If asked, Tony will claim it was all Coulson’s idea. After all as head of research and development and majority shareholder of Stark Industries, he has better things to do with his time than plan group bonding activities with Captain Musclebound. He will happily tell anyone who will listen that the formerly-dead SHIELD agent had strong-armed him into playing nice with the other Avengers at gunpoint.
But in reality, Tony is crushingly lonely in the echoing space of his penthouse suite. With Pepper on the West Coast (I’m sorry, Tony. I can’t run the company and your life. We’ll both be happier this way.) and Rhodey off in the Middle East again, the silence eats at him until he nearly goes mad with boredom and nerves. Nights are particularly miserable, what with all the nightmares about the yawning chasm of space and fire breathing science experiments. He’s even added a new HD surround-sound dream to his pantheon, calling forth images of all the civilians and soldiers his bombs had murdered stepping forth from the darkness, staring at him with accusing eyes and blood-stained faces. Yinsen always makes an appearance and Tony can never tell whether his face is angry or sorrowful.
So maybe Coulson suggested team bonding, but Tony is the one who executes the plan, whole-heartedly and with manic focus.
His first move is getting Steve Rogers, who admittedly doesn’t take much convincing either. Ever since his failed attempt at finding Bucky Barnes, the super soldier has been kicking around Manhattan like a lost puppy (Definitely not stalking his teammates. Not Tony Stark. No sirree.) and answers his phone on the first ring.
“Rogers. What Stark?” He sounds out of breath and tired, maybe a little testy. Might have something to do with the fact that its 3 AM and normal people are abed. Not like that will stop Tony.
“Is that any way to talk to your favorite billionaire?”
“You are the only billionaire I know, Tony, and I’d rather keep it that way.”
“Steve, honey, pookie, come on now.”
“What. Is. It.”
“Agent Agent has all but threatened to castrate me if we don’t get the band back together. You know. Rock a few international terrorists. Maybe play ball with some horribly mutated genetic monsters. That kind of gig. And I figured what better way to get all warm and fuzzy than team bonding?”
“Are you drunk, Stark?” Steve sounds half exasperated and half worried.
“What? No. Why would you think that?”
“Because you are not making any sense.”
“What I’m saying, Steve, is that the world needs the Avengers. And since I’m the brains and you’re the brawn, between the two of us we should be able to corral everyone back into the same general vicinity. Also, I really am fond of my testicles and prefer they remain attached to my person…”
“Don’t be crass.”
“…But the thing is, I’m not exactly a team player…”
“…so I need your help. Natasha’s not going to come when I call, but she’ll follow you into hell itself, and by hell I mean warm-and-fuzzy team-building. And I’m pretty sure our walking, talking Van de Graaff generator isn’t interested in taking his cues from some engineering nerd either.”
“So what you want me to do is lure the other Avengers into spending time with you?”
Steve sighs into the receiver in a tone that indicates he is most definitely tired of Tony’s shit. And they haven’t even started yet. “What do you have in mind?”
They try a game night first, at Steve’s suggestion. (Me and the boys used to play cards between missions. It was a little friendly fun and we’d bet cigarettes.) Tony buys an entire room’s worth of party games in hopes of finding something they might all enjoy. He researches rules on every card game in existence (or at least all the ones that can be played by six players) until his head is spinning with clubs and diamonds, black and red. He studies reviews on all the newest crazes, practices shuffling and card tricks, and for good measure, he adds a pool table in case two Avengers want to ease off the buddy buddy time for a while.
At six PM, international super spies and science experiments gone wrong, soldiers and gods arrive in his penthouse, looking both skeptical and intrigued.
“Did I say you could bring another bird into this household?”
“As a matter of fact, you did,” says Steve, with a smirk and a wink. Tony wants to be irritated with the hanger-on, but Sam smiles congenially and offers his hand to shake.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Stark. I’m a big fan of your work.”
Tony hides a grimace and shakes in return. “Mr. Stark was my father. Call me Tony.” He offers them drinks, and ushers them into the game room, stocked with enough chips, dips, and hors d’oeuvres platters to feed an army. Or possibly feed Thor. Maybe.
“So what’ll it be, people? Cards? Board Games? Charades? Wrestling wild mountain trolls?”
“Is that sport we might partake in?” Thor chirps, looking around with sudden interest.
“No, Thor,” Clint says, patting his arm consolingly. “I’m afraid we left the mountain trolls in Tony’s other mansion.”
The demigod looks terribly put-out, but he perks up when Tony presses a beer into his hands. Everyone stands in a half-circle, looking awkward and stiff, no one quite willing to voice an opinion one way or another. Finally Steve says, “I wouldn’t mind a little poker,” and everyone makes grunts and murmurs of general agreement.
Tony motions to the round table a la “A Bold Bluff” and waits for his guests to take their seats. He can be a gracious host when he needs to be (and even when he’s in a mood, his parties are still the best in Manhattan, damn it) so he gets drinks and snacks and makes sure everyone’s situated before seating himself and taking up the cards.
“Five card stud good with everybody?”
