Action Figure

by Jane Davitt


"Close your eyes and hold out your hands."

Steve's not doing it. The last time someone said that to him, he ended up with radioactive goop in unmentionable places, no eyebrows, and a ringing in his ears that took three hours to clear. "No."

Tony gives him a wounded look. "We're pals. Buddies. Bros. You want me to arrange some trust exercises? Because I will." He pursed his lips. "Okay, I won't, because they're bullshit. I mean, you don't have to fall backward into my arms to prove you trust me, I know you do. Deep down. Where it doesn't show. And right now, it isn't showing, so hold out your hands." His eyes widen appealingly. "Please?"

Steve frowns. "Why would falling into your arms prove anything? If you didn't catch me, it's not like I'd get hurt, even if we did it at the top of a tall building."

"You'd be surprised how hard it is to let go and fall for someone even if you don't think there's any risk."

Steve can feel the water getting deeper and colder, hear the fin slicing through a wave as a shark circles closer. Focus on something safer, he tells himself. Not you in Tony's arms.

"What are you hiding behind your back?"

Tony looks as if he's going to try asking for the eye-closing thing again, then visibly gives up, shrugging aside the minor defeat as if it never happened. With Tony's attention span, he's probably not faking it.

"Ta-dah!"

Steve takes the two plastic encased objects and stares at them. Figurines. Captain America and Iron Man, detailed, gaudy with color, the packaging eye-catching.

"Well? What do you think?"

He shrugs. "They're okay."

"That's it? That's all you've got?"

"It's not like they didn't do this kind of thing back in the forties, you know." He makes himself say it as if it was a long time ago, pressing on the bruise, scratching at the scab. "The Captain America shield was the top-selling toy one Christmas. Every boy wanted one."

"What about the girls?"

Steve sets the packages down on the nearest table and takes a seat facing the window. "Is this when I say girls played with dolls in my day and you lecture me about, uh, gender equality?"

"You say that like it's in a foreign language," Tony says, dragging out a chair and flopping down onto it. Steve gives him a minute before he's up and pacing. Tony's tired, he can see that, but the man doesn't stay still, ever. Steve wants to go into his bedroom one night and watch him sleep just to see Tony relaxed, unmoving, for once, but it's on the creepy side, so he feels guilty about even thinking it. Tony's probably just as restless asleep anyway, the kind of guy who tosses and turns, sprawling out, starfishing across the bed on his stomach, the covers kicked out of the way. If he walked in and saw Tony like that, bare ass pale, legs spread invitingly, he'd...no. No, he wouldn't.

He clears his throat. God, he wishes he could get drunk. He's gone from passing out after one beer to being incapable of getting even the smallest buzz. Doesn't seem fair. "Might as well be." He flicks at the miniature Iron Man package. "So do the proceeds still go to the war orphans?"

It's Tony's turn to clear his throat. "To the-- Uh, no." 

"Who, then?" Suspicion rising, Steve turns the packet over and reads the fine print. "Stark Industries make these? You?"

"Hey, if we're going to be the victims of crass commercial exploitation, let's do it to ourselves, huh? And let me tell you, Thor's hammer is the cutest thing that's ever going to get swallowed by the pet dog."

"How much are you making off them?" Steve demands, tearing into the packages over Tony's anguished yelps about collector's items, mint in box, limited edition...

"You've got to factor in production costs, distribution...impossible to say."

Steve raises his voice to parade ground level one. "JARVIS! Profit on these pieces of crap. How much?"

"They're not due in stores until next week, but the projected net for the first day is approaching 800,000 dollars, with estimated--"

"Never mind. It's a lot." He pokes his finger at Tony. "To charity. Every single penny."

"It's not like I was gonna blow it on wine, women, and song," Tony protests. "I was using it to finance the team. Do you have any idea what the running costs are with us? We eat a lot. We destroy a lot. We break million-dollar pieces of tech a lot."

"So the profit on these isn't going to make a difference to us. Drop in the ocean."

"Well..."

"It'll make a difference to the kids who need it. My time or yours, there's always someone who could use a helping hand."

Tony's weakening. Steve knows the signs. The thoughtful frown, the momentary pause as Tony changes direction. He nudges him with an appeal to Tony's self-interest. "It'd be great publicity."

"I guess. Oh, what the hell. JARVIS, make a note, send a memo, whatever."

"Yes, sir."

"And this is your time, Steve. You belong here with me. The team. Us." Tony jumps up off his chair and yeah, here comes the pacing. "It's cool though? You like it? Hulk's one is outperforming both of us in the test groups, but I think you look pretty cute."

Cute? Steve shakes his head and places the two figurines side by side. "Why are you bigger than me?"

"What?"

"I'm taller than you. Why is my figurine smaller?"

"It's the suit," Tony says quickly. "It adds an inch or two. Or whatever the to-scale equivalent is."

"And it makes your butt look bigger," Steve adds, awarding himself a point for a modern reference and a gold star for the pained expression on Tony's face.

"That suit was designed to make my ass look even better than it does in real life, if it's even possible to improve on perfection." He slaps his ass, the sound curling like fingers around Steve's throat, making breathing an issue. "You could bounce a dime off this baby."

"I'd like to test that theory."

No. He did not just say that. 

A coin, silver and spinning fast, lands on the table. 

"Try it with a quarter."

The coin is cool for a moment in his palm, but he's blushing so hotly his core temperature is approaching meltdown. When he looks at the coin, he expects to see a puddle, not a circle. "I was -- It was a joke--"

Tony bends over the table, arms folded, ass up, as casually nonchalant as if he's not offering his ass to be played with. "Go on. Test away, Cap. If it doesn't bounce, you can claim a forfeit. You choose. Anything but polishing your shield. I don't want sprain my wrist getting a shine on it."

