Of all the ways Tony had imagined being kidnapped by aliens might go, he thought, running his hands down miles of sweat-slicked skin, this hadn’t been one of them.
Actually, that wasn’t true. He had spent more than a few evenings of enthusiastic self-love contemplating this very scenario, right down to the color of the crushed velvet divan he now doubted they’d ever make it to.
Scarlet had always been his color.
“Fuck,” Steve gasped, “ fuck , Tony, I need—”
“Shhh,” Tony said, reaching up to rake his fingernails across Steve’s scalp, pressing an open-mouthed kiss into the hollow of his throat. “Shhh, darling, you’ve got me.”
“I want—” Steve sucked in air on a shuddering gasp, almost like a sob. “I need— In me, Jesus .”
The bolt of shock and lust that struck Tony momentarily whited out his vision; his fingers tightened compulsively where they gripped Steve’s arms.
“Are you…” His voice when he spoke was unfamiliar, a roughness overlaying the practiced playboy drawl. “Are you sure?”
Steve made a little throaty sound and shoved Tony back against the wall, rutting against him, and his tongue was licking a broad stripe up Tony’s neck, his teeth were scraping over the edge of Tony’s jaw…
“Does it feel,” he panted into the tender spot where Tony’s jaw met his ear, “like I’m not sure?”
And Tony had to admit, it did not.
“Then stop… wasting… time. ”
Yes. Really, this was exactly what he’d imagined an alien abduction would be like.
He just hadn’t ever expected to be right.
It was hardly the first time Tony had awoken—dazed, blurry-eyed, aching, and half-dressed—in an unfamiliar location, and, fate and his cancer willing, it would be far from the last.
Still, there were a few notable irregularities that put the experience rather out of the common way.
For starters, he had no memory of getting this drunk. In fact, he had no memory of getting drunk at all. Of drinking, yes, but there was drinking and then there was drinking and he hadn’t truly indulged since his last conversation with Greg a week and a half ago. The last thing he remembered clearly was getting some kind of call… A call from SHIELD—he was nearly certain of that much—but everything past that was somewhat… hazy.
Tony frowned, and put the question aside in favor of taking stock of his situation. He was currently wearing his boxers and nothing else, stretched out on something like the bastard child of a daybed and a chaise longue. Some kind of sheet lay between him and the upholstery. It was liberally spotted with green slime. Tony gave it a cautious sniff. Yes, that was his polymeric gel all right. So, he’d been in the armor when whoever had taken him had… well, taken him. That didn’t bode well.
He glanced around at the rest of the room, but his vision was still swimming. The room was spacious—high ceilinged. He could tell that much. And… there appeared to be another divan, twin to his own, with another figure on it.
Carefully, Tony pushed himself upright, and from there, to his feet. His legs were shaky, but that was nothing new. The floor beneath his feet was smooth like marble, and cold with it.
He made his way around behind the couch, supporting himself against the back. By the time he got to the end, he could mostly stand on his own, and he could see well enough to recognize the figure on the opposite couch.
It was Steve.
He looked much younger in his sleep, which was to say that for once, he actually looked his years. It was so easy to forget how young he really was—barely midway through his twenties. Heartbreakingly young, for all he’d seen and done.
Tony sternly repressed the urge to reach out and stroke his forehead, which was really just as well, because in the next few moments, Steve blinked, and opened his eyes.
“Tony…” he murmured, muzzily, like a child waking from sleep. Tony felt his heart clench. “What…?” A series of expressions chased themselves across his face, not one of them readable. “Why are you…?” He waved a slightly shaky hand up and down the expanse of Tony’s body.
“Naked? I could ask you the same question.”
Steve looked down at himself in apparent bemusement. Tony had been so good , so careful not to ogle him when he was sleeping. Well, not much, anyway. But if Steve was looking, surely it was all right for him to sneak a glance? Really, who could it hurt?
Steve was wearing baggy, striped boxers, which was disappointing but hardly surprising. As for the rest of him though, well.
God bless America.
“Do you want the bad news or the good news first?” he asked, dragging his gaze away from Steve’s perfectly formed quadriceps.
Steve opened his mouth. His forehead furrowed and he smacked his lips a few times, as if testing their functionality. “Bad,” he concluded.
“ Yes ,” Tony said, dragging out the word. “I thought you might say that. Bad news is, we’ve been kidnapped by parties unknown and almost certainly drugged, although the effects seem to be wearing off fairly quick- leyyy —” His voice wobbled as his knees began to shake. So much for that theory.
Steve reached out to steady him, his reflexes surprisingly quick for someone who’d just been drugged. The wonders of being a super soldier, Tony supposed.
“Sit,” he commanded, moving down a little along the couch to make room.
Tony sat—well, sagged really, his entire body crumpling like a paper bag. “Lord,” he said, pressing the heel of his hand to his aching head, “this is like Ibiza all over again.”
