Chapter 1: In Which Tony Stark is Short
Tony Stark never real thought about his height until he started college. Prior to this period of time, stuck in high school with other pre-pubescent boys and girls, he never really stuck out. He wasn’t the shortest, that was a title given to the freshmen just coming in, but he wasn’t towering over everyone like the gawky basketball players or extremely butch (possibly using steroids mixed in their PowerAde?) football players. All in all, he was comfortable with his height and that was fine.
But then, stepping into the advanced circuitry class at MIT on the first day, knowing he’s dropping the class simply because he’s finished most of the homework assignments posted online in the past three hours, Tony is abruptly struck by how tiny he is. Well, not tiny, Anthony Edward Stark could never be classified as “tiny” in any manner, but something seemed off. As if all his fellow students have been injected with some sort of growth serum after freshman orientation and he hadn’t gotten the memo.
Even Galina, the lonely female in the electrical engineering department, was taller than him.
Granted, she was European, Tony knew this from very personal experience, but it still stings a little when he has to be the one to lean his head on her shoulder. The fond smile she shoots down at him every time he did this rubs the salt deeper into the open wound known as his pride.
He tried really hard to be disappointed when Galina had a sudden change of heart and switched majors to underwater basket weaving with a minor in interpretive dance.
Her parting comment of, “You are so cute, like a small, defenseless kitten stuck on its back“, coupled with a pat on the head informed Tony that he didn’t hide his Napoleon-complex well enough.
“Tony, you’re worrying too much about this.” His mother said in one of her rare calls between charity balls. “Height is nothing you can control. It’s in your genes. Look at your father. You’ll catch up soon.”
Tony wasn’t even close to Howard Stark’s six-foot frame, which bothered him much more than it really should, and he only reached his mother’s height of five-foot-nine on a good day when he was wearing dress shoes and she was in flats. If he was going to have a growth spurt, surely it would have happened before he turned eighteen?
In publicity photos he’s always placed between his parents, or standing slightly behind and to the side while they’re both sitting. The photographers and paparazzi say it’s so the photo will look more balanced. Tony knows what they’re really thinking when he is tugged into position, his mother placing an awkward, but comforting, hand at the small of his back.
Tony Stark is shorter than both his parents and he’s not getting taller anytime soon, so we might as well make the best of what we have. It was cute when he was nine. At nineteen it’s a little ridiculous and sad at the same time. Maybe something is stunting his growth?
He stops drinking coffee to make a point. He lasts twenty-two hours before he inhales an entire pot. Black; like his mood. Screw scientific research that might show a correlation between height and caffeine intake. It’s all bullshit.
Of course, his lack of height isn’t on his mind when his parents die. There is a sharp spike of pain he didn't think he'd have whenever he thinks that now he will never have the two taller people to bracket him when he goes into polite society. Another, much, much smaller part of him is a tiny bit happy that he can no longer be compared to his parents; be it their achievements or their height.
Tony decides drinking is a good way to avoid a lot of problems, his height being the least of them.
After a while the gap at his side is filled with a Ms. Pepper Potts, a super secretary angel sent from heaven who had somehow been cursed with the responsibility of making Tony seem responsible. She refuses to listen to his excuses (such as forgetting the keys to his car when everyone knew Happy chauffeured him everywhere), and had no hesitations against calling him at two in the morning because I-know-you’re-up-you-can’t-fool-me-you-don’t-sleep-and-you-need-to-sign-these-or-we-default-on-fifty-loans-and-lose-seven-patents.
Also, every Tuesday she brought in a new type of dessert from home. Tony called it bribery and surprise feeding. Pepper called it stress baking.
Either way, Tony stopped picking as many arguments due to the copious amount of calories suddenly being supplemented into his diet.
He couldn’t help but feel a little deceived, though, once he found out about Pepper’s illustrious love affair with high heels.
Instead of liking sensible heels, kitten heels, heels less than an inch in height, heels made for the elderly and infirm, Tony discovers that Pepper’s deviances leaned towards the skyscraper-in-height-heels. Heels that change her diminutive five-foot-four stature into a towering five-foot-eight, or even five-foot-nine if she was feeling particularly feisty that day.
He felt…betrayed. And no matter how amazing it was watching Pepper run in them without falling, often after him when he was trying to escape a multi-national board meeting, the heels remained to remind him of his own…short-comings. The pictures on the corporate website looked ridiculous, with the crest of Tony's hair having a passing fling with his secretary's eye level when she decided to wear her "important business" heels.
Then again, the heels were also the spark of salvation.
With a little research, and a couple hours in the lab, Tony has figured out a more subtle way of increasing his height than Pepper’s 6-inch, turquoise, python, Gucci heels. Those had been purchased as a small thank you for the carrot cake last Tuesday. It was really the cheesecake frosting that drove him to buy such an inconceivable pair of shoes, but Pepper adored them and that was all that mattered.
The next time Tony steps into public, posture ramrod perfect to maximize his small stature; he is wearing a new custom made pair of Armani loafers. Discrete, yet still screaming a five-figure price tag, no one at the event suspected they added a couple of inches to a certain billionaire playboy's height.
The two inches made all the difference in the world when he's finally able to smile down into Pepper's eyes instead of up.
The other gap in his life, a vacant spot to his left usually filled with an even more distant father, is occupied by his old friend Rhodey. An inch taller than Howard Stark, but a much bigger man overall, he helps Tony get through the important stuff: drinking large amounts of liquor, talking about ladies, and Iron Man.
He doesn't even mind the fact that, because Rhodey is six-foot-one, there is a five-inch difference in their heights. This turns into a steep six inches when Tony slouches a bit and Rhodey is standing at attention. When Rhodey hugs him, Tony is able to fit his head underneath the blocky chin if he leans forward just a tad. He feels completely safe for a moment, as if Rhodey has come to save him from Afghanistan again.
Tony loves Rhodey's hugs, even if they do remind him he's short. He's okay if it's Rhodey. He forces a hug every time Rhodey comes home from deployment.
Rhodey never mentions this because he is the best. It may also have to do with blackmail and Tony's strange habit of calling him 'honeybear' whenever he sees him, but Tony likes to believe Rhodey puts up with him because he's Rhodey and it's just what he does when faced with Tony.
Rhodey is the best.
Every once in a while he'll brings up the lifts, though, commenting on how Tony isn't that short and he shouldn't worry too much about it. Tony will then look up from his tinkering at the kitchen table, he liked to pretend to be a good host the first couple of hours when Rhodey visits, with a screwdriver or some other power tool clenched between his teeth. He'll shove it into his back pocket and spit out a couple of screws and nuts that were in his mouth onto the counter before stumbling into the living room, collapsing on the couch face first.
Rhodey will try to talk about the height-enhancing shoes and other topics that are out of bounds, such as his suicidal tendencies and never ending need for coffee. He is only able to safely even mention them after Tony has been working for over three days straight, hoping to trick Tony into giving them up along with other vices. It has become a signal for Tony to begin mumbling nonsense into the couch cushions and to try and squirm his way into Rhodey's lap for another hug or to convince him into handing over War Machine for unauthorized upgrades.
Rhodey takes it like a champ and has decided a long time ago that sometimes Tony just needs these little things to give him control. Lifts in his shoes. A new woman on his arm every night. Unending supplies of alcohol. Iron Man.
Of all these things, Tony loves it when he's Iron Man the best. He's five inches taller and can almost look Rhodey straight in the eye and pretend that he's half the man his friend is.
When Tony meets Captain America for the first time, he's prepared for the insults. Ready to field the questions about this futuristic time period. Knows the answer he should give when asked who he is. Anticipating the anger and rage that will be aimed towards him for sullying his father's name.
He stares up at blue eyes that burn ice cold like the prison Captain America had been trapped in. Tony hasn't felt this small since sixth grade when everyone started to grow and he didn't.
"No offense, but I don't play well with others." Tony's words come out flippant and ass-holey, a defense mechanism that rears its ugly head whenever someone is more than an inch taller than him. Pepper has gotten this attitude when she wears her power-woman heels.
"Big man in a suit armor. Take that away, what are you?"
"Uh, genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist?" Tony knows he is all these things, knows this is what he is, as well as he knows that Captain America will see each of these as a fatal flaw.
It hurts all the same even when he knows the outcome.
After the first couple of fights, things get easier. The team becomes more important than the issues between Captain America and Iron Man, and both decide to call a truce of sorts.
They don't talk to each other when outside of uniform.
Steve knows it has something to do with the armor; it has to be since Tony is borderline amicable when he's in it, but he can't figure out why. It doesn't help that he always keeps the faceplate slammed down during missions or if there is a slim chance of talking with Steve, even though the whole world knows who Iron Man is and his connection to Tony Stark.
One morning Tony stumbles into the kitchen, splattered in grease and oil with his feet covered by a pair of disgusting socks. Without looking at Steve, as per usual, he shuffles over to the coffee maker and hits a couple buttons to start the machine brewing. Slumping against the cool granite, a sigh forced its way through his body.
The rest of the Avengers tumble in through the doorway the moment the smell of coffee fills the air, or in the case of Bruce Banner they quietly walk in with the morning paper and make a possibly dangerous decision to stand next to Tony. A few seconds later he brings up the subject of polycarbon-composites thermal spraying and what they might accomplish in the next five years with skeletal implants. Tony perks up enough to answer, which means he was no longer staring at the wall in front of him with a blank and creepy stare.
Steve is about to start on the subject of Tony getting more sleep, the truce of ignoring each other doesn't sit right with him when it looks like the other man is going to keel over from sleep exhaustion, when Clint lets out a snort.
"Shit, Stark, I thought our good doctor was the shortest guy on this team, but he's got at least an inch on you." Hawkeye took a bite from his uncooked pop-tart, ignoring the begging face and grabby hands Thor was making next to him, "What are you, five-eight?"
Natasha sends Clint an intense look across the table, trying to communicate something deep and meaningful that she probably learned while working for Tony, then follows it up with a swift kick. Steve doesn't understand until he turns and sees Tony standing rigidly upright under his own manpower before 8am. No longer lounging across the counter. Not flirtatiously looking over at his teammate while blowing a kiss. Not even cracking a superior smirk and a rude hand gesture.
Tony Stark is completely alert, even though he hasn't slept in what is most likely a couple days, and stares at Clint Barton with a face so bland that it actually hurts to look at it.
Without a word he walks out the kitchen and back into the basement.
He doesn't come back upstairs for another three days, clearly in a sleep exhaustion zombie state when he shuffles across the threshold. He's now wearing a pair of expensive looking shoes that make him stand straight and lifts his heels marginally.
Tony no longer walks around his own mansion barefoot.
There's the screech of metal buckling and a certain dampness on his skin that he knows is blood. He doesn't know if it's his or not, the last five or so minutes of the battle a blur in his memory, but he definitely knows the feeling of blood on his skin. He's an expert on that type of thing. Personal experience and whatnot.
His arm is yanked up abruptly, repulsor ripped off by someone who has to be Thor just because of the strength and lack of tact, and cold fingers are pressed against his wrist. He tries to say something but can only choke around the liquid that is, for some reason, in his mouth. Warm and sticky and tasting of copper.
"Tony? Tony!" An explosion in the background and the ground shifts in protest, "We have to get the rest of the suit off. I can't tell what damage he has with it on." Tony hissed through his clenched teeth when he was moved into a new position, back pressed against something unyielding and hard as another section of Iron Man was removed haphazardly.
"He’s tiny without it. You know he's just going to get more injured out of spite." Clint supplies helpfully from the background, letting out an unmanly yelp when another explosion goes off a little too close for comfort. "It's the type of thing Stark does!"
The cold hand squeezes into the gap created by the working half of the faceplate, shoving against a non-responsive panel that is no longer moving, all energy resources from the arc reactor being used to force Tony to keep breathing around a punctured lung.
Clint sprints off with Natasha, chasing behind Hulk who was going on a blind rampage against the villain who shot the missile into Iron Man's path. They're hoping to get a piece of the action, but are mostly there to keep an eye on Hulk since he could potentially turn at any moment and start ripping out telephone posts.
Thor continues his efforts of tearing off huge chunks of metal, smaller pieces being tugged at and abandoned when they're too imbedded in skin and muscle to be trifled with. The pain has turned into a white throb, only spiking when Thor grabs at a piece of shrapnel that is a little too close to an artery for comfort. Tony flinches when he thinks about armor cleanup after this mission is finished.
Head tilted up and to the side, Tony expects to be staring up at the sky or a destroyed building when he finally manages to get one eye open. He finds himself looking up into the concerned eyes of Captain America, clear blue searching his exposed face with a smile and frown battling for dominance. The smile wins when he notices Tony staring blankly at him.
He wasn't leaning against a piece of debris like he thought. He was sprawled between Captain America's legs, head tilted back against a mail-clad shoulder and arms draped over a steadier pair wrapped around his midsection. He could feel Steve take a deep breath against his back after Tony blinked slowly, stripped as he was down to his skintight black under armor.
Tony waits for something to go off in his head. To start calculating the difference in height between his head and Steve's. To feel the usual building of denial and frustration at his lack of height.
When nothing happens, Tony's fine with that.
"Is he okay?"
Steve jerked his head up from examining the too clean hospital floor and catches the searching gaze of the woman he assumes is Pepper Potts. He can only base his hypothesis off the numerous tales he hears Tony spin about her (they have to be fictional, nobody is that perfect), the blurry photos that show up in the newspaper whenever a scandal with Tony is published, and the tiny pixelated picture that shows up most of the time when Tony's overly-complex phone begins to ring obnoxiously. He wasn't expecting her to come to NY from LA, and in less than two hours after the accident had been aired un-tactfully on most major news stations.
This meant she must have already been en route, which makes the arrival ill-timed and leaves a sour taste in Steve’s mouth.
Her red hair is professionally pulled back into a simple ponytail, slim body clad in a tailored suit, and makeup flawless. The only thing out of place is the small indent between her waxed eyebrows and the slightly hollow look of someone who knows exactly how close a loved one came to dying.
"Captain? Is Tony okay?" She refused to look through the window that showed a view of the private room, eyes locked on the man who was the Avengers leader and was supposed to make sure Tony didn't do stupid things like this anymore.
He can't stop thinking of how small Tony was when he was pulled from the armor, passed out and limp to be loaded onto a private helicopter to be transported. Can't stop thinking of how Tony looks even smaller, if possible, swathed in white on the hospital bed after a successful, and slightly panicked, emergency surgery.
