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Tony's on the kitchen counter, spread out on his back across the stovetop, when he hears Steve come through the door. The microwave's gone wrong again; Tony has the sneaking suspicion this is because the Hulk keeps trying to make ramen noodles in the dead of night, though when he tries to get confirmation on this, he's always met with slightly shamed silence. It doesn't really matter anyway--Tony doesn't mind fixing it. It's something to do with his hands that doesn't involve any conscious thought, and after a long day there's nothing quite like mindless mechanics to calm him down.

Pepper tells him some people knit. Tony can't imagine why.

In any case, he's got a screwdriver between his teeth, nuts and bolts scattered in a haphazard pattern that makes complete sense to him, when the sound of the door opening and Steve's heavy sigh filters down the hall. He doesn't stop working--Steve's been around long enough that it won't faze him to see Tony sprawled over the stove--but he does spit the screwdriver out when Steve comes in and starts laughing at him.

"Hey," he says.

"Hey, yourself,” Steve says, sounding tired. “Hulk try to make ramen again?"

"He will neither confirm nor deny," Tony says, which is mostly true; his awkward shuffle and hasty retreat had kind of been answer enough. "How'd it go?"

"Next time you're coming," Steve says. He leans back against the counter, rolling his shoulders. "I don't care where it is, I don't care what you've peed on--"

"Whom," Tony corrects, and gives Steve an apologetic little smile when he winces. "Sorry. It was a really long time ago, if that helps, and it was a really bad night, and, uh, you know what, I'm just gonna quit while I'm ahead. But hey, I've only been banned for life at four--well, six--well, eight places in New York, so the chances of this happening again are slim, that's good news, right?"

"Great news," Steve says. It's only a little dry, so Tony's going to go ahead and count it as a win.

Steve's in uniform; his gloves are off and his hood is down, but the blue fabric's still stretched tight across his chest, white star shining bright in the middle. Tony is used to this by now--Captain America lives with him and sleeps with him, the uniform should probably be old news--but it still makes his mouth go a little dry. He swallows past that, recognizing for once the need for a time and a place, and focuses on Steve's face. It's drawn; he’s pinched around his eyes, his mouth, his shoulders are slumped, and he's frowning in that way he does when he's trying and failing for a neutral expression.

"That bad, huh?"

"Yeah," Steve says, and sighs, running a hand over his face. "Or, no, not really. I just hate these things, you know? I always feel like I'm a cue away from 'every bond you buy is a bullet in the barrel of your best guy's gun!' I'd just…rather not."

"Hey, I would've bought those bonds," Tony says, wriggling his eyebrows halfheartedly, and Steve shakes his head, rolls his eyes.

"Flattering," he says. "Especially since I know how cautious you are with your money."

There's no sting in it, just a little bit of exhaustion seeping through; when Tony reaches out an arm and beckons, Steve comes, lets Tony run a hand along his thigh. He ducks his head down under the microwave and Tony leans in, presses warmth into his mouth because he wants to and he can. He lingers for a minute, right at the corner, until he feels Steve's lips curve up.

"Next time I'll be there," he says, and, shit, it sounds like a promise, he didn't mean that to happen at all. "And I can do all the pandering while you, I don't know, form meaningful connections with nasty old bitches who haven't smiled at anyone in forty years, you've got a knack for that."

"Language," Steve says, but he kisses Tony again, brief but fond, before he straightens up. "God, my head is killing me."

"I thought that was like," Tony waves a hand, sending a few screws flying, "you know, super-solidered out of you.  You should've been able to check some kind of opt-out on that--what's the point in being super-human if you've gotta suffer headaches like the rest of us?"

"High society can give anyone a headache, Tony."

"Truer words," Tony sighs, and frowns up at the bottom of the microwave. "Pretty sure I turned this into an explosive by mistake. You wanna watch a movie?"

"Yeah," Steve says at once; then he blinks and the frown's back, damn it, Tony'd been ahead of the game for a second there. "Wait, explosive? Shouldn't you, uh, fix that first?"

"Nah," Tony says, already mapping out in his head which wires he’ll have to rip loose. "I'll just disable it, tell Jarvis to program a warning if anyone gets close. I can mess around with it in the morning; I probably shouldn't have tried doing it now anyway, I always forget I end up in bang mode when I'm not paying attention. On the plus side, if anyone tries to kill us tonight, just shoot at that and--"

"No," Steve groans, "oh my god, don't even talk about that, I don't even want to think about that. If murderers come for us in the night, it's your turn to deal with it."

"Can't even muster the energy to defend the homestead, you must have a headache," Tony says, teasing. Steve just gives him a flat look, and Tony can't help it; he sits up, sending screws everywhere, and touches the side of Steve's face. Steve leans into the contact before Tony has the chance to be embarrassed at his own ridiculous sentimentality, closing his eyes, and then…well, if Tony rubs his thumb against Steve's temple a little bit, it's not like Steve's judging him for it.

"Shit, you really do, don't you?" he hears himself say. For a second, he doesn't recognize that it's his voice; Tony doesn't let himself talk like that--quiet, gentle--because Steve would probably ditch him for someone less horrifying if he did. But he doesn't seem to be minding it now, just murmurs a soft, agreeable sort of sound into Tony's wrist, and Tony presses a kiss against his forehead, but only because it's right there.

"Mm," Steve says, and blinks his eyes open, smiling a little. "You've got motor oil on your face, just so you know."

"Think there's a pretty decent chance that that's just my face, at this point," Tony says, if only to see Steve's smile deepen a little. "Occupational hazard, you know how it is--sort of like 'if you make that face enough it'll stick that way,' only more, uh, toxic.  Hope it's not too much of a turn-off."

"Nah," Steve says, "think I'll keep you around," and Tony's got an arc reactor embedded in his chest, so his heart definitely doesn't skip a beat.

He runs his knuckles lightly along Steve's cheek without even meaning to, does it once more before he gets control of himself and lets his hand drop. "You wanna put on something a little more loungewear appropriate? I'm gonna be a minute with this, I'm trying to beat my no-in-house-carnage record."

"Which is what, thirty-six hours?"

"Forty-eight," Tony says, grinning, "but I was out of town."

Steve shakes his head, head ducked to hide his smile. "Menace."

"Never claimed to be anything else," Tony says, and then Steve's kissing him again, slow and sweet. Tony never knows what to do when Steve does things like this, warm and so easy, a hand resting on Tony's knee with a soft sort of propriety; he just kisses back, resists the urge to take the whole thing deeper, knows without thinking too hard about why that Steve's not up for that tonight.

"Living room?" Steve says when he pulls back, and Tony nods, swallows.

"Five minutes," he says, and Steve squeezes his knee, just the once, before he wanders towards the door.

Tony stares at the microwave for a second; his face is reflected in the tinted glass, and even he can see he's blushing.

"Liar," he tells it, and it beeps ominously at him, which is when he realizes he should probably have unplugged it.

--

Tony beats Steve to the living room, which is probably a good thing considering what he finds there. Clint and Thor are positioned on opposite ends of the couch, a Connect Four board balanced between them. There are several empty beer bottles on the table, and the board seems to be populated with a combination of actual game pieces, quarters, and what Tony suspects are impossibly priceless Asgardian coins.  

"Um," says Tony, "what?"

Thor grins at him. "Tony, my friend! Clint has been teaching me to play this game of Midgardian strategy, but I suspect he has been inventing the rules for the last several rounds. He is a terrible cheat."

Clint doesn't even bother arguing that, just shrugs around a loud belch. "Gotta keep it interesting, right? We were gonna play poker, but Thor turns out to be a card sharp. Who knew?"

"I did," Bruce says, irritated, from the corner. Tony jumps; he hadn't seen him there.

"Jesus," he says, "is everyone in here? Is Natasha hanging from the ceiling, because if she is please do me a favor and warn me this time, unsettling doesn't even begin to cover it--"

"Natasha left to telephone her flame-haired love companion some hours ago," Thor says calmly, and then, with considerably more enthusiasm, "Check-king! Crown me with the glory of the empire, for I claim victory in this mortal contest."

Tony…doesn't even know where to begin with that sentence. Clint, for his part, just blinks, mouth open.

"You beat me," he says, in tones of great astonishment. "How could you beat me? I made up all the rules! I didn't even tell you most of them!"

Thor claps a massive, conciliatory hand on his shoulder. "It was a valiant effort,  well fought on all sides. Alas, you are not so adept at trickery as my brother Loki has always been; the art of beating one at one's own game is but one of the many things he has taught me."

"Really unsettling to hear you sound so fond of a guy who keeps trying to kill us," Bruce mutters. He still sounds irritated, and Tony glares at him, pointing.

"You," he says, "had better calm it down right now. I want to see some tranquility up in here and I want to see it fast, because if you Hulk out and try to make ramen tonight you're going to blow us all up. I…may have made a couple of tactical microwave errors."

It's probably some kind of terrible sign that no one even bats an eyelash at this. Tony will worry about it later.

Bruce says, “I really don't know what it is with him and the noodles," and then, noticing Tony has not stopped glaring, sighs. "No, no, don't look at me like that, I'm fine. It's just been a long week."

Tony opens his mouth to argue and finds he can’t. It has been a long week; a long month, actually, come to that. There was that thing with Ultron, and then the fucking Circus of Crime had come to town, and every time there’s a disaster, they’re forced to do press-friendly follow-up, if only to keep from engendering a public outcry. The Fantastic Four have been hounding them about cooperation, and the X-Men never really stop calling, and on top of that Tony’s been tangled up in meetings with the Stark legal teams, trying to secure licensing rights that his people should have gotten weeks ago.

It’s fallen to Steve to keep everyone in step, to make sure everyone’s eating and sleeping, to go over their battle strategies and field their calls. And Tony’s been keeping him up nights on top of that, tracing his tongue over the muscles in Steve’s thighs, charting new territory with his fingertips; not that they haven’t both enjoyed it, but it hasn’t left a lot of time for decompression. Tony’s used to being busy when he’s busy, to focusing all his energy without really noticing the consequences, but he’s aware that he’s not exactly wired like everyone else.  No wonder Steve’s exhausted; he’s probably been exhausted for days, kept it quiet out of some stoic, duty-bound, nonsensical leadership ideal.

It occurs to Tony, all at once, to wonder who the hell’s been looking after Steve all this time.

“Right,” he says, shaking his head, “everybody out, this room has been re-purposed, you’re all done for the night.”

“Says who?” Clint says. He glares at Tony without all that much malice behind it. “We live here too! We have--”

“If you say the words squatter’s rights,” Tony says, raising an eyebrow, “I will make you actually go out and squat somewhere.  You do know that this is technically my house, right? That I let you live here out of the kindness of my heart?”

“The kindness of your dick, maybe,” Clint mutters, and Tony grins at him.

“Nah,” he says, “that’s just Steve. And really it’s not my heart for you, either.  Only Thor gets my heart--you’re only here because if you weren’t, Fury would never quit calling me.”

“Thank you, my friend,” Thor says, while Clint, mildly drunk and not hiding it well, visibly grapples for a comeback. “Your esteem warms me in the cockles of my soul.”

“Your soul doesn’t have cockles--and, actually, you know what, just scrap that word from your dictionary, it’s really not something you should ever say again,” Tony says, “but hey, if you’re really warmed, you could clear out. Not that this hasn’t been really heartfelt and everything, but this is my living room and I want it back.”

“You’re in a mood,” Bruce observes--which, really, it’s Bruce, he should not be allowed to say things like that. “Did the licensing thing blow up in your face again?”

“No,” Tony snaps, and then...stops. He is, he realizes, in kind of a mood; he’s shifting on his feet, casting nervous glances over his shoulder in the direction of Steve’s room, and there’s this squirming sensation in the pit of his stomach, something that isn’t guilt or arousal or even panic, just--concern, maybe, and affection.  

And then Steve comes around the corner.

He’s fresh out of the shower, rubbing a towel absently against his hair, wearing sweats and a t-shirt that stretches tight over his chest. He looks even worse than before, heavy circles under his eyes, all too human; Tony can’t breathe for a second, though he’s not sure why.

“Oh,” Steve says, stopping. He smiles hesitantly at the room, lets the towel drop. “Hey, everybody. I didn’t realize you were all going to be in here.”

“They were just leaving,” Tony says, glaring. Clint glares back, but Bruce glances from Steve to Tony and leaves without a word; Thor, for his part, just smiles like he knows the secrets of the universe.  Which, okay, he probably does, Tony can admit that, he gets it, the whole god thing, but he doesn’t have to go and flaunt it all the time.  

“What?” he snaps, and Thor just laughs, putting a hand under Clint’s arm and hauling him upright over his protests.

“Sometimes, my friend, you are very...mortal,” Thor says, shaking his head. “It is endearing, but rather strange, as the rest of the time your behavior is largely predictable. Clint, we shall now retire to the roof, whereupon you shall teach me to shoot the leaves off of the maple tree in the yard, for it offends me in both color and purpose.”

“Uh,” Clint says, blinking, “well, I mean, I guess if I get to shoot stuff,” and he lets Thor haul him away.

Tony stands in place for a minute, staring after them. Eventually, he says, “Wait, I’m sorry, did he just call me predictable?”

Steve laughs around a yawn. “If I say you’re not, can we skip the necessary ego-trip?”

“Now, see, that was mean,” Tony says, throwing himself across the nearest end of the couch. “Affirming the predicable thing and a swipe at my ego, that’s too mean, put the claws up, you’ve been spending too much time with Wolverine--”

“No,” Steve says, “Wolverine has been spending too much time with me. Can we give them a fake number, do you think?”

“Hard to lie to Xavier,” Tony says. Steve sighs and sits down next to him, kicks his feet up on the coffee table, and Tony casts a long look at the line of his body. The strange, warm feeling in his gut has only intensified, and he reaches out and flicks at a lock of Steve’s hair, damp still, before he can help himself. “You showered.”

“Yeah,” Steve says. “Didn’t really feel like spending all night smelling like expensive champagne and perfume. Some of the people at these things don’t have much of a personal space barometer, you know?”

“That’s because they’re hitting on you,” Tony says, rolling his eyes. Steve gives him a look that’s somewhere between doubting and intrigued; Tony would be exasperated if it this particular blind spot of Steve’s wasn’t, horrifically, kind of adorable. “You do know that you’re a superhero, right? An American legend with abs of steel--are you the only person on earth who didn’t get that memo?  You must be, that’s gotta be it--here, look, here it is, hand-delivered: you are attractive to others. There, I’ve said it, try not to let it go to your head.”

“Jealous?” Steve says, and it’s light, teasing. Tony scowls at him.

“I’ll take ‘not dignifying that with an answer’ for two hundred, Alex,” he says, and Steve actually laughs; he’s apparently taken in something from the Jeopardy tournaments Bruce keeps insisting on. “Hey, Jarvis, pick a movie, something I’ll like, Cap’ll probably sleep through most of it.”

“So noted, Mr. Stark,” says Jarvis, even as Steve says, “No I won’t.” It’s not very convincing; it’s even less convincing when he reaches up and rubs at the side of his head, wincing.

“It’s probably some kind of safety hazard, you being such a bad liar,” Tony says. He reaches out and tugs at Steve’s sleeve a little, and Steve sighs out a breath and follows the motion, lets his head land on Tony’s shoulder. “What if it’s the end of the world and everything depends on Captain America convincingly bullshitting? I mean, come on, at least put a little bit of effort into it, this is just sad--”

“Tony?”

“Yeah?”

“Shut up,” Steve says. Tony would take offense, but he can feel Steve smiling against his shoulder, and the movie’s starting anyway.

“Oh, fine,” he mutters, for pretense’s sake, and Steve’s back shifts a little with laughter before it stills.

Jarvis, because he is programmed to understand Tony’s truest and most important needs, has put on Godfather II. Tony may or may not let out a sigh of deep satisfaction; he reaches out with the arm that Steve isn’t pressed up against, pulls up a few schematics on the surface of the side table. For a minute, all is right with the world.

Then Steve says, “Wait, didn’t I see this already?” which, actually, is kind of a problem.

“Right,” Tony says, “okay, so here’s how this is going to work--because I am a good person, and this is for the sake of the team and our, uh--you know what?  I’m just going to forget you said that, out of the kindness of my heart, because no, you have not seen this already, you saw the first one, this is the second one, there’s also a third one, they are very different films.”

“Okay,” Steve says, shrugging a shoulder, and Tony sighs.

“Okay,” he says, and his hand is in Steve’s hair now, tugging a little to emphasize his points, “okay, he says, do you want me to--no, you said you had a headache, I will spare you for today, but tomorrow--and this is non-negotiable, I want you to understand that--tomorrow I am explaining the Corleones to you. There will be a test.”

