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Up to the Challenge

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It was nearly 4:00 a.m. when Tony finally finished his re-design of the HUD. He gave idle consideration to taking the suit out on a test flight, but a jaw-cracking yawn put a stop to those thoughts almost right away.

Tomorrow, he decided. Or, well, later today.

He took the elevator up to the first floor, then paused in the foyer, his nose wrinkled in disgust. There were footprints on the usually pristine marble. He was pretty sure they were Hulk footprints too, although he was less certain of the substance they were imprinted in. It looked like grape jelly, and he really, really didn't want to know.

But curiosity was a strong impulse, and so against his better judgment, Tony headed for the game room. Just inside the doorway, he stopped dead. Evidently the Hulk and the Thing had been at it again; the destruction encompassed just about the entire room. There were plates and beer bottles everywhere, and an almost empty bowl of pretzels balanced precariously on top of the couch, which was upside down. Judging by the size of the debris pile, at least three chairs had met their demise. Someone – probably Johnny Storm – had used poker chips to make a stylized representation of a dead body on the floor, like the Las Vegas version of a police chalk outline.

Tony sighed. Was it too much to ask that game night not turn into such a violent mess every time?

He paid a virtual army of people to keep the mansion clean, and they did an excellent job, but he could hardly expect them to deal with this. It was…well, it was embarrassing, damnit.

Muttering under his breath, he righted the overturned chairs that had survived the wreckage. He moved over to the couch and saw the cause of the purple goo that the Hulk had stepped in before kindly walking all around. A few of the small shot glasses still held the colorful remains of the Jello shots that were Clint's specialty – and that explained a lot about last night.

He gathered up the shot glasses, grimacing at how sticky some of them were. Every time he thought he had found them all, he discovered another one sitting on the windowsill, or shoved between the cushions of the couch. Some of them were beyond help though; there was plenty of broken glass on the floor that would need to be swept up, further proof of the delicacy the Hulk and the Thing showed his possessions.

Still murmuring dire threats, Tony carried his armful of shot glasses into the kitchen and let them tumble into the sink. It made him feel a tiny bit better to have them all in here, to think that he had made a dent in the unholy mess in the game room.

For a moment he looked down at the jumble of glasses. Then he turned on the water, put the plug in the drain, and began to hunt for some soap. To his left was the dishwasher, to his right the cabinets where apparently all kinds of pots and pans were stored. He hit the jackpot underneath the sink, finding enough cleaning products there to overcome even a Hulk-sized mess.

There was just something about cleaning up that he couldn't explain. He had been raised in wealth and he had never been told to go clean his room like most kids, but Tony still knew the value of a clean environment. He always kept his workshop tidy (okay the bots helped) but this was entirely different.

This was far more satisfying.

One by one he washed the shot glasses and set them on the counter to his right. The pile slowly grew larger, and Tony kept right on going, determined to get them all. He was elbow deep in suds when he heard heavy footsteps behind him. It was stupid, but he felt a sudden surge of guilt, and he whirled around quickly.

It was Steve. Of course. Naturally. Because who else would it be? Steve, who was staring at him in utter shock. "Tony?"

Judging by the open-mouthed astonishment on Steve's face, the sight of the great Tony Stark doing something as domestic as washing dishes was pretty startling. Tony tried to smile, to pass it off as nothing. "Hey, Cap." Soapy water dripped onto the floor in front of him.

Steve's expression went dark and shuttered. In a split second, he moved, so fast Tony barely saw him coming. All he knew was that one minute he was standing in front of the sink. In the next, Steve had hold of his upper arms and had manhandled him over to his left and shoved him up against the dishwasher.

And Steve looked pissed.

"Who are you?" Steve growled. "Show yourself! Where's Tony?!"

"Uh," Tony said.

Steve shook him like a rag doll. "Tell me!"

"It's me!" Tony yelped. He tried, uselessly of course, to pull free from Steve's grip. "I'm not a Skrull. Honest, Cap. It's just me."

Steve stopped shaking him and gave him a sideways look of deep suspicion. "Prove it."

Abruptly Tony realized how this looked. It was only a few weeks ago that Steve had been a prisoner on board a Skrull ship. Of course he would view any unusual behavior from his teammates as something to investigate. Not that Tony could blame him. He found himself scrutinizing everyone a little closer than usual these days, too.

Steve was still staring intently at him, demanding that he prove himself. And a sudden heady recklessness seized Tony. He had already broken the bonds of accepted behavior for Tony Stark tonight. If he was ever going to take a chance and do something really wild and crazy without emotion getting in the way, something he had longed to do for months now, this was the time.

