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Cruising Altitude

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A woman on the other side of the Arrivals gate was staring at him. Steve tried his best to look inconspicuous and pulled his hat down further, hoping he wasn't about to get spotted. Not that he minded signing an autograph or two, but in a crowd like this it tended to escalate quickly, and he didn't want to miss Martin's arrival because he was surrounded by a pack of Avengers fans.

The woman nudged the man beside her and said something to him that made him stare at Steve as well. Steve fixed his eyes on the people coming through the gate, attempting to pretend he hadn't noticed.

A teenage boy came through on his own, and both the man and the woman immediately lost all interest in Steve in favour of waving at him with wide smiles. Steve relaxed.

Martin came through the gate not far behind him, his eyes scanning over the waiting crowd. They passed entirely over Steve before he blinked and looked back. Steve gave him a wave and he came over.

“Tony got stuck in a meeting,” he explained. “So he asked me to come out and get you instead.”

“Oh, right,” said Martin. “That's a shame. Not that you're here, I mean, it's good to see you again, obviously, and it's very kind of you to come, I just meant that it's a shame that Tony's not here, but you're a perfectly good substitute – not substitute! No, that's the wrong word, obviously you and Tony aren't interchangeable, I just meant-” He managed to pull himself to a stop, and took a deep breath. “Oh God, sorry.”

He sounded miserable and his shoulders had hunched over as if expected a blow. Steve gave him his friendliest smile. “Not at all,” he said. He held his hand out. “It's good to see you again.”

Martin did a convoluted, graceless manoeuvre to transfer his bag to left hand so that he could shake Steve's. “You too, Ca- uh, Steve,” he said.

“Ah, there's our marathon runner,” said a voice behind Martin, and Steve looked up to see a middle-aged man in a pilot's uniform. “Really, Martin, if you sprint through Customs like that, they'll think you've got something to hide. I'm sure Loverboy can wait thirty more seconds to-” His eyes came to rest on Steve, there was a spark of recognition, and his voice dried up.

“I thought it was brilliant!” said a younger man who had followed him out of the gate. “Like Passenger Derby, only not on the plane anymore, and with Martin joining in. The way you weaved around that school trip was amazing, Skip! You only ran three of them down!”

“Oh God, did I?” said Martin.

“It's okay, none of them were hurt. They said a lot of angry things in Italian, though. It sounded really good – do you think Mum would let me learn Italian swear words?”

“Probably not,” said Martin. “I'm sorry, I should introduce you. Uh, this is Arthur and Douglas, and this is Cap- um. Steve.”

“Hello!” said Arthur, bouncing on his heels. “It's brilliant to meet you!”

Douglas was still staring at Steve with his mouth slightly agape in a way that was starting to make Steve feel a bit self-conscious, but he finally managed to pull himself together and put out his hand. “It's an honour to meet you,” he said in a fervent tone.

Steve shook his hand. “Likewise,” he said. Douglas held on to his hand for so long that Steve started to think he might have to hurt him to get it back, but then Martin nudged him with a very obvious elbow, and Douglas let go.

“Ah, should we go?” Martin said to Steve, giving Douglas a puzzled look.

Steve nodded. “I borrowed one of Tony's cars,” he said. “It's just outside.”

“How are we getting to our hotel, Douglas?” asked Arthur. “Did Mum say we could get a taxi?”

Douglas didn't take his eyes off Steve as he replied,but his expression became less awed and more irritated. “She said we needed to save money this trip, remember? I think we'll have to find a bus.”

“Oh yeah,” said Arthur. “I suppose that means it'll be one of the really exciting hotels – do you remember the one that came with pets in every room?”

“Those weren't pets, Arthur,” said Martin. “They were rats. They tried to eat my hat.”

There was a brief pause during which both Martin and Arthur looked at Douglas as if they expected him to say something, but he was still staring at Steve.

“They were cute,” said Arthur, a moment later. “Do you think our hotel tonight will have them as well? Oh! Or maybe we'll get to share a dormitory again! Do you remember those brilliant people we met in Melbourne?”

“They weren't brilliant, Arthur, they were gap year students,” said Douglas. “They were drunk.”

This wasn't sounding very good. Steve thought about how many spare rooms there were at the Tower, all without either rats or drunken students. “You should come and stay at the Tower,” he offered. “Doesn't seem to make sense for you to go somewhere else when we've got spare rooms.”

“Oh! That would be BRILLIANT!” said Arthur, and he actually jumped on the spot.

“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” said Martin very quickly. “You shouldn’t feel obligated to offer – they’re exaggerating about the hotel. Well, probably exaggerating.”

“It’s not a problem at all,” said Steve. “There’s usually a crowd at the Tower, people dropping in and out.”

“Well, if-” started Martin doubtfully.

Douglas cut him off. “He has been clear that it is fine, Martin. Stop trying to keep the superheroes to yourself.”

Martin huffed out a sigh, but just shrugged and gave Steve what seemed to be a helpless look. Steve was privately amused. The Avengers Tower had survived angry gods, aliens, Doombots and, on one memorable occasion, a swarm of hyperactive three-year-olds who had grown wings. It could cope with a co-pilot and a steward for one night.

“I left the car this way,” he said, and headed off towards the parking lot.

Arthur bounded along to keep up with him and then started into an excited series of questions about the car that made it sound as if he was expecting the Batmobile. Steve wasn’t sure whether he should be humouring him or breaking the news that Batman wasn’t actually real. In the end he settled for answering as truthfully and as simply as he could, without destroying any of Arthur’s illusions about the superhero lifestyle.

One of Steve’s least well-publicised special abilities was his enhanced hearing. People tended to forget about it most of the time, which almost always worked in his favour. In this case, it meant he heard all of the quiet conversation Martin and Douglas had as they followed him and Arthur to the parking lot.

“Are you okay?” asked Martin. “You’ve gone suspiciously quiet, and you missed an opportunity to mock my hat earlier.”

“I’m fine,” said Douglas. “More than fine. I am concocting a scheme.”

Martin groaned. “Oh God no, Douglas, can’t you just spend the night at Avengers Tower without doing anything underhand or devious?”

“Martin, have you met me?” asked Douglas. “I am actually shocked that you might even consider such a scenario to be likely.”

