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[personal profile] sunspot
It was a defense mechanism more than anything else, the running away. Steve had never run before. Someone told him once if he ran away he'd never be able to stop, that he'd always be running. That was then, and this is... not then at all. He could run now because he was confident he'd be able to face whatever caught up with him. Since the serum worked, he'd survived more in the few months (and the subsequent decades) than he ever thought one person could withstand. If he was still around after all that, then yeah, he was pretty confident he could take on anything.

Except the pity. Damn. The sad eyes people made when he passed them in the hallways, the whispers when they thought he was out of earshot. He wanted to tell them, yeah, you know what, I suffered through hell and more, more than most of you ever have, and I'm still here, seventy years later. The words never formed properly when he tried.

So Steve ran from it all to save his sanity. He smiled politely and took off the first chance he got. He did a lot of driving those first few months. Barton had helped him find a bike he liked, and Fury did the paperwork to get him a license to drive it, and that was all he needed.

Roads were wider than he remembered, and everything was more crowded. New York seemed to have tripled in size from what he remembered, all condominiums and concrete now. The city felt colder, the air felt heavier.

Steve went up to Brooklyn to find himself a place to live. SHIELD was going to keep him on the payroll, consulting or something like that, so he wasn't pressed for money. He knew that all that really meant was that Fury wanted to keep him around for Avengers things. But until the next large scale attack on humanity, he was basically free to do as he wanted, as long as he attended one professional development seminar a month to keep his hand in.

The apartment search was a huge bust. The dollar wasn't worth as much as it had been when he was a kid. He understood the basics of inflation, but not enough to really work out how a one bedroom apartment with a shitty view on some little side street was supposedly worth twelve hundred dollars a month. SHIELD offered him a place to stay in their uptown headquarters. It was a big brick building with a sign out front proclaiming to anyone bothering to look that the building in question was a public planning office. Apparently no one ever came in to check on that, even though the front room was a convincing reception area.

There were a few other rooms on the third floor, but Steve was the only full time resident. It was lonely and crowded all at once. He got sick of looking at the walls one Friday night and tossed a change of clothes into a bag with a sketchbook and some pencils. He itched to get out of the city. Looking at a current road map on the computer tablet he'd been issued, he plotted out a route to take him somewhere else the first chance he got. Recent experience indicated that relying on his memory was bound to get him lost.

On Saturday, there was a seminar about proper protocol when involved in a car chase. Steve didn't care much for the idea of getting into a car chase, unlike some of the other attendees. All the other development seminars that month looked worse though, so he went and tried hard to pay attention to the discussion on one way streets and medians. He was staring at the characterless grey speckled walls thinking of his ride that night, about how far removed he could get without trekking back to the Arctic and plunging himself in a hole. Ohio wasn't far at all, by comparison, but it was the best he was going to get with SHIELD breathing down his neck.

"Rogers, can I talk to you for a second?" Agent Romanov caught up with him outside conference room four despite his best efforts to get out of there fast enough to get on the road before sunset. He had originally planned to get to Youngstown before midnight, but the seminar ran long and that was a pipe dream now.

"Sure, what's going on?" Natasha had been nothing if not kind to him, so he had no desire to be rude to her. He could spare a few minutes and make up the time when he got passed the city. Besides, it might be another battle for the lives and souls of humanity and that would break up the monotony a little.

"That's actually what I was going to ask you." She dragged him into an empty room with strength that shouldn't have surprised him as much as it did.

"Is something wrong?" he asked, bracing for bad news.

"Yeah." She levelled a serious, no-nonsense look at him. Steve shifted uncomfortably under it. "What's been going on with you ? You're gone a lot. Whenever I stop by to chat, you're out. Days at a time with no check ins. People are starting to talk."

Steve shifted back and forth on his feet. "Sorry? I'll check in more."

"That's not what I meant, Rogers and you know it. Something is up with you. And if it becomes an issue... Well, then it will be an issue."

Steve wasn't used to anyone noticing what he did. Sure, there had always been someone around before, tons of someones, usually. But they noticed in an 'oh, that's a thing that happened' way and not in a 'actually seem to care for some reason' way.

Natasha Romanov was the most inscrutable person Steve had ever met, more than Fury or anyone Steve remembered from before his long sleep. She didn't disappoint him this time either. He had no idea what she was thinking or why she was asking.

"I'll see you around," he said. "Maybe at the next seminar."

"Yeah, maybe. I think I hate them as much as you do. Call if you need anything." She handed him a cell phone and walked out. Steve tried to tell her he had a phone already, basically glued to his side by Fury's orders, but when he glanced down he saw that it was his. Again, not something he should have been so surprised by.

It gave him something to think about on the ride to the Butler Institute of American Art, anyway. He wasn't sure what the fuss was about there anyway, but he was going to check it out. He dimly recalled Ohio being pleasant enough last time he was there, back when he was still hawking bonds.

He wasn't sure if Natasha had been asking about him for her own curiosity or for Fury's, but he decided he didn't much care. Once he was finally out of the city, the highway to Youngstown was clear enough that he didn't have to pour his thoughts into not getting run over by any number of idiots who couldn't drive. Steve got up to a good coasting speed and let the bike do the work while he thought about Natasha's words and watched all the trees fly past.

She'd seemed concerned for him, for as much as he thought he could read her, but he wasn't sure what the angle was. Did she care what he was up to because they were supposedly team mates or because she was under orders to be looking out for him or for some other reason he wasn't seeing?

She said she knew something was going on with him... But what exactly was she referring to? Did SHIELD really expect him to wake up from how many decades under ice and suddenly be fine with the fact that everything was different? He was supposed to pick up where he left off or something. Which didn't seem possible, no matter which way he thought about it.

Steve tried to imagine what he would be doing with his life if it hadn't all gone to hell on him, if he had come home after they won the war. He really couldn't come up with anything.

His best friend would still be dead, he wouldn't have anyone to go home to, and he would still feel so damn out of place in his own life. There was Peggy, of course, but would she have come back to New York with him? He couldn't imagine living in England. And would she have even wanted to settle down? She had her career to think about.

Stop it, Rogers, you're going to drive yourself crazy.

It was the wee hours of the morning when he reached Youngstown. He found a motel on a busy street and parked his bike in the back. The desk clerk gave him a funny look and Steve thought he was about to be recognized, which was the worst possible thing he could think of besides a full scale HYDRA attack on a kittens-and-orphans group home, but the girl didn't say anything. Steve signed a fake name and paid cash before finding his room and crashing hard.

He woke with a start late the next morning. The bedside lamp was still on, evidence of how tired he'd been when he got in. He was surprised with how late he'd slept; it was nearly ten in the morning. The sun was already up and peeking through the musty curtains. Steve splashed some water on his face and got out of there.

The Butler Institute of American Art wasn't hard to find. Steve nodded politely to the man at the information desk and wandered through the rooms without any sense of connection. He'd brought his sketchbook, but he didn't see anything he wanted to draw. Everything was nice and nothing really called to him.

He was ready to leave, ready to ride all the way back into the city without stopping, when something caught his eye. It was a picture of the sea, with a boat fighting with the waves. Steve sat on the closest bench on took out his little tin box of pencils. Maybe if he could get something down on paper he wouldn't feel so tense. He set to work, pencil working quickly over the heavy paper.

"It's nice, isn't it?" There was a shabbily dressed man standing a few feet away, looking at the same painting. Steve flipped the cover over his sketchbook to hide his work. He didn't usually like people looking at his unfinished art.

"It's nice," Steve agreed.

"Looks... I don't know, dark. Intense. Kind of angry."

Steve nodded. He'd seen a boat on a dark sea and thought it's, a boat on some water; that looks interesting. The more he looked at it, though, the more he saw. The dangerous lean of the boat, the green tint to the sky above, promising more danger to come. But that was the same with anything, really. Everything got more complex and dismal the more you studied it.

He looked down at his own drawing, and saw for the first time how angry it looked, too. The water in the painting was kind of murky and swirling, just the edges were white and frothed in movement, but the waves he'd drawn were great, rolling things, taller than the ship itself, threatening to crush it at any moment.

Steve shook his head to clear it, not willing to think about it anymore. He closed his book and left to head back to the city.




Steve watched the hands on the plain clock on the plain wall tick out the minutes. He played a few games of Fruit Ninja on his phone, beat his high score, then stared at the clock some more. Nothing at all was happening. He didn't know what he was really expecting, sitting alone in his little room SHIELD gave him, waiting for something. What was he even waiting for? Another attack on humanity, maybe, a reason for him to actually do something and feel useful for once.

Steve put on his shoes, even though he'd only been back from Ohio for half an hour, and grabbed his gym bag. Apparently just willing himself to stop wallowing and to move on with his exciting new twenty first century life wasn't working, so maybe sweating his frustrations would help.




It didn't.

He sort of pulled a muscle in his shoulder and got caught in the rain on the walk back to headquarters. He normally felt... if not better, then at least he tired himself out enough that he didn't care whether he felt better or not.

But that night Steve slept restlessly and woke the next morning at dawn, like he always did. The sky outside his bare window was barely visible through the crowded building tops, but it looked overcast. Steve didn't have high hopes for anything that day.

He split his morning evenly between a hot shower and a large cup of coffee at the café on the corner. He didn't feel that buzz of caffeine in his veins like he used to, but just the act of drinking coffee, feeling the warmth through the cup and tasting the bitterness was enough to soothe him a little.

The café was nice, too, and Steve found more and more that he didn't mind spending his time there. There was a deep, green couch inside along the window and he could sink right into it with his cup and a book and watch the people for a while. Sometimes, he saw something cute or funny, like mothers and babies, or a poodle wearing sunglasses, and he could smile and feel like a regular guy for ten minutes. It wasn't helping today.

Steve still couldn't shake the thought of the sketch he'd made of that ship on the water. He didn't like the obviousness of the metaphor weighing in his mind and he hated that the more he tried to distract himself, the more he thought about it and the worse he felt.

It wasn't just that he was missing Bucky, or Peggy, or the smell New York used to have, or the way he used to be able to take more than two steps without bumping into someone. It was all of it added together, plus the nightmares about the war and the plane crash...

