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Title: A Collage of Heroes
Artist: [tumblr.com profile] grimdarkcake, [livejournal.com profile] ambelie
Author: Rosieknight
Rating (both art/fic): Mature (fic) PG (art)
Universe: Marvel Cinematic
Word Count: 25,261
Warnings: Swearing, implied nudity, discussion and occurence of sex. And endnotes that don't work correctly, but are still at the end.
Beta: [livejournal.com profile] dance_likehell

Fic Summary: Steve's a magical girl guy, Tony's tech armor might be magical, Thor fights "for the glory of Asgard!", Bruce is permanently green, and Clint and Natasha are Power Ranger knockoffs who have wrecked their giant robot things. (Or, Steve and Tony fall in love while leading a team that was never meant to be.)
Link to Art: Cake's art is here. Ambelie's art is delayed by Hurricane Sandy, but will be posted ASAP once available.

Comicbook cover for A Collage of Heroes. Six panels of the Marvel Cinematic Avengers in different costumes are behind and to the right of an image of Steve holding and hugging Tony.



Captain America dodged the vaguely plant-like monster’s grasping hands and swept the legs out from underneath it. Thrusting a hand into its face, he snarled, “Starburst!”

The creature vanished in the resulting explosion of light and sound.

Normally he wouldn’t waste magic on a rank and file monster when physical combat worked just as well. Unfortunately, magic was the only known weakness of the foot-soldier monsters in this wave of attacks on the city.

Glancing around, the patriotically suited soldier checked the area for additional enemies. Finding none, he activated his comm. “Captain America to SHIELD. I’ve taken care of the disturbance at the docks. Unfortunately, there’s still no sign of a commander, mastermind, or monster of the week. I think this was another scouting attack.”

“Copy that, Captain. The Director wants you to return to base.”

Cap frowned but replied, “Confirmed. ETA is one hour.”

“Roger that. SHIELD out.”

***********************************

Forty-five minutes later, Cap strode into the helicarrier’s primary meeting room and nearly stopped in surprise. In the room with Director Fury and Agents Hill and Coulson are five other people he only vaguely knows. Although he’s read files on and has temporarily teamed up with each of them, Captain America has never been formally introduced to any of these people.

The large blonde man to the left of the door was Thor, a supernaturally tough warrior with a magical hammer. Between Thor and Coulson sat Iron Man, the billionaire Tony Stark who fought using armor that was either high tech or magical – none of the reports agreed on the armor’s power source. Beyond the trio of SHIELD (Super/Human Integration: Executive and Law enforcement Division) agents was a pair in dark jumpsuit-looking armor with color-coded accents and helmets that resembled their namesake animals, Hawkeye and Black Widow. To Cap’s right was Dr. Banner, a man cursed with the results of a failed attempt to recreate the Super Soldier Serum based on using the Gamma Stone as a replacement for Dr. Erskine’s serum.

Cap forced himself to take a seat at the table. There was only one reason he knew of to bring all of them together like this: trouble was coming.

“Ah, Captain! Now we can begin.” Fury’s tone turned serious as he continued, “due to the increasing attacks by an unknown mastermind and the lack of a reliable hero team in the city, the Avengers Initiative has been activated.”

“What about the Fantastic Four and the X-men?” Cap wondered aloud.

“I did say reliable, right?” Fury continued, “The Fantastic Four periodically travel to other dimensions, countries, or otherwise leave this city un- or under protected. The X-men are willing to help out, but are mainly focused on facing mutant terrorists, anti-mutant hate groups, and protecting and educating mutant youngsters. We’re looking for a hero team that’s able to keep most of its members in the city.”

“So, why us?” Stark wondered, tilting his chair backwards. “I’d like to point out that I’m based mainly in Malibu and already have a team. I’m not really in the market to join another group. No offense, but-”

“You have a teammate, Stark. One. Singular. Not a team. And you’ve had no luck in finding the third member,” interrupted Coulson.

“Which is part of the reason you’ve been selected,” smoothly segued Fury. “All of you are either members of broken hero teams or on ones that have hit a major snag during formation. None of you are supposed to be alone or have just a single ally, but all of you are.”

Silence filled the room. Cap swallowed hard and clenched his fists. Hearing about his team – the team he had outlived while frozen – was still a very raw wound.

“Now, you’ll be housed at a SHIELD safe house or on the Helicarrier-”

“That’s bullshit!” Stark groused, “I’ve seen the so called ‘quarters’ you have on this thing. They’re smaller than most elevators!”

“Don’t like it, Stark? Give us another option. You lot need to be easily accessible if something happens, preferably at a place with medical facilities, training equipment, and a training space. It also has to be large enough to house all of you and your handler, to facilitate team bonding. Know anything that meets all of those requirements?”

Stark muttered profanities under his breath, so quietly that Cap barely heard them.

“What was that?”

“I said the team can live in my tower until I modify Stark Mansion if it keeps me out of those postage stamp rooms! Are you happy now?”

No one called Stark out on the lie.

“Very,” Fury dryly replied. “One of the transports in Bay 3 will take you to Stark Tower when you’re ready. That should be everything. Dismissed.”

Cap headed for his quarters. Everything he had in this strange time, all the mementos of his team and his friends were there. He couldn’t risk someone else damaging them in the rush to get this… new team settled elsewhere.

*****************************************

Although Stark Tower might be an eyesore on the skyline of the current New York City, Cap conceded that it had an abundance of rooms perfect for housing the team.

There were enough empty rooms that Cap’s own temporary quarters were actually a suite, complete with a room absolutely perfect as a studio.

He’d never had an actual art studio before. Most of the time, he’d drawn where and when ever he could. On rooftops, on stoops, in the apartment he had before the war, and even in his tent. He’d never had a room that was both just his and just for his art. Cap was starting to like the Tower, even if he wasn’t going to be staying there long.

He shook himself out of his musing at the sound of Dr. Banner’s voice.

“Since we’re going to be at least living together, why don’t we introduce ourselves? Or at least share first names?”

Hawkeye snorted, “What part of ‘secret identity’ don’t you understand, Doc?”

“You do realize I’ve got security cameras set up all over this place and an AI monitoring them, right, Hawkeye? If I want to know who you are, all I have to do is wait for you to power down and have JARVIS look up your face,” Stark pointed out. “Banner’s way is just more polite.”

Hearing about the cameras and the robot watcher, Cap stiffened. Things would get tricky in the future if he couldn’t make his rooms private.

But that was for later and right now, he needed to lead by example.

Tugging off his cowl and dismissing the disguise spell, Cap offered, “My name is Steve Rogers.”

“Tony Stark, but then you knew that.”

“Dr. Bruce Banner. My occasional codename is the Hulk. I don’t like it much.”

“I am truly Thor Odinson, but will occasionally go by Don Blake,” The thunderer shrugged.

Hawkeye and Black Widow glanced at each other. “I will if you do, Widow.”

Black Widow sighed and reached up for her helmet. “Natasha Romanoff.”

“Clint Barton. I’m the Hawkeye or occasionally the Hawk.”

Maybe this would work out.

****************************************

The first monster attack they faced nearly shattered Cap’s hopes.

Instead of working together and pooling their resources to defeat the rampaging chrysanthemum monster, the Avengers fell into old habits. Thor threw lightning bolts and his hammer at the monster with abandon, careless of the others’ safety. Hawkeye and Black Widow had a clearly practiced fighting rhythm that made it difficult for anyone else to attack without risking either hitting Widow or getting hit by Hawkeye’s arrows. Hulk relied heavily on pure brute force, with the occasional improvised weapon, which left him far too open to attack. And Iron Man was both too inclined to self-sacrifice and too unused to working with a team at all.

Cap sighed, missing the Howling Commandos fiercely. With his old team, he wouldn’t have to explain the basics of teamwork, of knowing where your allies were and where they’d be, and the importance of good communication. They’d already learned those lessons.

This group hadn’t and the area surrounding the fight was suffering for it.

“We need to end this now!” Cap growled.

“What do you think we’re doing, Capsicle? It’s not like this thing is going to hold still long enough for any of us to use a finishing move!” groused Iron Man, pulling himself out of a wall.

“Who needs a finisher?” replied Captain America. “We just need to hit this thing hard without having to pull our punches because of our teammates.” He tapped the comm. “Black Widow, pull back. Hulk, hit it as hard as you can without letting it move and then get clear. Thor, once Hulk is clear, fry that sucker with your lightning. Hawkeye and Iron Man, if you have incendiary or weed-killer weaponry in your arsenals, have them ready to fly if Thor’s lightning doesn’t work. The Widow and I will work to keep the monster chrysanthemum pinned if it tries to get clear. Let’s do this.”

Instead of responding, Widow flipped backwards, away from the chrysanthemum monster. Hulk grabbed a dented blue car and repeatedly slammed it down upon the creature, each strike sending tremors through the ground. When Hulk finally tossed the car aside, Thor rained lighting upon the angry plant monster, setting it ablaze. The chrysanthemum monster gave a horrendous shriek and shriveled up into nothingness.

Cap offered the team a tired smile. He wasn’t sure if this fight counted as a positive or a negative. On one hand, the spur-of-the-moment plan worked and they destroyed the monster. It also proved that the Avengers were capable of working together. Unfortunately, they only worked together with a lot of effort and a clear plan. Everyone defaulted to their own combat styles and skill, without regard for the rest of the team’s abilities. Really, he’d say the team needed training and a better understanding of each other’s capabilities.

Maybe when they returned to Stark Tower he could offer the team a group rating and then provided each member with an individual assessment? It might work. Cap glanced around the scene of the fight. There was no way they could continue like this.


Upon arriving at Stark Tower, Cap announced, “Debriefing in two hours in the living room. I know it’s not fun, but we need to discuss the fight and the team.”

“Why?”

Cap shrugged, “We could probably start sooner, but I want everyone to get anything they need. Like food, water, medical attention, a shower, or just a chance to unwind for a bit. Plus, it gives me a chance to get my own thoughts in order.”

“No,” Stark paused. “I meant why do we need to discuss the fight and the team? We won without taking any serious injuries. Isn’t that what matters?”

“That’s part of it, sure. But…” he trailed off for a moment. “Well, you’re an engineer. Didn’t you notice how inefficient the team was? There were a lot of duplicated efforts, aborted or cancelled attacks, and wasted time. A debriefing lets us learn what we did well, what we poorly, and make plans to do better in the future.”

Stark stared at Cap for a long moment. “Ok, was there some sort of machine that spews earnest-ness installed in you when you went through Project: Rebirth? ‘Cause there’s no way one person could contain all of the sincerity you seem to radiate.”

The World War II veteran sighed. “Be in the living room in two hours, Stark. Or I’ll drag you there.”

“Fine, I’ll see if I can clear my schedule for you,” glibly replied the armored hero as he wandered off.

Cap shook his head and headed to his room. He has a lot of work to get done before the debriefing. “JARVIS?” he murmured.

“Yes, Captain?” replied the AI.

“If there are any videos of the fight, would you be able to help me find them? Or witness reports?” asked the soldier. “I can debrief the team just off of what we each remember, but additional information will improve the accuracy my examples, comments, and recommendations.”

“Certainly, sir,” a faint note of amusement colored JARVIS’ answer. “Shall I send the information to the computer in your quarters or would you prefer to work on this elsewhere?”

“Uh… which is easier for you?”

Cap had the impression that JARVIS would be smiling, if he had the ability. “It truly makes no difference to me, sir. Pick whichever you prefer.”

“My quarters, then,” responded Cap. “And thank you, JARVIS.”

“You’re welcome, sir.”

***********************************************************************

Two hours later, Steve entered the dinning room to start the debriefing. He was pleased to realize the entire team was present, though their casual postures didn’t raise his hopes.

Only Romanoff was sitting properly, though Steve hoped she’d stop sharpening her knives when debriefing started. Stark sprawled across the loveseat, a martini dangling from one hand, as he traded quips with Barton. Barton crouched on top of the DVD cabinet and Steve hoped it was much studier than it looked. Thor (Blake?) had one foot on an armchair, the smell of ozone filling the living room air each time he gestures with Milojnir. Banner slouched against a wall, trying to make himself inconspicuous.

Steve cleared his throat. “Everyone, please take a seat and we’ll begin. JARVIS, please pull up the first set of videos.”

“Of course, Captain.” A still image of the fight appeared upon the television screen.

“First off, let me point out that this is team debriefing. Any comments I have about you as individuals will be presented only in the context of the team. The actual individual comments will delivered to everyone privately, either via e-mail or in person. If you have anything about myself, my fighting style, or my leadership you want brought to my attention, please do it privately.”

Cap waited until everyone nodded before continuing, “Although we did beat the monster, we didn’t function very smoothly as a team. There was a clear lack of communication and disregard of what was being said. This led to a lot of duplication of effort, near misses, canceled spells, and at least one time an ally got hit.”

“Wait,” Stark sat up. “Who got hit and who or what did the hitting?”

“Hulk got caught in one of Thor’s lightning barrages. Thankfully, Doctor Banner was only slightly singed and hasn’t reported any other injuries from that.”

Banner shrugged, “I got a healing factor out of the whole ‘green’ thing. It’s been both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, I don’t have to worry about broken bones and other injuries. On the other, it hurts until I heal and pain medicines don’t work on me anymore. Is that true for you, Steve?”

“Ever since the serum, yeah,” agreed Cap. “But then most drugs don’t work on me anymore, and those that do need huge dosages to work.”

“That sucks,” muttered Stark.

“It does, but we need to get back on topic. We need to work on communication and communicating during a fight. Does anyone have suggestions that could help?”

“Better tech,” offered Stark.

“Of course you’d think that,” Romanoff scoffed.

“No, I’m actually completely serious about this. And you know how rare that is, Natasha.” Stark shrugged easily, “I’d want to do a full hardware upgrade for the team, if I thought you’d agree to it. If nothing else, we need better communication devices. The SHIELD communicators are decent under the best conditions and horrible in the worst. We need something that can handle more than the amounts of magic and electrical energy the team generates on our own, as well as survive severe physical assault. I’ll tell you right now that the SHEILD issue ones can’t hold up. So, we need new communicators.”

“Good point, Mr. Stark.” Cap paused. “You probably know the technology best, so can you deal with procuring communicators?”

“Sure thing Capsicle,” replied Stark. “I should have the new communicators in a week, if not sooner.”

Cap absently nodded, silently amazed at how quickly things could be obtained now. “Thanks, Stark. Agents Romanoff and Barton, you’ve both worked with a team before. Do either of you have any other suggestions on how we can improve communication or team function?”

“I think Nat and I function pretty well as a team already. It’s the rest of you that need to improve,” Barton snarked.

“Clint,” chided Romanoff, “that’s not helping. Captain, I’d suggest group activities, like movies and dinners. Things we can do to learn about each other outside of the battlefield. I’ve been told it works.”

“Aye, sharing tales of valiant deed and feasting together has long strengthened the bonds between warriors in Asgard! I see no reason it should be different on Midgard. I shall bring both mead and the Midgardian delicacy known as poptarts to the feast!”

“Uh… thank you, Thor. I look forward to that,” Cap diplomatically replied. “Do you have any suggestions, Doctor Banner?”

“Not really. My team kind of… imploded before we had a chance to work together. As the de facto medic for the team, I would like an idea of what everyone’s medical needs are, though. I just need the basics, things you need after a fight and any medicine allergies. We should probably provide that information to the local EMTs as well, since there’s a decent chance we’ll need their care occasionally. But, that’s not really a suggestion for improving the team.”

Cap nodded, “but important none the less. Thank you, Doctor.” He paused. “Since no one suggested it, I’m going to bite the bullet. We need to train together, both in and out of uniform. We all need to get used to each other’s fighting styles and attack methods. It’ll also show what each of us can handle on our own and when we need backup. I’ll set up a sparring schedule by the end of tomorrow and I expect everyone to adhere to it.” He glanced around the room, meet his teammates’ eyes steadily. “If there’s nothing else to discuss, this debriefing is adjourned.”

