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Say You're Sweet (for Me)

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****

Usually, when Steve woke up lying face-down on the floor, his first thought was something like "Who hit me?" or "How many of them were there?" or "Which way did they go?"

This time, it was more along the lines of "Why is this floor sticky?"

He pushed himself up to a sitting position--the floor wasn't just sticky, but also spongy, with a texture he'd never encountered, at least on a floor--and immediately regretted it when his stomach churned. "Ugh," he muttered. "What is this?"

"Sorry about that," came Tony's voice from somewhere behind him. Steve decided his head was pounding too much to turn it and waited until Tony came around into view. "I figured you'd be better off face down, in case you vomited. You were--" Tony twisted his hands together a couple of times before continuing. "You had convulsions when they first put us in here, so I didn't want to take any chances."

"You're all right," Steve said, without being sure why that was so surprising. He couldn't remember--

"We're intelligent beings," Tony shouted. "You can't keep us in a zoo!"

As Steve watched, Tony strode forward, toward the larger of the two purple gelatinous blobs who were their captors.

The blob formed some kind of pseudopod that crackled with energy as it reached out toward Tony.

Steve didn't consciously decide to move; he simply lunged forward, throwing himself in front of Tony and knocking him to the ground just as the pseudopod discharged a beam of purple light. It missed Tony completely; Steve took the full force of it.

The last thing he remembered was collapsing on top of Tony.

"Yeah, I'm okay," Tony said sharply. "A couple of bruises--you kneed me in the back when we went down--but that's it. It's you I'm worried about."

"I'm fine," Steve said, even though he was still nauseated and it felt like someone was kicking the inside of his skull.

That didn't matter. If whatever that alien had done was strong enough to knock him out, who knew what it might have done to Tony, or to the arc reactor in Tony's chest? It was worth a little pain to make sure that Tony was safe.

At least, by some definitions of the word "safe" that included "being held captive on what Steve figured was an alien ship." The tractor beam that had pulled them off the tower roof had dragged them into a spaceship, anyway, and Steve assumed that they were still there. If he'd been unconscious for more than a few minutes, Tony would have said something about it.

Now that Steve's head was beginning to clear, he could see that he and Tony were in a room about fifteen feet square, with solid metallic walls on three sides and a transparent shimmer on the fourth that had to be some kind of force field.

Steve started struggling to his feet. Tony held out a hand; Steve gratefully took it, allowing Tony to help him up. "What happened to the others?" The aliens had immobilized Hulk as soon as they'd come on board, and Thor shortly afterward. Everyone had been unharmed when Steve had been knocked out, but if someone had tried to fight back after he'd fallen...

"We're here," Clint called from somewhere out of view. "I'm right across the hall."

The two layers of force field meant it was hard to see him clearly, but when Steve looked again, he could see Clint waving at him.

"And I'm on your right," said Natasha.

"Hulk and I are here as well," Thor said, his voice coming from the other direction.

"Don't like this place," Hulk grumbled. "Nothing to smash."

If Hulk's cell were anything like this one, Steve could see why he'd be disappointed. Aside from a small door at the back of the room, it was completely featureless: metallic walls and ceiling, light coming from unseen fixtures overhead, spongy black floor.

"It's a good thing Sam wasn't with us," Steve said.

Sam had been in class instead of on the tower roof that afternoon, when the others had decided it had been a perfect day to grill burgers and relax a little in between crises. That was why Tony didn't have his armor and none of them had their weapons; Clint had brought out a Super Soaker--it had been a hot enough day that none of them had minded--but he'd apparently dropped it when the beam had swept him up, because Steve didn't remember him having it when the aliens had confronted them.

"It's good for Sam, anyway," Tony said.

"At least there's someone who'll be trying to get us back," Steve corrected him.

"Once he figures out what happened to us and where we are," said Natasha.

"So fill me in," Steve said. "What happened after I was hit?"

Tony leaned back against the wall, then slid down until he was sitting with his back against it. "They put us in these cells. This ship is a traveling zoo--that's why the front walls are force fields instead of physical walls, so that visitors can see us in our 'natural habitat.'"

He shrugged. "I'm trying to get past the force field, but no luck yet. Thor tried summoning Mjolnir. It got through the force field to him, but he hasn't been able to use it to get out. From what I overheard as they were putting us in here, they're recharging their fuel cells, so we've got some time before they break orbit. I don't know how much time, though."

"Tell him the good part," Clint said.

"There's a good part?" Steve stretched, rubbing the back of his neck. The nausea was starting to wear off, though he still had a headache.

Tony didn't meet Steve's eyes. "They're going to furnish our cages as soon as they can--I really want to see what they're using, maybe an advanced 3D printer?--so we won't have to sleep on the floor. And that door in the back leads to a bathroom. It, uh, needs a drastic redesign, which they're working on, but at least there's running water."

"Tell him why you two are in the same cage," Clint persisted. Steve could hear suppressed laughter in his voice, but he couldn't figure out what about this situation would appeal to even Clint's warped sense of humor.

"Shut up, Hawkeye," Tony growled.

"Look, I've been kidnapped by purple blobby zookeepers, I have to take my fun where I can get it."

"I'm not saying that I agree with Clint," Natasha said, "but Steve needs to know, and it should probably come from you, Tony."

"It should come from someone," Steve said. "And soon, please?"

Tony still wasn't looking at him. In fact, he looked a little embarrassed.

It wasn't an expression Steve was used to seeing on him. Any embarrassment Tony might feel was generally covered up with arrogance or sarcasm.

