Steve looked suspiciously at the schedule Tony Stark presented to him as if it were papers ordering him to report to Hydra high command as a new recruit.
“Come on, Cap, it will be fun,” Tony said cajolingly. “Just a week of your time in Vienna between Christmas and New Year’s.”
Tony leaned back into his chair, his fingertips pressed together, his eyes evaluating Steve.
Looking around Tony’s sleek, modern office full of angles and hard surfaces, Steve was not sure how to reply. “I thought you’d be asking Iron Man since he’s your bodyguard, Tony.” He looked over the schedule with trepidation.
“I’m giving him a vacation,” Tony said with a smile. “He needs one. And so do you, Steve, if I may be so bold.”
Steve hesitated. Tony had been so generous with his money and support for the Avengers, even having his own bodyguard on the team. And this was such a small request, just a little of Steve’s time to accompany him to Vienna for a business trip, all expenses paid. Steve really should not turn him down.
But Steve did not need a vacation. He had plenty to do, and if the aliens and supervillains did not take vacations, neither did he. Maybe someone else from the team would be better, he pondered.
“Really, Steve, you were my first choice and I don’t think anyone else would be suitable,” Tony said, as if reading Steve’s mind.
Tony really could lay on the charm sometimes, Steve continued to think. He looked up at Tony’s cool, blue eyes and noticed the indecipherable look on his face. “Fine, I’ll go. There was some charity work --”
“Pepper will take of it,” Tony replied cheerfully. “Just show up for the corporate jet the morning after Christmas.”
“Oh, remember to pack something to wear to black tie events. You know the deal,” Tony added as Steve got up to leave.
Steve replied, “Right.” So it was going to be one of those trips.
Once out of the office, Steve sighed as he waited by the elevators. A week with Tony would not be so bad. He was an interesting man, and Steve did not know him really beyond that Stark funded the Avengers.
But if Steve had his druthers, he’d rather be going to Vienna with Iron Man.
Tony had a bet with himself whether Steve would be coming as Steve or Captain America.
He’d known the guy for a couple of years now and it was hard to see sometimes the man behind the uniform. Which didn’t stop Tony from developing a crush on All-American Boy Next Door. What made it worse though was a rather uneventful incident with a supervillain a couple of months back.
The supervillain was unmemorable, the three-hour chat with Steve in the quinjet on the way home the best thing ever. After some everyday chit-chat about this and that and the latest Avengers news (read “gossip”), Steve talked about baseball and movies, then began to actually open up about his art. Tony could recall vividly the real smile on Steve’s face as he mentioned the success of a recent class he’d taken. Which no one else knew about, Tony later found out.
The idea of Steve keeping secrets was intriguing and that he was willing to tell Iron Man even more. That’s when Tony secretly started to have a thing for Steve Rogers, who was adorable, sweet, a little dorky, very interesting and surprisingly, somewhat different from Captain America.
Happy pulled into the airport and up to the corporate jet, in front of which Tony found Steve awkwardly waiting. And it was Steve out of uniform. Tony took a moment to appreciate the beauty of the tableau in front of him.
“Hey, Cap,” Tony said jauntily. “Let’s get going.”
He had very high hopes for the next week. The idea of the vacation had come to him while shaving one morning. It would be brilliant -- he would sweep Steve off his feet with a vacation to a beautiful European city that would provide the right combination of anonymity and holiday escape. He already envisioned the old world hotel they would stay in, with a fireplace and a great view of the city. They would go to museums and fantastic restaurants, stroll through festive streets and gardens and visit historic sites. He was also convinced that he could talk Steve into a nightclub. Definitely he could get Steve to a movie or a concert, if Steve was into that sort of thing. He would shower Steve with money, presents and attention. The possibilities were tremendous. And there would be that moment where their hands would brush or he would catch a meaningful glance from Steve and they would kiss. And more.
Or Tony would just use an EMP to strand them in an elevator for a few hours and hope something would happen. He was not picky.
All he had to do was convince Steve to come along, and that was a little harder than he expected. And Steve was here as promised. So far, so good. Except, as usual, he had not really thought out the trip, as it turned out.
He should have at least checked the hotel website.
The flight was long, but uneventful and the limo ride to the hotel the same. Tony covertly watched Steve, waiting for the look on his face when they arrived at the hotel. And he was not disappointed, as Steve was genuinely impressed by the Hotel Imperial in all its Ringstrasse-style glory. And Steve continued to be impressed with the rooms that Tony had booked, an Imperial Junior suite for each of them, the rooms with the best views. And they were the best rooms Pepper could get, considering that the hotel was nearly completely booked for the holidays. As Steve checked out the breathtaking city views from his room, Tony pointed out the architecture and important buildings around them. The only disappointment was the lack of romantic fireplaces.
Tony clapped Steve on the back. “So let’s meet over breakfast in my room and then head over to the Stark Austrian headquarters for the morning meeting.”
Steve could not take his eyes away from the view. “When?”
“How about seven in the morning? The meeting is at 9 -- won’t take long and the office is not far -- then we can take in a museum and lunch.”
Tony had worked with Steve long enough that he could tell that Steve was very interested in the unspecified museum trip. Now if he could only remember Steve’s preferred art styles, then he could find the perfect match. “See you in the morning then?”
“Seven sharp,” Steve nodded.
Over a coffee and rich pastry breakfast, they negotiated which museum to visit. Tony mentioned the pros and cons of each museum from a very long list and Steve admitted to being torn about where to go. In the end they agreed to go to the Museumsquartier and decide what to do when they arrived. While Tony took a few minutes to get ready for the meeting, Steve checked the weather and the directions. Tony grabbed his coat and said that a car would be picking them up.
Steve asked, “Do you need that briefcase?” He pointed at the simple, black case stowed away in a corner of the room, partially hidden by the furniture.