Steve gave a quiet nod; tongue plastered to the roof of his mouth, and stood up to walk the woman into the room. He didn't think Tony was comfortable working with tall people, and Pepper Potts was one of them being only a couple inches shorter than Steve. Maybe he only had a problem with his height when it was a man who was taller?
Her voice came out as a soft whisper, "Oh, Tony, you promised…" Tears shimmered, but don’t fall, in the low-grade institutional lighting when her eyes have finished their path tracing, and cataloging, everything wrong with her employer.
"Hey, Pep." Tony winced at the grating sound of his voice and against the ripple of pain that travels through his body, which causes some of the monitors to beep shrilly only to quiet after he takes a couple of quick, shallow breaths.
Instead of rushing to his side and checking if he really is okay, as Steve expected because even he has to tap down on the sudden urge to do it himself, he watches as Pepper drops her purse on the ground and slides her hand down the back of her legs to slip her heels off. Without them she is tiny, so much shorter than a few minutes beforehand, and only after they're off does she cross the remaining distance between herself and the bed in her stocking feet.
"You took off your heels." He mumbled, a fresh dose of pain medication making his eyes droop and a small smile twitch from beneath his goatee. "You love your heels."
"Yeah, I felt like lowering myself to your level for once." She jokes flatly with a watery smile. She sat in the hard plastic chair; hand clasping Tony's that is hooked up to an IV-drip and other tubes keeping him alive. Pepper began a soft, monologue of things she's been doing at the other branch of Stark Industries, what the doctors told her when she walked in, a new recipe she found that she wants to try out, idle gossip about the different departments in the company, the puppy one of her neighbors bought last week.
Little things that distract her mind but still allow her to rub an idle thumb against Tony's wrist to make sure his pulse is beating slow and steady.
Unable to do anything to help ease the pain choking the room, Steve suddenly feels like he is only good at few things in his life besides fighting. Smiling for the cameras at a publicity shoot while being surrounded by cancan dancers. Yelling desperately and reaching out a hand for a comrade falling to their death from a crashing plane. Helping create a team where some members are more concerned about preventing injury to their leader, while ignoring the dangers they put themselves in.
The only person left standing, towering over the other two occupants in the room, has never been faced with such a problem that left him feeling so small and helpless.
Chapter 2: Steve Has Mixed Signals
I lied. There are four chapters now. Sorry. D:
Steve Rogers is six-foot-two, two-hundred and twenty pounds of pure muscle, and blond. He often gets called "sex on legs" by random strangers and he sometimes sees people lick their lips when he walks down the street. He is also known as Captain America.
His height confuses and hinders him. Before the super soldier serum he used to be able to grab whatever clothes were available and shrug them on, making sure there weren't any holes then walking out the door. Nowadays he needs to shop at a custom store to account for his height and how long his legs are and how wide across his chest is and how his wrists are almost two times the thickness of a normal man's.
This frustrates him most of the time, wishing he was just a bit smaller, but there are a few things that he likes with his increase in body mass.
He now can find anyone he needs in a crowd. There are few people who are taller than him, such as Thor and professional bodybuilders (they have that now, who knew?), but most of the time he is able to look over the masses of people, find the person he is looking for, and then push his way through the swarm easily to get to them. He still loses Tony from time to time, because the smaller man gets mobbed every time he walks in public with his smirk and tinted sunglasses, signing autographs and taking pictures with women and kissing babies and signing the babies of women after he kisses their mothers.
Tony doesn't complain when Steve starts putting an arm around his shoulders to keep him close when they walk so he doesn't get jerked away by his adoring and slightly vicious public. He doesn't seem mind that his head barely passes Steve's shoulder even with the lifts. He doesn't really know why, but this makes Steve feel extremely happy and warm inside.
Finding anything in the upper cabinets, even if it's all the way in the back, has become child's play for Steve. He now gets asked by Natasha once a week to get the newly-washed towels off the top shelf, where they are always put by the cleaning company that comes in twice a week no matter how many times they tell them not to. Steve often has to pull Hawkeye out from the top of the entertainment center, the refrigerator, or the gutter of the house after he falls asleep playing Hide and Seek with Thor.
Steve doesn’t mind when he constantly has to find the coffee tin on the top shelf where Clint keeps putting it there as an ongoing joke, especially since Tony clings to his arm and shoves his body between Steve and whatever he is doing at the time to make him pay attention and go get it now.
He does blush a little when the smaller man tries to vault over his body when the battered container comes into sight, Tony doing everything in his power to get his caffeine fix. Up to, and including, hooking his leg around Steve’s waist to get that extra boost needed to close the gap. Steve is not ashamed to admit that he sometimes holds the coffee over his head in a brief session of ‘keep away’ to see if Tony will do something differently this time.
He is never disappointed.
Tonight, Tony uses the counter and Steve’s shoulder to launch onto him piggy-back style to grab the coffee tin, arm hooked around the broader man’s neck as a form of stabilization.
“It is mentally and physically disturbing to see Stark climbing you like a tree. It is only made worse because I know you’re enjoying it.” Coulson deadpans that evening when he passes through to drop off and pick up paperwork, causing Clint to spit his soda everywhere and Bruce to give a little grin from behind his laptop. Natasha quirks an eyebrow, which speaks volumes in and of itself, and continues to paint her nails a pale pink. Thor laughs and then proceeds to begin a tale about how he once climbed a tree, which was really the leg of a buxom giantess, and he enjoyed it too. Verily.
Steve doesn’t really understand what Coulson means, but he’ll be sure to ask the internet next time he gets on the computer.
The increase in strength is pretty nifty too.
Without the serum Steve had trouble picking up most things that required brute strength, helping his mother bring out the laundry each week was a task that left him heaving and her patting him on the back to complete it by herself after sending him inside. Now, when the Avengers go grocery shopping, a task done at least three or four times a weeks due to the amount of pudding cups Thor goes through and food destroyed by Banner when there is no more ramen for Hulk, Steve finds himself loaded with plastic packages and bags as if he were a pack mule.
Steve doesn't like that because Thor is a random demigod alien, and doesn't really understand most of the things that come out of 'mere mortals' mouths, and Tony and Bruce only have super strength in crazy save the world missions, it has become the responsibility of Captain America to be the carrier of all things not SHIELD related. This involves following Natasha when she thinks she needs a new wardrobe and visits every designer store in NYC and purchases at least half of their inventory. Or when Clint tries to perch on top of things that cannot hold the weight of a full-grown sniper, often large pieces of art made from metals and marble. When he gets trapped under the abstract shapes or beautiful Greek figures he has the gall to complain the entire time while waiting for everyone to find Steve to free him.
Sometimes Steve wonders why Tony has so much art in his buildings for Clint to get into trouble with, but then he remembers Pepper's influence on her boss. Of course, maybe Pepper doesn't have that great of taste in art if the weird, heavy, blue triangle that's supposed to be a woman is an example of what she likes/thinks is art.
The one thing Steve does like about his new found strength is that he can lift Tony up with little to no effort. Since Tony is six inches shorter, and easily forty pounds lighter, it's simple to pick up him up and carry him to bed when he falls asleep in his workshop after a four day run of manic inventing. The first time JARVIS asks him to do so, Steve is worried that it is an elaborate trick by Tony to make him look stupid. Once Tony is in his arms, head tucked against his collarbone and hands gripping lightly against his white t-shirt, Steve realizes that this feels nice. Maybe too nice.
He doesn't talk to Tony for five days when he reexamines that thought and isn't sure where it is going, even if he doesn't know exactly what "it" is.
"It" is only saved from total disaster because Iron Man and Captain America get stranded in the Arctic after a mission gone wrong, a place Steve swore never to go back again, and Tony had dragged Steve's arms over his own and shoved his back into the warm curve of Steve's stomach. Tony made a snarky comment on how Steve radiated off too much body heat and he needed to share. He rambled a little bit about conservation of energy and transfer of heat between large bodies at rest, before finally settling down with a shiver and snuggling closer.
Steve doesn't know if this is a friendship or a semi-relationship, but right now at this moment he’s too scared that they're never going to get out of this place alive to question what they have. When he takes a deep breath to calm down he can smell Tony's shampoo, something ridiculously expensive mixed with honeydew melon with an undertone of what could only be Tony: hot metal, sweat, stress, and too much ego for one person.
He feels better after that.
Over the next few months, Steve finds himself falling into a strange sort of dance with Tony.
On some days Tony will be overly-affectionate, borderline ridiculous in the way he sprawls on the couch and ends up draping himself over Steve when they watch the news. When he gets into one of these moods Steve will find himself dragged all over New York City and the boroughs, walking in Central Park with young families, visiting the Brooklyn Museum of Art to see stained glass, experiencing sushi for the first time at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Queens.
Then the next day Tony will be dressed in his armor, not as Iron Man but just as dangerous in an impeccable Brioni three-piece, and he barely spares a glance at Steve when he strides out the door. Coming back from a string of meetings that gains his company millions in profits, the cellphone will remain glued to his ear as he prepares one of his disgusting smoothies that have the consistency of pureed grass. The rapid words coming out of his mouth are half mathematical formula, half scathing remark, and Steve is reminded that Tony has lived a huge portion of his life like this; fighting tooth and nail against people who want to see him fail, and fail spectacularly at that.
He wonders if that's maybe why Tony is so sensitive about his height. Any weakness, even something controlled by genetics, is put on display and attacked in the business world.
Steve wonders if he and Tony would have become friends quicker if he was a couple inches shorter, but decides it isn't worth thinking about because they are friends now. Good friends. Best friends. The type of friend you meet once in your lifetime that you try to keep a hold on. For a second Steve thinks of marriage and soul mates as a proper comparison, but then he is distracted by Tony. Tony who is running into the living room, and he's invented something new, and Steve needs to go downstairs right now and look at it, it's really cool. Steve Steve Steve. Noooooow. Steeeeeeeeeeeve.
The next day they both happen to be in the kitchen at the same time by chance, Steve reading the paper while drinking water and marveling silently at all the new things and Tony inhaling his coffee with his usual focused attention before 9am. Tony looks up, stops drinking his coffee, and Steve braces for an attack. It’s the only possible reason he knows for why the other man would pause in inhaling his third cup, and is shocked by the expression of undiluted joy displayed on Tony’s features.
The awe and pure affection in the breathed word makes Steve jerk his head around to look at the person who has thoroughly charmed Iron Man outside of his suit and other not so physical armor.
An African-American man, almost as tall as Steve, leaned against the doorjamb with a fond smile stretching his lips. “Hey, didn’t think you’d be up here. I checked the workshop and JARVIS told me you were in the kitchen. Awake. After supposedly sleeping for five hours straight? Such a good boy with adult habits.”
In an action that both shocks and disturbs Steve, Tony gets up from the table, leaving behind his coffee, and vaults into the arms of the other man.
"Oh, graham cracker, I've missed you so much." The billionaire sighs happily into the other man’s neck, shifting and pouting and whining until Rhodey sighs and finally wraps his hands around and rests them on the small of his back.
Steve knows it is irrational to feel jealous of someone he has never met, especially since this person seems to mean so much to Tony, but he can't help but resent this person who walks so easily into Tony’s life. This man who has Tony tucking in his head and clinging as if he was a kindergartener getting picked up after the first day of school. This extremely tall person that Tony trusts completely and doesn't look at with disdain or huff in thinly veiled annoyance when he has to look up, which Tony still does every once in a while when talking to Steve.
"Yeah, yeah, well you know I like to check in. Make sure you still have all your fingers and toes and are still in the country every five months or so. Can't have another Honduras fruit snack incident."
“Aw, you really do care!” Tony murmured fondly, words muffled from being pressed into a sternum.
Rhodey laughed, "Once you stop getting into trouble, maybe I can start actually doing my job." Slapping a hand on Tony's shoulder, he finally notices Steve sitting at the kitchen table. "So, you're the Captain?"
Steve wants to answer, it would be polite to introduce himself properly to this tall person who Tony adores, but his jaw is clenched too tight when the hands make a sudden pass down Tony's back. Tony rotates a quick one-eighty while grabbing the other man's arms so they won't release, and looks at Steve with a wide grin.
"Oh, right, you haven't met the illustrious Lieutenant Colonel Jim Rhodes. Rhodey, that's Captain America. I'm sure you've heard all about him with your good ole boys club. Cap, this is Rhodey. He's the best!"
Steve successfully manages to hide his flinch. Tony has never called him the best.
The two taller men nod and are just about to begin their own introductions when Tony arches his neck backwards to catch Rhodey's eye, causing Steve's jaw to drop and a flush to start at his ear tips while Rhodey sighed. "What are you even doing here? Last I heard, War Machine was on patrols in Africa."
"Isn't a man allowed to come home and check up on those he loves?"
"Isn't a man allowed to come home and check up on his annoyances?"
A dignified sniff and pout from the smaller man.
"Tony…Come on. Don't do this. Not again. Remember Malaysia? Remember what happened?"
"Yeah, yeah…" A suspicious silence, "Wait a minute; I know what you're up to."
"No, you don't."
"Yes, I do, s'more. You're trying to get a new suit."
"Tony, no. Stop it. I am not."
Tony frowned, "Yes, you are. You're trying to get a new suit and I'm falling for it."
"Tony, you don't need to make me a new suit. I just need you to give a little tweak-"
“Fine, fine, fine, fine. For you, Rhodey, for you, I will make you a new suit that is 120% better than that pile of garbage you have now because I'm sure your buddies on the base think they made it better with their "upgrades" and whatnot. I will make it beautiful! I will return my baby to what it once was before you stole it!" Tony rambled theatrically as he detangled himself from Rhodey, who was now actively trying to keep him from running off. "Your suit will reach Mach three! It will have more guns, you like guns, maybe a cannon, and-"
"Tony. You're not painting it red."
Tony's mouth snapped shut, an action Steve has never seen and again he wonders if Rhodey has some sort of magical control over Tony.
"But…I like red." Tony whined while rocking petulantly against Rhodey's arms.
Rhodey pushed him away with a laugh, "Tony. Leave it ugly. You can paint my car."
Tony made a scandalized look and backed away quickly. "No, no, no, you keep your Prius. I don't even want to look at that monstrosity of a design."
At the threshold he turns around, remembering at the last moment that he has previous plans, "Cap, we're still on for tonight? Can we bring Rhodey for pizza? He loves pizza, you love pizza! It’ll be great!" Without waiting for an answer, he continues down the hallway talking to himself about pizza, and Rhodey, and equations, and robots, and other things that hold his short attention span.
Steve nods with a tight smile and waits for Tony get out of earshot before he turns to the man who, technically, outranks him.