“There are horses involved?” Thor says, again looking more excited.
And suddenly Tony realizes their first major problem. They are playing with an alien who has literally never touched a deck of cards before. He gives one single panicked glance to Steve, who is hiding a smile behind his hand, before looking back at Thor.
“My father breeds mighty steeds. If this exercise involves riding, you will find that I outstrip you all.”
Sam guffaws once, eyes glittering, and that’s all it takes to send Clint into a fit of giggles. Bruce smiles and leans to the side. “There are no horses, Thor. It’s just a name.”
“We’ll explain the rules as we go,” Tony says, flipping the cards easily through his fingers, spinning and cutting and spinning again. “You’ll catch on in no time.”
“Ah,” Thor says, and he looks so much like a kicked puppy that even Tony, cold shriveled soul that he is, feels a touch of guilt. But he deals the cards nonetheless and figures this will mostly be harmless and they’ll all have a good time.
“Are we betting?” Clint says, face deceptively innocent and eyebrows raised in challenge.
“Not with someone who’s never played before,” Steve says. “That just wouldn’t be fair.”
“We could bet with something besides money. Like beer. Or chips. Something to sweeten the pot a little. A bit of friendly competition, Cap. Won’t hurt anyone.”
Steve looks leery, especially in the face of Clint’s sharp, sharp smile, but after a moment, he nods. “I suppose that wouldn’t hurt anything. Everyone is ok with betting snacks?”
Natasha’s smile, if anything is more dangerous than Clint’s, and Bruce looks decidedly nervous, but eventually everyone agrees. Sam collects some gold wrapped chocolates from the side table and divvies them up, twenty per player. Tony grins and deals out the cards. Teaching a demigod poker. How hard could it be?
Teaching Thor poker is literally the worst thing he’s ever experienced in his entire life. Worse than Afghanistan. Worse than fucking Vanko and Killian. Worse than breaking it off with Pepper. Well, he might be exaggerating, but thirty minutes into this hell and Tony is almost at his wit’s end. They haven’t even made it through one hand because Big, Blonde, and Built keeps asking questions about the terminology. Tony almost suspects that Thor is trolling them all, but the demigod is either genuinely an idiot or he has the best poker face in all of the nine realms.
“I do not understand why these are called suits if no armor is involved. And why is the game called ‘poker’ if there is to be no poking?”
“Thor, the names don’t matter. You need to get over the names.”
“Then what of the burn card? We will set it aflame, correct?”
“For the last time, there will be no fire at this table.”
“Show me again how this Ace is higher than a King. Surely there is none mightier than a great king.”
Clint, who has been constantly sniggering and giggling for the last twenty minutes, sputters and rises. “Bathroom,” he manages to squeak, but Tony can hear his roars of laughter even through the closed door.
Natasha and Bruce are looking significantly less amused. Since they haven’t even gotten through a round of bets, the assassin has taken to stealing people’s chocolates when their backs are turned, and Tony’s almost positive that he’s the only one who’s noticed. Bruce, on Thor’s left, is clearly starting to lose his temper with the explanations and an unhappy Bruce makes for a structurally unsound tower. Sam and Steve are both deadpan, but a muscle is twitching in Steve’s jaw, and Tony thinks the super soldier is less than a minute from either exploding with laughter or breaking the table with frustration.
So with aplomb, he gathers up his cards and places them back on the deck. “Apples to Apples, anyone?”
“What, no Cards Against Humanity?”
“I’ve heard that one’s misogynistic,” Natasha says, and Tony could almost imagine she was only commenting on the weather if she weren’t also cleaning her nails with a knife.
“Apples to Apples,” Bruce says, looking relieved.
“With shots,” Tony adds, because damn it, this night is not going to be a flop. This team is going to bond or die trying. Gamely he sweeps away the normal cards and unveils the Apples to Apples box instead.
“Uh, Tony?” Sam says.
“Yes, Bird Boy No. 2?”
“Apples to Apples has a lot of pop references, doesn’t it?”
“Yes. Your point…being…” There’s a sinking hole in the pit of Tony’s stomach. “Shit.”
“Shit indeed,” Bruce says, and he’s removed his glasses, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose with sharp pressure.
“Uh…ideas?” he says, and the panic is really setting in now because this night is flopping. Flopping like a fish on land. Like bellies in a pool. Like an M. Night Shyamalan movie.
“Charades,” Sam supplies quickly. “Anyone can do charades.”
Clint comes back right at that moment, still red with laughter, tear tracks on his face. “Fuck that felt good,” he exclaims and plops back into his chair. “What’d I miss?”
“Charades,” Steve says, and he’s still blank as a sheet of paper, but this jaw has relaxed and that little wrinkle between his eye has softened so at least that crisis has been averted.
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
“Play nice,” Natasha says.
“What like you’re gonna play?” Clint shoots back, and Tony gets the impression that she may have kicked Clint under the table, because he winces and twists in his chair a little. Before they can crash and burn any worse, he heads to the shelf and finds a stack of charades prompts.
“Let’s do this thing.”