“I’ll take copious notes,” Steve says. The words are slurred together a little bit, so Tony takes pity on him and doesn’t press; he twitches his fingers absently against Steve’s scalp, and Steve sighs, relaxing. “Feels good.”

“Yeah?”

Steve doesn’t answer, just moves his head a little bit in what Tony assumes is a nod, so Tony doesn’t stop. It’s not like he’s really paying much attention to it anyway--the movie’s a dull roar of white noise, familiar and easy, and Tony pulls up the file he’s tentatively labeled “Quinjet” on the coffee table and loses himself in the schematics.

It’s been fifteen, maybe twenty minutes when Steve starts shifting around; his head bumps against Tony’s neck once, twice, rubs against his shoulder. Tony registers the motion but doesn’t think about it, scrolling down through his notes, flagging the things he’ll need to go back to. When Steve sighs, Tony thinks he should probably engage--then he finds an inconsistency in the math and promptly forgets about everything else, angling himself towards the table a little.

“What’re you working on?” Steve says eventually, and that jerks Tony back to reality enough that he can assess the positions they’re in. His hand is still in Steve’s hair, but he’s twisted his body around, left Steve with an elbow pressed awkwardly between himself and the back of the couch.

“Uh,” Tony says, blinking, “it’s a--you can’t actually be comfortable like that, you should have said something, here,” and he grabs a pillow from the end of the couch, drops it in his lap, and pats it. “That’ll be easier, I think.”

“Oh,” Steve says, and Tony freezes, because he’s just asked Steve to lay down in his lap, and that’s probably really very...much, it’s too much, he didn’t even mean it to be, it just made sense, didn’t it, but Steve probably thinks he’s--

--and then Steve says, “Yeah, actually, thanks,” and drops bonelessly across his lap, so that’s all right.

“Better?” Tony says, trying for nonchalant, and Steve chuckles, twists his head up enough to give Tony a tired sort of smile.

“Much,” he says. “So, what’re you doing?”

Tony had kind of figured, the first time Steve asked the question, that he’d been doing it to alert Tony to the fact that he needed to move. He’d forgotten, of course, that Steve always means what he says, and he smiles back before he can think of a reason not to.

“We need a jet, I realized--because, I mean, the Stark jet’s fine but it’s slow and Pepper needs it, and I can’t exactly carry everyone in the armor.”

“Makes sense,” Steve says. He turns his face back into the pillow, eyes closed, voice cracking on a yawn, and Tony’s heart tightens in his chest. He runs a finger over Steve’s jawline, compelled to touch, and Steve doesn’t grab his hand or bat him away; he just sighs and turns into Tony’s hand a little bit, like he’s being drawn up into it unconsciously. “Explain it to me?”

“It won’t make sense,” Tony warns, and Steve’s smile is back, a small, slight thing against the edge of the pillow.

“I know,” he says, “but it’ll put me to sleep.”

“Aww, you say the sweetest things,” Tony mutters, but he’s not really annoyed, and he knows Steve knows. Steve just laughs, a ghosted-out little noise, and Tony switches the exploded view of the schematic to project up off the coffee table, even though he can tell Steve’s not actually looking.

“So that part--no, not that part, Jarvis, rotate it a little, there you go, was that so hard?--that’ll be where you put the people, obviously, as it turns out you need a space to put the people, which is inconvenient, but whatever. Originally I was just going to work it all through with the repulsor technology, like the suit--because the suit can go supersonic, which--I guess you know that, I’ve carried you doing that, which, hey, can we just talk about how much I still think the g-force from that probably turned your brain into scrambled eggs--”

“‘m brains aren’t eggs,” Steve says, half-asleep already, and Tony sighs, ruffles his hair.

“Convincing argument,” he says, “I’m totally sold,” and he moves his hand to Steve’s back, absently tracing the patterns of the engines as he talks. “Because, okay, see, the repulsor tech isn’t going to work at that scale without a massive kick-back, and the amount of reinforcement I’d have to put in the walls to compensate--I mean, the goal is speed, right? So I can’t let it be too weighed down--but then I realized, one repulsor engine, that’s idiotic, it’s too big, and obviously it’ll all be reactor powered but I wouldn’t want it to burn a crater into the ground at take-off, so I thought I’d maybe split it. Five engines, small ones, right, so Quinjet, because, you know, quintet--you get it. And then the feedback from each engine will be routed through the internal power grid, so that’ll actually keep the lights and the nav systems from failing and--did you just snore at me?”

“No,” Steve says, but it’s more an exhale of breath than anything else.

“You did,” Tony says, and he’s not looking at the schematics anymore. He’s looking at Steve, sprawled out over him, breathing gone slow and shallow; Tony pitches his voice low, smooth, tries to ignore the tightness in his chest. “You did, you terrible, terrible liar.  What did I say about you and the lies? No, don’t open your mouth, you’re asleep, I can tell you’re asleep, you just don’t know it yet--your brains are already eggs, Steve, it’s too late.”

Steve shifts again, does something that’s almost a nod, and Tony would laugh at him if he felt capable of it. Instead, because he knows Steve won’t remember, he says: “Sorry, I guess. About the thing tonight. I should’ve done it instead--I know you hate shit like that, but it’s really good press, which is awful.  Is that awful? It’s awful, but I didn’t--I won’t make you do it again, not by yourself, anyway. Not that I made you--if you were awake you’d tell me you volunteered, which, yeah, you did, it’s your team, so really it’s your fault, and wow, okay, I’m officially having a two-sided conversation by myself.  Wow. Wow. This is sad, isn’t it?”

Steve does actually snore at him this time, a loud, full-bodied thing, because, as it turns out, Captain America snores. He snores, and he never puts his toothbrush back in the same place twice, and he sings strange, old songs in the shower; he makes awful coffee and forces the team to watch marathons of Golden Girls, laughing too hard at the funny parts. He spends his 70 years of back-pay sparingly, on weird things like art supplies he’s hesitant about using, looks at Tony’s excessive habits askance, and he insists on eating all the leftovers when they order take-out. He’s kind of a dork, actually, when you get past the uniform and the leadership and the way he can take a man’s head off with his shield, and Tony brushes his a lock of blond hair out of his eyes and sighs.

“This is normal, right?” he says, and he lives in a house of microphones and cameras but at least they’re his; he can delete the evidence later. “Because I'm not…I’m not good at this, and I don't…god, Steve, you know I'm trying, don't you?"

Steve, naturally, doesn’t say anything. On screen, Michael Corleone says, “I’ll change, I’ll change, I’ve learned that I have the strength to change,” and Tony scowls at nothing, doesn’t take his hand out of Steve’s hair.

“Who asked you?” he says, and then he sighs and mutes the thing, and the room goes blissfully quiet.

--

Tony wakes up in Steve’s bed, heavy and loose, and sighs at the ceiling. He vaguely remembers falling asleep on the couch, the half-awake shuffle down the hall; he prefers his own bed, usually, but Steve’s had been closer, so that’s all right.  

It’s not every night, this thing they’ve got between them, just most nights, drifting into one room or the other and waking up like this. A week ago, Tony fell asleep in Steve’s bed alone, waiting for him to wrap up in the gym; when he woke up, sleep-heavy at four a.m., he found Steve in his room, sprawled across the sheets. That had been kind of terrifying, actually, at least until Steve woke up enough to say, “Quit looming and come to bed, Tony, my god.” Then it had been annoying, or possibly warm and fuzzy; Tony isn’t the type to bother himself with labels.

But then, okay, that’s not entirely true, sometimes he is, and they’re dating, probably. That’s probably the best word for whatever it is, this thing they’ve got going, with so many rules and no guidelines at all. It’s not like they’ve put any particular effort into defining it--Steve’s still telling Tony that he likes him, all the time, dropping it casually into otherwise normal conversations, but Tony’s pretty sure that’s just because Steve’s stubborn. It’s nice hearing it, though, makes it easier for Tony to stay calm, to avoid wondering what the hell they think they’re doing, what happens if it ends, when it ends, and what is he supposed to do if it doesn’t?

The team knows, because the team has to know. Steve has a policy about keeping secrets that basically summarizes to, “No, don’t,” and Tony hadn’t argued, hadn’t even really wanted to. And Pepper knows, obviously, because Pepper is all-knowing and always has been, and Nick Fury knows because Clint had lasted two whole days before he made a joke about it in a meeting, and it’s not like Fury’s the kind of man who ever needs more than a hint.

That’d been a weird day, the day with Fury. He’d called them both into his office, given them the evil eye--which, as it turned out, was so much worse when it was just the one eye--and started in about “fraternization” and “professionalism” and “Stark, what did I say--”

--and then Steve cleared his throat, put up a hand, and said, “Sir.”

It was probably the sincerity in his voice that did Fury in. It was so respectful, so completely and entirely without any sort of guile, that it was actually a little underhanded. Fury narrowed his eye, leaned over the top of his desk, and just stared at them for a second.

Which, okay, Tony never, ever wanted him to do that again, that was the worst, Tony talked a big game and everything but no human being could resist the urge to fidget under that stare, it was impossible. He certainly wasn’t up to the task, and he shifted his weight from one foot to the other, waiting.

“Really, Captain?” Fury said finally, and hey, Tony wasn’t even on his radar anymore, that was actually an upgrade. “You really want to fight me on this?”

“Yes, sir,” Steve said. Then, not really sounding it: “Sorry, sir.”

“It’s your fuckin’ funeral,” Fury said after a minute, throwing his hands in the air. “Just try to make sure it’s not anyone else’s. Jesus, they don’t pay me enough for this shit,” and that had pretty much been the end of that.  

So, dating, right, probably. That’s what it’s called, that’s what they’re doing, and--

“Ugh, Tony,” Steve says, a tired groan into the pillow, jerking Tony out of his train of thought, “go back to sleep or stop it.”

“Stop what?”

“Just,” Steve says, and sighs without opening his eyes. “When you wake up you move, and you make sounds, you get all twitchy. I can hear you thinking, and if you’re going to draw on the sheets again, you can go do it on your own sheets, okay?”

“I only did that once,” Tony says, “and anyway, my sheets are sub-par, they do not come with gift-wrapped superheros, it’s a design flaw.”

Jesus,” Steve groans, “what time is it, how can you want to--do that this early, it’s, what, six a.m.--”

“Nine, actually,” Tony says, gleeful. “You overslept. You, Captain America, God of All--well, okay, not of Thor, Thor is definitely the god of you, we’ll go with god-of-all-except-Thor, you should work on that title--anyway, you overslept. And hey, no, I wasn’t thinking, this is a no-think zone, I was just sitting here, gloating to myself, remembering all the times you’d given me shit about morning jogs because, hi, hello, it’s 9 AM, these are normal people hours here, Cap, and now you’re awake so I can gloat at you--”

“Wait,” Steve says, and yawns. He cracks an eye open and fixes Tony with a look, exasperated, familiar, and Tony grins at him. “So what you’re telling me is that you’ve been sitting here watching me sleep. Like a lunatic.”

“Uh,” says Tony.

“For how long, exactly?”

“...uh,” says Tony. “Well. Uh. Now, see, when you put it like that...”

“When you defect to super-villainy I’ll get to say I knew you when,” Steve says, and he’s smiling now, just enough for Tony to know he’s kidding. “Did you already have coffee? You’re really awake.”

“No coffee,” Tony says. “This is why I don’t sleep most of the time.  It’s gross to be this cheerful in the morning, I refuse to be a morning person--’s wrong, it’s evil, it goes against everything I stand for, and also--”

“Stop,” Steve says, “just stop, stop talking, oh my god,” and when he kisses Tony he’s laughing, a little noise just under his breath. Tony hums into his mouth, because he can, and when he pulls away Steve rolls his eyes at him, shakes his head.

“Morning,” he says, “I still like you, by the way. Now please go take a shower or something, I’m not ready to be up yet.”

“Lazy,” Tony notes, climbing out of bed anyway. “So lazy, the laziest, I mean honestly--hey, what?”

Steve’s looking at Tony with his brow furrowed, the way he does when he’s worried, or confused, or...actually about half the time, really, but Tony usually knows what he means. He glances down to confirm he’s not naked--Steve’s a little weird about nakedness sometimes, mutters things about “decency” and “inappropriate” and “not in the kitchen, Tony, people eat here,”--but no, he’s fully clothed, he’s good.

Puzzled, he tries again: “What? Is there something on my face? Is this some kind of horrible, I don’t know, gas...face...thing, oh come on, don’t look at me like that, how am I supposed to--”

“Are you okay?” Steve says, still staring at him. “You’re acting kind of weird.”

“I’m not acting weird,” says Tony, because for once in his life, he legitimately isn’t. “At least, not on purpose.  Am I acting weird? I told you, sleeping too much isn’t good for me, I’m fine--no, really, I actually mean that, stop it.”

“Okay,” Steve says, but he still looks doubtful. “You’d tell me, right?”

“Uh,” says Tony, “yeah?” and then has to grab a towel and flee the room, because wow, he actually would, he didn’t really see that one coming.

The shower helps. Or, well, Tony says it’s the shower, but really it’s the music blasting out of the speaker lodged in the ceiling and the fact that the glass walls become computer screens with a flick of his fingers. It gives him somewhere to put the strange energy he’d woken with, rolling in his stomach, itching under his fingers, and he goes through his emails as he soaps himself up, checks the morning’s stock figures as he washes his hair. There’s an auto-update running on his armor, and there’s a bug, just a little one, two, three minutes to recode with the shampoo bottle clutched between his thighs, and then he kind of forgets what he’s doing and starts manually running the upgrades, because he’s right here, isn’t he, he might as well, and then suddenly the shower is cold.

“Shit,” he says, cheerfully enough, and grins down at his pruned-up fingers. “Jarvis, how long have I--”

“Forty-five minutes, sir,” Jarvis says. “I would like to make the suggestion again that you allow me to set up a timed reminder system.”

“Yeah, no, maybe later, probably not, thanks, though,” Tony says, and climbs out of the shower, grabs the towel off the counter. “At least Steve got the chance to sleep. If you could double check that last code run, though, because Jarvis, buddy, if another idiot from R&D catches an error--which wasn’t even an error, just so we’re clear, he just didn’t understand the code because I invented it, that’s different--but if it happens again, I’ll make you...I don’t know, catalog 4chan or something, you got that?”

“I quake in terror, sir,” Jarvis says.

Tony snorts out a laugh and shakes his head, walks out of the bathroom with his towel cinched around his waist. He goes back to Steve’s room on autopilot, expecting to find Steve still in bed, maybe reading the newspaper on the tablet Tony gave him; he’s getting good with that, even if it has led to a dark, dangerous obsession with The Huffington Post. Instead, Steve’s up and dressed, shoes on, sitting on the edge of the bed with his cell phone in his hand.

“Oh, come on,” says Tony, “that’s not fair, I was only joking about the laziness thing, is this a punishment?” but then he notices the way Steve’s shoulders are slumped, the way he’s staring, eyes fixed, at his hands.

“We’ve got trouble?” he says, regrouping at once. “Alright, give me half a second to--”

“No,” Steve says, and then, quieter, “I...Bucky.”

Tony knows from conversations they’ve had, but more from the nightmares Steve wakes up from sometimes, who Bucky is. He was important to Steve, no question, but he’s been dead since the 40s, since before Steve was iced, so it’s not likely he could have done something particularly new, and Steve isn’t really the type to have emotional breakdowns out of nowhere. Tony thinks back to the mind control thing last week, to the most recent crazed “I will dump amnesia drugs in your water supply and make you forget everything you love!” plot, and raises his hands in the air.

“Okay,” he says carefully, “right, uh, no sudden movements, it’s all okay, Steve, I’m Tony--”

“What?” Steve says. He looks up and his eyes are rimmed with red, but they widen, and he must connect the same dots Tony had, because he says, “No, no, it’s me. I just. Bucky.”

“What about Bucky?”

“He’s,” Steve says, and swallows. “They--found him. And I’m supposed to go...”

Identify the body, Tony thinks, a swooping crash in his stomach. He’d had to do that, once, for a third cousin he’d barely known, and it had still been awful; he can’t imagine doing it for Rhodey, for Pepper, for someone he really cared about.  He also can’t imagine that a 70-years-dead body is something SHIELD’s going to make Steve look at, but then again, they’ve surprised him before.

“I’m sorry,” he says, sitting down next to Steve, “god, Steve, I’m really--do you want me to--”

“He’s alive,” Steve says, which, yeah, okay, that shuts Tony up.

--

Steve is silent the whole ride over to SHIELD headquarters, his grip on Tony’s hand bordering on painful, and he’s pulled away and led down the hall the minute they walk inside. Tony hadn’t intended on going with him for this part, only came along for the ride to keep Steve from completely losing his shit--he might not be good with people, but he’s not blind--but he still had to quell the strange urge to run after him. Steve squares his shoulders as he walks away, doesn’t look around; Tony watches the flex of his fingers, the sharp edge to his steps, and acts.

