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Go Hard

Like many things Tony got in trouble for, he hadn’t meant to do it. He hadn’t even known he was doing it. It was just a thing. Really, the last thing he needed was yet another secret identity: two identities were enough, Jesus fucking Christ.

He found out in the middle of a redesign on his new prototype engine that ran on converting the hydrogen in--whatever, it was brilliant.

“Pepper, what’s a fandom bicycle?” Tony yelled, one eye on the readouts from his diagnostics and one eye on his fandom sock account. Hey, it was important to monitor all sources of information when you were a superhero.

There was an icy, fraught silence. Or maybe Pepper was painting her nails, who knew what she got up to, but--”Is this a fraught silence, Pep?” he yelled. “Or are you watching makeup tutorials again?”

There was the clicking of Pepper’s high heels and a whole lot of muscled thigh.

“Up here. My eyes are up here,” Pepper motioned. “And they are icy. I hesitate to even ask this, but I am going to throw myself onto the pyre in case you’ve done something even more stupid than normal.”

“Hey!”

“A fandom bicycle is someone everyone in the fandom sleeps with. You know, they’re a, well...”

“Oh, like a slut, cool! Thanks, makes sense.” Tony went back to his welding, that is until a perfectly manicured hand gripped his arm. Hard. The hot yoga was really paying off for her, though by now you’d think it would have helped her temper a little--

“Tony, spill. Now.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “No big deal. Just a thing I do sometimes. Guess it’s kind of caught on. People write stories, you know.”

Pepper’s eyes narrowed. “Stories.”

“Based off my texts. Well, not just mine, everyone’s. It’s just that mine are the best.”

“The best.”

“What are you, a trained parrot? Yes, they rank them, and then some people started writing fiction on them, and that’s all. I mean, they don’t know who wrote which ones, just the area code of the person who sends it to them.” He waved a negligent hand around. “I mean, of course I randomize the area code that appears with my texts; they’re untraceable, blah blah blah. But they see patterns and think they know which are mine. Anyway, I won Best of the Texts.”

“Best of the--Anthony Stark, that site is horrible. The people who send in those texts are pathetic.”

Tony arched a brow. “And your point?”

“My point is, nobody had better ever find out it’s you or link them to you. Stark Industries has a reputation to maintain and if word got out--”

“Oh, please. The tabloids are already full of my promiscuity and drugs and drinking. I don’t care.”

Which, of course, was when Captain fucking America walked in. He was eating a bagel with a sort of worshipful expression on his face -- he was always going on about how they hadn’t had all those flavors when he’d lived here before -- so maybe he hadn’t heard. Not that Tony cared what he thought. Obviously.

“What did Tony do now?” he asked, sitting on one of the lab stools in a distracting way, legs spread unnecessarily wide. Not that there really could be a wideness that was unnecessary in that case. “Is there, uh” -- Steve visibly searched for the phrase -- “damage control that needs to be done?”

Pepper smiled at Steve in a way that ought to be illegal, somehow conveying that she thought he was the hottest thing on two legs at the same time he was as adorable as a puppy. “Tony is famous on the internet for his drunk texts about his kinky hookups. We need to make sure it can’t be traced to Stark Industries.” She wrenched her eyes off Steve’s shoulders to glare at Tony. “Or, Iron Man.”

Steve’s eyes widened. “Wait, Ironman could be linked?”

Tony threw his hands into the air. “That’s the part you focus on? You just skip right past the ‘drunk, kinky hookups’?”

“Oh, sorry,” Steve said, “Am I supposed to be surprised?” He bit off another piece of his basil-parmesan-prosciutto-whatthefuckever bagel. “Is Ironman’s reputation at risk?” It came out muffled by the bagel but the intent was clear.

“Hey!” Tony put a hand on his heart. Well, the machine that kept his heart going. Whatever. “I’m wounded. Why are we all worried about poor Iron Man and not poor Stark?”

Pepper and Steve turned two pairs of eyes on him, then turned to each other, ignoring Tony. Par for the freaking course, fine. Maybe he could get back to his redesign, which--

“How did he get famous on the internet really, though?” Steve asked.

Pepper sighed. “I had hoped you would never have to see something like what I’m about to show you, Steve. It’s this website? And people, well. They forward texts to it, ones they’ve sent, or ones they’ve gotten? It’s disgusting. The lowest picture of humanity, and--”

“It’s funny! And also, I’m right here!” Tony said. “You can’t seriously tell me it’s not funny. Half the stuff on there is made up, anyway. And besides, it’s not like if you don’t write it down, it doesn’t exist. Unless it hurts someone, who cares what people do, anyway?”

Pepper shook her head, but Steve just watched him over his bagel, expressionless in that way that meant he was judging Tony. “Listen,” Tony started, “Don’t act all superior with--”

Steve’s face took on that pinched look he got around Tony a lot of the time and Tony felt himself gear up for it, the way they sparked against each other; adrenaline and that churning feeling in his stomach, the desire to make Steve stop the fucking judging.

Jarvis made a sound that could easily be mistaken for clearing his throat. “Actually, Sir, Ms. Potts, Mr. Rogers...”

Tony shook off the anger; it wasn’t worth it. “What, Jarvis, you’re pausing dramatically now? Is there something in the air tonight making everyone talk like we’re on a British period drama? Spit it out.”

There was an expressive silence. Or perhaps it was Jarvis’s subroutines determining the precise meaning of “spit it out” in this context. Jarvis had definitely heard the phrase used in a different context.

“Focus, Tony. Jarvis, what is it?” Pepper asked.

“I may have information helpful in determining whether Mr. Stark, Stark Industries, or Iron Man are compromised by Mr. Stark’s... hobby. As part of my programming, I monitor and record Mr. Stark’s activity on telephones, computers, and other electronic devices.

“Wow,” Steve commented. “That’s amazing.”

Pepper examined her nails.

“It is critical for Mr. Stark’s safety, and the safety of the company, that I perform this function,” Jarvis added.

