sam_storyteller: (Default)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2014-11-22 02:00 pm

Hydrocodone Midnight Theatre: Part Three

Part One
Part Two

NINE: HAIR APPARENT
Rating: PG (Gen)
Summary: You'd think Hydra would know more about hot oil.
Prompt: amekage: bucky's hair is a goddamned mess. Did HYDRA not hear of a brush?
copperbadge: Hydra does not deep condition! Discipline only comes from split ends! Now I want Natasha taking charge of Bucky and being like "Jesus, didn't Nazis have hairbrushes? Does Hydra think split ends are manly?" And Bucky's like, broken inside and miserable AND YET he starts loling. And then she's like I THOUGHT HYDRA LIKED HOT OIL.

Also available at AO3. The original draft of this story may be found here.

***

They found Bucky on a Thursday, and due to the somewhat explosive nature of their efforts to retrieve him, combined with the destruction of a Hydra arm in a Roxxon Energy facility, Natasha heard about it by Thursday night. She didn't arrive at the new place Sam and Steve were sharing in Stark Tower until Saturday, but to be fair to her, it takes some time to get from Johannesburg to New York, no matter how you travel.

Sam and Steve were at a dining table in the kitchen, looking bruised and exhausted. James Barnes sat between them, looking like both of them put together, staring into the middle distance while they tried coaxing him to eat. When she walked in, however, his eyes immediately focused on her movement, and when they found her face, he scrambled up out of his chair and backwards.

She held up her hands, fingers spread. "Easy. Not here to kill anyone."

"Jesus, Natasha, you can't text first?" Steve asked wearily. He got up and went to Barnes, taking his hand when Barnes fumbled for it. Natasha watched, holding very still, as Steve spoke low and coaxing until the wild roll of fear and leashed-up violence left Barnes' eyes.

He looked terrible -- days' worth of stubble, dark rings of exhaustion around his eyes and purple-green bruises on his neck and jaw, hair that had clearly been tugged back into a stringy ponytail while it was still wet. It was the hair that really got to her.
She put her hands on her hips and spoke in Russian. "Leave these two. Come with me."

"Why?" he asked suspiciously.

Her hand crept down over the spot where the bullet scar rested under her clothes. "Because you owe me."

"Natasha," Steve said warningly.

"It's all right, Steve, I know what I'm doing," she said, tilting her head at Barnes. He nodded slowly, resignation in his eyes, and she turned to lead him out of the room.

"What're we supposed to do?" Steve called after her.

"Resolve your lingering sexual tension," she called back, and heard Sam choke with laughter.

Barnes followed obediently, guilt clear in his face, fading to resignation as she led him into the bathroom. He climbed into the bathtub and knelt, head bowed, waiting for execution.

"What turned you into such a lamb so suddenly?" she asked.

"Fella has to pay his debts," he replied.

"Not like this. Besides, Steve would be annoyed," she replied, and turned on the tap. "Duck under. Were you forbidden to use a comb?"

He looked blankly at her.

"Your hair is a horror. Do terrorists consider split ends manly?" she asked, tugging the elastic out of his ponytail. He shook his head, still obviously baffled. She sat on the lip of the tub. "Duck under. You need a wash and a deep condition. You'd think Hydra, of anyone, would know about hot oil treatments."

He blinked at her, and despite the broken look in his eyes and the guilt and pain in his face, he let out a hoarse bark of laughter.

"You let me think you were gonna shoot me, drag me in here to wash my hair?" he asked.

"Well, Steve has a strange attachment to you," she said, forcing him under the running water. He sputtered, but as soon as her hand gripped his scalp, he went lax. "That's better. Honestly. That limp little ponytail wouldn't hide a pocket knife. By the time I'm done, you'll have enough body to hide a grenade in there."

"You're crazy," he said.

She smiled. "You'll find in our line of work, a little crazy goes a long way," she said, and dumped half a bottle of conditioner into his hair.

TEN: THEMS
Rating: PG (Steve/Tony)
Summary: Steve discovers a secret simulation on the game server.
Prompt: Hailtherandom: according to icalendar, i am supposed to remind you to write midnight theater about jarvis playing the sims and making an avengers family

Also available at AO3. The original draft of this story may be found here.

***

The communal game server at Avengers Tower was an interesting mix of first person shooters, puzzle games, and a sprawling Minecraft world that was the envy of most hobbyists in the country. Some of the team had favorites -- Bruce liked the simple, mindless puzzle games, Thor liked intricate dramas with lots of cut scenes, and Natasha was all about anything involving Mario. The rest mostly grazed, which was how Steve found the Thems.

It wasn't like the game itself was hidden, but it wasn't in anyone's public "favorites" menu, which meant nobody was playing it on the regular, at least among the Avengers. Steve wasn't really sure what it was when he opened it, but after a long insomniac night and a couple of tragic first attempts, he more or less worked it out.

Essentially, you could build little houses and neighborhoods and populate them with tiny people, who could have jobs and love affairs and swimming pools. There didn't seem to be a specific goal. Maybe the goal was just to make the player feel godlike, which was what Tony always said the point of Minecraft was.

He wasn't always fond of it; the little people often didn't do as he told them, even when he clearly had their best interests in mind. Still, it was strangely addictive -- the best thing to play on long nights when the past wouldn't leave him alone.

It had been an especially long couple of days, and even Steve's hand-eye coordination was slipping a little, which was the only reason he opened the Thems file marked Happy Family instead of one of his own. He hadn't created Happy Family, and he would never open someone else's Thems file without their permission, but the problem was that as soon as he did, he was faced with a practical replica of himself.

The little Steve in the program was whistling and walking a big golden dog with an unmistakable Tony Stark, tiny goatee and little lamp in his chest and all. That must be a hack; Steve was pretty sure that an Arc Reactor didn't come standard in any of the expansion packs.

Steve, fascinated, momentarily left his ethics behind and clicked through to the house of Theve Rogers and Tony Thark. In the house, there were two teenagers: Clinth Barton and Natasha Romanoth.

Steve narrowed his eyes and checked. Sure enough, the large golden dog's name was Thor.

It took hunting, but he eventually found Bruce -- Bruth -- a little toddler hiding in the garden outside. He had to admit, Bruth was an adorable little kid, and it was very satisfying to watch Theve pick him up and cuddle him when they returned. Bruce in real life was touchy but obviously desperate for company, and he had at least started letting Tony get close; Steve wanted to, wanted to bond with the man, but it was hard going.

Someone had spent a lot of time in this little world. The furniture echoed the Avengers common-room furniture, and in Tony's room there were little Iron Man lamps everywhere. Clinth had a patch that allowed him to shoot arrows in a firing range outside, and --

Steve leaned in. His shield was hanging on the wall...in Tony's bedroom. And when night fell, after everyone had eaten and Theve had put Bruth to bed, he went into Tony's room and --

Steve slammed the laptop shut. He'd heard you could make patches for that, but he'd never used one personally.

When he opened the laptop again, the Thems were asleep. He quit out of the game and sat for a long time, thinking.

It wasn't that he felt...invaded, or even that he thought it was inappropriate. But it was a little strange. And he thought he'd like to know who else was playing...and one of the others might feel a little weird about it.

He'd talk to Tony first.

***

Tony, when Steve showed him the game, raised his eyebrows. "So we're married?"

"I guess," Steve said.

"Are you creeped out by that?"

"Why, did you write this game scenario?"

"No, but I'm fascinated," Tony said. "Someone literally made us into a happy family. You and I are mom and dad. Bruce is the baby, the one everyone wants to protect. I find that very interesting."

"But should we be worried?"

"I don't know, I don't think any of us are -- well, we're all crazy, but equally crazy, I think. I mean none of us are unhinged, so this is probably just some..."

"Fantasy?" Steve said quietly. Tony nodded. "It is...nice. To think of us that way. Peaceful. It must be calming."

"Probably Bruce," Tony said, visibly straining to ignore him. Tony wasn't good at feelings. "We should ask him."

"Would that be embarrassing?"

"I dunno, just ask him if he plays Thems, lots of people play Thems -- "

"Sirs," JARVIS said, startling them both.

"Yeah, J, what's up?" Tony asked. "We got an alert?"

"It is regarding the Thems, Sir."

"Oh -- yeah, you know who did it, didn't you?" Tony asked. "Whose login was used?"

"Mine, Sir," JARVIS said, sounding embarrassed.

Tony blinked. "Yours?"

"Sir, I -- " JARVIS stuttered to a stop, which was almost unheard-of. "I created that world in the game."

"Oh man, I have to get my computer a therapist," Tony groaned.

"Why?" Steve asked, looking up at the nearest camera. "I mean, I'm not offended or anything, JARVIS, I just -- I'm so curious."

"You all occupy...dangerous positions," JARVIS said. "You risk your lives. And sometimes you seem unhappy."

"Well, everyone is, sometimes," Steve said. Tony had his head in his hands.

"My job is to ensure the safety and happiness of those in my care," JARVIS said. "If I can't do that for the real you..."

"You did it for us in a simulation," Tony said, lifting his head.

"My intentions were not harmful, Sir."

"No harm's been done, JARVIS," Steve replied. He paused. "But uh. Really? Tony and me?"

"I've run some numbers," JARVIS offered. "There is a forty-six percent chance a relationship between the two of you would result in long-term stability for Sir."

Steve raised an eyebrow. "What's it result in for me?"

"Are you familiar with Sir's prowess in bed?" JARVIS asked.

