Tony Stark grew up with frustrating people all around him. Every which way he looked there would be yet another frustrating person staring at him, trying to give him orders. There were so many of them in fact that he started to believe that the world was made up of only frustrating people; he started to doubt that there could be any other kind of personality in the world at all.
At the tender age of five, Tony realized that his father had little to no interest in him; it was a strange thing for a child to learn and it certainly gave Tony plenty of reasons to remain childish well past the age where childishness was acceptable in an individual. He locked away his childishness however when he realized that it really wouldn’t get him anywhere in life if he utilized it all the time. He saved it instead for special occasions – when sarcasm just wouldn’t do. Complaining and whining to his mother got him nowhere as she was usually too zoned out to hear him, fighting off the effects of alcohol and depression. Talking to his father about his ideas and aspirations for life got him into boarding school. He learned to channel the childishness, applying it to other more interesting things, like science and engineering. He liked those subjects; they didn’t yell at him or hit him and they were always around when he needed them.
Tony often wondered what it would be like for someone to just look and listen to him talk about his work without some kind of ulterior motive. It seemed like something out of a story book fairy tale to him that someone could just listen. As he aged, growing taller and broader, he found that the best way to get people to pay attention to him was to irritate them to no end until they gave in and listened to his genius whether they liked it or not. He lived to frustrate people who frustrated him by arguing with everything they said; some people didn’t like this particular brand of Tony Stark Logic (patent pending), and he found himself reluctantly doing damage control when he was an adult with a little of Pepper Potts’ prompting.
Tony came off to most people as arrogant, self-absorbed and egotistical – all three things were true and definitely parts of his personality, to an extent. He could admit that easily; it was like putting on a mask for a ball. He could hide behind those three parts of himself and in private he could be himself, an altogether different person. He was certainly egotistical. He was proud of his work and he was proud of himself because someone had to be; he didn’t let people tell him what he could or could not do because he was in charge of his life. Tony’s father had told him that he had no worth as a child and he resented Howard deeply for it. Howard was a drunk, and he didn’t think much of anyone. As a child, Tony put up with the verbal abuse his father threw in his face and watched his father attempt to drink himself into an early grave while his mother simply wandered off to her charity events and ignored them both. Tony’s revenge was to prove Howard wrong by using his mind, not his words; He created elaborate machines and devices, winning prizes and earning accolades that gave him worldwide status and recognition. He took his expected place within Stark Industries and gave the world exciting new products. He improved his father’s designs when he worked in Research and Development and then went on to build a life for himself outside his father’s shadow. Howard could have cared less.
He won no respect from his father for his achievements and Tony learned to expect nothing from other people. No one owed him anything and he didn’t particularly owe anyone else anything either. Those who cooed at him and praised his work were tolerated, but he didn’t find them particularly interesting. He would wine and dine them, filling the empty part of himself with the frivolity of social interaction and sex– his life seemed to be filled with copious amounts of sex, but really, there was only so many times that he could go out and do the same things with the same empty headed people before he got bored.
He grew to enjoy arguing with people and liked the challenge of creating complicated solutions for simple problems; he argued this way because it was all the more satisfying to win completely. It was often better than sex. Unfortunately, his love for arguing led him to fight with nearly everyone that didn’t follow his views. Some of the arguments were playful. He liked to argue with Pepper because she always beat him with logic he could understand. Rhodey passive aggressively argued with him whenever Tony did something particularly annoying that he couldn’t defend against with logic. Tony learned through trial, error and age how to argue with anything he didn’t like or accept. He also learned that while he was excellent at arguing, he was absolutely horrible with apologizing – something that he had reluctantly learned when he was six and had broken his father’s favourite decanter of brandy. Apologizing always felt painful after that, and of course, it should have when all it had gotten him from Howard was a split lip and a broken nose. Negative associations, some doctors would say. Personally Tony just thought that it was because it meant that he’d done something wrong, and he very rarely did something so wrong that he actually had to apologize for it.
Tony never got any better at apologizing to people after that first apology to Howard as a child. He didn’t bother to invest a lot of time in it, so when he finally had to do it, it was often like ripping out fingernails. He found it hard to apologize for his actions; doubly hard when he was apologizing for something he didn’t know he’d done.
It also didn’t help that most of the time now, as an adult of thirty five, he had to apologize to someone who was the epitome of all that was good in the world. This person seemed to believe that Tony was the epitome of all that was evil; all that was rude and spoiled. While Captain America made it very hard to dislike him, he seemed to go out of the way to make sure that Tony did. This made Tony feel like an ass just to be in the same room with Cap – or as he wanted to be called, Steve Rogers, and despite Tony’s brain telling him that he should learn for once how to play nice, Tony never seemed to be able to do so for more than a few minutes at a time in any given day.
