It's been a good hour or so since Steve Rogers said the most patronising thing Tony's had thrown at him since his last media disgrace.
Big man in a suit of armor, take that away - what are you?
Tony had an answer - Tony always had an answer, it was a major part of his charm, he liked to think. Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, he had said. It wasn't what he wanted most to say - that was something more along the lines of you big-headed blue bastard.
Since Natasha's epically bad SHIELD report (which was much too succinct about Tony's personality flaws for anyone's liking) Tony had been trying to prove he was a little more mature, because it would suck for only Iron Man to be allowed in the Avengers headquarters. The building got pretty hot. Even the air conditioning Tony invented to fit into the suit wasn't enough to prevent it feeling like he was sunbathing in an empty soup can.
If he wanted to be in the Headquarters in regular, human clothes... well, he could try and play by some of Fury's rules.
Tony liked playing by Fury's smaller rules. It made breaking the big ones much more satisfying.
One of Fury's bigger rules was trying to get along with his new team mates. Tony wanted to break that one. Over Steve's head. Repeatedly . That, or tear off his spandex with his teeth. Tony's never been able to separate anger and lust very easily, as had been evidenced with Pepper - apparently, he was just pissed off that she knew him so well. It wasn't love on either of their parts in the end, which is something Tony still feels a little sad about.
Still, Tony's 58% sure it's anger towards Steve Rogers and his perky do-gooding, patronising, holier-than-thou prevalent attitude, and he's never been shy about coming forward. He's respectful enough of his team to wait for an opportunity to catch Steve at his own. Tony calls it professional respect, waiting to smack a man down when he's alone.
"That was pretty antagonistic of you back there," Tony says.
Steve is steadfastly looking at one of the data tablets and it's only a slight tensing of his jaw that shows Tony that Steve's even heard him. Tony catches a flash of the SHIELD logo before Steve sighs and turns the machine off. Steve has this perpetually strained expression around modern technology. Tony sort of gets that - he's the same way when he's stuck in some backwater where the height of engineering is a latrine dug behind a bush.
"I spoke out of turn," Steve says, his face blank. "I apologise."
Tony squints, because who does that? Who has someone in their face, full of righteous anger, and just apologises straight away? "I appreciate that, I do."
"Is there anything else I can assist you with, Mr. Stark?"
"I assume extracting the stick from your ass would be too much of an ask at this point in our friendship?" Tony grins shamelessly. "I guess not. Hey, are you just always that much of a presumptuous dick?"
Steve blinks at the speed of Tony's dialogue. Tony just thinks about how he was supposed to be showing his maturity, and pencils in his mental diary to start doing that again. Tomorrow. "I have already apologised for my statement, Mr. Stark-"
"Mr. Stark," Steve repeats, like he's being patient. Like his polite, level, formal tone isn't entirely condescending still. "I was led to believe that as the one with the most experience in the field of supernatural antagonistic forces, perhaps the team might benefit from my point of view, a-"
"Wait, wait, back up, rewind that tape."
"Rewind that what?"
"Don't worry about it, it's anachronistic even now." Tony waves his hands. "You admittedly have the earliest confrontation with the kind of enemies we're increasingly facing. But as for most logged hours in the field, I have extensive battle experience in our current environment. It's not all posing around in a robotic prothesis and pressing buttons. I use as much strategy as any of you. More, in fact, than a couple of members. Banner, for example, he's not so much about the strategy, he's more of a pointing himself in the direction of tragedy and letting loose. And Thor, well, I guess once you've pointed him at the bad guy, or occasionally an offending door, I guess that's all the strategy you need. But-"
"I don't know if I'm following you."
"Right," Tony says. "Those injections upped the muscles and forgot the brain. Too sad." Before Steve even had time to interrupt, Tony said, "So steam engines - they had those in the dark ages, right?"
Steve ignores the jibe at his age. Tony's made worse, after all. Steve nods, cautiously. "Of course we did. We also had running water and sewage pipes. And also this thing called... I think it was... automobiles?"
Tony pulls a face. "Cute. So, who was the first person to invent the steam engine."
"I'm not sure. Technology's your area."
"There isn't really one inventor. You could say it was Tagi al-Din, or Giovanni Branca were the inventors of the steam engine, because they invented the first steam turbines. Or maybe you'd give the honor of first inventor to Denis Papin, who invented the steam digester in 1679 or the first piston steam engine in 1690. Or maybe you want to give credit to Thomas Savery who made the first steam-powered water pump. We could get wild, and credit the first commercially successful engine inventor, Thomas Newcomen."
"I'm not exactly sure what your point is, Mr. Stark."
"The steam engine as it is today would have been impossible without the improvements added by James Watt."
"I've heard of James Watt."
"Everyone has," Tony says, dismissively.
"Your point being...?"
"Being first doesn't automatically make you best."
Steve looks at him, long and slow, and then... smiles as he reaches for the data tablet. "I'll keep that in mind, Mr. Stark." He hums to himself, some old 40s tune; When The Lights Go On Again , perhaps.
Tony crouches down, hooks a chair in with his ankle, and sits down opposite him. "Are you always this annoying?"
"Yes," Steve says, prodding heavily on the tablet, unaware it's a Stark design and only needs the gentlest touch. There are other things Tony sort of wants to teach him how to touch, so he refrains from saying anything at all. "Are you always such a- I'm searching for the time appropriate vernacular – I think you're fond of the term dick ?"
Tony grins, because he can't help it, and hides his smile as Steve glances up over the edge of the tablet. "Of course I'm fond of the term dick," he says, winking at Steve as he pushes the chair away, satisfied at least by Steve's moment of self-awareness that maybe he's not quite as irritating as his first impression indicated. Steve's pulse falters clearly in his neck at the wink, and Tony slides in closer, experimentally, "Aren't you?"
He's not imagining the curl of color along the base of Steve's neck, and suddenly, suddenly the bristling heat between them shuffles along that last 8%, making it 50/50. Those odds are pretty much certainty in Tony's life, and this antagonism with Captain America is suddenly taking on a whole heap of extra potential.
"Is there anything else I can do for you, Mr. Stark?"
Tony coughs, because if he speaks, well, he's a genius. He's already extrapolating the things Steve could do with those arms of his, and it's quite a list.
Steve rolls his eyes a little, but keeps his eyes on the tablet, like he's fighting to keep his voice steady. Like Tony's ruffled him a little bit. "Is there anything else I can assist you with, Tony . With the amendment that if you're a billionaire, and you ask me for assistance, it had better not be something one of your slaves can do for you."
"I don't have slaves ," Tony blurts, outraged.
"I've seen the hours Pepper works," Steve says.
"Touché." Tony looks down at Steve. "I'll let you know if I think of anything."
He thinks Steve's just going to say silent.
"Do," Steve says, after a long pause. One word's not a lot, but it's more than Tony was expecting. Kinda like Captain America himself.