Steve’s frown deepened. “Like…?”
“I think you really had to be there.”
Steve would have hated it, he reflected, leaning back against the arm of the divan and trailing his fingers across its surface. Steve hadn’t had a sheet put down for him. Tony suppressed a smile. So, their hosts were fussy about the furniture, were they? Serve them right if he ground his gel covered head right into the plush of that lovely velvet upholstery.
“What’s the good news?” Steve prompted.
“The good? Ah, yes. The good news, darling, is that we’re the Ultimates, and these sorry bastards have no idea who they’re dealing with.”
Steve didn’t smile, exactly—Tony wasn’t sure he’d ever seen the man smile in any real, genuine way—but something shifted in his eyes, just a little.
“Well said, soldier.”
Tony preened, and stretched a little. Steve looked hurriedly away.
It was… a little offensive, actually. Steve had been to war—surely he’d seen his fellow soldiers en déshabillé before. What made Tony so different?
He shook it off. Now was hardly the time to dwell on his hurt feelings.
“We can’t have been gone that long, at least,” he said. “Less than a day, probably.”
“How do you figure that?”
Tony held out his hand. “See? Still steady.”
Steve frowned. “I don’t see what that has to do with…”
Tony sighed and leaned back against the couch. “Withdrawal, you know. Symptoms usually set in within twenty four hours.”
Steve cast him a sharp look, and Tony retaliated with his most charmingly vacuous smile.
“You pick up that sort of thing, when you’re the world’s highest functioning alcoholic.”
He glanced away, steeling himself against the inevitable judgement. It didn’t matter. He’d endured worse in his time. Just let it roll off of him, like water from a duck’s back. Nothing sticks to a Stark.
Steve heaved a sigh. “I wish…” he said. Then he stopped, shook his head. “Looks like we’ve got no time to waste, then.”
The warmth in Tony’s chest was uncomfortably reminiscent of gratitude. Gratitude was a dangerous emotion and not to be indulged. “I just wish I could remember more.”
Thinking, as with everything else Steve did, was a highly physical act. His brows snapped together and one hand rose to his chin, the other drumming a cadence on one large and—Tony couldn’t help but notice—beautifully muscled thigh.
“I remember… There was a disturbance in Prospect Park. Some kind of… unidentified craft. I was called in, and so were you, and then there was…” Steve’s frown deepened. “Some kind of light?”
Tony pushed himself up onto his elbow.
“Steve,” he said, looking the other man straight in the eye, “are you honestly telling me we’ve been abducted by aliens?”
Steve shifted, the way he did when he was uncertain and didn’t want to show it. “It’s a possibility.”
Tony couldn’t help himself.
He started to laugh.
They’d been abducted by aliens—actual, genuine aliens , who’d stripped them of their clothes and put down sheets to protect the furniture.
“Well,” he said, “if that doesn’t take the cake. Abducted by aliens. In Brooklyn . Can’t say I expected my weekend to involve cattle mutilation and anal probes, but I’m adaptable.”
Steve choked. “Involve what ?”
His face was fire-engine red.
Tony felt a brief pang of remorse, and waved a hand. “It’s a mid-twentieth century thing, don’t worry about it. Just. Abducted by aliens .” He shook his head. “Not that I don’t enjoy a nice anal probing from time to time, but under the circumstances…”
Steve shoved himself to his feet, glowering like a thundercloud. “I’m going to look for a way out.” And something to punch, was the unspoken follow-up.
“Well, if you can walk, by all means,” Tony said. “See if there’s a drinks cabinet while you’re at it.”
Steve turned upon him a fulminating glare, then stalked off to examine the corner of the room furthest from Tony.
Tony propped himself up on the back of the divan to watch his progress. “Don’t forget to check behind the hangings. That’s where they always hide the secret passageways in the movies.”
“We’re not in a movie,” Steve said, but he started for the tapestries just the same.
“Cap,” Tony said patiently. “We’ve been abducted by aliens, and they’ve stolen our pants. I think the normal parameters have ceased to apply.”
Steve gave a short of twitch of the shoulder, whether in acknowledgement or dismissal Tony couldn’t say. He reached out, presumably to pull the tapestry aside, and then recoiled. It made quite a sight, a man of all his hulking muscularity and deadly grace leaping backwards through the air like a startled kitten. Tony had no doubt that if Steve had fur, it would be standing on end.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, pushing himself further upright, on the lookout for some new danger.
“Nothing,” Steve said, too quickly.
“Clearly it was something.”
“It’s not…” Steve huffed out a breath.
“If we’re going to get out of here, we’ll need to be open about sharing information.”
“It’s just… These hangings,” Steve said stiffly. “They aren’t… They’re indecent.”
Tony felt himself perk up a little. “ Really ,” he said, drawing out the word. “Tell me more.”