“Douglas! Please! This is important to me – don’t mess things up for me with Tony for the sake of one of your stupid games.”

“Oh, don’t worry, this will have no effect on your dalliance with Iron Man,” said Douglas blithely, as if Martin’s obvious distress was unimportant. Steve felt himself bristle at the dismissal of Martin’s feelings like that. It seemed like the tactic of a bully, and he hated bullies.

“I don’t care,” hissed Martin. “These are nice people, and they’ve been very kind about letting you and Arthur stay – there’s no reason for you to take advantage of that!”

Douglas let out a long sigh, as if Martin was being unreasonable. “No need to get your knickers in a twist, Sir. I am merely coming up with a way to get an autograph from Captain America.”

“Oh,” said Martin. “Um. You could probably just ask him, surely?”

“Martin,” said Douglas, sounding disgusted. “Do I seem like the kind of person who just asks? Douglas Richardson does not ask for things, he gets them through cunning plans.”

Oh, did he? Well, perhaps it was time Steve gave him a lesson in asking for things.

****

When they reached the Tower, Thor was standing on the balcony, staring out at the city with his cloak billowing in the wind. Martin made a strange noise at the sight, as if he had somehow managed to swallow his own tongue.

Arthur breathed out a heartfelt, “Brilliant!”

Thor turned and saw them, and a wide, beaming smile took over his face. He bounded into the apartment.

“Steve! My great and noble friend! How wonderful to see you again, and know that you are well!”

It had been less than three days since Steve had last seen him, but he grinned back anyway, as caught up in Thor’s enthusiasm as ever. “Good to see you too, Thor.”

Thor grabbed Steve’s hand and pumped it up and down. “And who are your companions?” he asked, turning his attention to Martin, Douglas and Arthur.

“This is Martin – Tony’s, um, friend Martin,” introduced Steve.

“Ah! I have heard many tales of you,” said Thor, taking Martin’s hand with a grip that clearly hurt. “Your exploits in Tony’s bed are legendary!”

Martin went scarlet. “Oh God,” he said in a choked voice.

Steve hurried on with the introductions. “And these are his colleagues, Arthur and Douglas.”

“Good to meet you,” said Douglas, and was subjected to his own bone-crushing handshake.

“Oh, wow!” said Arthur. “I love your cloak! It’s so billowy! Hey, Skip, do you think Mum would let me-”

“No,” said Martin quickly. “No cloaks, Arthur. It would get caught in the wheels of the drinks trolley.”

“Oh, true,” said Arthur, looking disappointed.

“Never fear, young one,” said Thor. “You may wear mine for this night!” He swept the cloak off his shoulders and settled it around Arthur’s instead.

Arthur looked as if he was going to have a fit of pure glee. “Oh, oh WOW!” he said. “Thank you! It’s fantastic! Look, look at me, Skip!” He took several leaps across the room. “I’m an Asgardian!”

“Our garb suits you!” said Thor.

Before Steve could form some kind of response to the sight in front of him, the lift dinged open, and Tony came in.

“Spitfire!” he greeted Martin, ignoring everyone else in the room. He strode over to him, caught him up in his arms and gave him the kind of kiss that felt like it should come at the end of a movie, as a black circle closed around the happy couple.

It went on far longer than it would in a movie though, and Steve found himself wanting to clear his throat awkwardly. He still wasn’t really used to how open people were about this kind of thing these days – or, really, how open Tony was about it. His hands were now buried somewhere under Martin’s uniform.

Steve couldn’t pretend to himself that it didn’t make a difference that they were both guys. Not in the way people might think – certainly not in the way some of the Republican politicians clearly thought, if the way they cosied up to him at the awful publicity things SHIELD occasionally insisted they go to, talking about ‘traditional American values’ was anything to go by.

He never paid them any attention. Equality for all kinds of people just made sense, and he couldn’t understand why some people seemed so keen to hang on to the bigotry of the past.

Unfortunately, he’d found that no matter how much something makes sense in your head, if you’ve gone the first two decades of your life being told that certain things are wrong, then it takes longer than a year or so of them being accepted to stop you from being doing a double-take whenever you saw them. He was happy that Tony had abandoned the string of meaningless one-night-stands in favour of focusing on Martin, but part of his mind still stopped whenever he saw them together in order to gawk and point out that they were two men kissing.

He resisted the temptation to clear his throat and sternly told himself that this was a good thing. Tony deserved someone like Martin to listen to him talk about science for hours – God knew Steve could never understand any of it – and Martin seemed like a good guy, despite his occasional babble fits. He would damn well get used to seeing them together and stop being an anachronism in this, if not in his ability to use one of those tiny computers Tony kept trying to give him.

The kiss went on long enough to possibly count as several kisses, and then Arthur broke in to say, “See, Skip, I told you that you were dating!”

Martin broke away from Tony with some difficulty. “Yes, thank you, Arthur,” he said.

Tony glanced around as if realising there were other people in the room for the first time. “Oh hey, guys. Good to see you, feel free to make yourselves at home, anything you need just ask JARVIS, I’m just going to borrow your captain for a bit. Come on, Martin, it’s been nearly two weeks, I need to get you in bed right now.”

Martin’s blush deepened, but he nodded. “Yes.” He coughed awkwardly. “Good plan.”

Tony beamed and dragged him off in the direction of his bedroom.

“How soundproof are the walls?” asked Douglas. “Do we need to turn some music on?”

“You may rest easy,” said Thor. “The walls of this mighty fortress prevent all noises of passion from being heard. My Jane and I have tested it many times!”

Steve had actually heard them on several occasions, before he’d learned to just keep away from Thor’s room when Jane was staying. He didn’t think that was worth mentioning; Thor would probably only be pleased that they’d been loud enough to be heard.

“Could you show me where my room is, then?” said Douglas. “I told my daughter I’d call her when I arrived.”

“Of course,” said Steve. He mentally ran through the available spare rooms and which might be best. Away from Tony’s room might be better for everyone, even with the soundproofing. “This way,” he said.

Arthur and Douglas both followed him, although where Douglas walked like a normal person, Arthur bounced along, leaping and twirling to make Thor’s cloak flap about. “This is brilliant!” he said. “Douglas, do you have your camera with you? I want to show Mum.”

