Steve/Tony, R. I'm deeply grateful to beta Doro for this one - thank you.

Everything seems perfectly normal, until someone starts howling outside his bedroom window.

Neko!fic: Mating Season
Jay Tryfanstone
December 2014

 

Everything seems perfectly normal, until someone starts howling outside his bedroom window.

Steve's in his pajamas (blue and white stripes) and the sound of Ella Fitzgerald's smoky voice is crooning from the radio. He's listening to a station called Wartime Memories, he'd found it on the dial about a month or two after he woke up, and Tony can snicker all he wants, Steve isn't ashamed of liking the familiar, bitter-sweet voices singing about lovers reunited and Paris in springtime. Anyway, Steve's tucked up in bed with the radio and a book, the lights dimmed and the moon shining in through the blinds, when sudden as an air-raid siren he hears an unearthly yowl screaming through the night. Whatever it is sounds desolate, angry and lonely and bereft, and Steve snatches his bookmark off the bedside table and snaps his book closed and scrambles out of bed. When he rattles the frame up and stares down at the sidewalk, there's a man underneath his window wearing a three-piece suit and a tail, howling at the moon.

By the time he's dragged his robe on and run downstairs, there's no one there.

"Yeah?" says Natasha, half a day later and a mile away, giving him a puzzled sideways look as if this is normal. As if she wants him to think this is normal. "It's Neko season," she adds. Her eyes are narrowed at the corners, and when she smiles the tips of her canines are white and pointed.

Steve asks, resigned, "What's-"

"Everything okay over here?" asks Tony, and for a powerful man who loves the sound of his own voice he's both fast and silent when he wants to be, which is an advantage in an Avenger but not when Tony's the last person to whom Steve wants to admit ignorance. Again. "Cap?"

"We're fine," says Steve. "Fine." He glares. Tony's had more than enough digs at him today already, and he's not even sly about them. "Pass it over, Capsicle, we haven't got five minutes while you figure out what buttons to press," was just annoying, but, "Whaddaya mean, stick to the plan?" grunted while diving head first into a fifty-foot jellyfish with EMP pulsations was downright infuriating. Also, heroic, although maybe not so much with the slime. There were power hoses involved.

"Right," Tony says. "We're all fine. Everything's fine. It's not like I actually care."

"Cap was asking about Neko season," says Natasha helpfully, which means she has at least three hidden agendas and is quite possibly playing devil's advocate too.

Tony stares at Steve with his head on one side and his eyelids dropping, which is just unfair because it makes Steve think of other things that would put that look on Tony's face, all the things he doesn't yet know how to do (although he has plans) and Tony's done over and over again with people who aren't Steve.

"Was he?" says Tony, the <i>was</i> drawled and sibilant. "Intrigued, Cap? Furry sex get you going? Or is it - no, I bet it's all that focus, all that dedication, yeah? Someone who wants you that badly they just can't stop themselves, right?" His voice is lower, almost husky, and he's looking up under his eyelashes, which should be downright flirting but it's Tony. The glint in his eyes is an explicit sexual challenge, and his hand is flat-palmed an inch from Steve's chest.

Steve snaps, "Try me." It's the exact same rush of adrenaline he gets in combat. He can feel the hairs on the back of his neck bristle. One to one, man on man, he could take Tony in a heartbeat, throw him down and see how loud Tony howls with Steve's teeth in his throat. It's a measure of how riled Steve is that the thought doesn't strike him as odd. "I'm good for it, Stark," he says instead, shoulders braced, weight balanced on the balls of his feet, and if it wasn't for the cup in his uniform pants the whole world would know just how up for it he is. Ignorance, brute force and passion, it's an unholy combination, but it's worked for him before and it'll work this time, too.

The wordless hiss Tony slams back at him is fierce and guttural. "I might just take you up on that," he says, and his eyelashes flick down and then up in blatant assessment.

"Don't tempt me," Steve says. The words are quiet. He's staring down into Tony's eyes, close enough to feel the heat of Tony's skin and taste the smell of his skin, musky and sweet, an aftershave Steve doesn't recognize.

"Boys," says Natasha sharply. "Heads up."

Fury's coming in the door. Steve doesn't blink. Tony does. His eyes slide sideways, and he's stepping back, and then he's walking away and he's got that extra touch of swagger in his stride, the one that's a little more bravado than justified pride.

Steve unclenches his fists. His breathing's coming fast. He doesn't get Tony at all, can't understand how they can work so well together when there's a threat involved and hit sparks off each other everywhere else. It's frustrating as hell.

He could live without the way his dick twitches every single time Tony riles him, too. That's just downright playing dirty.

"I wouldn't worry," mutters Natasha, and pats him on the shoulder, her nails pricking through the brushed cotton of Steve's shirt. "Should be the next week or so, the Starks have always been late bloomers."

Tony was attending MIT at sixteen. His on-line yearbook shows a thin-faced kid with ragged bowl-cut hair and haunted eyes Steve wants to tell it gets better and possibly offer a supportive and carefully avuncular hug, which is not at all the way Steve thinks about Tony Stark at forty-five. "What do you mean, next week?" Steve asks, bemused, and finds Natasha's already gone, padding across the conference room to her chair.

When he gets home, after he's showered and eaten the ratatouille Mrs Gomez left outside his door, he opens up his laptop and googles neko. Two seconds later he slams the lid shut, because he hadn't realized Tony's throw-away "Taking the training wheels off now, Cap," would have quite that kind of effect on his internet searches. He's not naive, he knows the internet was made for pin-up girls and Men's Health articles, he just hadn't expected to see Mating Season splayed across his search screen in technicolor pictures.