“Go look for yourself.”
“Well, I could ,” Tony reminded him, “but sadly, my limbs aren’t cooperating. Maybe you could describe it to me?” He put on a winsome smile, batting his lashes at Steve’s oblivious back.
He was half expecting Steve to refuse outright, but…
“There’s a, uh. A group of figures all tangled up together, and there’s something with—with, uh. Tentacles, and—” He coughed. “It’s not important.”
That sounded interesting enough to be worth the risk of a second collapse, and anyway, Tony had never been one for indulging his body’s frailties. He pushed himself all the way upright, and from there, to his feet, and found, to his surprise and pleasure, that he hardly felt dizzy at all.
He joined Steve over by the tapestries.
“You weren’t exaggerating,” he said, impressed. “These are indecent. And this is coming from something of a connoisseur.”
“I thought you couldn’t stand,” Steve said irritably.
Tony shrugged. “It seems I lacked the proper motivation.”
“You’re a lech.”
“One of my better qualities,” Tony agreed. His knees wobbled.
In two strides, Steve was at his side, reaching out to steady him. Tony waved him off.
“No, no, I’m all right.”
“If you’re sure,” Steve said, doubtfully. He lowered his hand but didn’t move away.
“It does seem awfully salacious for casual décor,” Tony said, considering the tapestry again. “Creates a very… particular first impression.”
Steve grunted. “Might be a cultural thing.”
Tony glanced at him, surprised. When he thought of Steve Rogers, ‘cultural sensitivity’ was hardly the first thing that sprang to mind.
Steve was gazing at him out of the corner of his eye, but as soon as Tony turned towards him, he looked away, the ruddy flush back on his cheeks.
He thought of Jan’s endless complaints back when she and Steve were dating. He supposed the whole future must seem indecent to Steve.
“It could be,” he agreed, turning back to the tapestry and tilting his head to one side. “Unless this is all part of some kind of intergalactic breeding program.” Beside him, Steve choked. “I suppose the two aren’t mutually exclusive.”
He cast a glance at his spluttering companion. Steve’s face was bright red, his eyes wide and wild; he was staring at Tony like Tony was something he’d never seen before, some dread beast of lore. Tony half expected him to pull out a crucifix and start waving it around.
“That’s— That’s— Why would you—”
“Oh, it’s a staple of the more exciting kind of speculative fiction. Starting with… Asimov, I think, but it’s rather taken off since then. Aliens spot a virgin world—well, I say virgin—beam up a pair of likely looking specimens—”
“That’s not— We can’t— We’re both men ,” Steve managed.
“Don’t tell me you’re that old fashioned,” Tony said, eyeing Steve in disappointment.
It was only to be expected, really. Steve had hardly been a paragon of liberalism and enlightenment back in the 1940s, let alone by twenty-first century standards. Certainly it explained the way Steve always responded to Tony’s flirting. All of the other Ultimates took it in their stride, but Steve always went stiff and stand-offish, even more so than was usual for him. And Tony flirted with everyone . It was as natural to him as breathing, and nearly as indispensable. It wasn’t like it was personal.
Well. Maybe it was a little personal, at least where Steve was concerned. But Steve didn’t know that.
Steve let out an adenoidal sound of distress, something sort of like nguh . “I didn’t—” he began, and cut himself short, confusion already curdling to anger in his voice. “You said breed , but that’s not possible with… Men can’t…”
“Well, you know that, and I know that,” Tony said cheerfully, “but do our hosts? I suppose we’ll find out.”
“That’s not funny.”
“A sprinkling of sex pollen through the air vents to loosen the inhibitions,” Tony went on, warming to his subject, “and—”
“I said enough !” Steve’s chest was heaving, his fists balled tightly at his sides.
“I’m sorry,” Tony said, after a moment. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”
He wasn’t sure if that was true, and he found he rather disliked that uncertainty.
“I’m not —” Steve broke off on a muttered curse. “Can we focus on escaping?”
“Of course! Good that at least one of us has his priorities sorted out.” He favored Steve with a warm smile, but Steve wasn’t looking at him. He had already turned away and begun to rifle through the drawers of a nearby cabinet.
Tony sighed and turned his attention back to the tapestry. He reached out to pull it aside.
“I thought,” Steve growled, slamming one of the drawers home with unnecessary violence, “we were going to focus .”
“Absolutely,” Tony assured him. “I’m behind you one hundred percent.” (And what he wouldn’t give for that to be true.) “I just thought you might like to know I’ve found a door.”
The door opened onto a small, circular chamber, carved out of the same marble-like stone as the main room, but rather more roughly hewn. It could have been a natural cave adapted for habitation, or it could have been a room specifically designed to resemble a cave; there was no way of easily telling. Most of the floor of the room was taken up by a large spring.