The brown eyes are all business when they meet his.
“What are you doing with Tony?” It is a threat mixed with a question, and it throws Steve for a second. Usually when someone asks him that question the emotions behind it range from baffled confusion, in the case of tabloid reporters who follow them around when in the city, to incredulous (Clint had choked on his Lucky Charms the first time he saw Tony curled up and sleeping next to Cap, who was watching a romcom).
Steve stands after folding his newspaper neatly, looking at the other man and trying to make the inch difference in height feel like a mile. He feels a little bit like a cat poofing up when faced with a dog. Or a vacuum cleaner.
"Tony doesn't do…tall." Rhodey says, not ruffled by the super soldier. "In fact, I know you're way too tall for Tony. Usually he goes after flavor of the months who don't mind being short for a billionaire. So, explain to me: what are you doing with him?"
There are a thousand ways Steve can respond, all flying around in his head like a flock of released birds, but he does the only thing he can do. He sighs, sounding defeated and world weary, and leans against the back of the chair he just vacated. “I don’t know.”
Rhodey smiles, which Steve thinks is odd, “Good. That's the best idea when dealing with Tony. Don't try to predict what he's going to do, just know it'll be idiotic and it'll happen soon enough.” He steps forward with hand extended, clasping Steve’s in a firm shake before releasing, “I can’t tell you what I was expecting when Tony started going on and on about Captain America and how he was living in the same house with him, and all this other blather.”
“Tony talks about me?”
“All the time.” Rhodey pinched the bridge of his nose, looking upset he even brought the topic up, “Look, I was afraid I was going to get here too late and he’d have tricked you into marriage or a domestic union or some other type of harebrained scheme.”
“Marriage?” Steve thanks a higher power that his voice does not crack on the word, “But, Tony and I are friends. He’s never shown he wanted…more.” He flexed his hands uselessly at his sides, wondering how much time he has wasted not acting on that small urge buried at the back of his mind.
“You go on dates.” Rhodey’s tone of voice screams that Steve is an idiot even though his volume is low.
“He’s taken you out on at least six dates, according to the tabloids. Pepper says it’s four, but that’s because she’s not counting the midnight diner run and that day he showed you the dog park.”
Steve is silent and he knows his face is a mixture of shell shock and surprise.
“Shit, you really didn’t know.”
“Oh god, your eyes. Tony told me about them, I didn’t believe him, but they really are-“ Rhodey broke off and wept silently to himself at being surrounded by this soap opera romance, which he now has to be the director of, “You both are hopeless and I can't believe I have to help you get together. It's like an after school special.”
Steve sighed again.
“But I guess you want to try it with him, since you’re still here. Looking like a puppy. A puppy that's being teased with a treat after doing something bad. Oh god, that means Tony is the bone. I just-”
Steve groaned, wondering if Rhodes just insulted him in a roundabout way, but he's too busy trying to figure out what is considered a date nowadays when all he was did was wander around the city with Tony. Did the museum count as one? Maybe when they fed ducks in the park…?
“All right.” Rhodey takes a deep breath through his nose, letting it out his mouth, “Okay, well, Tony has had a lot of experience being an idiot, so you’ll probably have to hammer the point home. I have a feeling you won’t give up on him when he does something stupid, like lights his eyebrows on fire or forgets to wear pants.” Rhodey leaned against a counter, thoughtful expression replacing the panicky one from earlier.
"Hell, he already does that, and you're still here. So your main problem is going to be trying to convince Tony that it's okay that you know that you're possibly going out with him without giving him a heart attack. And that you aren't going to leave him when someone taller comes along."
"This is confusing." Steve thinks back on simpler times, back when all you had to do to "go steady" was to ask the dame if they wanted to go to a dance or compliment them on their hair.
Rhodey grinned at Steve, nods in agreement, and then immediately goes stone faced. Which is terrifying to Steve, because the man had been so animated the entire time when talking.
"But you listen to me, Captain. You do anything to him, anything that isn't completely one-hundred-percent All-American, and I will end you. Superhero or not, nobody messes with Tony Stark and gets away with it when I'm around." Rhodey then smiles like he didn't just threaten a national icon and starts on the new topic of how to approach Tony when he gets drunk and starts propositioning lamps. Which happens fairly often, with the way Rhodey waxes poetically on the subject.
Steve doesn’t know if he should feel proud that Tony has someone like this looking out for him, or terrified that one day Rhodey will team up with Pepper and take him down for forgetting Tony’s favorite color.
Thus Steve Rogers begins his assigned mission of wooing multi-billionaire Tony Stark.
He refuses to think of the thick folder given to him by Pepper last night, filled with random tidbits about Tony (he likes the taste of orange juice after brushing his teeth, and sometimes watches videos of cats playing piano during board meetings). Steve also tries to forget the moment when Tony had bent over to find something in the chassis of his classic Jaguar. He hadn't been looking, hadn't planned on looking, except a jab in the ribs from Rhodey and a meaningful wink was enough to make him look up then blush and almost choke on his tongue.
He isn't sure when grimy sweatpants became a turn-on, but he’s okay with that. It’s the future. When in Rome, and all that jazz.
Then again, Steve thinks it might have been easier without help from Tony's guardian angels.
When Pepper gives the suggestion of taking Tony to the beach in Miami, Steve trusts her. Even lets her herd him into the private company jet when she needs to hide him from Tony, who is traveling down using a different plane, simply because he figures that since she is now the CEO, and knows Tony, that she would never give him a bad date idea.
It goes horribly, and he should have expected it because it’s Tony.
Tony rubbing sunscreen on his back was a great start (It's to prevent sunburn. You're really pale, Cap. Now stop squirming and spin around, I need to do your chest.), and walking on the beach in the warm sun and sand is another perk of the date. Steve grabs Tony's hand, ignoring the paparazzi that are stalking behind them, and knows he grins like an idiot when Tony doesn't pull away and actually gives a shy grin up over his sunglasses. As if he was maybe thinking of giving this thing a chance.
The fact that Tony is the owner of some sort of European swimsuit that looks more like tight underwear than the floppy swim shorts Steve is wearing is the cherry on top of the destination date.
Then, suddenly, there are girls in small bikinis that cover too little and who flirt too much, especially once they realize that multi-billionaire Tony Stark is only a couple feet away with a very handsome blond companion. A two-for-one deal. There goes an hour of the date ducking behind gazeboes, tiki stands, and hiding behind extremely large people beached on the sand sunning to avoid hands that should not be that close to Tony when he is not fully clothed. Especially in front of Steve, who is watching the date crash and burn.
Tony wants ice cream and licks it shamelessly once he gets it, all while trying not to grin at Steve's blush. This leads to a gleaming beach bodybuilder coming over to try and seduce him away from Steve, because in the past a visible, seducing Tony Stark was a Tony Stark available for everyone. Like an open buffet. The man doesn't even finish his pickup line, "You'd be tall enough to give me a kiss standing on your wallet, so jump on up and give me a try", before his speedos are yanked open and the rest of Tony's frozen treat melts somewhere less fun. Steve grabs Tony for a different reason and drags him away when the bodybuilder's friends start making comments on how he should 'kiss it better' since he's the right height for it.
They're still holding hands when they get back on the jet, returning to New York on the same plane instead of separately like they came. Steve decides to not tell Tony, who is still ranting about his height and baby-oil assholes hitting on him, and instead spends the flight looking down at their linked fingers.
Rhodey thinks Tony should be okay with a date closer to home, a date that involves more clothes, less sun, and more couches. All things that Tony has had good experiences with, Rhodey reasons, since he wears clothes most of the time, is always in his garage, thus never sees the sun, and he occasionally sleeps on couches when he passes out. His logic is impeccable and Steve agrees that maybe this is a better way of getting Tony to realize they're "dating-dating" and not just "dating".
He doesn't see why this is important, since dating is dating in his book, but Jim makes quotation marks with his fingers around the words so he lets it drop.
When Steve brings up watching a movie to Tony, mentions he has never seen Star Wars (Rhodey specifically told him to say this with wide gesturing arms and Pepper giving the ‘thumbs-up’ in the background), he is rewarded with an email the next morning from Pepper saying that Tony’s Friday night and weekend are completely free and he’d love to spend time with him. There is a post-scriptum that says Tony has been sulking in the R&D offices and scaring the interns, and this date will be good for him since it'll remind him that the dark side of the force will never win. The post-post-scriptum that pops up a few minutes later is from Tony, who has obviously been hacking the emails again, and simply states "Soon, my young Padawan".
Steve doesn't know if this is flirtatious or threatening, so he moves the email into a folder Natasha had labeled for him as "Look into later/Ask Mr. Google/Is it just Tony or the future?"
Getting the rest of the Avengers out of the living room for his date is fairly easy. Natasha is already planning on going on a super-secret-awesome mission that Fury assigned her in passing when he saw her looking at the stapler weird. Fury's way of dealing with the Russian spy is to keep her busy because idle hands are the devil's playground. And Natasha would be the bully on that playground ruling it with an iron fist. So she was throughly occupied from Friday onward.
Thor went running down the street, swinging his hammer in excitement, when Steve mentions offhand that there is a dog show down the street, and maybe he could see a really big dog, and maybe he could even pet them, and maybe if he stayed away from the living room for 24-hours that he could get a puppy.
Bruce…Steve just tells Bruce to stay in his lab and he'll buy him a radiation symbol bumper sticker. Bruce shrugs and goes back to calculating the angstroms between his wavelengths. He has better things to do with his time than watch movies, and he giggles like a five-year-old girl whenever he sees Steve and Tony snuggle for some reason. So it’s for the best he isn’t around.
The only one who raises a token protest is Clint, who complains about the living room on the other side of the house being too hot. “I’m a delicate flower!” He announced sulkily from the couch, where he held one of the cushions in a death grip against his chest and continued to watch cartoons on the television even after Steve asked him to leave politely. “I can’t handle extreme temperatures! I’ll wilt!”
A quick call on his cellphone and Steve arranges for Coulson to come pickup his charge so Barton can complete some extra desert training simulations. He only does it because he is a concerned team leader who wants to best for those he has to command. If Clint was going to perform at less than his best on a mission because he couldn't stand the heat, well, Steve was only doing this for his own good.
He easily ignores the pout from Clint as the archer is pulled from the couch by his feet and dragged out the room by a certain SHIELD agent/babysitter.
With the room empty and Tony due to arrive in a half hour, Steve felt himself relax. This date was going to go perfect and Tony would finally start taking things seriously. Start taking them seriously. Nothing could go wrong.
Five minutes after the agreed upon time, six-thirty to account for traffic in the city and it being Friday, and Steve isn't worried. Stuff happens. Maybe Tony was held back to sign forms, or yell at someone about a poorly designed circuit board. At fifteen minutes, the popcorn has gotten a little cold and the Blu-ray symbol is bouncing around the screen in standby mode. Forty minutes past the start of the “date” and the couch still has only one person sitting on it.
Steve is halfway through the first movie that is technically the forth movie according to the title, fully absorbed in the effects and the aliens and the lasers and space, when he hears the front door open and the muted sounds of footsteps on plush carpeting.
For a moment Tony stands in the doorway, wrinkled suit and confused expression highlighted by the hall light before he sighs heavily and his shoulders slump in disappointment at his own actions. “It was tonight?” He croaks with a throat abused by a day filled with arguing, cajoling, and flat out yelling at others, maybe remembering to rehydrate with quick sips of cold, stale coffee between various meetings.
“It is Friday.” Steve takes another quick glance from the movie action to catch the lost expression flitting across Tony’s face and he just knows the other man hasn’t been sleeping and probably still thinks it is Wednesday. “Come here, Tony. You can explain to me what Chewbacca’s supposed to be.”
A brief shuffle and the shorter man has a controlled fall facedown onto the couch at an angle from Steve, head shoved in the corner of the cushions and feet still brushing the ground. Without a thought, Steve leans forward to grab the still shod feet and swings them onto his lap so Tony was actually laying on the furniture and not half falling off.
Steve looks down at the sleek pair of shoes in his lap, pitch black and reflecting the television scenes lightly on their surface. They seemed like the normal, albeit extremely expensive, shoes that every businessman in New York City wore every day, but he knows they’re something much more for Tony. Curiosity aroused, because nothing like this was around during the war, Steve pulls off one shoe and drops it to the ground, taking note of the plain black socks with the gold toe as an afterthought.
The second shoe is taken off slower; blue eyes deciding to watch Tony’s other foot emerge from its cramped prison rather than the movie. Tony is usually on his feet for a minimum of twenty hours a time, even more if going straight from the board room to his garage, and Steve didn’t want to consider the punishment the size 10 feet are forced to undergo every day.
Tony arched up slightly so he could look over his shoulder warily, watching with a tight mouth and guarded eyes as Steve poked his fingers inside the shoe to discover the lifted base. The reason for Tony’s height and one of his most savagely guarded secrets behind Iron Man's schematics and the people he loves.
Steve drags his hand carefully over one foot, relieved when Tony’s tension drops slightly at the motion, and then lets the other shoe slip carelessly from his hand to fall next to its mate on the carpet.
Ignoring the footwear, Steve allows his hands to wander over the parts of Tony’s body that most likely never see the light of day; always trapped in stupid shoes that Tony didn’t need to make him the biggest person in the room.
“I like you better without them.” Steve explained simply at Tony’s frown, rubbing his thumb over the abused insole in front of him, prompting Tony to groan and flop back against the couch for an impromptu foot-massage-date while Luke Skywalker finally believed in the Force and took down the Death Star.
Then Happy enters the picture of 'Helping Captain America get down The Boss's pants' and it all goes downhill from there.
Actually, Happy's suggestion of taking Tony to the annual New York International Auto Show goes off without a hitch. Kinda. Sure, he doesn't know what half the car models are called, or why there seems to be an abundance of the colors silver, red and yellow, but it makes Tony happy. At least until a random new company makes a loud comment on how their car is so roomy, yet compact, it could hold someone of Steve's size yet still be driven comfortably by someone Tony's size. Tony retaliates by purchasing the spokesman's company and firing him on the spot.
Steve decides to chalk it up as a tentative win, and even though he appreciates the help, he nixes Happy's other suggestion of going to a greased-pig wrestling match.
It has been three days since the last failed date. The date that happened at the zoo. The petting zoo. Where Steve felt like a Disney princess because every animal had followed him around even after he gave away all his 25-cent food pellets and Tony had been attacked by a small goat and then corned by a ruthless gang of ducklings.
