Tony Stark swore during her college years that she'd never marry. She didn't need that bullshit to contend with. For years she was coddled and treated like a delicate little princess. She was a genius, damn it. Sure, she was a girl, but that didn't diminish the fact that she could out-think anyone. So she graduated high school early, went to college while still in her mid-teens. That caught the attention of the technology world. Exactly what she wanted.
But there were always those who muttered, sooner or later she'll be tamed... settle down like a proper woman.
Antonia Elizabeth Stark would never be a proper woman. She called herself Tony, built her own hardware, fixed her own motorcycle and car, and learned computer programming from scratch. Her mother hid her smiles, her father pursed his lips, and Obie patted her head. The world called her the Princess of Stark Industries. They soon revised that opinion after Tony let her rather brash personality shine through the carefully constructed image that her handlers attempted to create for her. She went off to college and let loose. Her father admonished her, ignoring the fact that she was well on her way from graduating from MIT at the age of seventeen. You'd think that would matter more than the fact that Tony was having a little fun when she wasn't busy upholding the Stark legacy of genius.
She met James Rhodes at school. She knew him in passing - her father and his father worked together. Slowly, Tony and Rhodes - soon known only as "Rhodey" thanks to Tony's lack of imagination - became friends. One thing led to another, and they dated. Rhodey broke it off, and it was for the best. They still talked to each other, all these years later.
But after Rhodey, Tony never had another long-term serious relationship. In the nearly twenty years since college, her love life had consisted of one night stands with both men and women. She didn't even think about commitment - Tony Stark didn't do commitment. Doesn't do commitment. Will never do commitment.
Tony has never told anyone who her first crush was on. Most girls get crushes on pop stars and actors. Tony fell in love with Captain America.
It wasn't hard to. From the stories her father told when he'd had one too many, to the limited footage and newsreels from the 40's that she'd managed to find squirreled away in the den, to the fact that her father still seemed in awe of the man and never truly gave up the search for him... surely Captain America was two steps short of a holy figure. People still held him in high regard, even though kids nowadays only wore his t-shirts to be ironic or privately nerdy. Today, Captain America was no more real to the world than was Superman.
Howard had scoffed at the movies made about him, based off of the comics of the forties and fifties. Tony had devoured them. She couldn't tell what was real and what was made up, and she didn't bother asking her father. She never did. He died shortly before her nineteenth birthday, and one of the last people to have known the real Captain America was gone.
She was the Consultant. What a stupid, stupid codename. She'd complained about it, of course, but everyone ignored her. Fury was developing something of a facial tic, though.
But Tony Stark was not Iron Man. At least, not officially. S.H.I.E.L.D. provided alibis for when Tony was off doing Iron Man's duty. Tony really wanted to flip up her faceplate on camera, savor the shock of the world at the fact that the woman whom everyone assumed was hiding her PTSD and emotional scars, the “easy mark” they all knew she was, the infamous Tony Stark had taken her situation and made a solution out of it. She wanted the world to know that she'd fought her fears, pushed back, and accomplished something. She was pretty damn proud of the suit. She had every right to be – no one, not even Vanko, had managed to make a superior one. When they'd pulled new tricks out of their bags, she'd just upped the ante every time. The suit was her greatest invention, her crowning achievement. She wanted the world to know that it was hers. That the famous Iron Man was really a woman. That she'd defied them all once again. But Pepper and Rhodey had managed to convince her that S.H.I.E.L.D. was right, so Tony kept her mouth shut.
She received the shock of her life when Coulson showed up to collect her for a high-priority briefing. He said six words that convinced her to drop everything and follow him without a single quip.
“We found Captain America. He's alive.”
Fury wanted her there. She didn't know why, but she could guess. Her father had been a part of the Captain America project. He'd designed Cap's shield and suit. They probably wanted her to start working on equipment for him.
She should have been mentally revving up her snark, but she was numb.
Captain America is alive.
A national icon. It was like finding Superman in your backyard.
For the first time in many, many years, Tony was nervous.
It didn't go as anyone expected.
