The first problem with Tony Stark was that he thought he was smarter than every one.
The second problem with Tony Stark was that he probably was smarter than everyone.
Steve sighed, remembering the way Tony grinned at him, sort of seeing through him, he thought, clapped him on the arm and said, "You're living in the future, kid."
'Kid.' Steve was older than Anthony Stark by decades. And every time he called Steve 'kid,' it grated a little bit more. But he stuck by Iron Man because he was so much like his father. And his father had been brilliant. Steve had been living in the future with Howard Stark's creations, and now that Tony had carried on Howard's legacy of being brilliant, well. Steve was twice as behind on the times as he had expected. So he stuck around to see his brilliance. Maybe out of a little obligation to Howard to see that his kid turned out alright.
The third problem with Tony Stark was that he always multi-tasked, doing fifteen things at once.
Steve writhed on Tony's bed, making embarrassing breathy noises he associated with Victorian romances and dainty women on their fainting couches when faced with broad shoulders. Tony was bent over him, words tumbling out of his mouth as he made Steve sweat and arc up into Tony's capable hands. Focusing in on the syllables, Steve grabbed Tony's biceps and held him still. "Are you...are you on your blue tooth!"
Tony blinked down at him, eyes snapping to. "Uh. Yes. Notes. To myself. For a project. Do you mind? Can we continue?"
"I..." At a lose for words, Steve shook his head and pushed Tony off. "I can't believe you!"
"What. What? I was doing a good job, right? Hit you where it matters."
Steve flushed, ducking his head. "That's not the point!"
"Oh. Is it about the attention part? Because I was paying you plenty of attention. Look, still standing," he quipped, gesturing down to his crotch. "I can go on. I mean, if you want."
"Tony..." Dropping his head into his hands, Steve didn't remember how they got to this point. Somewhere in between Tony's last slip into drinking and a bar and then some fumbling after Steve mistakenly said Tony looked just like his dad, and the wrestling ending on Tony's bed after a particularly dangerous mission. He was so out of his depth. "Can we just... Can it just be us, for once? No projects, no business, no one else."
Tony sighed and mumbled some last comments into the blue tooth before spreading his hands for peace. "There. All done. Happy? Can we get back to...business?"
He was an enabler. He was obviously an enabler, and he indulged Tony much too frequently to be healthy. But... "Come on then."
The fourth problem with Tony Stark was that he cared too much.
"To—Iron Man! Iron Man, fall back!" Steve felt his heart in his chest as he watched the building coming down, the familiar flash of red and gold that made his friend think he was invincible disappearing into the falling chunks. "You can't save everyone!" He bellowed, though he knew that Tony couldn't hear him. Or maybe he could. He never really knew what Tony was capable of. Thor was at his side as he dashed towards the rubble, frantically shovelling pieces aside to get to Tony and whatever survivors there were with him beneath it all. "Iron Man!"
"He is fine. I am certain," Thor grunted as he swung his hammer and debris scattered across the street.
But Steve saw the worry crease his brow, and he dug faster. "Tony!" He fell backwards with the force of the blast that carried concrete up into the air, seeing Thor's arm fly up to cover his face out of the corner of his eye.
"Fine! I'm fine," Tony's voice blasted in his ear. Well shoot. He'd forgotten the blasted things that Tony insisted they install in their helmets slash head-gear in order to communicate.
"And you couldn't tell us that sooner, you ass!" Steve snapped, getting to his feet as more rubble flew into the air and gradually Iron Man became visible. Along with a handful of rescuees.
"Sorry, sorry. Static."
"You're not sorry, at all, Tony!"
"Alright then, folks. You all okay?"
"Son of a b—"
"My friend," Thor interrupted. "You might wish to save this until later."
Steve scowled, adjusted his shield and stalked away. It wasn't like this was unusual. Not for Anthony Stark. He presented the perfect front of being an ass the size of Texas, but working with the man, one saw past that fairly easily to find the heart of (red and) gold beneath. Always pushing himself past some personal limit, fuelled onwards by nightmares of what he was in the past and what could happen in the future.
Tony made it up to him later, but sometimes, when the man thought he was asleep, Steve could see the way his shoulders sloped down, the way his head hung, the way his fists pounded his thighs, and the way he stood by his window and gazed out over the city, muscles tense.
The fifth problem with Tony Stark was he was always busy.