The pictures were still being posted on the internet, and if Steve changed his phone's background to the picture of Tony petting a pony and grinning wildly in amazement nobody had to know.
Over the past couple of dates, Steve had started to think that Pepper was not the greatest at giving dating advice. Of course, she was a little distracted juggling running the company, trying to find Tony when he ran away, and making sure her expensive heels didn't get scuffs. Also, she had started dating Happy Hogan, which could account for some of the odder date ideas, like going to a hotdog eating contest (Tony might have liked it if he didn’t try to participate and then was throwing up for three hours afterwards) or the monster truck rally (Steve didn't understand why you had to crush perfectly good cars with other cars and Tony had cried when they totaled a classic because it was old).
He was thinking of asking Rhodes for another idea, except the man was almost impossible to get a hold of nowadays. He is constantly flitting between secret government bases working on drills with his War Machine armor, or giving lectures to new recruits about how the world is a crazy place. More often than not, Rhodey was too busy being smothered by Tony, who now clung to him like a second skin whenever he walked through the door to visit. Even Steve knows it is a bad idea to ask where to take someone out for a date when the person you are trying to date is right there, snuggling into the back of the person you're asking advice from.
Steve knows Tony and the lieutenant colonel had been friends for years, probably decades, before he was un-frozen and talked into leading the Avengers team by Fury. Besides, he knew that Rhodey was the only person that Tony was completely comfortable with, simply because he hadn’t gone and messed it up by sleeping with Rhodey or forcing the other man to become a business partner/take over Stark Industries.
It is slightly worrying for him to walk in after a stressful charity ball to find Tony sleeping on Rhodey's chest, clutching at his chest and drooling, while the other man eats popcorn and watches 'Top Gun' as if this was normal Tony behavior. Rhodey shoots him a look that says he didn’t plan this, that it’s just Tony, but the super soldier still feels like he is caught in a Lifetime movie and Tony is cheating on him with an oblivious Rhodey. Next thing he knows the plot will thicken when a forbidden love of Tony’s from the past makes her presence known and tries to seduce Steve in a harebrained scheme to get Tony’s billions.
The truth of the matter is, Steve really wants is to be trusted enough to be Tony's pillow after a stressful day. To hold him close and make sure he’s still here unlike everyone else Steve once loved, except Tony has been avoiding the couch ever since he found out that Steve can stretch from end to end easily and Tony can barely cover three-quarters. Also, Tony still stiffens in indignation when Steve goes in for a hug and the dark-haired man almost brushes his chin.
So Steve just bides his time and waits for Rhodey to help him try and make Tony understand that he doesn’t care about how tall he is; that it’s just a number.
But Rhodey, no matter all his helpful advice and secret information he passes along, doesn’t seem quite ready to give up Tony either.
Every time Steve takes Tony out on a date, even just a cup of coffee, Jim will sit on the couch right next to the front door and polish a working gauntlet from the War Machine armor. Steve feels like he is taking a teenage girl out to her first dance and Rhodey is the over protective father who wants "the sunshine of his life" to come back exactly at 9pm, untouched and still virginal. Tony makes it worse by flouncing over to ask for a good luck kiss on the cheek before each date, which Rhodey does with a self-suffering sigh since it will make Tony shut up and leave faster, but Steve can see the dark pair of eyes looking over Tony’s shoulder pinpointing where all the super soldier’s vital organs are in case he does something to break Tony's fragile heart.
So it is a surprise to Steve when his phone lights up with a text message in the middle of the day from Rhodes telling him to pick up Tony, he's ridiculous, and he can no longer take the hugging.
In actuality, the text reads:
'go2 brdway, tony had lecture @ columbia. escappd in crwd. feed him + tel him im angre >:('
Steve figures it has something with Tony being an idiot, so he heads to Manhattan in hopes of finding the rogue billionaire who is most likely posing with the Abercrombie & Fitch models, or flirting with the lead actress of a new musical. He even toys with the idea of Tony reprogramming the LIRR, simply because he can, but writes it off as soon as he thinks of it because he knows Tony would be distracted by the coin return machines as soon as he got underground.
He does not expect to find Tony in the middle of Times Square, sitting on the ground surrounded by a huge pack of dogs underneath a sign that says "KISSING BOOTH, $1".
"Steve, Stev-" Tony is cut off as a dog leaps at his face and starts licking, pushing him to the ground and causing him to laugh as another dog, a little smaller than the first, jumps in to help give out affection. "Steve this is the greatest! I give them a dollar and I get kisses!" With a strangled yelp, Tony falls over again when a big black dog pushes the others out of the way to sprawl across the man's chest.
Steve thinks of opening the cage encircling the impromptu fluff session, because he really didn't think it was healthy for a man of Tony's age to be manhandled by a rambunctious group of animals, but pauses when Tony lets out another bark of laughter as a different dog tries to climb on top of the black one. Maybe he should let Tony have a little more fun before he drags him off for food and a talk-down from Rhodey.
"Is he your friend?"
Steve looks over at the short blonde woman who is now standing next to him, a 'Peace Love and Pit bulls' shirt proclaiming the cause she was working for. Throughout the rest of the square were various other charity tables, out in the open to try and convince people to donate money, their time, or just an eager ear. It seemed like this was the only charity that had brought examples of who they were trying to help. It was no surprise that Tony found the one charity that had the highest percentage of causing damage if something went wrong.
"Yeah. Tony's my friend." Blue eyes track the man who is now rolling on the ground that is probably covered by diseases and other unsavory things associated with New York, steamrolling dogs and making them jump over his moving body. "Unfortunately." He sighs when Tony hits the cage wall and is promptly swarmed by warm, furry bodies.
The woman smiles, “I just wanted to thank you, then, because he refused to listen to me earlier." At Steve's look she continues and shrugs to try and hide the brightness of her eyes, "He donated two-hundred and fifty-thousand dollars to us. Said it was a tax write-off." She twists her hair around a finger before leaning in conspiratorially, shoots a glance at the other volunteers from her group, "I didn't really believe him when he said that, you know. I am pretty sure he did it so he could play with the dogs; just don't tell him I figured him out, okay?"
Without a backward glance the blonde walks back to the table covered with information sheets and pamphlets, leaving Steve to wonder if all animal volunteers are this knowledgeable about billionaire playboys. Or if Tony acts enough like a wounded, panicked animal that they know to use soft voices and give him small pieces of cheese when he comes out of the garage like a good boy.
Steve is still watching her, toying with the idea of maybe adopting a dog if it means Tony will stop complaining about being the shortest in the mansion, when a grunt from behind alerts him of trouble.
"Steve. Steeeeeeve. Come help me up. Rhodey told me you would take care of me when we started dating and you're doing a shoddy job. I'll have to call him up and tell him about your failed wooing."
He turns around and finds Tony lying on his back, panting in the same manner as the canines haphazardly lounging on the ground near him. Rolling his eyes, of course Rhodey would think this was some type of pseudo-date because it didn't involve tainting Tony's chastity in any way; Steve leans on top of the wire enclosure and looks down at the man who he has hopelessly fallen for.
"Tony. Rhodey said you were at Columbia? How'd you get down here?"
"I like pit bulls." Tony says petulantly, sitting up just so he could lean back against one of the dogs, "And they're so boring at Columbia. They were talking about a new material that goes from BCC to FCC with heat bursts, but it wasn't in testing yet, and they wanted to see if I would fund it, and the lead got angry because I shot a gun at the experiment, but it was okay because the material absorbed the shock and the surface area increased, which I thought was the point-"
Steve interrupts abruptly, making one of the dogs jump, "Tony, you had a gun?” He makes a quick scan of Tony and feels the tension he didn’t know was there break when he doesn’t spot any injuries or a bulge that might be a concealed weapon.
"Well, yeah. I mean it wasn’t mine, I don’t carry guns anymore ever since I got back, you know the whole Iron Man thing, but they had one for testing, and I’m a pretty good shot, plus their postdoc is a total dick,” Tony tries to roll his eyes but it’s hard when his eyes are squinted from smiling in amusement at the two dogs who are both trying to fit in his lap. “He didn’t even know who I was. Said I was too short to be someone as important as Tony Stark.”
“Tony…” Steve looks down at the man sitting on the sidewalk in a suit that costs more than what some people make in three months, and thinks of a simpler time when he thought Tony was an egomaniac who didn’t want help.
“What, Cap? Going to lecture me? I needed to show the kid how it’s done. Shot a couple of perfect rounds in their material to test it.” An ugly expression spreads across Tony’s face like a mask, and Steve is reminded that Tony once had a less than savory life prior to the arc reactor. “Carry a big enough gun, and have good enough aim, and everyone is too afraid to point out your shortcomings.”
He turns his head to avoid Steve’s searching eyes, getting a lick on the chin from a scrawny-looking pit bull that still has enough energy for a kiss, “It’s not my fault the kid decided to pick a fight with me without knowing his research funding depended on it.
“So I gave the money to someone who needs it more. Like these guys.” Hands callused with burns and scratches make a swipe down the sides of the happily panting black dog that had once sprawled on his chest.
“I like pit bulls, Steve.” Tony looks up, a little lost, one hand toying with the ear of a different dog, “People think they’re bad, but they can’t help it. They’re trained to be weapons sometimes, kinda like me.” He sighs, “They don’t judge you and they don’t have the opposable thumbs to shoot you in the back, which makes them …nice.”
“Tony, I think you’re nice.” Steve says quietly, wondering if Tony can ever hear him because the city is still bustling loudly around them and it’s hardly noon.
“Yeah, well, a lot of people say that.” Tony grumbles as he stands, giving a lingering pet to a brindle pit bull when it whimpers, “Of course, they say it down their noses, so they probably think I can’t hear them because I’m so much smaller. We should probably get going.” He squints at a clock mounted on a building, “Shit, Rhodey is going to kill me. I better pick him up Mickey D’s. He always liked Big Macs…”
Before he knows what he is doing, Steve has shoved a dollar into the small donation container next to the cage and is dragging Tony a couple inches up from the ground into a sloppy kiss. He has an arm hooked around a back covered in gritty cement particles, his other hand cupping a jaw with a day’s worth of stubble, and the metal cage is pressing into his hip bones as he tugs Tony closer.
Hands push against his face, covering them in sidewalk grit, dirt and what he hopes is spit, and Steve stops sucking on Tony’s bottom lip to be forced back. A small section of his brain, fueled solely by adrenaline, thinks of this as a tactical retreat to assess the situation so he can change it back to his advantage.
“Steve, what- What’re you doing?” Tony asks, and Steve can’t help but feel proud of the fact that the sunglasses Tony had been wearing perfectly during his dog play party are now crooked on his face and digging into the bridge of his nose.
“It’s a kissing booth.” Steve mumbles against Tony’s lips as he moves closer, lips that are only at the same level as his own because he’s stooping a little to keep the constant contact that he’s been waiting so long for and Tony is balanced on the bottom piece of steel wiring that makes up the cage. “If I put in a dollar, I get kisses, right?”
Tony buries his hands in Steve’s hair and tugs him down again in answer.
To tell the truth, the kiss is horrible, and Steve is thankful he has enough experience to know that or else he’d be put off from kissing for the rest of his life. There’s too much teeth, not enough tongue, and Tony tastes a little like badly made dirty martinis and dog drool, but Steve doesn’t care because Tony has stopped looking like he was worth nothing because of his height and is finally looking at Steve like Steve has been looking at him for the past couple of weeks.
“You do know we look ridiculous-“ Tony breaths out after the fifth, sixth, seventh kiss, resting his forehead on Steve’s cheek since it’s the highest part he can reach without falling over from his unstable perch. “Since I’m going to have to use a step ladder to kiss you in the future.”
Steve looks down at Tony, grins when he sees the man is more on a ‘my height is keeping me from kissing you’-kick than a ‘my height is the reason why this can’t work out’, and leans down for a quick peck that is barely a brush of skin. “As long as you’re here, I’m sure we’ll figure something out. You are one of the top minds in the field of engineering.” Steve continues, deciding it’s easier to just lift Tony out of the dog enclosure than opening the gate and releasing the happy animals loose on Times Square.
“The mechanics are baffling.” Tony mutters as his feet touch the ground, not even noticing that he had been physically moved because he had been staring at his feet in thinly veiled annoyance. “I can’t wear my shoes all the time, right? And that means six inches of difference.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure something out.” Steve raises an eyebrow when he looks up and spots paparazzi, and he will never admit to smiling and putting an arm around Tony when he sees the camera lift for a picture. Or glaring at a person who gets a little too close to Tony to take a snapshot with their phone.
A tug on his jacket has Steve automatically looking down at Tony, wondering what’s wrong now and if he’s going to have try and catch Tony if he makes another run for it.
“Steve, we should go practice.” Tony says seriously, as if presenting a new model to the board of directors. “We need real time data.”
“You know. “Practice the mechanics”, yeah?” Steve can hear the quotation marks and wants to die when Tony follows it up with a sultry wink towards the people who are still taking pictures, letting them know he's getting banged by a super soldier tonight.
The photo of Steve blushing bright red, hiding his face in his hand, and Tony tugging him towards a car with heavily tinted windows makes the front page the next day.
Okay. So this can either go two ways:
1. I can write one more chapter, the last one, and it is happy/fluffy/fuzzy joy love sex.
2. OR I can write another chapter, with more angst, and then there will be another chapter after that which will most likely be filled with angry, "Tony you're an idiot"-sexy times.
It all depends on what you want.
Chapter 4: Tony Has Doubts
So....Yeah. I wanted to post this sooner. But then I had a conference, then Easter, then job offers I had to handle, and another conference, a couple thesis presentations, some research, more job offers...also I forgot I can't write angst.
Tony knows he should nip this in the bud, stop it from going any further, but, to tell the truth, it happens without him knowing. He looks away from one second to repair a car, save the world, make a smoothie, and when he looks back it's just…there. He didn't think it even could happen (he was pretty sure they hated each other) but then one day he finds himself napping on the couch while cuddled up next to the blond adonis, ignoring Clint who is gagging on his cereal, and the truth becomes startlingly clear.
He might be, according to the internet, kinda, sorta dating Captain America.
The all-around nice guy who shouldn't be spending more than five minutes in his presence before hightailing it back to Fury and SHIELD.
Tony had never really gone dating before. He was always more of a fuck first, maybe meet up for coffee later. A, 'Don't call me, I'll call you', type of guy. Even with Pepper, dating was a scheduled affair. He would work in the garage, there would be a certain beep from his monitor, and he would look-up to check the screen and see what fantastic place Pepper had picked for him to take her to. Then he would have thirty minutes to get ready before either Happy or the lucky girlfriend herself made it downstairs to drag him out to the car.