After all, there’s no point in being Tony Stark if you don’t abuse it once in awhile.  

The path to the security office is a familiar one, since Tony had upgraded the entire system himself, painstakingly slowly, in the week Fury’d kept him under supervision after Pepper. He knows every guard on every rotation, and no one even looks twice at him when he walks in, stalks around, and finds the monitor he’s looking for.

Steve’s standing over a bed, head bowed; below him, a dark-haired man that Tony recognizes from an old, old photograph stirs under the blanket. He opens his eyes and Steve’s body tenses up and Tony’s got his phone out, has hacked into the system and killed the feed before anyone can see anything else.

“Stark!” one of the guards snaps, “What the hell did you just--”

“That’s not for you,” Tony says. “Sorry, but them’s the breaks, and you’re not going to get it back up again, so don’t bother trying. It’s really, seriously, entirely not your business, and if you’ve got a problem with that, you can feel free to send Director Fury after me, I’m sure he’d like the excuse. Bye bye now.”

He leaves, walks past the dumbfounded guard, past the hallway he could’ve probably followed Steve down, past an oddly non-threatening houseplant and out into the parking lot. He sends Steve a text message--Call if you need anything, I’ll be around--and goes home.

--

Steve doesn’t come home for the rest of the day, which is okay--Tony would worry about it, but he doesn’t have time. There’s an infestation of massive, alien-looking cockroach things terrorizing the Lower East Side before noon, climbing up out of the sewer with pincers snapping viciously, and the Avengers are, naturally, called in. It’s not dangerous, not really, just time consuming and tedious; an hour or so in, Clint swings down next to him on one of his rappelling ropes, shoots a cockroach casually in the side of the head.

“Where’s Cap?” he says.

“Busy,” Tony says, “got a 20 on a big one, by the hydrant, think it’s the leader, Widow, can you grab it?” and Clint shrugs, moves away.

Steve doesn’t come home that night, either.  That’s a little more disconcerting, honestly, but Tony’s not going to push him, he’s not, he’s not. He leaves his phone in his back pocket and watches reality TV with Thor for three hours, laughing at the degree to which he’s invested in the lives of the cast of Survivor.

Thor’s completely unfazed by Tony’s mockery, because that’s just what he’s like.

“When I return to Asgard,” he says, “I shall start this tradition of island horrors amongst my people. I have tried to apply for the show myself, but Director Fury seems quite certain that I will not be chosen. He says that I do not have a face for television, and also that if I try again he will stab me somewhere vital to my continued existence.”

“Can’t imagine why,” Tony says, because, well, he can’t help it. “I think you’d be great, man. I mean, I’d watch that.”  

“Thank you, my friend!” Thor says, sounding honestly gratified. “You do my a true honor with your company, and I am, as ever, deeply thankful for the circumstances that brought us together.”

“You’re still my favorite,” Tony says, clapping him on the shoulder. “Just so you know. That’s a permanent title, I should get you a plaque or something.”

“Plaque,” Thor says slowly, “Clint has attempted to explain this to me, often in conjunction with the brandishing of a small, bristled device. Is this what you mean? I confess, it has long mystified me.”

Then Tony spends an hour teaching Thor about Midgardian dental hygiene, because, well, these are the kinds of things you do for your friends.

By the time Thor goes to bed--after leaving the bathroom covered in ridiculous amounts of toothpaste, because while he was utterly horrified by the taste, he was willing to concede that it made excellent paint--it’s nearly two in the morning. Tony thinks about trying to sleep, thinks again, and is halfway down the workshop stairs when his phone rings.

Unlisted number--Fury, then. Shit.

“Director,” he says, trying to keep the annoyance out of his voice, “look, whatever it is, can’t you call Xavier or something, we spent eight hours with those roaches today--”

“Uh, no, it’s me,” Steve says, and then, unnecessarily, adds, “Steve. Steve Rogers.”

“Oh, Steve Rogers,” Tony says, rolling his eyes, “and here I thought you were a different Steve, good thing you set my mind at ease, hi. Sorry, I wouldn’t have snapped at you if--”

“Hey, did you say roaches?”

“Long story--wait, why are you calling on a SHIELD phone?”

“Oh,” Steve says, sounding sheepish. “I kind of...need a new cell phone.  Sorry, I was trying to teach Bucky about the future, and it...didn’t go well.”

“New cell’s not a problem, we mass-produce them, I’ll have one for you in the morning.” Tony pauses, not sure how to do the next part, and settles on: “So, he’s awake, then?”

“Yeah,” Steve says, and sounds...exhausted. “Or, well, no, not right this--look, I don’t really--I’m sorry, but I don’t want to talk about it. Not right now. He’s sleeping and--.”

“Not a problem,” Tony says. He’s still on the workshop stairs; after a moment’s thought he reroutes, turns around to go into the living room and throw himself across the couch. “What do you want to talk about?”

“Anything,” Steve says. “Anything but this.”

Tony starts at the sound of his voice; it’s a low, tired rasp, aches a little. Steve sounds old, the way he only does when something’s eating at him, and Tony bites back a hundred probing questions, using some reserve of strength he didn’t know he had.

“Sure,” he says lightly, “anything, that’s a bill I can fit, I can do that. You wanna hear about the roach battle you missed? Because, let me tell you what, lucky fucking you--”

He talks, nearly non-stop, for an hour, until Steve says, “Okay, I have to go. Thank you for, uh, answering.”

“No problem,” Tony says. This whole thing has been kind of mystifying, but Steve at least sounds less wretched now. “Have a...good night, then?”

“Yeah,” Steve says, “yeah, Tony, you too,” and then he hangs up.

Tony goes to bed after all.

When Steve still isn’t home the next morning--yeah, okay, that’s when Tony would like to panic in earnest, it really is, except that he’s woken up by a call from Director Fury.

“‘lo?” Tony slurs, not quite awake yet, and then snaps into action when he realizes it’s not Steve this time, alerted by the sound of intense, scary breathing. Fury even breathes scary; Tony wants to learn to do that before he dies. “I mean, uh, Director--”

“Stark,” he says, “for the record, when you say my name on a call from a SHIELD line, I hear that shit. So to respond to what you said last night: no, I cannot call Xavier, and if you talk to me like that again you will feel it, do you hear me?”

“But I wasn’t talking to you,” Tony says. “Wait, I’m in trouble because of your wiretapping, I mean, come on, what--”

“You thought you were talking to me,” Fury says sternly. “Intent is all I need, Stark, remember that.”

“You and Coulson, it’s like a circus act of terror,” Tony mutters, and then jumps so much he nearly rolls off the bed when Coulson says, “My name gets an alert too, and just so you know, there are...hmm, eighteen items in your kitchen alone I could easily kill you with.”

Christ,” says Tony, getting out of bed because he might as well, now. “Great, okay, thank you, I’ve had my morning panic attack now, much appreciated, owe you a drink, did you need something?”

“No, we called to hear your dulcet fuckin’ tones,” Fury says. “Yeah, Stark, we need something, don’t ask stupid questions. You awake enough to take in details, or do I need to hang up and call back after your morning coffee?”

“I...” Tony stops, thinks about that. He warms. “Hey, that was almost considerate.”

“No it wasn’t,” Coulson says grimly. “No one wants a repeat of the last time you took coordinates straight out of bed; Mt. Rushmore will never be the same.”

“That wasn’t my fault,” Tony lies, “there was an equipment thing, uh, look, what’s up, I can assemble the team, except Steve, I assume you know that he’s still with you guys--”

“That’s why we’re calling,” Fury says, and Tony is so surprised by the sudden rush of panic that he has to sit back down on the bed.

“Is he all right?” he demands. “Was he hurt, what did you do to him, what--”

“See,” says Coulson, “this is why there should be a no fraternization policy.”

“There is,” says Fury. “They just don’t fuckin’ listen.”

“Can we get back to what happened to Steve, please?” Tony says. He doesn’t yelp it; he says it. He definitely says it. “Sooner rather than later, thanks?”

“Nothing,” Fury sighs, “that’s my fuckin’ point. You morons have been busy lately--god knows why, as I am frankly goddamn surprised any one of you can manage to tie your shoes, let alone fight crime--but with Cap occupied, I thought you might need some help.”

Help,” Tony snaps, “hey, no, who are you to decide that, this is Steve’s team, our team, we can handle ourselves, we don’t need any--”

“So I called in War Machine,” Fury says, sounding like Tony is his least favorite person on the planet.

Tony brightens at this. “Oh! Rhodey, that’s different, that’s awesome, when’s he getting here, you didn’t let him book a hotel, did you? I hate when he does that. I thought he was in Afghanistan, you called Rhodey, oh, man, it’s not even my birthday--”

“Agent Coulson,” Fury says, “please give him the fuckin’ flight information so I can go slam my head into the wall.”

“Aww,” says Tony, “you love me really.”

“Believe me,” says Coulson, “he really doesn’t.”

--

Tony drives the Gallardo to the airfield himself, just tells Happy to be on standby, because he knows Rhodey not-so-secretly gets off on driving cars from Tony’s more choice collection. He beats the plane by fifteen minutes, and he’s leaning against the hood, sunglasses in place, when Rhodey comes down the stairs.

He’s in his dress blues, bless his heart, and Tony grins. “Awww, honeybear,” he says, “you don’t have to dress up nice for me.”

“Damn right I don’t,” Rhodey says, “you never write, you never call, you never tell me you’re dating legendary American war heroes--”

“Oh, did Pepper mention that?” Tony says, too casual. Rhodey levels him with a glare, and Tony puts his hands in the air, warning him away. “Hey, hey, don’t be like that, you were busy, I didn’t want a be a distraction, don’t make that face. Come on, sourpatch, golden graham, apple jack--”

“You’re just naming cereal brands now,” Rhodey says. “Can’t even put a little effort into it, has it been that long?”

Tony laughs because he can’t help it, because he’s missed this, because Rhodey’s as grumpy and hysterical as ever.  “For you, cookie crisp, anything,” he says, and Rhodey finally cracks, rolls his eyes to cover his smile, and pulls Tony in for a hug.

“You’re gonna have to tell me about Rogers, you know,” he says against Tony’s ear.

“Yeah, well, you’re gonna have to tell me why there’s a suit-sized crate being unloaded,” Tony says, looking over his shoulder and pulling away. “All that Hammer tech finally bite you in the ass, that why you flew here civilian-style?”

“Don’t call me a civilian,” Rhodey says, “and yeah, actually, now that you mention it, your suit does need some work.”

“My suit,” Tony says.  “My suit, why is it that when it needs work it’s my suit but when I want it back it’s your suit, huh?  You wanna clue me in on the rules there--”

“The rules are, I make the rules,” Rhodey says. Then he eyes the Gallardo and grins. “Rule number one: I’m driving.”

--

They get breakfast, which turns into brunch, which turns into lunch, which turns into six hours in the workshop, and then dinner, and then drinks. Tony introduces Rhodey to the team--minus Steve, of course, who still hasn’t surfaced, Tony’s not worried, he’s not--and watches for their reactions. Natasha, who knows him already, greets him with a warmer smile than most people get from her in a lifetime; Bruce spends ten minutes peppering him with questions about the floral life in the Middle East, much to everyone’s bemusement, and then hurries off to...well, not get angry about anything, hopefully. Rhodey and Clint have a frankly terrifying discussion about the firing pressure of Clint’s crossbow, with Tony occasionally contributing helpful statistics and less-than-helpful comments about Clint’s tendency to hide in the ceiling, and Thor, of course, is his usual charming self.

“Any friend of Tony’s is welcome both in my living quarters and in the bosom of my heart,” he booms, clapping Rhodey on the back. Rhodey doesn’t wince, but Tony can tell that he wants to. “And, of course, in my bath--Tony assures me that I may consider the swimming pool my personal bathing area, as repayment for the fact that I have always been his favorite.”

“Replaced me while I was gone, huh?” says Rhodey, and Tony slants him a smile.

“Jealous? Don’t be like that, you know you’re always gonna be my--”

“Don’t.”

“Just one--”

Don’t.”

Tony laughs--laughs because he can’t help it, because Pepper’s still here and Steve’s not but he will be, and he’s got a team and now he has a Rhodey. He laughs and Rhodey gives him that look, the one that means God, you are seriously a pain in my ass, but also, somehow, I genuinely enjoy your company for reasons that are beyond me, and Tony takes him to a very, very expensive dinner, just for the sake of it.

The bar next door is a total dive; they wander into it, overly-full and pleased about it, and Tony doesn’t miss Rhodey’s surprised look of approval when Tony just orders himself a beer. He smiles, lopsided, over the top of the bottle, and Rhodey doesn’t say, The last time I saw you, you were a trainwreck because there’s nearly a year’s distance there; a battle together; a team on Tony’s end and military responsibilities on Rhodey’s, and it’s not like he doesn’t know that Tony knows.

“So,” Rhodey says, “you’re caught up on my life--”

“So not true,” Tony protests, “half of what you said there was ‘Sorry, that’s classified.’  And hey, I know you’ve gotten laid in the last year, buddy, I know it, I don’t care how busy you’ve been as the military’s golden boy--well, silver boy--well, silver man--”

“You’re dodging,” Rhodey says, because he always knows. “What, are you afraid I won't approve? It's not like you went out and bagged yourself a super villain, Tony, we're talking about Captain America here--"

"Steve," Tony corrects absently, and then coughs when Rhodey raises his eyebrows. "And hey, don't give me that, you know you've given Doc Oc a couple of lingering looks."

"He photographs well, there's no shame in that," Rhodey says easily. "Which, for the record, is more than I can say for Iron Man; you've gotta get the pouting under control, it's getting embarrassing. I don't want to have to pretend I don't know you, but I will if it comes down to it, I need you to know that."  

Honeybear,” Tony says, put a hand to his chest, “that hurts, it really does, I thought we had something special--”

“Yeah, yeah,” Rhodey says, laughing, and signals for another round. “You ready to tell me about your love life now? C’mon, spill, I don’t have all night.”

Tony doesn’t really see the point in putting it off any longer, isn't quite sure why he's been putting it off at all. It's just that he keeps saying Captain America, and that's…Tony doesn't even measure up to Steve, does he, let alone to Steve's legendary alter ego, and he can't quite shake the niggling fear that Rhodey's going to tell him to end it before someone gets hurt.

But that's ridiculous, isn't it, because it's Rhodey smiling at him over the table, Rhodey who really shouldn't like him and somehow seems to anyway, so Tony gives in. He tells Rhodey about Steve, about how they met and it was awful, about how they worked together and it was still awful, and then less awful, and then not awful at all. He tells him about late night sparring sessions and making out during Ghostbusters (”Spare me the details, I don’t need to know that about Captain America,” Rhodey says at one point, and Tony can't help it, says, “No, seriously, don’t, he's not Captain America out of costume, that shit bums me out,”), and then about the last month or so of whatever it is, this warm thing between them that Tony’s kind of afraid to quantify.

Rhodey listens to all of it, the look on his face going from interested to surprised to outright shocked,  until Tony finally stops talking and says, “Okay, seriously, what, what’re you looking at?”

“I’m looking at you,” Rhodey says. It’s as weighted as the last time he said that to Tony, but on the other end of the spectrum. He sounds happy--hell, almost proud. “And you know what, it’s a good look on you.”

“What is?”

“All of it,” Rhodey says, waving a hand at Tony. “The Avengers, Steve, New York, all of it. Nice to see you, man. Knew you were in there somewhere.”

“Oh, god,” Tony says, flipping his phone out--no calls, okay, good, that's fine--and shaking his head. "If we’re going to do this kind of thing I’m gonna have to call it a night, I want you to know that right now, I will leave you here, Rhodes, see if I don’t.”

“Now, see, there's that again,” Rhodey says.

"There's what?"

"What's up with you tonight? You’re all jumpy, you keep checking your phone--did I show up in the middle of a fight or something?”

“No, it’s,” Tony says, and sighs.”Right, okay, I can’t believe I’m asking you this, please don’t take offense, I just, really, there's this footage of Coulson at a gas station with a bag of flour and I value my limbs, so, uh. Did Fury mention what level of security clearance they’re giving you when he briefed you?”

Rhodey stares at him for a second. Then he bursts out laughing, loud enough and hard enough that some of the other bar patrons turn to look. Tony shrinks down in the booth a little, because he’s on Rhodey time, doesn’t want to be recognized; that just makes Rhodey laugh harder, and he doesn’t stop for nearly a minute.

“Look at you being all responsible,” he chokes out finally, wiping his eyes. “Never thought I’d see the day when Tony Stark asked after my security clearance.”

“Oh, come on--”

“No, no, it’s a good thing,” Rhodey says. "I mean, unless it's mind control--"

"Rhodey."

