“Don’t worry,” Reed Richards said, which immediately had Tony worrying. “I can fix this.”
“Fix what?” Tony demanded, feeling an ear twitch nervously. Wait…
He reached up in trepidation, realizing with a dawning sense of horror that his normal, human ears were gone. They had migrated to the top of his head and were now very fuzzy and distinctly pointed.
“Richards!” Tony yelped, other hand flying up to touch the second ear that should not be on his head.
“I can fix this.” Richards didn’t sound at all sorry or worried.
“Tony…” Steve sounded rather stunned. “Your ears…”
Tony looked over at Steve, rather hysterically noting that Steve was also sporting fuzzy pointed ears and what also looked a bushy platinum blond tail. “You have a tail,” he blurted.
Steve looked down, brow furrowed. “Oh.” He sounded rather blank.
“You do, too,” Richards said, and Tony felt something twirl anxiously around his right leg, and what the hell. He could actually feel his leg with the strange limb.
“Fix this,” Tony demanded, feeling his new ears flatten against his skull in anger.
“I said I can,” Richards said, looking down at the computer in front of him. “But…um…it’ll be a bit.”
“I have ears,” Steve said, sounding appropriately horrified. He was holding onto said ears.
“Why will it take a bit?” Tony asked suspiciously.
“Because I don’t know what happened,” Richards said. “Yet,” he added hurriedly upon seeing the murderous expression Tony sported. “It wasn’t supposed to do this.”
“What was it supposed to do?” Tony demanded.
“Something,” Reed answered vaguely, not at all reassuring Tony. “But, well, it apparently did something else.”
“Obviously.” Tony’s new tail whipped around agitatedly, and he grabbed hold of it in irritation.
“But you can fix it?” Steve’s nose was twitching slightly, and he had a strange look on his face.
“Of course,” Richards assured him. “But it’ll take some time before I figure out what exactly what went wrong and reverse the process.”
“How long?” Tony asked, because that was the question.
“A week.” Which meant more like four days, but that was still four days too long.
“There’s no hope of doing it now?” Steve asked desperately, thumbing his nose as he scrunched his eyes up in a way Tony didn’t at all find adorable (nope, not at all).
“Unless you want to switch places with your counterparts in another universe, then no,” Richards answered.
“You did not call us here just to mess about with the multiverse, did you?” Tony demanded.
“Of course not!” Now Richards sounded affronted. “I’d do that in seclusion.”
“You mean while the rest of us are still in the tower and terrified of our safety?” Johnny Storm’s voice drawled from the entrance of the room. “So, what’s been – holy shit, Reed, what did you do?”
Turning reluctantly, Tony saw Johnny gaping at them like a fish.
“I said I can fix it,” Reed said irritably.
“Can you do that without dumping them in a world where they’ll be worshipped as gods because they’re the only humans with animal parts around?”
“That sounds oddly specific,” Steve noted.
“No, it hasn’t,” Richards disagreed.
“I’m gonna go with mini-Steve for this one,” Tony said, earning a glare from Johnny.
“You know we’re not related, right?” Johnny said, rolling his eyes.
“Thank God,” Steve muttered under his breath, quietly enough that it hadn’t been intended to be heard by anyone, except Tony did hear it because he had animal ears and how was this his life?
“This hasn’t happened before,” Richards repeated, “but I can reverse it. It’ll just take a little bit of time. Why don’t you two stay here while I sort this out?”
Just the thought of it was almost enough to give Tony hives. “Yeah, no thanks.”
“What Tony means is that we can’t,” Steve said in a more reasonable tone. “We have things we need to do, and we can’t do them here.”
“You can’t go out like that,” Johnny pointed out.
“I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but there’s this lovely invention called a hat,” Tony started. “And I’m told there are these fashionable covers called coats.” His new tail flicked dismissively.
“Ha.” Johnny did not look impressed. “Funny.”
“I thought so,” Tony said, grinning.
“So do you have coats?” Steve asked, getting to the point like the good solider he was.
“Ben has something you can wear,” Richards said, giving the two of them another look, his eyes lingering on their new features.
“Oh yeah,” Johnny said, smirking. “He has a whole wardrobe.”
Tony considered that for a few seconds, recalling what he remembered of the Fantastic Four’s debut years ago. He could definitely see why Grimm had a whole wardrobe full of coats and hats.
“Great,” Steve said, shooting Tony a look when he didn’t say anything. “Then we’ll be out of here.”
“And you’re going to fix us,” Tony said to Richards, his new tail whipping around in agitation.
“Absolutely,” Richards promised.
They ran into Sue on the way out, and she gave them one look before rolling her eyes and marching upstairs while muttering death threats under her voice. Grimm simply heaved a resigned sigh and hauled out two giant coats and fedoras (the fact he didn’t even ask any questions but just did it had Tony suspect this wasn’t the first time something like this had happened).
Tony eyed the fedoras skeptically, well aware of the stigma attached to them. But as the only other hat Grimm had was a cowboy one Johnny had probably given him for a joke, Tony took the fedora and dropped it on his head, making a face when all noise was promptly muffled. Steve made a similar face, tail dropping morosely before it was hidden by the coat.
Tony’s own tail whipped around in displeasure, evidently unhappy to be hidden under the heavy coat. It took effort on his part to get it to still and even then he could feel it twitching by his thigh.
The benefit of going out dressed like two badly-disguised spies was that no one suspected them of being Tony Stark and Captain America. The bad part was that no self-respecting taxi stopped for them either.
“I’ll call Happy,” Tony offered, only for Steve to say, “Let’s take the subway.”
Steve pretended not to notice Tony’s look of moral outrage in favor of rushing him to the nearest subway entrance. Considering Tony did his level best to provide transportation for everyone, it confounded him as to how Steve even knew where it was.
But as it turned out, Steve had one of those cards that granted him unlimited access to the underground network of transportation. Tony felt almost offended by the insinuation and would’ve said something to that effect until he saw the look on Steve’s face.
There was an ease to Steve’s body that Tony hadn’t seen before. Even in that ridiculous getup, Steve looked more at home here than he ever did in Tony’s cars. He also kept giving Tony these sidelong looks like he was checking to see what Tony thought of this. Not quite able to muster a genuine smile (underground places weren’t his thing, even more so after Afghanistan), Tony raised an eyebrow and gave Steve an unimpressed look.
That seemed to have been what Steve was looking for, since his lips twitched as if he was hiding a grin before he turned to the task of catching the right train and bringing them back home to be laughed at by the rest of their team.
Once in the train, Tony found himself pressed between Steve and several other people. He didn’t object much to being pressed up against Steve (because hello, that was a very fine body, thank you very much), but his skin crawled at being surrounded by so many strangers. His nose kept twitching, assaulted by the myriad of smells that made up the unhygienic subway train, and he eventually had to cover it with a sleeve, preferring the scent of Grimm’s odor to that of old urine, sweat, and even vomit.
A surreptitious glance upward showed that Steve wasn’t faring much better, although he wouldn’t have known it if he wasn’t so familiar with Steve’s expressions. To anyone else, Steve would look pensive, but to Tony’s expert eye (for Steve, that is), Steve looked like he was in pain. His eyes were shut, his forehead was slightly creased, and his lips were parted as if he was breathing through his mouth.
If Steve had the senses of a dog, then his nose must be unimaginably sensitive, more so than Tony’s. And if Tony felt like throwing up, what must Steve feel like?
It was a thought that worried him until they reached their exit and hit the streets, and Tony had never been so happy to breathe in the smell of car exhaust.
“You okay?” Tony asked, not quite able to hide his worry.
Steve shot him a curious look, already more relaxed since they’d left the smelly subway behind. “I’m fine.”
“Not feeling queasy or anything?” Tony pressed.
“You mean the smells?” Steve’s nose wrinkled slightly, and he grinned wryly. “I’ve gotten a bit used to it since my senses are more amplified anyway.”
“I felt sick from it. You’re telling me that the rank odor down there didn’t bother you?”
