[personal profile] dragonofmemory
wtf?  They only needed two entries on the com.  I didn't add that much editing.  >.>

Part 1 | Part 2

~

"Alright, Avengers," Lizzie said at the next lesson, rubbing her hands together gleefully. "You've been dancing for three and a half months now. Which means it's time to put your skills to the test!"

"Wait, what?" Clint said, looking dismayed.

"Competition?" Tony asked thoughtfully.

"I highly doubt this rabble is ready for that yet," Victor said with a slightly condescending tone.

"I thought things were going better with his boyfriend," Darcy said, leaning into Pepper conspiratorially.

Victor sent them a glare, but it didn't stop Pepper from answering. "He was stood up on a date again. And the guy didn't call back 'til really late."

"How late?" Natasha asked curiously.

"He called three days later," Lizzie answered, patting the scowling Victor on the arm.

"Wow, what a douche," Darcy said. "I mean, that's seriously low."

"Totally, right?" Lizzie agreed. "I keep telling him he can do way better."

"If you're quite finished discussing my private affairs, I suggest you get on with telling everyone about Friday," Victor snapped, though Steve thought he looked just a little pleased that the others were taking his side, and the words didn't have quite as much heat to them as they did when he was truly cranky.

"Oh, yeah! Friday!" Lizzie said, looking excited again. "It's like, about time you guys started dancing for real. So this Friday, we're going out to one of the Westie clubs!"

"Club?" Steve asked, feeling his stomach sink as he thought of the time Clint and Natasha had dragged him out to one. It hadn't been what he considered a fun time.

"Not that kind of club," Pepper reassured him as if reading his thoughts. Steve wondered what kind of face he had made, if it'd been that obvious. "You'll like this one better. The dancing will be like what we do here."

That was comforting, but the knot in his stomach didn't actually go away. At least Clint didn't look any more thrilled than Steve was. "Joy," he said. "So I'll just be at the range instea-OW! Okay, okay, I'll go."

Steve didn't have to look over to see Jane and Pepper tag-teaming Clint's ribs while Natasha looked on without mercy. Clint had brought it on himself.

* * *

Clint, once he realized that the girls at the club were 'hot' and 'digged a guy who could dance,' decided that this whole dance thing wasn't so bad after all. Steve shook his head as Clint smirked, leading yet another brunette across the floor.

For himself, Steve actually didn't mind the loud music as much as he thought he would, and the club wasn't too bad. Most of the people were tastefully dressed, even if they showed a lot more skin than in Steve's time, and people were actually dancing rather than looking for a way to have public sex on a dance floor. He'd never been able to afford the fancy clubs in his time (and the non-fancy ones had too much smoke for his asthma to take), but this seemed like a nice place.

He'd been staying toward the back, perfectly content to be a wallflower. Occasionally an unfamiliar girl would come over and ask him to dance, and Steve's inner Lizzie guilted him into accepting. Besides, the girls had to be pretty brave, asking a guy like that instead of waiting to be asked, and Steve knew that with the serum, he could be a pretty imposing figure. He couldn't exactly turn that down.

That didn't mean he wasn't enjoying himself. Most of the songs had a pretty good beat and he enjoyed dancing when he was coaxed out. He liked watching people dance, remembering Bucky and whatever pretty dame he had on his arm, giggling as he twirled her. The memories didn't hurt as much as Steve thought they would, and it was nice to remember without The Ache getting too strong. He also occasionally had one of the others come by and sit with him, making sure he wasn't lonely back there by himself when he wasn't dancing.

"Hey, there, solider," a familiar voice said. He blinked, wiggling fingers coming into his line of vision. He looked up to see Tony batting his eyelashes at him. "One last dance before you ship off to war?"

Steve was having a very hard time not laughing in Tony's face. He hoped the genius appreciated the effort he put forth. "Who taught you that line?" he asked, stifling a snicker.

"I'm told that's how it was done in the olden days. Now, are you going to dance with me or not?" Tony asked with a raised eyebrow.

Considering Tony always complained about following, regardless of what Pepper said, Steve wondered if this was a good idea. "I've only had one class following. You know that," Steve said.