If he happened to be late, or forget all together, Pepper liked presents (NOT. STRAWBERRIES.), and she usually forgave him after he bought her an entire season’s wardrobe from one of her favorite designers and donated at least half a million to a ridiculous cause, such as ‘Bras for the Homeless’ or ‘The Classics, Ebonics, and You!”
Pepper decided a long time ago this was better than Tony choosing where they were going on their dates, because that usually involved private jet rides to Paris for dinner and then dessert in Morocco. Or the date where Tony grabbed her right after she finished at the gym and took her to a five-star restaurant in booty-shorts and a tank top. Or when he rented out DisneyWorld for their three-month anniversary, and then forced her to ride the Dumbo-ride eight times in a row.
To tell the truth, it was a good system and Tony really didn't understand why people became horrified when he told them about this arrangement he had with Pepper. She was happy, and her being happy made Tony happy. Wasn't that the point of a relationship? To be happy? (Happy the feeling, not Happy the chauffeur, but Tony would be lying if he said he never thought of switching lives with his driver, who seemed to see the world in a beatific manner.)
Unfortunately the crushing depression after Pepper breaks up with him, (Tony, I just…I can't. I can't do it anymore. It's too much, and too little and I just…I'm sorry.), is directly proportional to how enamored he was with her. It's always been that way. The more he enjoys someone's company, be it dating, or a roll in the hay, or even just talking about resistors and electric fields, the greater the hurt when they finally leave. Because in the end they always leave; Tony can guarantee it.
So, yeah. Dating. Not one of Tony's strong points. Flirting, yes; dating, no. After being told by one of his publicists that he is officially dating someone, that person being Captain America, Tony automatically winces when the information sinks in forty-five minutes later.
Obviously Steve doesn't understand how quickly the world has degraded into debauchery since he's been frozen, and he still gets confused by the idea of flavored cream cheese, so Tony highly doubts his computer literacy skills have increased enough that he is able to follow multiple online rag magazines and see what they’re saying about him and his late night activities.
Plus, Tony doesn't want to be the person to break it to him that the American public thinks they are bumping uglies. For all he knows, Steve would either die from blood loss because of his continuous blushing, or he'd go on a crazy, 40's-mentality, guilt-rampage and by some means find everyone on the internet and force them to apologize to Tony and himself.
Afterwards he would probably weep at the fall of propriety and human morals while eating a gallon of strawberry ice cream and watching soap operas.
So Tony decides to roll with it. Take one for the team so the super soldier won't go over the edge. Tries to be a friend, no homo, even though his neck hurts from constantly looking up at Steve and the reporters have an on-going pool on who takes it up the ass (currently the odds are three-to-one that Tony tops simply because he's most likely to throw a hissy fit if he doesn't).
When Steve starts putting his arm around his shorter shoulders, Tony knows he does it because he gets easily separated from the group due to his size and the mobs of fans that always appear whenever the Avengers wander around the city. He doesn't do it to appease the lurking paparazzi, and there are no romantic feelings behind it. It's strategic, and Captain America is all over that like a fat kid on cake. He makes sure Tony keeps close; shoots a glare at Thor when the god heartily suggests that it be his turn to 'protect our most slight in stature comrade!'
Tony doesn't know if Steve does this because he likes Tony more than Thor, which is doubtful because Thor is almost everyone's favorite (except Coulson, but he won't say who is favorite is), or because whenever Thor tries to help outside of a life-altering battles it ends horribly. (Like the death of Hootie the goldfish, Nick Fury's beloved pet who was given to the Avengers to watch for two days when the man himself had been taken hostage by invading aliens. Thor tried to feed the small fish a glazed ham. Fury was not pleased when he returned.)
After a while, it gets tiring trying so hard to be a friend with no reward in sight, even for someone as charismatic as Tony Stark.
On the field, Captain America and Iron Man are flawless, attacking enemies and completing missions as if they had been working together for years. Outside of the flag-themed suit, Steve is a dopey idiot who puts his foot in his mouth more often than not, talking down his nose to Tony about Howard being a bigger man. How Howard is one of the best men he knows, and Tony just doesn't understand because he's too busy being a 'genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist'.
Tony wants to be the careless asshole that society sees him as, wants to look straight into Steve's blue, trusting, unguarded, eyes and blandly state, "He's dead. He can't be one of the best men you know. He can't even be the worse man I knew, because he's dead and he's thankfully never coming back." Then he thinks of how lost Steve Rogers had looked when he woke up with no one to greet him, all of them either decaying from old age or buried under the hard ground, and he chokes back the words before they leapt from his lips.
Sometimes he wishes the tabloids were true about them dating just so they could breakup and Tony would have a ready-made excuse to avoid Steve.
But because that's not possible, he grins and bears it when the heavy arm rests against the nape of his neck. Swallows the scathing words when Steve leads him through the crowds of New York City, though, technically, Tony has lived in them longer than Steve.
It's not the first time someone has tried to control Tony because he was shorter, thinking he was helpless because of his stature. Of course, most of the other times he was on his knees and the hand of the other person was tangled in his hair to make sure he didn't move, not guiding him gently between tourists and street performers. Then again, the feeling of being manipulated doesn't change that much when it's done by a person who doesn't really respect you at the end of the day, be it in the bedroom or in public with thousands of people crushing in from all sides.
He thought Steve would be different, but it's not the first time Tony has been wrong about someone.
Somehow, against all odds, Tony finds himself grudgingly liking the jerk after a couple of months avoiding his clinging arm whenever they go into crowds. The newspapers are all a flutter, reporting that Steve Rogers has done the unthinkable and melted Tony Stark's cold heart. SHIELD puts it down in their official files as 'tensions easing between team members due to a mutual agreement'. Pepper thinks Tony has finally pulled his head out of his butt and is starting to behave like the forty-year-old he almost is, rather than the four-year-old he is often mistaken for.
The real reason is much simpler.
Steve gets him his coffee.
The first time it happens, Tony stares at the empty coffee pot for two hours before Clint comes in, starts laughing, and asks why there isn't a new pot started. Before Tony is able to connect the dots, because at that moment he hasn't had caffeine in almost three hours and he is running slow from lack of sleep, Steve walks in and frowns. With a condescending pat on his much shorter shoulder, which Tony does not flinch at (he was just surprised), Steve reaches up into a tall, skinny cabinet and pulls down the battered tin filled with beans from Marcala.
Taking a deep inhale of the un-ground beans, Tony can feel his brain sluggishly firing up again and the first thought it produces is, 'Captain America = Not a dick."
Over time it becomes easier to ignore Clint and his need to drink the last cup of coffee when he knows Tony is dragging himself from the depths of his garage. Simple to sweep his eyes over the kitchen occupants to see who will give away the tin's location (Bruce has the habit of biting his lip and lifting his eyebrows in the general direction, Coulson simply points with a sigh). Then it is just the matter of Tony finding Steve and forcing him into the other room to get his coffee beans, because he will not give Clint the satisfaction of seeing him vaulting to get on top of his granite counters that cost way too much.
Since Steve seems to have not developed the ability to say 'no' to Tony Stark yet (Pepper and Rhodey are, unfortunately, experts, and Fury is not as good as he likes to believe he is), it's fairly simple to wiggle his body in between whatever the super soldier's doing, be it reading the paper, watching television, or sketching. The one plus of being shorter/smaller/insignificant compared to the other members on the team is that Tony is often seen as an annoying, yappy, toy Pomeranian dog: You want to kill it, but then it is so foofy and small you just hug it instead and hope it will be quieter in the future while feeding it expensive treats.
For a while it goes all according to plan, Steve will wander into the kitchen and grab the tin from where Clint has stashed it, give a small smile of amusement when Tony promptly grabs it to make liquid ambrosia, then he'll leave and go back to whatever he was doing before Tony interrupted him (though he has been lingering longer and longer after the second step, Tony notes when he sips at his first cup of boiling hot liquid).
Then it changes. Steve doesn't give Tony the tin. He holds it over his head, taunting, as if expecting Tony to jump at it like a five-year old. In the past Tony would have pouted and waited him out, being the mature adult sucked but Tony is able to pull it off every once in a while if the end justifies the means, but the much taller man has been pulling the 'keep-away from Tony'-stunt more and more often.
Steve obviously does not expect Tony to launch himself at him like a rabid monkey, and then climb him like a banana tree.
And that is the moment that Tony realizes that Steve is built like a tank. A huge tank of muscled goodness which he should not be thinking of right now because he is pretty sure Steve is insulting his height and refusing him his right to caffeine. But Tony Stark is nothing but an opportunist, and if he copes a couple feels, snatches a couple gropes when climbing the mountain of muscle known as Captain America, well…it's nothing the newspapers haven't been hinting at.
It's easy to think the heat pooling in his stomach is created from lust, seeing and touching the perfect human body on a fairly recent basis has to have short-circuited his body into responding like Pavlov's dog (his coffee tin gets stolen at least four times a week). Tony likes thinking that it comes from publicly molesting Captain America, because it makes things simple. It means the feeling has nothing to do with the goofy smile Steve shoots over his shoulder when he finds the tin, or the hand that grabs at his hip to stabilize him when Tony takes a leap of faith from the kitchen table that was not thought out.
This is not good. They were pretend not-really-but-sorta-yeah-dating (Steve still hadn't figured out what the rest of America supposedly knew weeks ago from Perez Hilton). Tony doesn’t want to start liking him because he knows from experience it just gets muddy when feelings get involved, even if they are the simple platonic feelings for a friend/teammate. And since Steve has no idea what game is being played, he just finds the coffee and pulls Tony close to him when in public as a safety protocol, Tony has a pretty good idea of who is going to be hurt when it all falls apart.
Tony knows they're going to die. It's the Arctic. The suit is a heap of slag and help is too far away to even garner a passing hope. They've already been out on the ice, hidden from the wind by a carved out snow drift, for three hours, and Steve's super soldier serum is the only thing that's keeping his teeth chattering. Tony's body has been too cold to do even that for the past half hour.
They are going to die, and Tony is selfish.
It has been five days. Five days since Steve stopped talking to him. Five days since Steve had started leaving the room whenever he entered them. Five days since Steve had last grinned down at him with his stupid, stupid, smile which Tony doesn't even like that much…but he maybe misses it now that it's gone.
With the opportunity to get one last reaction from Steve before it ends, because the odds for their survival aren't looking that great, Tony takes his chance.
Ignoring the stiff posture, because of course Steve hates him; Tony pulls the arms around his chest and shoves his back into the cage created by Steve's body. Spouting out nonsense that could pass for scientific theory if he protested enough later, Tony grabs a little firmer at the thick wrists to make sure Steve can't roll away into an ice-covered wall.
For a moment he feels hysteria bubbling up when he realizes that he is the ‘little spoon’ in this snuggle fest, but it passes when the additional heat slowly starts bringing his numb body parts back into agonizing awareness. Stiffening in pain, because what else can you do when your muscles thaw out and suddenly realize your body temperature is almost fifteen degrees too low?, he almost didn't notice the death-grip Steve had established around his smaller rib cage until he realized that there was too much pain to just be coming from severe-hypothermia.
Without thinking, Tony starts taking deep breaths, hoping Steve will get the message and relax because Tony really doesn't need cracked ribs to be added to the other little injuries he had acquired on this trip. Like the snapped collarbone. Or the ripped ankle tendon from when he had to yank his leg out of an uncooperative repulsor boot. Also the concussion was really ramping up to maybe be something serious if he didn't get it checked soon.
Steve finally loosened his grip, resting his chin on top of Tony's hair, and Tony should be angry. There was a reason he should be angry, he was sure of it, but his head hurts too much to track down the thought. He feels like it has to do with Steve, Steve being bigger than him, looming on top of him, and that's something very important to remember, but right now he's warmish, has someone who will probably protect him, and he's really tired.
Tony just wants to sleep, and that's what he does, encased in the arms of someone who doesn't like him but he doesn't really mind because he likes Steve enough for the two of them right now.
Then Rhodey comes home and everything is sunshine and butterflies; unicorns and rainbows.
Nothing hurts anymore because Rhodey knows how to fix things, lots of things, like broken collarbones (Tony kept meaning to get it looked at and forgot between Pepper's smothering and upgrades on the suit). Rhodey also makes sure that Tony is safe when he's not in the Iron Man armor, or inside of headquarters, or pretty much anywhere that Tony didn't design from the ground up. Makes sure nobody stabs him in the back when he's there, figuratively and literally, like that one time at Martha Clara Vineyard when a jilted lover had slammed a clam knife into his kidneys. Rhodey had been on his second tour of duty and he had sounded very upset when Tony had Skype-chatted him later in the day from the ER.
Everyone always asks Rhodey 'Why?'. Why do you put up with the billionaire, playboy, Tony Stark? Why do you allow Anthony Stark, New York's tarnished inventor, to hold the chain attached to your collar? Mr. Rhodes, I mean Lt. Colonel Rhodes, why do you always come back to Mr. Stark? Why don't you just leave and find greener pastures, find someone who respects you for the soldier you are?
Rhodey could easily explain to them why, Tony is sure, since it has to do when they were in kindergarten and the bullies had picked on both of them; Tony for being too smart and Rhodey for being the wrong color. They banded together as blood brothers, caused hell, and had the highest teacher-transfer rates in the whole state, which Tony is still proud of to this day.
Their relationship continued after that incident with Tony protecting Rhodey, because kids are dicks and Rhodey was too small to defend himself at the time. Then Rhodey got bigger in second grade, but instead of leaving Tony, like all the other kids once they found out he was too smart and saw too much and wouldn't stop talking, he stuck around because, "That's what friends do. And you're short! You need my help, Tony, or you'll get eaten by a dinosaur or something and who'll help me with math then?"
But instead of explaining, Rhodey always says, "No comment", scowling at the cameras and placing his heavy, steady arm across Tony's slumped shoulders. Steering them easily through the sharks known as the press, he usually spits out curse words and "Tony, you're an idiot, I shouldn't have to do this on my day off", while leading them to the open car door, Happy, and safety.
Then there are more hugs, hands running across his back as a form of reassurance, tilting his head to check his eyes for another concussion, whispers of, "Tony, it's fine. You did what you could. Ignore them, they're just trying' to get to you. They don't understand. Take off your shoes, I don't know why you wear them all the time. Let's go for Chinese food and you can tell me what trouble you've gotten yourself into this time, you asshole."