And they do do the thing. But it turns out that for all that they’ve saved the world collectively at least ten times, the Avengers might be the worst charades players on the planet.
“How is that ‘dog paddle’?” Tell me what about this,” Clint exclaims, wriggling his fingers in front of this shoulders “translates to ‘dog paddle.’”
“Well, at least I kept it clean,” Tony barks back. “You had to go and show us your lily white backside to get us to say ‘full moon.’”
“It worked, didn’t it?”
“My eyes will never unsee it, Clint. Never.”
Bruce is pinching his nose again, and not only has Steve clenched his jaw, a vein is now throbbing in his temple. Natasha, during her turn, had simply stood in place, one eyebrow raised, arms crossed. The moment the timer dinged, she said, “cheeseburger” and settled onto a chair, looking like a cat left out in the rain. Sam and Thor seem to be the only ones taking this in good humor, but that might be because they haven’t actually had a turn yet. It is official. The first Avengers team-bonding night has been a complete and utter disaster. And everyone knows it.
With a heavy sigh, Tony gathers the cards. He doesn’t think he can even smooth this out with some good old-fashioned Iron Man charm. There is no escaping this sinkhole. “Well, guys. It’s getting awfully late. I suppose we ought to call it a night.”
“Tony. It’s eight o’clock. In what world is that late?”
“Old age catching up to you?” Clint ribs, and Tony doesn’t even have the energy to point out he still hasn’t gone gray. Definitely not. No gray at all.
But Bruce stands with something like relief and heads for the door. His action translates to some kind of starting gun and the whole of the Avengers are up and off, out the door so quickly it was like they were never there at all. Except…
Tony doesn’t recall seeing America’s favorite son fleeing into the night. He backtracks to the game room and discovers Steve gathering empty bottles and cups. “Kitchen?” the Captain grunts, arms loaded with a precarious pile of glassware.
“You don’t have to…”
“Right this way,” Tony grits and snags a bowl of pretzels so he doesn’t feel completely useless and upstaged in his own damn penthouse. Steve trails after him, poised and collected, and carefully deposits his load in the sink. In silence, he and Tony clear the rest of the room, and Tony is still feeling so awful about his terrible team-bonding idea that he doesn’t even bother pointing out he has staff to do this sort of thing.
“It wasn’t so bad,” Steve says with a gentle smile as he rolls up his sleeves.
“Were you actually in the same room as the rest of us? It was terrible. Epically bad. The worst possible outcome. If anything, we hate each other more now than when the evening started.”
“Nobody hates anybody,” he replies, filling the sink with water.
“Are you…are you washing dishes?”
“They’re dirty,” the Captain says, motioning to the mountainous pile of glasses, silverware, and bowls.
Tony stares down at Cap’s perfect forearms and swallows. This…was not a thing he anticipated. He looks away feeling furtive and awkward.
“So do you…you know. Have any insights? You’re the master strategist, after all.”
“We need something Thor can enjoy. He’s the hardest ticket. Although three years of working with her, and I still don’t know the first thing about what Natasha does outside of work.”
“Pretty sure the answer is Clint.”
“Never mind. Ideas?”
“Something physical? Something that gets us out and moving.”
“Ugh. Cap. I’m allergic to the outdoors. Didn’t you know?”
Instead of sneering and scoffing like Tony expects, Steve smirks and shakes his head. “Well, I think we can all put up with your sneezing and sniffling in the name of team harmony.”
Tony huffs out a surprised laugh and looks sidelong at Cap. He’s blushing a little, like he’s embarrassed that he’s razzing Tony, but his smile hasn’t faded. Tony glances down at the sudsy dishes, now filling up both sides of the sink. After a moment of contemplation, he takes up a dishcloth and begins drying. They stand together in companionable silence, only the clink of glass and porcelain ringing in the kitchen.
The Avengers next great foray into bonding finds them gathered in west Queens at an indoor paintball park. Tony looks around at the bright green flooring and blue inflatable obstacles and smirks in satisfaction. This seems like something much more their speed. Or at least something much more Thor’s speed. Steve sidles up next to him and frowns.
“I thought I said outdoors.”
“You said something physical. Short of a team orgy, this is the best I could come up with.”
Steve’s frown deepens even as his cheeks flush a lovely strawberry pink. “Hiking Tony. Camping. Sports. That’s what I was angling at. Shooting at my teammates is not exactly how I planned to get closer to them.”
“Come on, Cap. Paintball is a time-honored tradition.”
“Since Patrick romanced Kat with neon colors and straw.”
“Oh my god. Did you just make a 90s rom-com reference?” says Clint, coming up and clapping Tony on the shoulder.
“Says the guy who identified the 90s rom-com reference.”
“Heath Ledger is my king and there’s nothing you can say to change my mind.”
Tony glances sidelong at the archer, already decked out in armor, rifle slung over his shoulder at an easy angle. Maybe inviting Clint to shoot at them all was not such a great idea, but hindsight is always 20/20. And this way Tony might have a chance for payback. Maybe.
Natasha frowns at all three of them as she caresses her rifle with a bit too much TLC for Tony’s comfort. “I still say paint-less paintballs are pointless paintballs. How do you know who you’ve slaughtered?”