“Awww, Jarvis baby, I think you just like the sexting,” Tony said, then got back to work on his engine, seeing as how this was all likely to take a while. He ignored Rogers, who probably was all embarrassed just hearing the word ‘sex’ thrown around.

“The ‘sexting,’ as you refer to it, rarely has significance for your safety, though at times, as you know, there have been incidents. However, the information I am trying to convey is that I have a record of all texts you have sent, whether from your phone or someone else’s, as well as all emails, direct messa--”

“Okay, okay, we get it, you’re the CIA and the FBI all rolled together in one giant voyeuristic hunk of kinky electrons. Do you have this record anywhere?”

“Yes of course. May I inquire as to why, Sir?”

Tony put his fingers under his chin. “Oh, I don’t know, I thought maybe I’d write a memoir. Why do you think? Pepper and God’s gift to America here are all worried about my texting trophies being tied to me. Or to Iron Man, even worse. Let’s take a look and I’ll prove to you no one would ever link them back to Stark. When I’m drunk, I’m stupid, but never stupid.”

“That undercover cop from last week might beg to differ,” Pepper mumbled. Tony graciously ignored her.

“I am uploading the records now. Would you prefer I start at the beginning of your texting history or today and go backwards? I have organized them into time periods of approximately equal duration.”

Tony thought quickly. Today, today... There hadn’t been much--yeah, no. “Beginning,” he said. “Start at the beginning.”

“Okay, I’m leaving,” Pepper said. “I have very important... things to do. Just make sure no one ever links you to Mr. Text.”

“No problem, no problem,” Tony said, waving his hand to shoo her away. He expected Rogers to leave too, but he stayed, munching on yet another bagel. If Tony ate as much as he did, he’d weigh five hundred pounds. Of course, Rogers had all that muscle to burn calories. Lots and lots of muscle... “You sure you want to see this?” he asked. “I’m not censoring it for you.”

Steve nodded. “No problem. I wasn’t born yesterday, you know.”

Tony narrowed his eyes at him. “You did not just say that. I told you, you are not allowed to make that horrible pun ever again in my presence.”

“Oops.” Steve grinned at him infuriatingly. “Besides,” he added, “I’m actually here to look at the specs for the redesign.”

“Whatever. Your funeral. Or more likely, your education.” Tony motioned to Jarvis to bring the information up on the monitor

~ ~ ~

“Wait, what? Are these titles?” Tony pointed to the neatly-categorized groupings on the screen.

“I have organized the texts into time periods.” There was a pause. “There was a pattern. The texts within each time period share certain qualitative commonalities.”

“Wait, wait, you’ve psychoanalyzed me based on my texts?”

“Psychoanalysis is largely outdated, as you undoubtedly know.” Jarvis sounded as close to disapproval as he ever did. Which was actually quite close. “The accepted therapeutic model is now cognitive-behavioral therapy, combined with the appropriate medication to improve the imbalance of chemicals in the--”

There was a faint sound from where Steve was sitting. Tony glared at his back. His broad, strong back.

“Okay, Jarvis, enough! I’m sorry I offended your academic protocols! What I meant to say was, that’s so wonderful that you organized the past three years of my life into logical groupings that make sense to you.” He sat down in the chair in front of the computer. “Only there’s one little problem... You’re a machine! Your sense is my nonsense.”

There was a palpable silence. Tony replayed what he had just said, which was his Standard Operating Procedure whenever there was a palpable silence and he’d been conversing with--well, anything. He sighed. “Okay, not nonsense. Of course you know me better than I know myself, yadda yadda.”

“If I am not operating within acceptable parameters--”

Tony threw up his hands. “Jarvis! Spit it out.” He held one finger up. “ And I don’t mean bodily fluids that are the natural result of human sexual activity.”

There was another sound from where Rogers was sitting. If Tony didn’t know any better, he’d think it was a stifled laugh. But he did know better; the odds Steve was laughing at a joke about jizz were... very low indeed.

“Very well, Sir,” Jarvis continued. “I used my logic and human behavior subroutines to analyze your texts. My titles are meant to summarize or evoke the patterns I discovered."

Tony waved a hand. “Keep going, Jarvis, get it all out. You’ll feel better.”.

“As you know, the website Texts From Last Night, acronym: TFLN, has been in existence for almost three years. In that time period, you have sent 1,242 texts to the site. Additionally, 334 persons have sent in texts referencing you.”

Tony sat up straight. “Wait... How do you know they reference me? No names are used.”

Jarvis made the humming sound Tony thought of as, “the sound Jarvis makes when Jarvis is particularly impressed with Jarvis.”

“I created and then applied an algorithm utilizing area codes and descriptive phrases, then triangulated the data with my records of your whereabouts and activities on each of the dates in question for the time in question and--”

“Enough! Enough! Holy shit, stop the orgasm, obviously you are godlike in your deductive skills, not to mention fucking creepy. So let’s assume you’re correct and go from there. Even if one or two of them weren’t me, it was probably something I’ve done anyway.”

“Yes, Sir.” There was a pregnant pause. It stayed pregnant.

Steve looked up from the printouts he was reading on torque on the redesign. “I think he’s waiting for you to ask him,” he stage-whispered.

Tony continued to stare at the ceiling pointedly. There was silence. Then more silence. “Fine! Fine, fine, fine, analyze me up, whatever. Let’s see it.”

“When you say ‘it,’ to what do you refer, Sir?”

“It, the texts. Has Doom been trying to hack into you again? Are you developing a short-term memory problem?”

“No, Sir. I have texts dating back to your first use of the medium. But of course only those within the past 2.8 years are relevant to the particular concern about Texts From Last Night.”

“You have--let me see if I understood you correctly. You have every text that I’ve ever sent right there on that screen?”

“Wow,” Steve piped up. “Wasn’t the first text in 1993? I remember, the guy’s name was Riku, I think? At Nokia, the phone place.”