"Tony? Tony, I'm home." Steve dumped his bag next to the door, sighing. In the garage, he was sure, as usual. His lip curled up. His blind devotion to his pet projects kept behind locked doors. His shoes clacked on the floors as he headed towards the basement, dropping his jacket over the back of the sofa and toeing off the shoes as he walked. "Tony! Did you want dinner? I'm going to sta—Shit! Tony!" Steve rushed forward, falling to his knees. He rolled Tony over and shook him lightly. He was breathing. He was alive. "Tony. Tony! Wake up!"
Tony groaned, eyelids twitching. "Steve...?"
"I'm right here, Tony. What's the matter? What do you need?"
"Just...tired..." His hand came up, touching his head gingerly. "I'm fine... I think I just passed out."
Heaving a sigh, Steve sat back on his heels. "You're an idiot. You 'just' passed out? Passed out from exhaustion, Tony! You need to sleep! You need to take care of yourself!"
"That's why I have you, don't I..." He croaked, trying to sit.
Steve helped him up, draping him around his shoulders. "You probably haven't slept all week, you idiot. Can you even remember? Nothing's so pressing that you need to do this to yourself..." He walked Tony to his bedroom, pulling the bedspread down to lay him out.
"Instead of berating me, you mother hen, do something useful."
"Hmph." Steve glared at him and stripped down to his boxers, climbing in beside Tony and pulling him back against his chest, effectively keeping him in place. "We're sleeping until I wake up tomorrow morning. And if that is by you elbowing me, I'm rolling on top of you and falling back asleep. Got it?"
"Yes, mom," Tony drawled, ending in a yawn. He was out in thirty seconds, leaving Steve to cherish the small amount of time he had to bask in Tony's company, being just with Tony.
The sixth problem with Tony Stark was that he had to have his finger in all the pies.
"What're ya doing?" Steve asked, sauntering into Tony's garage. Garage. That was like calling the Empire State building a shack. It was more of a mad scientist's laboratory crossed with a mechanic's yard. But Tony always said 'the garage,' so that's what it was.
"Um. Sorting." Tony answered eventually. Machines moved and virtual screens of information that made Steve's head spin flew around, stacking and reordering.
"Tony..." Steve drawled, "this is hardly nothing." He skirted piles of scrap and half-finished projects until he was standing next to Tony in his usual tee—the core reactor shining through—and protective lenses.
"Oh. Steve. Hi. I'm..." he trailed off, distracted, hands moving quickly over four keyboards.
"Stock." A minute later. "SI." Tilted his head and swore, snapping something out on the virtual keys. "SHIELD."
Frowning, he scooted closer to peer over Tony's shoulder. "You know it's tomorrow, right?"
"No. The seventh," Steve countered.
"Geeze." Steve dragged a hand over his face. "And I'm sure you haven't eaten for three days, have you."
Tony spared a second to glare at him and then went back to typing furiously, swivelling between keyboards. "Just...second..."
"Find me when you're done. Here. I'll even write it for you." He searched around for tape and tacked it to Tony's arm. He made it to the door when Tony's voice called him back. "What, Tony. You're preoccupied. You're not listening."
"Is it something important?"
"Well.." Steve let his feet carry him back towards Tony.
"Yes or no?"
"I don't know... I mean. To me, yes. But to you, apparently not."
"What." Tony pushed the glasses up onto his head. "Spit it out."
Shaking his head, Steve felt the familiar irritation spike to the service. "I'm not just another one of your projects you can push to the side when you've got more pressing matters."
"Oh." His eyebrows jumped quickly and then he shrugged, peeling off the gloves he wore. "Sorry. I—"
"Do you even know what you're sorry for?" Steve folded his arms across his chest.
There was a far-away quality to Tony's eyes for a moment. Probably checking his schedule. Thanks to Pepper. "Oh. Yes. Yes, I'm sorry. I got distracted. Obviously."
"Well. We can. Dinner tonight instead? The restaurant will reschedule our reservation for me. All I have to do is call. I'll shower even."
"You're a terrible boyfriend."
"I make it up to you with sex..."
He could feel his cheeks light up. "So what was all...this."
"You mentioned something—"
"There were stock issues with Stark International; I had to buy some back. Sell some. And then Fury was pissed about the incident in Caalifornia and he needed facts double-checked. Thor was..." Tony shook his head. "You know what. Not important. There were issues with the labeling company that I bought and some of the legislative issues in Congress were...not what I wanted. It's all sorted."