Silence filled the room for almost a full minute.

“Dismissed,” Cap waited until the room emptied before collapsing into a chair with a silent sigh. It was harder running a debriefing alone than he’d have guessed during his time with the Howling Commandos. Then again, he’d never needed to run a debrief alone while with the Commandos.

He scrubbed his face and murmured, “I hope you fellas are laughing up there. This group’s a whole lot tougher to command than you lot ever were. Not that the Howlers were easy to lead of anything.” Steve paused. “This new group is composed of good people, though. If this works out, it’ll make facing everything easier, knowing someone has my back. I’ll talk to you again, later. I’ve got work to do.”

*****************************************************************

Rampaging Rhododendrons! screamed the newspapers after the next monster attack, a week into the new training regime.

Despite the alliterative and lurid headlines, Cap found himself pleased with the team’s progress. The number of canceled spells, duplicated attacks, and accidental near misses dropped dramatically between the two attacks. The fight time had shortened and lessened the amount of property damage incurred during combat. And JARVIS had all the statistics, charts, and graphs anyone could ask for to prove it.

Cap grinned at the photo of the Avengers gracing the front page of the Daily Bugle. They were starting to become a cohesive unit.

“So I was thinking, Cap,” Stark began. “We did a good job and that clearly deserves some sort of reward. And I’m sure we’re all hungry, since it’s about the time people who aren’t me have lunch. So, how about we head out for a team lunch? I know a lot of good places in this city, so we just have to pick a type of food.”

“I think that’s a swell idea. What would you suggest?” Cap shrugged, self-depreciatingly. “I haven’t exactly had a lot foreign food.”

Stark laughed. “Honestly, you could probably just pick a country and we’d have places that sell food from it here. But it you want something you probably wouldn’t be able to get in the Thirties and Forties, I’d say Japanese, Thai, or Indian. I’m leaning towards Indian, myself, because I’ve got a hankering for curry.”

“Curry sounds good. Just let me get the rest of the team.”

“Sure thing, Cap,” Stark was practically bouncing as Cap reached for his communicator. “And we’ve really got to get you a cell phone.”

Captain America blinked, “A cell phone?”

“Yeah, you know, one of those little phones that people carry everywhere and are talking into all the time? Pretty much everyone has one. It’ll let you get in touch with the team easily and without making the rest of us think there’s trouble when you just want to call to chat or something,” babbled Stark.

“I know what they are. I don’t really know how to use mine.” Cap laughed sheepishly. “I’m always afraid I’m going to break it, honestly. It looks so small and flimsy in my hands. I had the worst luck with radio transponders during the war and the phones are made up of even more delicate parts than those were.”

“Ah,” Stark hesitated for a moment, then offered, “I could teach you, if you’d like. I mean, if you want to. I’m not going to force you to learn from me if you don’t want to. I always hated that when I was in school and I can’t imagine it’d be anymore enjoyable from the other side of that equation.”

“Actually, I’d be honored if you’d teach me. I know you’re a busy guy and I’m sure you’ve got more important things to do with your time than show me how to use a cell phone or things like that.”

Stark blinked and blinked again. “Captain, right now there’s nothing more important or that I’d rather be doing than spending time with you.” He flashed an impish smile. “Now if it were between hanging out with you and building a new robot, you might be on the losing side of that decision.”

Cap laughed. “Well, now I know where I stand with you: behind the robots.”

“Congratulations, you’re ahead of most people,” teased Stark. “I don’t have a spare phone on me, so do you mind if we push back the lesson two days? I’ll have something ready for you then.”

“That sounds fine to me. My schedule is pretty free at the moment.”

“Cool,” Stark paused. “Weren’t we heading to lunch? I have this vague memory of something like that.”

Cap nodded, heading for the door. “We were. Let’s go.”

Neither of the two men remembered to contact the rest of the team or noticed their oversight.

************************

One lunch turned into two, which turned into having lunch together whenever they were both free.

Stark – Tony – dragged him to places selling all sorts of food.

From Mexican to Thai to Japanese to an honest to goodness English pub, Tony knew all the best places to eat in the city. Some of them were tiny little hole in the wall places where you’d never expect to see someone like Tony. Others were actual restaurants, where the staff and the customers discretely gawked at the celebrity in their midst.

One memorable time, Tony had dragged Cap to Serendipity 3 and ordered a Golden Opulence Sundae.1 Cap had nearly fainted at the price tag. (Sure, Tony was a billionaire, but $1,000.00 was way too much to pay for a dessert. Still, the taste Tony had given him was very good.)

The lunches Cap liked best, though, were the ones the two of them shared in Tony’s workshop. They’d order Chinese or pizza or something similar and talk about Tony’s latest projects, Cap’s newest drawings, their teammates, things Cap had missed while frozen in the ice, or even Tony’s collection of cars.

It was nice, Cap thought, watching Tony when he didn’t have to perform for the press. His smiles were smaller, but they lit up his eyes. And Tony didn’t feel he had to hide his large heart or whip-sharp sense of humor.

“Look, all I’m saying is that the monsters we’ve faced so far have all been plant based.” Cap pointed his empty chopsticks at a display showing the morning’s Daily Bugle headlines reading Killer Cacti in Queens! “It wouldn’t hurt to look into weed killer or some form of fire attack. Preferably one that’s relatively quick to cast or launch.”

“And I do understand that,” Tony responded. “But our enemies won’t always be plant based. We’ll be in serious trouble if we focus all our efforts to making fire attacks or some form of magical weed killer, and our enemies switch to something that isn’t harmed by things that hurt plants. If one of us already had something like that, I’d suggest they’d practice it. Otherwise, there isn’t much we can do.”

Cap fiddled with his chopsticks for a moment. “I have a fire attack for my ‘finishing move’, but I never use it. It takes two, maybe three minutes to cast and if either my target or I move during that time, the attack will miss. It’s more than long enough for a sniper or even just a person with decent aim to target and shoot me.”

“I…” Tony rubbed his face. “Yeah, I can see why you don’t use that attack if it leaves you vulnerable in a fight for so long.” He paused. “Um… Since I’m never going to see it, what does the spell do?”

Cap frowned. “The best way I have to describe it is that I’m basically shooting a blast of fire from a magical version of Lady Liberty’s torch.” Shrugging, he added, “The spell-casting phrase is even a paraphrase of last two lines of ‘The New Colossus’, the poem on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal.”

“Cool.”

“I guess,” replied Cap. “Personally, I’d be happier with it if I could actually safely cast the spell in battle and not just in training sessions to see what I can do.”

“Good point. Maybe you’ll get faster at casting it as your powers increase? And get a new, more useful finishing move, too.” Tony paused, “I mean, these things are usually tied to length of service and necessity, and I don’t know how long you have been a magical soldier?”

“Before being frozen?” Cap pursed his lips. “Around two years of fighting in a war, both at the frontlines and inside enemy territory. During that time, I had one significant power increase that resulted in costume and transformation phrase change. In contrast, the recent rash of the… ‘Monster of the Week’ is the term, I think. Anyway, we’ve mostly been facing one, maybe two monsters at a time and no one on the team has gone through a significant power increase. So, all the battles we’ve faced as a team have been more like a quiet weekend when compared to the war.”

“Yeah… I take back what I said about experience. I don’t know what to tell you, Steve.” Tony paused, frowning. “What about your new costume? And how do you separate you power increases?”

“That happened before the team was formed. It doesn’t count.” Cap sipped his soda. “As for dividing the power increases, I use costume and transformation phrase changes to denote becoming stronger. It’s the easiest way to describe the change in power to someone else.” Setting aside his drink, Cap sketched a quick set of his uniforms on a paper napkin. “The USO costume is actually my original costume, back when my transformation phrase was ‘America Power.’ My first power increase resulted in the World War II battle uniform and my transformation phrase changing to ‘America Military Power.’ I either gained power while I was sleeping or from fighting Red Skull one on one, which ended up with me getting a power boost when I woke up. You’re familiar with my current uniform and transformation phrase, so I’m not going to risk a transformation by saying it.”

“America Star Power,” supplied Tony.

“That’s the one.”

“Huh. Ok. Good to know.” Apparently deciding the conversation was over, Tony continued, “Pass the mu shu pork?”

“Sure.”

*******************************************************************

“You know, I can practically predict what the Daily Bugle’s headline on the article about this fight is going to be: Surly Snapdragons Savage SoHo!” Tony and Steve hovered in the air for a moment, surveying the scene of the latest monster attack and looking for a safe place for Iron Man to land.

“J. Jonah Jameson does seem to like alliteration,” Cap agreed. “Drop me on the back of the purple one. It’s too close to that bus.”

“How can you tell which side’s the back, Cap? They’ve got blossoms everywhere,” Tony asked rhetorically as he swooped over the battle.

“Fewer teeth on the back,” Cap suggested jokingly.

Suddenly, the red snapdragon’s flowers jerked skyward. The blossoms gaped almost impossibly wider as a jet of fire blasted from their mouths.

“Fucking hell!” someone swore over the comlines. “The asshole behind these things took their name literally!”

“Cut the chatter,” Cap distractedly ordered, mentally preparing several possible plans for dealing with fire-breathing enemies. “We still have a job to do here, people. Everyone, cover the building evacuations. We don’t know how the range of that fire breath or what it can ignite. Hit these things from a distance, if you can. Thor, Hulk, and Iron Man, try to get things away from the cars. If there’s a park or a body of water nearby, try to maneuver them there. Better a small fire than risking multiple explosions from leaking gasoline. Avengers, assemble!”

*********************************************************************

The team sprawled around the Tower’s shared family, too pumped with adrenaline from today’s fight to sleep but too tired to move much farther.

Cap absently shuffled a deck of cards, eyes far away.

“I hope you’re not planning on playing poker against us like that, Steve,” Tony heckled. “There’s easy money and then there’s embarrassingly easy.”

“Yeah, says the billionaire,” snarked Clint. “Some of us like easy money. So, what’s your game, Steve: Texas hold ‘em, seven card stud, five card draw, straight poker, or something a bit more obscure?”

“How about playing durak?” Natasha suggested, lounging on the couch.

Thor looked lost. “I do not recognize any of these games.”

“Actually,” Cap’s voice cut through the room. “I was thinking Go Fish. It’s easy enough to teach and not as… stressful as poker or other gambling games. Plus, I’m not sure any of us have the mental energy needed for poker.” He paused and grinned. “Well, other than Tony.”

“It’s a kid’s game,” Clint snorted.

“Yeah,” Cap nodded. “But can you honestly say that you’re up to getting to your room or one of your nests right now, instead of just crashing wherever you happen to be when the adrenaline wears off? Like the shower?”

Clint grimaced. “I can if I have to.”

“Oh, so can I. So can the rest of us, probably. But you don’t need to. You’re safe here.” Cap looked away. “And I’ll probably sleep better knowing all of you are safe and accounted for.”

Bruce’s voice was gentle, “Flashbacks?”

Cap sat silent for a long moment. Then, with a rueful twist of his lips, he answered, “Today’s not a good day for me. It brings up a lot of bad memories in my personal history. To me, these are memories that feel like they happened a couple months past, not almost seventy years ago. And then I remember how long it’s really been and that no one else really remembers anymore. It’s not a pleasant feeling.”

None of the other Avengers spoke for a long moment.

“Ok, Steve, let’s play Go Fish.”

Cap shuffled the cards once more and started dealing. “So… since all of you know about my past and my previous team, can I learn about yours? Or hear about your team in the making, Tony?”

Tony shrugged. “Team Iron’s story is pretty simple, really. There are three transformation devices. I got the first one, mine, during my stint in Afghanistan. The second one, the War Machine device, went to one of my best friends, Rhodey.”

“Rhodey? Who’s that?” Steve interrupted.

“Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes of the US Airforce,” supplied Natasha, quietly. “He’s the person who pushed to keep the search for Stark active, despite… outside influence trying to get Stark declared dead as quickly as possible. He’s also the one to actually find Stark in the desert after Stark escaped from the Ten Rings.”

“Ah.”

“As I was saying before other people cut in, two of the three transformation devices have been taken. The third is giving us a hard time.” He sighed. “We don’t know the suit’s name, or any clue who’s supposed to use it. There’s plenty of speculation, but nothing concrete at all. And that’s the reason Fury wanted me to join this super-powered boy band, with its lethal and beautiful female manager.” Tony toyed with his cards, looking ready to bolt from the room. “Please don’t kill me, Natasha.”

She smirked. “I make no promises.”

Tony shivered, “Terrifying. You’re utterly terrifying. And you know that, of course you do. Right, can someone else talk before I get stabbed in the neck with a needle again?”

“There’s not much to tell in my case,” Bruce offered, looking at the cards in his hand. “I’m supposed to be a member of a group of three, but the other two…” He ran a green hand through his hair. “They decided that they’d rather use their power to benefit themselves than others. Sterns wants to rule; thinks it’s his right to command. He even calls himself ‘The Leader’, as if that proves anything,” Bruce snorted. “Blonsky just enjoys fighting. He doesn’t care about collateral damage or risking civilian lives as long as he gets to fight. Sterns can offer him that and a position of command, so Blonsky follows Sterns. I don’t know where Blonsky picked up the code name ‘Abomination’, though. He’s both bigger and stronger than me, so that’s a possibility.”

“He’s stronger than you?” Cap frowned. “I thought that your strength increased as you got angrier?”

“That’s true, as far as it goes,” Banner agreed. “And there’s probably a theoretical amount of anger that will make me stronger than Blonsky, but how do you measure anger? How can one tell, outside of a fight between the two of us, when I’ve reached that hypothetical level?” He shook his head. “There are too many risks to others for me to feel safe testing it.”

Cap conceded the point with a nod. “What about you, Natasha?”

She stiffened slightly for a moment, and then allowed her posture return to normal. “No offense, but I’d rather not discuss my past or teams and partners I’ve worked with. It’s… private and painful.”

Clint spoke up next. “This is my third team experience, but only my second powered team. The first one was just a group of relatively normal people working together, so there’s not much to say about that one. Technically, my other powered team is supposed to have five or six members. They only found three of us: Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Mockingbird. Bobbi – Mockingbird – was compromised, replaced with a double that no one noticed until too late, during a mission shortly before the Avengers were started. Given both how long she was replaced and how the double got information out of her, Bobbi’s been pulled from the field until both the shrinks and the docs clear her. They have her training the new recruits right now.” He swallowed. “No one would blame her if she decided to quit, honestly. Everyone has a breaking point. This might be hers.”

“Before any of you think to ask,” Natasha said into the silence following Clint’s comment, “Bobbi wasn’t raped. She was grabbed and replaced by what we think was a shape-shifting alien. The people the shape-shifter worked with – we don’t know if these allies were employers or co-workers; if they were humans, other aliens, or members of the same alien race – had some kind of mental probe that they used on her to both learn all the details of her life and to see how she’d react to various situations.” Natasha paused. “I’ve been helping her learn to handle having someone mess with your head like that.”

“Oh,” Cap fidgeted. “I’m sorry I asked. Uh… maybe she can stop by the Tower some time, just to get out of the Hellicarrier and someplace new?”

Tony nodded. “Sounds like a good idea. Just give me a heads up, so you three can have the Tower to yourselves, if she needs it.”

Clint offered a ghost of a grin. “We might take you up on that. Thanks, Tony.”

Stark brushed off the gratitude with a wave of his hand. “Yeah, it’s really not a problem. I know a bit about enforced cabin fever. And since we’ve all shared our unhappy stories…”

“I have not yet spoken about my team,” interrupted Thor. “And I wish to speak of them, so my shield-brothers… er… shield-siblings? I believe that is the correct word.” He shook his head. “I shall ask the wise Google later, after I have shared the story so my current allies may know my tale, if this is acceptable?”

“Jesus Christ,” Tony muttered. Louder, he replied, “Sure, go ahead Thor.”