After his third cup of coffee, he went back to his room at SHIELD. He felt like a storm cloud was hovering over him and he didn't want to ruin the coffee shop with his bad feelings. He wanted its warm lighting and potted plants to make him smile when he walked in, not remind him of all his dark thoughts. Maybe he'd take a few days off from the café; come back when he'd cleared his head.

There was nothing in his room to take his mind off those dark thoughts. The quiet, the clean white walls, the unfamiliar view from the window, everything just made him feel lonely.

Steve was down the narrow stairs and up the street on auto-pilot before he could change his mind. He was headed for the main SHIELD headquarters, right downtown, and he was going to find Natasha Romanov and find out what she knew.

She knew, he recalled, the day she caught up with him and told him to call. She knew something was going on and she didn't force him to talk about it. She knew more than she ever let on. Which, in his mind, translated to her being the only person he wanted to talk to. Steve had read her file. Most of it was blacked out, or it jumped from page six to page eighteen, or it was written in some sort of code that read like normal English, but couldn't possibly have happened. But even from what he'd read, she was... certainly something. He knew, if he could get her alone and if she was willing to listen, he could lay all his thoughts out for her. She wouldn't judge him or call him crazy or anything else. They were kindred spirits, of a sort.

He had to swipe his pass card in the door twice before it would open and that was frustrating. If there was a door that opened up with a card, it should open no matter which way he was holding the damn thing.

"Captain Rogers? The crossbow handling course is next Thursday, sir." The receptionist at the desk glanced down at something, looking confused.

"I know, I'm here to see Agent Romanov. Is she away?" Steve had snuck a glance at the registration for the course when he signed up and he was seriously regretting his interest. A whole lot of fresh agents with scary projectile weapons. It was going to be a very interesting seminar.

"Agent Romanov is being debriefed. I can let her know you're here and tell her to meet you when she's done?"

"Thanks, I'll be in the library." He headed up to the third floor library to wait. He liked it there because it enforced the quiet he liked and he could studiously ignore anyone looking at him sideways by sticking his nose in a book.

Steve took the copy of Atlas Shrugged out of his jacket and made himself at home on a chair by a window. He was comfortable, the book was mildly interesting, and he forgot for a few minutes that he was only there because he was waiting for Natasha and her secret knowledge.

"Hello, Captain."

Natasha was leaning on the end of a bookshelf a few feet away. She was quiet, but her voice seemed loud in the silence of the library.

"Agent Romanov, hi."

She watched him for a moment before she came over and sat on the window sill near him. "What are you reading?"

"Atlas Shrugged. So far, it's not what I was expecting."

"Stacy said you were looking for me. Is there something I can help you with?"

He closed the book and sat up a little straighter. "I don't know."

"Ah."

They were quiet for a time. Steve could hear the murmur of voices and the soft, electronic hum of a bank of computers. Natasha leaned back and looked around like she was just taking it in for the first time. There wasn't really an expression on her face, not one Steve could have named. She was just there, existing.

Steve existed next to her for a few minutes before he put the book in his jacket and stood up. "I'm going to get out of here. Do you have a few minutes?"

"I just got back, so I'm cleared for forty-eight hours of nothing at all. I've got as much time as you need."

"Back from where?"

She gave him a blank stare in return as she stood up.

"Right, of course," he said. "Well... Let's find somewhere not so quiet, maybe?"

"I know a place."

Natasha's place turned out to be a bar a few blocks away from SHIELD headquarters. There was music on, a little too loud, and there was some blatant disregard for the smoking ban that was apparently very important these days. Steve often found himself thankful for his asthma-free lungs, but never so much as when he was around cigarette smoke. Natasha had led him in through a back alley and an unmarked metal door with chipped paint and squeaky hinges, so the atmosphere didn't really shock him.

She pointed him to a booth in a corner before waving to someone and throwing a quick smile. "So," she said once they sat down.

"So."

A guy in a stained tee shirt brought them a pitcher of beer and a pair of glasses and Natasha slid some money at him. He scooped it up and the bill disappeared before Steve could even tell how much it was, but the guy said, "You got it, Miss," so Steve assumed it was enough money to keep him from interrupting them again.

"Do you want to talk?" Natasha asked while she carefully poured out a glass.

Steve considered his answer carefully. For all that his mind had been racing with thoughts a few hours earlier, he was drawing a blank now. "Not sure I have much to say."

"All right. You want a drink?"

"I can't get drunk. But... yeah, okay."

She slid the full glass over to him and poured another for herself. "I assume your sudden presence is about our conversation last week?"

Steve nodded. "Yeah. Kind of. I just felt if there was anyone I could talk to, it would be you."

"But you don't have anything to say?"

"Not really."

Natasha nodded. "I know how that is."

She didn't elaborate and he didn't ask her to. This is actually what he wanted, he thought. This is what he had sought out from her; it was company. He was existing in the twenty-first century, out with a friend for a drink, and the world was still spinning. He sipped his beer and remembered promptly that he hated the taste of beer. Just the act of picking up the glass and moving it to his mouth seemed to comfort him though, the old routine of it, like all those times Bucky dragged him drinking.

Natasha caught someone's eye over his shoulder and jerked a thumb towards the bar. She didn't look concerned or like they were about to be involved in a fight, so Steve risked a look behind him. He turned just in time to see a flash of green and black before Maria Hill slid into the booth beside Natasha, shrugging out of a bright green coat.

Hill was obviously not expecting Steve to be there, because she leaned in and kissed Natasha's cheek. "Sorry, I was supposed to be out of there hours ago, but you know how... Oh. Rogers. You're not who I was expecting."

"Agent Hill. I could say the same for you." He couldn't be positive, but he was pretty sure he was blushing. Public displays of any sort always sort of made him uncomfortable, and for it to involve two senior SHIELD agents just made that uncomfortable feeling worse.

Hill looked at Natasha, who gave her a little look, definitely significant, but totally unreadable to Steve. She nodded after a second and relaxed into the battered bar booth. "So, what are we drinking tonight?"

"Cheap stuff." Natasha sounded surprisingly happy about something that reminded Steve so vividly of horse piss.

"So, what brings you out this afternoon, Rogers?" Hill asked. There was something, maybe her tone, or her posture, that put Steve in mind of an iron rod. She was obviously not happy about his presence, but she wasn't coming out and saying it either. He wasn't sure why not and that made him a little uncomfortable. He would have put her in the same category as Natasha -- not giving a damn about him, not in any real way, because she didn't expect anyone to give a fuck about her. Maybe he was intruding on something without realizing? The kiss would make more sense if that was the case.

"Just here for a drink," he said. He knew how tight and brittle his voice sounded, like he wasn't any happier about being there than she was to have him there.

He met Natasha's eyes briefly, and she had a little, self-satisfied smile on. Steve was starting to think he'd missed out on some memo of exactly what was going on here, especially considering it had been his idea to meet up, and his idea to get away from headquarters, and... Obviously it wasn't his idea at all, he realized.

"Wow," he muttered. He took another mouthful of beer to stop himself from saying anything else.

"What?" Hill asked, leaning forward. "Something wrong?"

Steve set down his glass on the scarred up table with a little thump. "I just... thought I asked Natasha to hang out."

"And you didn't realize you'd have to see me?" Hill sounded a bit too biting, a bit too angry. Steve definitely understood that feeling.

"No, nothing like that. I just thought it was, you know, my idea."

"Ah." She nodded. "Okay, well get used to that sort of thing if you plan to spend even a small amount of time with her."

Natasha was still smirking to herself. She refilled everyone's glasses before she spoke. "But isn't this nice? Colleagues, out for a drink after work at the local shithole of a bar."

"So nice."

"Mm."

They finished the pitcher in relative silence. Once or twice, someone would try to start a conversation, but they always fell quiet after a few moments. But it wasn't uncomfortable, Steve noted, just quiet. There was more than enough noise in the rest of the bar that they didn't have to feel self-conscious about the lack of conversation.

"Thanks for the drinks," Steve said as they were all standing up to leave. "And it was nice to see you again, Agent Hill."

"... You too, Rogers." Steve was pretty sure she even meant that. He followed the two women out the same back door he and Natasha had come in through. He dug his hands in his pockets and tried to reorient himself before he headed... he wasn't sure where he was headed after this. It was barely past dinner time and he still had hours to waste before he could consider sleeping. Maybe he'd find one of those open all hours Starbucks places and read some more of Atlas Shrugged.

"Steve."

He turned to see the last flash of Maria Hill's green coat disappearing around the corner before Natasha stepped into his line of sight.

"Hey."

"Was that totally uncomfortable for you?" she asked.

Steve shrugged. "Not really. I kind of expected to be for the first few minutes, but I guess..."

"Yeah, sometimes it's not so bad to have people around."

"I just wish it had been on my terms."

Natasha gave him the most Natasha look he'd ever seen. That 'wow, you really are a useless and you have all my pity' look that no one could really take exception to because compared to Natasha, there were maybe four people on earth who weren't clueless and pitiable. Steve was not one of them.

"I didn't put a hex on you or anything," she said. She started walking and it took Steve a moment to realize he was supposed to be keeping up. "I just told you I was here if you needed anything. You sought me out."

"Yeah, but --"

"I'm not a dark wizard with magic powers, or whatever other rumours you've heard floating around."

"No, I know that, I just meant --"

"Good, okay. Then tonight was on your terms. You could have left whenever you wanted to."

He couldn't argue with that, as much as he wanted to. "Well... Good night."

"Good night, Captain. Don't be a stranger."




He finished Atlas Shrugged that night and it did not live up to his expectations. It had been touted as a classic, but frankly, he thought it was terrible.

"Anything else for you, sir?" the scruffy teenager behind the counter asked as Steve started packing up his things to leave the Starbucks.

"No, thanks."

"I guess it was a good book, hmm?" the kid asked. Steve smiled thinly and dropped a tip on the counter as he passed. The guy grinned at him.

"Not really my thing. Have a good night."