He leaned in and kissed Steve.

Steve jerked in surprise. His hand tightened on Tony's arms. He didn't return the kiss, but he didn't pull away, either, and Tony took that as tacit approval to keep going.

Steve's mouth was hard and firm and very warm. Tony licked at his lower lip, encouraging him to open up to him. He deepened the kiss, applying pressure; he reached up and clutched at Steve's elbows, which was about all he could grab hold of while Steve still had his upper arms in such a vice grip.

The guttural sound Steve made then, way back in his throat, went all the way through Tony and made him catch his breath. He looked up and saw that Steve had closed his eyes. His lips were parted and pearled with moisture. A single lock of hair fell onto his forehead, softening the lines of face and making him look younger – and also incredibly beautiful.

"Steve." Tony sighed his name. His hands traveled upward, getting Steve's shirt wet along the way – and at last Steve relaxed the tight grip on his arms enough to let him explore.

He leaned in for another kiss, and ran his hands over the muscles of Steve's arms, up and around to cup his shoulders, feeling the incredible strength lying quiescent there now. His breath quickened as Steve finally opened his mouth and returned the kiss, his head tilting, pushing Tony back against the dishwasher with the force of his passion.

Now that he had overcome his initial shock, Steve was definitely in control. One hand rose to cup the back of Tony's neck, holding him close – not that Tony had any thoughts of going anywhere. He finally had what he had wanted for so long. He wasn't about to let this opportunity get away.

There was no telling when Steve would come to his senses and shove him away. He had to take advantage of this chance now while he still had it. With that in mind, he let himself explore Steve's back and shoulders, his hands never still, constantly moving. And Steve returned the move, his free hand sliding up Tony's arm to join the one still clasped about his neck before easing downward, following the curve of his spine to come to rest on his waist.

He could take the hint, even though he was pretty sure that Steve in his innocence hadn't meant it. Nonetheless he let his lower body cant forward until he made contact with Steve's groin.

And yes, Steve wanted this just as much as he did. There was no doubt about it now.

Steve's hips bucked. He picked his head up. "Tony." His eyes had gone a stormy dark blue.

"Shhh. Don't say anything." Tony didn't want to talk. Words would only ruin this. He claimed Steve's mouth again, his tongue twining with Steve's, his hands dipping low and easing beneath Steve's white button-down shirt.

The feel of Steve's skin beneath his fingers nearly made him groan. He had touched Steve before, of course, but those workout sessions and everyday casual touches meant absolutely nothing, he knew that now. This was real. This was what he had really wanted. He skated his fingertips upward, pushing Steve's shirt up, reveling in the way Steve jumped and twitched against him, breath hitching. And with every little gasp, Tony licked further into his mouth, kissing him with an ever-increasing sense of urgency.

Steve pulled back. Tony went very still, suddenly aware that he was completely helpless should Steve decide to deck him one for taking liberties, as he would call it.

Instead Steve just gazed down at him.

Slowly, not speaking, moving carefully so he wouldn't frighten him off, Tony lifted his hands to the buttons on Steve's shirt. He undid the top one, his eyes on Steve's the entire time, checking to make sure this was allowed, waiting for any kind of signal as to whether or not he should proceed.

But Steve did not say anything. He just stared at Tony, his breath coming in barely audible pants. So Tony kept going, undoing each button one by one, moving slowly enough that Steve could stop him at any time. But Steve did nothing, and at last Tony had unbared his stomach, and then there was only one button left, and then even that fell away, and there was only Steve's chest and stomach, a smooth expanse of skin that was just begging to be touched.

So Tony obliged.

The shirt was just in the way, so he lifted it and pushed it aside as he ran his hands up and over Steve's perfect chest. Down Steve's arms, removing the offending article of clothing, glorying in the play of Steve's muscles beneath his hands, knowing that if Steve really wanted, he could put a stop to this at any moment. Yet Steve did nothing but stand there, his eyes half-closed, the bulge in his jeans evidence of how much he was enjoying this.

"Tony." Steve's voice had gone deep and throaty. "What…?"

No talking, he had said. He leaned in again, kissing Steve soundly as the white shirt fell to the floor.

The sound of the shirt landing on the floor seemed to rouse Steve from his daze. He jerked, and with a suddenness bordering on violence, he was suddenly right there, pressed up against Tony's body, pinning him against the dishwasher. There was nowhere to go, nothing in between him and Steve now but his own grease-stained tank top. And in an instant even that was gone, as Steve gripped the hem and yanked it up and over his head, baring his chest.