"Do I ever," Tony said. "How many times did the girls yell at you?"

Steve winced. He'd gotten many variations of 'Back leading is bad,' 'Stop back leading before I hit you with my high-heels,' 'Steve, sweetheart, I'm leading, not you,' and 'Damn it, Cap, stop back leading,' that night. He really had tried to stop, but he ended up being teased mercilessly for sulking the rest of the night. Teasing, and lots and lots of threats about what would happen if he didn't stop.

"Come on. I'll follow. I'll even be good and actually follow your leads this once," Tony said, wiggling his fingers in front of Steve's face again.

"Will you follow orders on the battlefield too?" Steve asked playfully.

"Probably not," Tony replied with a cheeky smile. "But hey, once in a lifetime chance to give me orders I'll actually follow."

"Only once?" Steve asked, genuinely curious.

"That depends on the dance," Tony said with a wink. "Come on. Up and at 'em, soldier. Let's dance!"

Because you never know when it will be your last, Steve's mind supplied. He thought back to the war, and all those girls left behind who had to wait. Steve hadn't been able to wait behind like that, and he marveled at the strength those women showed when kissing their guy farewell. Neither he nor Tony would really be the one waiting at home, but the life was just as dangerous. Each night could be their last if some super villain got lucky. It hadn't been all that long since one nearly had, and Steve could still picture the now faded bruises around Tony's neck.

Steve put his hand in Tony's wordlessly, interlinking their fingers. Tony stared at their hands as Steve stood, then led them out to an empty spot on the dance floor.

"Take the lead, Cap," Tony said.

But as Steve settled back into a basic, Tony scowled. "Starter step, Cap. Closed position. Victor will skin you alive for forgetting that, then he'll get on to me for not reminding you!"

"You sure?" Steve asked. Closed position was very close, though he had to admit Tony's point about Victor. Steve started to question Clint's original assessment of Victor having good blackmail on Tony to keep him in line. The man was simply someone even Tony didn't want to cross, and Steve privately found himself agreeing. Victor's boyfriend must be a very brave man.

Tony rolled his eyes and stepped closer, putting his hand on Steve's shoulder. Steve automatically brought his hand up to rest on Tony's shoulder blade. Waiting for the count, Steve led the starter step and threw Tony out into the basic position.

Tony was an amazing dancer. Steve liked to watch him dance with the others, always smooth as he glided across the floor. It was different as Steve spun him in an inside turn, seeing him fall into the girl's triple step rather than a smooth spin. The movements took a sensual quality that Steve had seen Lizzie have during certain songs. It was mesmerizing to watch Tony move like that this close.

"You've gotten good," Tony said with a smile as he held the pose longer than Steve approved of. It took him a moment to realize Tony was hitting a beat that Steve hadn't heard coming, so he didn't reiterate some of those back leading threats he'd become intimately familiar with.

"Not as good as you," Steve said with a self-depreciating smile. He held up his hand for Tony to take, and twisted them around until Tony was in a sweetheart hold. Steve walked them forward, eyes lingering around Tony's swaying hips.

"I'm telling Natasha that you're feeding my ego," Tony said smugly, showing off with a kick. Then, quieter, so that Steve almost couldn't hear it over the music, "Aunt Peggy would be proud of you. She'd have been happy to see you like this."

Steve faltered, starting back with his right foot instead of his left. He needed a beat to catch up with the movement, but Tony didn't comment. For just a moment, he could imagine dancing with her instead of Tony. She'd be smaller than Tony, lithe and athletic with curves show-cased in a deep red dress. Her lips would be painted the same shade, tilting upwards in a smile. 'Is that the best you've got, soldier? Put your back into it,' she'd tease him, her voice laced with amusement under the harsher tone.

Steve let go of Tony's hand with a small twist to keep him spinning so that the other man wouldn't see that Steve wasn't quite dancing with him, but with someone else. But from the way Tony was no longer meeting his gaze, the genius knew anyway.

"Always second best, huh?" Tony said with a smile that didn't reach his eyes.

