Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

A Solid Connection Part 1

A Solid Connection
By: Memory Dragon
Disclaimer: I do not own the Avengers movie-verse, nor do I make any claim to.
Characters: Steve Rogers/Tony Stark, Natasha Romanov, Clint Barton, Bruce Banner, Thor, Pepper Potts.
Warnings: While this is not a story about depression, it is a part of one of the characters in this story. Also, some mentions of past drug use and dancing as life lessons.
Rating: PG-13
Summary:  Tony sets up team bonding night with dance lessons. If only Steve didn't have so many issues with dancing...
Thanks: Many thanks as always to narwhale_callin, who was the only person who understood the jokes on 'Victor' and Lizzie's names for the anon version.  At least someone got it and laughed over them, even if it's only my beta.  <3
Notes: This was originally written for kahn for the Cap-IM Fic Exchange.  The prompt was "Tony and Steve, dancing" and a more general request for team-as-family.  This may have gone overboard with the latter, but hey.  A few things before we start though.

One, Lizzie (Casey in the original posting), 'Victor' (Theodore in the original posting.  Yeah, I totally named him that just to call him Teddy.  XD ), and his gentleman friend all come from another set of fics of mine, It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing.  You do not have to read those fics to understand this one.  Technically, Lizzie is the only OC here (and I sadly couldn't go into her as much as I wanted to since it was an anon posting and a gift fic), with 'Victor' being the Master in disguise from Doctor Who and his gentleman friend being the Third Doctor.  If you are unfamiliar with Who though, no worries.  You don't need to know anything about them and there's no complicated back story for either of them.  I just couldn't resist bringing Lizzie and the Master back for more dancing adventures across time and space, and you can read them like you would most normal OC's.  Just realize only Lizzie is actually mine.

Two, a note on the dance. West Coast Swing is not the swing dance you are thinking of. If you thought Grease and other movies of the sort, you're thinking either East Coast Swing or Jitterbug, or a dance along those lines. West Coast Swing is a completely different dance. If you would like to see what it looks like, look up West Coast Swing on youtube. If you'd like a place to start, here's two videos of Jack and Jill competitions. Jack and Jill basically means you have no idea who your partner is or what music you'll be dancing to until your name gets called and they start the music. There's no choreography and it's all improv, which is what you'd see if you went out to a Westie club. Well, a Westie club that pro dancers are at. Anyway, have a more technical dance video ( http://youtu.be/Y3i6kyLLB2g ) and one video to show the versatility of WCS with music ( http://youtu.be/W1DUvrbrp7U?t=1m11s ).

Three, this mostly came about because while there are some good 'teach Steve to dance' fics out there, none of them quite satisfied the dancer in me.  This was probably an inevitable fic.  Kahn just gave me proper excuse to write it.

Last of all, please enjoy the fic!


Steve Rogers looked down at his book, trying - and failing- to make sense of the words. He sat in the kitchen, forcing himself to steal a few grapes that someone had left out every so often. It wasn't the book's fault. He'd chosen something familiar today to try to relax himself - Alexander Pope's "Essay on Man" - but he still couldn't focus. It was a Bad Day.

He knew enough about Bad Days to know that staying in bed all day like he wanted to was not a good idea. His team needed him, and he couldn't afford to let them down if there was a crisis. The Avengers were all he had now, and he couldn't fail them like he'd failed Bucky.

Which meant that when The Ache started, he had to use all of his considerable amount of will power just to drag himself out of bed and into the common areas of the Tower. Every step was a battleground, like walking towards an execution. He ignored the anxiety that twisted into knots in his stomach with grit teeth, sitting on the couch in the living room or in his chair in the kitchen to read. He never talked to anyone, and after a couple of tries, the others knew it was best to leave Steve alone when he clutched at the book in his hands. But they stayed in whatever room Steve haunted to give him some level of background noise, which was soothing enough to ease some of worst of the knots.

Steve found it didn't make the Bad Day go away, but he was less likely to wake up to a Bad Day the next morning. It sometimes made the Bad Day loosen its grip on him too, even if it wasn't enough to relax him completely. The words 'duty' and 'obligation' threatened to strangle him so much that he wished they had just left him in the ice, but Steve stubbornly pressed forward. Isolating himself like he had in the beginning hadn't helped. It just made him easier to manipulate, and he couldn't let that happen again.

He didn't know what would help, but he needed something. He couldn't bring himself to talk to a SHIELD therapist, so he tried different things when he could. This seemed to help the most out of his other coping methods.

The problem was, he was still missing something. There was a gap he still didn't know how to feel about, a bridge he couldn't quite build to keep himself anchored and above the water. He attempted to talk with the others sometimes, but there were so many references and phrases he didn't understand, and part of him just got overwhelmed. Even Thor was too different, too alien.

So he sat in the kitchen, listening to Natasha and Tony argue about the merits of songs Steve had never even heard of with the occasional input from Pepper, who was working through a mountain of paperwork while Steve pretended to read Alexander Pope. It wasn't perfect, but it was the best he knew how to do, and sometimes it was the only thing he could bring himself to do. It would have to work.

"It's not even danceable, Stark," Natasha said, peeling an apple.

"Excuse you, 'Highway to Hell' is perfectly danceable. Isn't it danceable, Pep?" Tony asked.

Pepper barely looked up from her paperwork, patting Tony's hand in a manner that made Steve question how much of the conversation she had actually heard. "Sure it is."

"What would you dance to it then? Swaying side to side and grinding doesn't count. It has to be a proper dance," Natasha stipulated.

"Swing," Tony said smugly.

Natasha raised her eyebrows. "Swing?"

Steve himself was a little curious. He'd seen lots of people dancing swing before, but he couldn't picture it to today's music. The curiosity was enough to ebb some of The Ache, and he looked up from "Essay on Man" to see what Tony's response would be.

"Swing," Tony repeated, standing up and pushing his chair back in with a wicked gleam in his eyes. "Music, JARVIS! Ms. Potts, may I have this dance?"

"What?" Pepper asked, looking up as Tony wiggled his fingers at her with an invitation in his open palm. Some of Tony's music started to play, and she rolled her eyes. "You want to dance to AC/DC?" she asked.