“I am Thor, son of Odin. Long has Odin Allfather, ruler of Asgard, enforced the peace that protected this realm and other realms from war and invasion by stronger forces or those wishing to expand their lands.” Thor paused. “But Odin Allfather knows the way of the Norns and of life itself. No ruler, be they beloved or tyrant, may rule forever. He wished to train those who would one day rule and the leaders of the court-to-be, so all would be prepared to lead when they needed to assume their roles.”

“So, your dad got you and some friends together to learn how to be responsible people in charge?” Tony asked.

“Nay, good Man of Iron. Father was cleverer than that. He brought six enchanted weapons from the weapons’ vault, set them before the court, and offered a challenge to all of Asgard. Any could approach the weapons. Any could try them, but only those who could activate the enchantment would be able to keep that weapon. Who so ever activated a weapon would be a member of the royal court in training and a future leader of Asgard. Only one weapon was tied to a role in the court, Mjolnir would be wielded by the future monarch,” Thor gestured to the hammer and shrugged. “Perhaps most suspected I would be the one to bear the hammer, rather than my brother, Loki. It matters little.”

“What were the other weapons and who received them?” wondered Captain America. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt your story, Thor.”

“Fear not, Captain. Your question was well timed,” Thor rumbled. “The Lady Sif was the first to claim her prize. The name of her weapon does not translate well to the tongues of Midgard, but the best rendition would be ‘shield paired with twin half-spears’. Hogun the Grim won the spiked mace. Fandral the Valiant took the rapier. The ax responded to Volstaag the Voluminous. My brother, Loki, received his weapon last. The knives answered Loki’s call. And all was well. Or so we thought.”

“Trouble in paradise?” quipped Clint.

“Verily,” sighed Thor. “My brother… Loki had always felt excluded, separated, on Asgard. Very few valued his interest in books, in learning, and finding solutions other than combat to problems. Nor did this change with his inclusion to the court in training, for few praises were sung for knives or those who wielded them. Instead, for centuries as you mark time, Loki heard naught but jeers about his skills and interests and largely unfavorable comparisons with myself. Matters came to a head during the week of my coronation as crown prince. Loki… my family believes he went mad for a time, from all the bitterness and pressure to make our parents proud. My brother lashed out at those who loved him, myself included. He took major cultural assumptions of Asgard – mostly that the Jouton are dangerous and to be destroyed – to their logical and most extreme end.” Thor studied the carvings on Mjolnir for a long moment. “Much happened that still pains me to think on, let alone speak of, even with those who know Loki best. Suffice it to say that after the end of my banishment, Loki’s grandiose plots to impress our father shattered.” He paused. “And my brother had rather attempt to end his life than return to Asgard proper. We mourned him, thought him dead, until Hemidall spotted Loki on Midgard. I know not why he came here, I just wish to bring him home.”

“That’s quite a story, Point Break,” teased Tony. “What do you say that we put the serious stuff aside and play some Go Fish?”

“The suggestion is agreeable to me, if our shield-kin are not opposed.”

“Nah, we’re good,” Clint answered. “Hey, Nat, you got any threes?”

She smirked. “No. Go fish.”

*********************************************************

“Hey Steve,” Tony spoke quietly; trying not to disturb their sleeping teammates sprawled around the room. “What happened today that you’re remembering? You mentioned something earlier, before we all started talking about our other teams.”

Cap opened his mouth, paused, and shut it without saying a word. “I can’t believe you remembered that,” He muttered, closing his eyes for a long moment. “It’s complicated.” Steve scrubbed his face, “Nothing against you, Tony, just not sure how to explain it.”

“Oh?”

Steve nodded, “Lotta things happened today: Rebirth, becoming Cap, and Dr. Erskine died. Most probably don’t remember him, but I do. An’ I wonder what he’d make of me, of what I’m doing. What we’re doing, really.”

“Steve…” Tony trailed off. “Of course he’d be proud of you; you’re Captain America! You’ve saved the world, fought Nazis and Hydra. Anybody would be proud of you, proud to know you. I am.”

“Thanks, Tony.” Steve’s smile carried through his tone, “Means a lot coming from you.” He paused. “The thing is, Erskine had a request, almost a geas, for me before he died: to be a good man instead of a perfect soldier. And I can’t help wondering – today especially – if I’m living up to that charge.”

“I’m really the wrong person to ask, all things considered…”

Steve snorted. “You’re a good man, Tony. Not many would willingly risk their homes to house a superhero team, rent and publicity free.”

“That’s not… That’s completely unimportant,” huffed Tony. “What I was trying to say is you’re the bravest, most selfless person I know. You inspire those around you to do better, to be better people just by being… by being you. To be someone you can respect. So, yeah, I think Dr. Erskine would be proud of you and what you’ve done, Steve.”

“I…” Steve bowed his head. “I… Thank you so very much, Tony.”

“You’re welcome, Steve. Think you can sleep now?”

“Yes,” murmured Steve. “Goodnight, Tony.”

“Night, Steve.” Tony paused in the doorway. “Hey, Steve? I lied. When we were talking about our old teams, I lied. There were originally four devices. We… Yinsen – the guy being held captive with me… he and I figured out the weakest device first, and we implanted it in me to keep the shrapnel from reaching my heart.” He ran a hand through his hair. “After I got rescued and back to the States, I swapped out that device for the one in my chest now. Only, it got stolen by someone I’d trusted for years, Obadiah Stane. He was more a father to me than my actual dad had ever been. I know you were friends with Howard, but… he honestly was kind of a crap father.” Tony sighed. “Anyway, Stane used this device to summon his own battle armor – the Iron Monger. I used the first device to fight him. It was kind of touch and go by the end. But anyway, I beat Stane, got my device back, and… the original one doesn’t work any more. I’m really not sure what that means; if Stane was supposed to be an ally, if it was meant for Yinsen, or what.” He shrugged. “So now you know.”

“I… Thank you, Tony,” replied Steve. “You didn’t have to tell me that.”

“I know.” Tony glanced away, through the doorway. “I just thought you deserved to know the truth. Good night, Steve.”

“Thank you, Tony,” Steve repeated. “Sleep well.”

******************************************************************

“There is a giant teddy bear rampaging on 5th Avenue and I’m expected to go fight it. How the hell did this become my life?” Iron Man groused over the comm.

Hawkeye snorted. “You joined SHIELD, Tony. This is just another Tuesday for us.”

“Ha-ha. Very funny, Robin Hood,” sarcasm dripped from every word of Tony’s reply. “And yet you, being out of casual sight, don’t have to worry about the press publishing photos of you beating the stuffing out of an overgrown plush toy.”

A flurry of repulsor blasts slammed into the monster’s side, singeing its dark brown fur and making it stumble. Roaring in response, the teddy bear swatted the red and gold armor, slamming Iron Man into the ground.

“Or someone taking pictures of you getting your ass kicked by the plush toy,” Tony groaned, spotting something. “Ow. Cap, Thor, Hulk, Widow, where is everyone? Hawkeye and I could use some backup here. Teddy brought some friends.”

“Roger than, Iron Man. As soon as I get free, I’ll come back you up.”

“Just you, Cap?” Iron Man fired a barrage of mini-missiles at the crowd of human-sized plush monsters. “Where the fuck is everyone else?”

“Widow’s going after what we think is the command monster or possibly one of the mastermind’s generals. It looks human, but is turning toys into monsters. Hulk’s taking out divisions of toy soldiers, spacemen, some sort of car robots, and their fortifications. Thor is being attacked by baby dolls, fashion dolls, and dress up kits,” responded Cap. “The sparkly princess accessories, in particular, really seem to like grabbing him.”

Tony choked on a laugh. “I hope there are pictures of that, later.”

“You’d have to check the security cameras, if there are any still intact, for pictures.” Captain America continued, “And I’m fighting a creature that’s bringing characters from games to life.” He paused. “Keeping him away from the Halo display is a good thing, right?”

“The main character is a super-soldier who’s either on par with or tougher than you. He’s facing a potentially invading alien army. Later on, there’s a race of parasitic and mutagenic creatures. And, to top it all off, there’s also an unstable being able to activate a doomsday device and wipeout all life in the universe. Yeah, keep that thing far, far away from Halo,” Tony answered honestly. “Go get that fucker, Cap.”

“Roger that, Iron Man,” teased Cap. Addressing the group, he added, “I’m going to drop off of the comms for a bit to cast my sound attack. Thor, if I’m not back on the comms roughly a minute, zap the monster I’m fighting.”

“As you command, Captain,” Thor boomed.

Tony faintly heard Cap’s cry of “Freedom Ring!” before the pure and unique tones of Captain America’s shield blotted out all other noises. The wave of sound seemed to both last forever and end immediately; blasting monsters off their feet, but leaving allies and inanimate objects untouched. (Which was a good thing. Tony didn’t want to have to fight monsters in a collapsing building. Again.)

For a long moment, silence reigned as both heroes and monsters recovered from the onslaught of sound.

The pause ended as a voice broke in over the comm, “Back! Iron Man, do you and Hawkeye still need assistance?”

Tony eyed the teddy bear clambering to its feet, seemingly more angry than before. “Yeah, that’d be a good idea, Cap. Come join the party.”

“Roger that, Iron Man,” replied Captain America. “ETA for you location is about thirty seconds.”

Busy dodging the rampaging teddy bear’s attacks, Tony didn’t bother responding. He darted away from a crushing paw strike and fired his repulsors at the monster head, hoping to ruin its aim. Faster than he expected or could possibly evade, the other massive paw wrapped around his leg and dragged him back.

Tony struggled, squirmed, and fired his repulsors, but the bear hauled him inexorably closer. The monster’s mouth opened.

And one of Hawkeye’s explosive arrows pierced the monster’s head between the right eye and ear. The resulting explosion blasted a chunk of fur and stuffing out of the bear’s head and caused it to release the Iron Man suit.

The moment he’s free, Tony surged up and out of grabbing range. He barely cleared the monster’s head where a familiar red, white, and blue blur sliced through the air and decapitated the creature. “Thanks, Cap!”

“You’re welcome,” Captain America prodded the monster’s body with the toe of his boot, making sure it was really dead. “Hawkeye, there’s a couple of monsters roaming about. See if you can take them down before they can summon or create minions.”

“Roger that, Cap!” Hawkeye chirped as he scrambled into one of the airducts.

“Iron Man,” Captain America paused. “I’m going to help Hawkeye ride herd on the roaming monsters. I need you to give Natasha some backup with the command monster.” He held up a hand. “I know she’s more than capable of handling most opponents by herself, but facing a possible monster general alone is… unwise. If we’re lucky, the two of you will kill the general and the rest of the monsters will collapse.”

Safely hidden inside the helmet, Tony made a face. “I notice that you didn’t send yourself to go back her up.”

Cap shrugged. “Yeah, well, we’re two primarily short range fighters. You’ve got ranged weapons, too.” A slight grin tugged at the corner of his mouth. “Get going, Tony. I’ll see you later.” Cap darted off, through the maze of toy shelves.

Tony sighed and took to the air. Dodging around the remaining displays and support pillars, he flew towards the upper floor. “Hey, Natasha,” Tony called over the com, knowing both fighters had to have detected him by now. “Where do you want me to blast the guy with the compensatory helmet?”

“Anywhere you can find an opening,” she snapped through a storm of discordant notes, dodging a slash by the man’s oddly glowing spear.

“Right,” Tony aimed carefully, unwilling to damage the floor piano under Natasha and her foe. (He’s already going to have to pay for most, if not all of the damages already, and even his pockets had limits, damn it!) He fired a repulsor blast at man in green cloth and black leather armor.

The man brought his spear up to block the attack and…

Tony stared.

Instead of being knocked off his feet and through the glass window behind him, the man skidded back slightly. Pieces of the shattered spear fell to the floor around him as he glared at Tony, hands clenched around the cracked pole. He smirked. “A mortal attempted to copy the Destroyer? How pathetic,” he sneered, tossing the pole at Tony.

Natasha lunged at the pale man’s back as he threw, Widow’s Bite armed and practically humming with power.

Despite being distracted by the pole slamming into his armor, Tony still managed to see the man vanish before Natasha could deploy the Bite. “Uh… did he just teleport? Or was that some sort of tech?”

Natasha rolled to her feet. “He teleported, and it looked magic based to me.” She studied Tony for a moment, eyes narrowed. “You have cameras on that thing, right?”

“Yeah…” drawled Tony.

“Good. SHIELD can run a picture of that guy through the system and maybe get a name or location for him. Worst case, we’ll be able to find him if he pops up again.”

“Oh, good point.” Tony glanced around at the rest of the toy store. “It looks like the others are finishing up with the last monsters.” Flipping the faceplate up, he offered Natasha a faint smile. “Let’s go get our teammates.”

**************************************************************

“So, I know Fury wasn’t happy about either the damages or the photographs that came out of this fight, but despair not! I have good news,” Tony proclaimed.

“You saved a bundle on car insurance by switching companies?” quipped Clint, eyes closed.

“Ha. No. The armor has cameras built into it, for various reasons, mostly to avoid hitting things,” Tony paused to sip his coffee. “During the fight, I got pictures of the guy Natasha was facing. Between SHIELD and myself, we should be able to identify the guy or at least get people to watch for him.”

Cap frowned thoughtfully. “Can you show us a picture of the guy? It’s possible he’s been hanging around our other fights or near the Tower to study us.”

Tony shivered. “Creepy thought, Rogers. But yeah, I can show the team what this guy looks like.” He manipulated one of the holographic interface panels built into the walls of the briefing room. “Here you go, Cap, one portrait of an unknown villain.”

Thor jolted when images of a pale, dark haired man in a black and green outfit and horned helmet appeared on the screen. “Man of Iron, Lady Natasha, I beg your forgiveness, but is this image the face of you fought?” Thor asked, ignoring Clint’s increasingly frantic ‘do not question Natasha’ gestures.

“Uh… yeah, I thought we mentioned that already. This is the guy Natasha was fighting,” answered Tony.

“Thor,” Cap’s voice was gentle. “Do you recognize him?”

“Aye, I know him well, or thought I did,” Thor sighed and deflated a little. “That is my brother, Loki.” He paused. “Good Lady Natasha, I do not mean to doubt your word, but is there any chance that Loki’s presence there was benign? That he was trying to stop the monsters?”

“I’m afraid not, Thor,” replied Natasha, sympathy in her voice. “I saw Loki create a couple monsters before I engaged him in combat. And yes, normally that might not be enough to indicate hostility. Unfortunately, Loki’s monsters didn’t fight the ones that were already there, but joined in the attack. I waited, Thor. I deliberately waited to see what Loki’s creations would do, and they were not on our side.” She reached out and gently squeezed Thor’s hand. “I’m sorry, Thor.”

Thor offered Natasha a weak smile. “Loki’s actions are neither your fault nor your responsibility, my friend. I would rather have an unhappy truth than face betrayal cloaked in a happy lie.”

“Thor,” Cap began, “you can take the rest of the night off to deal with this revelation, if you’d like. We can continue the debriefing tomorrow.”

“I thank you for the offer, good Captain, but I can not accept. If Loki is truly behind this rash of monsters, he may very well decide to attack before we have a chance to rest and recover from this afternoon’s battle.” Softer, Thor continued, “I shall grieve for my lost brother later, privately.”

Steve nodded, silently acknowledging and respecting the demigod’s emotional strength; to be able to weather such a blow and soldier on. “Thor, what can you tell us about Loki? How he fights? What his preferred tactics are?”

“Loki,” began Thor, “favors stealth, misdirection, and devastatingly precise attacks over the… more direct and physically oriented style of combat favored by most warriors of Asgard. He uses magic, especially illusions, to make his enemies do as he wishes. He prefers using illusory doubles as both bait and decoys. Once an enemy has attempted to do violence to a double, Loki will attack before the foe can recover from the failed assault.” Thor scrubbed his face. “Even then, Loki would rather fight from a distance than do combat at close range. Usually, he throws his knives or uses some form of polearm to stay out of his foe’s reach. As Lady Natasha can attest, Loki can fight hand to hand and is skilled with his knives at that range as well, he simply prefers not to do so. Occasionally, Loki will make use of magical blasts in a fight, but doing so drains his powers quickly.” He sighed. “I do not know how much that assessment will help, Captain. Loki is aware I know his fighting style and his preferred method of taking down enemies. We trained together our whole lives, from childhood to adulthood. And each of us knows how the other fights almost as well as we know our own fighting style.”