“Slaughtered Natasha?” Bruce says, looking both queasy and tense. “I don’t want there to be any slaughter on the field. In fact, I’m pretty sure I should just bow out now. This is a terrible idea.
“Come on, Bruce. You’re our ref. No one’s gonna be shooting at you,” Tony says, giving the scientist a good-natured elbow to the ribs.
“Not on purpose, no. But accidents happen.”
“It’ll be fine. All of us except Thor have been trained on guns, and Thor’s a god. I think he’ll probably be pretty ok with everything,” Clint insists, hopping from foot to foot, clearly ready to start shooting.
“Tony, you know how to use a gun?” Steve asks, looking both surprised and a little reassured. Tony’s not quite sure what to make of that expression, so he just answers the question.
“My father ran a weapons manufacturing company. Do you honestly think I don’t know how to handle a .45?”
“But you produced bombs, not…”
“Produced everything. Bombs were just our biggest sales department.”
“Still,” Bruce continues with a grimace, “I really think I should just...”
One of the staff members from the paintball park steps up, cutting off Bruce's protests, and makes sure they understand the rules. They all half-listen and size each other up, and damn if Natasha’s casual confidence doesn’t still make Tony want to run for the hills. He offers up straws and they draw for teams, though there’s already a pre-agreed rule that Clint and Natasha are not allowed on the same team. That way lies madness. And pain. Lots of pain. It ends up being Tony, Steve, and Clint versus Sam, Thor, and Natasha. Lights flash up on their vests, ticking down to 0, and the game is off.
Naturally, Tony has rented out the entire arena for the Avengers’ use, so there’s a lot of room to move around. This turns out to be an immediate disadvantage, because he is absolutely shit at finding anyone, even Thor, who should stand out like a sore thumb, what with the booming laughter and insane height. It also seems Natasha has made it her personal mission in life to be Tony’s soul aggressor, pursuing him relentlessly down every stretch of the playing field. And she’s fucking silent as the grave. He never knows she’s on top of him until he hears the thud of a pellet against his vest, and then she’s running off before he even gets a chance at a retaliatory shot.
Tony’s already up ten hits before Steve finds him. Through the masks, there’s no talking without shouting, but Steve motions that Tony should take point and he’ll bring up the rear. Together, they can hopefully keep the billionaire from being shot in the back again.
Out of the corner of his eye, Tony sees Clint climbing a massive inflatable with shocking nimbleness, setting his rifle sights on someone to their left. He decides that’s as good a hint as any and sets off in that direction, Steve trailing closely behind. They come on Sam with almost no warning, and Tony hears the tell-tale thud on his vest, the tiny electronic counter ratcheting up to 11.
“Fuck!” he screams from under his mask, and turns his rifle on Sam, shooting with abandon because fuck this shit. He is Tony Stark and he will get some points, damn it. Steve joins in and Sam’s vest counter pings up by three before the Falcon runs off, ducking behind a giant inflatable tank. There’s another thud on his vest and Tony jumps, turning to see Thor gleefully jumping away.
From his perch on the inflatable, Clint is still calmly shooting at someone, presumably Natasha, but he turns and aims with barely a pause before pinging Thor on the mask and again on the chest, right over the heart. The counter ratchets up by a point and Thor gestures rudely. Even through the mask, Tony can hear, “You dare strike the god of thunder?”
“No face shots, Clint!” Bruce calls from the sidelines, but it’s too late. Tony has barely blinked as Mjolnir flies through a wall and into Thor’s hand. Thankfully, the Asgardian has sense enough not to call lightning indoors, but what he does instead is rush the inflatable, swinging his hammer with all his might. The plastic caves with a deafening “pop!” and from his right Tony hears a roar.
Over the sea of inflatables, the Hulk rises massive and green. Before Tony knows what’s happening, Steve has vaulted the first three obstacles, high enough to catch Hulk’s attention. The Other Guy lumbers toward his captain, taking inflatables down like bubble wrap, but he comes to a halt when he and Steve are within spitting distance of each other.
“Smash?” he says hopefully, sinking a fist into the floor. The entire building shudders in protest and cement shifts and cracks ominously. Tony grits his teeth as he makes his way toward Steve and the Hulk. So much for no property damage expenses.
“No, Hulk,” Steve says. He’s already dropped his paint gun and he’s got his hands up placatingly. “No smashing today.”
The Hulk frowns, nostrils flaring and head tilting. He glances around at his teammates and at the inflatables, picking up a blue pyramid shape and staring at it inquisitively. He squeezes the plastic sides together and there’s another loud pop as a seam gives. “No smash,” he says, almost mournfully as the pyramid deflates in his hands.
“Nope. No smash,” Steve says again. He’s removed his helmet and mask and drawn closer, hands still up as though in surrender. “Now if you don’t mind, we’d like to see Bruce. He was helping us keep score.
Hulk’s face scrunches, and now he looks put out more than anything. His lips move abortively several times before he says, “Help?” pointing first at Steve and then at Widow, who is flanking Steve’s left, shoulders tense but rifle at rest.