He's done this to test his bed-making technique in Basic dozens of times, anticipating inspection. He can close his eyes and smell the boot polish and gun oil, the indefinable musk of twenty men crammed into a small space. 

The chair scrapes back and he's on his feet, his hand on the small of Tony's back holding him in place, his other hand rising.

The coin falls, a lazy turn and twist and flip, falls endlessly, then strikes the curve of Tony's ass, and soon after there's a muted clink as it hits the floor.

"Well?" Tony demands, twisting around without dislodging Steve's hand. "What did it do?"

"I don't know," Steve says. He'd been watching Tony's ass flex and mapping every contour. "I think it just fell -- I don't know, okay?"

He steps back, rubbing his hand against his blue jeans, trying to scrub away the heat from Tony's back that's soaked into every pore. 

Tony straightens, and he's standing close now. And yes, he's shorter, but not by much. Tony fills the space around him, steals Steve's air. "Hey, I know a good forfeit."

His hand cups Steve's face and a freeze ray couldn't do a better job than that light, warm touch.

"Leave me alone."

He's begging. He can hear his voice break, so every word is jagged glass in his throat. 

"Not going to do that."

"Tony, you really need to back off."

Tony raises his hands, smiling his dangerous smile, the dream-haunting one that promises delivery on everything Steve's every dreamed about and never had. "Backing off. See?" 

He steps forward, not back, and a complicated, confused, chaotic moment later, his mouth's on Steve's and they're kissing. It's like licking a frosty pole or a battery. Tingles and chills and a zing that shoots through Steve's body then mellows to a liquid heat.

Steve jerks his head to the side, his mouth worked pliant, slicked wet. "H-How is that backing off?"

"There's a spider on the wall behind me," Tony tells him. "Giant. Dozens of legs. Probably mutated and deadly. I'm backing away from it and you got in the way."

It's funny, but there's a familiar, satisfied gleam in Tony's eyes. Steve's seen that look aimed at super-villains just before the plug's pulled on their grand scheme to conquer the world (and why do none of them realize that's the easy part and it's ruling it that's the life-destroying pain in the ass job of all time?).

"Done talking?" Tony murmurs. "Want to get back to what we were doing, maybe somewhere with a bed?"

"I said, back off!"

When he pushes Tony away, he forgets that without the suit Tony's human. Fragile. Tony flies, landing awkwardly, the swaggering grace that makes Steve's gaze go to him every time they're in a room together lost for a moment.

"Tony!" Steve starts forward, a hand outstretched, but Tony's already rising, his hand rubbing his ass, his expression rueful, a little hurt. "I'm sorry. Really."

"I feel your pain." Tony winces. "No, wait, that's my pain. No, make that agony." His eyebrows lift. "Mind filling me in on what I did wrong?"

"You're playing me," Steve says flatly, contrition forgotten. He points at the Captain America figurine. "That's a toy. I'm not."

"Steve, I would never--"

"You want me? Ask. Don't push me around a board until you think you've got me checkmated with no way out."

"You think that's what I just did?"

"You've been nudging me into position for weeks." Tony walking by half-naked, always with a reason to stop and chat. Tony cramming an innuendo into every other sentence, like a prize in a Cracker Jack box. Tony always with a reason to touch him, stand close, save his life--

Okay, maybe the life saving's incidental, not part of the seduction of Captain America, but hell, knowing Tony, maybe not.

"You make it sound so--"

The door opens and Thor walks in, Clint beside him. They're arguing about something, but their words slip by Steve, as impossible to catch as one of Clint's arrows. 

"We're not done," Tony tells him under his breath.

Steve shoves past him, heading for the door. "We never started."

His mouth remembers the feel of Tony's lips, so he knows he's lying, but he can't do this. Can't be one of Tony's conquests when he knows that after that submission, there's nothing Tony will want from him. 

Tony doesn't kiss and tell because Tony doesn't remember their names.

When he gets to the door, he glances back. Tony's at the table, the figurines in his hand, tapping their heads together, his expression unreadable.

Making them butt heads. Or kiss.

From here, he can't tell the difference.

Chapter Two

Tony's been rejected before. He never minds. It adds fizz to the foreplay, a sizzle to the sex -- because, of course, the rejection's never for real. He can guaran-fucking-tee that the pretty lips telling him sweetly he's an asshole with no chance, ever, of getting any, will be kiss-swollen and pouting as they part for his dick an hour later.

It's that much of a sure thing. 

He's used to that. Likes it even. 

Being pushed on his ass, knocked flying...that, not so much.

His ass is tender. Bruised. His chest, where Steve's hand had landed, isn't marked at all. He's studied it in the mirror, using the need to check for damage as a reason to avoid staring himself in the eye.

No marks. Still feels as tender as his ass.

He's annoyed. No, amused. No, hurt. 

Make that confused.

The kiss had been a good one. B minus. Room for lots of improvement -- like both of them being naked -- and he wanted to coach Steve through using his teeth just a little now and then, mm, yeah...but not bad for a first kiss. Sweet. Hot. Like kissing a pineapple doused in rum and set alight.

He'd been prepared for some blushing, some 'I'm not that kind of superhero' shit, but Steve had known what he was doing once the shock had worn off, approximately a tenth of a second after Tony's tongue had met his.

He just didn't want to do it with Tony. Arrogant, plays the field Tony.

Well, fuck you too, Cap. Fuck you very much, you...

Tony runs out of righteous steam before he can come up with a single curse to apply to America's favorite hero. They'd slide off all that red, white, and blue like water off waxed paper anyway. 

Steve's nice.

Tony glances down. He's rubbing his chest again, tracing a handprint that only exists in his imagination.