“I know,” Steve answered, gently. “I’d rather have a little accurate information about a potential enemy than none at all. Now those of us who haven’t trained with or fought Loki know something about his tactics, and that might help one of us in the long run.”

“I… Your words are kindly meant, Captain, but I can not thank you for them yet. Perhaps I never will be able to,” Thor sighed and ran a hand along Mjolnir’s handle. “The thought of my brother and my friends waging battle against each other weighs heavily on my heart. I have told you what knowledge of Loki’s combat style I posses. Please leave me be.”

Cap nodded, “Alright, Thor. We’re done here anyway. Take the rest of the night off, if you need it.”

**************************************************************

“Steve?” Tony queried a few days later.

Cap looked up from his sketch book, “Yes, Tony?”

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Other than the one you just asked, I assume.” He shrugged. “Sure, go ahead.”

Tony was quiet for a long moment. “In the magazine interview, you refused to refute the rumors that you have someone special. Are you going to introduce her to the team? At the very least, she’s probably going to need a security detail once the interview gets out.”

Steve set down his sketchbook. “Tony, who said the person special to me is a woman?”

“You’re dating a guy?” Tony blinked. “Huh. I thought the Army started trying to keep gays and bisexuals out of the service around then?” He paused. “So, um, are you going to introduce us to him?”

Steve sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t particularly want to discuss my sexuality with the press. It’s complicated. I don’t know the name for it, if there is one. I’m attracted to people I find attractive, and their gender is largely irrelevant to me. It mattered in the Forties only because admitting that could’ve gotten me arrested, locked in an insane asylum, or kicked out of the Army during the War. Before becoming Captain America, the first two would’ve been a death sentence, or near enough, to me given how easily I got and stayed sick.”

Tony nodded, his expression grim. “Ok, I see your point. That still doesn’t explain why you haven’t introduced the guy you’re dating to the team.”

“We’re not dating, Tony. I’m interested in a specific guy, but I don’t know if he feels the same way about me,” Steve shrugged. “And the team has already met the guy I’m crushing on. Should I call the magazine and get them to make that clearer?”

Tony ignored the question to focus on the more important part of Steve’s comment. “We know who you’re crushing on? Really? Who is this guy?”

Silence filled the room for a long moment as Steve squirmed, trying to avoid answering the question or Tony’s puppy dog eyes. “You are.”

“Me?” Tony took a moment to gather himself. “Wow. Ok. Um… don’t call the magazine on my behalf. I’m ok with the public knowing we’re dating. Wow,” he repeated. “I didn’t realize you were… trying to ask me out or I’d have actually asked you out.”

“I was planning to ask you on a date later this week,” Steve offered. “I’ve been trying to fully assimilate the knowledge it’s… relatively safe to be homosexual in this time. No one’s going arrest me, kick me out of the army, or drag me to an insane asylum for my preference.” Eyes unfocused, he stared sightlessly into the ceiling. “There was an active homosexual community in New York, but there was always a risk hanging over everything. Would the cops bust up a drag ball in Harlem or raid the bars that catered to the community?” He looked at Tony. “Now, people like us – the members of that hidden community – can get hitched here in New York, serve openly in the military, participate openly in mainstream culture, and more than half the people in the country think we should be able to get married anywhere in the nation.” He paused. “It’s quite a change, when viewed from my perspective and it’s taken a while for that change to really sink in.”

“Ah.”

“So… um…” Steve blushed. “Would you like to go out for dinner and a movie with me sometime, Tony?”

“I’d love to. Friday night, at seven work for you, Steve?”

“It’s a date. Wear something relatively casual.” Steve paused. “Or something that can survive a trip on a motorcycle, if you prefer something more formal for a date.”

******************************************

Steve appeared outside of the door to Tony’s suite at exactly five minutes ‘til seven, dressed in a pair of pressed khakis and a blue, plaid button down.

“Good evening, Captain Rogers,” JARVIS greeted him. “Sir will be ready shortly, if you’d like to go inside.”

“Thank you, JARVIS,” Steve answered as the opened silently before he could touch the controls.

He blinked at the sight of Tony and Pepper arguing over Tony’s choice of jeans.

“I don’t care how much they cost, Tony! You’re not wearing a pair of workshop jeans to go on at date with Captain America! Steve’s from a time when daily wear for most men was suits and ties! He deserves to see you wearing a pair of jeans without motor oil stains and welding burns on them, at the very least,” growled Pepper, thrusting a pair of folded jeans at Tony.

“But, Pep, these jeans are really comfortable. And they show off my ass really well!” Tony whined.

Steve coughed, catching both people’s attention. “Um, sorry… JARVIS said it was all right for me to come inside?”

“Yeah, yeah, Cap. It’s not a problem. Tell Pepper that these jeans are fine and that she’s no longer my PA, so she doesn’t have to be so bossy anymore,” Tony pleaded.

“Steve, tell Tony that those jeans should only be worn in the workshop and when leaving the Tower, let alone on a first date,” countered Pepper.

“Um… I think I’m going to stay out of this,” Steve answered. “I don’t know enough about current fashions to contribute, anyway.” He paused. “I’m not picking a side, but would anyone other than Tony Stark be able to wear those jeans into a restaurant without appearing underdressed?”

“Probably not,” admitted Tony, “but that’s all part and parcel of the Stark mystique.”

“Or it’s a side effect of you being famous and a billionaire,” Pepper pointed out.

“Or that,” Tony acknowledged. He glanced up at Steve. “So?”

Steve nervously shifted his weight from foot to foot. “I don’t really want to spend our first official date dodging the paparazzi. I realize that we’re both famous and that one of us will be recognized while on a date at some point, but… I kind of want this one, our first real one, to fly under the radar as much as possible. And that isn’t necessarily going to happen if you have to… name-drop your own name to get into the restaurant.” He rubbed the back of his head. “But I’d rather the paparazzi find us than have you be uncomfortable on this date. So, just wear what you want, please.”

Pepper’s expression was thoughtful. “Where are you taking him, Steve? Despite what it feels like, paparazzi don’t actually lurk on every street corner.” A smiled tugged at the corner of her mouth. “But beware of underpaid restaurant employees with cell phones,” she teased.

“An Italian restaurant in Brooklyn – Armando’s – that’s been around since before World War II,” he answered. “I was thinking Alfredo’s of Rome, but I couldn’t get a reservation on short notice under my own name and I didn’t want to use Tony’s.”2

“You should be fine.” Pepper nodded once, then tossed the jeans she held to Tony, “Wear the clean jeans, Tony. You’re on a date.” She turned to Steve. “I don’t know if anyone warned you, but Armando’s – if it’s the same place I’m thinking of – can be kind of…”

“Expensive,” Steve finished with her. “I know. I looked it up on the internet and saw the menu.” He shrugged, trying to ignore Tony switching pants behind them. “I’ve gotten used to food prices these days. With my metabolism, I had to either deal with the prices and the inflation inherent in them or get upset every time I got groceries.” A slight smile crossed his face. “Given that I pretty much go for groceries daily, getting upset really wasn’t a viable option.”

Pepper laughed. “No, I guess not. Have a good date.” She leaned in closer to Steve and murmured in a conspiring tone, “Don’t worry about getting Tony back by any special time tonight. He doesn’t have anything planned for tomorrow morning.”

Steve blushed bright red. Before he could stutter out anything, Pepper added in louder voice, “Have fun, Mr. Stark.”

“Oh, I plan to, Ms. Potts,” Tony purred. “Don’t wait up.”

“I never did before,” Pepper teased, ushering them to the door. “Why would I start now?”

“Cruel, cruel, so cruel,” laughed Tony. “I don’t know what I did to deserve such cruelty. C’mon, Steve, let’s get out of her before Pepper sharpens her tongue on you, too.”

Steve let himself be tugged into the elevator, grinning at the warmth in the verbal sparring. “I know flowers are traditional, but they didn’t seem right for you, Tony, so here.”

Tony laughed, delighted. “You got me a wrench!”

“I thought you’d like it more than flowers,” admitted Steve.

“I do,” Tony pressed a kiss to Steve’s lips.

“Good.”

Tony stole another kiss. “So, out of curiosity, how many dates will it take to get you into my bed? Or, no, wait. The forties was all marriage before sex, yeah? So that’s a no go for you.”

Steve bit down on his laughter. “Tony, during the war, people tried to live as much as possible because death could come at any time. That included no-strings sex or having sex on a first date. You might not ever have another chance.” Voice husky, he added, “I know better that better than most. So, let’s see how this date goes; how things develop between us. We’ll end up in the bedroom when it feels right for our relationship. Ok, Tony?”

Tony swallowed hard. “Ok, Steve.”

**************************************************

“So, I’m feeling good about this whole ‘dating’ thing, Steve. And I think you are too, soo…. How about having a nightcap?” asked Tony, sliding his hands down Steve’s leather jacket.

“Mr. Stark, are you asking me up to see your etchings?” Steve’s eyes widened, mock innocently. “And after we’ve only had a single date?” He prowled closer, backing Tony against the elevator. Steve leaned in close, lips brushing the shell of Tony’s ear as he rumbled, “I’d be delighted.”

Tony lunged upwards, capturing Steve’s lips in a kiss. One of Tony’s hands buried itself in Steve’s hair, mussing the careful part. The other… was very eager and they needed to get some place private. Now. Before someone walked in on them like this.

“My place or yours?” panted Steve, when they finally separated for air.

“I don’t give a damn. Whichever’s closer,” Tony muttered, dragging Steve down for another deep kiss. “Or we could stay here…”

Steve blushed bright red. “But anyone could walk in on us!”

“No exhibitionist kink, huh?” Tony asked, rhetorically. “Ok, not a big deal. The Tower has plenty of rooms for us to enjoy.”

“That sounds good,” Steve muttered, nuzzling and nipping gently along the column of Tony’s neck. “But it’s taking us too long to get to one of these ‘empty rooms’ I keep hearing about.”

Tony laughed, wrapping his legs around Steve’s waist. “Ok, Captain Impatient, you’ve made your point! Next door should be…”

“Sirs,” JARVIS interrupted. “There are reports of a giant funnel cake attacking Coney Island, accompanied by an enormous ice cream cone.”

Steve and Tony froze.

“I’m sure the others can deal with huge desserts without us. Right, JARVIS?” Tony suggested. “They have Hulk and Thor, so they don’t need us.”

“Unfortunately, sir, Dr. Banner is currently attending a scientific conference in Washington, D.C. It will take him over an hour to reach city limits, let alone the site of the battle,” JARVIS seemed to reprimand Tony.

“Right…” Tony sighed. “Will you take a rain check, Steve?”

“Sure,” Steve stole a chaste kiss. “I’m not going anywhere, Tony. We can finish this later,” he promised, “even if that means the next date.”

Tony nodded sharply. “Ok then. Let’s Assemble.”

They headed for the armory at a run.

*************************************************************

“You like art, yeah?” Tony asked a few days after the fight at Coney Island, setting aside his blowtorch for a moment. “I mean, I know you like art. You’re in here drawing all the time. But there’s a difference between enjoying doing art and enjoying looking at art, right?” He fiddled with the blowtorch. “I mean, would you like to see some art? I’ve got tickets to this art-thing and we can go if you’d like to. It’s normally not my thing. I mean, I like art. You can’t own as much art as I do and dislike, but gallery openings aren’t my favorite things.”

Steve frowned, lowering his sketchbook. “Tony, if you dislike art openings, we can do something else for a date. I really don’t mind. I’d rather you have fun, too.”

Tony fidgeted. “Ah… Here’s the thing, Steve. The art show? The proceeds benefit a charity I support and would like to raise awareness for that isn’t one of the ones the Maria Stark Foundation usually supports. Normally, I’d write them a check and be done with it. But… Normally, I wouldn’t have you there for company. So, yeah, gallery opening.”

“I…” Steve ducked his head. “I’d like that.”

“Great! Uh… you’re going to need a tux for this. Do you have one? ‘Cause I can get you one if you don’t. A good tux is something every guy should have, just in case. You know, in case of unexpected weddings or last minute parties and… stuff,” rambled Tony.

“I don’t have a tux,” Steve replied. He shrugged one shoulder. “Getting one hasn’t been a huge priority for me, all things considered. Most people who invite me places want me in my Captain America uniform.”

Tony leered, eyes alight with mischief. “Don’t worry, Stars ’n’ stripes. I know the perfect tailor for you.”

“No zoot suits, Tony,” teased Steve. “Even I know those are best left in the past, along with the mullet.”

Shaking with laughter, Tony attempted innocence. “I don’t know what you mean, Steve. The mullet is one of the most amazing hair styles ever; business in the front, party in the back.”

“And ugly on every side,” Steve quipped. He waited until Tony’s laughter calmed. “When will this fitting be?”

“Uh… probably tomorrow, since my schedule should be free. JARVIS, call the tailor guy and set up an appointment for Steve.”

“Yes, sir. Will you be accompanying Captain Rogers or should I have a rescue mission team on standby?” snarked JARVIS.

Tony grinned. “It’ll probably be easier if I just go with Steve. Keep him from having to call out the team and SHIELD to escape Miguel’s clutches.” He grinned at Steve. “He’s a good guy, but he’ll keep you forever if we let him, Steve. Miguel loves people who show off his work in the best possible way.”

Steve nodded. “So you’re his favorite person in the world, Tony?”

“Flatterer,” mock grumbled Tony, smile wide.

“Only for you, Tony,” he answered, “only for you.” Steve glanced at the clock and shut his sketchbook. “See you tomorrow, Tony.”

“It’s a date!” Tony’s shout followed Steve out of the workshop and into the elevator to the rest of the Tower.

********************************************************

Steve tried not to toy with his cufflinks as the elegantly dressed crowd of gallery opening attendees swirled around him. Both the cufflinks and the suit they adorned cost more than a soldier like him would’ve made in a year of tough combat missions during the war. He could at least keep the outfit in good condition.

Tony seemed to thrive in this environment. He flirted and teased with women in jewel-bright gowns and men in dapper tuxes alike, easily snagging food and drinks off the trays carried by passing waiters. His smile barely faltered or faded, apparently amused and delighted by the conversation of those around him.

Steve frowned slightly. There was something wrong with Tony’s smile. It was just a touch too wide, too bright, and definitely didn’t reach his eyes. It reminded Steve of the smiles he’d used to give audiences at the USO performances and on the bond sales tour – fake and meant to hide what he really thought and felt.

Tony should never feel that way.

Taking a deep breath, Steve headed towards Tony’s group. As Tony’s teammate and date, it clearly was his job to rescue Tony from this situation.

“Tony, I need to talk to you for a moment,” he said, interrupting a man pontificating on the artist’s ‘revolutionary juxtaposition of the mundane and the extraordinary’ in a painting. Clearly the gentleman had never heard of Surrealist art, but Steve was unwilling to enlighten him.

“Is everything alright, Steve?” Tony’s attention focused on Steve, completely ignoring the crowd around them. “Do we have trouble?”

Steve gave the group his best bond-tour smile and proceeded to lie through his teeth. “You wanted me to remind you when it was time for our reservations, remember?”

“Our reservations?” Tony blinked at Steve and then smoothly picked up the story. “Oh, yes! Those reservations we have for dinner.” He smiled one of those bright, false grins at the group and added, “Completely forgot about ‘em. Thankfully, Steve’s got a memory like a steel trap. Anyway, I’ve got to go. Hopefully we can talk more about this later.” He waved as Steve gently steered him away from the group.

“Are you ok?” Steve murmured into Tony’s ear.