“It’s warm,” Tony said, kneeling to dip his fingers into the pool.
Steve grabbed him by the shoulder and yanked him back. “Are you crazy? We have no idea what that is!”
“You don’t know that!”
“What else could it be?” Tony asked reasonably. “Vodka?”
Steve made a kind of harrumphing sound. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you.”
“I’m afraid after that business with the Widow, I’ve rather lost the taste for the stuff. Now gin, that would be another story. Or white rum, in a pinch. But unfortunately, it’s only water.” He glanced wistfully at the pool. “I don’t suppose we have time for a quick dip? Hot springs are so terribly relaxing.”
He’d meant it as a joke—an obvious one, he’d thought—and was thus unprepared for the way Steve’s face flushed, a muscle ticking in his jaw.
“So they tell me.”
Steve turned away. “We need to search the rest of the chamber.”
A thorough examination of both rooms revealed no sign of an entrance.
“There has to be a door somewhere ,” Tony said, exasperated. “Unless they just beamed us in.” He stopped. “Good lord. Maybe they did just beam us in.” He patted his cheek surreptitiously. Even if he had been broken down to his component atoms and reassembled inside the chamber, it wasn’t likely to have left a tangible mark, but the gesture made him feel better, just a little.
He glanced over towards Steve, who was standing, staring into space, hands clasping and unclasping at his sides. Brooding , Tony thought. Which was nothing out of the ordinary, except for the fact that they were on a mission. Steve was always so focused on missions. Driven. One might even say to a fault. It had been said, in the halls of the Triskelion, and probably even in Tony’s own tower. Not by Tony, but it had been said.
“Steve?” he asked, cautiously, the man’s given name still feeling strangely daring in his mouth.
Steve started. “What?”
“You were looking a bit… lost.” Care to share with the rest of the class , Tony almost said, but something about Steve’s demeanor robbed him of the desire to make smart remarks. Miracles did happen.
“It’s nothing,” Steve said.
Tony was considering whether or not to press the point, when Steve spoke again.
“You don’t really think—” he began, before cutting off abruptly.
“I’m a man of many talents, it’s true, but I’m afraid mind-reading isn’t among them,” Tony reminded him gently.
“It’s stupid,” Steve muttered. And yet, a minute later: “What you were saying before. About the—the pollen, and the aliens, and— You don’t really think…?”
“Oh,” Tony said. “No, of course not. Just—” wishful thinking “—idle speculation.” He thought about it. “Although it still leaves the question of why they took our clothes.”
“To shame us,” Steve said instantly. “To throw us off our guard.”
Tony propped his hip against the wall. “Captain, I don’t believe you’ve been off guard for a minute in your life. And believe me, you have nothing to be ashamed about.”
Steve darted a glance at him, too quickly for Tony to make out his expression.
“We should try to make some weapons,” he said. “Maybe if we take apart the furniture.”
“Ah, an engineering problem!” Finally, something for him to do other than stand around surreptitiously ogling Steve in his underwear, which was not in the least bit constructive, and could very easily become a problem. Take apart the furniture; make some weapons. Easy.
“Well,” Tony said, sitting back a little while later and feeling rather winded. “I must say, that’s some impressive craftsmanship. Whoever our hosts are, they’ve certainly done their research. You’ve got to admit that at least.”
He eyed the chaise longue, as serenely and entirely intact as if an irate supersoldier and a genius engineer hadn’t just spent half an hour doing their best to take it to pieces.
“I’m not going to waste my admiration on criminals,” Steve said. He sounded—what else was new?—furious, but there was a note of frustration mixed in. In anyone else, Tony might have called that tone… sullen.
He couldn’t help but be a little bit charmed.
“We’ll make it out,” he said, soothingly. “We’ve got Earth’s greatest tactician on our side, and as for me, they can’t keep their tech hidden forever. It’s just a matter of waiting for them to show their hand.
He reached out to place a reassuring hand on Steve’s shoulder but Steve flinched away from the touch.
Tony supposed he deserved that for those cracks about sex pollen and alien breeding programs earlier. It wasn’t like he hadn’t known Steve Rogers was the most aggressively heterosexual man ever to walk the face of the planet (or wherever they were now, come to that). He probably scored a negative on the Kinsey scale.
Didn’t mean the rejection didn’t sting, just a little.
“Well,” Tony said, getting to his feet with one of his most press-ready smiles, “I don’t know about you, but I could really use a bath after all that exertion.”
Steve glanced sharply over at him, raking his eyes over Tony’s body as if verifying the truth of the statement. Tony’s irritation increased. Just because he wasn’t a super soldier didn’t mean he wasn’t capable of physical labor. Pointedly, he stretched, rolling his shoulders back in a way he knew made his pecs flex.
Steve looked quickly away.
“You are smelling a bit ripe,” he said gruffly.