Steve left and headed home. The night was chilly and there was enough wind that the air felt fresh and alive instead of smothering, like the smog of the daytime sometimes got. It wasn't cold enough that it put him in mind of the empty, frigid nights of his childhood, or hunkering down to try and sleep for an hour or so during a long march through a strange European forest, for which he was grateful. It was easy enough to recall those memories all on his own without any outside help.

Instead, the coldness just energized him, made him walk a little faster and stand a little taller, his mind blessedly empty for the time being. It was exhilarating, in a way, to feel free from everything. Even the strange new city that had grown from his beloved hometown didn't bother him. The red brick SHIELD building that was his current home came into view as he got closer, but Steve didn't want to go upstairs right away. He circled the block and found that he still didn't want to go in.

Steve took out his phone and when he pressed the button that brought the screen to life, it proclaimed in large numbers, that it was nearly one in the morning. Steve frowned at it and checked his watch, and it was right. Not that he thought the phone was wrong, just that still wasn't completely over the fact that basically everything had a built-in clock.

He navigated to the text messaging screen, double checking that it wasn't the email screen before he sent a message to Natasha.

Thank you again for meeting with me today. I think getting out and just being with people besides myself was what I needed.

He probably would not have been able to say the words out loud, but they were a lot easier to type out. And then, once they were out there, Steve felt better. Not 'perfect sunshine and daises, no bad days ever again' better, but he felt okay. Okay enough to be ready to face another day, ready to go upstairs to his plain little room and lie on his narrow bed until sleep took him.




Steve dreamed about a tall ship in a storm. He was watching it from a long way off, getting tossed from wave to wave while rain poured down. There weren't any sounds in the dream, which made the huge, crashing waves that much more unsettling. The longer he watched, the more he was sure he could make out tiny people rushing back and forth on the deck. He tried to call out to them, but of course, he had no voice.

A wave was creeping up on the ship, and even through the silent, pounding rain, Steve could see the shape moving inside the water. Something big and hulking, and he knew instantly that it was bad. The creature burst out of the wave just as it reached its height, crashing down on the ship and scattering the people into the water. The wave followed right after the monster, sweeping whatever was left of the ship and crew under the water.

There was a scream, the first noise Steve heard at all, and he blinked his eyes open and realized it was him. He sat up in his bed and tugged the blanket free from where it was tucked between the mattress and the wall and wrapped it tighter around himself. For all he loved the chill in the air a few hours ago, it was making his room too cold. The lamp one the desk was on like it always was when he was in the room, and he felt better being able to identify the things throwing shadows around his room.

He could hear someone walking quietly outside his door, no doubt checking up and making sure there was no further outbursts of noise. Steve was grateful whoever it was didn't knock; it was always so awkward to explain.

His watch on the bedside table read four forty. Almost a time he could get up and start going about his life without seeming like he was only awake because of a bad dream. He lay back down and stared at the ceiling, waiting for his breathing to even out again. Even through the closed and curtained window, he could hear the city noise filtering in. Steve found that could breathe again, even though he didn't realize he'd been holding his breath, and he felt... okay.

Steve got up promptly at five am and went for a ten mile jog. He ran fast and it didn't take him as long as it usually did, so he had extra time before he normally went for coffee. An extra six miles burned off whatever nervous energy was left over from his nightmare. He liked running extra in the mornings, especially when he didn't really plan out a route and he could just go.

Unless he ran into Tony Stark getting out of a nice car.

"Hey Cap, how you doing?"

Steve had been hoping to run right by, maybe he wouldn't be spotted, but he didn't have that much good luck it turned out. He stopped and had to turn around to face Stark properly. "Tony. Hi."

"How have you been?"

"Fine, good. And you?" Steve added after a second of thought.

"I'm just great, thanks for asking. Rebuilding the tower is going well, you should stop by sometime and tell me if this one is as ugly as the last one."

Steve gave him a brittle smile, trying not to look like he was edging away. "Maybe I will."

"SHIELD keeping you busy? Haven't seen any Captain America press conferences on TV recently..."

"Lots of training and things. And I like to stay busy," he said, in case Stark thought he was inviting any wisecracks.

"Oh sure, who doesn't. Look, Steve..."

"We don't have to talk," Steve said quickly. "I think we can say all the unpleasantness is behind us." He'd been warned, by Natasha actually, in the few days after the Chitauri attack that Tony might try to say something to him about all the initial tension between them.

"Well, when Pepper finds out --"

"Pepper?"

Natasha nodded. "His girlfriend. She's a Captain America fan, it turns out. When she finds out he's been a dick to you, she'll tell him to apologize. Plus you stood up to him and that's like friendship catnip for guys like Stark."


But it hadn't happened, not like Natasha had predicted anyway. There had been a brief handshake and a short nod, very polite and surprisingly not awkward. But Steve hadn't seen him since.

"What unpleasantness? I haven't a clue what you're talking about. Have you eaten? I haven't. What an ungodly hour. You want to grab some breakfast? There's something I think we need to talk about."

Steve sighed. "I'm actually kind of sweaty here."

"I'm fine with it if you are." Stark smiled brightly, like he knows how likely Steve is to give in out of sheer annoyance. "I'm buying."

"Yeah, okay," Steve said. He just wanted to get off the street now. Standing still let the friendly burn in his muscles and the sharpness of the wind catch up with him and remind him he hadn't slept well.

Tony took him to some little hole in the wall diner with peeling paint and greasy floors that looked like it was going to give them food poisoning, but the food turned out to be amazing. The waitress kept smiling at him when she came over to refill his coffee. Tony encouraged him to get her phone number.

"You were on ice for how long? Don't tell me you don't want back in the game, Captain."

"I don't think we're using the same dictionary to define that word," Steve said tersely. He put the last crust of toast into his mouth to hopefully curtail any further discussion.

"I keep using that word, you don't think it means what I think that it means?"

Steve stared at him. "What?"

"You should to start coming to movie night. I should start hosting movie night." Tony pulled out his cell phone and tapped a few buttons, nodding to himself. "Yeah. Good, great."

Steve continued to stare.

"No, think about how much fun that would be. I bet Thor's never really sat down and watched a movie, I bet he'd love Lord of the Rings or something. And James Bond. Everyone loves James Bond. Sorry, off topic, okay. So, Rogers. I have a proposition for you."

That made Steve pretty uneasy. He found he was having trouble reading Stark, especially after the invasion. Stark was definitely more of a wild card that he'd originally thought, smashing Steve's original view on him pretty effectively. He hadn't gotten around to forming a second opinion yet. "Yeah?"

"Strictly business, don't think I mean something else by the word. I know we use different dictionaries. But since it looks like we're actually going to be doing this Avengers Initiative thing, I thought we should, you know, act a little more like a team." Stark smiled at the waitress when she approached, and motioned for her to pour more coffee. "And the cheque, honey, thanks."

Steve nodded. "I think you're right. What are you proposing?"




Tony drove Steve back to his place after and the drive was quiet, but pleasant. Steve could see himself being friends with him. Eventually. The offer to move into Stark Tower was definitely something to think about in the meantime.

"Drop me a line once in a while," Tony said. "Or I'll have to make it a habit to pull myself out of bed at some disgusting hour of the morning and accidentally bump into you while you're running." Steve could almost hear the air quotes dropping in around the word 'accidentally'.

"I'll make sure to change my route then." Steve paused with his hand on the open car door. "Thanks for breakfast," he added, shutting the door before Tony could say anything else.

Upstairs in safe confines of the shower, Steve thought carefully about Tony's offer. It wouldn't hurt him to get out from under SHIELD's feet and their ever-watchful eyes. Not that Steve had anything to hide. But having the freedom to have things to hide if he wanted to... now that seemed appealing. Tony also had some good points about acting like a team and the camaraderie of close living.

At the very least, Stark was rumoured to have a nice art collection or something, so there would be something on the walls to actually look at. The bare walls of his room at SHIELD weren't very homey, though he was definitely reminded of any of the army barracks he called home at one time or another.

Steve spent longer than he should have in the shower, but it was one of the few things about the 21st century that he loved completely. The water in the shower got hot. Actually hot, not just tepid. And the soap didn't dry out his skin as much, and there wasn't fifteen people hammering down the door to get in. Showers were as close to absolute peace as he ever thought he'd get. So it was only human of him to abuse the privilege mercilessly.

When he finally got out of the shower and got dressed again, he noticed the little light at the top of his phone was blinking. Maybe it was a missed call from Fury about another Armageddon or a super villain on the loose. He hated that he got a little thrill seeing it and immediately wishing for trouble, but it would keep him occupied and feeling useful.

It was a text message from Natasha.

Glad to hear it. Any time, Steve.

He felt a little jolt at Natasha using his first name, and it took him a second to realize he was smiling. Steve slipped the copy Atlas Shrugged into his jacket with his phone and headed for the library to exchange it for something new to read. Maybe it was going to be a good day.




The key, it seemed, was to stay so busy that he didn't have time to realize he was unhappy. He found a volunteer position he liked at the animal shelter and went most afternoons after his run and between one of his thrice-daily pilgrimages to the coffee shop.

It was nice to spend his time with the animals, who wanted nothing from him except his undivided attention and whatever crunchy treats he might be hiding in his pockets. After his work was done, he was free to sit on the floor in the room full of loose cats and let them crawl all over him. As sappy as it sounded, and Steve would probably never, ever admit it out loud, he found it really difficult to be angry and sullen or confused about his place in the world when there was a fourteen pound tabby trying to stick itself in his pocket to get at some tuna treats.

There were also the girls. Steve blushed crimson the first few times a girl flirted with him. Something about a guy who liked cats was apparently very attractive, he thought, because it happened more and more. And not just the giggling teenagers who got their high school community service hours there. Women his age, and oftentimes older would flirt without shame. Steve thought he was getting pretty good at ignoring them (politely), but he secretly got a thrill out of it.

Weeks passed. No heinous super villains tried to destroy any cities or countries, leaving Steve plenty of time to read his way through three shelves worth of classic latter-half-of-the-twentieth-century literature. He went through two and half sketch books, just wandering around in a haze of New York City architecture. He befriended a particularly large tom cat that reminded him of Thor who had taken to following him everywhere when he was at the shelter. He didn't draw any more oceans or boats, and only doodled cats in margins and on napkins. It wasn't hard living by any stretch, but his temper was getting shorter and shorter as the days went by.

