Tony has noticed a trend, lately.
He can’t really talk about it with Steve or with the other Avengers because… well, because Steve would smile at him and tell him he’s being paranoid, and because the others would just make fun of him. And it’s not like he can afford that, especially not after the whole fishing incident with Namor.
A month has gone by and everyone still goes on about how he resorted to cheating in a stupid fishing contest against Luke Cage. It wouldn’t be that bad, really, if not for Peter’s frequent snide comments and the memory of Steve’s frowning and vaguely disappointed face.
As if he can talk. The man is freaking Captain America, he could probably talk the fish into jumping out of the water straight into his arms, glad to die for the cause of Cap’s patriotic deep fry. Really.
It’s not that Tony’s particularly angry about it, it’s just that things have been going wrong for him in the last few weeks. Which brings him back to this trend he’s noticed…
Tony’s recent bad luck and general uselessness seems to have spilled over into Iron Man’s life as well. It’s nothing really definite, it’s just a feeling he has, and that’s why he’s mostly against talking about it with Steve.
All those stories about Steve having no real superpowers must be wrong, because he seems to have an uncanny ability to show up when he’s needed. He smiles at Tony, entering the kitchen. He’s wearing his jogging suit and has a towel around his shoulders. His hair is sticking up in every which way.
“Hey,” Steve greets him, ruffling Tony’s hair and then bending down to look at the files he has open on the table in front of him. With Steve this close Tony can smell the sweat on his skin, and the arm that settles on his left shoulder is big and very warm. “Work?” Steve asks.
Having Steve so close around him does strange things to Tony, like his mind going completely blank, and for a moment, he honestly can’t think of an answer. “Uh, budget,” he says, vaguely. There are numbers written on the pages, so that’s probably the safest bet. “You went jogging?” Tony asks. His intelligence taking sudden abysmal plunges is another effect of Steve’s closeness.
Steve draws back. “Yeah,” he says, an amused smile widening on his lips. “You’re particularly observant this morning, I have to say.”
Tony rubs his eyes with a sigh. “Shut up,” he mutters. “I’ve been up all night, and I’ve only had four cups of coffee.”
“You work too much. You should give yourself some time off,” Steve says, sitting in front of him and laying out his breakfast as Tony stares at him dubiously. He can’t quite fathom where he puts all the stuff he manages to eat in one day.
Tony’s seen the Hulk eat, and Steve is nowhere near his standards of course, but he can hold his own. Well, there is the fact that when Steve isn’t clobbering villains, he spends most of his time either drawing or in the gym, so Tony guesses that he needs lots of food to replenish his energy.
Why he insists on bench-pressing four times his own weight every day for hours on end, though, escapes Tony’s comprehension. It’s not like he’s going to lose all of his strength or his muscle mass if he skips over a lifting session to go grab something to eat with Tony.
It’s actually quite impressive to watch Steve as he goes through his exercises. Especially weight lifting… Tony could spend hours watching his arms flex and relax. He has in fact. The camera in the gym is not just for security reasons.
Steve’s arms are really a work of art. Michelangelo would have wept at such a sight. Steve’s chest is nice too. Very, very nice in fact. And his shoulders, wide and solid. His hands, too.
It takes Tony a while to realize he’s staring, and that Steve’s been talking for quite some time. To him, probably. Fortunately, Steve’s attention is devoted to spreading just the right quantity of peanut butter on his toast. It’s actually quite fascinating. They come out looking all the same, as if Steve was some kind of industrial buttering machine.
He blinks. Okay, he’s been up almost forty-eight hours now. He needs sleep.
“What?” he asks, when he realizes that Steve has asked him a question.
“I said,” Steve repeats, raising his eyes from his homologated toast, “I was wondering if you’re still on for that thing at four?”
Tony frowns, trying to recall what this ‘thing’ might be exactly. Oh, right. Steve founded a new dog shelter administrated by the kids of an orphanage in Brooklyn – really, orphans and puppies? Sometimes Tony has to wonder if Cap is real at all – and he’s been invited to the opening.
“Uh,” he says. “Sure.”
Because you don’t say no to Captain America, orphans and puppies, even if you haven’t slept in two days.
Steve gives him a bright grin, and Tony forgets all about being tired. “Great!”
“You want me as Iron Man or Tony Stark?” he asks.
“I’m going as Captain America, so…” he shrugs.
“Then Shellhead will gladly accompany you,” Tony replies, then he jokingly adds, “I’ll try not to fall asleep this time.”
Of course, he falls asleep right in time for Steve’s speech.
Spider-Man assures him that it was a really inspiring speech. “I may have shed a tear or two,” he says, with the least believable tone of voice possible.
Tony catches up with Steve at the buffet table. “Cap,” he says, when the seemingly endless flow of children swarming round him has somewhat calmed down.
Steve turns to him. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry I fell asleep,” he says, bowing his head. “I know I said I wouldn’t, but I haven’t slept in two days and…”
Steve raises a hand to stop him. “It’s alright, Tony. No big deal,” he says, but his eyes tell a different story. As soon as he’s said that, he turns back to the buffet and ignores Tony for the rest of the day.
At least he wasn’t kidnapped by Nazis this time.
After that, things certainly do not improve.
Tony’s in Los Angeles, trying to placate the West Coast branch of Stark International about the latest plunge SI stocks have taken, following the lightning storm caused the previous week by Storm and Thor’s combined forces. There was a brief black-out, no more than ten minutes really, but half of Los Angeles panicked, and since he’s the wallet behind the Avengers, any economic repercussions fall entirely on his shoulders.
It’s taken him two full days to convince the City Council that they don’t need to sue the Avengers, and that a ten minute black-out is always preferable to a three-stories-tall super villain stomping down Sunset Boulevard.
Now, he has to do the hard part and convince the SI board of the same thing.
Of course, that’s when the Avengers Signal starts beeping.
He stares at it for a long moment, then he sighs and starts putting on his armor. Pepper is going to be very angry with him.