Tony smiled sweetly. “How charming of you to notice. Those big chunks of fabric in the wardrobe—they seem like they’d do for towels, don’t you think?”
Steve started. “You’re not seriously considering—”
Tony let his eyebrows arch. “You thought I was making small talk?”
“Well.” Steve shifted his weight. “Yes. But you don’t actually intend…”
“What if they come back while you’re—” Steve waved his hand in a gesture that somehow managed to be both curt and vague.
“When I’m what, darling? In the bath? Naked?”
“Do you have to be so—?”
It really was unfair that Steve should be so handsome even when his cheeks had assumed the color and sheen of an overripe tomato.
“Nothing wrong with nudity, Captain,” Tony chided. “It’s our natural state. And in that case, I’ll be precisely as much use to you in a fight as I would be unbathed, only slipperier. Could be a tactical advantage.” He winked.
“And if they’ve put something in the water?”
“Now you’re just being silly. If they wanted to drug us, there are a million better ways to do it than putting something in the water of a bath they can’t be sure we’re going to take.”
Tony suppressed a sigh. “You’re perfectly welcome to join me. I’d hate to think you were lonely…”
With a disgusted noise, Steve shoved himself to his feet and stalked over to the wardrobe, opening it with a crash. One moment more and one of the alien towels was flying across the room towards Tony. He snatched it out of the air. Well. That had worked, anyway.
“Your loss,” he said, keeping his voice light and easy. “Do let me know if the little green men come a-knocking, won’t you?”
And with that, he sauntered off towards the door to the bathing room. He could feel Steve’s gaze, hot and unwavering against his back as he went.
It wasn’t until Tony had disappeared behind the tapestry that Steve realized he’d been staring. He tore his gaze away from the place where Tony had vanished. The way he had been moving, swinging his hips like a dame… It was that damned Stark need to make a show out of everything.
Steve slammed the wardrobe shut with a violence that would have sent any normal door off its hinges. Impressive craftsmanship, Tony had called it. Steve could think of a few choicer words of his own, most of which involved far fewer syllables.
He began another inspection of the perimeter, more to have something to do than out of any expectation that he’d find something new. There was a restless kind of energy bubbling up inside him. Frustration, he thought, probably. He’d never done well with being cooped up. He needed action, any kind of action. He was almost ready to settle on asking Tony to spar—the man could use some work on his hand to hand—except, of course, Tony had gone off to take a bath, like this was a trip to a goddamn health spa.
You could go and ask anyway, something in him suggested. Tony probably wouldn’t mind. He didn’t seem to have the capacity for shame. (Believe me, Tony’s voice purred in his memory, you have nothing to be ashamed about.) All Steve had to do was pull aside the hangings, open the door— Tony turning towards the sound, the surprise on his face swiftly giving way to pleasure: “Captain! Decided to join me after all?”
Steve realized he’d come to a halt in front of the tapestry which hid the door to the bathing room. He cocked his ears, straining for the sound of movement from within.
Silence. Nothing emanating from beyond except a faint, fragrant warmth on the air.
It probably meant nothing, of course. The door was solid, easily solid enough to block most sounds— soft splashes, sighs —even from Steve’s enhanced hearing. Still, Steve didn’t like it, being cut off like that, under the circumstances. Not knowing what was going on. He could always just… just open the door and check…
Tony would be in the pool already, well-muscled shoulders peeping above the stone lip, towel abandoned at the side. “Come on in,” he’d say, with that crooked face-splitter of a smile, “the water’s divine,” and that water, water so clear and pure it looked like glass—you could see straight through—
Steve forced his feet to resume their pacing. What the hell was Tony thinking, anyway, running off for a soak at a time like this? This was what came of working with civilians. No damn discipline. Bad enough the man showed up to the field smelling like a distillery more times than not. What had Tony said earlier? “You pick up that sort of thing, when you’re the world’s highest functioning alcoholic.” And that was what he called himself.
No discipline at all.
The image flashed across his mind of the look on Tony’s face as he said it, his shoulders drawn tight as if bracing for a blow…
Steve stopped again. Breathed in. Breathed out.
So maybe he was being unfair. Sure, Tony had his problems, and sure, he was about the furthest thing from a soldier Steve had ever fought with, but he was a good fighter and a damn good teammate, and most of the time there was no one Steve would rather have at his back.
In fact, from a strategic standpoint, Stark was probably the best possible person to be stuck with. Steve had hobnobbed with some big brains in his day—Abraham Erskine had certainly been no slouch in that department—but he’d never seen anything to match Tony. If they really had been kidnapped by— by— men from Mars, his brain supplied unhelpfully—then chances were they were going to have to requisition a ship, and if there was one man in the world Steve would trust to pilot a damn flying saucer off the cuff, it was Tony Stark.
