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sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2013-06-03 02:54 pm

Hard Rock Swing (Avengers) 2/3

Title: Hard Rock Swing
Rating: PG/R (R in the last part only)
Summary: It turns out, in the 21st century, Steve's best friend is an eighteen-year-old genius named Tony Stark. This might be trouble.

Chapter One

***

By the time the film wound down, Tony had fallen asleep; apparently not even the explosions on the screen could keep him stimulated. His head was butted up against Steve's thigh on the couch, legs draped over the opposite arm. Every once in a while he'd shift, mumbling to himself in his sleep.

"He'll be sorry he missed the end," Bruce said.

"Let him sleep," Steve replied, tugging on Tony's shirt-sleeve to straighten it where it had twisted around his arm. "He's still young, he could use it."

"Not so young."

"Young enough. It must be strange for you," Steve said. Bruce, slumped back in a nearby chair, gave him a querying look. "Working with Tony in the lab, I mean."

"Why?" Bruce asked.

"Must be like working with an impatient monkey."

"Oh, I don't know. He's a professional. It's no different from when you drill with him."

"Well, that's Iron Man," Steve said.

"I don't know if you've heard this," Bruce said, sounding amused, "but Tony is Iron Man."

"It's just different, that's all."

"For you, perhaps. Anyway, he's more grown-up than some people I know in their forties. Had to, I think," Bruce replied. "Born old, maybe."

"Sure doesn't show it out of the armor."

"Well, not around you," Bruce replied. Steve frowned at him. "He gets to be himself around us. In the lab, when he's working at Stark Industries, when he's Iron Man, he has to be the adult. Here, he doesn't have so much responsibility. Besides, you treat him like a little brother. How do you expect him to act?"

Steve looked down at Tony, absently brushing a stray curl of hair away from his temple. "How should I treat him?"

"There's nothing wrong with it. I think he likes having people who like him around. God knows he needs role models. But I don't know that little-brother is what he wants from you."

"I can hardly treat him like an older brother," Steve said with a smile.

"Well, that's for you and him to work out," Bruce said, standing and stretching. "I'm going to bed. Feeling better?"

"Yes, thank you," Steve said.

"If you have another bad day tomorrow, come and find me," Bruce said, giving him a serious look over his glasses from the doorway. "I've been there."

"I will. It usually doesn't last long."

"Good night, Steve," Bruce said.

"Good night," Steve said, turning back to Tony, who had inched his head up onto Steve's thigh, still asleep. He should let him sleep, get him a blanket and leave him here, but --

Well, it didn't sit right, and he knew -- one of the few real, personal things he knew about Tony, being honest with himself -- that Tony had problems sleeping in unfamiliar places, and doubly so waking up in them.

"Tony," he said, shaking Tony's shoulder gently. "Movie's over. Wake up."

Tony's eyes opened, eyelashes fluttering dark for a second against his cheek, and he looked up at Steve with hazy eyes.

Something warm and protective and deeply unsettling surged up in Steve. He'd felt it a few times before, drilling with Tony or sitting with him at breakfast or once watching him and Bruce bicker in the lab. He felt it when he saw Tony pat Dummy absently on his casing, and sometimes when he (carefully, gently) rough-housed with him, like the headlock in the elevator.

He didn't know what it meant, and it frightened him. Because Bruce sure had put a point on it: it wasn't the feeling a man had for a brother. More like he'd felt for Peggy, back in the war. And, in secret, hidden ways, for Bucky.

"Hey," Tony said, unmoving. "What time is it?"

"Time for soldiers to be in bed," Steve said.

"I keep telling you I'm not a soldier," Tony said, but he curled upward and slid his legs around, flopping up to a sitting position. "I'm not sure you're catching on that you aren't either."

The words fell out of his mouth before he stopped to think. "If I'm not a soldier I haven't got anything left."

Tony leaned forward, raising a hand to Steve's neck, and pulled their foreheads together.

"So what am I, chopped liver?" he asked, and Steve broke down and laughed, pulling back.

"Get to bed," he said. "Drills after breakfast tomorrow."

"Sure," Tony said, angling lithely up off the couch. "You too, huh?"

"On my way now," Steve said, as Tony stumbled off. "Night, Tony."