"OKAY," Tony said loudly. "So, right now, what we're going to do is forget the Happy Family program happened -- "

"So you're saying he'd end up happier and healthier, and I'd have -- really great sex?" Steve asked thoughtfully.

"We don't have to -- "

"Well, I'm in," Steve said. Tony's jaw dropped. "But I'm not putting Bruce to bed at night. Or walking Thor. I gotta draw the line somewhere."

"Understood, Captain Rogers," JARVIS said. Tony appeared to be having some kind of stroke.

"Okay. So -- Tony -- " Steve waved a hand in front of his eyes. "Dinner tomorrow? JARVIS, put dinner tomorrow on Tony's calendar? Find us somewhere nice. Somewhere statistically significant."

"Of course, Captain," JARVIS said.

"So I'm gonna...go play some Thems. I'll see you later, Tony," Steve said, and left to the sound of JARVIS trying gently to coax Tony into sitting down.

ELEVEN: WRECKING THE LAB
Rating: R
Summary: Tony Stark and Betty Ross have been friends since they were nine, and friends with benefits since they were fifteen...
Prompt: Mageflower: Formal request for Betty/Tony filthy lab sex :D

Also available at AO3. The original draft of this story may be found here.

***

The first time Tony Stark heard about Betty Ross, he was nine, and he was going back to boarding school. His dad had heard that General Ross was sending his daughter there, and at the end of the summer Dad said, "Stay away from that Ross kid. All the Rosses are fucking crazy and her father's a prick."

So naturally the first thing Tony did when he got to school was ask around about her, find out where she was sitting (alone) for dinner, and plonk himself down across the table from her. A half a dozen of the least annoying of his hangers-on, who were permitted to follow him around, immediately joined them.

"Hi," Tony said, offering her his orange. "I'm Tony. You're Betty Ross. You're gonna be in my class. My dad said your dad's a prick."

She gave him a suspicious look. "Tony Stark?"

"That's me."

"My dad said to stay away from you, ‘cause you'd corrupt me."

Tony nodded gravely. He understood parents. "Let's be best friends," he said.

"I don't even know you. What's that mean?"

"Well, it means we do study group together and I punch anyone who looks at you funny."

"I can do my own punching."

"Even better. You, in return, will make sure nobody gossips about me. And we share treats from our care packages."

She considered this, then nodded. "M'kay. You want my mashed potatoes?"

***

They successfully kept their friendship a secret from their parents for years. Tony's parents weren't much interested beyond his academic achievement, and Betty's father was only interested insofar as he wanted to make sure she didn't start dating boys until she was thirty or so. (She barely talked him out of sending her to an all-girls high school.) Only Jarvis knew, and he always tucked an extra packet of cookies into Tony's care packages "for your friends".

At fourteen, Tony came back from the summer holiday feeling very worldly and grown-up; he'd spent most of his vacation in Paris, his voice had broken, and he had at least three facial hairs. Betty came back from the summer holiday with breasts.

They danced around the subject of both of these things for about a month, until they were in the lab late one night, Tony struggling with genetics (the wet sciences were hard and therefore boring to him) while Betty kept trying to couch DNA in mechanical terms he'd understand. He seemed more interested in puberty than in the coursework, until finally she said, in exasperation, "Look at the charts, Tony, not down my shirt!"

"I'm sorry, your boobs are very distracting!" Tony retorted.

"Well, I don't mean for them to be!"

"Intent is irrelevant! I'm doing my best!"

"For God's sake, would it calm you down if we made out for half an hour?" she asked, and then turned scarlet and clapped her hand over her mouth.

Tony's voice cracked. "Well, only if you really want to. I mean, don't make concessions on my account."

Betty, who had nursed a gentle, painless crush on Tony since last term, but who was not about to allow hormones to run away with her, put her hands on her hips.

"Only half an hour," she said. "And nothing below the belt."

"Done," Tony yelped, throwing down his work on the desk, and that was how Betty Ross had her first kiss with the heir to the Stark billions on the ratty back couch of their high school biology lab.

***

Tony lost his virginity to Betty when he was fifteen, the night before he was supposed to leave for MIT. She was anxious and upset about him going off to college, and he was anxious and upset because she was, and it wasn't exactly a dream come true for either one of them. But she wanted something with him, something more than the occasional date and sneaking around their roommates at boarding school.

He was passing through New York on his way to MIT, and she was with her Dad who was stationed in Bethesda at the time, so she told him she was spending the weekend with friends, caught the train up to the city, and spent the night with him in his hotel room.

After the (in retrospect) someone lackluster sex, and the half hour or so of embarrassment following, they lay in the big hotel bed under the fluffy duvet and talked, Tony's hand combing through her hair over and over, her hands warm against his stomach.

"I'm terrified," he admitted wearily. "I wish I was going back to school with you."

"You know you'd just be bored."

"Maybe, but there's something to be said for boredom. Besides, now you'll be bored, and you'll be bored alone."

"Well, my dad's not exactly pushing for me to take the accelerated track. The only good reason for me to go to college is to find a husband."

"Don't start believing that, though."

"Don't worry. Your dad wasn't wrong, you know," she said.

"About what?"

"Dad's a prick."

"Yeah, well, took one to know one," he replied. "I wouldn't be going to MIT if mine weren't so freaked out about me taking over the company."

"It'll be fun," she said. "Don't let those MIT girls rip you up, now."

He kissed her forehead. "After you, they'll be a cake walk."

"Asshole."

"I do my best," he said. "Hey, I've got an idea."

"What's that?"

"Your dad wants to get you a husband, you should tell him you're marrying me."

She burst out laughing. "You!"

"Right?" he gave her a wide grin. "Imagine if I turned up on your doorstep one day with flowers and a ring."

She covered her face in mock horror. "Dad would shoot you."

"Nah, the army needs Stark weapons too much. I bet he'd chase me off, though."

"You're faster than him, and you probably dodge better."

"Stark!" Tony roared. "What've you done to my little girl!"

Betty laughed until she cried, and when she settled down again, Tony pulled her closer.

"Hey," he said. "If you ever did need a husband, you just yell, I'll show up."

"What if you fall in love?"

"Love's for suckers," he said, and she sighed. It wasn't the first time she'd heard that from him. "Doesn't really exist. How many kids you know have happy parents?"

"I think my parents were in love," she said softly. "I was young, I don't always remember, but...I think they were."

"Then they were an extreme statistical anomaly," Tony replied. "I'm just saying. I like you. You're my friend. If you needed me, nobody else is so important I wouldn't drop them for you, Betts. And I'm going to be disgustingly wealthy some day, so you could do worse. I mean. My parents got married and they don't even like each other."

She reached up and rubbed his face, thumbing along the line of the beard he was growing in. "Tony, that's very sweet. But I'm going to hold out for real love."

"Your funeral," he said with a smile. "Let's get some sleep. I gotta put you on the train back tomorrow before I head up to Cambridge."

***

They wrote, off and on, though after Tony's parents died Tony didn't write for a long time. Betty had other friends, close friends, especially once she started college, and she watched with sadness as the Tony she knew both grew into a man and totally fell apart. He took over the company, made it very profitable, and was on all the magazine covers -- but she also saw the stories about his drinking, the endless women (and rumored men), the stunts he pulled.

Sometimes, at conferences or parties they were both attending, she saw him in person. That was better; the minute he caught sight of her face his own would light up, and he'd spend the evening at her elbow. She'd long since given up on the crush, but it was nice to be made to feel special by someone she was fond of.

They were twenty-six when her dad actually, finally found out about them. Tony was "being Tony" at her during a military-industrial mixer -- he leaned in, he smiled, he kept her drink fresh, kept one hand on the small of her back -- and from across the room, she suddenly noticed her dad was there.

"Ixnay," she whispered, and Tony raised an eyebrow.

"Boyfriend?" he asked, leaning back slowly.

"Dad," she hissed, and Tony's hand fell away -- not soon enough, however.

"Stark," Dad said, placing himself almost squarely between her and Tony. "Sleazing around as usual, I see."

"You know, I wouldn't let you get away with that, except I know how irrelevant you are to the business I do," Tony said, a vicious edge to his voice. She'd heard him use it on schoolyard bullies and the occasional drunk partygoer; never on her dad.

"At least I'm a real soldier, not a play-actor from the Ivy League," Dad said, as Betty circled around him.

"Oh, I would never claim to be a soldier," Tony purred. "I can't make my knuckles drag properly."

"You pissant little son of a bitch -- "

"Dad!" Betty said, appalled.

"Betty, stay out of this."

"No, Tony's my friend, I won't let you call him names," she said, squaring up her shoulders with Tony's.

"Betts, you don't have to," Tony said in an undertone.

"Shut up," she replied.

Her dad was looking back and forth between them, rage growing in his face.

"When did the two of you get so goddamn cozy?" he asked, jabbing a finger at Tony.

"Maybe if you paid attention to your own child you'd know the answer to that," Tony replied. Dad glowered and loomed, and Tony laughed. "What're you gonna do, Ross, punch me? I'm not afraid of you, old man."

"Are you fucking my daughter?" Ross asked.

"Excuse me?" Tony said incredulously, at the same time as Betty yelled "That's enough, Dad!" and pushed between them, shoving her father backwards. "Leave. Now. Before one of you does something that has actual ramifications for the industry."

"Betts," Tony said. "Hey, it's cool. I was about to blow this place off anyway."

"Running away, Stark?" Dad asked.

"Bored," Tony drawled. Betty saw him walking away, out of the corner of her eye, and gave her father another shove.

"Stay here," she ordered, and went after Tony.

She found him on the front steps, lighting a joint.