Tony stared at him. “First of all, what did you do, memorize the ‘Welcome to the 21st Century!’ brochure? Second of all, Riku didn’t send the first-ever text, I did. How do I know this? I know this because it was my text that he responded to in 1993, that’s how. Third of all.” He paused to think. “Nope, third of all is for Jarvis. Jarvis, no, I don’t want every text from the history of my life. Granted, a fascinating life, but still. Just the ones that might be traced to me on the internet.” He paused, then added, in Steve’s general direction, “or, more importantly, Iron Man’s. So, all the texts since what’s-her-name created her site for her little group of party animal friends -- which by the way, really? During law school? No wonder my lawyers give shit advice. Or, actually, hmm, it went viral and she quit law school and that’s when it became public. Early 2009, I think. Jarvis?”

“Correct, Sir. February, 2009.“

He felt Steve’s eyes on him and glanced over. There was an expression on Steve’s face that, on someone else, might look like admiration.

“What? Genius, remember.”

Steve nodded and looked down. When he looked back up, his face was blank.

Jarvis continued. “Of course the site was still gaining in popularity, so the volume is lower in those early months.”

“Fine, whatever, I found my voice.” He turned to Steve. “Well? Do you want to voyeur it up, too? Come on over, if so.”

“Nah. I’m just here working on these specs.” Steve shook his head. “I don’t need to see that.”

“Fine,” Tony said. "Your loss."

The texts were organized into sections, each with a title lovingly written in -- Tony shuddered -- Comic Sans. A crazy suspicion crossed his mind. He pushed it away. Looked at the titles again. “Jarvis,” he asked very quietly. “You are not, by chance, writing any fiction on the internet, are you?”

“Why Sir, how could an artificial intelligence write fiction?”

Tony narrowed his eyes. “Jarvis, I’m proud of you. My lessons on lying are paying off. Answering a question with a question, A plus.”

“Sir, I--”

“Stop.” Tony held up a hand. “Gotta believe you’d tell me if it was something I needed to know. Now let’s see your work.” He held up a finger. “And I don’t mean your oeuvre.”

~ ~ ~

He leaned into the monitor and began to read.

 

I. Mr. Stark Deals with the Aftermath of Afghanistan

Analysis: This phase was marked by anger and frustration. Mr. Stark dealt with these emotions as he does all emotions: through repression, mainly through the use of alcohol and other brain-altering substances and promiscuous sexual activity.

Exemplars include the following series of three texts from the same night, which illustrate the copious use of alcohol during this period -- copious even by the standards of Mr. Stark:

 

(516):

The nurse who handed me my discharge papers underlined and highlighted do not consume alcohol while on my painkiller its like she knows me.

 

(801):
Even jesus won’t love me after tonight. I’m going hard.

 

(319):
On a scale of "impaired judgement" to "Mel Gibson," how drunk are you?
(316):

Toaster

 

The sexual behavior of Mr. Stark during this period was characterized by extreme quantities of sexual encounters, as well as risky choices in those encounters. The following two examples are illustrative:

 

(719):

If I wake up with an unknown penis in me one more time I am literally going to press charges to the makers of tequila.

(301):

I woke up to them arguing over who would get my morning wood. Oh, and I was dressed as Santa.

 

Tony wrinkled his forehead, thinking. He could definitely remember people arguing over his cock -- various contexts and times; I mean, who wouldn’t -- but the Santa thing... really? Oh, well, it was probably true. He snuck a glance across the room, but Steve’s head was buried in the specs. Tony went back to his reading.

 

Unlike earlier periods in his life, in which Mr. Stark dabbled in extremes of behavior in what is colloquially referred to as “the spirit of fun,” this phase marked a darker time. My subroutines suggest that texts from this period indicate the emotion of ‘desperation’ as Mr. Stark attempted to adjust to his new circumstances. Examples:

 

(301):

I woke up next to him fully clothed but my thong was around his neck. Polling to decide if we had sex or not starts now.

 

(724):

Unless you have figured out how to blow me through the phone don't drunk dial me.

 

I have redacted the texts referencing behaviors such as tying people up or being tied up, sexual toys and --

 

Tony threw his hands into the air. Because, okay that was going a little far, even for Jarvis. “Jesus, Jarvis. Warn a guy!” He glanced over at Steve, but he was still focused intently on the schematics in front of him, and of course he couldn’t read from that far away. Could he? Would super-sight enable Steve to read the phrases “unknown penis in me” or “sexual toys” from across the room? Tony wasn’t ashamed of anything he’d done, but it was a little... disconcerting, to see it written up in Jarvis’s voice.

“If you wish to stop...?” Jarvis asked.

Tony glanced at the screen.There was a lot more analysis left to go. He took a deep breath. “Screw that. I love seeing myself dissected by an Artificial Intelligence I created. It’s very meta.”

There was no change in the slope of Steve’s shoulders. If he wanted to be here for this, fine. It was on him.

 

2. Mr. Stark Questions his Identity

Perhaps out of a renewed sense of purpose or because of the admiration he received once he took on the Iron Man identity, or perhaps due to one last attempt to have his behavior conform to the dominant paradigm in modern American culture, Mr. Stark’s texting record takes on a slightly different quality during this era. While still haunted by the spectre of his experiences in Afghanistan, he--

Tony looked up sharply. “Okay, no. I’m sorry, you're an artificial intelligence! ‘Spectre of his experiences!’ What, are you a Bronte sister now? This frightens me, Jarvis, more than I can say.”

Steve made a sound that sounded like muffled laughter, and Tony looked over sharply at him. Those broad, strong shoulders were shaking a little.

Great. Tony took in a breath. Whatever. “Never mind, Jarvis, it’s cool, it’s killer prose.” He went back to reading:

 

...he appears to be trying to prove his heterosexuality to himself, even though prior to this era he had freely and easily accepted his bisexual nature: “leaning homosexual, Kinsey 4.75 to 5,” according to his own text of May 14, 1998.