Sudden doubt assailed him as the light from the arc reactor lit up the infinitesimal space between them. He ducked his head and he clutched at Steve's shoulders not with passion but with unease, not wanting to let him go. This would ruin things surely, this sudden dash of reality injected into the fantasy, reminding Steve of who they were and what they were doing.

But Steve did not stare, or even stop what he was doing. He didn't even seem to notice the arc reactor. He just kept right on kissing Tony, his hands gliding over Tony's shoulders, down to his hips, and Tony shifted his weight. His jeans were suddenly far too tight, and the time was rapidly approaching when there was not going to be an easy way to call the whole thing off.

It all still seemed so unreal. And he had to know if this was really happening, if he wasn't maybe just dreaming the whole thing, asleep in the workshop with his head resting on a screwdriver and a computer simulation running on an endless loop in front of his unseeing eyes. He had to know if he was the only one feeling these things, this amazement, this wonder of discovery, this almost desperate need for touch, this confirmation of a thousand hopes and dreams finally come true.

Still kissing Steve, he reached down and cupped Steve's ass.

Steve jerked forward, and the brush of his erection against Tony's groin was like electricity sparking through him. He groaned aloud and pulled Steve closer still, grinding against him, swiping his tongue into Steve's mouth in time with each pull on Steve's hips.

He wanted to make his intentions very clear.

A shudder ran through Steve's entire body. Before he could change his mind, before he could come to his senses, Tony bent his knees and pressed a kiss to Steve's collarbone. Lower still, and again, down Steve's chest, and then he was suckling gently on Steve's nipple, flicking his tongue over the sensitive flesh.

Steve gasped out loud and both hands clutched at Tony's hair, but whether to pull him away or keep him there, Tony didn't know. Steve didn't move after that. He just stood there, rigid and quivering, his cock straining at his jeans, his skin flushed with a prickly heat that Tony could almost taste.

Lower still, his palms flat against Steve's back, kissing his way down Steve's beautiful chest. And still Steve made no move to stop him, seemed not to even know what to do anymore, as though he had used up his brief burst of passion and now was unsure of himself. Which he probably was, Tony thought with some wonder.

His knees touched the ground, and he let himself kneel, layering soft kisses on Steve's stomach, his hands cupping Steve's ass again. He turned his head and nuzzled his cheek against Steve's erection, and Steve made that sound again in the back of his throat, a deep groan that said far more than words ever could.

Encouraged, Tony pressed a kiss to Steve's cock through the fabric of his jeans. Steve's hips bucked forward, and Tony moved with him, sliding his hands beneath Steve's ass to his upper thighs, and then up still further to his hips.

"Tony. God." Steve's fingers carded through his hair.

Another kiss on straining denim, then the flat of Steve's stomach, while his fingers worked at Steve's jeans, undoing the button, sliding the zipper down. Steve's breath caught in his throat, then he groaned again as Tony pushed both his jeans and underwear down past his hips in one single move.

Steve's cock was as beautiful as the rest of him. Tony looked up and saw that Steve was looking down at him through heavy-lidded eyes, cheeks flushed. The sight of Steve so debauched, even before they had really done anything, sent a spear of heat straight through him.

He kissed Steve's cock, then licked a slow stripe up the underside. Steve shuddered and his fingers tightened painfully on Tony's hair.

He didn't mind.

"You taste good," he murmured, breaking his own rule about no words. Then he took Steve in his mouth.

The sound Steve made then was nearly indescribable. Tony wrapped his tongue about the head of Steve's cock, and watched as Steve threw his head back. The pull on his hair became almost unbearable, and he grunted with the pain.

Abruptly Steve let go. Before he could do more than register this fact, Steve had backed away, and Tony was left on his knees with nothing to show for it.

"Don't," Steve said raggedly. "I don't… I want…" He gripped Tony's upper arms again and pulled him upright with ease.

"What do you want?" Tony asked. He would do whatever Steve wanted. Whatever it took to keep Steve here and in his arms.

And to his shock and delight, without missing a beat, Steve bent his knees and Tony suddenly felt himself being lifted, Steve's hands hooked behind his thighs. Instinctively he wrapped his arms about Steve's neck to make it easier, and then he was being set on the counter, perched on the edge.

Steve was right there again, hands on either side of his face, tender and yet so strong, holding him still for another burning kiss. Tony responded eagerly, his arms still about Steve's neck, refusing to let go. He was starting to get an idea of what Steve wanted, and he was more than okay with that, although a part of him wished he could have done it his way and showed Steve how good it could be with him.