"Proving a point, Pep, proving a point! Try to keep up." He wiggled his fingers again, and an exasperated smile crossed her face. She stood, letting Tony lead her to an open space parallel to the kitchen counter. Then he pulled her close so that her arm was on the top of his shoulder and his hand was on her shoulder blade. They stood like that swaying for a few beats before Tony angled his body to the side as Pepper passed by him.

Pepper ended up much further away from Tony. They were connected only by one hand, stretching out at the end of the step. Then Tony stepped backwards as Pepper stepped forward, and he spun her in what looked like a complicated turn.

"Show off," Natasha called out.

Tony used his free hand when he and Pepper were spread out again to flick Natasha off, then held it up for Pepper to grab. "That's not swing," Steve said quietly after a few more moments of watching. The movements were all on a straight line, for one thing, instead of the circle Steve was used to seeing.

"Is too," Tony said helpfully.

"West Coast Swing," Pepper said as she spun and ended on a small kick. "It's evolved a bit since your time."

Evolved without him. The Ache came back as he watched Pepper laugh at Tony's waggling eyebrows as she slid down his arm. Tony was smiling as well, something that didn't happen as often anymore now that he and Pepper had broken up. One more thing Steve wasn't part of and didn't understand. There was a small part of him that was angry, and he admitted that he was probably jealous, even though he couldn't have pointed to what exactly the cause was. Maybe it was that he'd never gotten the chance to dance? Whatever it was, it was easy enough to ignore, considering how much The Ache dulled most emotions.

The song went on, and he had to admit both Tony and Pepper were good dancers. The movements were smooth and sensuous, yet still suited to the heavy metal music. He watched as Tony spun, catching Pepper's hand with unerring accuracy. He thought of Peggy, wondering what dancing with her would have been like.

Tomorrow was going to be another Bad Day at this rate.

Tony pulled Pepper in, holding her close as he dipped her back, winning another laugh out of her. The song started to fade, so he pulled her back up and pushed her out 'til they were side-by-side to take a bow. Pepper rolled her eyes but curtseyed when Natasha started clapping. Steve was surprised to hear more than one set of hands, and when he looked over both Bruce and Thor were standing in the doorway.

"As I said," Tony said smugly. "Totally danceable."

"Touché," Natasha replied.

"Aye, that was most skillful, Shieldbrother," Thor said, smiling widely. "I was not aware you were a master of such arts."

"Well, you know what they say. It don't mean a thing if you ain't got that swing." Tony winked as he led Pepper back to her chair and thanked her for the dance. It surprised Steve, and Pepper leaned over to Steve when she saw his face. "The dance instructor was very strict on how to treat your partner on and off the dance floor," she whispered conspiratorially.

"I didn't know you could dance either," Bruce said.

Tony shrugged it off. "My mother loved high society. She made sure I learned the basics of most dances."

"That wasn't ballroom," Natasha pointed out.

"Swing was something we started when we were..." Pepper trailed off as Tony tensed. They both looked away from each other, and Pepper clutched at the necklace she wore. "When we were dating," Pepper finished with a weak smile. "I wanted something that was healthy and fun, and dancing is good exercise. Plus, we could do it together."

Tony pulled his phone out, not looking up. Steve took that as a cue to look back at his book, staring at the words as he willed them to make sense.

"Sounds like it was a good idea," Bruce said, trying to smooth over the tension.

"I think I would like to try this dance with Jane. She has complained as of late that we do not spend enough time together," Thor said thoughtfully.

"Done," Tony said, not looking up from his phone. "Team bonding is on me for the next month or so. Free dance lessons for everyone." Steve felt the anxiety roll in his stomach at the words.

"I don't think dance lessons would be a good idea for me," Bruce said sadly. "If I get frustrated-"

"Nonsense," Tony said. "Lizzie and Victor will be in town for a month or two, and they're the best teachers you'll find. Trust me, Cookie Monster, even if you mess up, she'll smile at you and all the frustration goes away."

"Lizzie and Victor are back?" Pepper asked, a smile returning to her face. "Bruce, you'll love them. And we'll all make sure you don't get frustrated. You could even invite Betty!"

"I..." Bruce looked lost for a moment, and Tony looked up from his phone to shake his head in warning at her. Pepper looked sad again, but it seemed different from earlier. It took Steve a moment to realize he wasn't looking at his book anymore. He should look back, and maybe they'll ignore him while he's on his Bad Day.

Tony wrapped an arm around Bruce, pulling him into the kitchen. "Come on, buttercup. It'll be good, I promise. If you start feeling green behind the gills, you can leave, okay?"

"Alright," Bruce said with a sigh, accepting the donut Tony passed him.

Tony turned his sights on his next victim. "And what about you and Clint, Nat-cat? You up for some dancing?"

"Call me that again and I'll show you what I'm up for," Natasha said. "But I'll convince Clint to come. It sounds interesting."

"Great!" Tony said, clapping his hands together gleefully. "Cap?"

"What?" Steve asked, feeling way out of his league. He hadn't looked down fast enough.

"You. The team. Dancing on Wednesday nights at six. Get with the program, Captain Oblivious."

This time it was Pepper shaking her head in warning. "Tony."

"What?" Tony asked, honestly baffled. "I'm just asking if he wants to learn to dance." Bruce and Pepper shared a look, but didn't comment further.

"What troubles you, Shieldbrother? Have you never gone dancing before?" Thor asked. "I've heard the practice was quite well spread in your time."

Steve finally succeeded in looking down at his book, the words looking like the Greek alphabet to his unfocused eyes. "Before the war, what girl would have wanted to dance with a puny guy like me? Afterwards, there wasn't much point," he said quietly. He'd been waiting for the right partner, for Peggy. She'd promised to teach him, and they'd missed their chance. Now the thought of it just left him hollow.

"Then it's no longer voluntary. Everyone needs to dance at least once."

Steve's head snapped up at Tony's words. "What makes you-"

"Not an option, Cap," Tony said. His eyes were surprisingly hard with some emotion Steve couldn't place. "You can't just let this pass you by again. Think of it as an order. A requirement."

"Tony!" Pepper hissed as she stood up.

"The car leaves at five-thirty. Don't be late," Tony said as he saw no one was backing him up on this. He left the room in a huff.

There was silence as Steve felt his hands grip at the book tightly.

"What was that about?" Bruce asked.

Pepper frowned at the door Tony had exited. "I have a few guesses. He knew some West Coast Swing even before we'd met, and he learned it because..." She trailed off, looking - inexplicably - at Steve.