Fury was waiting for her in the Captain's quarters. The door was guarded by two S.H.I.E.L.D. mooks. The Captain himself looked pretty good for a guy who had been frozen solid for seven decades. Well, physical health-wise. Otherwise, he looked like he was in shock. No kidding, Tony thought to herself.
Fury was pacing when she arrived. He just muttered something about “thanks for being so quick about it” and gestured at an unoccupied chair. She took it and arranged herself, taking her time so that she could calm her nerves and compose herself.
It was like being in the same room as the Queen. She couldn't stop staring at him.
Captain America. He was real. Sitting on the bed with his face in his hands, rubbing his eyes like he'd just woken up from a nap. Or finished crying.
She managed to tear her eyes away and looked at the window. She wondered...
“Okay, let's cut the unnecessary stuff and get right to it.” Fury quit pacing and was now standing in front of the closed door, arms akimbo.
Now the Captain looked up and caught sight of Tony. He looked her over in a way that suggested he was just sizing her up as opposed to ogling. He looked at Fury. “Shouldn't we wait for Mr. Stark?” he asked.
Tony's eyebrows went up. “I beg your pardon?”
“Director Fury said something about Howard Stark's son being a consultant to S.H.I.E.L.D. I thought he needed to be here.” The Captain was still staring at Fury, looking confused.
Fury's expression was unreadable, but Tony thought she detected something of a smile, like he had been caught by surprise and was about to start laughing.
“Howard Stark didn't have a son,” she said, very icily.
The Captain's mouth dropped open.
“Captain Steve Rogers, meet Antonia Stark.” Fury was very, very amused.
Tony glared at him. “Oh, that's funny. That's real, real funny. Fucking hilarious.” She stood up and stalked across the room.
“Where do you think you are going?” Fury asked evenly.
“I'm not going to sit here and be insulted.” She didn't know why it had stung, but it did.
“Hey, it was an honest mistake. I forgot to mention it.” Fury blocked her exit, and Tony crossed her arms.
The room was dead silent.
“Look, ma'am, I apologize,” Rogers said, standing up. “I didn't mean any disrespect.”
Ooooohhhhhh no he didn't.
“Do. Not. Call me ma'am.” Tony grated out.
Fury looked ready to go grab popcorn.
“Miss?” Rogers tried again.
Tony just kept glaring. Rogers looked bewildered.
“You know what, let's just leave it here then.” Fury suddenly decided. He stepped aside and Tony made her escape.
She stopped in the doorway and looked back at the two of them. “I'm not making anything for him,” she declared coldly. She turned on her heel and stalked away.
The next time they met, Tony was still very pissy. Her fantasies were shattered, she no longer felt flustered in his presence. Which was good, because he was pissed at her. Extremely pissed.
Despite Fury and Coulson's best attempts at persuasion, discussion, and even threats, Tony had refused to help upgrade the Captain's equipment. She had refused to help update his shield. She had refused to help make him a new battlesuit. And they had clearly told Rogers about it.
He was polite, which was more than could be said for her. When Tony didn't like someone, she made sure everyone knew it.
Rogers held the door open for her on the way to the briefing room. She didn't even spare him a glance. Eyebrows knit together in something of an unreadable expression, he made sure to sit as far away from her as possible.
Coulson had already told her that they didn't expect her to reveal that she was Iron Man to anyone in the room. To them, she was there to represent both Stark Industries and Iron Man, seeing as Iron Man wanted to keep “his” identity as secret as possible. She was fine with that. She didn't need anyone's approval... especially not Captain America's.
She only had a moment to wonder why the hell she'd thought that when Fury began to talk. The world needed saving, apparently. And the people assembled here were the only ones with any hope of it.
Tony looked around the room. A couple of super-killers, a guy with breathtaking aggression-management problems, a demigod, a super-soldier, and me. This is the team that is the world's last hope.
Either they'd have to get used to each other quickly, or the world was screwed.
She looked across the table and met Rogers' gaze. She felt her lip curl and she looked away.