***

He decides to do an informal survey. The results will back him up, he'll present Steve with said results, Steve will grovel -- ooh. Groveling requires Steve being on his knees. There's so much he wants to do to a kneeling Steve, who takes orders with a calm acquiescence to authority that sends pleasurable shivers over Tony every time. 

Clint's hanging around the kitchen, doing something to his bow and drinking chocolate milk, which is frankly bizarre. Tony's never bothered to riff on the bow and arrows being penis substitutes even when Clint's pissed him off. He tells himself it's because it's too boringly obvious for a witty guy like him, but he knows it's really because Thor would start swinging his hammer meaningfully and lightning strikes indoors are a pain in the ass to clean up after the fun part's over.

"Hey. On a scale of one to ten, what am I when it comes to being--"

"Ten."

"I didn't finish."

Clint shrugs one shoulder. "It's you. You're a ten at everything. Make it an eleven if you're motivated."

Tony stops himself from preening and then does it anyway. "Is that a compliment?"

"No." Flat and incurious. Impossible for anyone to interpret as Clint being coy, but Tony's not everyone.

"Are you flirting with me?" Tony asks cautiously, secretly hoping the answer's 'no' because things are soap opera enough around here without love triangles. People get crushes on him a lot. Occupational hazard of being, well, Tony Stark.

He'd always thought the Hulk was the only one who could laugh loudly enough to crack windows.

He calls Pepper and sneaks up on it. He can do subtle. "Pepper, if you had to describe me in three words, 'arrogant' wouldn't be one of them, would it?"

Not that Steve had come out and used that actual word either, so why it's stuck in Tony's head like an echo, he's not sure.

"No, of course not." She makes a thoughtful humming sound. "Infuriating. Insufferable. I'm having a hard time choosing between 'incorrigible' and 'annoying' for the third."

Wow. "But you love me? Despite the fact that you know a lot of insults starting with 'i' and that's one of my favorite letters."

God, why didn't she just go with 'pathetic' or 'needy'?

Pepper chuckles. "Don't you mean 'words'? Yes, of course I do. You're also intelligent, charming, and -- no, I think being charming goes in the other column."

"Why?" He's honestly confused here. Again. When did his life gets this complicated? "You want me to be an asshole instead?"

"Your version of charm has more insincerity than most."

"Again with the insults-starting-with-i."

"Are we done massaging your bruised...ego? Because I've got a meeting in three minutes."

Bruised, pause, ego? She knew. How the fuck did she---

"Who told you?"

Pepper laughs and hangs up like the heartless woman she is. 

"Tony smash," he says through his teeth and throws his phone at the wall, misses, and watches it rebound off a cushion to land on the couch.

He missed the wall.

Not his day, his week, his year.

Oh God, did he really just earworm himself with a theme tune?

***

"Why was Tony crying and banging his head against the wall?" Natasha asks. "Not that I care, but if it was because of one of you, I'd like to know who to thank for the smile."

Everyone looks away from Steve. It's like there's a flashing neon arrow pointing at him, and Hawkeye's probably got one of those lying around somewhere.

Steve gets up and walks out of the kitchen with quiet dignity. It's not his fault, so he's got nothing and no one to apologize for or to. The snickering he can hear behind him is just rude.

He wanders by all the places Tony usually is to check up on the crying, though. It's a disturbing image even if he's mostly certain Natasha was exaggerating. Heck, maybe Tony put her up to it just to see what Steve would do, and here he is doing it.

Dancing to Tony's tune, as always.

Tony's in his workshop. Steve watches him from the hallway for a moment, not intending to stay once he's seen the complete lack of tears, but oddly unwilling to move on. Tony's tinkering with something small made of metal, wires sticking out here and there. Blue sparks erupt every few seconds, as if the thing's got hiccups. There's grease under Tony's fingernails and a scratch on the back of his hand. Steve wants those hands on him, even filthy like they are. They'd slide over his skin, confident, assured, knowing just where to touch him. Long, strong fingers sliding inside him, a taste of what would come a moment later... He wants to arch and shudder under Tony, pierced and filled, taken and held... Release and a moment of oblivion...

He could walk up to Tony and get that for the price of a few vaguely apologetic words and a smile. Spend fifteen minutes or so naked in Tony's room and find out what it's like to have Tony Stark focused on you for a brief space of time.

Then watch Tony get dressed, that focus fading, Tony looking forward to the next warm body, the next easy lay...

"I know you're there." Tony sounds subdued but when Steve turns to leave, his voice sharpens. "Get your ass in here, Cap. Something I want to show you."

Steeling himself to seem normal -- if that's even possible for him, for Tony, for any of them -- Steve does as he's told and sits across the worktable from Tony. "What is it?"

Tony pats the device affectionately. It's stopped spitting sparks and as Steve stares, the wires retract smoothly. It looks like a baseball and it's shiny. Most of what Tony makes has a glitter and a gleam to it. 

Look at me, look at me. Aren't I sparkly? Don't you just want to touch me, play with me, make me hum? 

"This? Ah, it's nothing. It's a thingummy, a whatsit. Or possibly it's an impossible-to-fool lie detector called, hmm, Henry. Depends on the day."

"It's Wednesday," Steve says drily.

"Then it's absolutely not a lie detector called Henry." The thing beeps, an honest to goodness beep, and glows red. Tony wiggles his eyebrows. "Or maybe it is."

"Or maybe it's programmed to beep and turn red when you touch it?"

"Wouldn't be the first time that's happened," Tony agrees cheerfully. "Why don't we test it out on you?"

He tosses it across the table and Steve catches it without thinking.

"Lie to it," Tony says.

It's heavier than it looks, warm from Tony's hand. Steve knows he's being played -- the serum didn't just pump up his muscles -- but he hates the way the air between them is full of question marks.