"Pepper?" Natasha asked, covering Pepper's hand with hers.

"It's not my place to say," Pepper said. She kept her eyes on Steve, not looking at Natasha. "I'm sorry for his behavior. He has a lot of mixed feelings about those memories. But I know it'd mean a lot for you to be there, Steve. And I think it would do you good as well."

Alexander Pope was suddenly much more fascinating. "I don't think I'd be very good at dancing," he said quietly.

"You never know until you try," Pepper said with a note of pleading in her voice. "If nothing else, talk to Tony. Hear his reasons, and then decide. If you knew..."

Steve didn't want to go dancing or talk to Tony, but he nodded, turning the page in his book to show he'd rather them go back to ignoring him.

"Steve," Pepper tried again.

"Leave him for now," Bruce murmured in a low voice that Steve supposed was pitched low enough that he wouldn't hear. It would have worked if the serum hadn't enhanced his hearing, but Steve pretended not to hear.

"Then we must tell you of the restaurant our good doctor and I found today," Thor said, changing the subject with forced good cheer. "Bruce tells me it is from a place in Midgard called Hong Kong, and this 'milk tea' they serve is superb!"

Steve let the conversation fade into the background, flipping over to the "The Rape of the Lock." Maybe an actual story would keep his interest more.

* * *

The next day was, as predicted, another Bad Day. But the one after that wasn't too bad, and Steve still didn't go to find Tony, even though he knew he should. Instead he read more, put a few hours in at SHIELD to get some paperwork done, and then a few at the gym. He came back and watched a movie from the eighties, picking from The List JARVIS had compiled for him and Thor at random.

"You're watching Goonies and you didn't call me?" Clint said with a betrayed expression as he walked into the living room.

"I... didn't know?" Steve said.

Clint took over the arm chair with a glare, pulling out his phone. Likely, he was texting everyone else to come watch. "It's Goonies. The Truffle Shuffle is culture, Cap. Culture. Thor needs to experience it too!"

When everyone but Tony settled in to watch the movie, Steve knew he needed to do something about this. Rifts in the team needed to be worked out before it became a problem in the field, and Tony could be almost as obstinate as Steve was on the best of days.

At least Goonies was a fun movie. Steve was surprised he enjoyed it as much as he did, and he hid a smile as Clint goaded Bruce into singing the song played during the credits with him. He'd talk to Tony tomorrow. Right now, things were good, and he wasn't ready to rock the boat.

* * *

The next day, Steve stood at the door to Tony's workshop, eying the keypad. He wasn't looking forward to this conversation, but he needed to get it over with. Finally, he took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. He punched in his code, privately relieved that he hadn't been blocked out when the door slid open. "Tony?" he called out as he walked in.

"Over here," Tony said off to the right. He was at the computer desk, appearing casual and relaxed, but Steve could tell the difference between when Tony was faking it now. He was definitely faking it.

It made Steve pause, but he couldn't put off this conversation much longer. He walked over to the desk, pulling over a nearby rolling chair. He sat next to Tony, taking in the schematics on the screen with a sense of wonder that he never lost at seeing Tony's work.

"What's up, Captain?" Tony said, his eyes not leaving the screen as his fingers moved over the keyboard. Then he stopped, pulling out a stylus to fix a detail by hand. His posture was practically screaming at Steve to leave him alone. Steve had to tread carefully.

"I wanted to talk to you," Steve said, bracing for Tony's defensive response that he knew would be coming.

Tony rolled his eyes. "Yup, here we go. God forbid Captain Responsibility lets something go."

Steve counted to ten, absently wondering how Bruce managed to stay calm while dealing with Tony. Even Steve still had problems keeping his temper in check around the man. "Look, about the other day-"

"I'm not apologizing for that," Tony cut in.

"I'm not asking you to," Steve said. Tony turned to watch him warily as Steve thought back to the conversation he'd prepared for this meeting. "I do want to ask why it's so important to you though."

"Pepper set you up to this," Tony said, his eyes turning even more guarded.

"She said it would be better if I heard it from you," Steve replied.

"Did she?"

"Yes, she did," Steve snapped, immediately regretting it when he saw Tony's smirk. He took a deep breath. "I'd like to know what's going on, if you don't mind."

"What if I do mind?"

"Tony, what's your problem?" Steve said, losing what little he had of his temper.

"You at the moment."

He was being deliberately cruel, because usually even Tony tried to play nicely so long as Steve made an attempt first. Steve stood up, deciding that he'd had enough. "When you want to act like an adult, come find me," he said.

"Wow. You're worse than dear old Dad," Tony said snidely. "You want to know why? Because I didn't spent half my life being second best to someone who can't move on with his life. She wanted you to dance!"

"And why should I care about whoever the hell 'she' is?" Steve snapped, fury and anger rising up against Tony's words.

Then Steve reeled back, hand going up to his mouth. It came away red. He stared at Tony in shock. Out of all the cutting responses Tony could have made, Steve wasn't expecting a punch.

Tony looked furious and wild under a tightly controlled tension. Abruptly, he turned away, back to his computer screen. His voice, when he spoke, sounded calm. "I'm not apologizing for that either."

"Stark, what are-"

"You were in the middle of leaving. The door's that way," Tony said, not even looking up.

"You're an ass," Steve grit out, very close to throwing a punch of his own.

"Tell me something I don't know," Tony shot back.

Steve left the workshop before he did something he really regretted. He wanted to like Tony, he did. Most days he could manage it. But on days like this, he was five seconds from putting his fist through the wall, and he hated that. He hated that he couldn't be friends with one of his only links to the past. He hated Howard a bit too for not raising Tony with more understanding. And damned if that didn't make him feel guilty for thinking ill of a dead man.

He took a deep breath, wondering where the conversation had gone wrong. Had it been him losing his temper, or Tony pushing this time?

A little bit of both, probably. He really shouldn't have ignored the signs and gone in. Steve rubbed his jaw as he took the elevator. The punch was more of a shock than painful, but Tony had gone too far with that. Way too far.

* * *

When he was calmer, Steve left the punching bags to finish up Robert Louis Stevenson. He put the fight out of his mind and tried not to worry about the dance lessons. The Avengers would be fine without him for this team bonding exercise, even if being left out made something churn in his stomach.