It was a Thursday when Steve woke up in a terrible mood. He got dressed and laced up his running shoes, and when he sat up and looked around, something in his mind snapped.

He tossed what little he owned in his bag, stripped the sheets off the bed, and jammed them down the laundry chute at the end of the hall on his way down the stairs. It was raining, but not pouring, so he didn't bother to rush on his way to Stark Tower. Steve didn't get colds any more, one of his favourite side effects of the serum.

"I want to live with you," he blurted out when Tony answered his phone.

Tony laughed. "Why Captain, I had no idea you felt that way. At least buy me a bottle of wine first."

"I'm not kidding here. I just... Don't want to stay at SHIELD anymore."

"I can imagine. Fury probably doesn't even let you have the top bunk, does he? He seems like he'd hog the top..." Tony sounded distracted, and Steve heard a metallic sounding clang in the background that he definitely was not going to ask about.

"Can you come down and let me in? The rain's starting to pick up and I have some library books I'd rather not ruin." Steve heard the door click and the door swung open when he pulled it. "Thank you."

"You know, I could get you an e-reader. All the books you want, and in a waterproof case. Less to carry around."

"I'm hanging up now." The lobby Steve was standing in was nice, if sparse. Very open, lots of marble and with a fountain he could hear but not see. He couldn't see any doors or stairs, just a rounded wall opposite the door he'd just come through. A sign hung in the middle of it.

'Welcome to Stark Tower, please state your name and business for assistance.'

Steve looked around again. There wasn't anyone there, and he didn't really see any sort of speaker he was supposed to state his name into. "Uh. Tony? Can you hear me?"

"Mister Stark is on his way down, Captain Rogers. Welcome to Stark Tower," said a crisp, British voice.

The voice came from all around him despite Steve not seeing any loud speakers. "Thanks very much..."

After a few moments, a piece of the marble wall next to the sign slide aside and Tony stepped out of an elevator. "Welcome home, Rogers."

Steve thought talking to the disembodied voice from the ceiling was less awkward than talking to Tony sometimes. "Yeah. Thanks. Where should I put my stuff?"

"I assume that's everything you own right there?" Tony nodded to the bag in Steve's hands.

"Yeah, this is it." Steve hefted the strap of the duffel bag a little higher on his shoulder.

Tony gave him a blank look, one of those 'something is definitely going on in Tony's head but Steve had no idea what and frankly, probably didn't want to know' looks.

"Let me take you upstairs then. JARVIS is the deus ex machina around here, just let him know if there's anything you need and he'll make it happen, or at least he'll sarcastically advise you on how to make it happen for yourself."

Steve assumed he looked confused, because Tony went on to explain that JARVIS was the gentle voice that had greeted him when he came in.

"He's my AI, I designed him. Pretty advanced, actually, same program that helps run the Iron Man suit."

"Only 'helps run,' sir?"

Steve hid his smirk behind his hand.

"Here's you," Tony said, ignoring JARVIS. "Whole floor is yours, decorate however you want, I'll get you keys for the doors and the elevator. You probably won't need them, since JARVIS is pretty good with recognizing faces, but you never know."

Steve looked around. The floor that was his now was bigger than any apartment he'd seen in New York City before. It was all very open concept, so he could see practically the whole space and just... Wow.

"So, about rent --"

"Forget rent. If we're going to be a team, we need to act like a team, right? And a team headquarters is basically required." Tony waved him off and Steve really didn't know what to say to that. Logically, it made sense, but for Tony just to present him with this and walk away? Steve felt more than a little uncomfortable taking it. He thought back to the cramped room at the SHIELD building, the draught from the window, and the constant barrage of people with no actual connection that seemed the standard in New York City now. He thought about Tony living alone in this tower, and though the view was infinitely better than the one Steve had just left, maybe the truth was that Tony was just as lonely. Just because he was terrible at showing it didn't mean he didn't feel it. Maybe having Steve around would be good for both of them.

Tony beamed at him, rocking back on his heels. " Pretty nice, right? Anyway, I'm gone for the next week or so, business in Denmark. Call if you want to, or don't, and Bruce is two floors down if you need him."

"Bruce is here already?"

"Yep. He sleeps a lot, like a big cat, but he's great if you need someone to bounce ideas off over Thai food at four a.m. See you when I get back, stay out of trouble." Tony left in as much of a whirlwind as he'd arrived in, just like Tony always did.

Steve found his bedroom, finally. The apartment was a lot bigger than he was expecting and of course the bed was bigger than any bed Steve had seen outside photos of fancy hotels. He glanced around, but there was no one there, so he didn't feel bad about throwing himself onto the bed.

"Oh. Oh." Steve kicked at the blankets and sighed deeply when he finally flipped himself over and stared at the ceiling. It was a damn nice bed. He thought about never getting up again. He could do that, if he wanted. It's not like he had anything else to get up for.

And that was exactly the kind of poison thinking that he was making a conscious effort to avoid these days. Steve levered himself off the bed and unpacked his bag. The closet for his clothes was bigger than some of the apartments he'd been looking at before he moved into the SHIELD safe house and his spartan wardrobe looked a little ridiculous inside it. That was the closet's fault though, not his. Steve changed into a shirt that wasn't wet with rain and explored the apartment.

It was nice -- nicer than Steve was expecting. But more because he didn't know what he was expecting than because he had underestimated Tony Stark.

Steve spent the rest of the afternoon setting his things up the way he wanted, then rearranging, then doing it again. Not that he had a lot. A wide, solid looking desk next to a tall plant Steve was going to have to look up in an encyclopedia took care of his sketchbook and box of pencils, plus his current selection of library books. And then that was that.

The view was incredible and he probably lost an hour just looking out all the different windows, trying to decide what he wanted to draw first. The light wasn't good enough for drawing, still overcast and rainy. The computer provided him with the keycards that Tony promised and Steve thanked it awkwardly. He wasn't entirely sure how he was supposed to talk to a computer program, but JARVIS was very polite, so Steve responded in kind.

He walked to library to drop off the book he'd just finished, John Irving's A Prayer For Owen Meany. He didn't particularly like that one, either, but it made him want to read up more on America's involvement in Vietnam in the sixties and seventies, so he had the reference librarian direct him to that section.

Steve spent way longer reading old microfiche articles than he should have. Reading about a sort-of war he slept through made him uncomfortable, but then they started to pile up. More wars and conflicts than he could really conceive of, all while he was out of commission. He felt guilty, like he should have been out there and helping. Looking at the numbers of casualties made him queasy. Steve shut down the machine abruptly and backed away. One of the librarians looked up at him curiously when he beat his hasty retreat from the study rooms.

"Did you find everything you needed?"

"I'm finished in there. Thank you."

It was dark out when he left the library. As dark as New York ever got, anyway. There was a stiff breeze and a light rain that gave the whole night a darker feel. It took him a few moments to realize how hot his face was, and how his heart was pounding, but the cold night was already calming him down. Steve started to walk.




He wandered aimlessly around the city, just thankful that he could. It was nice to just empty his mind, to be free of any and all thoughts, despite the wind and rain picking up a little. His phone startled him when it started vibrating in his pocket. Steve stopped to answer it. "Hello?"

"It's Natasha. What are you doing tonight?"

Steve wasn't sure what she was getting at or why she was asking. "Nothing. What's going on? Crisis?"

He heard Natasha laugh softly and there was someone else's voice faint in the background. "No crisis, we just thought you might want in out of the rain."

Steve swung around quickly, glancing at the nearby buildings. "Can you see me?"

"Yes. You look wet. Come on in, Captain."

A door opened just behind him. Steve turned around again and came face to face with Maria Hill, holding her bright green coat closed across her chest against the wind. "Hi."

"Hi." Steve ended the call and put the cell phone into his bag before it could get wet.

He followed Maria up to a third floor apartment in silence. She knocked a complicated sounding knock on a door marked with two brass threes and a brighter ring in the dingy colour of the wood where a zero used to hang between them. There was a rattle of a few different locks and then the door swung inwards and Natasha was on the other side, smiling at them.

Steve could feel his cheeks growing hot, but hoped he could blame the redness on the wind and not the long, lean lines of Natasha's bare legs all the way up to her little flannel shorts peeking out under an oversized tee shirt. His mouth went dry and Maria had to nudge him into the apartment. He forced his eyes to a place beyond Natasha's shoulder, looking into the apartment.

"Nice place," he said after a few moments.

"It's not, actually. And it's not like I'm here much. But I guess it's somewhere to hang my hat," Natasha said. She put a chain across the door and flipped two different deadbolts before peeling his wet jacket off his shoulders and hanging it on the doorknob. "Apparently Stark's offering everyone space at his new place."

"I never got an invite," Maria said, shedding her coat.

Steve got the impression that he'd broken up some sort of slumber party, because Maria was in her pajamas too. Long flannel pants, shabby and comfortable looking, and a tank top that was just a little too tight. He didn't have to worry about staring at her chest though, because her tank top had the New York Yankees logo splashed across it. He frowned to himself.

"You wouldn't want to live with Stark anyway."

"I would take his head off," Maria said, nodding. She followed Natasha across the apartment and they both sort of collapsed onto the couch. Steve tried not to look at the way they casually touched, the way Natasha swung her bare legs up into Maria's lap, or the way Natasha's hair brushed Maria's shoulder when she threw her head back and laughed.

"It's not so bad. I have my own floor."

Maria and Natasha traded looks. "Really? Moved in already?" Maria asked.

"Didn't have much to move," Steve said with a shrug.

Natasha and Maria were taking up all the room on the couch and there wasn't another chair for him to sit on. The apartment was small and pretty featureless. Besides the couch, there was a small television propped up on a rickety looking shelf and an area rug that at one time had been blue but now was mostly grey. That was the entirety of furnishings in the living room. It reminded Steve a lot of his place with SHIELD, actually. It seemed like somewhere Natasha went when she was in town just to have somewhere to go.