He'll play Tony's game. He just won't sleep with him. He doesn't want to. Not really. 

"Why is it beeping?" It's going crazy, scarlet and noisy, vibrating in his hand.

Tony widens his eyes, all innocence. "Didn't I say it reads thoughts too? What were you thinking just then? Share with the class, Mr. Rogers."

If he squeezes it, he'll break it, but it's Tony's toy and so he places it carefully on the table.

"Um, in the interests of full disclosure, you don't actually have to be holding it for it to work now it's locked on you." Tony shrugs. "It's new and improved."

"Of course it is. You always have to do everything better than everyone else, don't you?"

"Well, there's not much point in doing it worse." Tony picks up a leftover piece of blue wire and twirls it between his fingers. "Get kissed lately?"

He doesn't look away when he answers. "Not that I remember."

Henry's practically hopping up and down at that one. Good. Maybe he'll break it. Overload its circuits, fry it until it's scrap metal.

"I kissed you, Steve."

"You put your mouth on mine. Not the same thing."

Henry goes quiet at that and so does Tony. "I kissed you. I meant it." He flicks the wire at Henry. "It'll tell you if I lie too, you know."

"Fine! You kissed me."

"And you kissed me back."

"I didn't--" Steve sighs as he's reprimanded by a machine. What's the use? "Yeah. I did. And to save you going all animal, vegetable, mineral on me, yes, I like it, yes, I wanted more than that, and no, it's not gonna happen, so don't pencil my name in on the timetable."

"What timetable? What the hell are you even talking about?" Tony smoothes back his unruly hair with an impatient shove. "I don't organize who I sleep with."

Henry blushes faintly pink and makes a chirping sound. Tony glares at it. "That was triplets! It was a special case."

Triplets? Oh God. He doesn't even want to think about that from a sanitary or a logistical point of view.

"I hope they tied your balls in knots when they found out."

"No, but the mattress was never the same after we'd...never mind. That was then and this is now." Tony leans across the table. "Old me. New me. Big difference. You got kissed by--"

"The new and improved version?" Steve pushes back his chair and stands. "Yeah. I still don't want to dip my bucket in the town well, thanks."

"That sounded really dirty. I'm impressed." Beep. Tony compresses his lips tightly enough that they turn white. "Okay, I lied. I'm pissed. Where do you get off being the poster boy for the morality police? Yes, my sex life is the stuff of legends -- and like most legends, there's been some editing over the years. I've slept with maybe sixty percent of the women I'm supposed to have fucked and when it comes to men, well, I'd need to be triplets. But recently, don't know if you've noticed, I've been busy saving the world. You live with me. See any hot babes knocking at the door round about bedtime?"

"When was the last time you had sex?" Steve asks, surprising himself.

Tony exhales. "The fact that I have to think about it should tell you all you need to know. Uh, a month ago? Five weeks?" Henry gives an indignant beep and Steve's about to curl his lip -- he can pull it off, he's checked in a mirror -- when Tony adds wearily, "Five months, okay? God. Way to make me look pathetic, the two of you."

Henry's silence has an approving quality to it. Five months? Five? That's...quite a while. 

"Don't go thinking that I was saving myself for you," Tony says. "I've just been busy."

The beep's muted, as if there's some truth in that and Steve, who's been involved in a lot of the busy, gets why.

"I thought..." He bites down on his lip. "I didn't want to be a notch on the bedpost."

Tony rolls his eyes, then grins at him. "I don't think my bed even has posts. Want to come with me and see?"

Steve picks up Henry in his hand, weighing it. "No," he says deliberately and watches Henry turn crimson, turn scarlet, turn red, white, and blue.

Tony's bedroom is bigger than Steve's. And yes, in an ostentatious, I own the building kind of way, but standing in it wondering whether to take his socks off before his jeans or after, Steve doesn't really care.

He's nervous. He's allowed to be. Looked at one way, this is the first sex he's had in...oh God, so long. Looked at another, it hasn't been long at all, and that's even worse.

"You're not a rebound," he tells Tony, skinning out of everything he's wearing beneath the waist and wishing his T-shirt was a few inches longer. "I want you to know that."

Tony, already naked, reclining on a bed big enough that it's probably got its own zip code, looks blank. "Uh, thank you?" 

"And can you stop lounging? I feel like you're going to be demanding peeled grapes soon."

Tony obligingly rises up to his knees, kneeling up, not back on his heels, his dick sticking out and up, matching the room nicely.

Steve's definitely not complaining about that, though he has the feeling that even under-endowed, Tony would still have that same magnet to iron confidence. It's mental, not physical.

He realizes that he's been staring at Tony's erection for a little too long. Tony's grinning at him. "It isn't just the suit that gave me the name." Tony throws in a hip-thrust and sings something that sounds like a reference to a dog  and a bird dancing. Steve really doesn't want to ask about it. Tony can get distracted bringing him up to speed on something that started in a different millennium than the one Steve was born in.

"Stop doing that." Steve peels off his T-shirt and look at that, Tony's the one doing the staring now. He raises his eyebrows. "What? You've seen me naked before. Remember when you had to hose that purple mud off me before I mutated into something with too many legs? And at least once a week there's a fire alarm when I'm showering and you're always waiting in my room with a towel."

He's embarrassed by the fact it'd taken the Hulk to clue him in on that one, with an elbow nudge that would've cracked most people's ribs and a growled, 'Only fire in Tony's pants, ha, ha!' 

Waiting for Tony to look even vaguely guilty would be a waste of time, so he takes the tighten and twitch of Tony's mouth as Tony holds back a grin as the only apology he's going to get.

"There's a lot of space between us," Tony says. "How about we do something to change that?" 