After the reboot, he adds a precautionary wikipedia carefully into the box before hitting enter, and he's concentrating so hard he nearly misses the little cat ears on the google letters.

And. So. There's this thing that happened, and now once or twice a year - usually spring - people who are ready to...mate...turn into, well, not cats, but humans with cat ears and tails and a craving for fish and cream and they go and sing at the moon. While searching for their...mates.

Sometimes Steve thinks he's never going to understand the future.

Now he knows what's going on, he can't believe he didn't notice. There are cat-shaped cookies and balloons with cat ears and bumper stickers and youngsters on the subway with improbably colored fluffy headbands. The cable channels are showing re-runs of Cat People and The Black Cat, and Wartime Memories dedicates an evening of Jazz staples to 'All those seekers out there looking for someone to love.' Even Victor von Doom gets in on the act, although Steve really could have lived without an afternoon chasing four-legged doombots with explosive tails around Central Park. And Tony's done something to the suit, because the way Iron Man moves has changed, and now he's sinuous and graceful as well as being lethal and brilliant and while Steve's game for anything he's pretty darn sure he can't compete in those stakes, he's not even in the same ball park. And then, unarmored and utterly self-possessed, Tony curls up in his chair at the debrief session, all long legs and flashing smile, picking at his tuna sandwich and licking his teeth. His tongue is pale pink and pointed, he's as fastidious as a pedigree Persian, and Steve fidgets and stumbles over his words and sneaks sideways glances only to find Tony's staring right back at him.

Mrs Gomez finds Steve slumped on the tenement steps, watching people walk by: a couple with a baby, a tall, thin man with a pork-pie hat and a small white dog in a plaid coat, and two women who sport tabby-furred ears, entwined tails and broad grins, and an abounding delight in each other.

"Don't worry, kid," Mrs Gomez says, plumping down next to him. "There's someone out there for you. My Juan, bless his soul, didn't grow even a whisker until our tenth anniversary, and he never did manage more than an inch of tail." She nudges Steve companionably. "It'll all be worth it in the end," she says, and offers him a plate of oat-and-raisin cookies in consolation.

Steve can't imagine anyone out there searching for him. Captain America, he can understand, girls always did like a man in uniform, but take him out of the cowl and he's just Steve Rogers, blundering through this brave new world in a blur of social media gaffes and pop culture solecisms. He eats another cookie, ears first, and wonders what Tony thinks about dress blues. In the armor of his uniform, shoes polished, scrubbed from ears to toes, Steve could imagine - could try and imagine -

Tony wouldn't look twice.

Persistence had won Peggy over, in the end. Loyalty. All the fumbling charm he could muster.

"Dr Lingate says the basketball team haven't stopped talking about that session on teamwork you coached," says Mrs Gomez, determinedly cheerful. "She says Paulie even lifted Sofie up last night so she could score. Bless her, the Doctor works her heart out for those kids."

"They're good kids," says Steve. He can't help smiling at the memory, and eats another cookie.

"And you tell that Iron Man he needs to take better care of you," says Mrs Gomez. "I saw you on the news." Her tone is acidly short. "Jellyfish," she says darkly.

"Tony did his best," Steve says. "It's rough when everything's happening at once." That's why they have a team leader, he thinks.

"It nearly..." Mrs Gomez's hands describe a menacing wobble over the back of Steve's head. "Too close. Don't give an old lady palpitations, Steve Rogers."

"Yes, ma'am," Steve says, remembering Tony's headlong dive, and wondering how close that toxic tentacle had really been.

Mrs Gomez goes back upstairs to finish baking, but Dave and Jamil from the bike shop stop by for a couple of minutes on their way back from work, and then Tina's rescue calico wanders past and consents to a moment's petting. Maggie and Dejeune wave on their way past to pick up Rodriguez, who can't leave the house on his own, and Arjun, driving past, salutes from his souped-up bhangra-blasting Chevy, the music toned down. It's Tuesday, which means he'll be picking up his sister's kid for baseball coaching, and his mother's in the back seat.

Finishing up the cookies, Steve waves back and thinks, maybe he's not doing too badly finding friends as himself.

That night he wakes up to the most distinctive howl he's heard in the past week, and he's heard a few. This isn't one of the long, lonely, agonized cries that have kept him tossing and turning in his bed, aching with sympathy; it's short and sharp and peremptory, and so close the sound of it shivers through his skin. The urgent tone reminds him of the way his Avengers ID card buzzes with the call to assemble, and before he even realizes what he's doing he's opening up the window and staring down to the street. Where, oh his stars and garters, he sees Tony. Tony looking as dapper at two am as he does at nine in the morning on a product launch day. Tony with pinned-back black-and-pink ears and sharp white teeth and a pointed, furry tail flicking backwards and forwards over his feet.

There are lit windows across the street, blinds opening, people peering down irritated and bleary-eyed, driven from their beds in the small hours of the dog watch. As quietly as he can, Steve hisses, "What are you doing?"

Tony tips back his head and yowls. Three more lights come on in the building opposite, and Mrs Gomez's window rattles up. There's an answering howl from the end of the street, viciously piercing, and then a discordant chorus from the next block. More lights flick on, and Mr Kowalski, who will have closed his bakery at nine and opens again at six, slams open his shutters and yells, "Some of us are trying to sleep!"