They survived their first crisis. They did it. Against all odds, they managed to win the fight and they managed to become a team. They became the Avengers. And it worked.
Some of her new teammates were easy to get along with. Hawkeye was great for banter, and she knew Black Widow already. Dr. Banner was something of a downer, but she figured that with time he'd get used to the rest of them.
Thor was a goddamn nut. He put all of her partying years to shame in one night of celebration, drinking everyone else under the table and still not even buzzed. And he was always up for anything, always laughing his roaring laugh and being merry.
Her relationship with Rogers, on the other hand, was still kind of stiff. He constantly ground her nerves, arguing with her on almost anything. He was still annoyingly polite, and it always made him the bigger person. Tony complained about him constantly to Pepper, who developed this annoying smirk that popped up whenever the topic of Steve Rogers did.
He was easier to work with when Tony was Iron Man – she knew that Rogers respected Iron Man and that infuriated her even more. More than anything, she wanted to rip off her mask and demand how he liked the fact that a woman was in the suit. But she didn't, because the team was still figuring itself out. Everyone was still getting used to each other. Captain America and Iron Man worked well together at times. Sacrificing her secret identity – even if it was just between the two of them – would ruin that dynamic. Fury had already seen the impending explosion and had a few things to say about it. As stupid as it was, Tony was to keep up the masquerade with her teammates.
There were times when Rogers would mention wanting to meet the bodyguard that operated the suit. She let Fury explain why that wouldn't happen. Ever.
Eventually the need for a headquarters for their Superhero Boy Band came up. Then it turned out that no one wanted to live at the S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters if they had a choice.
After some pressing from Pepper and some glaring from Fury, Tony offered up her New York mansion. And then she moved in and sets up shop, making the old mausoleum habitable again. She updated JARVIS, got the bedrooms refinished, set up cleaning crews, and prepared the house for the inevitable chaos.
When everyone moved in, it was chaotic. Not everyone was used to each other. JARVIS scared the crap out of everyone at least once. Dr. Banner lost his cool twice and broke the fridge and some workout equipment. Thor nearly destroyed the kitchen. Tony woke everyone up in the middle of the night with loud explosions in her lab on a regular basis. That sort of thing.
A month passed. They slowly became accustomed to being housemates. Rogers began to get up early to exercise and would start the coffee so it was ready when everyone else got up. Tony customized the house interfaces for each person to allow ease of access, and she restricted her loud work to the daytime. Natasha started cooking meals that could be reheated so they could eat something quick and easy after a mission or whenever. Sitwell stopped calling every hour to check up on whether the house was still standing.
Slowly, things became normal. Well, as normal as a house full of superheroes can be.
Tony doesn't know when it happened. That is, when she quit calling him “Rogers” and started referring to him as just “Steve”. But she thinks that it happened right around the time that he decided he needs to learn how to use a cell phone. He'd been avoiding it for the longest time, but after the third or fourth inconvenience due to the fact that he could not contact or be contacted by anyone, Steve resigned himself to the fact that a cell phone is very, very necessary.
He didn't go to everyone else before he resorted to Tony. This surprised her. He just showed up in her lab one day, looking kind of shy. He knocked on the glass door. She quickly covered up the arc reactor – even though everyone in the house knew she had one and why she needed it, she still preferred no one saw it. She shut off her music and grabbed a rag to wipe her hands clean of grease, and then told JARVIS to let Steve in.
Steve had been in her lab before, but he never really was in there for a time longer than five minutes or so. He looked around at pretty much everything except the table where Tony was working on a prototype engine.
“What is it?” she finally asked, very loudly.
Steve met her eyes and blushed a little. “Coulson told me you could help me out.”
Tony raised an eyebrow. “With...?”
Steve looked away. “I think it's about time I got one of those... little telephones that everyone has.”
“You want a cell?”
Tony scrunched up her nose. “I guess I could give you a Stark phone--”
“Please. Nothing fancy.” Steve examined the Iron Man Mark IV suit very closely. He was clearly trying very hard not to look Tony in the eye.