Steve wants to, but he's not done staring. His cock's the only part of him he's aware of right now. It's at the stage where the stroke of a wet finger would be enough to trigger his climax and all he's done is look. Tony's strong and lean, battle-hardened, the sophistication and elegance shed with his clothing. Steve can see scars and nicks, and here and there faint bruises that, given the suit's ability to soak up punishment, were inflicted during a training session without the suit or the after-effects of what would've been a killing blow.

The bruises bother Steve more than they should.

"Is it this?" Tony puts his hand so that it covers the center of his chest. "Think of it as really out-there jewelry."

That jolts Steve out of his appreciative haze. "Huh?"

"I've only had one woman throw up for real when she got it through her pretty skull that yeah, hole in my chest, not just a sparkly stick-on, but it does freak people out and I can't blame them."

Steve's by the bed, his hands on Tony's shoulders before Tony's finished talking. "You're nuts. It's keeping you alive, Tony. The only time I'd  uh, freak, was if it stopped working." He traces its shape with his fingertips. "It's part of you now."

"So's this," Tony says and grabs Steve's hand, pulling it down to his erection. 

Curling his fingers around all that hard heat is reflexive, but Steve knows just what he's doing when he lets go. His hand closes on captured warmth and emptiness, but the pang of loss is worth it. No way is Tony running the show. Maybe later, Steve will feel safe enough to surrender, but this first time, he's going to be the one calling the shots. He's been fighting with Tony since they met. Sex won't change that.

"We do this my way," he tells Tony and pushes Tony to his back on the bed. "You okay with that?"

"What if I'm not?"

"We still do it my way, we just waste time fighting about it first."

There's a voice telling him not to make this easy for Tony. If there's an Iron Man dictionary, the definition of 'easy' is 'boring'.

"You're the take orders type--"

"I gave orders. People under my command obeyed them. I took them from people who out-ranked me. You don't." He puts his hand against Tony's face, needing to remind himself that under the suit, Tony's warm, fragile, human. "And if you tell me you're the team leader, I'll tell you that's out there, not in here."

"Want to tie me to the bed? Put a collar on me?"

"All the super-villains tie you up. It's a smart move, but gagging you should be top of their list. Me, I want your hands free. I'm not scared of what you'll do with them."

"Might make you beg for mercy."

"I was kinda hoping I'd be asking for more."

Tony sucks in a breath. "Oh, I think I can make that happen."

It's two minutes in when Steve realizes this is different. It's the noise. Every encounter he's ever had has been handled in silence interrupted by muffled groans, bitten-off sighs, or the urgent slap of flesh on flesh muffled by blankets. Tony doesn't bother to draw back the covers or dim the lights. He doesn't even lower his voice much, commentating cheerfully on what's going on until Steve, nervous, exasperated, shuts him up with a hand across Tony's lips.

"Stop talking," he says, whispering it, eying the door anxiously. "What we're doing -- people might hear. And yeah, I know it doesn't matter, but..."

"Captain America and Iron Man, sitting in a tree, F-U-C-K-I-N-G," Tony belts out with a sunny smile. "Somehow, I don't think what we're doing will surprise people. That we took this long, well, yeah. They were probably placing bets on who'd crack first five minutes after we met."

"Shut up." He's blushing, hot and sweaty with embarrassment.

Tony rolls to his back, shoves a pillow under his head, and taps his mouth. "Make me."

"I -- like that?" 

"Why not?"

Steve points out where his ass will be and Tony grins. "Now you're making me wonder if I can equip it with some accessories. Imagine the possibilities. Plug and play."

Steve shakes his head, disgusted with himself for thinking, even for a moment, that Tony saw him as more than a warm body to fuck. The man's crude. He remembers gentle touches, whispered, urgent confessions of love, and bites down on his lip. Hurting himself helps, but it's a bad habit, he knows that.  "This was a bad idea. This was a really bad idea--"

He's halfway to the door when Tony puts himself in front of it. "If you go and leave me like this, I'll hide your shield." Tony shrugs. "Plus, hello, you're naked?"

"Tony..." He's feeling tired. Fighting doesn't wear him out, but five minutes trading quips with Tony and he's wrung-out and jittery, though he never lets it show. "I'm not ready for this. With you."

Tony's gaze dips. "Some of you seems totally ready for take-off. Did I mention I'm really good at working with small parts?"

"I'm not small!" God, he is not going to defend or debate the size of his dick with Tony Stark.  "I'm going to get dressed, then I'm walking out of here, and we're going to pretend this never happened."

Tony purses his lips. "I'm good with, well, none of that plan. Counter-proposal. You naked, back on the bed, me, okay, fine, shutting up, also staying naked, also on the bed. Sound good?"

The trouble is, it does. Even with Tony's brashness acting like sandpaper on his nerves, it does. But Steve shakes his head. "I'm leaving. I made a mistake. A big one."

"Letting yourself have some fun, isn't a mistake! We could die tomorrow. Gather some rosebuds."

"We'll die one day, guaranteed, but I'd prefer to do it without regrets, if it's all the same to you."

Tony looks genuinely baffled. "It's sex. What's to regret? Even when it's bad, it's -- okay, it's me. It's always good."

"I've got standards! I don't just -- not with anyone -- just--" He hears his voice break on a name he's not going to say and hurries on, burying a slip under an insult. "I wanted this, yeah, but that was before you reminded me what an asshole you are. Now I want to go. You want to try stopping me?"

Tony shrugs and wanders away. "Your choice, Cap," he throws back over his shoulder and he sounds as  indifferent as if Steve's just said no to an offered cup of coffee.

He's got both socks on and he's trying to untangle his briefs from his jeans when he glances at the bed. Tony's jerking off, his hand sliding and gliding over hardness casually enough that it doesn't register for a moment.