Wednesday turned out to be a good day. He and Tony had been avoiding each other since the fight, but Steve found a movie theater playing some classics, and he dragged Thor to see them. He hadn't even thought about the dance lessons until JARVIS interrupted his reading. "Will you be joining the others tonight for lessons, Captain?" the AI asked, startling Steve out of The Three Musketeers.

He glanced at the clock. "I think I've already missed the car."

"Indeed, Captain. But if you were to take a taxi, you could still make it on time. It would mean a lot to Mr. Stark to see you there."

Great. Now even an AI was trying to get him to dance. He still wasn't feeling too keen on going out of his way for 'Mr. Stark' either. "Why does this matter to him so much?" he asked, running a hand through his hair. "And who is this 'she' who supposedly wants me to dance?"

"I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to say, Captain," JARVIS replied. "However, I can say that she was very important to Mr. Stark, and your words earlier this week were rather ill-chosen."

Steve thought back to the fight, going over his words. And yeah, him saying he didn't care what 'she' thought was probably hurtful, but enough to throw a punch? "There's more to it than that, isn't there?"

"I'm not allowed to confirm or deny further information. Though you did also catch Mr. Stark at a bad time."

Which meant yes. It also meant he had spectacularly bad timing, but that was less of a surprise. He needed to find out who this 'she' was, or this rift between him and Tony was only going to get worse. He'd obviously struck a nerve with that sentence, no matter how bad a mood Tony had been in previously. That thought made him feel a little guilty. He should apologize, even if Tony wouldn't.

He looked at the clock again, then at his book. Tony's words had stung more than he was willing to admit. Was he really not moving on with his life? He was feeling an onset of The Ache, but now there was no one around in the Tower to ground him.

"Are you always on his side, JARVIS?" Steve asked, knowing the AI had won.

"Mr. Stark is so rarely on his own side that someone needs to be," JARVIS replied.

Steve wished he had someone always on his side. With a sigh, Steve changed out of his sweats and into something more appropriate for going out. "Where do I tell the taxi to go, JARVIS?" he asked.

"I have already called a driver and informed him of your destination, Captain."

If Steve didn't know any better, he'd have said the AI sounded smug.

* * *

Steve walked up the stairs rather than taking the elevator. It was only five flights, and if he were honest, he was putting things off a little while longer. But inevitably, he made it to the door. He looked into the brightly lit room that had mirrors covering one wall.

"Is this everyone? I thought there were supposed to be nine of you?" a woman asked. She was very beautiful, just the sort of person Tony would associate with. She had long blond ringlets and a sparkling red tank top that flattered her figure nicely, and black slacks. She wore a bit more makeup than Steve preferred girls to wear, plus some high-heeled shoes that he wondered how she was supposed to dance in. Overall though, she was definitely a striking dame.

There was an older gentleman standing next to her, who looked mildly annoyed and distinguished at the same time. He had a salt-and-pepper beard that reminded Steve a little of Tony, and he wore a dark button-up shirt and slacks. He reminded Steve just a little of a villain, but he couldn't think of any known villains that were part-time dance instructors, so he put it down to watching too many melodramas.

It was Tony with his brightest PR smile and hidden tension in his shoulders that answered her. "Nope. This is all of us," he replied, only a hint of disappointment showing through.

Steve realized with a start that it really was bothering Tony that Steve wasn't there. Now that he thought about it, it probably reflected poorly on Steve that the first time Tony tried to be a team player to organize something for them, Steve had shot him down without a second thought. Plus, there was that mystery woman who was so important to Tony...

Steve took a deep breath, steeling himself for what he was about to do, then walked through the open door. "I'd like to join you, if you don't mind," he said, his voice quieter and more hesitant than he would have liked, and his stomach turning in knots.

Tony's head shot up, regarding him in surprise. "I... sure. Come on in, Cap. Now we're all here, Lizzie."

"Great!" the woman said, clapping her hands together. "Wow! We're like, really giving lessons to the Avengers! That's totally awesome."

"Be still my beating hearts," the man said sarcastically, revealing a surprisingly British accent compared to the woman's.

The woman - Lizzie - elbowed him and he went quiet. "I know some of you, but not everyone. Let's start with introductions! I'm Lizzie, and this is Victor. Don't mind him being grumpy. Him and his boyfriend are on the rocks at the moment."

"Ms. Matthews, that's hardly-"

"So just ignore him while he's sulking." Steve could see why Tony liked her. She was just as tactless as he was. "Now, how 'bout everyone else?"

"Natasha Romanov, Clint Barton," Natasha said, pushing a moody-looking Clint forward. If Steve were a betting man, he'd say Natasha used some of those incriminating photos from the stash she kept threatening to pull out during arguments at the Tower. He was pretty sure she had somehow managed to get a hold of some baby pictures.

"I am Thor Odinson, and this is Dr. Jane Foster and her assistant Darcy Lewis," Thor said, taking great pride in Jane's title.

"Dr. Selvig couldn't make it out to New York," Jane said apologetically.

"And this is Bruce Banner, who is awesome with science and has some anger management problems," Tony said with his usual lack of tact. Bruce just rolled his eyes as Tony went on. "And you already know me and Pepper. Everyone knows me and Pepper."

All eyes went to Steve, and he fidgeted, uncomfortable with the sudden attention, even if he knew almost everyone here already. "Steve Rogers," he said, as if the world didn't also already know his name.

Lizzie gave him an engaging smile, then pulled Steve further into the room. "Let's get started then! Men on the right, ladies on the left!"

Tony didn't look at him as Lizzie and Victor taught the basic step, but the tension in his shoulders was gone. So Steve focused on learning the six count movement and not stepping on his own feet.

His anxiety spiked when Victor said to partner up. What if he stepped on the girl's toes? "Come on, Cap," Darcy said, patting his bicep and lingering just a second too long. "You're mine tonight."

"Hate to break it to you, Darce, but classes like these mean you rotate partners," Jane said, laughing at Darcy's look of dismay.

"You probably don't want to be my partner the whole night anyway," Steve mumbled, looking down at his feet. They felt so clumsy, and he wasn't even moving. He wished this were as easy as fighting was.

Darcy gave him the 'You're so precious, I want to take a bite out of you' look, and Steve decided that rotation was a very good thing.

"Men, step back on your left foot! Ladies, forward on your right!" Lizzie reminded them as Steve took Darcy's right hand. He hoped his own hand wasn't clammy enough for Darcy to notice. He kept his eyes down on his feet as Lizzie started to count. "Five. Six. Five, six, seven, eight!"