"The thing you did earlier," Tony said. "When you jumped in front of that blast to protect me, like an idiot."

"That was sound strategy," Steve argued. "What if the energy had shorted out your arc reactor? Besides, I heal much quicker than you do. We need everyone in good condition so that we can take any chance we get to escape."

Besides, Steve couldn't stand by and let someone else get hurt without trying to prevent it. Anyone else, but especially his team. And especially Tony.

"Yeah, fine," Tony said. "Anyway, you might have noticed that our hosts are... blobs. They don't have biological sexes. They probably reproduce by fission, like amoebas. Not sure how that works with an intelligent multi-cellular organism, but I also didn't feel like asking."

"Okay," Steve said cautiously. He was beginning to get a vague uncomfortable sense of where this was heading, but he hoped he was wrong.

"They're very interested in making their little zoo self-sustaining," Tony went on, "and they're also interested in learning more about how reproduction works in various species with sexual dimorphism."

That would explain why, across the corridor, Clint was snickering.

Tony was still talking, though. "So when you leaped forward to protect me, they, uh. Decided that since no one else did that, you were protecting your mate."

Of course no one else had. They'd immobilized Hulk and Thor, and Natasha and Clint would be as vulnerable to the energy blast as Tony was.

"My mate," Steve repeated, trying to keep his voice flat.

"Yeah. They put us in the same cage, because..." Tony waved his hands in the air in a gesture that meant absolutely nothing, but simultaneously conveyed a lot more information than Steve wanted.

"Because they think you're going to make baby humans for them," Clint filled in helpfully.

"Yeah, I got that, Hawkeye," Steve snapped. His face felt like he was on fire.

Aliens thought that Tony was his mate. It was utterly ridiculous, of course. They thought he and Tony could have children together, so clearly they just didn't understand how human reproduction worked at all.

Steve didn't think enlightening them was a good idea. They'd just put Natasha in with one of them, or with Clint, and if Sam didn't track them down quickly enough, she and whichever man the aliens chose for her might have to, well, demonstrate.

Of course, Steve and Tony might be required to "demonstrate," too, but at least being forced into sex wasn't in the standard book of threats that got used against them. A lot of villains wanted to get their hands on Steve's body, but generally not in that particular way.

It wouldn't be good, but it would be better. Even if Steve wouldn't say as much, because Natasha wouldn't appreciate it even if was true.

"We're going to get out of here," Tony said. "Long before they expect us to produce babies. We can tell them we go through pon farr and it's six years until the next one, if we have to."

"Pon...?"

"We've been neglecting your cultural education," Tony said, "but the key point is that it's a seven-year mating cycle, so it would buy us time. They clearly haven't been studying us very well if they thought you were a woman, so they won't know any better."

"What makes you think they thought I was the woman?" Not that it mattered; Steve's brain was just grabbing hold to irrelevancies.

"Okay, fine, calm down," Tony said. Steve thought about arguing that he was calm, but he had been pretty loud just then, so he just nodded.

"It doesn't matter who they thought was what," Tony said. "The point is that we're not going to have to mate for their edutainment purposes, so you can stop freaking out. We'll be out of here long before it comes to that. Sam's almost as smart as I am; he'll figure out where we are, and once we're out of these cages, we'll figure out how to get back to Earth."

"And if Sam doesn't find us?"

"I'm working on deactivating the force fields myself," Tony reminded him. "We'll be out of here by lunchtime tomorrow."

"Of course we will be," Steve said loyally. He wasn't sure it was going to be that easy, but Tony getting defensive about his abilities wasn't going to help matters. "What can I do to help?"

****

In the end, they were on the ship a little longer than Tony had predicted, but not long enough that the aliens had gotten impatient about human reproduction. They'd never told Steve and the others who they were--most of the limited information they'd gathered had come from overhearing the aliens talking among themselves--but then again, Steve had never introduced himself to the penguins at the zoo, either.

Whoever they were, they'd at least been willing to give their specimens a chance to settle in before expecting them to mate, and that was a good thing. Steve wasn't even going to consider having sex with Tony with aliens watching and Clint yelling helpful suggestions.

He wasn't going to consider sex with Tony, period, but definitely not under those conditions.

Tony had finally managed to rig up a way to disrupt the alien force fields using some of the utensils provided with their meals, and they'd gotten out of their cages just as Sam and Captain Marvel had reached the ship, which was still in the solar system recharging their fuel cells.

They'd freed the other zoo specimens--Danvers had agreed to get them back where they belonged--and, again with Danvers' help, had sent the aliens packing.

Steve hadn't even minded that she'd given him such a hard time about needing her to save him. He'd just been glad the whole thing was over.

She'd set off with the liberated prisoners, and the Avengers had headed home to the tower. The rooftop cookout had lost its appeal, but Tony ordered sandwiches from a deli that delivered.

Now, after everyone had the chance to shower and change, they were all gathered in the common room, listening to Thor and Hulk argue about who had done a better job of punching blobby aliens in what, for the lack of a better term, they were going to call the face, and Steve was tired.

Too tired to chew, just about, even though he was hungry and this was the first halfway decent meal he'd had in three days. This went way beyond "we just had a big fight after a stressful few days" levels of tired. He was completely exhausted.

"So," Clint said, between mouthfuls of pastrami on rye, "where are you two registered? Babies R Us? Amazon wish list?"

Steve tried to ignore him. Everyone tried to ignore him, for that matter, but Clint was undaunted.

"Okay, I'll set up the wish list for you, but I get to be godfather, right? I'm clearly the optimal choice here."

