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It was six months after the Chitauri invasion, and Steve was trudging through a mountainous hive, up to his knees in bee-person gunk.

The worker bee-women could fly, so Tony, Clint, and Thor fought wave after wave of them. The queen and attendants couldn't fly and were holed up in this disgusting, gunky hive thing. Steve and Natasha, grounded by default, were working their way through the hive toward the queen while the Hulk smashed through from the other side. The hive was so vast that all Steve could hear of the Hulk's rampage was a distant thumping and an occasional, far-off roar.

Steve glanced back to the opening of the tunnel he'd entered, trying to catch a glimpse of Tony or Thor. But he couldn't see sky, just the brown stubble of the Iowa cornfield from which this monstrous hive arose. He hated not being able to see his team. Still, judging by what was coming over the comm, they were making slow but steady progress. Steve thought it was kind of like fighting the Chitauri, only with corn and gross honey-goop instead of skyscrapers and Loki. And without an interdimensional portal or nuclear bombs.

Okay, so not that much like the Chitauri.

Steve and Natasha settled into a rhythm, even bogged down as they were in bee-person-honey-gunk dripping down from the blasted-apart honeycomb above (and he really did not want to think about what that sludge was made of). He couldn't throw his shield because he was afraid it would get stuck deep in the walls, but he could deflect the bee-people's giant stingers with it and use it to chop through the walls while Natasha covered him. They were both coated in gunk, and it was a good thing someone had tossed them some goggles or else their eyes would be glued shut.

"We have to get that queen," Tony said over the comm. "Not that I don't love taking out thousands of bee-people — beeple! — but as long as that queen is alive she'll keep laying eggs or whatever and we'll just have to come back and do this all over again."

"How far are Black Widow and I from the queen?" Steve asked.

"JARVIS has you about a hundred yards away to the southeast," Tony replied. "You're in a sort of giant cul-de-sac at the moment, so you'll have to bust through some walls, Kool-Aid-Man-style."

"All right," Steve said. "I don't know what that means, but Widow and I can take care of this. We'll take out the queen. Iron Man, Hawkeye, Thor, just keep the workers busy out there."

"By 'workers,' you mean 'beeple,' right, Cap?" Tony said.

"No," Steve grunted, slamming his shield into the wall.

"Shut up, Iron Man. We're on it, Cap," said Hawkeye.

"Indeed!" Thor said over the crackle of lightning.

The comm went quiet for a while, except for the occasional comments from the outside team coordinating their efforts and cracking jokes. Every time Steve hacked through a wall, bits of wax and goop flew through the air. Most of them seemed to land on his face. He kept having to stop to scrape the accumulated gunk off his shield.

It felt like they were stuck in an endless loop. It took him about a dozen strikes to weaken a wall enough that he could level the shield and burst through. Eventually even his muscles ached: his shoulders and back burned from swinging the shield, his thighs from slogging through the goop on the ground. He didn't know how Natasha could still move so nimbly. She took out bee-person after bee-person, her blows just as precise as when they'd started.

By the increasing numbers rushing at them down hallways and swarming through the holes he'd made in the walls, he could tell they were getting close to the queen. And then he burst through one last wall, and he was faced with about two hundred angry bee-women, including one so much larger than the rest that she had to be the queen.

"We've got a couple hundred in here with the queen," Natasha said over the comm as they dove in tandem into the attacking swarm. "We could use some backup."

Steve could hear the Hulk getting closer, though it was difficult to tell just how close he was over the thunk of the shield and the deafening buzz of the bee-people.

"I have something I want to try," Tony said.

"Iron Man, you keep fighting the ones that fly!" Steve said. "The Hulk can help us out more in here —"

But the room exploded in a fireball before he could finish his sentence. Tony dropped through the ceiling and leveled his repulsors.

"Get out of here!" Tony yelled. Just as he blasted at the queen, though, the Hulk crashed through from the other side, and their combined force brought down the whole hive. The last thing Steve saw was Natasha disappearing under a wall and a pile of bee-people, the whole place going up in flames like the gigantic candle it was, as the roof collapsed on him.

At least being buried alive in bee-person goop was warmer than being buried alive in ice. Still, by the time the Hulk dug him out, Steve was choking on panic and gunk.

Natasha emerged practically unscathed, in that eerie way she had of sliding through the most dangerous situations with only minor scrapes. The Hulk pulled her out, too. Once out, Steve discovered that when Tony killed the queen, the hive-mind link dissolved, and the bee-people lost language and all but the most instinctual cognitive functions. (Bruce, de-Hulked, kept muttering about that: "Bees don't have a hive mind. People don't have a hive mind. So why did the beeple have one? And why did losing it break them?") The normal SHIELD teams were far more effective once the bee-people had lost their sentience.

Medical staff hovered, checking Steve over for injuries he knew he didn't have. He watched over their shoulders as Tony leaned into the blast of a fire hose to clean the worst of the gunk off the armor. Rainbows shimmered in the cold sunlight as Tony wriggled and shifted like a cat pushing into a caress. The local firefighters staffing the hose laughed and laughed at whatever Tony was saying.

Steve clenched his jaw, but he couldn't look away from the lean, arching lines of Tony's body in the armor. How could Tony be so selfish and oblivious? For the fourth time in as many missions, he had disobeyed a direct order; he had endangered Natasha, himself, and Steve, not to mention abandoning Clint and Thor.

"That man is completely out of control," Steve snapped at Natasha after medical had cleared them both. "He has no idea how to be part of a team."

"You're not wrong," she said. "But you're not entirely right either. Oh, and Hill says we'll debrief on the Quinjet."

Steve fumed all the way through the two-hour cleanup, during which SHIELD agents scrubbed off the entire top layer of his skin and still didn't manage to get all the waxy goop out of his hair.

At the beginning, Steve had wanted to like Tony. Howard's son, he had thought, and when he read Tony's SHIELD dossier, it seemed like Tony was a chip off the genius, womanizing, daredevil old block. Naïvely, Steve had thought that like Howard, Tony would be easy and friendly, if distant. And with Bruce, that's how Tony was (well, Tony's version of "friendly," anyway, which mostly involved being annoying), but not with him.

However, they had gotten off to a bad start, and in hindsight Steve could recognize that the bad start was mostly his own fault. He'd attacked first that day on the Helicarrier. Still, after the Chitauri invasion, he'd hoped they could have a new beginning. Tony had worked with him during the fight, and they'd shaken hands goodbye before Steve went off to explore this new twenty-first-century America. He'd thought this meant a fresh start based on respect.

To be fair, he thought Tony had started with the best of intentions. But their approaches were so different: Tony was used to working alone and bristled whenever Steve treated him like a soldier, but Steve couldn't help but think of Tony — of all of the Avengers — as soldiers. They were a team, if a newly fledged one, and he was their leader, the only one with tactical training and experience working with others.

Steve and Tony could work together on missions, but the second they got the all-clear they devolved into sniping and bickering, usually about whether Steve was too controlling or Tony too much of a loose cannon. They had a knack for spotting each other's weak spots, and neither one would back down from a conflict. After a while, the sniping and bickering turned into bickering and fighting, and then it became mostly fighting, with some hostile silences thrown in for good measure. Steve tried to hold back from the fights, especially once it became clear, a few months after the Chitauri invasion, that Tony and Pepper were on the rocks ("Sometimes love just doesn't work the way you want," Natasha had said). But Tony knew exactly how to push his buttons and took glee in doing so as often as possible.

Steve didn't want to downplay the sacrifice Tony had made to destroy the Chitauri mothership. That was genuine heroism, flying into almost certain death — they all knew Tony had been lucky to make it back through the portal before it closed.

But since then, and especially since Pepper had broken up with him two weeks ago and gone to fulfill her CEO duties in Malibu, Tony had started making calls that were increasingly risky. Yes, Tony was a genius, and, yes, Tony had JARVIS to provide data and tactical information that the others didn't have immediate access to. Steve didn't mind if Tony made strategic adjustments on the fly, as long as he kept everyone informed and didn't abandon the teammates whose backs he was supposed to have.

That was the problem, though: increasingly, Tony just made an executive decision to charge in and (usually) blow something up. So far, Steve had to admit, it had worked. But at what cost? The way he'd just left Clint and Thor was totally unacceptable. And letting Natasha get buried alive?

Steve swallowed down a wave of residual panic. He would have been all right. He would have dug himself out even if the Hulk hadn't gotten there before he had to.

Anyway, what really mattered was the team dynamics.

The debrief did nothing to tamp down his anger. Listening to Clint tell Fury how it had gotten "a little hairy there at the end," Steve shot a glare at Tony that could cut steel.

Not that Tony noticed.

By the time the Quinjet landed on the Helicarrier and the debrief ended, Steve had worked up a towering rage.

As soon as they disembarked, Steve went chasing after Tony, yanking him into an empty office and kicking the door shut behind them.

"What the hell was that!" Steve yelled, slamming Tony up against the wall. "What is wrong with you? You want to kill yourself, fine, I honestly could not care less! But you almost killed Natasha, too, just because you weren't following the plan!"

Tony raised his eyebrows. "I had a shot to end it all, and I took it! The queen is dead, we're all alive, and the evil beeple are defeated! What is the downside here?" he said, spreading his arms wide.

"The downside is that you almost killed one of our teammates!" Steve shouted, shoving Tony harder against the wall, just to wipe that smirk off his face. "I am so sick of this, I am so sick of you refusing to follow a plan and thinking that you can just do whatever you want!"

"News flash," said Tony. "I can do whatever I want. My shiny suit of armor says so."

Steve let out an inarticulate noise of pure rage and pressed himself harder against Tony. "You're so arrogant and reckless! Just because you have money and you can build little trinkets —"


"— you think you can disobey orders —"

"Orders, we've been over this before, I am not a soldier! I don't even have to be here —"

"— but what do you care about other people's lives when you can go for glory? Because it's always all about your ego —"

"My ego? My ego?"

"What the hell, yes, your ego! Everything is always about Tony Stark, you always have to be the center of attention, with your stupid comments and your flashy suit —"

"Once again, you wear a STAR-SPANGLED UNIFORM," howled Tony.

"Shut UP!" Steve shouted. He wanted to shake Tony. He clenched his fists, trying to restrain himself from really doing harm. "You never listen! You never stick to the plan! You never pay attention! I just — why can't you just pay attention?"

Tony made a low noise and dropped his eyes. "Oh, so that's the problem."

"Yes, that's the problem! You're a danger to all of us!"

"So make me pay attention," Tony said. He tilted his hips, and Steve, disbelieving, felt Tony's erection rocking hard against Steve's thigh. All his anger coalesced into a white-hot ball of wrath in the pit of his stomach — did Tony think he could shut Steve up with sex?

"You think I'll be scared off by a little dick?" Steve said, purposely vulgar. He leaned in closer, leveraging every extra inch he had. "You think because I'm from 1945 I don't know about homosexuality, or I'm some sort of prude? You really don't know me at all."

"Oh," Tony breathed, "I think I do," and he leaned in to suck hard at the hollow beneath Steve's jaw, biting down and sending a jolt straight to Steve's cock. "I've seen you watching me. I saw you today, during your medical check. You want me."

A groan tore out of Steve's throat, as much rage as lust. "No," he said, but only because he was still so furious. The next thing he knew he had pulled Tony up higher and kissed him, hard and dirty.

Steve let Tony go, wide-eyed, and Tony stared at him for a moment before they leapt at each other again, their mouths crashing together in a way that was less kissing and more fighting for dominance. Tony was still angry, too, but he was never going to win that battle. Steve's hands slid up under Tony's shirt, and then ripped it off; Tony slipped his fingers just under Steve's waistband, then yanked his pants down. The two broke away from each other long enough to undress. For a long moment, they stood there naked, staring at each other.

Tony was breathing hard, his eyes hot as a caress on Steve's body, lingering at his dick, which leapt traitorously when Tony licked his lips. His chest was dotted with scars, and the arc reactor glowed blue in the midst of the worst ones. Steve wanted to examine it more closely, but this wasn't really the time or the place.