“Fury said, and I quote, ‘standard Avengers clearance, with delta-five discretion.' I’m hoping you know what that means, since the SHIELD lingo is so off-book that’s it’s nearly unintelligible. I think they do it just to piss us off.”

“Sounds like them,” Tony says, and then he leans over the table and lowers his voice. “So, uh, you’re fine to hear this, then. They...well, they found this guy, this old friend of Steve’s.  Bucky Barnes--”

“Bucky Barnes,” Rhodey repeats, incredulous, “as in Sergeant James Barnes of the 107th and the Howling Commandos, Bucky Barnes?”

“Guess you’ve heard of him,” Tony says, blinking.

“Heard of him,” Rhodey says, “heard of him, I wrote my thesis on him, he’s a hero, he--Jesus, where did they find the body? They combed those mountains for years!”

“Uh,” says Tony, because he was not expecting this. “It’s not a body. He’s alive, apparently, only--”

“He’s alive?!”

“Keep your voice down!” Tony hisses, “Fuck, tell the whole bar why don’t you, c’mon, man, what’d I tell you about Coulson--”

“Why do you keep saying--”

“Never mind!” Tony snaps, because this conversation is out of control enough already. “Yeah, okay, Barnes is alive, and now you know as much as I do.  They called yesterday and Steve vanished into the bowels of HQ and I haven’t--well, I mean, I talked to him last night, but he didn’t say much about it. Didn’t say much of anything, really, he kept telling me to talk and he sounded awful and--”

“Jesus Christ," Rhodey interrupts, shocked, "Tony, you’re worried about him.”

“Of course I’m worried about him!” Tony says, throwing his hands in the air, and there it is, right there, on the line. “How could I not be worried about him, he was spread too thin as it was and this is a whole other ball game of screwed up and it’s not like I know what to do!”

Rhodey is making a face Tony has never seen him make before; it’s something between a grimace and a smile. It’s not quite judgmental--Tony’s seen all those faces--but it’s not quite not judgmental, either. Evaluative, Tony decides, and then Rhodey sighs and shakes his head.

"Well, that settles it," he says, "never taking another mission that long again. Apparently you went and grew up while I was gone, man, what gives?"

"You know what, just for that, I want my suit back," says Tony, and Rhodey laughs at him until their next round shows up.

--

Tony gets home later than he means to, mostly because Rhodey’s got this impossible tendency to stay in hotels when he visits, and Tony spends too long trying to talk him out of it. He fails, because Rhodey never gives in on anything unless he’s secretly wanted to the whole time, and when he gets inside the house is quiet, deserted, except for a pajama-clad Pepper working on a laptop at the kitchen table.

“Uh, hi,” Tony says, surprised. “I thought you were in--no, I know you were in California, why are you not in California? It’s hard enough adjusting to the fact that I’m not the only jet-setter around anymore, the least you could do is be in L.A. when I think you’re there. I mean seriously, just as a courtesy, that seems fair, right?”

“I was in L.A.,” Pepper says. “Now I’m not. Please consider yourself all caught up.”

“Jesus,” says Tony. “That’s a scary voice, what happened? Did the fucking licensing thing not go through again because I tried, okay, I really did, they swore to me that it was handled, and the whole thing is ridiculous anyway, that’s been patented Stark tech since, what, the late 90s? So--”

“It’s not a licensing problem,” Pepper says, and gives him a little bit of a smile. “I would’ve told you; thank you, as it happens, for taking the time to deal with that. It’s nice when you listen.”

“You keep saying that word, ‘listen,’” Tony says, waving a hand, and kicks a chair around to sit on backwards. “What’re you doing here, then? Is it my fault, because it’d definitely be better if it wasn’t my fault--”

“No, no, nothing like that. I’d just--I suppose you could say I’m beginning to understand your tendency to take unscheduled vacations. Not that I forgive you for making me deal with that all those times.”

“And thank god, because the surprise would probably--”

“Tony, don’t start. I just wanted a break, that’s all. But don’t you dare repeat that, because if I see one more article that says I look tired--”

“Ugh, yeah, sorry, I saw that thing in the Times.”

“L.A. or New York?” Pepper says, and sighs. “You’d think it wouldn’t get to me, after all the years I spent fielding your bad press, but that, and the sales figures--well, you know. And everything always takes a hit one way or the other whenever there’s an Avengers mess--no, Tony, don’t, it’s not you, it’s just...been a long couple of weeks, that’s all.”

“Yeah,” Tony says, scrubbing his forehead with the back of his hand. “There’s a lot of that going around. You could’ve told me you were in town, you know, come out with me and Rhodey. You should’ve said, or texted, you didn’t have to go waiting up for--”

“Oh, I wasn’t,” Pepper says, and her smile is real now for all she’s rolling her eyes. “You do know you’re not the only person who lives in this house, don’t you?”

“I--you--oh,” says Tony. He blinks, and Pepper flushes a little bit under his scrutiny. “Pepper, is this--oh my god, this is a cross-country booty call, I am appalled.  No, wait, I take it back, I’m proud, I’m appalled and proud, I’m proud-palled--”

“Shut it, Stark,” Natasha says, coming in from the hallway. She’s wearing--holy shit, that’s a ratty old bathrobe, Natasha owns something that isn’t form-fitting or flattering, will wonders never cease--and her hair is kind of mussed, like she was sleeping. She walks right past him, puts her hands on Pepper’s shoulders. “Couldn’t sleep?”

“Just trying to finish this up,” Pepper says, sounding guilty, and if Tony’s eyes widen, soften a little, at the way Natasha snatches the laptop out of her reach, at least neither one of them is looking at him.

“This is your vacation,” Natasha says, calm. “Va-ca-tion, and before you say it’s only for a couple days, I’d like to argue that it’s only for a couple days, so you might as well take advantage of it. Come back to bed. Work’ll still be here in the morning.”

“I know,” Pepper says, pulling a face, “that’s the whole problem.”

Natasha laughs, and her hands are threaded through Pepper’s hair, and Tony’s never thought about it before--how it must get to Pepper, the job, in ways it never got to him. It’s his name on the doors, on the building, on each and every product, on the stockticker, and he never once felt like he owed it anything. But Pepper doesn’t have that kind of fallback, and she also cares more, always has, about the actual business of it.

“Listen to the lady,” Tony says, smiling at her. “I’m still technically kind of your boss, right? So--”

They groan in unison, and Natasha flicks a piece of lint off Pepper’s shoulder; since it’s Natasha, it somehow manages to land right in Tony’s eye. He glares around his forced wink, but then Pepper laughs and leans forward to kiss him on the cheek, and it’s okay, it’s good, as she stands up to follow Nat back to her room.

“Oh, wait,” Natasha says at the door. “Tony, speaking of people who aren’t sleeping, I saw Cap in the gym on the way down here. Is he--”

“Steve’s here?” Tony demands, scrambling out of his chair so fast that he actually knocks it over. Then, backpedaling, he tries for nonchalant. “I mean--oh. Since when? I thought he was at HQ, huh, guess not, okay, I’ll just be going now.”

He doesn’t miss the knowing look Natasha gives him, or the one Pepper follows it up with, less knowing and more known, as fond an expression as he’s ever seen, tinged, just slightly, with sadness. He doesn’t stop, because they’ve got their thing and this is his, even if he’s got no idea what he’s going to say to Steve when he sees him. These are dangerous, uncharted waters for Tony--well, for anyone, probably--and he sticks his hands in his pockets as he slips into the gym to survey the damage.

It’s wrecked, the whole place. There’s a dent in one of the walls and a pile of free weights stacked on top of each other, like Steve had lifted them without a bar; his punching bag is slumped in the corner, beeping a sad little battery-death alert, and one of the chin-up bars is dangling, half-ripped from the wall. Steve’s hanging from the other one, hauling himself up and over it, and his shirt’s soaked through with sweat.

Tony sighs, because his alternative here is saying something he probably shouldn’t. “Hey.”

“Hi, Tony,” Steve says, not even looking around. “Sorry. I’ll put it all back when I’m done.”

“Not worried about that.” Tony leans against the wall, lets the door snick shut behind him. “You wanna maybe try out the whole ‘at ease, soldier,’ thing? I’m getting muscle cramps just looking at you.”

Steve huffs out something that’s less a sigh, more darkly irritated protest, but he drops down from the bar, raises his hands in the air. “There, okay? I’m fine.”

“I can see that,” Tony says. “You wanna talk about it?”

No,” Steve says immediately. Then he winces, probably at the harshness of his tone, and adds, “I--sorry, thank you for asking, but no, I really don’t.”

“Okay,” says Tony, “you wanna fuck?”

It is, of course, the wrong thing to say. Tony knows this at once, even before it comes out of his mouth; he wants desperately to backpedal, wants it so desperately that he can’t figure out how. He’s left waiting for Steve to turn on him, to snap at him about a time and a place and god, how is it that he never quite manages to--

--and then Steve lifts his head, eyes dark, hungry, and breathes, “Yeah, actually, that’s exactly what I want.”

Tony opens his mouth and closes it again, completely still in the face of that admission. He looks at Steve, the honest want in his face, and is suddenly hyper-aware of his hands; he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to say here, what he’s supposed to do. Normally this kind of thing is easy for him--the mathematics of human attraction aren’t any harder to work through than any other kind, provided enough background information--but this doesn’t fit any pattern, offers up a variable he isn’t sure how to parse.

“Did you want me to come over there, or do you want to come over here, or--” he says finally, and then Steve grabs him by the shoulders and all but throws him back against the wall, lifting him off the ground a little, tongue desperate and fast in his mouth.

The soles of Tony's sneakers skate against the floor, barely brushing it, and he's halfway hard already just from that; Steve's grip on his arms is tight, maybe even bruising, and it makes something twist hot in Tony's gut. For all they've fucked around--and god, they have, Steve's refractory period is wickedly short and Tony wants to show him everything, wants to have him every way he can--they haven't done this, not yet. Steve's all coiled strength, all the time, visible even when he's fully clothed; it's in the way he walks, the way he stretches, the way his shoulders roll when he tenses. It leaves Tony's mouth dry, the idea of what he can do, the fact that the hands on him can dent steel and smash brick, but Steve's always so careful, so restrained, no matter how much Tony tells him not to be.  

This, though, this is new, the way Steve growls into his mouth and holds him like he's afraid Tony's going to go somewhere, like Tony even could, and Tony pushes off the ground as much as he can to grind his mouth into Steve's. He nips, hard, at Steve's lower lip and Steve pushes him into the wall with his whole body, presses them together so Tony can feel those abs through his t-shirt, and fuck, fuck, he can barely remember to breathe.

Steve pulls back, just with his mouth, just for a second, and Tony chases after his lips with a desperation that surprises even him. Steve kisses him again and again, swift and sharp, and Tony fists his hands in Steve's shirt just to get a little leverage.

"I want," he pants, between kisses, "I want you to, oh, fuck, I want you to fuck me, I want you to fuck me just like this, like you've never, like you can't stop, Steve, fuck--"

"Yeah," Steve says, "yeah, Tony, god, just," and he grinds forward, hips stutter-smooth, pressing Tony even further into the wall. He's hard against Tony's dick, through both their pants, and Tony thinks dizzily that he's had that inside him, that he's going to again--

"I gotta," he says, rolling a shoulder to get his arm free, slipping a little lower as Steve lets go, "I just, I have to," and he slides his hand into Steve's pants, wraps his fist around Steve's cock.

"Tony," Steve groans. His head dips forward, lands with a low thud against the wall. Tony tightens his fingers and Steve spasms, chokes, presses a sloppy open mouthed kiss into Tony's neck; he's panting for it already, blushing all the way down his neck, fingertips trembling where they're pressed into Tony's arm. Tony smiles and swallows a moan all at once.

"Gonna make you," he says, "you first, before you fuck me, wanna watch, I ever tell you that you come so gorgeous for me, Steve, Steve, yeah, that's it, c'mon, make that noise again, you want to, don't you?"

"I should," Steve says, and he stutters it, it trips out his mouth, syllables catching; Tony can't help the way he grinds forward on that, the way he soothes his whole hand down Steve's cock. "Should--wait--I want to--"

"Yeah, yeah, I know, I know you do, you can, you're gonna, all the way inside me, gonna be so good, I'll beg for it, I'll scream for it, you've got no idea, want you to--but this first, gimme this first, just a little more, c'mon, c'mon--"

"Goddamn it," Steve chokes out, and comes hard into Tony's hand, his whole body jerking.

"That's it," Tony says--gasps, really, because he's so hard he can't see straight, Steve's come dripping down his hand. "Yeah, that's it, there you go, breathe, it's okay, fuck, so good, I can't even--"

"Tony, you have to--to stop," Steve says, "stop talking, I can't," and he shudders again, arches his back, fingers flexing.

"Okay," Tony whispers, and adds, "stopping, no more talking, just breathe, there you go,"  because he can't actually help himself.

Steve slumps after that, lets go of Tony like he can't help it, like he doesn't even mean to. Tony's feet land on the ground and his arms go up of their own accord, pulling Steve in, because Steve's always like this when he comes harder than he means to--Tony knows that, knows him, now. He soothes a hand down Steve's back and Steve's breath comes fast and hard against his ear, little choking noises like he's forcing it out, and Tony doesn't say anything, wants to but doesn't, waits him out.

"Wanted to do that," Steve says eventually, sounding frustrated, "in you," and god, Tony would laugh, he really would, if it wasn't so stupidly fucking hot.

"I know," he says, "I know, what'd I say about that, was I not clear--you know the science behind your dick is kind of miraculous, I'd say it should be studied but no, just by me, I don’t share well, you know that, but I've done extensive research and I know if I give you fifteen minutes--"

"Tony," Steve says, and he pulls back enough that Tony can see his face, his eyes, wide and wild. "Tony, I can't--"

"Yeah, you can," Tony says, even though he's pretty sure Steve's not talking about his recovery time anymore. He kisses him to cover that, kisses him because he doesn't know what else to do, and Steve sighs into his mouth, hands crawling up underneath his shirt to settle against his back, points of warmth, of want.

"Bedroom?" Tony says, dark, hungry, after a few minutes, and Steve says, "God, what are you trying to do to me?" like he honestly doesn't know the answer.

"Whatever you want," Tony says. It's so not what he means to say--the honesty in it cracks and shatters in the air, and he can't look at Steve's face, can't stop talking, either. "I mean, you know what I--don't you? It's, I, you're...you're gonna fuck me, right? Aren't you? Because god, I just, I want you to touch me everywhere, wanna feel you in me, but I just had to, okay, I had to, because the way you look when you--fuck, Steve, I don't, just, please--"

"Oh," Steve says, and when Tony risks looking at him he's…smiling, almost, this quiet, secret curve to his mouth. Tony goes to kiss him because--well, because that's what he does, isn't it, in this moment, that's the next step here, but Steve dodges him, trails his mouth down Tony's jawline, up to his ear.

"Bedroom sounds good," he says, warm, a hint of embarrassment lurking underneath, and Tony swallows, nods, takes a deep breath as Steve steps away.

"Your room," he says, "because, uh, closer? And I'm kind of--I mean stairs right now would be. Uh."

Steve's brow furrows for a second. Then he looks down when Tony gestures, sees the tent of Tony's trousers and the come all over his hand, and groans from the back of his throat.

"Yeah," he says, "yeah, okay, definitely bedroom now," and puts a hand on Tony's back and steers him out into the hall.

"Worried I'm gonna get lost?" Tony says, because it's easier to joke right now than it is to…to breathe, or to walk, and Steve's hand is radiating heat across his shoulder blades. "Because I, y’know, I live here and stuff, I think that's unlikely."

"Don't want to stop touching you," Steve admits quietly, and Tony swallows, can't turn around, can't even look at him until they're behind the closed door of Steve’s room.

"Right," Tony says then, "good, okay, that's great news because I don't want, I definitely don't want you to stop touching me, god, Steve, fuck," and he throws himself forward, trusting that Steve will grab him like he always does. Steve makes that noise again, the choked-raw growling one, and he's stripping off Tony's t-shirt, his own, walking them back to the bed with hands skating along Tony's ribcage.

"Yeah," Tony says, falling backwards on purpose, reaching back to the drawer where he knows Steve keeps the lube while Steve fumbles with his belt, "yeah, see, what'd I tell you, you'll be ready to go again in no time and I, I'm just gonna get ready too, faster, because I don't--no waiting, not longer than I have to, Jesus, look at your cock, look at it, fuck, that never gets old."