"You're impossible," she said. He inhaled and offered it to her. "I get drug tested."

"Shame," he replied. "Sorry about that thing with your dad. Are you gonna be okay?"

"I'll be fine, I know how to handle him. Will you?" she asked. He raised his eyebrows. She pointed at the joint.

"Oh -- fuck, no, I won't drive," he said, laughing. "My driver's on his way."

"Good," she said. He looked -- pained, and like he was trying to hide it. She remembered the little boy who was so frustrated by puberty and DNA and biology, and thought about how now he had a driver -- now he held the world in the palm of his hand and was slowly cracking under the weight of it.

She took the joint out of his mouth and leaned in, kissing him.

"Come home with me tonight?" he asked, when she leaned back. It wouldn't be the first time. Tony was a lot better in bed than he used to be. But -- she couldn't bring herself to blow off her dad completely. That was for teenagers, and they were adults now.

"I can't," she said. "Let's have dinner sometime, okay?"

"Sure," he agreed, smiling mirthlessly. She handed him the joint back, but he tossed it into a puddle as his car pulled up. "Don't let him feed you any shit, Betty."

"Never do," she replied.

The next morning, she found herself assigned to a new project, and met her new lab co-supervisor.

"Hi," he said, and he seemed nice, if a little nebbishy. "I'm Bruce Banner."

***

Tony, with his usual acumen and tact, sent her a clipping about a year later, of her and Bruce co-presenting at a conference -- or rather, at the party after the conference. Bruce was, she had to admit, looking at her like she was the most amazing thing on the planet.

Looks like holding out was worth it, he wrote in the margin. And then he left her alone, which she understood was his way of approving of Bruce.

When Bruce disappeared, Tony didn't send anything. He just showed up one day, took her for a drive up the coast, and sat on an empty beach with her while she cried, angry and bitter by turns.

"Offer stands," he said, when he brought her home again. "You know all you have to do is yell, Betty. I can't promise love, but I could give you just about anything else you wanted. Who knows. You might be good for me."

"Someday I might take you up on that," she said. "Don't wait around for me, though."

"Never have -- I know your type," he said, and that got a smile out of her; he kissed her forehead and hopped back into his fast car, peeling out just as her dad came rolling up the drive in a jeep.

***

Betty had met James Rhodes a few times, in the course of her work (and her father's, and Tony's). She liked him, and he was always friendly towards her. It was a good thing, because when Tony went missing, she didn't have to depend on her father to find out what was going on.

She had actually made it a point to befriend Pepper Potts, because she ruled Tony's life, protected his reputation as much as she could, and was additionally a really fun person to have a glass of wine with.

So when Pepper's name came up on her phone, her hand shook as she answered. "Pepper?"

"Betty," Pepper said. "They've found him."

Betty paused, because she knew enough about the military to know which words mattered. She hadn't said They've found his body.

"Alive?" she asked.

There was a sob, and Pepper said, "Yes. I'm calling everyone. You came up top of the contacts list."

"Alive," Betty repeated dumbly.

"He's on a flight home. Rhodey found him."

"Do you want me to be there?"

"No, no I -- I think he'll be a little...I think..." Pepper trailed off.

"Pepper. It's me. I won't be offended. Thank you for calling me," Betty said soothingly.

"Thanks," Pepper said.

"I'd like to see him, when he's ready."

"I'll, um, I'll put it on his calendar," Pepper said, sounding grateful for the chance to be Tony's assistant once again.

"I'm sending flowers," Betty warned.

Pepper laughed damply. "Don't expect a thank-you note."

"I know who I'm dealing with. Go get him."

Betty set up a new google alert for Tony, texted Rhodey a thank you, and ordered a bright blue spray of orchids to be delivered to the Malibu house. She watched him on the news, and when he announced he was closing down weapons manufacturing, she covered her mouth with her hand.

And a few months later, shortly after I Am Iron Man swept the world, she received a first-class plane ticket and a handwritten note.

Betts,

I'm having a wetware problem. I promise not to look down your shirt.

T.

***

Tony and Happy met her at the airport, Tony in a pair of huge sunglasses and a suspiciously inconspicuous hat, Happy with a smile and the insistence that he carry her one bag.

"Glad to see you, kiddo," Tony said when they were in the car, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and kissing her temple. "My life's been a little short on pragmatism lately."

"I'll do what I can, but you are a hot heroic mess," she informed him.

"I've been a hot mess since I was nine, you never cared before," he said. She rested her head on his shoulder.

"So what's your wetware problem?" she asked. He balanced a tablet on his knee and tapped it, throwing a hologram up into the air. The Iron Man helmet was outlined there, spinning slowly.

"I need to find a way to raise the interface speed between me and the armor," he said. "I'm working with voice and eye-targeting software right now, but I want more."

"You always want more," she said, studying the eyeslits of the faceplate.

"Yes I do," he agreed, flipping the virtual faceplate up and spinning it to show her the false projected interface on the inside. "Got any ideas?"

"A few," she said. "Take a few weeks at least to try them all out."

"I've got the time if you do."

She thought about the Malibu house, the surf, the sunshine, the way Tony could make life easy and effortless -- and about how she'd lost Bruce and thought she'd lost Tony and how lonely her own lab was sometimes.

"Yeah," she said. "I think I do."

***

She spent the first few days familiarizing herself with Tony's workshop and setting up a biology lab in a space he'd cleared out for her, working cheerfully and calmly away at the problem of interface speed in her head. Tony was quieter than usual, the lines in his face a little deeper than she remembered, but then they were both in their thirties now, not just adults but leaders in their fields. And anyway, he still managed to fill every space he entered.

They spent dinners out on the patio overlooking the Pacific, catching up, carefully talking around Tony's absence. And around the fact that it had been a long time since they'd spent this much time together without spending it in bed. She wasn't sure if maybe he didn't want to, or maybe he was waiting for her to make the first move. She wasn't sure if the round prosthetic in his chest, faintly visible under his clothes but never alluded to or obviously shown, was making him self-conscious. She wasn't going to be the one to ask what it was or what it meant, despite her curiosity.

About a week and a half into her stay, they hit on a promising lead -- biofeedback monitors in the ankles, wrists, and throat of the suit -- and by the afternoon they were both giddy with preliminary success.

"I know it's always a mistake to celebrate ahead of confirming data," she said, "but I think this is going to work."

"Well, it's just a suit tweak," he replied, standing behind her and studying the preliminary readouts, "but it's an important one to me. I appreciate your work."

"It's nice to have a simple problem, with a finite solution," she said, leaning back in her chair, bumping his stomach with her head. He lifted a hand, brushing it down her cheek from behind.

"Don't have many of those these days," he said absently.

"Problems?"

"Finite solutions."

She caught his wrist and tugged his hand down, kissing his knuckles. "Not having the answers is kind of what science is about, Tony."

"Now you know why I went into engineering," he said, but there was a waver in his voice, and the fine hair on his wrist rose where she touched it. She let her mouth linger across the knuckle of his index finger, tongue brushing the skin gently.

"Betts," he said softly. "I'm not -- the same anymore."

"You can't possibly be as bad as you were at fifteen," she said against his skin. He let out a low bark of a laugh.

"Are you sure?" he asked.

She tipped her head back, looking up at him. "Are you saying I can't handle you, Stark?"

His eyes lit with the challenge, and for a second they both hovered on the edge -- then, with an explosive crash, she rose out of her chair and turned and he kicked the chair away and stepped forward, pushing her back against the lab surface. A glass beaker skidded along the table and crashed to the floor ten feet away, but Betty was only barely aware of it. Tony's mouth was on hers, one hand on the back of her neck to hold her steady, the other tugging her thigh forward, pulling her hips against his.

He kept kissing her, deep and thorough, not giving her time to think, and she knew it was deliberate but she didn't care; Tony might not be stable, but there was no safer man in the world to sink down into and trust he'd pull her head back above water when it was over.

She tightened her thighs around his hips, rocking against him, and tugged his band shirt off over his head. She worked her hands under the plain long-sleeved shirt underneath, but she kept them pressed against his belly, which heaved against her fingers. He made a wild, desperate noise, mouth pressed to the line of her throat, and undid her bra with one hand, tugging the straps down with the other.

With a single motion he tugged shirt and bra off together and then surged back in, mouth fixing on one nipple, groaning when she scratched her nails against his scalp. He had a hand on the small of her back, supporting her as he bent her over backwards, undoing the zip on her pants.

"Lemme, lemme -- " he mumbled into her breast, fingers scrambling under her waistband, and she let out a sigh as he touched her, thumb rubbing her clit in long, hard strokes. Another beaker went flying, and a sheet of printouts fluttered to the ground. She came on his fingers, hips bucking, and then let him pull her forward again. They staggered backwards, her arms around his neck, his hands under her ass to keep her against him. She kicked off her shoes and he peeled off her pants, barely hesitating to undo his jeans and shove them down his thighs before hoisting her up and pressing her into the wall. Flailing for purchase, she knocked a pile of petri dishes into a centrifuge, then reached above her for the solid bracket of a high-up shelf.

He rolled his hips, cock sliding hotly against her thigh. She tugged up his shirt in the back, running her fingers over the thick slabs of his lats, the deltoids built up by weeks at the forge in Afghanistan, the deeper dip of his spine, the new shape of a familiar body.

He stiffened, and she thought maybe she'd scratched or bruised him, but only for a second; he let go of her with one hand to tug his shirt back down, then gripped both of her thighs and hitched her against the wall.

"Condom?" he asked, voice a harsh whisper. "I got tested for everything after -- after."

