“I can't believe we're doing this presentation here,“ Cababa said to Macken, excited and full of energy. Tony allowed himself a soft smile. Things were really going well for everyone. It was good to see Tim Cababa like this after all that he'd been through.
And, of course, things couldn't be going better for himself...
Pepper on the other hand had been preoccupied since she'd arrived at the Stark Tower Complex, and even now was looking out the window as if she was feeling uncomfortable here. There were too many sad memories for her in New York, Tony guessed.
“This building belongs to me and you needed a place here to do it,” Tony said, directing his words at Cababa, but watching Pepper out of the corner of his eye, waiting for her to turn around and look at them, to join the conversation or at least smile at anyone.
“Don't all the different Avengers teams need the rooms for their strategy meetings?” Pepper asked as if she didn't really care for the answer. Only recently she'd admitted to him how much she missed the Rescue suit and how, after all the year's of worrying about Tony, she finally understood why he had never managed to give up being Iron Man. Maybe that was why she was feeling uncomfortable with being near the place where he was Iron Man first and foremost.
“Most strategy meetings happen in the kitchen actually,” Tony said, flippant on purpose, and went back to setting up the equipment. “It's only for the really big team meetings that won't fit in the kitchen that we use actual meeting rooms. Mostly we use battlefields then, though. Saves time.”
“Funny,” Pepper said without laughing and he grinned at her, because he had only been half joking about that and her disbelief was just highlighting the irony of it all.
“So, will we see any actual Avengers?” Cababa asked. Tony knew he’d had a big interest in superheroes since working with the Triumph Division.
“I am an actual Avenger, you know?” But Cababa rolled his eyes and waved his hand at him in a dismissive gesture, so he gave a dramatic, very audible sigh and continued: “You might want to keep an eye on the window. Some people are nosy.” He knew his eyes were twinkling as he said it. It wasn't often that his two extended families occupied the same space and although he was trying not to show it, this was as exciting for him as it was for the others. And for good reasons: Steve had promised to come down so he would be here when Tony finally told Pepper about them. Because the people closest to them had a right to hear the truth, before the media finally put two and two together and figured out the whole story about what was going on between Captain America and Iron Man these days.
As if he was reading his thoughts, Cababa asked: “So, Tony, who is Captain America dating? You must know right? I know you don't always work together and you don't always get along, but you're friends, right? Basically? And you've known each other for so long, you must talk. Everybody wants to know!”
Pepper's head snapped up and she glared at the young man over her shoulder, then at Tony. “Yeah, who is the poor woman he stood up, so he could come running when you were in trouble?” Her voice had a very special severe neutrality to it that Tony knew very well. Pepper was really angry about something.
Her disapproval took him by surprise and he tried to gauge her expression, not sure whether she was angry about Steve coming to his rescue or about him getting into trouble in the first place. Did she honestly believe that was what had happened? Did she think Steve was as much an ass as Tony was sometimes? “That's not what...” he started, not able to not defend Steve when his character was called into question. But he stopped. The best way to defend Steve would be to reveal what was really going on. He swallowed, his mouth going dry in an instant. He'd wanted to have Steve here for this talk for a reason; namely so that Steve could be his calm self and give Tony the strength not to mess this up.
Making the decision, he took a deep breath to calm himself. “Guys, there is something I wanted to tell you actually,” he started.
Pepper looked at him apprehensively and didn't let him go on. “Oh, god. You're going to leave earth! The armor you were working on is finished.” She sounded shaky. Whyche came to to stand beside her, putting a hand on her shoulder, obviously trying to reassure or calm her.
“Ehm... That's not what I was going to say. This is about, Cap,” he said.
Now everybody stared at him as if he was losing his mind. “You have to tell us something about Captain America?” Macken asked with a confused frown.
“Well, and me,” he said, already regretting that he had started this without Steve. Where are you Steve? he thought. I really need you.