“I’m used to it,” Steve repeated, apparently not willing to admit to having had a sensory overload down there.
Tony snorted, but let the topic drop. He wasn’t going to get anything else out from Steve, and he also wasn’t going to get into a screaming match right here. “Do you like traveling down there?” he asked instead, genuinely curious.
“It reminds me that not everything has changed. People still travel and run into strangers and don’t apologize. It’s life.” Steve’s tone turned wistful towards the end.
Tony swallowed hard, glancing at his feet for all of a second before snagging Steve by the wrist and pulling him towards the tower. “Okay,” he said, making sure to keep his tone brisk. “You’re in charge of telling them just what’s happened to us. I might stab Clint with a fork if I have to.”
Steve looked vaguely alarmed at this statement. “What should I say?”
Tony gave him a look, giving the forever unflappable doorman a brief look at his ID before snatching it away and hauling Steve to the elevator. “We have animal traits for the unforeseeable future until Richards manages to get his shit straight and fix it.”
“And why can’t you fix it?”
“Because I’m not an expert on multiverse theory and I can’t be expected to mop up after Richards’s messes every time he fucks something up.”
“But what will the media say?”
Now Tony shot Steve a suspicious look, catching sight of the other’s twitching lips and the way Steve fought not to meet his eyes. “Very funny,” he said, rolling his eyes.
Steve looked inordinately pleased. “I thought so.”
Tony made to fold his arms, realized he was still holding Steve’s wrist, and dropped it, taking a step back just to be safe. He felt his tail twitch nervously under the coat. “No one would think you were naïve after spending time with that sense of humor.”
“Well, darn,” Steve said, reaching up to tip his fedora over to a rakish angle. “There goes my plan to seduce the media with my innocent wiles.”
Tony snorted before he could stop himself. “Christ, Steve, don’t.”
“I like ponies,” Steve said in an atrocious English accent that JARVIS would be ashamed of.
“You’re a Brony now?” Tony managed to say just as the elevator doors opened to the common living area.
Much to their misfortune, the team was occupying it, Bruce and Thor engaged in a chess game while Natasha and Clint watched.
They looked up upon hearing their arrival, and Bruce dropped his knight upon seeing them.
“Oh my God,” Clint said. “What are you wearing?”
Bruce squinted. “Are those fedoras?”
Tony rested a hand on top of the fedora, feeling his newly feline ears twitch nervously. “It was this or the cowboy hat.”
“No, the question is why you guys are dressed like spies out of a bad spy movie,” Clint said.
“I thought Halloween was still months away,” Thor said, carefully sneaking Bruce’s knight away.
Tony nudged Steve in the side, giving him a pointed look that Steve returned with a displeased one.
“On three?” Steve asked, his hand coming up to his own hat.
Tony didn’t require further instruction to know what Steve was asking about. He tipped his head, giving Natasha a roguish grin that she responded to with an unimpressed eyebrow.
With a simultaneous flourish that neither of them had rehearsed but certainly looked like it, they took off their fedoras and pressed them to their chests like the gentlemen in the old movies.
“Alas,” Tony said into the ringing silence that followed, “we have no flowers to present to our lovely dates.”
Clint blinked rather rapidly, head tilted to the side as he tried to take in the sight. Natasha sighed, head tilting back so she could study the ceiling with a patented “Why me?” expression. Bruce gaped, and Thor squinted slightly, shrugged, and proceeded to take out Bruce’s queen with a pawn.
“Why do you have ears,” Bruce finally managed, voice strangled.
“We’ve always had ears,” Tony said, enjoying this far more than was probably healthy.
“No, why do you have animal ears?” Clint blurted out.
“We have animal ears?” Steve turned to Tony. “Do we?”
Tony brushed a hand over his head, skimming over the new ears. “Apparently.”
“And that’s odd,” Steve continued slowly, hands going to the buttons of his coat. “So I suppose this is odd as well?”
He took the coat off with a flourish, revealing his new tail, which was quivering with something that looked far too much like amusement. Tony thought he could even smell it.
Now Thor cocked his head to the side. Bruce simply buried his face in his hands, shoulders shaking slightly in what was probably stunned disbelief.
“You have a tail,” Clint said redundantly. “Why. What on earth did Reed give you a tail for?”
“I resent the implication that he had a reason to give us ears,” Steve said, sounding affronted.
“Better hearing,” Natasha offered, sounding far too calm for this.
Tony hung his fedora off one of Steve’s ears, earning an irritated look that he ignored in favor of shrugging his own coat off. His tail promptly lashed out to flick Steve’s before curling around his leg in a distinctly self-satisfied manner.
“So you both have tails,” Clint said. “Awesome.”
Steve dropped Tony’s fedora back on his head, one ear flicking back in satisfaction as Tony’s tail promptly twisted around in surprise and Tony let out what sounded suspiciously like a hiss.
“JARVIS, please tell me you’re getting this,” Clint said, looking up at the ceiling.
“I am currently still attempting to process the fact that Mr. Stark and Captain Rogers have animal characteristics, but I believe everything is on file for us to review at a later point,” JARVIS said.
“That’s a lot of processing power for a little thing, JARVIS,” Tony said, dumping both hat and coat on the nearest table. “Maybe I should get you some more.”
“I would be most pleased, sir.”
“So you’re gonna be like Skynet then, but benevolent,” Clint said, leg bouncing slightly.
“I have no plans for world domination,” JARVIS assured Clint.
“I notice you didn’t include Tony in that.”
“Please. I could’ve ruled the world in my sleep about a dozen times by now.” Tony waved a dismissive hand. “It’d just get boring, and then I’d leave the running of it to Pepper.”
“The terrifying thing,” Steve said, “is that I can see this happening.”
“So,” Bruce started slowly, lowering his hands from his face, “has Reed said anything on how long this’ll be?”
“A week?” Tony shrugged, scratching absentmindedly behind his left ear. It twitched slightly. “Hopefully sooner.”
“We didn’t want to stay,” Steve said, ears flattening, and Tony thought he smelled irritation.
Which was weird because what the hell. Could cats smell emotions? What about dogs?
Tony’s tail flicked about his legs inquisitively, and his ears perked up. Steve shot him a curious look, his own ears tilting towards him inquisitively.
“Dude,” Clint said emphatically from the couch, “that is just weird.”
“Can I run some tests?” Bruce asked, sounding just as curious as Tony had expected. “If this is going to be for a week, we need to know what to expect.”
“Indeed,” Thor said, taking Bruce’s castle from the board and adding it to his growing collection. “It would not do for one of us to inadvertently poison you.”
There was a piercing screech then that had Tony flinch and duck down defensively, shoulders coming up to where his human ears had been. His tail stiffened, the tip quivering.
Steve whined and promptly clapped a hand over his mouth, looking rather mortified. His tail slumped, evidently in response to his embarrassment.
“Enhanced hearing is a yes,” Natasha said, holding up the damned whistle that had been the cause of it.
Tony shuddered slightly, feeling every inch of himself crawl slightly at the memory of that sound and how it had hurt his eardrums. “Where did you get that?” he demanded.
Natasha quirked an eyebrow. “You really want to know?”
On second thought, Tony didn’t really. But. “Don’t do that again.”
Natasha gave him a deeply unimpressed look, and Tony instinctively bared his teeth for a moment before his mind caught up and he pressed his lips tightly together, entire body wound as tightly as a spring. His tail was stiffly arched, a clear threat to anyone who dared to look.
“I think it would be best if we did it now,” Bruce said, glancing down at the chessboard. He frowned. “What—” he began.
“I have beaten you,” Thor proclaimed proudly, knocking over Bruce’s king with a lowly pawn. “Submit.”
Bruce squinted up at Thor, evidently completely unconvinced. “Really?”
“Is it not the goal to take the opponent’s pieces?” Thor asked innocently.
“Not while they’re distracted,” Bruce answered long-sufferingly.
“He did take your pieces by playing,” Tony pointed out. “You just didn’t see the moves.”