Tony doesn't know if he says this enough, or if people haven't been taking notes, but he'll say it again:
Rhodey. Is. The. Best.
And Steve doesn't seem to like him.
This in and of itself is…odd. Steve likes everyone; the new SHIELD intern named Kozakiewicz, who always forgets his lunch, the cranky lady a block over who smells like cats but sells the best fruit in the city. Hell, Steve even likes Coulson, which Tony thinks is disappointing but he never points it out because he doesn't want to be tazed.
So Steve not automatically jumping up to shake Rhodey's hand, accepting him to his American flag-covered bosom, rubs Tony the wrong way.
Rhodey is important. The most important thing to him after the Iron Man armor, and having Steve slight him in any way is an attack against Tony himself. He doesn't care if someone comments on his height, or his playboy ways with the men and women who often surround him, but if they say anything bad about Rhodey…Corporations and business empires have been bought and destroyed in the name of James Rhodes.
They go have pizza, because Rhodey loves pizza, and Tony really doesn't want to be alone with Steve at this moment. He might do something bad, and he really doesn't want the headlines to start speculating on a messy breakup right after they'd finally cooled off about his "relationship" with Steve. They'd probably say Tony left Steve to go out with Rhodey, and though he saw nothing wrong with that, Tony knows Rhodey would blush and stammer, and then not hang out with him until it died down. And a couple of days without Rhodey, when he's readily available and not being used by the government, is unacceptable in Tony's book.
Later on, after Steve has excused himself so he can return to SHIELD and save the world by being polite, Rhodey allows himself to be dragged over to the living room by Tony.
"I read a newspaper, said you were seeing Captain 'Merica in a more than platonic setting…Do you know what you're doing, Tony?" Rhodey asks, eyes tracking the movie on the muted television, one arm stretched over the back of the couch and feet propped up on the glass center table.
A sigh. "You never do." Another pause, "Is this something you want? If not, just say the word, Tony, and I'll make sure the rumors are just that. Make sure the glorified Boy Scout leaves you alone."
Tony lets the silence creep on, relaxing for the first time in what feels like years because he knows that he's safe. That Rhodey's back and nothing can go wrong because Rhodey won't let anything hurt Tony.
"Even if I want something, that doesn't always mean that I should have it." The quiet words were directed at the ceiling, Tony sprawled on the other half of the furniture with his head balanced on Rhodey's hip.
"Perhaps. But you're usually the worst judge of what you deserve." Rhodey observed after a quiet, thoughtful noise, hand rubbing through Tony's hair in the way he liked, not a lot of pressure but coupled with the pleasant scratch of nails against his scalp.
Tony was happy Rhodey was home.
Then comes the day when Tony realizes that he is dating Captain America.
For realsies. Not for fakesies.
It was something stupid: visit Columbia for a consulting visit and see what their up-and-coming scientists had going on in the materials department. Maybe go to lunch with Rhodey, because he's been missing him since he's being forced to spend more time with Steve. Not that he doesn't like Steve, especially since he's no longer being standoffish with Rhodey, but he's always towering. Looming in the background. Kinda sulking. Filled with righteous American propaganda 24-7, and Tony doesn't mind paying more attention to him but he just wants to spend time with his best friend on the couch eating cheese-doodles and nachos.
Then a stupid postdoc had mouthed off, and Rhodey had made a comment about "Stringing along Steve, you have to make a decision, Tony you can't keep doing this-", and Tony suddenly found himself in Times Square giving a large chunk of Columbia's research money to the first person he saw. Who just happened to be a volunteer for a rescue foundation, and she led him over to the pamphlet-stocked table, introduced him to the other volunteers before leading him over to the purpose of their volunteering.
Tony tried to stay away, because his suit is worth at least ten-grand (he thinks) and he really shouldn't because Pepper will kill him when she finds out, but the woman insists, and that is how he finds himself getting a kiss for every dollar he donated. It's nice, not having to worry about his outward appearances because dogs don't care who you are, where you need to be, who you should love. They just want kisses and a scratch every once in a while, and Tony wished for that simplicity for a moment when a pit bull butts its head into his stomach so he won't stop rubbing its spine.
He looked up sometime after his hands have been thoroughly covered with sidewalk grit and sees Steve grinning and leaning against the flimsy cage wall, and he can’t breathe because of the sudden smack of happiness. Not as happy as when he first flew in the armor and he was truly free, nothing could make him that happy, but closer to the contact high he gets from Rhodey when Tony lets him takes out the Maserati for a joy ride.
Then Steve kisses him, badly, in the middle of Times Square, and Tony knows that this type of happiness is not good because it means they're actually going out, that all those past dates and rendezvous were real, and it's going to hurt.
Tony thinks back on all his relationships and how they ended once he became happy. Remembers how love and affection suddenly would turn into greed or rejection once he let it slip that his happiness is now reliant on the other person. The results are never in his favor:
Elizabeth, a bouncy RA in his last year of MIT, who wasn't afraid of cuddling and didn't mind that Tony was too smart for his own good. The deep scar she left on his chin, a backhand with the two-carat ring he had bought her before he had found out she was cheating, was part of the reason why Tony started growing a goatee.
Natalie, who was really Natasha, who was really Black Widow, who is now his teammate, who served him up to SHIELD so that her mission could be complete without a backward glance. He still flinched if she made a sudden movement near him, but he's getting better now that he can wear the armor when around her.
Ty, who taught Tony how to deep-throat like a pro at fourteen years old. Who was there to support Tony when his parents died and Rhodey was out of the country fighting in a war he didn't believe in. Ty (Tiberius, he has to think of him as Tiberius now); Tiberius, who threw Tony to the wolves when the newspapers started questioning their relationship. Saying that Tony had seduced him and that he wasn't gay, especially not for someone as flawed as Tony Stark.
There were countless others, but those are the few that Tony can pull up with blazing clarity in the few seconds he has to spare as he drags Steve to the car waiting at the curb; smiling at the cameras while he shoots off his mouth to Steve just to see him blush.
This is not good. Steve shouldn't be so happy, he doesn't know any better, and Tony hates that he has to be the teacher in this game. To show Steve that it isn't right that he's with Tony.
So he responds to his suddenly real relationship the way he did with all his fake ones: With the mask he crafted ever so carefully the minute he stepped into the limelight with his parents and heard the first mutters of his height making him less of a person.
A flirtatious look from underneath his eyelashes, the same one that got him in the bed of the Spanish ambassador's daughter so many years ago, coupled with a pout (that had sealed a merger last month), and Steve becomes putty in his hands like so many before him.
A few moments later and Tony has him right where he wants him, against the wall of his garage, panting and looking like he just ran a marathon.
"Aren't we go-going a little fast?" Steve managed to say, hands scrambling for purchase on the wall as if afraid to touch the beast Tony has turned into.
Tony hummed, digits already busy fiddling with the belt buckle in front of him, "Ah, Steve, that implies you're participating." He shot a glance over his sunglasses, which he forgotten to take off, and he couldn't help feeling proud of how wrecked the blond looked, and he hadn't really even touched him yet. "But, as I said before, practicing. Me, not you. I don't think you've even done this before, and you can't practice something if you've never done it."
Ignoring the jarring thud of his knees when he hit the ground, Tony drummed his fingers momentarily on the small button before releasing it and tugging the zipper down. He slid his thumbs into the jean waistband and pulled down slowly, willing to take his time if Steve would keep making those breathy mumbles, as if he was trying to say words.
It was cute. Soldier boy wanted to try and stay coherent during fun time.
Nudging at the back of Steve's legs to make him shift so he was lower and Tony was closer to the main goal, he kept sliding the harsh material lower until the pale, smooth skin over Steve's hips were visible. "You aren't wearing-? Really, Cap?" He cocked an eyebrow in badly suppressed mirth.
"G-got used to it." Steve's Adam's apple bobbed rapidly, staring up at the ceiling with a bright red face, "T-t-the uniform…" He stiffed when Tony pushed the tight material down further, nose nudging against the half-hard member coupled with a rub of his goatee.
"Well, you're just full of surprises, aren't you?"
Tony allowed his hands to explore, to run over the shaft, feeling his callouses catch on the smooth skin as he gauged the weight and length. Not too shabby, compared to the other dick's shoved in his face in the past. He gave a customary squeeze and tried not to leer when Steve gave a choked back yelp.
Of course Captain America was uncut, Tony mused silently, glancing at the cock in question again before rubbing the pad of his thumb thoughtfully against the slightly loose skin to draw another groan from Steve.
"Tony, I- Tony-"
"Ah, ah, ah, no speaking!" Tony grinned up from his kneeling position at the straining mass of muscle, trying not to smile at the clenched teeth and huffs of breaths coming out in staccato bursts through flared nostrils. His thumbs moved in small circles against the skin of the tensed thighs, trying to relax Steve but also to remember the feel of the muscles beneath his hands.
Then, before Steve could make another token protest, another murmur, Tony took him in all the way because he could. Because he's a pro at this, being used.
Ignoring his gag reflex, because nobody likes that, he swallowed lightly against the pressure at the back of his throat and tried not to grin at the shudder that went through Steve. Tony let it slide over his tongue, the weight and heat somehow better than he thought it could be, and gave a cursory suck when he reached the tip.
Steve's hips twitched, jerking his cock free to wipe a thin trail of liquid against Tony's chin, "Impatient," Tony muttered and ran his tongue from the base of Steve's dick, slowly up the shaft, in petty retaliation.
A shaking pair of hands finally moved from the wall to thread their way through Tony's slightly greasy hair (he had forgotten to shower after the doggy-love fest), but didn't tug or try to take control, as if Steve just needed to find something else to do with his hands if the shaking was anything to go by.
Tony breathed warmly on Steve's dick, ignoring the answering twitch his own cock gave in response, and wrapped his lips once more around the head. With a gentle moan, because Tony really needed to patent this dick because it was perfect, he took half of it in his mouth and allowed his hands to come up and stroke the rest, one brushing teasingly against the ball sack that was looking tighter and tighter with each passing lick.
Just when the pain in his jaw was becoming unbearable (he was getting way too old for this, on the concrete floor and with no bed in sight, Jesus), Steve's body tensed and jerked once, twice, and he finally came with a gurgled shout. Semen splashed against the back of Tony's throat (like it always did), and he swallowed the load like he had been doing it all his life (which he had been).
Tony easily ignored the taste of bitter cum. The sudden feeling of seriously fucking up is harder to brush off.
Sliding down to land on his ass, and with Tony on his knees leaning into Captain America's personal space, they were almost the same height. "Do you need…?" Steve was a mess, but the fact that he tried to help even when slumped against the wall with his jeans still tight around his calves was simply precious.
Tony grinned into the neck in front of him, tongue tracing the path of a trickle of sweat, before answering, "Nah, I'm fine. Nothing I can't finish upstairs with a shower." He swallowed back the guilt that suddenly surfaced when he glanced out the corner of his eye and saw the content smile over America's golden boy.
He pulled off his sunglasses and slipped them over Steve's eyes because he really didn't want to see the blissed out, glazed look that was probably present in the taller man's eyes. Knowing it was only put there because Tony was a horrible person who didn't know how to take care of thing's he loved. Standing and ignoring the click of his knees, it's what he got for being the older and wiser of the two, he made his way upstairs to a much needed shower.
Steve shouldn't be a problem anymore. The newspapers will find another couple to annoy, and Tony doesn't need to worry about hurting Steve because it's over. He got what he wanted, because Captain America could never want a real relationship with Tony Stark.
So when Steve showed up the next day, still blushing (which Tony now knows stops at around his bellybutton as a pale pink) and asking Tony if he wants to go to dinner, Tony doesn't know what to do.
This was supposed to drive Steve away, make him realize that Tony was trouble and was sexually promiscuous (playboy, you're a playboy, his thoughts whispered to him amusingly). Not make Steve think that what they have is serious. That what they have might work out for the better. That what they have might be…long term.
So Tony increases his deviousness. Gropes Steve in public. Forces him against the wall while in the Iron Man armor and shoves his tongue down Steve's throat between missions. Ruins Steve's early routine by jumping him before he's fully woken up to help with his morning wood, which then leads to Steve being late when he retaliates. Does everything in his usual sex arsenal that either causes his significant other to leave from disgust or boredom.
But Steve just keeps coming back, looking happier every time. As if this is what he wanted. Like he wanted Tony, which is ridiculous.
Tony has to stop this. Now. Before it gets further and Steve gets hurt, and Steve can't get hurt because then they can't be friends. And if they can't be friends, he'll have to quit the Avengers because he can only look at one failure a day, and the one he sees in the mirror is quite enough.
This is a stupid idea, Tony thought to himself as he walked to take a chair behind the table next to Rhodey, who is trying to look supportive but is really staring at Tony in disbelief because he knows what he's doing. Waving in a cock-sure way at the camera flashes and the reporters already yelling out questions. Ignoring the heavy pain that is already forming somewhere behind and to the side of the arc reactor.
Trying to forget the way Steve looked this morning, rumpled and pink, after falling back into bed when Tony complained about him leaving to go jog and convinced him into having quick roll in the hay. Changed his mind, and now he wants to remember that moment, because he has always known that it was going to end, that nothing he wants ever lasts.
Breathing becomes easier when he thinks of how Steve will thank him afterwards, because relationships are all about putting the other person first, making them happy. Even if the thing that makes one half of the partnership thrive will kill the other.
It is a really, really stupid idea.
But for Tony Stark that is the norm.
Chapter 5: The Truth Comes Out
Sorry about that. I had to finish my graduate school, then had to get a job, then moved across two states with two cats, then had to get settled into my extremely lucrative engineering job that is in NYC but has a crazy long commute. Which means I haven't really had an awful lot of time to write...
This has been kinda hard to get to, so I post this in hopes that someone reads it. T_T
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
-Stark Stalls Romance?: Playboy calls off relationship in national televised covera-
-In a move that harkens back to his younger, more aggressive days, Tony Stark publicly announces his separation from Captain America, otherwise known as Steven Rog-
-"It was nothing. I’ve decided that it’s for the best for the Captain and I if I end-
-ding the relationship is simple when the media has made most of it up", Mr. Stark said in response to a question voiced by Viviann-
-“It’s over. Nothing more to be said. Now, I’ve got things way more important than all of you to be getting to. Forward all calls to my wonderful CEO, Ms. Pepper Potts, as per usual. Ciao.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how billio-
It's not the concerned voice that brings him back to the present, but the scalding liquid trickling onto his leg.