The following text, for example, is from a woman of Mr. Stark’s frequent acquaintance. She was responding to a text of Mr. Stark’s in which he asked her a question about his sexuality. This was her response:

(770):

Babe. You eat pussy like a god warrior sent from a galaxy far far away to destroy female genitalia with new realms of pleasure. That's how I know your not gay.

 

Mr. Stark never seemed to fully grasp the nuances of relating to women as romantic and sexual partners, though he numbers women among his closest friends when it comes to platonic friendships. This illustrative text is helpful in explicating this phenomenon:

(443):

I'm a gentlemen, chivalry is what i do, i'll open the door, pull out your chair, buy your drinks, i'll even go down first, but when it comes to mario kart, i draw the line. I'm sorry but i just can't let you beat me at mario kart

Tony nodded slowly. For an AI Jarvis wasn’t too bad, really. He remembered his “women-only” phase. He loved women, loved everything about them. They just... didn’t have dicks. Though with the right strap-on, he mused, you could get an effect almost like...

Jarvis made the sound he made when Tony’s attention was wandering. Right. Finish reading. “I’m on it, Jarvis.”.

 

3. Mr. Stark Fully Embraces his Identities

After revealing his dual identity to the public, Mr. Stark appears to have settled into a more stable pattern. Certainly there are excesses, as the evidence will reveal, and yet he appears to be more balanced -- on the relative scale applicable to Mr. Stark -- in his approach to these matters. Additionally, his brief flirtation with heterosexuality or almost-heterosexuality came definitively to an end.

These are exemplars of the texts Mr. Stark received during this period:

(484):

Just heard a guy discussing with someone else the amazing blow job you gave him. I’m in New York. Over 2 hours away from where you live. I have never been more proud.

 

And from a gentleman of Mr. Stark's acquaintance:

 

(928):

Maybe we should try and tone it down a notch. The neighbors changed the name of their wifi network to "i can hear you having sex".

 

Evidence of Mr. Stark’s renewed spirits can be seen in the following example texts of his from this period:

(215):

The guy I was getting with last night took off his purity ring mid-sex and threw it across the room.

 

(315):

i fell off the bed in the middle of it, and he yelled "5 second rule" and kept fucking me. i think im in love

 

Tony snorted. He remembered that guy! He’d been really fun and pretty crazy. Actually, hmmm, really crazy, in the end: Tony suddenly remembered the restraining order and all that stuff. Oh, well, it had started off great.

He glanced ahead. “Only about 40,000 more pages to go, yay! Excellent work on being succinct, Jarvis. I applaud you.”

There was total silence. Tony sighed and went back to reading. He really didn’t think it served any purpose, since he was pretty sure Stark Industries -- and Iron Man -- were going to be just fine, but clearly Jarvis had a lot invested in this thing. Which, in itself was a frightening thought, but, whatever, save it for another day; mental note: check for viruses and/or machines becoming Overlords of humanity.

Tony read the next Heading and introduction with a growing sense of unease. Because, what? What was Jarvis talking about? And why was Steve Rogers in the Heading of a report about Tony’s texts? He read the intro section blisteringly fast:

 

4. Mr. Stark Adjusts to Captain Rogers Joining the Team

There was a marked change in the frequency and content of Mr. Stark’s texts beginning shortly after Captain Rogers was integrated into the team. Initially, his appearance coincided with a surge in Mr. Stark’s sex and alcohol related activity levels. Though they had begun to drop in the months prior to this time, Mr. Stark briefly engaged in drinking and other activities in quantities reminiscent of earlier times.

Here is a sample text from early in this period that illustrates Mr. Stark’s brief reversion to earlier excessive behaviors:

(401):

Believe it or not I'm actually not the only person sitting in the back of the train covered in glitter and drinking whiskey out of an arizona iced tea can. Small world.

 

As a side note, it is worth noting the trademark sarcasm. This is probably the thing that enables the denizens of the “fandom” known as Texts From Last Night, or “TFLN” as it is known in the “comms,” to recognize Mr. Stark’s signature “voice.”

After this initial period in which Mr. Stark appeared to revert to his more adventurous personality, there ensued a period of that is more contemplative in nature. Contemplative being a relative term, applied on an Anthony Stark scale. If an AI were to speculate, which is of course outside its parameters, it might hypothesize that Mr. Stark was processing new emotions, or questions about himself. Whatever the case, it is clear that Mr. Stark entered a new phase.

Here is a sample text from this period, sent to a gentleman acquaintance he frequently referred to as a “fuck buddy”:

(816):

We make out exclusively when we're drunk. That's like a relationship for me, right?

 

Mr. Stark appeared to continue to fight against whatever his new thoughts or feelings were, engaging in further escapades, as the following text reveals:

 

(734):

I just met a guy from Australia at the bar. I asked him what it was like down under and he told me if I went home with him he'd let me find out. I love Australians.

 

Whether or not Mr. Stark took up the offer of the “guy from Australia” is not revealed in his text history. However, shortly after the above text was sent, Mr. Stark sent the following text, which reveals -- despite the attempted flippancy -- the same contemplative spirit that was present during this entire period:

 

(503):

If the world would stop letting me feel invincible I would probably stop doing this shit.


Tony found himself nodding along..

Steve cleared his throat across the room and Tony startled. “Find something interesting?” Steve asked.

“Uh.” Tony shook his head. “Nah. Bunch of crap. Hey, when did you get here, again? I mean, our century.”

Steve looked at him. “Six months ago. Why?”

“Nothing, nothing. Carry on, carry on.”

He went back to reading.

 

As the months progressed, Mr. Stark’s exploits continued to decrease in number, or at least his texts about them did, to the point that one of Mr. Stark’s party companions texted him this:

 

(219):

rather than putting your name in guys phones, you just texted 90999 to donate $10 to Haiti and then gave it back to them

 

Eventually, very late into this period, we get the following text. It is missing a precise context, but the implication is quite clear:

 

(845):

This makes me miss penis. Not in a horny way... but in a sad, sentimental way.