Tony nodded. “Thanks for the rescue, Cap. I was expecting to be ambushed by socialites and other sycophants, but I couldn’t shake that pompous windbag or his retinue.” His eyes flicked to Steve’s face. “Is there anything else you want to see? I mean, we’ll stay as long as you like. No reason to cut your enjoyment short because I had to deal with an idiot. That happens all the time, even at Stark Industries.”

“To be honest, I think I’m done for now.” At Tony’s raised eyebrows, Steve elaborated, “This kind of thing makes me feel like I’m with the USO again. The fancy clothes, the tiny finger foods that cost more than some family’s meals, and the rich and powerful people aren’t things I’m comfortable with. I mean… yeah, my childhood was in the Roaring Twenties, with all that glitz and glamour for the robber barons and the most successful bootleggers. But… that wasn’t the time that shaped me the most. I was twelve when the Great Depression officially began, Tony. The breadlines, the people looking for work, and Ma’s quiet desperation from trying to buy medicines and feed me are what I remember most about growing up.” Steve shrugged, “I can function well enough in this level of society. Senator Brandt, your father, and others saw to that. But, after a while, I get uncomfortable with the whole thing. I’m really just a poor kid from Brooklyn, when you get right down to brass tacks.” Trying to lighten the tone, he continued, “So, I’ll probably come back sometime later, after all this fancy stuff is gone, and spend a couple of hours just browsing the place and enjoying the art.”

Tony nodded, expression thoughtful. “Ok. I get that. So… do you want to do dinner? Since you heavily implied it to those idiots you rescued me from that we were heading somewhere to eat.”

“Super-soldier,” reminded Steve with a grin. “I’m pretty much always ready for food.”

Tony laughed softly. “Yeah, that whole four times normal metabolism thing. I know some models who would kill to have a metabolism like that, without knowing what the downsides are.” He leaned into Steve’s side as they exited the building. “I know this great Vietnamese place that does huge portions of pretty much their whole menu. Seriously, it’s possible to make two meals out of one order. So, you interested?”

“Sounds good to me.”

The moment they were in the car, hidden from press and gallery attendees alike, Tony allowed his public persona to fall. “I don’t particularly like galas and other events like that, either. Unfortunately, networking and glad handing is a part of business. I just have more practice and training in dealing with that whole mess than you.” He shrugged. “I pretty much grew up in the spotlight, after all. So, yeah. I know a bit about what you mean. It feels like you’re performing for someone, that everyone’s watching you and it sucks. I’d say that you’ll get used to it, but… not sure that’ll help. Eventually, the novelty of your return will wear off and things will calm down. It’ll take a while, but it will happen.”

Steve nodded thoughtfully. “What do you do?”

“Me?” Tony barked a laugh. “You have all these possible resources and you want to know my method?” He ran a hand through his slicked back hair, mussing it back into the familiar disarray. “I let the press and the public think they know everything about me – I give ‘em mostly minor things and things I can’t really hide – and hide the things that are really important to me. Things like my workshop, how complex JARVIS really is, and who I really am at the end of the day… I hide that. The media knows a basic idea about the first two, but it’s easy to blow off deeper questions by acting if the shallow image they have is all there is of me.” He leaned into Steve’s side and mumbled, “Don’t use my method, Steve. It’s too easy to hate yourself when you forget what’s part of the mask and what’s part of the real you.”

Steve cuddled Tony close and hoped he’d be able to hear all the words Steve couldn’t find, but Tony needed to hear. “Do you want to just go home?” Steve asked, “So you can drop your public face for a while?”

“I…” Tony trailed off, sounding lost. “We’re on a date. You’re not supposed to abandon it half way through.”

“We’re not abandoning it, we’re doing… a change of venue,” countered Steve. “If neither of us are having fun, why shouldn’t we alter our plans to do something we both enjoy? A night watching movies on your couch while eating pizza and cuddling sounds really nice right now.”

Tony paused, then grinned. “You know, it does sound nice. It really does. And since we’re on a date, I know the perfect movies to watch. You’ll love both of ‘em. Happy,” he called. “Take us back to the Tower. We’ve both had enough of ‘high society’ for the night.”

“Right away, Boss.”

Steve hoped this would salvage the rest of tonight’s date before it was completely ruined.

******************************************************************

A little while later, sprawled comfortably on the couch, Steve watched as a black clad man engaged a kidnapper in a battle of wits. Tony’s head rested on Steve’s shoulder as the billionaire snagged popcorn from the bowl beside them.

“Isn’t this better than the gallery?” Steve murmured, kissing Tony’s dark hair.

Tony made a humming noise of assent and snuggled in to Steve’s side. “Much better. Though, I know a way to make it even better.” Tony’s hands slipped up underneath Steve’s white undershirt to caress warm skin.

Steve grinned. “I could be persuaded to agree,” he teased.

Tony laughed and stole a kiss. “I can be very persuasive,” he purred. The next kiss was deeper, with Tony’s tongue slipping into Steve’s mouth.

Steve slid a hand under the hem of Tony’s shirt and ran it up over the planes his stomach. He fought the urge to rip the dress shirt off of Tony and instead tried to undo all the buttons. “Tony?”

“Yes?” gasped Tony as Steve nibbled lightly on his neck.

“How attached are you to this shirt? ‘Cause I really want to rip it off of you.”

Tony moaned and rubbed his hips against Steve’s, “Oh god, yes. Go for it, Steve.”

Steve mentally promised himself that he’d repair the shirt later. He grabbed two large handfuls of the red, silky fabric and pulled. Buttons popped off, scattering everywhere. Steve slid the remains of the shirt off Tony’s shoulders to reveal… a plain black athletic shirt underneath. “I completely forgot you’d be wearing this,” Steve groaned.

“It’s to hide the arc reactor,” Tony shrugged. “And you’ve had your fun, so it’s my turn! Off with this,” he demanded, tugging on Steve’s undershirt. “Come on; let me see those abs of yours, soldier boy.”

Laughing, Steve allowed Tony to pull his undershirt off. “I do walk around shirtless sometimes,” he commented, voice hitching as Tony’s tongue traced along his chest.

Tony snorted, breath tickling Steve’s navel. “Oh, I noticed. I wasn’t allowed to touch the last time.” His hand fumbled at the waistband of Steve’s pants, hunting for the closure.

Steve gently shoved Tony back. “Let’s get your shirt off, first. Otherwise, I might think that you’re just trying to get into my pants, Mr. Stark,” he teased.

Peering up through his lashes, Tony smiled wickedly. “Of course I’m trying to get into your pants, Captain Rogers. Hiding a body like yours beneath clothing is practically a crime.”

Steve’s smile wobbled for a moment and then returned slightly too bright to be real. Tony didn’t notice with his eyes momentarily covered by the black athletic shirt Steve slid off Tony’s body and over his head.

“I’m really just a kid from Brooklyn, underneath it all.” Steve confessed quietly, “Just the same guy as the ninety pound weakling who couldn’t win a back alley fight, but never ran from one either, even if I don’t look it.” Steve’s fingers traced where the arc reactor met Tony’s body. “An’ I can’t figure how a guy like me could be so lucky to get the attention ‘f a guy like you.”

Tony snorted. “Are we really going to do this now? We haven’t even had sex yet,” he muttered, then continued in a slightly louder tone, “Most guys like me – CEOs, millionaires, the rich and famous – are jerks, Steve. I got a serious wake up call when I got the arc reactor. It opened my eyes to a lot of things, like what’s really important and really valuable. And you are, Steve. You are.”

Steve pulled Tony in close. “So are you,” he whispered into Tony’s mouth before kissing him hungrily.

Returning Steve’s kiss, Tony slid his hands down Steve back and gently squeezed his ass.

Steve broke the kiss with a gasp. Taking advantage of the distraction and space, Tony kept kneading Steve’s ass with one hand, while the other hand shifted to the closure of Steve’s pants and…

“Gah! My eyes!” interrupted Clint. “Can’t you two do that someplace else? The rest of us sit on that couch!”

Steve blushed bright red as Natasha bopped Clint on the head. “Clint, they’re still wearing pants.”

“Oh. Right,” Clint smiled sheepishly. “I would say ‘carry on,’ but, really? Trying to have sex on a communal space is kind of rude guys.”

Tony bristled. “We’re both clean, Barton.”

“I don’t care one way or the other, Stark.” Clint sighed and rolled his eyes, “I grew up in a lot of close quarters, Tony. Communal space was practically sacrosanct, then. More to the point, shared or communal space in SHIELD is constantly monitored space. And I can’t see your security programs being much different, even if it’s a computer and not a human doing the monitoring. You might have a way to keep JARVIS from watching you hear, but the rest of us don’t.”

Tony blinked, then laughed. “So, I can’t have sex in the common areas if the rest of you can’t have any?”

Clint shrugged. “Yeah, that’s pretty much what I meant.”

“Fine, I’ll add it to the house rules,” Tony smirked and narrowed his eyes. “But you better watch yourself, Barton. You cost me my chance to get laid tonight and I will have vengance.”

Glancing at Steve, Clint chuckled. “Yeah, I can see that from how red Steve’s turning. I think he matches your armor now.”

Steve flushed brighter. “Next time, Tony,” he murmured into Tony’s dark, unruly hair. “There’s always next time.”

*****************************************************

Steve had just set aside a still life he couldn’t quite get to look right, when Tony cleared his throat.

“There’s a group of swing dance enthusiasts who sponsor a night of swing dancing and jazz music every month. The next one is this weekend. I was thinking we could go,” commented Tony.

“Well… uh… I,” Steve ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know how to dance,” he blurted.

Tony blinked. “Huh. Was not expecting that,” he muttered. “You’ve never been dancing? You? With the muscles, the smile, and the manners, you have never been dancing? Were people in the forties really that clueless or were they just being mind-controlled to ignore how awesome you are?”

Steve laughed a little. “I wasn’t always like this, you know,” he gestured to himself. “Before I became Captain America, I was a skinny little guy who got sick a lot. Who’d want to dance with someone they’d have to worry about breaking into pieces or having an asthma attack on the dance floor?”

Tony hummed in thought. “So, you’re saying they were mind controlled. I can accept that, I guess.”

“Be serious, Tony,” sighed Steve.

“Must I?” quipped Tony with a grin. “Ok, fine, serious. How about dance lessons since you don’t know how to dance?”

“Dance lessons?”

“Yeah,” Tony beamed, getting more invested in the idea. “There are all kinds of dance lessons these days: salsa, tango, swing, as well as the ever popular ballroom. I’m good with any of them, other than line dancing or square dancing. Just no. I already lived through that craze in the mid-nineteen nineties once. I don’t need to go through it again. I swear I have nightmares where I’m stuck doing the step grapevine while the song ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ plays on an endless loop until I wake up. It’s horrible.”

“I don’t know what any of that last bit meant, Tony,” admitted Steve. “It’s fine with me if we skip square dancing and line dancing. Really, learning any type of dance is good with me.”

Tony grinned. “Classes on Thursdays work for you? I know you’re taking some online history courses, but I don’t know when the tests and assignments are scheduled.”

“Thursdays are fine with me, especially after what Thor did to the last monster that bothered us on a Thursday. The due dates and test days for my class is Wednesday,” he shrugged and added, “I’m only taking one right now, to keep from being overwhelmed by responsibilities to the team and the class.”

“I still don’t know if I should laugh or wince,” confessed Tony, lips twitching slightly. “On one hand, it certainly made an impression on Loki and the other villains that like to attack New York. We haven’t had a monster attack on a Thursday since then, after all. On the other hand, yeah, ow, that really looked like it hurt. And I’m not sure we should be endorsing that sort of thing, even by inference.” He sighed and ran a hand through his already messy hair. “Not sure where I fall on that issue, actually. Especially since it is Thor and he’s pretty much everyone’s favorite Avenger, among the team.”

Steve nodded. “We’ll figure something out for Thor, Tony. But, about those dance lessons, can we start them this Thursday? If there’s a class available with room for us to get into, I mean. I don’t want to waste any time with this, with you. Not after… I don’t want to lose any more time.”

Tony’s expression softened as he nodded. “I’ll see what I can do, Steve-o. I don’t want to waste any time with you, either.”

Steve reached out and snagged Tony’s hand. He gently tugged the smaller man closer to him. “After an opening like that, I don’t want to let you walk way when we could be doing other things.”

“Other things? What kind of other things?” Tony asked, mock innocently.

Steve pulled Tony in for a kiss. “The kind of other things that involve you and me being naked in your bed,” he murmured between kisses.

Tony chuckled. “I can support those kinds of ideas. Hell, I’ll pay you to have more of those ideas and demonstrate them to me.”

Steve laughed and kissed Tony deeply. “Bed?” he asked, voice gravely with desire.

“Hell, yes,” panted Tony. He hesitated, then wrapped his arms around Steve’s broad shoulders. “I normally don’t like being carried, but I’ll make an exception if it gets me to bed with you faster. And since we’ve been cock blocked the last two times we’ve tried this, faster to bed is a good thing.”

Chuckling softly, Steve wrapped one arm around Tony’s waist and gently lifted him. “I have to agree. It’s been very frustrating to almost reach where we want to go and getting denied the chance by circumstances.”

“Understatement,” Tony muttered against Steve’s neck. “I swear I’m going to shoot anyone who interrupts us. If you need to stop, that’s one thing ‘cause of the whole forties thing. But anyone other than you or I stops us, I’m putting on the suit and blasting them with the repulsors,” he promised, one hand sliding beneath the hem of Steve’s shirt to stroke warm skin.

“I’ll back you up on that,” murmured Steve as they reached the door to Tony’s suite. He paused. “Hey, how do you open your door?”

“Like this: JARVIS, open the door.”

“Yes, sir. Shall I follow the usual procedures, sir, or…?” the A.I. trailed off, delicately.

Tony considered Steve for a long moment before answering, “Nah, just make sure the room stays secure and put the rest of the systems in standby mode. If I can’t trust Captain America, who can I trust?”

The door shut behind Steve as JARVIS replied, “Very well, sir. Captain Rogers, sir, have a pleasant evening.”

Steve blushed. “Ah. Thank you, JARVIS.”
“We will!” crowed Tony, wriggling out of his pants.

Steve unbuttoned his outer shirt as he organized his thoughts. “Tony? What’s ‘the usual procedures’?” he wondered, finally managing to shuck his button down.

“Ah…” Tony noisily exhaled. “The usual procedures are precautionary security features for my safety, my guests’ safety, and my company’s safety. They’re a largely passive monitoring system that alerts JARVIS, Pepper, or myself if one of several flags is raised.” He shrugged. “I trust you to be a decent person and not to try any of the following: to drug and/or assault me, to claim I assaulted you in any way, or to attempt to steal from me.”

Steve stared, hands frozen on the fly of his pants.

“There are a lot of dumb ass people in the world, Steve. Some of them are very willing to put what they want ahead of other people or the law. I’d rather have the security system in place and not need it, than not have it and have someone get hurt or have something go wrong.” Tony looked away. “So, yeah, that’s the usual procedures.”

“Tony… I’m not as innocent as I seem at times. I fought in a war against groups who thought their dreams of domination were more important than the people they invaded or considered inferior, remember?” Steve wrapped a hand around Tony’s wrist in a loose hold. “I’m just wondering if you’d feel better, safer, if we left the usual procedures on.”

Tony blinked. “I… I turned them off because I thought you’d be nervous about them, about there being evidence of this somewhere. And because I trust you, Steve, I really do. I haven’t…” he trailed off. Grabbing Steve’s hand and resting it on his chest so it covered the arch reactor, Tony continued, “The number of people I trust to touch the reactor or have any sort of control over my armor can be counted on one hand with fingers left over. The number of people I’ve had or wanted to have sex with since I got the arc reactor is smaller still. You’re on both lists. I trust you.”

Bending his head to kiss Tony, Steve murmured, “I’ll do my best to live up to that trust.” He gently pulled Tony’s Black Sabbath shirt over the smaller man’s head and gazed at Tony’s body. “You’re gorgeous.”