As he flies back towards New York, he makes a mental note to buy her some new shoes. She likes shoes and they will probably keep her from taking her revenge in the form of his calendar suddenly getting filled with endless and inane meetings.
“I’m here,” he says, as soon as he touches down next to Giant Girl, who has shrunken down to human proportions. He looks around spotting that Cap, Hulk and Spidey are standing close to a rather dazed and battered-looking man, dressed in the most nightmare-inducing color combination he’s ever seen. He doesn’t recognize him, though, so he must be a new super villain.
There are visible signs that a fight has taken place. There are some fallen trees, an over-turned bench and there is a big Giant-Girl-sized handprint a few feet from him. A small crowd has formed around the area.
“What did I miss?” he asks.
Giant Girl shrugs. “Oh, not much.”
“Except that thing Cap did with the lamppost!” Peter exclaims, walking up to them. “Now, that was awesome. I’m not an expert, but I think he defied at least three laws of physics with that one.”
Hulk and Steve join them as well, as soon as the cops arrive to take care of the villain. Steve scratches the back of his head with an embarrassed smile. “Well, it would've been useless if you and Hulk hadn't done that thing with the tree,” he says. “That was some creative use of surroundings.”
“Did you see his face when he got hit by that flying bench?” Giant Girl exclaims, laughing. “I wish I had a camera!”
“Actually, I had one.” Peter responds, fishing it out to show them the photos he took of the fight.
Tony blinks. “I’ll, um…” he clears his voice. “I’ll just head back to LA, then.”
“Bye!” Jan exclaims, waving at him.
“Talk to you later?” Steve asks, but his attention is soon reclaimed by Peter’s camera.
“Sure,” Tony replies.
“And you just put it on self-time and come out with these kinds of photos?” he hears Steve asking Peter as he’s flying away. “They’re great!”
When he finally makes it back, the Board isn’t impressed at all and Pepper wants three pairs of shoes and an entire new set of suits.
In the end, he has to push back the new upgrades he wanted to do on the Iron Man armor for another month.
In hindsight, he really shouldn’t have done that.
Because if he’d had that EMP shield that was included in the upgrades, he wouldn’t be trapped inside his armor, useless and defenseless and getting beaten up on by the new super villain of the week…
He calls himself The Dominator, and rather loudly too. He goes around in a metal exoskeleton that’s as big as the Hulk, and he refers to himself in the third person. Tony can’t do anything as he grabs one of his ankles and starts bashing him repeatedly on the ground. The suit is mostly holding for now, but he’s going to sport some nasty bruises in the morning.
“The Dominator has incapacitated you! Not so invincible now, are you?” The Dominator exclaims, with a mad cackle. “Invincible Iron Man, hah!”
Really. At least Doom has some class.
The hand holding him suddenly lets go and his suit HID comes back online, rebooting the system.
“What is happening?” The Dominator exclaims with a puzzled shout, and then the massive exoskeleton takes a staggering step back and keels over.
Tony stands up and flies on top of it. A blast from his repulsors makes small work of The Dominator’s metal armor and he extracts the actual human being piloting it. Why is it that the bigger the robot, the smaller and geekier the person inside it?
The small, mouse-like man raises his hand. “I mean no harm!” he shouts at the top of his lungs. “Please don’t hurt me!”
Tony just makes sure he has a tight grip on his collar. “Really,” he says. His ribs are hurting like crazy.
Ten minutes later, The Dominator, handcuffs around his wrists, gets taken away by two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.
Spidey reaches Tony’s side and slaps his iron-clad shoulder. “By the way,” he says. “Great job, Iron Man.”
“Thank you,” Tony replies automatically, then he frowns and turns to him. “Uh, what for?”
Ant-Man reaches them; he has cables in his hands. “If you hadn't distracted him by letting him beat you up we would have never been able to disable the device,” he replies, then he shakes his head with a disapproving frown. “His suit was powered remotely. I only had to pull the plug.”
“Uh, sure,” Tony replies. “No problem.”
His ribs really hurt.
His ribs are still hurting two days later, so he decides to skip the scheduled sparring practice with Steve and actually do some work. When he announces this to Pepper she almost faints in shock.
She recovers in a moment, though, and soon enough he’s submerged behind three piles of files as tall as him, and apparently he needs to read them all and then sign them. And to think he gave up his weekly fix of Steve Rogers’ muscles for this. For a moment he’s seriously debating whether they’re actually worth the fierce pain he experiences every time he does anything more exerting than breathing.
“I thought I hired you so I wouldn’t have to sign all this stuff,” he tells Pepper, when she puts the last folder on top of a pile.
“Have you seen Gucci’s new line?” she asks, smiling candidly.
“Are you sure this is everything?”
She nods. “Oh, and Mr. Spencer keeps calling for that contract.”
“Just keep not giving it to him,” he replies. “My security measures are the best on the market.”
Steve arrives when Tony’s more or less halfway through. He’s not a very happy Cap.
“Hey, Steve,” Tony greets him with a smile.
“We have practice,” Steve replies, with a stern frown. His arms are crossed over his chest. They look very impressive, but then, they always do. His chest, too.
“No, we don’t,” Tony corrects him. “I cancelled it, because I have work to do,” he points at the stacks he still has to go through as if to demonstrate the point. “I’ll see you next week.”
He’s about to sign yet another project, when a big hand grabs his wrist and pins it down on the table. Tony most assuredly doesn’t make any kind of noise, nor emits a small yelp that has nothing to do with pain.
“Last time I checked, sparring practice took two people,” Steve says, his frown deepening. “And don’t use work as an excuse to slack off.”
Tony gives him a long look. “It’s work, Steve,” he says slowly, as if explaining an incredibly complicated concept. “It’s the complete opposite of slacking off.”
Steve, of course, ignores him but he lets go of his wrist. “I’ll see you down in the gym,” he says, going to the door. “You have fifteen minutes.”
Tony sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose.