“Unfortunately for posterity, I left it at home for this trip,” said Douglas.

“Oh,” said Arthur.

“I’m sure JARVIS can take some photos of you,” said Steve.

“Indeed, I would be happy to help,” said JARVIS.

“Oh!” said Arthur, turning around to look for the source of the voice.

“JARVIS is an AI,” explained Steve. “He runs the house.” And that was as much as he understood about the whole thing. Tony had tried to explain once, but he’d lost Steve within a few excited sentences. Showing him an example of JARVIS’s programming had only made things worse. Steve was doing his best to catch up on the modern world, but some things just went beyond him. Clint had later confided to him that they went beyond him as well, which made him feel better. The only problem with hanging out with people like Tony and Bruce was how stupid you ended up feeling for not getting the basics of things like particle physics or quantum mechanics.

“This is your room,” he said, opening the door for Arthur. “If you want anything, just ask JARVIS.”

“Brilliant!” said Arthur. “I want a photo with it flapping out behind me then, like Superman.”

“I will do my very best,” said JARVIS. Steve thought he heard an element of amusement in his voice, but he wasn’t sure. How could a computer program feel amusement?

“And this is you,” he said to Douglas, opening the room next to Arthur’s.

“Thank you,” said Douglas. “It’s very kind of you to let us stay like this.”

“No problem,” said Steve. “They’d just be sitting empty, otherwise.”

Douglas put his bag down on the bed, looking around the room. “I can safely say it’s one of the nicest rooms I’ve ever had on an MJN flight.” He pulled a phone out of the side pocket of his bag. “Now to find out if my daughter is impressed at all.” He gave Steve a humourless smile. “She’s decided to hit teenage ennui a few years early.”

“Ah,” said Steve. “I’ll leave you to it then.” He headed back to the living area, hoping that he’d be able to catch a few minutes of peace before the next minor drama.

****

Douglas followed him down in less than three minutes – just long enough for Steve to get settled with a book on Burne-Jones, but not long enough for him to actually read more than a sentence of it.

“It seems my daughter is not in the mood for conversation with someone as dull as her father,” said Douglas, settling onto the sofa opposite Steve. He gave a smile that was clearly covering hurt.

“How old is she?” asked Steve, setting his book to one side.

“Twelve,” said Douglas. “But they seem to grow up a lot faster than I remember from when I was a child. She’s already into ghastly boy bands and appalling vampire romances.”

“Vampire romances?” asked Steve with a frown. “That doesn’t sound very healthy.”

“It’s not,” said Douglas. “Try and point that out though, and there’s eye-rolling and stomping feet and cries that you’re just too old to understand. She tried to make me sit through the first one, but I’m afraid my comments caused a meltdown.”

“First one?” asked Steve. “I’m sorry, I’m not really up-to-speed with most modern things, still.”

“You are exceptionally lucky,” said Douglas. “I’m afraid I respect you too much to destroy your innocence on the subject. It was much easier when she was younger,” he added with a sigh. “We actually had things in common, then. She used to enjoy my old comics as much as I did when I was a boy.” He paused, then cleared his throat awkwardly. “Our mutual favourites were always the ones featuring you.”

Steve didn’t know how to respond to that. He still wasn’t used to being that famous, and definitely not used to people as old as Douglas having been fans of his when they were children. “I see,” he said.

“She insisted on dressing up as you for a party when she was seven,” added Douglas. “Even though her mother tried to tell her that only boys could be Captain America. I thought – well. I was hoping that if I told her that I was staying here, and that I’d met you, she’d talk to me, but she didn’t even let me get that far.” He let out a long sigh, and Steve began to feel sorry for him. The poor guy just wanted to connect with his daughter, after all, and it seemed like Steve was his best method of doing so. Maybe he should give him something for her – a photo or autogr-

His thoughts cut off. He’d been about to offer an autograph, despite what he’d told himself earlier about forcing Douglas to ask. Was this part of his scheme? Was he deliberately manipulating Steve using his daughter?

Before he could come up with a response, Arthur came bounding down the stairs, still wearing Thor’s cloak. He jumped down the last four steps, stumbled his landing and nearly fell flat on his face. He righted himself at the last moment and gave them a beaming smile as if he had no idea how close he’d come to breaking his neck.

“JARVIS is brilliant!” he said. “The photos he took are brilliant! I really think I should be allowed a cloak for my uniform. If I made one, then Mum wouldn’t complain, would she? She didn’t mind my hat.”

“Arthur, you’re an airline steward, not a Disney character,” said Douglas. “You do not need a cloak, and it makes you look ridiculous. Carolyn will say the same.”

“Oh,” said Arthur, deflating. “Well, okay.”

He looked a bit like a kicked puppy and Steve felt bad for him, even if Douglas had a point. “It wouldn’t be the most ridiculous thing ever worn by an airline steward,” he said. “Tony’s jet used to have pole-dancing stewardesses.”

Douglas paused for a moment, apparently picturing that. “Does he happen to need any pilots at the moment?” he asked.

Thor wandered out of the kitchen, holding a Pop-Tart in either hand. “My new friend!” he said, seeing Arthur. “How are you enjoying my cloak?”

“It’s brilliant!” said Arthur, all his enthusiasm rushing back. “You’re so lucky to get to wear it all the time!”

“Aye,” said Thor. “The garb of my people puts your Midgardian drabness to shame.” He threw Steve’s shirt a side-eyed look, and Steve looked down at himself. What was wrong with it? Khaki was a perfectly valid colour choice. “Would you like a Pop-Tart?” he asked Arthur, holding out the one clutched in his left hand. “It is truly the food of champions!”

“Oh, wow, thanks!” said Arthur. “I love Pop-Tarts!”

“Then let us make more!” exclaimed Thor. “We have many packets!”

“Brilliant!” said Arthur.

“Don’t get creative!” Douglas called after them as they disappeared into the kitchen, but Steve wasn’t sure Arthur heard him over his excited babble to Thor.

“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” said Steve.

“You’ve obviously never experienced the results of Arthur’s cooking,” said Douglas grimly.

****

Martin and Tony made it back downstairs a couple of hours later. They were both fully dressed, thankfully, but it was clear they’d recently been in a shower, possibly at the same time. Steve and Douglas were still in the living area, both of them reading.

