"I think I've lost my game," Tony said.
There was a peal of laughter over the speakers in the workshop.
Pepper was in Delhi, looking for angel investors to support a new spinoff of Stark Industries, and it was probably pretty late there. Maybe early? Tony didn't really do time zones. She was awake, anyway, JARVIS had said so, so he'd called her. And now she was laughing at him, the heartless harpy.
"I blame you," he added peevishly. "If we were still together this wouldn't be an issue."
"No, it wouldn't, because I would have murdered you," Pepper said. "Tony, I love you endlessly, but we agreed -- "
"Boss or girlfriend, not both," Tony chimed in. "Whatever, Potts, I'm over you -- "
"Sure you are -- "
" -- I'm just saying, we were together for a record amount of time, for me, and in that time I appear to have lost my game. Your fault."
"Well, maybe. I could have jinxed you. But it's not like you had a lot while we were together, either."
Tony made a mock-outraged noise and spun across the room on his work stool, banging into Dummy and leaning over him to grab a socket wrench.
"Do you know how long it's been since I've been laid?" he asked, scooting back to the bench.
"Yes," she said. "I know everything about you."
"So you know that it's been two months. I have literally not had an orgasm in the presence of a living person since we ended it."
"With that kind of sweet talk, I'm shocked."
"If you're that desperate, hire someone."
"Please, I'm not desperate, I'm confused. I used to be good at this," he complained. "Now every time I think I'm about to seal the deal, it falls through. I'm using very trustworthy, well-tested techniques and suddenly they just don't work anymore."
"Maybe you need to brush up."
"Pepper, I was raised a salesman. I can sweet talk anyone into anything. It's still working in business, you know, I landed two new coders this week for you."
"Oooh, did you get Tim Cababa?"
"I did," Tony said, pleased over that little triumph.
"You can't see it but I'm fanning myself," Pepper replied. "It's not fair someone is that hot and that smart."
Tony chuckled. "You're going to have to admire from afar, Pep. Pretty sure he's gay."
"What, was it on his resume?"
"He didn't stare at Natasha's boobs."
"You don't stare at Natasha's boobs."
"Exposure immunity, also she terrifies me. Besides, he was flirting with me," Tony continued, adjusting the tension on one of his gauntlets gently.
"And you didn't take advantage of the recruiting couch? You are losing your game."
"I tried. I was even ethical about it. I told him he had the job and had him sign and everything, and then I was like, hey, you want to get dinner to celebrate? My treat."
"He suddenly had to call his parents and tell them the good news, and he just wandered off," Tony said forlornly.
"You wouldn't normally let that happen."
"Well, I wasn't going to, but by then Cap was there with burgers, so." Tony flexed his hand in the gauntlet, shook his head, took his hand out, and threw the whole thing into the Still Not Right pile.
"Have you considered the idea that your sex drive may be diminishing? Normally if given a choice between burgers and sex..."
"That's not fair, I love hamburgers. I am true to hamburgers. Anyway, how many people get to eat hamburgers with Captain America?"
"You. At least once a week."
"Hush with your logic. My sex drive is fine. My right hand's getting cramped, is all."
Pepper laughed. "Build yourself a machine, Tony."
"Watch out, I might."
"Okay, I have to go. Good luck in getting your groove back. Try again with Tim. You two would make the most beautiful babies."
"I'll get right on that. G'night, Ms. Potts."
"Goodnight, Mr. Stark," she answered, and there was a soft chime to end the call.
"Who are you making beautiful babies with?" Steve asked, from the doorway. Tony jerked his head up and turned, startled.
"How long have you been there?" he asked accusingly.
"Right from try again with Tim," Steve said. He had take-out bags in his hands. "Who's Tim?"
"Cababa -- the one I was interviewing when you brought burgers the other day? Brilliant coder. Thought I might have started something up with him, but he bailed. Maybe he was just nervous. Give me food," Tony finished, and Steve smiled indulgently and set the take-out bags on the table, unpacking them.
"Wasn't he about twelve?" Steve asked.
"Twenty-four. I wasn't actually looking to make babies with him."
"Good, because you may encounter some biological difficulties there," Steve said, passing Tony a tray of warm lasagne.
"Did they teach you about where babies come from in the forties?" Tony asked, accepting a plastic fork and stuffing his mouth with pasta.
"No, but everyone in the oughts seems determined to share," Steve said, straight-faced, and Tony choked on his food, trying not to laugh.