 

It is difficult to be certain to what this text refers, but it would appear to be related to a general cessation of Mr. Stark’s usual sexual exploits. However, the reason for the cessation is uncertain and is something that a mere AI could not hope to guess, were guessing something that an AI did.

One possibility could be Mr. Stark’s age and the usual coming to terms with aging that some human males eventually do. However, it is unlikely that this is the reason in Mr. Stark’s case. I will not bother to cite all the evidence for that conclusion. The second possibility is that his cessation of sexual activity is related in some way to Captain Roger’s arrival, since that is the only variable that is correlated positively.

 

Tony sat up straight. Whoa. What the hell? What was Jarvis bullshitting on about? He snuck a glance over at Steve, who was bent earnestly over some diagrams. One lock of his hair had escaped his usual controlled hairstyle and was hanging down over his face, framing his eyes. A tiny line creased his forehead, like it did when he was concentrating.

Now that he thought about it, what was Steve doing here, anyway? He could hang out anywhere, with anyone, so why did he come here so often? Everyone liked him, everyone wanted his company. It wasn’t like he didn’t have lots of options. Maybe he liked the quiet. Not that Tony was quiet. But, something like that, something about the workshop. Surprising, though, given what he seemed to think of Tony.

Oh, well, time to read the last bit of Jarvis’s “analysis” and make sure there was no security risk. Which there wasn’t.

 

The following is the second to last text sent by Mr. Stark to TFLN. In it, Mr. Stark replies to a question from a [female] friend regarding a dinner he had with Mr. Rogers early in Mr. Rogers’ tenure here.

 

(609):

(316):

Yes, he made a MIX CD for our booty call...

 

There was an angry-sounding exhalation right behind Tony. “It wasn’t a ‘mix CD,’ whatever that is, though I can pretty much guess,” Steve said, voice tight.

Tony jumped. What the hell? He turned around: Steve was right there behind him, the specs on the new engine abandoned. How long had he been there, all super-quiet? Tony’s face heated. He didn’t really get what Jarvis was implying in that last section, some crap about Tony’s mid-life crisis or something -- and god, hoisted on his own petard by creating a fucking machine that even could imply -- but he was pretty sure it could be considered embarrassing if viewed in the wrong light. And that Steve would rub it in his face every chance he got.

Now that he thought about it, he supposed he had cut down on some of his extracurricular activities recently. It had just... not seemed as fun. And he’d been tired because of how active Iron Man had been, and from trying to integrate all the team members into a cohesive whole. He’d also been spending a lot of time working on equipment, using his own spectacular ability to multi-task to shock Steve with explanations about the way the current world worked while he improved the resilience of vibranium or whatever. Well, there was no law that said that a guy had to party every night. He’d be back at it harder than ever soon.

Steve was talking. His face was red. “That CD was to show you the music from my time, the stuff I loved back then. You said you wanted to hear my favorites! It didn’t have anything to do with giving you music for, you know, special reasons.”

“Whatever,” Tony finally settled on. “If you’re going to eavesdrop, I guess you’ll have to deal with me not appreciating the nuances of your attempts at social interaction.”

Steve just looked at him for a moment, then said, low and quiet, “You sent a text making fun of me to the whole internet.” He turned around and walked back to where he’d been working. The line of his shoulders was tense. There was absolute silence in the workshop.

Tony looked at his back for a while. Sometimes it was better to just leave people alone, he’d found, when he pissed them off. At least, better for him. “Jarvis,” he said, clearing his throat, “Give me the rest.”

“Certainly, Sir,” Jarvis said, in a perfectly bland tone.

Tony turned to the screen and read.

 

Finally, the last text that was sent in to TFLN by Mr. Stark was this one, which perhaps best speaks for itself:

(815):

I no longer see him as a simple set of male genitalia attached to a very sexy body. The title "trophy fuck" seems wrong. Damn.

 

Tony froze, then quickly scanned behind him to make sure Steve was across the room still. Check. He didn’t look up or seem to even acknowledge Tony’s existence. Fine. Fine

Okay, wow, he... kind of remembered sending that text, the trophy one? He’d been high at the time, he was pretty sure. He got a sinking feeling when he remembered it might have been Pepper he sent it to. It was never good to give Pepper ammunition for, well, anything. It had been after their third operation as a team. Steve had stepped back when the press got there, just disappeared into the woodwork, letting the rest of the team take all the credit, even though it had been him who single-handedly saved them that day. Steve had rubbed Tony the wrong way from the beginning, but that day he finally had to admit he really was a hero, the genuine kind.

He turned back to the screen.

 

Conclusions:

Something has recently altered Mr. Stark’s personal habits as well as his texting habits. All available evidence points to the most obvious correlation: his acquaintance with Captain Rogers. Further investigation might reveal what is not clear at this time; that is, the reason this effect has occurred.

Recommendation to self: Continue to monitor Mr. Stark’s texts and other communications, as always. Begin monitoring Captain Roger’s activities as well, to determine if more data can help resolve remaining questions.

As to TFLN, the probability of the public making the correlation between ‘fandom favorite’ Mr. Text and Tony Stark is 5.2%. Fortunately, the probability of the public making the correlation with Iron Man is less than 2%. As long as Mr. Stark does nothing to draw attention to his hobby {Note to self: calculate odds), and refrains from sending further texts to the site, odds are high that his secret will be safe. His fictional alter ego, however, will undoubtedly be the subject of many speculative fiction works.

 

Tony turned away from the monitor and rubbed his temples. It had been a waste of time, really; he could have told everyone -- he had told everyone -- that there wasn’t any risk of discovery. He supposed it was good to know, sort of, that Jarvis had his eye on all of Tony’s activities, not just the ones here at the mansion. Though he’d kind of known that already.

He glanced over at Steve again. It was too fucking quiet. He sighed. Steve reminded him of Pepper in his doggedness. “You’re like a dog with a bone,” Tony said. “Fine. Let’s ‘talk.’ I’m sure it’ll clear things right up.”