Tony beamed at them with the happy grin of a man who had just had an orgasm, and threw himself onto a sofa. “What’s up, folks? Living the dream?”

Steve looked him over, noting all the tiny signs that meant he was, for once, completely content. It was refreshing to see, almost as refreshing as the fact that he hadn’t headed straight for the bar to get a drink. Martin really was good for him.

“Sadly, I seem to have reached the age where an hour or two of peace and quiet really is the dream,” said Douglas.

“It’s a little too quiet,” said Martin, moving to the sofa Tony was sprawled on and hovering next to it, as if unsure whether or not he should sit down. “Where’s Arthur?”

Tony shifted sideways enough to open a space up on the sofa for him and then gave him a raised-eyebrow look that clearly said sit already, would you? Steve watched as Martin gave him a small smile in return, and sat carefully down, only to end up with Tony sprawling half across him. He had to hide his own smile at that.

“In the kitchen,” said Douglas.

Martin looked horrified. “Unsupervised?”

“Thor’s with him,” said Douglas. “I’m sure he’ll be able to prevent any misguided but enthusiastic plans.”

“Uh,” said Tony. “Sorry, is this a different Thor? Cos the one I know, he’s all about the misguided-but-enthusiastic. Didja hear about the incident at the UN? Nearly brought the building down trying to greet the Norwegian ambassador in the style he felt he deserved.”

“They’re in the kitchen,” said Steve. “What’s the worst that could happen in a kitchen?”

“A Stark kitchen?” asked Tony. “Depends on if they get hold of the toaster or not – I made some modifications when I was on that caffeine high last month, and now I’m pretty sure we could use it to-”

Steve never found out what the toaster was capable of, because at that moment, it exploded. Or, at least something in the kitchen did. The building shook, a couple of Tony’s expensive tumblers fell off the bar and shattered, and a cloud of smoke billowed out of the archway to the kitchen.

Steve leapt to his feet, reacting on instinct to scan for potential threats, his brain already whirring with how to protect the civilians. Tony, he noticed, had moved as well, pulling Martin down and tucking himself around as much of him as he could. That said rather a lot.

“Oh God!” said Martin. “What was that?! Are we under attack?! Oh God!”

“No need to panic,” said Douglas, although he looked a lot more shaken than his words implied. “I suspect that was just the toaster.”

A moment later, two figures emerged from the cloud of smoke that used to be the kitchen. Thor had his arm around Arthur’s shoulders tightly enough that he was basically carrying him and they were both coughing, but apart from that, they seemed unharmed. They were also soaking wet, which meant that the sprinkler system had come on.

“Arthur!” said Martin. “Oh God, are you all right?”

“Fine, Skip,” said Arthur, and went into a coughing fit that said the opposite.

“What have you managed to do now?” asked Douglas.

“We were attempting to create a Pop-Tart culinary masterpiece,” said Thor. “I fear it was too much for the toaster.”

“JARVIS,” called Tony. “What’s the status of the kitchen?”

“Structurally intact, sir,” said JARVIS. “Some of the furniture is a little the worse for wear, and I suspect the counter the toaster was sitting on will have to be replaced, but the majority of the damage is from the smoke, and the sprinklers.”

Steve had a thought and groaned. “My new sketchbook was in there.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Arthur. “I can get you a new one. I’m really sorry, I didn’t realise that was going to happen. I’m sorry about your kitchen, Mr. Stark.”

Tony waved a hand. “It’s fine. I end up replacing rooms in this place about once a month, and the damage is usually a lot worse. You should have seen the mess the first time we had a party.”

“The Asgardian mead was a mistake,” agreed Steve.

“Never!” proclaimed Thor. “Mead is never such a thing! It is a thing of great beauty and-”

“Thor, it got us all so trashed that Natasha - Natasha - was the one to pee in the closet,” Tony interrupted.

Steve winced at the memory.

“Sir,” interrupted JARVIS. “Doctor Banner asked me to pass on this message. ‘What the hell have you idiots done now?’ He is currently in the lab directly below the kitchen.”

“Tell him it’s all cool,” said Tony. “Just a bit of enthusiastic cooking gone awry. Wait, he’s still Bruce, right? No risk of the Grumpy Green Giant turning up, right?”

“There appears to be no risk of that,” said JARVIS. “Although Doctor Banner was at a particularly delicate stage of his experiment, and will now have to redo some of it. He is rather unhappy about that.”

“Oh dear,” said Arthur unhappily. “Tell him I’m sorry, please. I didn’t mean to do it.”

“Fear not, young one,” said Thor. “It was as much my fault as yours – should the doctor grow wrathful enough to let free his beast, I will take the blame.”

“Yeah,” said Tony. “No one’s beast is getting let free – and I think you should all respect just how hard it is for me not to make a dick joke here. Tell Bruce I’m on my way down to him, and I’ll help him redo the experiment.” He glanced at Martin. “You don’t mind, right? Just for an hour or two, be back before dinner.”

“No, no, that’s fine,” said Martin. “You should definitely make sure he’s not too angry.”

Tony gave him a grin and quick kiss, and then headed off to the lift.

“I require new clothes,” said Thor, looking down at his smoke-streaked outfit.

“Yeah, me too,” said Arthur. “I’m sorry about your cloak, Thor.”

“It is no bother,” said Thor. “It would have come to the same fate had I been wearing it, and our experiment was a worthy one, even if ultimately unsuccessful. Next time, we shall-”

“No!” interrupted Steve. “No, there won’t be a next time. Just stick to making and eating Pop-Tarts in the regular fashion.”

Thor opened his mouth as if to protest, then paused and thought for a moment. “It is possible you are right,” he said, and Steve felt a moment of relief. No need to keep a constant eye on Thor’s Pop-Tart-making habits, then.

Thor and Arthur went to their rooms to get cleaned up. Steve glanced at the still-smoking kitchen, wondering if there was anything he should be doing to sort it out, but Tony had a team of contractors to sort these things out. JARVIS had probably already contacted them.

“Ah,” said Martin, clearing his throat. “Actually, I was hoping to get a moment to talk to you, Ca- Steve.”