"Night, Steve," Tony said, around a yawn.

Steve ran a hand over his face and went to his room. He should have felt more ashamed by what had happened, he thought, but he just couldn't summon the energy for it. Let it wait until morning.

Sleep was easier in coming than he thought it would be.

***

"I think we should go out tonight," Tony said, halfway through drill the next morning. "I know half a dozen clubs that'll pretend I'm 21, and another dozen that are under-21 friendly."

"Yeah, I want to party with teenagers," Clint drawled, firing arrows at Steve's shield, trying to calculate ricochets.

"Hey!" Tony yelped, offended, and darted upwards to catch a grappling rope thrown by Natasha.

"Present company excepted," Clint corrected. "But only because you party like it's what you were born to do, Tony."

"I might have been," Tony said, a little sniffily.

"Certainly seems to be genetic," Steve remarked.

"Oh snap, what was that?" Tony asked. "Did my dad once maroon you in a speakeasy or something, old man?"

"Focus, Tony," Steve replied.

"Yeah, you only ever say that when you don't want to answer something," Tony said. "Wait, hold up," he added, dropping low and hovering. "I want to try a new maneuver. Hawkeye and Black Widow, ledges, not together," he said, pointing to one of the irregularly-spaced ledges in the gym wall. "Clint, Natasha's got about a fifty percent success rate trying to lasso me."

"Most of my targets are slower than you," Natasha said. "You know, like you, out of the suit."

"Tut," Tony said. "Don't be hurt, baby, I'm hard to catch. But if you do need to rope me to get a ride somewhere, I don't want you falling when your rope doesn't reach."

"I gotcha," Clint said, disassembling one of his grappling-hook arrows. "See if I can shoot a line past her and make it stick to you. Timing'll be a little tricky, but -- "

"You're better with timing than aim, long-distance," Tony said to Natasha.

"What is this, dump on Black Widow day?" she asked.

"He's not wrong," Steve said, watching as Clint knotted a loop in the end of his rope. "Next time we'll all pick on Tony, how's that?"

"What else do you punks do all day long but pick on me?" Tony asked. "Ready when you are, Clint."

"Get a little motion," Clint replied. "If you're hovering anyone can hit you."

Steve, clearly not needed for this exercise, stepped back and watched. It took them half an hour to execute it perfectly, but if he rotated it into their regular drill schedule, by the time they had to do it in battle they'd be fine.

After a while he felt Bruce's presence at his elbow, and glanced over to see him watching, StarkPad tucked under one arm. Normally Bruce attended drill, sat on a bench against the wall, and worked quietly; Steve kept threatening to take them all camping so they could let the big guy out and see how he played with others, but Tony was set against it. Steve suspected his only real reason was that he didn't want to go camping.

"You seem better this morning," Bruce remarked.

"I do like drills," Steve replied, looking back at where Tony was trying to catch the loop with his booted foot. He keyed off his comm as Bruce turned to him. "I told you, it never lasts long."

Bruce was opening his mouth to speak when the lights flickered and a klaxon sounded, loud enough Steve felt it in his bones.

"That's the SHIELD sensor mirror," Tony yelled over the noise.

"I don't know what that means!" Steve yelled back.

"Something big and ugly coming Earth's way," Tony called, and with a gesture cut the noise. He dropped to the gymnasium floor, flipping his faceplate up. "If it's something to worry about we should get a call from Fury in about two minutes," he said, holograms flying up around him. Steve glanced at Natasha and Clint, giving them the nod, and Natasha ran for the armory (Clint's spare quiver, guns for Steve and herself) while Clint made for the landing pad.

"What the hell...?" Tony was staring at the holograms, looking perplexed.

"What are you seeing?" Steve asked, leaning over his shoulder on one side. Bruce was already manipulating things on the other.

"Okay, well, Bruce, I would take off your shirt just in case, if it's one you like," Tony said. "But I want you here riding the servers, not Hulking all over Manhattan."

"Good grief," Bruce said. "Is that what I think it is?"

"Yup," Tony replied. He turned to look up at Steve. "The energy readings I'm picking up -- well, getting through SHIELD -- are identical to the signature I recorded going through the wormhole."

"Where is it?" Steve asked.

Tony looked grim. "Everywhere."

