July 4th, 2013, 16:23

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Williamsburg Houses, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Steve slept until noon. It was the latest he'd slept in quite a while. He would have been irked about the interruption in his sleeping pattern, were it not for the reason for said interruption.

Steve wasn't entirely convinced that it had really happened. Had he actually had sex with Tony the night before? Or, that morning, rather? He couldn't get the memory of it out of his mind. Every moment was seared in his brain in a way romantic memories never had been for him. Usually they were a haze, a fog of limbs and lips and love. But this was clear as day, ringing with life, setting Steve's every nerve on fire when he thought about it.

But had he really slept with Tony Stark? His teammate? Iron Man? Howard's son? A man simultaneously fifteen years older and fifty-two years younger than himself? Had he really slept with his best friend in this century? It had seemed like everything would be fine a few hours ago, but now Steve worried as he looked in the fridge for something to eat. What if this destroyed all the progress they'd made? What if this threw Tony into a worse drinking binge than the one he was already on? Steve shut the fridge mournfully. All he really wanted was a hamburger.

At that moment, the doorbell rang, dragging Steve away from his momentary anxiety. He opened the door, and, maybe he shouldn't have been surprised, but he was surprised to find Tony on the other side. Steve's stomach churned a bit. Was he here to talk? Were they going to talk about this? Talking about important things didn't really seem to be Tony's style, but what if he wanted to talk about what had happened? Steve wasn't sure he could handle that. He wouldn't know what to say. Thanks for the birthday sex? It seemed too ridiculous. I appreciated the mind-blowing sex we had last night, can we just stay, what they call in this century, 'bros'? All right, that was even more ridiculous. Tony was dressed down for the day, wearing jeans and a t-shirt instead of his usual suit. Steve didn't know how to interpret that. Luckily for him, Tony seemed to be anticipating Steve's panic, and he spoke before Steve's brain could race any further.

"Grab your keys, let's go," Tony said.

"What?" Steve asked.

"You heard me, come on, let's go," Tony repeated.

"What—where are we going?" Steve asked, grabbing his jacket off the coat rack and his keys and wallet off the table. Tony had a funny glint in his eyes.

"It's a surprise," Tony said as Steve walked out the door.

"Oh, God, is this surprise going to land me with a punctured lung, a broken arm, and/or in jail?" Steve complained. Tony laughed.

"I think you'll be fine, so long as you don't offend Natasha by commenting her outfit. Or rather her lack of one," Tony said.

"Wh-wh-what?" Steve asked, completely baffled now. Tony just laughed even harder, and refused to elaborate at all as they got into his car (which was, predictably, something fancy that undoubtedly cost at least half a million dollars which Steve couldn't name) and drove away.

They drove out of New York City, and Steve was only growing more confused by the minute. He tried desperately not to focus on the idea of Natasha lacking an outfit—Oh, God. What had Tony done? Tony glanced over at him from the driver's seat. Steve knew he must look tense, and his face was probably red. Tony smirked.

"You're thinking of Romanov naked aren't you?"

"No," Steve lied.

"You're a terrible liar. I'd say we should try to arrange a threesome sometime, but frankly I can't think of anyone more terrifying to be with in bed. I mean seriously, she might stab us in our sleep," Tony said. Steve rolled his eyes.

"Forget in your sleep—you proposition her like that and she'll stab you in the face, right then and there," Steve said.

"Good point," Tony said. "Hey, do you think she and Barton are—?"

"I try not to think about the personal lives of my teammates unless it affects their work," Steve said pointedly. "I certainly don't ever think of them naked until some jerk puts the thought in my head where it takes residence and refuses to leave."

"I've corrupted you! It's a beautiful thing," Tony said jovially. Steve just rolled his eyes.

One rather long car ride later, and Tony pulled up in the small parking lot next to some beachfront. A sign said very strictly that this was private property. Steve had two guesses as to whose private property, and the first didn't count. As Steve looked out at the beach, he could see that a whole party was already set up on the shore—there were bright coolers laid out, a fold-out table covered in a red, white, and blue plastic tablecloth and laden with all sorts of picnic food. A bunch of balloons were weighted down in the center of it. Music from the radio played out from an impressive set of speakers. A grill was going near the beach house, and Steve could see that Coulson was manning it. A beach volleyball net was set up, and Natasha—clad in a bikini, but thankfully clad in something, even if Steve still wasn't quite used to the new, uh, styles in swimwear—and Agent Hill were in open battle with a volleyball. Clint watched appreciatively, with a beer in hand. Even Thor was there—he had a very confused expression on his face as two women Steve didn't recognize helped him build a sand castle. And Bruce had returned from South America, it would seem, as he stood chatting with an older man Steve vaguely recognized but couldn't place. There were a few other SHIELD agents Steve didn't quite remember the names of, but overall the party was just his friends, and it was quite small.

"Happy birthday, Star Spangled Man," Tony said, clapping him on the shoulder. "Thought it would be nice if everybody celebrated the big nine-five with you."

"Tony, did you plan all this?" Steve asked. He wasn't quite sure what he was feeling. There were too many feelings to pick out just one. Tony just shrugged.

"I've planned a lot of parties in my day. Frankly I think this one could use a live DJ, about fifty more people, preferably at least twenty of who live in the Playboy Mansion, several more gallons of booze, and professional catering as opposed to whatever our friends have managed to bring, but this seemed more your style. Frankly, buying some vacant beachfront property and calling twenty people and demanding they bring some food with them is probably the least I've ever done for a party," Tony said. "Oh, and there are some trunks in the house if you want to swim. I didn't want to have you grab some and ruin the surprise. So—are you? Surprised?" Steve just stared for a minute.

"I—" he started, but he couldn't finish. He was too choked up for words. He cleared his throat and took a deep breath. "Yes, Tony. This is—this is more than perfect. Thank you." Tony grinned.

"Good," he said.

"Wait, did you say you bought this beach house? Just for this?"

"Breathe, Capsicle. You're turning purple."

"I do not understand," Thor said. "The craftsmanship put into this castle of sand is impressive, Jane. But why make a mighty fortress out of sand? It cannot even stand an attack of water."

"That's not the point, Thor, it's—oh, hello Steve—happy birthday," said one of the girls Steve didn't know. She was thin, and pretty, and decorating the impressive sand castle with shell fragments.

"Ma'am," Steve said with a respectful nod, as Thor got up, barreling towards him and clapping him in a quick, nearly painful hug.

"Steven! Brother-in-arms! I wish you a most joyous day today, on this day dedicated to the remembrance of your birth!" Thor said, releasing him from the hug. "Please! Join us in making this castle of sand! It will fall when the tide comes in, but until then it is a mighty testament to Jane and Darcy's craftsmanship! Have you met Jane and Darcy?"

"I haven't," Steve said, and Jane stood and held out a hand, which Steve shook.

"Jane Foster," she said. "I'm an astronomer. Thor and I—"

"Are courting!" Thor boomed. "And the lady Darcy is a dear friend—where is the lady Darcy?"

"Yo, I'm back," said another girl, who was much more curvy than Jane, came back, several seashell fragments in her hands. She stared at Steve for a moment. Then looked him up and down. "It might be a crime against humanity that you're not in swim trunks right now."

"Darcy!" Jane hissed as Steve reddened.

"What?" Darcy looked at Steve. "Oh, you're shy. That's cute."

"I would not try to court Steven, Darcy," Thor advised, chuckling all the while. "I have been told by the archer that he already has a lover."

"Oh, of course. Always taken," Darcy said with a disappointed little shrug. "So where is she?"

"I was wondering that myself," Clint said, coming over to the group. "I figured Ty would be here by now. He sick or something?" Steve scratched the back of his neck.

"Uh—no. We, uh, we're not together anymore," Steve said awkwardly.

"Oh. Sorry I asked, man," Clint said, sounding sincerely apologetic.

"There will be others," Thor said, which must have been his way of being comforting. Darcy just grinned.

"So, are you strictly into dudes, or—?" she said. Jane smacked her on the shoulder, as Clint steered Steve away from Thor's little group and up towards the grill.

"Food's pretty much ready," Clint said. "I figured you'd want to be first in line, super metabolism and all." Steve smiled.

"Thanks. Hey Phil," he greeted the agent who was manning the grill.

"Happy birthday, Captain," Coulson replied with a smile.

"It's just 'Steve', Coulson, really," Steve insisted. There were hamburgers, hotdogs, and ribs. Steve was starving, so he took one of everything and made his way to the picnic table before everyone else swarmed Coulson for food. He settled down on the beach far up from the tide, and just looked out at the sunset. It was beautiful. He'd never had occasion to sit on a beach before, and he found he rather liked it. The sand was warm from the sun, and the light glinted off the water, making it glitter and sparkle. In the evening light, even the water looked pink and purple. He was so wrapped up in his thoughts, he barely noticed when Tony sat down next to him.

"This is so plebian," Tony said. "I mean, paper plates?" Tony sighed in obvious exasperation. Steve just raised an eyebrow. Tony shrugged, then nodded to the sunset. "It's nice, isn't it?"

"I've never really been on a beach before," Steve admitted. "It's all really nice. I've never had a birthday party like this. I mean, my birthday was always on the fourth, so there were always parties for that which happened to coincide with my birthday but—it's never been like this. Thank you, Tony." Tony waved him off.

"Don't get all mushy on me, Captain," he said. "You know me, I like a good party, no matter the occasion." Steve hmmed. Tony pretended not to notice.

When the sun went down, they shot off fireworks (which Thor adored) and lit a bonfire. They brought out an enormous cake with sparklers on top. Steve had no idea how Tony had guessed his favorite cake flavor (red velvet with cream cheese icing, which had been dyed red, white, and blue in different tiers and had stars all over it), but Steve was very impressed. They sang him happy birthday and made cracks about walkers and frail hips. They played beach volleyball (in two highly competitive teams of eleven) until it got too cold out to stand, at which point they crashed in the beach house. If anybody noticed that Tony had crashed practically on top of Steve, nobody said anything.

July 8th, 2013

Location: New York City, NY, USA

90th Precinct NYPD, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Steve felt a bit crazy, quitting his job. The only job he'd ever quit was his freelance work with Detective Comics, and that he'd only quit because he was going off to war. It felt counter-intuitive to Steve, felt wrong. But of course, he already had another job. It just wasn't quite so regular. He put the final signature on the paperwork and handed it over to Kelly, who smiled sadly.

"We're really going to miss you around here, Steve," she said. "I hope you come back to visit us sometime." Steve forced a smile.

"Maybe someday," he said, lying through his teeth. He loved everyone at the Precinct. He would love to come back. But he'd made the situation with Ty unbearable. And he wasn't about to impose on his life any longer. Steve didn't have any personal items at his desk, so there was only one more thing to do now that his exit interview was done and the paperwork finalized. He made his way over to Ty's desk.

"Leaving, huh?" Ty asked as he approached. Steve nodded.

"Yeah. My schedule outside work is getting a little more…demanding. I think it's best if I leave now," Steve said. Ty watched him carefully for a moment.

"I hope this isn't just because of me," he said. "I know you like this job. Everybody here loves you." Steve shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

"There are a lot of reasons," he said. Ty just nodded.

"If you say so," he said. Ty smiled. It wasn't one of his smiles that lit up his eyes, or his face. It was a smile tinged with resignation. "So, will I ever see you again?"

"Probably not," Steve said honestly. "I think that's for the best. But, who knows. Brooklyn isn't that big."

"And Williamsburg is even smaller," Ty agreed. He got up, took Steve's hand, and they hugged very briefly. "Take care of yourself."

"You too," Steve said seriously. Ty went back to his desk, and Steve started walking away, but then he stopped. "Hey Ty?"


"I'm sorry I couldn't be who you deserved," Steve said.

"And I'm sorry I'm not who you needed," Ty replied. He smiled, then gave him a cheeky little salute and a wink. "See you in another life, Captain." Steve chuckled and gave him a little salute right back.

"Captain? Don't know what you're talking about, Officer Watson. I'm just the former sketch artist," he said. With that, Steve left the 90th Precinct, and Ty Watson, for good.

July 12th, 2013, 23:45

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Stark Tower, Manhattan

"That…I'm not sure if that's the most thrilling way I've ever traveled, or the most terrifying," Steve admitted as Iron Man touched down on the balcony, letting Steve out of the awkward side-hug. They were both rather battered from the attack of a bunch of mutant teenagers who had decided to join up and form a criminal gang. Steve found he preferred fighting giant squid—at least then he didn't have to worry about keeping it alive. Fighting defensively while also making sure his team fought only defensively and keeping any civilians from the scene was a nightmare. In the end, of course, they'd rounded the teens up and Fury had taken them away, muttering something about a Professor Xavier and 'special school' whatever that meant. Iron Man's faceplate lifted.

"I'd personally say thrilling," Tony said. "But maybe you should go with 'both'."

"Nearly lost the mask there a few times," Steve said, tugging the thing off. It was, and always had been, his least favorite part of the costume. He ran a hand through his hair to get that 'hat hair' look out—he hated the way sweaty hair felt when it was plastered to his skull. "First thing I'm doing when I get home is taking a hot shower. I feel disgusting. How'd I let that kid with super strength keep me on the ropes for so long?" Steve shook his head, rolling his eyes at his own incompetence, but when his gaze fell on Tony he found Iron Man—now divested of his armor thanks to the magic bots on the balcony—staring at him darkly. Uh-oh. Steve knew that look.