Steve could have shrugged that off, too, except that Clint had been making jokes like that since Steve had woken up on the ship, and he was sick of it. "Give it a rest, Clint," he snapped, getting up.

"I'm going to bed," he went on. "If you don't have anything better to do than make stupid jokes, maybe you should do the same."

"Touchy," Clint muttered.

Steve didn't respond, just left the room, but as the door closed behind him, he heard Tony saying, "Or maybe your jokes just aren't as funny as you think they are."

That was nice of Tony, because apart from not wanting to tell Steve about the aliens' plans for them--and really, who would want to have to explain that?--Tony hadn't seemed bothered by the situation in the slightest. At least, no more than it bothered him to be captured by anyone, for any reason.

It wasn't all that late, but Steve went back to his room. Being on the alien ship had thrown off his internal clock, and he felt more like it was midnight than just a little after seven in the evening. He could do worse than to get ready for bed.

After a good night's sleep, it would be easier to put things into perspective again.

Steve pulled some pajamas out of a drawer. That was something he liked about the future: clothes were more comfortable. When he was a kid, not even rich people would have had anything like the soft fleece sleep pants that Danvers had given him as a joke last Christmas. They were officially-licensed Captain Marvel pajamas, with a tag that explained that all profits went to a foundation supporting young women who wanted a career in aviation.

Even if it meant they had Air Force logos and Captain Marvel's star on them, the soft fabric meant that they were his favorites.

There were a lot of things Steve liked about the future. He just didn't always want to say as much to the others, because sometimes they took that as a rejection of the more old-fashioned things that Steve still saw value in. (Not everything from the old days was worth keeping, but that didn't mean that nothing was.)

Also because a lot of the things Steve liked about the twenty-first century had a common thread running through them, and Steve didn't want it turned into a joke. Though it looked like those aliens had taken care of that.

Steve went into his bathroom, brushed his teeth, and shaved. The irregular hours of an Avenger meant that Steve had started shaving every time he took a shower, just because he never knew how long it would be before he'd have a chance to do either of those things again.

Besides, even if his beard didn't grow in quickly, he'd been held captive on an alien spaceship for three days. He was looking pretty scruffy.

He was still dog-tired, but at least he felt calmer here, where nobody was going to be teasing him and Tony about the aliens' breeding program. Where nobody could notice that some of those jokes were hitting close to home.

If he didn't lose his temper with Clint again, nobody would notice, he told himself. He'd have thrown himself in front of any of the others. Possibly not Thor or Hulk, who were even better equipped to withstand an energy blast than Steve was, but the others, easily. Their unenhanced physiology was likely to take more damage than his would, and heal from it more slowly.

And with the arc reactor in his chest and his armor back on Earth, Tony had been even more vulnerable than Natasha or Clint. It was Steve's responsibility to protect him.

That was the truth.

It just wasn't all of the truth.

It wasn't a revelation to Steve that his feelings for Tony weren't anything like his feelings for the rest of the team. He'd started to suspect it quite a while back, before Tony had dissolved the team. When Tony had nearly died saving Steve from the Red Skull's body-swap machine, Steve had known for certain.

But that was something Steve intended to keep to himself, and Clint's heckling was making that difficult.

Things had changed, very much for the better, for people like him. Steve knew that; it was one of those things he didn't usually mention that he liked about the twenty-first century. He didn't have to hide the fact that he was attracted to men as well as women. It wasn't illegal now to act on those attractions. It wouldn't have kept him out of the army, either, the way it would have in the forties.

His friends wouldn't turn against him, either. Steve doubted that any of the Avengers would have a problem with it at all. But that didn't mean that Tony would appreciate knowing that Steve was attracted to him, specifically, as opposed to men in general.

Tony probably wouldn't mind that too much; Tony probably assumed that everyone of a remotely compatible orientation was at least a little bit attracted to him. But Steve doubted that Tony would shrug off knowing that Steve was in love with him so easily.

If Tony returned his feelings, Steve would already know about it. Tony wasn't the kind of man to sit back and stay quiet if he was interested in someone. He'd seen Tony around women he was attracted to, and "hesitant" and "cautious" weren't anywhere near an accurate description.

So Steve had decided some time ago that his feelings for Tony were best kept to himself. He'd get over it eventually. He might even meet someone who could return his feelings, although he also knew he'd be fine if he didn't. Steve had been single for most of his life; with a good circle of friends, he knew he could be perfectly happy without a romantic relationship.

Either way, he and Tony would never have to have an awkward conversation about how Tony was flattered, really, but he just didn't feel the same way. And that awkwardness wouldn't damage his friendship with Tony, and that friendship was more important to Steve than confessing his feelings.

He'd just have to stop letting Clint's jokes get to him. If he didn't get a reaction, Clint always moved on to something else fairly soon.

While he showered, Steve mentally rehearsed the blank look that he'd respond to Clint's jokes with. He'd still probably get up and leave the room if Clint didn't give up, but if he could manage it, he'd do so without making it obvious that the teasing irritated him.

It wasn't like Clint meant any harm. They weren't mean-spirited jokes; he just didn't always know when to stop.

Steve toweled off, then put on his pajama pants and a well-worn SHIELD t-shirt. He was starting to feel a little better about the situation. He could handle a little teasing from Clint; after all, the situation had been pretty ridiculous. He just needed to start seeing the funny side of it, that was all.

He'd get a good night's sleep in his own bed, and tomorrow--

Steve broke off as he stepped through the doorway back into the bedroom. Tony was sitting there on the couch, nonchalantly reading something on his phone.

