reason we couldn’t take the quinjet?” he asks, glancing over at Tony, who unusually has neither tablet nor phone in hand.
“Hill said there was possible Hydra activity in Italy, so she wanted the jet on standby for deployment.”
Steve frowned at that. “She didn’t say anything in the last briefing. Maybe I should…”
“Secretary of Defense, Steve. Not an easy reschedule. And I think the situation just popped up late last night. Well past any well-to-do senior citizen’s bedtime.”
“Ha ha,” Steve said, but his lips twisted with mirth.
“You’ve gotta trust them, Steve. Sam and Bucky have both been studying tactics with you, and it’s not like Rhodey’s unseasoned in command. They’ll be fine.” Tony leaned forward to pat Steve’s knee reassuringly as the jet took off into the air.
For a while, they sat in companionable silence, and Steve surreptitiously watched as Tony still did not take out any work. The lack of activity made him antsy so he dug into his own duffle, looking for his tablet. A tiny thread of panic zinged through him when he couldn’t find it. He searched more frantically, and quietly cursed when the tablet still didn’t make itself known.
“Problem?” Tony asked lightly, stretching and putting his hands behind his head. Steve’s eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“What did you do?”
“What ever could you mean?” Tony asked, his smile slipping toward impish.
“I know I put my tablet in here before we left. I distinctly remember putting it in its case and putting that case in this duffle bag.”
“Well, maybe you’re misremembering. I’ve heard that happens once you round the bend of 90 years old.”
“Tony, really. What did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything. The rest of the team? Well, I can’t speak for them.”
Steve sighed lost between exasperation and amusement, and reached for his jacket to find his phone. It too was missing. “Nat,” he said, remembering the way she’d hugged him before he took off. He should have known better. She wasn’t much for hugging, the scheming pickpocket.
“Ok. What’s going on?”
“You’ll see,” Tony said, leaning back in his seat. “Just sit back and enjoy the flight, Steve.”
“We’re not going to DC, are we?”
“Well, define DC.”
Steve put his face in his hands and started laughing.
Four hours into the flight and Tony was fairly certain that they’d miscalculated in taking technology away from Cap. He’d lost count some time ago, but he pas pretty sure that Steve had done at least 200 circuits back and fourth down the length of the jet, pacing like a caged jaguar.
“Steve, sit. Vacation. Relaxation. Do you remember how to relax? It’s that thing where you don’t work. You just kind of sit there and take it all in.”
“I don’t know how you’re not going crazy. You’re more married to technology than any man I’ve ever met. And what if something goes wrong? What if more aliens invade? How are they going to reach us?”
“Steve,” Tony said, reaching out and catching his wrist on his next pass. “You need to trust them to be ok. You need to trust the world to be ok.”
“Last time I did that, Hydra tried to kill 20,000 people.”
Tony winced and let go, but Steve slumped into his seat anyway, chin on his fist, expression distant and worried and contemplative.
Grasping for ideas, Tony said, “What did you do for fun before you were Captain America? How did you spend your time?”
Steve raised an eyebrow and gave Tony a self-deprecating smile. “I spent a hell of a lot of it in bed being sick. And working.”
“Don’t lie to me, Steve. I know fun wasn’t invented in the 1960s.”
“No, it was invented in 1952.”
Tony snickered and glanced down, feeling self-conscious now that Steve’s full attention was on him. “When I was a kid, I played superhero a lot. When I wasn’t trying to take appliances apart.”
“Yeah. I…I had a Bucky Bear and everything.”
Steve snorted. “Buck’s not gonna be happy when he hears that.”
“You wouldn’t tell him, would you, Steve? I value my fingernails.”
“He wouldn’t do much. Maybe just shave your goatee in your sleep or something.”
Tony shivered and looked away, quite sure that James Barnes could probably shave every hair on his body without ever waking him if he was so inclined. “Seriously, Steve. You must’ve had some fun in your life.”