His eyes traveled down, following the lines of rib and muscle down to the trail of dark hair that led to Tony's jutting cock. For a moment Steve flashed back to his last time with Bucky, three/seventy years ago, and grief surged so strongly that he had to close his eyes to chase the ghost-image away.

"I want —" Tony began, but the hollow space left by Steve's grief quickly filled with anger. He cut Tony off by pushing him back onto the desk. Papers slid onto the floor and a SHIELD-issue mug crashed into shards as Tony went back on his elbows and Steve loomed over him.

"I want you to shut up," Steve said, pressing between Tony's thighs and rocking against him. Steve reached up, pulled Tony's lower lip down with his thumb, and slid his fingers into Tony's mouth when it opened for him. Tony sucked, hard, his tongue sliding soft and wet between and around Steve's fingers. Steve's hips thrust against Tony seemingly of their own accord. He pulled his fingers out of Tony's mouth, reached down to where their cocks rubbed together, and swiped his thumb across the heads of both, gathering up more slickness to coat them.

Tony moaned, and Steve leaned in to shut him up with a hard kiss. Tony was pushing up into his hand, but Steve held still.

"Stop moving," he ordered.

Tony whimpered and immediately did so.

"What, now you'll follow orders?" Steve said, twisting his hand around them.

"I just need — fuck — the proper motivation," Tony said.

Steve's hand stilled. "And not getting your teammates killed isn't enough motivation?" he said, his lip curling in scorn.

"Nobody even got hurt!" Tony said. "Damn it, Rogers, please just move your hand."

Steve bit Tony's lip and moved his hand, setting a slow, steady rhythm because Tony needed to practice patience.

"Now you're just being spiteful," Tony said, sounding breathless, so Steve kissed him again, angry and sloppy. He forced himself to keep the pace slow until their cocks were slipping wetly in and out of his hand and Tony made a truly alarming keening noise and he was at the limits of his own endurance.

Then he held his hand still and thrust into it. With a cry, Tony joined his next thrust, and they fucked his hand together, the hot, hard slide of it pulling low moans of pleasure from his throat. They thrust together, faster and faster, until he bit into Tony's shoulder and came hard, splashing all over his hand and Tony's cock and stomach all the way up to the arc reactor. Within seconds Tony came, too, gasping and shaking. Steve held still, trembling as Tony sucked at his collarbone, moaning as Tony took the hand covered in come and meticulously licked it clean.

"Fuck, Rogers," Tony said at last, and that was enough to break the post-orgasmic spell.

He pushed away from Tony and surveyed him. He'd been careful; Tony would have bite marks, sure, but not visible ones. Tony was a mess, flushed and sticky, his cock still half-hard and shiny. Lust flashed through Steve's body, making his own cock swell again, and Tony smirked at him.

"Already, Cap?" he said. "That serum really is amazing."

Steve glared at him and yanked his pants back on, using one of his socks to wipe their come off his abdomen.

Tony tilted his head and spread his legs further, reclining with a lascivious smile. "I can be insubordinate some more, if that's what does it for you."

Steve straightened. "No, Stark, that is not what 'does it' for me," he said. "What I want is for you to learn how to be part of this team, so that I don't always have to worry that you are going to kill one of us!"

"So is that what this was?" Tony asked, incredulous. He launched himself off the desk and shoved at Steve, not that it did much. "Did you just try to fuck me into submission?"

"Try to?" Steve said, lifting an eyebrow, and Tony made a scoffing sound. Steve shook his head and sighed. "Look, this was a mistake. Clean yourself up and help me pick up this mess we made, and let's just pretend this never happened."

"Pick it up yourself," Tony said, his shoulders stiff. "I'm done here."

"Typical," Steve said. He couldn't just leave a mess for some poor SHIELD agent to clean up, though. He started picking up the scattered piles of paper and the broken bits of coffee mug, watching while Tony got dressed and stomped out of the office.

The weird thing was, it actually did defuse some of the tension, and Steve didn't want to think too much about what that meant. What mattered was that now they could retreat into a sort of professional apathy.

He was no delicate virgin. He hadn't had much experience, but he wasn't naïve. Still, he wasn't prepared for sex to be like this: angry and casual and more of a power play than an expression of love. The last time he'd been intimate with someone had been with Bucky in 1943, a final, secret night after Steve had brought him back from the Hydra POW camp. His relationship with Peggy had never progressed beyond electric looks and that one kiss. Nothing in his life had prepared him for sex with Tony Stark.

For a month or so, Steve and Tony managed a cordial working relationship. Captain America and Iron Man, in fact, had never worked better together. They operated seamlessly in the field, and even in debrief they managed not to let disagreements devolve into shouting matches.

The media had always liked Iron Man and Captain America best of all the Avengers: they were popular in a way that a pair of former assassins, a rage monster, and an alien god never would be. So the two of them had photoshoots together for the covers of Time, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair, during which they laughed and joked like they were the best of friends.

For the duration of the photoshoots and interviews, Steve wished they really were. When Tony acted like he enjoyed Steve's company, he was quick-witted and charming and affectionate. He slung his arm around Steve, or he patted Steve's knee. He expressed through any number of casual touches that he and Steve were good friends, and the press ate it up.

So did Steve, if he was honest with himself.

Then, once the event was over, Tony would retreat into his impenetrable shell of dislike. He sat as far away from Steve as possible, never spoke to him unless absolutely necessary — in fact, he never even looked at him.

Steve should have been just fine with that. But whenever the press showed up and Tony acted like his best friend, Steve could only think of Bucky. He should have been reminded of Howard — and sometimes, the mannerisms were eerily similar — but no, it was always Bucky, who had taken care of him, who had fought for him, who had loved him.

And afterwards, when Tony reverted to silent hatred, the reminder that Steve no longer had any real friends at all came like a punch in the gut.

Two months after what happened in the office, they were fighting again, but this time Steve couldn't stop thinking about Tony naked and coming apart beneath him.

It had been a mistake. He knew that. He had let personal feelings interfere with team dynamics, and that was as bad as the way Tony let his ego do the same thing. So he bit his lip a lot, and he let Tony's snide remarks wash over him.

It was the hardest thing he'd ever done. After all, he was still the same kid who never backed down from a fight with a bully, and Tony certainly acted like a bully, even though Steve knew he wasn't, really. Steve tried to think of the taunts as training. Loki had used his staff to sow discord, and Steve thought if he could learn to let even Tony's sharp insults go, he would be a stronger leader.

But sometimes the only thing that worked was to stare at Tony's mouth and remember how his lips felt against Steve's, or to imagine that mouth stretching around Steve's cock...

"Captain!" Fury barked, and Steve wrenched his gaze away from Tony as heat washed over his face and neck. "Is that understood?"

"Sir," Steve said, hoping they were still talking about future procedures for handling threats posed by radioactive beings (other than the Hulk).

At the other end of the table, Tony leaned forward, his eyes narrowed. Steve tried to keep his eyes averted, but they darted back guiltily to meet Tony's, and that was it. Tony knew.

The meeting ended, and Steve was preparing to flee when Tony grabbed his elbow.

"Rogers," he said, his eyes dark and hot. "I have a new prototype material designed for your armor. You should stop by the Tower sometime and take a look."

"All right," Steve said, and his voice came out all raspy with desire. He cleared his throat. "Do you have plans right now?"

"Nope," Tony said. "Now is perfect. Want a ride?"

Flying with Iron Man was the most exhilarating experience Steve had ever had. They'd flown together in combat before, but this was the first time Steve had gotten to do it for fun and at length. It was sheer terror and joy and, above all, adrenaline, rushing through his veins and making him feel glad to be alive. Tony sort of threw him at the Tower when they arrived ("You have to beat the robots, go!"), and he whooped and rolled and sprinted into the penthouse, laughing his head off.

"That was amazing!" he said as Tony wandered in, armorless. "So much better than jumping out of planes."

"I know," Tony said. He kept walking — prowling, really, slow and purposeful — until he was almost flush against Steve, his hands coming to rest on Steve's hips. Steve's breath caught, and Tony just kept walking. Steve went backward and backward, and then his calves hit something and he fell back onto a couch.

Tony leaned over, bracing his arms on either side of Steve's head, and Steve swallowed.

"Wanna fuck?" Tony said, his voice low and rough, and Steve went instantly from half-hard to rock-hard and throbbing.

"Yes," Steve replied.

Tony straddled him and kissed him hungrily, and Steve shuddered when he realized Tony was as hard as he was.

"Stark," Steve said, his voice going high as Tony's mouth moved along his jaw, "I've been thinking about this since —"

"I know," Tony murmured, "me too, me too," and he sucked that place under Steve's jaw and Steve saw stars.

He slid his hands up underneath Tony's shirt, traced the curves of Tony's spine, ran his fingers along Tony's ribs until Tony whimpered and slapped them away. "Stop tickling me and take your clothes off," he said.

Steve laughed, his voice husky. "Yeah," he said, "you're not the one who gives the orders." He pulled Tony's shirt off, unbuckled Tony's belt, unzipped Tony's pants, and carefully pulled pants and underwear over Tony's erection. Tony stood and shucked them off, kicking off his shoes and socks, too. Steve reached out for him; he leaned forward to kiss the hollow at the base of Tony's throat.

"This works, too," Tony said, breathless. "You know, for the record, I am perfectly fine with this plan."

He returned to Steve's lap, kissing him hungrily, then sat back.

"We're not in a SHIELD office this time," Tony said. "No need to rush."

"Who's rushing?" Steve said. He'd never been able to take his time before — with Bucky, sex had been fast and quiet by necessity. Having this time and space felt like untold luxury. He wished he could have shared it with Bucky. Or Peggy, for that matter; he had loved her for her cleverness and courage, but almost all of his fantasies about her had involved hours of exploration and play, unhurried, unhampered by guilt or the possibility of being court-martialed or imprisoned.

But he was here, in 2013, and he had that time and luxury not with Bucky or Peggy, but with someone who hated him.

This relationship was bizarre in the extreme.

Tony raised his eyebrows, and Steve realized it was tacky to think of other people, even dead ones, when Tony was sitting there, waiting.

He cupped Tony's face, feeling the slight scratch of afternoon stubble against his palm, and rubbed his thumb along Tony's kiss-swollen lips. He touched the line of Tony's throat, felt it move as Tony swallowed, and fanned his fingers out along the wings of Tony's clavicles. He dragged his thumbs across Tony's nipples, he circled the arc reactor carefully, and he ran the back of his finger along the vein on the underside of Tony's cock.

Tony twitched violently. "Christ, Rogers!" he said. He grabbed the hand stroking his cock and moved it away. "Fuck. I've been hard since you looked at me in that debrief, so if you keep doing that, this is going to be over way too soon."

"Since I looked at you?" Steve repeated.

"Yes, shut up, it was hot, okay? Captain America, thinking impure thoughts about me in the middle of a meeting? Any breathing human being would have gotten turned on." He paused, sliding a hand down to cup the bulge of Steve's dick through his pants. "What were you thinking about? Specifically?"

Steve blushed. "I... come on, I can't..."

"If you can think about me doing it, you can say it. Oh my god, is it kinky? On a scale of 1 to 10, how kinky is it? You're so red, I'm starting to worry, please be no more than a 7. Or an 8. Maybe a 9, depending —"

"Stop!" Steve said, laughing.

"Come on, come on, you have to tell, otherwise you will have worked up the world's reddest blush for nothing. Also, I will just point out that I am buck-ass naked and you are still fully clothed, so the dignity ball is all in your court right now."

"So do something about it," Steve said, sliding his hands along Tony's thighs. "Then maybe I'll say."

Tony grinned. "All right." He unerringly found and unfastened every zipper, button, and strap on Steve's uniform (and later Steve would remember that and wonder how Tony knew so well where they all were). He pulled Steve to his feet and removed the armor, leaving Steve in undershirt and briefs, then pushed him back down. Tony stretched the waistband of the briefs over Steve's straining erection; Steve lifted his hips to allow Tony to pull them off, but Tony stopped, letting the elastic snap Steve's cock against his body and giving a malicious little smirk when Steve yelped. "Nope. We had a deal."