"There's nothing second best about you, Tony," Steve protested. "I just... thank you. For saying that."

"It's the truth," Tony said with a shrug as he brought his hand up for the sugar push. Steve couldn't tell which statement Tony was referring to, being second best or what he said about Peggy, and that made Steve wish he'd been able to hide it better. He pulled Tony into a whip, keeping him in closed position and slipping into a quick hug.

Tony shot him a surprised look, and then gave him a truer smile. Peggy had wanted him to dance, so who was Steve to say no? She may not be his partner any more, but Steve was finally starting to move forward. He couldn't keep looking back when he had someone like Tony to dance with now.

Then Steve grinned, pulling Tony in and around him, putting in a spin of his own. "Show off," Tony said as he spun, laughing as he went. Steve ended the move ducking under Tony's arm, Tony moving close with his hand around Steve's neck. Instead of letting Tony pull away and slide down his arm, however, Steve held him there.

They were close. So close that all Steve had to do was lean forward to brush his lips against Tony's forehead. If he didn't lean up a little, he could steal Tony's lips as well. From the looks of it, Tony knew it too, and his breath hitched slightly, eyes fluttering shut as he waited for Steve to follow through with the lead.

Steve started, jumping back and away when he realized what he'd nearly done. His heart was hammering in his chest, and for a moment, Steve couldn't have told up from down by the way his world was flipping.

Tony, for his part, looked disappointed when he stretched back into a triple step. "So, Cap," he said, his voice carefully neutral. "What was that lead about?"

Steve pulled Tony in for a basic, because he wasn't sure he could accomplish anything more complicated than a left-side pass. "I..." he started, thanking God for muscle memory taking the steps by rote. "I'm not sure," he said finally.

At this, Tony laughed. "So the Man with the Plan doesn't know what the Plan is?"

"Give me some time to think about it," Steve said as his heart began to subside. "I think I need to practice it more and figure out where it was going. I want it to be a good lead. But..." Steve hesitated, saying the next part carefully. "Would you mind waiting 'til I get it right? I can understand if you don't w-"

"I can wait," Tony said quietly as he stepped forward. "Don't listen to Pepper, but I can occasionally be patient. Can't guarantee I'll follow the lead, but I can wait to see what it'll be."

Steve smiled brilliantly, pulling Tony back into a sweetheart hold just to have him closer. He didn't think he could have hid the smile if he tried. "Yeah?" he asked. "Cause I've heard you're a pretty good follow, though you sometimes try to steal the lead. But you're sounding like a pretty sure bet right now."

"For the right partner, I might be," Tony said with a shrug as he passed under Steve's arm.

Steve stopped him from moving forward with a hand on Tony's stomach, gently guiding him back down the slot. "I've been looking for the right partner for a while now," Steve admitted quietly.

"Oh?" Tony said with an amused gleam in his eyes. "Seems to me you were up in the Tower not even dancing until recently. Having better luck now?"

"I think my luck might be changing," Steve said as the song ended, pulling Tony in close for one final move. He ended gently leaning Tony back, not quite into a proper dip, but enough for a pose that earned a small laugh out of Tony.

"Good to hear it," Tony said with a grin. "Thanks for the dance, soldier."

"Thank you," Steve replied, meaning far more than just the dance.

He led Tony off the dance floor. Tony just waved his thanks off. "No problem, Cap."

"I mean that, Tony. Thanks," Steve said, squeezing the hand he still held captive.

Tony rolled his eyes, but when he moved closer to Steve to avoid running into another dancer, he didn't move away again. "Hey, is that Victor?" Tony asked, changing the subject with his usual deflections.

Steve let it pass, looking over at their dance instructor. He was standing next to another older gentleman with white hair that gave Tony a run for his money in poofiness. "Well?" the man said testily, holding out a hand to Victor.

Victor ignored it as Steve and Tony hung back to watch the exchange. "I was under the impression that there were more important things you had to do," Victor said stiffly.

The taller man sighed. "It wasn't like that, old chap," the man said, invitation still open. "And I may have missed your blathering on. Let me make it up to you."

"According to Ms. Matthews, I could do far better than you, so I don't see why I..."