"Hot shower huh? Sounds good to me. But why wait until you get home? Why not just join me in mine, Captain?" Tony said, moving in closer. "Mine has to be infinitely better than yours. It has massaging jet sprays."

Steve thought about saying no. Steve thought about politely sidestepping this time, and laughing it off. He thought about bringing this into a serious discussion. He thought about all of that, and then he looked at Tony and saw the lust in his eyes, his hair swept wildly from the wind on the balcony, the surprisingly enticing sweat on his lean muscles, and decided, for the second time in his life, fuck decorum. He pulled Tony to him hard and captured his lips fiercely. Tony kissed back with just as much fight, just as much passion. Steve let him go and stepped away, heading inside. He threw a look over his shoulder.

"They better be some pretty amazing jet sprays."

August 10th, 2013

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Burger and Barrel, SoHo

"Stop stealing my French fries," Steve complained. "Get your own French fries." Tony crunched into one of Steve's fries, looking smug and entirely unapologetic. It had become a bit of a game for Tony—find a moment when Steve wasn't paying attention, and swipe as many fries as possible off his plate. Tony found it highly amusing. If Steve would let himself admit it, he would find it highly amusing too, but as it stood he pouted and kicked gently at Tony's feet under the table like a petulant little boy.

"Freedom fries, Steve," Tony said. "Say it with me: freedom fries." Steve didn't know exactly when it had happened, but he and Tony had a standing lunch date almost every day. It wasn't always burgers—Tony had introduced him to cuisine both delicious and bizarre—but that happened to be the choice of the day. Sometimes Tony had a business meeting, so Steve ate on his own. Occasionally Tony had received very important calls during lunch, but when that happened he always just turned his phone off. It made Steve weirdly happy. Once or twice, Tony had been working in the lab and lost track of time, so Steve ordered take-out for the both of them and they had lunch in the lab. Of course, they didn't just have lunch together. Steve had learned that the term was friends with benefits or possibly fuck buddies which sounded horribly crass and Steve shied from that description. But their more romantic interludes were happening more and more frequently, and Steve wasn't sure what to think of that, either. This century was just too confusing.

"That whole story was the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in the first place," he said. "And what you call them doesn't change the fact that you are richer than God and still stealing my French fries." Tony shrugged.

"So I'll pay for your lunch," he said. "Big deal. See, now they're my fries too." He reached across and nabbed another. Steve rolled his eyes. He tended to do a lot of eye rolling in Tony's presence.

"You're just saying that because—" Steve cut off abruptly, distracted by an incessant flashing coming from the left. Tony took the opportunity to swipe more fries, but Steve didn't care. Outside the restaurant, crowded around the big glass windows peeking in, were a bunch of paparazzi, taking a thousand photos a minute. A very nervous looking host stood at the door, arguing with one of them, not letting them inside. Steve looked at Tony. Tony shrugged.

"Guess they found me today," he said. "Does it bother you?"

"Doesn't it bother you?" Steve asked.

"Steve, if I let it bother me, I would have gone crazy by seventeen," Tony pointed out. "But we can go if it's making you uncomfortable."

"It's fine," Steve said, even though it really wasn't. "I just can't believe they do this to you. We're just eating lunch."

"It's the price of celebrity, Steve," Tony said, not sounding enthused but not sounding particularly bitter, either. That was, of course, before the host got shoved aside and the paparazzi came pouring in. Steve felt half-blinded by the flashing.

"Mr. Stark! Mr. Stark! Who's your friend?"

"Tony! Are you on a date?"

"Looking pretty friendly there, Mr. Stark—care to give a statement?"

"Is this the new Pepper Potts?"

"Sworn off women, huh? Not a bad idea!"

They all spoke over each other, shouting. It felt so out of place in this small, quiet restaurant. Everyone was staring, and now the other patrons, who had thus far been fairly polite, were openly gawking and taking pictures with their cell phones. Tony got up, and Steve followed his leave.

"What, two friends can't grab a burger together?" Tony asked them wryly, as he and Steve attempted to duck out of their range and leave the restaurant. Tony slipped a bill to the host as they went out the door.

"Doesn't look like it!" one of the paparazzi shouted, and the others seemed to agree, shouting even more questions.

"How long have you been together?"

"Is it a secret romance?"

"Hey, big guy, what's your name?"

"Blondie! You a model or something?"

"Must be, with that ass!"

"Forget his ass, just look at the guy—hey gorgeous, smile for the camera, would ya?"

They weren't polite and they weren't subtle. Cameras kept getting shoved in his face, and it was taking Steve's every ounce of control not to grab a camera and punch the nearest photographer. Tony got on the phone. Steve didn't know who he was calling, but he guessed it was Happy. Steve didn't know where they were walking towards, and Steve wasn't sure that Tony did, either. Tony, however, managed to look relaxed and be playful about the situation.

"He's just an artist," Tony told them. "Put a piece of his in my gallery. Wanted to meet Iron Man as part of the price." Steve nearly rolled his eyes at that, but then thought better of it. It wasn't a bad cover story, even if Tony was being his typical egotistical self.

"I've seen you together before!" one of the photographers near the back of the pack shouted.

"I happen to enjoy his opinions on Anselm Kiefer," Tony replied with an easy smile.

"I'm sure that's not the only thing you enjoy!" someone else shouted, and the paparazzi laughed. Steve's hands were clenched into fists. He knew he was giving out a death glare, but he couldn't bring himself to care. How could they be so intrusive?

"You know, I'm sure my friend here would love to discuss Kiefer with all of you, but I'm afraid we have another engagement at the moment," Tony said, and it was then that Steve noticed the limo pulling up next to the sidewalk. Steve opened the door and scrambled inside. Tony following after him, with all the paparazzi shouting.


"Aw, come on, Tony!"

"Give us more than that!"

"What's his name?!"

The car door shut. Happy drove off. Steve let out a breath and relaxed his fingers out of a fist, one finger at a time. Tony had a guarded expression on his face. Steve shook his head.

"They do this to you all the time, don't they?" Steve asked.

"Yes, they do," Tony said. "Are you up for that?"


"If we're going to hang out more often, Capsicle, the press will inevitably find us. I come with an unwanted entourage. They're part of the package. I'll get it, if you don't want to have lunch anymore," Tony said. His face was unreadable, but even his unreadable expressions Steve had learned to read. Steve snorted.

"Oh, get over yourself Stark. I'm not a swooning damsel. I handled the press plenty in my day—or did you forget that I was Captain America on a USO tour? Granted, they weren't so pushy back then, but they were still obnoxious. I'm not about to bail on lunch with a friend just because some creeps like to follow him around," Steve said firmly. Steve could tell that Tony was trying not to look pleased, but he was failing. Steve was careful, because Happy was driving them, and certainly Happy was a perceptive person, but he reached over and gave Tony's hand a squeeze. Tony smiled and squeezed back, before they both let go. Steve's stomach did a little summersault.

"So since we didn't quite finish lunch, did you want to grab some take-out or something? I know with your metabolism…" Tony trailed off. Steve shook his head.

"Nah, I'll be fine until dinner. You busy then?" Steve asked.

"I can make room," Tony said. Steve smiled.

He was glad to have a friend as close as Tony.

September 19th, 2013, 18:34

Location: Dubai, United Arab Emirates

They'd gotten away. Again. Steve couldn't do anything but stare at the wreckage they'd made of this small corner of the city. Their weapons were operational. Steve was only glad that his shield was still a defense against them. But Steve was lucky. There were some civilians who weren't. The street wasn't just strewn with rubble, but also a fair few bodies. Steve had killed a couple of the Hydra agents himself. He hadn't entirely meant to. The heat of the fight had gotten to him. He'd punched a little harder than was necessary, a little harder than he normally would against a normal human. Steve couldn't bring himself to care. He was back in the war. Back on the field. Back in the trenches. He could hear the shouts of his men, the sound of gunfire, see dirt spraying out everywhere as a grenade touched down. How was this any different?

"We need to regroup," Steve said to the team behind him as he looked out over the street. "Stark, contact Dr. Banner, see if he can't trace the gamma signature on those weapons and get us a read on their location."

"No," said the electronic voice of Iron Man. Steve swiveled around.

"No?" he repeated.

"No. I will contact Banner but we're not finishing this tonight. We need to cool down," Iron Man said.

"Am I team Captain or not?" Steve challenged. "We go after them. We end this. It could be over. Tonight." Iron Man's faceplate lifted, revealing a grim Tony beneath.

"Are you sure it's this that you're looking to finish?" he asked.

"Excuse me?" Steve snapped.

"Stark has a point, Captain Rogers," Natasha said soothingly. "We're all exhausted. If we go after them, we'll be making mistakes along the way. And you can bet so will they. If we let them go, have Bruce track the signature, let them think they're safe, that they've gotten away clean, then when we go in fresh, they'll be caught off guard and we'll have the advantage." Steve looked at the faces of his teammates. Even Thor looked tired. They'd been raiding various hideouts all over the city and trying to find their main base for the past two days. They hadn't stopped for sleep, and the only food they'd gotten was whatever they could eat on the run. He had to admit, Natasha had a point. Steve nodded.

"Yeah. Fine," he said.

"Great. I know just the place where we can rest up. Have I ever shown you Stark Mansion – Dubai?" Tony said.

An hour later, they were all well and settled at Tony's mansion. Steve sat on the edge of the pool, his legs in the warm water. He wondered when this had become his life—this jetting off to parts unknown to fight baddies with goals he didn't understand and taking a break in a billionaire's mansion. It all seemed so far-fetched. But then again, his life in general had seemed rather far-fetched the minute he volunteered for Project Rebirth. Steve sighed heavily. He wouldn't trade it. He wouldn't trade it for anything, wouldn't reverse any of his decisions. But he still wasn't sure about the road he had ended up on.

"Penny for your thoughts, Rogers?" Tony asked, sitting down next to him. Steve chuckled.

"Aren't you a billionaire? Can't I at least get a dollar?" Steve teased. Tony smiled, but then his expression turned serious again.

"Are you okay, Steve?" Tony asked. Steve shrugged.

"Why wouldn't I be? This isn't anything we haven't handled before," he said.

"I've never seen you hit that hard if you didn't have to," Tony said quietly.

"You implying something?" Steve asked in a warning tone.

"I'm implying that I'm worried about you," Tony said. He put a hand on Steve's shoulder. "Steve, you punched out that one agent in the face so hard his neck snapped."

"He had a gun on that woman—"

"You don't have to defend yourself to me, Steve, I'm not accusing you of anything," Tony said. "I'm just concerned."

"I must be in bad shape if I have Tony Stark worrying after me," Steve said dryly. Tony didn't even blink, let alone loose a chuckle.

"Yeah. I think you might be," Tony replied. Steve looked up at the sky, at the dying light and the pink of sunset. It reminded him of that day on the beach, except this time everything felt wrong.

"It's the same war, Tony," Steve said, frustrated. "Almost seventy years later, and I'm fighting the same damn war. Only this time, we can't figure out where the bad guys are coming from. They're not confined to any geographic area, not limited to any demographic, either. Hell, we're not even sure what they're planning or what they want. When I left, we were closing in, about to finish off a long battle. But now I feel like I've been thrown back at the start. Worse than that, maybe. I just want it to be over." They sat in silence for a minute. Steve listened to Tony splashing his feet in the water, listened to the easy sounds of the night, and the sirens in the distance. There were always sirens.

"Did I ever tell you why I first started as Iron Man?" Tony asked.

"You were in a cave…it said in your file," Steve said. Tony shook his head.

"Ok, yeah, that. Busting out of captivity was the first time. But I came back, made a much more efficient suit—not to mention much more handsome, I mean, I should show you the plans for the Mach I sometime. It's beautiful in its own way, and it will always be my baby, but…anyway, the first time I used the suit was to blow up weapons in Gulmira. It's this tiny village… the weapons were Stark Industries weapons. Same as the weapons the Ten Rings had when I was in captivity. Made it easier to build the Mach I, I knew exactly what I was working with because they were mine. My weapons. Weapons that I designed, being used not just for the defense of this country, but for the reckless destruction of others, for terrorist groups," Tony said. Steve stared, shocked.

"How could that happen?" he asked.

"Two parts negligence on my end and one part deception on that of Obadiah Stane. He was my second in command. The one who ordered the hit on me that got me kidnapped by the Ten Rings, the one who tried to kill me later by pulling this," Tony tapped on the arc reactor in his chest, "right out. The one who locked me out of the board. But a lot of it was my fault. I should have been paying better attention. I was too busy wasting my life to realize what was going on with my own company. It was my fault those weapons were where they shouldn't have been. And I made it my mission to destroy them all. I still don't know where they are. They're all over, in different countries, with different groups. I'd say they're impossible to find but, come on, I'm Tony Stark. Sure is a pain in the ass though. And I'll never be done with this fight. There will always be one more damn weapon with my name on it turning up where it shouldn't be. And forget the weapons that are where they shouldn't be—there are weapons with my name on them with the US military, too, and I don't always agree with where they end up. It will never be over. I'll always be fighting this fight. But the thing is, Captain—I can't let it get to me. Because when I do, I end up at the bottom of a bottle, and then I'm no help to anyone at all," Tony finished.