Steve could see the street he'd been standing on through the window behind the couch. Really not a spectacular view, just like his place with SHIELD. This might be another SHIELD safe house, now that he thought about it.

Having run out of things to look at, he realized he was going to have to find something else to do ASAP or else he'd start looking as foolish as he felt. He sat on the floor with his back against the couch and toed off his boots.

"So... what do you two have going on tonight?" Steve asked.

"Movie night. Hanging out and doing nothing night." Natasha pointed the remote control at the television and the picture unfroze.

"Sounds good." Steve relaxed against the couch as best he could. After the first few moments, he found himself actually relaxing. He hadn't counted on it, but maybe being around these people who didn't have a care about anything gave him license to not give a damn himself.

He was trying to figure out the plot to whatever they were watching was when a blanket was dropped around his shoulders.

"Oh? Thanks..."

Natasha murmured something that could have been 'you're welcome' and they finished the rest of the movie in silence.

Steve had no idea what he'd just watched, but he thought he might be unreasonably invested in the fate of the nondescript heroine and her equally nondescript on again, off again boyfriend. Finally, there was a big romantic kiss and a swell of music as the credits started to roll, and Steve could breathe easy again.

He turned around to ask if they had another movie or if they were hungry, but the words stopped up in his throat when he saw he was about eight inches from Natasha and Maria kissing.

Steve swallowed hard and tried to compel himself to look away. There were things he allowed himself to think about, to picture, when he was alone in the shower or in the middle of the night. But they were the kinds of things he stayed far away from in the light of day, or even the rainy gloom of late evening. And those kinds of things never involved his friends.

His friends.

That was actually enough to jar him into looking away. It had been a very long time, strictly speaking, since he thought of someone as a friend instead of just a colleague or an acquaintance or a regular old pain in his ass. Friend. Friends, plural, even. Wow. Okay, so that was something he was going to have to give very careful consideration to once he had a chance to --

"Nat," Maria said, all warm and breathy sounding. Steve wouldn't have heard it if the apartment hadn't been so quiet. Or maybe, if he hadn't been listening. He grabbed up his boots as quietly as he could, deciding to put them on in the hallway because he just wanted to leave them to their privacy. He was uncomfortable on a deep level. Not because he was repulsed, or embarrassed, but because he felt a huge wave of want and he didn't know what to do with it.

"Steve, wait." Natasha was on her feet, smoothing out her baggy tee shirt and looking flushed. "Sorry. That was out of line. We shouldn't have been doing that with you in the room."

"Hey," he said, trying to keep it light. "Nothing to apologize for, it's your apartment and your night off."

"Still. That was..."

"Trashy," Maria supplied.

Steve laughed, and then was a little shocked that he had. This whole day seemed to be one surprise after another. "It's fine, really. I should get going, anyway. It's getting late."

"Yeah." Natasha didn't say anything after that. Steve had never seen her at a loss like that before. It was a little disconcerting.

She gave him a quick hug that he wasn't expecting. Maria waved to him as he left and even managed a little apologetic looking smile. He waved back and left, his mind a blur.

Steve walked home, not caring about the rain. He was planning on a hot shower in what he knew was going to be a truly lavish bathroom in his new apartment. As he walked, he tried to sort out what had happened, especially what had just happened in his brain. He wasn't discounting that maybe being frozen in ice for so long has scrambled it beyond repair.

Or maybe I don't hate it here as much as I thought I did.




Stark did not disappoint with the fancy shower. Steve stood under the water, letting the spray ease the coldness out of him. Eventually, he relaxed physically enough that he could start sorting out his thoughts.

Number one, he was attracted to Natasha. And Maria, but maybe on a more superficial level.

So... it took a lot less sorting out than he thought it would.

He'd been attracted to people in the past (don't go there right now, don't do that to yourself, he thought desperately). He had been attracted to people in the past, but the thought of those people with other people in an intimate way had made him jealous. Seeing Natasha and Maria didn't make him jealous. It sure made him something, though.

And what sort of a reaction was that? Lecherous, mostly. These people were his co-workers, thinking those thoughts was something that was cause for concern. Although, worse things happen at sea.

And in the middle of wars. And they had, he remembered them vividly. He'd found his way to similar situations in middle of wartime once or twice, could he really discount the idea now?

Steve sighed and shut off the water. He hoped a good night of sleep would help him choose a course of action. He towelled off his hair and wipe a hand through the steam to frown at himself in the mirror. "You're a mess, Rogers."

Walking across the expansive apartment to his new bedroom was an experience in itself. The carpet was probably thicker than the mattress he slept on growing up, for one thing. And two, the light that came in through the floor to ceiling windows from the city that never slept gave the place a glowing, surreal kind of feel. Steve was home, he knew it finally, and he suddenly felt better than he could have imagined. Except...

There was someone in his bedroom. He was aware of the other person as he neared the door. It was open at exactly the same angle he'd left it at and nothing seemed to be disturbed, not a carpet fibre out of place in the hall, but he knew there was someone in there. And here he was, naked as a jaybird. He wrapped the towel tightly around his hips and threw the door open, banking on the element of surprise.

Natasha didn't even blink. She looked him up and down and crossed her arms across her chest expectantly.

"Hi," he said after an awkward moment of silence.

"Hi. I came by to apologize again for what happened. JARVIS let me in."

"Really, Natasha, it's fine."

She nodded at him, and he smiled nervously back. He was very acutely aware of how close to naked he was. It wasn't a comforting thought. Natasha looked at him with a completely neutral expression, as far as Steve could tell. He wasn't sure what she was waiting for or if he was supposed to say something or what.

Just when he was sure he was about to go crazy from the silence, she smiled. It was just a flicker, a twist of her lips, but it was enough to broadcast her intention far and wide. Steve swallowed, hard, when she took a step towards him.

"Natasha..."

"You should tell me to leave," she said.

He froze. He couldn't think of a single thing to say, even though she'd just provided the words. He didn't want her to leave. He wanted the opposite of that.

"What about Maria?"

"What about her?" She took another step forward and Steve sucked in a nervous breath. He could smell her shampoo now, she was so close. She smelled like oranges and he knew he wouldn't be able to get it out of his head, probably ever again.

"Tell me to go," she said again. Steve opened his mouth to say something, anything, and instead he reached for her. He closed his hand around her wrist and could feel her pulse. It was strangely intimate, he thought, but no more than the way she stepped right into his space. He could feel her breath now too, hot against his bare chest.

"Tell me --"

Steve leaned down and kissed her, sliding his mouth against hers before she could get another word out. For once, he thought he'd actually caught her off guard, because she made a noise, a little whimper of surprise before her free hand came up to grip his shoulder.

Her mouth was hot against his and he tasted something minty when he ran his tongue along her lips. Her fingers dug in his shoulder, a harsh counterpoint to the softness of her hair brushing against his skin. She moved against him, twisting her wrist from his grasp and pushing that hand through his hair and down to the back of his neck, pulling him closer.

The kiss was making him feel dizzy with want and a host of other things, but there was part of him still wondering how far she was going to let this go. Steve raised his hand to her side, cupping her breast through her sweatshirt and lingering a moment before sliding down to her hip.

She laughed, nipping at his bottom lip and Steve thought his chances were pretty good.

It felt like a long time before they pulled apart. Steve could feel his cheeks burning, but Natasha just looked pleased. "You... planned this. The kiss, the... this."

She didn't respond, which from her was as good as a signed confession.

"Damn," he muttered. "Look, I... I don't want to get in the way of whatever it is you have with Maria."

"You're not," Natasha said. She said it quickly, like she wanted to cut him off before he got the wrong idea and backed off, which gave him a little thrill. "That's just fun. This would be the same."

"Just fun?"

"If you want." She made it sound offhand, like it didn't matter to her one way or the other, but she was still standing right against him, one hand resting on his arm. Her lips were parted and kissed bright and so inviting.

"I'm not sure what I want," he said finally. It was both terrifying and a relief to finally admit it out loud.

Natasha nodded. "I don't know many people who are." She kissed him, a soft brush of her lips, and turned to leave. The smell of oranges started to fade as she walked away.

"I can figure it out tomorrow." Steve reached out for a second, fingers closing around air before he dropped his hand to his side again, feeling stupid and needy.

But Natasha turned around, smile playing at her lips. "Yeah?"

"I've had a lot of time on my hands recently."

Natasha slid back into his arms, taking one of his hands and planting it firmly on her ass. "Is that better?"

"Better than time? Yeah, it... yeah." He kissed her again, loving the slide of their mouths together and the way she shifted her weight back and forth to get closer to him.

Natasha's fingers dug into his waist and Steve started to wonder what would happen if he lost the towel. As much as he want to leave his hand on her bottom, he thought it might be more beneficial to get her out of the heavy sweatshirt she was wearing.

"So you're sure," he asked, once he pushed her back a step to have room to take the sweater off her. "You're sure Maria won't mind?"

"You can ask her yourself." Natasha flung her sweatshirt on the floor and gave him a sly smile. "She's downstairs."

Steve stopped with his hands inching up under Natasha's tee shirt, feeling warm, soft skin and the smooth line of a scar running over her hip. He found he couldn't look right at her. "Are you joking?"

"No. It was her idea to come over here. Steve? Look at me." She reached out to touch his face, tilting his chin towards her.

He met her eyes after a second. "Sorry, I... Wasn't expecting that."

"We can go," Natasha said carefully.

Steve wondered if it was an all or nothing deal, but he wasn't about to ask in case Natasha left. "No, nothing like that."

Natasha pulled her oversized tee shirt off and dropped it at Steve's feet. "It's just fun," she reminded him. She pulled her cell phone out of the tangle that was her sweater on the floor and clicked the buttons faster than Steve thought could really be accurate. Anyway, he was still staring at her bra -- red with black polka dots -- and his mouth went dry.

"JARVIS, you want to let her in?"

"Certainly, Agent Romanov."

"Fun," Steve said, more to remind himself that he was supposed to be relaxing and letting this happen instead of getting awkward and nervous. Natasha straightened up and smiled at him, reaching for his towel. She curled her fingers around it, like she was about to pull it away. Steve didn't stop her, but he stood a little taller and must have looked worried or something because she stopped and gave him a look.