There's a bucket under Steve's sink.

As it turns out, a faceful of cold water is all it takes to shut Tony up, and there's a moment when Steve feels sneakily triumphant, staring down at Tony's wet face and his slicked down hair and his dripping clothes. Even Tony's tail looks bedraggled. But when Steve watches Tony stare at his shoes, head down, shoulders slumped, there's a moment when he wants nothing more than to drag the billionaire Tony Stark in from the street, towel him down, and make him cocoa. Which is ridiculous. It's two o'clock in the morning. Tony's a grown man, he should know better.

Steve calls Pepper instead. "Hey," he says, "It's Steve. I'm sorry to call so late."

"What is it?" asks Pepper, her voice low and sleepy, and then she says, sharper, "It's Tony, isn't it? Is he with you? Is he okay?"

"He's here," says Steve. He squares his shoulders and confesses, "He was howling. I threw a bucket of water over him."

"You did what?" says Pepper.

"And I couldn't see a town car," says Steve. "Maybe you want to send someone out to get him?"

For a moment, listening to the silence on the end of the line, he thinks Pepper's hung up. Then he thinks she's choking. Then she says, "Oh my God, Steve, you didn't," and he realizes she's laughing. "Oh, Tony," she says, exasperated and fond. "Thanks for letting me know. He did go Neko, didn't he?"

"The ears and the tail?" says Steve. "Yeah."

"And he was outside your house?" says Pepper.

"Yes," says Steve. "Singing." That's the charitable interpretation, anyway.

"Okay, I can see that," says Pepper. There's a small silence, and then she says, "Steve, you know he's not going to go away, don't you?"

"Sorry?" says Steve.

"He's - he's made his choices," Pepper says. "Trust Tony to aim for the stars." She's quiet for a moment.

"Pepper?"

"Be kind to him," Pepper says. "Good luck, Steve."

It's while he's staring at the receiver with its uncommunicative dialing tone that the yowling starts up again. Steve recognizes that peremptory pitch. It's Tony all right, glaring up at Steve's window, still wet. A little quieter. There's a whine to his voice which is almost apologetic, but the lights are going back on, the chorus line on the next block is tuning up, and Mr Kowalski's staring straight at Steve.

"Okay, okay, I'm coming!" Steve hisses down, but while he shoves the window closed and scrambles into his slippers, Tony's still calling. Alone, his voice shades into a melancholy that drags unexpectedly at Steve's heart, makes him fumble the belt of his robe into a hurried half-hitch and take the stairs four at a time.

When Steve opens the front door, Tony's on the doorstep. He stares Steve in the face, eyes wide and ears flat to his head, still damp, and the look on his face is almost expectant, as if he's waiting for something Steve doesn't know how to give. Steve raises his eyebrows, shrugging. "Tony, what? What is it?" He's trying very hard to politely ignore the way Tony looks, but the changes are so very...fluffy. Evident.

Tony's eyes narrow. He's hissing as he wriggles past Steve and through the door, scrambling up the staircase, his tail an offended punctuation to the irritated tilt of his ears.

Across the street, most of Steve's neighbors are waving cheerfully from their windows, although Mr Kowalski is shaking his fist. Weakly, Steve waves back, and shuts the front door quietly even though it's pointless, because Tony's already woken everyone up. Obviously, it would never occur to Tony Stark that the world is not always his particular playground and other people have lives to live, too, and might prefer not to be woken up in the early hours of the morning for any reason short of an alien invasion.

Carefully soundless, Steve stomps up the stairs.

On the landing, Tony's standing on the mat, his tail beating out an impatient rhythm against his ankles, as self-assured as if he lives in Steve's apartment. He looks very different now than the way he did for that pair of awkward, gift-laden stiff-shouldered visits that Steve's never quite figoured out, as if Tony was trying to be friends but didn't know where to start. This time, it's Tony who saunters through the open door first, as if it's Steve's function in life to act as his doorkeeper, and then he stops. Head on one side, he looks at the low bookcases, the couch and the gramophone player and the radio, the open doors to the kitchen and the bedroom, and then he takes possession of the couch. He sits bolt upright, hands in his lap, eyes fixed on Steve, and blinks.

"So," Steve says, back against the door.

Tony yawns, open mouthed. His ears are a little tweaked towards the ceiling. He has a tail, curled tightly around his legs. He's not talking, he's still wet, and he's dripping on Steve's couch. He should look pathetic, but he doesn't, he looks sleek and regal and angry, as if it's Steve who's out of place.

Steve sighs, and says, "Tony, I'll call SHIELD, we'll get this sorted out, I promise."

All slitted eyes and naked wordless contempt, Tony snarls back at him.

"What?" Steve asks.

Tony lashes out at him with one hand, hard, fingernails - claws - extended, and stares him in the face. Tony's pupils are slitted, and his eyebrows curl at the edges at a decidedly piratical angle. His ears are back against his head again, and Steve doesn't know what he's said wrong but it's something. He mumbles, "Sorry," and Tony growls.

"I don't know what you mean," Steve says. Thanks to wikipedia, he knows perfectly well that the first days of a Neko shift are mute, but Tony's the most resourceful person Steve's ever met. There's a couple of notebooks on the table, a pen; Steve's laptop is tucked on top of the bookcase.

Rubbing one hand over his face, Tony sniffs. He looks more at home in Steve's apartment than Steve does, offended and territorial, and although Steve should be irritated he's actually just a little amused. It's the ears. Even wet, they're sleek and softly fluffy, almost cute, which is not something Steve ever thought he'd think about Tony Stark. They don't get on. At all. But Tony's in trouble, and he's part of Steve's team, and he's come to Steve for help, which means something.

It's not going to mean anything at all if he can't help. Steve pulls himself together and stares resolutely at Tony's face, not his other attributes. "I know this is natural. But who should I call for you?" Steve asks. "Pepper? Colonel Rhodes? Jarvis?"

When Tony snarls again, his teeth are very sharp indeed.

"Okay," Steve says cautiously, because wikipedia did suggest heightened aggression and Tony does have the most advanced weapon in the world at his fingertips. Steve sets his jaw and braces his shoulders, because he's Captain America and he can deal. Tony's clearly not moving, and although Steve's not really prepared for guests, the evening's crockery has been washed and put away and there's fresh milk in the refrigerator, full-fat. He might need it.

Steve starts with a towel. Several towels, because Steve hadn't skimped on filling the bucket, and Tony's soaking. It doesn't go well. Clearly, cat Tony is mortally offended by the concept that he might not be, in any way, intrinsically perfect. Steve ends up with badly scratched wrists and a half-dressed, damp Tony Stark spitting at him from the top of the couch, which is not good for Steve's blood pressure nor his temper. "See if I care," Steve hisses, tossing the towels into the laundry basket along with Tony's shirt, fatally ripped. He throws the spare blanket onto the couch. "You know where the door is," he says, because he's not buying the dumb animal act, if Tony thinks google doesn't work the same way in Brooklyn as it does in Manhattan he's got another think coming, and there's a glint in Tony's eyes which is far too knowing to be anything other than human. Steve stalks into his bedroom and slams the door, thumps into bed and drags the covers over his head. Then he snatches them back, and turns out the light. Tony can look after himself.

Three minutes later, Tony scratches at the bedroom door.

"No," Steve says.

He can hear the insulted huff, but the night is, finally, silent. Steve's very nearly asleep when Tony scratches again, quieter.

"No," says Steve.

Tony yowls, once, very quietly, bereft and lonely. He's emphatic on the subject, the most miserable creature in existence. The most neglected, unwanted, unloved Tony Stark on the face of the planet.

"What now?" says Steve, snatching open the door.

He should have had a plan. Darting inside, tail whipping past quicker than Steve can grab it, Tony leaps up onto Steve's bed and stakes his claim on the covers with eight clawed fingers and two taloned thumbs, sunk into cotton.

"Oh, for the love of Mike," says Steve. He takes a firm grip of his eiderdown, flips it sideways, and drops Tony onto his bedroom floor in a cushioning mass of plain cotton and feathers. "Don't," he says, as Tony blinks up at him so very innocently. "Just...don't."

He doesn't sleep well, and that's very little to do with the fact that Tony doesn't even stay on the end of the bed and is vocally territorial about Steve's pillows. It's more to do with the irritating truth that Tony's in Steve's bed, and Tony with ears and a tail is still Tony Stark, more exasperating than any other guy Steve's ever met, glitteringly attractive, a mesmerizing genius, and the one person Steve would have asked dancing if he thought he had a hope in hell.

Also, Tony is not in his right mind. After the first failed attempt to reclaim his territory, Steve keeps his hands to himself, because that fur is alarmingly tactile and he's already wondering what it would take to make Tony purr.

When the sun comes up, he gets to work.

The SHIELD operations manual, comprehensive as every subsection is - it fills six box files on Steve's bookshelves and he's both saddened by and grateful for Phil Coulson's economy of phrase - does not cover partial furriness. It's an unexpected omission, because the manual has covered issues as diverse as the many uses of superglue for costume repair, tax returns, and safe sex with aliens. Not that Steve's ever needed to know. He was just curious. Tony, however...Tony wrote the section. Exasperated all over again, Steve slams the manual shut.

Wikipedia, thankfully, has a link to a site called The Care and Feeding of your New Neko. Steve makes himself coffee and sits down to read it, one ear cocked for the faint snuffling from the bedroom which is Tony, asleep. He manages feline traits without a qualm, skim-reads nutrition (milk, fish) and has reached social behavior (mostly as usual, just with ears, what is Tony playing at?) when the bedroom door opens.

Tony's stark naked.

For a man who is surprising hairless on his top half, he's surprisingly hairy below. There's a trail of dark fur that arrows down his belly, and the thatch of his pubic hair is richly luxuriant and ruthlessly trimmed. This Steve knows because Tony, shameless, is scratching his balls, and the motion of his hands draws Steve's eyes as unerringly as the glint of a rifle.

"Tony!" Steve says, his voice uncomfortably high.

Grinning, Tony gives his junk a final, casual pat and pads forward. He's half-hard, cock plumped up and rolling between his thighs, thick and soft-skinned and heavy, which is not something Steve ever wanted to know about someone for whom he's already nursing an alarmingly explicit crush. "Clothes," Steve says firmly, keeping his eyes above waist height with an effort. "Clothes, Tony, please." He's not even sure if casual nudity is an effect of the Neko season or if Tony's just naturally immodest. Maybe both, Steve sighs. Probably, both.

But Tony just blinks, innocently bland, and sits down at Steve's feet, looking up with big brown eyes. He knocks his cheek off Steve's knee, kneads at his feet, and curls his tail around Steve's bare ankles. His fur is powder-puff soft, tickling.

"What?" Steve says, disarmed, putting down the laptop.

There's nothing innocent about Tony, and Steve should have thought this one through. The moment the laptop's gone, Tony's in Steve's lap, heavy and wriggling, his hands clinging to Steve's shoulders, his head tucked down into Steve's neck. His pricked-up ears are brushing Steve's face, and his tail is a triumphant banner. Tony's definitely hard and definitely advertising.

Worse, he's purring, a deep rumble that vibrates through his chest into Steve's skin. He sounds happy. He sounds like he wants to be here, his back arching smoothly against Steve's helplessly straying fingers, his thighs pressed against Steve's, his teeth nipping at Steve's ear and the heated, musky scent of his skin a dizzying enticement. Steve has to shake his head against the drugging pleasure, and it's only then that he realizes he seems to have both hands on Tony's ass, and there's nothing forgivable about the way the span of his fingers is pulling Tony's weight closer.

Maybe the manual lists this under sex pollen. Tony's scent is intoxicating. Steve feels drugged, languorous, sensitive -

There's a regulation for this, there has to be.

"Tony, we can't!" Steve says, and has never been more grateful for his superstrength than he is in this moment, lifting Tony up and dropping him neatly back on the floor. From where Tony stares at him, sniffs, and then rolls to his feet and ambles to the kitchen as if he's never had an amorous thought in his life.

Getting him back to the Tower can't happen soon enough.

Although Tony coming back with a glass held awkwardly between hands that are a little less flexible than they used to be - it wears off, this transformation, Steve checked three times over, because, Tony's hands - and a milk moustache is rather more endearing than Steve would have hoped.

At least it's not whisky. Steve sighs, opens up the laptop, and starts his research again. He's on clothing is not an optional extra, but Steve has to read with one hand on the keyboard and the other pushing Tony gently backwards, because Tony himself might have personal space issues but Neko Tony has none. Milk finished, he's on all fours on the couch cushions, tail in the air, and his hands are kneading Steve's thigh and his head keeps butting up under Steve's hand. And, God help him, Steve doesn't want to take his fingers out of that soft dark hair, wants so badly to run his fingers over the powder-puff softness of those mobile ears, daren't even look at the elegant, strained arch of Tony's back. He goes weak at the knees when Tony's in the suit: he's finding the sheer erotic charge of the rasp of Tony's tongue on his fingers and the unconscious wriggle of his backside almost scandalous.

And the moon's a balloon. That wriggle's no more unconscious than the flash-bulb sparkle of the armor. Tony knows exactly what he's doing.

Crossing and recrossing his legs and hoping Tony doesn't notice, Steve reads in snatches of information. 'Your Neko is as uncertain and new to this relationship as you are,' he learns, and chances a glance down to where Tony is lying on his back on the couch, both legs propped up against Mrs Gomez's crocheted antimacassar. Undulating, his hips are pressing down into the cushions, and his tail is...Steve firmly brushes the tip away from his inner thighs, and Tony snaps at his fingers with sharp white teeth. The Neko...virus? Change? none of the websites are explicit - has left Tony's hands shorter and fatter, the pad of his fingers rough and his fingernails clawed, but his grip is soft and intriguingly textured.

His teeth, gentle against Steve's skin, are very sharp indeed. "Careful," Steve says, trying to read coat care while Tony, meditatively, licks at his fingers. Tony's tongue is sandpaper rough, rasping rather than slick, but the sensation is very far from unpleasant.

When he tries pulling his hand away, Tony bites down a little harder on Steve's thumb, looking up. Shivering, Steve snatches his eyes back to the text. This isn't helpful. How much of a cat has Tony become? Is he fully aware of what he's doing?

Given all the times he wished Tony would shut up - and said so - Steve's more than aware of the irony when he looks down and says, "I wish you would talk." He gets a raised eyebrow, more fur than hair. Then Tony lets go of Steve's hand and grins, the tip of his tongue pink between his teeth. He rolls over, languidly elegant, and both of his hands are between Steve's legs, the laptop tipping to the floor. Tony's head is in Steve's lap and, burrowing through terrycloth, his tongue is lapping at Steve's dick.

"That's not what I said!" Steve yelps, scrambling free in disarray and landing flat on his backside on the floor with the laptop in one hand.

Tony scowls at him, and pointedly licks one canine, nose in the air.

"Look," says Steve, and his voice is thin and high, because he's already gone through urge to mate, squinting, and he knows cat Tony can't help it, but. "Tony, you wouldn't want this if you weren't, the ears and the tail and the. The."

Sliding down from the couch, Tony fixes him with a baleful eye and stalks towards him across the floorboards. Steve can feel his own eyes widen as Tony doesn't stop, walks right on into Steve's lap and pushes him down. For a moment, Tony stays there, back arched, knees bony and hard between Steve's, tail curled up and fluffed out. Then he rocks down in sinuous, elegant motion, and rubs his chest and his hips and his thighs and the hard push of his undeniably erect penis against Steve's body in a heated wave of sensation. Tony's ears are soft against Steve's throat, his body is warm and firm against the terry cloth of Steve's robe, and deep in his throat, Tony's whining, the faintest of noises that flushes through Steve from his head right down to his toes. He drops the laptop, yelps, and has to gulp for air. Tony pushes upright, gives Steve a look of infinite disdain which encompasses both Steve's blush and the mortifying rise of his cock under the robe, and stalks to the laptop. Tapping at the keys, his fingers are quicker and defter than Steve's ever going to manage, and although Tony's eyes are on the screen his tail is flirting with intent, tugging at the knot in Steve's belt.

"Tony, no," Steve squeaks.

The tail whips back, an offended, unhappy flag, and Tony hunches down and taps faster.

"What are you - oh," says Steve, sitting up. In a precautionary measure, he pulls the blanket from the couch and drops it over Tony's shoulders, which lets him read the text on the screen. He reads, 'Mating habits' and then Tony taps a finger on, 'Insatiable? How to keep your Neko happy and satisfied,' at which Steve flinches, knowing for a fact Jarvis monitors his browsing history and possibly SHIELD does too.

Tony's slammed straight past bonding to mating, which not a route Steve had ever envisaged his personal life taking. And never with Tony Stark. It's almost as unbelievable as waking up and finding the future has already happened. But Tony's never treated Steve as if he needs to be coddled, as if the world he woke into was any different, fundamentally, than the world he left. Steve's always appreciated that casual challenge. It's not as if people really change.

Except for one or two things. Tony's ears are down. His tail twitches at the end.

Steve says, slowly, "Tony, I don't think I'm the guy you're looking for."

The sound Tony makes is short, harsh, and utterly frustrated.

"And I'd appreciate it if you put some clothes on," Steve adds.

Slamming the laptop closed, Tony rolls onto his stomach and rakes his claws, deliberately destructive, across Steve's floorboards.

Steve calls Fury. He calls on the direct line, the one for emergencies. Fury's brusque, "Captain?" is almost reassuring, as if now he's gone up the chain of command the whole furry mess can become someone else's problem, but Steve can't seem to get his words in any acceptable report format and by the time he's stumbled through, "Two o'clock in the morning," "Ears," and "Help," Fury's silence is loaded and in the background he's sure he can hear Maria Hill snigger.

"This isn't a SHIELD issue, son," Fury says. "He's all yours."

"He can't stay here," says Steve. "It takes a week to wear off!"

"Might find it's a little longer than that," says Fury.

"What?" says Steve. He looks down. He's got his hand in Tony's hair again, Tony's snuffling into his lap, and he's got no idea how that happened at all.

"You bonded, soldier," says Fury, acerbic and clipped. "Suck it up." He pauses, and for a moment Steve thinks there's a get-out clause, a last ditch defense he hasn't considered, but Fury just says, "I do not expect bonding to affect your operational effectiveness, Captain. Or Stark's."

Steve's not having a good day.

But Tony's fur is really, really soft. For a minute or two, he lets himself run his fingers through the comfort of it, the tiny feather-soft fur at the tip of Tony's ear and the soft, sleek fluff of his hair. Tony's dozing. He won't notice if Steve's hands linger a little too indulgently.

Then Steve opens up the laptop again and clicks the link at the top of the screen, ... the one that says, 'Bonding'.

When Tony wakes up, it's because Steve's punched a hole in the wall.

Yelping, Tony scrambles at the blanket, misses, and rolls off the couch. He hits the floor feet-first with a thump, but he's still staring at Steve.

"And you," Steve says, furious. "You - you overgrown, arrogant - how could you do this? How could you? For life? For life, Tony? Who do you think you are?"

Tony shrugs. He looks down at his hands, tugs at the edge of the blanket, looks up with his eyes narrowed and his ears stiff.

Steve flexes his fingers, already healing. "We've got nothing in common. And what about the team?"

Standing up, Tony wraps the blanket around his shoulders. He's never going to have Steve's serum-enhanced bulk, but he looks taller now, dignified, and Steve's forcibly reminded that the man who lay on the couch and purred is also the man who owns and runs a multi-billion dollar company. The man who conceived and built and wields the Iron Man armors, who saved the world with a sacrifice ploy he survived by a miracle so fortuitous Steve's breath catches every time he remembers. He could be living in a world with no Tony.

But Tony's alive. Vividly, vitally alive, the repressed vigor of his stride and the stretch and flex of his shoulders under the blanket impossible to ignore. Steve doesn't even try. He watches Tony walk towards him and folds his arms, holding Tony's eyes. Close enough, Tony puts out a hand. His fingernails, clawed, slice through the cotton of Steve's shirt to his chest, sharp enough to leave five tiny, bloodied pin-pricks. Tony's not talking, but his eyes - Steve's never been this close. Tony's eyes are unreadable, as blank as if he's pulled down the faceplate, but the only way someone gets to be that shielded is if they've learned to take punch after punch and come up fighting, even if they're bleeding their guts out under the uniform. Suit.

Steve knows exactly how that feels. He opens his mouth to say something - anything - and Tony pushes him, just a little. Then Tony turns around and walks away. He shuts the bedroom door behind him, a quiet, decisive click.

Wordless, confused, Steve goes out for a run, trying to ignore the hollow weight in his stomach and the nagging feeling that he's missed something, left it behind, said the wrong thing, done the wrong thing - what does Tony expect him to do?

There's no solution in the beat of his feet on the sidewalk.

"Congratulations!" shout the Misses Bathgate, from their park bench. The poodle yaps, but that's normal.

"Delighted you finally found someone," says Ms Liao Xin, tiny and fierce in her four inch heels, on her way home from the firehouse. "Or they found you." She's grinning at him, smug and amused. Ms Liao Xin lives on the corner of Steve's street.