It was just this way Tony had sometimes of needling a fellow, poking and prodding at his weak points, wriggling his way under Steve’s skin with a barbed quip— “Don’t tell me you’re that old fashioned,” Tony sighed, blue eyes gleaming —and a challenging smile that said he belonged there—
…that had come out wrong.
And that was Tony’s fault too, now Steve came to think of it. All those ridiculous fairy tales about… what was it? Sex pollen? Steve shivered with the absurdity of it. Imagine, making up a thing like that. God only knew what else was churning away in that degenerate brain of his. All the sins of Sodom and Gomorroh, perversions Steve couldn’t even begin to imagine—
“I could show you…” Tony’s voice a purr as he sprawled across his penthouse couch like a goddamn Roman emperor. He’d be wearing one of those ridiculous dressing gowns of his, the light of the afternoon sun picking out the richness of the fabric, the honeyed tones in his skin. “If you like. All you have to do is ask.” And maybe, just maybe, his legs would shift, would part, the fabric slipping aside to reveal a sliver of muscled thigh…
Steve wiped a hand viciously across his mouth, the other slamming out to catch the wall. What the hell was wrong with him?
Good thing Tony wasn’t here after all, to see the effect of all his sly little insinuations. He’d probably laugh himself sick. Oh, Steve knew what they all thought of him—old-fashioned, uptight. A relic. Stark was no better than the rest of them. Mr. Big Shot, Mr. Cosmopolitan—he’d probably never felt out of place a day in his life.
Another memory: “I’m sorry,” Tony’s face tight with startled contrition, “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”
Then what the hell had he meant by it? He’d seemed so… surprised wasn’t the right word. More… caught out, by Steve’s reaction. Wrongfooted, even, if such a thing were possible.
Probably not trying to wind Steve up then, or at least, not much. The man was an ass, undeniably, but Steve had never known him to be a malicious ass. Probably the whole thing was just a joke—ill-considered, sure, but it did seem like the sort of thing Tony Stark might find funny.
He licked suddenly dry lips.
He did think sometimes that maybe… It was only ever little things—off-hand comments, the occasional touch. The way he’d caught Tony looking at him, when Tony thought he wasn’t watching. Could he—
No, surely not.
Steve twitched his shoulders, trying to shake free the slow, crawling heat that had somehow insinuated itself just beneath his skin.
He couldn’t have been… testing the waters, could he? It seemed ridiculous, to think that someone like Tony Stark would ever… But it was a possibility.
He wouldn’t even be the first to make that mistake. There’d been a couple of… of misunderstandings, hastily and definitively set to rights, about Steve and the kind of man he was. That was back in the days before the serum, mostly. Afterwards, people had tended to let Steve be. Which was fine—was good, even. Was what Steve wanted. Do the job, get in, get out, win the war, get home to Gail. He hadn’t been in the market for distractions, and the guys out there had sensed that, or seemed to.
Except there was Corporal Monaghan, who’d made a pass at him behind the barracks one night, and Steve’d never told— would never’ve told, only three weeks later Monaghan was packed off with an administrative discharge, and Steve knew Monaghan didn’t have the sense he was born with—he’d tried it with Steve, after all, and if that didn’t show how skewed his judgement was…
It could’ve been anyone who ratted him out, but Steve couldn’t help wondering if Monaghan had thought Steve had been the one— He’d looked so damn scared when Steve set him right, that was the thing. And sure, maybe Steve’d been a little short with him, or, okay, maybe more than a little, but you didn’t go around accusing a guy of something like that, Jesus. But he still wouldn’t have told.
He’d fantasized about it sometimes, meeting Monaghan in the nebulous storybook future of “after the war.” A chance encounter in a New York street, and Steve would smile and say, “Let me buy you a drink,” and he’d explain, that it hadn’t been him, and maybe even—on his bolder nights—he might say, “I’m sorry that happened to you,” and then—
There was no “and then.” He had Gail waiting for him. Gail whom he loved, Gail whom he would’ve been faithful to, and anyway he wouldn’t— He wasn’t—
Tony reminded him of Monaghan sometimes, a little. They weren’t really anything alike. Charlie Monaghan was a sweet-faced kid of nineteen, soft-spoken and eager and none too bright, whereas Tony… Tony was all angles and hard-polished edges, and he was a damn sight older than nineteen.
It was the eyes. Big and clear and blue as blue could be. It was the eyes, and it was…
Not mission relevant, Christ.
Steve yanked himself away from the wall. There were things— surely there were things he should be doing. Re-rechecking the perimeter. Looking for weapons. Again.
He rounded on the wardrobe. If he could just get one of those doors off, it might do for a makeshift shield. Sure the shape would be different, and the weight and the size and the balance, but all food is meat to a starving man. The hinges—that was where the door would be weakest. The fact that he couldn’t see any hinges was beside the point. The door was attached somehow, and however that was, Steve could break it.