Tony shook his head. “No. Just a piece of luggage I forgot to put away,” he said nonchalantly. He knew it was a risk to bring the briefcase suit along when he was traveling with super-observant Captain America. He’d be safe enough from prying questions if he did not make a big deal over the briefcase.
As they left, Steve picked up the artist portfolio he had leaned against the wall.
“Really, Steve?” Tony knew very well what was in that portfolio. There were toddlers who handled being away from their little stuffed animals better than Steve his shield.
Steve shrugged. “You never know. Plus, I’m here to be your bodyguard, Tony.”
The staff of the Austrian offices of Stark Enterprises were thrilled to see Tony. They made a big fuss over him, giving him and Steve an in-depth tour of the offices, showering Tony with compliments and food. Tony swore he met every person who worked there. He smiled, glad-handed and pleasantly commented and then asked charmingly about starting the meeting.
Before he was whisked off to the conference room, he made sure that Steve was made comfortable while they waited. The meeting went well, although Tony sensed some sort of underlying tension. Even with some careful questions, he could not quite put his finger on it nor did anyone spill, even after Tony targeted the staff he thought could be pushed.
As he was being shown back to where Steve was patiently waiting, Tony paused in the doorway to look at him and felt a pang when he saw Steve unexpectedly sketching. Steve brushed a few stray hairs out of his eyes, frowned, and then erased a little of his sketch, the tip of his tongue between his lips.
Tony smiled watching him. Tony really hoped to see more of Artist Steve. And now he’d have Steve with him for the rest of the day. Hopefully it would be enough time to get Steve to at least fall in serious “like” with him. This would be the longest time he’d ever been alone with Steve as Tony Stark. Already Tony had to bite his tongue a few times in case he said something or other that only Iron Man would know about Steve.
“What are you sketching there?” Tony asked.
Steve closed the notebook. “Just the chairs. So we’re free to go?”
“Yep. Business is done for the day. Off to the museums. You should probably leave the portfolio here though. The staff tells me that the museums will make you coat check it.”
Steve looked very serious for a minute, clearly struggling about what to do. He finally agreed. “Okay. It would be better here than in a coat check.”
“There’s a high-security room here for classified materials. Let’s lock the ‘portfolio’ in there.”
After locking up the portfolio and while waiting for the car, Tony got more of those strange feelings he had earlier. Now that the meeting was over, a staff member seemed a bit upset that Tony was not on his way back out of Vienna. The woman played it off that she thought that Tony would be anxious to return to friends and family during the holiday season.
Tony glanced over at Steve, who had a slight frown on his face. At least he was not the only one who heard that.
Once in the car, Steve said, “Hmm. They seemed to be worried about something.”
Tapping on his leg, Tony nodded. “They were like that all morning. The only thing I found out is that they opened the office specifically to meet me and then they’ll be closed through New Year’s. But this is more than some people being annoyed about their vacation being interrupted.”
“Maybe. Maybe not.” Steve had a thoughtful look on his face, his body stiffening into Captain America readiness. “What would Iron Man tell you?”
Tony groaned. “He’d probably say the same thing as you did.” Tony then played it up a bit. “Do you ever talk about me?”
Steve shook his head. “He doesn’t say much about anything other than work.”
Determined to get back on track with the day and to distract Steve, Tony started to point out various landmarks on the way to Museumsquartier. Steve began to relax again and smiled at Tony and his efforts. Tony was developing a real fondness for that smile.
He liked being here with Steve, who seemed to be enjoying his company too. Oh, the rest of the trip was going to be fun. Be better, though, if Steve did not bring up Iron Man again.
Steve pondered his menu as Tony checked his phone about a museum. When the car dropped them off, they immediately agreed to go to a restaurant first, then a museum. He glanced up at Tony frowning and tapping away at his phone. He wondered why he had not noticed that Tony was a very good looking man before, especially with his sharp blue eyes and lively manner. Steve appreciated all the efforts that Tony was clearly making so that this business trip would be pleasant for Steve too. At first he had felt a little guilty filling in for Iron Man on this trip, but now he was finding that Tony was fascinating and very worthwhile to spend time with.
Tony rattled off a description of the Leopold Museum and started to explain the Vienna Secession and Art Nouveau movements. Although charmed by Tony’s explanation, Steve still interrupted. “Tony, I think it’s a great idea to go the Leopold. Since you mentioned Vienna, I was pretty keen on seeing Klimt and Schiele.”
“Yeah, that’s right, art school.”
“Just a year,” Steve replied. “This is a treat.” He thought that Tony looked pleased.
Their waiter took their orders and menus. Tony started to discuss his plans for dinner and was suggesting that they take in a concert. Before he could answer, Steve noticed a man at a service station acting a bit strangely.
“What’s the matter, Steve?”
“There’s something not right.” Steve had a feeling he was about to find out why Tony needed Iron Man as his bodyguard.
Tony turned in his chair to see what Steve was watching so carefully. “It doesn’t seem to be out of the ordinary.” He frowned slightly. “Ah, I see what you mean,” he added as he saw the man reaching under his suit coat for something.
Steve moved very swiftly, pulling at Tony. “We need to get out of here. Now.” He looked quickly around the half-full restaurant. Whoever was after them could not be dumb enough to shoot at them in a crowd. But he was not going to take that chance and immediately dragged a surprised Tony clutching his coat towards the back of the restaurant, through the kitchen among shouting chefs and out to a back alley behind the restaurant.
Assessing where they were, Steve urged Tony to follow him down the alley and around the corner of a building.
While Tony pulled out his phone to call for the car, Steve asked, “Do you know what that was about?”
“Didn’t recognize him. One of your enemies, perhaps?” Steve shook his head. “Local hire. Unknown employer. Great,” Tony replied.