Someone cleared his throat behind him. The sound was coming from the direction of the door and Tony's chest nearly burst with happiness and relief when he saw Steve standing there, smiling. A startled laugh escaped him when he took in the picture he made, clad partly in his uniform and a long-sleeved undershirt, but not the wearing the uniform chain mail shirt yet, and he was holding a bouquet of this time yellow flowers in front of himself.
“Hi,” he said and smiled at Tony. “I thought you'd wait for me.”
He knew that all eyes in the room where on Steve now; maybe Pepper was watching him instead of Steve, but he had no eyes for anyone but Steve now either, so he couldn't be sure.
“Hi,” he echoed. “I was going to wait, but... I needed to clear up a misunderstanding.”
Steve cocked his head to the side and looked him over carefully. Then he looked at everyone else in the room, focused on Pepper, who looked at him startled and with wide eyes. He smiled at her reassuringly, somehow knowing exactly who it was he had to convince here.
Tony couldn't breathe. He could count the few times that Pepper had been in direct contact with Steve on his fingers, most of them hadn't been happy occasions – especially in the recent past, and that was really a feat, wasn't it? Rhodey and Steve – that was one story. They knew each other, fought together, had been on the same team for some time. But Pepper was a part of his life that had never been as close to the Avengers as that.
Pepper was smart though and she looked from Steve to him, considering them, still surprised, but already piecing everything together.
“Who picked the flowers this time? Wolverine?” Tony asked, because he was feeling nervous with the sudden tension in the room, and like he was going to start babbling any moment anyway. So why hold back?
Steve's eyes settled back on him and one side of his mouth formed into one of these wonderful half-smiles that Tony had always loved, but that now made him want to kiss Steve - right here in front of everyone. It wasn't actually the audience holding him back this time, but the knowledge that Steve was a very private man and would probably prefer to tell people first, before shocking them by displays of public affection of any kind.
“Spider-Man,” he said and Tony chuckled, rolling his eyes.
“Tell him, Natasha has better taste.”
“He is going to try and catch a picture from the window,” Steve announced and made a nearly imperceptible nod in the direction of the floor to ceiling windows. “He's probably hanging outside there already.”
“Sneaky kid,” Tony said and laughed.
Steve gave him another bright smile, before stepping up to Pepper and giving her the flowers. “I hope you don't mind, but Tony not getting the flowers has become a bit of a theme over the last few days.”
She swallowed, took them and stared at him again, questioning. It was silent enough in the room now that you would be able to hear a needle drop. “Theme?” she asked in a very low voice.
“The Avengers are a bunch of little kids at heart,” Tony said, as if that explained anything. “So everyone upstairs knows now?”
Steve shook his head and walked over to lean against the desk beside him. Butterflies rose in Tony's stomach and he imagined that with all the smiling he was beginning to look ridiculous. “Not everyone,” Steve said. “But Sam asked me about it this morning.”
“And I suppose you didn't lie and he isn't happy,” Tony said.
“Actually he said he hasn't seen me this happy in a long time, so he is happy for me and said he'll be there for me when it blows up in my face.”
“Aww, how sweet,” Tony said and chuckled again. That nobody had said a word yet but them did nothing to quench his nervousness.
“You are dating Captain America!?” Cababa finally blurted out. “You lucky bastard!” He blushed when Steve chuckled. Then he frowned, staring back at Tony. “You can't keep this a secret. Do you have any idea what that would mean..?”
“Yes,” Steve said. “It would mean a lot.”
Tony shrugged. “You still think this isn't going to be a disaster. But you were dating a sneaky S.H.I.E.L.D. agent before. The paparazzi will be all over this.”
“They already are and we do have Spider-Man on our case,” Steve pointed out gesturing towards the windows.
“And he's sweet, but believe me the rest of them won't be.”
Pepper finally came out of her frozen state and then glared at Tony first, still holding the flowers in front of herself like a weapon. Tony was afraid she would use them to hit someone with them. Probably him. “How long has this been going on? When were you going to tell me, Tony?”