Steve stepped back, forcing himself to remember what Victor had showed them. It... wasn't too bad, really. Six steps with his feet, and the sugar push with his hands on count four. Darcy came closer, then moved away like she was supposed to, and it looked like the move was supposed to. At least, Steve assumed it looked right. He still hadn't looked up.

"Eyes up here, soldier," Natasha said when the women switched partners.

"I don't want to step on your feet," he said with a sigh.

"I'll let you know if you do," Natasha said. "With retaliation, of course. But if you keep looking down, I'll get proactive."

"You shouldn't be a bully," Steve said with disapproval, but he kept his eyes on Natasha's and she gave him a smile for his efforts.

To his surprise, dancing wasn't all that hard. He got flustered a few times (especially with Darcy), and nearly stepped on Pepper once when the music was too fast, but it was actually kind of nice. The Ache was gone for the moment, and the anxiety left him.

They learned four moves before Lizzie put on music and let them have the dance floor. Steve took one of the chairs by the wall as Tony asked Natasha to dance. He watched Darcy drag Bruce out to the dance floor as well, smiling as Bruce laughed nervously. This might be a good team bonding exercise after all. Even the sullen Clint was coaxed out by Pepper.

As the song ended, the dance instructor walked up to him, hands on her hips. "Okay, you. You're spending too much time over here looking depressed. Time to show me what you've learned," she said with a wink.

"I still don't know enough to-" Steve started.

"You can't say no when a girl asks," Lizzie interrupted. "It's the law. Besides, look at me. Am I smiling?"

Steve looked up at her. She was smiling brilliantly, which only made him falter and stumble over his words. "I-I guess you... I mean, you are."

"As long as the girl is smiling, she's having fun. And if she's having fun, then you're doing something right. So dance with me," Lizzie said, as if this were the most logical thing in the world.

"Yes, Ma'am," Steve said, taking the hand she offered as she pulled him across the dance floor. When they were in position, Steve took a deep breath and counted down in his head. He'd danced with her a few times during the class since they were one girl short in the line-up, but this was different. This wasn't practice. This was...

This was dancing.

Steve nearly froze, but he forced his muscles to keep going. "You need to loosen up. Especially your arms," Lizzie said thoughtfully. She was still smiling though, and Steve was just a little grateful. He could see why Tony thought Bruce wouldn't have problems with frustration. It was hard to be frustrated when you had a smile like that directed at you.

"But Victor said we have to have a firm lead," Steve said uncertainly. "If my arm is loose, how do I do that?" Victor had been very insistent that the guys had to be clear on their leads. He sounded like he spoke from experience.

"You do want like, a firm lead, but not a rigid one," Lizzie said as he led her through a right side pass. "You're in control, but you have to give the girl some wiggle room too. You'll totally be tugging her around like a rag doll otherwise, and no girl likes that. You gotta be like Goldilocks. Not too firm, but not too loose. You want it just right."

Steve thought about that, then forced his shoulders down. He pulled Lizzie forward, but relaxed his arm, like he was going through drills with his shield. "There you go," Lizzie said, the smile twinkling in her eyes. "See? Captain American can totally dance!"

Steve gave her a hesitant smile in return. He wondered what Peggy would think, if she could see him now. He'd have liked to dance with her, because now he was back to waiting for the right partner again. It felt a little like betrayal, dancing with someone else. If he didn't think too hard, he could almost imagine that Lizzie was Peggy instead, with her red lipstick and short hair.

"Thank you for the dance," she said at the end of the song as he led her off the dance floor.

"I should be thanking you. Sorry I wasn't much of a dance partner," Steve said around the lump in his throat. He didn't meet her eyes, wondering what it would have been like if Peggy had had the chance to teach him. At least he was learning now. Better late than never, right?

He couldn't stay in the ice forever.

"It'll get better," Lizzie replied. "It feels like you have a lot to learn and you'll never get there, but it does..." She looked back at Victor who was scowling at Tony, her smile becoming more introspective and just a little sad. "It does get better eventually. And having friends can make up for things while it's still rough. It might not be much of a difference at first, but it adds up. Trust me on that."

"I... I'll think about it," Steve said, and she gave him one last smile before leaving to go steal Thor from Jane.

Steve sat back in his chair, wishing he'd brought his book or sketchbook with him. He stiffened when Tony slid into the chair beside him, knowing this might turn ugly. "Cap..."

"Tony," Steve said, glad his voice was even.

"Look, I know this wasn't easy," Tony started, looking uncomfortable. "But thank you for coming."

Steve felt his mouth fall open. Tony was thanking him? Steve had thought the other man was still angry, given how he'd been ignored the rest of the night. Not to mention being thanked by Tony was a rare enough thing to begin with.

"Anyway, I should go... dance with Jane. Jane looks lonely without Thor, right? Can't leave a science bro out of the loop, so I'll just-"

Tony moved to stand, but Steve grabbed hold of his sleeve. "Wait..." he said, gathering his thoughts. What was it Lizzie said? Leaders had to be firm, not rigid, and give their partner room to maneuver as well. He thought back to how many times Tony had told him to ease up off the stick up his ass and other variants, and Steve wondered if he hadn't been too rigid. "Can we... Do you want to go to lunch tomorrow?"

Tony's eyes looked guarded. "Why?"

"To talk," Steve replied.

"What about? I'm not up for more lectures on team building, Cap." Steve could see in Tony's eyes what he didn't want to say. The dismissive tone was meant to push Steve away, protect whatever Tony felt made him vulnerable. And Steve wanted more than anything to ask about the reason for this whole mess, but demanding to know now, that was too personal. He had to start slowly. Slow, but firm.

"Not a lecture," Steve promised. "Or anything in particular. Just... talk."

Tony lost the wariness in his stance. Now he just looked confused. "I... sure? Why not? See you at lunch then."

Steve nodded, and Tony went up to Jane, saying something about science and dancing. Steve let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.

* * *

At lunch the next day, Steve didn't push. Tony had been slightly suspicious at first, but Steve asked about work and the armor's repair, which Tony was only too happy to talk about. When Steve didn't press into more personal matters, Tony asked about Steve's drawings, and Steve showed him a few of his sketches. Tony got a laugh out of the one of Clint chained to the disco ball that had been hung up at the studio.