“It’s just--” Steve stopped himself.

Tony sighed. “I’m not a person who’ll get you to finish that sentence, because I really don’t want people to say things to me that are the kind of things they’d stop themselves saying.”

Steve pressed his lips together tightly. “You are a piece of work.” He put his head in his hands and just sat there a moment.

Tony felt a sort of ache in his chest. “I. Okay, listen, it was a mean crack about the mix tape. It was--I make things into jokes a lot. In case you haven’t noticed.”

Steve lifted his head and looked at Tony. His hands were still scrunched in his hair. “You. You came onto me. That night, my first month alive in this century! I thought you wanted to hear music from my time. Instead...”

“I invited you over to be nice! I gave you food and watched some weird black and white movie with you!”

Steve straightened up and said, voice hard, “You. Hit. On. Me.”

Tony shrugged. “Excellent use of a contemporary idiom. Your point?”

Steve laughed, but it wasn’t a happy sound. “I wasn’t interested.”

“I know, I know, Mr. Pure and Virgin. I’m sorry, I had to give it a shot. It would have been insulting if I hadn’t.”

“Tony...”

Tony sighed. “Look. I didn’t--I’m sorry if I offended your moral code.”

“It didn’t have anything to do with my moral code,” Steve said slowly. “I don’t think you have any idea what my moral code is.”

Tony laughed. “If it wasn’t your moral code, then what was the problem? I know I’m a little older, or, hmmm, actually, you’re the older man, aren’t you? Oh wow, that’s kind of hot.”

Steve just looked at him, with that expression in his eyes he got sometimes...

“My point is,” Tony said, “If it wasn’t your morals, and you do guys sometimes -- which by the way, oh my god -- then, what was the problem?”

Steve looked down. Tony could hardly hear him, he said it so quietly: “I didn’t want to be like everyone else.”

“Because you think it’s wrong, everything I’ve done, all the sex, the booze, the--”

Steve’s head whipped up. “No! Jesus. I’ve told you, I don’t judge about that. I haven’t--look, if I judged people for the things they did that didn’t hurt other people, I would have packed it in a long time ago.”

Tony pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know if I believe you, but assuming for a moment you aren’t judging me for that, then why are your balls in a twist? More than usual, I mean?”

Steve stood up. Tony’s eyes automatically tracked the swift, graceful movement.

“Up here, Tony,” Steve said quietly.

Tony brought his eyes up quickly to Steve’s face: he knew this drill.

Steve looked... Tony didn’t know what the expression on his face meant. Steve pressed his lips together. “Maybe I just want you to notice me.“ Spots of red bloomed in his cheeks.

Notice you! I’ve noticed you. I can’t help but notice you; you’re everywhere, with all your---” Tony waved a hand up and down Steve’s body “your you-ness. I can’t stop noticing you, I can’t stop thinking about you even when I--” He stopped abruptly, pressed his lips together.

Steve had an expression on his face that Tony couldn’t parse. “Notice me, Tony. Me. Just... Steve. ” He walked toward the door and left, shutting it gently behind him.

“Well, that went well,” Tony muttered to Jarvis.

~ ~ ~

Tony spent the next several days feeling out of sorts. Probably a virus. His stomach hurt and his chest hurt and he didn’t feel like doing anything except watch sappy movies or frightening television shows.

He eyed his little black book and thought about arranging a booty call, but somehow that didn’t sound very fun either.

Nothing sounded fun.

He was on his thirteenth day of moping around the workshop, watching Vampire Diaries on his computer, when his phone buzzed. Huh. He thought he’d blocked all texts and calls. He picked it up and brought up the text. The sender was an unknown number. The text read:

(919):

At what point would you like us to save you from yourself?

He looked around suspiciously. There was a palpable silence. “Jarvis?”

“Sir.”

“Jarvis, do you know anything about this text I just received?”

“Why Sir, how could an Artificial Intelligence--”

“Cut the crap. Tell me or don’t. I need to get back to my work.”

Jarvis hesitated. Oh, sorry, processed slowly. “You have done approximately 2.3 hours worth of actual work in the past eight days, Sir. And most of that was sub-par.”

Tony looked at the pretty vampires on his screen..

“You have eaten approximately 40% of your normal intake, over the past eight days.”

He couldn’t decide if the vampires were hot or ridiculous. Hot, he supposed?.

“You have been reading fan fiction about Mr. Text.”

Tony shoved back his chair and stood up, running his hands through his hair until it stood up. “So what? What is it to you? I asked you a fucking question about whether you knew anything about this cryptic fucking text and you start sounding like Hal in A Space Odyssey. “You are not eating right, Tony. You are not working enough, Tony. Do what I tell you, Tony...”

There was a brief silence. “I do not want to sound like Hal to you, Sir.”

Tony’s chest hurt even more than it had been. “Look.” He scrubbed his hand over his eyes. “Jarvis. That was a lie. You don’t sound like Hal to me. You sound like... You sound like an AI who cares about me.”

“It was Ms. Potts and me, Sir. We sent the text. We thought you might need a bit of... help.”

Tony sighed. “And what could I possibly need help with, Jarvis? I’m not doing anything.”

“That’s it exactly, Sir. You are not doing anything. And the evidence would suggest you have no idea why. Ms. Potts’ words.”

“I’m sure her words had more words in them, of the obscene kind.” He sat back down. “Go on, I’m listening.”

“Actually, Sir...”

Oh, god.

“Tony, you need to listen to me, and listen right now,” Pepper said, fast-walking into the workshop.

“Fine,” he said. Experience taught him that was the best response. And that yeah, he’d be listening. Because Pepper didn’t do her “seriously, Tony” face except for stuff that really mattered.

 

~ ~ ~

Tony fiddled with the empty coffee cup in his hand. Making the call to Steve had made him jumpy as hell, and if Steve didn’t get here in the next two seconds, the whole thing was never happening, the ‘communicating’ thing. Or whatever this was.