Steve looks at his team, judging, just the slightest hint of panic in his eyes, then back to the Hulk. “Can you count, Hulk?” The green giant holds up his fingers, raising them one by one, but he doesn’t speak. Steve gives another glance, his eyes saying, Trust me on this, and then he steps even closer. “Ok, then. Let’s play hide and seek.”
From the corner of his eye, Tony sees Sam stand up from his hiding place behind an inflatable. He’s sweating so much that his shirt is soaked through, but looks otherwise clam. Thor is hanging back, looking hangdog, but he’s dropped the hammer, so hopefully there will be no more smashing from that corner either.
Steve’s still talking. “We’re all going to hide. What you have to do is cover your eyes and count to ten. Then you come find us. If you find us, you can tag us. Gently. Let Tony and I show you how to play.”
Tony, unprepared, stumbles forward a little, but he obeys Steve with barely a thought. They are going to keep this problem contained if it kills them. He and Cap share a significant glance before Tony gamely covers his eyes. He begins counting aloud and hears a rustle of fabric as Steve takes off.
When Tony reaches ten, he drops his hands and makes a show of looking around. He can feel the Hulk’s gaze on him like fire, but he grits his teeth and works through it. Steve’s brown boot is very obviously sticking out from a large blue cylinder, so Tony stalks forward, keeping Hulk in his peripheral vision. They can do this. They can make it work. He carefully points at Steve’s boot, holds his fingers to his lips and then reaches down and taps the toe, light as a feather.
“Got you!” he says, and Steve emerges, hands up and grinning. Tony can see sweat dripping down his temple.
“Do you understand how to play Hulk?”
The lumbering creature looks carefully from Tony to Steve and then back to Tony. After a moment he nods. “Hide,” he says, voice loud in the space.
“Everybody go!” Steve commands and boy do they go. Tony can hear Hulk counting, slowly and carefully, tongue stumbling on a few of the numbers. He crouches down behind the inflatable tank and sends up a hope. This is either going to go wonderfully or terribly.
One hour later, Bruce is back with them, naked but for Steve’s thankfully large jacket, and Tony is handing over a black AmEx to cover the flooring and the holes in the wall. “We really are sorry about this,” Steve tells the manager again, looking sheepish and so damn apple pie that Tony’s teeth practically ache from the sugar.
“It’s cool. Honestly it’s a selling point. ‘This hole made by Thor, God of Thunder.’ We’re gonna keep one of them. Something to remember you guys by.”
Bruce and Thor, looking even more put out than Cap, both duck their heads and slink out the door. The moment the rest of the team has followed, they both split, ducking into taxis and disappearing, one toward Manhattan and one toward Brooklyn. Natasha and Clint grab a fare together, taking off with equal speed. Sam leaves on a bicycle because he has a volunteer stint in Queens. Then somehow it’s just Tony and Steve again.
“Mind sharing a cab? I gotta go into Manhattan.”
“Steve, I’m horrified that you think I’d deign to take a taxi.”
Happy pulls up in a black town car and Tony holds the door open. “After you.” He bats his eyelashes just for emphasis.
Steve flushes, but he ducks in without protest, and damn, Tony has got to stop noticing the red in his cheeks. Or the curve of his ass. Hot. Damn. He shakes his head once and gets in after Cap.
“Where can we drop you?”
“The Met. I’ve got a class.”
Tony knocks on the glass and relays the drop-off point. He glances at Steve again and then leans back into the seat, contemplating whether he needs a drink to reward his harrowing afternoon. They’re both silent for a moment, but the air grows tense and thick.
“I think it…”
“That was positively…”
Steve chuckles awkwardly and motions. “After you,” he says, batting his eyelashes just like Tony had. The billionaire bursts out laughing and the tension dissipates like morning fog on a sunny day.
“I was just gonna say that I about had a heart attack when Bruce transformed. Let’s not…bond that way again.”
“No. That’s probably for the best. But I don’t think it went terribly either.”
“Steve, we were inches from destroying an entire city block.”
“But we didn’t. And believe it or not, it was probably a good experience for Bruce. When was the last time he transformed and didn’t wrack up more than $20,000 in damage?”
“Exactly. For him, this was the first time he was completely nondestructive. As much as the Hulk is capable of not destroying things, anyway. And he played hide and seek with us and didn’t hurt anyone. He did good. Sam had fun, too.”
“Oh, well if Sam had fun…” Tony says, tone petulant, though he’s not even hiding his grin.
“Tony,” Steve says, half exasperated and half amused.
Tony sighs and slouches down, milking a little melodrama for his own amusement. “Another bonding activity scrapped. It would seem the universe is conspiring against the Avengers learning to like each other. I don’t know if we can continue.”
“It’s good for the team.”
“Then enlighten me. What should we try next? Speed dating?”
Steve blanches and ducks his head. “Please no. Natasha made me go once. It was…please no.”
“Are you having trouble picking up women, Cap? Do you need pointers from the master?” Tony wriggles his eyebrows suggestively and sprawls back against the corner of the seat.