He reached the driver and tried to describe where they were. Steve yanked his sleeve to get Tony’s attention as Tony nearly wandered out into the street looking for a street sign. “What? Oh,” Tony said grimly as two men rushed towards them.
Despite not having his shield, Steve met their attackers in the street. A few uppercuts, a right hook, a knee to the groin, and a finishing blow to the back of a head later, Steve efficiently put an end to the attack. Tony and Steve moved further away from the restaurant and museums, hoping to evade whoever was attacking them.
They hid in a doorway. While Steve remained on lookout, Tony pulled out his phone. He swore under his breath. “Of course they are.”
“What’s the matter, Tony?” Steve asked with concern.
“My phone. Whoever is attacking us must be using my phone to pinpoint our location. Where’s your phone?”
Steve checked his pockets. “Back in the restaurant,” he said.
“Okay,” Tony replied. Concentrating, Tony pushed a series of buttons on his phone. “I’ve deactivated your phone so it’s now a fancy and pricey paperweight. How far can you throw?”
“Good. Throw the phone.” Tony handed it over to Steve, who immediately threw it more than halfway down the street.
They then ran in the opposite direction. They wandered through several streets, with Steve every now and then checking to see if they were being followed. Eventually they stopped. Tony was completely confused and had no idea where they were.
“Can you tell where we are? Weren’t you here in the war?” he asked.
Steve pursed his lips and swept his head back and forth, checking the street. “Once, I was here once. I don’t recognize much of anything, considering it’s daylight and the lack of Nazis, Hydra and heavy armament in the streets.”
Tony grumbled, “Great. If only I had thought to arrange for Nazi flags everywhere, we’d have a fighting chance.”
“It’s not that bad, Tony. Let’s get back to Stark Enterprises offices and retrieve the shield. Then we’ll get you back to the safety of the hotel. We can sort out the rest later.”
“What makes you think they’re after me?” Tony thought life was unfair, considering how delicious Steve still looked even after running through several city streets and blocks, and he was likely a complete mess.
“Well, you did ask me to come along as your bodyguard,” Steve said. He ran his hand through his blond hair, brushing it into place. “I have an idea of what direction to go in and maybe we can catch a cab.”
“How are you managing without your coat?” Tony asked. Steve was clad only in khaki pants and a blue button-down shirt layered over a white t-shirt. “You make me feel cold just looking at you.”
“Don’t really get cold,” Steve said, shrugging.
They set off in the direction Steve’s instincts suggested. After a couple of blocks, Tony hailed a cab, and Steve with his eidetic memory gave the address for the offices. Settled in the back seat of the cab, Tony took out his wallet to see how much he had on him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Steve sit up straight, completely alert. They were stopping for a red light. And Steve was watching like a hawk the generic black car that pulled up next to them. When the light turned green, the other car took off.
“We’ll be fine,” Tony said. His hand brushed against Steve’s and he glanced up at Steve moodily staring out the window.
Then Steve shifted a bit. “We’re not going to be fine in a minute,” he said in a low voice. The black car was beside them again. This time it was on Tony’s side. “Can you see who is in the car?” Steve asked.
Tony shook his head. “The windows are tinted.” The car inched forward and stayed a half-car length ahead.
“Intersection coming up,” Steve stated firmly. He started to search the cab for things he could weaponize.
The cab started to slow down. The other car slowed down too. The light was turning.
Steve said softly to the cab driver, “Get down.” Tony could see that the man was scared. Both the cab and the menacing car stopped, and Steve opened his door, jumping out and yanking Tony along just as gunfire burst from the black car. They rolled into the street and then they jumped up and were off again running as the black car was snarled up with stopped cars and people shouting.
As they looked for cover, Steve grabbed Tony’s hand and kept holding it. They ducked behind a dumpster in an alley way. “I’m covered with bruises and now it’s spitting snow,” Tony complained.
Steve dropped Tony’s hand and gave him a professional look over. “It might not be that bad. Suit’s ruined though.”
“I wonder how they found us. It’s not like I published a list of my activities or anything. Phone’s broken.” Tony patted himself down. “I don’t think there’s a tracking device on me.” He had a brief thought about patting Steve down, which would be an interesting activity in itself. “Hmmm.”
“We didn’t entirely shake them off our tail,” Steve concluded. “We’ll have to be careful. Now I know why you hired Iron Man.”
Thinking about other ways someone could be tracking them, Tony replied distractedly, “I wish I had the Iron Man suit right now.”
“Wait a minute,” Steve said. “You wish you had the suit?”
Tony caught notes of deep concern and confusion in Steve’s question. “Um, maybe? You know, Iron Man could be a robot. That I program or something?” Tony knew he was babbling.
“Are you saying that my friend, your bodyguard, is a robot?”
“Sort of.” Tony paused. “Maybe. Kind of a robot, kind of not.” Tony noticed that Steve seemed to get more distressed the more he talked. Maybe he should shut up if he did not want to spill his secrets. “Iron Man’s your friend?”
“Are you saying he’s a cyborg?”
“How do you know about cyborgs? And no, Iron Man is not a cyborg.”
“I like science fiction,” Steve replied with a shrug. “What is Iron Man then, Tony?”
“A man in a robot-like suit with an AI that I made. The suit has a lot of features --” Steve looked relieved. “Hey, why does it matter if Iron Man is a robot or not?”
“I would like to think that I can tell the difference between robots and humans.” Steve looked down at the ground. He called Iron Man a very good friend -- always had Steve’s back in a fight -- but Steve was embarrassed that he really did not know much about him, to be honest. He really could be a robot or a cyborg or even Tony for all he knew.
“That is a sentiment we all can agree on,” Tony said. “But this is not helping. My suit’s a mess and there are a number of unspecified people trying to kill me or you.”
