The second Steve lets it slip, he immediately thinks, ‘Motherfucker.’
He knows, just knows that this will become one of those instances that never go away. Like the time he’d gotten a little too trigger happy with his shield and had startled the living daylight out of what had turned out to be a rabbit. The Commandos had made lucky rabbit’s foot jokes and told him to “hoppity hop to it” until Dugan had let his full name slip three weeks later.
He clamps his mouth shut so hard his teeth clicks and hopes no one notices until –
“Wait a second. No one else is gonna deal with the fact that Cap just said ‘language’?”
There it is.
“It just slipped out,” Steve protests weakly.
Sarah Rogers had never been fond of his potty mouth; his mother’s attitude had made him … contradictory towards swears that hadn’t come from his own mouth. It had taken two years without her to stop instinctually flinching away from sharp fingers pinching his ears whenever he swore. Hell, sometimes he can still taste the soap she had made him wash his mouth with the very first time she caught him swearing. Ninety-five years and he still blames Billy Thompson – lying marble stealing bastard.
Steve sidles up besides Thor. Thor’s safe, too easy-going to give him grief, especially in the thick of a fight. All Thor does is give him a bright grin when they take down a tank – bless his little Viking heart – and listens keenly when Steve details out a plan.
“And for gosh sake watch your language!” Tony manages to slip in nonetheless.
Wily fucking bastard.
Tony’s grinning at him on the way back, lets Steve catch flashes of a smirk every time he turns a little in the pilot’s chair.
“Fuck off, Stark,” Steve groans, punching the back of Tony’s seat lightly.
Tony clutches his heart and makes a face like he’s dying of shock before swiveling around dramatically, snickering as he hunches over his controls. Steve glares at the Starfleet emblem on the back of the seat, tempted to scratch at it with the edge of his shield.
“You know he’s going to tell everyone right?” Natasha points out when he decides he could never betray Kirk like that.
“‘Yay!’” Steve says, makes his voice go high and delighted in sarcastic mimicry of Tony’s squeal when he’d squirreled pass the hidden doorway hiding the scepter.
“Nice try!” Tony throws back over his shoulder because he has no shame and Steve doesn’t know why he bothers.
“He’s right,” Natasha throws in, helpful as always, “We all already know he’s adorable.”
Steve glares when they fist bump.
Somewhere between boozy Sunday brunch and Park Avenue manicures, they’d become inseparable. Steve had tripped over Expensive Midnight Booze Hour three times this month, had had to be the one to drag Tony to bed while Natasha cooed at her bottle of vodka and showed off the nails Tony had done for her. Steve’s not sure his sanity can take both Natasha and Tony ganging up on him together; he definitely knows he’s not willing to test the limits any time soon.
“You ever feel like someone’s stealing your best friend?” Steve asks Clint when Natasha and Tony hunch over the controls.
Clint opens one eyes from where he’d been lying awkwardly on his side. If Clint didn’t have the world’s angriest resting face, Steve would think he was getting the hairy eyeball, especially when Clint drawls sarcastically, “No. Never. Hey remember that time you guys took a road trip to Washington and then blew up my work place? Fun times.”
Steve gets a reprieve when Bruce mentions calling in Helen Cho. Tony spends the entire time bitching and making faces (it’s just 3D printing; I synthesized vibranium!) but goes completely still when she talks through her latest projects, watching her set Clint up with rapt attention.
He’s not fooling anyone.
Steve had found Tony curled up under the kitchen table once, going through all of Cho’s publications, fingers tapping away at his tablet as he scanned PubMed. Steve had even been woken up a week ago when Tony had stormed into his bedroom, ranting about The Cradle and nanostructures and graphene and something something – illuminations of colloidal particles to fabricate hollow-core 3D nanostructures for further use in biomedicine.
Steve hadn’t asked how it all related; he may or may not have been busy carefully arranging his legs in a certain manner and very resolutely not moving when Tony sat on his ankles and waved his arms about, smelling like clean soap and still damp from his shower.
“Fucking hell,” Steve swears when Natasha jabs him hard in the stomach with an elbow. It’s worst than being stabbed by one of her knives. Almost.
She grins toothily at him, “Ooh, Captain America said a bad word.”
“I liked you better when you were trying to find me a date,” Steve sighs and immediately regrets it because she only smiles wider.