Steve had nothing to say to that, so he just sat there, listening to his and Tony's breathing, and the gentle swish swish swish of the water moving back and forth from the movement of their feet. He laid back against the concrete, then grabbed Tony's hand and tugged him down. Tony obediently joined him, and the two stared up at the dark sky, hands linked, just listening to the near-silence of the night.

September 20th, 2013, 14:30

Location: Somewhere over the Atlantic


"So are you two fucking, or what?" Clint asked as they buckled in, preparing for more turbulence. Banner had been unable to locate the Hydra agents using the gamma signature, so it was back to square one until they could get more reliable intelligence. "Because if not, I'm really confused about that whole hand holding thing I saw yesterday." Steve's face was bright red, he knew. He could feel it.

"How about you and Romanov, Barton? Want to discuss that?" Tony shot back.

"Point taken," Clint said. Then he smirked. "So, you're fucking, then."

"Mind your own business, Barton," said Tony.

November 28th, 2013, 12:15

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Stark Tower – Penthouse, Manhattan

Steve hadn't thought that any of the Avengers would really be Thanksgiving people. By that, he meant, they all seemed like quite independent people who didn't have time for trivial things like sitting down to a home cooked feast and watching football, or whatever it was that they did in this century. Yet Steve had been mistaken. Clint had brought up Thanksgiving, and Tony had said that he, of course, had already done all the planning. Bruce had insisted that it all be home cooked, not catered, and Natasha had said she would be bringing a couple of Russian recipes to the table herself, which had shocked Steve. He couldn't imagine Natasha doing such a banal, ordinary thing as cooking. The thought was almost hilarious. Clint had insisted that he could make a mean turkey, and Steve decided to contribute his pie making skills (to the immense amusement of Tony).

So on November 28, they all gathered around the table to eat. Even Thor had made it for the occasion, bringing Jane with him. Natasha, Clint, Maria, Phil, Bruce, Pepper, Happy, and Tony were all also in attendance. Steve was genuinely surprised to see Pepper, who he hadn't seen since her split with Tony. He was glad she was there; he didn't think she'd even been in New York since it happened. Steve was more than happy to strike up a conversation with her about the latest addition to Tony's art collection (which was, of course, more Pepper's than Tony's, and they all knew it). She sat beside him at the table, and Tony sat on his other side. When everyone was seated, they all went quiet. It took Steve a moment to realize that they were all looking at him.

"Am I—do I say something?" Steve asked, looking around.

"You're the leader, Captain," Tony said. "Making speeches is what you do isn't it?"

"Uh, well, all right then. Um. Well, if this was two years ago—by my count, anyway—I'd be sitting with the boys, not far from the front, eating rations out of a tin and swapping stories of our best Thanksgivings. We were close. We were brothers. We were family. Howard showed up halfway through with a turkey. God only knows how much he paid for it and where he got it from, but I don't think I've ever seen men quite so happy. It was war, but it was still a pretty good Thanksgiving, since we'd just got most of the 107th back. If this was last year, I'd be sitting on my own, eating leftovers. I thought I'd lost everything, and I had. I thought it would go on like that forever—but it didn't. Because Thanksgiving this year, I'm once again sitting with my friends, my brothers and sisters, the only family I have. I lost my family, sure. I lost my home. But I gained one, too. And so that is what I'm thankful for. I'm thankful for all of you. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone," Steve said. "Your turn, Tony."

"Jesus, Cap, I can't follow that!" Tony complained, and everyone laughed. Tony ended up saying he was thankful for Steve's pie-making capabilities because they looked and smelled delicious and could they eat yet? Bruce said (sarcastically, or so they presumed) that he was grateful for yoga and weed. Jane said she was thankful for all of them and the work that they did; Thor was thankful for Jane. Natasha was thankful for S.H.I.E.L.D., and Clint was thankful to have food on the table. Phil was thankful for EMTs, and Maria was thankful for the banning of Galaga on S.H.I.E.L.D. computers. Happy was thankful that his boss wasn't dead yet and thus his job was secure, and Pepper was thankful for Steve, but did not elaborate, for which Steve was grateful. He didn't know if she was thankful to him for picking Tony up and at least temporarily stalling his alcoholic fits, or if she was grateful for helping Tony move on from her, which he wasn't certain that he had yet accomplished.

Thor grabbed a turkey leg and just chowed down, to the amusement of everyone at the table. Clint and Tony got into a verbal battle over who was going to win the football game that day. Pepper and Happy seemed pretty close. Phil had a Captain America fan moment and asked Steve more about that particular Thanksgiving, which Steve was happy to tell him about, along with a few battle tales that were highly amusing but got left out of the newsreels. Phil was delighted. Everyone agreed that Steve's pies were heaven on earth. Even Thor said they were so delicious he didn't think their equal could be found even in Valhalla. Steve blushed at that.

At the end of it, after they'd eaten, watched the game, and the sun began to go down, everyone started heading home. Even Natasha and Clint disappeared to their respective areas of Stark Tower (or at least one of their respective areas). Nobody commented on Steve's leaving last—or rather, his not leaving at all.

They had fun. They always had fun. It felt particularly personal that evening, although maybe it was just the nostalgia of the holiday getting to Steve. When they were done with their fun, they laid together for a while until Steve finally kissed the back of Tony's neck and sat up on the bed, swinging his legs over the side and looking for his clothes. Tony turned over towards him and gently grabbed his wrist. Steve looked down at him, at those ever-intense dark eyes.

"You don't have to go just yet. If you don't want to," Tony said. Steve froze in slight panic. What did this mean? Did Tony want him to stay? Did Tony want him to stay the night, or just for a little longer? Did friends with benefits cuddle? There were too many new social rules to navigate and Steve didn't have the slightest clue how to do it. He knew he was going to trip and fall to one side or the other sooner or later. Tony seemed to be intent on making that trip happen now. Tony let go of his wrist, and it looked like he was about to say something, but Steve moved. He swung his legs back into the bed, curling up under the covers again and snuggling close to Tony.

"This bed is so much better than mine," Steve said. Tony laughed. Steve could breathe again.

December 12th, 2013, 10:15

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Stark Tower – Lab, Manhattan

Steve had stayed that night in November, and he'd stayed many nights since. He always went home to Brooklyn in the morning, but he wasn't afraid to sleep in Tony's bed anymore. Tony had yet to stay at Steve's apartment, however, despite the team's continued movie nights. Steve didn't know what that meant. He wasn't sure it meant anything. He didn't want to think about the complexities of his and Tony's relationship, but that was nearly impossible when he was drawing said man. He sketched as Tony worked, soldering and smoothing. Tony of course did all the work on Iron Man himself, and Steve found the process mesmerizing. He loved to watch Tony, in sweats and a tank top, working on the metal, or even just staring at some new plans, the gears in that incomprehensible brain of his turning at a speed Steve couldn't quite understand.

Tony was himself a work of art, all lean lines and dark hair and quirky expressions. He was a handsome man, not just for his age, but in general. Steve could draw him all day. But it was more than that. There was a spark in Tony—that intelligence, that wit, that strength—that made him fascinating. But what fascinated Steve more was the heart that he had deeply misunderstood. Tony cared about everything more than he let on, and Steve would do well never to forget that.

Steve would happily watch Tony all day, but not when the option to touch him was in the picture. So once his drawing was done, Steve put the sketchbook down on the couch beside him and got up. He crossed to where Tony sat, staring at a computer screen, and wrapped his arms around his waist. He nuzzled his neck and kissed him there. He felt Tony stiffen for a moment.

"Well this is different," Tony said, sounding guarded. Steve let go and gave him a bit of space.

"Sorry," Steve apologized. "I know you're working, I just…" Actually, Steve had no idea what had come over him. It wasn't lust, he knew that. He didn't have any particular desire at the moment to have his way with Tony (although that option was always on the table and sounded better and better the more he thought about it). He'd just wanted to be close to him. And that panicked Steve more than a little.

"Oh, no I didn't mean go away," Tony said, turning around to look at him. He had an odd expression on his face that Steve couldn't quite place. "I just…you don't ever really…" Tony gestured vaguely, but Steve didn't understand.

"I don't ever really what?" Steve asked, baffled. Tony smirked.

"Well, you don't ever really proposition me, Captain," he said. Steve thought about it for a minute. He supposed that he never did. It was Tony, always Tony, reaching for him. Not the other way around.

"Oh," Steve said. "I guess I don't. That wasn't what I meant though, I just wanted to…uh, never mind. Sorry to interrupt. I finished that sketch. I think I'll head out, I've got…laundry to do." It was a lame excuse and he knew it. He winced internally. Tony frowned but didn't say anything.

"Ok," Tony said. "See you later, Cap."

"Bye Tony," Steve said. He grabbed his sketchbook and practically flew from the building, his face burning and his heart racing.

What had just happened?

January 15th, 2014, 19:15

Location: New York City, NY, USA

McCauley's Irish Pub

"Rhodey! It's so good to see you," Steve said as Rhodey walked in. Steve stood up from the table and shook Rhodey's hand, clapping him on the shoulder as Rhodey did the same.

"It's great to see you too, Rogers," Rhodey said with a smile. They both sat down.

"Good to be back?" Steve asked.

"Oh hell yes," Rhodey said. "Can't tell you how sick of sand I am. New York treating you any better?"

"No, I think I'm treating New York better," Steve said with a slight smile. It was a statement that felt more true everyday. Sure, New York had changed. But now he was more willing to give it a chance. It wasn't all bad. Though the fact that there were apartments on Ebbets Field and the Dodgers were in LA still irked him whenever he had to walk past the area. Rhodey smiled.

"Glad to hear it," he said. There was a pause. It was a slightly awkward pause. Steve was happy to see Rhodey, of course, but he was more than surprised to get a call from him asking to meet up, just two days after Rhodey returned. Steve enjoyed Rhodey's company, but they hadn't ever hung out together alone before, at least not for a substantial amount of time. Rhodey didn't seem about to spit it out though.

"So, anything in particular you wanted to talk about?" Steve prompted. Rhodey looked suddenly uncomfortable, though he still met Steve's eyes and held his ground.

"Yeah, uh, there is. Uh, well, I know about you and Tony," Rhodey said.

"I figured you did. Tony can't keep his mouth shut when he knows he doesn't have to," Steve said, rolling his eyes. Rhodey smirked.

"Well, you've got that right," he said, but then his expression grew uncomfortable again. "Look, I know you don't mean anything by this. I mean, I'm frankly kind of surprised a guy like you was up for something like this in the first place, but I know you're a good guy, and I know you don't mean any harm. I know you've done a lot for Tony—Pepper's told me he's mostly stopped bingeing on alcohol, and that's no easy feat to accomplish with Tony. She says he mostly stopped the partying, too. I don't think Tony's told her what's going on but I know that she's guessed. Or she's sort of guessed. She thinks you two are together and you're just not comfortable saying it yet." Rhodey gave him a hard, searching look. "But we both know that's not exactly what's going on, is it?"

It was Steve's turn to be uncomfortable. Rhodey made him feel like what they were doing was wrong. Was it? It just seemed like one new crazy thing to add to this century, but he'd never thought of his relationship with Tony as wrong before. Weird, sure. Unconventional, yes. Difficult to navigate, hell yes. But never wrong. There were too many things about himself that he'd always been told were wrong for him to prescribe too much to what his Catholic 1940s sensibilities told him. But if Rhodey thought it was wrong—could he be right?

"No, not exactly," Steve agreed. Rhodey nodded, looking contemplative and troubled.

"Listen, Steve, I know you're a good man, so I'll just come out with it; I don't think this thing you've got going with Tony is a good thing. For either of you. Tony took the split with Pepper real hard. I know you know that. I know you were there for him. You saw first hand what it did to him. Tony doesn't have many people he considers friends, Steve. He needs people he can consider friends. You know that, too. I know you recently got out of a relationship with a serious boyfriend, too, and I know you're not looking to commit to anyone. And that's fine. Tony's not looking for commitment either. He's never looking for commitment. But I think the problem, Steve, is that Tony needs commitment. He needs stability. That's something you can offer him as a friend. It's not something you have with him right now. And I think you both have put yourselves in a situation in which you have the power to damage each other. Badly. And I'm very concerned for the both of you. But especially for Tony," Rhodey said. He took a deep breath, and waited for Steve's reaction.

Steve, for his part, wasn't sure how to react. The gears in his brain were spinning like crazy. His and Tony's relationship had thus far been very…relaxed. Sort of. It was a fine line to walk, but they'd always managed to make it an easy thing. But what if Rhodey was right? What if it was entirely unhealthy? What happened when one of them did start to look for commitment? What would happen when Tony got a girlfriend? The thought made Steve sick to his stomach. And what about Steve? What would happen if he wanted a girlfriend or a boyfriend with whom he might have a future? Did he want to do this crazy dance with Tony forever? How long could they keep this up for? Why hadn't they thought this through?

"You okay there, Rogers?" Rhodey asked after a moment.

"Yeah," Steve said. "Yeah, I just…so you're asking me to stop seeing Tony?"

"No, Steve," Rhodey said. "I'm asking you to stop fucking with him."

January 16th, 2014, 20:40

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Stark Tower – Penthouse, Manhattan

Steve was sprawled on the couch, sketching again. Tony sat in an armchair nearby, typing into his tablet. Steve had asked him what he was designing, but hadn't really understood when Tony'd rattled off his extremely technical description. Steve understood that whatever it was, it was an engine. For something. It was getting late, nearly nine now. Tony glanced over at him.

"You staying the night?" he asked. Steve looked out the window. It was dark. It was undoubtedly freezing outside. It would be so much easier to stay, to curl up next to Tony on a warm bed, than it would be to ride his motorcycle all the way back to Brooklyn with the wind stinging his face. It would be easier, but easier certainly didn't make it right.

"No, actually, I should probably get going," Steve said, closing his sketchbook.

"It's freezing out," Tony pointed out.

"Yeah, I know. Better to get it over with quick," Steve replied.

"What better things have you got to do?" Tony asked, looking puzzled. "It's not like you have a job to get to in the morning."

"I know, it's just…I've got stuff. I'll see you later, Tony," Steve said. Tony's expression closed off.

"Fine, see you later Capsicle. Unless you freeze out there. Again," he said. Steve frowned but he didn't comment. He just left instead, feeling weird about it. How had he made such a mess of things?

December 20th, 1943, 17:32

Location: London, England

Crocker's Folly, Maida Vale

"I heard you got shot at yesterday," Bucky said as he returned to the table with their beers, tossing one to Steve. He looked highly entertained by the thought, and Steve blushed. "Care to tell the story?"

"I—well—it started with—see, there was this dame, a nice, attractive dame, I admit, and she sort of, well, she kissed me, and, well, I mean, I wasn't exactly pushing her away, and then Peggy comes up and she completely misunderstands, and I—well, I thought that maybe Stark was her friend, the way they were talking, and I as good as said so, and then she shot at me," Steve explained in a rush. Bucky howled with laughter. "It's not funny."

"No, it's not funny, it's hilarious," Bucky said. "Steve, you're so hopeless. You're clueless." Steve groaned, putting his head in his hand.

"Don't I know it," he said. "I don't think I'm ever going to be any good at this." Bucky chuckled, then took a long drink of his beer. He patted Steve on the back.

"Well, you're never going to be Howard Stark, that's for sure," Bucky said, "but I think one day you'll get the hang of it."

"A hundred years from now."

Bucky laughed.

January 20th, 2014, 03:41

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Triskelion, Manhattan

"So what did you find?" Steve asked. It was unusual, for them all to be present at a briefing, unless they were about to go on a mission, but Fury had specified plain clothes only. Even Thor was there, called in from Asgard, and Bruce, who didn't get called in that often at all—his skill set was pretty specific, after all, and only useful in noncovert ops.

"A new facility," Clint said. "Same as all the others. But a couple of things got left behind. One or two weapons, a uniform, some scraps of paper—and this." Clint put a small golden medallion in the center of the table. Thor straightened.

"I know this token," he said. "This belongs to Loki."

"Isn't he in some kind of Asgardian prison?" Tony asked. "He is in some kind of Asgardian prison, right? Because we kind of spent a great deal of energy last summer putting him away, and he kind of broke New York and massacred a few thousand innocent people."

"My brother is secure. The AllFather himself has locked him away. But he is permitted visitors," Thor said, striding forward and picking up the medallion, examining it in the light.

"What does it do?" Steve asked. Thor shook his head.

"That is what I do not understand. It does not do anything," he said.

"Why would Hydra have it then?" Tony asked.

"They're obsessed with mythology," Steve answered. "And with good reason. The red skull successfully hunted down the tesseract by studying mythology. Any chance Loki just left that on earth on his last visit and Hydra picked it up out of interest?" Thor looked deeply troubled.

"I do not know. I will have words with the AllFather on this matter. And words with Loki," he said. Steve shook his head.

"Speak with your father if you think he can help," he said, "but not with Loki. If this has anything to do with him, we don't want him to know that we know."

"I think he already might," Natasha said. "They hardly ever leave anything behind. The place was mostly cleaned out. Yet they left this behind? If they're obsessed with Norse mythology, why would they forget it? I think they might have left it behind deliberately."

"But why?" Tony asked.

"Too many questions. We need some answers," Nick Fury said. "Banner I want you trying to trace those weapons again. Stark, assist him if you can. Rogers, Romanov, Barton—how do you feel about Istanbul?"

"Just as long as it's not Budapest, I'm game," Clint answered dryly.

February 3rd, 2014, 14:15

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Stark Tower - Lab, Manhattan

"Please tell me the past two weeks have been better for you than they've been for me," Steve said as he entered Tony's lab. Tony was working on the engine of a motorbike. Steve knew he did that when he was thinking about other things, which Steve found baffling. When he was working on his bike's engine, he couldn't concentrate on anything else, but for Tony it was like playing with legos. The man was amazing. Tony looked up and gave him a lazy smile as Steve leaned against a nearby workbench and crossed his arms over his chest.

"Oh, Steve, I'm glad you're back," he said. "And—possibly. I've been working on some of those weapons you found, and I found a microchip in one, which, if I can pull some metadata from it, I might be able to track a location or a person in connection with it. We'll see. The chip was pretty heavily damaged, but I'm working on it. Why, what happened in Istanbul?"

"Istanbul turned into Budapest," Steve grumbled. Tony raised an eyebrow, questioning but Steve shook his head. "Don't ask. We ran into some trouble, that's all. Didn't find much, either. No more mysterious medallions—hell, couldn't even grab more weapons. I've never been so unsuccessful in missions before. We always got our man, before." Tony put down the cylinder he was cleaning and wiped his hands on the cloth. Black streaks of grease came off, but Tony's hands were still dirty.

"Well, this time, we don't know who the man is," Tony pointed out. "We'll catch them, Cap. It's just a matter of time." Steve sighed.

"Yeah," he said. Tony had a good point. But it was the whole time thing that was annoying Steve. It was all taking too long. There was too much that was unresolved in his life, and he wanted it all to be fixed. Tony got up from his chair and walked over to Steve. He put his hands on Steve's hips, and Steve obediently leaned down to kiss the other man.

"Three weeks," Tony groaned into his lips, pulling his hips even closer. Steve choked back a moan.

"Is that a long time?" he asked between kisses.

"For me? Hell yes," Tony said, breaking off their little make-out session and tugging Steve towards the couch.

Stop fucking with him. Steve could hear Rhodey's voice in his head as Tony pushed him onto the couch, his hands running up Steve's thighs. This was one of those unresolved things. This was a complication that Steve didn't understand. But this time, he wouldn't stop it. He didn't want to lose those hands, those lips, or that brilliant brain, that hidden heart. He didn't want to let go of Tony. So, consequences be damned, he didn't.

February 14th, 2014, 08:13

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Triskelion, Manhattan

Steve couldn't stop looking at Tony. He watched his hands, tough from manual work, but so dexterous from the more delicate work with circuitry, as they tapped impatiently on the table. Tony was anxious. He'd been anxious since three that morning when JARVIS finally announced that recovery of the data on the microchip was complete. He'd jumped out of bed, grabbed a robe off the back of the door and run to the lab. Steve hadn't followed him, and Tony hadn't come back for a few hours, at which point he directed Steve to get dressed and call the Avengers to assemble.

Steve could hardly focus. He was too distracted. He'd realized the other day that he and Tony had been together without being together for seven months. Considering their situation, they weren't keeping to anniversaries, and the realization had stunned him. He'd only been with Ty for four. He wondered what that meant. Did it mean that Steve did better with a lack of commitment? It didn't feel right. Steve still wanted to get married, have kids, live as normal a life alongside this Avengers business as he could. But where did this thing with Tony fit into the picture? He didn't want to call it off. He didn't want to stop being with Tony. So where did that leave him?

And where did that leave him when Tony decided he wanted to stop being with Steve? Steve was very grateful when Thor arrived, completing their group, and Tony began to talk. It could keep his mind off this problem for just a little while.

"All right, so, I traced the microchip back to its maker. It's a weapons dealer in Canada. I know, Canada, right? Who even knew they had weapons? Anyway, from there, considering the amount of weapons that have been ordered, either over time or all at once, and the very exact specifications they would have to have in order to have the affect that they do, I've narrowed down the buyer to three individuals," Tony said. He pressed something on his phone, turning on the television screen in the conference room. Three photos and profiles appeared. There were two men and one woman. The men were older—one had salt-and-pepper hair and looked like the years had been kind to him. The other was older and had a hard expression that appeared quite permanent. He looked like he might be former military, Steve guessed, whereas the salt-and-pepper guy looked more bourgeois—more like Tony, really, if Tony had a terribly long nose and a perpetually snobby expression. The woman reminded Steve of Natasha, if Natasha were in her forties and actually lived up to the 'widow' part of her name—beautiful and deadly.

"It could be any one of them, or it could be all three. I don't know. I'm not a super spy. What I do know is that those crazy weapons have to be bought by at least one of them. And they're definitely coming out of that factory in Canada," Tony finished. He looked to Steve. "So what's our move, Captain?"

They were all looking to him. At some moments, it seemed utterly absurd that he had this whole team looking to him for direction. Before 1943, which was just three years ago for him, no one had looked up to him for anything. No one had figured he'd be capable of leading men (or women) into battle. Yet now they looked to him by default. The mantle of leadership felt comfortable to Steve. He was more than capable of it. Yet sometimes, it still felt ridiculous.

"We don't let on that we have useful information," Steve said. "We position S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to watch every shipment going out of that factory and follow them. As to these three…Natasha, what do you think our best shot is at assessing which ones are threats?" Natasha glanced up at the screen, scanning their faces.

"They're all threats. Our best shot at figuring out what Hydra wants would be to infiltrate their inner circles," Natasha said. Her gaze flicked to Tony. "Glitzy parties—fancy booze, paid women, 'respectable' guests. Wine them and dine them." Steve nodded, sighing.

"That sort of thing's going to take time," he said.

"Yes, Captain. It is," Natasha said.

"All right. On a long mission we go. I'm not good at undercover work. It's not really my style. Natasha, Clint, I trust you've got this one?" Steve asked. They both nodded curtly. "Thor, have you gotten any more information from your sources."

"Alas, no," Thor said, frowning deeply. "The medallion's significance has yet to be uncovered. I will continue the search, of course." Steve nodded.

"You do what you can," he said. "I think for now, the mission's in Natasha and Clint's hands."

"Just like Budapest," Clint muttered.

"What the hell happened in Budapest?" Tony asked, but the group was already breaking up, and Clint and Natasha just gave him exasperated looks.

"Don't ask," Clint said.

February 14th, 2014, 12:21

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Triskelion, Manhattan

Steve sat at the desk, going through profiles of different SHIELD agents. They hadn't ever had to use agents on Avengers business before, but it really didn't make sense for Steve and Tony and Bruce to sit outside a factory and follow shipments. He flipped from one file to the next. They were all qualified, all seemed capable. Files weren't going to help him pick a small team—he'd have to conduct interviews, and quickly. Steve pinched the bridge of his nose and looked out the window. Who knew part of being the Captain of the Avengers was an office job?

"Clint and I are packed and ready to go. We leave at fourteen hundred hours," Natasha told him, walking up to his desk.

"Ok, Nat, sounds good. Do you need anything from me before you go?" Steve asked. Natasha shook her head, but she continued to look at him. She folded her arms. "What?"

"Something's bugging you. Has been for a while now. Feel like getting anything off your chest, Captain?" she asked. Steve gave her a strained smile.

"Not in particular," he said. Natasha raised one elegant eyebrow.

"So nothing is going on with you and Stark?" she asked.

"We've been about as subtle as a grenade, haven't we? You know, the whole team knows, hell, probably all of SHIELD knows there's something going on," Steve said.

"Oh, I'm not talking about that," Natasha said. She sat on the edge of his desk and stared down at him, her eyes boring into his. "You know what I'm talking about. You've been acting off for a month now. Something is going on." Steve couldn't help but fidget in his chair a little.

"It's nothing," he said. Natasha raised her other eyebrow. "Do you really want to talk about this?"

"I really want to help you through whatever it is that has you so distracted," Natasha clarified. Well, she was always honest. Steve appreciated that. He leaned back.

"Rhodey asked me to stop having sex with Tony," Steve said. "He basically said it's not a healthy relationship—because it isn't a relationship, and it isn't stable." Steve shrugged. "He's right. Can't argue with that."

"But?" Natasha prompted. Steve fidgeted a little more. He could, of course, just not tell her, but knowing Natasha, she'd have it out of him one way or another, and it was usually best to give her information voluntarily.

"But I don't want to. I mean, he's completely right. I still want all the same things I did before. That hasn't changed. But I…I want Tony," Steve said.

"Are you in love with him?" Natasha asked.

"I—I mean…I…" Steve knew the answer. But he didn't want to tell Natasha. He couldn't tell Natasha before he could face up to it himself, and he definitely couldn't tell Natasha before he told Tony. "Pass?" Natasha just nodded, her blue eyes thoughtful.

"From friends to sex to love," she said. "That's pretty normal, Steve. So what's the issue? Why don't you just tell Stark and get it over and done with?"

"Because it's not that simple," Steve said. "You know it's not."

"Of course. You're afraid that he won't reciprocate. But I didn't know Captain America could be cowardly about anything," Natasha challenged. Steve shook his head.

"It's not—that's not it, Natasha," Steve said. "I mean, yes, that factors in. I could tell him and he could laugh in my face, and frankly that would be...awful. It would be awful. It could ruin our friendship, make things awkward, and then I wouldn't have him at all. Sure, that factors in. But Natasha, if things went badly, if Tony doesn't feel the same—which I really don't think he does—if it makes things awkward, if we're not friends anymore—Natasha, what do you think that would do to him? First Pepper, and then that? I haven't magically cured his alcohol habit. He still drinks. I put him away after. It's just not as public as it was before, and it's not as frequent. But what do you think would happen if things with us went very south very fast?" Steve sighed and shook his head. "I can't do that to him." Natasha's careful gaze never wavered, never left him.

"And what if you're wrong and things go the other way?" she asked. Steve felt himself tense, but he wasn't entirely sure why. Wouldn't that be perfect? Wasn't that what he wanted? Steve heard a crack—he loosened his hold on the computer's mouse, the side of which was now collapsed inwards.

"I…" was all Steve managed to say. Natasha smirked.

"You might be the bravest man on the battlefield I've ever seen, Steve Rogers, but you are a complete chicken in this department. I think you need to figure out what you really want, and do it fast—no one needs your head in the clouds when we're working on important operations, Captain," she said. She stood up, sliding off his desk, and walked away, leaving Steve feeling thoroughly scolded. He stared at the computer screen, not really looking at the file that was still up.

What did he want? Well, he wanted Tony. He was pretty sure he…had feelings for Tony. Deep feelings. Possibly feelings that began with 'L' and rhymed with dove. But even if Tony also had feelings for him that began with 'L' and rhymed with glove, what then? They couldn't want the same things. Steve wanted a family. He wanted kids, wanted a quiet house in Brooklyn, wanted a committed relationship—a lifelong relationship. Steve wanted marriage. He wanted the whole thing, white picket fence and all—and there was no way in hell that aligned with Tony's vision of the future. Steve was pretty sure that hell would freeze over before Tony agreed to stay in Brooklyn for more than a few hours at a time (he still had yet to stay over at Steve's apartment for even one night), and Loki would rule on Asgard before Tony ever had children. Steve stared mournfully at the broken mouse.

He wanted something impossible. The question was—which dream was he willing to give up? The white picket fence, with its marriage and its children and its normal, everyday American home, or Tony?

Steve shook himself, clicking on to the next SHIELD personnel file. It didn't matter anyway. Tony couldn't feel the same way about him. That wasn't why they'd started all this. Steve was an escape. Steve was a substitute to alcohol. That thought turned his stomach. Ok, maybe he was more than that. He was also a friend, a very good friend. But, as a very good friend, didn't Tony deserve to know the way Steve felt about him?

Steve bit back an audible groan as he rested his head on the desk, wishing he could just bash his head in right there. It was going to be a long day.

February 21st, 2014, 12:12

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Stark Tower – Offices, Manhattan

It was strange, being in the office building part of Stark Tower. Steve generally forgot there were offices in the building at all; he'd come to think of the entire thing as Tony's house, as absurd as that notion was. It felt odd, having to actually check in at the front desk and obtain a visitor's pass that would let him onto the twelfth floor. It felt even weirder to walk into an area of the building he'd never been in before, only to discover cubicles filled with Stark Industries employees he'd never met who all worked in this building day in and day out for Tony, a man that most of them had probably only ever seen on television. That last bit was just a guess, anyway, based on the fact that ninety percent of the floor was currently staring at the back right corner, where Tony sat on the desk of some flustered looking young woman, flirting like there was no tomorrow. Steve headed over.

"Tony," Steve called out. Tony looked up and grinned.

"Steve! Finally. You take the subway? I've been waiting here for an age. I think some hairs went gray," he said. The young woman, a petite brunette with gently curled hair, giggled.

"I took the bike, actually. Traffic is terrible. Mind telling me what we're doing in the office?" Steve asked.

"Right! Well, Miss—I'm sorry, sweetheart, what's your name again?" Tony asked, putting on his most apologetic smile.

"Rebecca," the young woman replied. "Rebecca Masters."

"Right. Miss Masters here just finished her graduate—"


"—undergraduate degree in ancient mythology from—where was it, Brown?"

"Yes, Brown."

"Brown. Impressive," Steve said, and when the girl looked away briefly, blushing, Steve raised an eyebrow at Tony. Tony gave him a look of pure innocence. "So, Tony, what are we doing in the office?"

"Well, you know that lovely medallion Peggy got you for your birthday last year? The one with that serpent on it?" Tony asked. It only took Steve half a second to catch on. He nodded.

"Of course," he said. "I still haven't figured out what to do with it, exactly, but it's quite artistic."

"Well, Miss Masters here thinks it might be more than just artistic," Tony said. He flashed yet another charming smile to the young girl, who couldn't have been older than twenty-two. Then again, Steve thought, that was only five years younger than himself. "Why don't you tell Steve here what you told me, gorgeous?"

"Ok, well, that serpent is Jormungandr, one of Loki's children—"

"Loki's children?" Steve repeated, disbelieving.

"Well, yes," Rebecca said. "Loki has several children—father to most, mother to one. It's mythology, you kind of just have to go with it. Anyway, Jormungandr is a great serpent who was tossed into the oceans of Midgard by Odin. He grew so large that he managed to encircle the earth and grasp his own tail—when he lets go, the earth will flood, and he will leave the ocean and poison the sky. It's basically the Norse version of the Apocalypse—Thor will kill Jormungandr, but Jormungandr will poison Thor."

"Well that doesn't sound pleasant," Steve said, his nose wrinkling. "Thanks for the information, Miss Masters—"

"Oh, I'm not finished yet," Rebecca said. She pulled up a file on her computer, and Steve was surprised to see a drawing of the medallion—plus six more, all with different designs. "According to legend, these medallions were scattered across Midgard by Odin; one for each of Loki's children—Jormungandr, Sleipnir, Fenrir, Hel, Nari, Vali—and one for Loki himself. When Thor binds Loki in imprisonment, these medallions can be used as a sort of key to the jail, if you will. It has something to do with using the power of his children to escape, but I'm a little fuzzy on the details. It's magic, and all that jazz. But when Loki is freed, it is said that he will free Jormungandr's tail and flood the earth in his rage."

"I think Peggy might be trying to tell you something," Tony deadpanned.

"Yeah, it's uh, a lot less cute of a birthday present now," Steve said. "Miss Masters—is there anything in the legend about how to find these medallions?"

"Well, sure," Rebecca replied cheerfully. She pulled up another file, with lots of text and pictures. "It's a quest all laid out, but of course none of the heroes ever undertake it because why would they? The medallions are all heavily guarded, either by virtue of their location or by various mythological monsters. I can e-mail you the article, if you like."

"We would very much like," Tony said. "Include anything relevant about the mythology if you can—descriptions of said mythological monsters, for instance. Steve here thought he might riff off that piece Peggy gave him, make a whole art exhibit around it—weren't you going to, Steve? Now you have a much better theme than just serpents."

"Oh yes. Much better," Steve agreed. "Thanks for all your help, Miss Masters."

"Of course!" Rebecca replied brightly.

"Thanks sugar," Tony said, giving her a wink before steering Steve out of the office.

"Do you really think there could be some merit in what she's saying?" Steve asked in an undertone. Tony jabbed at the button to call the elevator.

"I don't know," he said, "but I think we better make a call to Asgard and find out." The elevator doors opened and they went inside. Steve hit the 'close doors' button before punching in the combination for the penthouse.

"How did this girl even know about the medallion? How did you find out she knew?" Steve asked. Tony shrugged.

"Crowd sourcing, Steve. I did a little sketch of it and sent out an e-mail to the building. Asked if anybody knew if there was any symbolism to it," Tony said.

"That was a risky move, Tony," Steve said seriously. "If anyone in here is working with Hydra—"

"Then they won't know anymore than they did before, will they? If there's any merit to the legend, then there's no way Hydra left that behind on accident, which means they know that we have it. The question is: why?" Steve certainly didn't know the answer to that anymore than Tony did. His mind wasn't entirely on the case, though. He reached over and fixed Tony's tie, which had been loosened.

"She was a pretty girl," Steve murmured as he did so. Tony looked up at him inquisitively.

"I think she must have been a former model, yes. She is a beautiful woman," Tony replied. Steve removed his hands from the front of Tony's shirt. He looked away, studying the metallic elevator doors.

"Are you going to…?" Steve couldn't voice it, couldn't bring himself to say the words. Tony frowned, his eyebrows sticking together.

"Am I going to what?" he asked.

"She's a beautiful woman," he repeated, even more softly. He couldn't say it. Tony's eyebrows moved nearly to his hairline.

"You think—what—no!" Tony grabbed Steve's arms, forcibly turning him to face him. Well, 'forcibly'. Steve couldn't really be forced to do much of anything. Tony looked him right in the eyes, his own brown eyes full of passion and sincerity. "Steve. No. I was flirting with her because that's the easiest way to get what we needed. I'm not going to deny that she's pretty—I think you'd have to be a little touched in the head not to have some aesthetic appreciation for the woman—but I was just being…me. I flirt with everyone. It's what I do. You know that." He stood on the tips of his toes briefly to plant a gentle kiss on Steve's lips as the elevator doors opened to the penthouse. "Are we good?"

"Yeah," Steve said, taking his hand in his. "Yeah, we're good. I mean…it's not really my place, is it? But if you were going to…I'd appreciate it if you told me." The frown had returned to Tony's face.

"Ok. Right. Of course," he said. He broke away from Steve's hand and waltzed off through the penthouse. "JARVIS we need to get Fury on the line—we're going to need to make a really long distance phone call and I'm not footing the bill."

February 21st, 2014, 18:13

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Triskelion, Manhattan

Thor burst through the doors of the conference room in the Triskelion, dressed as he usually was in his bright armor and red cape. His expression was most serious.

"Director Fury spoke with me through the communication line we established. He did not wish to say much, but what he said troubled me. You are saying that in your Midgardian legends, this medallion has six sisters? And that they may free Loki from his imprisonment on Asgard? You are certain?" Thor demanded, directing the question to Steve.

"We know that the legend exists," Steve clarified. "We were hoping you might be able to clear up whether or not it's possible."

"I do not know," Thor admitted. "Loki's magic is far beyond me, and beyond the magic of any on Asgard. I would ask my father, but he has entered into the Odinsleep. I do not know for how long."

"The whole thing with the snake though, that's ridiculous. And I mean, come on, are these really Loki's kids? Your brother doesn't seem the paternal type," Tony said wryly.

"Jormungandr, Sleipnir, and Fenrir are Loki's pets, not his children. These others—Hel, Vali, and Nari—are his children, yes, but the last two are dead and Hel is half-dead herself. Fenrir is bound in chains as Loki is, and Jormungandr and Sleipnir have been banished off to I know not where," Thor said.

"Daddy Loki? Are you kidding me?" Tony scoffed.

"You must forget how old we are in mortal terms," Thor spoke. "We have lived long and seen much. Fatherhood is not the strangest thing to befall Loki." Thor stared at the table. His expression was—well, distant didn't quite cover it. Steve was almost relieved that there was someone more ancient than himself in the room—but then, Steve knew what a burden it could be, and he could feel no relief for Thor.

"I think our best course of action is to track down the medallions," Thor spoke after a moment. "We gather them before these fiends can find them. Then I will bring them to Asgard for safekeeping."

"So you really think there's merit in this story?" Tony asked. "How would he do it? How would a bunch of medallions magically release him from this super-strong Asgardian prison?"

"He would have to open a portal," Thor said, his voice low and dark. "He would have to open a portal to send him somewhere else. But to make a raw portal like that—not only would the energy required be immense, but the backlash would be unfathomable. Your legends speak of floods—yes, floods would happen. Earthquakes, too. The opening of a portal of that kind between Asgard and Earth would cause a massive reverberation—we call it the Pulse. A Pulse can be contained, with the proper magic, if the portal has been opened in the proper manner. But a Pulse uncontained…the force of it would kill all life on Midgard, and the affects on Asgard would not be pleasant, either."

"You're saying that if this crazy plan goes off without a hitch, we're all dead?"

"If this plan is hatched, man of Iron, then the earth is lost," Thor said gravely.

Steve looked at Tony. Tony looked at Steve. Tony clapped his hands together.

"Well, all right, who feels like going on a treasure hunt?"

March 19th, 2014, 21:19

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Stark Tower – Penthouse, Manhattan

Steve Rogers had possibly just had the weirdest month of his life, and that was saying something given his track record. But in the past almost four weeks, Steve had visited Atlantis, gotten thrown back in time into King Arthur's England, visited Ancient Mayan tombs and nearly been ripped apart by demonic dogs, had been chased through the streets of modern Tokyo by an ancient order of samurai, and explored an old mine in the depths of a mountain in Norway only to be attacked by some rather vicious Asgardian dwarves. Man, was Clint going to be ticked off that he'd missed all the action. Steve, on the other hand, was simply exhausted from having experienced all the action.

Steve was sprawled out on Tony's couch, too tired even to sketch. He watched some obnoxious reality show about house renovation as Tony played with his tablet. They still didn't have any leads on the location of the final medallion—the medallion with the sigil of Loki himself. But at least the other six were now under Thor's twenty-four hour protection. It didn't much matter that they didn't have the last piece, so long as Hydra was denied the six pieces the Avengers had. It meant, essentially, that their mission was almost complete. It was now just up to Clint and Natasha to sniff out the buyers of the weapons and uncover the real inner circle of Hydra. It was only a matter of time. Steve felt like he could relax.