"Tony?" Steve said. "Is there something wrong? Why didn't you have JARVIS call me?"

Tony put his phone back in his pocket, smiling up at Steve. "Hey, Cap," he said. "Don't worry, there's no emergency. I just thought we should probably talk."

Steve sat down on the edge of his bed, resting his hands on his knees so that he didn't fidget. Friend, partner, or teammate, "we should probably talk" was rarely a good sign.

"You don't usually come here for a chat." Tony had been in Steve's room several times before, and vice versa, but most of the time, they met up in the more public parts of the tower. Living and working together the way they did, the Avengers generally treated "in their personal quarters" as a "do not disturb" sign.

"We don't usually spend three days as a zoo exhibit, either." Now Steve could see that Tony's smile wasn't his usual easy, practiced-looking expression, the one that made Steve think that Tony was always prepared for a camera to go off in his face.

Instead it was small, tight, almost nervous-looking. "And you don't usually lose your temper with Clint," he added. "Even when he lets a joke drag on too long."

Steve took a deep breath and released it slowly."I shouldn't let Clint get to me," he said. "I've already been telling myself that. He doesn't mean any harm, and if he doesn't get a rise out of me, he'll find something else to do."

"All true." Tony gave him that tight smile again. "That doesn't explain why this joke, out of all of Clint's dumb jokes, got to you."

Steve just shrugged. A shrug wasn't a lie, and anything else he was willing to say to Tony would be. He knew why; of course he did. But what was he supposed to do, look Tony in the eye and say, "It got to me because it's a warped version of what, in a perfect world, I'd have?"

He'd already just run through all the reasons why that was a bad idea. He didn't have to remind himself of that again.

Tony was silent for a little while; Steve was just about to say something along the lines of, "Well, nice chatting with you, but I'm about to hit the sack," when he heard Tony exhale slowly and then clear his throat.

"Did you ever," Tony began, sounding like he was choosing every word with care. "Up there, I mean. In the cage. Did you wonder what would happen if we couldn't get away soon enough? If they made us demonstrate how humans have sex?"

"We'd have been in serious trouble," Steve said, "given that neither of us can get pregnant."

"I don't mean that," Tony said. "That would have taken time for the aliens to figure out. I mean before that. We'd have been rescued eventually, but if they'd been more impatient, and we'd had to buy time. Did you wonder what we'd do?"

"There wasn't a lot to do in that cage," Steve said. He still wasn't lying, he told himself. He was avoiding the issue, but he wasn't outright lying, and that was what counted. "I had a lot of time to spend worrying about every potential scenario I could imagine." Also not a lie.

"But that particular one." Tony was looking around the room like he'd never seen it before. Steve found himself wishing he'd change the subject. He could really go for a few minutes of Tony trying to convince him that he needed some technological upgrades now that he'd begun putting his personal stamp on the room.

But of course Tony wasn't looking around to decide on the best place to install a touch screen or a television. He was doing it for the same reason that Steve kept looking down at the carpet: eye contact had become much too uncomfortable.

Steve had been trying so hard, for years now, to keep his feelings for Tony from interfering with their working relationship, not to mention their friendship. It was grossly unfair that all his efforts were turning out to have been a complete waste, thanks to a couple of sticky purple alien blobs.

"Of course," Steve said again.

"Would you have gone along with it? Just to buy time."

Steve didn't know the answer to that. The circumstances would have made it really difficult for him to agree. "Would you?"

"I asked you first." Then Tony shook his head. "I don't know, maybe. If they were threatening you or the others, and you were willing to go along with it too, sure, I'd have gone through with it. Not without a really compelling reason, though, and not if you weren't willing."

"Of course not," Steve said, quietly. There was no reason for him to feel disappointed. Even with his feelings for Tony, Steve wouldn't have agreed to give the aliens what they wanted without a very good reason, either, so hearing Tony say the same thing shouldn't bother him in the least.

It still stung.

"That's how I feel about it, too," he finally added. Another thing that wasn't technically a lie. He wanted Tony, but definitely not like that.

So now they'd both agreed that they'd have slept together if the aliens had held a metaphorical gun to their heads. That made Steve feel so much better.

Tony didn't seem to be relaxing at all, though. "And if we took the aliens out of the equation?"

Steve frowned. "Why would it matter who was threatening our friends? If that was what it took to save them, then of course I'd do it."

"That answers that," Tony said, getting to his feet. Steve wasn't sure exactly what it answered, but whatever it was, Steve seemed to have gotten it wrong, because now Tony was saying, "Sorry for wasting your time, Cap. See you for training in the morning?"

All Tony's earlier awkwardness had vanished; he was all slick smiles and sharp edges again, like he was talking to Megan McLaren instead of to Steve, and Steve hated it. "Wait," he said. "I think I might have misunderstood the question."

He hoped he'd misunderstood the question. Otherwise, this was going to be more than a little embarrassing. "Could you rephrase it? Assume I'm an idiot."

That earned him a genuine smile, though Tony didn't make the wisecrack that Steve was expecting. He just sat down again. "What if," he said slowly, "there weren't any threats involved. Or any alien zoo, either. What if it was just the two of us, Tony and Steve, sitting here having a conversation. What would you say then?"

Oh. He'd definitely misinterpreted the question.

Things like this didn't happen to Steve. What happened to Steve, in general, was that he'd spent the first part of his life being completely invisible to anyone he might be attracted to, and the second half being flirted with by people who wanted to say they'd had sex with Captain America.