“You’re not half bad yourself, soldier.” Tony shoved Steve’s pants and underwear down to tangle around the super soldier’s feet. Tony licked his lips at the sight. “Especially without any clothes in the way of the view. I think that ought to be a rule. You’re not allowed to wear clothes around me. On second thought, let’s make that no clothes when it’s just me and you. I don’t want to share this with anybody else.”

“Only if a similar rule applies to you.”

“Being naked around my boyfriend? Oh, what a hardship,” teased Tony. “So, what do you like?”

Steve coughed. “I… um… I haven’t done much. Just, you know, the normal fooling around that kids do and the kind of stuff soldiers can sneak in during lulls in the fighting.”

“So, I’m your first guy? Ok, I can work with that.”

“No. Um, well, yes, you’re the first guy. But that’s not what I meant. I meant I haven’t really done anything with anyone other than fast and fugitive things or some general exploration.” Steve blushed as he added, “Handjobs, mostly, but a few blowjobs as well.”

Tony stared. “So… I’m your first ever?”

Steve nodded.

“Ok. Wow, I did not expect that.” Tony’s expression turned thoughtful. “There’s a lot of stuff to teach you.”

“As long as I don’t hurt you,” Steve replied soberly. “At the moment, that’s my only request.”

Tony nodded. “If you’re worried about your strength, we’ve still got options. I could fuck you or I could ride you. Either way puts me in more control than you.”

“Either sounds good to me,” answered Steve, voice hoarse with desire.

“Me riding you would probably be better for now,” Tony thought aloud. “You’ve never had that kind of sex and we’d need to do some prep to make your first experience the best it can be. Nothing major; just time consuming and I don’t want to wait right now.”

Steve nodded. “Good idea. I don’t want to risk this getting interrupted.”

“In that case, go get on the bed. I’ll go grab the supplies we need.”

Anticipation curling in his stomach, Steve watched Tony disappear into the bathroom. He hoped he’d live up to Tony’s expectations.

*******************************************************

Sex with Tony was amazing.

Sex with Tony was mind blowing. And Steve had needed less prep work than either of them had expected.

Steve was officially never leaving bed again, if this was what sex with Tony was always like. The world could save itself.

Unfortunately the world – and Fury – hadn’t agreed with Steve.

“This isn’t just a one time thing, Steve. We’ll be able to have sex every night, if you want to,” Tony assured him. “And maybe more often on days we save the world.”

Steve grinned. “I’d like that.”

“Me too. Anyway, we’ve still got that date on Thursday. We’ll definitely be able to spend time in bed after that, if we don’t get another chance before then,” reminded Tony.

“Point taken,” Steve laughed.

***********************************************

That Thursday, feeling tired and battered after a run of monsters so bizarre that not even Thor could explain Loki’s reasoning for making them, Steve made his way towards Tony’s lab.

Steve would be the first to admit some worry about Tony arranging dancing lessons for the two of them, although he knew it was foolish. In the long run, the difference between a private instructor and an actual dance class wouldn’t matter. Either way, he’d be able to dance with Tony and possibly other people as well.

In addition, Steve wasn’t sure if he’d prefer a private instructor or a shared class. On one hand, not being on display while learning to dance would be nice. He’d had enough of being a performing monkey for one life time back during the Bond and USO tours. On the other hand, it’d be nice to meet and socialize with people who weren’t employed by either SHIELD or Stark Industries, or being attacked by a monster. Steve could still count the number of people unconnected from work or being a superhero he’d met since he’d woken up on one hand. And most of those people either worked in restaurants or in the library.

So, with well-concealed nervousness, Steve entered Tony’s personal lab in basement of the Tower.

“Hey, Tony,” he called, dodging Dum-E. “Are you ready to go?”

“Date time?” Tony confirmed. “Let me get this one armed menace back into his charging station first. I don’t want to come back to a destroyed tower,” he added in fond exasperation. “Dum-E’s being a brat today. What do you think, Steve; should I donate him to a city college or turn him into a jungle gym for a playground?”

Steve pretended to consider it for a long moment. “Gee, Tony, I don’t know if either idea is good enough. Maybe you should give him to an artist to use as an easel.”

Tony laughed, eyes shining with delight. “I don’t know about that, Steve. The artist would have to have the patience of a saint or a sniper to deal with some of Dum-E’s idiosyncrasies.”

“It’s a good thing the artist I’m thinking of has a lot of practice dealing with difficult people and odd personality quirks. His roommates alone are some of the most unique people in the city, if not the world. Dum-E should fit right in with the rest of the group,” Steve grinned. “Hell, the artist’s boyfriend is a genius inventor type who keeps odd hours. I’m sure he’d love to meet Dum-E.”

“Oh god, Steve,” gasped Tony between snickers. “You’re having too much fun with this.”

Steve cheerfully grinned, “Yup. So, dance lessons?”

“Formal classes start next week,” answered Tony. “I could’ve arranged for the instructor to come this week, but she’s got a mandatory family obligation this week. And I’d rather not try to learn from an already stressed out teacher. So, for this week, I’m going to teach you the dance that’s helped me out at a lot of fundraisers and other boring parties – the sway and shuffle.”

“The what?” Steve raised an eyebrow dubiously. “I think you’re putting me on.”

“The sway and shuffle, also known as the ballroom shuffle,” repeated Tony. “It’s basically revolving in a slow, shuffling circle as you and your partner sway to the music. It’s good for times when you don’t know your dance partner’s skill level because the shuffling will keep the two of you from stepping on each other’s feet. Want me to demonstrate?”

“Huh. Sure, go ahead, Tony.”

“JARVIS, a waltz and a holographic dance partner,” Tony ordered.

An oddly familiar brunette woman shimmered into view as the first notes of “The Blue Danube” issued from the speakers. Tony bowed to the hologram and then led her in a shuffling little circle as they swayed gently to beat. After the second rotation, he looked at Steve. “Get the idea?”

“Yeah, I think so.” Steve glanced between Tony and the holographic lady. “May I try?”

“Sure, go ahead,” answered Tony, stepping away from the hologram. “I designed the program to be a good dance practice partner.”

Steve nodded. “So, who is she? The woman you got to be a model for this, I mean,” he wondered, copying Tony’s performance.

“My mom. Well, the image is. She liked to dance. It’s one of the better memories I have of her and Howard. The two of them laughing as they whirled around the dance floor at some function she hosted,” sadness and vulnerability filled Tony’s voice as he reminisced. “I think it’s a fitting tribute.”

Steve floundered for words for a moment. “Dance with me?” he requested before wincing at the sheer inadequacy of his comment.

“Sure,” Tony replied as he visibly forced away rough memories. “And afterwards we can go ‘dancing’ in my bed,” he leered.

Laughing, Steve agreed to the plan.

**************************************************

Two days later, Steve managed to eavesdrop on Tony.

It wasn’t deliberate. He knew Tony had an interview with someone from one of those glossy, celebrity obsessed magazines that were so popular now days, but generally held little interest for Steve.

Unfortunately for Steve’s good intentions, the frustration and anger in Tony’s tone carried through the closed door and into the hall beyond. It sounded like Tony needed backup or an extraction plan, but Steve could be misjudging the situation.

Steve stepped slightly closer, bringing the discussion in the meeting room in range of his enhanced hearing. No one would realize he was overhearing the conversation and he could assist Tony if needed, he rationalized. Focusing on the room, he listened.

“Of course I’m not cheating on Steve!” Tony snapped, his voice clear despite the heavy door. “I mean, have you seen Steve? He’s gorgeous! A blonde Adonis! He’s practically sex personified, throwing himself in my lap! I’d be a fool to risk that for some idiot who wants fifteen minutes of fame, some bragging rights, or my money!”

Steve swallowed hard, tuning out the rest of what was being spoken. He’d had people lusting after him for his body before, during the USO tour. But he’d thought Tony was special, that Tony could see the real him behind Captain America.

He’d been planning to tell Tony his biggest secret, the one he’d hidden since Rebirth. Now, that wasn’t an option.

Keeping busy by fighting crime and monsters had helped when he first woke up in this time. Maybe it would help him now.

That thought in mind Steve shifted into Captain America’s uniform and ducked out of the nearest window.

He hoped he could find a monster, a mugger, or anything to let him ignore the pain in his heart.

***********************************************************

Steve jolted awake, staring down at his hands. Instead of Captain America’s bright red gloves encasing his large hands, Steve saw tattered red strips clinging to his own slim hands. A quick glance revealed the rest uniform in similar condition, barely providing any decency. Nor there was any sign of the outfit he’d worn prior to transforming.

Something was wrong.

Steve’s hands scrabbled against his chest, searching desperately for his dog-tags. He sighed with relief as his fingers touched the familiar metal of the tags and the tiny circular medallion that shared their chain.

Pulling the miniature replica of his shield free of the remains of his uniform top, Steve studied it carefully. The unmarred red, white, and blue paint showed no hint of physical damage. A careful pulse of magic revealed a similar lack of magical damage.

Despite that, Steve couldn’t touch the familiar well of warm, buzzing power to transform into Captain America. He could feel the magical energies within both himself and the medallion, but they would not obey his commands.

Feeling more helpless than he had since the war, Steve rested his head against his knobby knees. Something was very wrong.

Steve sat like that, head against his knees and taking stock of himself, for a minor eternity or a few minutes. He had no way of telling.

He couldn’t access the speed, strength, and raw bulk of his Captain America form, nor the spells he used in combat. On the positive side, there was no sign of the health problems that had plagued him prior to undergoing Project Rebirth.

He could breathe easily and deeply, his heart beat unremittingly in his chest, and his hands where steady. He had no way to tell if the other problems, the ones that needed special tests to discover, had returned or not. Steve hoped they hadn’t, but would plan as if they had. Trying to escape would be tricky enough without fainting because he’d neglected to make allowances for the possibility his diabetes returning.

Also on the positive side of the ledger, his passive powers were unaffected by whatever prevented him from transforming into Captain America.

Steve grinned faintly, trying to imagine how knowing he was on American soil would be of any help in combat. That information would, he decided, be useful once he managed to escape. He’d be able to – mostly – blend in and able to communicate with others if necessary.

He rubbed a slim hand over his face. Steve couldn’t distract himself from the truth any longer. He currently lacked most, if not all, of his offensive capabilities as well as abilities that would help him escape from his captors. He was fucked.

Rogers let himself wallow in self-pity and misery for a while. Finally, his training took over and he levered himself to his feet.

Steve gazed around him, studying his surroundings. He was in an almost empty, white room. Even the only piece of furniture, a bed, was entirely white, as was the room’s single door.

The doorknob, when he tested it, refused to turn under his hand.

Steve spared a moment to wish he had Captain America’s strength when he was like this. Then he’d be able to break the lock and escape.

He lapped the room again, looking for anything he’d missed in his first examination of the area. Unfortunately, there was nothing else in the makeshift cell.

Since there was nothing else he could do at the moment, Steve curled up on the bed to get some sleep. There was no telling when his captors would show up or if he’d be able to sleep again after they did. And, if nothing else, it would help pass the time until either he escaped or was rescued.

****************************************************************

After Steve slept, the door scraped open for the first time and Tony stumbled into the room.

Stark caught himself before he fell and turned, snarling, back to their captors. Only to find the white door shut and locked. “Well, shit.”

“They got you too, Tony?” Steve hated asking questions with such obvious answers, so he powered on, “Are you still able to transform?”

“Uh… Hi. I’m Tony Stark. What’s your name? I’m not able to turn into Iron Man right now, but we’re going to be ok. My team’s looking for me and they’re going to rescue us.”

Steve frowned, recognizing Tony’s ‘keep the civilian calm’ voice. “Tony, it’s me, Steve. Steve Rogers, you know, Captain America?”

Tony blinked. “Steve? You can’t be Steve, he’s a good foot or so taller than you and a lot more... muscular A regular blonde Adonis.” He paused, eyes sweeping Steve’s frame before settling on the thinner but recognizable face. “Steve?! What happened to you? Are you ok? Did they trap you in someone else’s body?”

“No, they didn’t trap me in someone else’s body. They just took away my powers and are keeping me from transforming.”

“But you’re tiny!”

“This is me, Tony. Not the ‘blonde Adonis’ you keep raving about, but this! The serum didn’t give me height or muscles. It made me healthy and enough magically strength to sustain the Captain America transformation.” Steve scrubbed a hand over his face, exhausted. His shoulders slumped. “Can you accept that, Tony? That I’m really just the skinny, little kid from Brooklyn? Or do you just want ‘Super Soldier Captain America’?”

“Steve, you are Captain America. Everything that makes Captain America a hero is you. Your courage, your sense of justice, your determination, your idealism: none of that is there serum or the magic. It’s just you, the skinny boy from Brooklyn who refused to give up or back down. The serum and the magic just gave you tools to make others see that.” Tony ran a hand through his hair, “all of which is just a fancy way to say it wasn’t just your body I’m interested in, Steve. Just give me a while to adjust to this revelation, okay?”

“I can do that.” Steve hesitantly leaned against Tony, resting his head against the other man’s chest. “You’re the first person to find out the truth since I woke up. Before the… before, my team knew. So did Peggy and How- one of the people who kept my team equipped, but that was it.”

Tony wrapped an arm around Steve’s thin shoulders. “Dad knew? Huh. So, um… how’d they find out?”

“Mostly by accident,” Steve shrugged, “I don’t like talking about it and never have. I had to tell Bucky and Peggy. Bucky was both my best friend and the most likely to bust into my tent unexpectedly because of it. Plus, I needed someone to cover for me when I needed to power down to rest. I told Peggy because she was my primary handler and, again, I needed someone to cover for me. The rest of the Howlers found out when I involuntarily reverted after a fight because I’d used too much magic to sustain the Captain America form.”

“This is the first time an enemy’s forced you to de-transform?” Tony laughed humorlessly, “Lucky you.”

“Yeah, but at least I’m with you, Tony,” replied Steve.

Tony grinned and stole a kiss. “Well, there is that.”

“And here I was thinking that you’d be able to build or invent us a way out this place,” Steve teased.

“Oh, I can do that, too,” bragged Tony. “I just need to see what we’ve got to work with.”

*************************************************

They ended up tearing apart the bed. Tony had Steve sort every bit of metal scrounged from the frame and mattresses.

“We need materials for weapons or tools, but we’ll be hampered if we’re carrying too much or if the pieces are too large or unwieldy. Really, things would be going better if we had some actual electronics to scavenge other than the things I had in my pockets.” Tony frowned at the mess around them. “Not that I can’t, you know, work with this stuff. I totally can. It’d just be easier with a higher base level of tech to start with.”

“People have escaped with less, Tony.”

“No, I know that, Steve. It’s just… Our chances of both escaping and remaining unharmed during the escape would increase if we had more or different things to work with. I’d be able to make armor and reshape a lot of this metal into useful tools if I had even a rudimentary forge. As it is, we’re going to have to go with very ancient styles of weaponry, since I can’t make a barrel or an insulated grip.” Tony ran a hand through his dark hair.

Steve glanced up at the other man. “How ancient do you mean? Because you’ve called technology from about a decade again ‘ancient’ and stuff I used in the War ‘prehistoric’ before.”

“I mean ‘pre-industrial’ this time: slings, bolos, staves, and maybe a slingshot or something similar. At best, there’s a chance I can make a half-assed taser or a way to ignite the sheets, pillows and mattress stuffing.” He glanced at the piles of around them again. “There’s a possibility of small, mobile trebuchet, but I’m not sure how well that’d work.” Tony sighed, “And that doesn’t help us against guns. Clint might be able to win by bringing a bow to a gunfight, but there’s nothing here that will help you and I against people with guns.”

Steve fought down the urge to ask how Tony managed in Afghanistan, knowing the question wouldn’t help the situation. “Ok.”

“That’s all you have to say? ‘Ok?’ That’s not the reaction I was expecting from you, Cap.”

“Tony, you’re the genius and the person with experience with kidnappings here, not me. If you say there’s no way for us to win directly against someone with a gun with the material on hand,” Steve shrugged, “I believe you. Let’s just do what we can.” His expression turned darker and more serious. “And maybe we can take a few of them out indirectly. If we happen to acquire the weapons or materials we need to take out our enemies directly, I’m more than fine with that as well.”