Which was when Fury called.

***

The situation wasn't as dire as the last time, given nothing seemed to be coming through the portals that were covering the sky, but it still wasn't precisely safe. Manhattan was being evacuated, air traffic had been routed around the entire state, and looking at the sky was not a good idea. It was like someone had asked Salvador Dali to repaint reality. Colors twisted in on themselves. In some places, some of the taller skyscrapers seemed to be made out of other skyscrapers.

The series of small wormholes filling the airspace over Manhattan didn't seem to connect to actual outer space, not in the way the big one had before. But as Tony hovered around one of them, studying it intently, he said what Steve didn't really want to hear:

"I don't think there's any real way of knowing where they lead without going through one."

Steve rubbed his forehead.

"If we map the network, there might be a pattern," Bruce said. "If we can figure out where each one leads..."

"Well, at least they seem bidirectional. I mean, if you fly through one of them, and then fly back in where you came out, you're not going somewhere new. I hope," Tony said.

"Iron Man," Steve said, standing on the ground, ready for anything but not really prepared for the sheer lack of action they were seeing. "Do not fly through a wormhole."

He could see, even at this distance, Tony reach out to drift his hand in front of one of them, thoughtfully. "No, I'm not doing that." Tony said. "I got just the thing."

"Tony -- "

"It's fine. JARVIS, how many of the mini-mes do we have?"

"The what?" Steve asked.

"Pop culture," Clint said. He waved at Steve from the roof of a nearby building, then made a gesture with his pinky that Steve didn't understand. "I'll show you the movie, you'll hate it."

"Oh good," Steve sighed.

"Guys, don't freak out," Tony said, which was usually a sign that they should at least be wary. Steve fell back into a fighting stance, but instead of anything falling out of the wormholes, as he'd expected, there were several low whining noises and --

"INCOMING!" he yelled, ducking back behind his shield as the air filled with tiny missiles.

"FRIENDLIES!" Tony yelled. "DON'T SHOOT!"

The missiles converged on Tony, and Steve watched in awe as they formed a little floating cloud behind him, clearly obeying some command Tony was giving that Steve couldn't see. Not missiles, then; little repulsor-driven robots, perhaps.

"All right, JARVIS, track every mini-me individually," Tony said. "I want a three-dimensional wireframe of where they go and a map of imaginary space between in and out. Bruce, are you picking up what I'm laying down?"

"How much money did each of those cost?" Bruce asked down the comm.

"More than you'd be comfortable with, not so much they're not expendable," Tony said.

"Unlike you," Steve said.

"I told you, I'm not going through any wormholes, I've had enough panic attacks," Tony said. "On three. And three, two, one, bots away!"

The little robots fanned out and began disappearing through holes in the sky, sometimes reappearing through others. Tony conducted it like an orchestra, head thrown back dramatically, clearly enjoying himself as he hovered above them.

Steve lowered his guard a trifle as he watched the robots dance in and out of the wormholes, dipping and weaving gracefully around Tony. Clint reached out and snatched at one as it went past, hanging by one hand over open air until it deposited him on another roof. It circled and zipped down past Steve, a clear invitation, and he could hear Tony laugh as he jumped and caught it like Clint had, hitching a lift up to where Clint was standing.

"Pretty cool," Clint said, as Steve released the little robot and landed. "Kid's got some bright ideas. Hey Tony, I want one!"

"They're not pets, Clint," Tony said.

"But you could program one to come when I called and sleep on my bed at night, right?"

"I'm getting a good image now," Bruce interrupted. "There's a definite pattern coming through, but...it doesn't..."

He trailed off.

"Bruce, toss it on my HUD," Tony said.

"Uh," Bruce said. "Tony, I think you should land."

"Why?" Tony asked, drifting down towards the rooftops. "What is it -- ohhhh, noooo."

"Gentlemen, you want to clue us in?" Steve asked.

"The conduits are forming a pattern similar to the ones SHIELD picked up whenever Thor traveled," Bruce said. "They're forming a giant...a giant knotwork pattern. In the sky."

Steve was only half-listening, senses alert as the air began to feel thick and staticky. There was a buzzing noise somewhere nearby, and it seemed to be getting closer.

"Brace for Asgardians," Tony yelled.