Peggy had been an exception to that, but people like Peggy Carter didn't come along every day.

He'd never thought of Tony as being anything like Peggy, but maybe he was, in this one specific way.

(Or maybe Steve liked dark hair and a sharp mind and a good heart, he realized a second later.)

"That would be a completely different situation," he said, "and in that case, you never know, I might say yes."

"Might," Tony repeated, as warily as if Steve were a villain trying to negotiate with them.

"It all depends on how you ask." He grinned, feeling lighter than he had in a long time. "C'mon, I keep hearing about this legendary Tony Stark charm that gets women lining up to go out with you, but I've never actually seen it."

"Some--definitely not all, but some--of that 'legendary charm' is located in my bank account," Tony said, and Steve blinked.

He hadn't thought about it that way. Steve said "no" to the people who were only interested in him because he was Captain America. He'd assumed that Tony would have done the same if someone only wanted him for his fame or his money.

But maybe he didn't, at least not all the time.

"I mean," Tony went on quickly, "obviously, I have a lot to offer the right person that has nothing to do with my money. Or to offer several dozen not-quite-right people. I'm just saying that it's not like I have to work that hard to find someone who's interested." He shrugged. "It's a little harder to find someone who's worth putting in much effort, though."

Steve smiled. "You almost said something nice to me just now, didn't you?"

"I almost say nice things to you all the time," Tony said, chuckling.

Now that Steve thought about it, Tony wasn't wrong. A specific moment kept coming to mind: the warmth in Tony's voice when he'd said, once, that some old things were worth keeping around. But once he'd considered that particular instance, he realized that Tony said that kind of thing all the time. The words themselves were non-committal, but the way Tony said them--the way Tony looked at Steve when he said them...

"You do, don't you," Steve said. "Maybe you should try actually saying them?"

Tony didn't respond to that, at least not directly. "I hated everything about being captured by those aliens," he said instead. "I couldn't get to my armor, I didn't know how we were going to get out of there, I had no idea how long it would be before Sam found us. But in addition to all of that, I kept thinking that this wasn't how I'd envisioned bringing up the subject."

"You'd thought about us before then?"

Given the conversation they were having, that wasn't a surprise, but Steve had to ask anyway.

"You mean you hadn't?"

"I thought about a lot of things," he admitted. "But, Tony, before this conversation goes any further, you have to know that I'm not looking for..." He trailed off, searching for the right way to put it that wouldn't sound judgmental.

"Casual sex? Yeah, I kind of figured that about you," Tony said. "If you're expecting me to put a ring on it, I don't think we're anywhere near that stage. But if you just want reassurance that I'm interested in more than getting into your pants, you know that already."

"I do?"

"Well, you should, anyway." Tony shook his head. "I tried hard enough, at least as much as I could without pushing too hard. I know things were different back in your time, so I didn't want to make things uncomfortable for you."

"Have I ever given you the impression that I'm prejudiced? I wouldn't have been uncomfortable around you."

"No, but there's a big difference between thinking people should be able to be who they are, and being comfortable with knowing that one of your male colleagues is attracted to you."

Since Steve had been thinking the same thing in reverse, he couldn't argue with that.

He'd just have to trust Tony on this. "I didn't know it already," Steve said. "I didn't know that you were interested in men at all, so it never occurred to me that you were attracted to me. I assumed you were being friendly."

"Sure, we're friends," Tony said, shrugging. "And if that's what you want, we can keep being friends. But I wouldn't mind trying to be something more."

Steve could feel himself breaking into what he was sure was a truly ridiculous-looking grin. "Like I said, in a situation where we're not being forced into it, I'd feel completely differently. I might even say yes, if somebody were to ask me a question."

"You're going to make me spell it out?"

"I can't answer a question you don't ask," he chided, still grinning at Tony.

Tony let out an enormously put-upon-sounding sigh, but he was grinning back. "All right, have it your way. Would it be okay with you if I kissed you?"

Steve pretended to consider for a few seconds, but when Tony started to frown, quickly answered, "Yes. It would definitely be okay."

It was so much more than okay. Tony got up from the couch and joined Steve on the bed, putting his arms around Steve and pulling him close, then kissing him.

Steve hadn't ever associated Tony with sweetness, but that was what he was getting: slow, sweet, gentle kisses that made Steve's heart feel like it was about to burst.

They definitely weren't chaste kisses, though; Tony licked his way into Steve's mouth, exploring it with his tongue, and when Steve responded by biting softly at Tony's lower lip, he gave out a needy little whine that Steve wanted to hear again.

Frequently.

It was several minutes before they pulled apart, both of them breathing hard. Tony's lips were red, the lower one slightly swollen from Steve's nibbling. "I'd like to--" Tony paused, and Steve could almost see him editing himself. "To take you to bed," he said.

Steve wouldn't have minded cruder language--he didn't choose to use it himself, but he thought he might like hearing it from Tony, in private, like this--but he had to admit, he was touched that Tony was trying to avoid things he thought Steve wouldn't appreciate.

How was this the self-centered, arrogant Tony Stark that Steve thought he knew?

But as soon as he asked himself that, he knew the answer. Not that Tony couldn't be monumentally self-centered and spectacularly arrogant. Tony had elevated both of those things into an art form.

But Tony had also made a home for the team even though the team had been split up. He'd had no way of knowing the Avengers would ever get back together, and certainly no way of knowing they'd need to leave the mansion, but he'd built the tower for them, just the same.