"Would you rather talk about how you've been feeling since you came back? Maybe how you've been sleeping or what you've been doing when you disappear for days at a time?"

Steve had seen her be casually manipulative and he'd seen her be so subtle that he didn't realize what she was doing until after it was long past, but now she was learning her audience and going straight for the throat.

"No, this is good."

"Hello?" Maria's voice called from a way off, probably right off the elevator and as confused by the overlarge apartment as he had been.

"I'll get her," Natasha said, pointing Steve at the bed. "You relax."

That seemed easier said than done, even once he sat down and concentrated on breathing. Steve didn't have an abundance of experience in this department, especially not when they had a bed and privacy and nothing but time. This is not the trickiest challenge you've ever faced, he thought. Berating himself for the anxiety wasn't taking the edge off it, but it was keeping him just distracted enough that he didn't try to hide in the closet.

Natasha came back into the room dragging Maria. They were a tangle of limbs and quick kisses and clothing being rapidly shed. Maria's green coat slid off her shoulders and hit the floor in the doorway, then her tank top, and she wasn't wearing a bra. Steve liked that immensely. Natasha did too, apparently, because she smirked against Maria's mouth and touched the bare skin like she owned it. They moved towards Steve on the bed and he couldn't do much but look on in open-mouthed arousal.

"I told you so," Maria said after a moment. Her legs bumped against the bed a few inches from where Steve was sitting. He watched with his heart pounding in his ears.

"I never said I doubted it." Natasha pushed her back until she toppled onto the bed almost on top of Steve's knees.

Maria was close enough that Steve could reach out and be on top of her if he wanted to. Which he did, but not quite yet. Stretching out on the bed beside her and propped up on his elbow, he slid his other hand across her stomach and was pleased to see her eyes drift closed.

"Hi," Maria said.

"Hi." His voice was all raspy, like it was caught in a tangle of lust. Steve thought he sounded stupid, but Maria's eyes flew open and she smiled when she looked at him. "What did you tell her?"

"Hmm?" Maria arched up against his hand like a pleased cat. It was a movement that served both to give Natasha the access to yank her flannel pants down, and to make Steve choke on his tongue a little at the full sight of Maria nearly nude, reclining on his bed.

"You said 'I told you so.' What did you tell her?" He had to concentrate on the words he was saying instead of staring at the little red flowers dotting the thin cotton of Maria's underwear, or counting the freckles on her thighs.

"That you were watching us kiss. That you liked watching us kiss. Natasha's not to only one who gets paid to be observant."

"And I said I agreed. That's most of the reason we're here." Natasha unbuttoned her jeans and kicked them off, settling on the bed on the other side of Maria, leaning on one elbow, mirroring Steve. The swell of her breast pressed against Maria's shoulder and made some inviting looking cleavage.

"Yeah. I liked that. You're right." Steve dragged his hand up Maria's torso, reaching for Natasha. "Most of the reason?"

"I thought this was a good alternative to therapy," Natasha said, watching Steve's hand closely as she dipping her head down to press her lips to Maria's neck.

"This is therapy," Maria corrected, tilting towards Steve to give Natasha more room. "And I just really wanted to sit on your face."

Natasha laughed, the sound muffled in Maria's skin. Steve didn't know what to say, but he did know he was probably blushing. He leaned back and watched Natasha attach herself to Maria's neck, one hand working over Maria's bare breast.

He liked seeing them together, just like they thought. He watched the tension drain away from Maria as she purred under their attention. Natasha was still primed like a weapon about to go off, but Steve thought maybe with a little concentrated effort between him and Maria, she might relax a little. He could dream, anyway.

Steve was vaguely aware of the sound of air moving, like the furnace had just kicked on somewhere in the building. It took a moment for him to realize it was cool air though, and not heat. For all the wind and rain outside, the temperature in the bedroom had gotten warm enough to trigger the fans. He didn't doubt it for second.

Natasha pulled away from Maria's neck leaving a bright red circle where her mouth had been, laying her head over Maria's breast and watching him. Maria's eyes opened after a few seconds.

"What?" he asked after a moment of them both looking at him in silence.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Natasha asked. She's been eager and raring to go before, but now she looked serious. Maria didn't sit up, still looking boneless, relaxed, and pale against the dark blue of the bedspread, but she wore a similar expression to Natasha.

"I... Yeah," he said. "It's fun, right?"

Natasha nodded. "And we can stop, if you want."

Steve shook his head. "I don't think I'll want that."

Maria laughed. "Smart. There's ground rules though."

Steve had heard that before. Rules about eye contact and kissing on the mouth and not bringing it up the next day and taking secrets to his grave.

"Number one: stop means stop," Mara said.

Natasha ran a finger idly up the inside of Maria's thigh, stroking up over the crotch of her underwear. "Rule number two: strictly fun, no hurt feelings."

They could all agree to that, Steve thought. He nodded, only marginally distracted by the goose bumps rising on Maria's skin (in response to the cooler air circulating around the room or Natasha's attention, or maybe a combination, it didn't matter, Steve wanted to press his mouth against that skin anyway).

"Rule number three:, I'm not really -- oh, stop teasing, you." Maria pulled Natasha's hand away and tugged her in for a sloppy kiss, biting at her lip.

"But I like teasing you," Natasha said once she'd regained control of her own mouth.

Maria brushed the hair off Natasha's face with a sly smile. "Then I'm going to let him tease you back."

They were both looking at him again and Steve felt a lot more exposed than before. He didn't think he'd be very good at teasing, not the way they seemed to be doing it, anyway. He tried to same something witty but nothing came to mind.

"Rule three," Maria said again. "I'm not looking to have anyone's cock near me."

Steve was pretty sure he was the only one in the room with one of those and he wasn't sure if he was supposed to take that personally or not. "Oh. Okay, so what does that mean... in practice, here?"

"Fingers good, tongues good, dicks no thanks." Maria said. "It's nothing against you, Rogers, I bet your dick is great, extra big, lovely personality and whatever else, but I don't have the great track record with 'em and I'd prefer not to go down that path again."

Steve nodded slowly. "Okay. Okay, I can deal with that."

Maria leaned up on her elbows and kissed him on the cheek. It was the first time she'd touched him under her own volition and even though it was chaste and quick, he thought it was a fitting first kiss.

"I think that's it for rules?" Maria asked. Natasha nodded. "Unless you have something you want to add?"

"I need a minute," Steve admitted. "Can I just... jump in when I'm ready?"

Maria settled back on the mattress and reached for Natasha, apparently fine with his suggestion. Natasha gave him a look, just a twist of her lips and a little glint in her eye.

Steve moved back on the bed to watch them when they came together for another kiss. He felt a thrill, a heat, and a stirring under his towel. It was a little dirty, he thought, watching them as if they were putting on a private peep show just him. Except they sort of were, he realized a second later, when Maria smoothed the hair off Natasha's face again and tucked it behind her ear to reveal her face better.

Natasha's fingers were running over the elastic at Maria's waist. Steve felt hypnotized with the way Maria pushed against Natasha's hand and hissing little noises between kisses. He wanted desperately to know what would happen when Natasha got her hands under there. The noises he imagined Maria making were enough to prompt one of his own, a little sigh of expectation.

It was louder than he thought and Maria's hand untangled from Natasha's hair so she could reach out and touch him. She didn't open her eyes or stop kissing Nat, so she sort of ended up half hitting, half patting his forearm, but the warm touch was enough to make him want more. She felt his arm for a second before her hand curled around him and squeezed gently, drawing him into the moment with them.

Steve was torn between wanting to watch and wanting to feel. Both seemed to offer him an array of pros and cons and it was suddenly the hardest decision he'd ever been faced with. Natasha made up his mind for him, thank goodness, when she slid away from Maria and off the bed, shimmying out of her little shorts. A shock of red hair covered her privates, standing out against her pale skin. Steve knew he was staring, but he couldn't really take his eyes away. He'd never seen a vagina up close before. All his experience had been under fumbling under blankets and trying to keep quiet, never able to take his time and get familiar. That was definitely what he was going to do this time, though. Now he wanted all the time in the world getting to know every part of the two women in his bed.

Natasha wasted no time in diving right back into the action. She straddled one of Maria's thighs easily, grinding down on her leg while they kissed. Steve had to push himself further back, up against the headboard so he could watch the whole scene and so he wouldn't be more tempted to get his hands up under his towel. Not that he really needed the help now. He could feel himself getting hard, his mind racing with possibilities, getting caught up in the moment.

Maria's breath caught in her throat and her mouth fell open when Natasha started rubbing her through her panties and he felt his own breath hitch. Her fingers dug into Natasha's hips and he scratched his own nails across the back of his neck to distract himself from wanting to touch. Steve knew he was just as eager as they were, with his dick hard and almost begging under the towel for some attention. The friction from the fabric was probably nothing compared to the slick slide of Natasha's cherry pie against Maria's skin, but it was more than he could handle at the moment. He had to give up the pretense of modesty and throw the towel on the floor.

Natasha rubbed herself against Maria's leg with her knee pressed between Maria's thighs as she did. There was a moan, but their mouths were pressed together and Steve didn't know who made it. He twisted his hands in the bed clothes, resisting the urge to touch himself.

"Want you," Maria said. Her fingers fidgeted with Natasha's bra straps, trying to pull them down her shoulders while Natasha wiggled away. It seemed to be a little game, both of them sort of laughing and pawing at each other. Natasha was still rubbing up against Maria's thigh; when she moved Steve could see some wetness there.

"What do you think?" Natasha asked. Steve looked up from what was going on below their waists to see her watching him.

He blinked at her. His mind was sluggish; he was having trouble focusing. "What do I think? I don't know..."

"What should we do next?" Natasha asked. "Any bright ideas?"

"I'm the only one naked," he pointed out. That would buy him enough time to think of how to phrase the next part.

Natasha got off the bed, giving Maria the room she needed to wriggle out of her underwear. She kicked and Natasha caught them out of the air. "These are wet," she said, turning the fabric over in her hands.

"You're a horrible flirt," Maria said. "Now can you come over here and let me touch you?"