Steve put on his most open and approachable smile, and hoped this wasn’t going to involve talking about Tony’s sex life. “What is it?”

“Ah,” said Martin, looking awkward and embarrassed. He glanced at Douglas.

“Pretend I’m not here,” said Douglas, picking his book up again. “I certainly won’t be listening.”

“Right,” said Martin. He cleared his throat again. “Well, then, I was wondering if – That is, I mean...”

“Eloquent,” commented Douglas.

“Look,” said Martin, taking a deep breath and shutting his eyes for a moment to gather himself. “I was wondering if you could advise me on a restaurant that I could take Tony to tonight. I can’t – I can’t really afford anywhere very expensive – or expensive at all, really, in fact the cheaper the better although that’s probably not a possibility with Tony – anyway, he once mentioned a shawarma place that you and he both liked, and I was wondering if you could tell me where, exactly, it is.”

Steve felt his smile turn into a real one. “You want to take Tony out?” he said. “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone take him out, rather than the other way round.”

Martin gave an awkward shrug. “This is our third official date,” he said. “It seems like it’s my turn.”

Steve frowned as he did the mental math. “Third? Surely it’s more than that.”

Martin went pink. “Not officially,” he said. “We were – before, it was just. Um. Well, that is, I mean-”

“What Martin is trying to say,” interrupted Douglas, “is that originally their meetings were more in the nature of ‘booty calls’ than dates.”

Booty call. Should Steve know that phrase? It sounded like it should mean something like a wolf whistle – calling after booty - but that didn’t really work in context.

“No,” said Martin, “that’s not- it wasn’t like that. It was just a lot more...casual.”

“And now it’s official,” said Steve. He didn’t really know where the line between casual and official might be, but he could have sworn that Tony didn’t ever cross over it.

“Yes,” said Martin. “Well, I mean, we are officially going on dates, it’s still probably casual, just with dates, I don’t know that it’s more than that – at what stage does something become a relationship? I don’t-” He stopped and cleared his throat. “Anyway. Yes, this is our third official date – Tony came out to LA and took me to the beach, then we met in Washington when we flew there a fortnight ago, and he took me on a picnic to this park that overlooked the airport – it was amazing, we could watch all the planes taking off – and now, well. It feels like my turn.”

Steve nodded. “Well, I’m not sure the shawarma place is a good idea,” he said.

Martin deflated. “Oh.”

“It’s where we go with the team after missions,” Steve explained. “When we’re exhausted and beat up and just want some food before we crawl into bed. Not really an association you want on a date, I’m guessing.”

“Ah, no, not really,” said Martin.

“There is a pizza place I know he likes, though,” said Steve. “You can walk there from here, and it’s pretty reasonable. Well,” he added, because he was still occasionally flabbergasted by prices these days, “reasonable by modern New York standards.”

“That sounds great,” said Martin. “Thank you.”

Steve smiled at him, then reached for a bit of scrap paper so he could write down directions for him. “And if you ask JARVIS, he’ll make reservations for you,” he added. “Although it’s not really the sort of place you need to. Still, I always think it’s best to give places advanced warning before one of us turns up, given how often destruction and fans follow behind.”

“Destruction?” repeated Martin with a bit of a squeak.

Steve gave him his most reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, we’ll make sure to keep any fighting away from you. Tony’s probably due a day off from Avenging.”

“Right,” said Martin, uncertainly. He took a deep breath. “Well, okay, then, JARVIS, could you please make a reservation for us?”

“Already done, Captain,” said JARVIS in a smooth voice. “I have booked a table for seven-thirty.”

Martin glanced at his watch and gave a nod. “Sounds great, thank you.”

****

Tony and Bruce came back upstairs a couple of hours later, talking in overlapping sentences about science Steve could never hope to understand. Martin’s head immediately came up from his book and his eyes fixed on Tony but he didn’t interrupt their conversation, although he clearly wanted to.

“...can’t prove anything until the analysis is done,” said Bruce.

“Yeah, yeah,” said Tony dismissively. “We’re not trying to convince a sub-committee, though. We both know the theory is sound.” He looked up, caught Martin’s look, and smiled. It was the least-complicated smile Steve had ever seen him direct at an actual person rather than a machine.

He bounded across the room and dropped onto the sofa next to Martin. “Okay, gorgeous, are you ready to be taken out? What do you feel like? There’s a great Thai place, totally low-key, just next to the Baxter Building, it’s gre- Oh, wait, I think it’s still shut for renovations after the thing with the multi-dimensional squid last month. Well, there’s-”

Martin cleared his throat. “Actually, I thought I’d take you out. Um. If that’s okay, I hope it-” He stopped and glanced around at everyone else in the room, who immediately pretended they weren’t watching, and then took a deep breath. “Tony. Would you like to come to dinner with me tonight?” he said finally, in a stilted, formal tone.

Steve could see that one of Martin’s hands was clenched so tightly that his knuckles had gone white. Wow, he’s way more nervous than he needs to be.

Tony blinked, and then let out a disbelieving laugh. “Don’t think anyone’s ever wanted to take me out, rather than the other way around,” he said. “No, seriously, not ever. Well, unless you count CEOs trying to butter me up for business reasons, which totally does not count.” He caught on to Martin’s nervousness, and put a hand over his. “Chill, dude. I am most definitely saying yes.”

Martin let out a shaky breath. “Oh,” he said. “Good. That’s- good.”

Tony beamed at him, then sprang to his feet. “Going to get all glammed up,” he announced, and bounded away up the stairs.

Martin let out a breath and tipped his head back against the sofa.

“Honestly, Martin,” said Douglas. “You’re going to give yourself a heart attack before you’re forty.”

“Oh God,” said Martin with dawning horror. “I only brought my uniform. I’ve got nothing to wear.”

“Perhaps one of us could lend you something,” suggested Steve, before he’d really thought about it.

“I don’t think any of our clothes would fit him,” said Bruce.

There was a brief pause while everyone matched the average Avenger physique against Martin’s, and came up with several spare inches of material.

“Perhaps the Black Widow has something?” suggested Douglas.

Martin shot him a glare.

“Your uniform will be fine,” said Bruce. “Tony has a thing for uniforms, you know.”

“I think it’s the only thing he’s ever seen me wear,” said Martin.