"You prick, that really hurt," Steve said. He swallowed and met Tony's eyes. "You were being so irritating, so I — whenever you annoy me, I imagine your mouth. On me. Sucking my... my dick. I wanted — oh," he said, as Tony launched into action, actually tearing Steve's undershirt as he pulled it off, then kissing Steve, hard and desperate. He dropped to his knees to take off Steve's briefs, and then he stayed there.

Steve's world narrowed to the V of his thighs bracketing Tony's body.

"Like this?" Tony said, and he licked a long, hot swath from the base of Steve's cock to the head.

"Oh, yes," Steve said, and his voice broke like he was fourteen again.

Tony alternated slow licks with brief, tantalizing kisses. He pulled Steve forward on the couch so he could get to Steve's balls, drawn high and taut, and he traced their heavy roundness with his tongue. Steve whimpered, sliding his hands along Tony's arms. He'd never been harder in his life.

"Please," he whispered finally, his mouth dry. "Please suck me."

Tony looked up at him, his eyes so dark and hungry that Steve forgot to breathe. Never breaking eye contact, Tony kissed the tip, then pressed forward so that his lips parted around Steve's cock. His mouth was hot and slick, and Steve's forgotten breath hissed out between his teeth.

"Tony," Steve said, and Tony hummed in response. "So good. So perfect..."

Tony wrapped a hand around him and took him deeper, his head bobbing up and down, his mouth making wet, indecent, and utterly arousing noises. Steve wanted badly to thrust into Tony's mouth, but he held still, instead reaching down to thread his fingers through Tony's wild hair as Tony moved faster. The sight of Tony's lips stretched around him, the feel of that quick, clever tongue massaging him, it was all so much better than Steve could ever have imagined.

"Tony," Steve said urgently, "stop, I'm — I'm gonna —"

Tony looked up, smiled, and sucked. Steve's hips shuddered upward involuntarily as he came in Tony's mouth, and he groaned as Tony swallowed it down.

He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, heart still racing. "Holy... jeez," he said. "That was..."

"As good as flying with me?" Tony said, climbing up onto Steve's lap. He kissed Steve, slow and deep. Steve could taste himself on Tony's tongue, and something warm unfurled inside him.

"So much better," Steve said fervently when they broke for air, and Tony laughed.

"Now you'll never think of anything else during meetings," he said, and then he groaned as Steve flipped him onto the couch and bent to return the favor. "And oh, fuck, neither will I," he added, and if his voice jumped an octave at the first touch of Steve's tongue, Steve wasn't going to mention it.

Sex didn't fix anything, but it served as a sort of pressure valve for all the times Steve and Tony disagreed. And, even though Tony had ratcheted back the Iron Man heroics, they still disagreed a lot. Every few weeks the tension would build up to the point that they felt like killing each other, and then Tony would develop a new "prototype" and they'd have mindblowing sex before tension turned into outright conflict. The team was functioning better than ever, and Natasha actually pulled Steve aside to thank him for working out his problems with Tony.

So clearly she knew, but she just as clearly didn't care.

The photoshoots and interviews continued. The entire world was convinced they were best friends, and half the world thought they were secretly dating. Even SHIELD agents thought so; Steve overheard some arguing with Clint and Natasha about it.

Steve knew the exact mix of rough and gentle that would shut down Tony's ability to form words, and Tony could bring Steve to the brink of orgasm just by talking. They had mapped each other's bodies from head to toe.

But they still weren't friends.

Then came the mission that he and Clint ended up calling Operation Shelob.

It stretched over five nearly sleepless days. They had to track down an army of giant, poisonous spiders — linked (again) by a hive mind — in the winding, precipitous cricks and hollers of southwestern Virginia. This time there was no easily identifiable queen. By the time they eliminated the threat, even Steve was running on fumes.

It didn't help that the next day would mark one year since he'd woken up from the ice, and the heavily wooded, rugged landscape reminded him of the missions he'd run with the Howling Commandos in southern Germany and Austria. He was already close to his boiling point, and the more exhausted he got, the more sensitive his perception grew. That day, he could hear everyone's breathing, every little rustle and creak as they shifted, and every single motion of Tony's perpetually moving hands.

"Tony! Would you just sit still?" Steve finally said, exasperated, as Tony's hands tapped out a deafening drumbeat on the table. "I don't even know why you're here. You never pay attention in meetings, and you never contribute anything except insults and distractions!"

Six and a half pairs of eyes turned toward him. Clint raised an eyebrow; Agent Hill looked almost gleeful as she scribbled notes; Director Fury stared at him in an impassive way that still managed to suggest betrayal (Tony was the interrupter and sower of discord, not Captain America). Natasha and Bruce shook their heads at Steve.

Thor, being Thor, said, "Steven, my brother, I believe that your exhaustion has interfered with your judgment."

Tony crossed his arms pointedly, without even a snarky comment, and that's what really raised red flags for Steve.

"I'm sorry, I didn't —"

"No problem," Tony said politely. "As you were saying, Director?"

Steve watched Tony through the rest of the meeting. He stayed remarkably still, arms crossed over the arc reactor, as he followed and participated in the conversation carefully and professionally.

It was horrible.

"Hey, Tony," Steve said after Fury had dismissed them. "Tony, wait."

Tony put on his sunglasses and walked out the door.

"Tony, I'm sorry! Hold on, just for a minute!"

Tony spun around, yanking off the mirror shades, and the twist of his mouth made Steve recoil.

"Listen, Rogers," he said. "You think I'm an overgrown child with no discipline and no desire to acquire any. You're right," he added, over Steve's half-uttered protest. "So you'll understand when I say that I think you're an outdated relic of a soldier with no ability to think outside your little military box."

He paused and raked Steve from head to toe with a scornful gaze. Then his eyes widened a little, like he was having a revelation. "Holy shit," he said softly, "my father would have been disappointed in you, too."

For Tony to go there, Steve had done more harm than he had thought. Still, the calculated cruelty was almost more than he could bear. Everything special about you came out of a bottle, he remembered. He knew Erskine would have disagreed, but during late, lonely nights, that didn't stop him from being afraid that it was true. This was the thing about Tony: he could take all that intelligence, all that ingenuity, and he could turn it against you to figure out immediately where your structural weaknesses were, and then he used words like carefully placed blows to bring everything crashing down.

Steve clutched the doorframe hard enough to turn his knuckles white and press finger-shaped dents in the steel.

Tony walked off, whistling, and on this day of all days Steve couldn't bear to go after him just to be reminded that despite a few superficial similarities, Tony and Bucky were nothing alike.

"I thought you'd follow me the other day," said Tony three days later.

Steve opened his eyes and looked over to see Tony lounging in his bedroom doorway, silhouetted against the afternoon light from the living room. He wasn't even a little surprised that Tony had broken into his apartment. SHIELD wouldn't be happy about that.

"And just now I thought I'd find you in the gym, tearing apart more punching bags," Tony continued. "I'd call you a man of mystery except that it's four p.m. and you're still in bed. Jesus, Rogers, that bed isn't even long enough for you."

He switched on the light, and Steve pressed his thumbs into his eyes. "What do you want," he said, too weary even to make it a question. There was only one thing Tony ever wanted if they were alone, and Steve really wasn't in the mood.

"Well, see, it has been brought to my attention that I'm an ass," Tony said. "And sometimes I say things I don't really mean."

"Oh," Steve said, surprised. He considered this for a moment. Three days had taken away most of the sting of Tony's words, and this had never really been about Tony anyway. "It's okay. Thanks for stopping by." He rolled onto his side, facing the wall, and pulled the pillow over his head.

He heard three steps, and then the pillow was whisked out from under his arm. "I'm not finished."

Steve sighed and sat up. He watched Tony take in his greasy, rumpled hair, unshaven face, and red-rimmed eyes. Tony's eyes flitted over him like — well, like he couldn't bear to look too long, and then he turned to see the piles of apple cores and takeout cartons in the general vicinity of the trash can.

"Okay, what is going on?"

Steve shrugged. "I've been tired."

He had never received Tony's full attention like this. While they were on a mission, yes; while they were fighting, yes; while they were together, definitely. But not in conversation like... well, like friends. He rubbed the back of his neck and shrank into himself a little.

"Oh, shit," Tony said. "Well, I am an award-winning fuck-up, nothing new there. Listen, Cap, you were not a disappointment. You know how you were found, right?"

"Uh," Steve said. "Frozen?"

Tony let out a little puff of laughter. "Well, yeah, but it was a Stark Industries expedition that found you. My father never stopped looking for you. You were always — well, never mind that. And then Fury stole the Tesseract, but I'll just save the tales of SHIELD's continual provocations and disregard for Stark intellectual property for a later date —"

"Says the man who hacks into their systems anytime he wants, and who just broke into my apartment," Steve said, and Tony laughed. "Tony, I already knew that. Fury told me last year that your — that Howard kept looking for me."

"Oh, you don't know the half of it," said Tony, rolling his eyes. "Right. Pay attention, Cap, because this doesn't happen often. I was wrong to say... well, what I did. I'm sorry."

"I know," Steve said. "It really is okay. Sometimes we all say things we don't mean. I'm sorry, too. I didn't mean what I said. I don't —" He swallowed. "I don't think of you like that. Not since the Chitauri."

Tony hummed a little, fingers drumming against his thighs. "I haven't changed that much," he said. "But, okay, yeah, it's fine, it's all good. All is forgiven, and we can go back to cordially disliking each other and occasionally fucking. Glad the status quo was so easy to restore. See you later, Cap."

Steve nodded, relief mixing with something that made his stomach plunge. "See you around, Tony."

He buried his head in his hands as Tony walked away. This longing — he had to get a hold of himself. He just missed Peggy and Bucky and everyone else in his world.

He wished he weren't so lonely. And that he didn't — that he didn't want a relationship with Tony the way that he did. Physical desire wasn't the problem: Tony obviously enjoyed the sex they had as much as Steve did. But Tony equally obviously wanted nothing to do with him emotionally. And the thing was, after all these months, Steve actually liked Tony, and he wanted — more. Not a lot more. Just not to be the object of Tony's intractable dislike.

Footsteps came toward him. He lifted his head to see Tony standing in the doorway again, his mouth wry. "So, here's the thing, and I ask purely to satisfy my own curiosity: if you haven't been crushed by my galactic horribleness, what's with the three-day nap?"

Steve stared at the compass on his nightstand, and he could feel his mouth trembling. "Well," he said. He tried to find a way to ease into it, to avoid breaking down while Tony was watching. "Ever since I got bigger than a punching bag, I've been working out my emotions on them. I've fought and fought, especially over the past year, trying to deal with the fact that everyone I ever knew and loved is dead. I've been pretty busy helping you all save New York, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Des Moines, and the world several times over. And I was okay with that. The more I fought, the less time I had to think about Bucky and Peggy. And when I did think of them, I felt like I was making them proud."

He stopped and looked up at Tony. "But this last mission — it lasted so long, and all that fighting in the woods reminded me of the war. And it turns out... I've been here a year now, I should be over it, but I'm not. I can't just punch it away, and I can't make a plan of attack. So I'm trying a different approach, and why are you laughing?"

"Because," Tony said, "if you could get drunk, there'd be a dozen empty bottles of scotch around this room, and you'd be well on your way to graduating from the Tony Stark School of Self-Destructive Coping Mechanisms."

Steve hooked a leg under his bed and nudged out a cardboard box full of clanking, empty bottles. "Just because I can't get drunk doesn't mean I can't try."

Tony tilted his head back and covered his face with his hands. "Rogers, you're killing me," he said. "You hid the bottles? That's just sad."

"I didn't hide them," Steve said. "I'm saving them to recycle."

"Even on a bender, you're still Captain America." Tony abruptly grabbed Steve's blankets and flung them back as Steve made a strangled little noise of protest. Tony stared for a moment at Steve's wrinkled, baggy boxer shorts, shaking his head. "Look at this. You're a goddamned tragedy. Jesus, when were those boxers made, 1941? I've never seen boxers that big outside a Cary Grant movie."

"What!" Steve said in mock horror. "You mean — in 2013 you wear smaller underwear? What kind of future is this?"

Tony reached out and patted Steve on the head, as if Steve were a golden retriever. "Cap, Captain, Cappie, my point is that it is long past time for you to get the fuck out of here. This is no way to live. Also, you need a shower, Christ, you really have been lying in that bed for three days, haven't you?"