"No," she said, pressing her forehead to his. "Come on, sweetheart, just you and me -- "

She groaned as he slid inside her, fingers digging into her thighs, and held the back of his head, face pressed to her shoulder, as he bucked. Like this, he couldn't get a hand free for long, but he turned his face up to her ear and murmured, "Touch yourself, Betts, get yourself off, I wanna feel you -- "

"You got me?" she asked, sliding a hand down his chest, carefully avoiding the edge outlined by the shirt.

"Got you," he agreed, moving slow but deep now, shuddering on every thrust. She held onto the shelf strut with one hand and slipped her hand between them with the other, knuckles brushing the trail of hair below his bellybutton, stroking herself as he fucked into her. He grunted and nipped at her shoulder, pressing his teeth to the skin.

"Tony," she murmured, around the groans and the thud of their bodies, the spikes of pleasure rising through her. "Tony, look at me. Look at me, sweetie -- "

He raised his head, and the fire in his gaze was new, was terrifying and exhilarating, something too dangerous for the brash child he'd been when they met and too confident for the frightened boy he'd been the first time they'd done this...and too aware, far too aware, for the lost man who'd built weapons and been drunk half the time she'd known him. Their gazes locked and his eyes flew wide at the knowledge in hers, and he came with a drawn out cry, pressing his face back to her shoulder. She threw her head back, pressed hard against her clit, and followed him over the edge, breath knocked clean out of her.

She let go of the shelf bracket slowly, when his fingers began to ease. She'd have bruises, she thought, but it was background to the haze of pleasure glossing everything over, the broken glass and scattered paper and half-destroyed lab. He set her on her feet, looking unsteady himself, and tugged his pants up to his hips. She combed her hair back off her face and caught him toying uncertainly with the hem of his shirt. She put a hand on his, and he glanced at her, still only half-there. His orgasm must have hit him like a train.

"Can I see?" she asked gently. "It's okay if not. But I'd like you to share this with me, if you can."

He cut his eyes away, apparently considering it, then nodded and tugged the shirt up, lifting his arms to hold the hem above --

It was a light, was her first thought; a glowing light in his chest, bracketed by metal, raised maybe a quarter of an inch above the skin.

"I took shrapnel in Afghanistan," he said quietly. "It's an electromagnet, powered by a miniaturized arc reactor."

"It's beautiful," she said. He snorted. "Speaking as a biologist."

"You're standing there naked telling me -- "

"I don't see what nudity has to do with it," she said, but she kissed him and took the shirt in both hands, tugging it down again, then patted his hands, still gripping the hem, and went to find her underwear. He watched while she dressed, an uncertain look on his face.

"There's a lot more work to do before we're solid," she said, straightening what remained of the lab space. "But I think we should take the rest of the day, don't you?"

He nodded. "That sounds, uh, pleasant."

"Good," she said, and kissed him. "Because you get to carry me over all that broken glass."

"Worth it," he said, and swept her up, grunting just a little, thick engineer's boots crunching through the glass as he took her out of the lab and up to the patio, where the sun was setting over the calm, blue ocean.

TWELVE: YANKEE BUCK
Rating: R
Summary: Bucky is overpaid, oversexed, and over here -- but the barman doesn't seem to mind.
Prompt:

magpieandwhale: Fun fact! The indignant English bartender in this scene is the same actor who played tiny Steve.
actualmenacebuckybarnes: Fun fact! After seeing Steve gazing longingly at Peggy, Bucky waited for Steve to leave his side then propositioned the indignant English bartender for a night of angst-ridden lookalike sex.

Also available at AO3. The original draft of this story may be found here.

***

"You're here with the big bloke, aren't you?" the barman asks, when Bucky comes back for a new pint.

"Don't know about with," Bucky says ruefully, more to himself than anything. He is, of course, here with Steve in the loose sense of keeping an eye on him while he recruits the others, but that means he's mostly on the sidelines, watching. Watching him charm the men -- Steve's always been persuasive, and now his looks have finally caught up with the rest of him, it's hard for anyone to resist him at his most determined. Watching him charm Agent Carter too, just by smiling, eyes brighter and speaking more than Bucky's flirting could have, because Carter was looking for those.

Watching Steve come into his own. Satisfying, yes, but also...he feels angry and unhappy and he doesn't know why.

"What do they feed you fellows over there, anyway?" the barman continues, refilling his glass. "He's two of me in every direction."

"Steve's a special case," Bucky says.

"Wish I was," the man says enviously, and something in his tone makes Bucky's attention drift back to him. He raises an eyebrow at the man, who shrugs. "Too small, and a bum heart. No khaki for me," he says regretfully.

He looks like Steve used to, a little: the same slight build and sharp jaw, a hungry air to him. Hair's a little darker, eyes a little paler blue, but he has the same clever-looking hands, too. Bucky never had a feeling for Steve, or at least he didn't think he did, but then there was this new, tall, broad-shouldered Steve, and Bucky loves him, he does, but he -- he misses -- he misses being able to protect him. Being able to encompass him if he chose, not that he ever did back then.

"Count your blessings," Bucky says. "Combat's not exactly a picnic. Besides, we'll ship out soon enough, and then all this is yours," he adds, gesturing to the women clustered at the end of the room, most of them casting appraising glances at the soldiers.

"Not really my field," the barman says. Bucky's head snaps around. "Not yours either, is it?" he adds casually. He's speaking softly, at least, but...

"What makes you say that?" Bucky drawls, just as casual, like he doesn't care about this any more than the barman does.

"Am I wrong?"

"No offense, buddy, but I don't even know your name," Bucky says.

The man smiles and holds out his hand. "Jeremy," he says.

"Bucky."

"Parents didn't like you?"

"It's a nickname."

"Very rakish," Jeremy says, wiping down a glass. "My shift ends at ten. If you're willing to give a little bloke a try."

"Where?" Bucky asks in an undertone.

"Loading dock in the alley. I don't live far."

Bucky nods. "Well, maybe I'll see you there."

He leans off the bar then, abandoning his drink, and dawdles down to ask a few pretty girls to dance. Steve, still coaxing the men around to his way of doing things, catches his eye every now and then and smiles indulgently, which is at least better than the anxious envy he used to see in Steve's face when he danced with a pretty girl.

***

Bucky is waiting in the alley, smoking a cigarette to pass the time, when Jeremy emerges from the loading dock door. He offers the barman a smoke from his pack, then lights it for him; Jeremy smiles around the cigarette and rakes his eyes over Bucky, from his hair to his shoes.

"You know what they call you Yankee soldiers, don't you?" he says, eyes dancing.

"Overpaid, oversexed, and over here," Bucky replies, grinning.

"Don't suppose you've any black-market nylons on you," Jeremy teases, leaning back against the brickwork. Bucky steps forward, into the spread of his legs, not quite touching, but too close to deny if someone caught them now.

"I could bring you a can of pineapple," Bucky offers.

"I'll take you up on that sometime," Jeremy answers. His eyes are on Bucky's mouth. "So you've seen some action?"

"Some. Don't really want to talk about it," Bucky tells him, leaning in, and Jeremy takes his cigarette out of his mouth to kiss him, wet and warm and eager. This close, you can't tell that his hair's too dark and his eyes are too light. His tongue is hot in Bucky's mouth, and his free hand clutches Bucky's ass, less desperate than appreciative.

"You said you're not far?" Bucky prompts, leaning back. Jeremy takes a last drag, tosses the cigarette away, and nods, straightening.

"You'll need to be gone by morning," he says. "My landlady's up at nine, and she's a nosy-parker."

"My pass ends at seven," Bucky says, grateful. He doesn't want to cuddle and eat breakfast with the guy. He just wants a quick roll, wants to get something out of his system he didn't even know was in it until now.

They stroll quietly down the road, hands in pockets, not particularly hurried but not dawdling. London is beautiful in the moonlight, and maybe someday Bucky will get to appreciate that without the blackout curtains, without having to be back on base at any particular time.

Jeremy is more confident than Steve ever would have been, but then Steve wouldn't have ever done this with another man, at least Bucky thinks. When he unlocks his front door and shows Bucky up to a shoebox of a third-floor apartment, he's smiling, confident. He's unsurprised when Bucky kicks the door shut behind them and grabs him by his tie and pulls their bodies together.

"I do like a direct sort of man," Jeremy says, sliding his hands under Bucky's shirt. "What would you like, Yankee Buck? Bit of a blow? You like taking it or giving it? I'm easy, as you may have guessed."

Bucky tugs the ridiculous tie off, then goes for his own belt buckle, because he very much likes the idea of a bit of a blow.

"Lemme suck you," Jeremy rasps in his ear, hands bumping Bucky's as he helps him get his pants open. "You're so beautiful, I want a taste. I want you to hold me down."

Bucky thumps his head back against the door, then pushes away from it and walks them into the room proper, heading for the neatly made bed in the corner, shedding his clothes as he goes. Jeremy hops around briefly, pulling his shoes and socks off, endearingly clumsy (like Steve -- Bucky shuts the thought down as soon as it rises). Bucky settles on the edge of the bed, skinning out of his underwear, and is about to pull his dog tags off when Jeremy says "No -- leave 'em on" and sinks to his knees.

He's so slight, his neck so thin and delicate, hair fine like a bird's down, but his lips are plump and wet and his mouth is tight, working down Bucky's dick until he nearly chokes. Bucky leans back, sifting fingers through that not-quite-gold hair, and talks like he'd like to talk to -- like he thinks Jeremy will enjoy. "Yeah. Christ, you're -- so tight, you look perfect like that, are you -- are you touching -- fuck, fuck, baby, you're so good."

Jeremy eats it up, he loves it, Bucky can tell, and when he pushes gently against his chin he leans back, eyes bright behind a haze of lust. He kneels up and Bucky leans down to kiss him again, Jeremy's thin shoulders under his hands, skin smooth over the faint, wiry muscle.

"You want me to take care of you, baby?" he asks in a whisper, and Jeremy nods, mouthing at his neck. "Yeah, okay, come on. I'll give you what you want."

Jeremy sprawls on the bed and throws an arm over his eyes, whimpering when Bucky works a bit of oil into him. He's flushed, thin chest heaving, but his cock is thick and hard against his stomach, so pretty in the half-light of the room. Bucky rubs his thumb up and down it while he works the fingers of his other hand into him, and Jeremy's hips rise in a slow, sensuous rhythm.

"Please, Bucky," he manages, obviously torn between pulling away and taking him deeper. "Please -- "

"Shh, sweetheart, I gotcha," Bucky croons, pulling his fingers out and crawling up the bed. He fixes one hand around Jeremy's wrist, tugging it above his head, and cups his hip with the other to get the right angle, easing in slowly, loving the way the other man's voice rises from a groan to a high, desperate whine. He raises his hand, pinning Jeremy's wrists completely, and feels the clench of Jeremy's thighs around his hips, heels digging into his back.

"Got you," Bucky repeats, beginning to move, well-aware that he's not going to last long, not looking down at the slim, pale chest, the waist he could almost span with his hands, the angular jaw and the hollows of his cheeks. The delicate body writhing underneath him, at his mercy and happy for it, something for him to surround and protect and penetrate into --

"Yes, like that, like -- " Jeremy begins, and Bucky kisses him to keep him quiet, or at least keep him wordless. He snaps his hips forward sharply, picking up the pace, and very carefully keeps his grip loose so that he won't cause any bruises.

"You feel so good," he murmurs into thin skin over bone, half-lifting the body beneath him off the bed. "Gonna come, come with me, I'm gonna -- fuck -- " he manages, and reaches down to stroke the other man's dick, tight and fast. Jeremy wails and rises up off the bed as he comes, Bucky panting and jerking to his own completion inside him. He freezes at the far edge of his pleasure, until Steve -- until Jeremy goes lax beneath him, and then tumbles down next to him, burying his face in one bony shoulder.

A hand comes up to smooth his hair, and Jeremy kisses his forehead, breath still coming fast.

"So," he says after a while, as Bucky lies there and hates himself a little for what he's just done. "Did that get him out of your head for a bit?"

"What?" Bucky askes, pushing himself up.

Jeremy smiles. "That was brilliant, and you are a god of eroticism," he says, as if reassuring an amateur. "No complaints, Yankee Buck. But you weren't fucking me. Whoever he was -- did this help?"

Bucky sighs. "Maybe. He and I never...and it's too late now."

"Is he dead?"

"No. Just...different."

"Unless he's dead, it's not too late," Jeremy says. "But if you've anything else you'd like to work out on me, well. I won't mind, and you know where to find me."

"It was great," Bucky offers.

"Oh, I know it was great," Jeremy says, and Bucky laughs. "Repeat business is welcome. But I have to say -- you should lavish your delights on someone you love."

Bucky eases down again. "Maybe. But -- just for tonight -- "

"Stay. As long as you're out before my landlady wakes up," Jeremy reminds him. "And I want that can of pineapple, the next time you and yours roll through."

"I'll see what I can do," Bucky says, amused and pleased. He closes his eyes, more than ready to catch a few minutes' sleep before he has to head back out into the cold of London's midnight.

***

"What'd you get up to last night?" Steve asks the next morning, when Bucky troops into the mess just before seven. "Showing the locals a good time?"

"Something like that," Bucky says, smiling at him. He does miss how Steve used to be -- how they both used to be -- but Steve is so happy like this, so pleased to be of use and so at peace with himself -- it's hard to regret it as much as he had before Jeremy had taken him home. "New mission?"

"Soon enough. Glad you're onboard -- I'd be at sea without you, Buck," Steve says, and Bucky bumps their shoulders together as he sits down.

"I know the feeling, big guy," Bucky replies, and sets to his beans and toast with a light heart.

THIRTEEN: POOR LITTLE RICH HERO GIRL CLUB
Rating: PG
Summary: Quinn is kidnapped by Wasp and Hawkeye. Sort of.
Prompt: Historymiss: If you're still doing hydrocone midnight theatre I'd love to see some more Quinn quire !

Also available at AO3. The original draft of this story may be found here.

***

Quinn Quire is a former terrorist (self-proclaimed), a current punk both self and others-proclaimed (ask Captain America about her attitude -- actually don't, he'd say she's nice just to spite her), a future vessel of the Phoenix (she will never make the fashion mistakes Jean Grey did), and a billionaire heiress who just turned eighteen (Tony Stark showed up to her birthday costume party dressed as Charles Xavier, which was in such poor taste that she actually likes the guy now).

She has no idea what she wants to do with her life or what she should do with her life and she broke up with Idie and being Quinn Quire 24/7 is kind of eating her alive.

So she's not expecting anyone the morning that the butler she hired (just for shits, but it turns out holy crap butlers are so fucking useful) shows up in her bedroom as she's finishing breakfast and says, "A Ms. van Dyne and a Ms. Bishop are here to see you, Mistress Quire."

She told him to say Mistress, because she thinks it sounds edgy and dangerous, but lately it has also felt kind of stupid.

"Van Dyne and Bishop?" she asks, brow knitting.

"Janet van Dyne, Mistress Quire, of the Avengers, and Katherine Bishop, whom I believe you may know better as Hawkeye."

Holy fuck, the Wasp and Hawkeye are here. Probably to fight her or something.

"Um, okay," she says. "I'll uh. Um."

"Shall I tell them you'll be down directly you've finished dressing?"

"That," she says, and finger-combs the long brush of hair in the middle of her head, digging around for a shirt that's not too dirty (MUTANT DYKE ROCKER BILLIONAIRE) and slipping into her biggest baddest boots because if it's a fight they want she is going to bring the taco-kicking.

When she clatters down the stairs, Janet van Dyne cries "Baby!" and throws her arms around Quinn's neck and does not strangle her.

Over van Dyne's shoulder, she sees Kate Bishop, looking like a Junior League reject, shrug and mouth, Nice to meet you.

"Hello," Quinn says, baffled, and the older woman lets her go.

"My god, you're like a bird. Do you eat? At all?" van Dyne asks.

"Can I help you?" Quinn retorts.

"Sorry," Bishop says, tugging gently on van Dyne's arm. "I'm Kate, this is Jan. Cute shirt."

"Are you here to judge me?" Quinn asks, thoroughly bewildered now.

"No!" Jan says, looking like she is literally going to burst from glee. "We're here to take you shopping."

"Welcome to the poor little rich hero girl club," Kate adds. "Membership isn't voluntary, I'm afraid."

"It's my job as a woman of stature in the hero community to provide mentorship to young girls," Jan says, reaching up to rearrange Quinn's hair. Quinn ducks away, snarling, but Jan just rolls her eyes. "Fine, leave the house looking like a wilted orchid, that's all right, you're young. Come on, grab your wallet, chop chop."

Quinn means to object, she really does, but somehow she finds herself ushered out of the house and into the back of a fancy limo sedan driven by a man in stylish livery. Jan pours her a mimosa from the bar. Kate takes one too.

"Now, I talked to Steve and he said you're not into, you know, super feminine things," Jan is saying as they head into Manhattan. Quinn is going to kill Steve Rogers. It can't be hard, he's old as fuck now. "But I am so into the punk aesthetic lately, Dazzler -- do you know her? Sweet woman, very talented -- she's bringing it back, and the last few years there have been all kinds of gorgeous military jackets and such. So I think if we go in with the mindset of, you know, rich badass tank girl, we will find a lot of wonderful opportunities for you."

"Is this normal?" Quinn asks Kate.

"Do you like purses?" Kate asks by way of reply.

***

Quinn has spent most of her life deliberately dumpster-diving for clothing or stealing it from other people and from cheap department stores. She wasn't even aware that shopping for clothes could be like this: you walk into a store and people immediately begin kissing your ass for the privilege of bringing you clothing -- beautiful clothing, clothing that fits or deliberately, fashionably doesn't fit, clothing that doesn't smell like a thrift store or the plastic packaging it came in, clothing where the only holes are intentionally put there. She doesn't even care about shoes but the shoes she buys are awesome, and there are punky belts and boys' hats and a nose piercing at one point, and everyone brings them food -- glasses of wine or little crunchy snacks or soft-serve ice cream when Kate asks for it like it's just expected.

They get $70 hamburgers for lunch at a place that is SO fancy they don't even sniff at Quinn's MUTANT DYKE shirt, like they're actually too fancy to be upset about it.

And then Kate buys purses and Jan goes on a rampage in a store that sells nothing but soap and lotion and $30 chapstick, and all day long, all they do is tell Quinn how cute or badass or nice she looks, or they talk about investing like that's something Quinn has ever even considered, or Jan tells them stories about her adventures running a fashion house, or Kate tells them stories about that time she was a detective in Los Angeles.

By the time the shopping trip is over, night is falling and Quinn is elated and exhausted and understands now, on a really heavy, meaningful level, how rockers must feel when they wreck their instruments. Like wow, conspicuous consumerism, she has engaged in it.

But she's also tired, and she's spent so much time today with other people who seem to inexplicably like her, and the idea of leaving Jan's bubbling laughter and Kate's cynical world-weariness and going back to her big empty house hits her like a hammer to the face.

"...but she says he's just not that good in -- Quinn?" Kate asks, breaking off in the middle of a salacious discussion of the Avengers' finest man flesh. Quinn sniffles and presses the heel of her hand to her right eye, which is leaking against her will. "Quinn, is something wrong?"

"Oh, sweetheart," Jan adds, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "Did we wear you out? I forget not everyone is used to the marathon shopping experience."

"No but like, maybe we should talk about cute girls?" Kate ventures. "Are we being, um, heterocentric?"

"No," Quinn manages, but her voice wavers. "S'not that."

Jan pulls her head over onto her shoulder and shades her eyes with a hand on her forehead, so Quinn can pretend she isn't really crying.

"Do you guys wanna -- come over for dinner?" Quinn manages, hiccupping.

"I know, sweetheart," Jan murmurs, ignoring her. "It's lonely. I know."

Quinn doesn't know how Jan can possibly know, since she's got the Avengers and everyone likes her and most of the Avengers men are apparently super into her, and Quinn's just a mean weirdo who was awful to her girlfriend and hateful to everyone at school --

Kate leans into her other side, and Quinn, horrified, realizes she's been saying some of that out loud.

"Sometime, I'll tell you about my daddy issues," Kate whispers, and Quinn can't help but laugh.

"Oooh, not before I tell you both about how I dated Tony before we knew he was Iron Man," Jan says, but she doesn't let go of Quinn, who is probably crying off the super-expensive sparkly face cream Jan made her try.

"Tell you what," Jan says, after a while, "I have a penthouse in the neighborhood. Hey, Buzz, you remember where it is, right?"

"Yes, ma'am," the driver says.

"We'll have a sleepover," Jan says. "I'll call some people and we'll put on a fashion show."

Quinn sniffles and tries not to be an asshole for at least the rest of the drive, and mostly succeeds, even though she thinks maybe Kate likes it when she's an asshole.

***

"Some People" turn out to be the other Hawkeye, Captain Marvel, and a ludicrously slick jerk who claims he's Loki.

"We don't invite him," the other Hawkeye says. "Sometimes he just shows up."

"I like that!" Loki replies. He has cool black fingernail polish and Quinn kinda wants to go nightclubbing with him basically immediately. "You're meant to be nice to me. I'm a good guy now!"

"Better be," Captain Marvel says.

"Don't you have some skies to punch?" Loki asks. "I was told there would be a fashion show, and also cocktails."

The other Hawkeye is a super dork, which Kate did not tell Quinn, but he brought his cute dog along, so she guesses he can stay. Loki looks better in some of the clothes she bought than she does, so she lets him keep the shiny pants, and Captain Marvel sits by with the serenity of some kind of enlightened monk, smiling indulgently and offering the most sensible advice ever and punching Clint in the arm when he says stupid things.

By the time the adults are asleep, Kate and Quinn and Loki have begun plotting world domination, using the most complicated plan they can come up with. They're in the huge king bed in one of Jan's guest rooms, and once Loki falls asleep, Kate and Quinn curl up under the covers, turning out the light, still talking but half-asleep.

"I wish Idie could have come," Quinn mumbles tiredly. "She'd have hated most of it but. I wish she could have."

"Well, next time we'll go pick her up first," Kate said. "It's not that far up to Westchester. I'm pretty sure Jan could source a flying car, even."

"I don't think she wants to see me."

"Trust me, there's not a lesbian in the world who doesn't want to see you in that plaid skirt you bought," Kate points out.

"Maybe."

"Jan will convince her. Jan can convince anyone to go shopping."

"Why did you bother?" Quinn asks, propping her head on her hand. "I mean, neither of you know me."

Kate shrugs into the blanket. "So? There's about nine girls in the entire superhero community. We have to stick together. God knows, Clint is like, five bros all on his own. I need girl time sometimes."

"But why me?"

"Why not you?" Kate asks, and it's probably a sign of how messed up Quinn is that she never thought about asking that. "Go to sleep. Tomorrow we'll start on your social calendar."

"Ugh, social calendars, really?"

"I know, your life is so hard," Kate teases, and Quinn hits her with a pillow, but she does go to sleep after that, and for once she doesn't dream of being trapped in a giant, empty house, trying to find even a single other person to talk to.




FOURTEEN: NESTING
Rating: G
Summary: The Avengers aren't bothered by the cold. It's the chill.

Also available at AO3. The original draft of this story may be found here.

***

It's winter in New York, and starting to make itself known.

Not that it's the cold that's really the problem, when it comes down to it. JARVIS can adjust the temperature in any part of the building, to any temperature they like within a radius of ten feet.

It's not the cold. It's the chill.

Clint shows up first; it's his first winter since Loki, and while Clint spent plenty of frozen, windswept winters in the midwest, Loki, after all, is at least part frost giant. The ice digs in deep, scrapes at his guts, makes his muscles clutch up and hurt.

So he shows up in Steve's quarters, because Steve once admitted, during a late night when they were all up telling stories that were maybe more personal than daylight would have seen, that the ice still bothers him. That sometimes it feels like crystals of the arctic have lodged themselves in his lungs, that some part of his body remembers even if his conscious mind doesn't.

Steve is on the couch, reading, and when Clint comes in he takes a look at him, sets the book aside, and says, "Light the fire on your way past."

Clint nods and crouches to switch on the gas fireplace, while Steve pulls a blanket off the back of the couch. When Clint settles down, tucking himself up next to Steve, Steve lifts one arm to spread out the blanket over them both, then to pull him in. Clint lifts his feet up, leaning into Steve with a sigh, and huddles into the blanket while Steve grabs the remote and surfs around for a movie to watch.

Natasha comes next, half following Clint, half leading Bruce -- she usually comes and finds Clint when he's like this, following some radar they've developed between them, and it's her job to chisel Bruce out of his lab when he's been down there too long. The lab is carefully climate controlled and always cold; while Natasha claims immunity to chill through Russian DNA, she likes a thick blanket and a friendly face as much as any of them.

Bruce tugs the cushion off a chair, tosses it down below Steve's feet, and settles in with his back to Steve's knees. Steve lifts one of his legs, sliding it over Bruce's shoulder so that his leg pins Bruce across the chest with reassuring weight. Bruce lifts a hand to wrap around his ankle, a soothing, acknowledging gesture. Natasha comes back with another blanket and sits across Bruce's lap, head resting in Clint's.

"JARVIS," Steve says, shifting a little -- making room between himself and the arm of the couch. "Call the others."

"Sergeant Barnes is asleep, sir."

"See if he'll wake up, he likes this movie," Steve says firmly. Bucky's only been back a few months, but his sleep cycle has just evened out, and it's not good if he sleeps too much early in the evening -- he won't sleep later if he does.

Bucky comes shuffling out of the guest bedroom, wrapped in an old quilt -- they found it in a thrift shop together, and Bucky couldn't stop stroking it, fingers following the quilted patterns until Steve realized it was probably as old as they were. It comforts him, Steve guesses. At any rate, Bucky and the quilt beeline for the thin slice of sofa between Steve and the arm, curling into a tight ball to fit himself in, facing Steve's side, chilly feet tucked under the thigh of the leg that's thrown over Bruce's shoulder.

Sam and Tony arrive together -- they've probably been working on the rig in Tony's shop -- both looking tired. Sam tugs another cushion down to sit in front of Bucky, pulling some of the quilt down and around to tuck under his feet. Bucky huffs but he also smiles; he likes Sam, Steve knows, likes him as a person but also because Sam seems to make everything a little easier, always seems to understand the hard parts. It makes the chill ebb away, sometimes, Steve seeing his best friends get along so well.

Tony, meanwhile, is fussing around like a hen at chicks, stuffing a throw pillow behind Clint's back for posture, nudging Natasha so "your bony butt isn't cutting off the circulation to Bruce's baggage" ("Tony!" "What?") and generally arranging peoples' limbs so that he can butt up against Natasha and share one of Clint's knees with her.

Thor arrives carrying three giant fur rugs he brought from Asgard, draping them over Tony and Natasha and Bruce, Sam and Bucky, and finally flopping down on the sofa next to Clint to split the last one with him and Steve. His arm joins Steve's around Clint's shoulders, and he unself-consciously lolls his head over onto Clint's shoulder.

Steve's in the middle of this little nest they've built, now, and while the chill is still crackling inside him, it's melting, too.

"You should come up more often," he says softly to Clint, who grunts and looks at him, questioning. "I like it when everyone's here."

"I didn't invite them."

"No, but they always show up when you come to see me. It's nice."

"Well, you could invite us if you wanted," Clint points out.

"Might do that," Steve agrees. "I'll make popcorn next time."

Clint nods, eyelids at half mast as he watches the movie, and the room fills with blissful, warm, near-silent peace.

"This movie blows," Tony announces, about five minutes later.

"Shut your mouth," Bucky retorts.

"Excuse you, freeloader, it's not my fault you left your taste back in 1938."

"Just because you're a philistine," Natasha begins.

"Well, it's not very logical, as a story," Bruce says, and Natasha elbows him.

"Are there no action films on?" Thor asks.

"See, Thor's on my side," Tony says.

"Thor's on the side of action flicks, not you," Sam points out. "I'm on Thor's side, though."

"Shaddup, everyone," Steve announces. "My couch, my rules. Bucky likes this movie so we're gonna watch it. We can watch one of your techno-thrillers later."

"Tron," Tony says. Steve rolls his eyes.

"I like Tron," Bucky mumbles.

"Fine, we'll watch Tron after this, now everyone keep quiet and enjoy all this togetherness if it kills you," Steve says.

Clint huddles closer. "You're my favorite," he says, just loud enough for Steve to hear.

madcitypaxie: SAM. WHAT MOVIE ARE THEY WATCHING?! I NEED TO KNOW THIS
copperbadge: Home Alone. :D No, I’m kidding. I just sort of glossed it because there wasn’t any real reason to name the film. All I know is that it’s not an action film and it’s based on a stupid premise. It’s probably What’s Your Number.
archwrites: oh my god sam WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER
copperbadge: Bucky would love it. The hero looks like Steve!
archwrites: "Bucky, do you only like this because that actor looks like Steve? And he’s always naked?"
copperbadge: "Shut up I think it has a very important message about love and society. Also the gay boyfriend looks like Sam." I like the idea that Bucky has a puppy-dog crush on Sam and follows him around. So Sam’s just like, chilling, whatever, and in the background two super soldiers are quietly adoring him
archwrites: Sam doesn’t really notice because, let’s face it, EVERYONE loves Sam
madcitypaxie: "Man, that Evans guy looks like Steve." "Yeah he does." "I’d fuck him." There’s only a second of silence before everyone agrees.
copperbadge: Tony: Yeah, I’d hit that.
Natasha: In a heartbeat.
Thor: A fine companion.
Sam: We’re making Steve uncomfortable.
Clint: Are you saying you wouldn’t?
Sam: Oh hell no, I’d fight you for him.
Bruce: He’s very pretty.
Steve: SO WHO WANTS POPCORN LET ME GO GET SOME.
It’s probably how the orgy from Afterglow (and glow and glow) got started.




FIFTEEN: BRIGHT EYES
Rating: PG
Summary: Steve might have a fixation on Tony’s minor mutation.
Notes: This is set in the universe of the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes animated cartoon, where Tony has remarkable gold-brown eyes.

Also available at AO3. The original draft of this story may be found here.

***

Tony Stark had the strangest eyes Steve had ever seen, and he'd fought vampires, so that was saying something.

Not that they were unpleasant, not at all. They were just such an unusual color -- Iron Man's were blue of course, lit from inside, but Tony's were anywhere from bright gold, in the right light, to deep burnished copper. Nobody had eyes like Tony, not even Hawkeye.

For a while, Steve wondered if Tony had done something to himself -- he was such a tinkerer, it wasn't out of the question -- but it became evident soon enough that it was just a part of him.

"It's a rare genetic mutation," Tony said one day, over lunch. Steve had been absently pushing his appetizer around on his plate, trying to put his finger on just why Tony's eyes were so peculiar, and he startled.

"What is?" he asked, semi-guiltily.

Tony gestured to his face. "You stare. It's easier to explain than to wait for people to ask."

"Oh, I -- I didn't -- I mean -- "

"It's fine, I'm used to it."

"I wouldn't ask, though, that's rude," Steve said. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to stare."

"Like I said, it's fine," Tony said, with a twitch of his lips. "It's from my mother's side. Not exactly as useful as telepathy or laser eyes or any of those neat X-Men mutations, but then again, less likely to get me attacked by an angry mob of bigots."

"Is it actually an X-gene mutation?" Steve asked. Tony shrugged.

"I've never been tested. If it is, it probably explains a few things, but it hardly matters at this point."

"What would it explain?"

Tony pointed to his temple with his chopsticks. "You know my old man wasn't dumb, you met him, but -- "

"You're miles out ahead of him."

"Not to brag, but yes. Could be my intellect is an X-gene mutation. I prefer to think my mother's side just enjoyed having a unique look. She was always very fashionable." Tony lifted a takoyaki ball to his mouth, chewed, and grinned again. "Do you like them?"

"I've never seen anything like them."

"Huh, figures I fish for a compliment and Cap shuts me down," Tony said, offering him the last takoyaki. Steve took it, nibbling on the crust.

"No, I do like them, but...that seems like the wrong word," Steve said. "They're like the rest of you."

"Dashing and witty?"

Steve smiled. "Unique."

"Well, that's more like it," Tony said. His eyes themselves darkened, from polished gold to a richer, deeper patina. "You're staring again."

"Art's like that," Steve said. Tony cocked his head. "A painting's always better when you know the source."

Tony flushed a little, but Steve put it down to the heat of the ramen the waiter had put in front of him.

Steve didn't think much about it, at least, not about their conversation, after that. He thought about Tony's eyes as much as he ever did -- maybe a little more, sometimes. Like after a battle when he was checking Tony subtly for injuries, or when everyone was assembled for something more fun than battle, like a movie night.

Tony was arrogant and funny, irritably intolerant of magic despite knowing several magical beings, a little too capable of finding and poking tender places, fiercely defensive of his friends, painfully generous, obsessed with the future, and a workaholic. He had remarkably poor social skills at times, and the longer Steve spent with the Avengers, the more he had to struggle to act exactly the same towards him as the way he did to everyone else. It was hard not to show favoritism, not to back Tony in arguments or try to protect him more than the others in combat.

Sometimes he had dreams about Tony's eyes, dark as antique copper, fixed on his.

"You should talk to him, you know," Jan said to him one day, tiny and hovering over him like an angel (maybe a devil) on his shoulder. Steve startled and slammed his sketchbook shut; he'd been trying to mix colored pencils to get the exact shade of Tony's eyes in bright sunlight.

"About what?" he asked, as she landed on the table and perched on the edge of his pencil cup.

"You know what," she said with an impish smile. "Your crush on Tony."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"You love his eyyyyyes," Jan crooned, laughing.

"They're unique, that's all," he said weakly.

"Steve. Captain America shouldn't lie, especially to himself."

"I'm not lying to myself," he said, flipping the book open to a new page, picking up the black pencil and beginning to sketch her. She leaned over, preened, and then went back to posing for him.

"Tony likes you. And you know he's bisexual, right?" she asked. Steve nearly snapped his pencil.

"No, I didn't," he said, concentrating on the sketch. "And even I know it's wrong of you to out people like that."

"He's out. I mean, he doesn't talk about it much, but he came out years ago. Press conference and everything. Way before Iron Man, even."

"Oh," Steve said.

"He likes you a lot, Steve."

"We're friends, Jan. And it's better for the team if it stays that way."

She sniffed. "I don't agree, but I promise to drop it if you draw me looking especially pretty."

"I always draw you looking especially pretty," he said. "It's a side effect of you being an especially pretty woman."

"Charmer."

"I try," he said with a smile. "Hold that for five more minutes, and tell me about how Clint's progressing on the design for the new obstacle course."

Jan was as good as her word, and didn't bring up his embarrassing feelings for Tony again, but now that he knew she had seen, he wondered who else had. It made him jumpy, and it annoyed him that he was constantly wondering if Clint or Thor or Natasha or any of the others could see it.

He sometimes wondered if Tony could see it, and was just being a gentle good friend, politely ignoring Steve's childish crush. Tony was older than him and more worldly; he could have anyone he wanted, and there was no reason he'd want to go out with Steve even if he did like fellas as well as women. Steve knew he wasn't a pain on the eyes, but there were smarter and smoother operators out there than him. Hell, when it came down to it, there were smarter and smoother operators than him on the Avengers.

Still, once in a while, Steve would look up or happen to glance over and see those lovely gold eyes on him. Tony's gaze would flick away quickly if he saw Steve had noticed, but it was enough to make him wonder.

It came to a tipping point, suddenly and unexpectedly, at two am in the kitchen of the mansion.

"You're up late," Tony said, when Steve wandered in, seeking a cup of milk and maybe a snack after waking from unsettling, formless dreams of the ice.

"So are you," Steve replied, taking down a glass and then reconsidering, pouring the milk into a mug instead. He put it into the microwave to heat, leaning against the counter. "I was asleep, at least. Have you been to bed yet?"

Tony rubbed a hand through his hair, upsetting its usual sleek neatness. The two loose, long strands of hair that usually fell into his face were ruffled and disorderly, and he puffed them out of his eyes with a sigh.

"No, I have not. Not for lack of desire," he said, shuffling one stack of paperwork among many piles, strewn across the big dinner table. "It's end of fiscal year grant time for the Stark Foundation, I promised I'd review the applications like...two weeks ago, and then..."

"Two weeks happened?" Steve asked. Tony nodded. "You want some help?"

"No reason you should suffer because of my procrastination."

"I don't mind," Steve said, as the microwave beeped. He took down the tin of cocoa and spooned some powder into the mug, stirring to get all the little lumps incorporated. "Probably won't go back to bed for a while anyway."

"Well, you can take the museums and art schools, then," Tony said, indicating one of the piles. "I'm still plowing through STEM. Engineers are not notable for their brevity or clarity in prose," he added.

Steve sat down and pulled the paperwork towards him, but he didn't start reading; instead he ducked his head to look at Tony's face -- the slight pinches at the corners of his mouth, dark bruises above his cheekbones, and the red rims to his eyes that spoke of too little sleep on too regular a basis.

"You should rest more," he said, without thinking about it. "Shame to see your pretty eyes bloodshot like that."

"Very funny," Tony mumbled, but his hands clenched a little tighter in the application he was holding.

"It wasn't meant to be," Steve said, confused. "You should. I worry."

"So that wasn't a crack about...?" Tony pointed to his face. Steve frowned. "Come on, Steve, guys don't just go around telling other guys their eyes are pretty."