“Huh. I keep overlooking the fact that you’ve been a soldier in an actual war, Steve, and not just an ordinary person who obtained superpowers.”

Crossing his skinny arms over his tiny chest, Steve asked, “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“That you’ve been trained to and have had to kill.” Tony looked away. “And that, emotionally and mentally, you’re a lot stronger than the civilian I mistook you for. I’m sorry about that, by the way.”

Steve snorted. “I know what I look like; your reaction was completely justified given the information you possessed at the time. But thank you for your apology, anyway. I know you don’t offer a lot of them.”

“Alright, that’s enough of the mushy stuff,” snarked Tony, attempting a teasing reply to lighten the mood. Let’s get to work breaking out of this joint.”

“Ok.” Steve paused and added, “I’m really glad the door’s hinges are on this side of the door. This would be a lot hard if they were on the opposite side of the door from us.”

“You and me both, Steve,” Tony replied, “You and me both.” Silence filled the room for a long moment, only broken by the sounds of Tony sorting through the piles of metal, cloth, and stuffing fabric. “Hey, Steve, can you use a sling or should I save the cloth for something else?”

“I could probably make a medical sling from memory.” At Tony’s startled expression, Steve offered, “Mom was a nurse. She’d treat the neighbors and neighborhood kids both as a way to barter for things and to repay people for watching me if I was sick on days she worked.” His blue eyes stared through the small pile of nuts, unseeing. “Sometimes, I think she’s the only reason I survived to reach adulthood.” He shook his head rapidly, trying to banish the memories via the action. “Sorry. I know that’s not what you meant. You wanted to know if I could use a David-and-Goliath type sling.”

“Yeah, I did. But finding out you know some first aid is a good thing! If I get hurt during this escape, you can patch me up! Or tell me what to do if you get hurt, which you won’t, but you know what I mean.”

“I don’t know that much first aid, Tony. My last first aid course was back in basic training, so the information is about seventy years old. I keep meaning to take classes now, but there’s so much to do and so much that I’ve missed.” He sighed. “As for the other type of sling, yes, I can use one. Not sure how good I’ll be, but I won’t kill myself, either.”

“Ok. I’ll give you most of the small bits for ammo, then.”

************************************************************

Steve and Tony crept down the hall, make-shift weapons at the ready. A piece of the bed frame was repurposed into a metal staff for Tony, while a strip of sheet and a collection random metal bits served as Steve’s sling and ammunition.

Steve hugged the wall and stuck to the shadows, constantly on alert for any sign of an enemy. His smooth, confident movements and behavior belayed his fragile appearance and revealed the soldier within.

“I’d wonder where you’d learned that, but it’s probably an army thing, right?” muttered Tony.

“Camp Leigh, during training, actually,” Steve murmured. “But I perfected it while fighting Hydra.” He tilted his head, listening, and then gestured Tony to be silent. Steve slid a metal piece into his sling as he glided forward, towards an intersection. He gestured Tony forward.

When Tony stopped next to him, Steve whispered, “Tea cup creature guarding ahead; not a human. Can you call your magic? We’ll have to break it, if you can’t.”

“If I could, I would’ve called it by now.” Tony shrugged, “Gotten out of here quicker that way.”

Steve nodded. “I needed to know. Hit it after I do.”

Without waiting for an answer, Steve began whirling the sling faster and faster before letting his ammunition fly. The screw crashed into the side of the monster, causing chipping and cracking where it hit.

The monster opened its mouth wide, either to attack or shout.

Steve’s eyes widened. Their escape couldn’t be discovered! He reflexively reached for his shield to destroy the monster, but his hands closed on empty air.

“Shit!”

He groped for the sling and the pouch of metal bits. Where was Tony? Had he been captured? Steve wasn’t going to get reloaded before the monster retaliated and…!

And Tony brought the metal pole down on the monster, smashing it into tiny pieces.

Steve breathed a sigh of relief.

“I want to know where our mastermind villain, Loki, is” Tony commented, brushing pottery shards off of his clothes, “Just to find out why the hell he turned a bone china tea cup into a monster.” He grinned. “My mom would’ve been horrified if she knew. She was pissed when I accidentally broke part of her tea set when I was a child.”

Steve huffed a laugh. “And my mother would’ve had a heart attack to see something so obviously expensive destroyed. This quality of china would’ve paid our bills for quite a while.”

“Hm… You never talk about your mother, Steve.”

“No real reason to talk about her, mostly. Besides, you don’t talk about yours either, Tony.” Steve resettled the sling and the bag of ammunition. “So, let’s shelve this discussion until after our escape. I’ll tell you all about my mother when we’re free.”

Tony retrieved the metal bar and inspected it carefully. “You’ve got yourself a deal.”

Steve nodded, looking around. “Any sign of a map or anything similar?”

“No,” answered Tony. “But we don’t need a map, Steve.”

“Oh? And how else are we supposed to get out of here? Just pick a random direction?”

Tony snorted. “Yeah, that’s probably not a good idea.” He paused. “Look, logically, we’re probably still in the New York area. There haven’t been any recorded monster attacks outside of the city that I’ve heard about.”

“Have you been looking?” Steve wondered.

“Yes, actually, I have. I wanted to know as early as possible if any new super-villains were emerging somewhere. So, I built and programmed a magic tracker of sorts. It looks for the kind of energies that the monsters we’ve been facing give off. I’m hoping it’ll lead us to Loki’s hideout, or – if all monsters give off the same type of energy – function as an alert system for monster attacks.” Tony continued, “Anyway, even if we’re not in New York, we’re probably still in the USA because it’s harder to hide captives from border patrols and immigration or customs officials looking for unlawful entry and the like.”

“Ok? I don’t know where you’re going with this,” confessed Steve.

“So, the building codes in the USA require emergency exits in case of fire or whatnot.” Tony bounced on the balls of his feet. “And to make sure people can theoretically find these exits, companies and builders need to have maps and signs indicating the exits.”

“I doubt whoever grabbed us cares all that much about following the laws, Tony.”

“No, I totally agree. The thing is that most buildings already come with the lighted signs installed.” Tony’s grinned widened “All we need to do is look for those signs and we have our way out of here.”

Steve gaped. “Tony, that’s brilliant.”

“I have my moments,” teased Tony. “Shall we?”

***********************************************************

“Tony, I think we’ve found the door,” breathed Steve, leaning against another bland, beige wall. “Can you figure out how to open them?”

“If they’re controlled by machinery, I can. Magic, maybe or maybe not. I’d have to look.” Tony murmured, “Anything guarding them?”

“Not that I can tell.”

Tony nodded. “I need you to cover me while I check.”

“I can help!” Steve barely managed to keep his voice quiet. “I’m not-”

“You’ve covering me because you have and can use the ranged weapon,” interrupted Tony. “I get jumped and I can only fight at close range. You can pick off what I can’t reach. Ok?”

Steve nodded grimly, readying the sling. “Don’t get hurt.”

“I’ll try.” With those less than reassuring words, Tony slipped into the entranceway. A moment later, he called back, “We’re clear, Steve. Fucked, but we’re clear of enemies.”

“Oh?” Steve lowered the sling, but didn’t take the metal weight out of it.

“The door controls are fucking magical,” groused Tony. “I hate dealing with magic, teammates’ powers excluded.” He pointed to a pair of faintly glowing spheres sitting on a table to the right of the door. “Does that make any sense to you? ‘Cause having a pair of blue balls by the door doesn’t make a scrap of sense to me.” Tony paused. “Well, other than being able to make a whole lot of sex jokes.”

Steve fought down a blush. “You don’t need any help with that, Tony. Besides, they’re cerulean.”

Tony blinked and laughed. “We’re dealing with literal ‘cerulean orbs.’ Please don’t tell me we need to gaze soulfully into them to open the door. I try to avoid doing things that get mentioned in most examples of bad fic.”

“I don’t understand that reference and I’m not sure I want to.” Steve shook his head. “Anyway, it looks like we need to grab the… spheres and touch it to the golden panel in the middle of the door.”

Tony nodded. “Where the slight indents are, right?” He paused. “Um… Steve? I hate to say it, but this seems a little too easy for Loki’s usual methods.”

“I know,” sighed Steve. “But do you see anything else here that could be hiding a way out or some sort of key? I don’t.”

“So we’re going to try this ‘cause there’s nothing else to do? Wonderful,” groused Tony, grabbing one of the orbs. “You know,” he added, “if this works, I’m actually going to enjoy the debriefing.”

Steve picked up the other sphere and headed towards the door. “Oh?”

“Think of all the jokes I’ll be able to make about Loki’s blue balls!”

Laughing, Steve touched his sphere to the gold panel. “You’ll have to explain about the cerulean orbs quip, too.”

“You’ve got a deal, Steve,” Tony replied, pressing his globe beside Steve’s.

The door swung open.

As they stepped out of the warehouse, the familiar warmth and strength of the latent transformation magic surged over Steve like a wave.

Things were looking up.

*********************************************************************

“I meant to ask earlier,” Tony commented as they sprawled together in the communal family room of Avengers Tower, “but it didn’t seem like a good idea to discuss something like that in a villain’s lair. What do you usually do when you power down to rest?” He paused. “And… why didn’t you tell the team? I mean, I get why you didn’t tell me if you thought I was just interested in you for your body.”

Steve sighed and snuggled closer to Tony. “Usually, I’d go to a library or a busy bus station hub and nap for a while. I’d reserve a media room in the library and something to look like I was using it properly – a tape player, VCR, something – and just nap until the thing finished. At the bus station, I’d pick a bus from somewhere relatively far away and nap until I heard the arrival announcement. Occasionally, I’d go to one of the public buildings of Empire State University and nap there. People would think I was a student recovering from an exam or project and just let me sleep.”

“That doesn’t sound very restful, and you know how messed up my sleep schedule is.”

Steve laughed. “No, it wasn’t restful. As a soldier, I’d learned to fall asleep anywhere and to survive on a very little sleep. And, quite honestly, the time I needed to power down to rest was getting longer and longer. I was going to have to tell someone before I started running the risk of collapse. You were my first choice, but now you know.”

Tony blinked, flabbergasted. “You were going to tell me, even though you thought I only wanted you for your body?”

Steve nodded.

“You’re really one of a kind, Steve. You know that, right?” Tony stroked Steve’s hair. “So, what about telling the team?”

“It’s complicated.” Steve held up a hand to halt Tony’s protests. “That’s not a dodge; that’s the truth. It is complicated, but maybe not for the reasons you think.”

After collecting his thoughts, Steve began, “First off, I don’t really trust Fury and Natasha and Clint are SHIELD agents, as is Coulson. As much as I like Phil, Tasha, and Clint, I can’t forget that they ultimately report to Fury – to the guy behind the fake recovery room I woke up within. After that, I’m not sure I trust him with my real, fragile self.”

Tony nodded. “I can understand not trusting Fury and his underlings. Hell, shadowy government agencies worry me, too.”

“I figured you would,” admitted Steve. “Part of my reluctance to trust SHIELD is because I don’t know who Fury answers to or how trustworthy those superiors are. I was ordered and still consider it my duty to protect the super-soldier serum as best I can. Ideally, I should be able to trust my government with sample of the serum, but… I know how corrupt the government and its agents can be. I grew up during Prohibition, when mobsters ran stills, protection rackets, and smuggled booze in from outside of the United States, while dirty cops looked the other way. Hell, there were rumors that our government made a deal with a mob boss to keep the New York waterfronts and shipyards free of saboteurs!” He ran a hand through his hair. “I can’t take the risk of the serum falling into the hands of people who wouldn’t respect it. Or worse, those who think they deserve it, that the world owes it to them.”

Silence filled the room for a long moment after Steve’s outburst.

“I get it, Steve. I think it’s kind of like why I don’t make weapons anymore,” offered Tony. “I wanted to protect our soldiers, but the weapons were being illegally sold to people who’d use my weapons against the US military and innocent civilians as well. And there are times I feel like I’ll never get the blood off of my hands.”

Steve nodded. “Something like that, yes.” He sighed and scrubbed his face. “So, those were two of my four reasons. The last ones are kind of embarrassing.”

“Oh?”

“I’m afraid,” Steve murmured, gazing down at his hands. “I’m Captain America. I once parachuted well behind enemy lines to rescue four hundred prisoners of war while armed just with a steel shield and a pistol.” He laughed, humorlessly. “And I’m terrified of the losing the respect of the team, of them trying to bench me once they learn the truth. Because that’s the way a lot of people react when they see the real me; they act like I’ll shatter if they don’t swaddle me in cotton and keep me locked up someplace safe. Someplace where nothing can touch me and I can’t do anything, someplace where I’m completely useless. I can’t go back to being useless, Tony. Not again.”

Tony cupped Steve’s face in his hands. “Cap, Steve, I promise you I’ll do everything in my power to keep you from being sidelined if you ever tell our teammates the truth. There’s more to you than just this body or just the powers you wield in battle, and anyone who refuses to acknowledge that is a fool. You’re our captain, our tactician, and our caring heart. The Avengers would be greatly lessened without you, Steve. And I don’t want you to ever forget or doubt that again. Ok?”

Steve rested his head on Tony’s shoulder. “Ok, Tony. I’ll remember that.” He paused. “It’s still going to take time to work deal with my worries, but I won’t forget what you said.”

******************************************************

“Loki brought an army,” Natasha’s voice crackled over the headsets “There are thousands of monsters standing between us and him.”

“Who cares? We’ve got a Hulk,” quipped Clint. “The big guy can just smash us a path…”

Steve interrupted with, “that’s not going to be enough. Not this time. Normally, we deal with one major monster commanding a squad of minion of foot soldier-type monsters. This is an army of major monsters and another, larger army of foot soldiers. There’s no guarantee that the majors and the foot soldiers will leave after we stop Loki, or that the foot soldiers will flee if we destroy their immediate commander.” He paused. “We’ll be in serious trouble if we take out Loki and his army remains. Plus, the army of monsters can cause a lot of damage and deaths if we ignore them.”

“Steve, we won’t be able to beat Loki if we exhaust ourselves by fighting his army,” huffed Tony.

“I know.”

“Then what-” began Tony.

Steve shrugged. “Who said our team had to fight alone? We get help. Call the X-men, the Fantastic Four, Heroes for Hire, SHIELD, and see if anyone can get in touch with Spiderman or Daredevil.” He looked back at the rest of the Avengers in the jet. “This isn’t just our fight; it’s New York’s fight. And the city is their home, too.”

“I get your point, Steve, but asking the Fantastic Four for help means talking to Reed Richards.” Tony made a face. “And he’ll bring it up later in the most unconsciously condescending manner later.” His voice dropped to a murmur as Tony examined the data on Loki’s army again, “It looks like we’re going to need the assistance.”


“Ok,” Steve began, looking ever inch the hero in his full Captain America regalia. “Here’s the plan for dealing with Loki and his army. SHIELD and the National Guard have set up a perimeter about two, three blocks away from Grand Central Station. The NYPD are focusing on evacuating the civilians past that ring, then re-enforce the line.” He paused and addressed the collected heroes. “I can’t stress enough that we have to keep the monsters from reaching or getting past that line. To do that, I’ll have to break up teams.”

No one protested, but no one looked happy about Cap’s declaration, either.

“Hawkeye, I want you set up on a roof of a building, acting as eyes in the sky for us. Identify potential targets, group moments, when and where help is needed, and take any and all shots of opportunity you get. Take several quivers with you, if possible. I don’t want you running out of ammo or magic,” ordered Cap.

“Roger that, Cap,” answered Hawkeye, already slinging and strapping on additional quivers. “Any place in particular you want me?”

“No. Just find a place with good sightlines.” Cap turned to face the Fantastic Four. “Human Torch, you and Iron Man are air support. Take out any and all enemy fliers. You’re also defending the perimeter. Any monster gets to close that line, stop it. I don’t care if they run away from the line or die, just keep them away from civilians.”