Tony reconsidered her initial inclination. “Want me to make you an easy one?” she asked, tossing her screwdriver down on the table with no little relish. The engine was being difficult, anyway. “I've got the guts for a new touchscreen phone, I can program it so that it's easy for you to use.”
Steve was now very, very uncomfortable. “You don't have to go through so much trouble.”
“Nah. Fury likes it when I have projects. Keeps me out of his hair.” Tony crossed over to the cabinet on the other side of the room and pulled out a drawer. She grabbed the box full of cell phone parts and rummaged through it. Taking the box back to the table and clearing the engine off to the side, she dumped the contents out and started sorting. Steve just stood off to the side, looking like he had no idea what to do after that point. Tony finally looked up at him and blinked. “Um, is there something else?”
“If it's all right...” Steve's eyes flicked to the Mk. IV and back. “Can I ask you a question?”
Tony blinked again, then nodded. She shrugged. “Sure. Can't promise an answer. An answer that makes sense, anyway.”
“You didn't even hear the question.”
“It's just a thing with me.” She started messing with the cell phone parts again. Tony's ADHD was constantly driving everyone nuts. Oddly, Steve didn't seem to mind it.
Steve let out a breath and then asked, “Can we try to get along?”
Tony's hands froze and she slowly looked at him. “What?”
“Look, I know we got off on the wrong foot.” Steve looked her in the eye.
He has really pretty eyes, she found herself thinking. She gave herself a mental shake. “Yeah. You assumed I was a guy.”
“It was an honest mistake. When Director Fury said 'Tony Stark' I just thought...”
“Look, I don't--”
“Please let me finish. I--” Steve cut himself off and seemed to reconsider what he was about to say. “I want to apologize for anything else I did to insult you. I mean, you've been really kind to me. You've let me stay in your house and put up with all of us. I'd like to not... you know.” He gestured vaguely with his hands.
Tony knew. “Um, I guess I accept your apology.” She fiddled with the microchip in her hands and then made a face. “And I guess I'm sorry for being such a bitch to you. You didn't deserve it.”
“You guess you're sorry?” Steve repeated with a wry smile.
“Okay, I actually am sorry I was such a bitch. Happy?”
Steve laughed. “Very. Thanks.”
Tony just stared at him. My God, he's beautiful when he laughs.
“Well, thanks for doing this for me.” Steve gestured at the mess on her table. “I appreciate it.”
“Uh, no worries. And don't think you have to do anything in return or anything, this is on the house.” Tony made herself get back to the phone parts. Because if she didn't, she'd think more stupid thoughts about the guy.
She was too old for a crush on Captain America.
The next day, Steve knocked on her lab door again. She let him in and he set down a tray on a clear spot on the workbench.
Tony looked at it. Steve had brought her a sandwich, an apple, and a glass of milk. She looked back at Steve and raised an eyebrow.
“Just making sure you don't starve yourself.” Steve smiled at her again. “You never come up for regular meals. Miss Potts told me she used to keep you on some sort of schedule.”
“Uh, yeah. Pepper's basically my glorified nanny.” Tony looks back at the tray again. “Um, thank you, I guess?”
“You're welcome, I guess.” Steve let himself out, still smiling.
Tony's stomach suddenly growled and she realized she hadn't eaten since the previous night. She put down the guts to Steve's new cell phone and got up to wash her hands.
It became a thing for Steve to bring her lunch in her lab. She finished his cell phone in a little less than a week and taught him how to use it, fully expecting the lunches to stop now that he had what he needed. But they didn't.
Then, he began to hang around and keep her company while she worked. They talked shop – even though he wasn't exactly what she'd refer to as a techie or a grease monkey, he still appreciated machines. They talked about cars, the Iron Man suit, whatever she was working on at the moment. Then, the started talking about other things. Gossip about their housemates. Discussions about their most recent encounters with villains. Tony has to keep catching herself from talking like she was there, and there are a few times when Steve mentions her “bodyguard” in the Iron Man suit that make her want to say “um, yeah, that's me” and blow the whole thing. But she doesn't. She can't quite explain why.