There was a roar like the world was ending, and Steve could see a familiar silhouette with hammer upraised, tumbling through one of the wormholes.

And then the sky fell in.

It took Steve a second to understand what had happened. By the time he had, they were already under attack. A swarm of creatures, winged and fanged and no longer than his forearm, was pouring out of the wormholes. Tony was cursing and Bruce was yelling something over the comms; Steve felt Clint's quiver press against his back, and the flex of one of Clint's arms as he drew on the bow.

"What are they?" he yelled. "Widow, location!"

"Your three," Natasha called. "On the street."

"You need cover?"

"Nope. Happiness is a warm gun," she replied, and Steve heard distant gunfire.

"Tony?"

"Little busy here!" Tony yelled, and Steve could see him massing the robots, some of them already engaging with the small, winged, blue-skinned --

"The hell ARE these?" Clint yelled, firing into the swarm.

"HELL FAIRIES!" Tony cried. "FAIRIES FROM HELL."

"I saw Thor," Steve said. "Clint, did you see that?"

"Sorry, busy shooting," Clint replied. "Booya! Eat arrow, hell fairy!"

"Stop calling them that!" Natasha said.

"Where are they coming from? All these wormholes lead to each other!" Tony said, sounding bewildered.

"Deal with that later," Steve replied. "Can you find Thor for me, Tony?"

"Ohhh, this is freaksome, the wormholes shifted," Tony said, ignoring him. "We've got a conduit direct to Asgard here. Scanning for Thor now. Are you sure you saw him?"

There was a crunching noise, and a shift in the air; up through the swarm of creatures came a hammer, followed by Thor. He landed on the roof, swinging wildly at the creatures.

"Never mind, I got him," Steve said faintly.

"Comrades!" Thor bellowed. "My apologies!"

"Say sorry later," Steve said. "How do we get rid of these things?"

"I'm on it," Tony replied. "JARVIS is running some calculations. Buy me five minutes and I'll seal up the sky again."

"Thor, what did you do?" Clint demanded, still firing into the swarm.

"Loki was attempting to escape," Thor replied, swinging his hammer. Steve blocked a dive-bomb with his shield and threw it just in time to bounce off the head of a hell fairy menacing Clint. "He summoned them as a diversion while he opened the portal. I leapt through the portal before he could; they followed me."

"Figures," Clint said, sounding hard and angry.

"Volstagg had Loki, last I saw; we have only to worry about these little menaces," Thor answered. He looked a lot happier than Steve felt anyone had a right to look just now.

"Someone tell Thor I need him," Tony said. "We need a high-frequency electric charge to knock these babies out and close the portals."

"I hear you, Iron Man," Thor said.

"You do?" Tony asked.

"Aye, through the radio in the Captain's ear. I understand what must be done. Prepare to meet your doom, enemies of Midgard!" Thor bellowed.

Tony yelled "Wait, stop!" at the same time Steve yelled "Not at me!" and Thor brought the hammer around and down, for the second time in their acquaintance, on Steve's upraised shield. The impact threw Steve down on his knees, and the shockwave spread out in an expanding hemisphere, sweeping the hell fairies with it in a cloud of blue glitter.

Steve heard the crackle as Tony's radio shorted out, and a second later he saw the glowing repulsors in his boots fail.

Tony wasn't as high up as he'd been last time, and it was clearly a controlled dive; Steve watched as Tony tucked his body down and fell, angling for a building, probably to try and slow his descent.

"I got him," Steve heard Clint say.

"You what?" Steve asked, voice rising.

"I got him," Clint repeated, tracking Tony with an arrow. "Little lower, little more -- "

Steve watched in awe as Clint put two arrows in the armor, filament lines playing out behind the shafts, the other ends wrapped around Clint's arms in readiness. It was an ingenious solution, but if he tried to catch three hundred pounds of armored teenager with two ropes he'd take his hands off at the wrist. Steve dove forward, hooking the shield's handles through the lines and letting the leather take most of the sharp snap, throwing himself backwards as the lines finally caught Tony's weight. His feet skidded forward and Clint hooked his arms around Steve's, pulling hard. Their weight, the ropes, and physics all conspired to slam Tony into the building below them.

"Let go!" Clint gritted, and Steve let the line play through his hands and off the shield. He was turning almost before they left his grasp, running for the doorway to the stairwell.

It wasn't hard to tell where Tony had landed. They just followed the dust cloud, and then the trail of debris, to where the armor lay half-propped against a wall. When Steve knocked on Tony's helmet, frantic with fear, it popped up and Tony howled with laughter.

"That was fucking AWESOME!" he said, straining to get the unresponsive armor to obey him. "Better than a roller coaster! Ugh, Clint, nice shooting," he added, rolling over, revealing the broken-off stubs of Clint's arrows in the back of his armor.

They'd gone clean through two joints, hooking in the shoulder plates. And in flesh, Steve saw, as Clint tugged them free.

"I'm gonna be so bruised," Tony said, still clearly high on adrenalin. Blood began to seep through the plates.

"Oh, my god," Steve murmured, pulling the plates apart, yanking the back-armor off.

"Hey, watch it with the -- ow," Tony said.

"Lie still," Steve ordered, tugging his gloves off and pressing them over the wounds. Clint reached out and took over for him while Tony complained about being pinned face-down.

"Can I call out somewhere on this thing?" Steve asked, fiddling with his earpiece.

"Captain," a voice said in his ear, suddenly.

"JARVIS?" Steve asked.

"I cannot contact the armor."

"Tony's hurt. We need medics."

"To your location?"

"Please, quickly," Steve said.

"Summoning. Agent Romanoff will meet them and guide them to you," JARVIS replied crisply. "How badly is Sir injured?"

"He took two of Clint's arrows and did a header into a building," Steve replied. "He's lucid, mostly."

He could hear the tremor in his voice. It was objectively better than hitting the pavement, and much better than Tony's first, terrible fall, but also worse -- because now Tony wasn't just a mouthy braggart he sort of knew. He was...he was precious to Steve, in a way he shied away from defining.

By the time the medics arrived, Steve was breathing hard, after-battle stress taking over. They took a look at him and split up, one of them to stabilize Tony while the other forced an oxygen mask over Steve's face.

***

They debriefed in Tony's hospital room, Tony propped on his stomach on a pile of pillows.

"Could have been worse," he said, through a painkiller-happy grin. "Could have been my ass."

"I aim to please," Clint replied.

"Really, it's very good workmanship," Natasha said, examining Tony's stitched-up wounds. "Not that deep or long. Were you gauging tension in the bow?" she asked.

"Course I was. I wanted to catch him, not impale him," Clint said, affronted.

"It was quick thinking," Steve said. "Next time, however, let's make sure we don't cause a huge electrical charge while Tony's in the air?"

Thor looked sheepish. "I did not consider it."

"Understandable," Steve replied. "We'll work on it in drills, if you're sticking around."

"I fear I may have to," Thor said. "The return to Asgard will require considerable energy. My father may not be able to summon me for some time."

"The good news is, you vaporized pretty much all of whatever they were," Bruce said, entering the room. "SHIELD's doing glittery blue cleanup now. Apparently the only uh...hell fairies left are the ones you all personally dismembered."

"Not sorry," Clint and Natasha said in unison.

"Well, it'll be interesting for the xenobiologists," Bruce sighed.

"We have xenobiologists?" Tony asked. "Plural, even?"

"Brave new world," Bruce said, patting the small of Tony's back absently. Steve bristled, then tamped it down.

"We could still go clubbing tonight," Tony said, but the effect of his enthusiasm was somewhat dampened by the way he was faceplanted into a pillow.

"How about you just have a private party right here," Clint said kindly.

"Hospital rave," Tony agreed. "Works for me, I'm already on the good stuff. Hey, thank you for saving my life by shooting me in the back."

"Anytime. I'm going to go get some food and shuteye," Clint said. "Anyone who wants a ride back to the tower, quinjet leaves in ten."

"I'll stay," Steve said, because everyone else looked exhausted except Bruce, who looked faintly stressed every time he glanced at Tony's bare back and saw the stitches there. "Thor, let's talk tomorrow. In the meantime, Tony set up a place for you at the tower. Bruce can show you where."

"My thanks," Thor said from the doorway. "I apologize for the mess."

"Not your fault. Well, mostly," Steve said. "See you tomorrow."