Torch smirked. “Burn the monsters; got it. You better be able to keep up, Stark.”

“Don’t worry about Tony,” Cap interrupted. “Just stay focused on doing your job. Thor, Hulk, and…” he trailed off. “Thing? I want each of you on the ground, taking on as much of the monster army as possible. The more you thin out Loki’s ranks, the better chances a straightforward assault have at succeeding. You’re also the distraction for our plans A and B; pair of strike teams trying to take out Loki. If both of those teams fail, you need to go after Loki. Give us about half an hour after you start fighting to reach him, then start go after him yourselves,” he paused.

“To keep you from being overwhelmed by numbers, I’m having someone provide backup. Mr. Fantastic, you’re with Thor. Jewel, give air support to Thing. Hulk, at the moment I don’t have any backup for you at the moment. If the X-men, Daredevil, or Spiderman show up-”

“Captain,” Maria Hill’s voice from the com interrupted. “Spiderman just arrived at the perimeter. Where do you want him?”

“Hill, tell him to get in here. Spiderman will be working with the Hulk, keeping him from being overrun with enemies. So, he needs to look for the big, green guy fighting a bunch on monster and help out.”

“Aye aye, Captain,” an unfamiliar male voice answered. “I’m on my way.”

“Black Widow, you’re in charge of strike team one. Take Power Man and Iron Fist and find someway to sneak past the army to Loki himself. Take the rooftops, the sewers, or the subway tunnels, I don’t care. Just let me know where you’re starting so my group can take a different way.”

Natasha dipped her head in acknowledgement. “I’ll tell you as soon as I decide where to start.”

Cap nodded. “Invisible Woman, White Tiger, and I are strike team two. We’re doing the same thing as strike team one, just from a different direction. Both strike teams will need to keep radio silence, so say anything you need to say now. Other than that, you have your orders. Head out, people.”

*****************************************************************

“So, how were you planning to get us to Loki, Captain? Because I’ve got to admit, the sewers aren’t my idea of fun.” White Tiger commented.

“I was thinking we’d take the subway tunnels.” Cap shrugged. “I don’t know if you’ve got an enhanced sense of smell or not, and it wasn’t a gamble I wanted to make. Anyway, there’s a good chance that some of the sewers would be too small or too crowded for us to get through. That isn’t a problem with the subway tunnels.”

Sue nodded. “Did you have a route in mind?”

“I figure we can start at Bryant Park and head east until we reach Grand Central. That should get us past the majority of the monsters, especially with Thor, Hulk, and Thing?” Cap paused and shook his head, “Uh…Mr. Thing providing a distraction.”

“Ben,” offered Sue. “The Thing’s first name is Ben, Captain.”

“Angela.” White Tiger shrugged. “I’m new.”

Steve nodded his thanks. “I’m Steve, nice to meet you.” He slid his shield onto his shoulders. “Let’s grab some flashlights and a subway map, and we’ll get going.”

*******************************************************

Captain America admitted to himself that he wasn’t exactly thrilled about this plan. Walking through darkened subway tunnels, all senses straining to catch any hint of lurking enemies, was not exactly his idea of fun.

The station was eerily quiet with the trains halted to evacuate the area around Stark Tower. Instead of the rumble of passing trains mixing with the noise of the crowds of passengers and the occasional bit of music from an unofficial performer, the only sounds were the blare of the various announcements, their footsteps, and the faint electrical hum from the florescent lights overhead.3

They headed for platform serving the 7 line, Flushing Local, ignoring the recorded messages blaring over the PA.

Cap jumped lightly down off the platform to land beside the tracks, staying well clear of the electrified third rail. He glanced back at the platform and to the station beyond, offering a silent prayer for the safety of Tony and the others fighting Loki’s army. He took a deep, silent breath and followed the Invisible Woman and White Tiger into the darkness of the subway tunnel.

Despite what he’d subconsciously assumed, the subway tunnel weren’t completely lightless. Electric lights dotted the walls at regular intervals; strong enough to see by, but weak enough to be kind to dark adjusted eyes. The dim lights glinted weakly off of the rails, but barely cut into the gloom otherwise. In between the lights, shadows filled the tunnels and concealed both the normal tracks and the dangerous electrified third rail.

Things moved in the shadows. It was nothing large or definite that any of the team could defend against or even name, just the hint of half seen motion or feel of something unseen brushing by their lower legs. Some of things in the shadows had to be rats, Cap knew.

He recognized the sound of their clawed feet, of their vocalizations, from a hundred battlefields and rescue missions. Schmidt and Hydra might’ve favored cleanliness in their factories and experiment rooms, but this fastidiousness didn’t extend to their holding cells or their prisoners. Rats and lice had been frequent, unwelcome, roommates for both the original four hundred rescued and those freed later in the war.

No, it wasn’t the rats that bothered Cap. It was the other things. The soft sounds nearly obscured under the hum of the electrified rail, the noise of the rats, and the footfalls of his strike team. The movement in the shadows too large and too high up to be a rat, but too small to be either a person or a monster. The increasingly garbled reports from the diversionary force transmitted over Cap’s headset, with fewer syllables breaking through the hissing static before the voices vanished abruptly and entirely.

Steve froze. He wanted to go racing back, out of this tunnel, and make sure Tony was alright. He wanted to see, to know, that the team – his team, his Avengers – were still alive and fighting. He wanted to reassure himself that he hadn’t sent anyone to their deaths, especially not those he cherished most of all in the whole world.

Instead, Cap bowed his head and kept walking. Abandoning the mission was not an option. There was nothing he could do to help the rest of the group by turning back now. They were counting on him, on his strike force to get to Loki undetected.

The mission had to come first. He could fall apart later.

But if his team and Tony were dead, Steve would avenge them and make Loki pay.

**************************************************************

Cap hunkered near the wall, around the corner from where the Invisible Woman and Black Widow took out the two monsters standing guard on an ornate door. Behind him waited White Tiger and Iron Fist, with Power Man watching their backs.

A faint, but solid thud reached his ears. It was followed by quiet sounds of a struggle and another, slightly louder, solid thud. The targets were probably down.

Easing forward just enough to see down the hall, Captain America took stock of the situation and nodded. Both monsters sprawled, unmoving, against the far wall and then disintegrated, bereft of the animating magic.

Cap gestured the rest of the strike force forward. He strides towards the door, boots silent on ground.

Normally, he’d have reservations about effectively assassinating Loki. But a soldier learned the value of pragmatism and the coms went down twenty minutes ago.

He doesn’t know if the others (if Tony is) are still out there, still fighting, or if the monsters have made it to the SHIELD line or the rest of the city beyond. He doesn’t know if his friends (if Tony has) have fallen in battle; if he still has a place (beside Tony) in this time, or he’s alone again. It doesn’t matter (it matters very much) at the moment, because the fastest way to win this fight and see for himself is to take out Loki.

Cap nodded to Iron Fist and Power Man. Danny cupped his hands, charging a chi attack. Steve and Luke hurtled into the door together, breaking it down and sending them to the floor.

Iron Fist’s chi blast streaked over them, heading for Loki’s under-protected back… and it deflected off of a magical shield that sprang up around Loki.

The Norse god laughed. “Fool! You think I’d be unprepared for Thor’s allies? Guards, take them!”

Loki’s personal guards surged forward, heading straight for the group of heroes.

Sue swatted two of guards into the wall with one of her invisible force fields, trying to knock them out. Luke charged another guard, trusting in his impenetrable skin to protect him as he fought the monster hand to hand. One monster lunged at Natasha, who vaulted over the attack and slammed the monster into the floor. The rest of the monsters mobbed Danny, obscuring him behind a flurry of blows. Angela and Cap tore into crowd around Iron Fist, using physical and magical attacks to clear a path to him.

Unexpectedly, one of the monsters wrapped several thick tentacles around Cap’s shield and arm. The monster flung the shield at the far wall, the straps fastening it to Cap’s arm dragging him along with it.

Captain America rebounded off the wall and landed in an easy crouch. He surveyed the room.

They were going to lose. Every time one of them managed to destroy a monster, Loki created two more to take its place.

Already, the group was feeling the effects of exhaustion and diminishing fighting space. And if the fight went on much longer…

Steve swallowed.

They were going to lose. Loki’s monsters would be free to overrun the city and the world.

Unless… unless someone battered down Loki’s magical barrier.

Sue and Luke couldn’t; their powers were primarily defensive. Natasha only really had one magical attack – her Widow’s Bite – and it wasn’t strong enough to take out that barrier. White Tiger and Iron Fist – Angela and Danny – were busy fending off the monsters swarming the Fist and trying to bury him by pure weight of numbers.

There was only him.

Steve mentally gagged his magical reserves. He only had enough power for one last attack, and only one spell even had the chance of being strong enough.

Taking a deep breath, Steve set his stance and raised his arm.

“I wield the torch that lights the golden door!” he cried and the world went grey, then black, before his eyes.

****************************

Steve woke to a quiet room, a jarring transition given the last thing he remembered was a battle. Fighting the urge to frown, he pretended to sleep while trying to learn as much as possible about his situation.

He was laying on large firm mattress, with just enough softness to make it comfortable. The sheets were good quality, not as nice as the ones on Tony’s bed, but better than Army sheets during the War. He is neither too hot nor too cold, and there was nothing else to be learned from touch.

Steve sniffed, attempting to make it look like a sniffle. The metallic tang of disinfectant blotted out most smells, but a faint hint of a familiar scent lingered in the air. Something that prodded at his sluggish memory as a scent he should remember, no matter what.

Taste was not an option. Realistically, it would only let him know if he was bleeding in his mouth or something similar. Plus, he had no desire to lick the bed or get a stronger impression of that disinfectant.

Steve turned his attention to his hearing; listening to the sounds around him instead of letting them drift past him, unacknowledged. A game of some sort – baseball was his guess – played softly on a radio, partially obscuring the distant noises of traffic and city life. A murmured conversation, voices identifiable where the words were not, carried on an indeterminate distance away.

Steve opened his eyes.

The ceiling was white and terrifyingly familiar; the ceiling of the fake recovery room he’d first awoken in this time.

Had he lost seventy more years? Was he the only survivor of his team yet again? And Tony! Had Tony lived and died while he was slept, unknowing, the way Peggy had?

He scrambled upright-

A broad, gentle hand on his chest halted his frantic efforts.

“Easy, Cap,” soothed Clint. “We’re all ok. Thor and Bruce dragged Tony off for some chow, but they’re on their way back now.”

“Cl-Clint?” Steve stuttered, one hand wrapping around the archer’s large hands. “How long…?”

“You were out about a day, Cap. The docs said you needed to rest. You’d used up too much magic between the fight and…” he trailed off. “And, well, staying transformed all the time.”

Steve sighed, unable to ignore the evidence of his own, frail form any longer. He ran a hand through his hair, “So, everybody knows.”

“It was kind of hard to hide, since you… reverted almost immediately after casting that fire spell at Loki. You just… passed out, Cap.”

“Steve.”

Clint blinked. “What?”

“I’m not Captain America like this, just Steve Rogers. The powers are still there and I can still call ‘em, but…” He glanced up a Clint, then back to his own tiny form. “Can you really see anyone following or respecting a twig like me?”

“I do,” a familiar voice came from the doorway. “And not ‘cause we’re dating, Steve-o.”

Steve jolted upright. “Tony.” He started climbing out the hospital bed, only to be wrapped in a hug. Curling into Tony’s embrace, Steve murmured, “Are you all right? I was so scared, thought I’d lost you.”

“Am I ok?” Tony huffed, a ghost of a laugh. “Captain, my Captain, I’m not the one who fainted during a fight.” His voice turned serious. “Don’t do that again. I can’t take seeing you like that, Steve, all pale and unmoving.” Trying to joke, Tony added, “I’ve got a heart condition already. I don’t need anymore shocks.”

Steve gently kissed Tony. “I can’t promise that, sweetheart, not with how we live our lives. All I can promise is that I’ll always do my best to come back to you, safe and sound.” He paused and swallowed. “Can you promise me that, too?”

“Yeah,” Tony murmured. “Yeah, I can do that, Steve.”

Feeling exhaustion creep up over him, Steve tugged lightly on Tony’s arm. “Stay with me?”

“I was planning on it,” admitted Tony, glancing at one of the chairs next to Steve’s hospital bed. “Those chairs aren’t great for sitting in long term.”

Steve shook his head, yawning. “No, I mean… Stay with me, in the bed.” He blushed, ducking his head. “Not to do anything. Just… to help me know where and when I am; that I haven’t lost another seventy years.”

Tony blinked and nodded his understanding. He scrambled into the hospital bed beside Steve and curled up around him.

Steve snuggled into Tony’s warmth and fell asleep in moments.

*****************************************************************

Three days after his complete recovery and attendant release from SHIELD medical, Steve grinned as he spotted Tony sprawled on their bed. A tiny part of him wanted to sketch the billionaire. The larger, louder section knew there were more interesting things he could do with his boyfriend in bed.

“Hey, Tony,” he murmured into dark hair. “How did the meeting go?”

“It was absolutely awful. I hate board meetings and they hate me. Most of the board members are unimaginative assholes who don’t understand why Stark Industries can’t just make phones or go back to the weapon business. And I have the horrible suspicion that we have more board meetings in a year than most businesses.”

Steve cuddled Tony close. “We both know better than they do, sweetheart.”

“I know. It’s still annoying.” Tony turned in Steve’s arms. “Fortunately, I had thoughts of my boyfriend to help get me through the meeting. There was one idea in particular that I really liked.”

“Oh?”

“It involved the two of us in a hot, steamy shower, having sex,” Tony’s voice went husky as he dragged a hand down Steve’s chest.

Steve smirked. “I like the way this idea is going.”

“Oh, you haven’t heard the best part,” Tony practically purred. “You were powered down to just Steve Rogers and enjoying every time I thrust into you.”

“I…” Running a hand through his hair, Steve noisily exhaled. “You really find me attractive like that, Tony? That you want to have sex with me while I’m…little?”

“Steve, honey,” Tony brushed a kiss against Steve’s cheek. “I want to have sex with you all the time. How you look doesn’t change that. You’re still you.”

A bright flash of light filled the room as Steve released his hold on his Captain America form, reverting to his true self. “Ok, Tony, ok.”

Tony’s answering smile could’ve lit New York for a year. He pulled Steve into a deep kiss, hands stroking along Steve’s slender body. One hand slid under the hem of Steve’s shirt to caress his back, while the other stroked blonde hair and cupped the back of his head.

Steve pulled off his shirt and tossed it aside, revealing his slender chest and torso. He paused, waiting for Tony to change his mind and ask for Steve to change back into Captain America.

Instead, Tony kissed him deeply and murmured into his ear, “You’re gorgeous, Steve.”

They left a trail of clothing behind them as they kissed and groped their way to the shower. At last Tony had them arranged the way he wanted; Steve’s thin fingers clinging to the shower tiles as hot water rained down over them.

Sex with Tony was always incredible. They’d made love enough since planning the first dancing date for Steve to feel confident in that assertion.

Somehow it was even better this way, with each of Tony’s thrusts rocking him up on his toes and close to the wall of the shower. It wasn’t the depth of the thrusts or the fact each one brushed his prostate; Tony did that all the time.

No, there was something else.

It was…

Steve gasped in both realization and pleasure at the next thrust.

Being with Tony felt like home.

End


1 Both the restaurant and the dessert really exist. Yes, that is the actual price of the dessert, according to Serendipity 3’s online menu. There was an even more expensive dessert, Frrrozen Haute Chocolate, that I’m not sure if they still make.
2 Yes, both of these restaurants are real. Armando’s opened in 1936, according to their website. Alfredo’s of Rome used to have a location in Florida, at the Italy pavilion in EPCOT. Their Original Fettuccine Alfredo is amazing.
3 The official way is called MUNY, Music Under New York, and allows for selected musicians to perform in certain subway stations. Bryant Park/42nd Street is not one of these stations, but Grand Central is. More information can be found here.

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