He meets Tony's flat stare, then turns away, scooping up the rest of his clothes. He'll dress in the hallway if he has to, but he's not staying to watch the floor show.

"JARVIS! Lock the doors," Tony snaps out. 

"What the hell?"

"You don't have to fuck me. Or be fucked by me. But you got me like this and you can watch me take care of it." 

He's seen Tony grim before, not often, but sometimes. This isn't like that. Tony's voice is chilled steel, his eyes sharp with hurt. He swallows and lets what he's holding slide to the floor, ashamed for a different reason. He's been like this. Aroused to the point of discomfort, no outlet but his hand. Hell, he's still mostly hard himself, anger lighting as hot a burn as lust.

"Look, maybe I can--"

"You can stand there and watch. Invitation to do more's been rescinded."

"Tony--"

"Fuck you," Tony says through his teeth, and his hand blurs, squeezes, punishes until it's all over and Tony's stomach is painted with white streaks and he's lying back, staring up at the ceiling as if he's alone.

Steve dresses like he's heard the enemy planes approaching, and bites his lip again when Tony orders the doors to be unlocked for five seconds, no more. It doesn't give him time to apologize, it doesn't give him time to explain.

If it was hung any differently, the door would've hit him on the way out, but it's Tony's door and it slides shut.

With a very final click.

Chapter Three

Tony walks into the den and holds up his hand when Captain Stars 'n Stripes gets to his feet, clearly intending to leave before he gets a lungful of Tony's used air. Won't share a bed, won't accept an apology -- not that Tony's given him one, but something tells him it'd be a waste of time -- won't share oxygen molecules. Steve's been doing the pointed exits a lot recently, along with stony silences, and icy, chipped-off monosyllabic answers to questions that deserve better.

Or, as Tony likes to label it, sulking.

"As you were, soldier." Steve ignores him, heading for the door, his face set in grim lines.

God Tony wants to trip him and watch him kiss the ground. He wouldn't do it, but he wants to. He's feeling so fucking petty these days and he hates it.

He puts up his hand, reconsiders slamming it into Steve's broad, muscular chest, and jerks his thumb at the door. "Emergency. Something's getting slime over the Statue of Liberty and it's green, furry, and has tentacles, three adjectives that should never apply to the same thing, especially not when it's twenty-foot tall and the slime's corrosive."

"Green's not all bad," Bruce remarks and gives Tony a smile that's vaguely sympathetic, from one shunned, spurned beast to another, Tony guesses.

No one's taking sides exactly, though Clint's made himself popcorn and settled down to watch the fun the few times he and Steve have both stayed in the same room for more than thirty seconds, but somehow it's All Tony's Fault and Steve's the injured party.

That's what happens when you've got boyish good looks, a tragic backstory and a faintly virginal air about you. Instant sympathy vote.

Tony's been tempted to stand up in the middle of supper and set the record straight, but he can't do it. He'd expose himself as much as Steve and he works with these people. He leads them.

Kind of. Sort of.

They have to respect him and if they knew he'd gotten Steve naked and then failed to seal the deal, well, enough said.

And when the door closed behind Steve, leaving Tony with a hand slick with come and his gut twisted with anger and hurt, even he didn't have much respect for himself.

He'd begged. Groveled. Jerked off in front of the guy and Steve had stood there, expressionless, blank, the offer of a mercy fuck clearly made out of pity or old-fashioned good manners.

He'll have to research fuck-buddy etiquette of the Forties to be sure about the last bit.

When he isn't tackling slime monsters, of course. God forbid he has a personal life.

Once inside the suit, he feels better. No one can see his face and realize how often he's staring at Steve and grinding his teeth.

He organizes his troops; just Cap, Hawkeye and Thor; Bruce has decided to hang back until needed and Natasha's off doing something for Fury. The kind of something that Tony's learned not to ask questions about because Natasha never flinches when he does, but part of him wonders if she wants to and just can't anymore.

The crowd's thinning out when they arrive on the scene after a quick jaunt in the Quinjet. For a ten-mile trip, it was hardly worth it, but traffic's a bitch and Tony gets seasick on ferries. With the statue closed for repairs and only Liberty Island open, it's still a draw for visitors, but the monster's just not that impressive -- pathetic, really -- and the slime stinks. There's a ferry waiting to take the tourists off the island to safety, but there's no sense of panic, more a collective yawn. The world's seen a hell of a lot worse recently.

"Taste the fury of--"

Tony stops Thor just in time to save the Lady getting a thunderbolt. "Uh, Thor, don't damage the statue. It's kind of a landmark."

"But yonder creature is clinging to it. How can I attack it without damaging that to which it clings?"

"Speak English! Or speak less English English. I don't know, but we'll figure it out. That's why they pay us the big...do they pay us?"

"A true hero's reward is the satisfaction found in victory," Thor says absently, twirling his hammer so that it blurs, making Tony wonder, not for the first time, if Mjolnir goes out of phase at times like this, sucking power from an alternate dimension. He's asked Thor to let him examine it, but Thor's insanely protective of the thing and it's not like Tony can sneak off with it.

Even the fucking hammer thinks he's unworthy.

Okay, now he's pouting.

"What is it doing?" Clint demands, reaching back for an arrow, then changing his mind. "Besides clinging and stinking up the place?"

A tourist taking pictures turns her head. "It came out of the water and headed right for the statue. It didn't hurt anyone, but a few people passed out because of the smell." She taps her nose. "Allergies. All stuffed up. Doesn't bother me."

The suits filters out most of it, but the fact that anything's getting through means the stench must be off the scale. Steve's looking on the pasty side and when the wind changes, Clint gags.

Thor seems to be immune. Figures.

The monster's slithered over stone steps and onto copper plating, leaving a trail. It's reached the Lady's left knee, and is moving its head from side to side as if planning out its route. What it's going to do when it gets there is anyone's guess, but Tony doesn't feel like waiting to find out.