"Let us know how he does. Don't let him go anywhere," Natasha ordered.

"I'm not a child," Tony grumbled.

"That's what we're afraid of," Natasha replied, patting him on the head (harder than necessary, to judge from Tony's yelp) and following Bruce out. Steve slumped down in the chair, partly from fatigue, partly because it gave Tony an easier view of his face. Tony turned his head and crossed his eyes at him, and Steve snorted.

"Hey, how about in like, an hour you do a burger run?" Tony wheedled. "I hate hospital food."

"We're on the helicarrier. I think they'll notice if I hijack a quinjet and take it around a drive-through," Steve said. Natasha had introduced him to drive-throughs; Steve thought they were one of the better inventions in food technology that had taken place while he slept. "Tell you what, if you're good I'll buy you a Hershey bar from the commissary."

"You're so ooooold," Tony groaned.

"No respect," Steve teased. "No respect at all for helping save your life." He sobered a little, catching Tony's eye. "Honest, though. You gotta stop falling out of the sky, Tony. My nerves can't take it."

Tony smiled. "Do you know the myth of Icarus?" he asked.

Steve cocked his head.

"Icarus and Daedalus built wings to escape from a prison. Wax, covered in feathers. Icarus loved flight, and flew too close to the sun. The wax melted and he fell," he said.

"Yes, I know the story," Steve said quietly.

"But I bet you, if Icarus was anything like me, he was only thinking one thing as he went down," Tony said. "He was thinking, worth it."

"Tony."

"There's this saying, y'know, goes like, with great power comes great responsibility," Tony continued. "But I always thought that got it backwards."

"With great responsibility comes great power?" Steve tried, not liking the way it sounded.

"Great power is worth great responsibility," Tony said. "I love flying. Being Iron Man is my favorite thing in the whole world. If I fall for good one day, it...it'll have been worth it."

"You know," Steve said, "You keep saying we're not soldiers, but then you keep talking like one."

"Well, I'm high, I can't be held responsible," Tony said. Steve clapped him gently on the shoulder, then frowned.

"You're cold," he said.

"Little bit," Tony agreed.

"You want some more blankets?"

"Please."

He had one already, pulled up around his waist, and Steve unfolded it carefully over his shoulders. There was another one under the bed, and he spread that one out too, then tucked a third around his feet. Tony sighed happily, curling one of them around his arm with a fist, burrowing his face into the soft fabric.

"Are you staying?" he asked.

"I said I would," Steve replied.

"You don't have to."

"I want to." Steve ruffled his hair. Tony closed his eyes, leaning into the touch, so Steve left his hand resting on his head, just above his ear.

"If I were older," Tony began, clearly on the brink of sleep.

"God save us all from what you're planning when you get older," Steve said, amused. "What, Tony?"

"Hmm. Nevermind," Tony mumbled, breath evening out. Steve drew back and settled into the chair, ready to sit vigil until Tony could be taken home.

***

Pepper arrived on the Helicarrier around dinner time; when she appeared in the doorway, Clint was lurking guiltily behind her, and Steve surmised that she'd browbeaten him into bringing her here. Pepper was nice, but there was no saying no to her, even as a superhero.

She woke Tony by the simple expedient of pulling the blankets off before Steve could stop her. Tony yelped and flailed a little, then pushed himself up and glared.

"Cruel, evil genius," he said, and Pepper shoved a bundle of fabric in his face.

"Put on the t-shirt, it's to keep you from bleeding on the sweater," she said. "Steve, I'd like you to know I'm blaming you."

"Yes, ma'am," Steve said, because he didn't really see why she wouldn't. He was the team leader, after all. She gave him an exasperated look.

"Can you put your own shoes on?" Pepper asked Tony, who was easing his arms through the sleeves of the shirt.

"Why, does being in the hospital suddenly devolve my fine motor skills?" Tony replied peevishly. Apparently the painkillers had worn off.

"Try bending at the waist," Pepper said. She made a vindicated-but-unsatisfied noise when Tony tried, then stiffened and caught his breath. Steve knew the way sudden, sharp pain could prick up tears even if you weren't particularly hurt -- the surprise of it was more than enough. He ignored Tony's blinking eyes and gently guided Pepper out of the way, kneeling to pick up the shoes she'd brought, socks tucked neatly inside them.

