It starts–as most of Tony’s horrible ideas do–as a joke.
“We need to troll the team,” says Tony to Steve one day, as Steve’s flipping through the book on his lap.
He looks up, confusion written all over his face. “Troll?” He asks. “Like the little blue creatures?”
“Those were smurfs, Steve,” Tony says, “and how do you even know what those are? They weren’t created until the late fifties.”
Steve shrugs, looking a little embarrassed. “Thor introduced me.”
“I don’t know what’s more troubling, the fact that Thor introduced you to the ‘The Smurfs’ when he’s not even from this planet, or the fact that you got trolls and smurfs mixed up in the first place.”
Steve narrows his eyes at his book, but otherwise keeps his face mostly neutral. “Shut up, Tony.”
Tony holds up his hands in mock defensive. “Anyway, that can be discussed later. What I really think we should do is play a joke on the team.”
Tony is shocked he has to explain this, because really? Tony has always liked pranking, has since his countless nannies had tried so very hard to instill values (proper values, at least) into the mind of a kid genius that wants nothing more than to blow things up, only to put them back together again, of course. He didn’t get good at pranking until he was about twelve, though; it took him a while to get past the ‘I’m-playing-a-funny-on-you-so-I-must-gi
It’s not that he’s completely over it yet, it’s just that he’s Tony Stark, and Tony Stark doesn’t giggle, not even when he sees great, shiny new pieces of metal that have not once been touched by anyone except for himself (he’s special, he gets these types of things), especially not then.
Anyway, he didn’t get good at pranking until he was about twelve. And now he’s just really fucking amazing at it, he could probably even host his own television show, and prank people, or rather, prank the other Avengers–because why prank regular people when you can prank superheros?
“Because we can?”
“But there’s no reason to, that would just cause tension between the Avengers.”
Tony sighs. “Where’s your sense of adventure? Trolling the team would be fun, and since there’s not a lot of villain action lately, why not do it now?”
“Trolling?” Steve asks again.
“I can’t explain it,” Tony replies, “because that would be breaking the code.”
“I can’t explain that either.”
Steve’s face bunches up, like he’s seriously starting to get annoyed. Steve isn’t fun when he’s annoyed, he’s even less fun than he usually is, which is horrible, and he starts yelling and ranting about no one ever understanding him, and how he never dances, or something. Tony tries not to listen because it gives him a headache, honestly, and he’d rather just focus on something that makes him feel nice. Like Steve’s face, when it’s not bunched up. But even then.
“It’s like Fight Club,” Tony adds on, just because he knows that Steve won’t know what that is. Sometimes (correction: all of the time) Tony likes being an asshole, simply because he can be one.
“And that is?”
“One word: Brad Pitt.”
“What does he have to do with this concept of ‘trolling’?” Steve asks.
Tony shrugs, because he honestly don’t know. “It’s Brad Pitt,” he says, pausing for a moment, deliberating. “Brad Pitt is relevant to everything,” says Tony. “Anyway, we should play a joke on them, inject some life into this otherwise dull party. Actually, I wouldn’t even call this a party, I would call this a ‘get together’ and trust me, Cap, that’s bad. My mother had get togethers, they were horrible. This actually might be worse–”
Steve cuts him off. “Just tell me what this idea of yours is,” he says, knowing that Tony won’t shut up until Steve actually listens.
“Hey, you’re learning,” says Tony, but admittedly, that’s mostly for himself.
“I think,” Tony starts, “actually,” he cuts himself off. “Basically, we’re going to be boyfriends.”
Steve takes the news well, actually, he takes the news great which is more than Tony had expected, because it’s Steve and while Steve is incredibly open-minded about some things, he’s definitely not on others, and this was one of those topics that Tony thought would fall under the 'not' category. Like pirating movies online instead of buying the DVDs (“What genius needs to buy DVDs when they can simply encode a pirate by themselves into a computer?”) and cat videos on the Internet (“If I can like cats Steve, so can you.”).
So it’s official, then, or Facebook Official at least.
Tony tries not to acknowledge how it makes his heart–he doesn’t have a heart, no, he doesn’t have a heart; sometimes Tony thinks if he chants it enough, he’ll start believing it–kind of flutter in his chest. Sort of.
Tony has to send the request, and accept it for Steve because Steve is basically illiterate when it comes to the computer and would rather not learn (“No Tony, I can’t. Writing always means more anyway, it shows emotion and gratitude”), and no matter how many times Tony tries to convince him that keeping educated on what’s happening in the world is good for him, he refuses to do more than go on his Facebook once a month.
“There’s always a newspaper,” Steve says, once Tony’s done with the whole relationship status thing.
“There is nothing like squinting your eyes after spending hours staring at a computer screen,” he points out, almost petulantly, sighing slightly.
“I’d rather salvage my eyesight.”
Tony laughs. “I think that ship has gone and sailed with me,” he says.
“Well, maybe if you didn’t spend–” Steve is cut off from a very high-pitched sound coming from the living room, from Tony’s living room, and it immediately alarms them both. High-pitched sounds happen very scarcely when they’re all together, and when they do it’s either because Thor has found out that someone has touched his precious hammer again, and yes he is going to smash whoever did–Asgardian style–or Tony touched Natasha’s very highly valuable skin care products again.
Neither of those has happened, as far as Tony’s aware (especially the last, Tony seriously loves his face), and it sets him in a frenzy that has him rushing into the living room.
“What was that?” asks Tony, Steve hot on his heels.
Natasha and Thor are sitting on the couch together–and seriously when did that ever start happening, because Tony’s pretty sure the only person Natasha hates as much as Tony is Thor.
“That was Thor,” Natasha says, and she’s smiling at him.
That never happens.
It’s unsettling, more so than one of her many glares, and he’d never thought that would happen. “You can stop smiling at me now,”
He thinks he feels an elbow to the ribs, but Tony’s pretty much immune to that by now, because he’s experienced it his entire life; from Obie who would do it whenever he did something inappropriate, to the many flings he entertained when he was younger–the morning after was always the most awkward time, and the most painful.
Thor doesn’t say anything, just wordlessly hands them the laptop that he has on his lap.
It’s only after Tony sees ‘Steve (Captain) Rogers is in a relationship with Iron Stark’ that Thor actually says something, or rather, he pounds Tony’s shoulder so hard that he can literally feel a bruise forming. But it’s not like he can say anything, really, because Thor is a Norse God, and Norse God’s can definitely end up ruining Tony’s life, for good. But really what it just comes down to is that Thor scares the living shit out of him, with his always smiling face and too long blonde hair, and really, really heavy hammer that can crack his skull with a tiny tap.
"My friends!" booms Thor, not that he ever seems to do anything else. Sometimes Tony imagines that Thor came to life booming and hollering, and it wasn’t in the normal way that babies cry, but rather he was screaming. Probably for his hammer. Only it was much, much smaller, and of course, plastic. If there were even plastic toys in Asgard (Tony didn’t know, probably never would, Thor said humans trying to switch between the realms was complicated and dangerous–and for Thor to be calling something dangerous says just how dangerous it really is). “My most sincere congratulations on the admission and officiation of your romantic bond."
Tony laughs, he honestly likes Thor, even if he is slightly intimidating and yells more than he should. Steve, on the other hand, just looks downright uncomfortable, and his body is doing that thing that Tony enjoys more than anything, where his flush travels down the length of his neck, colors his chest and the tops of his shoulders. Thank god for Steve wearing sleeveless tops around the house. Actually, thank god for sleeveless tops in general.
“Thanks buddy,” grins Tony, in the way that Steve has once told him makes him look like a cat that’s stolen your spot in your bed–the one that you laid in right before you got up so it would be nice and warm–and has absolutely no intention of getting up. Tony Stark always looks smug, and there really is no other way to describe him being smug. He also happens to pull it off perfectly.
Thor beams, like Tony’s just given him new polish for his special hammer or something and gives Steve a one-armed hug, ignoring how Steve tenses all over (or maybe he just doesn’t notice, or just doesn’t care–Tony and Thor are alike in that way, they’re actually alike in more ways than Tony wants to count).
“My approval extends to the very ends of the roots of the Yggdrasil tree. Even if you happen to – what’s the Midgard way of saying it–”
Tony waves an easy, dismissive hand. “I think you’re getting ahead of yourself there, tiger,” he cuts in, smoothly. “We’ve only been dating for one hour, twenty five minutes, and approximately thirty-nine seconds.”
Natasha’s eyebrows raise. “I’m not even going to pretend to be surprised.”
“It’s not easy being a genius, ph–”
Natasha’s expression immediately melts into boredom, and she shrugs off his reply with a glare, one that has the hairs on the back of his neck raising. “Don’t care,” she says, and Tony glances down at the laptop again.
Somehow, Natasha snuck in a reply on the changed relationship status with a ‘finally!’ comment, which Tony seriously doesn’t understand, but doesn’t question. He’s learned that with Natasha, it’s better to not question stupid things, or else his body–especially his lower regions–will get covered in bruises. Bruises that he would rather not have to explain to JARVIS, or well, anyone for that matter.
She leaves the room just as silently as she always does. “She will never fail to scare me,” Tony says, filling the silence that had been left.
“She would make a good wife in Asgard,” Thor says, sighing dreamily.
Steve’s eyes shift towards him in shock. “Pardon?”
“The woman of Asgard are looked down upon in my realm. They’re not considered strong but are verily strong in magic. I find the strength Miss Romanov possesses to be most intriguing”
Tony doesn’t know what to say, because the boisterous Norse God had always come off a little on the...well, queer side, if he’s being honest. You can’t look at your adopted brother’s ass like you want to eat it and then call yourself heterosexual, or rather, you can’t look at any guy’s ass like that and still call yourself straight.
Then again, Tony tried that whole stint once many moons ago, and it worked, but it’s down the drain, now.
There is a buzzing on the table, and all three of them look down to see Thor’s phone lit with a text message, and Tony’s pretty sure he sees ‘Lokmister’ with something that looks suspiciously like less than three next to it.
Luckily, before Tony can say something utterly embarrassing like ‘well, at least he’s your adoptive brother!’ or something far, far more inappropriate; it’s hard to get more inappropriate than that, but he’s Tony Stark.
If there is one thing that people have learned (especially Tony) it’s that you never underestimate Tony Stark.
“My brother sends his highest regards on your gathering together romantically!” Thor yells again, pounding the table with his fist with enough force to make the floor shake.