"Hey! You! Did you buy a ticket? Stand in line? Thought not. Slither away from the landmark, or get zapped."

Steve tilts his head. "What is it?"

"Looks like a cross between a poodle and an octopus."

Steve gives him a dismissive glance. "I don't think they'd be viable mates."

Gah. "It was a joke. Like you seem to think I am when in fact I'm dashing, heroic, and an all round good guy." Tony takes a deep breath. Focus on the target, and that isn't Steve, even though it feels that way. What is with the guy? "It doesn't seem dangerous. Nothing a bar of soap and a haircut wouldn't cure."

"It offends me," Thor says darkly. "I will smite it and let the water take its broken body."

"I think there's a law about throwing toxic waste into the ocean -- did it just say something?"

The monster's turned its head and if a face made up of slime-oozing skin-flaps and tangled hair could look pitiful, this one does.

"I think it said 'Aaaargh'," Clint tells him. "Maybe it's got indigestion. Am I the only noticing that the statue's dissolving and it's getting bigger? Connection? Coincidence?"

Steve's mouth falls open in horror before he takes off, shield held at the perfect angle to catch a sunray that makes it glow, lambent, bright. The guy's a walking photo-op. "It can't do that!"

Tony allows himself a second or two -- okay, four -- to watch Steve's long legs and tight ass in motion. Nice. Even mad at him, he can still appreciate a perfect body. Knowing what's under the uniform adds a bitter-sweet tang to the lusting. 

You can look, but you can't touch... except, he had touched it. His hands can remember the shape they'd made cupping Steve's jaw, his mouth knows what Steve's lips feel like pressed against it, warm, shy, eager.

Okay, not that shy. Steve had been pretty damn clear about who was topping, after all.

Steve's shield bounces off the statue with a clang and slices a chunk off the monster. The sound bangs around inside Tony's head, dislodging some sentence fragments that he's been holding on to, apparently. 

You're not a rebound... I don't just -- not with anyone -- just..."

Just who? Tony wonders. 

Oh, sure, there were rumors. Gossip. Cap's life -- and death -- were covered in detail. Tony's read a slim biography -- too much classified for it to be more than guesswork -- and even that spared a few pages to ponder Cap's attachment to his team, one in particular.

Bucky. Long dead in Tony's timeline, but there's that chunk cut out of Cap's and so...

Tony does some quick theory-shuffling and groans. God, the poor guy. Performance anxiety, guilt, concern that he was screwing up the team dynamic...it must've taken Steve everything he had to walk into Tony's bedroom and it 's no surprise that he ran out of it as soon as Tony gave him a viable excuse.

"Stupid," Tony mutters under his breath as he rises up to join the fight. "Should've made it a threesome and brought Henry with us."

"See! It falls!" Thor calls out, triumphant as a ringing bell. "Well struck, Captain!

"I am not cleaning up squished monster," Clint says, an arrow nocked and ready.

Tony frowns. One hit from Cap and it's down? Seems too easy. He doesn't like easy.

The monster swells, its form changing rapidly, thickening, swelling. It's not falling fast enough and Tony sees the thick line of spun...something...that's wrapped around the statue and is unspooling from the creature's body, allowing the descent to be a controlled one. 

When it reaches the ground, it's barely moving and it rolls, gigantic now, a soft, amorphous blob of green and hair. The tentacles have disappeared.

"Is it dead?" Steve asks.

"I'm still getting life signs," Tony tells him. "Faint but strong."

"Pick one," Steve snaps.

"Pick your nose!" And regression to age twelve is complete. He tries to explain himself. "They're faint because they seem far away, but if you were on top of it, they'd knock you over."

"We are on top of it," Hawkeye points out.

"I know." The readings go wild and Tony circles around to land a prudent distance away. The tourists have fled now. It's just him and his team and Steve.

The blob is hardening rapidly, green cotton candy turning to an opaque shell, glistening wetly here and there. That's followed by an ominous crackling sound as  it begins to rock and split. It's a nature movie in fast-forward and Tony has his second epiphany in as many minutes. "Anyone think that looks like a cocoon?"

"Maybe," Hawkeye says cautiously. "So you think the big hungry caterpillar's going to hatch into something we can be friends with?"

"We're about to find out," Steve says, striding over to join them. He's so fucking heroic he makes Tony's teeth ache, but he's seen the man behind the razzle-dazzle, insecure, lost, and that guy makes different parts of Tony ache. 

Later, he promises himself. He'll tie Steve to his bed if he has to and make the man listen -- or talk. Both. 

It's a thing with wings, but it's sure as hell not a butterfly or a moth. The tentacles are still there for one thing, transformed to thin, whip-like antennae. The wings are tattered as if the creature was born old, web-thin in places, coated with verdigris like the statue it fed on.

Tony feels an odd pity stir.

"When I find the mad scientist behind this, I'm gonna drown him or her in a vat of whatever gloop they used to do this."

"How dost thou know there was gloop?" Thor asks.

Tony shakes his head wearily and Hawkeye answers for both of them. "There's always gloop."

"Look, it hasn't really done anything. Maybe we can capture it, start a zoo for mutants..." Tony shakes his head as the creature rises, a thin scream slicing the air. Hate needs no translation. "No, guess not. Avengers, let's do the assembling thing, followed by the pow, bam, zinging."

"And you think that I need to learn to speak thy tongue?" Thor inquires.

Tony's got a really snappy retort, but then the fight starts and it's lost.

Four against one isn't fair, but chivalry's never been one of Tony's weak spots and he's more concerned with them getting out of this unhurt. The wings turn out to be razor-sharp, those tatters perfectly designed to catch and rip. His suit picks up some scratches, but Hawk's bleeding in a few places and the star on Steve's chest has been obliterated.

