I wasn't going to do it. I swore to myself that sequels were bad and that I would avoid them at all costs. So I avoided the sequel part and made it a companion piece instead. (Totally rationalized, I'm aware. I did it anyway.)

Therefore, this is a companion piece to Meaningless Conversations. It's not totally necessary to have read that to get this, but there is one spot that will make a bit more sense if you have read it. As far as timeline goes, this one spans across about a year after the Avengers movie. It starts well before Meaningless Conversations and ends sometime months after.

Warnings: None, except for the part where this was not remotely beta read. It's not intended to be, but I suppose there are moments where this could be perceived of as pre-slash.

Also, there was no good way to break this up. It's told in brief blurbs of events. Thus, one long chapter instead of a few more manageable ones. On the flip side, it's complete!


If there was one challenging thing about waking up seventy years in the future, it was how very alien everything seemed. Sure, the basics were the same. People were still people. They struggled, lived, loved, hated… died. Humanity never really changed. Not at the core.

The biggest change was the speed at which everything happened. Cars moved faster. Phones connected people across the world in an instant. Computers allowed people on opposite sides of the planet have face-to-face conversations. People would spend hours using their phone's virtual slingshot to toss irritated avian at green pigs.

It was amazing and horrifying all at once. Don't even get Steve started on the horrors of Facebook. He was all for social networking, but there was such a thing as oversharing.

Steve was a fast learner—always had been. When he found something interesting, he could usually pick it up fairly quickly. Unfortunately, there was simply too much to try to learn at once. It was overwhelming, to say the least.

Well, if there was anything good to come from an alien invasion over Manhattan, it was that Steve suddenly had a group of (somewhat) likeminded individuals he could call on if ever he needed anything.

Except when Thor was with his girlfriend in New Mexico or on Asgard. And when Clint and Natasha meandered off to their slightly more permanent jobs at SHIELD. Banner liked to frequent third world countries in his off time.

At least Tony hung around wherever his name was plastered on the buildings.


On the occasions when everyone was in the same state, it then came down a choice of responses. Steve was a quick learner, so it was not long before he figured out who was the best person to ask whenever he had a question.

Thor was never Steve's go-to for anything other than training, moral support, or general companionship. Steve was a man out of time, but Thor was a man from a different planet. Culture shock barely covered it.

Natasha Romanov was a decent person to go to, when she was around. The only problem was that Steve often had a difficult time finding her. At some point he discovered that she was actually just the spy equivalent of a workaholic. She was always on a mission.

Clint Barton liked to troll him. Steve learned this term from Tony (while the man grinned fiercely at Clint's latest joke). Steve never knew if the archer was telling him the truth or just making fun of him. With some of the changes in the world, Steve frequently could not tell the difference. It all seemed like something out of an Asimov novel to him anyway.

Bruce Banner would have been a good man to ask, but Steve still had a difficult time looking at him and not thinking of that moment when he blurted out that he had attempted to eat a bullet. That paled a bit to the knowledge that the man was exceedingly dangerous when angry, and yes, that was always the elephant in the room. As much as Steve tried not to let it sway him, the awareness lingered. It made him cautious. He really did not want to be the one whose sudden interruption on Bruce's work in the lab caused an incident.

With Tony, things never got uncomfortable. Not in the same way. Sure, there were times when the man said something that had everyone squirming, but it was never about him specifically. Tony Stark was a master at pointing out things that made everyone stop and think about their motives in ways they did not necessarily like.

Steve had experienced this more than once. It was part of the reason why the two of them clashed so magnificently. It was also part of the reason why he respected Tony as much as he did.

After his first meeting with the man, he had not expected that outcome.


"Don't even think about it," Tony had waved off any attempt at apologies when Steve finally stepped up to make them. If it took him a couple months, Steve was actually positive no one was keeping track, least of all Stark. "I usually make a bad first impression."

"Did I make such a terrible impression?" Steve had shot back, because he recalled the harsh words Tony said. Words, he noticed, for which Stark made no apologies of his own.

"You're asking the wrong man," Tony, naturally, was uncooperative.

"Why?"

"Because I knew I'd hate you the instant I heard you were alive." That little smirk had taken only a small amount of the sting from that declaration. "What? You mean you weren't instantly making comparisons in your head?"

That was Tony's elephant. It was another thing that should have been strange, should have been uncomfortable, but Tony never let it happen. He shoved his hand into the filth and exposed what everyone was thinking but no one was brave enough to admit. It was horrible and a relief all at once.

"Yeah," he had said after a long minute of staring. Another man would have grown uneasy under the gaze, but from what Steve understood, Tony was accustomed to being looked at. "I guess I was."

"Are you now?"

The question was so direct, Stark's gaze so completely frank, Steve had to answer honestly.

"Sometimes."

He thought that would be it. He had blown it, destroyed any opportunity at a friendship they might have otherwise forged. Tony had given him no hint otherwise. He had walked away after another of those odd lip twitches that could have been a smile, a glare, a desperate plea for him to go away, or maybe nothing at all. Just a tic. The man was always in motion, so why should he keep his face still?

The one downside of going to Tony with his questions was that, while the initial question might get answered, Steve often left with even more.


Half a day from that odd argument/conversation/mudslinging event, Steve found himself standing outside a room whose door had not yet been opened. This was Tony's house—the Stark family mansion—converted into a guest home specifically tailored to superheroes. It had been generously opened for their use, declared their home-away-from-home, but Steve still felt a bit like he was a guest.

As such, it seemed very rude to walk through a door Tony had left closed. Steve recalled walking past this door during the initial tour. Tony had been talking fast, trying to get five hundred points across in the space of ten minutes. While he had been mostly successful, Steve was unable to bring forth a memory of Tony stating the purpose of the room behind this closed door.

He probably should have left it. If Tony kept the door shut, he had a reason. Curiosity and cats, right? But, well… Steve wanted to know what it was.

"—a terrible idea. Tell him it's—no, wait. Tell him he can bring it before the board."

Tony's voice filtered down the hallway, and Steve looked up to see the man appear with a white box of what was probably leftover Chinese takeout in one hand. He gestured with his chopsticks, punctuating his statements like a conductor. At one time Steve would have thought the man to be talking to himself, but he recognized the little black electronic piece in Tony's ear and knew Tony was on the phone. Tony smirked when he caught Steve looking at him, then finished his thought to whoever was on the other end of that call.

"Because board meetings are boring, and I am more than happy to waste a little time for a good laugh. No, don't tell him that. Just tell him to write it up and present it." He was going to keep walking right past Steve, but he must have caught Steve's inquiring look because he stopped and concluded his conversation. "Don't ruin my fun. He's a prick and totally deserves—yeah, I'll see you tomorrow. Don't think I didn't notice that subject change, by the way… Good night, Miss Potts."

He blinked, visibly disconnecting from the conversation and smiled at Steve.

"What's up, Red, White, and Blue?"

Steve sighed at the nickname. He understood it was a thing Tony did with everyone, but it could get frustrating. He would take the coldly impersonal Rogers over the things Tony said that frequently referenced something for which he had no frame of reference. He supposed he should be grateful that this particular nickname made sense in an offensive kind of way.

"Is this room off limits?" he asked rather than argue over such a little annoyance.

Tony barely glanced at the closed door.

"The study?" he seemed surprised that Steve had even asked. "Not really. You can go in there if you like. It's just a bunch of dusty books."

"You always keep the door shut."

Tony shrugged and offered nothing. It might have been because his mouth was full of noodles.

"So you don't mind if I…?" Steve gestured at the door.

"Have at it, Curious George."

Another reference Steve did not know. He gripped the doorknob, surprised when the door opened smoothly and silently. The house was old, Steve knew, but it was well tended.

He paused just inside the dark room, glancing around for a light switch. It was on the wall, just inside the room. Steve reached for it, then hesitated when he realized Tony was already walking away.

"You're not coming?" He was not sure why he asked. There was no reason for Tony to give him another guided tour. The man was obviously busy if he was working through the dinner hour. He had better things to do than babysit Steve Rogers.

Tony looked past him, into the unlit room, and raised an eyebrow. He turned away, clearly not coming.

"I said you could go in," Tony replied. "I never said I would."

The response immediately set Steve on edge. He tried to brush it off, tried to make light of it.

"It's not haunted, is it?" he asked, and if Tony's skeptical expression was any indicator, the joke had fallen flat.

"That's one way to put it," Tony offered a humorless smile. "You're welcome to borrow any books from the library. Just be sure to put them back when you're done."

Steve watched him go, not quite sure what to make of the cold words. When he looked back into the room, he felt a shudder go up his spine.

Maybe he would wait until daylight to explore this particular room.


He found Tony sitting on the sofa one afternoon, one of his portable computers in hand. (Steve had been told their specific names, but he decided he was only going to use them when it became necessary and thus grouped them all under the broad category of "computer.") The man looked to be making good use of the genius aspect of his persona. Whatever was on that screen was complicated and beyond Steve's limited understanding of mechanics.

"Thor wants to see the Statue of Liberty."

Tony never seemed to mind being interrupted in his work. Steve would have been frustrated if someone tried to vie for his attention while he was focused on a drawing, but Tony did not seem to have any problems multitasking.

"Nothing like a big statue to give you a little perspective on the human race," Tony said, never looking up from his computer. "Have fun."

"Would you like to come along?"

Steve would have liked to declare this a team-building exercise. While he hoped this would help build some solidarity between the ragtag team, he also just wanted to spend some time with the people he was living with. Clint had already agreed to come. Neither Natasha nor Bruce were around, which left Tony. Steve hated to think of the man sitting alone in the house on a Saturday afternoon while the rest of them were out having fun.

Tony's chin lifted, and a second later his eyes followed, as if resistant to leave whatever previously had his attention. He looked vaguely suspicious.

"You just want me to pay the ferry fees," he accused.

"My treat," Steve said, a little peevish. That Tony would say something like that was just offensive. He was not overly surprised, but that did not make it less irritating to hear. Then, because Tony's snark brought out this horribly petty side of him, he asked, "Afraid of public transportation, Stark?"

Tony twisted his face into an offended half-glare. Steve shrugged.

"Just thought I would extend the invitation," he said. "If you don't want to come, just say."

"Oh, don't get your panties in a bunch," Tony snorted. The computer went blank as he set it aside and climbed to his feet. "Just let me get a jacket."

Steve was actually surprised that Tony had agreed to come. With as much as the man worked—another workaholic in the group—Steve had assumed that he would be too engrossed in his project to be bothered with such a frivolous activity.

He was glad to be proven wrong.

"Wipe that smirk off your face, soldier boy," Tony said, sunglasses sliding into place like a shield. "There will be no fun on this trip. I insist upon utter solemnity."

"Coming from the man who finds razzing the Hulk amusing," Steve retorted. "You ever seen her before?"

"Sure," Tony shrugged on a sport coat, straightened his tie, and was instantly transformed from lazy casual to press-formal. He would be the best dressed in the group, but that was nothing unusual. "Or are you not counting all the times I flew around her?"

In the Iron Man armor. Of course. Steve resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Then, a thought had him smiling.

"So the ferry tour will be new for you too!" he declared. "Come on, then. I think you'll really enjoy it."

That was a bluff. Steve had no idea what Tony Stark found entertaining.

Tony snorted and followed him out to where Clint and Thor waited.

Steve still was not sure if Tony had enjoyed himself that day.


Naturally, Tony was the one Steve went to whenever he had any technical questions. There was, however, one memorable occasion when Tony had come to him. (Well, everyone who was in the common area. Thor was also there.)

"Rogers!" Tony came into the room, the irritation packed into that one word a clear sign that he was already in full rant mode. "How did you do it?"

"Do what, Tony?" Sometimes Steve thought that if he used the man's name often enough, he would get the hint and return the favor. Most of the time he realized he was fooling himself. Tony would call him whatever he felt like calling him.

"How did you get past the firewalls I put in your computer?" Tony demanded.

Steve frowned. He was just starting to figure out the magic that was Google search (which was great whenever someone hit him with a reference he did not understand). He had not actually attempted to go beyond what Tony and Sam (a technical support staff member at SHIELD who had kindly shown Steve how to check his email) had shown him. Given time, he would probably explore a bit, but there were a great many things Steve would rather be doing than sitting around monitoring his Twitter account. (He had one. Clint set it up. He just never used it.)

"I don't know what you're talking about," he said honestly.

"There is a virus in my network!" Tony snapped.

"Your network is ill?" Thor inquired politely. "Is there something we should do aid the healing process?"

Momentarily derailed, Tony looked at the other man in the room. If Tony was flinging out accusations, Steve personally thought that he should include Thor. The man was far worse with technology than Steve. If anyone could have broken something, Thor would manage it with ease.

"No, it's… I can fix it," Tony said, then frowned and was off to the races again. "The point is, it never should have happened. There are very few people who can infect my system unless they get inside help. That is, someone ventured somewhere he should not have gone."

"I wouldn't take the computer outside," Steve protested.

Tony looked to be in actual pain now. He pinched at the bridge of his nose, grimacing at something Steve did not understand.

"That's not what I—" Tony huffed and stalked over to the bar. A minute later he had a glass of scotch and was standing in front of a monitor built into the wall. His hand made quick, agitated movements over the screen, and he made a frustrated growl. "See this? This should move smoothly. That shouldn't even be there. And as much as everyone likes to think I'm that much of a lecher, it really pisses me off that my screen keeps flooding with popups advertising porno sites."

Steve flushed, even as Thor asked the worst possible question.

"What is a porno site? Is this another reference?"

"It's a reference to pornography! In my network!" Tony snapped. He huffed and glared at them over his shoulder. "I was hoping someone would fess up to this, but since no one is admitting to slapping off to Busty Asian Beauties, I'll have to trace it back to its origins."

"I can assure you, Tony," Steve said, heated and embarrassed despite his best intentions. "I have not been looking for pornography on the internet."

Thor was apparently realizing that his questions would not be satisfactorily answered. Steve was not looking forward to being the one to face the inevitable questions that would follow when Tony left.

"You can kiss your Google privileges goodbye if you're lying," Tony assured him. He did not sound so positive anymore.

Steve remembered something else that had caused him to blush a few days ago. It seemed relevant, so he called out to Tony before the man could disappear back into his workshop.

"As a side note, I guess this means the Busty Asian Beauties magazine I stumbled across the other day while I was vacuuming wasn't yours then?" he asked.

Tony looked back at him in blatant shock.

"If you think I have time for Playboy knockoffs, you haven't seen the schedule Pepper keeps throwing at me," he said finally. "And, for the record, I am insulted that you would think I would be foolish enough to leave it out where just anyone could find it."

"So you are a fan of those kinds of magazines?" Steve asked.

He was teasing, just to see Tony get flustered. While he prodded at the people around him, those same people rarely poked back. Clint did, on occasion. Tony seemed to enjoy bantering with Clint. When it was Steve, he was less certain.

As if Captain America should not have a sense of humor.

It did not surprise Steve, and it was interesting to see how people faltered and had to reassess their opinions. This time Tony looked a little uncertain, but he snorted and waved him off.

"Sorry. Only club members with the super-secret password gain access to the stash under the mattress," he drawled. "Now excuse me. I have a computer to debug. And when I find out who unleashed this crap on my personal server that I so generously allowed you to use…" And yes, Tony was looking at Steve. Steve was certain this was not his fault. "There will be hell to pay."

"Was that a threat on Steven's life?" Thor seemed alarmed, but Tony was oblivious. He wandered out with his glass of scotch, and Thor shot Steve a concerned look. "Hel does not accept bribes. Once you have died, you remain dead."

Steve looked at Thor blankly.

"What?"

"What?"

The universe was laughing at them. Tony had said that once, and Natasha, of all people, had agreed with him. In moments like this, Steve understood what they had meant.

He was surrounded by people who spoke very different dialects. Sometimes it seemed like they spoke an entirely different language. Tony and Bruce especially. Apparently Thor felt he was missing out on confusing Steve Rogers because he was doing it now. And he had done a great job of it.

On the flip side, he did not have to answer any questions about pornography.

(Two days later, the infector of Tony's computers was announced loudly and angrily. Everyone was given a computer access code, and Clint sulked until Tony finally relented and gave him one.

"But it's like a public library computer, Barton," Tony warned. "I will see everything you do."

"Creep."

"My computer, freeloader. The last thing I need is a bunch of government agents I don't know raiding my house on a suspicion of illegal porn. Live with it or I'll revoke your access again."

Clint snatched the card out of Tony's hand and skulked away like a scolded child.)


They had the occasional mission. More often than not they were brief and fairly straightforward.

Steve learned a lot during these mini-battles. (He called them mini—in his head, because he would never live that down if he said it aloud—because they were localized incidents. Unlike that first battle with Loki, they were frequently able to keep the damage down to a single city block.)

He learned about his teammates and how they fought. Like how Thor was clearly battle trained and only occasionally needed to be reminded that people got touchy about unnecessary property damage. (Tony said a lot of insurance agencies were trying to fit damage done by Thor in their fine print as an act of God. Steve still did not entirely understand.) Or how Natasha liked her privacy in everyday life, but she worked remarkably well with a partner in a fight.

He saw that Tony meant well, but he had a bad habit of showboating. Playfulness and a desire for attention was fine in some situations. At other times, it put people in danger—most often, Tony himself.

Steve had brought this up on more than one occasion. Not that it did him any good.

"So you're the dog, and Stark is the cat, right?" Clint was, as usual, bizarrely amused by the entire situation.

They had just come in from a battle, everyone needing rest and no one able to wind down enough to get it. Clint made this comment after Tony disappeared down the stairs to his lab, leaving Steve in a muddled haze.

"How did you come to that conclusion?" Steve asked, trying to break free of the post-Tony confusion.

"It's your natures." Clint managed to sprawl on a stool, coring an apple with a knife that certainly had not come from the kitchen. "You're straightforward and loyal, sure to come when duty calls. Stark's a businessman, which is only a bit better than a lawyer or a politician, so you know he's devious as shit. Plus, he only comes and rubs on your leg when he can use it to his advantage."

"That is a sentence that never needed to be uttered," Natasha declared. "Although it's not a bad analogy."

"If you think about it, cats are only nice to people they like, barely," Clint grinned and held out an apple slice to the woman, but she waved him off in favor of rooting out Tony's vodka stash. "Dogs are nice to everyone, unless they're trained attack dogs, of course."

"There are so many exceptions to that," Bruce countered wearily. He was always a bit dazed when he returned to himself after the Hulk came out to play.

Steve had to wonder why everyone was around to witness Tony taking Steve's dressing down and turning it on its head until Steve barely recalled that he was supposed to be angry. He was angry, but only because he had seen a man he liked put himself in unnecessary danger. It was fear, he supposed. And Tony had been talking so fast, bringing up battle strategies and faults in the enemy's attack, and inventions Steve did not understand until there had been little choice but to let him walk away. He refused to say Tony won that argument. It was just… on hold.

Until the next time, where it was sure to repeat the same cycle.

The conversation was devolving into what kind of dog breed Steve would be (a Border Collie or a German Shepherd), which was as good a reason as any to leave the room. His path took him down the stairs to Tony's lab, which was hard to explain considering their recent, rather unfriendly departure from each other, but Steve did not particularly care.

Right now, even an irritated Tony was better than the dog/cat debate in the kitchen.

"I was looking at some of the old photos, and I noticed some differences in your uniform," Tony said as Steve walked into the room. His back was to the door, which made it that much more impressive. The man had a sixth sense, truly. Or maybe a security camera. Steve was not sure which yet. "And I noticed you lost a lot of storage space in the reworking. Plus—did you carry a gun? Should I be fashioning a thigh holster?"

"I never liked guns," Steve declined. "I would rather limit my opportunities to kill anyone."

"Pacifist," Tony said, shooting him a smile that may have been approving. "The belt?"

"I like carrying less," Steve did not have to think hard about what his uniform looked like. He had yet to remove it. "But maybe some varying sizes? I don't even use half of these because what I want to carry won't fit in them."

"Show me your gear, and I'll make it fit," Tony stated.

He glanced up, and Steve wondered how anyone could possibly understand this man's motives. Tony obviously meant to be helpful, but this felt a lot like diversion. Those quickly averted eyes were strong indicators of discomfort. Steve was not sure what had set the man on edge. He was not trying to make Tony uneasy.

"Would you rather I not come into your lab?" he asked. It was a blind reach, and a bad one at that. Tony's startled look was something of a relief. Steve actually did like coming down here.

"What makes you think you're not welcome?" Tony shot back. "If I didn't want you in here, believe me, you wouldn't be in here."

"Um." He floundered for a moment, not sure if he should ask the next question. Then again, this was Tony. This man could be evasive. He could also be cuttingly honest. Steve valued that quality, even though it came and went. Tony said what he wanted when it suited him. "I wasn't sure you really liked me."

Tony rolled his eyes in obvious exasperation. He did not reply, but his gaze stopped at the pouches belted around Steve's waist.

"Oh!" he blurted, fumbling to remove the utility belt. "Here. I suppose you'll need this."

"Just long enough for Jarvis to scan," Tony replied. "I'll need that list of supplies, too."

"I'll get them in a bit," Steve agreed. He hesitated, then quickly forced the words out. "I want you to know, I'm not judging you based on what I know of Howard."

He had known it could be a touchy subject. Any time Howard Stark came into the conversation, Tony dismissed the man as easily as he would a bad spark plug. The man had died over twenty years ago, so Steve doubted it was simple grief. As he had come to learn, nothing with Tony was ever simple.

Now, as Tony looked up from the utility belt with a dubious shine to his eyes, Steve had to wonder if it had been a wise decision to bring it up. He had been hanging onto that conversation since Tony first wrenched that subject into the open. The man had done it with terrible ease, making it seem like the most natural thing in the world to be talking about being compared to his dead father. Steve just made it uncomfortable.

"Wow," Tony murmured finally. Steve had half expected sarcasm, but there was none. Tony sounded… disappointed. However, the sarcasm was not far behind. "Well, thanks, Cap. I'll sleep so much better knowing that."

Steve winced. Yes, it had been the wrong thing to say. And yet, he felt this irrepressible urge to dig the hole deeper.

"You said you were making comparisons, too," he said. "What did you mean?"

Tony's nose wrinkled, his displeasure at this conversation clear. Steve watched him, curious at these minute expressions that Tony tried to hide behind his work. He laid the belt out on a table and straightened it with a few twitchy movements.

"Jarvis, full scan."

The array of red laser lights dropping over Steve's utility belt was beautiful and intimidating. Would it affect the belt? If it did, would Steve really want to put that back around his waist? It probably was not all that bad. Tony stood in the midst of it, red and blue glowing in his eyes, and he was not at all bothered.

"I'm done," Tony declared. "You can have it back."

"Thanks," Steve muttered, reluctantly strapping the belt in place. Tony seemed to want to avoid the topic, but experience told Steve not to go. Patience was the best weapon against this man.

"You know Phil and his collectibles?" Tony asked after several minutes of tinkering on something that had nothing to do with Steve's uniform. It looked like a holographic car engine.

"Of course." Steve had signed a couple, awkwardly. He was glad Coulson had since gotten over his nervous hero worship. Steve was much more at ease around the man now that he seemed to realize Captain America was just another guy who sometimes needed a kick in the pants to get him out of bed in the morning.

"We had all that crap."

Tony kept his eyes on his work, his hands deep in the glowing display.

"And why shouldn't we? Howard was obsessed, so Mom thought it would be cute if her kid played with Captain America memorabilia," Tony snorted. "Too bad her kid would rather rip apart the VCR than play any of those boring propaganda videos."

He looked up, and that cool smile made Steve ache. He was not even sure why.

"If it makes you feel better, I don't blame you either," Tony declared. He turned back to his project, continuing distractedly. "But you should also know that I gave all that crap to Phil once I found out what a fan he was. A get well gift, as it were. He's probably got a room with an altar devoted to you now."

"You told me that just to make me uncomfortable around him, didn't you?" Steve groaned. The conversation had been quickly and effectively derailed. Tony was a master. Yet Steve could not find it in himself to care. He had learned enough.

"I'm looking forward to future awkwardness," Tony retorted.

"It won't happen," Steve said stubbornly. He was lying. Tony knew it.

"Like a gawky teenage boy trying to talk to Megan Fox."

"I don't know who that is," Steve reminded him.

"Jarvis, pull up a picture!"

It went downhill from there. Steve was laughing, inevitably blushing as Tony pulled up image after image of extremely attractive women.

He never admitted it, but he was relieved. He had known there was something that had driven a wedge between Tony and Howard, and it seemed more and more like Steve was part of it. It would have been horrible if it had done the same to Steve and Tony.


The phones were horrible. Steve hated them.

The problem was less about the inability to comprehend the new cellular devices. He understood their functions. He could probably even figure out how to maneuver his way around the multitude of applications—apps—if he so desired.

The thing was, Steve just liked his phone to make phone calls. The texting function was useful sometimes, but he was more about human contact. Brief blurbs of words on a screen could be misinterpreted in so many ways. It was difficult to get a tone across. Plus, truly, whenever anyone texted LOL, Steve had strong doubts about any laughter actually occurring.

Tony, naturally, could be trusted to point out the many ways in which Steve was not utilizing his irritatingly complicated phone to its fullest potential.

"What do you mean, you're lost?" The question seemed unfair. Steve was in the outskirts of New York and had gotten, understandably, turned around. Tony was a New York native, so it only seemed logical to call him. "How can you be lost?"

"A wrong turn, another wrong turn, unfamiliar landmarks," Steve drawled. How obvious could this answer be? "It's been awhile since I explored New York. Things have changed."

"You're calling from your phone, which means you've got GPS literally in your hand," Tony retorted. "I know. It's signal is bouncing off one of my satellites."

"GPS," Steve repeated flatly.

He did not know what that was, although he had a vague recollection of having heard the letters in that combination at some point. It probably had been when Tony handed him the phone and launched into an exhaustive explanation as to its many functions. Steve still refused to put music on it. (Unfortunately, his refusal to work with these functions had backfired slightly when Clint got hold of his phone and set it to blare out the lyrics to Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On at full volume for incoming calls. Steve had not yet figured out how to fix this.)

"Global Positioning System," Tony explained. "It's like Google Maps in your hand, only better."

"I don't know what Google Maps are," Steve grumbled.

"For the love of—fine! Tell me what corner you're on. Technophobe."

Steve winced and looked to the corner. He was surprised that Tony would know he was not moving. Still, he appreciated the assistance when he told the man the street names and heard unintelligible muttering from the other end of the line.

"Head north until you reach Fort Lee Road, then turn east. North on Bergen Boulevard, and then follow the signs to the Washington Bridge," Tony said finally. "If you're smart about how you use your bike, you should get to my office building in time for lunch. Call when you get here. You obviously need a lesson in using the tools God's given you."

"You gave this to me, Tony," Steve said dryly.

"And by your monotheistic beliefs, God gave you me, so my point stands."

That said, Tony hung up. Steve grinned. He would never accuse Stark of being overly polite, but he had a way of being there when he was needed.


There was something different about that night driving home from DC. It was not like these other questions Steve put to him. That was something Tony had not wanted him to know. It was something that shamed him somehow.

Steve did understand. Were their positions reversed, he was not sure he would have been brave enough to admit any of it aloud as Tony had.

After that strange night on that lonely highway, they had never addressed it again. Steve did not want to bring it up, and Tony would not likely appreciate the topic. He had been pretty clear about not wanting it brought up in mixed company.

Steve was still amazed that not even Pepper knew. No one knew. Only Steve, Tony, and the piece of filth whose very name made Steve want to commit an unforgivable crime. Steve agreed to keep it under wraps. The naked relief Tony had displayed upon that little pact was enough to make sure Steve never violated that trust.

Somehow, despite this unspoken agreement never to broach that particular topic, they meshed better than ever before. Their fights—pretty spectacular in the past—became fewer, with more time passing between. They worked well together, on and off the field. It was… nice.

It was good, because as the two most recognizable faces of the Avengers, Steve found himself traveling with Tony a lot.

"What are all the Vote No signs about?"

It was another PR thing. This one had taken them through the Midwest heartland. Steve had to admit, he kind of liked Minnesota. It was a lot different than he remembered from the one time his tour had gone through the state. The buildings were taller, and they actually had a shopping center called the Mall of America. They were supposedly going to visit before heading home.

"Marriage amendment," Tony said, distracted by something on the device he swore was just a phone. "They're trying to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Voting no will slow it down. A bit."

"Oh," Steve said, because he felt he should say something, and he needed to process what Tony was saying. And then, because it was Tony, he could ask, "Will you vote no?"

"Not my state." Tony glanced at the bright orange sign, then back to his phone. "I don't have to think about it. It's already legal in New York."

"Huh," Steve considered it a bit longer. He had not given much thought to gay marriage. So many other things had seemed more important at the time. He had been made aware of the major issues, of course, but it was all so trivial. Steve had never been one to judge, but now he was suddenly made aware, and he was curious. "Would legalized gay marriage ever be something that applied to you?"

He would never dream of asking anyone else. With Tony, somehow it was okay. If ever he asked something Tony did not like, the man would simply change the subject. Everything else, well, he was the most easygoing man Steve had ever met. This question, however, might cause Tony to hit him.

Tony looked at him over his sunglasses, his phone momentarily forgotten. The man had no expression. He was always so impossible to read.

"Are you asking if I'm gay, Captain?" Tony demanded.

"No!" It was a reflexive response, but probably untrue. Steve winced and shrugged helplessly. "Well, maybe. You flirt a lot, but I mean, you dated all those women."

"Go ahead and say it: I slept with all those women," Tony said dryly. "And if you're using this as some sort of come on, then this is going to get awkward real fast."

"Tony!" Steve never felt bad asking the questions, but he did get exasperated quickly. Tony cocked an eyebrow at him, then shrugged.

"It's a nonissue," the man said dismissively. "Girls are easier and a hell of a lot safer."

Steve could have asked a hundred things, but he was brought back to a dark night, a broken down car, and Tony having a panic attack on the side of the road. He thought maybe there were some things that should not be asked.


Steve was starting to understand that they would never be bosom buddies. They were far too different to be able to spend more than a few hours together without finding something to argue about.

They had something, though. It did not feel like a normal friendship, no matter what he did to attempt to bond with Tony. This was not the guy he went to for a night on the town, cruising for dames—chicks… whatever women liked to be called in this age. Ironically, Steve went to Tony when he needed some quiet. For as chatty as Tony could be, if Steve caught him at work, or late at night after a two-day stint without sleep, Steve could slide in and just sit, knowing Tony would never expect anything from him.

Steve wondered if this was what it was like to have a brother.

Aside from that, what Steve appreciated most about Tony was that Steve felt he could talk to the man about almost anything. Steve had yet to find a topic that embarrassed him. (Not so for himself. There were definitely things he did not bring up, solely to save himself from a terminal case of blushing.) Tony, on the other hand, was completely lacking in humility, and that seemed to translate into an equal sense of self-confidence.

Despite leading what was certainly a difficult life, Tony seemed to know exactly who he was, and he never let anyone tell him otherwise. Steve respected him for it. He also harbored a small amount of jealousy. After all, who wouldn't wish to be that certain?

As time went on, and Steve grew more certain of his semi-friendly stance with the other man, it led to many curious afternoon conversations. Tony would be hard at work in his shop, and Steve, often bored or just curious, would find himself observing the magic. He did not try to understand the engineering. He was smart, but advanced mathematics had never interested him. That did not mean he could not appreciate the beauty of it.

Though sometimes he marred it a bit.

"Why did you break up with Pepper?"

Tony barely even paused. Steve thought back, wondering if he had been leading to this question, or if he was just that predictable that Tony was unsurprised when it came. He thought it might be the latter reason, which was, admittedly, unfortunate.

"Irreconcilable differences," Tony said immediately, dismissively. Steve ignored that part.

"You still act like an old married couple," Steve mused. It was true. Pepper kept Tony in line like no one else could. Even Natasha, with all her subtle manipulations, could not get Tony to cooperate. Pepper had the ability to anticipate both the needs of Stark Industries and Tony's strange whims, and with a look, she could stop him cold. "What kind of differences?"

Tony glanced over at him, one eyebrow arched high.

"Sometimes, even when Mommy and Daddy love each other very much," he started.

"Be serious," Steve protested.

"I am," Tony shrugged and went back to weaving light. It was starting to look like a knife. Something for Natasha, perhaps. "I was. We were. When it came right down to it, I couldn't love enough for the both of us. She tried, but you can't choose your love, can you?"

"She didn't love you." That was actually a surprise. Steve had seen them together once, back in the aftermath of Loki's attack. He had seen the adoration in Tony's eyes and the warmth in Pepper's. Maybe he had seen wrong.

"She loves me plenty," Tony snapped, then cursed as something went wrong with the light show in his hands. He pulled back gently and shot Steve a dark look. "Just not in a wedding bells kind of way."

"I'm sorry." Steve was not sure why he was apologizing. It seemed the thing to say, even if it just made Tony scoff at him.

"For what?" Tony's hand fluttered dismissively. "Ancient history. You know what? I need a break. I hear Central Park's a nice place to visit."

"It is," Steve said, mouth already pulling into a reflexive if baffled smile.

"You went and didn't invite me? I'm crushed. For this, you owe me a hotdog from a street vendor."

"You were in Tokyo at a business conference."

"I feel like I missed my firstborn's first steps."

"What kind of analogy is that? Fine!" Steve leapt to his feet. Tony was already halfway across the workshop, leaving him behind. He would disappear into the city, or maybe the afternoon sky (if the Iron Man suit came into play), if Steve let him out of his sight. They would not see him again until he decided to reinitiate contact. Steve was not quite sure of Tony's mood, but those days of radio silence could stretch on for more than a week. "I'll buy you a hotdog. You know what? Grab the stale bread from the kitchen. We'll stop and feed the ducks too."

Tony snorted impatiently.

"I am not feeding waterfowl."

"Ducks," Steve insisted. "Maybe ducklings. They need food too."

"They have a thousand people trying to force their leftovers on them every day," Tony said, clearly mocking him. "Including Thor. And Thor's leftovers could feed a small village."

Like an annoying older brother. (Maybe younger. Despite physical appearances, Steve often found that he felt much older than everyone around him, including Tony. Of course, it could be that Tony had the temperament of a three year old.)

Steve huffed and let it drop, resigning himself to an afternoon of walking around with Tony at his most obnoxious.


Nice cars aside, public relations events were reminiscent of Steve's first months as Captain America. There were reporters, crowds of curious people, cameras and photographs with fans. Steve saw men thrilled just to shake his hand, women who tried to leap past the security line just to lay hands on them, children with plastic Captain America shields and Iron Man masks and super hero notebooks to be signed.

He was back to kissing babies and smiling for the camera. Actually, Tony told him not to kiss the babies.

"You don't want a mom to freak out on you," Tony said in caution after a particularly crowded meeting of politicians and citizens. It was always such a relief to climb into Tony's Rolls Royce after being pressed from every side by strangers. Steve never knew how Tony tolerated it with such cool grace, sliding into his car, completely oblivious to Happy closing the door behind him. "People get funny about their kids now."

"Is that why Happy always cuts between you and the crowds whenever someone passes the kids over?" Steve asked.

Tony glanced up, and Steve was once again struck by the man's penchant for wearing sunglasses in the most curious of times and places. He was of the opinion that Tony just liked the severity it lent him when he tilted his head down to look over the rims with such skepticism.

"Of course not. He does that because I don't like being handed things."

Steve stared at him, utterly baffled.

"It's just a baby," he blurted.

Tony had already turned away, his hands drifting over the selection of alcohol he kept in the minibar in his limousine. Just one more luxury Steve never truly understood. But then, the only times he really wished to have alcohol, he had only to regret the uselessness of it. For Tony, alcohol was universal, to be drunk at social events, as a nightcap, to drown sorrows, to bolster confidence, or simply because it was there.

"Ice in your soda?" Tony asked, deliberately mild.

Steve startled and flinched away from the bottle of Coke that was suddenly in his line of vision. Momentarily ignoring the drink, he shot Tony an incredulous look.

"No?" Tony said, twitching the bottle until Steve relented and accepted the proffered beverage.

"How did you know about that?" Steve asked, barely able to speak over the press of humiliation on his chest.

"Not much of a leap," Tony shrugged and poured himself a glass of brandy. On ice. Steve looked away. "You were the only one shying away from the lemonade when we attended that picnic last month. I know you don't have a problem with lemonade. Considering how you spent the past seventy years, it made sense."

Steve remembered the picnic. It had been a charity event for foster kids. Even Bruce had gone, and he rarely attended the public events, even when he was around. It had also taken place during the biggest heat wave New York had seen in ten years. Thor had been the only one of them not wilting in the searing heat.

And yes, Steve had cringed away from lemonade. It had been canned lemonade, stored in several coolers. Steve could not bring himself to reach into the pile of ice to get the drink. Now that he thought back on it, Tony had been the one to help him keep hydrated that afternoon. The billionaire had appeared with a bottle of water in hand, passing it to him and wandering away without a word.

Steve had not thought about it at the time. His graciousness had been dimmed by the sight and smell of the whisky in Tony's hand and the irritation that came with it.

"You mean you weren't drunk at that picnic?" It was a nasty thing to say. Steve was sorry the instant the words rolled off his tongue.

Tony had a thick skin. He shot Steve an amused glance and swirled the glass in his hand. The ice clinked, the noise chasing away the guilt in a haze of discomfort and irritation. Tony was deliberately taunting him.

Steve knew this tactic. Despite his best efforts to make people believe otherwise, Tony was a nice guy. He was, however, an expert at deflection. It was that knowledge that kept Steve's reaction to simple exasperation rather than outright anger.