"Well, they earn their keep, I'll give them that," he heard Pepper say, and smiled as he bent over Tony's foot, resting it on his thigh while Tony struggled to pull on a sweater.

"I do try to make myself useful, ma'am," he said, lacing up one of the shoes. He avoided Tony's gaze as he lifted the other foot and completed his task, and by the time he'd stood up and dusted off his trousers, Pepper was hustling Tony out of the room, back towards the Quinjet hangar. Steve gathered up his shield and followed, feeling slightly ridiculous to be in full uniform, trailing behind Pepper in her nice skirt set and Tony and Clint in casual clothes.

Tony managed to stay awake for the jet ride, possibly because the occasional jolt of turbulence hurt his injuries. When they reached home, Steve waited somewhat fruitlessly and aimlessly outside Tony's suite while Pepper got him settled.

"Anything I can do?" he asked, when she emerged.

"Not unless you can add two more hours to my day," she said with a smile. "And that's not a jab at Tony. I need two more hours added onto every day. Fortunately, the evacuation means my evening is clear."

"Not the most ideal way to get yourself a holiday," Steve said.

"No, but I'll take what I can get. Besides, at least life's never dull, right?" Pepper said. She gave him a knowing look. "Tony's asleep again, if you want to go in and sit with him. Really I should have let you get him settled."

"Why?" Steve asked, baffled.

"Well, he listens to you more than most people. He's become immune to me through exposure." She patted his shoulder.

"He should probably rest," Steve said reluctantly. "And I need to talk to Thor."

"Eat first, if you haven't. I think I heard Bruce say he was leaving some Chinese in the fridge for you."

"Thanks, Pepper," Steve said.

She gave him an odd look as she left. "You're the ones who brought him back alive."

***

The next morning, Steve came back from his run to find Tony's damaged backplate mounted on a wall in the common room. Someone had written "TEAMWORK!" on the metal in thick grease-pencil letters, with lines pointing to the two dents that Clint's arrows had left.

He found Tony alone in the kitchen, slumped over the big table they ate at, face-down, hands gripping a mug of coffee.

"Morning," he said, amused, and received a groan in reply. "How's the back?"

"Stiff," Tony replied. "I'm all cramped everywhere from sleeping wrong. Prescription strength Tylenol, come to me."

He made grabby hands at a pill bottle sitting just out of reach. Steve took pity on him and moved it into his grasp.

"That stuff'll stunt your growth," he teased, as Tony downed a pill with half the mug of coffee.

"Bite me," Tony replied, no real venom in his voice. Steve poured himself a glass of milk and settled into the chair next to Tony, bumping his shoulder gently.

"You want some food?"

Tony shook his head, staring at his coffee. He looked like he was working up to something, so Steve kept silent, sipping his milk.

"Clint told me you freaked out when you guys found me," Tony said finally.

"I wouldn't call it that," Steve answered, feeling a little defensive. "We were coming out of combat, that's all."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Well, first you were bleeding, then you were in the hospital, then you were asleep," Steve said. "Besides, it's not relevant. They gave me a little oxygen, I was fine."

"You're always fine."

"I try," Steve agreed.

"You shouldn't try so hard," Tony said. "I can't get a read on you sometimes."

"I don't mean to be inscrutable," Steve said, smiling.

"Well, you are," Tony said, turning to him. "Y'know, when I was sixteen I almost died and I thought, wow, my life has sucked, how useless, and I had regrets."

"You were sixteen," Steve said. "You're only eighteen now. How useful were you hoping to be?"

"More than I was. So I said to myself, when I got out, I wasn't going to have any regrets. I wasn't going to lie about who I am or miss opportunities to be awesome."

"How's that going for you?" Steve asked.

Tony kissed him.

It startled him for a second, the sudden movement, the slight pained sound Tony made against his lips as it pulled his stitches. Steve tasted coffee and morning breath, and became suddenly, acutely aware of how sweaty he himself was, how Tony's hand was curled in the smelly, damp shirt he wore. Tony's mouth opened and Steve was in no way prepared for this, for Tony kissing him or for anyone kissing him.

He lifted a hand, searching for some way to anchor himself, and heard Tony hiss in pain. He jerked back, catching Tony's jaw with his hand.