"No joking while I'm swallowing," he said, and Steve narrowed his eyes.
"Kid wasn't your type, anyhow, he seemed flighty," Steve said.
"He wasn't flighty, you saw him for all of two minutes, and since when do you have an opinion on my bed partners?"
"You have bed partners?" Steve asked.
"Oh my God, I'm telling everyone Steve Rogers throws the meanest shade. That was cutting, Rogers." Tony clutched his chest. Steve laughed.
"Even if you don't want to settle down, you need someone stable," he said, poking at his own food, rolling a meatball around. Tony darted his fork out and stole it.
"Is this a prelude to matchmaking?" Tony asked, when Steve glared at him.
"Why, would that upset you?" Steve asked.
"No, I'm striking out lately," Tony said.
"That's too bad," Steve replied sympathetically.
"So if you know of someone, hook me the hell up."
"I'll keep that in mind. Don't tell Natasha, though," Steve added. "She's relentless. I finally went out with this lady she recommended, she had a lip piercing, I don't even know..."
Unlike most people in his social circle -- well, one of his social circles -- Tony enjoyed charity galas. For all his occasional isolationism, he was a friendly creature and he liked handshaking and catching up with acquaintances, and the random collaborations that could arise from putting a bunch of hyper-intelligent, super-wealthy people in one place.
Besides, this was the world he'd lived in all his life -- before Iron Man, before the Avengers. This was a game he knew how to play.
"So the thing is, yeah, a view is fine, but who doesn't have a view anymore?" he asked, and Nadia -- who had been at the girls' school down the road from his boarding school, and who actually knew how good Tony was in bed -- laughed and poked him in the chest.
"Says the man who has a three-sixty view of the entire southern half of Manhattan," she said. "Easy to talk, Tony."
"I think it shows I know exactly what I'm talking about," Tony countered. "I could show you, if you want."
She smiled, sultry. "You're asking to show me your three-sixty, is that it, Tony?"
He slid an arm around her waist. "For old time's sake, if you want to think of it that way."
She was totally into it, too, he could tell she was into it, and they'd gone about ten steps towards the door when she suddenly tugged away gently. He let his arm fall, turning to study her. "Something wrong?"
"No," she said sweetly, not at all awkwardly, and that was how he knew he was about to get the brush off. "Tony, you're darling, you know that, but I don't think I'm up for a three-sixty tonight."
He raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"Sorry," she said, and patted his arm. "Call me, okay?"
"Sure," he replied, and let her go gracefully, because he wasn't going to beg for it. (Yet. Maybe.)
He decided that the bar was probably the place to drown his momentary sorrow, but when he turned to his right he nearly bumped into Steve, who dodged just enough to keep from spilling his drink.
"Hey, Tony," Steve said with a smile. "Watch out, this monkey suit isn't wash and wear. Who's your retreating friend?"
"Nadia," Tony said. "Old ex from boarding school."
"She took off in a hurry."
"Yeah, I don't know..." Tony trailed off thoughtfully. "Well, anyway, looks like my luck's run down for the night."
"Really? Party's just getting started, so they tell me." Steve gave him a winning grin. "Come on, I'll buy you a drink."
"It's open bar," Tony said.
"Good, I'm on a pension," Steve told him, and led him back towards the booze.
It was depressing how much Tony was enjoying just getting to second-base with someone, but it was more depressing that the first real play he'd had in -- four? five? -- five months was interrupted by the click of the door and Steve yelping, "Oh! Sorry!"
It wasn't even like he knew the guy that well; Tony had blundered into him at the coffee kiosk in the lobby of Stark Tower, coming home from a Maria Stark Foundation meeting and in desperate need of caffeine. He'd accidentally poached the guy's coffee and was half-finished with it before either of them noticed.
And he was attractive, in a rugged dirty-blond kind of way, so Tony invited him up for some replacement coffee in the penthouse. The guy was cool with it, not like some people who got a little crazy about Billionaire Tony Stark, and they were having a good time on the couch when Steve goddamn Rogers showed up.
"I'm so sorry!" Steve said, standing in the doorway. "JARVIS said you were home!"
"Yes," Tony said, as the coffee guy -- James? Jordan? -- sat up off Tony's hips and turned to look at the intruder. "I am home. And entertaining, as you see."
"Is that Captain America?" Coffee Guy asked. Tony covered his eyes. "Are you Captain America?"
Tony peeked through his eyes. Steve had crossed his considerable arms over his chest.