“I’ve found you a date,” she says flippantly, making a vague sort of wave towards Tony. He’s bouncing around the lab, not so discreetly fiddling with the screens, probably trying to get a better insight on what exactly is being done to Clint, “Just because you’re too chicken shit to make a move…”
The last time Steve’d been called that, he’d been beaten up behind that dusty old movie theater that somehow always smelled like mothballs. He raises an eyebrow at her and she raises one right back, like she can read his mind. At this point, Steve wouldn’t really be surprised if she could.
“Pot. Kettle,” he mutters petulantly under his breath, breaking off their silent stand off in favor of gesturing towards the lab.
Natasha follows the motion of his hand, eying Bruce who’s leaning in towards Tony. His mop of curls falls into his eyes when he leans in towards Tony and Bruce’s shoulders hunch a little as if making space for Tony when the other man talks. Bruce fiddles with his fingers even when he’s listening intently to what’s being said, like he’s uncertain which skin he’s in. Steve wisely doesn’t comment when Natasha’s features soften a little.
“I will,” she says, quietly determined and then jabs him hard in the stomach again, probably just to prove she can, “And then you’re up to bat.”
Steve groans with his entire body, “I can’t just do that. Not when he’s with – it just doesn’t work like that.”
“Yes it does,” Natasha says, expression going pinched and concerned before smoothing out. He’s about to ask but she promptly changes the subject by shouting out across the floor, “Lunch pick up! Café downstairs!”
The café on the first floor of Stark tower typically serves employees during their lunch break. It’s grown to encompass half the floor because the customer base has expanded significantly in the past year. Everyone’s trying to catch a glimpse of one of the Avengers in their “natural habitat.” The attention’s never as overwhelming as Steve expects, as long as they don’t all appear together; there seems to be an unspoken rule among most civilians to keep things chartreuse (Tony’s naming system) for Bruce.
As such, they’ve developed a neat little system to decide who’s venturing down for food.
Steve nearly brains himself with his own shield when he tries to touch his nose and just barely manages to keep from swearing loudly when he recovers and looks up to see everyone with a finger to their nose. Well, everyone but Clint, who’s injured and is therefore obligated to a “get out of pickup” card, and Dr. Cho, who has visitor privileges.
“Aw,” Natasha says in faux sympathy when he looks down over the stair railing to Thor.
Who’s grinning at them, one finger against his nose. Goddammit.
“Burger. Fries,” Thor mouths, holding his ridiculously paper thin phone closer to his ear. He’d called the Stark Phone archaic once and since then has never used the same phone twice in a month because Tony had taken that personally.
“I thought I was the boss not that intern,” Steve says, sullenly.
Natasha pats on the shoulder, “Get me bacon and eggs. Sandwich for Clint, organic egg salad with anchovies.”
“Heathen,” Tony remarks, poking his head out from the lab and Steve doesn’t know whose order he’s referring to but also decides Tony really has no room to criticize anyone’s diet, “Philly cheesesteak. Curried chicken salad for Bruce; Greek salad for Dr. Cho. And literally all of the –”
“No expressos,” Steve interrupts, scowling. He’d tripped over Tony on his way back from his run yesterday morning. It’s been the fifth time this week and he just knows Tony would try to go another seventy-eight hours without sleep if he managed to inject even more caffeine in his system, “And Philly cheesesteak? Really? How’s the blood pressure again?”
“Am I really getting grief about my health from someone who used to get concussions on a regular basis?”
“Only when Pepper’s not here to criticize your shitty diet.”
Natasha’s fingers dig into his side without warning and Steve has a half second of confusion before he spies the micro-expression that flicks across Tony’s face. Immediately the humor goes out of Tony and he scowls, pointing a screwdriver at Steve.
“None of your gosh darn business, Cap. And watch the mouth when you get down there.”
Steve blinks, turning to Natasha in confusion but she only gives him a tired look and a tight-lipped shake of the head before shooing him off.
Apparently sometime between the murder bot army and the grand hostage situation that is Sokovia the whole “language” thing has caught on like a goddamn wildfire.
Steve’s tempted to start one just to get it to stop because Pietro slams into him in the middle of the Ultron fight with all the force of a wrecking ball and spins him around in order to gasp exaggeratedly in his face after Steve swears out a storm.
Steve’s about to go right the fuck off because really?!