Steve lurched to his feet. "Not all the time," he said, nodding toward the pull-up bar on the wall. "I can't stay inactive for too long."

"Fantastic, wonderful," Tony said, wrinkling his nose. "You've been stewing in your own sweat and filth for three days. That's... well, frankly, that is disgusting. I'll remember this moment the next time I —"

He cut himself off and turned around abruptly. "Anyway, shower, then I'm taking you away from this apartment of gloom." He paused, still facing away, but Steve could see the sudden tension in his shoulders. "I mean, if you want to, obviously. I'm not kidnapping you. You want to stay here, I'll leave you alone."

The corners of Steve's mouth turned up, which counted as more of a smile than he'd been able to muster in a while. "Nah," he said. "You're right. I really need a shower."

"Meet me out front when you're ready," Tony said, "and bring your stuff."

It was just pity, Steve reminded himself, and tried not to feel rescued.

Half an hour later, he vaulted into the passenger seat of Tony's sleek new convertible, clutching his duffel.

"Hi," he said as he fastened his seatbelt.

"You are so slow," Tony complained as he tore out into traffic. "We should look into getting you a Hoveround. Your people like those."

Steve definitely no longer felt rescued.

"I don't know what a Hoveround is. Also, I had to call Fury to tell him where I was going."

"And yet you're here?" Tony asked, surprised. "I would have expected more of a fight from the Disapproving Eye."

"I did, too," Steve said. "He said something about taking this opportunity to overcome our differences and restore the bonds of friendship." But surely Fury of all people knew that their "friendship" was really just sex (their first time had been in a SHIELD office, after all, a fact that humiliated him anew every time he thought about it), so Steve felt pretty suspicious of the whole setup.

Tony snorted. "Well, at least you don't reek of a three-day bender anymore." They zipped through traffic, heading ever closer to the looming monstrosity that was Stark Tower. "It's an electric scooter for the elderly."

"What?" Steve said. "Oh, a Hoveround?"

"Yeah," Tony said. "The sad thing is that with just a little more juice and a quick software upgrade, they could be really fun. JARVIS! Make a note! Hoveround demolition derby."

"Can he actually hear you?" asked Steve, after a brief pause.

"Fuck," said Tony. "I really need to get him installed in here. I forgot I hadn't already, or I wouldn't have driven this car."

"Why haven't you? Installed him, I mean."

Tony shot Steve a sidelong glance. "Well, when we're not saving the world, I have armor to repair, meetings to attend, and a board of directors to keep — well, pleased is too strong a word, really, maybe 'not actively trying to get rid of me'? Oh, and upgrades to perform on the rest of the Avengers' stuff, since SHIELD's work is just embarrassing. Actual upgrades," he clarified hastily, "not booty-call upgrades. Those are just for you. Also, I've been doing some work to the Tower, and there's a lot of it that I didn't want to contract out to anybody — security, you know — so I've just been doing it all myself, with some help from the bots, and it's finally finished. Plus philanthropy to... okay, to fund, really that doesn't take much attention, just some obligatory galas every now and then, and at least I get to see Pepper at those, and she gets all fancied up..."

Steve looked away. "Right," he said. "It's really three or four full-time jobs, being Tony Stark."

"Pretty much," said Tony cheerfully. "Good thing I'm a genius."

"So —" Steve cleared his throat, curious but unsure how Tony would take this — "how is Pepper?"

"Gorgeous and terrifying as always," Tony said. "She'll be in New York for a couple days next week. I guess she's dating some climate scientist now. They're happy, it seems." He brooded at the steering wheel a bit.

"I'm sure he's very nice," Steve said. "I'm glad she's happy." He was, too, but he was also a little jealous that Pepper still got to be friends with Tony, even after breaking his heart. Steve would bet every cent of his backpay that Tony had only come by his apartment today because she had told him to.

Steve was quiet for the rest of the trip, letting Tony's babble wash over him until Tony zoomed up to the tower and tossed Happy the keys. "All right, all right, you have to prepare yourself for this, for it is so awesome. I'm serious, Cap, you may not be able to handle the sheer awesome, even your supersoldier superbody might just shut down when you see this shit —"

Tony's hand settled on his back, guiding him through the lobby to the private elevator, and then Steve realized why this whole day felt surreal: because Tony was treating him like a friend — like he would if the press were there.

The elevator took them up smoothly and quickly as Tony bounced on his toes in glee. The doors opened, and Tony ushered him into a state-of-the-art gym, all flowing curves and sunlight.

"Built to handle the Hulk! Or the Iron Man suit. Or, you know, Captain America."

Steve looked around appreciatively. "Nice," he said. "Very nice."

"I made some improvements to the equipment, so you shouldn't go through so many punching bags."

"Thanks, Tony," Steve said, the smile warm on his face. "This is great. Is this the work you've been doing on the Tower?"

"Part of it," he said, "but there's more! Come on, come on."

They went up another floor and emerged in a luxurious apartment. Enormous leather couches and chairs curved around a giant fireplace. To the right he could see a huge dining room table and a half dozen stools lined up underneath a counter that led into the kitchen.

"Your eyes are like saucers!" Tony said, unable to contain his glee. "JARVIS, shake what your daddy gave you."

"Sir," said JARVIS, sounding distinctly reproachful. The wall above the fireplace slid open to reveal a gigantic television, while the air above the coffee table and end tables sprang to three-dimensional virtual life.

"Tony, wow," Steve said. "This is incredible."

"You like it?"

"It's amazing," he said honestly. "But what's wrong with the penthouse?"

"What? Nothing," Tony said. "Well, barring any encounters with alien gods and/or Hulks, anyway. Knock on wood. Come on, come look at the rest, wait till you see the shower —"

And then the penny dropped, and so did Steve's jaw. "What the hell!" he said.

"Wait, what?"

"You can't just give people apartments! How much did this cost? No, don't tell me, what is the matter with you?"

Tony was drawing back as if he'd been struck, until he realized what Steve was saying. "Cap, you unbelievable dickhead," he said. "This isn't all for you. Jesus. It's for the whole team. So we all have a place to stay where we can, you know, be together, and maybe watch out for each other. So we don't need SHIELD and their omnipresent surveillance."

"Oh," Steve said, and he could feel his entire upper body flushing scarlet.

Tony started cackling.

"I feel like such a jerk," Steve said. "Can I... I'll just be over here, trying to sink through the floor."

"Oh my god," Tony wheezed, "you thought I was making you a kept man, that is beautiful. Seriously, you are like a precious little flower, except with an enormous ego." He wiped tears from his eyes. "Ohhhh, Christ. There really is a room for you, though, if your honor won't be sullied by seeing it."

They followed a long, curving hallway — Steve approved: no corners for enemies to hide in — until Tony stopped and threw open a door.

The room was easily twice the size of his apartment. Four floor-to-ceiling windows covered the entire wall across from the door, providing a spectacular view of the city. Immediately to his right was a desk already set up with one of Tony's slick new computers, lightyears better than the one SHIELD had given him. The bed was big enough for him to stretch out on.

"Well, are you going to go in or what? You have to go look at the shower, seriously, it is a work of art, I'm jealous and it's my tower."

Steve moved across the room to the door on his left, which opened into a bathroom bigger than the bedroom in his apartment. Tony wasn't kidding about the shower: it could fit four people easily, and the walls bristled with a bewildering array of spigots and jets.

"I put you and Thor on the ends, since you're the biggest hand-to-hand threats, and I do mean literally the biggest, since we all know Natasha could carve us all into mincemeat without even breaking a sweat. I'm next to Thor, then it goes Natasha, Clint, Bruce, and you, then back around to the great room. You're Bruce's buffer. No pressure."

Steve laughed a little and rubbed the back of his neck. "Holy smokes, Tony."

"Don't worry, his room is Hulkproofed, the whole Tower is, you won't wake up with a bed full of drywall. Unless that's what you're into, who knows what you considered aphrodisiacs during the war. You probably had plaster on your ration card. So sexy."

Steve raised his eyebrows.

"So, that's... this is... you can move in here," Tony continued, his words getting faster, almost tripping over each other. "If you want, I mean, I'm just saying, empty room, world's most amazing shower, that's gotta be better than that broom closet of an apartment that SHIELD stuck you in."

"Plus there's a view," Steve said.

"See, keen observational skills, that's what supersoldier serum can do for you. I mean, this way you won't catch your death of depression oozing from the walls."

"I don't think depression works like that," Steve said, thinking of the stack of pamphlets Hill had kept tucking into his briefing materials back when he had first awoken.

"It does in that apartment of yours," Tony said with an air of finality.

So Steve moved into Stark Tower, and at first he was even more lonely than he had been before. None of the others had moved in yet: after the stress of the last mission, Fury had given them time off. Bruce was headed out on a research trip, and Thor had left for New Mexico to see Dr. Foster. Then Fury had sent Clint and Natasha on a mission. Apparently spies didn't get breaks, even after their covers were blown.

Everything in the Tower was so big. All Steve's belongings, even his uniform and shield, could have fit into only three of the twelve drawers built into his closet, if he'd wanted them to. Instead, he hung up everything that could hang to make the closet look fuller. At night, he would flop across his giant bed, stretch out on a mattress more comfortable than he knew could ever exist, and then have to curl into a tiny ball on the edge of the bed before he could fall asleep.

He spent his days reading, sketching, and getting JARVIS to teach him about modern entertainment (Steve discovered that he really liked MarioKart), but he spent most of his time in the gym, doing his level best to destroy Tony's punching bags. It took him two weeks to get through the first one.

Five minutes later, while Steve was cleaning up the mess, Tony appeared in the gym. Steve hadn't seen him since moving in.

"JARVIS said you defeated the punching bag," Tony said, marching over to inspect the burst seam. "I'm sure it was epic. I may need to redesign these."

Steve shrugged. "That one lasted a lot longer than any other punching bag I've ever used. Usually I go through half a dozen in a single workout."

"So this is worth a measly 84 normal punching bags?" Tony said, looking scandalized. "That is pathetic, I need to do better than that, I thought you'd be good for months."

Steve opened his mouth to make a smartass comment about the accuracy of Tony's calculations for Hulkproofing the Tower, but he thought better of it. "So spar with me instead," he said.

For a moment Tony looked surprised, but then a bright grin flashed across his face. "Yeah, all right," he said. "I'll go get the armor."

So they started sparring together. Sometimes they fought with armor, sometimes without, and sometimes they'd put the gym equipment through its paces.

It took another month for Tony to win one of their armorless sparring matches. He'd gotten leverage and Steve had yielded — "But only because I'm hungry" — and Tony crowed happily about his great victory.

"Yeah, yeah," Steve grumbled. "Come on, I need food."

"Pizza?" said Tony hopefully.

"Sure," Steve said, smiling at him.

"JARVIS! Pizza!"

By the time they showered and met back up on the team floor, the pizza was waiting. Steve was so hungry that he devoured almost an entire pie before Tony had finished telling him about the breakthrough in the polymer lab.

"You mean there's an actual prototype for me to look at?" Steve said, amused. "After all these months of empty promises?"

"Those were not empty promises, they were pretexts, that is totally different!" Tony said. "But Natasha was making comments. She called me unflattering names."

"Does she ever do otherwise?"

"Point," Tony said. "But not like this. She made Fury question my skills! If you don't get some new armor soon, the jig is totally up." He paused for a second to lick his fingers. Steve watched them slip between Tony's lips, one by one, and he was so transfixed that he didn't even notice when the toppings slid off the slice of pizza he was holding. Tony smirked at him. "The sexy, sexy jig."

Steve snapped back to attention and tried to reassemble his pizza. "You know she already knows about our sexy jig, right?"

"How could she possibly know? We've been extremely discreet!"

"Tony, it's Natasha. She made a comment to me months ago."

"Well, it is not my fault you can't do stealth, Mr. My Uniform Has A Giant Star As A Target."

"Oh, as if you're one to talk, Mr. I Am Iron Man."