Bruce gave Tony a fake glare before returning his attention to Thor. “I’ll give you this one. But next time you’re going down. Painfully.”
“As you humans say: bring it!” Thor grinned broadly, flicking Bruce’s black king up in the air before catching it.
Tony could smell the amusement saturating the air, and he discreetly rubbed his nose, glancing at Steve as he did. Steve was frowning slightly, though he gave Tony a small smile when he saw him looking.
Tony quickly looked away, only to find Clint grinning at him. The grin quite frankly creeped him out.
“I’ll be in the lab,” Tony said, taking several steps back. “Away from that damned whistle and your foul smells.”
“They don’t smell,” Steve said just as Clint objected with a loud “Hey!”
“Quiet, you.” Tony grabbed Steve’s arm and began dragging him back to the elevator. “See ya in a bit, Bruce!”
“I’ll just grab something from my room before I come down,” Bruce said, giving Thor one last narrow-eyed look before standing and leaving with all the grace afforded to him as a semi-mad scientist.
Tony, meanwhile, pulled Steve in the elevator and shut the doors before anyone else could get any funny ideas about “testing” their new attributes.
This week was going to be torture.
“Aw crap,” Tony said just as JARVIS moved the elevator to Bruce’s lab.
Steve shot him an alarmed look. “What?”
“What am I gonna tell Pepper?”
Steve pursed his lips for a moment before grinning and giving a shrug. “Not it.” His tail wagged gleefully.
Tony gave him a narrow-eyed glare, his tail whacking Steve in the leg. He grabbed it before it could do anything else. “JARVIS?” he asked.
“I believe the colloquial term is ‘better you than me,’ sir.”
Tony didn’t bother hiding his indignation. “Traitor.”
JARVIS wisely didn’t respond.
Bruce’s tests were perfunctory and mostly uninvasive except for the part where he had JARVIS do a scan of their bodies to see what had changed about their skeletal and muscular structure. Everything else involved various medical devices he had lying about and the standard run of tests doctors used on their patients during general check-ups.
At the end of it, they found out that Tony and Steve had all the reflexes and senses of a cat and dog. They also discovered that Steve’s “breed” – for lack of a better word – was a white shepherd dog. Tony’s breed was ambiguous beyond the obviously black fur and white tip on his tail; he was “obviously a domestic breed” as Bruce had absentmindedly muttered while writing down his notes.
Tony had glared at him for that remark, his ears twitching angrily. And that was when Bruce had noted that their new limbs showed all their emotions.
Tony and Steve could also smell emotions to some degree, although none of them felt particularly up to testing that extensively. And Bruce wasn’t quite sure if it was the emotions they were smelling or rather the hormones that the body released.
What was evident was that the new ears and the addition of a tail weren’t hurting them in any way. And that was probably the most important thing (aside from the fact that – you know – they had animal ears and tails). In fact, as far as JARVIS’s scans could tell, it was like they’d always had animal characteristics.
Usually Tony would say “fucking magic,” but in this case it was science that had to be held responsible and Tony loved science too much to curse it (even though he felt like smashing all of Richards’s machines in a fit of childish pique).
When it came to foods and whether or not it was safe for them to eat any of the foods that cats and dogs technically couldn’t, Bruce couldn’t determine that without running more intrusive and extensive tests that required blood work and more time than they had.
“Best thing to do is trust your nose,” Bruce advised them, scribbling like a maniac on his paper despite Tony offering to give him a tablet or a holograph to work off of. “Animals have ways of telling what’s poisonous to them.”
“And if my nose tells me I really want to lick that machine right now?” Tony asked.
“I would tell that nose of yours that my machine is off limits because metal can’t possibly taste good,” Bruce answered.
“We’re not going to have any…marking urges, are we?” Steve asked, looking rather fiercely determined not to be embarrassed despite the red flush to his cheeks.
Bruce stared steadily at the two of them. “Have you had any?”
“I sorta want to rub up against Steve, but that’s an everyday kind of thing, so probably no,” Tony said.
Steve didn’t look at Tony. “I haven’t had any.”
“It’s most likely a familial thing for you,” Bruce told Tony. “Cats do that to beings they consider their own.”
Tony promptly gave Steve a shit-eating grin. “Hear that, Steve? You’re mine.” His voice dropped to a low purr.
Steve blushed, swallowing audibly to Tony’s enhanced hearing. One ear flattened against his head, and his tail wagged once.
“You know,” Bruce mused thoughtfully, peering at Tony through his glasses, “I wonder if you purr?”
And that was about as much as Tony could stand. Purr? “Okay, I’m good. Still need to call Pepper and hope she doesn’t faint.”
“She’s more likely to laugh,” Steve said.
“Shush, you shepherd puppy,” Tony said, patting his shoulder and backing off before Bruce could run any tests that would probably draw out a purring response. “Rhodey’s going to have my head for this. I just know it.”
“I have a laser pointer here,” Bruce said, rummaging around his white scientist coat (a gag gift he’d gotten from Tony that was more an inside joke than anything else). “You mind staying for a little longer to see your reaction to it?”
Thankfully for Tony, JARVIS opened the elevator door for him that moment, allowing him to escape before Bruce could potentially mortify him in front of Steve.
It wasn’t until Tony was in the relative privacy of his penthouse (relative because he never knew when there’d be another security breach and Clint or Natasha would pop in through the vents or – God forbid – the windows) that he called Pepper, looking down at her picture nervously while it rang.
His tail tapped the carpet by the couch he was sitting on, and he shot it an irritated glare. He’d already tried stopping it before, but that only lasted about five seconds before it went off and did something else.
Sometimes he hated his brain.
Pepper picked up on the fifth ring, face looking rather pinched as the video loaded. “I’m ten minutes from an important board meeting, Tony. Is it important?”
Tony ducked his head slightly, feeling his ears twitch in nervous anticipation. “Yeeesss?”
“Did you blow something up? Please tell me you didn’t blow up Bruce again – oh my God, Tony, what is that on your head?!”
“I only blew him up the once, and that was an accident. And they’re ears.” Tony made a face as said ears perked up.
Pepper was squinting slightly. “If this is your idea of a practical April Fool’s joke, April is a while off.”
“I have a tail,” Tony bit out.
Pepper frowned. “How did you get a tail?”
Pepper’s image brightened, probably her holding the phone up in bright light. “They don’t look fake,” she said, sounding perturbed.
“I assure you, Ms. Potts,” JARVIS said without prompting, “the appropriate tests have been conducted and it has been confirmed that Mr. Stark and Captain Rogers are not playing a practical joke.”
Pepper didn’t even blink at JARVIS joining their conversation. “Steve, too?”
“Unfortunately,” Tony said. “He’s got dog…things.”
“I wonder if anything else changed?” Pepper mused. “Do you have barbs down there now?”
“Pepper!” Tony didn’t quite yelp, and he didn’t drop the phone, but he did feel like chucking it across the room.
“Was that a yes?”
“That was a none of your business!”
Pepper sighed regretfully. “Pity. The sex would’ve been something else.”
“Don’t you have a board meeting?” Tony asked desperately.
“Oh, I do,” Pepper assured him. “But this is more fun. How long will this last?”
Grateful for the reprieve, Tony quickly answered before Pepper could get any other ideas, “Richards said he could have it fixed in about a week.”
“I’ll postpone anything important, and you can do a conference call for that meeting with the plant in China.”
“No, thank you.” Pepper sounded far too sweet. “JARVIS, make sure there are photos, okay? And email them to me.”
“What – no – JARVIS, don’t—”
“Of course, Ms. Potts,” JARVIS said smoothly, cutting Tony off.
“JARVIS, you traitor—”
“Goodbye, Tony.” Pepper hung up with a distinctly satisfied air, leaving Tony hanging with his mouth open in shock and dismay.
Tony sat there for a few moments longer, blinking down at his phone in vague horror.
Eventually, JARVIS pulled up Rhodey’s contact information. “Shall I put Colonel Rhodes on the line, sir?”
“Dummy’s going to have your job by the morning, JARVIS.”
“He will be thrilled to hear that, sir.”
JARVIS called Rhodey before Tony could react.
Tony was about to hang up and leave this phone call for another time – maybe after Richards had taken care of this snafu – but Rhodey picked up before Tony could.
“Does this have anything to do with what Pepper just texted me about barbs?” The video uplink went through, and Rhodey’s face popped up; he was sporting a broad grin.
Tony didn’t immediately answer, reaching up to scratch right next to his ear; it twitched. “Maybe.”
Rhodey squinted slightly, his image becoming larger as he brought the phone closer to his face. “I could just be imagining this, but are those cat ears?”
Tony blinked. “How do you know they’re cat and not dog ears?”
Rhodey looked vaguely shifty. “I may or may not have had a cat in my formative years.”
“You’re a cat person?”
“What can I say? They purr and dole out affection on their own terms.” Rhodey gave Tony a pointed look. “How’d it happen?”
Rhodey hummed. “Man, I gotta say, that guy is earning his brownie points.”
“Excuse me?” Tony spluttered indignantly.
“Ah – I mean he’s losing them by the dozens. Losing. Did I say earning? I meant losing.”
Tony narrowed his eyes at Rhodey, who proceeded to look as innocent as possible.
“So,” Rhodey started casually, evidently changing the subject, “how’s Steve dealing with this?”
“He’s a dog,” Tony said, glowering down at the screen. “Smells are a bit overwhelming for him, but he’s fine.”
“A dog?” Rhodey looked interested. “What breed?”
“White shepherd.” Tony unconsciously fingered the tip of one ear. “We don’t know mine.”
“Cat breeds are hard to pin down,” Rhodey said, “especially if you’re just dealing with ears and a tail.”
“All I have to say is that Richards better fix this fast. Or I’m gonna tell Doom exactly where he can hit him hardest.”
“No, you won’t,” Rhodey said automatically. “Because he’s going to be out of town right at the moment Doom attacks, and then it’ll be your job again.”
“Damn, you’re right.” Tony leaned back against the couch.
“I’m always right,” Rhodey said smugly. “Need I remind you about summer of ninety-two?”
“I raise you winter of oh-one,” Tony shot back, grinning when Rhodey winced at the reminder of that horrendously bad Christmas. “And spring of—”
“Yes, fine, all right. But just so you know, Tony? I’m never letting you live this down.” Rhodey grinned up at him.
“This was not my fault.”
“I don’t care. JARVIS, get me pictures and lots of them. I’ve gotta go and sleep.” Rhodey gave Tony a half-assed salute and hung up before Tony could splutter out something incredibly snarky in his indignation.
“I wasn’t done with you!” Tony snapped at the phone. After a moment of glaring futilely at the thing, he dropped it on the table and stretched out on the couch, feeling his tail whip about in agitation. He reached up to grip his hair in frustration, only to reconsider when he touched his ears.
His hands moved to cover his face, and he pressed his palms into his eyes, exhaling slowly.
He could deal with this. It would be just like any other day.
Only now he could actually smell Steve and had this ridiculous urge to rub up against him.
But he could deal with it. Repression was his middle name.
As nature would have it, Tony needed to use the bathroom. He didn’t feel particularly like taking a shower, but as he’d been rather wary around water since Afghanistan that didn’t mean much. He usually required a lot of internal prepping before taking a shower or – even less likely considering his schedule – a bath.
So Tony shot the shower a suspicious look and turned his attention to the toilet and the fastenings on his jeans. Pepper’s earlier remark about him having barbs flashed through his mind, and he couldn’t help but wonder.
He didn’t feel different down there, but sensory accommodation was a marvelous thing so that didn’t tell him anything.
The only way he could find out was if he actually unzipped his pants and pulled it out.
And Tony Stark was not a coward.
But he did take a fortifying breath and looked up as he unzipped. Then, slowly, he reached down to take it out. It didn’t feel any different on the head, so he very cautiously looked down, barely aware of the way his tail was completely still.
It looked mostly normal. But then some of it was still covered.
It took only a moment for Tony to slide everything down, and then he realized that this was not normal.
Pepper was never going to let him live this down if she caught wind of this.
Tony didn’t see anybody else until the next morning, and that was because he wandered into his kitchen looking for coffee. The rest of his team was munching on breakfast, and with his mussed-up hair and bleary eyes, Clint seemed to be the only one who’d just rolled out of bed. The rest of them seemed annoyingly perky, although it looked like Bruce was on the tail-end of a science spree since he was practically nodding off into his cup of tea.
Steve seemed to be the perkiest of them all, his dog ears up high and his tail wagging happily. He bustled around frying up some eggs, giving Tony a blindingly white smile when he saw the other pause in the doorway uncertainly.
For some reason Tony wasn’t entirely sure about, his kitchen had become the unofficial kitchen for the Avengers. They all had their own kitchens that JARVIS kept stocked, but Tony never saw them being used. They’d popped up in Tony’s kitchen from day one, and had kept on doing so despite Tony’s rather obvious bemusement.
It wasn’t something that Tony wanted to look at too closely. Sometimes he had this warm feeling of home and family, but that was something else. Something he hadn’t really had before, though Pepper and Rhodey came as close to it as he’d ever known before.
“Your coffee’s on the table,” Steve told Tony, an amused smile pulling at his lips.
Tony blinked, ear twitching as his tail curled around his hand. He could smell something his brain identified as fond amusement.
“Caffeine’s not good for cats,” Bruce muttered into his cup.
“I’m sorry,” Tony said, his tail whacking the back of Bruce’s chair. “I thought I just heard you say I shouldn’t have my daily fix of coffee.”
Bruce said nothing, and Tony sat down with a distinctly self-satisfied air, his ears twitching contently. The coffee Steve had set out smelled absolutely divine, and Tony picked up the mug, letting the warmth of the ceramic sink into his hands.
“You even look like a smug cat,” Natasha said, squinting at Tony. “I’m expecting to see a canary pop up any minute now.”
Since JARVIS apparently had a diabolical sense of humor, a holographic canary popped up in front of Tony, peeped once, and then disappeared in a flurry of feathers, one of which drifted to a rest by Tony.
“Points for style, JARVIS,” Clint mumbled, shoveling another mouthful of eggs into his mouth.
“This has to do with the colloquial expression ‘the cat got the canary,’ yes?” Thor asked, methodically cutting his eggs and toast into bite-sized pieces.
Natasha gave him a warm smile. “You’re getting better.”
Thor smiled back, looking ridiculously proud of himself. “I have read most of the books in this dwelling, including the tale of the brave hobbit and his compatriots.”
“That’s a good one,” Steve noted, sitting down next to Tony at the end of the table and setting two plates of food on the table. One went before Tony. “I expect that to be completely eaten,” he told Tony, pointedly laying a fork and knife down as well.
“Mm.” Having not yet finished his coffee, Tony’s brain wasn’t entirely online. The eggs did smell pretty damn good, more so than usual it seemed, and Tony suspected the newly feline part of him to be responsible. The butter was melting wonderfully into the toast, and Tony could still hear the faint sound of gas sizzling from the direction of the stove, which was slightly worrying since this was his stove and that shouldn’t be happening.
Steve tapped Tony’s hand with his fork. “Eat.” His tone forbid any arguments. “I know for a fact you only had an apple and a granola bar yesterday.”
“You’re not my mom,” Tony muttered under his breath, ear twitching in irritation. He did reach for a fork, spearing some egg.
“Given his age, should not Steven be your grandmother?” Thor asked innocently.
“You shut up,” Tony said, jabbing his forkful of eggs in Thor’s direction.
“Eloquent,” Natasha said, amused.
Tony’s right ear gave her a dismissive flick as he turned his attention to his food. He went for a coffee refill a minute later, his mug sadly empty.
They fell into a comfortable silence filled only by sounds of chewing and drinking. As the caffeine worked through Tony’s system, he began to perk up, his tail curling around a table leg to tap teasingly against Steve’s leg. He pretended not to notice the look Steve shot him.
Clint also started to look more alert, nursing his favorite glass of orange juice. He hadn’t stopped staring at Tony and Steve since he’d finished eating five minutes earlier.
“You know,” Clint started slowly, “this is still really freaking weird.”
Tony snorted, nursing his third cup of coffee between his hands. His tail arched up proudly, tip flicking. “This is not the weirdest thing to happen to the Avengers.”
Steve sighed, rubbing his face. “What’s weird is that I can smell your amusement.”
“Amused? Who said I was amused? I’m peeved.”
“Not right now you’re not.” Steve was smelling amused now.
“I had no idea animals could smell emotions,” Natasha said.
“Your beasts are wiser than your people would give them credit for,” Thor said, sounding vaguely disapproving.
“You have giant dogs and eight-legged horses,” Clint said. “We’re not comparing Asgard to Earth.”
“We have no way of measuring animal intelligence,” Bruce said. “But it’s been known that animals can tell when people are sick and dying. Sensing emotions – or smelling them as the case may be – can’t be too far of a stretch.”
“We’re not doing any more tests,” Tony said disapprovingly.
“Of course, Tony,” Bruce said far too calmly.
“Please,” Steve added, ears flicking back for a moment.
“I wasn’t planning on anything,” Bruce insisted, putting up his hands placatingly.
“How’s Tony with milk?” Clint asked, shooting Tony a sidelong look as his lips twitched in barely hidden amusement.
“We didn’t test that.”
“Seems to be an oversight.”
“Shut up, Clint,” Tony said without any real heat to it, his left ear giving him a dismissive flick.
“We’re still us,” Steve said, sighing. “Just with a few different limbs.” His ears seemed to turn slightly back.
Tony propped his chin up with a hand, his eyes going half-lidded as he looked at Steve. He’d looked at Steve yesterday of course, but this was the first time he’d really taken the time to just look. The ears were the same golden color as Steve’s hair, the inside a soft pink that barely peeked out from the hair (fur?) obscuring it from sight. Where Steve’s human ears usually were was just more hair – no sign of anything else having been there before.
As Steve stood to clear his plate and Tony’s from the table, Tony watched his tail wag slightly through a hole in the other’s sweatpants. Steve must’ve cut a hole in it, just like Tony did to his this morning. (He’d tried stuffing his tail in, but it hadn’t been happy, and he wondered how their pants yesterday had grown holes just like that.) All in all, Steve’s new add-ons weren’t as strange as they should’ve seemed. But Steve was just so unselfconscious that it seemed natural. Tony only hoped he seemed just as natural with his own…things.
“Now I know what the cat who just got the cream looks like,” Natasha said blandly, instantly getting Tony’s attention. She smiled in response to his sharp gaze. “I’m looking at him.”
“Very funny.” Tony gave her a thoroughly unimpressed look.
“I thought so,” Natasha said, sounding far too cheerful for her own good. It was that “I know something you don’t” tone that never bode well for anyone.
“We are watching movies tonight, yes?” Thor asked.
“That’s the plan,” Steve said from the sink, washing the dishes by hand. (He’d already had the talk with Tony about it. Five times.)
“You technological ingrate,” Tony muttered, swigging down the rest of his coffee.
“I prefer to think of myself as ecologically friendly,” Steve answered.
“It’s a Stark dishwasher. You can’t get greener than that!”
“Leave me alone,” Steve said. “I’m a senior citizen.”
“The last time someone tried to pull that card—”
“Which was you.”
“—you immediately began lecturing them about the fact that you’re not actually over ninety because you weren’t mentally aware of all that time so it doesn’t count.”
“Yep.” Steve’s tone was cheerful.
Tony stared holes in the back of Steve’s head. “So make up your mind.”
“I claim seniority.”
Clint broke down howling even as Tony spluttered in indignation. “That’s hypocritical! You can’t do that!” He felt like hissing, his ears standing upright.
“Does it look like I care?” Steve smiled sweetly at Tony, and damn, that was it for Tony’s brain, which fizzled out with nary a protest at that warm sight.
Tony’s mouth flapped uselessly for a few seconds as he wracked his uncooperative brain for a snappy comeback, but in the end he settled for glowering imperiously into his empty coffee mug.
“Ooh snap,” Clint wheezed, head lying on the table. “Tony Stark speechless. You’re good, Steve.”
“Shut up, Barton,” Tony muttered, tail agitatedly whipping around.
“Your game is weak,” Clint gleefully informed him. “Weak.”
Tony narrowed his eyes. He’d like to see Clint do any better when faced with the power of that smile. (But Tony was the only one Steve turned that smile on, and Tony didn’t want to think about what that meant.) “I was working on some arrows,” Tony said oh-so-casually. “I thought they’d be done in an hour or so, but apparently something’s gone wrong, and I have a dozen other things I need to do. So now their production’s been pushed back several weeks.” He widened his eyes innocently. “I’m so sorry.”
Clint spluttered, jolting upright. “W-what. Tony. What kind of arrows?”
“So sorry,” Tony said, making sure to sound completely sincere. “Everything’s been lost.”
“Nononono.” Clint leaned forward, face intense. “What kind of arrows?”
“I don’t know. It’s slipped my mind. Gone – under everything else I need to do. JARVIS?”
“I am afraid all data regarding Agent Barton’s new arrows has been wiped,” JARVIS said dutifully.
“Oh, you bastard,” Clint said heatedly.
“Clint,” Steve said reprovingly, his face set in that glower even Natasha couldn’t withstand.
But Clint didn’t seem to possess any self-preservation. “Okay, I’m sorry. Should I have said ‘asshole’ instead?”
“I have a very fine ass,” Tony said. “So I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“Your idea of a compliment is strange,” Thor said, sounding faintly puzzled, which was normal around Tony. “Why would you wish to be called the hole of an ass?”
“The point is that you don’t,” Bruce said before Clint or Tony could pull Thor’s leg and do something stupid. “But Tony’s something else.”
“Thank you, dear,” Tony said, reaching out to pat Bruce on the hand.
Bruce returned the pat. “Just doing my duty and making sure you don’t stuff your foot in your mouth.”
Tony affected an injured look. “Bruce.”
“I’m going to leave,” Natasha said, looking completely unimpressed with everyone in the kitchen. “I expect you all to play nice tonight, or something dastardly will happen that may or may not involve knives.”
With that warning given, she slid out of the kitchen with all the grace of a super S.H.I.E.L.D. spy.
“Huh,” Tony said after a moment, nose twitching as he smelled Natasha’s amusement. “That was almost nice. She never gives warnings like that.”
“Keep it up,” Clint said, “and she’s going to murder you in your sleep.”
“No, she won’t,” Steve said automatically, still washing the goddamn dishes by hand.
“Hm, yes,” Thor said, nodding sagely. “I understand. You will avenge him by in turn murdering the fair Natasha.”
Steve gave him a long look before turning back to his sudsy dishes, his tail standing proud.
“I notice you didn’t respond,” Clint said, tilting his chair back leisurely.
“No one’s murdering anyone here.”
“But if someone were to develop murderous impulses towards a certain someone in this room, would that someone then in turn be murdered by that certain someone’s protector?”
“I resent the implications behind that statement,” Tony said, nose wrinkling in distaste. His tail gave Clint a thoroughly unimpressed flick.
“I didn’t say I was talking about you,” Clint said.
“You do not wish to be protected by Steven?” Thor asked, sounding puzzled. “I admit, I have often wished to be protected by someone as fair and powerful as the Captain; someone as righteous and beautiful as him—”
“Thor,” Clint interrupted him, “what the fuck.”
“Do you not think Steven to be fair and beautiful?” Thor looked innocent.
“Objectively speaking,” Bruce said, clearing his throat tentatively and looking like he might as well go all out, “as a straight man myself, I have to admit Steve’s pretty damn fine looking.”