Natasha took a step back when Maria sat up and reached for her. "I told Steve to pick."

"That's good," he said quickly. "What Maria said, I think... Yeah, good."

Maria chuckled. "Not hard to please. I like that."

Natasha obliged them both and returned to the bed. She flopped down on her back, her head resting against Steve's knee. "Hi," she said, looking at him upside down.

"Hi." The view he was getting now was better than any window in the apartment could offer. From her face and her sly little half smile, he could look down the full length of her body. Breasts, hips, that mess of damp red hair, and onto lean, muscled legs, everything that he wanted to run his hands over. And Maria was there, kneeling between Natasha's knees, waiting for something or maybe just taking in the same sight he was.

She didn't wait long before nudging Natasha's legs open. They spread with no resistance. Maria kissed her way up the inside of one of Natasha's legs and down the other. Natasha squirmed appreciatively.

Maria glanced up at Steve, mouth hovering over Natasha's mound. He nodded fervently, wanting so much to see what was going to happen.

She buried her face between Natasha's thighs and they both moaned. Natasha rolled her hips up against Maria's mouth and worked one hand into Maria's hair. Her eyes fluttered and closed as Steve watched with a focus he hadn't been able to expend on anything since the middle of the war. As Maria did... whatever she was doing to make Natasha's fingers curl in the blanket and her mouth or open and close on mute, Steve looked on, biting his lips to keep from groaning until it was too much for him to bear.

"Jumping in now," he said, his voice a low rumble. He wasn't sure what exactly he was going to do, but he knew if he didn't do something he was going to lose it. From his place above Natasha's head, he could reach down easily and palm her breasts, rolling a nipple between his fingers. She watched him through half-opened eyes like a lazy cat, moving into his touch and then towards Maria in a slow back and forth rhythm.

"Is that... What should I do?" Steve wasn't sure what reactions he was getting from Natasha and what was a result of Maria's mouth moving against her.

"It's good," she said, after a moment of biting her lip. "Keep doing that. But. More."

That was something Steve didn't mind doing at all. He decided to reposition himself, despite Natasha's little whine of protest when he stopped touching her. Maria's mouth was pressed against Natasha's folds, tongue actively working against her red clit. There were little flashes of tongue now and then, and teeth gently closing over lips and suddenly Steve wanted to do the same. He wanted to press his mouth to skin, to taste and feel and maybe feel like part of a moment instead of the perpetual onlooker.

"Can I...?"

Maria pulled away from Natasha with a wet noise and a raised eyebrow. "Do you one better. Lie flat."

Natasha squirmed and complained, but moved when Maria pushed Steve down into her place. It took a few moments to get settled with Maria poking and prodding at them both until she determined they were in the right positions. Steve was flat on his back, halfway down the bed, with Natasha up by his head. She leaned over and kissed him, her hair falling like a curtain around their faces.

He could feel her smiling against his mouth. As good as the kiss was, Steve wanted to see that smile. He pushed her back a few inches with his fingertips on her bare shoulders. Rare and beautiful, he decided after a moment. He'd seen Natasha smile before, definitely, but this was different. It wasn't a smile with agenda or sarcasm behind it (as far as he could tell); she was just smiling because she was happy.

"What?" she asked.

"You're beautiful."

The smile vanished. Natasha nodded and said, "Thank you," so softly against his cheek that Steve felt the words more than heard them. Such dissonance between her actions and her words, like she'd heard it so many times before but hadn't believed it until he said it... He thought again about his theory that Natasha would understand his feelings that he didn't even really get, the anger and pain and loneliness. He ran his hand over her shoulder again, but couldn't bring himself to smile at her.

"You two are so cute, I might just die."

Natasha looked up, dragging her hair over his skin and making him start. Maria was kneeling by his hips, watching them with a little smirk that turned wicked when she knew she had their attention. And she revelled in it, leaning back on her hands to open her body up to their eyes.

It was a clear invitation, so Steve didn't feel guilty for drinking the sight in. She was lean and lithe where Natasha was more compact and powerful. He wasn't so sure why he was fascinated by their differences, but now that he was looking, he couldn't stop pointing them out to himself. Maria's skin had more colour to it, rosy and freckled, where Natasha seemed as white as snow next to her. Natasha had a network of thin, faded scars, memories of all her former lives, and she seemed totally unselfconscious about them. Maria only carried a few scars, hazard of their kind of job, Steve figured. There was one across her right side that she touched every few seconds. It was raised and shiny, but it looked fully healed. A scar from a surgery maybe, Steve thought. She seemed hyperaware of it and that he was looking, and she gave him a hard look when he caught her eye.

"You're beautiful too, you know," he said. It was absolutely true, but she sighed like she thought he was an idiot. Maria threw one leg over him, straddling him easily and putting both palms flat against his chest.

He opened his mouth to ask what she wanted him to do, but Maria cut him off. "How do you feel right now?"

Steve thought about his answer carefully. This was therapy, she had said earlier. If it was something ordered by the SHIELD psychologist, Steve needed to remember to send that woman a thank you card, but he thought Maria had meant it in a way that was a little more abstract. She probably didn't want a deep, dark pouring out of his soul, she was asking how he felt physically, having her and Natasha surrounding him, being pinned to the bed under her naked body with Natasha still running her fingers through his hair and over his neck.

"Good," he said.

"That's all?"

"And... excited. "

Maria glanced behind her and chuckled. "Okay, I believe you."

Steve's dick was resting heavy against his stomach, waiting for some attention. Natasha's breath was heating up the side of his face, lips playing at his jaw and the occasional nip of teeth at his ear, and Maria's crotch was right in the centre of his chest, hot and wet when she moved against him. He felt a drop of precome leak out of his dick and slide down his skin, cooling rapidly in the air conditioned room.

Maria started to move, inching up his body towards his face. She planned to make good on her promise to sit on his face, he realized. "Oh," he said in a huffed breath. "Maria, I..."

"What's wrong?" She leaned back, getting her feet under her, making to move off of him. Steve reached up and took her by the hip, not wanting her to get the wrong idea and move before he sorted out the words he wanted to say.

She bit off a startled yelp and clamped one hand down around his wrist like a vise. There were a few moments when the only sound in the room was three people breathing carefully and the far away hum of air being pushed through the vents.

Steve's finger tips were pressed gently into the scar across Maria's side. He was actually sort of impressed to notice that with her holding his wrist, he couldn't pull away or move at all without having to start wrestling with her. She was a lot stronger than he thought. When he looked up, she was staring at him, her face a mix of anger and surprise. But she wasn't moving, wasn't shoving him away or yelling, or anything else, and she didn't break eye contact.

"Am I hurting you?" he asked after a few seconds. He was aware Natasha was moving, but he didn't want to take his eyes away from Maria to find out more.

Maria shook her head slightly, still watching him like a cornered animal waiting for its fight or flight to kick in and tell it which. Then Natasha was there, kissing Maria's fingers before she carefully pried open her grip on his wrist. She kissed Steve's hand then, pulling it away from Maria's side and the scar and traced the line with the tip of her tongue. Maria's eyes snapped closed and her nails dug into Steve's shoulders.

"I love it," Natasha said, purring low and quiet against Maria's skin. "It's nice, it's part of everything I like about it."

"Oh god," Maria said. Her voice came out in a rough whisper. Steve snuck his hand up between them and rested it against her cheek. She turned her head, pressing against his palm and breathing hard. Natasha was still working over the scar with her mouth and gentle fingers and soon Maria was rubbing herself against his chest.

"Come here," Steve said after a few moments, tugging her up. "I want..."

"Want what?" Natasha prompted. She pulled away from Maria's side and looked at them with bright, expectant eyes.

Steve knew he was probably blushing, but he took a breath and said the words. "I want to taste her."

Maria laughed, any lingering awkwardness from the unexpected touch vanishing when he managed the words. "We can do that." It was a little awkward, her crawling up him and getting her knees into position on either side of his head, but then she was inches from him. Steve took a deep breath, both to steady his nerves and to catch the scent of her.

"You want to eat her pussy now?" Natasha asked. She was hovering right next to his ear, apparently very invested in this.

"Please."

"Say it."

"I want to taste her..."

"Really, you can't say pussy? What would you rather call it? Her cunt? Snatch? I don't know what they said when you were a kid."

Steve thought if he could just get his mouth where he wanted it, it would end the conversation and he would be able to stop thinking of rude names for Maria's most intimate place, but her knees were on his shoulders, legs resting across his chest, and he couldn't move much at all without throwing her to the floor. "Um. Cunt," he said after a moment. That was most popular in impolite company when he was growing up.

"Oh, Nat, yeah, make him say that."

Steve laughed, actually laughed, when he heard the tremor in Maria's voice. "You want me to talk dirty, don't you? You know I'm not actually opposed to the idea if the situation calls for it, I just don't usually use words like that in idle conversation."

"It's true," Natasha said. "I've heard him swear."

Maria seemed to consider this for a few moments before she nodded to herself. "Noted. You ready?"

He didn't even need to think about it. "Absolutely."

Maria took her time fidgeting and lowering herself over his face. Steve wanted so badly to taste her, and she obviously knew it because she was teasing him. He could feel the heat of her and every time he inhaled, the earthy smell of her cunt hit him again like the first time. He felt dizzy with anticipation, fingers tangling in the blankets and dick demanding attention. Finally, she was close enough to touch.

Steve licked at her labia, using his tongue to part them. She shivered above him, hands carding through his hair. Every time his tongue flicked over her clit, she moved against him, getting closer and closer, until she really was sitting on his face.

It was surreal, he thought, but in the best way. He licked at her in earnest, tracing his tongue in whorls and shapes, tasting her juice and savouring the heat of her. Steve lost track of time and everything else that wasn't Maria rubbing herself against his mouth and slowly soaking him until her fingers tightened almost painfully in his hair and she was shivering through a wet orgasm.

Maria rocked her cunt against his mouth a few more times, pulling away only when he started in on her clit again.

"So?" Natasha asked after a few moments of easy quiet. Steve glanced up. She was still resting above him, spread out over his pillows with her head resting on her folded arms. The curve of her rear looked perfect like that, with the soft, warm light making her pale skin glow.