"Are you really watching this?" Tony asked, looking slightly scandalized.

"Hm?" Steve asked. The home renovation show was over now, and some other reality show was on with crazy-eyed women and little girls dressed like—Jesus. Steve knew that sometimes he was scandalized by the modern era when he probably should not have been, but he was pretty sure that being scandalized at the way these girls were dressed and made-up was perfectly acceptable in this case.

"I'm guessing you weren't paying attention," Tony said, a small smile playing on his lips. Oh, he must have said Jesus aloud.

"Nope, I wasn't. What the hell is this?" he asked.

"Toddlers in Tiaras. You don't even want to know. It's like a train wreck; I'm pretty sure that's why people watch it," Tony said. "JARVIS find something Steve will actually like, please."

"Of course, Sir," spoke JARVIS, sounding a bit sarcastic. Steve couldn't help but jump a little. He would never get used to the AI. He still felt his skin prickle with gooseflesh every time he remembered the house was watching him. He'd asked Tony if JARVIS was still on when they were—well, enjoying themselves, and Tony had said yes. Steve had suggested he turn JARVIS off in that part of the house whenever they started going at it, but JARVIS had interrupted and gotten rather annoyed. He seemed concerned for Tony's safety. Tony assured him that JARVIS didn't exactly watch so much as the cameras were still operational, and reminded him that JARVIS was a computer, but Steve was still creeped out that Skynet was watching them have sex, and voiced his concerns in exactly that manner.

JARVIS didn't like him very much anymore. It was apparent in the little things. Like at that very moment, when he decided to turn on a porn channel. Steve turned a deep red. Tony barely even flicked his lids to the screen before saying dryly,

"I'm not so sure Steve likes to watch that so much as do it. Kindly change to something a little more G to R rated." JARVIS, who could not be accused of lacking a sense of humor (or vindictive nature), turned on My Little Pony.

"You know, I think I'm done with TV for the night," Steve said, exasperated. "Maybe I'll just sleep. I could really use a rest right now. Or a vacation, after the month we've had." Tony snorted.

"I hear you on that one. Say the word and we can be in Monaco by morning," he said. Steve considered it for a moment. He really, seriously considered it.

"Better not. Natasha and Clint might need us for something. Or something else might come up," Steve said. He tilted his head back and stared at the white ceiling. "But it's been a hell of a month."

"Once we've taken down Hydra, then," Tony said. "We can go on a vacation. You know, I don't even think you've been to my place in Malibu yet, have you?" Steve shook his head. "We should go there. I think you'd like it. You ever gone surfing? We could go surfing. Or just lay out on the beach."

"Mmm," Steve said. "That sounds nice. I wish we could have some kind of a getaway here, though. Now."

"Well, we did getaway to England for a little while before the whole going-back-in-time thing happened," Tony pointed out.

"Yeah. Yeah, we did," Steve said. He'd thought about it so many times. Thought about taking the train out to see Peggy while they were there. He might still do it, one day, though he didn't know what he'd say to her. And then they'd been thrown back in time, and for a second all Steve could think was, why couldn't it be 1944? But then, even if it was, Steve wasn't sure that he fit there anymore. But while Steve was in deep in thought, Tony climbed on top of him.

"You know, I can think of a way that we can getaway right here, right now, and it doesn't even involve leaving this room," Tony said.

"Oh, really?" Steve asked, playing innocent. "That would be great. Maybe you should show me." Tony groaned and Steve resisted the urge to laugh.


March 23rd, 2014, 15:14

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Coney Island, Brooklyn

"This is one thing that hasn't changed," Steve said, grinning from ear to ear. Nathan's Famous hot dog stand still sold the same hot dogs. Steve had not been back to Coney Island since before his time on ice, hell, before his time in the war, but these hot dogs tasted the same as they had in 1942.

"So you can't say no to a good burger, and you can't say no to a good hot dog," Tony said, nodding sagely. "Yes, I think I've figured out how to make you my kept man for eternity. Fourth of July food. It makes sense. How else do you feed Captain America?"

"I also require apple pies," Steve deadpanned. Tony laughed.

"Well yeah, but you can make those yourself," he pointed out. They walked towards MCU Park, getting ready to enter the stadium for the game. Steve hadn't kept up much with baseball since he'd been defrosted as Tony sometimes liked to tease him. He'd learned that the Dodgers had moved to Los Angeles, and that had pretty much killed any enthusiasm he still had for the sport after being woken to an outdated game that led him to believe he'd been captured by Hydra or the Nazis. He'd been genuinely surprised when Tony had presented him with two seats behind the dugout for the Brooklyn Cyclones. It was a new team, of course—well, new to Steve, anyway—and it was minor league, but it was Brooklyn's team now, and, well, Steve had to get behind that. He and Tony took their seats—which were, of course, really fantastic seats—just as Steve finished his hot dog. He could feel the stares on them from the people around them, could hear the whispers of Tony Stark and a couple of Rembrandt, which was apparently Steve's nickname on the Iron Man fan sites and a couple of gossip rags since no one knew his actual name, but thankfully no one bothered them. Steve glanced over at Tony, a bit skeptically.

"You sure you want to sit through this game?" Steve asked.

"'Course I do," Tony said. He was sprawled out on his seat, one arm on the conveniently empty chair beside him. Steve for a moment wished that Tony would put an arm around him instead. "Baseball. Guys hitting balls with sticks. It's great. Dad took me to a game when I was about seven."

"In other words, you hate it with every fiber of your being," Steve said with an eyebrow raised.

"Basically. But you're gonna love it," Tony said, passing him his StarkPhone. "Those are all their stats for this season, and if you flip to the next page, it's the other team's. Now stats, those are something I can get behind." Tony then began to rattle off some things about equations and predictions and the mathematics of sports, which Steve paid rapt attention to. It wasn't the complicated math Steve was used to hearing about from Tony—this was still complicated, but seemed more accessible.

When the game started, Steve found himself getting quite into it. They weren't the Dodgers, no, but they were a Brooklyn team. He found himself booing with the other fans when the umpire made a bad call, found himself standing up and cheering when one of the players hit a home run. He pulled Tony up with him, who looked extremely amused and went along with it. When the Cyclones won, they all cheered again; they cheered so loudly and for so long Steve was sure his voice was going to be hoarse for hours afterwards.

And Tony, well, he seemed to genuinely enjoy himself, though perhaps not as thoroughly as Steve. Steve wanted nothing more than to kiss him when the game was done, wanted nothing more than to completely disregard the fact that they were in public. But of course, he couldn't do that. They hadn't talked about being seen together beyond being seen as good friends, not as far as the outside world was concerned, anyway. In fact, Steve didn't even know if Tony was out to the world. Steve sure as hell wasn't, though nobody even knew his name. Still, that didn't change the fact that amid all the screaming fans, the hot dog smells and the cold March air, Steve desperately wanted to take Tony in a passionate kiss and profess his love for the man. But he couldn't do that.

"Tony, I don't know how you do it," Steve said as they walked out of the stadium towards a waiting limo, "but you sure know how to cheer me up. You're dead on, every time." He opened the door, letting Tony slide in first before clambering in after him.

"Well, I have a talent, what can I say," Tony said as Steve shut the door and Happy drove off. "I can make Steve Rogers incredibly happy, or I can piss him off to no end. Maybe that's my real superpower." Steve chuckled and leaned towards him.

"Maybe," he agreed. He toyed with the top button on Tony's pants. "And maybe I have a couple of super powers of my own that would make you incredibly happy…" Tony made a noise that was halfway between a whine and a whimper.

"Happy," he said after a moment, temporarily lowering the divide as Steve gently kissed his neck, "please drive faster."

April 2nd, 2014, 09:43

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Triskelion, Manhattan

He was holding Tony's hand. Tony didn't seem to mind, despite the fact that the Triskelion was sort of public space. But realistically, no one in the conference room at that moment didn't already know that they were friends with benefits. Thor was there, Bruce was there, Coulson, Hill, and Fury were there, and Clint and Natasha were on the screen. It was basically just family. But Steve still felt a little giddy that Tony wasn't pulling his hand away. He was almost more focused on that than on what Clint and Natasha were saying. Almost.

"—so they obviously have different cells and divisions all over the world. I think the easiest way to do this would be to get them all together in one place and take them, quickly, and quietly, for interrogation. Even if they don't give us all of the locations, just one with the plans and information still intact would be enough," Natasha said.

"How do you propose we get the three of them in a room together?" Steve asked. Natasha smiled.

"Exactly the way I said before. Wine 'em and dine 'em. Stark, how would you feel about hosting a very exclusive, invitation-only gala in Berlin in a few weeks?" Natasha asked.

"I'm guessing this is one party I should tell Pepper to stay far away from?" Tony asked.

"That would be wise."

"I'll get right on it. Give me some other suggestions for the invitation list so those three don't look like outliers, and I'll get right on it," Tony said.

"Good. It's settled then. Make sure to put all of us and some choice SHIELD agents on the list as well. Unofficially, of course. Fake identities would be best," Natasha advised.

"I have some suggestions for the agents we'll bring," Steve said. "But we'd better not use this line for too long, even if it is secure."

"Absolutely. I'll send Stark details later. Over and out," Natasha said, and the screen went dark.

"Well," Tony said with a grin, "at least this will be much more fun than our last mission."

"Don't be so sure," Steve said. He wasn't too terribly fond of parties.

April 16th, 2014, 15:32

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Williamsburg Houses, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

It was odd, having Tony in his apartment yet again. They had long since switched movie nights to Stark Tower whenever they were all around to actually participate. Tony had not in fact been to Steve's apartment in a few months, and before that he had never stayed there long. In fact, it felt so odd, Tony waltzing into his apartment after ringing the doorbell, that Steve was reminded of the first time Tony came in, with his offer for Steve to come and live in Stark Tower with the other Avengers. He remembered how out of place Tony looked. He still did. Steve wondered how out of place he looked in Stark Tower. Despite his fashion sense slowly shaping to fit the present, he still belonged in Brooklyn, not a penthouse in Manhattan. For all he had grown to love Stark Tower, Brooklyn was still his home. It felt very strange to have Tony there.

"I am still so grateful you let me replace those couches," Tony said as he sunk into one. Steve was in the kitchen, making a sandwich, which was to be his first lunch for the day. He'd probably have an early dinner in a few hours, and then a later dinner after that. A sandwich wouldn't hold him for long.

"Let you?" Steve asked. "I came back from work and the old ones were gone and these were here. But I wasn't about to complain about breaking and entering when I was getting nice couches out of the deal. How on earth did you manage that, anyway?" Tony just smiled.

"Can't a man have his secrets?" he asked. "I like to keep a bit of mystery about me, if you don't mind." Steve just snorted as he came to sit next to him.

"I think we're both way past mystery, Tony," Steve said. He took a bite of his sandwich while Tony watched the episode of Mythbusters Steve had turned to. It was the only show without a script Steve actually liked. He swallowed. "Not that I don't want you here, Tony, but you don't usually come by—is anything wrong?"

"Hm?" Tony asked. "Wrong? Oh, no. Except that I learned from a very reliable source whose name may or may not begin with 'N' that you do not know how to dance. Which personally I find kind of unbelievable because didn't you grow up in the 30s? I mean come on, it was the Big Band era, and there was no TV, wasn't dancing kind of it for entertainment? Anyway, it's unacceptable, because if you're going to the gala next week—and you are going, that's not optional—you really need to know how to dance." Steve felt a pit settle in his stomach.

"Peggy, this is my choice." The sky looked white it was so cold, and the clouds seemed unbroken, an endless land above the ground, like you could jump out and land on pillows. The air whistled through the broken windshield, brutally, painfully cold. It whipped across his face, stinging. The air was thin here; it was already getting more difficult to breathe.

"You—she—I don't," Steve eventually managed to say. He couldn't quite gather his thoughts. They were too far away, stuck in 1944.

"Peggy?" He wasn't sure what he was going to say.

"I'm here." He just wanted to hear her voice on the line. He was crashing the plane. He was trying not to think too much about what he was doing. He didn't know what he was going to say until he said it.

"I'm gonna need a raincheck on that dance." He could hear everything on the line. He knew, even over their static ridden connection that she was in tears. He hated that.

"Don't what?" Tony said. "Don't know or don't need to? Because I can guarantee that you need to know for this party. You're going to be a hit. You won't have to ask anyone to dance, they'll all be begging you. And I don't want you to blow your cover, Steve. Everyone there will know how to dance, basic cotillion anyway. We all go to rich snobby finishing schools and learn it. So. How about we make a date?"

"All right. A week, next Saturday, at the Stork club." He could see the ice now. It almost looked like land. For half a second he wondered if he could land on it—but no, this thing would come right back up. He couldn't stop it. He could only crash it.

"Um, a date?" Steve asked a bit faintly. He wasn't really there anymore.

"Yeah, you know, a date. You and me, a dance hall, maybe dinner, things to follow afterward," Tony said.

"You got it." It was a lie. He knew it was a lie. But he was pretending now. He'd swim to shore. He would make it. He would show up at the club in his uniform, and find Peggy waiting for him. They would dance. They would get married. They would have children—a little boy, and a little girl, with Peggy's dark hair and Steve's blue eyes. They would grow old and their children would get married and have children. Their life together wouldn't always be perfect, but it would be long, and it would be happy, and it would be perfect to Steve.