"Please don't be pissed off," Tony said, breathing in short little pants. "I know you probably think of me like a little brother or a fellow soldier or something but I've had a crush on you since like, the first time I saw you in those really tight Captain America pants and I almost died yesterday and you stayed the whole time I was in the hospital -- "

Steve made a quiet, hushing noise, and Tony fell abruptly silent. With the hand on his jaw, Steve pushed him back slightly, easing the strain on his wounded shoulders.

"Better," he said, and leaned in and kissed Tony this time, teeth clicking against Tony's for a second before they sorted out just the right angle.

The sun was shining in through the kitchen windows, and Tony smelled like coffee and soap and felt impossibly delicate under his hand. Steve swept his thumb up across Tony's cheek as they kissed, feeling the soft play of muscle under skin, the jump of Tony's pulse. For just a minute, the whole world was golden light and warmth, and he felt warm and content.

There was one thin thread of guilt running through it, though, itching at him like a chore left undone. When he realized what it was, he sighed and leaned back.

"What, why, no stopping," Tony complained, trying to lean forward. Steve put his other hand on his chest to keep him there.

"Tony," he said, choosing his words carefully. "I'm eight years older than you."

"I can do math."

"I know you can. But you are -- look, I remember being your age," Steve said. "And you don't have many people who can...give you advice on this sort of thing."

Tony gave him an incredulous look. "Are you seriously telling Iron Man that he needs parental guidance?"

"No. I'm telling Tony that I want him to be sure," Steve said. "I don't want you to make a mistake. To have regrets," he added.

Tony nodded, apparently considering it, and Steve's heart fell for a brief second.

Then Tony moved, sliding out of his chair and smoothly onto Steve's lap, straddling his thighs. Steve's hands went down automatically to frame his waist, keeping him steady. He could feel the slightness of him, the wiry muscle.

"I'm a big boy, Steve," he said, nosing against Steve's jaw. He lifted his head and kissed him. "I can make my own mistakes. And I don't care if you don't."

"Can't really bring myself to," Steve said, relief flooding him. "But I thought I ought to say."

"Very devoted to duty, admirable," Tony replied, against his mouth. "I -- "

He was interrupted by the noise of a throat clearing nearby. Steve jerked back, looking to one side, and saw Bruce standing in the doorway.

"Well," Bruce said, adjusting his glasses. Tony made no move, and Steve couldn't very well push him off his lap. "Finally."

He left without another word. Steve blinked, then looked back at Tony.

"I think," Tony said, an impudent grin on his face, "you just got the closest thing you're going to get to parental approval to date me."

Steve grinned back. "In that case, let me take you to dinner tonight."

"No clubbing?"

"No clubbing," Steve said, fingers flexing on his waist. "Let me do this right, Tony."

"Do you really think, considering it's me, you could do it wrong?"

"Yes. I think a lot of people probably have, in the past," Steve said, raising one hand to his jaw again. "So indulge my old-fashioned notions, please."

Tony leaned into the touch, eyes betraying the uncertainty he wouldn't show any other way. It was heartening, almost; at least it meant Tony understood the seriousness of what they were doing. Steve doubted he'd ever been serious about anyone in his young life.

"If you're scared, if you're not sure, it's all right," he murmured, remembering how mysterious and terrifying sex had seemed to him at eighteen. Tony'd probably already had plenty, but not like this -- not when it meant something, with someone he knew like he knew Steve. "We don't have to do anything about this if you don't want to. And if we do, we can go slowly."

"I'd like to," Tony said. "Dinner, right?"

Steve smiled, easing Tony back gently until he got to his feet. Steve rose too, trying not to tower over him, and kissed him quickly.

"It's been a crazy couple of days," he said. "Get some rest. I have after-actions to review and I have to speak with Thor. Six o'clock tonight, I'll meet you out here. Don't get dressed up, we're not going anywhere fancy."

"Soldier's salary?" Tony asked with a tilt of his lips.

"Not that fond of high-class eats," Steve replied. "See you at six."

Tony sometimes forgot that Steve had very good hearing; as Steve walked down the hall to his room, he heard Tony cry, "Yes!" and then grunt in pain as he got too enthusiastic.

Chapter Three

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