He’s almost to the door when he realizes that he’s in fact going to spar with Steve. Clearly, Cap’s arms have a much higher priority than recovering injuries.
He’s proven wrong about thirty minutes later when Steve tackles him to the ground and the pain in his side spikes to unbearable heights, and then everything blacks out.
When he comes to, he’s lying on the floor of the gym, and the first thing he sees is the blurry face of Captain America looking down at him with a disapproving frown. Tony blinks and Steve’s features become more sharply defined.
“Hey,” he groans, attempting to sit up. But Steve’s hand is pinning him down to the floor and there’s no way Tony is going anywhere.
“I called Thor,” he tells him. “You should have told me you were this badly hurt. I would have cancelled the sparring practice.”
Tony snorts. “Well, I did cancel it,” he says. “But somebody decided I was slacking off.”
“I thought you were!” Steve exclaims, accusingly. “You should tell me these things, Tony.”
Tony sighs, and his ribs twinge in protest. “Look,” he says after a moment. “It’s been a long week.”
“You should have told me,” Steve repeats.
“Yes, I should have,” Tony admits. “Please, don’t be angry at me.”
“I’m not,” Steve says, but his face tells a whole different story.
Tony sighs. And he even passed out before he could fully appreciated Steve falling on top of him, tackling him to the ground.
Life is really unfair lately, Tony decides.
Steve doesn’t let him forget.
Two days later Tony replies promptly to an Avengers call, and for once it looks like he has some chance of making a difference in the fight. As they’re all walking to the Quinjet, though, Tony’s way is blocked by Steve’s arm.
“You’re not coming,” Steve says, in his best Captain America tone.
“What?” Tony exclaims. “Why?”
“You’re still recovering,” Steve replies.
“I can fight!” he protests.
“You’re sitting this one out, Iron Man,” Steve says, shaking his head.
“You can’t bench me!”
“Actually,” Peter helpfully supplies, “he can. He’s the boss around here.”
“See ya, bub.” Wolverine smirks, giving him a small wave. “We’ll give you a call to tell you when to put the kettle on.”
“Cap!” Tony exclaims, but Steve is already getting on the Quinjet.
The last one to leave is Thor, turning to Tony with a worried frown. “Guard your health, my friend,” he says in that booming voice of his. “And keep your ribs taped.”
And so, Tony is left on top of Stark Tower, staring as the Quinjet disappears on the horizon.
His life is going to hell on the business side of things, too.
Ever since his identity as Iron Man became public, Tony’s been kissing up to his shareholders. While being an Avenger means that he gets to look good in public and that the media have started referring to him more and more as the Iron Avenger, instead of ‘that rich playboy’, it also means that Stark International’s stocks take sudden plunges whenever the Hulk or Giant Girl get a little too excited in the name of justice and, ya know, stopping super villains from destroying New York.
On several occasions, Hulk has done more damage than any super villain ever could.
Like last week, when he tossed a giant evil robot right through the building that was supposed to host two shopping centers, several floors of stylish restaurants and the new Bulgari hotel. The Bulgari people weren’t really happy at the news, no matter how much Tony stressed the giant evil robot part.
And property destruction means that the Stark International shareholders get restless, nothing new there.
What’s new is the man in front of him, hand stretched towards him in what’s supposed to be a friendly gesture. His smile has nothing to do with friendly, though. It looks as if a shark suddenly got the urge to grin.
“No introductions are necessary, I suppose,” the man says.
“No, we met once,” Tony replies. “And anyway, everybody knows who Obadiah Stane is.”
It may be a sign of weakness on his part, but Tony doesn’t shake that hand.
“I’m not sorry, you know.” Steve says finally, the first to break the silence.
Tony mentally congratulates himself for holding out as long as he has, but it doesn’t taste much like winning.
They’ve been sitting at the table in silence for the last twenty minutes, Hank and Jan having fled after only five minutes. He can’t really blame them; he wouldn’t want to get between Steve and himself during a fight, either.
Although ‘fight’ is not the correct word. It’s more of a two-way silent treatment.
“Tony,” Steve says, his voice tense.
Tony scratches behind his ear and scrolls down the .pdf he’s reading on his laptop, his attention fully devoted to it. Not that reducing the power drainage to make the new line of Stark International vacuum cleaners even more eco-friendly is so interesting as to warrant his full attention, but this way he can get away with resenting Steve while at the same time giving off the impression of being a very professional and busy man.
“Tony, are you listening to me?” Steve continues.
He gives a long sigh. “What is it?” he asks, finally acknowledging Steve. “I’m busy.”
“I’m not gonna apologize for benching you,” he says. “You were injured, and-”
He waves Steve’s excuses away. “I would have been a liability to the team,” he says, trying to keep the slightly bewildered hurt he’d felt when they left him stranded from seeping into his voice. “Sure, whatever.”
“That’s not true, Tony,” Steve says, frowning, “and you know it.”
Tony just nods absently, humming a vague sound of agreement, his eyes fixing once again on the screen of his laptop.
“Pay attention when I’m talking to you!” Steve exclaims, leaning over and snapping the screen shut.
“Hey!” Tony yells, giving a little jump in surprise. “Thank you for throwing in the trash all the work I did until now!”
Steve just gives him an unimpressed look. “You lost nothing of your important work,” he deadpans. “It’s just in stand-by.”
Really, this was way more fun when you could get Steve to actually believe anything you wanted regarding computers. There was this one time when Peter convinced Steve that while you were looking at the computer screen, the screen would be looking back at you.
That was a funny week.
Until Cap found out, and then it wasn’t funny for anyone, except maybe Steve, who kept smiling sadistically as the rest of the Avengers struggled through an impossible training roster.
Now Steve is mostly up to date with modern day technology and of course it goes without saying that Captain America is as good at computers as he is in everything else.
“You may be the military expert of this operation,” Tony says, glaring at him. “but I’m the business expert, and when I say I have work to do, it means I have work to do.”
Steve returns the glare. “Fine.”