“I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen you in anything else,” said Douglas. “I assumed you slept in it.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Martin. “That would wrinkle it.”

“Ah, yes,” said Douglas. “The unforgivable sin: a wrinkled uniform.”

“Just because some of us have professional standards,” said Martin, and then he took a deep breath. “It’ll be fine, Tony does like uniforms, and it’s not as if clothes matter. Really. Not in the scheme of things.”

He sounded as if he was about to start hyperventilating with the effort of convincing himself.

“I’ll just go and get ready,” he said, standing up. He paused. “Oh God, where do I go? Tony’s using his room, and I-”

“Martin,” said Douglas firmly, cutting across the panic. “Calm down. Go and use my room, and just take off your jacket and tie. It’s warm enough for shirt sleeves, and it’s not as if the shirt looks that different from any other shirt, once you’ve taken the epaulettes off.”

Martin gaped. “Take my epaulettes off?” he repeated as if Douglas had suggested a ritual sacrifice. “But, that’s-”

“A perfectly sensible suggestion, given the situation,” said Douglas. “Do try not to have a meltdown over it.”

Martin took a deep breath and then nodded jerkily. “Right, yes,” he said. “I’ll give it a try.” He disappeared off in the direction of Douglas’s room.

Douglas gave Steve a smirk. “They grow up so fast,” he drawled.

****

Tony appeared before Martin, dressed in what he probably thought was casual wear but which Steve was pretty certain cost more than his entire wardrobe put together. He glanced around at the absence of Martin, and then headed over to the bar to pour himself a drink.

He bounced on his heels a few times before giving Steve a wide, smug grin. “You’re not going to bother me this evening, right? I mean, obviously, you guys can’t cope without my brilliance and expertise, but maybe just one night off?”

“We’ll try to cope without you,” said Steve. “If we need any flashy but ultimately pointless theatrics though, I will have to call you in.”

Tony’s grin didn’t falter for a moment. “Understood,” he said. “I know you find it so hard to look suitably dramatic while decked out in the stars and stripes.”

Martin appeared before Steve could come up with a response to that, and Tony’s attention immediately focused on him.

Martin had taken Douglas’s advice, and had even gone as far as unbuttoning one or two of the buttons at the neck of his shirt. He looked uncomfortable and his fingers twitched by his side as if he was trying to resist putting himself back in proper order again.

“Oh, hel-lo,” purred Tony, striding over to him. “That’s a good look on you, but I’ve got to admit, there might be a flaw.”

“What?” asked Martin in a worried, high-pitched voice.

Tony reached out to settle his fingers on the triangle of skin showing at Martin’s throat. “Well, how on earth am I going to concentrate on dinner when I can see two of my top ten favourite freckles on display, right across the table from me?”

Good God, did he have to talk like that in public? Steve shifted uncomfortably and tried to focus on his book so that he didn’t see the blush spreading across Martin’s face. Don’t think about where the other eight of his favourite freckles might be, he commanded himself, but it was too late.

“Oh, come on, that’s not fair,” said Tony. “You know how I feel about your blushes.”

“Please spare the rest of us the details,” said Douglas.

Tony glanced over his shoulder at him and then opened his mouth with the kind of grin that meant Steve really didn’t want to hear what was about to come out next.

Martin cleared his throat, interrupting Tony before he could say anything. “How about we get going?” he asked. “JARVIS told the restaurant we’d be there by seven-thirty.”

Mercifully, they left without any further elaboration on Tony’s favourite parts of Martin. Steve let out a sigh of relief and hoped that they stayed out until he was in bed, and so didn’t have to hear any further romantic banter.

****

Steve ordered takeout for everybody, which they ate sitting around in the living room, and then Bruce returned to his experiment and Thor took Arthur up onto the roof to show off how his cloak looked when he was flying. As there was nothing that was likely to explode up there, Steve left them to it and got on with his book, trying to ignore the way Douglas kept pulling out his phone and then sighing a little.

“I thought my daughter would at least text me before she went to bed, but apparently not,” he said.

Steve frowned. “Wouldn’t it be past one in the morning in the UK right now?” Surely she’d have been in bed hours ago?

Douglas looked caught. Wasn’t expecting me to know that, thought Steve. People tended to underestimate his intelligence pretty often, which worked in his favour when it was bad guys, but was irritating the rest of the time.

“Well, yes,” said Douglas. “I was hoping the text had been delayed, but it would seem not.”

Nice save, thought Steve.

“I wish there was something I could send her to wake up to,” said Douglas. “Something she’d think was ‘cool’.”

Another attempt to emotionally manipulate Steve into an autograph. “The view of New York from the balcony is rather impressive,” he said with a bland smile.

Douglas gave a heartfelt sigh. “I’m afraid I’ve sent her too many city views over the years,” he said. “It takes something a bit more to impress her these days.”

“Ah,” said Steve. “Good luck with that.”

There was a short, frustrated pause. “What I really need,” continued Douglas doggedly, “is something that would impress her friends. If I could manage that, she’d be so grateful she might even let me take her for a day out without telling me how boring it is.”

Steve just hummed his agreement with that one, but didn’t offer any further suggestions.

Before Douglas could come up with another attempt at manipulation, Thor landed on the balcony outside with a thump.

“Good Captain! I have seen the signs of a mighty battle over towards the east!”

Steve dropped his book and jumped to his feet. “JARVIS, any details?”

“Reports are just coming through to the police now, Sir,” said JARVIS. “It would appear that giant robots are attacking New Jersey.”

“Tell the Avengers to assemble at the source of the disturbance,” Steve commanded, already striding towards his room to get his costume on. “Oh, except Tony. Tell him what’s going on, but that he’s okay to stay out with Martin for now.”

“Of course, Captain,” said JARVIS.

Steve got into costume and grabbed his shield as quickly as possible, then jogged down to the living room again to meet Thor and get a lift to the scene.

As he came down the stairs, Douglas glanced up, and then his eyes widened and he made a breathy, awed sound. “Captain America,” he said in a low, reverent tone.

“Yeah,” agreed Steve.

“Captain!” announced Thor, still standing on the balcony. “You are ready to go?”

“Yes,” said Steve, heading out to join him and leaving Douglas behind. “Where’s Bruce?”