But Tony’s cackling so hard up in the air that Iron Man jitters a little and Steve can’t find it in himself to sling complaints now.
“There are children around, no?” Pietro asks, blinking out of existence to body check the swarm of droids at Steve’s back. Steve almost clocks him in the face when he slows enough to be visible again, jogging backwards with a lazy smile on his face.
“No there aren’t–,” Steve bites his tongue when Vision flies a droid into a wall, body checking it in blatant imitation of what Pietro had been doing.
Steve swears there’s a smirk on his face when he flies off.
“Impressionable children,” Tony wheezes between helpless giggles.
And yeah, okay. Steve’ll let him have that, especially after all the … tension. A small part of him is decidedly not relieved from hearing Tony laugh.
“Hey, maybe I’ll buy a farm. Move down there and settle down while Pepper runs the company,” Tony’s saying and his voice wavers a little around Pepper’s name, goes soft and cracked around the edges, “She was in Time last week.”
Tony’s shoulders draw together a little, resignation settling over his features.
“I really can’t tell if Nat broke the Bro Code and told you –”
“Bro Code,” Steve repeats in astonishment, “You’re fifty –”
“About Pepper and how we – wow, really? I’m forty-five –”
“It’s still too old to be using teenage slang –”
“Says the ninety year old – and like I was saying, Pepper –”
“I’ll miss you Tony,” Steve interrupts and Tony stops, jerks to a halt.
He stumbles a little from halting mid-step and he turns with a look on his face – a there and gone against flash of emotion Steve gets a little too excited about. He shakes himself out of it.
“Right,” Tony chokes out, voice high and a little breathy with surprise, “O-of course you will. Who wouldn’t miss me?”
Steve chuckles, grinning at him and Tony’s gives him a shaky uncertain smile that’s a little too tight around the corners. Steve reels him in with an arm around his shoulders, jostling roughly before pressing up against him in a hug simply because it looks like he needs one.
Like a winded kitten who’d gotten his nose flicked with a feather toy for the first time. Steve has to press his lips together to suppress the laugh.
“You’ll visit,” Steve prompts and then presses further when Tony hesitates, “The Avengers wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without you doing what you did after SHIELD went down. I know I gave you a hard time … back before … but I know your heart was in the right place.”
Tony’s mouth thins out in a flat displeased line. Steve can practically see all the anger turning inwards.
“Wanda was wrong,” he adds hurriedly, “She said you can’t see the difference between saving the world and destroying it.”
Steve places a hand on Tony’s shoulder when he flinches, holds him close and drags his thumb along a collarbone, pressing lightly. Tony gives him a look, tired and withdrawn and it hits Steve just then how much it had taken out of him. He deserves space, deserves to walk away and just take some time for himself. Steve lets go of him, makes himself pull away.
“She was wrong,” Steve reiterates, “Tony, you’re a hero. Everything you’ve done – funding us, giving us a place to stay. You’ve done it because you can’t do anything but save the world. Pepper knows why you put the suit back on. You know that that’s not why she –”
Steve courteously pretends he can’t see the break in Tony’s facade, the glassy look over his eyes.
“Sometimes … sometimes it’s easier to let someone go than to see then taken from you. It’s not because she ever stopped –”
Tony just gives him that blank glassy look and swallows, nodding.
Neither of them bring up the night months ago when Steve had shown up in the lobby of Stark tower with a single duffel bag, one hand wrapped tight around a battered compass, looking like the world was ending.
She told me to stop visiting.
“Take it from this old bastard,” Steve offers, feeling something tighten around his own chest like a vice and ignoring it.
Tony gives him a small smirk, huffs out a laugh that’s too wet and shaky, “Put a quarter in the swear jar.”
Steve still takes it as a win.
Steve starts texting after Wanda catches him cursing at the vending machine for withholding his Snickers.
“Such profanity for such a pretty face,” she tells him and pats his cheek. Her expression goes soft and vulnerable and it sounds so much like a direct quote from someone, he can’t find it in his heart to say anything.
Instead, he elects to text Tony updates and accusations from upstate New York.
Vision told me ‘Please Captain. Language.’ and put his hands around Wanda’s ears. If they spend any more time together, you’re going to have sit him down for the ‘birds and bees’ talk.
Natasha says you can name a sheep after her when you buy the farm.
Sam says he’ll stop by and then he’ll be the one to drink all the OJ.
If another agent tells me ‘language’ I’m going to break all your coffee machines.
And then finally when he’d gotten sick of Natasha’s goading and had gotten himself nice and drunk off Thor’s stash: You could fucking visit.
Steve scowls at his phone the morning after, mouthing at the lip of his water bottle absently. He’s working off the very last vestiges of a hangover, can still feel a light pounding against his frontal lobe that’s slowly but surely fading away like the tide.
“Hungover’s still too pretty on you. How unfair,” Natasha says, gliding into the seat across from him.
She really has no room to talk, looking perfect as ever. Then again, Steve’s not all that sure she’d gotten drunk last night, vaguely remembers her remaining terrifyingly sober even after that drinking contest with Sam and Rhodey.
Natasha swats him hard enough on the arm that he jerks upright, glaring heavily at her. She doesn’t so much as blink at the frown and makes a vague gesture towards his water bottle and his mouth, “You’re distracting the recruits.”
Sure enough, he can pick out a few increasingly uncomfortable looking recruits carefully avoiding his eyes and turning pink. Natasha swipes his phone before he can turn back around.
“Fucking shit,” he hisses.
“The mouth on Captain America,” Natasha says, feigning shock as she scrolls deftly through his texts. The corners of her mouth twitches in amusement, “You’re like a Nicholas Sparks novel. Has Stark not been replying? Is he the cool but distant man of your heart? Will our hero ever find love?”
“You read Nicholas Sparks?”
Natasha raises an eyebrow at him, “What do you think me and Stark do at three in the morning?”
“‘Stark and I.’”
“Well, we both know you’d prefer Stark and you.”
Steve scowls at her.
“But seriously, is it about time for me to break out the nail polish and make you those fruity cocktails you like so you can rant about men and women and how after ninety years you still can’t get a date?” she offers.
“Your cocktails are terrible. They taste like you tried to add gasoline to them,” Steve says, electing to go for the least offensive statement.
“They needed a kick,” Natasha sniffs, unapologetic.
“Yeah, well I don’t think I’m quite there yet.”
“Well, let me know when you’re ready for bad decisions.”
“A good friend discourages –”
“You guys hear Stark’s coming by for a parent-teacher conference?” Steve startles when Sam slides into the seat besides him.
Vision and Wanda are hot on Sam’s heels, Vision’s hand on the small of Wanda’s back, soothing her. She still gets twitchy whenever they bring up Tony and isn’t that awkward when his best friend’s on the team. Vision seems to help a little. In what way exactly? – Steve doesn’t really want to know.
Lagging behind, Rhodey’s fiddling with his phone, grinning fondly at the screen – a look Steve’s quickly come to associate with Tony. Steve’s not very good at hiding the way he suddenly perks up if the looks Natasha and Sam give him are anything to go by.
“Parent teacher –” Steve peters off when Sam makes an overly exaggerated gesture towards Vision that’s just short of him breaking into a dance number.
Vision regards Steve coolly and it’s only due to the months they’ve spent working together that Steve’s not unnerved by his impassive stare.
“It is always best to maintain an open door policy in order to establish a good parent-teacher relationships,” Vision says in that “almost” tone he has, that tone he gets when he’s not all that certain about what to emphasize in order to get across what he needs to. This one’s verging on the very edge of humor and sarcasm, enough carefully articulated emotion in his words for Steve to feel a faint sense of approval under stilted sass. It only hits home that this isn’t JARVIS, who spoke sass like a second language.
Steve manages a smile nonetheless, pleased when Vision nods and mimics his grin.
“You would make a good stepfather,” Vision says the minute Steve takes a sip of his water.
Natasha and Sam only laugh at him when he gets water everywhere.
“Okay, so I did the thing!” Tony announces, barging into Steve’s room, all energy and excitement.
Steve resolutely does not blush but he does fold his arms over his bare chest when Tony pauses, eyes flicking towards Steve’s bed. He’s taking in the pile of T-shirts Steve had been changing in and out of.
“I - uh, was doing laundry,” Steve says lamely but given the look Tony gives him, he’s not being very believable.
Tony looks good, beard trimmed and eyes bright, no longer hunted. There are deeper lines around his mouth and in the corners of his eyes, like he’s been smiling more. He’s in a suit, prim and proper and smelling faintly like Pepper’s favored perfume. Steve had seen them in a conference a week ago and he’s glad that they’re speaking once again. Tony’s more comfortable when they are, at ease in his own skin in a way he hadn’t been months ago.
“Right,” Tony says, holding up his phone and flicking his wrist, “Anyways, the thing!”
“You really need to spend less time on social media,” Steve says, grateful for the change in subject and squinting at the hologram being formed. He groans once he realizes what it is.
The words Swear Jar writes itself across the lip of a jar in a child’s handwriting.
“Clint’s little girl,” Tony puts in helpfully, pointing at the letters with a ridiculously proud look on his face, “She’s learning cursive.”
“You need a hobby,” Steve groans.
Tony grins at him, eyes bright and eager, “See, that’s why I’m here. The whole buy a farm thing didn’t –”
“Oh, Tony you didn’t …”
“- Work out as well. No, I didn’t – I bought a series of beach houses and then spent two months at Barton’s doing home repair until he kicked me out. He wanted to paint the baby’s room purple –”
Tony’s fingers are tapping against his chest, hummingbird quick, where the arc reactor used to be. Steve swears he can still hear the dull metallic thump sometimes.
“He kicked you out –”
“Well, not literally. I had to get out – started getting a little y’know squirmish. Crawling outta my own skin and just had to –”
Tony licks his lips and Steve can’t help tracking the movements.
Steve startles, snapping his eyes back to Tony’s face, flushing when he sees the calculating look on Tony’s face. Tony leans forward, dark eyes hooded and intent.
“You had to –” Steve prompts, trying to look anywhere else but Tony’s face. It’s surprisingly difficult.
“Step back in the suit,” Tony finishes, almost dismissive. He straightens, shoulders going back as he steps closer, staring at Steve with sharp intensity, “Turns out retirement’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. And well – you did want me to visit.”
Steve dips his head in a nod, grinning helplessly when Tony’s expression softens into a smile, “Yeah … I told you I’d miss you.”
“Well, here I am. Y’know, if you’ll have me,” Tony says, entire body swaying a little as if being drawn into Steve.
Steve’s eyes dart downwards without his permission when Tony leans it, lingers on Tony’s mouth and he flushes when he finds him thinking about whether or not the goatee would scratch at his cheeks.
“So. Will you?” Tony asks, voice low, “Have me?”
“No nookie in the classroom!” Sam shouts, banging on the door.
“What’s Mr. Rogers doing to father that has his temperature levels rising?” Vision’s voice comes through, aiming at innocent naivety but sounding too serious for Steve to do anything but jump away from Tony.
He can hear the entire team outside, soft titters filling the hallway when they hear him bang the back of his knees against a bedpost. Someday he’s going to have a team that consists of people who do nothing but stare at him in quiet awe. It’ll be glorious; if a little dull.
“Fucking assholes,” Steve groans and then when little animated coins start jumping into his swear jar, he glares at Tony, “So that’s where Vision gets it from.”
Tony’s lips twitch, looks terribly torn between laughter and horror at being referred to as “father.”
Steve sighs, reaches out to grab Tony’s wrist, as he sits down heavily on his bed, “It’d be good to have you back on board Iron Man.”
“Be good for you to get on board Iron Man too wouldn’t it?” Natasha calls.
“For fuck’s sake – go away!” Steve shouts back and when they only laugh at him, adds, “We’re fucking!”
There’s a beat of silence from the other side of the door where he can see them debating whether or not he’s bluffing. When he turns to Tony, he catches a glimpse of a wicked smirk just before Tony presses up against him, long and lean against the his front.
“What are you–” Steve chokes on his tongue when Tony lets out a moan, wicked and breathy right in Steve’s ear and immediately there’s a chorus of alarm outside the door, mostly from Sam and Rhodes.
“Aw hell no, I’m out. I got enough of this back in ’86,” Rhodey complains loudly.
Tony snickers into Steve’s chest, lets out another noise and then squirms, looking up in delight when Steve shudders. Tony leans closer, presses their hips together more firmly.
“That Swear Jar’s gonna fill up in about twenty minutes if you don’t stop,” Steve murmurs and Tony looks at him in wicked delight.
“That a promise?”
The Swear Jar winds up being responsible for 50% of Stark’s yearly monetary donations.