"8 o'clock on the dot. Don't you dare be late. Understand?"

"There's this place in the East Village I think you'll like," Tony said. "Ella Lounge. They do a swing thing on Fridays." Swing. Dance. Tony wanted to dance. Tony wanted to take him dancing, wanted to teach him dancing. Peggy was supposed to teach him dancing.

"You know, I still don't know how to dance," he said. The ice was coming up fast now. It was white like the clouds, but far less inviting. That sheet of unbroken white was no pillow. He thought about Peggy, looked at her picture. The Stork Club. Eight o'clock, a week next Saturday.

"I'll show you how. Just be there," Peggy said. Time felt like it was slowing down as the ice crept closer. He could imagine the warm light of the Stork Club, could imagine Moonlight Serenade playing as he put a hand around Peggy's waist and too her hand in his.

"We'll have the band play something slow."

"So, what do you say? I've never had to teach someone but I've been told I'm a pretty decent dance partner," Tony said, a wry smile on his face. It was a smile that was slowly dissolving. "Steve?"

"I'd hate to step on your—" The water hit the windshield, breaking the glass on impact. Steve was hit with the blast of icy water and thrown backwards. He felt himself hit a wall, felt the freezing water pounding down on top of him, and then he felt nothing at all.

"Um," Steve said, "I really…I really don't dance, Tony." He didn't know how. He wasn't sure he wanted to. He didn't really want to dance with anyone if it wasn't her. He just knew he'd look down, expecting to see her smiling face, expecting to see her gently curled hair, expecting to see those ruby red lips.

A baseball game, from years ago, one that Bucky had insisted on heading to. Before the war. A girl whose accent wasn't quite right, whose hair was too perfectly done, whose lipstick was just a shade out of fashion. The breeze wasn't the stale breeze of a hot day in New York, but a sweet, cool one, and no sunshine beat down on his skin. It was too comfortable for summer.

"You're in a recovery room in New York."

Like hell.

"Well of course you don't dance now, because you don't know how, but I'll show you. It'll be easy, I promise. It'll be fun. Come on, dinner and dancing—what could be better?" Tony asked. It would be fun. Dancing with Tony was bound to be fun; with his ridiculous wit, he'd wipe away any awkwardness Steve felt. He could probably outdo any dame on the dance floor. He loved Tony. But all he could think was eight o'clock at the Stork Club. He hadn't ever made it. He wouldn't ever make it. The time was long gone. He loved Tony, but he'd loved Peggy too. He still loved Peggy, too.

And then he was throwing off people—men and women alike—in business suits, funny suits, not the right colors, not the right cut, not the right silhouette, something was off, off, off. The building was so shiny, the doors and the walls were made entirely of glass. He burst onto the street, but even the pavement seemed wrong. The clothes were wrong. Confusing. Where the hell was he? But then the cars, those were worse. They were fast, and they were the wrong shape, and all the buildings were tall and grey with glass, and then he was in a place he almost recognized, but lights were flashing all around him. So many lights, and moving pictures, like TV in full color, splattered across the sides of buildings. His heart was hammering.

"Tony, I really don't dance," Steve said, shaking his head. Tony frowned.

"But I'll show you—"

"I don't want to, Tony," Steve clarified. "I don't want to." Tony's expression changed, then. It was guarded, defiant. It was an expression he'd seen many times before.

"Oh, I get it," he said. "Yeah, of course you don't want to. Because then it would be a date. A real date. And what we're doing here—well, it bears no resemblance to dating. At all. Not even a bit. And God forbid it look like we're actually dating, God forbid the perfect Steve Rogers get into bed with Tony Stark." Steve blinked, suddenly confused.

"Wait—Tony—what—" but Tony was already up off the couch and headed towards the door.

"It's fine, Rogers," Tony said. "You're right. You're completely right. We're not dating. I'll see you in a week. I've got stuff to do. I'll have Pepper send you new clothes—no way in hell anything you've got in that closet is fit for a Gala."

"Tony, wait!" Steve said, hurrying after him, but Tony was already out the door. And how could he explain it? Was there a sane explanation? Steve didn't know. But all he could hear was faded strains of Moonlight Serenade, a smoky room, a ruby-red smile.

If he danced with Tony, that would all disappear.

He was surrounded, surrounded by black cars and men in armor. They had guns but they weren't aimed at him.

Asleep. Seventy years. Seventy years. Steve would have said it was impossible were it not for the evidence in front of his face, were it not for the loud noises and the stale New York air that smelled of cigarettes and hot dogs, were it not for the people suddenly crowding around, trying to get a look at what was happening, were it not for the moving pictures on the buildings, the different clothes on everyone. But if he was seventy years in the future, where did that leave him? He thought of Peggy. He thought of the Stork Club.

"You gonna be ok?"

"Yeah. Yeah. Just. I had a date."

April 25th, 2014, 18:32

Location: Berlin, Germany

Haus der Kulturen der Welt

Steve had no fond memories of Germany. He had not been back after the war for anything pleasant—missions, mostly, tracking down these rogue Hydra agents, and that one time with Loki. So this time, despite the dames—women—in glitzy dresses, despite the gentleman all polished and ready, Steve had no illusions that his time in Berlin would be fun. He looked through the crowd, trying to find Tony.

Tony hadn't spoken to him since he'd turned down his invitation to dance. He'd gone out of town (or so Pepper claimed, when he'd finally called her out of exasperation), and he wasn't answering his calls. He'd gone to Stark Tower, but the code for the penthouse wasn't working. Tony had changed it. Steve wouldn't have understood why his not wanting to dance was such a big deal, if Tony hadn't been so obvious about it. It was a date he'd been offering, a genuine date, not a 'booty call' (Steve still hated that term—it was so vulgar), not burgers, but a date, and Steve had turned him down. And Tony was hurt. And that Tony was hurt meant something. Steve hardly dared to hope that it meant what he thought it meant, but he couldn't stop his heart from fluttering just a bit whenever it crossed his mind. Tony at the very least considered their affair as something more than friends with benefits. Steve could work with that. If only Tony would let him.

This was the one place he knew that Tony couldn't avoid him. He had to be here, somewhere. Steve wasn't paying attention to anyone as he passed, though a few people called out to him in various languages—never his name, always simply Rembrandt. It was a bit weird to know that even in this corner of the globe the high society was up on the gossip rags. Though, once or twice when he heard Rembrandt mentioned, he wasn't sure if the party in question was referring to him or to the actual Rembrandt, but Steve didn't care. He wasn't focused on any of that anyway. He was only focused on Tony.

"Stefan! Hauptman Stefan Rogge!" called a familiar voice, naming his fake identity. Steve turned around to see Natasha and Clint, arm in arm. Natasha wore a slinky, dark blue dress with elbow-length white gloves, and Clint wore a very well tailored tux. The wedding rings distracted Steve for a moment; right—in this little fantasy, the two of them were married. Steve put on his best smile and walked over. Natasha kissed him on both cheeks, and Clint gave him a one-armed hug that Steve returned. Steve did not miss the fact that they were standing next to the hard man Steve had pinned as former military. He had been correct on that matter; the man was Colonel Austerlitz. He wasn't old enough to have fought in Steve's war, by any means, but he was old enough to have been in the Nationale Volksarmee, the army of East Germany. Steve doubted he'd seen any actual action, but there was something to be said for living in a period where World War III could have broken out with a hair trigger, and having to serve on those front lines.

Colonel, I wonder if you've already been introduced to Captain Stefan Rogge? Natasha asked. Her German was perfect, of course. But Steve wasn't intimidated. So was his.

I have not. Colonel Erik Austerlitz, The Colonel held out his hand and Steve took it, eyeing the man carefully the entire time. I suppose you've served in Afghanistan with the ISAF?

Yes sir, Steve said. The Colonel grunted.

I thought so. We keep seeing these up-jumped young soldiers who've done something vaguely notable in combat but have no strategic sensibilities. It's become a plague of idiots, the Colonel said, sounding more than a little disgruntled. Steve raised an eyebrow.

Having been on the field, I rather prefer taking orders from someone with legitimate combat experience, sir. I don't mind so much whether he's young or old, Steve said, a bit bitingly. Apparently, it was just the right amount of insulting, as the Colonel laughed.

Did you just insult me, boy? he asked. I didn't know they were still making young soldiers with brass balls. All of them, they take one look at me and they run with their tail between their legs. Colonel Austerlitz clapped him on the shoulder. Come! Tell me all about your time overseas.

Oh, I'd rather here about your experiences, Colonel. I would like to learn as much as I can, to get where you are one day, Steve said. He wished they didn't have a mission to complete. He needed to talk to Tony, but Natasha was sending him a clear message. The Colonel would be his to drag off to a quiet corner and knock out. Natasha and Clint had other objectives.

You are a kiss ass, Rogge, the Colonel said, but I like you anyway. Come! Come, I think Stark sprung for the good brandy…

Steve was more dragged off by the old man than was Steve doing the dragging. The old man found the bar and took a seat, ordering brandy after brandy but never seeming to grow particularly intoxicated as the sun went down. Steve had a few different pills stashed away in his German military dress uniform (something Steve was a little loathe to wear, if he was being entirely honest), and he was considering breaking one open and slipping it into the old man's drink. That's what they were there for. But it felt so dishonorable, and he wasn't sure how he was going to get the man out either. Would anyone notice if he 'helped' the 'drunk' old man outside? Hopefully not.

…isn't it? the Colonel asked.

Hmm, sorry? Steve asked, snapping back into the moment.

I said, curious name you have, isn't it? the Colonel said. He sipped on his brandy as Steve's hackles rose and dread crept into his veins. Captain Stepan Rogge. If you Anglicize it, it's Captain Steven Rogers, is it not?

I suppose, Steve said, doing his best to sound disinterested. Is there something unusual about that?

Not at all. Except it happens to be the identity of Captain America, the Colonel said. Steve raised an eyebrow.

The one from World War II? The one that died in a plane crash? Steve asked.

Or the one in the infamous Avengers, the Colonel said, staring him down. Steve wondered what he'd really been drinking all night, and was suddenly grateful for his own super metabolism that kept him from getting intoxicated. Steve laughed, though it was difficult to do so.

He would have to be in his nineties if he lived! Colonel, I think you've had a bit too much to drink, Steve said. The Colonel smiled.

No, I don't think so. In fact, I think that honor belongs to you, he said. Captain America. Steve was about to open his mouth to say something, or maybe he was just tensing to tackle the man right in the open and get him to SHIELD as quickly as possible, when he heard a gunshot ring out. Suddenly, everyone was screaming and running this way and that, but Steve couldn't make sense of anything. His ears were ringing, despite not having been that close to the shot, and suddenly the masses of people were a blur. He looked around wildly for any of his teammates, but he didn't see anyone. He tried to take a step, but he tripped and fell on the ground as the world spun around him. His muscles felt weak, weaker than before the serum. He felt his arms and legs begin grabbed. There were people now, wearing masks, dragging him up. He struggled, but it wasn't enough. The Colonel laughed.

Go ahead and try, Captain, he said, leaning in close to Steve's face. The Colonel grabbed at the bottom of his neck and tugged and Steve's whole brain recoiled in horror. He didn't have to see it. He knew what would come next. He didn't want to believe it, but there he was, hovering over him: the Red Skull, returned. "Go ahead and try."

Steve did. He struggled as hard as he could as the skull laughed, but already he was feeling his strength returning. He could feel the grip of the Hydra agents loosening from his movements—but then he felt a prick in his arm, and the whole world went dark.

April 26th, 2014, 03:52

Location: Unknown

Steve could hear voices, but he couldn't quite make out what they were saying. He opened his eyes slowly, bracing for the light, but not much light ever came. Where ever he was, it was dim.

"Steve?" suddenly Tony's face was in his field of view. "Oh, I'm glad you're awake. We were wondering what in the hell they gave you to knock you out." Steve's ears were still ringing a bit, and his head was pounding. He felt sick to his stomach, and he resisted the urge to hurl. He sat up very slowly, taking in the room. It was small. It looked like some sort of prison cell. The walls and the ceiling were all made of the same type of solid metal. He couldn't even see any bolts. The floor was concrete, with a large drain in the corner, beneath a rusted, leaky faucet. He was sitting on a dirty cot, held up by the wall with chains. Bruce sat in the corner opposite the faucet, doing some sort of breathing exercise. Steve didn't even have the energy to worry about him turning into the Hulk at the moment. Thor sat beside him. Natasha stood with Clint on the other side of the room, still in her slinky, blue evening gown and Clint in his tux.

"What the hell happened?" Steve asked as Tony sat beside him. "Thor? You weren't even on this mission, what are you doing here? Where are we?"

"We got taken out, Captain," Natasha said. "We should have seen this coming, Clint."

"Hindsight's twenty-twenty, Natasha," Clint replied. He sighed, then looked to Steve, "Our cover was blown. They came to that party ready for us."

"I kind of figured that part out when the Colonel drugged me and then turned into the Red Skull," Steve snapped. "What happened?"

"It was Sigyn. If lack of foresight is the fault of anyone here, it is my own," Thor said, sounding deeply aggrieved. "Sigyn is Loki's wife."

"Ok, first Loki has kids, now he's got a wife?" Tony asked. "This is a little too domestic for me. It's not really computing with evil mastermind Loki!"