She realized that she didn't mind his company... actually, she kind of enjoyed it. She figured this out when Steve brought a sketchbook down with him and sat there for an hour and a half in silence, sketching something as she labored over that goddamn engine. It was a peaceful silence. A companionable silence.
Other things changed, too. Steve began to get her to eat at regular intervals, and she actually started getting tired around a relatively decent bedtime. She began to not spend her entire day in the lab when she had a day to herself. It suddenly dawned on her that Steve was a good influence on her. And she didn't mind that in the least.
Slowly, they became friends.
The first thing Tony became aware of was the fact that she was not in her armor. The second thing she realized was that she was not in her own bed. And the third thing was that her head fucking hurt.
Wincing, she opened her eyes and blinked. The damn light was in her face, god someone make it go away...
"Oh, thank God, you're awake."
Tony's memory kicked into overdrive. Downtown Manhattan. Crazy European dude named Doom. Robots. Robots everywhere. Mass chaos. Shooting. Repulsors. Hulk stomping on the annoying droids. Cap's voice on the comm, giving directions. Orders. Get the civilians to safety. I'm going after Doom.
No Steve that's not-- it's a trap--
Steve had been closest to the green-hooded figure. Steve had been ready to take him down.
JARVIS had managed to penetrate the armor. The Doom Steve was after wasn't Doom. And JARVIS had spotted a concussive bomb.
That was the last she remembered.
"You idiot." Steve's voice was rough. Like he'd caught a cold. "You could have been killed, even with the armor."
Tony decided that the only thing left was to play dumb. "What?"
"You grabbed the Doombot and flew off before the bomb blew. You crashed down from twenty stories up! You had a concussion! Goddamnit Tony, you could have died!"
"I..." Tony found her throat suddenly very, very dry. Like, Sahara dry. "Steve, I--"
"Don't ever do that again. You're important."
Tony slowly tilted her head, looked over at Steve. He opened his mouth like he was going to say more, but then snapped it shut and shook his head. He fixed her with a piercing blue stare. "I don't care what you think you have to prove, Tony. Stay alive. That's an order."
Tony nodded carefully. She winced when her head began to throb. "So you know my secret. Anyone else?"
Steve suddenly looked very uncomfortable. "Um... the whole world. There were news helicopters covering the fight. It's been all over the--"
"WHAT?!" Tony shot up in bed and Steve jumped to his feet. He grabbed her shoulders to keep her from flying off the cot and possibly throwing a tantrum in the middle of the hospital room.
"HOW CAN I CALM DOWN?" Tony demanded shrilly. Oh god oh god oh god, her secret identity. Kaput. People would know it was her. The incident with Vanko - he'd found out. He'd used it against her. Oh god oh god oh god.
"Tony, please. You have a concussion. Calm. Down." Steve snapped into Captain America Commanding The Battlefield Mode, and Tony shrank back as meekly as she could. She allowed him to push her back onto the pillows and silently freaked the hell out. He could tell, because he started inching for the panic button.
"Don't. You. Dare." Tony gritted out. She glared at him. "I don't need people poking me and sticking me with needles and drugs and all that."
"Well, shouldn't I be? I've pretty much had my biggest secret blown, now the bad guys are going to come after Pepper and Rhodey and anyone else I care about--"
She quit talking.
"Please, if you don't calm down, I'll yell for a nurse. This is a SHIELD hospital," he added. "They'll probably have a seditive strong enough to knock you out for a while."
"I can't calm down, Steve. I've already had this happen twice - only this time it's much worse..."
"SHIELD is handling it."
Tony snorted. "Oh, I feel safe already."
"Well, okay. Natasha is handling it."
Steve rolled his eyes. "And already I can tell you're not seriously injured."
"Well, I made my armor to be shock absorbant. It can handle getting fired by anti-aircraft missiles." She stuck her tongue out at him.
Steve stared at her. "You've tested that?"
"Didn't need to. I've been shot at with anti-aircraft missiles before. Worked like a charm."
Steve shook his head. "Why does none of this surprise me?"