And yeah, maybe that hadn’t worked out so well for him with the chaise longue, but this was a different piece of furniture, and anyway, it wasn’t really a question of strength so much as will. Steve had that in spades. All he needed to do was put it to work.
Swing the door as far out as it would go, that was the way. One hand on the top, another along the side… Now pull. No, harder. That was it, really— ungh— put your back into it. Don’t think about the past. Don’t think about wet-behind-the-ears little blue-tickets without the sense they were born with—probably fit only for cannon fodder, so it was for the best, wasn’t it, really, that Monaghan was out of it, and probably decades dead by now anyway— Grip it tighter, one foot braced across the bottom of the wardrobe, leverage, yes. Don’t think about a wicked smile beneath a curling mustache, don’t think about blue eyes and an insinuating manner, don’t think, don’t think, pull, soldier, pull—
And then his hand was sliding, tractionless, across the top of the wardrobe door, his foot kicking up from where it was braced at the bottom, the other crumpling beneath him, and he was falling, falling, god dammit—
Steve pushed himself up from the floor and into a seated position, scowling. His body ached at every point of impact. The bruises would fade in a matter of hours, of course, but the memory of how he’d acquired them—that sting would linger. The one thing needed to put the topper on the cake would be Tony rushing out to see what the noise was all about.
Kneeling to crouch just behind him, body all water-slick heat where it brushed against Steve’s, the warm puff of breath in Steve’s ear—“Show me where it hurts, lovey.” One hand curling around Steve’s shoulder, thumb digging grooves into the muscle while the other hand slid comfortingly down Steve’s back, down and further down—
Steve raked his hands through his hair, hunching over with a little groan of frustration. What was the matter with him today? Was he really that susceptible—that, that weak— that only a few casually dropped words, a bit of offhand innuendo could twist him up this badly?
It wasn’t that he’d never thought of Tony like that before, but that was—was normal, in moderation. So maybe he’d noticed that Tony Stark was a good-looking fellow; no law against noticing. Hell, magazines wrote whole articles about it, he’d have to have been blind — And sure, so maybe Tony had crossed his mind once or twice—purely by accident!—during one of his rare self-care sessions, but that was understandable, right? The man was practically synonymous with sex—he was almost more famous for it than he was for being Iron Man, and anyway Steve had always pictured him with women, so it wasn’t like—
No, it wasn’t anything like this, this twitchy, circular fixation, this slow massing of heat deep down where he’d never asked heat to go.
Steve curled further in on himself, feeling horribly exposed. What he wouldn’t give for his uniform, for his shield, for a well-ordered mind and a disciplined body. Probably whatever drug his captors had used had some sort of… lingering side effects. Probably it wasn’t his fault. But none of that mattered, because any minute now Tony was going to come out here and see— And Christ, what he’d think… what he’d say. Or, worse, what he wouldn’t say. What he’d leave hanging in the air between them.
Except that Tony didn’t come out. Because… because he hadn’t heard anything, Steve realized. He’d noticed it before, when he’d stood trying to listen outside the door to the bathing room. The rooms were, effectively, soundproofed.
Strange, though, that the door should be enough to block out all sound but still let through the steam from the pool. He could smell it even more strongly than before, that humid, rolling fragrance. It reminded him of the pearls Jan used to drop into her bath at the end of a long day, that sweet floral note, entirely feminine in the way it both soothed and captivated—
And wouldn’t it be just like Tony, to indulge in that kind of—of shameless self-indulgence. His home bathroom was probably filled with scented bath oils, lined with as many bright and costly bottles as any lady’s boudoir. Steve knew his body for what it was, a tool, something to be maintained in both appearance and functionality, but Tony— Tony would view his as something to be pampered. That was what came of being—being rich, and handsome, and having the world itself dropped at your feet. Tony just didn’t understand—
“Come here, darling,” Tony’s voice a low, honeyed glide across his ears. “Let me spoil you.”
And of course Steve would never—could never say yes to something like that, but he didn’t have to. He was already in the tub, surrounded by the unthinkable luxury of Tony’s bathroom, the unthinkable luxury of Tony himself, his knees pressed firm against Steve’s hips as he knelt behind him to scrub shampoo through Steve’s hair.
Steve himself boneless in the gently lapping heat, in the soft-firm motions of Tony’s fingers and the sweetness of perfume on the air. Tony was still speaking, whispering terrible, impossible things, like, “you deserve this,” and “I want to give it to you,” and “look how lovely you are,” and “do you know how much I want you” and the air so sweet and Tony’s torso a solid line against him and lower, pressed against the small of his back—
Steve lurched to his feet, stumbled half-blindly across the room. One hand caught the back of one of the sofas, as the other dug furiously—painfully—into the root of his crotch. He couldn’t— he shouldn’t be— No. Hard over this? Or getting there at least, Jesus.