The taller man stepped forward, claiming Victor's lips in a passionate kiss that their dance instructor practically melted into. Steve found himself wondering if Tony kissed like that.

When the taller man moved back, there was a wicked gleam in his eyes. "I dare say you see now."

"You're an insufferable fool," Victor said, but he was allowing himself to be led to the dance floor. Steve caught a hint of a smirk on his face before they both disappeared behind other dancers.

"Looks like even Victor gets a happy ending," Tony said with a laugh. "Sometimes I wonder how Lizzie puts up with his sulking."

"Friends are funny like that," Steve replied, smiling to himself. He didn't know why the Avengers stayed around for his Bad Days either, but he was grateful they did. Victor was a pretty lucky guy to have a dame like Lizzie looking out for him.

Steve slipped an arm around Tony's back to lead him back to his seat, earning him an amused eyebrow as he kept the other man close rather than relinquishing his hold. He was extraordinarily lucky himself to have found those kinds of friends not once, but twice. Even if Steve couldn't have Bucky and the others back, he had the Avengers now. Not the same, but enough to keep him steady.

* * *

Steve looked down at his book, once again trying - and failing - to make sense of the words. Melville had never been one of his favorites, but it was either that or Jack London's How to Build a Fire, and that story was the last thing he needed right now. He sat in the living room, ignoring the stifling quiet until someone woke up and came down. He was having a Bad Day, but Steve didn't have a trigger for it this time. Sometimes they just happened, and those days the others sometimes took a while longer to search him out.

And that was fine. It was. When he felt better, he didn't appreciate the others constantly worrying over him. So it was good that they didn't automatically assume he needed company. He just had to be patient on days like this when The Ache kept threatening to overwhelm him. He could hold out. He always did.

Thor found him first, clapping his shoulder in a greeting Steve barely managed to return as the Asgardian called Clint down for an 'ultimate battle against Mario's foe, Bowser.' Soon the sounds of Clint and Thor bickering over the controllers and the video game music filled the room, and Steve was able to turn the page. It didn't matter if he couldn't make sense of the words. He didn't like Melville anyway.

Natasha came in, sitting in the chair by the couch to heckle the other two's playing skills. Or lack thereof, since neither Clint nor Thor were very good. Bruce came in next, quietly asking if anyone wanted some tea. Steve didn't ask for any, but he soon had a cup of hot chai in front of him on the table anyway.

Tony was the last to come down. He'd been in an early meeting this morning, and he was in one of those suits that cost more than Steve made in his whole life before the serum. He flopped down next to Steve, making rude comments about Clint's inability to catch something called 'Yoshi'.

Then he propped his back against Steve's shoulder, making Steve jump. Tony settled in with his tablet, lounging across the rest of the couch and using Steve as a back rest. Tony didn't say anything to Steve, or do anything else. He was just there.

Steve leaned in just a little, feeling Tony's weight pressing back against him unyieldingly. A solid connection. A partner who anchored him.

For the first time since The Ache started this morning, Steve felt like he could breathe.

Steve shifted his arm, wrapping it around Tony's waist to hold the genius there against him. Not that Tony looked like he had any inclination towards moving away, but Steve liked this better, giving Tony something to hold on to. It would make turning the page a hassle, but he really didn't like Melville anyway, and Tony was a warm weight against him that fought off the cold.

Tony didn't acknowledge the arm wrapped around him, and neither did any of the others. And that was okay, because Steve didn't want the attention right now. He was included without needing their eyes on him.

Steve still wasn't sure if he'd found the right partner, but this team was so amazing that Steve could have less Bad Days, missing the past and the life he'd lost. And he had a solid connection next to him who could be the right partner someday, someone who cared. And Tony was a damned good partner that Steve knew he was lucky to have.

For now, that was enough.

~FINI~

Mem: And that's the fic. Hopefully you've all enjoyed my latest foray into writing West Coast Swing. I'll admit, I've missed Lizzie and the Master.

Quote of the Fic:

"I am a dancer. I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living.... In each it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one's being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes in some area an athlete of God."
-Martha Graham

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