“They’re after you. That car pulled up on your side of the cab.” Steve sighed. “Stay here.” He ventured up the alley.
Steve needed a moment or two to gather his thoughts. One, they needed to retrieve his shield from the Stark Enterprises. Two, he had to get Tony to safety. Three, he had to stop these attacks somehow. And four, he needed to stop worrying about Tony so much.
Looking back to see Tony pacing back and forth in the alley, Steve sucked in his breath. Somehow Tony brought out Steve’s protective side. Steve did not have any faith that Tony could take care of himself against armed thugs. Although Tony was a tall man and very clever, and nicely built Steve admitted, he did not seem to have any experience with fighting or even self-defense basics.
Steve owed it to his friend Iron Man to make sure his employer returned safely home. Assuming that Iron Man was a man in a robot suit and not just a robot.
He ran his hand through his hair. He had a good sense of where they were now. He returned to Tony. “Okay, I don’t think we’re far from the Stark Enterprises offices. Once there we’ll figure out how to get to the hotel.”
Tony nodded. Steve noticed how tired he looked. “Tony, it’s going to work out. Trust me.” Steve wanted to hug Tony, to comfort him. Tony had to be worried about being attacked.
“I just want to know how they’re finding us.” Tony readjusted his clothes, fixed his tie, and pulled himself together.
“I wish it wasn’t snowing,” Steve said. “Maybe it’s just showers or something.”
They tried to walk like they were not being chased. Tony came the closest to nonchalance, actually finding the presence of mind to check out the buildings and people in the crowd. Steve was still on alert, keeping an eye out for attackers. Then Tony started to mention various facts about the architecture they were seeing. Steve marveled at his composure. He had no idea that Tony was this brave; maybe the bravest man he knew if he was handling this situation the way that he was.
Steve was keeping an eye out for danger. He scanned over the people on the sidewalk, some hurrying for work, others in a holiday mood moseying along. Steve trusted enough in the safety of the crowd to conceal them from their pursuers until they reached the Stark Enterprises offices. He listened to Tony’s constant upbeat patter, letting the words wash over him. Standing close to Tony, catching the musky scent of his cologne and feeling a tingle every time he bumped or brushed against Tony, Steve could almost relax and think that they would get to the offices without further incident.
Tony saw something in the street and stopped Steve. “Look at that car, that red Lotus over there,” he said, nudging Steve. Steve instinctively put his hand on Tony in case things went bad. “I saw the prototype at a car show last year.”
“It’s a great looking car, Tony, but we should not be standing here,” Steve warned.
“You’re wrong. It’s a tremendously fantastic car. I have to order one when I get a phone. You’ll be begging me to let you drive it, Steve, you know it.” Tony stepped away from the curb reluctantly so that they could melt back in with the crowd.
Too late though, they had been spotted. Steve cursed under his breath as he noticed the three gunmen heading their way. He glanced over at a glowering Tony, who seemed pissed off that he had been interrupted in his admiration of the latest Lotus supercar.
“I wish Iron Man was here,” Steve grumbled under his breath as he hustled Tony away and down a side street. Iron Man would know how to keep Tony safe, and not get distracted by Tony like Steve was getting. Because the more time he spent with Tony, the more Steve felt he was on some sort of slippery ground every time he looked into Tony’s eyes or touched his hand.
Tony was a little winded from their sprint down the street. Steve gently moved him into the doorway of a building and out of sight of the gunmen. “It’s not far now, Tony,” he said encouragingly.
He looked at Steve, with his quiet smile and protective air. He felt a little crushed that Steve was thinking he was useless. “I suppose you’d prefer Iron Man to be here,” he said miserably.
Feeling a bad that Tony heard his earlier comment, Steve put a warm hand on Tony’s shoulder. “Why would I want that? We’re doing just fine on our own.”
Tony suddenly felt buoyed by Steve’s encouraging words and sweet smile. But he laughed a little bitterly when it began to snow harder. “This is not like anything I’d planned. We’re supposed to be in a museum now. Where it’s warm.”
“That’s okay.” Steve pulled him closer. “You have snowflakes on your eyelashes,” he said in a low voice and reached up to brush the snow off.
“It is snowing,” Tony commented, the bite in his voice softening. Steve’s eyes were such a beautiful blue and his lips red and inviting. If only Steve felt about him as he felt about Steve, Tony thought with regret.
But then Steve’s arms were around him and Steve lifted his chin to kiss him. Tony, surprised at first, kissed back with passion. But the moment passed and Steve broke off the kiss. He brushed his thumb against Tony’s cheek and had a look of almost regret in his gentle eyes.
“We’re a couple of streets over from Stark Enterprises. Let’s go.”
Once they reached the building, Tony stormed up the stairs to the Stark Enterprises offices, swiped his ID card and retrieved Steve’s shield from the locked room. He then booted up a couple of computers in the director’s office. Suddenly in his element, he cracked his knuckles. “So let’s see if we can find anything.”
Steve looked around the offices, which seemed to be unnaturally tidy. He pulled up a chair and started leafing through some memos left on the desk while watching Tony rapidly typing and constantly talking each step of the way. “Wait a minute. Back up.” Tony scowled at the screen.
“I don’t think you’ll like this, Steve,” Tony said with annoyance.
Looking up from his stack of paper, Steve asked, “What’s going on?”
“It seems that our hotel is ground zero for an A.I.M. convention going on right now.” Tony turned the screen to show a local tourism website proudly advertising the convention. He then clicked on the hotel event listing which included several A.I.M.-related items. “Um, that’s not exactly public,” Tony mentioned. “I am so insulted that A.I.M. has the money to host a convention. Or maybe supervillainy is just paying better these days than I expected.”