"Amazing," he said, and the same time Maria said "good."

Natasha laughed and slithered forward to kiss Steve's messy face. "A 'good' from Maria is basically a Nobel prize."

"A Nobel prize in pussy licking. Good work, Rogers."

"Thanks." He stretched out, rolling his shoulders and working out the kinks from having them pinned down so long. When he raised his arms above his head, Natasha took his hand.

"Hi," she said, twining her fingers through his and tugging gently at him.

"Hey."

"How are you feeling?"

Steve thought about his answer before he gave it. Despite the cool air circulating in the room, he felt warm. It was a deep, penetrating warm, a warmth in his muscles and bones that made him want to melt down into the bed and sleep comfortably. He didn't want to get away, nor did he particularly want them to leave. He was having fun, and it wasn't just because he was a red-blooded male in bed with two unreasonably attractive women. "I'm good," he said. "Yeah. I'm doing good."

"I know something else that could be good..."

"Yeah?" Steve's interest was divided between what she was saying and the way she was playing with his hand. Her skin was warm, a little rough over a few calluses, but then he had a few too. He felt more connected this way, somehow, even considering that he'd already had her tongue in his mouth and all the rest.

"Yes. I think you'll like it, but if you don't, I'll stop." Natasha was moving, but still hanging onto his hand. She tugged him up until he was sitting, smiling all the while. He wasn't sure what the plan was, but he wanted to find out.

It seemed to be Maria's turn to lounge across the bed, watching them through half-closed eyes. Little wisps of hair were coming loose from the tight bun Steve had always seen it in.

Natasha had gotten off the bed and was rummaging around in the pile of discarded clothes. Steve and Maria both looked on in with interest at her bent form until she stood up presenting a red rubber cock.

Maria sucked in a little breath before she laughed.

"Um. What's that for?" Steve asked. He felt apprehensive, but his dick gave a little twitch like it was interested.

"For fucking you." Natasha said it simply. "It's my favourite dildo, I thought maybe it could be your favourite too."

"You want to..." Steve let the sentence trail off, not quite prepared to say the words out loud. "Do you have some lubricant?"

"What, you're good with that plan?" Maria leaned up on her elbows, looking between Steve and Natasha's dildo with interest.

"If we have something slick, yeah. I mean. It could be fun."

"Look at Captain America, up for anything," Maria said, nodding. She had a little smirk, appreciative or maybe impressed. "I guess you were right, Nat."

Steve frowned. "Do I want to know?"

"Probably not," Natasha said, still smiling. She tossed the dildo to him and he caught it instinctively.

Steve turned it over in his hands. It wasn't quite as big as his own package, but it was something he was definitely going to feel. His dick twitched again and he wrapped his hand around it and stroked it a few times to take the edge off. It was the first real attention he'd paid to it since his shower and a few strokes went a long way.

"Here. Lube," Natasha said, handing him a plastic bottle. "You want to get it ready?"

"Sure." Steve didn't have any experience with this kind of equipment, but he understood to gist of it. Handling it like it was his own, he spread a thin layer of the lubricant over it with his fingers. It was a thicker kind of lube than he was used to, almost like a jelly instead of oil like he was expecting. The women looked on, Natasha kneeling behind Maria and working one hand over her breast while he worked.

"Okay?" he asked.

Natasha shrugged. "It's not going up my ass."

He blushed and dropped his eyes to examine it again, adding more lubricant after a moment's thought. "Maybe a little more."

Maria raised one eyebrow and Natasha ducked her face behind Maria's shoulder to hide a laugh.

"Well..." he said, feeling defensive. "Better too much than not enough, right?"

"Exactly," Natasha said, composing herself before she launched herself past Maria and pushed him down onto the bed. She kissed at his neck, his shoulders, his jaw, all in rapid fire, covering his skin with her mouth while her hands travelled lower and lower. She teased his legs apart, palming his balls and brushing her fingers ever so subtly across his hole.

"Oh," he said in a shaky breath as she scraped her teeth over one of his nipples. He tried to stay still and let her work, since she obviously had a course of action, but his dick was aching for a firm hand and it was a struggle to not jerk his hips.

"Stop teasing the boy, Nat, he's about to explode." Steve forced his eyes open to see Maria stretched out next to him, moving one finger in little circles over her clit.

"Am," he panted. "Please?"

Natasha chuckled and took the slicked up dildo from his hand, prying his fingers off where he'd been clutching it so tight.

"Ready? I'll go slow."

Steve nodded, not trusting his ability to speak without begging at that point. He was certain he would end up begging before the end, but he wouldn't start prematurely.

"Up on your knees, it's better that way."

He scrambled to his knees, making Maria laugh at him again. Steve couldn't rebuke her or even frown, because it was infectious. He laughed too, leaning down on his elbows to hide his face in his hands. His laughter turned to a loud moan when two thin, slippery fingers push into him. It was a little too much and a little too fast, but he pushed back against them almost instantly, liking the burn.

"Good?" Natasha asked, moving to his side and running her free hand over his shoulder blade.

"It's just..." he stopped, taking a few deep breaths to steady himself before trying again. He didn't look up, face still buried in his hands. "Amazing. Yeah."

"Want me to distract you while she gets set up?" Maria pulled his face up, tugging lightly at his hair until she could get her fingers under his chin. Steve could smell her cunt on her hand; he opened his mouth to taste it off her skin.

"I meant a kiss," she said, smiling at him again. "But since you're so eager..." She ran two fingers over his bottom lip before pulling away. Steve licked at his lips and gave a shameful little whine.

Natasha very carefully added a third finger to push at his walls, making him squirm. He took another deep breath, pushing himself back onto her hand, when Maria crept back in front of him. She dropped her head back on the pillows and opened her legs a few inches from his face.

Steve lapped at her cunt eagerly, bracing himself on one elbow so he had fingers free to touch her. He alternated between sucking lightly at her clit and swirling his tongue around it, flicking his eyes up every few seconds to make sure she was enjoying herself. Maria's eyes were shut tight, arms splayed against the bed, giving herself more leverage to push herself up towards his mouth. She was breathing hard, almost as hard as he was.

Natasha withdrew her fingers and Steve tensed up a little expectantly.

"Shh, relax, it's okay," Natasha said in a hush, pressing a quick kiss to his hip as she moved behind him. "Just enjoy that pretty pussy, you're in good hands."

Steve pushed a finger inside Maria's cunt the moment before Natasha twisted the head of the dildo against his hole and let the head slip in, making him and Maria both gasp and arch at the same time.

She recovered more quickly though, raising her head to watch Natasha behind him. He dropped his head to her thigh and breathed through the initial intrusion until his body adjust and Natasha started to fuck him.

"How does it feel?" Maria asked. He pressed a second finger into her, sliding easily with help from the mix of his spit and her juices, earning himself a gasp and a hand tugging at his hair again.

"Good. So... so good." He was quiet when he finally answered, focusing on his breathing, Natasha and her dildo were forcing all the air from his lungs with their steady rhythm. He savoured the half-dizzy feeling that was either from lack of oxygen or because his dick was so hard he couldn't see straight. Precome was dripping, almost streaming, now, making a mess of the sheets and his thighs.

Steve lost track of time completely, aware only of Natasha's dildo stretching him wide and pushing him forward, deeper into Maria's cunt with fingers and tongue. He was dimly able to recall his initial resistance to the idea, could remember leaving Natasha's apartment in a hurry, so shocked to feel something other than his usual emptiness, but it was a fleeting memory.

Maria came again and moved around after a few moments to kiss his face and wipe the sweat from his brow. "She's going to make you come, you know," she whispered, nuzzling at his cheek. He groaned.

"Make him come, Nat, stop torturing him. Don't worry, Steve, I'm on your side."

Natasha laughed somewhere behind him, twisting the dildo again and making him start. "Is that what you want, Steve?"

He nodded fervently, stretching to get to Maria's mouth again, unable to stop. She smiled and stretched out again, letting him kiss and kissing him back until he was dizzy and she was laughing and carding fingers through his hair.

"Fine," Natasha said. "If that's what you both want."

She changed up the angle she was fucking him at, just a slight shift, hitting some spot inside him that made him bite his lip and come hard. His orgasm tore a sound from him, as strangled and messy as the come on the blanket beneath him.

Natasha withdrew the dildo slowly, placing her hand over the small of his back as she did, whispering things he couldn't quite hear. Maria kissed his face and let him collapse against her chest when Natasha finally let him go.

She cuddled up to his back, all gentle fingers smoothing over sweaty skin and the whisper of kisses against his neck. They lay like that, one tangled heap of tired bodies until Maria started to stir and pulled out from under him carefully. "Bathroom?" she asked.

Steve tried to give directions, but he couldn't quite remember the layout of the apartment. "Ask JARVIS," he muttered, rolling over and pulling Natasha into his arms. If that instruction was lost on Maria, she figured it out without his help because the next thing he was aware of was a damp, cool cloth being pulled over his skin, washing away the drying come and sweat. Soon, Maria was back in bed with them, worming her way into the middle.

Someone pulled the sheet up around their waists and the lights started to dim on their own. Steve figured it was JARVIS and he should probably have been more curious as to how aware the tower-controlling, all-knowing, all-seeing computer was, but he was too tired. He'd figure out if he had surveillance tapes to destroy in the morning.

"Good," Steve said, once they were all comfortable and there was no more tossing or turning.

"Good? What's good?" Maria asked, murmuring the words into his shoulder.

"Just good," Steve said. He was starting to come back to himself, hearing the hum of the far off fans and smelling Maria's shampoo when she nuzzled against him. It was flowery, mixing pleasantly with the scent of oranges.

It was good, he thought. And not just smell that he hoped would never wash out of his sheets. It had been good sex, and with good people. He felt good, that sort of boneless, melting feeling of a well-earned exhaustion, and for once it wasn't peppered with the fear of nightmares and waking up screaming. That was good too.

"You gonna be here when I wake up?" he asked, concentrating on each word, fading fast.

"Yeah. I think so," Natasha said, somewhere close by. "You can make us breakfast."

"Good."

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