And Tony never hesitated to put himself in danger to save the others--and not just his friends, but total strangers. None of the Avengers did, but the rest of them didn't have the reputation of being concerned only with themselves, and Tony did.

Tony was so much more than he let most people see, but he'd never hidden that part of himself from Steve. Steve just hadn't always been paying attention.

And that meant that moments like this, when the better parts of Tony Stark let themselves be visible, caught him by surprise.

"Yes," Steve said, when he realized Tony was still waiting for an answer. "Please, yes." Then, a little sheepishly, he added, "I don't have a lot of experience, so you might be disappointed."

Tony grinned. "I'd kind of been assuming that you didn't have any experience," he said. "Don't worry. I have enough for both of us."

Compared to Tony, Steve felt like he might as well not have had any experience. It had all been such a long time ago, anyway. But he chose to take Tony at his word, assuming that Tony wouldn't mind, wouldn't be annoyed or frustrated that Steve was a little uncertain and clumsy.

Tony kissed him again, but this time, instead of leaving his hands resting on Steve's back, he slid them under the hem of Steve's shirt, caressing Steve's bare skin. His touch felt electric, Steve's nerves hyper-aware of every point where Tony's skin was in contact with his own, and Steve decided that it was time for him to reciprocate.

One hand went under Tony's shirt, and he could feel Tony's lips, still pressed against Steve's mouth, curve into a smile.

"Take all the time you want, Steve," Tony said. "We're not in any hurry."

Steve felt himself smiling, too. It wasn't that Tony never called him "Steve." But even out of uniform, he more often called him "Cap." Not just Tony; everyone did. That made Tony's use of his first name feel more special, like Tony really saw him, the guy behind the shield.

"I'm not nervous," he said.

"I didn't say you were," Tony said, though they both knew that was what he'd meant.

"What I mean is, no, I don't want to rush this, but not because I'm nervous. I don't want to rush this because it's worth taking time over."

"I meant what I said. We're in no hurry. We have all night." Tony kissed him again, and Steve let his hand skim over the warm skin of Tony's back.

"I like the sound of that," he admitted. All night, with Tony here, in his bed. All night, free to kiss and touch and hold, all the things he'd been longing to do.

But maybe they were moving a little too slowly. There was taking their time, and then there was wasting it.

Steve pulled back from Tony and took his shirt off.

Tony had seen him shirtless before. It was the kind of thing that happened from time to time when you lived in the same place, when you trained together and shared a gym and occasionally got drenched in some kind of disgusting monster-related goo together.

But apparently, Tony had been having some of the same kinds of longing that Steve had, because he was silent for a moment, and Steve felt like he was being studied more intensely than he'd been since SHIELD had brought him out of the ice.

A lot more pleasantly than that, though. "Like what you see?"

"Always," Tony said. "I see you, so what's not to like?" But his smile was too practiced, and Steve didn't want that smile. He wanted the real Tony, the one Tony kept letting him glimpse before retreating behind the facade again.

"Why do you do that?" Steve asked. "You made that sound like you were joking."

"It's what people expect from me," Tony pointed out. "Sincerity isn't on-brand for me, you have to know that by now."

"I guess so," Steve said, even though he didn't like that answer. He knew Tony was capable of being sincere; he just didn't let that part of himself show very often. He shrugged. "It just makes it hard to know whether or not you mean any of the things you're saying."

Tony closed his eyes for a minute, breathing deeply, then opened them again to look directly at Steve. "You're right. It's a habit, though; I can't promise I can break it right away."

"But you'll try? That's important to me, if we're going to do this."

"I'll try." He smiled at Steve again. "I meant it, though. I'm looking at you, and there's nothing about that I don't like."

"At least you didn't try to convince me there was nothing about me you don't like."

Tony laughed. "You'd never believe that in a million years. We get on each other's nerves too much. But there's a lot about you I do like, even if I'm not talking about your looks."

Steve knew that; he and Tony wouldn't have been friends otherwise. He hadn't been fishing for compliments, no matter how it sounded. "It's okay to like looking at me. It's one of the reasons I took my shirt off."

"Would the other be that you want me to touch as well as look?" Tony reached out for hi again, skimming his palm over Steve's chest.

Steve shivered as a blunt thumbnail scraped lightly over his nipple. "That's reason number two, anyway. I was also hoping it would inspire you to follow suit."

Tony grimaced a little. "These days I mostly wait until the lights are off for that," he admitted. "I mean, the arc reactor lights things up anyway, but..." He shrugged. "Let's just say it's not as pretty a sight as it used to be."

Tony usually projected such confidence--not to say arrogance--that Steve hadn't considered he might be self-conscious about the arc reactor.

Steve had already seen Tony's chest before, usually when something disastrous had happened and they needed access to the reactor to save Tony's life. It wasn't like it was a hideous sight, or even just an unpleasant one. There was some scarring around the reactor, but not as much as Steve had initially expected before seeing it the first time. The reactor and its housing must have covered the area that had taken the worst damage.

"There are a lot of pretty people out there," Steve said. "People without any scars at all. But as you keep reminding us, there's only one Tony Stark."

"Hey," Tony said, smacking him lightly on the shoulder, "I'm still pretty."

"You're missing my point on purpose," Steve said, but he laughed.

"I'm stalling," Tony confessed, but then he pulled away from Steve and took off his own T-shirt. "And now I'm done."

He tried to think of something to say. Dismissing Tony's concerns didn't seem right, especially since Tony so rarely opened up to any of them. Saying something like "it's not really that bad" might be true, but it also conveyed the wrong idea. It might make Tony think that Steve's interest was in spite of the reactor and the scars, when it was really--not because of them, exactly.

But they were part and parcel of Tony, and it was Tony--all of him--who Steve wanted.

Who Steve loved.

So instead, Steve just leaned in close, bending down so that he could place a kiss on the reactor casing--he knew it was safe to touch it, so this should be fine--and then on the scarred flesh surrounding it.

"You know," Tony said, an undercurrent of tension in his voice, "I can't really feel anything there. A little pressure, that's about it. The scar tissue barely has any working nerve endings."

Steve looked up at him, shaking his head a little. "I think you felt it exactly the way I intended." There was a real possibility that Tony was going to laugh at him for being that sentimental, he knew. Tony didn't like sentimentality--or, Steve realized, maybe just wasn't comfortable with it.

Tony didn't laugh, though. He pulled away a little, turning his face so that he wasn't looking directly at Steve, and Steve decided that it was time to let it drop. He'd gotten his meaning across, and pushing harder was just going to lead to Tony getting annoyed with him and changing his mind.

Steve didn't want him to change his mind, even if it was just about tonight. He wasn't sure exactly when he'd started wanting this from Tony; he knew he hadn't realized at the time that this was what he'd wanted, and that made it hard to pin down. But it had been long enough that Steve really didn't want to wait any longer.

He reached for Tony again, this time sliding his hands over Tony's back as he kissed Tony's mouth, then down to his jaw and neck. He could feel Tony starting to relax, his posture becoming less guarded, and then Tony stopped him.

"Did I do something wrong?" Steve asked.

"God, no. I just want to get a little more comfortable." He took off his shoes, then stretched out on Steve's bed, holding out a hand toward Steve. "Join me?"

He didn't really need any encouragement to do that. He lay down next to Tony, and Tony raised up on his elbow and turned toward him. Now it was Tony's turn to kiss down Steve's neck, down to his chest.

Then Tony's mouth closed over Steve's right nipple, and Steve groaned.

Tony lifted his head, grinning. "Want me to do that some more?"

"Yes, please."

Tony chuckled and went back to work. The hand he wasn't using to support himself found Steve's other nipple, rolling and pinching it between his finger and thumb.

Steve had expected this to be quick, since Tony never liked waiting for something he wanted. Quicker at getting to the point, anyway. He'd expected it to be good, but not this leisurely. They were both still clothed from the waist down; Tony hadn't even touched him anywhere below his waist, even through his clothes.

Tony was taking his time with this, even though Tony hated to wait for something he wanted, and so Tony had to conclude that this slow, sweet exploration of one another was something that Tony wanted.

That was something that Steve wanted, too. His past experience had been hurried out of necessity; he and Peggy had met during wartime, and their time together had always been limited. They'd talked about after the war, when they'd be able to spend more time alone together, but obviously that had never happened.

Steve wasn't going to object to taking his time with Tony.

Though, he thought again, as the heat of Tony's mouth on his skin ignited an answering heat deep inside him, Tony could move just a little faster, and Steve wouldn't complain. He moaned again, covering Tony's hand with his own and tugging it downward.

Tony grinned at him. "Do you need something? Come on, tell me what you want."

"Touch me," Steve said. "Please."

And then Tony's hand slid down inside the waistband of Steve's pajama pants, which was more than Steve had expected. Not that Steve was going to complain, because Tony's hand was curling around him, stroking Steve into hardness.

"You like my mouth on you," Tony said. Steve nodded, even though it wasn't a question. "That gives me an idea of what we should do next." He was still stroking Steve's cock, though his hand was moving more slowly now.

Steve groaned and tried to push against Tony's hand, hoping to urge him on, but Tony just grinned at him.

"Not yet," he said, and lowered his head, going back to Steve's chest.

"You're evil," Steve protested, squirming under Tony's attentions.

"Yep," Tony agreed cheerfully. "That's me. Totally evil. The most evil man in the world. MODOK, the Red Skull, Doctor Doom--they all have nothing on me, because I'm making you wait five minutes for a blowjob."

Steve started laughing, and then Tony moved back up on the bed so that he could kiss Steve, even though he was laughing too.

"Five whole minutes?" Steve asked, with an exaggerated pout.

"Maybe two or three."

Steve kissed him again, a long, slow kiss this time without any laughter getting in the way.

"Maybe one or two."

"Maybe none?" Steve asked hopefully.

"Maybe you need to take your pants off," Tony said, "and then we'll see. They're in the way, but also, I can't believe you're wearing Captain Marvel pajamas."

"They're comfortable, and she gave them to me."

"If I buy you Iron Man pajamas, will you wear those?"

"If they're this comfortable, absolutely."

"Iron Man PJ's it is. Maybe even Iron Man underwear."

"Maybe not," Steve said, laughing and making a face at Tony. He got up and pushed his pajama pants down, then stepped out of them.

"You're so damn gorgeous," Tony said.

"I could say the same thing about you," Steve countered. "Except that you're far too dressed."

"Yeah?" Tony grinned at him. "Got plans for me?"

"I do," Steve said, returning Tony's smile. "Get your pants off."

Tony snapped off a very irregular-looking salute and then took off his slacks and underwear. Steve took a moment to drink in the sight of him, trying not to stare too openly at the patch of dark curls between Tony's legs, or the way Tony's cock rose out of it, flushed dark with blood.

Then he realized that if there was ever a time when he had permission to stare, it was now, and let himself look.

"I guess I don't have to ask you if you like what you see," Tony said. He sounded amused, but when Steve looked up at him, Tony looked oddly serious.