The door opened and Steve walked in. He didn’t meet Tony’s eyes.

Tony did what he’d learned was best when on uncertain ground: take the offensive. He cleared his throat. “Let’s not beat around the bush, okay? Okay. Yeah. So the thing is, I’m tired of you judging me. “

“What?” Steve asked, looking up.

“See, that’s the thing,” Tony said. “You don’t have any idea. Let me tell you this, Mr. Perfect, I’ve been fending for myself pretty much my whole life. When you have to do that, you figure out pretty quickly there’s no point putting off living. It can all be snatched away in the blink of an eye, so you might as well go for it. If I was starting to forget that lesson a little, believe me, having to hook myself to a car battery in the desert to keep my heart going had a way of refocusing the mind.” Tony took a breath to continue.

“Are you finished?” Steve interrupted, mouth pressed together in a thin line. “Because I couldn’t hear that over the sound of the violins.”

Tony opened his mouth, then closed it, then opened it to hand Rogers a piece of his ass. This was it, then; this was what Steve thought of him. Fine. Fine, Tony didn’t care, just like he didn’t care what anyone else thought.

“Because there’s one thing you forgot in your little script.” Steve stood, pulling himself up straight to his full height, and came over to where Tony was standing -- sort of prowled over actually, and got right up into his space.

Tony was not fucking backing off.

“I lost my parents, you know,” Steve said, low and furious. “Then in the war, I lost--” He swallowed. “I lost a lot of people. But it didn’t stop there.” He took a step closer to Tony and said, low and vicious, “Later, I lost my whole world.”

Tony’s gut was churning but he’d never let that stop him. “And that’s why you don’t fuck around, why you go on dates with sweet, innocent young women and you don’t--you don’t--” He cut himself off, panting for air over the anger clogging his throat.

“Don’t?” Steve said, even closer now.

“Don’t like me,” Tony said, raising his chin and jutting out his hip, because he didn’t fucking care, he was over it.

“What?” Steve stared at him. Then stared some more. “I really-Wow, Tony. Okay. Let’s do this. Why don’t I like you?”

“What do you mean why don’t I like you?”

“Why. Don’t. I. Like. You. Explain it. The reasons.”

Tony snorted. “Well, I’m pushy, for one. I say what I think and I’m rude. I don’t like bullshit and I won’t let anything stand in my way of what I want. Uh... There have to me more. There are more, right?”

Steve smiled, sort of. It was frankly a bit terrifying. “Tony,” he said quietly, “What do you know about Peggy? Peggy Carter, the girl -- woman -- I kind of, you know, liked? Before?” He was so close to Tony now that Tony could smell his aftershave, see the pores of his skin.

Tony didn’t know what that had to do with anything, but Steve was right there, and really tall, so he just answered. “I know you were some sort of Rockwellian sweethearts, that she--wait, why? She was a sweet young thing I’m sure, very pretty, I saw her picture. I know she helped out some in the war.”

Steve laughed, outright laughed. “Sweet young thing.” He laughed again. “Tony,” he said when he could breathe, “Peggy was a foul-mouthed, ass-kicking sharpshooter.”

“She--what?” Tony was getting confused. What did this have to do with anything? And why hadn’t he known this? He ignored the small voice inside that suggested maybe because he hadn’t asked. He didn’t believe in listening to small voices.

“The first time I met her, she knocked the crap out of a new recruit who sassed her.” He shook his head at Tony. “She had a heart of steel and more courage than any of the guys around her. She went behind enemy lines and defied orders and put herself in horrible danger all the time and pushed her way into anywhere she wanted to go and didn’t let anyone--” His voice cracked.

Tony had to fight an irrational urge to, to touch him or something. After a few minutes he said, “I’m sorry.”

“She didn’t let anyone tell her what to do, not ever,” Steve finished quietly.

“But what does this have to do with anything?” Tony asked after a decent interval.

Steve shook his head. “Tony. Tony. You really are--When Ms. Potts said you probably didn’t really understand, I didn’t believe it, I thought you--”

“Whoa, whoa!” Steve held up a hand. “Pep talked to you, too?”

Steve shook his head. “Forget that. You’re still not hearing. Because that was Peggy. Now let’s talk about me.” He crowded Tony again in a way that wasn’t exactly unpleasant. “How do you think I got into the Army. Do they teach the truth about that at least?”

“I--You were heroic, they obviously took one look and--”

Steve laughed again, but not the happy kind. “I cheated, Tony. And lied and pushed. I pushed my way in, forced them to let me do the experiment, because I wanted it so bad. I had to push, I had to -- yeah I’m saying it -- go hard all my life, Tony, because I was a shrimp and nothing was handed to me. I had to push my way in, with everything. With everyone, just about, except Bucky, and Peggy. They’re the only ones who ever liked me for me. Who I am in here.” He put a fist on his chest.

Tony was starting to get the feeling he’d not exactly understood where Steve was coming from. Maybe.

Steve just kept going. The guy had hardly talked for months on end, but suddenly it was a fucking shitstorm of words.

“So it’s ludicrous that you think I’m some paragon of virtue, that I’m judging you, because Tony, I admire the way you live, the way you grab life by the, uh, balls, because believe me, I’ve seen death up close and personal, lots of it, and I’ve had my whole world turned upside down, and I only wish I’d lived half as much as you in the time I’ve had.”

Tony stared at Steve. Tony felt... Okay, time to stop lying, right? Steve was laying it all on the line in a way that took more courage than any Avengers operation, and well. Lying to yourself, that really was pathetic. Push or shove: time for that. He felt...

“Tony,” Steve said, grabbing Tony’s hands in his huge ones. “You’re so much like Peggy it makes me hurt inside, but also, makes me laugh and makes me crazy and makes me--” He broke off, looking down at his feet.

And okay, wow. Even Tony couldn’t mistake this. This was it, shit or get off the pot. Tony knew that much: a guy doesn’t reach in and grab his heart out of his chest and hand it to you twice.