Tony laughed. "Hey, speaking of the team, Bruce has already said he'll move in when he gets back from wherever he's gone off to," he said as Steve reached for the last slice of pep and sausage. "Thor probably will, when he's here and not in Asgard or New Mexico, which won't be often. Will you talk to Natasha? She likes you better than me, and if she's in, Clint will be, too."

"Yeah, sure," Steve said. "It'll be good to have the others here. I think. Unless we all try to kill each other."

Tony stretched, and Steve tried not to look at the exposed strip of skin. "Yeah, but if you and I can manage not to kill each other, the others will be okay."

"Are you really going to move into a room down here when you have the whole penthouse?"

Tony shrugged, carefully nonchalant. "Yeah, I figure I should, if everyone else is here."

"But not if only I am."

Tony looked up at him sharply. "Sorry? I thought we didn't like each other. That's our whole deal. Polite dislike, fantastic sex."

Steve forced out a laugh. "No, of course." He stood. "Thanks for sparring and for the pizza. I'll call Natasha."

"Well, you don't have to do it right now. It's not like she can take your call while she's on that mission. Where are you going?"

"Away?" Steve said. "Back to my room? Since, you know, we don't like each other." You can't be a jackass just because your feelings are hurt, his conscience said, and he sighed. "Sorry. I just meant — I know you have a lot to do, and I really do appreciate your time today, and I don't want to keep you."

"Oh," said Tony. "Yeah, no problem. I just thought, you're here, I'm here, maybe you'd like to have some of that aforementioned fantastic sex?"

Steve stared at him, so frustrated he could almost scream. Tony's eyes darted around, looking everywhere but at Steve, and he was biting the corner of his mouth, just a little. His fingers drummed against his thighs. His hair was rumpled and still damp from the shower, and it was Tony, so maddening but so familiar and —


The entire world rearranged itself around him. Everything he'd been feeling for the past few months made sudden and terrible sense. He felt obscurely that he had been walking a tightrope without knowing it, and now he'd finally overbalanced: whatever decision he made, he was already falling. Now the only question was how badly it would end.

Well, before he hit the ground, he might as well get some memories to sustain him afterward.

Tony stood and moved over to him, placing a hand on Steve's stomach that made his breath hitch and his cock swell.

He'd never wanted anyone so badly before.

"Come on, darling," Tony said, "we still have time before the kids get home from school."

Steve made a face at him, and Tony's hand wandered south.

"Well, part of you is saying a very enthusiastic 'yes,'" Tony said. "Because of a little domestic roleplay, Steve? Really? You must realize I would be a terrible mommy."

"Or because of your hand," Steve replied, laughing a little. "You might have noticed, it is right there."

"Mmm, this phenomenon bears further investigation," Tony said, unbuckling Steve's belt. "Two competing hypotheses. How should we test them?"

"I have a few ideas," Steve said, hooking a finger under Tony's belt and tugging him even closer. He cupped the back of Tony's neck and drew him in for a kiss, long and gentle and sweet.

"Christ, your mouth," Tony said when they finally broke apart, his voice shaky and uneven. "Listen, I have a brilliant idea, stop me if this is too wild, but maybe we could make it to a bed this time?"

"Mine's closer," Steve said.

They stumbled along the dark hallway, kissing frantically and shedding clothes as they went. Steve wanted to remember everything about this: the little sounds Tony made, the clean scent of his shampoo, the smooth expanse of his skin, the play of sleek muscles underneath. Steve catalogued the light touch of his callused fingers, the heat of his body, the hard length of his cock. The arc reactor cast everything into a play of blue light and shadow.

They fell onto the bed. Steve caught himself murmuring Tony's name over and over again, running his hands over Tony's body with something approaching reverence, and he knew it was a mistake but he couldn't stop. If he looked into Tony's eyes, Tony would be able to see everything, the whole pathetic truth. So he looked at everything else as he kissed his way over every part of Tony's body.

"Steve," Tony said in a soft, hesitant voice he'd never used before.

Steve's heart leapt at the use of his first name. He looked up, irrationally hopeful.

"I want you inside me," Tony said, which was not precisely the sentiment Steve had hoped for.


"Yes," Steve said, "please, I've never wanted anything more," and then he felt horrified by the naked emotion in his voice.

"Fuck, where are my pants?" Tony cried, vaulting out of bed. "JARVIS, put a spotlight on my pants. I have condoms and lube in the pocket."

"Optimist," Steve called, and flopped over on his back. He doesn't even really like me, he reminded himself. It's just sex. He covered his face with his hands.

A little packet hit his stomach and he jumped. Oh, condom. He looked up at Tony and made the mistake of meeting his eyes, which had gone black with desire. His own cock throbbed in response.

"Have you ever done this before?" Tony asked.

"Yes," Steve said.

That was evidently not the answer Tony was expecting. He froze in the process of squeezing lube onto his fingers. "Yes? You have? When? With whom? Okay, that's not really any of my business, forget I asked. Oh my god, did anyone tell you about modern STDs and not to use Vaseline?"

"What's wrong with Vaseline?" Steve asked, derailed.

"It breaks down the latex of the condom. Holy shit, when did you have sex? Have you been tested since?"

Steve sighed. "In 1943. With Bucky. We had — no, never mind, that's not important right now. What's important is that I'm immune to most diseases."

Tony was silent for a moment. "I didn't know. About you and Bucky."

"No one did."

"Yeah, I guess you'd have kept that secret then." Tony reached out and cupped Steve's face in his hand. "You know it's okay now, right? I mean, not great, you'd still catch some flak, but it's not illegal anymore. And here in New York you could get married if you wanted."

"I know," Steve said, and he did not nuzzle Tony's hand or cover it with his own or turn to kiss Tony's palm. "But thanks for the pep talk?"

"Okay," Tony said, dropping his hand. "Sorry, that went to a sad place I did not intend, are you all right?"

Steve smiled. "I'm fine," he said, and that was mostly true. Partly, anyway. He reached for Tony's cock and gave it a squeeze. "Let's go, Iron Man," he added in his Captain America voice.

"Jesus Christ," Tony said, and his cock leapt in Steve's hand.

Steve raised his eyebrows. "That does it for you?" he said, grinning, but he remembered their first time, ordering Tony around: of course it did.

"Shut up," Tony said, removing Steve's hand. "Seriously, if you do that again, I am going to come right fucking now. So, okay, you've done this before, you know what you're doing, but I swear to God if you touch me right now it is all over. I'll let you do this next time, if you want."

Next time. Steve swallowed the lump in his throat and watched Tony's face as he slid a finger into himself. His eyes fluttered closed, thankfully before he noticed Steve gazing at him like a moonstruck calf. Steve leaned over and gave him a deep, deliberate kiss, trying not to think I love you and failing.

This was such a bad idea, but he couldn't stop.

"I'm ready," Tony said into his mouth some time later, and he pulled away. Tony's eyes were hot and heavy-lidded, but he was smiling, amused. "Get that condom on, Rogers, what have you been waiting for?"

Steve laughed and rose up on his knees, his hands shaking as he tried to tear open the package.

"Steve," Tony said, his voice uncharacteristically gentle as he ran a hand down Steve's thigh. "Hey. It's okay. It's just me."

Steve's heart did a little flip, and he got the package open. He carefully did not look at Tony while he rolled the condom on and slicked himself up.

"Oh, fuck," Tony said, his eyes glued to Steve's cock. "You're so big and gorgeous, you're so amazing, you look so sexy —" and words abandoned him altogether, leaving moans in their wake, as Steve pushed into him.

Now Steve couldn't look away. The expression on Tony's face as he slid into him held such naked desire, even as Tony's eyes fluttered closed, that Steve thought he might explode. He gritted his teeth, trying to move slowly. Tony was so tight and hot around him that Steve was afraid he was hurting him, but Tony just bit his lip and wrapped his legs around Steve's waist.

"Fuck, you're thick," he said breathlessly as Steve slid all the way in, and Steve mumbled an apology.

"No, no," Tony said, "definitely do not apologize. Just give me a second."

Steve held himself motionless over Tony's body until Tony lifted his hips. "Move now," Tony said, and Steve groaned and followed orders.

It felt amazing. Steve thrust into Tony with a deep, even rhythm, restraining himself so as not to fuck Tony literally into the headboard. Tony's hands wandered over every inch of skin he could reach. When Steve opened his eyes, he found Tony watching him with such wonder that he almost blurted out the truth, got as far as "Tony, I," but then he remembered: Polite dislike, fantastic sex. He leaned forward to kiss Tony instead.

Tony made a muffled noise into his mouth as the shift in position caught Tony's cock between their bodies. Steve could feel the slickness of it sliding hot and hard along his abdomen, and his hips started driving faster almost of their own volition.

Their kisses grew sloppier and the pace more frenzied. Steve buried his face in Tony's neck, sucking a mark into his throat to keep himself from saying anything he'd regret later, and fucked him hard and fast.

"Steve," Tony said, "you feel so good, Jesus, I can feel you blushing. Blush harder for me, I love it when you blush, it means you're thinking filthy things inside that perfect All-American head and, god, you love this, don't you? You love fucking me, you love being balls-deep — oh, fuck — balls-deep inside me — you love pounding into me — Christ, you feel amazing..." He talked and talked, he said things that Steve would remember forever and blush at for weeks after, and Steve was rapidly losing his last shreds of self-control.

"Tony," he said in his Captain America voice, softly and right in Tony's ear, "stop talking."

"Fuck, Steve, I told you —" Tony cried, and he came, spectacularly; Steve felt splashes hit his chest and neck. Tony's muscles clamped down on him and the pressure choked a deep cry out of him. Steve was close, so close, pounding into Tony, the pleasure building until finally it burst into long, radiating waves as he came and came and came.

He managed to angle his collapse a little so he wouldn't completely crush Tony. They lay there for a long time, shivering through aftershocks, and Steve kissed Tony to shut up his blissed-out brain.

"That," Tony said eventually, still sounding dazed, "was intense. Holy fuck, Steve."

"Mmmph," said Steve in heartfelt agreement. He pulled out and, wobbly-legged, went to throw away the condom.

"We should shower," Tony said, but he was stretched out on his back and made no effort to move.

Steve face-planted on the pillow. "Later," he said, yawning and rolling onto his side. He was sleepily surprised when Tony wriggled under his arm to snuggle close.

He awoke a few hours later. The room was still dark except for the blue glow of the arc reactor. Tony had sprawled in the intervening time, but his hand was still curled against Steve's sticky chest and his leg was still thrown over Steve's.

Steve disentangled himself gently and slipped into the bathroom.

"JARVIS, shower," he said quietly.

"Of course, Captain Rogers," JARVIS replied, just as quietly. Steve let the water warm up for a moment before sliding the door open and stepping in.

"What am I going to do?" he murmured to the wall. "What on earth am I going to do?"

He needed a plan. He was in this situation because he hadn't had one. He'd let Tony sweep him along on these spontaneous impulses instead of planning things out like a sensible person, and then he'd gotten all lust-fogged. He needed to think about this clearly.


Fact #1: Tony didn't like him.
Fact #2: Tony did like having sex with him.
Fact #3: He was in love with Tony.
Fact #4: This "polite dislike, fantastic sex" business would never work for him.
Fact #5: He refused to be unhappy for the rest of his life.

Conclusion: He needed to make Tony fall in love with him.

Well. He couldn't dictate Tony's emotions. So refine the conclusion: He needed to make a more concerted effort to befriend and romance Tony.

Good. But how?


"Yes, Captain Rogers?"

"Where does Tony like to go out to eat?"

JARVIS rattled off a list of restaurants. Steve had only heard of a few of them, and those were all either outrageously expensive or far away (at least by Steve's standards; obviously not by Tony's). He couldn't imagine going to any of them. They weren't the sorts of places he had ever frequented, and though his fame would probably ensure him a table, he balked at trying to fit in there while also charming Tony.

"No," he said. "Those won't do. Can you point me to a casual restaurant with really good burgers and beer that Tony hasn't been to?"

"An excellent idea, Captain. Based on available data, I recommend the Prince & President Tavern."

"Thank you, JARVIS," Steve said.

"Burgers and beer?" said Tony from behind the door, and Steve startled so much he nearly fell over.

"How long have you been standing there?"