Peter enters the kitchen right at that moment. “Hey guys, do you know where all of the…” he trails off when he notices that both of them are glaring at him now. “Never mind!” he exclaims in a shrill voice, beating a hasty retreat.
“No, don’t go in there, Hulk.” they hear him clearly from the living room. “Mom and dad are still fighting.”
“But Hulk wants his snack!”
Tony has recovered, and Steve has put him back on the active roster by the time the next threat comes. He puts on the armor as fast as he can, glad he’s finally got the chance to relieve some of the tension that’s been building up in him for the past few weeks. He won’t really say that he’s glad a super villain is attacking New York City, but he really can use the action.
He and Steve haven’t really been talking to each other. Tony knows he’s being childish, and that in the end Steve is right and that giving his injuries the necessary time to heal was a good call, but he really can’t help but act this way. Every day that goes by he feels more and more useless, and sitting on his hands for two weeks certainly hasn’t helped.
He’s Iron Man, he’s an Avenger, and he’s got a fancy metal suit of armor. He shouldn’t feel useless.
“I’m here!” he says, touching down next to Wolverine.
Logan waves a hand at him in a dismissing way. “Hulk took care of it,” he says, pointing at the Hulk who is in fact sitting on their super villain.
Spider-Man shrugs. “You know how he is,” he says. “A week without significant action and he needs to stretch his legs.”
Tony’s been trying to literally make ends meet for the past few weeks. He has some serious cash coming in from a couple of volunteer organizations, but when they first formed the Avengers, they decided to put that kind of money into reconstruction projects, and only using Tony’s own budget for their supplies and relative upgrades.
But the Quinjet is running low on fuel and they really can’t afford to go dry, should they need to space travel in the foreseeable future. The Fantastic Four called earlier and told him that they intend to go on holiday next month and can the Avengers please keep an eye on things?
So Tony is pretty sure the Avengers will have to get ready for an intergalactic diplomatic incident that could completely destroy the Earth, because that’s what usually happens when the Fantastic Four decide to go on holiday and leave everything in their hands.
Tony’s so focused on fixing the budget that he doesn’t notice Peter leaving, and that the DVD he and Steve have been watching for the last hour and half has ended.
It takes him even more time to realize Steve is now talking to him. He nods absently, saying ‘fine’ and ‘sure’ in all the right places. If there’s one thing he’s learned from all of his relationships, is how to participate to conversations without actually listening.
So he just nods all the way through Steve’s words, and then Steve beams at him. “Great!” he says. “I’ll see you there.”
Tony nods numbly. Maybe he should have listened, but Stark Tower has cameras everywhere. Well, except in the bedrooms and the bathrooms, of course.
He’ll only have to replay this conversation and see what he’s just agreed to.
Hopefully it won’t involve children. Tony has nothing against children, but they’re usually accompanied by their mothers who do not hesitate to close around Cap with the pretense of getting autographs for their kids.
It’s not like Tony needs the reminder that he has no right in feeling jealous about something that isn’t his.
That evening, Tony puts on his best suit, practices his flirtiest smile in the mirror and takes the sweetest car he has, preparing himself for a long night of cruising for funds.
It’s the first of several charity auctions he – and by that he means Pepper – has scheduled during the week. Charity auctions are the best options if you want to raise some funds for a group of super heroes since they’re packed with rich people who are willing to lighten their wallets to get some good karma and good publicity while they’re at it.
He’s smiling at the obnoxious – really sexy, sure, but also obnoxious – lady in front of him who’s talking about the weekend she’s spent in Montecarlo and how common the place has become, when he raises his eyes and meets familiar ones on the other side of the room.
His smile becomes a real one, much wider, and he excuses himself to reach Steve’s side. Steve looks too good to be true most of the time, but the first time Tony saw Steve in his US Army uniform he had to hide in a broom closet and have a private moment with himself.
“Hey,” he says, grinning up at him. “Fancy meeting you here.”
Steve rolls his eyes, but when he replies his eyes are shining with mirth. “Actually, sir,” he says with a very solemn tone of voice. “I’m meeting a friend.”
“Oh. Really?” he asks. So Steve came here with someone else. “Who is it?” he asks, and then it occurs to him that he might have meant a date. He tries to keep the disappointment out of his voice when he elbows Steve and leans in conspiratorially. “Is it a lady friend?”
Steve frowns down at him. “You aren’t joking,” he says, his eyes widening in realization.
Realization of what, Tony isn’t quite sure. “What?” he asks, blinking in confusion.
Steve shakes his head with a sigh. “I told you this morning.”
He frowns. Steve told him a lot of things that morning, most of which he didn’t hear. And he forgot to watch the recording. “Told me what?”
“That I’d be here and asked if you were coming, too.” Steve replies. “And you said yes,” he adds after a moment, as if Tony hadn’t figured that part out by himself. The fact that he manages to sound only slightly hurt and not accusing at all, makes Tony feel like even more of a bastard.
“Yeah. ‘Ah’,” Steve sighs. “Obviously, you had other things on your mind.”
“It’s okay,” Steve says, raising his hands in a dismissive gesture. “You are a busy man, Tony. I get it. It’s alright,” but he’s already looking away.
Steve smashes though yet another robot and then turns towards him. “Iron Man!” he yells. “You said you could stop the ignition sequence!”
Right, put even more pressure on the guy who has to stop the countdown before the missile can leave American soil and fly over the Pacific Ocean to destroy a factory in Japan.
“I’m trying!” he yells back. “He’s a bad guy, but he has passwords too, ya know?”
When the Avengers broke into the bad guy’s secret base, he went off on a tangent with a long monologue dispersed with mad laughter and dramatic poses like all super villains tend to do at some point, but Tony still isn’t quite sure what his final purpose was. He understood that a weird obsession with Hello Kitty fitted into it somehow, but that’s all he managed to understand before Cap knocked the guy out with his shield.