And see, this is--this is a selfish thing Tony's doing, a little bit, except for how it isn't, not really, not at all. He strips himself out of his pants and slicks two fingers up because…because well, okay, he gets sex, doesn't he, how it works, the things it's good for, and Steve's learning still, for all he's learning fast. And Tony knows Steve's not managing it well, whatever it is, this thing that's eating at him that Tony doesn't know how to approach, and this will help, won't it, this is one of the things sex is for--

--and then Steve grabs his wrist, stills him, says, "Let me," so quietly Tony almost doesn't hear it.

"I," Tony says, "I mean, you, yeah, if you want to?  Be faster if I did it but hey, this is your show--"

"No it's not," Steve says, confused, "Tony, what does that even mean," and he plucks the tub of lube up off the bed, slides three fingers into it.

"It means," Tony says, "that…uh, fuck, could you not…not do that with your fingers when I'm trying to think?"

Steve grins, fans them out in front of him; it's just lube they're slick with, Tony knows that, he knows, but it makes his dick twitch anyway. Steve huffs out a faint little laugh, warm and fond, and says, "You know, maybe Thor was right the other day. You are a little predictable sometimes."

"Could we not," Tony says, "Jesus, Steve, could we not be talking about Thor right now," and that, for whatever reason, wipes the humor off Steve's face, leaves a sort of breathlessness there instead.

"Good point," he says, and reaches down to press one lube-slick finger against Tony's opening. "I'm, uh, going to--"

"Yeah, I know, I know," Tony gasps, "god, you don't have to narrate, if you narrate it I'm definitely not going to make it--"

"I said that too," Steve says, sliding one finger in, working it slow and careful.  "Didn't really stop you, did it?"

"I'm not superpowered," Tony says, and oh, hell, it's more of whine that he means it to be. "If I go early that's, that's it, whole shebang, all she wrote, fuck c'mon already I can take more--"

"Yeah, I know," Steve says. "Kind of enjoying myself, though."

Tony doesn't have anything to say to that; he screws his eyes shut, tries to resist the urge to grind down onto Steve's finger. He feels the second one entering, the third, doesn't see it because he can't look, knows from experience that the sight of Steve's hand slowly but surely slipping into him is more than he can handle right now. His hands are still shaking a little--Steve shakes when he comes, shakes after, has every time, just a little bit--and he’s slow, painstaking, achingly careful. Tony has done this so many times with so many people, knows the low burn of it, the pleasant, uncoiling warmth, but he can’t get over Steve’s hand on his stomach, rubbing slow, soothing circles.

It’s--they’ve only been doing this a month, really, when it comes down to it, and Steve’s only topped twice. It drives Tony crazy, because he knows how much Steve likes doing it, can see it, but he’s worried, Tony guesses--afraid he doesn’t know his own strength, that’ll he’ll do it wrong and Tony will get hurt. Which, god, even that makes Tony want it more, makes Tony want to spread his knees the way he had the first time, Steve holding him up, angling him, Tony’s whole weight held easily in one hand, and a few strokes had been enough, he’d come before he even knew what was happening.

Tony opens his mouth, means to say something, anything, to tell Steve how much he wants it, to egg him on a little, because he knows Steve needs this, needs to let loose, let go. But he opens his eyes, too, can’t help it, and everything he could say catches in his throat; Steve’s face is an open book like this, and it’s saying...god. He’s hard again but his face is saying lost, he’s looking at Tony like he doesn’t know what to do at all, and Tony stops thinking, or, just maybe, starts.

“Hey,” he says, fingertips grazing Steve’s jaw, his cheek, “hey, hey, okay. Okay, I’ve got you, I get it.”

He doesn’t, not really, but he rides some instinct, pushes a hand against Steve’s shoulder. Steve lets out a long breath, pulls his fingers out and lays back, and Tony straddles him, smiles down at him, lopsided.

“So this is,” he says, “uh, you’re just--I mean, it’s, obviously, you’ll follow, I don’t mean to--but if it’s too much, or anything, you can--”

“Yeah,” Steve breathes, “yeah, okay,” and Tony swallows, angles himself, presses himself down around Steve’s cock.

Steve gasps, a sudden, huge noise like all the breath’s been punched out of him, and Tony doesn’t clench around him through force of will. He inches himself down, as slow and careful as Steve had been with his fingers; Steve’s hands drift to Tony’s hips, stuttering, unsure. Tony nods at him, not trusting his voice, and lets go, Steve’s cock buried entirely inside him.

Tony,” Steve says, half-sob, and there’s something in his eyes that Tony doesn't know how to read or understand or, hell, even avoid. He can’t look away, and god only knows what his own eyes must be saying--he’d been careful to hide them, before, with Pepper, because he knows how he is, no matter how much he pretends not to.

But this is Steve, who’s always so honest, who never quite manages to let Tony get away with anything, even when he’s doing Tony the kindness of trying. This is Steve and Tony can’t stop looking at him, doesn’t want to, can’t fathom gathering the strength, and he rocks his hips forward, just a little, just enough. Steve’s eyes slip shut and he opens his mouth, but no sound comes out; Tony doesn’t know how a moan can be mute but it is, it is, and he doesn’t, he can’t--

“Steve, I,” he says, and he’s not sure how that sentence is going to end, doesn’t have to figure it out because Steve smiles at him, eyes closed, just a little thing. And Tony’s--Tony’s done in, isn’t he, he has to be, because he’s never done this before, never been this far inside of someone before, for all it’s Steve who’s inside of him.

Steve’s hands aren’t on his hips anymore; they’ve moved down, slipped low, sliding along Tony’s thighs like there’s a map on his palm. Tony braces his hands on the headboard because he has to, can’t hold himself up anymore, tightens himself around Steve’s cock and rolls his hips, once, twice. He bows his head and sees a drop of sweat, his own, fall to Steve’s chest, and when Steve opens his eyes again he can’t do anything but shudder, breath ragged, mouth parted around something he isn’t sure how to say.

He just hangs there, over Steve and around him, too, his whole body thrumming with tension. He hangs there and Steve’s still smiling when he moves, reaches out with his whole body, arching up to pull Tony into a kiss. It changes the angle, not much but enough, and when their mouths meet he can feel Steve’s dick twitch inside of him; he doesn’t mean to, shouldn’t, but he groans into Steve’s mouth and comes, shock-hard, all over both of their stomachs. And maybe it’s just that, the sticky spill of it between them, or maybe it’s the fact that Tony’s body always tenses, wracked, when he comes before he’s ready to, but Steve shakes all over and Tony can feel it, can feel Steve spilling out inside of him. He bites down on the trembling plane of Steve’s shoulder to keep from screaming out loud and Steve’s hands are on his back, his ass, and Tony’s whole world goes white with overload, because it’s the only choice he’s really got.

When he blinks out of it--and it can’t be long, can it, not more than a second or two, because they’re both still gasping for breath, haven’t moved--he can feel Steve slipping out of him, inching loose, anatomical gravity. And that’s...Tony doesn’t want him to go, which doesn’t even make sense, which isn’t rational at all. He pulls himself free despite this, tries to ignore the aching absence there, focuses instead on the come dripping down his leg as he rolls, indelicately, to one side.

God, Tony,” Steve says, wrecked, a hand reaching out to--fuck, Steve’s tracing the lines of his own come on Tony’s thighs, and Tony has to muffle his moan against the pillow, because Christ, that would be telling. “That was--god.”

“Yeah,” Tony says, and he’s shaking, can feel himself shaking, as Steve gets up on unsteady legs and walks to the bathroom. He’d raise a protest but he kind of...can’t, right now, maybe in a minute...but Steve’s back before he can worry about it, a washcloth in his hand. “What--”

“You’re not going to,” Steve pauses, swallows, actually licks his lips and fuck, Tony hasn’t had an aftershock like this in years, “you’re not going to sleep like, uh. Like that.”

“I can,” Tony starts, and Steve says, “No, I, uh. I want to, if that’s...okay?” and Tony really, really can’t bring himself to argue.  

“Yeah,” he says, “yeah, yeah, of course it’s--what am I going to do, really, that’s, uh--”

“Stop talking,” Steve says easily, like he’s giving Tony a gift, and he is, really, so Tony does.

The washcloth’s damp, warm water mostly wrung out, and if Steve notices that Tony groans into the pillow every time it touches him, he’s kind enough not to mention it. He wipes Tony clean and then, apparently out of energy entirely, throws the cloth over the edge of the bed and collapses back against the pillows.

He’s going to say something, Tony knows he is, can feel it in the way his breathing changes, in the patterns his fingertips are tracing on Tony’s ribcage. He’s going to say something and Tony is too...too something, right now, for that, so he pushes himself on one unsteady arm and kisses Steve, fast, breathless, instead.

And then Steve...god, Steve, he’s always Steve, isn’t he, even in bed, especially in bed; he rolls with it, kisses back, and then takes Tony’s face in both of his hands and slows it down. He sucks lightly at Tony’s lower lip and soothes his thumb along Tony’s cheek and Tony gasps and doesn’t, drifts in the familiarity of it until he feels like himself again.

When they finally, finally break apart, he grins at Steve, and the smile Steve answers with is strange, like he can’t quite remember how the muscles in his face work. “We’re, uh. We’re definitely going to have to try it that way again sometime.”

“Mmm,” Tony says, “you like that? Remind me later, I’ll put it on the list--”

“The list?”

“Of things you’ll like,” Tony says around a yawn. “Like, uh, the other day, the shower got cold and you...so ice cubes, maybe, except, you know, it’s messy, gets shit all wet, and I know ice isn’t good for you sometimes, because of. Uh. The thing. But you definitely reacted to the temperature shift, and that one time when we started and I still, with the armor, that was just for a second and you liked that too, I’m sure I can find a way around it, what’s the point of being me if you can’t screw around with that kind of thing, right?”

“You keep track of what I like?” Steve says, because of course that’s what he took away from that. “In...in bed?”

“Well, yeah,” says Tony, “why wouldn’t I? The whole point is for you to like it, and it’s all, I mean, if you have the opportunity for trial and error it’d be stupid not to pay attention.”

“I,” Steve says, and blinks, “that’s actually...really sweet.”

“You wouldn’t think that if you’d seen the folder on my server where I keep the--”

“Oh, god, no, don’t,” Steve says, laughing, slinging an arm over Tony’s waist. “Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.”

“Find out eventually,” Tony says, eyelids drooping already, lulled into a sense of security that maybe isn’t even false by the proximity of Steve’s chest. “‘S gonna be a fun day.”

“I’ll look forward to it,” Steve says, “go to sleep, Tony,” and hey, what the hell, Tony does.

--

Tony’s not sure what time it is--darkness time, definitely, no-sunlight time, wow, he’s tired--when he wakes to the sensation of being jabbed in the shoulder. It takes him a second to get his bearings (not drunk not in the suit this is his bed hey that’s Steve full compliment of limbs no villains heart working okay) and then he rallies immediately to action.

Well. For a given value of “action,” anyway.

“Whuzzit, ‘s night, are we ‘ssmebling?” he slurs, trying and failing to sit up. “‘Cause… suit... Jarvis...”

“No,” Steve says, and there are hands on Tony’s shoulders, and oh, hey, it’s a face, it’s Steve’s face! Tony’s totally awake, he can be awake, yes he can. “No, hey, no, it’s not a mission, nothing like that, god. Sorry.”

“Um,” says Tony, “no, I mean, ‘s fine, hello, ‘m I in...trouble or, uh, dreaming, right, was I dreaming?”

“How would I know if you were dreaming?”

“Pepper,” Tony says, yawning around it, rubbing one eye with the palm of his hand. “Said I’d, uh. In my sleep, sometimes. Er. Screaming an’ stuff, woke her up.”

“Oh,” Steve says, very quiet. “No, Tony, you weren’t screaming.”

Awesome,” Tony says. There’s a relief. “What’s...up, then?”

“Nothing,” Steve says, and Tony’s just awake enough now to hear how sharply it comes out of his mouth. He peers at Steve in the darkness--sitting up, knees pulled to his chest--and frowns. “I don’t even know why I woke you, honestly. Call it an...impulse, I guess. Go back to sleep.”

“But I’m up now,” Tony says.

This, at least, earns him half a smile; Tony only catches it because he’s looking for it, but it’s there for a second. Steve’s hands ghosts over his arm a moment later.

“Sorry,” he says.

“If you woke me up to apologize for waking me that’d be--” he pauses, yawns hugely, continues, “I mean, if you see logic in that then, uh, share with the class or whatever--”

“No, I meant,” and now his hand’s not ghosting, it’s rubbing, knuckles against Tony’s skin, a light, careful sort of touch. “I...I left this. Bruised you. I didn’t mean to.”

“Huh?” Then Tony follows Steve’s gaze down, down, and--”Oh, shit, look at that. Wow. Uh. That’s...kind of hot, actually.”

Tony.”

“It is!” Tony says, still not with it enough to filter himself. “It’s Cap-shaped, I’ll probably get hard in a meeting because of that now, thanks for that, hey, you’re still frowning. Stop it, seriously, it's fine, I like it.”

“You shouldn’t,” Steve says, and Tony laughs.

“There are a lot of things I shouldn’t like,” he says, “but I do anyway, and this is only a little bruise and you’re, I mean, come on, you’re you. Were you really expecting to never ever leave a little mark? And anyway--oh. This isn’t about this, is it?”

“Not really,” Steve says, and worries the edge of his lip between his teeth. “Kind of? I don’t know, I shouldn’t have woken you--”

“But it’s too late, I’m awake, so now you’re stuck with me.”

Steve sighs. “I’m just not...I don’t know how to. To do this, I guess and--oh, no, not us, Tony, don’t look at me like that. You and me is kind of the only thing I do know how to do right now, or, I mean, where I at least have a...oh, god, don’t make me--”

“I wasn’t,” Tony says, “actually. Sometimes I’m not, you know, and mostly I’m just, look, I’m not really good at problem solving but on the other hand I’m great at it, but I’m sort of going to need you to explain. A little.  Because if you don’t I’m probably going to say something awful. Not on purpose. But, a guideline is all, a boundary or something, because I’ve got a big picture but I need you to, uh, scale it down a little so I can get it. Or try to get it. Or whatever.”

Steve rakes a hand through his hair, takes a deep breath, and looks out the window. “Not sure what I’d even say, really.”

“Okay,” Tony says, flopping back against the sheets, “tell you what, I can wait.”

“Yes, because that’s normally such a skill of yours,” Steve says. “Patience, that’s your watchword, right after--”

“Play nice,” Tony says, “I’m trying a new thing here, it’s very difficult to focus on it,” and Steve shakes his head, but he doesn’t say anything else.

And then...well, then Tony does wait, because this is a thing about Steve he thinks he might just have figured out. Steve likes to talk it out when he’s upset, but he won’t be rushed for anyone; he’s stubborn, and Tony gets stubborn, knows stubborn inside and out. He’d let it go, actually, because for all Tony can’t really pick his own battles, he can sometimes pick other people’s, but Steve had woken him.  That’s what Pepper would call a context clue and what Tony would probably call...well, a coding blip, honestly, but either way it’s worth his attention, and so he stares up at the ceiling and doesn’t twitch, doesn’t hum, doesn’t explain to Steve how the backup generator in the Quinjet’s going to work...

...and eventually, Steve opens his mouth.

“He doesn’t remember,” he says slowly. “Bucky, I mean. Anything after--nothing about how I...I mean, I might as well have dropped him and he doesn’t remember, the last thing he has is me making some joke about Coney Island and I don’t know how to tell him it was my fault--”

“Was it your fault?”

“Of course it was,” Steve says, “it--all of it, it was all my fault--”

“Because I don’t actually know the whole story there,” Tony continues, “which, I mean, not that you have to tell me the story, but unless you actually, uh, shot him--”

“No! Of course I didn’t--”

“Well then,” Tony says, “I’m guessing it’s not entirely your fault, right? I mean, coming from a guy who knows from self-blame, I feel that, I get it, but I don’t have all the data, so, y’know. You could tell me, though, if you wanted. No blame here, either way.”

Steve gives him a long, open-mouthed look, and then drops his gaze and stares down at his hands. When he speaks, his voice is small.

“Do you think we could maybe, uh. Make some coffee or something? It’s...kind of a long story.”

“Sure,” says Tony, “why not? Never met a pot of coffee I didn’t like. C’mon.”

--

An hour later, Tony knows...well. He knows everything, really.

He knows why Steve was so intense about making Tony build that safety harness for Hawkeye; he knows why Steve always winces when trains fly past them in the subway. He knows why Steve still hasn’t gone to see his old neighborhood in Brooklyn, and why he shudders sometimes when they cut through certain alleyways in battle, and why he always watches the fight surveillance footage until he knows the timestamp on every single punch, kick, or explosion. He knows why he occasionally catches Steve saying Bucky’s name is his sleep, sounding tortured by it, and he thinks he might even know why Steve gets so weird and intense when Tony’s injured--he’s not sure about that last one, but hey, a guy can hope.