Tony kept typing furiously. “What kind of convention could these guys be having? Do they have actual presentations and panels? Like the Latest Methods for Jacking StarkTech? Maybe I should go to that one.”
Steve said, “I guess we were the only ones who didn’t know.” He held up a memo that outlined what Stark’s employees knew about the convention.
Tony ripped the memo out of Steve’s hands. “Really? Oh, these are procedures for locking down all tech in the office in case A.I.M. goons decided to break in. At least my people were proactive. Still would have much better if they had told me that A.I.M. was in town when I showed up on their doorstep. They had no idea I was coming, so they must have been scared witless with all this going on.” Tony chuckled. He went back to the computers. “Ah, yes, they moved everything important off-site.”
“I thought that you had all these business meetings planned --”
“Yes, exactly, many meetings,” Tony replied vaguely. “Not just here, other places too.” On top of everything else, Tony did not need Steve to find out that he had lied to him about this trip. Steve would not be pleased at all.
“Okay.” Steve did not sound convinced but decided to let it go. “Well, now that we know that we’re surrounded by A.I.M. agents, do you want to go back to the hotel or stick around here and figure out a plan?”
“A.I.M. has been targeting me for years. So no wonder they’ve been after us all day,” Tony stated. “And since they know I’m in town, they’ll likely come here eventually. The Austrian operation is not one of our better known locations -- we might have some time until they locate us …” He sighed, then a chill swept through his body. The briefcase suit. In a hotel full of A.I.M. agents. “Wait. We have to go back to the hotel.”
“Tony, what’s the matter? You’ve gone pale,” Steve said with alarm.
Tony sprang up from his seat and started to pace back and forth. “Um, that briefcase you saw this morning?”
“Well, um, I brought some very experimental stuff I’ve been working on to show a guy here. It’s in the briefcase. We can’t let A.I.M. get their hands on it,” Tony said grimly.
“Right. So we go in, hope we’re not noticed, go up to the room, take out the briefcase, and then find the local SHIELD office or just go to your jet and leave,” Steve calmly said. Steve made it sound so easy, like a walk in the park.
Tony shrugged in frustration. “Yeah, that makes sense. Not the way I intended the week to go, but you’re right.”
Steve reassured Tony. “It’ll work out, Tony. Another option is that we drop you off somewhere safe and I’ll go get the briefcase.”
“What?! No,” Tony sternly said. “We’re in this together, Steve. It’s my stuff and I need to be the one to retrieve it.” If he did not want Steve to discover his lies about the trip, he really did not want Steve to find out about Iron Man, he thought desperately. Not when it was looking like Steve may actually be falling for Tony as Tony.
“Are you sure?” Steve asked. His face was concerned and worried. “Tony, I know that you brought me here as Iron Man’s fill-in. But, um, I, uh, don’t want anything, you know, to happen to you. A.I.M. is not to be messed with.”
“That’s assuming that only the competent agents were allowed to go to the big boy conference,” Tony replied. “I’ve got to get that briefcase back.” Tony was surprised to see the look of admiration on Steve’s face.
“You have to promise me that when I tell you to do something, you’ll do it,” Steve warned him. “This is a dangerous situation.”
“Yeah, yeah. I promise.” Tony rolled his eyes. “Let’s get going here. I’ll call for a cab to take us back to the hotel.”
The cab ride was short but very silent. Steve’s plan was very simple: get Tony into the hotel unnoticed and to an elevator or staircase to the room; Tony retrieves the briefcase; they leave the hotel and report to the local SHIELD office; and while Tony did that, Steve would reconnoiter. Steve had explained to Tony that he was very certain that A.I.M. knew that they were booked in the hotel and were likely waiting for them to return.
Steve had already decided to improvise on how they were going to get into the building. He ran through several scenarios in his mind about what could happen and the best approach. He wondered what type of weird energy guns A.I.M. might use. It could get messy real fast.
He looked over at Tony, lost in his own thoughts. He admired how brave Tony was being, he loved how they worked together to evade the A.I.M. pursuers. There was a lot to like about Tony, he thought, his intelligence, his not-inconsiderable charm, his sharp, blue eyes. He worried about protecting Tony, because no matter how brave or smart he was, he was still a civilian and not used to fighting A.I.M. He wanted to keep Tony safe. He had wanted that moment in the doorway when he kissed Tony to have gone on forever, and he wanted more moments like that. Unconsciously, his hand moved over the seat to entwine with Tony’s.
When Steve asked the cab driver to stop a little distance away from the hotel, before they could get out Tony pulled Steve into a deep, passionate kiss. “Just for good luck,” Tony gasped. All Steve could do was smile back.
Tony paid the cabbie and watched Steve shift over to Captain America undercover mode. He took a deep breath and followed after Steve. He had the sinking feeling that whole day was not going to end at all well.
Steve stopped a short distance away from the hotel and observed the foot traffic moving in and out of the building. No one in beekeeper uniforms, just a collection of men and women in suits milling around. He glanced at Tony and motioned with his head. They would try to go through the lobby.
They made it more than halfway through the lobby and were on their way to the elevators. They both knew instinctively that A.I.M. agents were waiting somewhere in the hotel and agents were likely in the lobby right now. No one was paying attention to the business man in a rumpled suit and an art student with his portfolio. Tony waited by the elevators while Steve kept watch. So far, so good, until someone coming out of the elevator bumped into Tony. “Tony Stark!” the man yelled.
And with that, their attempt to sneak into the hotel was over. Steve whipped his shield out of the portfolio and started punching A.I.M. agents. He shoved Tony into the elevator. “Go, go!” he shouted at Tony as the elevator doors slid closed.
Tony’s heart sank as the elevator moved slowly upwards. He hated leaving Steve on his own, especially with the number of A.I.M. scientist-terrorists now likely swarming through the hotel. At their floor he ran to the room, which to his great relief seemed undisturbed.
He paused a minute. All he had to do was grab the briefcase, put on the Iron Man suit, and race down to fight with Steve. Or hunker down and wait for Steve. That was Plan B, he was pretty certain.
But Steve .... he could not leave Steve on his own, no matter the risk that Steve might find out about his identity as Iron Man. Steve right now was fighting a hotel full of science-terrorists to protect helpless, civilian Tony Stark. Tony dragged out the briefcase from its hiding place and put on the suit. He might fail Steve as Tony Stark but he was not going to let Steve down as Iron Man.
Never one to resist a dramatic entrance, Tony flew out the window, flipped around, and then crashed through the plate-glass doors into the chaotic lobby. The hotel staff had long fled their stations, and chairs, cushions and papers were tossed all over the room. Steve was in the midst of a horde of A.I.M. agents, kicking, punching, hitting and clocking his attackers with the shield.
“Hey, everyone, Daddy’s home and the party’s over,” Tony announced to the room. A few well-aimed repulsor blasts should wrap this up soon.
That’s when the terrorists started shooting their funky energy guns. But Tony grinned when he saw a look of welcome relief flash across Steve’s face. He saluted Cap and then threw himself into carefully blasting A.I.M. agents. After all, they were fighting inside an historic landmark.
The only way Tony knew that they were winning was that more and more agents were staying down after being hit. There were even a few downed agents in the yellow beekeeper outfits. He wondered where they found these guys. “Say, Cap, how much longer?” he asked.
Steve only grunted in reply as he beaned an agent on the head with the shield. Finally the local SHIELD chapter showed up, suited up in battle gear with guns drawn. It was hard to figure what was going in the lobby with the constant shouting and swirling smoke from the energy guns. Tony’s sensors shrieked a warning about a stray energy blast heading towards Steve. In a split second Tony quickly leaped in front of an oblivious Steve to take the hit. Except that Tony forgot that the briefcase suit was not as sturdy as the regular suit. The blast caved in one side of the suit and knocked Tony back into Steve.
Steve caught Tony and laid him down on the floor. As Tony drifted in and out of consciousness, Steve fought off all A.I.M. agents that came anywhere near them.
“Iron Man, are you okay? What’s your status?” Steve asked.
Tony struggled to reply. He could tell that the suit was extensively damaged and he would be forced to take the helmet off to breathe. Maybe Steve would get distracted soon and he could somehow shuffle into a corner before Steve found out he was Iron Man.
Steve was not leaving. “Are you okay?” He crouched and reached towards the helmet.
Dammit, Tony had to breathe and he was in terrible pain. He popped up the faceplate and said weakly, “Hi, Steve.”
“Tony!” Steve exclaimed in surprise. His face was frozen in shock. Then he asked in a strained tone, “What’s going on here?”
“Could you, um, help me with the suit?” Tony asked. “It’s stuck.”
He walked a careful Steve through the process of freeing him from the suit. He was grateful for Steve’s super-soldier strength as Steve bent apart the blasted and twisted parts of the suit. “Was this what was in the briefcase?” Steve asked.
“Yeah,” Tony replied. Steve was gentle in taking off the helmet and the remains of the suit. Tony felt like he was melting into the armor and his right side was throbbing. He could taste blood in his month.
“You didn’t have to put on the suit,” Steve said finally with quiet fondness, brushing his hair back. “That really wasn’t a good idea.”
Tony hesitated a second. Steve’s hand in his hair felt very good. Maybe he could skate out of this -- one little lie -- and Steve would never know. He looked up into Steve’s worried face. He thought about kissing Steve and all the efforts Steve had put into protecting him. And he knew he could not lie. Not now. Maybe Steve would forgive him for the earlier lies but if Tony lied now, when his secrets were laid bare to the world, then Steve would really never forgive him.
He was surprised to hear himself admit, “Uh, Steve, I’m Iron Man.”
Steve rocked back on his heels. “Say what?”
“I’m Iron Man,” Tony repeated firmly. Tony tried to move but that was not a good idea. “Look, I’m not doing well here.”
“If you’re Iron Man, then why did you bring me on this trip?” Steve asked angrily. “You didn’t need me.”
Tony felt the anger rolling off Steve. “Um, I like you a lot, wanted to get to know you better and, um, spend time with you. I thought a vacation would be perfect,” Tony blurted out. He hurt a lot but it hurt a lot more seeing the anger and disbelief on Steve’s face. Tony wanted to say we’re fine, we won, no biggie that I’m Iron Man.
Steve stood up. “I’m getting help, Tony. Stay down,” he bit out, clenching his jaw.
The pain was overwhelming and Tony barely noticed when the paramedics came to treat him. They loaded him up on a stretcher, weaving through the trashed lobby and unconscious A.I.M. agents. He found he did not care much what happened to him since he lost Steve. Just as he always suspected would happen in the end.
Tony was unconscious by the time they reached the ambulance. So he did not see Steve return to check on him and ask the paramedics how he was doing and if he would be fine. Anyone listening could tell that Steve was very worried about Tony.
Tony struggled to sit up when he finally woke up after periods of fitful, pained sleep. He rubbed his bleary eyes and assessed his surroundings. He was in a private hospital room and as far he could tell he still had all his appendages. He wondered how long he had been here since the firefight in the hotel lobby.
“Mr. Stark?” a young woman asked.
What? Tony swung his head around to see a young, blond Pepper clone equipped with tablet and headset sitting in a chair in the corner of the room.
“Mr. Stark, are you awake?” she asked again.
“I’m assuming Pepper sent you,” he said wearily, leaning against the pillow.
“Yes, sir. My name is Hilde and Ms. Potts tasked me to assist you until you return home.” Hilde said. It was clear that she deeply admired Ms. Potts and was determined to do her best.