The lunch went well, overall, and Tony seemed just as surprised as Steve. They'd gotten curt with each other a few times, but once Steve started to step back and let it go, Tony made more of an effort to hold back the cutting remarks. It wasn't until the next day when they were fighting a group of flying horses that things started to change though.

"Iron Man, keep your position! Stick to the plan," Steve yelled as he held his shield to block a dark mare with jagged teeth. The teeth were dripping red, and Steve didn't let himself think about whose blood it was.

"Yeah, no. I can finish this," Tony said, already veering from the course. "And it's way faster than Captain Slow Poke's plan, so if you'll-"

"Then do it," Steve said, gritting back the urge to yell at Tony. A leader had to give his partner room to maneuver, he reminded himself.

"What?" The voice modulator in the Iron Man suit didn't cover Tony's bafflement.

"Put your money where your mouth is, Iron Man. No civilian casualties, no more property damage than you have to, and Hawkeye, cover Widow's six while Iron Man is gone."

"Copy that," Clint replied as Steve rolled to avoid getting trampled.

"Take your shot, Tony," Steve said, trying to put the worry out of his mind so he could focus on the fight.

"Uh, sure," Tony said, heading right into the thick of it.

"Be careful," Steve added as he held his shield up to block a set of deadly hooves.

"Yes, mother," Tony said, sounding more like his usual snarky self. "These night-mares won't know what hit them."

"Stark, I will hit you if you don't keep your terrible puns off the com," Natasha said calmly. Steve couldn't see her, but she sounded a little out of breath.

"Oh, get off your high horse. You know you love them." Steve could hear the smirk in Tony's voice, but he didn't get to hear Natasha's reply. He got knocked back as one of the horses spread its wings. He wondered when he let not trusting Tony become a habit. Whenever Bucky or the other Howling Commandos needed to change the plan, he let them. Even the other Avengers got to call out changes. But Tony, he always berated and yelled at.

Steve wondered if it was because they had waited a few missions to get used to him, whereas Tony jumped into the fight with no holds barred. Steve got in the habit of yelling instead of listening, especially since Tony didn't always have a lot of respect when he made a call.

That was pretty unfair, even if Tony was refusing to keep him in the loop or was insulting him. When the fight was over and the last of the winged horses were corralled, Steve was dealing with the police while Iron Man landed not too far off. The face plate was up, and he could see a calculating look in Tony's eyes when he glanced Steve's way.

"Good job, Tony," Steve said, ignoring the desire to take Tony to task for what he'd said on the comms. "Next time, let me know about the change of plan?"

"Sure thing, Cap," Tony said, like he was wondering when the lecture would start.

Steve felt ashamed, realizing just how long he had let this go on if Tony was conditioned to act like this. The start of the solution had been so easy. It wasn't solved, probably not by a long shot, but it was a start, and one that Steve could have made a long time ago if he hadn't been so stubborn and insistent that he was right.

He looked away, telling the police chief which buildings needed a crew to check the structural integrity before allowing civilians back in. When he'd finished, Thor approached him with a wide grin. "It is good to see you and our Shieldbrother getting along," Thor said with a clap on Steve's shoulder.

"I don't know if we're there yet," Steve admitted. "But I think we're finally starting to be. I just wish it hasn't taken me this long to see that."

"Sometimes time is what is needed," Thor said, looking off in the distance with a sorrowful expression on his face.

Steve wondered if he was seeing Loki. To be honest, Steve and Time weren't on the best of terms either, but he didn't like seeing Thor that sad. "Maybe," Steve said, earning him a smile and a hug from Thor.

Thor really did give the best hugs.

* * *

"Today we're working on our connection," Victor said as they filtered in. Steve wasn't sure why he'd come back for another lesson, but JARVIS interrupted his workout suggesting he should get ready if he wished to catch the car with the others this time. Somehow he'd ended up here again before he realized what he was doing. He suspected JARVIS was doing something to his coffee in the morning, but couldn't think of what would affect the serum for that long. Still, it had to be the only explanation that made sense. As the saying went, when you have eliminated the impossible...

"A weak connection means that you can't lead," Victor continued, interrupting Steve's musings. "You'll give confusing or conflicting leads and your follower won't know what to do."

"Likewise, ladies, if you don't have, like, a solid connection on your end, you'll miss a lead and step on your partner's toes," Lizzie added.

"Among other things," Victor said darkly. He got a consolatory pat from Lizzie.

"Anyway, that's totally a bad thing since we're wearing heels," Lizzie said. "So guys, line up. Ladies, pick a guy."

Steve was surprised to find Pepper in front of him this time. He'd have thought she would have gone to Tony. She must have seen the confusion on his face, because Pepper shrugged. "You get used to being pretty fluid with dance partners," she said. "When you social dance, it's pretty casual. You don't just stick with one guy, and I always knew who I was going home with. Besides, more partners mean you learn more and become a better dancer, rather than just learning one partner's tricks."

Steve nodded, even if he wasn't sure what to make of this policy. He'd told Peggy he'd been waiting for the right partner, but what Pepper said made sense as well, even if it didn't quite sit right with Steve. And she and Tony were broken up anyway, so it wasn't like she had an obligation to dance with Tony. It wasn't her fault Steve was just having problems wrapping his mind around it.

"Now, take your partner's hand and lean back," Victor said. "Put yourself off center, so that your partner is keeping your balance. Let them anchor you in place."

Steve looked at Pepper with a question he couldn't quite voice, not knowing how she'd take it. She laughed instead of being offended, which Steve was quietly relieved about. "It's alright, Steve. Just don't put all your weight on it. Lean back a little, but don't try to pull me over."

Steve leaned back carefully as Pepper did, feeling their joined hands pull taunt, but not uncomfortably so. It felt solid and steady. He could probably catch himself if Pepper let go, but the fact that she had him was comforting. He hadn't had a lot of steady and solid in his life recently.

"Feel the connection? With that strength, even a small movement is easy to follow like this," Lizzie said. "Now, switch from a V to an A position, and lean against each other."

As Victor walked around the room to check their positions, Pepper smiled at him. "I wanted to thank you," she said quietly.

"What for?" Steve asked.

"For giving Tony another chance recently," she replied. "I know he's hard to deal with, and you'll have to take the first step with everything because he won't back down first. But he's worth it. And he'd never admit this, but he really appreciates that you're trying."