“I don’t need dating advice. I am perfectly capable of finding partners and pursuing them without the meddling of the Avengers.”
“But meddling is so much fun,” Tony pouts.
Steve crosses his arms in a huff, but the corner of his mouth is pulling up a little, like he wants to smile and is fighting it. “Well, I don’t think Natasha’s brand of help is particularly working for me. The last girl she fixed me up with was a woman who wanted to take me sky diving. I get enough of that at work.”
“Then what’s your type?”
“What kind of women do you like? Or men. Do you like men?” Tony is kind of hoping to horrify Steve a little more, rib him a bit. Sure the Captain’s been in this century long enough to know that homosexuality is more-or-less mainstream, but he’s still a little Catholic boy out of the 1940s. Steve, however, surprises him by answering with nary a hint of blush, shame, or hesitation.
“I like both. They have to be smart, I guess. Strong. Don’t take shit from anyone. Someone I can respect, and someone who respects me. Helps if they’re funny. Why am I talking about this with you?”
“Because I’m so damn likable and easy to talk to?”
“Because you’re meddling. Like I said. I don’t need the Avengers’ help. I’ve already got someone in mind.”
Tony almost pursues the subject, but Steve gives him a little side-eye that he’s not exactly sure what to do with, so he switches back to team-bonding. Captain America’s dating adventures can wait for another day.
“So, what are your suggestions for the next bonding activity?”
“Really? That’s the best you can come up with?”
“But who doesn’t like movies? And we won’t run into the problems we’ve had so far. No chance of Bruce hulking out. Probably. Thor can learn more about our world. We can take turns picking films people will enjoy. And it’s simple. Sometimes simple is better.”
“I suppose it can’t hurt anything,” Tony says, feeling slightly put out. All of the resources of Tony Stark at hand and the best they can come up with is ‘movies.’
“We’re at the Met, boss,” Happy calls from up front and the car slows to a stop.
Steve grins. “I’m looking forward to it,” he says, leans across the seat, and gives Tony a kiss on the cheek. Then he’s gone like a flash of lightning. Meanwhile, Tony is left slack-jawed and wide-eyed.
“Happy?” he calls, and his voice doesn’t squeak. No sir. Definitely not.
“Did that just happen?”
“Do you mean, ‘Did Captain America, paragon of all that is good and fair in this land, kiss you on the cheek’?”
“Yeah, boss. He did.”
The Avengers do movie night on a Thursday. It seems like a good idea. Not Friday, so it’s less likely to interfere with other social plans, and far enough into the week that no one feels too guilty indulging in a little extra alcohol. Then again, Tony and Sam are the only members of the Avengers working what one might call regular jobs, so there’s not much worry about that in the first place. Especially when Tony’s never exactly been a 9 to 5 kind of a guy.
And best of all, Rhodey is back in town on leave with his new girlfriend. This works smashingly for Tony, because the billionaire has not seen Steve since what he has dubbed “The Sneaky Bastard Kissed Me Incident” and he really doesn’t know what to expect or what is expected of him. The whole kissing thing had at first seemed like it was out of left field, but on closer analysis, Tony realized Steve had been lingering where the others quickly fled, had, in fact, been lightly flirting in his own insanely dry way.
And Tony doesn’t know what to do, because he can’t remember the last time he dated. With Pep, it was less dating and more just same old, same old plus sex. He was never exactly the dating type of person to begin with, but Steve seems like the kind of guy one should wine and dine. That being said, Tony’s not entirely sure he wants to wine and dine Steve. Sure, the guy is built like a Greek god, and he’s kind and funny and sweet and, as Happy put it, a paragon of all that is good, but Tony is…well, Tony.
So he takes advantage of Rhodey Wednesday night by inviting him over for drinks. Of course this is actually code for begging for help, advice, information, and generally just being as needy as he is capable of being.
“Tony, if you like the guy, just ask him out.”
“But you don’t understand. He’s Captain America.”
“Your point being?” Rhodey sips his beer and raises an accusatory eyebrow.
“Remember? Textbook narcissist? Serial playboy? Eccentric asshole? None of these should be seen kissing the most virtuous man in the country.”
“You mean the virtuous man who happily dumped government secrets onto the internet and did millions of dollars of damage to northern Virginia? The dude who, and I have this from a direct source, highjacked a car to New Jersey, broke into a high security base to steal top-secret military equipment, and proceeded to ignore his summons to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee? That guy?”
“But he was doing that in the name of freedom,” Tony mumbles. He’s maybe had five too many scotches already, but it’s never stopped him before, and if he sleeps in tomorrow with a hangover, he’ll have less time to freak out over Steve coming to the tower.
“It was still a hell of a lot of law breaking, Tony. And you’re conflating the guy with his title.”
“But he is Captain America.”
“You might be Iron Man, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all your teammates are always their personas. Especially when they’re off duty. Captain America is a symbol. You know that better than anybody. But Steve Rogers, he’s just a dude. A dude with serious authority problems, as far as I can tell.”