"If you don't want to talk about it, you could just say so," he griped.

Tony chuckled and set his glass in a holder that blended so well into the door that Steve never would have known it was there.

"You mean you don't want to discuss your dark secrets?" Tony asked lightly. "Imagine that."

That stung, but he supposed he deserved it. Even so, he shot Tony a glare to let the man know just how unhappy he was with that statement. Tony seemed not to care. He bared his teeth in a cold smile. It was a look Steve had seen before, only never aimed at him. Not like this.

Tony was angry with him. It was not in the manner of their usual arguments, where they got in each other's faces and shouted with the hopes that they could get their point through the other man's thick skull. This was something a harsher, something that actually had Steve skittering back in apprehension.

"I wasn't trying to pry," Steve murmured.

"No? Well, when you plan to put forth the effort, warn me. I like to know when I should be anywhere but next to you."

Tony closed his eyes and made a show of relaxing. His feet stretched forward, his head tilting back, and he folded his arms comfortably across his chest. He looked as though he was settling in for a nap, though Steve knew they were only minutes from their hotel. He was putting Steve off after baffling him completely. It was kind of unfair.

"I don't understand," Steve declared frankly. "What have I done now?"

He nearly winced at the words again. He was not trying to lay on a guilt trip, but it just seemed to happen. Tony noticed it immediately, of course. The man grimaced and cracked an eye to glower at him. He sighed heavily.

"Nothing, Cap," Tony grumbled. "Sorry I snapped. Hotel in ten. You going to hit the pool this time?"

It was not even a good transition. Steve had struck a nerve somewhere, and he was not sure how.

"I don't know," he said, the pause extending beyond a comfortable time frame. Tony seemed not to notice or care. His eyes were tired, but he gazed steadily at Steve, waiting for the response. "It's getting late, and we have to be up for that interview tomorrow."

"I'll order dinner to our rooms," Tony told him. He slouched down and let his head fall back on the seat, eyes closing in what would be a very short doze. If Steve recalled, their hotel was less than five minutes away.

"You should get some rest too," Steve said. A sternness crept into his tone, one that he related back to his mother. One he swore he never used before waking up in the twenty-first century. Back then, his team had not been a group of such childish individuals. Steve found he used this tone a lot, no matter how much he tried to avoid it. Even Bruce sometimes heard it.

"Yes, sir, Captain America, sir," Tony mumbled.

Childish and immature.


It had surprised Steve to no end to discover that Tony was very much a morning person. He could be up until all hours, drinking, partying, working, staring blindly at late-night television, and he would be up at six, hard at work. More than once he had gotten the evil eye (Clint, Natasha, and Bruce) when he bounced up after a night of too much booze, seemingly unaffected.

"His tolerance is inhumanly high," Natasha had explained once. "I've seen him hung over once. He worked very hard to get that way."

Steve had to wonder sometimes if the man did not have just the slightest amount of super-soldier serum in him. While Steve needed less sleep than most people, Tony was a close second. He could go days on less than four hours of sleep a night, and after a single day of recuperation be up and going again.

However, if he missed his recoup day, it could get interesting trying to work with him.

He did this on their publicity trip. Steve was sure of it. Actually, he was positive when he knocked on Tony's door on the morning of the eighth day, and he heard Tony mumbling unintelligibly from the other side. When the door finally opened, it revealed a man who looked like he had gone on a three-day bender.

Tony's hair was all over the place, and there were deep bruises of exhaustion under his eyes. Usually he answered the door dressed and ready to go. This morning he was garbed in flannel pants and a tee shirt. The arc reactor glowed cheerily through the shirt, a stark contrast to Tony's bone-weary glare.

"Did you get any sleep last night?" Steve asked, a little surprised by this. Tony was usually more cautious when it came to meeting the press. Which they would be, sort of. It was some popular magazine reporter.

"Phil called," Tony said. He turned and shuffled away, the open door a clear invitation for Steve to let himself in and shut it behind him. "There was an incident near the harbor with some Doom bots. They couldn't get the Hulk to come in."

Steve looked at him in alarm.

"Did you fly to New York?"

"Of course not," Tony flashed him a weary grin and wandered into the bathroom. He left that door open as well, which Steve did not take as an invitation. "I Skyped with the Hulk."

(Steve knew what this was. He had been taught how to use this program, though Tony frequently mocked it and brought forth his own application.) Steve wanted to point out Tony's use of Skype now, but he knew his priorities.

"Is everything okay?"

"Seems to be," Tony's voice drifted out over the sound of running water. "But you try Skyping with the big guy for an hour after a Doom bot tramples over his favorite shop by the docks. I had to promise to help those guys get back in business. A fish market! Can you imagine that in my investment portfolio?"

Steve shook his head incredulously. He had always marveled at the way Tony had bonded with the Hulk. The relationship with Bruce, Steve understood. The Hulk seemed to be a different person, and yet he and Tony were thick as thieves. More than once a battle had ended, and they had witnessed the Hulk fuss over Iron Man like a child who had been told his parent was sick. He lacked the ability to completely understand, but he knew that he had to make sure his friend was okay. It was, well, sweet for lack of a better word.

He heard the distinctive sound of Tony brushing his teeth, so he did not comment further. A few minutes later Tony came out of the bathroom, his hair wet and slicked back. He went to the closet and dragged out his suit.

"I'm rescheduling tomorrow's interviews," Tony told him. "I wanted to reschedule today's, but Pepper likes tormenting me with Vanity Fair."

"I've seen that one around the house," Steve recalled. Clint liked reading them, though it seemed like it was aimed more toward a female demographic. Pepper kept them stocked on most of the popular media. "You think this will be another…" What had Tony called it again? "—fluff piece?"

He politely averted his eyes when Tony stripped off his nightshirt and reached for a clean undershirt.

"Hard to say. The last spread they did on me was a little biased."

"How so?"

"I slept with the reporter."

Steve sighed. It was sad that this no longer shocked him. Tony used to blurt these things out—with complete sincerity—and Steve used to blush and be appalled that he would say such things. Now, it was just par for the course.

For his part, Tony seemed completely unbothered by the fact that Steve was no longer offended by his crass commentary. He adjusted his tie in the mirror, put on a pair of sunglasses as his mirrored shield, and turned a flat look on Steve.

"We'll do the interview, then head back to New York. I'm starting to miss home anyway."

On that, they were in complete agreement.


Avengers battles were a bit different than the battles Steve had fought during the war. Back then, things were planned out. They picked a place and a time and plotted out the best point of entrance. Strategies were thrown back and forth until they agreed on a single course of action. Then, they attacked.

Now, it was more like the impromptu fistfights Steve used to get into as a kid. He would be going along, minding his own business, until he saw some poor sap getting picked on by someone bigger and stronger. Heck, he even got beat up nearly as often as he did then.

"Well, it could have been worse."

Steve was not sure why Tony had offered to tend to his wounds. He knew why he had accepted the assistance, of course. It took three people to tend to Clint's wrenched knee: Thor to carry the injured man, Natasha to keep his protests to a minimum, and Bruce to actually fix it. Tony had waved them off, brightly proclaiming that he would make sure Big, Blond and Beautiful was not hurt worse than he claimed.

He was not hurt badly. The bruises would be gone by the next day, the cuts similarly fading. That did not stop Tony from pulling out the industrial-sized first aid kit and poking at him with a cleansing swab.

"Ouch." Okay. The iodine stung worse than getting the cut had. "You know, I can just take a shower, clean up, and this will all be fine in the morning."

"Every cut is opportunity for infection," Tony hummed. "Don't be a baby."

Tony, somehow, had come out of the fight completely unscathed. This was actually somewhat unusual, so Steve did not say anything. He settled down, squashed another wincing complaint when the disinfecting swab ventured too close to a cut on his cheek. Forcing back any reaction must have been unsuccessful, because Tony paused, watching him for a long moment, before gentling his touch. It was unnecessary, but Steve appreciated the gesture.

The entire situation was surreal. Steve was accustomed to being the one who dragged Tony from whatever hideaway he found to force medical attention on him. Never had Tony sat him down and done the same.

Given that Tony was less than a foot away from him, Steve took the opportunity to study the man.

Tony looked different up close than he did from afar. Steve could see the laugh lines around his mouth more clearly, and the echoes of frown lines on his forehead. There were crow's feet forming around Tony's eyes, a clear indicator of a man's inevitable advancing age. This close, Steve could see a faint dusting of freckles across surprisingly fair skin. Bluish bruises marred the fragile skin beneath the man's eyes, dark eyelashes standing out in stark relief.

He looked tired.

An instant before Steve could point this out, Tony's eyes flicked over him briefly. There was an amusing moment where Tony did a bit of a double take with his gaze, before he settled back to focusing on applying a butterfly bandage to the cut over Steve's eyebrow. However, Steve had been caught staring, and Tony was frowning.

"Stop that," Tony grumbled.

"Stop what?" Steve shot back easily. Tony's deepening frown was a clear indicator that he was not buying Steve's show of naïveté.

"Staring. It's creepy."

That was a first. No one had ever called Steve Rogers creepy. Curiously, Tony seemed to truly mean it. His scowl was deep set, the slightest of tremors unsettling his hands when he drew them back from the bandaging.

"I'm not trying to make you uncomfortable," Steve apologized.

"No, that seems to come completely natural," Tony muttered.

Stark's mouth twitched in a concerted effort to smirk. Steve was not sure if he should feel guilty when Tony failed, that morphing expression falling into an uneasy grimace.

"Tony, is something wrong?"

"Wrong?" There it was. The prodigal smile returned. Steve despised that camera-ready grin. "Why would anything be wrong? We saved the city. Again. You've got a crack in your skull, but your head's taken harder hits and come out fine. I think the team could go for takeout. What do you think? Pizza? Chinese? I'll call up Jimmy Johns—"

"Tony."

Steve caught a fluttering hand, not overly surprised when that simple touch both silenced Stark and stilled him. Tony went stiff and utterly still, eyes on Steve's hands around his. His expression seemed to ping pong its way through a myriad of emotions, never quite settling. It finally wound down, wavering between annoyance and, surprisingly, fear.

"What am I doing that's making you so uncomfortable?"

"I'm not uncomfortable," Tony said immediately.

That was such a blatant lie that Tony was wincing before Steve frowned at him. He tugged, and Steve let him pull his hand free.

"Tony," Steve said again, beseeching him to answer. Tony shot him another of those fearfully angry glares. Steve was not pleased to be on the receiving end of that look. Not when it came from a friend.

"Why do you always want to know?"

The abrupt question made very little sense. Steve hesitated, not quite sure how to answer. Fortunately, Tony was all about follow through.

"We all see things, right?" Tony said, the words coming in a rush, as if he desperately needed to get them out as quickly as possible. "You think no one notices that you always disappear when there are fireworks planned?"

Steve sucked in a breath, shock rushing through him, colder than ice. It was not like fireworks were a regular occurrence. He did not realize anyone had picked up on that particular pattern.

Naturally Tony, being who he was, was far from finished.

"How about when you draw, and all of your pictures are of places in Brooklyn that no longer exist?" Steve had to give Tony credit. He knew how to reach straight for the heart and squeeze with all his might. "Or when you stand in the hallway and stare at all the old pictures? I mean, we notice. I've noticed."

Tony had a drink in hand. Steve was not sure when he had picked that up, but the man downed it and did not seem any more manic for it, so he did not say anything. His hands were still shaking, though. Steve had no idea what had led to this, only that he had somehow incited this outburst.

"But you have to know," Tony said, aggravation bleeding into his tone. "You always ask. You always ask!"

Perhaps he was just being slow. Actually, Steve was certain he was being obtuse about the whole matter. This was not the point—not remotely—but he was caught on Tony's remarks, unable to get past them to the heart of the matter.

"I didn't think anyone knew that about my drawings," he muttered.

Tony snorted and reached for the bottle again. His hands were shaking so badly that Steve felt obligated to intervene. Ignoring the indignant snarl, he took the liquor from Tony. The man's protests died when Steve poured the amber liquid over the ice.

"I'm surprised no one's said anything," Steve murmured. "Clint usually does."

Clint usually commented loudly and inappropriately on anything he noticed. On some levels, he could be more obnoxious than Stark. The difference tended to be that Clint could only keep up a running commentary for a few sentences before he lost steam. Tony could go on for hours if it was needed. Steve was not sure which quality was less desirable.

"Okay, so maybe not everyone noticed," Tony grumbled. "That's not even the point. You do know I was illustrating a point?"

Of course he knew. Steve was not that dense. In fact, the picture was suddenly perfectly clear.

"Did it ever occur to you that maybe I want you to ask?" he countered. Tony's fingers drummed across the countertop, a clear beat of his increasing agitation. "I'm trying to be your friend, Tony. I ask questions because I want to get to know you. Admittedly, I'd feel better about my attempts if you did the same."

Tony stared at him, momentarily taken aback by the retort. He regained control a second later, his mouth closing, lips pressing into a tense line.

"Is that what all these personal questions are? Friendship overtures?" he asked tersely.

It sounded trite when Tony said it. Steve sighed and tried not to be offended. Strange, that a man who could make awkward topics tolerable was so incapable of speaking comfortably about anything remotely involving his feelings.

"Is that such a strange thing?"

The flat look Tony shot him had Steve rolling his eyes and grabbing a glass for himself. Maybe he could not get drunk, but if he knew Tony, that would be good scotch. It had been awhile, and the burn would go nicely with this conversation. There was the added bonus of Tony looking at him like he had lost what remained of his marbles when he took a healthy swallow.

"Look, it's been—what?—a bit over a year now?" Steve asked. He considered the mostly-drained drink in his hand. It was good. "I like to think I've done all right assimilating."

"Your adventures with Barton's iPod last week would suggest otherwise," Tony mumbled.

"It looks exactly like his phone," Steve immediately replied. "Stop trying to sidetrack me."

Tony responded with a sickly grin. Steve was starting to feel over-oxygenated with how much he was sighing in this conversation.

"Not to pull the sympathy card here, but the fact is, I don't have many friends," Steve declared. "Everyone I knew growing up—they're dead."

Tony pulled a face, looking a bit like he was seeking guilt, but this was not the point Steve had been trying to drive home.

"I've been making new friends," Steve pointed out. "Thor. Bruce. Mr. Lorenz—"

"The neighbor's butler?"

"I see him in the morning when I'm on my run, and he's walking the dogs," Steve explained. "You have no room to look down on me. You knew who I was talking about."

Tony snorted, a low sound of amusement, and Steve found himself smiling. Finally.

"The thing is, Natasha's barely around. Bruce and Thor… they travel a lot," Steve shrugged helplessly. "Clint mostly makes fun of me."

"I make fun of you."

"Less," Steve protested. He looked at Tony directly. It had the unfortunate side effect of making the man shift uneasily, but at least he had eye contact. "You're always here. If I need anything, you're always right here. I just figured… maybe you wouldn't mind if I called you a friend."

Tony stared at him. No matter how much Steve disliked uncomfortable silences, he let this one drag out. He had thrown the line. It was entirely Tony's choice whether or not to grab it.

At least the man had stopped shaking. Steve was not sure what had caused it. Maybe it was because Steve had drawn the focus back to himself that made it stop. He made a mental note that Tony was not happy when it came to dealing with emotions. Actually, he discovered that the mental note was already there, so he put a big star beside it.

"Do we have to hug now?" Tony asked, the abruptness of the inappropriate question throwing Steve off guard. He frowned, but Tony looked utterly serious. That meant nothing, of course. Tony had a deadpan delivery that put Fury's to shame. Still, Tony was shifting his weight, and his eyes jumped to the side before reluctantly meeting Steve's again. "This feels like one of those touchy-feely moments where there should be hugging."

Steve shook his head.

"I would never force physical affection on you, Tony."

"Huh." Tony's mouth curved into a half-smile, which faded, and then jumped back into place. "So, um... you threw your sob story out there, but you should be advised that you're probably more experienced in this friendship thing than I am."

Steve opened his mouth to protest, because one, it had not been a sob story (except that it really kind of was, so he bit back that objection), and two, Tony could not possibly mean that. Tony cut him off before he could say anything.

"I'm not saying no," Tony hurried to add. "I mean, I'm selfish, so of course I wouldn't turn down an offer like that. I just think you should know this. Up front."

It made sense in a sick sort of way. Steve, of course, was having none of it.

"Wow, that is selfish," he said. "You just take credit for everything, don't you?"

For that, he received a blank stare.

"What?"

Steve had to give himself a pat on the back for doing this. Typically, Tony could talk circles around him. When the time came that he could baffle Stark, he had to take his shots where he could. It was oddly satisfying.

"Well, you're trying to tell me that if this friendship fails, it will be all your fault, which I think is awfully selfish of you." Steve held out his hands as if to say, it can't be helped; this is Tony Stark, after all. "If we're drawing up a contract here, you should also know that I am all about equal rights. I want at least fifty percent of the credit."

This was a side of himself that did not often come out to play. It used to, back when he and Bucky had ruled the streets of Brooklyn. (Rather, Bucky ruled, and Steve caused trouble, upon which occasion Bucky would usually bail him out.) He had fancied himself a wise guy until adulthood smacked him in the face. Then, he just tried not to get himself beaten into a hospital.

For now, Tony was gaping, and it was extremely gratifying to see that frank confusion on the quick-witted billionaire's face. Steve let himself indulge a bit before smiling to prove he was only partly serious. Tony sneered at him, shuffling back and drawing himself up again. Sometimes the man just tried too hard, in Steve's opinion.

"No more asking all the personal questions, okay?" Tony snapped.

"No deal," Steve replied. "You'll have to stand up for yourself when the time comes."

"Screw you. I always stand up for myself," Tony grumbled. He eyed Steve suspiciously for a moment, then said, "You should grab your sketchbook. I bet at least some of those places are still around."

The subject change should have been jarring. Perhaps he was just growing accustomed to Tony. Steve found the effect almost charming. He also realized the moment had passed, and now was as good a time as any to let the subject drop.

"Tomorrow," he agreed. "Right now, I really need a shower."

"Watch those bandages!" Tony called after him. "I put a lot of time and effort into patching you up!"

"Thank you, Tony."

For once, Steve felt like he left an encounter with more than what he had brought to it.


Barely a day passed before Tony sought him out. Steve would never admit just how much of a challenge it had been not to immediately look for Tony after he cleaned up from the battle. When the man had failed to show up for dinner with the rest of the team, it had been a near thing.

He figured he should give Tony at least a few days before invading his space again. For all that he basked in the attention of others, Tony had a reclusive side that rivaled that of Dr. Banner.

Color him surprised when a body dropped down next to him on the sofa, where he sat reading a novel.

"Dumas. Fair choice," Tony declared.

"Fair?" Steve asked.

"Well, he was a nineteenth century diva of an author." Tony stretched, arms over his head, body arching half off the sofa. When he relaxed, he slumped into a boneless sprawl over the cushions, sparing only the slightest effort to gesture at the book in Steve's hand. "That's an adventure romance novel. He cashed in on a couple sequels, but they were as sequels often are: pale to the original."

"You have obviously never read the Harry Potter series," Clint said. It was merely a passing comment, made as he walked into the room, plucked a magazine from the pile Pepper had left on the coffee table, and left again.

"Of course, there are exceptions to every rule," Tony mumbled, quickly and effectively shot down.

Steve grinned and picked up something that had dropped from Clint's magazine. It was a postcard advertising the magazine from which it had fallen—something about busty Asian women (obviously that pile was not entirely Pepper's). Steve tucked it between the pages of his book and turned his full attention to Tony.

"Are you just here to criticize my choice in reading material?"

"I said nothing bad about the book," Tony insisted. Steve offered a skeptical look, to which Tony flashed a quick smile and revised his answer. "No?"

Satisfied, Steve sat back and reopened his book. He was starting to realize a direct line of questioning was not the way to go with this man. Tony would say what he wanted, when he wanted to say it. Besides, the previous day had revealed how very unhappy that kind of behavior made Tony.

"I have a confession to make," Tony announced, the brashness of his tone clearly forced. It was easy to see the man's discomfort in the way Tony's fingers tapped over the hard surface of his arc reactor.

"I'm all ears."

"Don't—" Tony grimaced, and his fingers drummed a rapid beat over his heart. "Look. You asked me once if I was making comparisons."

"Yes." He remembered. "You sidestepped around the question."

"You think I'd really answer something like that?" Tony scoffed. "Who would give a direct answer to that kind of a loaded question?"

"You're going to now."

"Well, obviously I've lost my mind," Tony said reasonably. "You wanted fifty percent of the blame. This part is your fault. Since we're keeping track."

Steve chuckled. Inappropriate humor was Tony's fallback. That did not make it any less amusing. It was worth the hard grin Tony offered.

"I lied a bit," Tony admitted. "I did actually watch all those shitty propaganda videos when I was a kid."

"Not all of them were that bad," Steve murmured.

"They really were," Tony disagreed. He softened the blow by adding, "But when I was a kid, they were great. Who didn't want to be Captain America, the perfect superhero, beating up the bad guys? You know, I used to beat around with this… ridiculous plastic shield. Dad had the prototypes to all these things, and he made one that I could have, when I was barely out of diapers."

Steve stared at Tony, trying to wrap his head around what the man was saying. It was not all that hard to imagine the wild-eyed child version of his friend—he had seen the pictures around the mansion—but he did have some difficulty placing a toy shield in young Tony's hands.

From Tony's smirk, he knew it too.

"I was raised through the Cold War," Tony continued. "Hitler was already dead, but damn if there weren't Commies to fight. Poor Jarvis had bruised shins for months."

"Jarvis." Wasn't Jarvis a computer?

Tony glanced at him.

"Come on, Cap," he smiled, a slow, curling thing. Like smoke on a still night. Steve hesitated to say anything for fear of blowing that smile away. It was rare when he saw anything that honest on Tony's face. "You know you want to."

Steve found himself reflecting that smile, utterly helpless to do anything less. Then he asked about Jarvis. Unsurprisingly, Tony answered. Not much later, Steve asked about Howard and the shield he made for his son.

Tony told him to stick it where the sun don't shine.


End Note: Sorry if anyone was looking for a satisfying conclusion to the other story, but this was less about that and more about this developing dysfunctional friendship I had in my head. Hopefully it was enjoyable.

A couple points of note: The election put a hold on that particular amendment the boys discussed. People can't seem to get their heads out of their asses with that issue, so I expect that's not the last time MN or other states will see this crap run across a ballot.

Steve was reading The Three Musketeers at the end, because I'm currently reading The Count of Monte Cristo, so the author was in my head. Thus... yeah. Sorry.

The girlie magazines and porn sites Clint perused are half creations, half vague recollections from Supernatural. I don't know. It amused me to think that Clint set a virus loose on Tony's server.