“He has already left,” said Thor. He wrapped an arm around Steve and pointed his hammer at the sky. “To battle!”

****

The robots would have been easy to defeat, if there weren’t so damned many of them. After two hours of knocking metal heads off metal shoulders, Steve was starting to wonder if there was a better solution than taking them all on one-by-one.

“I’m running out of arrows,” said Clint.

“I’ve lost half my knives,” said Natasha. Given that Steve had seen her throw at least twelve, that made him wonder just how many she had on her at any one time, and how on earth she managed to keep them hidden in her costume.

There was a crackle of lightning as a bolt shot down from the heavens, frying the circuits of three robots at once.

“How are these things even finding enough juice to keep going?” muttered Clint. “My phone can barely stay charged for twelve hours, and that’s not running about and firing off lasers.”

“Perhaps there’s some kind of mobile charging station,” said Natasha, ducking as the Hulk threw the remains of a robot over her head to smash into two more coming up behind her.

“What would that look like?” asked Steve.

“No idea,” said Clint. “Do I look geeky enough to work out the science shit? You’d need Tony or Bruce for that.”

Bruce was currently the Hulk, and completely immersed in inventing what looked like robot bowling. Steve sighed. So much for letting Tony have the night off.

When he put a call through to him, Tony answered almost immediately. “Let me guess,” he said. “You find yourself in extreme difficulty and can’t possible survive without my expert and very able assistance.”

Steve made a face at the tone of his voice and hit a robot in the face with his shield. “We need someone with technological expertise to find a way to take these robots out,” he said. “One-by-one is taking too long.”

“Not a problem, my good friend,” said Tony. “I’m just walking Martin home, and then I was going to come out and join you guys anyway. Just give me a minute for a good night kiss – well, maybe longer than a minute, Martin is really good at-”

Steve shut the call off before Tony could mentally scar him. “Iron Man will be joining us soon,” he said.

“Fabulous,” said Clint. “Let’s hope he’s not too smug about swooping in to save the day.”

“That seems a false hope,” said Thor.

Steve had to agree.

****

Tony burst on to the scene in a flourish of missiles and wild whooping over the comms. “Didja miss me, kiddies?” he asked as the robots he’d targeted all started to blow up.

“Like a hole in the head,” said Clint, leaping from one rooftop to another to avoid a fireball.

“Iron Man, we need to find the source of their power,” said Steve before the banter could get out of control. “Hawkeye thinks they’re using too much to not be recharging.”

“On it,” said Tony, turning elegantly mid-air. “JARVIS says there’s an unusual power signature over this way.”

Ten minutes later, there was an impressive explosion and all the robots slumped to the ground.

“Oh, thank God,” said Clint.

“No problem, but you probably shouldn’t call me God,” said Tony. “Might offend the religious types. And, uh, Thor.”

“There is no offence here,” proclaimed Thor.

Steve let out a long sigh, and then glanced around at the piles of dead robots that littered the streets. “So, clean up, then,” he said.

There were multiple groans over the comms. “Oh, come on, can’t we leave that to the police, just this once?” asked Clint. “I’ve got bits of robot in my pants.”

“How-?” started Steve, but he stopped himself from completing the question. He very much did not want to know.

“Hey, JARVIS says that the police are eternally grateful for our assistance, etc., etc. And they’re fine with doing the clean-up without us,” said Tony.

Steve gave up. He didn’t really want to have to spend the rest of his evening clearing up broken robots anyway, not when he still had his book to read. “Okay, fine. Give me a lift back to the tower, then.”

Tony did a loop-de-loop of joy before flying down to pick him up. “Thanks, Dad!” he enthused as they took off.

****

Martin was waiting in the living room when Tony and Steve landed.

“Oh God, are you okay?” he asked, rushing out to meet them and then hovering his hands over the scorch marks on Tony’s armour as if he wasn’t sure where to touch. Steve hadn’t even noticed the damage; Tony always ended up scratching up the paint job on his armour. As long as he was still flying at the end of the battle, it meant there was nothing to worry about.

“Peachy,” said Tony, throwing up his face visor. “Gimme a second to get rid of it, and I’ll show you just how okay I am,” he added with a leer.

Steve decided that was his cue to disappear, and he headed off to his room to get out of his own costume.

When he got there, the door was ajar in a way he never left it. He slowed his steps to a creep and opened the door the rest of the way as noiselessly as he could.

Douglas was staring at the inside of the wardrobe where Steve kept his spare costumes, with an expression of wonder on his face. Steve cleared his throat pointedly, and he jumped a mile.

“Oh, good Lord, I’m sorry,” he said. “I was just looking for the bathroom, I’ll just-” He headed for the door, clearly meaning to escape as quickly as possible, but Steve wasn’t having that. He was tired and running out of patience, and this whole thing was becoming ridiculous.

He stopped him with an arm. “Look, let me make this easy for you. I’ll be perfectly happy to give you whatever you want in the way of souvenirs of your stay here, but you’re going to have to ask me first. That’s it – just a polite request, then I’ll give it to you and you can stop playing games.”

Douglas gave him a puzzled look that fooled no one. “I have no idea what you mean,” he said with dignity. “If you’ll excuse me.”

He tried to leave again, but Steve still wasn’t having it. “Right, okay, then you’ll have to give me back whatever it is that’s in your pocket.”

Douglas’s expression changed to shocked outrage, but before he could deny all knowledge, Steve said, “Seriously, man. I’ve just spent two hours fighting giant robots and I’m exhausted. Just give it back so I can have a shower and go to bed.”

It looked as if Douglas still wasn’t going to give in, so Steve gave him his best ‘Captain America is disappointed with you’ look. Douglas caved. He reached into his pocket, pushed whatever it had contained into Steve’s hand, and then disappeared.

Steve glanced at it. It was a small plastic figure of himself that SHIELD had produced as part of their marketing strategy. It was due to be released in a month or two, after which Douglas could have picked one up for a couple of dollars. Or a couple of pounds, Steve guessed. Weird.

****

Steve came down at his usual time the next morning, which was generally earlier than anyone else. He was surprised to hear bickering voices coming from the living room, and he stopped for a moment to listen before walking in on whatever was going on.