Tony doesn’t know what to say, because there is not much to say when the only images running through his mind are Thor, Loki, a table and pounding, relentless pounding. The picture in itself is as frightening as it is intriguing.
“Thank you,” Steve says, because he’s polite, and then turns to Tony. “Shall we?”
“Right,” Tony says, catching onto the look in Steve’s eyes, one that says ‘get-me-the-fuck-out-of-here-before-he-tries-to-discuss-our-non-existent-sex-life-with-us-and-oh-yeah-by-the-way-I’m-never-listening-to-one-of-your-ideas-again’. “Thor, buddy, we’ve got some...unfinished business to attend to.”
“The latex balloons are in Clint’s top drawer! Remember, Midgardians, protection above infection!”
Tony and Steve are lounging on the roof when an arrow flies past the vicinity of Tony’s face, way too close for comfort, and lands in the tree beside him.
There is no question on who it could be, because it’s very easy to hit Tony if you really wanted to, and Clint has enough motive and skill to successfully complete it.
Steve doesn’t look alarmed either, because with someone who is as skilled and quiet as Clint is, you get used to things flying past your face at high enough speeds to dismember you. It happens enough that it can even be said that it happens daily, which says more about the Avengers as a whole than just about anything, really.
Tony goes back to his tablet, because there’s always work to be done, new designs and plans to be drawn and approved of, new gossip to catch up on. Steve is drawing away in the little leather notebook that he always has on his person–even in battle–and how the thing never gets destroyed, or even scratched will be one of those things Tony will never be able to figure out.
“I saw your status,” Clint says, right next to Tony’s ear, and Tony’s heart just about stops beating (if it wasn’t for the arc reactor, that would’ve happened quite a while ago) and he’s pretty sure the mini heart attack he just had was noticeable enough that Steve looked up from his drawing.
“Jesus Christ,” Tony breathes. “How about, next time, you try not to do that, and instead approach us like anyone else would, like through a door.”
Clint shrugs. “Rather not,” he replies, and then sits shifts closer to Tony. “So is it true?”
“That we’re Facebook Steady?” asks Steve.
“The term,” Clint pauses for a second, looking between the two of them, and then his eyes get half-mast and kind of hazy. To Tony, Clint honestly seems more invested in their relationship than either of them, which is just as fine, if Clint did all the dirty work it would save Tony a lot of time that he didn’t have. The sad thing is, Clint would probably be willing to do it to, just to piss of Fury. “Is Facebook Official.”
Tony cuts in before Steve can, because Steve is likely just to embarrass himself, and it’s not really his fault–or rather it is; spending more time on the Internet is never a bad thing–and Tony isn’t so much of an asshole to enjoy watching Steve flounder.
“Yes,” Tony says, reaching over to touch Steve’s skin lightly. He tries to ignore how he visibly tenses, but luckily Clint seems not to notice. “We are.”
Clint beams. “Finally we’re going to be able to breathe something other than UST around here!”
Luckily, Clint leaves before Steve can ask more embarrassing questions, like what UST is and how the hell do you breathe it and why are you so excited by our relationship?
When Tony checks his Facebook twenty minutes later, he unsurprised to find out that Clint left a comment on the changed status.
He is even more unsurprised when he finds out that it literally is, ‘Finally we’re going to be able to breathe something other than UST around here!’
There isn’t much of a story behind Bruce’s reaction.
Tony ends up telling Bruce when Bruce is in mid-transformation, and he gets mad, turns green, and breaks almost everything in sight. Including Tony’s collarbone, which narrowly escaped the line of fire–being the Hulk’s fists of course.
“I do love your sense of adventure,” Bruce told him the next day, when he was Bruce again, human and likable; familiar. “And congratulations on your relationship, Mr. Stark.”
The one reaction that Tony is definitely not able to predict is Pepper’s. Pepper is someone that Tony has known the longest out of everyone that he comes into contact with frequently, but she’s also the one that he’s not able to read, or at least, read to the extent that is needed to gauge her reaction to something. Especially Tony’s ability to entertain flings and relationships–and no, this has nothing to do with the fact that they used to date.
Not even a little.
The thing is, Tony and Pepper have a weird relationship, probably the weirdest relationship that Tony’s ever had. They understand each other, they know each other’s weaknesses and strengths, and oddly enough the only time they ever use it against one another is when Pepper tries to get Tony to do the better good for everyone involved.
Pepper is possibly the best person Tony’s ever known.
Next to Steve, of course.
Tony is alone, when Pepper approaches him, because she wouldn’t approach him when he was around Steve. Tony has always had the suspicion that the only man Pepper could truly be close with was him, because things just happened that way sometimes, and sometimes Tony truly did wish that Pepper had chosen someone else for that particular part in her life.
But Pepper is to Tony as Tony is to Pepper, and maybe that’s why they happen to care about each other through all of the bullshit. They aren’t expendable, or at least they’re not to each other, and it took Tony going through being stuck in a cave in the middle of the desert to realize this, but at least he has.
Pepper never tells him thank you, and he never says you’re welcome, but they don’t need to–mostly it’s that they don’t want to, they’re both careful about being sentimental around each other, and that most definitely stems from the botched attempt at being in a relationship with each other.