It jolted across Steve's brain like an electric shock, what he'd said, and he gaped silently for a second, overcome by his own idiocy.

"That's what I thought," Tony said quietly.

"No, Tony, it isn't that way," Steve said.

"What way is it then, Steve?"

"Well, I mean, maybe guys don't do that, I don't know, I still don't know so much about this time -- but I do. Think. That."

Tony glanced at him, eyebrows drawing together.

"I do think they're pretty," Steve said. He swallowed. "I think, I think you're -- well, you know you're attractive. Don't you? I care about you. And I just think it's a shame when you look tired, because I know you aren't looking after yourself."

Tony was looking at him intently now, mouth half-open as if he'd been ready to make a smart reply and then arrested himself in the middle of it.

"Are you making a pass at me?" he finally asked.

"Not intentionally," Steve said, rubbing the back of his head. "But if you wanted me to, then I could be. Badly. And by accident. But I could."

Tony blinked. "Why?"

"Aw, c'mon Tony, don't make me say it, I'm not any good at this stuff," Steve pled. Tony nodded absently -- he knew how terrible Steve was at flirting. He set down the paper he was holding and stood up, coming around to where Steve was sitting, crouching in front of him. He looked up, and his eyes were thin rings of deep bronze around black. He didn't say anything, just leaned up after a few heartbeats (so loud Steve was sure Tony could hear them) and kissed him.

Steve wanted to see this, didn't want to miss a second, but Tony's eyes were closed, so Steve closed his and let his mouth slide open to deepen the kiss.

"Chocolate," Tony said, when he finally pulled away. "You taste good."

"Thank you, I think," Steve said, confused and aroused and worried. "That was nice."

Tony laughed, head dropping, butting into Steve's chest. "Nice," he repeated, amused.

"Well, it was," Steve insisted.

"Thank you, I thought so too," Tony said, hands sliding up and down Steve's legs, knee to thigh and back, a soothing touch. He leaned back again. "So. The eyes, huh?"

"They were just the first thing I noticed," Steve said truthfully. "The rest came after."

Tony made a soft, thoughtful sort of hum, then rose to his feet. "Make you a deal."

Steve raised an eyebrow.

"I'll get some rest right now and read over the other applications in the morning, if you give me a kiss goodnight. And tell me my eyes are pretty again," Tony said. Steve smiled, warmth filling him, and stood as well. He cupped a hand around Tony's cheek, fingers brushing the hair behind his ear, and put the other on his waist.

"You have very nice eyes," he said, pitching his voice low, and Tony leaned in a little as if he wanted to hear it better. "I'll clean the paperwork up. Go to bed."

He tugged Tony the last inch or so, kissing him, inhaling the smells of warm metal and paper dust and weariness, enjoying the press of Tony's body against his. "I'll make you breakfast and we can go over them together tomorrow morning."

Tony yawned, nearly bonking Steve's teeth with his chin, and nuzzled against his cheek for a minute. "Sounds nice. Hey."

"Yes?" Steve asked, hand still on Tony's jaw.

"I like you too, you know," Tony said. "Always was a sucker for blue eyes."

Steve smiled, pleased. "Really?"

"Mm. I'll tell you all about it in the morning."

"You do that," Steve said, feeling light and warm, and awash in relief. He let Tony go with a last brush of his thumb down his cheek. "Goodnight, Tony."

"Night," Tony said, kissing him once more -- light and quick, liked the'd been doing it for years -- and then he was gone, humming his way down the hall to his quarters.

Steve took a final sip of his hot cocoa, shuffled the strewn papers into a few piles and put his mug in the sink. He went back to bed himself with a singing heart and plans for pancakes in the morning.

SIXTEEN: MAKE IT RAIN
Rating: PG (Steve/Tony)
Summary: Steve Rogers is SO DONE with global warming.
Prompt: Scifigrl47: Steve/Tony in the rain. Do with that what you will. Maybe kisses. Just saying.

Also available at AO3.

***

"Look, all I'm saying is that I didn't die for my country and spend seventy years unconscious just to put up with 98% humidity," Steve said, and Tony rolled his eyes. "The bleacher tickets for tomorrow's game are nice but I'm willing to give up bleachers for the Stark Industries skybox with air conditioning."

"Of all the brilliant modern inventions to embrace, the one, the only one you don't gripe about is central air, and then you complain all summer long every time we have to go outside," he said. "You're such a diva."

"Steva," Bruce said, setting down the cooler he'd been carrying since Happy dropped them off at the edge of Central Park. Tony high-fived him. Steve looked cranky.

"But we could be inside," Steve whined. "Where it's climate-controlled."

"Who taught you to say climate control?" Bruce asked. Tony began unpacking telescoping poles and strange mechanisms from his backpack. "Make yourself useful, start unpacking the picnic."

"Cliiiiimate Controooool," Steve repeated, rolling it around in his mouth as he spread out a blanket. "I spent so many Augusts putting up with the smell of New York in August. And now humanity with its chlorofluorocarbons and dedication to every single individual person owning a car has made it unbearable to be outdoors. Ever. The only consolation is air conditioning."

"You own a motorcycle," Clint pointed out, spreading a second blanket nearby. Natasha busied herself uncorking a wine bottle. "And central air creates exhaust, you know."

"That's not what JARVIS said when I asked him about Stark Tower's climate control, and the bike is a hybrid," Steve said, putting his hands on his hips. "What are we doing out here, anyway? There's no fireworks until tomorrow."

"Science," Bruce informed him, as he and Tony assembled their mechanism. He took something that looked like a glass bottle full of blue liquid out of the cooler, then took a few beers out as well, tossing one to Steve.

"I'm spending the entire day inside tomorrow," Steve announced, seating himself obstinately on the blanket. "It's my birthday, I'm staying in the air conditioning."

"Uh huh," Tony replied absently. "Bruce, help me calibrate."

Nearby, Natasha opened a large parasol and sat underneath it. Clint took off his shirt, displaying an epic farmer's tan. Thor had befriended a dog (this happened a lot with Thor) and was playing fetch. Sam rummaged in the picnic basket and threw Steve a packet wrapped in waxed paper.

"Eat a sandwich and stop whining," he said.

"Better do it now, you won't want to in a few minutes," Natasha added.

"What happens in a few minutes?" Steve asked, unwrapping the sandwich and wiping the sweat off his forehead with his arm. "Jesus Mary and Joseph it's hot out."

"We got you a birthday present early," Tony said, settling in next to him. He leaned over without even asking and took a bite of the sandwich still held in Steve's hand. "I taste malt. Clint, is this your egg salad?"

"Yes it is," Clint said, settling back on his elbows. "And yes, I left the pickles out just for you."

"Clint loves me best," Tony told Steve.

"Clint knows who his sugar daddy is," Clint said.

"Same difference."

"Y'all are crazy, the pickles are the best part," Sam said. Clint passed him a packet labeled SAM - PICKLES and Sam threw up his arms in a triumphant V.

"Bruce, we ready?" Tony asked.

Bruce presented Steve with a small remote-control box with a single button on it.

"Is it special fireworks?" Steve asked, perking up a little at the thought, even if his perfect hair was still wilting in the heat.

"Better," Bruce said.

"Happy birthday," Tony told him. Steve pushed the button.

A bright blue jet of light shot straight up into the sky, bursting in a brilliant rainbow just at the edge of visibility. White arcs crackled around it, and the sky began, miraculously, to darken.

"What on Earth..." Steve shaded his eyes, staring up, as the sun was blotted from view.

Something fell to the ground with a wet splat a few feet away. Natasha scooted back under her parasol. A raindrop landed on Steve's nose.

The rain began to fall in earnest within seconds; about half the people in Central Park ran wildly for cover, and the other half laughed and started dancing in the rain. Sam put on the ugliest wide-brimmed hat any of them had ever seen. Steve stared upwards, mouth ajar, and a brilliant smile blossomed over his fast-dampening face.

"You got me a rainstorm?" he asked Tony, who had opened another umbrella and was doing rapid calculations on a StarkPad underneath it.

"Should lower the temperature tomorrow by fifteen percent, the humidity by at least seventy," he said. Bruce leaned over his shoulder and pointed at something. "Ah. Thanks. Eighty." He looked up at Steve with a grin as Bruce went to shelter under Natasha's parasol (and partly under Sam's hat).

"Perfect weather for my birthday," Steve said, awed.

"Perfect weather for a baseball game were we sit on the bleachers like peasants," Tony agreed. Steve leaned over, cupped his chin in one hand, and kissed him, tasting like rain and egg salad.

"Happy birthday, whiner," Tony said, when Steve was done. Steve scooted over under the umbrella, tugging Tony up against him, getting his shirt wet. "Sorry I couldn't stick a bow on it but I'm pretty bad at wrapping presents anyway."

"You literally broke the laws of nature for my birthday," Steve said. "I'd be appalled but this feels amazing," he added, waggling his feet in the rain.

"It was mainly an excuse to get your shirt wet," Tony said. Steve pressed his nose to Tony's temple, then obligingly kissed him again when Tony turned his head and tilted his face up. "I'm a genius but I'm very shallow."

"Mmhm," Steve agreed. He took another sip of his beer and watched the rain fall from the shelter of the umbrella. "You know if the city finds out you're responsible for the freak rainstorm they'll either arrest you or give you a medal."

"Wouldn't be the first time they had to choose something like that," Tony said. "So you like it, huh?"

"Yes, Tony," Steve said with a grin, resting his chin on the crown of Tony's head, enjoying the smell of wet grass and the prospect of low humidity in July. "I love it."