“I can’t believe you’re being so stubborn about this,” hissed Martin’s voice. “Honestly, Douglas, is it really too much to just ask?”

“Oh, as if I’m going to take advice form a man who left his lover’s bed so that he could get his ironing done.”

“It’s not as if it makes any difference when Tony’s asleep,” said Martin. “And stop changing the subject.”

“The subject is boring,” said Douglas firmly. “There will be no continuation of it.”

Martin huffed out a long-suffering sigh. “You-”

“No continuation,” interrupted Douglas. “Now, we have an hour before we need to leave. I’m going to wake Arthur.”

That would take him past where Steve was now standing. Well, the conversation seemed to be over, so Steve started moving again, making enough noise as he came down the stairs to signal his presence.

“Good morning,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to find anyone else awake.”

“We’re still on UK time,” said Martin. “Besides, we have an early flight.” He actually was ironing, on an ironing board that must belong to the Tower but which Steve had never even imagined existed.

A coffee machine and a basket of pastries had appeared on the bar overnight, presumably JARVIS’s attempt to provide breakfast in the absence of the kitchen. Steve wandered over and helped himself.

“It’s a shame you have to go so soon,” he said. “I know Tony would like it if you stayed longer.”

“Yes, me too,” said Martin. “I mean, not that I also know that Tony would like it if I stayed longer – although I do, he told me last night – but that I want to stay longer, although not if it would be an imposition, I don’t want to outstay my welcome, and of course the others are in the way – No! I didn’t mean it like that, I meant just that...oh God.”

“And breathe,” said Douglas.

“I’m sorry,” said Martin, looking miserable. “I’m not very coherent in the mornings.”

Or the rest of the time, thought Steve, but he wasn’t cruel enough to say it. “It’s more than fine,” he said. “And you shouldn’t worry about outstaying your welcome. We like having you here – all of us, not just Tony.”

“Oh, thank you,” said Martin, going faintly pink. He glanced over at Douglas, and then cleared his throat. “Actually, I was wondering if you’d do me a favour.”

“Anything,” said Steve.

“Could I have an autograph for Douglas’s daughter?” asked Martin. “She’s a huge fan.”

Martin!” hissed Douglas in tones of great outrage.

“Of course,” said Steve, giving Martin a wide smile and trying not to burst into laughter. “Hang on, I’ll get one of the publicity photos they insist on giving me.” He jogged back up the stairs, ignoring the fury that Douglas was directing at Martin.

He grabbed a couple of photos and then, on a whim, the plastic model as well.

Douglas was berating Martin in an undertone when he came back down, but Martin seemed to be doing a pretty good job of ignoring him in favour of getting the creases on his sleeves perfectly straight.

Douglas cut himself off when Steve reappeared.

“What’s her name?” asked Steve, getting out a pen.

“Amelia,” said Martin.

Douglas let out a very long sigh. “She likes to be called Mia,” he said, as if he was surrendering to an enemy army.

Steve gave him a bright grin and then scrawled a brief note on the photo. “Anything else?” he asked. “I’ve got another photo here.” He looked at Douglas with a twitched eyebrow.

Douglas pressed his lips together and then said, “Could I have one as well, please?” with gritted teeth, as if just saying the words caused him pain.

Steve nodded and wrote on the second photo.

To Douglas, asking for things is always better than taking them, love Captain America.

“Here you go,” he said, handing both over. “And I thought you might like to give her this as well.” He held out the plastic figure, and Douglas’s eyes went round for a moment before he got control of his face again.

“Thank you,” he said rather stiffly, as if he wasn’t used to saying the words without a sarcastic drawl.

Before the moment could become any more awkward, there was the thump of a door flying open upstairs and Tony appeared at the top of the stairs, looking rumpled with sleep.

“You left me for ironing!” he exclaimed when he caught sight of Martin. “Again!”

“It had to be done,” said Martin, sounding apologetic. “And you were asleep.”

“No excuse!” said Tony, starting to stagger down the stairs. “Ironing, Martin. How can you think it’s more important than me?”

“Perhaps he became confused over the name ‘Iron Man’,” said Douglas, sounding as if he had regained his composure. “I’m going to wake Arthur up.”

He disappeared back up the stairs as Tony made it down to Martin and grasped his upper arms.

“Ironing!” he said again with disbelief, and then kissed him. “Oh! You’ve had coffee!” He took hold of Martin’s head and gave him a far more thorough kiss, clearly trying to lick all the taste of coffee out of Martin’s mouth.

Steve took his chance to slip off to the gym and leave them to it.

****

When he emerged a couple of hours later, the place was a lot quieter. Tony was collapsed on a sofa, coffee clasped in one hand and some tiny electronic gadget that Steve was probably meant to recognise in the other.

“They get off okay?” Steve asked.

“Yes,” said Tony. “You missed two pilots and an Avenger trying to stop Arthur getting anywhere near the coffee machine, but no actual explosions.”

Steve shook his head. “And I thought those flying toddlers were bad.”

Tony grinned at the memory. “Man, getting the crayon off the ceiling was a nightmare. At least we don’t have to worry about that.”

“I guess,” said Steve, heading over to the coffee machine himself.

“Oh, big screen now, JARVIS,” said Tony, looking at the gadget in his hand.

“Yes, sir,” said JARVIS. A moment later, a runway appeared on the wall. A rather dilapidated looking plane rolled down it and then took off with no more than a couple of wobbles.

“And there he goes,” said Tony, with something of a sigh in his voice.

“When are you seeing him next?” asked Steve.

Tony’s mouth pulled unhappily downwards. “Not sure. They don’t have any flights over this way for a while. Maybe I’ll go over to England, though. Surprise him.”

Steve pictured a Martin who’d had Tony Stark unexpectedly turn up on his doorstep and couldn’t keep from grinning. “That would fluster him,” he said.

“Oh yeah,” said Tony happily. “Blushes and stuttering and badly veiled panic. It’d be excellent.”

Steve glanced over at him, at his pleased, relaxed posture. “You really like him,” he ventured.

Tony flinched and shutters dropped over his face. “Yeah, well, he lets me talk about tech,” he said, standing up. “You know how I love talking about myself.”

He ran off before Steve could point out that it was a lot more than that, but he didn’t think it mattered. He got the feeling that Tony knew that already.