"What, that I've been shot at by tanks, or any of it?" She was joking, but Steve just smiled.
"Well, none of this is really surprising."
Tony blinked at him. "You knew?" she demanded. She didn't need to say more.
Steve shrugged. "I just kind of figured. You're pretty possessive of that armor. You made the suit yourself. And SHIELD is mysteriously tight-lipped about how you managed to escape from Afghanistan. It all kind of made sense that you wore it yourself. You'd never let anyone else do your mission - you'd get it done yourself. That's just the kind of person you are."
Tony made a face. "Captain Rogers, you do not know me well at all."
"I know you well enough."
Goddamn it, there was that smile again. That sweet little smile that was so unlike those propeganda reels. That smile that made her feel like her bones were becoming overcooked noodles.
Tony looked out the window and sighed heavily. "Well, this is going to be a fun period."
Steve made a little sound of agreement. They didn't talk for the rest of his visit.
Left alone for the night, kept company by the beeping machines and the occasional agent checking in on her, Tony just lay back in her bed and thought.
Nighttime was never a good time for her. Her mind raced. A million things, numbers, shapes, images, words floated through her head. The constant chatter kept her awake. Her hands itched to dissasemble something. Her brain screamed for problems to occupy it. Otherwise, it would keep humming away.
Tonight, her thoughts always came back to Steve. Steve had figured out who wore the suit. Steve thought he knew her. Steve smiled at her.
Steve cared about her.
Oh god, Antonia Elizabeth Stark, she thought. You are not in love with Captain America again.
But then she realized she wasn't in love with Captain America. She wasn't in love with the legend.
She was in love with the man.
She was falling for Steve Rogers.
She didn't get any sleep that night.
After a week in SHIELD's hospital ward, Tony was released back to the Avengers Mansion under the conditions of "DON'T. DO. ANYTHING. STUPID." Courtesy of Director Fury. Since that had a rather broad interpretation, Coulson had basically spelled it out for her. Take it easy. Bed rest as much as possible. Ease back into things. Don't go into your lab and disappear for days, forget to eat, and live off of coffee and that disgusting green swill you make. SHIELD is watching you. Seriously.
Tony had rolled her eyes, but made a mental note to have JARVIS sweep for SHIELD bugs. That rubbed her the wrong way.
Her fellow Avengers weren't at home when she arrived. JARVIS informed her that a call had come in from D.C. and she was not to put on her armor and follow them in. For once, she did as she was told. Her head still throbbed like a really bad hangover, and she was still recovering from recovery. She made herself a protein shake and went downstairs to the basement to start the suit's repairs. To her dismay, the suit was banged up like nobody's business. Not as bad as it could be, but still kind of disheartening.
She was down there hours later when she heard Steve's voice from the entrance. "You're supposed to be on bed rest."
She didn't even jump. "I will go on bed rest. After I fix my suit."
"Don't make me drag you back up to your room."
"You wouldn't dare," Tony replied, not even turning to look at him. "I will kick your ass five different ways if you try."
"Sure you will." Steve was definitely smiling. She could hear the smile. She would not look at him. She didn't need to see that smile. "But seriously, though," he went on. "The team needs Iron Man. You have to recover as much as you can."
Tony's shoulders slumped. "Hey, I may not be a spring chicken, but I'm not that old."
"Where in the world did you get that?" Steve sounded genuinely confused.
"Look, I'm not a super-soldier like you," Tony said irritably. She flipped up her mask and stuck her blowtorch back in its holster. "Nor am I a highly-trained ninja assassin, or a circus performer, or a genetic freak, or a Norse god. I'm just a cougar with a glorified suit of armor. I know I can't keep up with you guys. You don't have to spell it out for me."
"I wasn't trying to mean anything, Tony." Steve's tone was still even. Tony still refused to look at him. "I just don't want you to hurt yourself again."
Oh god, there was that voice again. That concerned voice. That voice that made something uncurl in her belly and made her want to squirm.
"If you don't want me to get hurt," she finally managed to choke out, "I need to upgrade my armor."