“Bruce,” Steve groaned, sounding utterly appalled and smelling completely embarrassed.
Clint pursed his lips, eyes narrowing. “As a not entirely straight man myself, I concede to your point.”
Now aware that the other three were staring at Tony and waiting expectantly for his answer (all the while a furiously blushing Steve scrubbed away at the sink), Tony felt like a cat caught in the headlights. He made a faint meep sound that he would never admit to in the future and frantically tried to blurt out an answer that wouldn’t instantly reveal everything.
“Sir, the conference call to China is in half an hour,” JARVIS blessedly said.
“Oh, thank God.” Tony was out of the room before the others could blink.
His sharp hearing didn’t miss Clint exclaiming, “Was he actually happy to do work?”
No, no, no. Though it served as an excellent opportunity for him to avoid answering that damn question.
Because what could he say?
Steve is gorgeous.
It was Steve who pulled Tony out of his workshop for their movie night. He usually did it, but Tony had thought (hoped) that it would be Bruce (what with what had happened that morning). Steve didn’t seem at all uncomfortable around Tony despite it, and Tony couldn’t help but fidget and think that the reason why was because Steve just didn’t care (or maybe he wanted to let Tony down lightly because he knew).
As Tony shut down the projects he had running, making sure his current progress was saved and nothing would explode in his absence, his tail twitched nervously as he felt Steve hover by him.
He hadn’t expected Steve to say anything, so when he did it was a complete surprise.
“How are you feeling about this?” Steve asked.
Tony started slightly, looking up in a vague panic. “What?”
“This.” Steve gestured between them, hand coming up to self-consciously finger his ears.
Tony definitely did not feel relieved. “Oh, you know… All in the job.”
“You suspected you’d get animal traits from being a superhero?” Steve said, amused.
“Well, not that. But it’s all in the preparation,” Tony said, tossing Dummy a rag that the bot instantly put in the sink for cleaning. “Expect the unexpected and all that.”
“I’m worried,” Steve said quietly.
“That Richards won’t fix this? Don’t be. I’ll get on his ass myself if he doesn’t.”
“Not about that.” Steve paused, ears flicking back in thought. “I thought my body was done changing,” he admitted softly.
Oh. Tony stopped what he was doing, letting JARVIS finish it up. He went and gave into the impulse and rested a hand on Steve’s arm. “It’ll change back,” he reassured him firmly. “You’ll be back to normal.”
Steve’s smile wasn’t as confident. “I hope so.”
“Don’t worry.” Tony squeezed Steve’s (very muscular) arm and let his hand drop, the skin feeling cold already.
Steve’s answering smile this time was surprisingly warm and made Tony’s heart patter uncomfortably in his chest. That couldn’t possibly be good, but it was par for the course when it came to Steve and his smiles. And laughs. And perfect blue eyes. (Just anything to do with Steve really.)
They entered the living room ten minutes later. Tony had no idea what movie they’d be watching seeing as how it was Thor’s turn and his picks ranged from anywhere in the world. Foreign languages weren’t a problem for him, and JARVIS was in charge of translating the language for the rest of them. It worked surprisingly well, although there were some movies that left them staring blankly at the screen and wondering what the hell was up, captioning or no. (Those movies tended to be from China or Japan, because those martial art movies were something else.)
This time Thor picked a French rom-com, so Tony didn’t actually need the captioning to understand what was happening. It left him free to watch Steve, who was sitting right next to him, completely raptured by the screen.
Their sitting arrangements had been set by the third week. Steve and Tony usually had the couch. Bruce had a cozy squashy armchair to himself. Natasha preferred to lounge on the love seat. Thor sometimes shared the couch with Steve and Tony, but he also had his own armchair that was not half as squashy as Bruce’s. And Clint was perched up in a small nest of sorts that Tony had built after catching Clint one time too often on top of the fridge, the dresser, and – on a more notable occasion – the doorframe (he didn’t know why or how); it was lined with pillows and blankets and Tony had sometimes caught Clint sleeping in there, although no one would’ve heard it from him.
Tonight was one of those nights that Tony and Steve had the couch to themselves. This wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem, but Tony had to actively stop himself from slumping over and rubbing himself against Steve.
So he made sure to focus more on the movie than Steve, because focusing more on Steve was going to end up with him rubbing his head into Steve’s shoulder.
But there was also the problem that he was tired. More than usual anyway, and that was probably because of his new cat traits. He was already more distractible than before – shiny things drawing his attention more often than not. It was probably just fortunate that he didn’t need to sleep as much as cats did because that would just be dandy.
But it was difficult. His attention skittered off the screen and to Thor when light pinged off one of the metal braces he had on his arms, and then flipped between Steve and the movie before he could stop it. And before he knew it, he’d slumped over on Steve, head nestled in the crook of Steve’s neck and shoulder.
Tony would’ve jolted upright if it weren’t for Steve’s arm coming to a rest around his shoulders, pulling him closer. Then he tried to decide – fuzzily since his brain wasn’t really working with Steve’s warmth suffusing him – if he should just stay like this or straighten out and move away.
But he was so comfortable…
He fell into a light doze, foreign voices barely piercing through the veil of the haze surrounding him. He was warm and something was snuggling him; that was really all that mattered.
“Is he purring?”
The sound of someone speaking English instead of French roused slightly him from his doze, but when there was nothing but silence, he slipped back into it, rubbing his head lightly against the warmth surrounding him.
“Oh my God, he is.” That voice sounded too gleeful.
“Clint.” That sound was right by his ear, which twitched unhappily at the noise.
Tony forced himself awake, hearing something that sounded exactly like a cat purring cut itself off the moment he did. That was when he realized the absence of a rumbling sensation in his chest that he’d not noticed before and mortification spread through him. He felt his ears flatten on his head, and his tail whipped around unhappily.
He was all too aware of everyone staring at him, and he pushed himself into the couch, hoping it could make him invisible.
Steve’s fingers tightened on his shoulder, his arm moving to pull Tony closer. “It’s all right,” he said quietly, his thumb rubbing soothing circles into Tony’s skin.
No, it isn’t, Tony felt like saying hysterically, but he kept his mouth clamped shut, eyes fixed on the screen. He would’ve pulled away, but Steve’s arm was simultaneously a comfort and a barrier, so he didn’t.
As if sensing Tony’s discomfort (and probably smelling it, too), Steve squeezed him comfortingly and let him go, retracting his arm.
Tony instantly felt chilled, missing Steve’s warmth. He pressed bodily into Steve’s side for a second before realizing what he was doing again and got ahold of himself, jerking upright and holding himself stiffly.
Next to him, his tail quivered with suppressed energy.
Out of the corner of his eye, Tony saw the way Steve’s ears had dropped a little, and he could smell the disappointment.
Apparently Steve also liked cuddling (of course, he had dog instincts now).
The others had thankfully returned their attention to the movie, and Tony thought he smelled some guilt coming from Clint’s direction, though he could be mistaking it for something else. (Guilt just wasn’t Clint’s style.) The run-of-the-mill rom-com had reached the part where the two main characters had the giant misunderstanding over nothing and went their separate ways, while really dramatic sad music played in the background. Tony wasn’t too invested in the story at this point, having missed most of it while dozing off against Steve’s shoulder.
Natasha moved in her seat, the light glinting off the arrow charm on her necklace. Tony spent a few seconds too long dragging his attention off it and back to the screen when his attention was caught by Bruce this time due to him fiddling with his glasses, causing the light to reflect off the lenses.
Before Tony knew it, he had again relaxed into the couch, sliding back over against Steve. He was too comfortable to move, and the decision was made for him when Steve wrapped his arm around him, thumb stroking circles into Tony’s arm.
And this time, when Tony felt the rumbling start up in his chest, no one pointed it out.
It wasn’t until Tony woke up the next morning stretched out on top of Steve that he realized he’d fallen asleep. And that Steve must’ve fallen asleep as well because usually he tried to get Tony to a bed. It was a nice sentiment, but Steve was really warm and Tony didn’t have any complaints from sleeping all night on a super soldier on a cramped couch.