"Long enough to hear you colluding with my AI to make me eat. Can I join you, or are you going to make me ogle you through the door like a dirty old man?"

Steve grinned and slid the door open. "You can join me and be a dirty old man," he said, taking Tony's wrist and pulling him close for a slow, lazy kiss.

Everything was better with a plan.

Once Steve started seeking Tony out, he became aware — and ashamed — of how little he had done so before. He had simply assumed that since Tony hadn't warmed to him yet, he never would, no matter what Steve did. But it turned out that Tony was an easy touch, at least when Steve took incremental steps. And Tony was willing to make an effort, too, which surprised Steve most of all.

They kept sparring, and then they'd get takeout afterward. After a little while, Tony decided he needed to be Steve's pop culture guru, and they started working their way through the movies Steve had missed.

Once, when they watched Forbidden Planet and Steve made some comment about robots, Tony took him downstairs, showed him the workshop, and introduced him to the bots. After that, Steve would take sandwiches down to Tony's workshop and make him explain his latest projects. For two weeks Tony called Steve "Nanny Rogers," but one day Steve wandered down a half-hour later than usual and Tony spent ten minutes needling him for being late.

"Not that I care," Tony added at the end of a harangue.

"That was the least convincing disclaimer I've ever heard," Steve said, laughing. "I'm sorry I was late."

"What were you doing, anyway? Not that it matters!"

"I went for a run," Steve said. "I went farther than I thought. And then I had to shower."

"Mmm," said Tony, around a mouthful of ham and swiss. "I see, I see. Wanton disregard for the health of a teammate in the name of your own workout."

"I know, I should be ashamed."

"You really should."

"So," Steve said, trying for casual but blushing fiercely, "let me make it up to you with dinner tonight."

Tony froze, then his eyes swiveled sideways to look at Steve. "Oh my god," he said. "Did you just ask me out? On a date?"

"Well. Yeah," Steve said. "See, I actually like spending time with you, so I would like to do more of that."

Tony put the sandwich down, leaning back and wiping his hands on his shirt. "Since when?"

"Since... I think maybe since we started doing all those photoshoots?"

"What the hell, Rogers," Tony said, dismayed. "That was months ago!"

This conversation was not going as planned.

"I know you don't like me," Steve said. "But I thought maybe things were changing? Over the past couple of months, I mean, ever since I moved in here, it seemed like — like we were sort of becoming friends. Maybe. A little."

"So you asked me on a date."

"Yes?" Steve said. He turned even redder. "I like being with you. When you act like you like me, I mean. And even when you make me angry, it's because — because there's so much more to you than you let on, and you spend so much energy chasing people away because you're afraid of being hurt and because you don't believe anyone could really, actually like you. But you're wrong. And," Steve added, seeing the objection forming before Tony even spoke, "yes, I like having sex with you. So... Yes. I want to date you."

"But," Tony began.

"No, let me be clear," Steve said. "I want to spend time with you and see if maybe we can keep getting along even when we're not having sex. And, in the interests of full disclosure, it would not be a hardship to have sex with you more often, but we don't have to. And I'm not asking for long-term commitment or anything," he added, because even though that's what he wanted, it wasn't fair to dump all his feelings on Tony and ask him for promises right now. "I just want to try. If you want to."

Tony was staring at him, his eyes wide and bewildered. Steve waited, but for once no words were forthcoming.

"Okay," Steve said, his stomach sinking, "I... I'll let you think about it. You know how to find me when you decide."

"No," Tony said.

Steve's stomach turned into the Titanic. "No meaning no, or no meaning —"

Tony looked down, fiddling with a soldering iron. "No meaning no. I don't want to date you. I don't think it's a good idea."

"Oh," Steve said. He swallowed. "I see." He picked up the tray with the dishes. "I'll just... I'll take these..."

When he turned back around, Tony was engrossed in code again, murmuring to JARVIS.

Steve went upstairs and methodically washed every dish, carefully put them all away, packed up all his belongings, and left.

He wanted to get drunk, so drunk, blindingly, horrifically drunk. But even without the serum, he didn't think there was enough alcohol in the world to blunt this rejection.

He couldn't go back to his apartment; SHIELD had come and taken away all the furniture they'd let him use. He couldn't abandon his team. He couldn't go back to the Tower. His only mode of transport was a motorcycle.

So he slung his duffel over his back, got on the bike, and rode off.

He had planned to stop outside the city, close enough to get back if the Avengers needed him. But once out, he couldn't stop, which is how he ended up in Charleston, South Carolina, sitting barefoot on Folly Beach with his pants rolled up, sketching the pier in the pale light of dawn.

He watched the sunrise, a gentle slide from gray to pink to yellow, and he ached.

He flipped back to the beginning of his sketchbook and leafed through the pages. At first, all the pictures were of Bucky and Peggy: Bucky laughing or eating beans out of a can or playing poker with the other Howling Commandos; Peggy smiling slyly or shooting at him or punching Hodge in the nose. Howard turned up a few times, dressed like a pilot or leaning against a workbench covered in shield prototypes.

Then came the sketches of Stark Tower, and then the sketches of his teammates. Bruce and Tony doing science together (which was as precise as Steve could be; the instruments in that sketch were mostly just smudgey squiggles). Clint showing Tony his quiver. Natasha flipping Tony during a training exercise. Tony chasing Thor in midair. Group pictures in which Tony was always the center.

After that, it was as if he had given up any pretense, and almost all the sketches were of Tony: laughing at Some Like It Hot, taking a smoothie from Dummy, wielding a blowtorch with a maniacal grin. There were pages and pages of Tony's armor in intricate detail. And then he'd started doing studies: Tony's hands, Tony's eyes, and, embarrassingly, a series that might as well be called "Captain America Lusts after Tony Stark's Ass," which depicted Tony from behind at just about every angle.

He should probably burn this whole book.

Sighing, he closed it and trudged back to his bike. He was about halfway up the beach when his phone rang, and excitement sparked lightning-fast because it had to be Tony.

Fumbling, he pulled the phone out of his pocket. But when he finally got a look at the screen, Natasha's impassive face stared back at him under the caller ID. His stomach fell.

Natasha must have something important to say, though, so he hit "Answer" anyway.

"Natasha," he said. "Is there an emergency?"

"You tell me," she said. "You're AWOL in Charleston, and Stark says you took all your belongings with you."

"I'm not AWOL," he said, insulted. "I no longer require permission to travel. Bruce has been gone for months! And I have my phone; I knew you were tracking me."

"Well, get your ass back here."

"Here?" he said. "You and Clint are back? Finally?"

"Yes, and we have news. Debrief at 1930 at SHIELD Central. You'd better be back in time."

"I will be," he said, checking his watch, but she'd already hung up.

He was somewhere in southern Virginia when he had an epiphany.

His entire relationship with Tony had been backwards. They'd had sex before they even liked each other. And then, when he'd asked Tony out, he'd only meant to emphasize that he was interested in a romantic relationship, but Tony's particular psychological scars meant that what he had probably heard was "I like using you for sex and would like to do that more often, and I will martyr myself by spending more time with you if that's what it takes."

Tony probably thought that the sparring and meals and movies and workshop sandwiches had been about getting him into bed again. Tony was a bonehead, but so was Steve. He'd tried to control everything, as if Tony were a campaign, not a person.

A new plan presented itself, golden and fully formed and beautifully, ridiculously simple. Steve leaned forward and opened the throttle.

He went straight to SHIELD Central, arriving just early enough to take a shower and get dinner in the mess hall. The Avengers' usual conference room was empty, so he dropped his duffel there, grabbing a towel and his shower kit before heading to the locker room.

He could do this. He could face Tony and the rest of the team.

He was still half-naked, his towel slung low around his hips as he shaved, when Clint walked in.

"Hey!" Steve said. He turned, extending his hand. "Good to see you, man. Glad you're back."

"Hey, Steve," Clint said, shaking the outstretched hand but not returning Steve's smile. "I just saw Stark. What the fuck did you do to him?"

"Uh, what?" Steve said. He turned back to the mirror to finish shaving and not at all to avoid making eye contact with Clint. "What's Tony doing here already? The debrief doesn't start for another twenty minutes."

"I don't know, but I would guess that it has something to do with you. He is in the worst mood I have ever seen him in, and you're the only person who can do that to him so effectively. He's currently sitting in the conference room, trying to light your duffel bag on fire with his eyes."

"Huh," Steve said, patting his face dry with paper towels. "He hasn't actually created a gadget to do that, has he?"

"Pretty sure he's about to do it just with the power of his mind. You'd better get up there before he manages it — or worse, before Hill or Fury gets in there."

Steve sighed. "I was going to get dinner," he said.

"I'll bring you some. I mean, you'll need it. Just go defuse Stark before he ruins everything."

"I don't know if I can," Steve said. He squeezed toothpaste onto his toothbrush. "But I'll try."

Clint wandered off, and Steve brushed his teeth, the wheels in his mind spinning furiously. What if Tony found the sketchbook in his bag?

Well, what if he did? Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing. No one could look at those pictures and not see exactly how Steve felt.

He didn't realize until he was finished with everything else that he'd forgotten to bring clean clothes.

Tony really did look like he was trying to make the duffel bag explode with the sheer force of his hatred. He was staring so hard at the bag (still closed, Steve noted with a mix of relief and disappointment) that he didn't even notice when Steve, still wearing only a towel, strode into the conference room.

"What are you doing?" Steve asked.

Tony jumped, then did a double-take. "Why the fuck are you wearing a towel?"

"Forgot clean clothes. Clint told me that you were sitting in here, trying to light my duffel on fire with your eyes."

Tony sniffed. "I was trying to figure out how all of your belongings fit into that bag. Since you didn't leave any behind."

"I don't have that many." Steve leaned over, grabbed the bag, and dropped it onto the table for easier access. He didn't miss the way Tony's gaze lingered on his body before snapping back into a scowl. "You want to maybe give me a minute to get dressed?"

Tony kicked back in his chair, crossing his ankles on the table and leering. "Nothing I haven't seen before," he said, playing obnoxious.

Steve shrugged and dropped the towel. "Nothing SHIELD hasn't seen before, either," he told Tony's raised eyebrows. He dressed quickly, nonetheless.

Tony sat in silence, watching Steve repack the bag, until Clint showed up with an entire platter of food: fruit and sandwiches and a whole relish tray.

"Oh, thank goodness," Steve said. He threw the duffel on the floor, grabbed the platter, and dove in.

"That is disturbing," Clint said after a few minutes. "I'm a little worried you're about to unhinge your jaw and devour both of us. How long has it been since you've eaten?"

Steve shrugged. "A while."

He expected Tony to make some smart remark, but he didn't.

"So, you went to Charleston. Any special reason?" Clint said, having apparently decided Steve and Tony needed a push.

"Needed some time away," Steve said. "No big deal."

"No big deal?" Tony said. He dropped his feet to the floor and leaned forward. "You take all your belongings, leave without a word, drive 800 miles on a 1941 motorcycle death trap, don't check in with the team, and it's no big deal?!"

Clint shrank back in his chair, obviously wanting to be high up and far away, and Steve would have laughed a little at his discomfort if Tony hadn't been so frustrating. "Whereas you always get permission before jaunting off to Malibu," Steve said.

"I'm not the team leader!"

"Well, I'm not a robot! Sometimes I need space!"

"So you just move out? Without even a word?"

"You pretty clearly didn't want me around!"

"That's not what I said!"

"That's exactly what you said!"

"Do I need to have JARVIS replay the thing? Because we can go back to the Tower and I can have him do that!"

"Yeah, actually," Steve said, his mouth curling a little in surprise. He hadn't even needed to make the request himself. "That's exactly what I want."

"Well, let's go!"

They were leaning so far over the table that they were almost nose to nose. Steve's gaze caught on Tony's mouth, and he had one dizzying moment of pure, hot desire before he took a steadying breath and straightened up. "We can't. We have a debrief."

"God damn it!" Tony said. He dropped back into his chair, spinning it so he faced away from Clint and then subtly adjusting his pants. Steve was viciously glad Tony was just as turned on as he was. "Where are the rest of them?"

Thor burst through the door as if summoned. "My brethren!" he said. "I have missed you greatly!"