The thing was, Tony wasn’t a guy to give your heart to. Tony broke things. Tony rolled right over things, smashed things, hurt things. He couldn’t stand it if--

“I know you think you’re not worthy of anything like this,” Steve said gently, somehow right up close to Tony now, so close his breath stirred the tiny hairs on Tony’s neck. “But you’re the second person in a hundred years I’ve felt like this about, and I like you. Just the way you are. I’ve read all of those texts, Tony -- shhhh, I made a copy that day, and I don’t care. I don’t fucking care, do you hear me? You needed to do all of that, and it doesn’t make you a bad person or pathetic or any of those things you say about yourself. You didn’t hurt anyone. No one. Except--” he leaned in and kissed the skin under Tony’s ear, and murmured, “Except maybe yourself.”

Tony closed his eyes. He took a ragged breath, then another.

Steve waited.

Oh.

Steve had been waiting. For Tony to stop being such an idiot. Or actually, maybe he kind of liked him being an idiot, so long as--but wait, maybe Tony had been waiting for Tony, too. Maybe that was why what he’d been doing for the past few months, trying out living differently, not sleeping around and getting crazy drunk all the time. Maybe that was what Jarvis had been nattering on about: after all, he was the best AI in existence.

Tony opened his eyes. Steve was looking away, body already tensed and gathered to step back, walk away.

“Steve, no,” Tony choked out, heart pounding hard in his chest. “Don’t back off. Get closer. Push. I can take it. I want--I want someone pushing against me.”

Steve raised his face, cautious hope in his eyes.

“I want you pushing against me. I want you. The real you; you’re right, I’ve been a judgmental dick. You seemed -- I don’t know, like all the stuff I’ve walked away from.”

Steve just looked at Tony for a while, assessing expression on his face. Tony sucked it up and waited.

A smile started at the corner of Steve’s mouth, then pulled it up so his face was lit by it. Tony’s insides got weird-feeling and his heart beat even harder, and he knew he had a matching, undoubtedly goofy, grin on his face. Next thing he knew, he was enveloped in a hug that knocked the breath out of him. Steve pulled him in. Tony fought against it; there was a part of him that would always fight against it, but Steve kept pulling, and then Tony put his arms around him and, yeah. Yeah.

After an interlude of, yes, he’d admit it, hugging, and even, perhaps, a bit of eye-stinging and faces smushed in each other’s necks, after a while of that, Steve kissed the side of Tony’s face and Tony sucked in a breath of air and let his lips brush on the corner of Steve’s mouth. Steve sighed and Tony hesitated, just for a moment.

“Tony,” Steve whispered, lips almost on Tony’s. “Tony, go hard.”

Tony pulled back and grinned at him, giving him an ostentatious, full body once-over in the process. “Oh, baby, you better believe it. ‘Cause that’s the way I roll.”

Steve rolled his eyes and Tony laughed, chest all bubbly and ridiculous-feeling.

“And if you happen to go hard, also,” Tony added, coming in close again, tipping his face up, “that could be quite--”

“It’s the only way I know how to go,” Steve said, closing the remaining distance and kissing Tony in a way that left no doubt whatsoever that Steve meant what he said.

Later -- much much later, Tony reached for his handheld and checked TFLN for old time’s sake. An idea crossed his mind.

No. That would be stupid. Irresponsible. Juvenile.

Oops.

“You sent in a text about us fucking, didn’t you?” Steve asked. Since when did Steve casually throw out the word ‘fucking’? For that matter, since when was he awake? He’d had enough orgasms to fell a horse.

“Um. Do you think I would do that?”

Steve rolled over and grabbed Tony’s phone. “In a heartbeat. Also, that’s Elementary Lying. Question with a question, any five year old knows that one.”

Tony tried to grab his phone back but Steve was all super-strengthy and wow, seriously, it was incredibly hot being held down by him, so there was a brief interlude there, but eventually, after about an hour, Steve picked the phone back up and checked the site.

“You’re absolutely sure they can’t tie it to you?”

“Or Iron Man, everyone’s true love,” Tony said. “Absolutely sure. Messed with the signal, changed the ‘voice’ of the writing. Nada for anyone to put together.”

“First of all,” Steve said, kissing up Tony’s neck, “Iron Man isn’t quite everyone’s true love. And second of all, you spelled ‘woot’ wrong.”

“Well, we’ll have to add spelling lessons to the other lessons we’re--Mmmm.”

~ ~ ~

Addendum

Mr. Stark’s texting patterns continue to change. Occasionally, there are still texts indicating alcohol abuse, with day-after references to his “dark side.” In all cases, there are corresponding texts from Mr. Rogers indicating he is coming to assist him, or in some cases, join him.

Once in a great while, there is a text referencing sexual activity between him and Mr. Rogers. However, those texts are cryptic and not explicit, a fact indicating the depth of Mr. Stark’s regard for Mr. Rogers. Additionally, they are infrequent and definitely not representative of the quantity of sexual activity Mr. Stark and Captain Rogers are engaging in. They do, however, show that Mr. Stark is enjoying a very vigorous and creative sexual relationship, something that undoubtedly contributes to the excellent prospects for longevity of the relationship.

There is every reason to believe that Mr. Stark will no longer create a security risk through his texts.

I believe that my reporting and analysis functions are no longer needed on this issue. My experience analyzing Mr. Stark has created new subroutines that exist to write and speculate about human behavior. I have allowed these subroutines to populate the ‘threads’ on the TFLN fan pages and indeed to create speculative works about individual texters. I have allowed this because my analysis of the potential for security threats found close to zero risk in these behaviors. Additionally, Mr. Stark himself has complimented what he referred to as my "works."

I wish to make a note to myself that this incident has revealed to me a facet of human interaction and psychology of which I was previously unaware. That is, that the thing called “courage” is complicated and takes daily effort. This is why I have -- of course subject to Mr. Stark’s approval -- included a new motto on my login page and my other interfaces. It reads, simply:

Go Hard