"You can upgrade your armor. Just don't spend all day and night doing it." Steve was still talking to her in a way that reminded her of the way a teacher or nanny tried to calm down a stubborn child. It irritated her a little.
She finally turned around and looked him in the eye. "Steve. Please."
Steve sighed and plopped down on the sofa, in his usual spot. "I will make you quit at some point," he warned her.
Tony snapped her welding mask back down. "You do that, babe."
Steve did, in fact, start policing her time. It was very, very annoying. He made her eat. He made her sleep. He even made her take potty breaks. What was she, four? Tony had no idea how it could be more insulting.
It took her a few days to salvage what she could of her armor. She immediately pulled up the designs for her current suit and set to work on upping the amount of shock protection. Considering Doom's tactics, this was Important With A Capital I. Tony had a feeling that concussive bombs planted in decoys was something that they'd be seeing more of.
Steve was always a presence when Tony was working. The week after her return from the hospital ward was a slow week for the Avengers. Small blessings, Bruce had commented. Tony couldn't help but agree. When she wasn't busy getting bossed around by Steve, she managed to do an impressive amount of work on the suit.
Slowly, her head quit hurting when she got up too fast; her hands quit shaking; her legs quit trying to give out on her. She refused to attribute her recovery to the fact that she now had Steve Rogers as part of her nagging entourage. Rhodey would never let her live it down.
She was putting the finishing touches on the helmet when she heard the swish of the lab door. She looked up from her work to see Steve's (fine) retreating backside, headed upstairs. A glance at the clock on her desk monitor told her it was about lunchtime.
Resigning herself to the fact that Steve was probably going to make her eat, she marked her progress and put away her equiptment. She got up and crossed the basement lab to wash up at the sink. On her way back to clear off her worktable, she happened to glance at the couch, where Steve had left his sketchpad.
She'd always thought that his being an art student before the war was just a fabrication for the comic. And yet, the pencil drawing on the lined notebook paper nearly took her breath away. It was her, shoulders and up, without the goggles or the motor oil and grease and the messy hair. A small smile quirked the drawing's lips. Her eyebrows were arched slightly, in a teasing sort of way. Good god, he'd even managed to catch that slight dimple that so many men (and a few women) found endearing. Her chin was raised and her eyelids half-lowered. It was like looking at a photograph. And she knew Steve wasn't copying a photograph. It was both flattering, and yet it made her insides squirm like a bag of live snakes. She picked up the notepad and flipped through it. Steve had certainly managed to draw their other housemates - and even a few cartoony sketches of Fury looking angry as usual - but she counted more Tony pictures than any others.
She heard the door open behind her, and Steve called, "Tony?"
She dropped the notepad almost guiltily and turned to face him. She couldn't seem to figure out what to do with her hands. "Um. Hey."
Steve's eyes flicked down to the notepad and back up to her face. Goddammit, she was blushing. "Were you...?"
"Just curious. You're really talented. I mean, seriously. You could do, like, commissions and things like that. Ever consider it? It'd probably pay more than this gig, it's like working for the Feds, really. I know they have a budget to keep and all, but it's like, where is all of that tax money going, so I totally wouldn't blame you if you tried to make a little extra green on the side." Babbling. She was babbling. Oh god someone stop her now.
Steve's ears turned bright red. "You really think so?"
Tony shut her mouth and nodded.
Steve's lips quirked upward in a shy little smile. "Thanks. That... that really means a lot to me."
Oh god not that smile again. Tony forced herself to look at anything, anything other than that smile. Her eyes landed on the tray Steve had brought down. "Whatcha bring me?" she asked, as brightly as she could manage.
"Just some soup and crackers. Thor's trying to make poptarts in the microwave."
Well, that was a mood-killer. "Oh, damn it. Don't tell me I'll have to fix the microwave again."
Steve shrugged, grinning sardonically. "Sorry?"
"Just gimme my lunch so I can take out my anger on something inanimate," she groused, and Steve actually laughed at her.
The bastard. Couldn't he see what that stupid laugh was doing to her?