Steve felt his cheeks heat and he ducked his head. "I didn't do much. And it took me longer than it should have to start."

"It's enough," she said. "Thank you."

"A solid connection means less fighting over what move comes next," Lizzie said. "Ambiguity totally kills a good dance move. It's like talking to each other in a relationship. If you don't have a solid foundation and connection, the communication falls apart."

Victor scowled at her, but Steve was struck by the words. "When did dancing start to feel like a life lesson?" he asked.

Pepper laughed again, and Steve decided he liked to hear that sound. Especially since he had caused it, even if he hadn't meant it as a joke. He hadn't had someone he wanted to make laugh in a while, but the Avengers seemed to be getting there. "When Victor and his boyfriend are having a spat," she replied with a wink.

At least Steve wasn't the only one with connection problems.

* * *

Lunch with Tony became a somewhat regular thing. It wasn't set on a certain day or time, but every few days Steve would ask and Tony usually said yes, so long as he had no other business commitments. It was getting easier to talk to Tony, and Steve couldn't help but wonder what things would have been like if they had done this from the start.

"When did you learn to dance?" Steve asked one day as he munched on his french fries.

Tony had an introspective look on his face as he answered. "Must have been seven or eight when my mother started me on ballroom."

"That's really young." At that age, Steve was barely let out of bed because of his health problems and watching Fred Astaire had been the best he could do. The thought of learning all of those dances from such a young age was a little daunting.

Tony merely shrugged. "Not as young as some. It made my mother happy, and Dad hated it, so I didn't mind the lessons that much."

Steve didn't rise to the bait, even though he wanted to. The subject of Howard would probably always be a touchy subject with them. "Your mother liked to dance?" he said instead.

That was the right move, to let the mention of Howard slide. He could see the relief in Tony's eyes, and Steve realized it had been a test to see if he could talk without censor. Tony and the word 'censor' didn't go well together in the first place. Steve hoped that meant he was loosening up, that Tony could say things he meant, even if Steve didn't always like them.

"She did," Tony said, a sort of melancholy smile lifting the sides of his lips. "Sometimes, she would put music on in the ballroom and tell me to practice with her, even though I was too short to really lead her properly and she ended up doing most of the work. It was..."

"Tony?" Steve asked when the other man trailed off.

Tony shook his head and shrugged, hiding behind a mask of indifference. "It was one of the few times I remember her being happy," he said nonchalantly, as if it meant nothing to him.

Steve's first reaction was to get angry. He wanted to shake Tony and ask how he could be so casual about something like that. But the image of that melancholy smile stopped him from starting a fight. He forced himself to see things from Tony's point of view, of having to hide the important things from the press and paparazzi for all these years. But Tony hadn't been guarded just moments before. He'd just been Tony.

An unexpected hurt replaced the anger. Tony had been willing to let his guard down a little, but the moment Steve had spoken and reminded the genius of his presence, the walls had come back up. Didn't he trust Steve?

Of course Tony didn't, Steve reminded himself firmly. He still didn't have much reason to. He and Tony were still trying to find a common ground for their foundation, and this kind of trust would take longer. Especially with someone like Tony, whose file was far from lacking in descriptions of his trust issues and the reasons for them. Steve was just going to have to take things slow and work harder.

It was a very good thing Steve was stubborn.

"She must have been a beautiful dancer," Steve said after a moment, wondering if Maria Stark was the 'she' Tony had referred to at the start of the dance lessons. He couldn't for the life of him think of why Tony's mother would want him to dance though. He'd never met the woman.

Tony's defenses softened, though they didn't come back down completely. "Yeah, she was," he said, stealing one of the tomatoes Steve had set aside for him. Tony was strange like that, only accepting something not offered directly. Steve felt like he was beginning to understand though, and that was a step on the right foot.

* * *

The next Wednesday was a Bad Day. It was made worse by what he knew would be a fall out over the dance lessons and having an evening in the Tower without anyone else around. His friendship with Tony was still fragile, and he didn't want to rock that either. He didn't think he had it in him to dance though, when that would probably make things worse. The last thing he wanted to do was have Tony cancel the lesson as well, since aside from Clint's perpetual grumbling the others really did seem to enjoy it.

Speaking of Tony, the billionaire walked into the living room, taking in Steve's sweat pants that he only ever wore around the Tower and his book. Steve braced himself, anxiety spiking at what he knew was going to be a fight.

But Tony didn't say anything. Instead he grabbed his tablet and sat in the armchair as he worked, his mouth pressed into a firm line that wasn't quite anger. Steve felt some of the anxiety loosen its hold on him. Maybe this wouldn't be such a big deal after all. He was even trying a new book today, rather than a familiar one, something written after his time. A Wrinkle in Time was supposed to be a book for children, but he found the creativity in it refreshing and interesting even if the word 'tesser' had some other connotations he didn't like to think about.

He'd never even heard of the book or the few others that had started to appear in his room, but he was fairly certain the source was sitting across from him. One day, Steve was going to have to thank Tony, but for now, he kept his eyes down.

At five, Tony stood up, brushing the imaginary specks of dust off his suit. Steve felt his stomach churn, and Tony came over to him, eying him intently. So much for his hopes that this wouldn't be a big deal.

"Come on, Cap. Time to get dressed for dancing. Don't want to be late," Tony said, tugging on Steve's arm.

Steve didn't budge or look up from his book. "I don't think-"

"What, you want to stay here in the empty Tower all night? Christ, that's depressing. No," Tony said firmly. "Bring your book if you want, but you're coming out with the rest of us."

Steve heard what Tony didn't say. 'Don't be an idiot, being by yourself makes it worse. You don't have to dance, but we're not letting you be alone.' The words came through loud and clear, no matter that they weren't spoken. Steve felt his throat constrict as the meaning hit home. He closed his eyes and took a shuddery breath.

"Come on, Steve," Tony said gently, as if he wasn't asking Steve to do one of the hardest things he knew. "Go get changed. We'll be waiting downstairs, okay?"

Steve nodded, and Tony let go of his arm. It wasn't until Tony left the room that Steve stood up himself. He could do this, right? It was just moving to a new location. A location with music and people dancing, who would know not to talk to Steve when he got like this. That didn't mean the move wouldn't be hard, but he never let that stop him from getting out of bed, now did he?