“Fine. Where am I, what’s wrong with me, how much do I have to pay, and where’s Steve? Answer those questions in any order you’d like.”
“You have been in the hospital for less than 24 hours. The doctors have diagnosed you with major contusions and bruised ribs on your right side, with significant skin abrasions, but you don’t have a concussion or any broken bones. They do have some concerns about dehydration -- that’s why the IV drip. They expect to release you in a few hours after the pain medication wears off.”
“Okay.” Tony looked up at the IV drip.
Potts Junior continued. “The hotel has offered to reimburse you for the cost of your stay and has upgraded your room to the Royal Suite.”
“Really. After I nearly destroyed their lobby?”
“Your lawyers and SHIELD had a discussion with the hotel lawyers and managers about A.I.M. The hotel out of embarrassment is declining to sue and will be sending you an official apology. The Stark Foundation has donated funds to the hotel towards the restoration of the lobby, which is not as damaged as originally thought.”
Tony was not expecting that. This trip had been full of surprises, not all of them good. “And Steve?”
“Captain America has been working with SHIELD and local authorities in rounding up the A.I.M. agents involved in the attack on you. I’ve already informed him that you will be released from the hospital today.”
“Oh, okay,” Tony said. The shocked look on Steve’s face after finding out that Tony was Iron Man was seared into Tony’s memory. Their reunion was not likely to be pleasant.
“Is there anything else, Mr. Stark?” Hilde said brightly.
“Not right now. We have to wait for the doctors.” Tony turned his head to look out the window, where he could see a bit of fluffy snow in the wind. He thought regretfully of Steve kissing him in the doorway and how wonderful it had been for a shining, brief moment. Tony had really blown it this time so badly that there was no way to fix it.
By the time a sore and stiff Tony returned to the hotel, all his luggage had been moved to the Royal Suite. There was a very large flower arrangement from Janet, who was in Switzerland on a ski vacation with Hank, with a long get-well note. Hilde reported that he had received dozens of concerned calls from a variety of different Avengers wishing him well.
Ordinarily Tony would not put up with the Pepper treatment from anyone who was not named Pepper or Rhodey. But he did not resist much when Hilde stated that he was expected to go to bed and rest as the doctors prescribed, and she made sure he was safely tucked away in bed before she left. Tony knew he would not be able to sleep until he saw Steve and tried to explain himself. If he possibly could, considering he had lied to the guy from the beginning.
As soon as he was certain that Hilde was not listening at the door anymore and was fooled that Tony was still in bed, he got up. His side and ribs were still tender from all the bruises but he could function. He explored the suite, impressed with the size and view from the windows. The strange thing was the rollaway bed set up in a corner of the bedroom, with Steve’s luggage carefully arranged around it. Tony was more than glad to see the pile of Iron Man suit parts on tables set up along a wall in the main room of the suite. The first thing he did was sweep the room for bugs and other spying devices because he guessed that someone high up in A.I.M. likely had this room before him.
There was usually nothing that some time puttering with the suit could not cure. But today was different. He did not have his usual workshop equipment, just a small travel tool box and a laptop. And no Jarvis for tea and sympathy and great cookies. And the return of Steve weighed on his mind. Maybe he should have thought it over more before taking this trip with Steve. It had been such a good idea at the time, but anyone could have told him that it was going to end in ruin and tears. He found himself rechecking parts four or five times.
Then it was time to face the music as Steve returned to the room. He looked like sheer misery, covered in a mixture of filth and blood. Hopefully not his own, Tony thought. “Um, hi, Steve,” he said.
“Tony.” Steve gave a curt nod. “Glad to see you out of the hospital,” he said tonelessly, clearly exhausted. “Could you order me something from the room service menu?” he asked. “I haven’t really eaten since yesterday. And I need a shower.”
As Steve dragged himself off to the shower, Tony scrambled for the room service menu. Figuring out what Steve would prefer for dinner, he put in an order for some appetizers, four entrees and a couple of desserts. Steve was just getting out of his lengthy hot shower when the food arrived and was artfully arranged on the dining table in the suite.
Feeling terribly guilty about it all, Tony could not quite bring himself to look at Steve, who came from the bathroom pulling on a blue sweatshirt which highlighted Steve’s own very blue eyes. The shower had revived Steve somewhat and he looked thrilled with the amount of food in front of him. Steve sat down in a chair on the end of the table next to Tony and ate for a few minutes.
He looked up from the remains of his steak and said, “You know, Tony, most people go out for coffee for a getting-to-know-you date.”
“Well, you know me, go big or go home,” Tony replied, trying for breezy but probably sounding leaden.
“Are you okay? You looked awful when the paramedics hauled you away,” Steve said with concern.
“I’m one big bruise on my right from my shoulder to my toes and skin is itchy from the abrasions. I’ll live.” Tony pushed around the food on his plate. “I guess you must be angry.”
“I’ve been chasing and fighting A.I.M. agents up and down the Ringstrasse for eight hours. Before that I spent the day evading agents and then had a firefight. Even I don’t have the energy to be angry or have an argument right now.” Steve ran his hand through his damp hair. He looked down at his food and drank his beer.
Tony had no idea what Steve would do or say. He had been bracing to be yelled at, for hours, since he returned to the hotel. Steve’s subdued reaction was so unexpected.
Then Steve looked very pained. “Why, Tony? First, you never tell me or any of the Avengers that you are Iron Man, so we think that you are two separate people. And then you lie to me about the reasons for coming here.”
“A point in my favor is that I didn’t know there was an A.I.M. convention here. I would have suggested somewhere else in that case.” Tony was finding Steve’s pain very unnerving. He just did not want to hurt Steve anymore. “Uh, about the Iron Man thing. I probably should told the Avengers a while ago, but there really wasn’t ever a good time. And, um, well, I kind of started thinking that you guys liked Iron Man better than Tony Stark. So I went with it.” Hell, Tony liked Iron Man better than he liked Tony Stark.