But this was okay, this was more than okay, this was Steve, and Steve was kissing him again, and he was going to come in his pants at this rate but that too was okay, because this was everything he had wanted for such a long time, and he would take whatever he could get, whatever Steve was willing to give him, which was far more than he would ever have imagined possible.

So when Steve's hand fumbled at his fly, he was nearly overcome with gratitude and surprise. He almost slid right off the counter in his eagerness to push into Steve's hand. The relief as the constricting material fell away was incredible, but far more amazing was the tentative touch of Steve's hand on his cock.

"Oh God," Tony breathed. He tipped his head back, mouth wide open, whining a little as Steve stroked him.

"Tony," Steve sighed, and they were kissing again, but then he took his hand away, and Tony whined again, directly into Steve's mouth, this time with frustration, because he could only take so much. But then Steve was there again, closer now, standing in between his spread legs, and he was about to fall off the counter and onto the floor in a loose heap. Steve rutted against him, their cocks sliding together. It was good, but it wasn't enough, but Steve couldn't know that because he was so new at this, so Tony clutched at Steve's ass, pulling him closer, trying to add to the friction in any way he could.

It was too soon for this kind of thing maybe, but there was only one way to find out. He trailed one hand downward, applying a gentle circular pressure at Steve's entrance, then down still further to tug lightly on his balls. In response, Steve nearly bit Tony's tongue, and thrust harder against his cock.

This pressure was exactly what he had wanted, so he kept it up, rubbing one finger on that smooth spot between Steve's balls and his hole, pressing up and inward. Steve groaned thickly and shoved hard against him, his hands holding Tony's shoulders so tight his fingers left bruises behind.

Steve's thrusts were becoming more jerky and uncoordinated. Tony was about to fall off the counter. He held on tight and tried to spread his legs wider, and he kissed Steve, sloppy and wet and all over the place, and then he was coming with a shout, stiffening against Steve and cursing the fact that he hadn't lasted longer even as he gave thanks that it had happened at all.

"Oh God, Tony…" And then Steve was coming, adding to the sticky mess on his stomach and he didn't care, because it was Steve, it was Steve, and he was a fool for ever thinking he could do this without his feelings getting in the way. Because he loved Steve, he knew that, he had always known it, even if he hadn't even been able to admit it to himself. It was why he had felt so betrayed when he had learned the man whom he thought was Steve was nothing but a Skrull imposter. It was why he had been so fiercely determined to protect and defend Steve's name in the media and to the public after the fiasco with the Skrulls. It was why he was here right now, holding Steve with both arms, his face buried in Steve's neck.

For a time they simply stood there, holding each other. Tony eased his hands upward so he wasn't grabbing at Steve's ass anymore, so it was more of a reciprocal embrace. He knew it wouldn't last, but he reveled in it while it lasted. Even if Steve never let him do this again, he had been given this one night, this one chance to see what could have been, and he would never forget it.

Steve held him in return, not the bruising embrace of before, but with a strange gentleness that was so at odds with his bulk and his strength. Tony let himself sink into Steve's arms, matching his slowing respiration to Steve's as he found calm again – although nothing could really calm the too-fast beating of his heart.

He knew he should say something, but he had no idea what he was supposed to say now. All he knew was that he didn't want this moment to end. He didn't want to let go of Steve, to lose the comforting warmth of Steve's arms wrapped around him.

After a while, though, Steve shifted his weight slightly, and Tony could no longer ignore the cooling fluid on his belly. He eased up a little on his embrace, and Steve did the same, and then they were separating, Steve backing up while Tony remained sitting on the edge of the counter.

"Well," he said, as he did up his fly again. "I bet you weren't expecting that when you came down here for a midnight snack."

Steve's brow furrowed; he pulled up his briefs and his jeans and didn't quite look at Tony while he did so. Tony hurried to fill the silence, horribly aware that it would be so easy to screw this up and forever tarnish the memory. But if he kept it light, if he didn't act like what had just happened actually meant the world to him, if he didn't let Steve know what he was really thinking…

Well, maybe he could get away with it, and maybe he couldn't. There was only one way to find out. "Or, um. Why did you come down here?"

"I couldn't sleep," Steve said. He finally looked up at Tony, but his expression was unreadable. "Then I heard a noise. I came to check it out."

"Oh," Tony said. He smiled, eager to show that there was no harm done. "Well, I'm glad you did."

"Hmm." And to his surprise, Steve smiled a little in return. "So am I."