"Take care how you speak. He is still my brother," Thor said, but there was no anger to it. He sounded resigned. "Sigyn is my brother's wife. She has begged me ever since his imprisonment to set him free, and I have each time refused her. She has begged to see him as well. This I resisted less well and deferred to my father, but he denied her.

"Yesterday, I discovered the last medallion was in her possession and attempted to wrest it from her, but she resisted and slipped away to Midgard. I tracked her here, only to find her at this party. I do not know how she did it, but Sigyn used her own magic to render me unconscious. She took the other medallions from my person," Thor said. The shame in his voice, on his face, was immense.

"So, basically, we did the leg work for them," Steve said. He shook his head. "Jesus, should have seen that coming. But what happened at the party? I heard a shot go off."

"That was me," Natasha said. "Target number three was about to put a dagger through Clint's throat, so I put a bullet in her brain. That's when the other Hydra agents showed up. There were too many. We were overwhelmed. Got tied up, blindfolded, thrown in a van with the rest of you and then transferred in here."

"I couldn't activate the armor in time," Tony added with a frown. "I'm harder to take down than I was a couple of years ago, but I still can't match Clint or Natasha. They hit Bruce with a sedative dart, before he could hulk out and make a mess. I think he was the first one to go down."

"Good news is, SHIELD was all over that place, so they at least know that we were taken, even if they don't know where just yet," Clint said.

"Bad news is that they don't know the medallions have been stolen. They won't be after Hydra, they'll be too busy looking for us," Natasha said.

"By the time they find us, there won't be anything left to find," Steve said gravely. "Ok, how the hell are we getting out of here? Can we break the door?"

"It's made of the same gold-titanium alloy my armor is. It's not looking likely, unless we want to unleash the Hulk and take our chances," Tony said.

"Not a good plan," Bruce said in a very strained voice.

"Really not a good plan," Steve agreed. He got up off the cot and walked a few paces. "Thor, any chance you can use your lightning to blast us out?"

"Alas, I do not have my hammer. I have tried to call Mjolnir, but have received no response. I think it is more of Sigyn's sorcery," Thor replied. "Without Mjolnir, I cannot command the lightning."

"There is one way we could get out," Tony said slowly. Steve fixed his gaze on the other man. He had a very bad feeling about this for some reason.

"Well then speak up Stark, we don't have all day! Every second we waste is another second that puts the world in danger," Natasha said.

"The lock. I'm sure you've noticed it's electronic," Tony said.

"Can you hack it?"

"It's not a computer, Steve. There's nothing I can do with it in that way. The only way to break that lock would be to overload the circuits," Tony said.

"That doesn't help us then. Thor doesn't have Mjolnir. We don't have any electricity," he said. Tony looked at him, his gaze locked on Steve's blue eyes, and Steve felt the world fall away, felt his heart stop, felt his stomach drop out of his body.

"No," Tony said, "we don't have Mjolnir. But we have an arc reactor."

April 26th, 2014, 04:55

Location: Unknown

"Hurry it up Bruce," Steve said anxiously. Every second counted. Every millisecond counted.

"Going as fast as I can, Captain," Bruce replied. He was working with the wiring, slipping it in underneath a tiny edge Thor had pulled up on the lock. "Almost…and…there." As soon as he spoke, the arc reactor lit up even brighter, making a desperate whirring sound like an overheated laptop. It flashed brightly, there was a click, and then the arc reactor dimmed, and the whirring stopped. Steve picked up Tony.

"You know I can walk for a bit—"

"No arguments!" Steve said. Natasha gently opened the door. There was the rat tat tat of machine gun fire, and Natasha slammed it shut as bullets hit the door. "Bruce! SUIT UP!" Bruce nodded curtly. He rushed to the door and ran at it, changing from man to monster slowly as he went. He rushed out the door and changed completely. The Hulk roared with fury and charged the men. "Go, go, go!"

They evacuated the prison. Outside were more halls, all dark and all made of metal. It was like a maze. Smoke was in the air, and every now and again he had to dodge a stray bullet. Clint and Natasha flanked him and Tony as they ran, taking down any Hydra agents that dared to come up from behind.

"Captain!" they hit an intersection, and agents were coming up on them from behind and from both sides.

"SPLIT UP!" Steve yelled to them. The four of them took separate directions, Steve jumping into the lightest guarded hall. He took down an agent with only his feet.

"Kind of a bumpy ride," Tony said. His voice sounded strained, and he was getting paler with each passing minute.

"Just hang in there Tony. I've just got to find a power source—" Steve leapt out of the way as an agent started firing at them. What Steve wouldn't give for his shield. He charged the agent and took him down with a body slam. "Just a little longer, Tony, I promise." Steve looked down at Tony. Tony was smiling, but he looked kind of out of it.

"You know," Tony said, "if I'm going to die today, I'm glad the last thing I'll see will be your face."

"Dying's not an option, Tony," Steve said, as he felt the blood drain from his face. "It's not. Do you hear me? No dying today. I just have to find a power source. Just one power source does no one have a goddamn flashlight?" He heard a very familiar sound from behind him and leapt out of the way on instinct. Energy blasted the wall, and Steve turned around. It was a Hydra agent, equipped with one of the new (old? Old-new?) Hydra weapons, with its telltale blue glow. Steve smiled.

"Looks like I found that flashlight."

April 26th, 2014, 05:05

Location: Unknown

Steve, after taking down the Hydra agent and stealing the gun, grabbed Tony and looked frantically for somewhere secure. He happened across an empty room and went inside, setting Tony gently on the floor.

"Still with me Tony?" Steve asked. Tony gave him a weak smile.

"Not going to get rid of me that easy, Cap," he said. His voice was hoarse.

"Good, because you're going to have to help me jerry rig this thing," Steve said. He handed the gun to Tony while he opened up the back, where the modified arc reactor was set.

"No problem. Do you see a blue wire?"

"They all look kind of blue…"

"Which one is the most blue?"

A Hydra agent stormed through the door, but before Steve could even react, Tony had aimed and fired the weapon. Steve just blinked.

"Ok, show me the back," Tony said. Steve helped hold the heavy gun in place while Tony worked through the wires, occasionally setting one out for Steve to hold. When he was done, Steve had three wires in hand, and Tony was even paler than before. "Ok, now, strip the wires, and then you're going to have to plug it into…there's a plate, in there…just slip them underneath…" Tony's breathing was getting a bit labored, and his face was paler than Steve had ever seen on a living man. Steve did his best to keep his hands from shaking as he removed the plastic from the wires with a bit of broken glass from the floor.

"Ok, Tony, so I put them under the plate?" Steve asked, but there was no answer. Steve looked up. Tony's eyes were closed. "Tony?" There was no response and Steve went cold all over. He took a deep breath and steadied his hands. Just slip it under the plate, Rogers. Just slip it under the plate. Carefully, ever so carefully, Steve did just that. It was a tight fit, keeping the wires in place by virtue of the pressure of the plate. He heard the reactor whir. He waited, watching Tony anxiously.

Nothing happened.
"Tony?" Steve asked again. He felt sick. He felt more than sick. The worst had happened. The shrapnel had already reached his heart. He'd died from internal bleeding. There was nothing Steve could do. Home was gone again. He pulled Tony to him, not sure what to do. Later, he would realize he was going into shock, which was part of the reason why no tears formed in his eyes, why he took it all too calmly. The others, well, hopefully they would find the medallions. The Pulse wouldn't destroy the world, Loki would not be released, and they'd save the day. But Steve wouldn't help them. He was done. He was done with everything. He couldn't do this anymore, couldn't do this without—

There was a ragged gasp, and Tony opened his eyes.

"What'd I miss?" Tony asked. "Please tell me you kissed me." Steve let out a strangled yell and just held Tony tighter. He pulled him into a passionate kiss, and then released him, just so glad to see those brown eyes open and so very alive.

"Tony," he said very seriously, choking back tears, "I am never going to stop kissing you."

April 26th, 2014, 06:45

Location: Steinreich, Germany

"Here you go, soldier," Fury said, handing Tony the Iron Man briefcase. Tony sat on a stretcher from the SHIELD EMTs, leaning back against the crunchy mattress.

"Still not a soldier," Tony said, snatching the briefcase from Fury. He practically attacked it, getting it to open itself up and form around the air. The arc reactor in its chest glowed brightly. Tony carefully began to take it out. "Ok, Steve, now get this Macgyvered battery off me." Steve chuckled. He'd been complaining for the last ten minutes, ever since SHIELD arrived and took down the rest of the Hydra base, that carrying the heavy gun now attached to his chest was a pain in the ass.

"All right," Steve said, taking the gun in one hand and the wires in the other. "Ready?"

"Yes!" Tony said, sounding exasperated. Steve removed the wires, and Tony attached the arc reactor from the suit to the base plate and slowly put the reactor back into his chest. Steve couldn't help but sigh in relief. He felt much more at ease, seeing that familiar blue-white glow in Tony's chest. Steve put the gun down and handed Tony his shirt.

"All good?" Steve asked.

"All good, Captain," Tony replied. Steve nodded. He was still going to make Tony go through SHIELD's medical screening, just to double check, but he wasn't going to tell Tony that just yet. "So Thor got the medallions back and we're all good, right?"

"So it would seem," Steve said. He and Tony had, just an hour earlier, witnessed a truly epic battle between Thor and Sigyn. Sigyn wasn't much of a fighter, but she was very good at conjuring mythical beasts to do the heavy lifting for her. One of them had been a giant snake, though Steve had no idea whether or not the snake was Jormungandr or not. Whatever it had been, Thor bashed its head in with his hammer, after which he'd taken Sigyn as prisoner and ripped the medallions from her. Thor thought it would be best to return to Asgard for a time and sort things out. He had promised to give the medallions back to his father, Odin, who might find a more suitable hiding place for them, or who might even find a way to destroy them all together, though Thor seemed to doubt it.

Clint, Natasha, and Bruce were around somewhere, likely clearing the building of any useful information. This was not, as far as they were aware, Hydra's main base. And the Red Skull was still out there. Steve would have plenty to worry about in regards to that in the future, and tomorrow he would put all his effort into finding the Red Skull and destroying him once and for all. But that was all for tomorrow. Steve took Tony's hand. Tony gave him a playful grin.

"Oh, what, are we all for PDA now, Captain?" he asked. Steve smiled slightly and brushed a lock of hair from Tony's face.

"I just don't want to let you go," Steve said. "I thought I lost you."

"I'm too young to die," Tony said, waving it away. Then he looked up at Steve, hesitant. "So…what you said back there…was that just, you know, captivity induced, the-world-is-ending emotion, or…?" Steve leaned down and kissed Tony fiercely. There was a lot of kissing that day.

"What do you think?" he asked, when they finished. Tony looked hesitant again so Steve rolled his eyes and kissed him a second time. "Are you getting the picture yet?" Tony's head tilted.

"You know, I am a scientist, and I don't think I've ruled out all the variables yet, so, I might need another, just for data—" Steve laughed and attacked Tony's mouth again, and Tony kissed him back just as passionately.

"OI! You two! Let's get on the jet and get out of here, come on!" Clint shouted. Steve and Tony looked over. Clint looked exasperated. Bruce was blushing a bit. Natasha had the tiniest of smiles.

"So, what do you say, soldier? Shall we get up and go home?" Tony asked. Steve just kept smiling, and squeezed Tony's hand.

"I'm already home," he said. He leaned down and gave Tony one more kiss, until Tony pulled away.

"Ok, but seriously, let's get back to New York," Tony insisted.

"Tony, you ruined the moment."

"No, I think you ruined the moment with the cheesiest line I've ever heard. Where did you get that from? The Hallmark channel? Have you been watching Seventh Heaven again? I think we've left you alone with the television one too many times."

"I was being sincere you ass hat."

"We also need to work on your insults."

"Tony," Steve groaned. Tony laughed, sliding off the stretcher. Steve helped to steady him.

"Come on Captain," he said, "let's go home."

As Steve helped Tony towards the jet, he saw his friends all waiting for them. As he approached, Clint joked about frail old men, and Tony shot back something about pictures of Clint in tights and circus acts, which Steve didn't understand, but it made Clint scowl. Natasha just rolled her eyes, and Bruce had a smile on his face, despite still looking a bit green from his latest hulk out. They bantered and laughed, and Steve knew that the long jet ride home would be filled with more of the same. They'd saved the world—again—they could take a night off. They'd have burgers, and watch a movie after arguing for an hour about which one. Steve would make popcorn, and they would all make a game of making Clint catch it with his mouth. Bruce would make his tea and argue that the portrayal of whatever country the movie was set in was inaccurate for some reason or another, or that the fictional science was laughable, which Tony would agree with. He always agreed with Bruce.

After the others left for their separate floors, he and Tony would have the best night they ever had together. It would be slow, and sweet, and tender. It would be the first of many nights they'd spend together. For the rest of their lives, maybe. Eventually, they'd catch the Red Skull, and Steve could feel more at peace, but they wouldn't stop fighting. The Avengers would go on, saving the day. But they'd also go on with movie nights and arguments over pizza toppings and arguments over more serious things and reconciliations and loving each other. Because they were a family. Steve's family.

And for the first time, Steve realized on that jet as he held Tony's hand and thought about all of this, Steve was not reminiscing about the past. He was dreaming of the future. He smiled, slowly, as his teammates joked and bickered around him, because he was home. Finally, after all this time, Steve Rogers was home.