Steve had a blind moment of panic that Thor was going to hug him and feel exactly how turned on he was, but luckily a manly arm-grab seemed to suffice. A few minutes later — long enough for Steve and Tony to get themselves under control again, because of course it was — Natasha came in, smiling. "Look who I found," she said, and Bruce slid through the door, rubbing his hair sheepishly.

"About time," Steve said, grinning. He got up to shake Bruce's hand. "Man, are you a sight for sore eyes. Now someone will finally explain the science to me." He extended a tentative hand to Natasha and beamed when she took it.

She pulled him close and squeezed his hand so hard he almost yelped. "Whatever Stark did? He's too stupid to fix it himself. You're going to have to."

"I have a plan," Steve told her.

She didn't look appeased.

Behind them, Thor was booming something about the wonders of tacos, Clint had grabbed Bruce into a hug, and Bruce looked genuinely — if cautiously — happy to be back. "I'll tell you later," he was saying to Tony when Hill and Fury sauntered in, claiming the seats at the head of the table that always belonged to them.

"All right, Avengers," Fury said. "Welcome back, Thor, Dr. Banner. Agents Barton and Romanoff have discovered how the bee-people —" ("Beeple," Tony interjected) — "the bee-people and that army of giant spiders came to have a hive mind. Agent Romanoff?"

Steve listened carefully to Natasha's report, glad Bruce was there to answer questions. Unlike telepaths, the beeple and spiders had a collective consciousness that had been chemically induced. The beeple had also been selectively bred. The fact that the hive minds had been at least in part chemically created meant that someone out there was marketing a hive mind serum, and the world could only expect to face further threats like this in the future.

"And how long will it take for SHIELD to decide a hive-mind army is a tactical advantage?" Tony asked.

"SHIELD isn't interested in this," Hill said.

"The hell it isn't," Steve said, leaning forward. "We all remember the Tesseract weapons. SHIELD isn't very good at judging what technology is best left alone when there's a tactical advantage at stake. I'd be interested to hear an official response to Tony's question, Director."

Fury shot him the glare he usually saved for Tony. "You do not have clearance for that answer, Captain Rogers."

"Well, over my dead body will SHIELD actually use this serum for any reason other than to create an antidote," Tony said, standing up.

"And mine," Steve said, moving to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Tony just as Natasha, Clint, Bruce, and Thor did the same.

"Ha!" Tony said. "That's a much better threat."

"The Council already thinks you're dangerous. We could just disband the Avengers," Hill said.

"But you won't," Steve said. "You need us."

Fury sighed. "Some of you more than others," he said dryly, and even though he was joking, Steve actually wanted to punch him. "But I will personally see to it that the serum will only be used to create an antidote."

"And Clint and I will personally see to it that anyone who does otherwise will pay," Natasha said. Her expression was as impassive as ever, but even Fury recoiled a little: Natasha and Clint knew, better than anyone, what it meant to have someone mess with your mind.

"Let's go home," Steve said, and they left as a team.

They ordered takeout at the Tower, and Tony showed them all the gym and their quarters. Steve followed behind, watching Tony give the rest of the team a much better spiel than he'd given Steve. Tony's wild gestures betrayed just how nervous and excited he was. He wanted them to be together, like a family.

Steve loved him so much it hurt.

The takeout arrived — so much takeout — and they ate all of it in front of the entertainment center while Bruce told them about his fruitless quest for one of the missing pieces of the Hulk antidote he was trying to create.

"Anyone up for MarioKart?" Clint asked, when Bruce declared he was done talking to them.

"Not me," Bruce said. "Those blue shells piss me off. But I'll make popcorn and point and laugh at you all."

"I would learn of this custom!" Thor said. "Tell me where to find this cart, that I might experience its glory!"

Steve won every race. Thor vowed vengeance on anyone who used those "craven weapons" red shells. Clint and Natasha gave up on driving to win and instead drove to stay on the course, all the while throwing popcorn unerringly at Steve's eyes. Tony just swore a lot and kept moving closer to the TV, as if proximity would correlate with victory.

"How is it that Cap is destroying us all?" Clint grumbled.

"Serum," Tony said, dodging a green shell Steve had thrown at him.

"Nope," Natasha said. She gave Steve an admiring glance. "He's secretly been practicing for months."

"True," Steve said. "It wasn't exactly a secret, though."

"You dirty bastard," Tony said, outraged. "Using my own equipment!"

Steve grinned and shrugged. "You told me to make myself at home! What did you think I was doing all those hours when you were in your workshop?"

"Working out!" Tony said. "Or, I don't know, drawing? Not rotting your brain with video games!"

"There are a lot of hours in a day, and JARVIS is very helpful," Steve said, amused. "He'd take over the other players and show me the shortcuts."

"JARVIS, you traitor!" Tony cried.

"Captain Rogers asked for my help, and you instructed me to give him whatever help he needed," JARVIS said, innocent as only a sassy Stark AI could be.

"I guess you all are just going to have to work harder," Steve said. They all threw things at him that time, even Bruce, and he ducked away from the barrage of pillows, laughing.

They were on a team high that came from being reunited and standing up to Fury and deciding to move into the Tower, and Steve wanted to hash this thing out with Tony before they settled into a routine.

So the next morning, he went down to Tony's workshop.

"Hey, Dummy," he said as the bot looked up at him. "Hey, You, Butterfingers. Hey, Tony."

"Cap," Tony said without looking up from the schematics he was working on. "It's always so nice to be greeted as an afterthought to my robots. What do you want?"

Steve stiffened a bit, but Tony's voice wasn't combative. "Did you have JARVIS replay it for you?" he asked.

Tony wouldn't look up. "Might have done," he said.

"Did you actually listen to what I said?" Steve asked. "Because I think you might not have heard me correctly the first time."

"I don't know, I'm a busy man, multitasking..."

Steve moved closer. "Tony."

Tony looked at him, finally, his eyes wide and desperate. "But you don't like me," he said.

Steve shook his head. "I like you. Maybe I didn't back at the beginning, but now I do." He took a deep breath. "Tony, I'm in love with you."

Tony stared at him and then burst out laughing. "Oh my god, Cap, what is this? Did you take a drink from a stranger? Have you been dosed with a love potion? It's okay, we can get Bruce — JARVIS —"

Steve took the three steps to cover the distance between them and grabbed Tony's wrists. "No. Listen to me. I know our relationship is weird and backwards, and you think I only put up with you because of the sex. But it's been a long time now since I've just wanted to be with you. You can be like — like the sun," and now he was blushing: this speech had sounded so much less corny in his head; "you can be so warm and funny and all I want to do is spend time with you. With or without sex."

"You look at the sun and think, 'Let's hang out'?" Tony said, and Steve laughed. "Steve. Come on. You know what happens to things that get too close to the sun."

Steve's mouth went dry, flashing back to Tony coming around him, like they were burning together and being reborn. "I know," he said, his voice lower than usual. He let go of Tony's wrists and slid his hands down to Tony's waist instead, casting shame aside and pulling Tony close enough to feel how turned on he was. "But I like heat. And I love you."

Tony closed his eyes. "Christ," he said, taking a ragged breath. "You said you didn't want anything long-term!"

"Well, you don't ask a guy out on a date and immediately demand commitment," Steve said, encouraged by the way Tony's hips canted toward him. He slid his hands underneath Tony's shirt, just a little, and ran his fingers along the smooth skin just above Tony's waistband. "I didn't say I didn't want it, I just said I wasn't asking for it from you. That wouldn't have been fair."

"What is wrong with you, I think the ice did more damage than anyone realized," Tony said, but he shifted so Steve could feel his growing erection, too. "So, to recap, you're in love with me, you want to date me, and you're not asking for commitment but you're also not just using me for my sexy wiles."

"That's about the sum of it," Steve agreed. He leaned down a little to nip at Tony's earlobe. "What do you say?"

"You can't just ride off to South Carolina when we disagree!"

"I'm sorry," Steve said. "Really. I hadn't thought things through. I was just — I was hurt. I thought you were telling me that you still hated me, and I couldn't bear it."

"I thought you just wanted to have sex more often but didn't know how to ask me to be your fuck buddy."

"I figured that out on the way home," Steve said. Then he made a face. "But not the term 'fuck buddy.' Listen, I want to be with you, and when we have sex I want it to be because we're dating and that's what couples do. Because I love you."

"God, you're kind of a sap," Tony said. Still, he slid a hand up to cup the back of Steve's neck, clutching hard enough that it hurt. "I'm still an irresponsible asshole. We're going to fight a lot because I'm not going to change."

Steve laughed and rocked his hips against Tony's. "Whenever we fight, this is what it does to us. We can work it out."

"Oh, fuck," Tony said. "You noticed yesterday?"

"Tony, we were two inches away from going at it on the table with Clint right there," Steve said.

"I was," Tony said. "I didn't know you were!"

"That's because you weren't looking."

"But you were," Tony said, and Steve watched awareness bloom hot and dark in his eyes. "You were looking. Because you want me."

"No," Steve said, leaning in, his mouth close enough that he could feel Tony's breath on his lips. "I was looking because I love you."

"And you want me," Tony murmured.

"And I want you," Steve said, and Tony kissed him hard, sliding his hands up under Steve's shirt. He hooked a leg up around Steve's hip and pulled him close. They rutted against each other, kissing desperately, and Steve was going to come in his pants if they didn't stop, so he broke away, breathing heavily.

"Bed?" he said, his eyes caught on Tony's swollen lips.

"My room has lube," Tony said.

"Okay," Steve agreed. "For the record, though, mine does, too."

"Fuck," Tony said, thrusting up against Steve, and when had they moved together again? "Tell me you've used it on yourself. Tell me you've used some on your dick, tell me you've come all over those washboard abs, pretending your hand was my mouth."

Steve flushed scarlet. "Not just your mouth," he said, and then, his face growing even hotter, "and not just my dick."

Tony yanked himself away with a strangled cry and pinched his own arm, hard. "Holy shit," he said after a minute. "Oh my god, how are you even possible, what did I ever do — Okay. We are going up to my bedroom, and we are going to fuck, and I am not going to come in my pants like a teenager with no self-control."

They rode up in silence, each huddled in a corner of the elevator, but their gazes kept catching like magnets. By the time they reached the penthouse, Steve was no longer afraid he'd come as soon as Tony touched him.

He followed Tony to the master suite. They stripped in silence; Steve folded his clothes and laid them neatly on an armchair. Tony's bedroom was enormous and empty-seeming, tastefully decorated, clearly the place where Tony occasionally slept, not where he really lived. That was the workshop.

Steve turned to face Tony, who was watching him already, his face tight and anxious.

"Don't change your mind," Tony blurted, and then he looked horrified. "Oh my god, please pretend I said something smoother."

Steve crossed to Tony and lowered him onto the bed. He settled their hips so that their cocks pressed together, hot and hard and so, so good, but he held still against Tony's thrust. "I'm not going to change my mind," he said. He kissed Tony. "I'm not going to leave." Another kiss. "I'm not going to get bored, or suddenly decide I've made a terrible mistake." He pulled back a little to look into Tony's eyes, and he stroked Tony's hair. "I know exactly what I'm getting into. You have the world's filthiest mouth, you're a workaholic who forgets to eat, you always think your ridiculous plans are the best, you're cavalier with your life —"

"This is the worst seduction speech I've ever heard," Tony said. "It's a good thing you're hot."

"And I'm controlling and a little overprotective and convinced I'm always right," Steve added, and Tony laughed. "I have no delusions about this relationship. We're going to fight a lot. Just — don't shut me out, Tony."

"Eventually fighting stops being sexy," Tony said, his mouth twisting. "I am not good at this, or at anything human, really. I fuck everything up."

Steve considered him for a moment. "Stop trying to talk me out of this. You're afraid I'll wake up one day and decide I just can't put up with you anymore. You don't get it. I will never wake up and want you to be someone you aren't. I love you. You want proof?" he added, as Tony opened his mouth to say something. "I'm here now, telling you this. And I'll give you more proof, over and over, for the rest of our lives."

Tony searched Steve's eyes and then nodded. "Okay," he said, sounding skeptical, but agreeing nonetheless.