Pepper doesn’t like or comment on the status that night, nor has she done either when Tony wakes up the next morning, which is fine and well. Pepper has always been one to do things in person, Tony would have to be a fool not to realize this fell under that blanket as well.
What Tony doesn’t expect is to see her face as soon as he opens his door the next morning, and it nearly sends his heart flying out of his chest.
“Jesus fuck,” Tony breathes, steadying himself on the door frame. “How about you warn me next time?”
Pepper looks at him, unamused and straight-faced, every single hair sitll in place, every eyelash perfectly coated in an even coat of mascara. Tony never noticed it before, but Pepper puts an effort into her appearance in the way that she puts an effort into everything.
“I did, there should be a text message on your phone stating my exact coordinates at this particular time sent approximately an hour ago,” Pepper replies dryly.
Tony’s eyes crinkle in the way that they only do around Pepper. “What’s on the agenda today? Stark Industries falling apart again?” He asks, instead, because he knows Pepper better than he probably knows anyone, and he can read when she’s hear for small talk and when she’s here on business.
“For once, it’s not. That’s not why I’m here, though, Tony. I’m here because I’ve caught wind that you’ve gotten into a relationship with a certain special avenger.”
“Can I at least have some coffee before we have this conversation?” Tony asks, trying to suppress a groan. Pepper’s one-on-one talk’s are never as fun as they might sound.
Pepper makes a hand motion that basically means ‘yes’, so he does.
“Just don’t hurt him, Tony,” is all Pepper says, though the ‘like you hurt me’ is definitely implied.
“Who says I’m going to hurt him?” Tony asks, honestly curious.
Tony’s not a bad person, or at least he doesn’t try to be. He’s a little eccentric, sometimes his mind goes off in places that he can’t control, and he’ll admit to forgetting to sleep and eat sometimes, and sometimes that results in him not really paying attention to anything, but that’s just Tony.
“I’m not saying you are going to, Tony,” Pepper replies, and puts a weighted hand on his shoulder, meant to be reassuring. It’s not, it’s anything but reassuring, but Tony doesn’t have the heart to shake her off. “I know you mean well, but others don’t always know that. And Steve’s been in love with you for months now.”
He scoffs. “Yeah, okay.”
Pepper sighs. “I know you won’t believe me, because for of a man as you are, Tony Stark, you’re painfully oblivious to the obvious.”
“I’m not sure whether to be offended or to be flattered,” he says. Anything to steer the topic of conversation away from Steve and Tony and together in the same sentence.
She doesn’t look amused. “What I’m trying to say here,” she pauses, exasperated. “Is that I’m happy for you. And not to break his heart, because chances are, you’ll probably break your face. On something valuable. Like Natasha’s fist.”
He narrows his eyes. “I do love it when you sweet talk me.”
She smiles, then, nice and pretty and it’s a shame that she doesn’t smile more often, Tony thinks, because it’s nice. He’s sure he wouldn’t be the only one to think that, either.
When Tony checks his phone later, there is a new text from Pepper, with the coordinates and a ‘Expect me here soon - P’ sent hours before.
Surprisingly enough, he’s not really surprised.
They go on with it for a week before Steve finally cracks.
Tony’s sitting in his room, going over extensive plans for new prototypes and other things–super genius things, so high-tech and classified that he’s resorted to calling them ‘things’–and he doesn’t notice that Steve has stepped in until he feels a hand on his shoulder.
He doesn’t jump in his seat. He definitely doesn’t. “Jesus,” he sighs. “You and Pepper are one and the same,” he mumbles under his breath.
“Pardon?” Steve asks, looking down at him curiously.
Tony waves a dismissive hand, and ends up getting oil all over the front of his already rumpled and stained t-shirt. “Damn,” he says, almost instinctively, before turning his attention back to Steve. “And nothing, forget it,” he replies. “So why are you here? Keeping up images, hm?”
Steve flushes all the way to the tips of his ears, which really shouldn’t be endearing but it somehow is. “That’s what I wanted you to talk about,” he says, carefully.
Tony immediately knows where this is going, because Steve is using that voice, the one that he uses when he has to talk small children down from trees where there are huge alien forces approaching blocks away. So, he does what any genius, philanthropist, and inventor would do: he derails.
“Not obvious enough?” He asks.
Steve narrows his eyes, catching onto Tony’s little game. Steve sees through every single one of Tony’s ploys, can point out the flaws in Tony’s perfectly masked lies. It’s infuriating, but it’s nice, too, because Tony never thought someone would care enough to even search in the first place.
“Quite the opposite, actually,” says Steve, “I think we should call it quits.”
Tony blinks, and he tries hard, really, really hard not to take it personally. They weren’t even dating, and the truth is, they probably never will, either, because Steve is Steve and Tony is Tony and while Tony might like Steve more than he should, Steve has never given indication of feeling the same.
“You’re breaking up with me?” He asks, even though he already knows the answer to it. Truth be told, Tony knows the answer to almost all of the questions he asks, he’s just one of those assholes that likes the sound of his own voice. “You don’t break up with Tony Stark, no one breaks up with Tony Stark–”
Steve cuts him off, bless him. “Tony.”
Tony looks up, pride forgotten, and sighs. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I think the team was starting to get suspicious because they’ve never seen us have physical contact other than the occasional casual elbow brush.”
Steve smiles, tiny and bright in Tony’s room. Steve doesn’t smile too often, but somehow Tony finds Steve smiling at him, and well, that’s nice too. “I think they’ve chalked it up to the fact that almost everyone on the team thinks I’m a prude.”
“You’re from the 40s,” Tony says. “In their minds that immediately means that you spent your nights reading books and drawing sketch art.”
“I did.” Tony hears a full on laugh this time. He tries to pretend that it doesn’t make his skin tingle slightly, but he mostly fails. He’s bad at lying to himself when it comes to how Steve makes him feel.
“I know that,” Tony says, and gets up from the chair, places a steady hand on Steve’s shoulder. “But they don’t have to.”
Breaking up with Steve had gone well, probably because there was nothing to break up to begin with (they were friends, always were going to be friends, probably; Tony was slowly starting to realize that this was probably for the best).
Telling the team that the entire idea had come straight from Tony’s brain and was just a hoax, a good bit of ‘trolling’ fun, on the other hand, had gone very, very bad.
Tony called for a ‘team’ meeting in his living room, because it was best to tell everyone at once than for one member of the team to find out from anyone but Steve and Tony.
“So, I have something great to tell you,” Tony starts.
Thor perks up. “Is this your matrimonical announcement?”
Steve shifts, uncomfortable, next to Tony, causing the skin of their exposed elbows to rub.
“Well, sadly, I don’t see that happening in our immediate future,” Tony says.
“Basically,” Steve cuts in, and looks around the room with jumpy eyes. “We’re no longer togethe–”
“We never were together,” Tony says, at the same time.
Natasha blinks. “Excuse me?”
Tony sighs, and tries not to meet her eyes, because he really is a coward when it comes to Natasha–everyone is a coward when it comes to being confronted by Natasha–and she’s looking at him like his head deserves a place on her wall. “We decided to troll you,” says Tony, and it’s really, really hard for him not to sound proud.
“Tony decided to troll you,” Steve corrected, side-eying Tony with a disapproving look. “He just strung me along.”
“My native tongue doesn’t understand what the word ‘troll’ means,” Thor says, his eyebrows furrowing together.
Clint, ever the enthusiast, looks caught between bemused and annoyed. “It means we’ve been played,” he says, turning to Thor.
“This isn’t football,” he says back, looking even more confused than he had before.
“No, of course not. What Clint means is that it was a joke, that they were never together,” Pepper says. Her voice is clinical, with no emotion whatsoever.
She really doesn’t look caught off guard, and Tony thinks that is what probably hurts the most.
“So, basically,” Clint says, glancing at the both of them; Steve looks uncomfortable and guilty, like he just ran over someone’s dog and doesn’t know how to tell someone. Tony almost feels horrible about that, for creating this entire mess in the first place. Almost. “There’s still going to be suffocating UST around here.”
Natasha laughs, dry and humorless–but she normally laughs like that anyway, so Tony isn’t really alarmed. “Clint,” she says, slowly, like she’s talking to an incompetent child. “It never really left."
And because Tony is kind of an asshole, especially when the situation is awkward and when he doesn’t know what to do, so he laughs.
Around the mansion, things slowly start bleeding into the normality that once existed (or at least how normal it’s allotted to be, with a house full of superheroes).
Bruce still breaks everything when he turns green and only sees red, and Tony still doesn’t mind fixing everything he breaks, because he likes fixing things and if he’s honest, half the shit Bruce breaks was what he was planning on replacing anyway. Steve continues to lead and draw, and just be Steve, because generally that is what people are supposed to do; be themselves.
Natasha still hates Tony, maybe even a little more than before, but this time Tony doesn’t exactly blame her, has no one to blame but himself. Thor is still Thor, and there’s honestly know other way to explain that.
Basically, life keeps going on, just like Tony knew it would. Or, at least it keeps going on until Pepper happens.
Tony’s by himself in his basement, working on a developing a new model of Captain America’s new suit–apparently alien saliva can make the molecules of the metal break down, who knew–when he hears the door open. He doesn’t look up from his work because he knows the only person who doesn’t knock is Pepper (besides Clint, but he would never come down here anyway). Pepper is harmless to his precious equipment, anyway, Tony figures.
“Pep,” Tony says, always the first to get a word in. Some people say Tony likes hearing the sound of his own voice, and while it may be true, Tony just likes having the upper hand; authority.
“You’ve been down here for seven hours,” Pepper says, instead of saying something normal, like ‘how are you Tony?’ or ‘do you need another cup of coffee?’ but that’s to be expected with Pepper.
“I know,” Tony replies. Contrary to popular belief, sometimes Tony isn’t oblivious to the world around him when he works. Most of the time he is, but not always. “I really wanted to finish this prototype.”
“You really need to eat,” Pepper says, and only then does Tony realize the infuriating smell that has been bothering him for the last couple of minutes are the three slices of pizza that Pepper has on a napkin for him (because like Tony would ever use a plate, please).
“You’re wonderful, have I ever told you that? Cause you are. I don’t know what I would do without you, Pep,” Tony says, and grabs for the slices of pizza.
“End up smelling like a dead skunk that’s drowning in pizza, probably,” Pepper replies, and a hint of a smile tugs at her lips. “But, I’m not here just for the food, Stark.”
“Is Bruce trying eat Thor again?” Tony asks, like he would ask how the weather is, or maybe do you happen to know what Steve’s new plans are for the alien race that is inevitably going to invade the country soon because those type of things always happen when they’re ill prepared.
“Again?” Pepper asks, eyebrows raised.
“I’m afraid that happened from one too many beers, a substantial amount of cocktail wieners, and one offensive comment that Thor happened to mutter last Saturday night.” Tony explains.
“I’m here to talk to you about Steve,” Pepper says, instead of commenting on Tony’s ridiculous escapades, the ones that he holds when Pepper is away at her own house, doing her own thing, and he’s left to his own devices and cabinets full of cheap alcohol.
“What about Steve?” Tony asks, cautiously.
Pepper sighs. “You’re torturing yourself,” she says, looking at him with that look, the one that says yes, she actually cares but that there is no way in hell that she’s actually going to admit to it now, because Tony knows it and she knows it.
Tony does the mature thing: he ignores this.
He ignores everything until he can’t anymore, because with a father who was too busy working on his latest inventions and innovations, who loved metal and iron more than his son, and with a mother who never bothered to care, or maybe she just didn’t really know how to. He ignores everything until he can’t and then he pretends. He pretends because it’s just as easy as ignoring something, and in Tony’s world, they’re both a hell of a lot more convenient than feeling.
“I’m not torturing myself right now,” Tony says, “I’m actually trying to improve Cap’s suit so next time he’s not in danger when alien forces try to kill us again,” he points out.
“Don’t,” Pepper says, “don’t try to make a joke out of this, Tony.” She forces him to look at her, with glaring eyes. “I’ve watched you work yourself into the ground countless times because of countless reasons, most of them not even comprehensible. This is different, this is something at your fingertips and I know how you feel for Steve–”
“Steve is just a friend, Pepper,” Tony says, slowly, because maybe if he acts like it’s not true, it’ll actually end up being that way.
Tony’s never sat down and analyzed his feelings for Steve, because unlike equations and mechanics, and everything that’s so fucking logical that there is a defined truth to it, and there’s stability and knowledge. With feelings, with Steve, the line between truth and fiction is blurred significantly, and there is no sure way that Tony can prove the feelings are returned.
So Tony doesn’t think about his feelings for Steve. Most of the time, he forgets they’re there in the first place.
It’s easy to convince people you don’t have feelings when they’re convinced you don’t have a heart, anyway.
“He is,” Pepper says, matter-of-fact. “But you want to be more.”
“Don’t spin me some bullshit,” she cuts in, cutting off what he was about to say, which is probably for the best, anyway. He would have ranted on about something that wouldn’t have made sense to anyone but him, and while it would have derailed the conversation, he supposes it’s better just to get it over with. Pepper isn’t the kind of girl that gives up on anything, especially when it has to do with Tony.
He doesn’t spin her anymore bullshit, he just chooses not to talk at all, because it’s easier. Tony enjoys when things are easy.
She ends up doing all of the talking, anyway. “Tony, you deserve to be happy. I know you don’t believe it, because you’re incredibly self-critical underneath your asshole exterior, and I get that. I get that, but Steve doesn’t. He’s in love with you, Tony, if only you saw the way he looks at you.” Pepper says.
“Try,” Pepper urges. “Try, because you deserve happiness, Tony.”
It’s a few weeks later, and Tony doesn’t remember the last time he slept, let alone left the basement for longer than thirty minutes at a time to attend to regular human needs. Steve’s suit–Captain America’s suit, rather–has to be finished, and soon, and while Tony used to work at an incredible fast pace, he’s older than he was five years ago. Cap’s suit requires improvements and innovations, ones that probably aren’t necessary but ones that Tony does anyway, because obviously Captain America deserves the best.
There is stale leftover pizza sitting in moldy pizza boxes piled up in the corner; normally they would have been picked up by now by Pepper, but Pepper has been leaving him be for the most part since the whole ‘Steve Talk’.
Tony honestly hasn’t noticed much, he hasn’t been noticing much of anything besides Captain’s suit.
Tony is tired. But Tony is always tired, and the fact that it’s happening in increasing increments isn’t surprising to Tony, but he is used to this. When he gets to this state, he just grabs himself another cup of coffee and decides that an extra thirty minutes of work isn’t going to hurt, that in four thirty minute periods he could probably finish the damn thing. So he tries.
He’s on his second cup of coffee when there suddenly isn’t coffee anymore. There suddenly isn’t anything anymore.
Tony would be confused if he was able to process conscious thought.
When Tony wakes, his head is pounding and his mouth feels like it’s full of cotton. Everything is blurry for a few moments before things start coming into focus, the huge windows that span his entire wall, the TV, and someone that looks like Steve sitting in a chair, looking off at the scenery.
“Steve?” He asks. His voice cracks, is too deep and raspy and so unlike his own, it startles him.
Steve jumps too, before looking at Tony and smiling, no matter how small and tight it may be. “You’re finally awake,” he replies.
“What?” He asks, again, because his higher level brain processing isn’t available at the moment, probably won’t be available for an indeterminable amount of time.
“You’ve been asleep for the better half of three days,” says Steve.
Tony makes a move to scramble out of bed, because three days translates to seventy-two hours, and that is seventy-two hours that has been lost to him doing something unnecessary, like sleeping, when he could’ve been doing something productive, like perfecting Captain America’s suit.
A strong hand pushes him back onto the bed, gently. “I do admire your work ethic, but you seriously need to stay in bed.”
Tony narrows his eyes. “No,” he corrects. “No, I do not. What I need to do is go back down and finish your suit, America depends on your suit. You depend on your suit.”
Steve’s hand is still firm on his shoulder. “That can wait. What can’t wait is you getting better,” Steve insists.
There is nothing that annoys Tony more than having to sit around doing nothing, because he’s just a hands on type of guy. “I’m fine, Cap, honestly.”
“You weren’t,” Steve pauses for a moment, considering. “Natasha was the one that found you, down there, and she looked like she was about to cry.”
“She always looks like that,” Tony says, breezily. “That’s just how her face naturally relaxes.”
“Tony,” Steve warns, looking at him disapprovingly.
Tony sighs. “Fine.”
It’s been two days since Tony woke up (officially, at least) and Steve has still yet to let Tony out of his room for more than small sessions at a time.
“I’m fine,” Tony says, for the last time that day, because he’s seriously going to do something drastic if he doesn’t get out soon.
Steve shakes his head, his mouth a tight line. “No,” he says.
“That’s not even a reason.”
“It’s not,” Steve agrees, easily, too easily. “But I’m your Captain, which technically means that I’m your boss, and that gives me free permission to let you back out on the field when I feel like you’re ready, and I don’t believe you are.”
And that’s seriously the most Steve has ever said in a sentence since Tony has known him. It leaves him feeling a little mesmerized.
“You can’t leave me locked up here forever,” Tony points out.
“No, I can’t,” he pauses. “But I can keep you here until I feel like you're able-bodied enough to defend America’s virtue.”
“Which means I’m going to be here until I have normal sleeping patterns,” Tony finishes.
Steve smiles, slightly. “Basically.”
“You can’t cure insomnia,” Tony points out, because you can’t. And Tony has tried, he really has–but admittedly, all of them have failed mostly because Tony didn’t want to find a cure. More sleep meant less work, and sometimes (most of the time) sleep was on the bottom of his priority list.
“I know that,”
Tony narrows his eyes at the speck on the wall in front of him. “Which means that I’ll be here for a while, possibly for the rest of my life.”
Steve grins, now. Tony tries to pretend that it doesn’t send a tingly sensation throughout his body. “Precisely,” says Steve brightly, before he walks away to go do normal superhero things, like walk around Tony’s house, and do other shit that Tony isn’t allowed to do anymore.
“Stupid superhumans,” Tony mutters under his breath.
Two hours later, Tony realizes that he doesn’t have to answer to anybody but himself, because he’s fucking Iron Man, and Iron Man is seen as one of the strongest, most worshiped figures in the country. And while Iron Man might not be Tony Stark, Tony Stark is Iron Man, and how exactly those directly correlate with each other to the point where Tony sees it fit to sneak out of the room without Steve’s permission isn’t really cut and clear–even to Tony.
But basically, what it comes down to is Tony is tired of these ‘timed bathroom sessions’ and how Steve sees it fit to bring him food and water and while normally Tony would appreciate that, he just really wants to go back down to his basement and work on the suit he promised Steve two weeks ago.
Sneaking out of the room is easy, because being captain of The Avengers whilst being a national superhero and role model means that Steve leads a very, very busy life. He’s never around during the most of the daytime, which leaves a large amount of time for Tony to do whatever the hell he wants.
Today, that’s sneaking out, grabbing some real food and possibly hacking away some more at whatever the hell is laying around his basement workshop.
“What are you doing?” Steve asks, calmly, much to Tony’s relief.
Tony had lost track of time while down there, which usually happens, because once you put Tony around machines, metal, and computers, he’s lost to the world. He really did mean to go back up to the room before Steve got home, but either Steve got home earlier than expected or Tony went over on the amount of time he allowed himself down here (it’s probably a bit of both, mostly the latter, though).
“I’m working,” Tony replies, because there’s no use in lying. Steve hates it, Tony hates doing it when he’s around Steve, and he figures that Steve will probably appreciate the honesty more than he’ll focus on the fact that Tony is down here without his permission.
“You’re supposed to be resting.”
“I am resting,” says Tony, smoothly. “I call this ‘resting while touching fine machinery.’”
“I meant with a bed, and pillows, and nothing around you to distract you.”
“Yeah, well,” Tony shrugs. “I can always get a mattress and some pillows down here,” he says, looking up at Steve with bright eyes.
“No.” Steve replies. “Then I–we’d never see you.”
And really, Tony wants to say something to that, probably something shitty because that’s just the type of person he is when he tries to flirt, he’s an asshole and says too much and flirts too hard, but he can’t, this time.
It’s when it hits him.
The wave of exhaustion that no matter how many times Tony blinks his eyes to get rid of it, it never leaves. How his bones suddenly feel like liquid and his skin feels like it’s ready to crawl off and tuck itself inside a suitcase. He’s not sure how he didn’t notice it before, the sneaking feeling that he was going to need to close his eyes soon (he probably ignored it, he always does).
“Tony?” Steve asks, concerned.
Tony looks up, unable to focus on anything but the blurriness that surrounds Steve’s head. “Hey Steve, I’m ‘inda tired.”