Tony's eyes widened. "You are?" he blurted out.

"Yes," Steve said simply.

That was unexpected. In a good way. But also in a bad way, because it sent his heart racing and started him thinking all kinds of stupidly hopeful thoughts that he had no business thinking.

Apparently Steve wasn't going to add to that remark. With no other explanation forthcoming, Tony scrambled to find something else to say. "Did you really think I was a Skrull?"

"I wasn't sure," Steve admitted. He glanced away, and a faint hint of color rose in his cheeks. "I thought it might be a trick, them giving me what I wanted."

Tony forgot to breathe for a few seconds. Either Steve really truly meant all this, or else he wasn't really Steve at all but just another Skrull playing the world's most cruel joke on him. "Wait… Did I fall asleep? Am I dreaming? You wanted this?"

"I wanted you," Steve said. He lifted a hand and touched Tony's face, brushing the hair off his forehead before cupping the back of his head and leaning in for a sweet kiss.

Taken aback both by the tenderness and the kiss, Tony was shocked into speechlessness for a moment. Then he smiled. "God, Steve. You could have had me at any time. All you had to do was ask. Didn't you know that?"

"I do now," Steve said, and kissed him again.

This time Tony returned the kiss eagerly, settling both hands on Steve's back and holding him close. Now that he knew he could have this any time he wanted, he wanted to get started right away.

"What about you?" Steve murmured. His fingers toyed with that stubborn lock of hair that always persisted in falling into Tony's eyes. "What were you doing up?"

"I was working," Tony said. "I was actually on my way to bed when I got sidetracked by the Hulk-sized mess in my game room."

Steve frowned. "I can have a talk with them about that, if you want."

"No," Tony said quickly. He did not want to think about the Hulk or Clint or poker night or anything else right now except Steve. "What you should take away from that sentence is that I was on my way to bed."

"Oh?" Steve asked, one eyebrow raising slightly.

"Yes," Tony said. "And then you should offer to come with me."

"When I was growing up," Steve said, "it was considered rude to invite yourself along somewhere."

Tony grinned at him. "You are more than welcome to invite yourself into my presence at any time. Trust me on this." He placed one hand on Steve's shoulder and scooted forward; Steve took the hint and stepped back a little, and Tony finally hopped off the counter. He half-expected his knees to be wobbly from what had happened, but his legs held him up just fine, which was the better option, all things considered.

"You know," he said, "come to think of it, I need a shower before bed." He gave Steve a smile. "Are you coming, or do I need to send you an engraved invitation? 'Cause I know people who can do that, but frankly I'd rather not wait."

Steve gave him a slightly fond, slightly exasperated smile. He looked like he was about to say something, then thought better of it.

"No, go on," Tony said. "Don't hold back on my account."

"I was just thinking," Steve said. His smile grew wider. "That this is almost exactly how I imagined it would be."

The very idea that Steve had taken the time to imagine them together did funny things to Tony's heart. He had to resist the urge to reach up and touch the arc reactor just to make sure it was still working properly.

Steve bent down and picked up their shirts. When he did, Tony had a great view of his back and the interplay of the muscles there. He also saw the shot glasses still sitting in the sink. The suds were all dissolved, and there was just a thin film floating on top of the water.

Steve saw the direction of his gaze. "Did you want to finish up here?"

"Hell no," Tony said. He accepted his tank top, but did not put it back on. "You and I have a hot date with my shower."

"You shouldn't leave a task undone," Steve scolded – but there was amusement in his eyes.

Tony groaned theatrically. "You're killing me here."

"I'll help," Steve offered. "It'll go faster that way."

There were still eight glasses left to wash. After a swift calculation in his head, Tony made his decision. "Only if you kiss me after each one."

Steve pretended to consider this seriously. Then he nodded. "That sounds fair." He slid his arms into his shirt.

The sight of the white fabric settling over those broad shoulders made Tony's mouth go dry. "Also," he said, "I get to undo a button each time we finish a glass."

Steve nodded again. "All right." He began doing up the buttons on his shirt.

Tony reached into the sink – yep, the water was stone cold – and pulled out the plug. He turned the faucet on and held his hand beneath the stream, waiting for the water to turn hot again.

They would be at this for a while, he judged. And that wasn't even taking into account the rest of the dirty dishes in the game room. Depending on how things went here, he might just have to remind Steve about those, as well.

Steve took a place beside him, holding a dishtowel in both hands. "Ready when you are," he said.

Tony smiled and got to work.

He wondered if he could convince Clint to host poker night more often.