He needed a cold shower, he needed to get out of there, he needed—
To breathe, first, calm his racing heartbeat, in—and his nostrils were flooded with floral fragrance, almost cloying now in his over-sensitive state. When did it get that strong? How—?
“A sprinkling of sex pollen through the air vents,” Tony drawled in his memory.
No, that was crazy. It was a joke, it was just a stupid—
Crazy, yes, but crazier than being kidnapped by spacemen in the first place? Crazier than being stripped down and left to sprawl across some fancy couch like a silver screen vamp? Crazier than all these thoughts and these feelings which shouldn’t— couldn’t belong to him?
And— And if Tony’s idea, crazy as it was, was right… If it was just some kind of… twisted alien sex drug, then… that was okay, then, wasn’t it? It was okay to feel like this, to think these things, about Tony. It wasn’t his fault. No one could hold him to blame if he—
“Now, I could’ve sworn I saw some robes in that wardrobe.”
Tony was standing in the doorway to the bathing room. There was a towel slung low about his waist, leaving what looked like acres of toned olive skin on full display. There was no mistaking Tony’s body for a woman’s, not with that beard, or the downing of dark hair across his pecs, or that darker trail leading down from his navel to beneath the towel…
The sudden downward rush of blood in Steve’s body left him feeling almost lightheaded.
And that meant… If Steve was still feeling like this, so powerfully, about someone who was so obviously… not female, then that must prove that he’d been drugged after all, and he thought he could cry from the sheer relief of it, and he took a step forward, and—
“Steve?” Tony’s brows had furrowed. “Is everything all right?”
Steve felt half-starved, and just looking at Tony was a feast. How had he ever managed to stand and hold a conversation with him without being transfixed by the ink-spill of his hair, the strong, clean lines of his throat? He forced himself to speak.
“That… What you said earlier, about the aliens and the kidnapping and the—the pollen—”
“ Oh .” Tony’s face seemed to clear, and settle into something agonizingly close to kindness. “I’m sorry, darling, I was just being flippant. You know me. I didn’t realize it’d bother you so much—”
Steve was shaking his head. “That’s not—” he rasped. Stopped. Cleared his throat.
Shut his eyes.
“While you were gone there was… some kind of perfume, I don’t know where from, and I think—what you were saying—”
A moment of silence.
“You think you’ve been drugged?” Tony said, and his voice was so careful, as though he was afraid Steve might break if he said the wrong thing.
“Can’t you smell it?”
“I can certainly smell something,” Tony hedged. “It reminds me a bit of jasmine. In fact, it reminds me quite a lot of jasmine. Unmistakably, even.”
“We’ve been abducted by aliens,” Steve grit out. “Why would they have jasmine in outer space?”
“It’s a fair point,” Tony allowed, cautiously. “But I still don’t see why you’d assume…”
And then his eyes flicked down, and Steve hurriedly stepped right to hide himself behind the back of the divan, but he was too tall, and anyway, it was too late. Tony had seen.
“Oh,” Tony said, softly. Then again, “ oh ,” sounding almost lost, which wasn’t right because surely one of them had to know what they were doing here.
“It was… before, when I first smelled it, I was thinking… and then you came out in that— Looking like—” Steve swallowed. “And I…”
“Darling, I—” Tony turned wide, worried eyes up towards Steve. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t—don’t you feel it?” Steve asked, almost desperately.
“I…” Tony’s face pulled into some parody of a smile. “To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure.”
“How can you not be sure?” Steve’s voice cracked on the question. “Either you feel it, or you don’t.”
“I certainly feel… something,” Tony hedged.
Steve felt an overwhelming surge of relief—it wasn’t just him, he wasn’t alone—before he realized a very important difference.
“But you’re not…” Steve jerked his head at the towel, and its disappointing lack of a bulge.
“Oh!” Tony laughed and ducked his head, looking uncharacteristically sheepish. “I may have… taken care of the problem. Pre-emptively, you understand.”
Steve’s mouth went dry. “You mean you…?”
“Jerked off in the bathing room? I thought you’d prefer it to me walking around with…” Tony made a dismissive kind of gesture.
“But that—that was before I—”
“ Well ,” Tony said, “now that you mention it, it was in the bathing room too, that… jasmine smell. I didn’t think much of it.”
“But you started to get—”
“Well, to be honest, I’d largely put that down to your influence.”
Steve froze. “To— to my—”
Tony put up his chin and his jaw was set, like he—like he expected Steve to hit him, or—
“You mean you were… thinking about me ?”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Tony drawled, like it meant nothing, but his eyes were wary and a little bit fearful.
“Mother of God, Tony, you—” And then there was nothing else to say. Steve crossed the room in three strides, and then he was taking Tony’s face in his hands, drawing it up to his and Tony’s lips were parting and the heat of his breath—the heat and the wet and the heat—