"He's so handsome," coos Dr Lingate, pinning up posters for the next PTA fayre. "Such a catch. And you look so good together! Don't forget, Steve, Tuesday next, we're cleaning out the school pond - bring him along!"

"Didn't expect to see you around," says Mr Kowalski, gruffly, as Steve buys a paper and a couple of bagels.

"Sorry about the noise, Sir," Steve says apologetically.

"Just don't let it happen again," says Mr Kowalski, and drops another bagel in the bag.

And there's a card outside his front door. It's pink. Predictably, it's got ears. Almost everyone in Steve's building has signed it, and Mrs Gomez has drawn a dashing, lopsided heart. Steve's still reading as he opens the door.

His living room is empty. The spare blanket is neatly folded on the couch, and the bedroom door is gaping open.

"Tony?"

Tony's gone.

Steve calls SHIELD, but Fury's not answering his phone. He calls the Tower and gets, bemusingly, Natasha, who sounds far less concerned than Steve feels - "He won't have gone far," she says, "He can't." Which is much less reassuring than she probably means to be, because what if Tony's been kidnapped? What if he's gone out for - something - and got lost? What if -? Steve calls SHIELD again. He gets Maria Hill, who tells him Tony's perfectly capable of looking after himself, which Steve knows, but Tony doesn't normally walk around New York with a pair of ears and a tail. Finally, he calls Pepper, who calls Tony, and then calls him back.

"He's fine," she says. That's all she says.

Steve blinks. "Right," he says, uncomfortable. Then he tries to apologize, which is excruciatingly embarrassing for both of them. It's not his best conversation. Then he tries to imagine Pepper calling Tony - how did he manage? Did Tony have to grunt once for yes and twice for no? Tony's an amazing orator. He's dry and witty and sharp, deadpan: he can crush a roomful of journalists with a single curt phrase or enthuse a hall of politicians, a skill of which Steve's admiringly envious. He makes Steve laugh, and if he notices he'll push the joke a little further, sly eyes and hidden grin, and then further still, until Steve has to turn away or he'll be guffawing in the middle of Meeting Room 1.12 or, worse, in combat. He's missed Tony's voice, cripplingly, these past couple of days, and if they could just talk -

Yeah, right.

He can't settle. He wanders between windows and bookcase and couch, the street door propped open and his own ajar. He peers out of the windows and takes quick walks around the block, uncomfortable and irritated. Failure irks him, and he's failed with Tony, failed as Tony's team leader - because if they trusted each other, listened to each other, they'd be so much more effective - and he's failed as Tony's friend, too. It isn't Tony's fault that he's inexplicably, twenty years later than most people, fallen head-first into Neko season with the most unsuitable guy in New York. It's not Steve's fault that Tony fixated on him. It's whatever it is that turned Tony Neko, and Steve should have been more sympathetic, more protective, it's his fault Tony's out on the streets and Steve's never going to forgive himself if something happens.

The sixth time Steve goes down to walk around the block, he finds Tony sitting on the doorstep. Tony looks bedraggled and dusty and disconsolate, and Steve swallows every fraught word and lets him go upstairs in silence, tail dragging. Following, he's aware that he's already easier in his skin, the irritation and restlessness of Tony's absence already assuaged.

He shuts the door carefully, and sighs. "What are we going to do?" he asks.

Raising an eyebrow back at him over one hunched shoulder, Tony vanishes into the kitchen. He comes back with the menu for the Vietnamese around the corner.

"Okay," Steve says, and orders braised fish.

Tony's right. Steve finishes every scrap of food and doesn't think twice about licking his fingers clean, and feels better with something in his stomach. Better still with Tony curled up over his feet, safe and sleepy. Steve lets himself think this is normal, just for a moment, the pair of them silently content, but Tony's fingers are tapping against the couch cushions and there's a frown line between his eyebrows. Tony's not volunteering to coach six-year-olds on a shabby basketball court, helping out at the day center, trying to find a place for himself - he's got a company to run, employees that depend on him, inventions he's working on, investments. A whole future world spread out in front of his fingertips.

On a fairly regular basis, both of them assemble for threats only the Avengers can counter.

There's no space for the two of them, together. This has to pass, this absurd bonding, the sooner the better.

Maybe avoidance is the wrong strategy. Maybe powering through is the answer.

Maybe they'd be better together.

Steve takes his laptop to bed.

The websites he looks at make uncomfortable reading, far more explicit than the first wikipedia link, but worryingly informative. Steve reads, <i>heat-driven libido</i>, and has to think hard about Loki in baggy flannel long johns. He gets as far as <i>should your stamina fail</i> and has to close the laptop, his hand sneaking down under the sheets and his breath coming short, because it won't, and the thought of Tony worn out and limp, happy, tired eyes and quiet hands, is more than Steve can take. He'd love to see Tony Stark like that. He'd love to have pushed and cajoled and frotted and licked and fucked Tony into surrender. Tony would be utterly sated, his body worn into a soft and perfect fit, and Steve would still be hard. He'd be pushing inside the heat of Tony's body on a slick of his own come, triumphantly tender, and Tony would be telling him to stop and commanding more in the same breath.

"Oh, Tony," Steve breathes into his pillow, eyes shut, mouth open, and surrenders. He comes helplessly humping his own hand against the mattress, and can't even summon up the energy to reach for the tissues in his top drawer.

In the morning he wakes up hard as a flagpole, with Tony purring on his chest and someone knocking at his front door. "Crap," Steve says succinctly, drags his hands away from the smooth naked curves of Tony's back, and then doesn't know where to put them. Tony snarls irritably against Steve's pecs, a noise that's more vibration than sound, and Mrs Gomez shouts cheerfully through the keyhole, "Supplies!"

And Steve's communicator is flashing.

"Tony, please," Steve begs, weighed down and tangled in sheets.

Blinking, Tony flexes his hands, his feet: his toes starfish, stretching, and his tail twitches against Steve's thighs. Scrabbling at the sheet, he lets himself fall down to curl against Steve's side, warm and sleepily compliant and, heaven help Steve's heart, still naked. When Steve reaches for the communicator, Tony snuggles down into the bed, his tail creeping upwards and his breath puffing against Steve's hipbone.

"Rogers," Steve says, as clearly as he can when his spare hand is tangled in Tony's hair while Tony's hands are - Steve squeaks, and snaps his legs closed.

"Doing okay, Captain?" Clint asks.

No, he's not. Tony's doing his level best to get his hands on Steve's balls, and succeeding too, because Steve needs one hand for the phone and another to hold Tony's head back. God knows what would happen if - well, Steve can take a flying gander at what would happen - "Yes," he mumbles. His cock twitches, filling, blindly optimistic.

"Sure?" asks Clint. He pauses. "'Tasha said Tony was going Neko."

Steve can recognize a leading question when he hears one. He says, "She was right," takes a deep breath, and barrels through to, "He's here."

Tony looks up and grins, all sleepy eyes and sharp teeth, and Steve has butterflies in his stomach and he seems to be smiling back.

Clint sniggers. "Oh," he says. "Gotcha. You hang on in there. I'll spread the word. You know you get a week's leave, right?"

"What?" Steve asks, "What leave?"

Tony is running his fingernails up Steve's thighs. It's utterly distracting, tiny sweet pin-pricks of pain against his flushed skin.

"Mandatory bonding leave," Clint says. "Congratulations, Cap. And good luck - you'll need it."

"Mandatory what?" Steve says, but the phone line has gone dead. He puts it down and thumps his head off the pillow. "Tony," he says to the ceiling. "Tony."

Five clawed fingernails dig into Steve's belly. The sheet convulses. Hair on end, eyes wide, Tony emerges, staring back at Steve. He licks his lips.

"Right," Steve says uneasily, "You want this now. Me now." The impatient stare Tony gives him back is shot with amusement. "If I say yes, what about afterwards? What about the Avengers? Tony, you're a multi-billionaire inventor and I'm just me."

Tony bites him. Right on the arch of his hip, where the skin is thin over the bone, and Tony isn't screwing around, it hurts, and there's blood on the sheets and on Tony's mouth.

"Yowch," Steve yelps, chastised.

Rolling over onto his back, Tony drags free of the sheet. He's all California tan and dark hair, muscular forearms, neat ankles and strong thighs, and standing proud out of his neatly-trimmed pubic hair, pink swollen cock. He looks Steve in the eyes, folds one hand around the shaft and begins to move his fist, closed fingers looser than Steve's would have been, plum-shaped head peeking up above his knuckles, gleaming wet. It's obscenely shameless, mesmerizing, and dry mouthed, Steve can't look away. And because he doesn't, he catches the glance Tony slides over the bed, small and far, far more uncertain than the surety of Tony's hands and the brace of his broad shoulders.

Steve cracks. He lets himself reach out, cups his hand around Tony's cheek and holds his eyes, and doesn't let Tony look away. "Okay," he says, whispers. "It's okay."

Tony's eyes are sharp and clear now, even though he's panting, his hips jerking against the mattress and his hand working busily, efficient and to the point. His shoulders are trembling, just a little, a fine tremor Steve wouldn't even feel if that single touch wasn't electric against his own skin. He's close to coming himself, untouched, cock obscenely tented under the sheet, his belly damp although Steve's usually almost dry before he comes. His fingertips are tingling, his ears pinkly hot, he's panting. "Tony," Steve breathes, and the sound of his voice is almost a growl. Shameless, he's tangling his legs with Tony's, rubbing up against him, scenting him. The curve of Tony's neck is perfectly placed: Steve bites down, careful of his strength, possessive.
Tony comes. Jerks with the force of it, hips and shoulders curling in, hand clenched, teeth in his lower lip, and he's fighting to keep his eyes open. Come splatters his chest and drips down his fingers, still tight, snatching the last out of an orgasm that has flushed his cheekbones and curled his toes.

When he reaches out to touch, Steve's hand is shaking. He smears his fingers through Tony's come anyway, buries his head in Tony's shoulder and jerks off himself, blind, smelling fur and metal and the faintest trace of whisky and fish. Hot-wired through his orgasm is Tony's low, electric purr.

Tony licks him clean. Little cat-licks, sharp and pointed and rough, intimate and thorough, and Steve runs his fingers through Tony's hair, letting his roughened finger catch on the strands. He lets himself think of fighting at Tony's side, planning with him, working with him, that brilliant strategic mind. Taking Tony out on his arm, proud as punch, coming home to Tony's abstracted mumbles and his magical inventions and his sarcasm and his smiles, curling up on the couch and watching movies, picnicking in the park and playing basketball in the yard. Tony could show him the world, and Steve would be right by his side, anchor and support. He tugs gently at Tony's ear, and Tony grumbles softly, curling closer. Steve pulls him closer yet, and considers oysters and cream for breakfast.

He's not that surprised by the twitch of his own tail.