“...and I didn’t even look for him,” Steve finishes, finally. He’s been talking so long that his voice is a little hoarse--or, at least, Tony is going to do him the kindness of pretending to believe that’s what it is. “I mean, my best friend, my best friend, he showed up for me so many times, he never let me down and he was alive and I didn’t even think to--”

“Well, yeah, no, of course you didn’t,” says Tony, who can’t keep quiet anymore. “Steve, come on, listen to yourself--the guy fell off the side of a mountain, anyone would assume he was dead--”

“But I shouldn’t have, I should have known better, I should have tried harder--”

“How do you know you wouldn’t have?” Tony says, and takes a pointed sip of his coffee. It’s cold, awful, and he pulls a face. “Ugh, that’s gotten gross--but, no, okay, it was what, a day? Two? Between when he fell and when you did, so it’s not like you had a lot of time on your hands to go searching. And before you start, of course you didn’t go looking when you woke up, it’d been 70 years, even if he’d survived the fall he wouldn’t have survived 70 years in the mountains, that doesn’t even make sense.”

“I know!” Steve snaps. He lets his head drop into his hands. “I know, but it shouldn’t have happened at all and--and I don’t know if I want him to, to remember and forgive me, or remember and hate me, or just not remember. And that’s...it’s selfish, I think, any one of those options is selfish, but I can’t help it.”

Sometimes--not so often anymore, because he’s gotten used to it, but sometimes--Steve is such a good person that Tony kind of wants to poke him and make sure he’s real.

“Huh,” he says, instead of doing that. “What was it you said Peggy told you?”

Steve sighs. “‘Allow Barnes the dignity of his choice.’ And I understand, you don’t have to--”

“No, I’m not going to. Because, look, actually, I would have given you totally different advice, and it would’ve been the wrong advice, obviously, but the way I see it? Once someone’s dead you don’t really owe them anything. I mean, it’s not like they’re gonna know, either way, so I probably wouldn’t have told you to allow him the dignity of shit. Who needs dignity once they’re dead? They’re dead, that’s not really their problem anymore. But,” he continues, when Steve opens his mouth to--Tony doesn’t know, argue with him, maybe, or something, “Bucky’s not dead, as it turns out. So now you do owe him shit, and--I mean, look at it this way. If it were me, if we were on a train and you were falling and I couldn’t--not didn’t, couldn’t--grab you in time, would you want me to beat myself up about for the rest of my life?”

“You would,” Steve says.

“Of course I would,” says Tony, “obviously I would, I beat myself up over way less than that, let’s not lie, but you wouldn’t want me to, right?”

“Well, of course not--”

“And I wouldn’t care, because you’d be...” Oh. Tony can’t actually say the word ‘dead’ in the context of Steve; that’s interesting. Unexpected. He’ll come back to it later. “You wouldn’t be around, so it wouldn’t matter, I could do what I wanted to. But Bucky’s alive! So, I mean, doing shit you know he wouldn’t want you to be doing, that’s kind of a dick move, right?”

Steve stares at him like he’s crazy; Tony doesn’t really blame him. After a minute he says, “I feel like that shouldn’t make sense.”

“I feel that way a lot,” Tony says, “like, whenever Thor says anything, and every time Natasha turns out to have another secret pocket in her jumpsuit--but it does, right?”

“I,” Steve says, and then sighs, nearly smiles. “Yeah, it kind of does.”

“Well, there you go,” Tony says. He gets up to pour himself another cup of coffee, takes Steve’s mug wordlessly when he hands it back. “Is that all of it?”

“Yeah,” Steve says, and then, “well, I mean, no, not really, he’s--nobody knows what they’ve done to him. He shouldn’t be alive, and he is, and I think everyone’s afraid that he’s going to, I don’t know, go crazy from over-chemicalization or something. I don’t know the science behind it. Mostly I’ve just been trying to keep him from breaking out of the building to go look at the future.”

“Not one for forced confinement?”

“You’ve got no idea,” Steve says, and that’s a real smile, a full one, when Tony hands him his freshly refilled cup. “When we were kids he used to skip detention by jumping out of windows; yesterday he was so out of it he could barely walk, and he still asked me to take him to dinner, because he was ‘sick of the walls in this joint.’”

“Sounds like my kind of guy,” Tony says absently, and sits back down. “Well, hey, look, that’s an easy fix--if he needs supervision, just bring him here. We’re crawling with superheroes and Coulson’s on the speed-dial, there’s a lab right in the basement if we have to run any kind of emergency testing, there’s no reason he has to stay on-base.”

“I--what?” Steve says. “Tony, I can’t ask you to do that--”

“Why the hell not?”

“Because this is your house,” Steve says. “I’m not going to, I mean, and I’m sure Bucky wouldn’t want me to, the imposition--”

“Have you missed the square footage on this place?” Tony demands. “Seriously, there are more bedrooms here than even I know what to do with and I am, as you may have noticed, good at excess. Hell, he could sleep in your room, it’s not like you really use it anymore.”

Oh, crap, he probably shouldn’t have said that. He regrets it, yes he does, that’s some serious regret there, he shouldn’t have drawn Steve’s attention to that fact, but he doesn’t really get a chance to panic about it properly, because a loud crash interrupts them.

The ceiling in the front hallway has fallen in, right before their eyes. There’s a cloud of plaster in the air, obscuring the intruder, but that doesn’t stop them from jumping into action; Steve rips a cabinet door off its hinges to use as a shield, tosses Tony a kitchen knife. Natasha comes running out from her bedroom, daggers in her hands, Pepper behind her and armed with what Tony thinks is Natasha’s favorite pistol, and Clint stumbles out of his bedroom a moment later, his crossbow on his hip, the strap of one of his sniper rifles caught between his teeth.

“Who dares intrude upon the home of Thor, god of thunder?” Thor cries, flying into the room with Mjölnir in his hand. He is completely and utterly naked, but that doesn’t stop him from adding, “Show yourself, villain, that you might rue the day upon which you upset my slumber!”

“Jarvis, fans,” Tony snaps, because it’s high time they got a twenty on whoever managed to get in here without raising the alarms. The cloud of dust clears nearly instantaneously, revealing...

...the Hulk, looking equal parts confused and shamefaced, lying prone across the floor.

“Hulk is sorry,” he says. “Hulk had bad dream. Hulk will stop watching Hitchcock movies before bed.”

Jesus,” Tony, Steve, Natasha, Pepper and Clint say together.

Thor, never one to follow the crowd, mutters something in old Norse under his breath. Then he glances around the kitchen--still naked, so naked, the nakedest--and brightens considerably. “My friends! You have prepared coffee in anticipation of this meeting! My irritation is soothed entirely, for nothing can deter me from the enjoyment of a fine Italian roast.”

Tony picks up his own coffee cup, takes a long sip, and raises an eyebrow at Steve. Perfectly deadpan, he says, “You know what, buddy, you’re right. Another house guest would be an imposition. Really disturb the tranquility of the place. I just don’t think I can manage it.”

Steve looks around the room, at the plaster dust and drywall chunks, Thor’s dick swinging free as he pours himself a cup of coffee, Clint’s Kermit the Frog boxers. He puts down the cabinet door, drops his head to Tony’s shoulder, and laughs, shaking with it, so hard he nearly cries.

--

As it turns out, it’s kind of hard to go back to sleep after the ceiling falls in at half past four in the morning. After a few minutes of chaotic argument (“HITCHCOCK MOVIES?!” “Hulk did not know he was afraid of birds!”), the team drifts into the living room, clutching mugs of coffee, all in mostly silent agreement that the best thing to do is cut their losses and watch a movie.

They’re a lot less silent about their agreement that Thor should put some pants on, but, to be fair, sometimes he needs to hear that a couple of times before it really makes an impact.

It’s five when Steve starts yawning; at five fifteen his head lands on Tony’s shoulder, heavy, his body gone lax. Tony shifts without really thinking about it, curling an arm around him without taking his eyes off of Sex and The City, which they’re watching mostly because they needed something to be annoyed at that wasn’t, well, the Hulk.

“If I hunt down the people who made this movie and kill them,” Natasha says, “it’s justifiable homicide, right?”

“No court would convict you,” Clint says. “That’s a mercy killing if ever there--oh my fucking god, if you’re going to beat someone in the face with flowers the least you could do is get your form right--”

“Hulk likes pretty dresses,” says the Hulk, who is eating ramen that Tony went ahead and made for him for the good of the team.

“Good for you, Hulk,” Pepper says diplomatically; Steve snores, loud and obnoxious, and Tony smiles, tries to play it off when Pepper gives him a knowing look. “This movie is horrific, but I am willing to concede--”

“Don’t,” says Natasha, “just, just don’t, Pepper, I swear to god, murder--”

“I can appreciate a good pair of Manolo’s and support your vicious habits at the same time,” Pepper says loftily, and Natasha rolls her eyes, visibly bites back a smile.

“Hey,” says Tony, “that building wouldn’t be there without us, everybody drink.”

Everyone takes a long pull from their coffee mugs, except for the Hulk, who slurps loudly at his ramen.

“I must admit,” Thor says, tilting his head in confusion, “while I normally find Midgardian entertainment both deeply fulfilling and worthy of my attention, this storyline is neither compelling nor short on emotional manipulation. In addition, what they have done to the character development of Miranda in particular appalls me to the bowels of my soul; for what purpose have they stripped her of her sass?”

There is a long moment of silence.

“Thor watches the series,” Tony says finally, “everybody drink.”

There is a round of muttered agreement, and then the chatter drops off. Clint’s the next one to fall asleep, eyes wide open like always, but they’re all used to it by now; Natasha goes next, like a switch has been flipped, her head in Pepper’s lap. Hulk’s snoring by the time the credits roll, and Thor, who can sleep at will and anywhere, shrugs and closes his eyes when Tony puts on Fight Club to try and bleach his brain.

And then...well, it’s only him and Pepper awake anymore, isn’t it, and they’ve both got work pulled up on the glass end tables, and she knows what he’s like. He moves again, careful, guides Steve into a slightly more comfortable position, and when he looks up, she’s smiling at him.

“Don’t, Pep.”

“And why shouldn’t I?” Pepper says. “Do you think I don’t know what it is to worry about someone?”

“Ouch,” Tony says, and Pepper rolls her eyes.

“I didn’t mean it like that, Tony, and you know it.”

“Yeah,” says Tony. “I just...it was never like this with you, I guess. Uh, no offense, please don’t think I mean that in a--”

“No, I know,” Pepper says, and whatever her smile is communicating now, it’s outside the range of what Tony can translate. “You know that we weren’t...normal, don’t you? That’s probably part of what went wrong, really; we knew each other too well in other ways, I think.”

“If I nod and smile, will you pretend to believe I understood that?”

“Don’t I always?” Pepper says, and her face goes soft when Tony laughs. “You’re good together, I think. You don’t need to drive yourself crazy about it; you’re crazy enough already.”

Thanks,” Tony says, and then--because it’s too late, too early, and it’s Pepper--he adds, “I just...I know I tend to, uh, fuck things up. I don’t mean to, but I mean--well, you know.”

“Is that what you think happened between us?” Pepper says. Tony’s eyes must say something he doesn’t mean them to say, he must not drop them fast enough, because she sighs, sounding sad. “Oh, Tony.”

“No, look, you don’t have to, it’s good, I’m--”

“Sometimes people just don’t fit together,” Pepper says, and it’s her kind voice, the one she only uses when he’s sick or injured, when she’s trying to talk him out of something emotional and stupid. “Or don’t fit together in certain ways, or have fit together too long one way to...we didn’t work, but it’s not because you didn’t.”

“Yes it is,” Tony says wretchedly, “you know it is, you don’t have to--”

“I know I don’t have to,” Pepper says. “If you really think, after all this time, that I’d tell you things because I thought you wanted to hear them, I clearly haven’t been doing my job right. Well, jobs, I suppose, but that’s neither here nor--Tony. Relationships take two people, and so do breakups.”

“Right, but--”

“No,” she says, not kind anymore, that’s the business voice. “Oh, no you don’t, I avoided you just as much as you avoided me--”

“But I pushed too much and--”

“I pushed right back.  Do you know I actually find it offensive that you could--”

Offensive, you’re offended by my--”

“--and now you’re entirely railroading the discussion, yes, of course I am, do you have any idea how much--”

“--yeah, Pep, I’ve got an idea, you’re not listening to me--”

“No, you’re not listening to me!” Pepper says, and it’s just loud enough that Natasha stirs a little in her lap. She freezes, shamefaced, and then sighs and offers Tony a smile. “This is why, Tony. We work like this, as us; we probably shouldn’t have tried it the other way, but, well.”

“Yeah,” Tony says, “well.”

“I’m glad we did, though,” Pepper says, and it doesn’t sound like charity. “Because I would’ve held a candle, I imagine, and now I don’t have to, and who knows what that would have done to us?”

“Theoreticals,” Tony says. “Dangerous game, isn’t it?”

“Not really,” Pepper says, “not this time.”

Tony offers her a lopsided little grin and looks back at the screen. He doesn’t look at the circles under Steve’s eyes, because he knows they’re there; after a minute, he rubs the flat of his palm down Steve’s arm. Steve moves a little, a tiny muscle spasm that probably has nothing to do with Tony’s hand, but he smiles anyway.  “So you think you’re,” he says, without glancing away from the movie, “I mean, you and Natasha. Feels like a fit?”

“I don’t like to count my chickens,” Pepper says slowly. “But, yes. Yes, I think so.”

“Good,” says Tony, and hey, look at that, he even means it. “That’s...that’s good, Pep, I’m glad. Can’t promise I won’t make an embarrassing toast at the wedding, though--hey, you think the Hong Kong story is appropriate for company, because you know what, I don’t, so it’s definitely on the docket--”

“Don’t you dare,” Pepper says. Then she laughs, ducking her head. “And you? Fitting?”

“Tell you what,” Tony says, looking down at Steve’s big, broad hand settled across his thigh, “I’ll let you know.”

--

Everyone wakes up--or, in Tony’s case, goes from sitting down half-asleep to standing up half-asleep--around eight. They all shuffle into the kitchen, not quite listening to Bruce’s apologies, and settle around the table, silent.

It’s maybe ten minutes after that when they all realize that food isn’t just going to magically appear. Tony sighs and goes to the coffeemaker; Thor, the most chipper of the lot of them by a fair margin, decides to take stock of the fridge.

“Perhaps I shall endeavor to produce a meal,” he says happily. “Tell me, would this purple gelatinous substance combine well with eggs?”

“Fine with me,” says Bruce.

“Remember to take the shells off,” says Natasha.

“We order too much fucking take-out,” says Clint, “but hey, so long as there’s coffee, what do I care? I’ve probably eaten worse.”

“Coffee’s happening,” Tony mumbles. “Five minutes.”

He’s hit his least favorite phase of exhaustion: the one where he doesn’t have enough to do or enough caffeine in his system to ignore it, the one where he remembers why normal people sleep. When he sits back down in his chair, Steve smiles, puts a hand on his back, and Tony slumps, lets him.  

“Tired?” says Steve, because even in the midst of what is undoubtedly one of the more stressful weeks of his life, he has the wherewithal to be a dry bastard.

“Ha ha,” says Tony, “really, you’re hysterical, you’re so funny, you crack me up, remind me of how funny you are the next time I’m, say, reinforcing your costume’s armor--”

“Mmm,” says Steve, moving his hand to rub the back of Tony’s neck, “and here I thought this was the kind of thing we’d be able to settle with frogs in my bed.”

“What are you, twelve?”

“Haven’t been for, oh, eighty years or so,” Steve says, and it’s so nice to hear him joking about it that Tony gives in and smiles. Steve smiles back, warm and open, and Tony feels his cheeks heating, and--

“Oho!” says Thor, startling them both. “This powder is a most intriguing color; truly, it shall add a layer of depth to this great feast of the day!”

There is a pause, the kind of pause that means no one knows what the right response is, and Tony pinches the bridge of his nose. “Just tell me.”

“Cayenne pepper,” Steve admits, and laughs when Tony groans and drops his head onto the table. “Hey, cheer up. It can’t be that bad, right?”

“That’s the worst thing you could have said,” Tony says, indistinctly, into the tabletop. “The worst one, the worst one, it’ll be poison now, you watch.”

It’s not actually that bad; Tony has no idea what’s in the casserole thing he’s served, but it doesn’t taste like it’s going to kill him, so that’s a plus. Thor’s beaming, proud of himself, and the combination of food and caffeine wakes everyone else up; soon Natasha’s teasing Clint about the Kermit boxers while Pepper asks if anyone wants orange juice. Bruce goes to get the paper, because he hasn’t seen the damage he did to the front hallway yet--his groan is horrified enough that everyone forgives him, mostly, for making the mistake of watching Hitchcock before bed--and Steve, who’s gotten Tony back in the habit of reading print news through force of will, hands over the business section and keeps the front page for himself.