Looking up at Natasha instead of inspecting the growing throb of pain near his knee, Steve wonders why she’s staring at the tabletop after she tried so hard to get his attention. It doesn’t make sense, because all he has is the newspaper in one hand, from the couple he picks up every morning, and his usual cup of hot chocolate, which tastes the same no matter what century he was in. Same thing he has every day, nothing special that should draw her attention from her oatmeal.
Except his mug has somehow managed to explode, making his hand a bloody mess, and causing liquid to spread in a puddle across the tablecloth. Funny how he missed that happening, so caught up in reading the fourth newspaper that was completely enthralled with the breakup of Captain America and playboy Tony Stark.
It must have been a slow week, he mused silently, eyes tracing the colored headshot of Tony that was grinning from the front page.
"Steve, are you okay?" Natasha asks slowly, lips thinning into a straight line immediately after she voices the question. As if she knew that Steve is not okay, will not be okay until he finds out what happened and what went wrong. It was going so well. He thought Tony was warming up to it, that Tony was getting better with being a couple, that…that they were going to work out.
It's better to ignore it right now. Now is not the time to think about this. Thinking too much about something like this is not good, especially since he hasn't heard it from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Maybe it was something misquoted? Tony wouldn't really hold a press conference to announce that he was no longer dating someone when he still was very much dating someone. It has to be a mistake.
Seven minutes later and he's sitting on his bed staring out the window at the muggy Manhattan skyline, not really seeing anything but appreciating how the colors mix and blend with each other. His uninjured hand toys with the piece of ceramic that is now trapped under his skin; super soldier healing repairing the minuscule cut before he was able to get the shard out. Without a thought, he starts squeezing around the area, a small hiss escaping his clenched teeth when the foreign object is forced to breach his skin once again.
Twenty minutes later and he's down in the gym, sending a punching bag across the room and ignoring the stream of thoughts that are pressing against his skull at acute angles.
Ninety-three minutes later and his hands are just starting to tingle; then an idea goes fluttering across his mind, prompting him to begin on the free weights.
One hundred and fifty-two minutes later and he staring blankly at the wall as he continues doing crunches, ignoring the sweat dripping down his back and the slight haziness around the edges.
Steve's brain has finally quieted, no longer making attempts to think, and he's fine.
Sleep is not important.
During the war, nobody noticed that Steve never slept more than four hours a night, mostly because everyone else enlisted was on a similar schedule. Sleeping was put on the back burner when forces were invading, bullets were flying, and the injured needed to be transported to safety. There was no time for sleep. To tell the truth, Steve sleeping four hours after receiving the serum is on par with a modern teenager sleeping until noon, and he feels groggy if he is forced to sleep longer than that short time period.
When he wakes up in the future (wakes up, he wonders why they call it that, as if he was really sleeping and dreamt during his time in the ice…), he's surprised that people still need the same amount of sleep they needed back in to 40s. With the hustle and bustle of New York City, Steve wonders if anyone gets more than five hours a sleep a night, just because of the noise and general energy of ‘get up and do something’ that has become prevalent. He’s even more astonished when he hears a doctor recommend to a patient that they should try to sleep more than eight hours a night.
The thought of eight hours, sitting in a bed, unable to sleep, sends shivers down Steve’s spine.
He can still get through the day with a couple catnaps, grabbing them while in the library or sometimes while waiting for the crosswalk light to change when exploring the city he grew up in. Theoretically, he had gone six days without what he considered real sleep, when he thinks hard about a couple of the more dangerous missions he’d been on with the Commandos. So three days in the gym straight with no naps or breaks doesn’t drain Steve as much as he hopes it will.
His brain is still trying to process what happened, what went wrong, how he can fix it, but it’s now edged with a fuzziness that casts everything in a less dramatic fashion. Of course Tony would do something ridiculous like going on television to loudly and obnoxiously refute dating Captain America. It would only naturally follow that Tony would then run away to an unknown location so Steve couldn’t find out what was really going on. He should have been expecting and planning for all of this. It’s really his own fault for not understanding what it meant to be in a relationship with Tony Stark. That it would be filled with countless doubters and naysayer, up to and including Tony himself.
It couldn’t always be blowjobs and ice cream.
Steve knows he should probably get some sleep, and he stares contemplatively at the couch for a moment but he can’t really grasp the thought of sleeping in his own room so soon. There is too much Tony where there used to be only Steve. A messy combination created by Tony forgetting clothes and half-built projects, littering the floor in a ramshackle manner. The bed covers were always rumpled from Tony rolling around under the sheets; blankets kicked aside for Steve to crawl back in to snuggle whenever he returns from his morning run. Grease and oil stained towels cover the bathroom, because Tony uses so many before and after he gets out of the shower just because he can.
It’d be easier to sleep in the living room, but the television is on, and the news is still playing clips from three days ago. A viral recording of Tony’s short announcement to the world that what he had with Steve wasn’t real, that it was made-up by a frenzied reporter, and that Steve doesn’t need to be present for the interview because Tony knows he’d probably agree with the decision. Watching his once-upon-a-time relationship be live broadcasted and analyzed by the media is not something that helps him relax enough to nap, so he continues walking.
The light from the kitchen looks friendly and warm, and Steve likes being warm, so he easily ignores the urgent whisper at the back of his mind warning him about who is usually up at oh three thirty, and allows his not-quite-sleepy-enough feet to shuffle towards the doorjamb.
He wishes it were Natasha, who usually comes back from special missions at strange hours with a triumphant smirk, cleaning weapons while humming under her breath long into the night. If the mission went especially well, she’d make pashka, saying that she learned the recipe from someone long, long ago with hair like hers. Only after it set would she then share the treat with Steve and only Steve, their little secret in the middle of the night.
He wouldn’t mind if it were Coulson. The agent comes over to the building whenever he gets struck by insomnia or has a large backlog of reports to finish before a deadline. Maybe it’s abusing hero worship, but Steve knows if he asks politely enough that Phil will happily drop his reports to talk about history, or to sit and tackle his other backlog of reality television. Steve really doesn’t understand society’s enjoyment in watching another person’s fabricated life on television when they could be out living their own, but it causes Coulson to relax enough to loosen his tie with a small smile after five minutes, so he puts up with the mini four hour marathons of “My Life as a Teenage Vampire Dropout!”
Even Bruce, who just sits at the table reading scientific journals with a cup of Sleepytime tea, would be welcome. Though Steve disapproves of the gin Bruce liberally adds to the seemingly mild nightcap.
Instead, it’s the man who has been missing for over fifty-two hours: Tony.
Tony who said their relationship was fictional and created by the media. Tony, who had to make a point, and needed to have a public breakup to proclaim that the thing they had was nonexistent. The same Tony who announced all of this during a live interview scheduled coincidentally on their three-month anniversary.
Tony who, in the few seconds before realizing Steve is in the room, is leaning against the counter looking too tired, too stressed and a little punch-drunk. The soft sigh Steve can’t hold in, he’s fine he’s here he’s okay, is enough of a warning for a pair of cloudy brown eyes to sharpen and zero in on his position. In the next moment, the Tony Stark-Entrepreneur armor has been snapped on; golden child of the Millennium, provider of wealth and technology to those less privileged, and sustainability savior of the free world. The smile he sends Steve is as brittle and sharp as broken glass and cuts just as deep.
“Long night?” Steve has to ask, because last time he heard Tony speak was three days ago on television, arguing with reporters. He doesn’t want that to be the thing he remembers when he thinks about Tony.
He watches as Tony fidgets next to the four coffeemakers regulated for his use. Tries to remember the last time he had to rescue Tony’s coffee beans from on top of the refrigerator, where Clint continues to hide it along with any other shiny things he finds in the tower. Can tell that Tony wants to flee, which the man would then scoff about later and say it was a strategic retreating. Then it hits him that it’s not his job anymore to try and reassure him and it’s almost like blow to the chest.
When he finishes pouring a glass of milk from the fridge, the shorter man has become quiet as he eyes the space between them, calculating the distance in his head. The billionaire snaps his head up when Steve moves even closer to finish his drink in front of the sink, jumping a little at the screech the faucet lets out when it is turned on.
Steve washes out the glass, stares at the water swirling down the drain and waits. Waits for Tony to explain what happened. Turns to glance at him because he is weak at heart and needs to look. It’s been too long without contact, without the brunet’s husky voice complaining about the strange consistency of diner scrambled eggs or his hands wandering where they shouldn’t be in public. A minute passes and the only thing Steve gets from the silent staring contest is a good look at Tony, noticing with a pang that the other man looks as exhausted as he is.
He gives up when another minute goes by with them both awkwardly shifting in place.
Their first conversation after their one-sided breakup, and it’s less than five words.
“Well, get some sleep.” Steve murmurs, aware of Tony continuing to ignore him and, before he realizes it, his body has stooped out of habit so he can drop a careless kiss against the side of Tony’s head.
It’s a mistake, his body tenses at his mistake. You’re an idiot; his brain tells him groggily after shaking itself from the dregs of auto-pilot. It's Tony, the tightness in his chest loosens and his shoulders relax unconsciously.
Tony’s reaction is less than ideal.
He jerks away with a sharp exhale, back arched against the countertop to gain precious more inches. “You can’t do that.” His free hand scrubs roughly against his skull where Steve’s lips had bumped him, hair now sticking up in greasy cowlicks from his actions, “You can’t, Steve. We’re done. Finished. Over.”
Steve can’t stop himself from leaning forward to try and sap heat from Tony, he always feels colder when he is tired as opposed to Tony, who gets hot and flushed when exhausted. His shoulder bumps against Tony’s when he moves, and the other man jerks away as if burned. The flare of annoyance at Tony being difficult is hard to ignore, and he feels much more tired than before at the thought that this is how it will be from now on.
“Tony, we are not breaking up.”
“Yes, we are.”
The super solider feels a sharp throb behind his eye as a newly formed headache rams against his skull. “No, Tony, we’re not.”
"Steve? What’re you doing? Why are you fighting for? Are you really going to fight for this? This?" Tony shifts so there is more room between them once again, leaving Steve’s body screaming for the heat that vanishes with the movement. "It wouldn’t have worked out. You are aware that we looked ridiculous, yeah?"
Instead of responding, Steve reaches out and clamps a hand around Tony’s arm to drag him closer, feels the edge of the arc reactor bounce against his upper stomach when Tony squirms, “We did not, and you shouldn’t care about that anyway. You never cared about what people thought of you before. I don’t think-
Tony rips his arm away, causing some of his coffee to splash on the floor and the edge of his frayed jeans, “You never think, Steve, that’s how we got into this pseudo-dating thing in the first place!” He turns and stares at the wall, unaware of how the hum of the refrigerator filling the silence causes the headache to pound anew at Steve’s temples.
He turns around quickly, hot coffee now sloshing over his hand, and steps into Steve’s personal space, a direct contradiction to his actions just seconds before. "What are you trying to do?" This close he has to tilt his head back at a ridiculous angle to meet Steve’s eyes, the brown searching over Steve’s features but avoiding eye contact. Steve doesn't know why, but seeing Tony looking up at him with suspicion, dropping the mask to let his real emotions seep through but baring his neck at the same time, feels so much better than the collected Tony Stark that is shown to the camera crews and reporters.
"You don't need to do this, Steve. I mean, I understand what you're trying to do, 40's mentality, no man left behind, a relationship is once in a lifetime, but you don't need to. It'd be silly to get back together, especially because you’re doing it from the wrong reason. It's bad enough that it's two guys, which is sending all the reporters into a tizzy, but we're not even that close.” Tony rubs his free hand up and down the side of his face while he paces around the counter island, keeping a wary eye on Steve as if he expects him to lunge at him. “Well, we are that close, were that close, but that was close-close and we don’t do...have that anymore. Plus I'm short, really short, and the newspapers go crazy with it, the whole height-kink thing they think we have going on behind closed doors. It's bad press for me, since I look ridiculous being the 'girl' according to the reporters, and you're getting bad press because, well, because you're with me.
“So, Steve, we broke up. We aren’t together anymore. You need to start getting angry about this, and then move on. You need to catch up and realize it’s for the better, like everyone else.” He pauses, obviously only now noticing the scowl that Steve knew had twisted his lips as soon as Tony reacted to the kiss a few minutes prior, “You are angry, aren’t you! Fantastic! Get angrier at me!” He seems too pleased at this show of displeasure, so Steve pettily takes a step closer, just to see the smirk drop from Tony's face.
“I don’t think you know what I’m angry about, Tony.”
“You’re angry that I didn't do this sooner? That you didn't have the fat trimmed months ago? Maybe you’re angry that you weren’t the one to announce it, so-what? What else could you be thinking, Steve? That I’m being immature? That I'm being a little boy? Collecting people's hearts only to break them?”
“I’m thinking that you’re being a selfish idiot and we have to talk.”
Tony stretched his lips into a semblance of a smile, “Ah, the name calling. Sometimes happens while dating, but always a definite after we breakup.”
“According to you.”
Tony pauses in taking a sip from his third cup of coffee since Steve wandered in, narrowing his eyes over the edge to stare at the taller blond. “What are you implying?” He demands, hesitating before stepping closer to glare.
“You broke up with me. I haven’t broken up with you,” Steve says as he crosses his arms and squares his stance to avoid reaching out to the shorter man again, aware of Tony tensing at his motions, “You can’t just do something like that without me, especially in front of a bunch of journalists, since I’m half the equation. Relationships don’t work that way, Tony. We’re still together until we talk and clear this up. Make a decision for both of us. For better or for worse.”
“That’s not what a breakup is, Cap, and it isn’t the 40’s anymore.” Tony snarled, slamming his cup on the counter and ignoring the steaming liquid that splashed over the edge and onto the granite surface, “It’s not a divorce. Both parties don’t need to want it. We don’t have to live apart for a year to make it happen. We don’t even have to talk and finish this amicably, try to mend the patches and cracks. Stop trying to fix something that isn't around anymore. I broke up with you, it’s a done deal, and we are no longer a ‘thing’.”
“Tony, we need-“
“You should be rejoicing. You’re rid of me! Free!” Tony took a huge gulp of coffee, wincing, “You should be out on the town! Finding someone new! I’m not that great, Steve, I’m sure it’ll be easy to find someone to date. I used to do it all the time. You’ll get someone younger, taller, with nicer teeth. She’ll have legs that go on for miles and a skirt that only covers inches. I know that’s what all your Army boys want.”