“Okay,” Steve said. He ate more of his dinner. “Tony, I don’t understand why you would say that. I like Iron Man and I like Tony Stark. I was having an amazing time before we were attacked by A.I.M. I thought Iron Man was my friend. And I was starting to get to know you better as Tony. It is only going to be better working with you now that I know you are Iron Man.”
“Iron Man, your friend?”
“Yes, Tony. But it was really hard to get to know Iron Man because I could never see his, uh, your face. Then there was this trip back home on the quinjet when I finally got to know him, um, you better. And I was glad to know I had a friend now I could count on and maybe spend some time with.”
So Steve felt a connection too on that quinjet trip. And Tony had gone on to ruin it. Tony felt like crap and not just because he was sore all over. “I’m really, really sorry, Steve.”
Then Steve touched Tony’s hand. “Look, I’m just too worn out and have no patience right now to dance around the issues. I was angry that you didn’t tell us and I took it out on some annoying A.I.M. scientists or terrorists, whatever the heck they are. I’ll work through it -- that’s what friends do. Just don’t do anything like that again.”
“I think I can agree to that,” Tony said with some relief. “One secret identity was enough. It was getting harder and harder to hide it all from you and the rest of the Avengers. The stories I could tell …”
Steve made a face at that. “Tony.”
“Okay. Still a sensitive subject, I get it.”
Then astonishingly, Steve picked up and held Tony’s hand. “But most of all, I really need to know -- were you serious when you told me that you asked me to go on this trip to get to know me better?”
For what was likely the first time in his life, Tony was speechless. He stared at Steve’s hand holding his. He finally looked up at Steve, whose eyes were brimming with emotion. He started babbling, “I thought I was dying and you had just found out my deepest, darkest secret. So no, I wasn’t going to lie. Yes, I lied to you to get you to come a trip with me, because I thought you wouldn’t come if I asked you as a friend.”
Steve snorted. “You know, again, that’s something I should be outraged over. I really don’t like being lied to or manipulated. You could have just asked.”
“Even with the bodyguard excuse, you barely agreed to come along,” Tony pointed out.
“I barely knew you as Stark when you asked. Your invitation came out of the blue for me.” Steve yawned.
Tony leaned in closer to Steve, who did not pull away. “Tell me you loved every minute of yesterday, even when we were running away from the A.I.M. agents.”
Steve closed his eyes. “Please, Tony, I’m feeling conflicted here.”
“No more lies, right, Steve?” Tony stated. He could see Steve wet his lips with the tip of his pink tongue. His lips were so tempting. “You were the one who kissed me in the doorway.”
“You kissed me in the cab,” Steve replied.
“I wanted you to fall for me on this trip, Steve, and I hope I succeeded. Even with the A.I.M. agents, the secret identity thing, and the horrible injury.” Tony moved in closer, he could feel the warmth of Steve’s breath on his face.
“Pfft. You were just bruised, you weren’t going to die.”
“I could have -- you don’t know -- I was really banged up.”
“I wanted to kill you so badly when your faceplate lifted,” Steve confessed. “Much later, after punching the twentieth A.I.M. agent, I started thinking you might have had a good reason to hide behind the suit.”
“I did once, but those reasons kind of changed over time. I am sorry, Steve, please forgive me. Sorry for both things,” Tony said with all the sincerity he could muster. “If I could, I’d take it all back.”
Steve’s breath hitched as Tony put his hand on his thigh. “I forgive you,” Steve almost whispered. Then Tony kissed him. Steve opened up to him, kissing back. As Steve tried to pull Tony into his arms, Tony moaned in pain. “Like I said, I’m one big bruise.”
“Sorry,” Steve said. “We can talk more in the morning. But I’m really tired and should go to bed.” He stood up.
“Are you seriously going to sleep on that rollaway bed? It looks hideous.” Tony followed Steve to the bedroom.
“It’s your room and bed. I’ll be fine.” Steve cleared off the rollaway bed.
“The bed in here is so big it could have two zip codes. Come on, I’ll stay on my side and you can stay on yours.”
Steve looked conflicted, then he slumped a little when he compared the very comfortable looking bed to his bed. “Okay, you’re right.”
“You get nice and comfy, big guy, and I’ll get someone to clean up the dishes.”
By the time the butler cleared away the room service and Tony returned to the room, Steve was fast asleep, clinging to the edge of the bed. Tony’s heart hurt a little to see this. But he was damn lucky that Steve forgave him, so he needed to let Steve be Steve. He brushed back Steve’s hair out of his face and said very softly, “See you in the morning, sweetheart.”
Late the next morning, Tony woke up. He was suddenly aware that somehow in the night Steve had shifted over to his side of the huge bed and was sleeping with his back touching Tony’s. Tony knew he could get used to this. “Hey, Steve, you up?”
Steve rolled away from him and Tony turned around to look at the waking Steve. “I am now.” Steve was gorgeous in the morning, Tony mused, with his blue eyes and soft, mussed hair. Tony would do anything to make waking up with Steve happen again.
“You know, we can go home if you want to. I forgot to ask last night if that’s what you wanted.” Tony waited with bated breath to hear Steve’s response.
A thoughtful look passed over Steve’s face. “No. No, I would like to stay through New Year’s.” He smiled at Tony. “Plus you promised me museums.”
Tony reached out to touch Steve. “Anything you want, darling, just ask.” Despite everything, the rest of the trip was really looking up. And Steve’s sleepy smile this morning promised that it was going to be spectacular.
Tony was a lucky, lucky man. Lucky to be alive, forgiven, and to be falling for a great guy, despite A.I.M.’s best efforts.