"Tony, smash," he mutters and goes for the kill.

The creature's ignored him for the most part -- the fight's been fast, as they often are, and it's barely made it to the thirty second mark. For some reason, the other three moved first, Hawkeye peppering it with arrows, Thor swinging his hammer, Steve's shield carving air. There's no room for Tony to strike without hurting a team member. 

He hovers above the action, frustrated, waiting for a space to fill with something fatal to bugs, and the creature sees him as if for the first time.

Tony has idly wondered what it'll eat now it's in this stage -- and if there's another mutation on the way. From the way it's looking at him, he thinks he's got an answer to the first question.

"Shoulda worn my Iron Butterfly T-shirt," he says to no one in particular, and a jet of green -- more fucking goop -- sprays toward him from the creature's gaping maw, oily droplets glistening, a deadly, destructive mist. He can't get out of the way of all of it, and he watches as part of his suit's forearm begins to melt like chocolate in the sun.

Fuck.

He flails at it wildly, trying to brush it off, which is so deeply stupid he's mocking himself even as he does it. 

A second spray jets out and he's so distracted by the effects of the first that he doesn't see it until it's too late to take evasive action, but Steve's leaped up, springboarded by a boost from Thor and yeah, good move, Steve's shield will block it and then they can end this --

He realizes Steve's shield is on the ground just as Steve slams into him, taking them down. Steve's heavy on him, but it's a welcome weight for a moment and in the suit, sitting up is easy -- but as he catches his breath, he sees a green droplet coming for his face, syrup-slow and it's dripping from --

Steve's face is covered with it, like a gross giant sneeze caught him. Steve's face

Tony's suit had melted --

He rises, Steve in his arms, struggling. God, he can't imagine the pain, and Steve's not screaming, which is worse, because if he's not screaming, maybe he can't, his throat destroyed, clear blue eyes turned to dark, empty craters, that clean line of cheek and jaw blurred and spoiled...

The water's right there and Tony turns is back on the fight and takes them into it, down deep, into the cold, clean salt water. He can't look at Steve's face, not yet, not brave enough, but he watches the tendrils of green join the water and dissipate and when he can't risk keeping Steve under water any longer, he takes them up to the light and looks.

Steve's choking, nose running, eyes red, gasping for breath, gloriously furious and unmarked. 

"What the hell?"

"You're okay," Tony says blankly. He lets his visor slide open, needing to see that for himself, with nothing in the way. "I thought you were-- It melted me."

"Doesn't do anything to skin, but I guess that wasn't the ideal way to find out." Water's dripping off Steve's hair, clean, translucent water, and he's looking less pissed. "Thanks."

"Right back at you." Tony shakes his head. "Throwing yourself at me like that. Shameless. Or are we pretending it was heroic, not just you needing a hug?"

"I wasn't--" Steve glares at him, but there's no edge to it now, as if the water's washed away at least some of the crap preventing them from seeing each other clearly. Not all, but enough. "You were in danger. I rescued your sorry ass."

"Bullshit," Tony says cheerfully. "I'm still your favorite Avenger. I knew it."

Steve shoots him an exasperated glance. "You've never been my favorite."

"Liar, liar, pants on fire..." Tony can't keep this up forever. He touches Steve's cheek with his finger, wishing it was skin on skin. "I thought I'd never see you like this again. Whole. Perfect."

He can claim the venom got to him if Steve laughs at the sheer cheesiness of that.

Maybe it's the pint of ocean he's swallowed, but Steve chokes instead, looking, yeah, adorably confused covers it. "I'm not -- You think I'm-- Really?"

Someone's playing music and the sun's warm on his face. "I think you're--"

"Captain! Iron Man! The monster lies in pieces. How fares it with you?"

Thor's sense of timing is seriously screwed. "Not now, Thor, damn it!" Tony snarls, but the moment's passed.

He'll get it back. He's getting all of it back.

***

Steve's room is dark. It's easier to talk in the dark, somehow, and it doesn't feel like hiding, more like closing out the world so it can be just the two of them.

Though there's a memory with them that's like a third person.

Tony lets Steve talk, the words halting at first, then pouring out. Friendship, love, admiration -- then the twist of fate that made Steve the strong one.

Tony thinks Steve always was, but he keeps that to himself. Steve knows how special he is on one level, but on another he doesn't and never will, and that's why he's special.

Why he was chosen.

Steve glosses over everything that Tony guesses has been kept private and secret for so long that talking about it would feel like disloyalty. He respects that reticence and really, he doesn't want to know the details. He's got a high enough mountain to climb as it is.

"I'm not like him."

"You're not?" Steve laughs, quiet, confiding. "You didn't know him. I knew -- know -- you both. You've got a lot in common. The way you smile. The way you make me feel. You're not him, and I don't want you to be, but you'd have liked him."

"Okay," Tony agrees. It'll wear off, but right now he's all about agreeing with Steve, building a fragile peace into something strong enough to withstand everything they'll throw at it when they get back to normal.

"Thanks for letting me tell you about him."

"Thanks for telling me." Tony lets the silence stretch and thin to a waiting expectancy, then puts his hand on Steve's shoulder. "Are you--"

"Yeah. It's time."

Steve's mouth is warm against his a moment later, the taste of him, scrubbed mint, so fucking clean, making Tony realize he'll never measure up. Cap probably brushes for the full two minutes and takes his showers cold.

But when Tony's hand closes around Steve's cock, taking all that heat and hardness in his fist, claiming it, Steve mutters, "Fuck, yes," breathless, demanding, a man, not just a hero, and Tony smiles into the darkness and keeps his mouth shut until Steve gives him a good reason to open it.


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