Steve changed into a pair of slacks and a nice shirt, splashing some water on his face. He was surprised to find that he felt a little better for the change. He couldn't pinpoint why exactly, but maybe getting out helped. It was still hard to keep going, but it helped.

He clutched at his book when he went down to meet the others. They greeted him, then went back to their own conversations. When Steve sat down to bury himself in the fantastical worlds the children visited, he was surprised to find a hand squeezing his shoulder. He looked up to see Tony carrying on a conversation with Jane and Bruce, not even looking at Steve. But his hand stayed on Steve's shoulder until they all had to pile into the car to go to the studio, and it felt warm.

* * *

Two weeks later, Jane got the flu. Lizzie looked at the hole in their lines with a frown. "Jane doesn't want to sneeze on the non-super humans," Darcy told her. "She totally should have though. Clint deserves it."

"I deserve an excuse not to come," Clint said, wincing at Natasha's elbow, which had found its way into his side.

"Tony!" Lizzie called after hmming at Darcy's words.

"What do you need, sugarplum?"

"You're a girl tonight." Lizzie stepped out of the line, motioning to Bruce who had been her partner.

"What?" Tony said, his face falling. "No. Come on. Make someone else be the girl this time. Please?"

Victor glared. "Anthony," he said in a hypnotic tone that booked no argument. "You will be a follower tonight."

Tony stiffened. "Yeah, yeah. I'll follow," he said, muttering darkly under his breath as he sauntered up to Bruce.

"Dude," Clint said from beside Steve. "What dirt does he have on Tony? Because that shit is worth knowing."

"Don't worry, Clint," Lizzie said mischievously. "You'll all be switching places soon, so you'll have your chance to follow as well."

Clint groaned, flipping Tony off after receiving a cheeky grin from the genius.

Pepper, who had been Tony's partner, came down to Steve who had been lacking a partner. "Don't worry, Steve," she said with a smile. "He puts on a show, but Tony likes showing off with both parts. I think he likes predicting the leader's movements too."

"You sure?" Steve asked, looking at Tony who was pouting at an unsympathetic Bruce.

"Positive," Pepper said. "He definitely never complained when I took the lead."

Steve couldn't decide if that was way more information than he wanted about Tony and Pepper's past relationship, or if that was a detail he should file away for later. The latter was troubling, and Steve decided not to think about it too hard.

Steve kept watching Tony despite the fact he was supposed to be learning the starter steps and closed position. Tony really did seem to be enjoying himself, mostly if just to show off extra moves and make Clint and Bruce uncomfortable. Thor just laughed at his antics, playing it up as well. Steve wasn't quite sure what to do dancing with Tony. Tony was flashy, but Steve just followed the teacher's instructions.

"We don't have to do what they say, ya know," Tony told him.

"I have to practice the move," Steve said stubbornly. He was getting a little flustered, and he didn't want to think of why.

"Please, like you didn't have it memorized after the first time," Tony said, waving his free hand. "It's a breeze for an eidetic memory."

"Not for muscle memory," Steve replied. Tony sighed and rolled his eyes, which should have made Steve angry. Would have, in fact, had this exchange happened a few weeks ago. But for some reason Steve didn't quite understand, he was grinning back.

"Fine, whatever," Tony said, but he was smiling as well. "Play by the rules. I'll corrupt you yet!"

That startled a laugh out of Steve, gaining a few curious looks and knowing smiles from the others. "If you say so, Tony," Steve said, ignoring the others' attention.

When the class ended and the dancing started, Steve took his usual chair and watched Lizzie and Tony dance. They kept stealing the lead from each other, and Steve was surprised to find his fingers itching for his sketchbook.

"I never would have thought dancing would be something Tony would enjoy so much," Bruce said, coming to sit by him.

"Music is just numbers and beats," Steve replied, having asked the same question at one of their lunches.

Bruce nodded, smiling softly as Tony laughed, his hips swaying suggestively. "It's also soothing. I forget sometimes that he works best with music."

Soothing? "So the Hulk..." Steve said, surprised by the admission.

"I think he likes dancing too," Bruce replied. "He also likes seeing his friends relaxed and happy."

"If that's true, you could try inviting Betty," Steve suggested carefully.

"I don't think..."

"We like seeing our friends relaxed and happy too," Steve said, feeling the word 'friend' slip through his mouth with surprising ease. It startled him a little, because he couldn't say exactly when this changed. At some point, the Avengers stopped being colleagues and started being family, without him really realizing that it had happened.

Really, it started when they learned how to deal with Steve's Bad Days and made sure to stay in the common areas. He should have seen it a while ago, but the Bad Days always did cloud his judgement a little.

"Yeah?" Bruce asked, looking open and vulnerable, nothing like the guarded man whom Steve had met on the Helicarrier.

"Yeah," Steve replied firmly, offering Bruce a smile and a hand on his shoulder.

"I'll... I'll think about it," Bruce said.

Tony, by this point, was in some sort of dance battle with Victor as they both fought over Darcy. He watched as Victor smugly stole Darcy's hand and pushed Tony aside, while Tony calculated his next chance to take back the lead. Darcy, for her part, was soaking up the attention while Clint narrated from the peanut gallery. The Hulk had a point. It really was nice, seeing all of them together like this.

* * *

"Come on, Cap," Clint said gleefully two weeks later. "There's something special happening tonight."

"What's that?" Steve asked, looking up from Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie. He wasn't quite ready to leave yet, even though he knew Tony would come down and drag him out eventually. He definitely wasn't dancing tonight, and the thought made The Ache grow stronger at the thought. He was really starting to enjoy it, despite himself. Just... not tonight. Besides, out of all the Avengers, Clint was generally the least willing, so him coming down didn't make sense.

"Betty's in town and guess which big green fighting machine asked her to stop by?"

Steve felt The Ache lose some of its hold on him at the news. "Really? That's great."

"About time too," Clint said. He still put on a show about not wanting to go to the lessons, but he seemed excited about tonight. "Go get your dancing shoes, Cap. We've got all night to heckle the lovebirds."

"Be nice," Steve admonished, closing his book.

Even though it was a Bad Day, Steve was able to take part in the class that night. It wasn't easy, but seeing Bruce blushing shyly and stuttering as he introduced Betty was worth the effort it had taken. It was Steve's obligation to the team and his friends, but for once, it wasn't suffocating him. It was worth it. He was starting to think Lizzie had been right. It didn't seem like much at the start, but having friends made the little things start to add up.