Steve’s eyes grew distant and he looked out in the gathering blue of the sky, night drawing on the closer they got to Europe. “Buck took me out dancing a lot, but I didn’t get invited onto the floor much. Mostly just watched from the sidelines. For the best really. I had two left feet, and the girls who were nice enough to dance with me usually regretted it pretty quick. I…it wasn’t exactly fun, but I drew a lot.”
“The Smithsonian has a few of your sketch books,” Tony said, steepling his fingers in front of his mouth. “I remember thinking they looked really good.”
“Oh god, don’t remind me,” moaned Steve, dropping his head. “Those were never meant for public consumption. It’s a good thing they never found the pinups I did for some of Buck’s coworkers on the sly.”
Tony perked at that, leaning forward in his chair. “Did I hear right? Captain America drew risqué pictures for salty dock workers?”
Steve smirked. “Well, fun may’ve been invented in 1952, but sex was invented in 1856. It was old hat by the time I was a kid.”
Tony grinned. “Guess the dock workers weren’t the only salty characters.”
Steve shrugged and looked around the cabin, his leg jiggling with restlessness. “They paid pretty well for the drawings. Some of the boys’d pony up two dollars just to get a couple of sketches of a girl in her skivvies.”
“My mind is blown. I’ll never look at you the same way again.”
Steve grinned, but he was jittering like a kid on caffeine, and eventually he rose and restarted his trek back and forth down the cabin. “You still haven’t told me where we’re going.”
“Well, we’re about halfway there. I suppose I can let the cat out of the bag. Denmark, Copenhagen.”
“Clint certainly thought so.”
“Remind me to thank him by given him extra sparring rounds when we get back.”
“Will do, Cap.”
Steve paused, and studied Tony a moment, his eyes softening like he was studying a particularly detailed picture. “Why do you still call me Cap?”
“Because it’s your title…” Tony said slowly, but he couldn’t quite meet Steve’s eyes. Instead, his gaze was focused on a spot over Steve’s right shoulder, like a kid trying to hide something from his parents.
“Tony, we’ve been working together for three years now. I think you could call me ‘Steve’ on the regular. You know. When we’re not in the field.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, I never call anyone by their name. Hawkeye’s Legolas or Katniss or She-Elf and Hulk’s Jolly Green and Nat’s Nat because I value my testicles. It’s not just you.”
Steve didn’t say anything, but he gave Tony his wounded puppy dog look—the self same look he gave Thor when Thor’d eaten the last of Steve’s lo mein, and the look he used when he discovered Clint’s boxers on the coffee table. The look he used when Natasha went above and beyond the threats he was comfortable making, especially to “innocents” like paparazzi. It cracked her in two seconds, and it cracked Tony in about two nanoseconds.
“Defense mechanism,” he said finally, looking out the window so he wouldn’t have to look at Steve’s disappointed face anymore. “You know? People—you let ‘em use your name, you use their name, that’s an opening. A little hole they wriggle in through. The times I’ve let people wriggle in…” He shrugged helplessly, not willing to elaborate. “What about you? Why is it you can’t stand to take a vacation? Why is it you’re jonesing for some Avenging like a caffeine addict who hasn’t had his morning cup’a’joe.”
Mouth twisting, Steve fixed Tony with a look. “You’re one to talk about jonesing for coffee, Mr. Three-espressos-in-six-minutes.”
“Don’t deflect, Mr. Hi-Fury-any-new-terrorist-cells-today.”
Steve sighed and paced, stretching his arms over his head in a way that nearly made Tony forget he’d asked a question.
“Maybe it’s the Catholic guilt,” Steve said. “Or the Irish blood. Being a Depression kid. I dunno. All I know is when I’m not working, I can’t get work out of my head. Sitting around on my ass watching TV, that doesn’t feel like I’m living up to what I’m capable of. A lot of people sacrificed a lot for me to be Captain America. Dr. Erskine died. Buck…he gave everything to support me. Peggy. I owe them.”