"Yeah?" Steve said, smiling.

"Come on, we're in bed naked, you can't be that surprised that I'm agreeing," Tony grumbled, but his mouth was quirking up at the corners, too.

"Yes, because every other time we've had sex it's because we were in lo—" Steve stopped as Tony's eyes flew to the side. "Tony. Oh my gosh, Tony, how long?"

Tony mumbled something.

"You turned me down and let me think it was because you didn't have feelings for me!" He took Tony's chin and turned it, gently, so Tony was looking at him. "How long?" he demanded in his Captain America voice.

Tony whimpered a little, thrusting up against him. "How long since I first realized I had a crush on you?" he said.


"... Since I was fifteen?" Tony said, in a very small voice.

Steve's jaw dropped and he sort of flew backward.

"Come on, Steve, did you really not pick up on it? I made the first move every time we did anything!"

"But you didn't like me!" Steve said. "'Polite dislike, fantastic sex.' That is what you said!"

"That's what I thought you wanted!"

Steve flopped onto his back and burst out laughing. "We are both so very stupid." He leaned up on one elbow, grinning at Tony. "And you're meant to be some sort of genius, too."

"Yes, well, this gives me grave doubts about your tactical skills," Tony grumbled.

"But you..." Steve stopped himself from saying the word. "You have feelings for me."

"Yes, shut up, I hero-worshiped you for years. And then the first time I saw you, you were beating up Loki — or trying to, mostly getting beaten up by Loki, luckily someone swooped in to save your perfect ass — anyway, that is a very tight uniform, soldier. It's a good thing you were such an unrepentant asshole for the first, like, eight months we knew each other, or else this right here would be a little creepy."

Steve rolled back on top of him, laughing. "Now who's giving a terrible seduction speech?" he said.

"What, are you kidding me? I am smooth, I have the best moves, I have Captain America naked on top of me to prove it."

"I thought you were over the hero worship," Steve said, dropping a trail of kisses along Tony's jaw.

"Oh, yeah, totally over it," Tony said, breathless, his hands wandering across Steve's back. "See how unaffected I am by your presence."

"Mmm, yes, absolutely," Steve said, dragging his cock along Tony's. "Completely unaffected." He bit Tony's neck, then kissed the mark. "Except for how very much you want me."

"Yes, exactly, which is not hero worship," Tony said, then groaned as Steve ground against him again. "Oh, god, no one warned me that you're actually evil underneath that wholesome exterior."

"I am not evil," Steve said against Tony's collarbone.

"You are, and it is extremely hot," Tony said, sliding his fingers up into Steve's hair. His thumbs caressed Steve's jaw. "Christ, I want you so much. I want you because you're an asshole and also secretly evil and ridiculously good in bed. The Captain America I imagined was none of those. Well, maybe the last one, I'm not gonna lie, there were some fantasies, maybe we can try them out later."

Steve pulled back, lifting himself away from Tony, who made a needy little noise and arched toward him. "And why else do you want me?"

Tony actually blushed, much to Steve's delight. "You know why," he said, and Steve raised an eyebrow at him. "Oh, fine. I want you because I love you." He pulled Steve into a kiss that started sweet and quickly got dirty, all tongues and teeth and desire. "Now please, please, just fuck me."

He pressed a bottle of lube and a condom into Steve's hand. Steve flicked open the cap of the lube and squirted a little too much of it on his fingers. He moved back between Tony's legs, and Tony raised himself up on his elbows to watch.

Steve lowered his mouth to brush a light kiss across the head of Tony's cock, which twitched in response. He sucked Tony into his mouth and simultaneously reached down to run a finger lower. Tony bucked into his mouth — "Fuck, Steve, you're killing me" — and Steve's finger slipped inside. He matched the motion of his finger to the motion of his mouth, sliding into Tony just as Tony's cock slid into him, eventually adding a second finger, and then a third, and it turned out he hadn't used too much lube after all. Tony narrated the whole thing — "Christ, Steve, your mouth is so hot, you feel so good around my cock, your fingers feel so thick inside me, oh fuck, right there," and his voice rose to a cry of ecstasy as Steve's fingers curled inside him.

"Steve," Tony said eventually, his voice hoarse, "please, I'm ready, I need you now."

Steve rose up on his knees, his cock jutting out hard and pink. "Condom?" he said, and Tony handed it to him. With shaking hands, he tore it open and rolled it on, then slicked more lube over it. He remembered last time, Tony saying "It's just me," and he'd taken it as an expression of comfort when now he realized that Tony'd been being self-deprecating.

"How am I this lucky," he said, looking down at Tony spread out below him, and Tony shivered.

"Wait," Tony said.

He sat up, then rose on his knees to kiss Steve. Steve closed his eyes and kissed him back, deep and intense, trying to put all his love for Tony in this kiss. There was no need to hide any of it anymore; it wasn't pathetic; he was loved. He wrapped his arms around Tony, pulled him close, and kissed and kissed him until Tony broke away, gasping, eyes swallowed up by the blackness of his pupils.

"I love you," Steve said, just because he could.

"Me too," Tony said. "I mean, I did say that already, right? I do. Also how many times do I have to beg you to fuck me, stop withholding sex, Steven."

Steve laughed, and then the laugh turned into a choked-off cry as Tony reached down, held Steve's dick steady, and lowered himself onto it.

"Jeez, Tony," Steve said. He slid his arms under Tony, cupped an ass cheek in each hand, and lifted when Tony did, thrusting up as Tony came down.

Everything felt more intimate this time: he memorized Tony's face, he gazed into Tony's eyes, and he murmured his love. The morning sunlight revealed more, too, than the blue glow of the arc reactor had in the twilight last time. He looked at the fine lines around Tony's eyes, the sweat beaded on his forehead, the swollen redness of his lips. When he looked down between them, he could see the slick trails that Tony's cock was leaving on Steve's belly with each stroke, and he could watch the flex of their muscles.

The angle wasn't quite right, though, and Steve let Tony push him back so he could get deeper. They paused for a minute so Steve could kick his legs out straight, instead of having his feet tucked under him, and then Tony moved again, slow and leisurely. Steve's hands wandered, tracing the line of Tony's spine, sliding around his hips and down his thighs, then coming back up, light and gentle, to circle the arc reactor.

"You're so strong," Steve said. "You're so resilient, you take things that would break any other human and you turn them into beauty and opportunity."

Tony gasped and moved faster. "Yes," he said, kissing Steve with that smiling mouth, "tell me more about myself — oh, fuck — this is much better than that first speech."

Steve laughed and reached between them to take Tony's dick in hand. "I like this, too," he said, breathless and blushing, stroking in time with his thrusts into Tony.

Tony made a pleading noise. "Tell me what you want," he said, sliding down onto Steve faster and harder. His breath caught as his eyes met Steve's. "Tell me."

Steve felt himself blushing again, but he kept stroking Tony and didn't look away. "I want to watch as you come, I want to see you and feel you inside and out." He stopped and swallowed. Tony was riding Steve hard, his cock leaking onto Steve's hand a little more than before. "I want to — to feel you coming on my cock, and to see it — God — to see it splashing all up my chest —"

"Fuck!" Tony said, and came suddenly, long jets shooting all the way up Steve's chest, just as requested. Steve would have laughed if it hadn't been so hot. For someone who hated following orders, Tony was awfully obedient in bed.

He thrust faster into Tony, the friction so good, so tight, and Tony clamped down one last time and Steve came so hard and long that he actually blacked out for a minute.

When he came to, Tony was still collapsed on top of him, but his head was propped up on his hand and he looked unbearably smug.

"You just passed out," Tony said. "I just had sex with Captain America and it was so amazing that he passed out. Oh my god, my teenage self would be so proud."

"Your adult self is looking pretty proud, too," Steve said, smiling and smiling.

"Because you passed out," Tony said, but then he leaned down and gave Steve a long, sweet kiss. "And also because you love me, which is a terrible life decision for you but I plan to make the most of it. Also, I think it's only fair that we acknowledge that I am the king of sex."

"Oh?" Steve said. He'd slid out already, so he removed the condom, tied it off, and threw it into the trash can by the headboard without looking. "Because if you give me about two more minutes, I'll have a hard-on that might beg to differ."

"Jesus, Steve," Tony said. "I knew the serum did miraculous thing to your refractory period, but two minutes, after what we just did? Really?"

"Well," Steve said. "Normally I'd be ready by now, but I've never passed out before. So I'm just guessing."

Tony preened. "See, king of sex," he said. "So good I broke the supersoldier. Come on, let's shower. JARVIS, hold our calls."

When they finally headed downstairs to the well-stocked fridge in the team kitchen, the rest of the team was lounging on the sofas, watching Star Wars.

"Where have you two been?" Clint said without looking back. "We thought Steve might like this one, beating the evil Empire and all."

"This Vader is most powerful!" Thor said. "A worthy opponent for the great warrior Chewbacca."

"Well," Tony said. "That's... one way to read it."

Natasha and Bruce did look back. Bruce shook his head, and Natasha grinned like a shark and paused the movie.

"Steve has a hickey," she said.

Clint whirled around. Steve slapped his hand to that place on his neck where Tony liked to suck, his skin heating.

"Oh my god, you were fucking," Clint said. "Well, at least you waited until I wasn't in the room." He turned to Natasha. "Seriously, Tash, they were an inch away from getting down and dirty on the conference table yesterday. I was sitting right there!"

Steve buried his face in his hands, but Tony started cackling.

"Are you really acting like this is news? Come on, Clint, they've been fucking for months," Natasha said, and Clint sputtered. She eyed Steve and Tony, measuring their body language with a professional glance, then gave Steve a thumbs up.

"I told you," Steve said to both her and Tony, amused.

"Fine, fine, you're right, you are not good at stealth," Tony said, and Steve snorted.

"My friends, this is wonderful news!" Thor said. "Congratulations upon your sexual congress!"

"Thanks, buddy," said Tony. He glanced up at Steve, his eyes bright with suppressed laughter. "Don't know why Hallmark isn't all over that greeting card."

Bruce considered them over his glasses. "So if you're telling us, it's more than just sex," he said. "Are Captain America and Iron Man dating?"

"We're keeping it private for now," Steve said. "While we can."

"Private, not secret," Tony said. "Pepper will need to prepare the board, and we'll have to tell Fury. I'll also need to beef up the security subroutines before any announcement can be made. But we'll go public soon enough."

"Seriously, Tony, I'll tell Fury," Steve said. "You should not be there for that conversation if we don't want to send him into an apoplectic fit."

"Who says we don't?" Tony asked, grinning, and Steve swatted him on the butt.

"So, what, do you want our blessing or something?" Clint said.

"Shut up, Barton," Tony said affably. "This is just full disclosure. Move over, Bruce, unless you want to cuddle with me, too."

Bruce budged right, and Tony dropped onto the middle of the couch, grabbing the two remaining cartons of pad thai from the coffee table. Steve followed. Tony handed him a carton and some chopsticks, Natasha restarted the movie, and Steve settled back to wolf down his lunch.

Tony leaned against him. "You're going to love this," he said.

Steve looked down at Tony shoveling pad thai into his mouth, his eyelashes dark against his skin, a faint gleam of silver at his temple. He turned his eyes to Clint and Natasha, curled up at opposite ends of their couch, but having a silent and apparently hilarious conversation over Thor's head about Steve and Tony. He glanced over Tony's head at Bruce, who smiled back at him, a little sad but loose-limbed and relaxed.

For the first time in his entire life, he was healthy, warm, safe, and well-fed, surrounded by people he cared about, and blanketed by the man he loved. He was still a man out of time, like Loki had said, but he had found a place and a home.

Tony put a hand on his thigh and squeezed, and Steve smiled down at him, perfectly happy in this moment.

"I already love this," Steve said in Tony's ear, taking their cartons and setting them on the table. The hand on his thigh crept higher.

"Hey!" Clint said, and a throw pillow smacked Tony in the back of the head. "No making out during movie time!"

Tony flipped Clint off without looking away from Steve. "You sure you love this?" he asked, laughing. "All of this?"

"All of it," Steve said. "I've never been surer about anything in my life."

He kissed Tony, batting away the throw pillows that sailed their way.