“Arts & Life, right here,” says Clint, and then glares when they all look at him askance. “What? I’m a man of culture and--Natasha don’t throw that at me--”

“No projectiles before ten,” says Pepper.

“Unless it’s in the name of justice,” Steve adds, without looking away from the front page. “Tony, what on earth is a stem cell?”

“Bruce, buddy, that’s all you,” Tony says, and goes to rescue the rest of the coffee from the pot.

They fall into--well, it’s not silence, is it, not really. Tony’s alternating between reading the newspaper and his morning emails, shooting questions back and forth at Pepper when he thinks of them, and Bruce doesn’t wind down the stem cell spiel for nearly 15 minutes. Clint, true to his word, reads Arts & Life cover to cover, and Natasha gets into a friendly enough argument with Thor about whether or not his hammer-throwing technique extends to knives. It’s not silent at all, if Tony’s honest, but it’s...comfortable.

“This is nice,” Steve says quietly, just for Tony, when Bruce finally winds down and grabs the Education pages. “We should do this more often.”

And Tony wants to laugh, he really does, because that’s just so Steve, that’s Steve all over, and it’s hysterical, worth mocking. But when he lifts his head Steve’s still smiling at him and there’s plaster dust on the side of his shoulder, and his hair’s mussed and slept on, a mostly-faded crease from Tony’s jeans on the side of his face, and Tony...god, Tony thinks home before he can stop himself.

“Yeah,” he says, “yeah, sure, if you want.”

--

At ten, Steve says, “Oh, twelve hours, thank god,” which is when Tony finally, finally puts the pieces together.

“You were banned,” he says, brandishing the object in his hand in Steve’s general direction. Steve makes a face and takes a hasty step back--probably because it’s a blowtorch--and Tony winces, turns it off, and then points his finger at Steve instead. “From SHIELD! Banned! That’s why you’ve been here all this time, oh my god, Fury banned Captain America--”

“Bucky did, actually,” Steve admits, putting a hand to the back of his neck. “He gets--overprotective, I guess, even though it’s kind of silly now. He said that if he saw my ugly mug before ten o’clock tomorrow he’d personally make sure he never saw it again.”

“Your mug’s not ugly,” Tony says, automatic, and then: “Wait, and you listened?”

“Not at first,” Steve says. “But he’s got his mom’s lungs, always did, and I was kind of afraid he was going to pull a muscle if he didn’t stop yelling.”

“Hey, is coming back from the dead the secret trick to getting you to listen to things?” Tony says. “Because, look, I could totally engineer a--”

Don’t,” Steve snaps, all the humor draining out of his face, and oh, shit, Tony’s an asshole.

“Whoa,” he says, “fuck, sorry, sorry, that was a bad joke, I shouldn’t have said that, Steve, c’mon, I was kidding.”

“I know,” Steve says, “just--”

“Don’t,” Tony supplies, maneuvering himself around a workshop table so he can put a hand on Steve’s arm. “Yeah, definitely getting that memo, I’ll make a note--Jarvis, make a note--no more of that, not again, seriously, I’m really--”

“Yeah,” Steve says, and his smile’s coming back a little bit, “okay, it’s okay, I get it. Don’t hurt yourself.”

“I’m not going to hurt myself,” Tony says, “apologizing only eats away at my soul a little bit, no big deal, look, maybe I can even do it again. I’m...I’m...nope, shit, fresh out.”

“You sure about that? Because I’m still kind of waiting for you admit that you ate--”

“I didn’t, that was totally Thor--”

“And that the thing with the hose was on purpose--”

“Of course it wasn’t, it’s December, there’s perverted and then there’s actually insane--”

“And that you bought the rights to ‘Star Spangled Man’--”

“Well, yeah, that’s totally true, I’m not going to apologize for that, you’re the one who broke the radio in my Beemer,” Tony says. “That’s definitely your thing to apologize for, I was just looking out for the safety of my car radios.”

“The safety of the car radios, huh?”  

Steve’s grinning at him now, doing the whole my-superpower-is-actually-dry-wit-didn’t-you-read-my-file thing, and Tony rolls his eyes, lets go of his arm, and goes back to the control panel he’s soldering.

“Well, if you’re going to be like that about it, you can just go slink back to SHIELD. Maybe Fury’ll apologize to you, I know how that gets you all--”

“God, Tony, come here,” Steve says, laughing, and leans across the workshop table to kiss him. Tony--well, Tony’s definitely not going to ask him to apologize for that.

“Jesus,” Tony says, pulling back, “first breakfast, now this, you wanna tell me to keep an eye on the Beav while you’re gone, really round out the morning?”

Steve gives him a blank look, which is when Tony realizes that Leave it to Beaver was the fifties. He groans.

“Fuck, that was funny, too--well, sort of--actually maybe it’s kind of better that you don’t get it, whatever, I’ll catch you up on culture later, go break your buddy out of prison.”

“I’m not breaking anyone out of anywhere,” Steve says, straight-faced. “I’m merely going to have a measured conversation with Bucky about his options, and then discuss them with Director Fury accordingly.”

“Helps to practice in front of the mirror,” Tony says. “The lying thing, I mean, you might want to try it, works wonders--”

“You’re a terrible liar, Tony,” Steve says, rolling his eyes. “Maybe you should try some new tricks.”

“Maybe you should get out of my workshop.”

“I’m trying,” Steve says, and, hmmm, interesting, that’s the laughing-at-you-on-the-inside face. “You’re probably going to need to let go of my wrist first.”

“Huh?” Tony says. Then he looks down, frowns. “Shit, you’re not my blowtorch.”

“You should try to get some sleep,” Steve says, shaking his head as Tony releases him. “Or at least stop using things that could actually burn the whole place down, does that seem fair? I don’t really want to bring Bucky back to a disaster zone.”

“It’s already--oh, fuck, I forgot to call the contractors for the front hall, Jarvis, do that, will you?” Tony says, and then blinks, focuses on Steve. “Right, totally, no more fire, you got it, now get out of here so you can pretend I listened to you, that’ll be good for everyone--”

“Bye, Tony,” Steve says, leaning forward and kissing him again, a quick thing. “And, uh, thank you. For last night, and the house, and--all of it. Just--thanks, okay?”

“What I’m here for,” Tony says absently, pulling his goggles back down, and doesn’t realize what he’s said, what it means, until Steve’s already gone.

--

“You have got to be kidding me,” Rhodey says. “Seriously, I refuse to believe this is happening, I am going back to bed, no.”

Under normal circumstances, Tony would probably give him shit about commitment to justice and work ethic, just to watch him get mad; Rhodey’s easy to wind up if you know the right buttons to press. It would be hugely worth it to watch him pitch a shit-fit in the suit, to see the exasperated hand gestures with an added layer of Armed and Dangerous, but...

...well, but giant fluffy bunnies are trying to take Manhattan. Tony doesn’t really have the heart make Rhodey’s day any worse.

“If it helps, Clint’s gonna make a really terrible Easter joke in about half a second,” he offers. “Seriously, if tries to make it a whole minute his insides might explode, it’s like a science, just wait for it.”

A moment later Clint whoops and yells, “Cadbury this, asshole!” over the sound of his crossbow firing.

“Ugh,” says Natasha, “Hawkeye, you can do so much better.”

“Eat chocolate?” Clint suggests. “Eggs-ellent try? I can go all day.”

“Told you,” says Tony. “He’s got a condition, there’s no helping it.”

Rhodey sighs. “Is it always like this?”

“Course not,” Tony says, grinning behind his mask, “sometimes, it’s much worse.”

“Hulk wants pet,” the Hulk says despondently; he’s got a murder rabbit gripped in one massive hand, staring at it sadly while it flails and snaps its saber teeth. “This pet right size, but still wrong! Why world not fair to Hulk?”

“Hulk, don’t form emotional attachments to the enemy,” Natasha says, because as much as they don’t like him when he’s angry, it’s worse when he’s sad. For one thing, even his tears are green--it’s a real bitch to get out of the carpet.

“Seriously, buddy,” Tony says, “that thing is foe, not friend, you want a pet, I can build you a pet--”

“Yeah, he’s good at that,” says Clint, and Tony has just enough time to wince before Jarvis, who is a computer and should know better, takes over the comms and says, “If you refer to me in that manner again, Mr. Barton, I will personally see to it that your credit score does not survive the day.”

“Whooooa,” says Tony, “easy there, he was kidding, that was a joke, calm down, Jarvis, seriously, how many times do I have to warn you about 4chan?”

“My apologies, sir,” Jarvis says, managing to sound snippy about it, and goes silent.

“Iron Man,” Natasha says slowly, “did your AI just take offense to something?”

“He’s a little sensitive,” Tony says, realizes how that sounds, and sighs. “Look, just, don’t worry about it, watch your back, though, Flopsy’s gunning for you.”

“This is already the weirdest day of my life,” says Rhodey, “I’ve only been awake for four hours, I did the smart thing and stayed at a hotel, you haven’t been drinking and it’s already the weirdest day of my life.”

“I missed you too, sweetheart,” Tony says, and does something to one of the bunnies that is going to have a much cooler name than tazing as soon as he thinks of it.

“Be still, large rabbits,” booms Thor, who is--well, the accurate way of describing what he’s doing involves the words “skipping” and “tops of their heads” but Tony’s pretty sure there’s a children’s song like that. He’s trying not to think about it. “We shall let you go in peace, but you must first show us a sign of your good faith. Please release the vendor of dogs that are hot, for he is only doing his job!”

“Hot dogs,” Tony corrects, for the hundred thousandth time, “hot dogs, Thor, I know you can get this,” but a call comes through to the suit before he can really break it down.

Unlisted number; SHIELD, then. Tony sighs, and takes it.

“Little busy here, guys! Is this about before, because look, it’s fine, we know we’re only supposed to stun them, it’s not actually beyond us that ‘Avengers Viciously Murder Hoard of Oversized Fluff Balls’ is a bad headline--”

“No,” Steve says, “just me,” and Tony grins.

“Oh, hey! Forgot to give you a new cell, didn’t I, my bad. Tell me you’re watching this, this is the most hilarious thing since--well, okay, the Hello Kitty thing was probably funnier--”

“Yeah, we’ve got it up on one of the monitors,” Steve says. “Is Thor trying to ride that one?”

“Trying implies a lack of success,” Tony says, “so no. Where do you think you’d put a saddle on one of these things, d’you think? Back of the neck?”

“He’s not going to keep it.”

“Do you think we have much choice, if he decides he wants to?” Tony says, and then switches back into the comm long enough to say, “Widow, what’d Coulson say about the press coverage, you can’t stab them.”

“Whoops,” Natasha says, completely without emotion.

“You know, I had a nightmare like this once,” Clint says contemplatively. “Maybe I’m not even awake right now--War Machine, you wanna maybe come and pinch me, think you’re closest--”

“Shoot another arrow that close to me and I’ll do more than pinch you,” Rhodey warns, and Tony laughs, switches back to Steve.

“So, yeah, that’s pretty much what’s going on here,” he says. “Did you need something specific, or is this a social call? Hey, you know what, if I put the suit on autopilot I can probably manage phone sex--”

“Tony, you’re on speaker,” Steve groans, mortified.

“Oh,” says Tony, “well, yeah, that complicates things a little bit, that’s a lot of mouths to feed if you know what I mean and I think that you do--”

“Jesus Christ, Rogers, blush any harder and your head’ll fall off,” says an unfamiliar voice, deep and a little raspy. “Stark--you are Stark, right, you sound like a Stark--don’t break him, I only just woke up.”

“Oh, hey, uh--Bucky Barnes, I presume?” Tony says, and blasts the repulsors until he’s hovering over one of the bunnies. He thumps it, hard, on the top of the head, and it crashes to the ground with a satisfying thud. “I’ll tell you what, I wish this wasn’t representative of what our lives are like but, uh, welcome to the future--”

“Yeah, getting a lot of that,” Bucky says. “Rogers tells me you’ve got a bedroom for me?”

“With a view and everything,” Tony says, “even a shower in it for you if you play your cards right, oh my god, that one’s got a pouch, it’s a kanga-bunny, are these live-action stuffed animals or something?”

“Hulk, stop trying to pet them,” Steve says, and then seems to remember he’s neither on the scene or patched through to the comm link. “Tony, tell the Hulk to stop trying to pet them.”

“Hulk, seriously, enough with the petting already,” Tony says into the comm, and forcibly ignores Clint’s snicker. “And Thor, Thor, buddy, come on, do us all a favor here and let go of that one’s ears, it’s just making him angrier--”

“But the Allspeak shall win the day!” says Thor. “Surely we can resolve this peacefully, and then I shall build him a magnificent stable, suited for a--”

“You are not going to ride a giant rabbit around New York,” Natasha says, “we have a reputation to maintain, Thor, honestly.”  

“Uh,” says the voice that apparently belongs to Bucky Barnes, “the fuck if I know how this thing works, maybe it’s just the, uh, screen, but from where I’m sitting it looks like they’re--getting a little bigger...”

“Jarvis, patch me into the comm link,” Steve snaps, and then, “Avengers, be advised that the enemy is growing. Hawkeye, if you don’t stop favoring your left side I will make you run laps every morning for the next week. Widow, put the dagger down, Thor, that is an enemy, not a stallion, and Hulk, we will buy you a canary or something, can you please all focus up?”

“Ah,” says Thor.

“Wow,” says Natasha.

“I’m not,” Clint starts, and then pauses. “...oh. Hi, Cap.”

“Hi, yourself,” Steve sighs. “See if I ever miss a mission again--War Machine, I’m sorry we haven’t met properly yet, but nice job on the one with the notch in its ear.”

“Uh,” says Rhodey, “thank you?”

“I could’ve handled that,” Tony says, but cheerfully enough. “Your control issues are showing, by the way, have I ever told you that you have control issues, because, I’m just saying--”

“Iron Man, shut up,” Steve says, but it’s fond. “I only called to tell you that this morning’s plan is a go--can you brief the team when you’re done here? We’ll be at the house in 45 minutes or so.”

“If this is an orgy I call dibs on the chocolate sauce,” Clint says. Everyone stops moving and stares at him, and he shrugs. “What? Early bird gets the Hershey’s, that’s all I’m saying.”

Jesus,” says Rhodey, “can we establish some chatter protocol before the next time I come out here with you lunatics, please and thank you. How do you function like this?”

“Advil, mostly,” Tony says, and then one of the rabbits shoots up by about two stories and everything is suddenly a lot less funny. “Shit, okay, Cap, that’s a go, 45 minutes, ending the call unless you want to--”

“No, go, go,” Steve says, and Tony cuts the line, turns to his latest task, and pretends not to hear Clint say the words “Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog” on principle .

--

An hour later, in the middle of cleanup--which, hey, great, it’s mostly poop, as it turns out giant rabbits leave giant shits all over the street, how awesome is Tony’s life?--Tony grabs Rhodey by the arm. “Hey, buddy, how much do you love me?”

“Loaded question,” Rhodey says. “Enough to talk you out of whatever it is; not enough to help.”

“Now, see, that’s not nice--”

Tony--”

“So Bucky Barnes is coming to live in my house,” Tony says breezily, enjoying the way Rhodey’s mask flips up to reveal his incredulous stare. “You want to cancel that hotel reservation, or...”

“Tony,” Rhodey says, jabbing him in the chest with one armor-clad finger, “I swear to you, if you are fucking with me right now--”

“We just fought a battalion of gigantic alien rabbits with indigestion,” Tony says, because that, as it turns out, is what they were--the Fantastic Four had shown up after two hours, waved some colored flags around, and then smirked when the rabbits vanished into thin air. Superhero politics are the worst. “You really think I could make shit up at this point?”

“Yes,” Rhodey says, without removing his finger, “yes, I do.”

“You know what, keep your hotel room, you can’t stay at my house after all,” Tony says, and then cracks and laughs when Rhodey opens his mouth to argue. “No, no, I’m not fucking with you, I’m totally serious. He’s Steve’s closest friend, where else would he stay?”

“But he’s Bucky Barnes,” Rhodey says. “They should--they should build him his own house for his contributions to modern attack strategy alone--”

“Wow, you have some feelings here, buddy, don’t you?” Tony says, enjoying this more than he should be. “That’s kind of a scary look on your face, isn’t it, do I have to worry that you’re gonna steal his boxers and sniff them?”

“No, Tony, that’s something you would do,” Rhodey says. “You, and not me, and it’s not a scary look, this is what respect looks like, do you understand? This is esteem and, and admiration for sacrifice for one’s country and--”

“Hero-worship,” Tony finishes, “this is hero-worship, hey, what gives? You weren’t like this when I told you they’d found Cap.”