Tony stood at that and caught Steve’s arm again, holding him still in the center of the cabin. “Don’t get me wrong. I understand the feeling—owing people for everything you’ve done and everything they’ve done for you—but the people you just talked about, they’d want you to be happy right? Bucky wants you to be happy, doesn’t he?”
“Well, sure but—“
“And part of being happy is taking care of yourself, not just the rest of the world. Believe me, I learned that the hard way. Am still learning that the hard way. So I know it’s tough, but maybe let the Avenging go for a bit. Just for a couple of days. Focus on what you need.”
Steve stood completely still for a moment, eyes boring into Tony’s, and then he glanced down. Only then did Tony realize how deeply in each other’s personal space they were, barely six inches separating them, sharing the same air. Steve was silent, but his expression was battlefield ready, mouth and jaw hard, eyes inscrutable.
Tony swallowed hard around the sudden lump in his throat and tried to calm his breathing and heart, which were rapidly giving him away. “So, uh, you should think about that. About what you need. On the trip.”
Steve nodded slowly and eased his grip, but he didn’t remove his hand entirely. Instead he eased it up Tony’s forearm to his elbow, cupping the point of the bone, fingers tapping against Tony’s tricep.
“You know, Nat said something to me when she was apparently stealing my phone.”
“What, uh…what? Did she say. Nat. She said?”
“She said I should take care of you on our trip.”
“She, she did?” Tony’s voice had risen to an embarrassingly high register and he was fairly sure that Steve was even closer than he’d been before, though Tony hadn’t seen him move at all.
“Yeah. I thought she just meant keep you from pissing off the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but now I think maybe she meant something a little different.”
Steve hummed and brought his other hand up, so he was cupping both of Tony’s elbows, guiding him until they were facing each other directly, chests nearly touching. “I know what she thinks I need.”
“What—“ Tony cleared his throat and tried to bring his voice back down to a semi-normal timbre “—what would that be?”
“She thinks I need a significant other.”
Tony’s voice shot back up into the stratosphere. “She does?”
Steve hummed again, his eyes half-lidded and his right hand tracing up Tony’s arm, fingers following lines of muscle and bone to shoulder and then neck and then jaw. He paused there, his hand fitting easily to Tony’s bones, fingers tickling gently at the hollow behind Tony’s ear. Very slowly, Steve closed his eyes and tilted his head down, and Tony froze like a deer in headlights, letting the kiss happen but not really knowing what to do about it.
After a moment, Steve pulled back, his ridiculous eyelashes catching Tony’s attention as they fluttered up and down. “Ok?” he asked hesitantly, fingers now ticking nervously against Tony’s skin.
Tony’s mouth flapped like a fish for a moment and then he started verbally spewing. “Ok? Ok. Super ok. I can’t, you just, what? Why? Steve, you’re, I mean I’m, I mean we, you gay? Oh god. Shit. Forget I just said that. I can, please, just uh, oh fuck.”
Steve chuckled, deep and soft in his throat, and ran his thumb over the ridge of Tony’s ear. “I’m bi, actually. But I’m gonna need you to clarify the first part.”
Huffing, Tony brought his hands to Steve’s face and pulled him in again, giving him a fierce, slightly off-center kiss.
“That clear enough for you?” he said against Steve’s lips.
They kissed for a while then, slipping back to Tony’s seat and tumbling down together, enjoying the freedom to touch, to taste, to listen to each other. After a while, Steve pulled back, grinning with strawberry pink lips, a flush high on his cheeks.
“So since I’m taking care of myself, does that mean I can have my tablet back?”
Tony groaned and clapped a hand over Steve’s mouth. “There will be absolutely no work of any kind on this trip. None. You hear me?”
Steve grinned beneath his fingers and then licked Tony’s palm. “You’d best keep me preoccupied then, Mr. Stark. Wouldn’t want a bored super soldier on your hands.”
Tony grinned and playfully walked his fingers up Steve’s chest to his shirt collar. “I think I’ll manage.