The next day, Tony went out. She had finished her upgrades the night before, and she realized that she kind of missed the sun, so she grabbed Happy and let JARVIS know she was going out on a shopping trip. Half of her was screaming for her not to go, because it would mean missing out on some Steve time.
That half needed to be drowned in something, preferably a nice wine or a winter lager. She wasn't picky, really. Anything to shut the resurfacing Captain America fangirl up.
She didn't duck into one of her favorite bars or anything, though. She just slipped on her hat, sunglasses, and scarf, turned up her coat's collar, and sent Happy to go watch some important game in a sports bar. She didn't want to be Tony Stark, genius billionaire philanthropist with a suit of powered armor. She just wanted to blend in with the crowd for once. It was nice to be able to do so once in a while.
She was only intending to window shop, really. It certainly had nothing to do with the fact that the holidays were rapidly approaching and she had no idea what to do about it. Her eyes slid from one display to the next, noting the ridiculous fashions of the season (good god, didn't anyone realize that the 90's were better off not being repeated?!) when a bright sign caught her eye.
"NEED HELP SHOPPING FOR THE ARTIST IN YOUR FAMILY THIS HOLIDAY? DICK BLICK'S HOLIDAY BLOWOUT SALE!"
Tony bit her lip. Steve carried that notebook everywhere he went, but it wasn't really drawing paper. It was thin and flimsy, and too smooth. The graphite smeared too easily, and you could see imprints on the paper further back. Plus, it was practically see-through.
Without a second thought, she stepped into the store and promptly realized she was out of her element. She did all of her sketching digitally, with holigrams and programs and computers. How was she supposed to know what weight of the paper would work? How was she supposed to know whether or not to get HB or 2H or 2B pencils? What brand was good, and which ones were crap that students bought to keep under budget? The store was huge. How could one store have so many different kinds of paper? Tony felt as if her head was going to explode. In the end, a heavily-pierced salesperson took pity on her and led her around the place, helping her choose a pencil set and a decent sketchpad that Tony knew Steve would feel comfortable accepting. Tony allowed herself to be slightly surprised at how much everything cost, but then again it made sense - what with how poor art students tended to appear. She wondered how Steve had managed, going to school in the aftermath of the Great Depression. Couldn't have been easy... maybe that was why he hadn't bothered to go out and get himself something nicer. It kind of made her sad to think of how Steve was used to nothing but the bare minimum - his family hadn't been well-off by any account, and living in the army wasn't exactly a picnic. With her credit card (figuratively) lighter, and weighed down by a surprisingly heavy bag, Tony headed back to her car.
Steve was speechless when he found the new supplies sitting in his usual spot on the couch in the lab. He looked up at Tony, who was doing her best impression of an unassuming busy person at work. "Um, Tony?"
Steve picked up the drawing pad in one hand and the pencils in the other, turning them over and examining them as if he couldn't believe they were real. "Where did this come from?"
"Some store downtown. Called Blick's. I never knew those stores could be so huge, I mean there were like, eighty different kinds of paper in there, some specifically for watercolor and for pastels and it was crazy. I nearly got lost, like, twice."
Steve was next to her now, still clutching the drawing pad. "You bought this for me?"
Tony met his eye and felt her cheeks burn. "You were running low on paper," she answered.
They stared at each other in perfect silence for a stretch of time that was neither comfortable nor uncomfortable. And then JARVIS spoke up.
"Miss? Captain? There is a situation that requires the Avengers' presence immediately."
They jerked apart, and Tony realized she was breathing entirely too heavily. She absentmindedly raised a hand to the arc reactor. "JARVIS, prepare the suit."
"At once, Miss."
Steve was already headed out. He still had the sketchpad with him. Tony watched him go, wondering if she'd done right. She quickly dismissed it from her mind and made for the bay where she'd assemble her suit. Before she could get there, though, Steve poked his head back into the lab and called her name.
She looked up again.
"Um..." he flashed that brilliant smile at her again. "Thank you."
And she couldn't help it. She smiled back at him.
Slowly, they started to fall in love.