"You just have to have a piece of everything, don't you."
"You know, if I weren't so invested in making the world a better place, I think I would be the best super-villain there ever was. The world's a mess, and it would be better if I just rule it."
Rolling his eyes, Steve reached out and tweaked Tony's ear. "You'd be a terrible villain and you know it. You'd be obsessed with your villain costume. Now. Shower like you threatened, and let's go for dinner. Maybe then I'll give you your anniversary gift. If I decide you're worth it."
Tony grinned. "Right. One more email to StarkTech, and then I'll be right up."
Shaking his head with fondness, Steve wandered back upstairs to change and wait. He could always strip and walk around upstairs. Jarvis always sent pings down to Tony (who thought Steve was unaware) to notify him when he was nude.
The seventh problem with Tony Stark was that he was always right.
"Listen, just listen. To me. I know you don't understand, I know you haven't made all the connections. I have. And I know you think I'm full of shit. But by God, you're going to listen!" He hissed at the Avengers. "This is the wrong guy. We're in the wrong place. The attack is going down on the other side of town."
"How do you kno—"
"I know because I'm smart."
"And the rest of us aren't?" Steve countered hotly.
"No—yes. Yes, but I'm smarter. You're not seeing the bigger picture. And we don't have time to sit here and debate it! Now are you going to trust me or what? I'm going. Anyone going to follow and back me up? Cap? Thor? Widow?"
"Yes..." Steve sighed and walked over, looping his arms around Tony's neck. "I trust him. He's not always kind about it, but I trust him."
Thor looked dubious, but nodded finally.
"Good. Let's go." And Iron Man shot into the air, Thor grabbing Hawkeye, and the rest following as they could.
The eighth problem with Tony Stark was that he was broken.
Lots of brains and creative power and business mojo leaves very little time for a family life, Steve surmised from the bitter tones that seeped from Tony's voice when he talked about his father. And it hurt, because all Steve wanted to do was share how brilliant and kind and funny his father was. But Tony didn't want to hear it. He even sounded jealous whenever Steve brought up his dad.
It hurt for another reason too. That disconnect between the bright man he'd known during the war and the devouring old man he'd become. Made Steve glad he hadn't been around to see Howard. It would have broke his heart.
So Steve kept his lips shut after the first few times that positive comments about Tony's father ended up with him stonewalled in bed and ignored during the day. Steve learned. So instead he listened, waited until the wounds weren't so raw. Until Tony was ready to listen.
Maybe when he wasn't so ready to be peering back down into that bottle. He was so afraid Tony would slip, that something would make him wobble, and that slight aberration would be enough to end the tenuous control that Tony seemed to exhibit over the drinking. He always seemed so close to the edge, like if Steve saw him out of the corner of his eye, he could see the picture clearly of Tony leaning over the edge of the cliff, hands tucked into his pockets, daring the fates to sweep him away. Made Steve unable to breathe.
So he set himself up as Tony's defence, shielding him from whatever he could, the only thing he knew he could be. Made it as safe as possible.
Sometimes...Sometimes when they fell into bed and Tony had him caged and feeling small, he thought Tony knew. When he would kiss him with such tenderness that it might have been a thank you without words. But he could never been sure, because when Tony's hands were pressing him down and he was buried in mindless pleasure and release.
Steve would never want it, but he couldn't help but think if Tony were a little less of a genius, he would be happier. His mind made him who he is; it made him Iron Man, and there's not a lot of people who could fill his shoes (see Problem 1), but there were times between Shield work and the Avengers and Stark Industries when he found himself wishing a trip to just get Tony to relax and sleep and be off the radar for a few days. Like the only time he got to see him relaxed wasn't after he'd been up for three days straight fighting and working and sexing and arguing and buying and creating and planning and selling and ordering...when he finally fell asleep next to Steve. Even then his fingers would twitch as if on some keyboard, making blueprints or sending emails.
Steve just watched him then, sometimes. Leaning on his elbow until his back got stiff. He hardly had time to heal before something else in life would knock him down and he'd have to rebuild. Steve hoped that maybe with two hands, maybe it would go faster. Maybe Tony would rely on him more. And maybe that wasn't a problem at all.