That was, of course, when the robots appeared. Countless robots. Shaped as giant Hello Kittys. Disturbing doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Another wave of robots starts coming out of the hangars. How many of those did the guy have, anyway? For now, Cap, Spider-Man, Wolverine and the Hulk are managing to keep them at bay, fanning out in front of Tony to give him all the space he needs to work at deactivating the countdown from the main consol.
“Iron Man!” Steve yells again.
“I just need more time!”
“We don’t have more time!” Logan grunts, running to Tony’s side.
His claws slice through the consol effortlessly as if it were made of butter. A shower of sparks erupts from the electronics. “There!” Wolverine exclaims with a satisfied smirk, hands on his hips.
“Are you insane?!” Tony cries out.
“Did he stop it?” Steve asks, looking at the destroyed consol, hopefully.
“Of course he didn’t!” Tony exclaims, sliding on the ground to see if he can salvage some of the circuitry. “Smashing things to bits is not always the best course of action, especially when technology is involved.”
“Works with my TV,” Wolverine says.
After a moment, Tony emerges from under the consol. “No use,” he tells Steve. “The sequence is still going, but it can’t be interrupted remotely thanks to Logan.”
Behind them, the Hulk and Spider-Man are smashing the last robots to bits. In front of him, Steve looks at him intently. “And that means…” he prompts.
“I’ve got to stop it on site.”
They rush to the launching pad, but the decreasing numbers Tony’s keeping track of, thanks to his suit’s internal computer, are getting too close to zero for his comfort. “No use,” he says, turning to Steve. “We have no time!”
“Tony, what are you-”
Before Steve can finish the sentence, Tony has already taken a hold of the missile. “I’ll just fly it to where it won’t do much harm.”
“Tony!” Steve exclaims, grabbing his shoulder.
“Isn't that a little too Dr. Strangelove?” he hears Spider-Man ask.
“I can’t let you do that.” Steve says, giving him a stern glance.
“There’s not time, Steve.” Tony says. “I have to fly it out of here or—”
Under him the missile moves seemingly on its own, startling Tony. He lets go of it and stumbles back, colliding into Steve and they both fall to the ground. In front of them, Hulk has grabbed the missile with one of his massive hands and jumps down from the launching pad. He smashes through the wall of the hangar, and once outside he angles his body much like an Olympic athlete preparing for a javelin throw.
The missile travels through the air and disappears behind some far away hills.
A few seconds later, there’s a loud explosion, the ground shakes like an earthquake, and a cloud of smoke rises up in the horizon.
“Or, you could do that,” Tony says.
“Well, that was rather anti-climatic,” Spider-Man comments.
Hulk just claps his hands together, a huge grin breaking out on his face. “Hulk likes darts!”
To make it up to Steve for the whole charity auction fiasco, Tony invites him to his next one. Of course, he has a secondary, more selfish, purpose. He may not be needing private time in the broom closet now that he’s gotten used to Cap’s current appearance, but the thrill of seeing the man in his uniform is never going to completely disappear.
Steve, though, has worn that frown for quite a few hours now. “What is it?” Tony finally asks with a sigh.
“Nothing,” Steve says, but it’s said too quickly to be true.
Tony gives him a long look. “Steve.”
“It’s just…” Steve starts, trailing off a moment later.
Steve only half manages to suppress a smile. He sobers at once, though. “The other day,” he says. “With the missile…”
“That whole Hello Kitty insanity, you mean?”
Steve nods. “I think we need to talk.”
Tony frowns, taking a sip from his flute of champagne and sweeping his gaze around the room. “What about?”
“About acceptable risks, and-”
Tony almost chokes on his drink when he registers what his eyes have just seen. He pushes the champagne into Steve’s hands. “Keep this for me, would you?” he says. “I’ll be back in a second.”
He only has to stop Obadiah Stane from seducing his Board away…
When he goes back an hour later to find Steve, he’s gone.
Steve avoids him all week, and when the appointed day for sparring practice comes up, Tony shows up in the gym, half-expecting to find it empty, but is surprised when he sees Steve there waiting for him.
But not even his amazing arms and his glorious chest can do anything to repair the rift that seems to have opened between the two of them. Also, he’s vicious to Tony.
Steve should really work on his passive-aggressiveness.
As he’s flying through the air, or rather is being thrown through the air, before he lands on the gym mat, he wonders if he’s done something really bad in a past life and the universe is taking its revenge.
He blinks up at the ceiling trying to gather back his breath and as much of his dignity as he can, and he asks himself if there is ever going to be an end to this ceaseless streak of bad luck he seems to have run into lately.
He tells himself it can’t get much worse than this, really.
Tony stares down at his fries. When Steve suggested they go get a burger he was glad to accept, eager to remedy whatever’s been going wrong with their friendship lately. But now that they’re actually here, sitting together on a park bench- in their civilian clothes for a change- his appetite seems to be gone. He pokes dubiously at his cheeseburger.
“You said you were free,” Steve says, turning to him with a frown. “And that you were up for a burger.”
Tony takes a deep breath. “I know, Cap.” he shrugs. “It’s just… I’m not really hungry right now.”
Steve gives him a long look and then he sets down his burger. “Tony,” he says with a long suffering sigh. “What is it?”
“I’m sorry, okay?” Tony says, abruptly. “I’m sorry I left you by yourself when I invited you in the first place.”
“It’s alright Tony, I told you,” Steve says. “Pepper explained it to me. You’re busy. You have many responsibilities, both as an Avenger and as the CEO of your company. I understand if you can’t spend time with me.”
“Sure,” Tony nods and he tries to think of something to say, anything at all really, so that they can fill the uncomfortable silences that seem to have begun to fill the empty spaces left behind by what used to be long discussions about this and that. But the moment’s soon gone, and they’re left with yet another conversation that has ended before it could start.
Tony eats his cheeseburger, but it doesn’t sit well with him and he feels vaguely nauseous for the rest of the day.
The universe proves him wrong, of course, and it turns out that things can indeed get much worse.