He lightly stretched out, still lying on Steve. He felt his tail join in on the stretch, straightening out before lazily curling up next to him, the tip of it swishing in satisfaction.
Feeling too comfortable to move and satisfied with the smell of Steve in his nose, Tony remained right where he was, dozing while his chest rumbled quietly.
He heard Clint coming into the room an undetermined amount of time later, but didn’t deign to give him any attention.
“You know, you really look like a cat now,” Clint noted.
Tony flicked an ear in his direction in a subtle “fuck off.”
Clint apparently didn’t get the message. “I wonder if the purring’ll stay after it gets fixed?”
Tony made a disgruntled “mmf” sound and turned his face into Steve’s very solid chest, nuzzling into it.
He noticed it when Steve woke up in the next few seconds, but he didn’t budge from his comfortable position. Steve snorted in amusement, but also didn’t ask Tony to move.
Then his fingers came up to scratch Tony lightly behind the ears and he couldn’t help it: he started purring again – Clint be damned. He butted his head into Steve’s hand, fingers flexing in Steve’s shirt.
“Should I be glad you don’t have claws?” Steve murmured, amused.
“Should I leave?” Clint asked loudly.
Tony groped around on the table right by the couch, found the coaster Steve insisted they use, and chucked it at Clint, pleased by the indignant squawk the action elicited.
A few seconds later, Tony heard Clint leave with an indignant huff, grumbling under his breath that he had better things to do other than watch two of his teammates slobber over each other.
Humming in satisfaction, Tony’s tail dipped down to wind itself around Steve’s leg.
Steve’s warm hand rubbed up and down Tony’s back. “Is this going to be a thing?” His voice was unusually serious.
Tony’s ear flicked. “What?”
“This.” Steve’s fingers curled in the hairs of Tony’s nape, tugging lightly.
Tony dragged his brain out of the warm, soft space it had been in since he’d woken up and forced himself to pay attention. He catalogued the fact that he was stretched out on top of Steve, that Steve was practically petting him, and that Tony was letting him.
Which was not a good idea because it would lead to other things happening (like Steve pushing him away).
Tony must have alerted Steve in some way, because the other instantly tightened his grip on Tony, preventing him from running away.
“We need to talk about this,” Steve said in a low voice, though his thumb rubbed comforting circles into Tony’s side.
“No, no, we don’t.” Tony was wide awake now, eyes open and refusing to meet Steve’s.
Steve sighed, his breath washing over Tony’s ears. “I thought that’s what people do today.”
“You’ll find that most don’t.”
“I’m not going to follow a movie’s script,” Steve said stubbornly. “Most problems can be solved by talking, and this isn’t a problem.” He paused, then said worriedly, “Is it?”
Tony shifted enough so he could look warily up at Steve. “Is it one for you?”
Steve’s nose wrinkled slightly in thought, and Tony felt his tail brush up against his own.
“I want a relationship,” Steve said eventually, looking very seriously at Tony. “I’m…I’m in it for the long haul. I can’t do casual.”
Tony swallowed. “I haven’t done casual in a while,” he said quietly. “I like sex, anyone can tell you that, but I guess I’m trying to say that it’s not a deal breaker.”
Steve broke into a warm smile, eyes bright. “That’s good.” He looked intensely at Tony. “I want to try this with you.”
What, no “I really like you” like an inexperienced teenager?
Tony swallowed a hysterical laugh at the thought and said evenly, “There are some that might say it’s not a good idea.”
“I don’t care. It’s a good idea for me.”
Tony shifted nervously, tapping his fingers against Steve’s chest. “I’m not the best boyfriend material. I’m going to forget dates, get you really expensive and crappy presents that you might not like, blow a lot of money on things you’ll hate but won’t want to tell me because you feel sorry for me, and then it’ll snowball into actual dislike and resentment and we’ll break up and god knows what’ll happen to the team.”
Steve looked bemused. “You’ve put a lot of thought into this.”
“Just covering all my bases.” Tony managed a weak smile.
“Mm, well…” Steve grinned down at him. “I’ve thought about that, too. I know you, Tony. And I’m not going to ask you for more than you can give. If you forget about a date or something, I’ll remind you or we’ll just eat in. And any presents you get me that are too big I’ll just give Thor. He loves that. But I always thought that what matters is the thought behind them. So it doesn’t matter as long as you care.”
“Caring’s always been the problem,” Tony couldn’t help but whisper.
Steve apparently didn’t agree judging from the way his arms tightened. “Really?” His tone forbid any interruptions. “Because I’ve always thought you caring was the best part of you. I’ve said I was wrong before”—back when he’d spit out “Big man in a suit of armor. Take that away what are you?”—“and I’ve never been so glad to be wrong. You’re one of the best parts of this century.”
Tony couldn’t help the way his ears flattened against his skull in shy pleasure. “You shouldn’t say that.”
“It’s the truth.” Steve looked stubborn. “So we’re doing this?”
Tony chewed the inside of his mouth, desperately wanting to say yes even though all the math he’d run before to convince himself that he should say no was still there. Not even Steve’s reassurances were enough.
He and Pepper had broken up amicably enough over the fact that she couldn’t deal with being his girlfriend on top of being his emotional support and CEO (being Iron Man had been the clincher, though), but she’d been there for him pre-Afghanistan and afterward. And yet she couldn’t handle him.
Why should Steve?
“I’m on the team,” Steve said quietly, evidently reading Tony’s thoughts on his face. “I know what I’m getting into.”
Tony wanted not to be alone. He could be selfish for this, couldn’t he?
“Okay,” he said, and smiled weakly.
“Thank you.” Steve sounded like Tony had just given him an amazing present. “Now…can we just lie here like this until the others come in to mock us?”
Tony gave Steve a curious look. Then it clicked. “You like it,” he accused, grinning broadly. “Captain America likes cuddling.”
Steve’s cheeks were dusted with pink. “So what if I do?”
“No, it’s good.” Tony let his grin soften. “I like it, too,” he confided very quietly.
Steve beamed, his tail making a bid for freedom as it started wagging like a maniac. His hand came back up to Tony’s nape to play with the hairs there as Tony laid his head back on Steve’s chest, listening to his heart.
He didn’t even mind when he started to purr.
Two days later, Fury suddenly appeared in the kitchen while they were having lunch. Tony wouldn’t even have noticed his presence if it wasn’t for the smell of amusement drifting by his nose. There was also a faint odor of cigars, even though no one he knew smoked them.
Then he saw Fury standing there in the doorway, eye fixed on him and Steve. They were sitting closer than usual to each other, although none of the others had pointed it out after receiving a death glare from Tony the other morning.
Tony was about to point out the intruder in their kitchen, but then Fury actually grinned, handed Clint a stack of green bills that the other didn’t seem surprised to get, and left.
“What the hell,” Tony said.
Clint shrugged, stuffing the bills down his shirt. “We had a bet.”
“How are you fitting that down there?” Steve asked instead, sounding morbidly curious.
Clint winked at both of them, refusing to answer.
Tony just hoped Richards fixed this fast, otherwise they’d probably have Hill dropping in here, too.
Two days later, Richards called and let them know that he’d found out what went wrong and could reverse it without any problems. Tony and Steve donned their disguises again and left, this time in one of Tony’s cars so they wouldn’t have to take the subway again.
“I’m going to get you to go down there again,” Steve said.
“In your dreams.” Tony was only ever going to go down there under extreme duress.
“Then I suppose it’ll happen,” Steve answered, giving him a sweet, sweet smile that made Tony’s knees go weak.
“Good God, why are you so cheesy?”
“It’s love,” Steve said entirely seriously.
Tony couldn’t help the confusion, eyeing him strangely.
Steve sighed, reaching out to take one of Tony’s hands and hold it. “I’m not going to change my mind,” he promised. “Why don’t I take you out after this is over?”
“Like a date?” Tony asked stupidly.
“Yes,” Steve said simply. “The first.”