Steve could feel his temper fraying, grinding his teeth in a bad habit that he thought he had ditched when he turned eleven years old, “I don’t want anyone else. I just want you. I’ll be waiting when you come to your senses.” He turns to leave the kitchen, blinking rapidly to fight off the wave of weariness that slaps him in the face at the motion.
“You’re stupid to remain faithful to me.” Tony tosses at his back, wanting to get in the last word.
“No, Tony. I think you’re just surprised that I’m the only one who will be.” Steve looks over his shoulder once he reached the doorway; takes in the sight of the shorter man scowling at him. He just wants to fall asleep, wake up, and find out this was all a bad dream. Hopefully figuring out by Tony snuggling closer to push his cold feet against his calves, like he always did in the morning when he was trying to get attention. “Try to get some sleep. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He misses the look Tony shoots at the floor, a mixture of panic and confusion, before the billionaire scurries out the other kitchen doorway that led to his garage.
When Pepper finds out, because she finds out everything Tony does one way or another, good or bad, she doesn’t know if she should kill Tony, lock him out of R&D using her Extremely Important CEO Powers (capitalization shows she is serious), or get in contact with his personal coffee farm in Central America and make sure they sign a contract with Folgers. Instead she glares daggers at the nervously sweating man who had interrupted her spa day, leaves a note for the hotel to pack all her luggage and send it separately, and calls JARVIS to activate the GPS trackers that she had secretly sewn into every pair of Tony’s socks.
If she had her phone on, and not turned it off to relax and try to be stress-free, she would have found out the moment Tony decided to be an ass on national television. Except Pepper had been celebrating life after a good merger, booking an exotic getaway to use one week of her vacation hoard (34 weeks and counting, grumbled the accounting department every month when calculating the budget), and trying to get away from it all (aka: Tony). The first vacation in five years, and she hoped Tony would be good for a week, maybe only set fire to himself twice and save the world once without sacrificing himself. She had foolishly thought to herself, as she boarded the plane to her getaway, that Rhodey was there to make sure Tony didn’t get into too much trouble.
Of course, Pepper being out of the country seemed to be the signal for Tony to get into an even bigger hole than usual, make a mess of his private life in public, and then leave it all for Pepper to clean it up. And even though he wasn’t CEO of the company anymore, he was still the face of it, and the board of trustees was breathing down her neck to fix it.
This is why a company representative had found her so quickly, and subsequently burst in on her half-naked at the hotel in Greece with a heavily muscled masseuse rubbing his hands covered in oil up her back.
Then, to make things worse, her period had started while traveling back this morning, her freckles were multiplying because of the tan she attempted while on the beach, and Pepper really didn’t want to think about this all so early in the morning without eating something greasy and unhealthy, because her migraines were exponential (not additive) whenever Tony was involved.
“He is in trouble. Forced-meetings-gala-ball-attendance-for-months-trouble! He is going to-Happy; he’s going to get it today. It’s Wednesday. You think he would tell me about this little scheme of his before the twenty-four point drop in our stocks. Of course he’d have his little tell-all on Friday, before the weekend, because he knew I was flying out. So he skulked off and planned this, I’m sure of it, because Tony Stark never goes into something like this with his pants down. Except for that one time, but that doesn’t count because it was twins he was dating, not an American Icon, and the stocks actually increased when he broke up with them.”
The man driving wisely decides to not turn to check on his boss-turned-girlfriend. It’s easier to concentrate on the traffic of the LIE and dodge people trying to merge in front of him than look in the rear view mirror and make eye contact with the furious woman. Happy knows that once the attention is shifted onto him, only bad things can happen.
“And Rhodey! He thinks he’s so smart! He probably told him to do it; you know he doesn’t like it when Tony gets ‘involved’ with people.” Happy saw a flash of red hair and fingers crooked into sarcastic quotation marks rear its head from the backseat. “I know it’s because they have their good ole boys club. They think I don’t know about the joyrides in the suits, the silly string, and the photo bombing! I know everything!” She hissed, pulling out her ponytail and running her hands through her hair in frustration.
Happy took the last exit off the LIE and continues driving, aware he still has at least another hour of listening to Pepper rant. Avoiding the crowds turning left at the outlet, he continues aiming the vehicle east, one of the few cars going in that direction this early in the morning on a business day. It is much more crowded on the summer weekends; jam packed with city people fleeing from the heat.
Stopping at a Wendy’s, and throwing enough money at them to pay the salary of each person working there for the next few years, Happy gets a medium coffee and hash browns in less than five minutes. Through threats and flashing multiple platinum credit cards, Pepper gets four hamburgers, two #9’s and a large Frosty for breakfast.
Happy loves this girl.
When he tells her so, Pepper snarls between bites of chicken nuggets and snaps the window divider up so Happy can no longer see her devouring her well-earned kill.
He really does love her.
As he puts the car in park, conscious of the little Iron Man figurine in the ashtray, Happy isn’t able to even unlock the doors before Pepper is striding purposefully up the brick walkway to the front door. The house they have pulled up to is simple, in the middle of a nondescript, tree covered, suburban block in Mattituck. The sound of the Peconic Bay, lapping at the shore nearby, fills the air with the white noise of rolling waves. This place is one of the numerous houses that Tony buys on a whim and doesn’t realize he owns until he has to escape New York, but can’t flee anywhere where he would be noticed. One of the reasons why he owns a 13.4 million dollar home in East Hampton, but has never been seen occupying it.
Grabbing the suitcase with the armor, because Happy knows how Tony’s cars have a habit of blowing up into fiery bits once out of sight, he also snags the bag of cheeseburgers he had ordered from the diner down the street. It’s a given that his boss hasn’t eaten, working long hours is a common excuse, but Happy knows that it’s really because Tony has gotten into the bad habit of forgetting to eat until it’s almost too late. Tony is much more inclined to eat the offering if he can hold it with one hand, so he can continue working with the other, which is why Happy always shows up with wraps, hamburgers, or a high nutrition smoothie.
Walking through the foyer, where Pepper is arguing quite loudly with Rhodey off to the right, Happy shuffles down the steps into the basement that looks more like a living room that should be on the cover of ‘Home & Gardens’. The floor was covered in large, square tiles, the light tan of the stone contrasting with the dark mahogany lining the walls. Happy smiles at the large boxing poster of himself in his prime that hangs above an overlarge fireplace, though Tony says it came with the house and he didn’t buy it, which was opposite of the gigantic flat screen television mounted on the wall. Even the furniture had a certain flair to it, picked for comfort instead of style, with rugs imported from Turkey tying the eclectic mix of knick-knacks and expensive accessories together seamlessly.
In fact, the only thing preventing the pretty room from being featured in the magazine owned by housewives across the nation was the oil covered billionaire sprawled over the cream leather couch, leaving behind dark streaks of grime and ruining the country-chic flair that the designer of the home had been aiming for.
Ignoring the picturesque area, now lit up beautifully with beams of sunlight and a brisk wind blowing out the linen curtains, Happy walks across the tiled floor and drops the grease stained paper bag onto the unmoving back of Tony Stark. A pitiful squirm causes the bag to settle against the back of the couch, leaving a stain on the small of Tony’s back as the man turns his head to squint blearily at his chauffer.
“Hey, boss, got you some of those burgers you like. Haven’t seen you in a while, so I volunteered to bring Pepper out here when she asked.”
Translation: You haven’t eaten, here is food, eat it right now before you start throwing up on an empty stomach again like when I brought you to Texas. You’ve been missing for six days, you didn’t tell anyone, and I thought you were dead. Pepper is here. She yelled at me until I picked up the keys and drove her. She is not happy. She ate fast food. You are in trouble.
“Mrfph.” Tony murmurs half into the leather cushion; uses the hand trapped under his body to rustle the bag so it would fall over and spill its contents against his side. Turning over seemed to take too much effort, but the small man manages it while only squashing two of the burgers. He looked over at Happy across the room, makes a little shrug, and shimmies up slightly onto the armrest. After taking one large bite, making half the burger disappear, he tilts his head at the spot next to him. “Ah…?”
“Well, it’s not too bad. She knows what caused it, and it’s only the one thing. Mostly has something to do with your television appearance a couple days ago.” Happy said as he sits down on the opposite side of the couch, ignores the threadbare socks, covered in dirt and grunge, that nudge at his thigh. “Reporters think it has something to do with you and the Captain.”
Tony’s silence says it all, though he does shove the remaining half of his hamburger into his mouth as an excuse not to respond. Happy knows most of these unconscious tells, since he was one of the few people in the life of the billionaire who saw them consistently on a one-on-one basis. Not even Pepper knows that Tony will eat more if it means he doesn’t have to answer a question, which is why most of his pictures in restaurants show him swallowing expensive caviar like a duck or quaffing back huge lugs of gin if paparazzi are close by. Happy wonders if that is why Tony looks so gaunt since he joined up with the Avengers, because he no longer gets mobbed by cameras as often, with so many other targets created by his teammates, thus reducing his forced intake of calories.
“Have you talked to him since then?”
Tony picks at the sesame covering a scrap of bun, the only thing left after he inhaled a second burger, “Not…exactly.” He drops the bit of food onto the pile of wrappers forming on the floor and reaches for another one, sighs when he pulls back the wax paper, “It didn’t end well, Hap.”
As Happy prepares to respond, correctly decoding Tony’s response as ‘I fucked it up. I had something good, I got scared, and I fucked it up like I always do, Hap’, the door creaks open (a delightful flaw in the structure, the real estate broker had said flippantly) and both men freeze, expecting Pepper to come clicking in on her heels. She wears them more often when Tony is around so she can tower over him and frustrate the short man into actually doing work. This results in pouts and Tony wearing his own heels in response while he signs papers and smiles begrudgingly at the camera, when they all known he would much rather be exploding something in his garage.
So when a puppy stumbles in past the doorjamb, letting a joyous yap once it notices Tony, Happy can’t help but sigh at an avoided confrontation, only to suddenly realize that there was a puppy in the house owned by Tony. This was not a turn of events that could end well. He recalls a conversation Tony had slurred out once almost ten years ago, very drunk after a couple of receptions that the younger man couldn’t afford to miss for the company, about his first dog. And how it had died. And his dad didn’t care about the dog dying, because he had work. And he wasn’t allowed to have any more pets because they ruined his concentration. And life sucked, and he wished he had brought someone back with him, if you know what I mean, Hap?
The pudgy German Shepherd toddles deeper into the room, pauses when the jangling of the tags on the pink collar confuse it, only to then get sidetracked by scratching behind its ear. Tony sighs and the puppy gallops over at the sound, whimpering once it reaches the couch and realizes it can’t jump high enough. With a grunt, the shorter man leans over and scoops the dog into his arms with a well-practiced movement.
Happy knows this is bad. Bad News Bears.
“So, uh, what’s its name?” His voice makes the puppy roll over; unaware of where its paws are, a startled bark coming out involuntarily when it crunches its tail. The tiny milk teeth chew on Happy’s hand when he offers it to smell.
Tony grins softly, hugs the dog closer so it can lap at his neck that is probably covered with a couple days of sweat, “Her name is Brooklyn.”
Happy knows this isn’t going to end pretty. The boss never gets himself into something that ends well. “How’d you get her?” He rubs against the soft ears that stick up straight, his motions making the registration tags jingle again, much to the confusion of little Brooklyn.
“She’s a gift.”
“…For. She’s a ‘for’ gift.”
Happy can’t stop the hiss of air pushed through his teeth at the mess his friend has gotten himself into this time, clucking his tongue against his teeth as he tried to figure out a way to tread careful.
“Before, or…after your television special with Steve?”
And that was why Happy made a living beforehand getting punched in the head, because he was only good at blundering into things, though his parents would be so proud that he was a pseudo-psychiatrist for a billionaire.
Tony shrugs, plays with the puppy’s feet, flexing them and testing the range of motion available, “It was before…She is…was our three month anniversary present.” He grins ruefully down at the small animal that is now looking incredulously at his socks trying to judge if she can chew on them, then leans over and grabs the remote. A couple of pushed buttons later and the interior of the mansion is displayed on the huge television. There is a flash of Clint running on the building’s ledges, switching to Bruce reading a dog-eared romance novel, then Thor making pop tarts with a frying pan, next is Steve…
Steve looking horrible on the couch, eyes closed, but body tense even through the cameras. Natasha walks across the room and says something, Happy wonders what she could be saying to the super solider, but it makes the blond on the screen grimace and bring a hand up to massage at his temples while waving her away with the other stiffly. Coulson enters, looks at the man on the couch, and then looks up at the one camera in the room as if aware that Tony was watching remotely. The expression on his face is carefully blank, but those who know Coulson can tell he is panicking quietly on the inside.
The television scrolls through the cameras again, going from 1A to 22B and each image has changed except for the one of Steve. They watch for five minutes, Tony gripping the puppy tighter and tighter at each rotation and Happy chewing on the cold and greasy burger.
“I messed up, didn’t I, Hap?”
The chauffeur leans over to clap his hand against Tony’s shoulder before standing up, wiping his hands on his pants to clean them and worrying about the silence coming from the foyer where Pepper was last seen with Rhodey. “Maybe. Maybe not. I think the first part of your solution is realizing what you did wrong, boss.”
“Is it that easy?”
Happy takes the remote and turns down the volume, grabs his keys from the center table where he had thrown them earlier, and makes his way to the front of the house. “Usually life is complex because you make it complex. You’re always thinking too much. Reason why some people are happy with their lot in life, and others aren’t, because they don’t think so much. Maybe I’m lucky, I’m not smart enough to be thinking all the time like you, Mr. Stark.”
“I was really happy, I really was, but Hap, if it doesn’t work out, when it doesn’t work out… If he doesn’t want me back. What am I supposed to do?”
The boxer turned chauffeur turned lifelong friend gives a sad rise of his shoulders. “Do without, I guess. Nothing else you can do, boss.”
Tony nods and pulls the dog closer, continuing to stare at the flashing screen, seemingly unaware when Happy turns to stare and sigh. The puppy, Brooklyn, is droopy eyed and gives huffs whenever she almost falls asleep, eventually giving in to be a limp mass of fur that leans against Tony’s chest. He almost takes a picture with his phone to send to Steve, to show him that Tony is hurting as much as him, but Happy isn’t a meddler.
All he can do is stand by and watch the story play out.
AND THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THE LAST CHAPTER, BUT I HAD FEELS AND HAD TO WRITE MORE. I APOLOGIZE. NEXT ONE IS THE LAST, I PROMISE. AND MAYBE THEY GET BACK TOGETHER, BUT I'M NOT SURE.
I really just want to write Mafia stories, but I refuse until I finish this. D: