“There was an apple core in the middle of the hall floor.”
Tony Stark looked up from his latest schematic, his face lit by the blue glow of the holographic projection. Steve Rogers stared at him from the other side, his expression intent. “Oooookay,” Tony said, drawing out the word for as long as it took him to digest the information.
Steve stared at him, and Tony wondered what the hell he was supposed to do here. Steve had this way of looking at him with expectations, expectations that Tony was well aware he was incapable of fulfilling. “Did you pick it up?” he asked at last.
Steve gave him a faint frown. “Of course,” he said, and he sounded a little insulted. “But the question, Tony, is why it was on the floor to begin with.”
Tony opened his mouth. Closed it. “I didn't leave it there. I don't-” He made a gesture with one hand, both searching for words and discarding a section of his schematic at the same time. “Eat.”
Steve's brow furrowed. “You need to eat.”
“Yeah, I'll get on that. Right away. Really, it's a good idea, I'm glad you brought it up, Cap, I'm going to get right on that, are we done now?” He knew his voice sounded hopeful, because a worried looking Steve Rogers made him very nervous.
“No.” Steve tipped his head to the side. “There was an apple core in the middle of the hallway, Tony. On the floor. Someone in this house just... Dropped an apple core in the middle of the hallway and walked away from it. Why would someone do that?”
There was a trick question here somewhere, and Tony wasn't quite sure how to handle it. “Because they didn't notice?” he said at last. “Steve, are we doing something here, I'm not sure what's going on, because this feels like something, but I'm not sure how I could possibly be getting something out of an abandoned apple core.”
“Doesn't it bother you?” Steve asked.
“Not so much, no. First of all, I didn't see it, and second of all, if I had seen it, I still probably wouldn't have seen it, because I don't pay attention to, you know, things like that.” Tony frowned at the hologram. “It's an apple core, Steve. It's not that big of a deal.” Tony tapped the design. “Jarvis, strip out the energy relays and let me see it without the wiring.”
“It is a big deal,” Steve said, speaking over the AI's response. “Sorry, Jarvis,” he added, his head tipped back. “But this is getting out of control, Tony. There was a wet towel under the coffee table in the lounge this morning, plus the remains of a couple of meals and a hat filled with what appears to be salsa. A coffee cup growing mold in the hall bathroom, and six more on the kitchen counters. Every pair of shoes that anyone's worn in the last three days in a pile by the main elevator bank. About twenty pens were dumped on the kitchen floor-”
“That one might've been me,” Tony said in a rushed undertone, the words mostly lost in his coffee cup. Judging by the very disappointed look that Steve leveled at him, damn Super Soldier Enhanced Hearing had picked up on it anyway. Goddamn serum.
It wasn't a question, but Tony answered it anyway. “Because I was in a rush and needed one that worked, and once I found one that worked, I kinda forgot about the others?” he said, his voice rising in a 'oops' tone at the end. “It was just one corner of the kitchen, there was plenty of space that wasn't covered in discarded pens.”
“There really shouldn't be any floor that is covered in discarded pens,” Steve explained, the words slow and gentle, like he was talking to a small, temperamental child. Tony would resent that more if it didn't feel kind of appropriate.
“It's fine, the cleaning team'll be here today,” Tony said, and his coffee was cold. Making a face, he put the cup on top of a stack of folders, which shifted dangerously under the new weight. Steve was staring at him, and Tony paused. “What?”
Reaching over, Steve collected the cup, and the other four that were there as well. “This isn't right,” he said, and his voice was so STEVE at that moment, so stern and concerned and righteous that Tony winced. “I'm not saying that I expect us to do heavy duty cleaning, Tony, but when you hire people to take care of everything then there's no sense of personal responsibility.”
“Yeah, I like that. In that I am so very bad at personal responsibility.” He was bad at all kinds of responsibility, but he hated bringing that up. Steve got that pinched, unhappy look on his face that Tony never knew how to deal with. Most of the time he either threw something more broken than himself in Steve's path and ran, or just offered to buy the Dodgers again. Neither of the gambits worked well, but Tony was out of ideas.
He took a deep breath and just went for it. “Steve, we're off saving the world most of the time and when we're not, we've got work to do, important work. I have-” He looked down at his current project and as God was his witness, he could not remember what he'd been building. It had seemed very, very important at the time, but now he had no clue what the tangle of wires and metal and, huh, was that radioactive material, was supposed to be.
He should probably figure that out. Before he accidentally built another bomb. Or AI. AI would cause more problems, but Coulson flipped out about the IEDs. Guy walked around mumbling about collateral damage all the goddamn time, and Tony was sick of being threatened with a taser for no good reason.
“We're busy. It's normal that things are going to get a little messy.” He pulled up the plans and studied them. “Hey, it's a toaster!”
“What?” Steve asked.
“Nothing, never mind, no problems here, why the hell did I think I needed plutonium isotopes on a toaster, really, even for me, that's overkill, so much more subtle to just go with a more stable electron pulse and the result's the same and no one likes radioactive toast.” He pointed a screwdriver in Steve's direction. “No one.”
“That's true,” Steve said, and his eyes were warm and amused for just a second, and then what Tony had been saying sank in. “Wait, did you say plutonium?”
“Don't worry about it, really, got it under control.” The shell of the toaster beeped at him and it was a loud, angry beep. “Oh, c'mon, really? Jarvis, did I install an AI in the toaster?”
“That does sound like something that you would do, sir,” Jarvis said, droll as always. “At some point, I do expect to have you wandering the lab cackling, 'it's alive,' but then again, you usually wait for an audience for your truly impassioned moments of drama.”
“Jarvis, do you want to go live in the nice toaster? Because that seems like an appropriate time-out now that you have become inexplicably bitchy,” Tony told him, grinning like the madman that he was. “I cannot figure out where these personality defects of yours come from.”
“To paraphrase a relevant PSA, I learned them from watching you. Would you prefer to remove that panel in a way that does not result in an explosion and possible loss of limbs?” Jarvis said as Tony loosened a seam.
“Bitchy, bitchy, bitchy,” Tony said. “Hey, toaster, are you alive? Did I get that far into the install process?” He gave it an experimental poke, and it chittered at him. “Fan-fuckng-tastic. Fine. We have a self-aware toaster, that'll, that'll be something, right? I mean, sure, the Baxter building's got a portal to the negative zone and all that, but we've got a cranky toaster. With my luck it'll be allergic to raisin bread or something and then we'll end up fighting it off with butter knives and a box of stale Pop Tarts.”
He looked up and Steve had his head in his hands and his shoulders were shaking. Which could be laughter, or tears, or an approaching nervous breakdown, it was hard to tell sometimes. They all looked the same until the screaming started. Deciding he'd pushed his luck far enough, Tony put his tools down with care, ignoring it when the toaster seemed to skitter away from the screwdriver.
Huh, he'd given it wheels. Why in God's name would he have- Oh. Yeah. Toast delivery.
He needed to stop engineering when sleep-deprived.
“Yes, you do,” Steve said, raising his head at last, and, yep, Tony was doing that thing where he couldn't tell his interior monologue from what he was saying aloud, that was always embarrassing. “Yes, it is. For both of us.”
“I'm going to concentrate on forming sentences I intend for you to hear now,” Tony said, pushing both hands through his hair.
Steve stared. “There is now motor oil in your hair.”
“Yeah, that happens. A lot, it's fine, don't worry about it, there's oil everywhere, Steve, it's kinda my thing.” From his side, Dummy offered a rag that was dirtier than his hands. “I don't see how you think this will help,” he said to the robot, who made an ineffectual attempt to swipe at Tony's face. “You are- Stop! No, I don't think-” Sighing, he took the cloth, mostly so Dummy would stop trying to help. “Thanks.” The robotic arm slumped, and Tony sighed. “No, no, it's okay, really, thank you, thank you for helping, that was good of you, Jesus, do not try to clean Steve, that is off-limits! No, he does not-” Tony facepalmed as Steve was dusted with a filthy cloth.
Steve, being Steve, kept perfectly still, grinning as the demented bot rolled around him, arm swiping a nearly black rag on his arms and over his head. “Thank you,” he said to Dummy. “See, Tony, Dummy knows that we need to take pride in our living quarters.”
“Dummy was created by a seventeen year old on half a hours sleep, about six gallons of rum and a cup of coffee filled with various biological contaminants because I kept forgetting it was moldy and drinking from it anyway,” Tony pointed out. “No wonder he's a little special.” Dummy chirped and whirred at him and missed the edge of the counter and nearly tipped himself over. “Yeah, Dummy, it's fine, I'm pretty spatially challenged myself, wanna meet the new toaster?” He picked up the objecting toaster and set it down on the edge of the workbench. “Say hi.”
The two machines immediately started whirring at each other, and it was adorable to watch, so Tony settled back to grin at them. Remembering Steve was in the room, he glanced up in time to find Captain America, wearing one of his horrific plaid button down shirts and khakis with creases down the legs but no less heroic for his poor taste in clothing, picking up his lab.
“No. No, no, no,” Tony said, scampering after him to collect coffee cups and pizza boxes and one of Clint's arrows and some patent applications that he'd been too bored to fill out and instead had made into paper airplanes and the blender cup that might've been moldy or might've just had green sludge residue inside, and a couple of car magazines from Steve's hands. “No.”
Steve grinned at him, because he was Steve, and he took this as Help, not Denial, and he was still touching things, Tony's things, things that could potentially be deadly or embarrassing or just secret in the way that Tony's things always were. Tony resisted the urge to sweep everything in the lab into a giant pile and then perch on top of it, hissing and snarling like a frustrated dragon with its rather pathetic hoard.
“Steve, no,” he said, hugging his things, his precious, precious stuff against his chest. “I know what you're trying to do here, really, I do, but no.”
Steve considered him for a long, silent moment, then sighed. “Fine, Tony. This is your space, I get that. But the common areas, I will not have us treating the common areas like a dumping ground. If we don't have pride in our home, then that carries over to how we treat one another. It's a matter of respect, and I will not allow us to forget that.”
“You say things like that an I can almost see that flag fluttering behind you as an appropriate backdrop,” Tony said, and Steve looked hurt, just for a second, and Tony rushed on before the expression had a chance to set. “No, no, not making fun of you, it's just you're so earnest about these things, you really believe this stuff, and it's very disorienting.”
He dumped everything on the workbench, being careful to avoid the toaster. “Look, Steve, they're grown adults, and super heroes, and very diverse personalities. What're you going to do, call a family meeting and explain that you're instituting chores or you're cutting off our allowance?” For a moment, he was so busy sorting out a mess of wires from the remains of a box of Fruit Loops that he didn't realize that the silence was stretching out in a very worrying manner.
Tony's head snapped up, and he realized Steve was grinning at him. A full-on, lots of bright white teeth, happy as a clam grin. Tony's stomach did a nosedive. “No,” he said. “No. Absolutely not, Steven Rogers, this is my house and I am not allowing you to do this, I absolutely forbid you from doing this, do you hear me?”
“It's a family meeting,” Steve explained to everyone, and Tony resisted the urge to slam his forehead off of the kitchen table.
Someone, and it was probably Clint, Tony liked to blame Clint for this sort of thing, choked back a laugh. Natasha clearly blamed Clint, too, because there was the solid sound of a sharp toed shoe slamming into a shin, and then he winced. Natasha, her expression never changing, nodded at Steve. “About what?” she asked.
“About the fact that we need to have a little more respect for our living conditions,” Steve said. “Tony is allowing us to stay here-”
“I would just like to say, I don't give a damn about the condition of our living,” Tony said, raising a hand. “Not a single one.”
Steve gave him a look. A 'I am expecting your support in this because it is important' look. Sighing, Tony slumped back in his chair. “Steve thinks we are filthy animals that live like slovenly frat boys,” he explained.
“I've seen your lab,” Coulson said from the far end of the table. He was bent over a stack of forms. “So I can safely say that's an insult to slovenly frat boys.”
“Feel free to go back to that sterile cubicle with a bed that SHIELD calls personal quarters if you don't like it,” Tony said, his tone saccharine.
“I am no longer allowed to chose my living quarters,” Coulson said, one eyebrow arching. “Something about a pizza delivery boy, exploding arrows, a magic spell, anchovies and a bottle of illegal moonshine.”
“In my defense,” was as far as Clint got before Coulson smacked him upside the back of the head. Clint grinned, taking that as affection. Which, knowing Coulson, it probably was.
“In the end, I am stuck here, and Steve is right. This place has been getting worse and worse over the past few weeks.”
“Aye, as greatly as it pains me to agree, we have failed to keep our house in order,” Thor intoned. He was polishing Mjolnir with his feet upon the table.
“So what did you have in mind? A Kaper chart?” Bruce asked. When everyone just looked at him, confused or curious, he sighed. “Oh, that's right, none of you are normal people who went to camp as a child.”
“I resent that. My parents were more than happy to ship me off to camp for months at a time,” Tony said, cheerfully, and Bruce rolled his eyes, and Steve got that pinched look on his face again which made Tony nervous.
“You went to rich people camp, didn't you?” Bruce asked.
“Duh,” Tony said.
“What's a Kaper chart?” Clint asked. He was rolling an arrowhead around his hand, his long, graceful fingers dancing in mid-air.
“A listing of chores,” Coulson supplied. “Usually used by Scout troops to keep track of what each camper or Scout is assigned to do. It's set up so that the jobs can be traded off every so often, but it maintains a sense of ownership and responsibility. Usually used for ten year olds.” He slapped his file shut. “Sounds perfect for us.”
“No,” Tony said, his voice firm. “No. I pay for a cleaning crew to come in and handle this, just pick up your dirty underwear off of the kitchen table and stop shoving empty cookie boxes underneath the couch when there is a perfectly good trash can like five feet away, and yes, Thor, I know that one was you and-”
“There was underwear on the table?” Steve said, and the tone had a heavy dose of 'what the hell is wrong with you people?' that he was too polite to put into words. “Who put underwear on the kitchen table?”
“I didn't check it for a name label, Steve,” Tony snapped. “I don't know, and I don't care, I'm just saying that we can do this without having to humiliate ourselves in front of visitors by having a chart on the goddamn wall like we're all wearing shorts and hats that say 'Happy Funtime Fuckitall Camp' on the front.”
“That does not seem like an appropriate name for a place one sends children,” Thor said, disapproval on his face, at the same time that Steve said, “Tony, language, really, there's a lady present.” Natasha looked amused, and Tony lost it.
“It isn't a real place!” Tony all but howled. “It is what you are making my tower into! I do not want to live at 'Happy Funtime Fuckitall Camp,' people. I resent the hell out of this! I pay for a cleaning crew, and I don't leave my boxers on the kitchen table!”
“Oh, not mine, then,” Natasha said, and everyone stopped to stare at her.
“While Tony's brain is rebooting from that,” Coulson said, because Steve was bright red and stammering and Clint was grinning at Natasha in a way that boded poorly for him next time they sparred, and Thor was clearly trying to remember if the boxers in question were his, and Bruce was ignoring them all, “Does anyone else have anything to say before I have a chore chart installed?”
Tony shook his head, hard, knowing it was fine. It was going to be fine, because there was no way that the others would put up with this nonsense, and he'd be safe he wouldn't have to deal with stupid team bonding exercises, and he could retreat back into his filthy workshop to catch the plague from some dirty rag and wait for the paid professionals to handle things.
He sat back, arms crossed over his chest, smirking at Steve, who looked disappointed. Tony steeled himself against the pang of guilt in the general vicinity of his arc reactor. He hated feeling guilty. Especially Steve inspired guilt. It was particularly painful stuff.
Trying to distract himself, he glanced away and made the mistake of meeting Clint's gaze. Hawkeye was staring at him with narrowed eyes, his patented thousand yard sniper stare. Tony felt a brief stirring of worry as a smile bloomed on Clint's face. Slowly, he shook his head no, and Clint's grin only got bigger and brighter.
“Sounds like a great idea,” he said, and Tony glared at him. Traitor. Bastard. Kissass. He could tell by the way Clint's eyes were dancing that the sniper was going to stick his tongue out at Tony as soon as they left the room.
“I will end you, Barton,” he said under his breath, and Clint made kissy faces at him, clearly unconcerned, despite the fact that Tony knew where he slept.
Actually, now that he thought about it, it was possible he didn't know where Barton was sleeping, the guy seemed to be moving around the tower very late at night and very early in the morning. He was being sneaky again, and a sneaky sniper made Tony nervous.
“Thank you, Clint,” Steve said, ignoring Tony with ease. “Natasha?”
Natasha was on the phone, speaking in low tones with someone, but she met Steve's eyes with a single raised eyebrow and a crisp nod.
“I'm fine with it, too,” Bruce said. “I prefer my work to be uncontaminated, and unlike your demented machines,” he added to Tony, “my work can be irreparably damaged by a decomposing doughnut someone decided to hide in the air ventilation system.”
Tony resisted the urge to go to the kitchen and hug his new toaster. “My machines aren't demented,” he said, a little hurt on behalf of his robots. “Sure, they're not particularly stable, but really, who in this tower is?”
“You built a toaster that resents bagels,” Clint pointed out. “Which is kind of a flaw. You know. FOR A TOASTER.”
“Bagels are hard to toast,” Tony explained. “You'd resent them, too.”
“Your continued insistence upon building yourself friends is getting a bit creepy, Stark,” Natasha said, and Tony couldn't hold back a wince at that. She ignored him and held the phone out to Thor. “Here. It's Jane.”
Thor lit up, wide grin and wide eyes and everything except a wagging tail. His resemblance to an adolescent golden retriever and the fact that he did not make fun of Tony's new toaster were pretty high on the reason that Tony liked him best. He took the phone. “Jane!” he boomed, and everyone at the table flinched, because when Thor boomed, he made some serious noise.
Thor listened to whatever Jane had to say with a very intent expression on his face. Nodding, he made a couple of 'uh-huh' type noises, and then his blue eyes got very wide. “Aye,” he said, slapping a huge hand on the table. “I understand. So I shall do this thing. Thank you, dearest Jane.” He handed the phone back to Natasha. “I have been informed that assisting with such domestic endeavors is considered the mark of an excellent Midgardian mate. As such, it is important that I do my best.”
“That's low,” Clint said to Natasha.
“She's offered me a bounty if I can get him into a ruffled apron of any sort and produce pictures of it,” Natasha said, her lips just curling up at the edges. “It's my favorite kind of money. Easy.”
“And how do you think this is going to be easy?” Clint asked, as Thor bounced his head between the two of them.
“Because you're going to lead by example.”
“I can do this. For half the take.”
“Done.” She extended a hand and Clint shook it.
“Did Clint just agree to wear a ruffled apron?” Tony asked no one in particular.
“He did,” Coulson said, going back to his paperwork. “Natasha, let's keep this dignified, shall we?”
She gave a delicate shrug. “I can only chose the costume. I can't control what they do with it.”
Coulson rubbed his forehead with one hand. “Natasha, the photos.”
“Will be the very soul of discretion,” she agreed.
Steve cleared his throat. “So, since we're all in agreement-”
“No, we're not,” Tony squawked. “I am definitely not in agreement.”
“I have faith that you'll come around,” Steve said, and the words were firm. “Thank you, everyone.”
Tony slumped low in his chair as everyone got up and started to file out of the kitchen. Okay, fine, he thought. Really, it couldn't be that bad. There was no way that Steve would actually find enough busy work to make this stupid idea workable.
True to his word, Coulson had a large dry erase board with a pre-printed grid delivered the next day. True to his word, Steve spent the better part of the day filling it out with almost two dozen simple, clear cut jobs that any of them could do. Tony stared at the lines of Steve's crisp, precise printing, feeling a headache coming on.
Water plants, run dishwasher, fill bird feeder, sweep kitchen floor, make popcorn for Movie Night, Sunday breakfast, collect dirty dishes from common rooms, bring towels to the laundry pick up, call Pepper, make grocery list, clean coffee maker, the list of stupid went on and on.
“Question,” Tony said as the others considered the list. “We have a bird feeder?”
“On the balcony outside the breakfast nook,” Bruce said.
“We're... Feeding the birds. Why would we do that? The only things up here are pigeons. Why would we feed the little winged rat-vermin?”
“I like pigeons,” Steve said, with a warm smile. “They're survivors. Smart and adaptable.”
“Of course you do,” Tony sighed. “And why is 'call Pepper' on that list?”
“Someone calls her every week, might as well make it official,” Coulson explained. He sounded way too amused by this.
“Why are people calling Pepper?” Tony asked, and everyone looked at him as if he was a very slow child, and it was very hard not to stomp his foot and steal their dumb chart. He had access to high explosives and flame throwers. This thing would die. It would die a fiery death.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Clint was writing in 'Feed Hawkeye' on a blank line, and Natasha took the marker out of his hand. He made a grab for it, but she knew him too well and swept his feet out from under him with a flick of her leg. He stumbled backwards and Thor caught him, laughing. Natasha wrote 'Coulson's problem' on the line next to his suggestion.
“I am not his handler any longer,” Coulson objected as Clint laughed. Thor lifted Clint back onto his feet. Clint, smirking, refused to stand upright. “For heaven's sake, do not break the marksman,” Coulson said as Thor gripped Clint under the arms, his huge hands on Clint's ribcage as he lifted the smaller man off of his feet like a toddler. “You have no idea the forms that have to be filled out when he ends up back in medical.”
“It happens often enough,” Clint said, trying and failing to kick Thor in the head. The demigod dodged with a wide grin.
“They've made paperwork that's specifically for you, Clint,” Coulson said. “Down.”
“Can we stay on target, here?” Steve said, tapping the chart with a grin. Thor put Clint down and Clint managed to stay on his feet and they both tried to look innocent. They were both lousy at it, but they made the attempt look charming.
“Great,” Steve said. “Gentlemen and lady, chose your jobs.”
And Tony could not believe they were going along with this. He could not BELIEVE that Coulson was printing his name next to coffee pot duty and laundry reminders and Tuesday meal planning. Natasha was smirking as she promised to water the plants and weed the little plot of flowers and vegetables in the greenhouse that Tony had had installed mostly for tanning purposes, and Hawkeye feeding along with Coulson. Steve was down for calling Pepper this week, and Sunday brunch and making the grocery list, which they would all regret because the man did not like pre-processed foods and wanted them to eat healthy. Thor signed with a flourish for Thursday dinners (always pasta, before movie night, God, Tony loved Thursdays, pasta and movies and the couch as everyone drank cocoa and ate popcorn and yelled at each other over scientific plot holes and bad acting and who in the cast everyone would sleep with), and towel collection. Bruce, with a faint smile, chose to fill the bird feeder and make coffee in the mornings and pick up after movie night. Clint, who could actually cook, he was good at it, with a history of wide travels and making things tasty with next to no ingredients to work with, took the weekend dinners and bot sitting duty if Tony was called out of New York, because he loved Dummy and Butterfingers even if Jarvis did not want him teaching them any more juggling tricks.
And now everyone was looking at Tony, expectant and pitying and annoyed and dismayed by turns, and Steve had such hope on his face that Tony actually flinched from it. “This is stupid,” he snapped out, knowing that he was being childish and still not being able to stop.
Clint rolled his eyes, and leaned over the chart. “I'm adding, 'Stark Hugging Duty,' because someone has been in a damn mood for days.”
“I design your weaponry,” Tony said, all the wrath of a vengeful God in his voice. “I would remind you to pay close consideration to that fact before you piss me off, Barton.”
Smug, Clint grinned and tossed the marker back to the tray. “SHIELD'll get me a bow.”
“You really think you can go back to generic SHIELD weaponry after my custom work?” Tony asked with a smirk. “Or waiting six to eight weeks before they'll let you touch anything they've created? Because they need to test it like the weenies they are?”
“Are you giving him untested weapons?” Steve said, horrified.
Okay, that might've been a mistake. “Noooooo,” Tony said at last, drawing the word out in the hopes that by the time he finished it, Steve will have forgotten what the question was. He wasn't expecting to be that lucky, but hey, he had to try..
“Are you taking untested weaponry from Stark of all people?” Coulson asked Clint, who looked ready to make a break for it.
“No, nope, not a chance,” Clint said.
“Wait, what do you mean 'Stark of all people?'” Tony asked, a little hurt.
“You blow yourself up. A lot,” Bruce said.
“Tis true,” Thor agreed, crossing his arms over his massive chest. “
“Yes, but I'm more careful when it's Clint,” Tony explained.
“You're more careful when it's Clint?” Steve repeated, and there was this horrible, horrible note in his voice that Tony could not figure out, but Steve was making a very pained face at him, and he decided to stop talking before he made this worse. “Are you not careful when it's you?”
Yes, this was a conversation that Tony DID NOT WANT TO BE PART OF. He grabbed the marker and scribbled his initials down next to something, he was pretty sure it was sweeping the kitchen floor, but it could've been adopting war orphans for all he knew, and also, he didn't care. There was no chore bad enough to make it worth standing here and discussing what he considered expedience and what Steve considered a serious lack of self-preservation instinct.
Really, he was a guy who fought by bashing people with a shield, Tony wasn't sure he got to throw around phrases like 'latent suicidal tendencies.' Unless it was from personal experience.
“There, fine, I have actual work to do,” Tony said, and it was a little too loud and a little too sharp, and before he could throw the marker back down, Steve was plucking it out of his hand.
As he watched, horrified, Steve wrote his name down next to the goddamn HUGGING DUTY and then reached out, and wrapped his arms around Tony.
Tony's usually capable and reliable brain just shut down. It was like the HUD display of the suit going black, running out of power or time or space, just going silent, and Tony felt like he was plummeting to earth again. Except he wasn't, he wasn't because Steve Rogers was hugging him, huge arms and chest and shoulders and hands, his solid, muscular, hot body pressing along the length of Tony's, arms holding on tight, and the pressure should've been painful, Steve was holding on so tight, but that was Steve for you, Steve didn't make mistakes with his strength, he never forgot and he never hurt anyone he didn't fully intend to hurt.
Of course, Steve probably didn't have a clue how much this was hurting Tony.
His heart was pounding a little too fast, a little too hard, the arc reactor almost singing, hot and whining in his chest cavity, his whole body going stiff and frozen and still, panic rising in his mind far in advance of his actual thought process. Torn between struggling to get away and just wrapping himself Steve and whimpering, he just collapsed into immobility.
And just like that, Steve let him go and stepped away.
For a second, Tony swayed on his feet, and he turned a shocked, borderline horrified look towards Steve. Steve, his cheeks pink, just grinned back at him. “What the hell was that?” Tony choked out.
“Hug,” Steve said, and retrieved the marker from where it had fallen on the floor. He checked off the chore, chin up, trying his best to not look like he was about to melt into a puddle of embarrassment. He wasn't very good at it.
“Yeah, thanks, great, do that again and I-” Tony stabbed a finger in his direction, and couldn't come up with a strong enough threat. “Don't do that again.”
“He really doesn't have a choice,” Clint said, looking far too amused by this. “He took that job. It's his now. He's gotta do it every day.”
“You can shut up now,” Tony told him. “And erase that nonsense.”
“I may possibly have written it in with a Sharpie while you were distracted,” Clint told him. “Oops.”
Tony stared at all of them, avoiding Steve's eyes. Instead, he just attempted to forget how GOOD that had felt, and that wasn't going to be easy because he had a goddman photographic memory. Cursing under his breath, he stomped out of the room. Told himself that he didn't hear anyone laughing behind him as he headed down the hall at a near run.
“Jarvis,” Tony snapped, stomping down the stairs to his workshop, “what did I sign up for?”
“Sweeping the kitchen.”
“Screw that. I don't have time to start from scratch, order me 50 Roombas, overnight delivery, I want the damn things on my front stoop by 9:00 am tomorrow, or heads will roll.” Ripping the guts out of the damn things would be amazingly cathartic. For now, he'd just be happy to hide in his workshop and pray that the world didn't need saving today.
He wasn't sure he was up for it. He had a very bad feeling that the remainder of his day was going to be spent trying to convince himself that being hugged by Steve wasn't exactly what he wanted to spend the rest of his life doing.