“Stop fucking whining. You’re going to ask him out. I’m going to be there to witness it. Carol’s going to be my co-witness. We’re going to watch you attempt to be a normal human being.”
“Shoot me now.”
“And miss all the fun?”
“Right then. Guess I can forget about those armor upgrades. I’ll just hit up Baintronics. They’ve started up a weapons division now. Did you hear?”
“You are not letting anyone but me touch my baby. Do you hear me? No one.”
“Then you’ll do the upgrades?”
Rhodey sips his beer again, one eyebrow raised, staring at the opposite wall and the shining New York skyline.
“Great. I’ll drop the armor off at movie night tomorrow.”
“You better come early and help me get the snacks and shit ready. I don’t work for free you know.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I know you’ll slap the army with a huge contracting bill. Totally worth it.”
“Should I…I don’t know. Give him champagne?”
“And here I thought I’d distracted you.”
“Lord, it’s gonna be a long night.”
True to his word, Rhodey shows up half an hour early with his girlfriend clutched to the armor. She’s laughing when they touch down and Tony immediately likes her. Anyone who laughs during an armor-powered flight is an automatic in for him. She steps forward and gives his hand a firm shake, military bearing in every inch of her posture.
“It’s an honor to meet you, sir.”
“Oh god. Don’t ‘sir’ me. My heart can’t take the pressure. It’s nice to meet you, Carol. Rhodey’s told me good things about you.”
“Only good things? He’s actually behaved himself?”
“Are there bad things to tell? Rhodey! You left out the naughty stories? I thought we were friends.”
“Just because you feel compelled to overshare, Tony, does not mean I feel compelled to reciprocate.”
They get the last of the pizza (Tony’s ordered thirty boxes just to be on the safe side) set out just as Clint and Natasha arrive. The others are quick to follow (Thor’s even brought Jane), and Tony knows he’s not imagining the blush on Steve’s cheeks when the super soldier steps out of the elevator.
Tony hasn’t worked out a plan of attack for that particular problem, yet, but this is about team bonding, and this time he’s going to succeed if it kills him. First order of business once drinks and food are passed out is picking a film and he’s got a fool-proof method. He hands out slips of paper and pens to every person in attendance. Normally he finds analog distasteful at best, but if he lets JARVIS randomize this, he’ll still get accused of cheating, regardless of whether he actually cheats or not.
“Welcome to the first annual Avengers movie night!” he announces from the center of the sunken floor. The Avengers, scattered, sprawled, and perched on the rounded couches at the edge of the floor, all perk up, looking excited for once about spending time together. “In the interest of fairness, movie selection will be determined by draw. Write the name of the film you want to watch on your slip of paper, fold it up, and deposit it in the helmet.” He brandishes his helmet at them. “Once everyone’s got their slips in, Steve will draw one slip at random. Captain America doesn’t lie, cheat, or steal, so you know our selection will be fair and unbiased.”
Pens scribble over paper and even Thor seems to have a selection in mind. Tony collects the slips into the helmet and then passes it to Steve. Their fingers brush (Steve’s blushing like a tomato, so Tony’s pretty sure it’s on purpose) and then the super soldier makes a point of waving his hand through the air and shuffling it through the papers before extracting a slip. He unfolds it, jumping a little as Clint starts up a drumroll on this thighs.
“Our first selection will be…From Russia with Love.”
“It was you, wasn’t it?” Sam cries dramatically, pointing toward Natasha. She and Clint exchange a look before she smirks.
“Yes. I would certainly pick a film that vilifies my home country and boils it down to the worst stereotypes imaginable. That is most assuredly a thing I would do.”
Sam falters a little, but Clint can only hold his straight face three seconds before laughing. “Of course it was her. Like Natasha would pick anything else.”
“I’m sensing a line of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky films in our future,” Jane mutters to Thor, but everyone’s smiling and for once, Tony thinks maybe they’ve gotten this right. Maybe this will be the thing their team can bond over. He’s riding high on his optimism right up until an alarm pings through the penthouse.
“Sir, there have been reports of giant mechanized bats over Europe. You have an emergency call from the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Shall I put him through?”
Tony nearly says no, but Steve’s already got his “Captain America is gonna kick some ass” face on, so movie night is ruined before it even starts. “Put him through,” the billionaire sighs, and any dreams he had of maybe snuggling with Steve or stealing a few kisses in the near darkness are dashed by Victor Fucking Von Doom.
Sixteen hours later, the Avengers plus War Machine are sitting amongst the rubble in central Prague, exhausted beyond words, dirty, bloodied, and bruised, but otherwise alive. Tony takes a pot shot at one of the giant bats, still wriggling slightly where it’s been impaled on a steel girder. He wants a shower. And then sleep. Perhaps sleep while in the shower.
Steve walks over, gait stiff and one arm held awkwardly against his chest. Tony’s pretty sure it’s broken, but there were injured civilians and Steve has sent off medics three times already.
“Want me to set that for you?” he offers, gesturing at the arm.
Glancing down, the super soldier grins sheepishly. “Guess I’m not doing a very good job of hiding it, am I?”