Especially if the big, green and angry alter ego of Bruce Banner is involved.
The Hulk is really angry, even by his standards, and by the time the Avengers discovered that it has to do with a kind of new perfume that’s been launched onto the market last week, he’d already rampaged through half the city.
So, while Hank has been saddled with the task of finding an antidote, or at least a tranquilizer strong enough to work on the Hulk, Tony, Thor and Wolverine have been appointed to containment duty.
And then Hulk grabbed him by his ankle and threw him with all of his strength, which is a lot of strength, actually.
That happened two hours ago, and since then Tony has been trudging through what looks like a desert because after such a fall, the armor is too damaged to function properly.
He has no idea where the Hulk has thrown him, but at the moment he’s just glad he hadn’t landed in a lake, or the ocean. With no power, he would have drowned.
His radio is dead and he fervently hopes the GPS in his suit is still working so that the Avengers can come and rescue him. Assuming they’ve managed to stop the Hulk, of course.
His left side hurts like hell, and his ribs probably need taping again.
And it’s only Monday.
Steve stares at him. “Come again?”
“I’m quitting the Avengers.” Tony repeats. “I’ll still be funding them and providing all the tech you may need, but I’m-”
“No,” Steve says, cutting him off. “Absolutely not.”
“Steve-” he tries, but he gets silenced by a dark glare.
“I’d like to hear the reason why.”
Tony pinches the bridge of his nose and looks sideways. “I have no powers, Steve. No special abilities,” he says. “All I have is a fancy metal suit, but lately I’ve been spending more time repairing it than wearing it. And frankly, if you take my armor away I’m not really anything, much less an Avenger.”
Steve grabs his right wrist, forcing Tony’s eyes back on him. “You don’t need powers to be an Avenger, Tony.”
“Then tell me of an Avenger with no powers.”
“Well…” Steve trails off, then he smiles triumphantly, pointing at him. “We had Hawkeye. He has no powers.”
Tony rolls his eyes. “Except being superhumanly annoying,” he snorts.
Steve grins. “You’re just sore because your pants got melted at the time.”
“No one says sore anymore, Cap,” Tony sighs. “And I’m never going to hear the end of that, am I?”
“You only have to thank Spider-Man’s fast-as-lightning photo skills,” Steve replies with a grin. Then he seems to remember what they were actually discussing, and his smile falls off.
“Okay, fine,” Tony concedes with a sigh, “I don’t need powers to be an Avenger. But I’m Iron Man. I wear a metal suit of armor. It’s my thing. Can you tell me the last time I was even remotely helpful in a fight, though? And being the designated punching bag doesn’t count.”
Steve sighs. “Tony…”
Tony raises his hands as Steve trails off. “Don’t get me wrong, Steve,” he continues. “I love being an Avenger. I couldn’t imagine my life without it.”
He shrugs. “Recent events show that you can do without me well enough, and that Iron Man has become a liability.”
“That’s not true, Tony,” Steve says, with a disapproving frown.
Okay, Steve still isn’t convinced, but Tony anticipated that. Steve is, after all, possibly the most stubborn person he’s ever known. And that includes his father. Time to take out the ace up his sleeve. “Look,” he says, looking at Steve straight in the eye. “let me put it this way. We’re running low on funds right now, and we have two choices: buying fuel for the Quinjet and supplies for the Avengers, or spend the money on my armor.”
Steve looks taken aback. “I… I didn’t realize it had gotten that bad,” he admits. “I thought…” he adds, but he soon trails off, looking away.
“All those times,” Steve says, with a note of guilt in his voice. “You really were busy.”
“Yes Steve, I was,” Tony nods. “But it doesn’t matter now. And the situation isn’t particularly bad, but you can’t exactly swing by the nearest gas station to fill up the Quinjet. And my armor is custom made, so…”
“Hey, don’t worry,” he says with a small smile. “I’m not quitting for good. I’ll just sit in the sidelines for a while. It’s been a bad two months for Iron Man too,” he shrugs. “I’ll do some PRing, I’m good at that. I’ll raise some cash.”
Steve stares at him for a long time. Then he sighs deeply, his shoulders sagging. “Okay,” he says, running a hand through his hair. “But Tony,” he continues, staring straight into his eyes, “if this becomes a permanent thing, I’d rather have you than the Quinjet.”
Tony nods at him and smiles lightly. “Thanks, Cap.”
That can’t be true though, Tony knows. It would be a bad error in judgment and Captain America doesn’t do that. The Quinjet ensures that the Avengers can get anywhere in the world- and occasionally outside of it- together, and in the shortest time possible.
Iron Man is just a man in a tin can.
“So,” Peter starts, conversationally. “how’s this forced vacation of yours treating you?”
“First of all?” Tony says, pointing at the two laptops and at several folders he has open and spread on the table in front of him, “Not a vacation.”
“Ooookay,” Spider-Man says. Tony has the distinct impression that he might be rolling his eyes under his mask.
“And second,” he continues, vaguely annoyed but not really knowing why, “it wasn’t forced. I chose this by myself.”
Webbing shoots from Spider-Man’s wrist and he gets hold of a cookie. “Whatever.”
Tony observes, slightly disgusted, as Peter lifts his mask and starts munching on his cookie. “Isn’t that…” he frowns. “…dirty?”
“Not really,” Spider-Man replies, shrugging. “And I’m practicing my aim. Watch this,” he says, and then shoots some webbing in the direction of the TV. He hits the power button and the TV turns on.
Tony blinks. “Okay,” he admits. “That’s impressive.”
“Thanks, I know.”
They turn their attention to the TV, where on it Cap and the rest of the Avengers, minus Bruce, are assembled together for a press conference to publicly introduce their latest member. Luke Cage is standing, rather stiffly and uncomfortably, right next to Cap.
They stare at the TV in complete silence. The only sound is Peter eating his cookie.
“Actually…” Tony admits after a few moments. “Vacation sucks.”
Spider-Man makes a vague sound of agreement. “Thought so.”
“It’s just…” Tony sighs. “I miss it, you know? And I hardly get to see you guys at all, lately.”
“And by ‘you guys’ you actually mean Cap, of course,” Peter says, pointing at him.
Tony blinks. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says after a moment, keeping his face carefully blank.
“I swear I don’t know who has a bigger crush on whom!” Peter exclaims, exasperated. “And to think I didn’t see it before GG pointed it out to me!”
“What are you-” Tony stops right in his tracks, when he registers what Peter has just said. “Steve has a crush on me?”
Peter actually gives a small snort of laughter. “Are you blind, man?” he exclaims. “Of course he- Oh. You didn’t- Oh.” He turns sharply to the TV. “Hey, look at that! They’re on TV! Our friends, the Avengers!”
Steve has a crush on him. Steve has a crush on him.
Really, Tony would like nothing more than some time to wrap his mind around the concept, but of course the universe has other plans.
At the press conference, someone starts shouting and the reporters start running in all directions.
“I can’t grow!” Giant Girl exclaims, now about ten feet tall, but she’s bending down as if confined by an invisible force.
Next to her, Luke pushes his hands forward against the air. “It’s like a barrier!”
“Avengers…” Steve starts.
And then the video signal winks out. The transmission goes back to the studio, where a rather confused announcer says that they’ll provide news as soon as possible.
There is a long moment of silence.
“…Huh,” says Peter.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” says Tony.
Like with every other Avengers’ press conference, this one is held in Stark Tower, in the hall that is allocated to various conferences and the biannual Stark International worldwide Board of Directors meeting. All Tony has to do to find out what’s going on is checking out the cameras in that area.
He decides to ignore the small voice at the back of his head that’s telling him that his state of the art security measures should have spotted a threat a long time before anything could have happened.
If these guys, whoever they are, have gotten this far without even raising a blip on the radar, they are either a) very good, or b) Stark International employees.
Frankly, Tony can’t decide which one would be worse.
“Can’t get anything on the cameras,” Tony huffs a frustrated groan, staring at his laptop. “It’s like they isolated the whole floor.”
“How did they manage to get this far in the first place…” Peter trails off, wondering. “Aren’t you like, Mr. Paranoid?”
Tony runs his fingers through his hair. “I don’t know!” he exclaims.
The security measures haven’t worked because they think there’s no threat, and there are too many safeguards for them to actually stop working, so it must be sabotage. But even if that were possible – which Tony still maintains is quite difficult to achieve – he has an excellent security team. He and Rhodey hand-picked them.
“All the security measures are in place. There’s no way that… huh.”
“’Huh’?” Peter echoes him. “What do you mean by ‘huh’? Is that even a good ‘huh’, or is that a bad one?”
Tony just grabs his laptop with one hand and Peter’s wrist with the other. “Come with me,” he says. “I’ve got an idea.”
“You know,” Spider-Man says conversationally, as Tony tugs him down the corridor. “I’m a big boy, and an Avenger to boot. I can walk on my own. And do other things, too.”
“I can’t get into the security logs,” Tony explains, as they make their way down to his bedroom. “And the cameras in the security office don’t work.”
“You have cameras in the security cameras room?” Peter asks. “How does that work? Where are the monitors for those cameras? Is there an infinite loop?” Tony actually stops to give him a long look. “Hey, Spider-Man,” he replies, pointing at himself. “Have you met me?”
“Anyway,” he continues with a shrug. “They’re probably holed up in there, keeping an eye on the situation.”
“Wait, so that means that they’re watching- hey why are we in your bedroom?” Peter exclaims, suddenly realizing their surroundings.
“No cameras in here,” Tony says with a big grin.
Finally he gets the access to the security camera in the security camera room and, as the video feed appears on his laptop screen, he smiles triumphantly. “And there you are, Mr. Spencer!” he says. “Just as I thought.”
“Wait,” Peter says, crouching next to him and staring at the screen. “You know these guys?”
“They came to me to get a contract,” he replies, frowning down at his laptop. “I turned them down.”
“Oooh,” Peter nods. “So, they’re angry at you.”
“Probably. I don’t know,” he shrugs.
“Well, one wonders why you turned them away,” Peter says. “They seem to know what they’re doing.”
“Their firm is called Advanced Idea Security,” he replies. “And the background check I got Pepper to do came out kind of sketchy.”
Spider-Man stares at him. Or Tony assumes he’s staring, it’s quite hard to tell when he’s wearing the mask. “Are you kidding me?” he asks, and when Tony shakes his head no, he sighs deeply. “Really. These bad guys should hire people with an imagination.”
Tony makes a vague sound of agreement. He’s more interested in the small device in his hands right now. He would have made a much better job of it if he could be in his workshop, but there are cameras down there, so it’s off-limits. He can’t risk the bad guys seeing what he’s doing.
Well, to be fair, they probably wouldn’t realize what he’s building, but they would still see that he’s building something.
“There,” Tony exclaims, showing his masterpiece to Peter.
“Great!” Spider-Man exclaims. “That’s- um, what is that?”
“I got the idea from the Vision,” he explains. “It’s a device that will alter our mass and density. It’s small and doesn’t have much juice, so it won’t last long, but it’s going to be just enough for us to get in there and knock these guys out.”
“And you built that with spare parts, a few wires and nail clippers?” Spider-Man asks, sounding impressed. “Man, MacGyver has nothing on you!”
Tony glares at him. “It’s a side project I’ve been working on for a while,” he replies.
“So at night you just like to turn in and curl up with a screwdriver and your mass alterator, then.”
Tony sighs. “Can we please get on with the plan?”
“Sure,” Spider-Man nods. “Operation ‘Save the Avengers with Geekery’ is a go!”
Tony goes to take out his spare armor. It’s not one of the best, but it’s the only one available at the moment, and it’s better than going out there without.
“So, I have a question,” Peter says after a moment. “If we have to be stealthy, how are we gonna make it from here to the security room without being noticed?”
Tony activates the device and grabs Peter’s arm. “The room is directly under us,” he explains. “Twenty floors down, but directly under.”
The look of shock on the faces of the bad guys as an intangible Iron Man and Spider-Man dropped down from the ceiling are still in Tony’s ‘Why Is It Worth Being A Super Hero’ Top Ten.
“All your base are belong to us,” Peter says, as he shoots some webbing.
It takes Tony another hour to disable the force field trapping the Avengers. AIM may be the bad guys – and they make lack creativity – but they still have brilliant minds.
Steve is the first to come up to him. He drops a hand on his shoulder and smiles brightly at him. “Nice work, Iron Man!” he says.
Predictably, after that, everything starts going right once again.
In one week, Tony and the Avengers stop an airplane about to crash down, help with the aftermath of an earthquake in India, and actually manage to predict a second one, which saves countless lives.
All the while, Tony Stark smiles, shakes hands and is once again the golden boy in the high society. Money and funding now flow in from every which way.
As a nice cherry on top of his cake, Stane International’s headquarters gets accidentally crushed when a spaceship crash-lands right on top of it, causing major losses for Obadiah Stane, and his consequent abandoning of ‘Operation Taking Over Stark International’.
Of course, since it’s during the time the Fantastic Four are on holiday, it almost ends up with the complete annihilation of Earth, but they manage to save the day in the end, and Tony can’t really complain.
Steve is staring at him, he can tell. Funny thing, but Tony seems to have suddenly found out that the tabletop is actually quite an interesting thing to behold. You can tell a lot of things, just by examining it. There’s the small, almost invisible burn that was caused by Tony tinkering around with his stuff out of his workshop.
Jarvis wasn’t really impressed with the result, he remembers.
“Tony,” Steve says. “You told me you had something to ask me…?” he trails off, prompting Tony to pick up the conversation.
“Um, yeah,” he answers, not really enthusiastic.
But what is he supposed to say? Trying ‘so, Spider-Man told me you have a crush on me’ followed by his flirtiest grin sounded like a great plan at first, but…
So maybe that’s why he attempts what is possibly the most stupid love-confession of all time. He grabs Steve’s wrists, tugging him forward so that he’s leaning across the table, and then he plants a kiss on his lips.
Or at least that was the intention. In reality, with his eyes closed he kind of misses his lips and ends up kissing the side of Steve’s nose. And kissing is not a good word either, as he misjudges the distance and it ends up as more of a clash of flesh against flesh, and noses and teeth.
When he draws back, Steve is staring at him with the widest set of eyes he’s ever seen on the man.
The urge to commit suicide by headdesking is very, very hard to resist.
“I guess that answers it then!” Tony exclaims rather loudly, as he shoots up from his chair. “See you later! Bye!”
He makes for the door, opting a hasty retreat instead of a devastating defeat.
He’s going to kill Spider-Man. Really, really slowly. Like, mountains will crumble down before he’s finished with him. He shouldn’t have said those things. He put thoughts in Tony’s head, and by now everyone should realize that putting thoughts in Tony’s head isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Especially if it involves Steve and kissing.
“Wait!” Steve exclaims, as he grabs Tony’s wrist and interrupts his run for the door.
Hands on his shoulders turn him around, but Tony is adamant not to meet those eyes. He’s quite sure he won’t see disgust in them, but the thought of seeing pity…
“Tony,” Steve says. “Tony, look at me.”
“It’s alright,” Tony mumbles, pressing his hands against Steve’s chest – god that chest – to push him away. “I made an error in judgment. Just forget it and let’s go back to being friends. Nothing happened.”
“Tony,” Steve repeats, and this time there’s a hand grabbing a hold of his chin and forcing his eyes up. “It’s- I just thought-”
Oh, is all Tony can think. Because Steve’s eyes are still widened in surprise, but it’s the good kind of surprise. It’s the kind of surprise you feel when you find a national hero in a block of ice and it turns out he’s actually alive, and really hot, and also a great person and an even more amazing friend.
That, and Steve’s thumb is slowly stroking the corner of his mouth.
And then Steve says the most absurd thing, under the circumstances. “I just thought you found me boring.”
Tony blinks and stares at him. And stares. And stares.
“I find you very attractive,” Tony says, “and funny, and honest, and occasionally frustrating and annoying, but never boring.” he finishes, stressing the word as if it didn’t even have the right to exist. “What gave you that impression?”
Steve scratches the back of his head, his expression slightly sheepish. “Well,” he says, “whenever I tried to do something together with you, you always acted as if you were forced. Or you fell asleep.”
“Whenever you…” he trails off. “Wait a second! All this time, all the burgers after patrol, and the invitations to Captain America events, and the sparring… Those were dates!” Tony suddenly realizes. “You were courting me?!”
Steve gives him a deadpan look.
“I’m an idiot!” Tony announces. “An idiot!”
Steve’s face breaks into a grin and he shrugs. “I don’t know,” he says. “you’re not that bad.” He takes a step closer. And then another. In fact, they’re so close now that if they leant in just a little they could almost…
The words Tony was about to say end up being murmured against Steve’s lips as they meet his. The tip of a tongue touches his upper lip and Tony opens his mouth obligingly. The kiss turns very interesting in a matter of seconds.
Tony tries to decide what his favorite part is. Maybe it’s Steve’s big hands stroking up and down his back, or Steve’s mouth on his, or Steve’s tongue. God, Steve’s tongue. Tony may or may have not made some embarrassing little sounds when Steve’s tongue joined the scene.
“What were you saying?” Steve asks, drawing back.
“What?” Tony frowns.
“You were about to say something, before we…” he trails off, looking down at Tony’s lips and licking his mouth. His eyes are very, very dark.
“Don’t know,” he says. “Don’t remember. Don’t care. Let’s go back to the kissing.”
Steve chuckles, but he complies readily.
Tony’s favorite part about kissing Steve, he decides, is Steve.