"Yep," he said, and he was smiling, but there was something weird about it. "You an Avengers fan?"
"Yeah, totally! Look, do you guys have uh..." Coffee Guy turned back to Tony. "Avengers business you have to do?"
"No," Tony said.
"Not really," Steve added. And made absolutely no move to leave.
"Well, you probably need to talk or do some hero work or something," Coffee Guy said, and slid off Tony's lap entirely. Tony whimpered. "I should -- uh, go."
"You don't have to," Steve said, and then finally, "I can..."
"No! No, I'll go. Nice meeting you, uh, Mr. Stark. Captain," Coffee Guy said, and left. Tony tugged a couch pillow over his crotch.
"I'm sorry I interrupted," Steve said.
"It's fine," Tony sighed. "He made weird squeaky noises anyway."
"So....you wanna watch a movie?" Steve asked, settling onto the couch next to Tony's feet.
"Do I have to move?"
"Nope. You want some popcorn?"
Tony considered matters. He could probably get rid of the couch cushion by the time Steve got back with popcorn.
"Sure. Extra butter," he said, and Steve strolled off to the kitchen, whistling.
"Pepper says you're afraid you've lost your game," Natasha said one morning, appearing out of nowhere, and Tony jumped about six feet.
"Why must you do that?" he demanded.
"It's funny," she said.
"You're a bad person."
"Not news." She sat on the kitchen counter. "Pepper says -- "
"Pepper tells you too much about me."
"Well, maybe she's punishing you for oversharing with her."
"That would be oblique and...very like her," Tony admitted. "I'm not afraid. I'm confused."
"Right. Confused," Natasha said.
"Because I get so close, like, this close," Tony said, holding up his thumb and forefinger. "And then they just lose interest. Maybe it's my face," he said, studying his reflection in the coffee machine's bright chrome. "Maybe I need a face lift."
Natasha gave him a skeptical look.
"You think they see your laugh lines and give up?" she asked.
"Some of these are not laugh lines. Some of these are traumatic experience lines. Some of them are inadvisable benders in my twenties lines. I'm just saying."
"So you always get a good start, and then something sours the deal," she said.
"More or less."
"Any common denominators?" she prompted. Tony had the distinct feeling she knew something he didn't.
"Nooo..." he paused, squinting. "Well. Most of them are blondes. But that doesn't seem directly relevant. Even the redheads leave, and I try extra hard with redheads."
"And what happens after they leave?"
"I don't know, what do I ever do? Hang out with you guys. Watch a movie with Steve. Go down to the workshop. Someone's always around."
She smiled and patted his arm. "You're a smart guy. You'll figure something out eventually."
"Thanks, I think," he said, watching her as she left. "Well, that was weird."
Considering he had apparently had the worst run of bad luck since ending up in a cave in Afghanistan, life wasn't so awful. Sure, he hadn't had sex in seven months, breaking a previous record set when he was nineteen (he'd had a perm, it was a thing) but at least he had the Avengers to hang out with, and Pepper was so much more relaxed now that they weren't dating. He got a lot of work done.
Steve had apparently made it a personal mission to keep him well-fed, and sometimes after bringing down lunch he'd hang around the workshop, poking Tony's stuff and asking weird questions, which was nice. Plus it seemed like every time Tony got the brush-off, Steve was there with a movie or an invitation to go out for beers or a gaping, terrible hole in his musical education that had to be remedied.
Trying to get Steve drunk was a favorite new hobby of the Avengers as well; Bruce and Tony were trying to be scientific about it, but Clint was using a scattershot approach of "try this next!" where "this" could be anything from light beer to a syrupy mix of vodka and pure sugar. Natasha had a pool going but Tony was banned; apparently being a billionaire capable of buying out every slot gave him some kind of 'advantage'.
"Do I want to know what's in this?" Steve asked, holding a tiny clear vial up to the waning light of the sunset. It was cold outside, this high up, but the heaters set up on the deck of the penthouse terrace were battling the worst of the chill, and the booze would hopefully do the rest.
"It's an enzyme solution," Bruce said. "Do you want the science?"
"I've learned never to want the science," Steve said.
"Good choice. Bottoms up," Tony said, and Steve shot him a sidelong smile, lifting the vial and swallowing smoothly.
"Now, we drink," Natasha said, tossing him a bottle of wine. Steve looked at it askance.
"Am I just downing this, or do we get to use glasses?" he asked. "Because I've pulled wine corks with my teeth before but it's not a classy move."
"Natasha's a philistine," Clint said, passing him a mason jar. Steve looked at it, then looked at him. "What? It helps aerate it or something."
Steve sighed, using the corkscrew Clint handed him and pouring out a half-jar of wine. He waggled the bottle at Tony, who rummaged in the picnic basket he'd brought out to the terrace and produced an actual glass.
"Don't chug it," he said. "That's a nice wine. Savor it."
"Shoulda done tequila shots," Bruce said. "But wine's better for science. A slow burn, you know."
"I had tequila once, in Arizona," Steve said, sticking his tongue out. Tony laughed. "That was an interesting time. Ever tried to herd thirty tequila-laced dancing girls?"
"No, but it sounds like my kind of night," Tony answered, as Steve sipped the wine.
"The kickline was impressive," Steve admitted. Natasha snorted. Bruce looked intrigued.
It was nice to sit up on the roof, under the heaters, sipping decent wine and snacking, listening to Steve tell an increasingly involved story about misadventures near the Mexican border in Arizona. Apparently Tucson used to be a hell of a town.
Clint had been in New Mexico for the whole Thor thing, and he had a couple of desert stories to match Steve's. Tony told his favorite story about Texas, which ended with an escort bailing him out of jail, and Natasha had a whole warehouse of stories about running around Europe with Clint, blowing things up.
Tony was in the middle of recounting that time he nearly got blown up in a race car when he realized Clint and Natasha were curled up together and asleep. Bruce had gone inside to find more blankets, and the blanket they were sitting on was littered with empty wine bottles.
"...and this isn't as interesting as I think it is, is it?" he asked Steve, who was leaned against the support pole of one of the heaters, looking sleepy. Steve slow-blinked at him. "How you doing, big guy?"
"Good," Steve said, slow and a little slurred. "Think it worked."
"Here, touch your nose with your finger," Tony said, stretching his arm out and bending at the elbow. Steve mimicked the motion, finger missing his nose by about an inch. When he finally found it, he looked up at Tony and started to laugh.
"Yeah, you're toasted," Tony said, pleased. "Bruce'll be happy it worked."
"I'm happy it worked," Steve replied. He leaned forward, swinging his body away from the post, and began making his way across the blanket towards Tony. Steve on his hands and knees had the poise and grace of a jungle cat, and Tony felt his neglected sex life rumble ominously. It didn't help when Steve flopped down, still catlike, and propped his head on one of Tony's crossed legs.
"How are you?" he asked, and Tony patted his cheek.
"Not as gone as you, but then, I've had more practice," he said.
"No, I mean, how are you," Steve insisted, one hand on Tony's knee. "How are you."
"Okay, I get it," Tony said, as Steve inhaled, probably to continue repeating himself. "I'm fine, Cap, you know me."
"You seemed sad. After Pepper. Then better for a while," Steve said, mouth half-muffled by Tony's thigh. "Sometimes still sad though."
Tony smiled and tucked Steve's hair back behind his ear. "I'm okay. Having kind of a dry spell, but compared to other events in my life, that's not so bad."
"Dry spell?" Steve asked.
"No sex," Tony said. "Dry spell."
"Oh. Yeah, sorry about that," Steve said, eyes sliding closed, and Tony stilled his hand. "I just really don't like it."
"Don't like what?" Tony asked.
"You with other people," Steve said. He heaved a deep sigh. "Besides, that one lady didn't even like you."
Tony had a sinking feeling he wasn't going to enjoy the rest of this conversation. "Which lady is that?"
"The one who wanted to see your workshop. Remember, you were in the kitchen and I spilled coffee?"
"You did that on purpose?"
"Well, yeah. She was a spy."
"You don't know that!"
"Do so," Steve argued. "She was shifty."
"Oh my God, Steve," Tony put his head in his hands, resting one elbow on Steve's shoulder. "You've been cockblocking me. For months. You've been -- "
"Well, I had to," Steve said, sounding cranky. "I didn't start out to at first, but people don't like it when I do the glare."
"The glare," Tony said. How was this his life?
Steve opened his eyes and rolled onto his back, head still in Tony's lap, and narrowed his eyes. It would have worked better if his pupils were fully focused, but even so, Tony knew the power of Steve's glare. The full brunt of his disapproval would probably have driven Tony off from a hot date too.
"Steve, this is not okay, you can't just run off my dates," Tony said, torn between a warm, rising feeling that he was special and a dark sense that some of this was probably very inappropriate.