"I do," he said again. "Now come on, get back on the bed and lie down."

"It'd be easier if you were the one lying down," Tony suggested.

"Not for what I have in mind."

"Okay, then." Tony got on the bed. "Where do you want me?"

"Toward the middle? On your back."

Tony did what Steve asked, and then Steve joined him on the bed, kneeling astride him, facing the foot of the bed.

"Oh, brilliant," Tony said as he realized what Steve had in mind. "Move back a little? I can't quite reach--there you go," he said, as Steve shifted his position.

And then Tony's mouth engulfed Steve, and for a second, Steve couldn't think about anything except hot and wet and oh, God, Tony, as he began to suck.

Then Steve remembered that there was something he was supposed to be doing, and he bent his head down, giving Tony's cock an exploratory lick.

It had been a long time, and Steve hadn't been lying when he said he didn't have much experience. His few encounters with other men hadn't been like this; hands were easier, quicker, less risky. It was faster to move apart at the sound of someone approaching if neither of you was on his knees, after all.

But Tony groaned around Steve's cock, the vibrations traveling through Steve's body, and that encouraged Steve to lick again, lapping at the drops of fluid forming at the tip, and then to take Tony into his mouth and begin to suck.

It was awkward at first, but soon they settled into a rhythm, at least for the most part; Steve lost track of what he was doing when Tony did something with his tongue that made him see sparks behind his eyes; Tony faltered for a moment when Steve braced himself on one arm, using the other to play with Tony's balls. But each time, they recovered quickly, until Steve had to pull off of Tony's cock so that he could speak.

"I'm getting close," he said. "Please, Tony..."

Tony's response was to take Steve in deeper, until Steve forgot what he was doing, crying out Tony's name as he came.

He took a few moments to recover, but as soon as he'd caught his breath, he went back to Tony's cock, lips sliding along Tony's shaft as his head bobbed up and down.

"Steve," Tony groaned. "I know you said you don't have a lot of experience, so if you don't want to swallow, you might want to stop."

Steve didn't want to stop. He wanted Tony, wanted everything Tony could give him. He wasn't sure he could handle it, but he was determined to try, anyway.

So instead of stopping, he slid further down Tony's cock, sucking hard, trying to remember what made Tony whimper and moan and struggle not to thrust into Steve's mouth, so he could do it again.

"God, Steve," Tony cried out, and Steve braced himself, trying to swallow down the rush of bitter fluid without choking.

He didn't quite manage, but he didn't do too badly either, at least not in his own estimation, and the way Tony rubbed his back while he caught his breath suggested Tony wasn't unhappy with how things had gone, either.

"Come up here," Tony said once Steve let Tony's softening cock slip out of his mouth.

Steve maneuvered around on the bed until he was lying next to Tony again.

"You look great like that," Tony said.

"Like what?"

"Your mouth's all red," he said, tracing Steve's lips with his finger. "You're flushed, you're breathing hard, your hair's messed up, and--" He dabbed at the corner of Steve's mouth. "You missed a little come when you wiped your mouth. You look debauched. It's surprisingly hot."

Then he shook his head, chuckling. "I guess it's not that surprising. I always did want to see you messed up. You're too perfect."

"I'm not perfect," Steve argued.

"No, you're not," he conceded. "I wouldn't--Anyway, you'd be a lot less appealing if you were perfect."

"You wouldn't what?"

"Not yet," Tony said. "I'll tell you one day. Soon. Just not yet."

Steve smiled when he realized what Tony was trying not to say. "Okay. So you like me imperfect?"

"I like you. Not Captain America. I mean, Cap's fine, he's great, but he's only part of you. I like the whole package, imperfections and all. It means you're human." Tony kissed him; it was still almost painfully sweet. "It means I have a chance with you."

"I'd say you have a little more than a chance," Steve said. "I mean, look at us."

"Yeah, look at us." Tony chuckled. "I mean, it's no 'being held as breeding specimens in an alien zoo,' but I think we're doing all right without that, how about you?"

"Yeah, I think we're going to do just fine." He hesitated, though, before going on. He knew, from everything Tony had said--and even more so, from everything Tony hadn't said--that what he was about to ask was going to be fine with Tony. Maybe he'd say no, but it wouldn't be a problem.

Still, he was having trouble getting used to being able to have this, after so long telling himself that he couldn't.

But the best thing to do was jump in with both feet. "I know it's still kind of early," he said, not sure if he meant the time on the clock, or the situation between them. "But if you want to, you could stay the night. Here. With me."

"I don't sleep that much."

"Is that a no?"

"It's a 'don't be surprised if I get up in the middle of the night,'" he said. "It won't be about you."

"Okay." It wasn't like he didn't already know that about Tony. "If you do, meet for breakfast at seven?"

"Seven. You expect me to be able to cope with food at seven in the morning?"

"I'll make coffee."

Tony grimaced. "You expect me to be able to cope with your coffee at seven in the morning?"

"Is that a no?"

"It's a 'yes, but only because I really like you.'"

"I like you, too," Steve said, which was an understatement, but it wasn't like Tony wasn't understating things, too. "So I'll let you make the coffee, and I promise not to steal the blankets tonight."

"Somehow, I don't believe you," Tony said, but he pulled back the blankets and slid under them.

"If I do, I promise I'll keep you warm?" Steve offered, wrapping an arm around Tony.

"That, I'm willing to believe."

No, it wasn't "being held in an alien zoo," but Steve thought this was probably going to be enough of an adventure without that.

****