"Let's get you back inside," Steve says, noticing the dark circles under Tony's eyes that are somehow always there.
Tony sighs, and doesn't have the fight left in him to do much of anything but find a nice cozy bed and sleep in it. Preferably with Steve, but he's flexible.
"Steve," Tony slurs, "you'd make a great cap'n."
Steve laughs, rich and deep in his throat. "I know, Tony."
"Steve," Tony says again, slow.
"Person, best ever, you know?" He’s not even sure what he’s saying anymore, and then he trips over a wire that he forgot to tuck back under the rug and instead of falling face first into the ground like he thought he would, strong, ropey arms catch him before he can.
“Strong,” Tony whispers, and then adds, “I like your ‘rms.”
“You’re not even making sense anymore,” Steve says, with a chuckle, and Tony would normally be thrilled because his arm doesn’t leave Tony’s waist.
“Like you,” Tony says.
Steve freezes, and nearly snaps his neck to look at Tony. “Pardon?”
“‘Said I like you,”
There is a stunned silence for a while, the only sound is Tony’s harsh breathing and the thud of Steve’s heart that happens to be in the vicinity of his ear.
“Well,” Steve says, uncomfortable. “I like you too, pal.”
“No, no,” Tony starts, looking up at Steve with glazed eyes. “Like you, want to be your boyfriend. Real, though.”
And because Tony Stark is a classy man, he passes out in Steve’s arms.
When Tony wakes up again, this time, his head is perfectly clear. His mouth doesn’t taste like death, and when he checks himself to see if he can still complete complicated math problems in his head, he succeeds. He counts this as a victory, and looks around the room; his breath catches when his eyes connect with Steve’s.
“How do you feel?” Steve asks.
“Better,” Tony says. “Much better, probably more normal than I’ve felt in a while,” he adds, and because he’s a masochist he continues, “Sorry, about the other day, when I went down in the basement when you told me not to. Probably shouldn’t have done that.”
“No,” Steve agrees. “You shouldn’t have.”
There is a silence that Tony doesn’t know how to classify. It’s neither comfortable nor awkward, and it bothers Tony more than it should because he’s unable to classify it. Before Steve, everything was set in stone, everything had a place, and usually, everything was in that place. Now, everything was dismembered, scattered about everywhere and it was chaos. It wasn’t the kind that Tony enjoyed, either. It was the kind of chaos that was just there, the one that you didn’t want to admit to liking because then you had to admit to a bunch of other feelings that you didn’t know if you were ready for yet.
“But I’m glad you did,” says Steve after a few minutes, breaking the silence.
“Wait, what?” Tony asks, looking up at Steve with curious eyes.
“Did you mean it?” Steve asks, instead of answering.
Tony thinks he should probably wear duct-tape around Steve, especially when he’s just woken up and hasn’t had his coffee yet, because he say stupid shit that he doesn’t mean to say, or ask. Maybe he should just cease to exist in the mornings all together, or around Steve at all, because all that ends up happening is embarrassment.
If there is one thing Tony Stark hates, it’s being embarrassed.
“What you said about – about you liking me,” Steve answers, and he’s nervous. Tony can tell he’s nervous, which is admittedly kind of adorable, but then again there is a lot about Steve that Tony is willing to admit (only to himself, of course) that’s endearing.
“Well, yeah, maybe – I mean, uh,” Tony pauses, licking his lips because suddenly they are very, very dry. “You know what? Forget about it. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable and it’s totally fine, it’s not like you have to like me or anything like that, Cap.”
Tony makes the move to leave the room, even if it is his bedroom, because fine, he can deal with Steve not returning his feelings, he really can. He’s a grown man and he’s mature enough (on most days) and he’s able to handle adult feelings. He’s just not able to handle those feelings when he’s in front of Steve, because then he’ll probably do something stupid, like get fantastically drunk in front of Steve and tell him every detail of every fantasy he’s ever had with him.
Tony wouldn’t mind getting fantastically drunk, just not in front of Steve. Preferably, he’d be alone in the basement, working with useless scrap metal, bending it to different shapes and forms because it’s a stress reliever, one that he particularly enjoys.
“Tony,” Steve says. “What makes you think that I don’t like you?”
Tony pauses. “Well, you brushed me off last night,” he points out.
Tony can literally feel his dignity dropping because of how pathetic he sounds. Seriously, he’s never allowing himself to get this vulnerable this close to Ste–
“I didn’t touch you because you weren’t fully conscious, Tony. I wanted to make sure it was what you wanted.”
And then, before Tony can get another word in, Steve says, “I’ve kind of been in love with you for months.”
Tony doesn’t know what to say at first, as it takes his brain a few moments to process ‘in love’ and ‘with you’ in the same sentence, let alone the fact that it happened to come from Steve’s mouth.
“Just so you know,” Tony says, taking a step closer, relishing in the heat radiating from Steve’s body. “You could have.”
“Could have what?” Steve asks.
Tony smiles. “Touched me. Last night, I mean. I wouldn’t have minded.”
Steve smiles, and brings Tony close by closing an arm around his forearm. “I could have, yes,” Steve agrees. “But it was worth the wait. This is much better,” he whispers, and then carefully slides his mouth over Tony’s own.