"I know," Steve whined, turning over again, pressing his nose into Tony's hip. "I said I'd stop every time, but then I'd see you with someone and I just glared! I can't help it."
"Cause they aren't good for you," Steve said.
"You should have someone nicer. Like me," Steve added. "Someone nice. And calm. And stable. And me. Someone who is me," he summed up, sighing.
Tony rested his hand on the back of Steve's head, thumb rubbing his ear. Steve made a rumbling sigh.
"You could have just told me," he said.
"I wanted to," Steve muttered.
"Why didn't you?"
"You had to get over Pepper first," Steve said, which, okay, wasn't untrue. "And then, and then it was just...."
"Cowardice?" Tony suggested.
"Probably," Steve sighed. "Never was any good at romance."
Bruce appeared in the doorway out to the terrace, blankets in his arms, and then hesitated. He shot Tony a questioning glance, and Tony shook his head. Bruce nodded and left the blankets near the door, withdrawing back into the penthouse.
"Okay, Captain Possessive," Tony said, tugging on Steve's shoulder. "Time to get up and go to bed, honesty hour is over."
Steve shook his head, one arm going around Tony's waist.
"Yep, no, come on Captopus," Tony said, and Steve reluctantly let him go. He sat up, head still hanging, a pout on his lips, hair falling over his forehead.
Tony rolled his eyes and tapped his fingers under Steve's chin, tipping his face up.
"You are so wasted," he said affectionately, "and in so much trouble, and when you are sober you are going to owe me so much sex."
Steve's eyes slid away, then back. "How much trouble?"
"So much, but not too much," Tony said, kissing his forehead. "I'm going to spend the time between now and when you wake up with a hangover making a list of every single time you ran off my dates. That's how much sex you owe me."
"Oh," Steve brightened. "That's probably a lot. Don't forget that Cababa fella."
"I'm not, believe me."
"And the host at the restaurant -- "
"Yep, she's on the list."
"And I don't know if you remember this one -- "
"Steve," Tony said. "Please don't tell me every single time you cockblocked me. You're kind of an asshole."
"It's the wine," Steve mumbled. "I used to pick a lotta bar fights when I was a little guy."
"I don't think it's all the wine, but I like people who are a little bit asshole, so it's probably okay," Tony sighed. "Up we go..." he got to his feet, pulling Steve up with him, and kicked Clint gently. "Wake up, you'll freeze out here, come on, I can't believe I'm getting all of you to bed and people think I'm the irresponsible alcoholic."
Steve draped himself over Tony's side, nuzzling his hair, while Clint and Natasha shook themselves awake and staggered off inside.
"You are sleeping on the sofa tonight, that's how mad I am at you," Tony told him, dragging him towards the door.
"Your sofa's nice," Steve said. "Fits two."
"Nuh uh," Tony said, as the door shut behind them. He turned, elbowing one really fantastic pec gently, and Steve tumbled onto the sofa.
"Are you angry?" Steve asked, gripping Tony's leg. Tony rolled his eyes and bent down, kissing him. Steve grabbed his neck, held him still, and opened his mouth, which had not been Tony's intention.
"Yep," he said, when he finally needed to breathe. "Super-angry. You owe me so much sex. Get some sleep, you'll need it."
Steve huffed. "Won't need that much."
"Sleep, you cocky asshole, and pray I'm nice to you in the morning."
"You're always nice," Steve said, which was a blatant lie, but he was already two thirds of the way to unconscious, so Tony ignored it and dimmed the lights, heading for his bedroom.
Once he'd undressed and climbed into bed, considering his life and the multiple but delightful messes in it, he asked, "JARVIS, were you in on this? Did you tell Steve when I was entertaining guests?"
"I shall note it in your calendar."
"Ms. Potts is asleep," JARVIS said reproachfully.
"Fine. Leave voicemail, alert her in the morning. Begin recording. Pep, turns out I still have game. I have so much game it's actually unbelievable. End recording."
"I'm sure Ms. Potts will appreciate that, sir."
"You don't get to be judgey. You, my own creation, you helped Captain America shoot down my dates."
"Being fair, sir, I was attempting to help you get one specific date."
"Uh huh. Still grounded."
"And order a bouquet of flowers for Steve."
"Of course, sir."
"With a card that reads You're still an asshole."
"So pleased for you, sir."
"Yeah, yeah," Tony sighed, curling down in the blanket and anticipating a lot of apology sex in his future. "Stupid computer programs and stupid super soldiers, I coulda been having sex for months..."