Tony let a car slide into the lane in front of him. “Okay. But…” He gave Steve a warning look. “No subway.”
“Darn. There goes my master plan.”
“Not much of one,” Tony couldn’t resist pointing out.
Steve rolled his eyes, squeezing Tony’s hand. “Drive, will you? I want to be able to go out in public and smooch you.”
“Oh my God, did you seriously just say smooch? Who says that nowadays? Who told you it was okay—”
Luckily they arrived at Richards’s ten minutes later, gave the car to a valet who eyed them suspiciously until Tony pressed some cash into his hand, and then they were inside and heading to the elevator.
They took their hats off once they were safe, Tony stuffing his in the large coat pocket. His ear twitched.
“It’s going to feel strange to have these gone,” Steve admitted, watching the numbers change on the screen.
“Speak for yourself. I’m gonna be glad when I don’t get distracted by every shiny thing.”
“I thought that was a natural state for you.”
Tony shoved him. “Shut up. At least I won’t purr anymore.”
Steve curled an arm around Tony’s shoulders. “I’m going to miss that most of all.”
“Come on, really? It’s loud!”
“It tells me you’re happy. I want you to be happy.”
Tony’s mouth went dry as he realized Steve was serious. “You…” He swallowed. “You’re really cheesy,” he managed.
Steve smiled at him, nuzzling gently into his hair. “That’s me,” he agreed.
The elevator pulled to a stop, and Steve drew away as the doors slid open.
Richards was waiting for them by a machine, and he gestured for them to go inside.
“Is here a reason you want us to go inside a coffin?” Tony asked suspiciously.
“I need to make sure that everything is taken out,” Richards explained. “What happened was an accident, and we need to be careful that everything is undone.” He patted the machine. “This will let me scan your genetic code and make sure everything’s back to normal. Just step in one at a time.”
“I’ll go first,” Steve said before Tony could. He shot Tony a reassuring look. “You keep an eye on the readings, too. Make sure everything’s fine.”
“Okay,” Tony conceded. His tail flicked worriedly by his ankle. “If you’re sure.”
“I am.” Steve pressed a chaste kiss to Tony’s lips and then pulled away, ducking into the machine.
Tail swishing anxiously, Tony took a spot behind Richards and watched the monitors as the other turned the machine on. One of the screens was a video of Steve inside the machine, simply for observational purposes. Another had a scan of Steve’s body and was measuring vitals. A third kept track of Steve’s current genetic code and compared it with the one he should have.
It didn’t take long for Richards to undo whatever had been done. He slowly pulled down a lever, keeping an eye on the monitors as he did so. Tony had part of his attention on the medical monitors and the rest of it on the feed of Steve in the machine. Steve didn’t seem to be hurting, although his eyes were closed and he seemed to be doing breathing exercises.
Tony realized with a jolt of guilt that this had to be eerily similar to what had happened when Steve was first infused with the serum. At least he wasn’t bolted down…
Tony had to bite his tongue when the video feed fizzled out in static for a moment as Richards tapped a button. It didn’t come back into focus until an eternity passed (probably only ten seconds), and by then Richards was muttering, “Good, very good,” under his breath and was opening the machine doors.
Steve stumbled out, looking alive and completely healthy. Before he could stop himself, Tony stepped forward to support Steve. His normal human ears were back, and he was no longer in possession of a tail.
“Did it work?” Steve asked breathlessly.
Tony reached down and patted him on the ass, causing Steve to jump. “Completely normal.”
Steve shot him a glare that lost all effectiveness because of his blush. “Tony.”
“You can go inside now,” Richards said, completely ignorant as to what was happening.
Tony shot him an incredulous stare, which was also ignored.
“It just tickles a bit,” Steve told him, stroking a comforting hand down his back. “I’ll be right here.”
“Sounds great.” Tony shot him a sultry grin and stepped into the machine before he could stop himself.
Once the machine doors shut, Tony found himself in absolute darkness. He closed his eyes, taking deep breaths in through his nose. This didn’t smell like a cave, it didn’t feel like a cave, and it wasn’t cold like a cave. He’d be fine.
A slight tingling in his extremities was all the warning he had before he realized Richards had started. It felt strange, really strange. Tony wiggled his fingers as the tingling increased, hoping it’d be over soon.
From one moment to the next, he barely realized that he didn’t have a tail that was swishing around anxiously anymore. His hearing was muted again, and he couldn’t smell what had been his own fear.
The door opened a moment later, bright light filtering in and nearly blinding Tony, and he stumbled out into Steve’s waiting arms.
He reached up anxiously, felt human ears, and then reached down to where he no longer had a tail. “Oh, thank God.”
“Everything’s back to normal now,” Richards said brightly, stopping whatever Steve had been about to say in its tracks. “But if you guys want to stay and let me run some more tests—”
“No,” both Tony and Steve said.
“We’re leaving,” Tony added, grabbing Steve by the hand and tugging him to the elevator. “We’ve got a very important place to be.”
“Very important,” Steve agreed. “Please give Ben his clothes back.”
Tony had dragged them both out of the room before Richards could respond. “Let’s never do that again!” he called over his shoulder.
They stopped in front of the elevator, Tony pressing the button.
“Bit rude, wasn’t that?” Steve asked eventually, settling his hand on Tony’s hip.
“Not at all,” Tony answered cheerfully.
The elevator chimed, the doors sliding open.
“Date?” Steve asked once they were inside.
“My day’s open,” Tony said, smiling at him. A date. So much more than what he could have imagined.
“I’ve got this really great pizzeria in mind,” Steve said earnestly, thumb rubbing circles into Tony’s skin.
“I love pizza,” Tony said truthfully.
“Fantastic,” Steve breathed, and then he kissed Tony, mouth warm and soft.
Tony kissed him back, warmth blooming in his chest. He tried to keep it as chaste as he could, although Steve did manage to apply a bit of tongue. Tony made a breathless sound, hit the emergency stop button, and went to town.
Several breathless and amazing minutes later, Steve pulled away, laughing, “Tony, Tony, wait. What’s that sound?”
“Mf?” Tony pulled away from Steve, hearing that sound stop.
“Oh my God.” Steve sounded delightfully surprised. “You were purring.”
“I was not,” Tony objected, frowning.
“You were.” Steve leaned in, bracketing him with his arms, and pressed their mouths together again, kissing him slow and soft as if they had all the time in the world.
A little bit later, Steve broke apart enough to whisper against Tony’s lips, “See, you’re doing it again.”
He was, Tony realized dazedly. He could feel the rumbling in his chest, although thankfully there was no pressing desire to rub himself against Steve and curl up in a ball.
Before they could get back to the pleasant activity of kissing (or more accurately necking), the intercom sounded and Richards’s grating voice sounded. “There are cameras in there, you know. And some other people would like to use the elevator.”
“I don’t know,” Sue’s voice said. “I was enjoying the show.”
“Aw, dude, gross,” Johnny whined. “We use that elevator!”
“Going,” Tony said quickly, hitting the stop button again before Steve’s face could catch fire. “And, Johnny? Grow up.”
“I don’t want to see people having sex in there!”
There was a distinct smacking sound that was probably someone punching Johnny (Tony hoped it was in the face), but the elevator drifted to a stop before he could ask. The doors had barely opened before Steve dragged him out and through a crowd of people who had nothing else to do but stare at them.
“We’re not taking care of it, are we?” Tony asked, gesturing up to his throat.
“No,” Steve said, “we’re not. Besides, no one knows why or how cats purr anyway. He might just take away your vocal chords altogether.”
“Good point.” Tony peered out the windows, just a bit dismayed to find it was raining.
Steve didn’t seem dissuaded. “Come on!”
In this? Tony’s skeptical face probably said it all.
“I’ve waited a while for this,” Steve said, looking back at him with a soft smile. “I don’t care what the weather’s like.”
And that Tony could understand. He tightened his fingers around Steve’s. “Then let’s go, soldier boy. We’ve got a date to get to.”