“Yeah, well, you were on that enough for the both of us,” Rhodey says, and then, before Tony can argue that in what would probably be a very unconvincing manner, says, “Don’t worry, our secret or whatever. But, uh, it’s just--not that Steve isn’t great, he is, but Bucky Barnes--Bucky Barnes is a soldier’s soldier. It’s different.”

“I think I’m offended on Steve’s behalf,” says Tony, “but I’m not entirely sure why.”

“Think on it,” says Rhodey, “and hey, can you maybe mention my Medal for Valor when you introduce me? It’d seem weird if I did it myself, and I’ll forgive you for Cuba ‘94.”

“Oh, right, it’s only weird if you do it--wait, not ‘96?”

“No one’s ever going to forgive you for ‘96, Tony,” Rhodey says.“Cuba hasn’t forgiven you for ‘96.”

“I sent a fruit basket,” says Tony.

“You are a fruit basket,” says Rhodey.

“Awww, baby,” says Tony, and goes to brief the rest of the team before Rhodey can reply.  

--

They go in through the back door of the mansion, because Rhodey got all weird and intense about how they couldn’t meet an American hero for the first time smelling like alien rabbit shit. Tony tried to disabuse him of this notion, going to far as to call Steve to confirm that yes, the second World War had indeed desensitized them both to assorted terrible smells, but since Steve still didn’t have a cell phone and had to take calls through Jarvis, it had kind of backfired on him.

“This is the future, pal,” Bucky said, “and in the future, I don’t have to smell that kind of thing if I don’t want to, which I don’t. Everybody showers.”

“Thor’s going to be kind of hard for you to get used to, with that attitude,” Steve said, and Thor, flying next to Tony and not in any way privy to the call, somehow managed to look offended anyway. God powers, probably; Tony wasn’t going to worry about it too much.

“I still like you, buddy,” Tony said. “Your, uh, musk or whatever, it’s Asguardian-chic, I dig it. You’re fine.”

“You confuse me,” Thor said, “I was only thinking of what noble deeds I might have accomplished on the back of He Who Eats Carrots Boldly In The Night,” and it took Tony longer than it probably should have to realize he meant the rabbit.

Point being, by the time they’ve all gathered in the living room--the kitchen and the front hall are both still out of commission, though according to Jarvis the contractors are on their way--Tony has showered, shaved, and put on clothing that hasn’t been crushed inside the Iron Man suit. He’s looking good, definitely, feeling good, too; he’s not nervous about meeting Steve’s best friend, because that would be crazy. Unnecessary. Unlike him.

Well, not necessarily unlike him, but whatever, it’s fine, he’s fine, it’s gonna be great.

Steve’s standing next to a dark-haired guy, about Tony’s height, and he’s smiling. Which, that’s pretty normal, Steve smiles a lot, but this is--Tony hadn’t realized until right now that this is what he’s been looking for the past few days, this ease in Steve’s shoulders, this lack of haunted, worried darkness in his eyes. Relief breaks over him in a sharp, startling kind of wave, and this is probably why it takes him a full forty-five seconds to notice the elephant in the room.

“Right, so, everyone, this is Sergeant James Barnes,” Steve says, “and Bucky, this is--”

Arm,” says Tony.

“Oh, god,” Steve says, while Bucky, presumably, gives Tony a strange look--Tony’s not really sure, he’s a little busy, “Tony, come on, can we at least get through the introductions first?”

“What? Oh, yeah, sure, right, Tony Stark, you probably knew my dad, bet that’s a little weird, talk about it later, there, we’re done, Steve didn’t tell me you’ve got a giant metal arm--”

“Really, Rogers?” Bucky says, over Tony’s head, as Tony reaches out gleefully to start prodding at the mechanics.

“I can’t help it,” Steve says, and hey, that’s a tone Tony likes; he’ll figure out why later.

“You’re a punk,” Bucky says, and when Steve laughs he says, “No, Rogers, not you--well, yeah, you, but not right this second. Stark, give a guy a little breathing room, would you? Is personal space not a thing they have in the future? I mean, he said you’d probably do this, but I didn’t really believe him.”

“Sad for you,” Tony says absently, “hey, can you move your fingers? No, I mean--there they go, oh my god is that a delay, who did the neural receptors on this thing, monkeys? I can do so much better than this, I could do better than this in my sleep, someone should’ve called me, you got any favorite colors or, uh, metals--whoa, what the hell, these connecting cables are shit--”

“Okay, Tony, that’s enough,” Steve says, and a second later he’s actually being dragged away by the collar, that’s a little embarrassing.

“But--”

“You do know I’m stronger than you, right?” Steve says. His hand is warm on the back of Tony’s neck, and so is his voice, a little, under the exasperation; Tony sighs and straightens up, lets himself take a couple steps back.

“I’m gonna build you a new arm,” he says to Bucky, “and, I mean, hello, obviously, but I think we can all agree that the arm’s the important thing here--does it come off or do you have to stay attached--well, no, I guess that doesn’t matter--”

“Right,” says Steve, whipping out the field commander voice, “so that’s Tony, he’s sorry, I’d say he’d stop but he won’t, moving on--this is Natasha--”

“Nice to meet you,” Natasha says, favoring Bucky with a rare smile.

Bucky, who’d been occupied with staring at Tony like he was a crazy person, turns. Then he makes the shell-shocked, good god you’re hot face most people make upon meeting Natasha, which, hey, Tony has totally been to that movie, can’t really blame him at all.

“Hi,” Bucky says, “I met your, uh, girl? Can I say girl now, is that right, Steve says there are rules, which is great, better, probably, weren’t really rules back when--well there were, but I broke them--but, uh, Pepper, she left, said she didn’t wanna see the fireworks when Stark met me--oh, god. Rogers, listen to me, this is terrible, I’m you.

“It’s not your fault,” Natasha says, completely calm, while Steve does a terrible job of covering a laugh. “I have this effect on everyone. However, if you ever ogle me without my permission again, I will not hesitate to harm you bodily.”

“My god,” Bucky says, blinking, “I’m embarrassed and I don’t even care--”

“And this is Thor,” Steve says, apparently in mercy.

“Greetings!” Thor booms. “May we both look back upon this moment as one upon which a glorious friendship was founded!”

“Uh,” says Bucky, “yeah, pal, okay.”

“And I’m Clint,” says Clint, before Steve can get around to it. “And that’s Bruce--sometimes he’s not Bruce, you’ll know because he gets all giant and green, try not to piss him off if you can help it, can we wrap this up? I TiVo’d Criminal Minds.”

“Okay,” says Bucky, “didn’t understand half that sentence but I’m getting the impression that you’re kind of a--Stark, touch my arm again and I will drop you.”

“Sorry,” Tony says, “it’s just right there--oh, hey, neither one of you has met Rhodey yet, so, right, uh, this is--”

“Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes, sir,” Rhodey says, reaching out, and then actually salutes with the hand that isn’t shaking Bucky’s. “It’s an honor to meet you.”

“Pleasure’s mine,” Bucky says, “but hey, unless the ranking system’s changed a helluva lot since my day, pretty sure I’m the one who should be saluting you, Colonel.”

Rhodey looks--well, shit, if he didn’t know better, Tony would use the word starstruck. “Don’t you dare. I wrote my thesis on you at Academy; I’d sooner let you salute me than--or, well, not to suggest that you couldn’t, if you wanted to--”

“You know what,” Bucky says, smiling warm and slow at Rhodey, still clasping his hand, “I think I do. Want to, that is.”  

“Is this how people flirt in the army?” Tony demands, because, well, Christ, really?

Tony,” Steve and Rhodey say in unison; Bucky just grins, rubs his thumb over the back of Rhodey’s hand.

“Sure is, pal,” he says, and okay, it’s kind of worth it, isn’t it, for the way Rhodey smiles and chokes on his own breath all at once.

--

“Sir,” Jarvis says, “both Ms. Potts and Captain Rogers have requested that I pass along the suggestion that you eat. Would you like me to order something for delivery?”

Tony blinks; then he finds he has to do it again, keeps his eyes screwed shut for several seconds to try to will away the dryness. It doesn’t really work, and he looks down at the wiring of his second model of Bucky’s new arm and sighs.

“Uh,” he says, wincing at the sound of his own voice, “no, thanks, I’m good. What time is it, exactly?”

“Eight thirty p.m., sir,” Jarvis says smoothly. “Captain Rogers, in particular, was quite insistent that you break for food. Are you certain you wouldn’t like me to order something in?”

“Nah,” Tony says, and then, rubbing at the back of his neck, “yeah, actually, maybe a pizza or something? Pepperoni and, uh, you know what, I don’t care, really, so long as I don’t have to go get it.”

“Ordering now, sir,” Jarvis says. Tony nods, rubs the heel of his hand against his eyes, and tries to remember how long he’s been down here. At least--ugh, at least twelve hours, maybe longer; he vaguely remembers Steve coming in at one point, trying to get a word in edgewise over the music, and then rolling his eyes and going upstairs again.

At least the new arm will be ready soon, Tony thinks ruefully. The temporary upgrades he’s installed in the old one are patching the gaps a little, but it’s still complete shit. He really shouldn’t have let Barnes talk him into handing over a first prototype; that never ends well for anyone.  Granted, Bucky’s been pretty pleased with it, and it’s definitely better than the pile of junk SHIELD gave him originally, and technically it’s only been a week since he met the guy, but still. Tony’s not ones to let details stop him; exhaustion, maybe, just this once, but definitely not details.

“Hmm,” he says, “think I’m gonna...call it quits, for a bit. Could you, uh, just freeze everything that isn’t running automatically? And hold this process, and this one, they’re both gonna need my help--no, Jarvis, not that one, that one’s done, just leave it--and backup copies, probably, because I’ve got no idea where I am in this string, or these two. There you go. Oh, and kill power to anything with heat, and render another paint job mock-up, will you? Barnes says he wants a big red star on it, and I really want him to get up close and personal with how that’s gonna look before I go ahead with it.”

“So noted, Mr. Stark,” Jarvis says. “Will there be anything else?”

“No,” Tony says, and then he sighs, thinks again. “Or, yeah, you know what, lock me out ‘til tomorrow, I guess. Just from the room, not the code, obviously, but I probably shouldn’t be operating heavy machinery anymore. Steve upstairs?”

“Captain Rogers is on the roof, sir.”

“Oh good,” says Tony, “because that’s such a normal thing to do at the end of December, I’m sure he’s in a great mood,” but he heads up there anyway, grabbing a hoodie off the back of the sofa as he passes it.

“Hey,” he says, when he’s pulled the sweatshirt over his head, climbed up the little back stairway to find Steve exactly where Jarvis said he’d be. “What’re you doing out here?”

“I could ask you the same question,” Steve says, sounding surprised. “I’d kind of bargained on having to come down to the workshop and drag you out myself.”

“Like you could,” Tony says dismissively. Steve doesn’t dignify that with a response, just gives Tony a look that means no one’s buying it, but nice try; he’s got a point, so Tony sits down next to him, tucks his knees up to his chest. “Seriously, it’s freezing out here, what’s up? Is this a sulking thing?”

“I don’t sulk.”

“Yeah, you do,” Tony says. “We can call it something else if you want--manly brooding or whatever--but this is totally your sulking spot, don’t lie.”

“It’s not--” Steve starts. Then he stops, shakes his head, huffs out a laugh; Tony can see his breath hanging in the air. “I’m not sulking. Just trying to keep an eye on things.”

“Huh?” says Tony. Steve gestures out to the yard, and...oh.

The team’s out in full form, in various states of dress and gear--Tony can’t believe he hadn’t seen them, heard them, immediately. Clint’s in the maple tree, perched with his crossbow over his lap, entirely blind to the fact that Natasha is silently climbing up behind him; Thor’s hurtling Mjölnir up into the air, laughing as Clint tries to shoot it and misses. Rhodey’s suited up, and he and Bucky seem to be involved in some kind of mechanical arm-wrestling competition, using one of Hulk’s massive hands as their platform. It looks like Bucky’s winning, and Tony’s not sure if he should be embarrassed for the suit or proud about the arm--he’s never been a bystander to his tech battling itself before.

“You break it, you buy it, Rhodes!” he yells.

“My suit, my rules, Tony!” Rhodey yells back; Tony rolls his eyes, pulls the hoodie a little tighter around himself.

“What are they doing?” he says to Steve, and Steve shrugs.

“I think they’re bored,” he admits. “It’s been kind of quiet the last couple days.”

“So this is what we’re like in our downtime?” Tony says, and shudders. He’s not sure if it’s from the cold or from what a terrifying thought that is, but Steve puts an arm around him anyway. “Ugh, I just had a terrible insight into what Nick Fury’s life must be like, I’d really love to unthink that.”

“Wouldn’t we all,” Steve sighs.

Below them, Natasha successfully manages to surprise Clint, as evidenced by the way he shrieks at the top of his lungs and falls out of the tree. Thor catches him before he actually hits the ground, depositing him back in his perch with a grin and a hearty slap on the back; Clint makes a little squeaking noise at the impact, and then promptly looks horrified with himself.

“Manly, Barton,” Tony calls.

Clint gives him the finger. “Come down here and say that to my face, asshole! You can’t mock from the peanut gallery, that’s not cool.”

“He’s got a point,” Steve says.

“Yeah, probably,” Tony says, and then: “Wait, you’re not expecting me to go put on the suit, right? Because, uh, I don’t know about you but I’m kind of enjoying the lack of crazy.”

“No, of course not,” Steve says. “They’re out of their minds; Thor tried to convince me to throw the shield with him sitting on it, for ‘the great glory of our legacy as men,’ whatever that means.”

“That sounds kind of awesome, actually,” Tony says. “What? You can’t tell me you’ve never thought about, I don’t know, using it as a sled or something--”

“You’re not serious.”

“Nah, not really,” Tony admits. “Be funny to watch, though.”

“Hilarious,” Steve says, dry, but he pulls Tony in a little closer anyway. Tony’s glad of it; Steve’s wearing a thick wool peacoat, vintage-y, very dapper-gentleman-from-1945, and he’s all but radiating heat. Tony sighs and puts his head down on Steve’s shoulder, hides a yawn in the fold of the fabric.

“You wanna tell me where Bruce Hulked this time,” he says, “or should I just wander around the house ‘til I find the mess? It’s like Where’s Waldo, right, only instead of Waldo it’s holes in the drywall--”

“Waldo?” Steve says.

“Oh,” says Tony. “Guess that was the ‘80s--it was just, uh, this guy, and he had a shirt and--you know what, never mind,  it’s not important. Just tell it to me straight, anywhere but the garage, please tell me he didn’t hurt the Rolls.”

“No, front hall,” Steve sighs.

“What, again? They just finished fixing that!”

“Apparently Bruce got a phone call and just lost it,” Steve says. “Natasha’s the only one who saw it, but we’ll have to wait until he’s back to get the whole story.”

“Aw, hell, I hope his grant funding didn’t get denied again--I keep trying to tell him Stark can just put him on payroll, but he’s weird about it.”

“Are you honestly telling me you don’t understand pride? You, of all people?”

“Be nice, I’m tired.”

“And whose fault is that?” Steve says, but it’s warm, and he rubs a hand down Tony’s arm with absent affection. “Anyway, it’s not as bad as last time, just a little bit of broken glass, and one of the support beams is cracked again.”

“Great,” Tony says. He yawns again, not even bothering to hide this one. “Remind me to call the contractors--or have Jarvis call ‘em, whichever.”

“God,” Steve says, shaking his head, “they must love us, they’re here nearly as much as we are. Maybe you should just give them a bedroom.”

Tony looks out at the yard. There are arrows sticking up out of the grounds, chunks of dirt pulled loose by Thor’s hammer and Rhodey’s repulsors; Hulk’s giant footprints are everywhere, and Natasha’ daggers have left a series of ragged scars in the bark of the old maple, right next to the dent where Bucky actually punched it. It’s just starting to snow, the faint dusting of white serving only to highlight the chaos, and to anyone else, it would look like a disaster area.

And that’s true of a lot of things in Tony’s life, isn’t it--the inside of his workshop and the bottom of his microwave; hell, Tony himself, nine times out of ten. It’s all a mess, the yard and the missions, everything, really, but then again...well. There’s Steve to keep an eye on the team, and Tony to keep an eye on Steve, and maybe the rest of it will work itself out.

Tony takes a deep breath, watches his exhale, and smiles. “Think we’ve got enough people living here, don’t you?”

Steve doesn’t say anything for a long time; after a minute, Tony figures that he missed the question entirely. He closes his eyes, not particularly bothered about it, and so he’s surprised by the emotion in Steve’s voice when it comes.

“Yeah,” Steve says, arm around Tony tightening just slightly,  “yeah, this feels about right.”