“Oh. I’m sorry. Was I not supposed to say anything? Too bad. Sit.”
Steve sits, wincing and adjusting, wriggling this way and that until he’s more or less settled against a block of cement. Tony pings the arm with sonar and looks at JARVIS’ analysis. It’s a clean break through the radial bone, but it’s got to hurt like a bitch. Tony’s frankly surprised Cap’s not bleeding everywhere with the angle the bone shard is jutting.
“Arm,” he says, holding out his hand expectantly. Steve grimaces, but he sets his arm in Tony’s palm and looks away.
“Do it,” he says, teeth gritted and eyes pinched shut.
“On the count of three,” Tony tells him, adjusting his hands for the best grip. “One.” He wrenches and locks the bone into place, holding onto Cap’s forearm until he’s sure Steve’s not going to pull it free again.
The Captain hisses “fuck” once through his teeth and then is silent for thirty seconds. “That was not very nice,” he finally manages, glaring up through his stupidly long eyelashes.
“Since when am I nice?” Tony says, shrugging nonchalantly. “I’m going to find something to splint this with. Stay right here. Don’t move. Stop helping little old grannies cross the street. Just for three seconds.”
Tony’s already spotted two strips of thin wood from a shattered book shelf. They should do nicely. He breaks them away with barely a thought, laser cuts them down to fit Steve’s arm and sets about splinting with scraps torn off Steve’s tattered undershirt.
“That acid did a number on your armor,” he says conversationally as he ties off the wood.
“Good thing it didn’t make it down to skin.”
Tony’s fingers tighten unconsciously, and he only realizes what he’s done when Cap winces.
“Sorry about that.”
“No problem,” Steve grunts, and he gives a rough smile, pain showing through in spite of his best efforts. Tony secures the last and longest tie, binding Steve’s arm down to his chest, and then settles back, weariness in every inch of him. After a moment, he flicks the catches on the helmet and removes it entirely, reveling in the fact that he can bend his neck a little more. The air reeks of fire and oil, but under that all, the breeze is blowing fresh and sharp, just a hint of autumn on the air.
They sit in silence, watching the smoking city for a while. About fifty yards from them, Bruce is tending civilians, wrapped only in a tattered doctor’s coat. Clint and Natasha are helping corral police and military forces, directing how best to deal with the mechanical bat carcasses. Rhodey is liaising with one of the higher ups, arguing about whether or not the bats should be confiscated, destroyed, or returned to Doom. (Obviously the latter is a dumb option and Tony’s not entirely sure why it’s even on the table.) Thor is entertaining a group of errant children with tiny balls of lightning, passing the crackling blue from hand to hand and then sending it sparkling into the air. Sam is carefully and calmly helping parents locate their lost kids within the group.
Tony takes in his team and feels a sudden breath of relief. The Chitauri weren’t a fluke. They can do this. They can actually work together to save lives. But he still feels bad that he didn’t get to make some moves on Steve in the dark of his living room.
“Guess the Avengers are never meant to have team bonding night,” he says out aloud, a little wistfully.
“I don’t know. This was a pretty good bonding experience if you ask me,” Steve replies, following Tony’s gaze to Thor.
“Oh yeah. This is definitely how I want to spend every Thursday night. Cleaning up Doom’s ego and having a tiny heart attack every time Clint throws himself off a building.”
“You’re not the only one,” Steve says, glaring in Hawkeye’s direction. “We’re going to have to do something about that.”
The super soldier glances at Tony, mouth tilting up in a smile. “Yeah. I am a little disappointed we didn’t get to talk. I had been wanting…I mean…I checked with Pepper and she assured me you liked men just as well as women, but I should have made my intentions clearer or…asked permission. I don’t know.”
“You conspired with Pepper?”
“No one knows you better than her, Tony.”
“You really are a master tactician.”
“Am I?” Steve’s eyes are at half-mast and somehow he’s moved closer to Tony, so that their thighs are almost touching. He’s telegraphing his intentions, making sure this is ok even as he leans closer and Tony is so ok with this. So very ok. He closes the last scant inch between them.
Steve’s lips are very dry, and Tony can taste blood where the bottom one has split open and dust from the battle, but he doesn’t really care, because he is kissing Captain America. They are kissing. Steve is kissing him back. What the hell? He never would have… But then Steve is pulling back and that is most certainly not ok.
Tony surges forward and catches him again, running his tongue over Steve’s top lip in hopes of distracting him or increasing the heat factor or something. Anything that gets him more. The super soldier opens for him and he tastes of rubble and water and blood and determination. Tony eases back for a second to catch his breath and take in Steve’s wide-blown eyes and pink, pink lips.
“Wanna have dinner with me?”
“I think that’s a good idea,” he hisses, eyes darting to Tony’s lips and back up again.
From across the way, Clint shouts, “Get a room!”
Tony doesn’t deign to reply because Steve’s kissing him again, but he does find it in himself to give Clint a shiny, red middle finger. Avengers’ laughter ring across the empty square and Tony decides that maybe the team bonding wasn’t such a failure after all.