Tony ducked his head, effectively hiding behind Steve's shoulder, so Pepper had to step closer to glare some more. “Today,” he said.
“We wanted to be sure about this first,” Steve explained in his calmest voice. “I understand that this is a big surprise and that it's going to be something your PR department should be aware of soon. We're not going to hide it, but we had to figure out how well this worked first. Some things are just between me and Tony.”
The unshakable belief that spoke from Steve's words made Tony dizzy. It had taken him a while to stop waiting for things to go wrong, but even now when he saw a future for them, Steve's belief in them could be humbling.
“It's not just between you and Tony. It never is! Have you any idea how long he's been talking about you like you're the best thing in the world? Even when the two of you fought? And do you know who has to deal with him when you're not around?”
He blinked, staring at Pepper surprised. Had he really talked about Steve often enough for her to notice?
“I already got the talk from Rhodes,” Steve said with a straight face and without even wavering.
“You didn't tell me that,” Tony said quietly.
“That's because he gave me the talk before we ended up having – our first talk ,” Steve said, and the way his mouth set into a thin line when he said it was the only thing telling Tony that he was really talking about the first time they'd had sex. He'd really have to thank Rhodey for this. Scratch that. He'd take Rhodey out to a fancy dinner – and give him a new suit. Two. Maybe a car.
And then Pepper did this thing she sometimes did that Tony found to be incredibly scary: She went from being confrontational to being utterly calm, smiling at both of them serenely. “Okay. Now suddenly the last few weeks make a lot more sense. All the phone calls, all the time spent in New York, even the Internet falling apart because of a harmless picture.”
Steve relaxed a little at his side, but Tony knew Pepper wasn't through yet. She looked at Tony sternly. “Don't mess this up, because you're the one who has to go on living if you do.”
And wasn't that his greatest fear without anyone pointing it out to him?
“And you,” she pointed at Steve, “you know what you've gotten yourself into. Now he's your responsibility.”
“Of course. He always has been,” said Steve and pinched Tony's arm where Pepper couldn’t see it as he was about to object to be spoken of like he was a little child. He glared, but kept quiet.
“Good,” Pepper concluded, noticing their little by-play, of course, and smiling at Tony as if being pinched was something that made her really proud of him. “Then we'll all get along fine. Thank you for the flowers; they are lovely, Steve. Bring him around the office more often, Tony.” Which was her way of letting him know that she approved; very much so, as she had never invited his former relationships anywhere near the company if it wasn't for work or PR briefings. She pushed the flowers into Macken's hands making a gesture for him to take care of them, find a vase. Then she clapped her hands. “Alright, we still have things to do. We're expecting the potential investors to arrive in an hour. Move, people.”
It was like all of them were pulled out of the daze then and even Cababa didn't dare to object, although Tony could see all the questions he still wanted to ask them, or more importantly Steve.
Steve himself just looked at him with a smile. “Can I stay?”
“If you don't get in her way, it should be fine.”
Steve turned to him, shielding him against the windows with his body and pressing a light kiss to his brow. “That’s what I’ve been telling you from the start. See now? Everything is going fine.”
“Yes, for once. But you do realize,” he said, looking at a fixed point over Steve's shoulder, “that Spider-Man just took a spectacular picture of your back, yes?”
“Of course,” he said with an even brighter smile. “And I also told Wolverine and Black Widow to not let him leave here with his camera just in case.”
Tony laughed. They both knew that Peter would never go and publish something like that without them giving their okay first. He was probably planning on sticking the first pic he got up on the fridge in the kitchen for all Avengers to see and nothing more. “You can be really scary, too.”
“I go a long way to protect the people I love.”
Warmth spread through him, as it did every time he heard Steve say it like this.
“We decide when the world gets the first picture of this,” Steve reassured him.
It was a nice thought, although Tony wasn't entirely sure he believed it. He took Steve's hand into his own and pulled him along into the corridor outside the meeting room, where he kissed him for real.
Whatever happened, they could do this - one day at a time.