True, Steve was responsible for the other half of the ongoing feud they had built around them and really, Steve should have just given in and accepted that Tony was a good guy too, but Steve, being Steve, didn’t give up any battle; he didn’t even give up on the ones that he wasn’t going to win. And so the battle raged on. They would often come close to slapping and hair pulling when they fought. The fact that Steve could easily have thrown Tony through a wall if he wanted to seemed to never seemed to cross either of their minds, and it was just… undignified to be so enraged by someone who wouldn’t punch him out or actually cause bodily harm to anyone who wasn’t some kind of super villain. One could hardly fight so childishly alone (although Tony had been known to argue with himself this way whenever left to his own devices) and as they said, it took two to tango. It never felt like Steve was arguing with him about the same things; maybe they were just tangoing in two opposite directions while still trying to be the lead in an argument neither of them particularly understood. That or they were dancing to the wrong music and didn’t know it – maybe if they were trying to waltz to tango music they would produce the same disastrous results. How he’d gotten from arguing with Steve to dancing with him Tony didn’t know, but it seemed to fit in his mind, so he left it at that.
And besides, Tony could hardly be faulted for winning the arguments in his head, so why should he be faulted for trying to win the ones outside of it too?
He was just very good at arguing. He joked with Pepper that he majored in arguing and minored in irritation in university while earning his other various degrees and accolades. Currently, however, these skills were nothing he was proud of and he would have loved to have been able to go back in time to tell himself – well no. He probably would just tell himself to keep on doing the same things because, hey, they worked ninety percent of the time. While it did give him an advantage when say, fighting with the board of directors over some trivial detail, it did not become useful when fighting someone who had little experience with the irrational being that was Tony Stark.
Tony came with his own personal brand of sarcasm. Steve never seemed to get sarcasm; Tony often wondered if he was just pretending so that they could continue to argue because Steve secretly enjoyed it. Maybe Tony wasn’t exactly being honest. Steve knew what sarcasm was. He just didn’t seem to like anything that came out of Tony’s mouth, especially when it came with a snippy come back or snide comment attached to it. Tony wasn’t ashamed that he often took the crude way out and ended arguments with the flipping of a certain finger in Steve’s general direction. This seemed to be the fastest way out of a fight, and Steve would simply turn bright red and then leave the room without another word while Tony wandered off to try and figure out just where the hell it had all gone so horribly wrong in the first place.
Tony looked down at his coffee and swirled it around in the mug as he tried to force himself to stop thinking about his latest battle with Steve. The mug (a Captain America mug he had favoured long before Steve had entered the picture thank-you-very-much) was clutched tightly in his left hand, a hand he very rarely used for anything on its own aside from page flipping and on occasion, for grabbing the cereal boxes Pepper always hid in the back of the cupboard where she thought he wouldn’t look; she did this because they were then up too high for him to reach and she enjoyed watching him struggle. She often teased him by leaving the step ladder out in the kitchen where he could see it, daring him to use it.
Tony was currently hiding in his workshop sitting on the floor beside Dummy. Files floated up above him in bright blue holographic form, twirling around the room as Jarvis compiled code and began structuring the latest version of the Iron Man suit, readying it for production. He had three or four different things going at the moment, and they cluttered the room, blocking out sight; which, while Tony wouldn’t really admit to it, had been the point of opening them all together in the first place.
The polished cement floor was very cold and the thin fabric of his faded grey sweat pants and white wife beater weren’t doing a hell of a lot to keep Tony warm to begin with. He debated momentarily on whether heated floors would be a viable option for the workshop, and then remembered that he was often barefoot while working and would probably get heat burns on the soles of his feet from standing in one place too long. That or something would catch on fire if it stayed on the floor for too long, and he didn’t really want to give Dummy any more excuses to use his fire extinguisher. With his luck he would set a stack of Pepper’s papers on fire and then the fire department would be back with their Disappointed Look again. Goddamned hose monkeys.
Tony’s thoughts drifted lazily back to Steve- Their fight had been stupid even in comparison to their other fights. They had been having breakfast. Tony had reached for the toast the same time Steve had and their hands had touched. It had been no big deal to Tony; it wasn’t as if he hadn’t touched another person’s hand before. He had grinned at Steve, hand still touching Steve’s, muttered a ‘ladies first’, which in hindsight probably might have been what set Steve off. He had then had returned to staring straight at Steve so that he could plan out his next move. Steve had gone full on bat crap crazy and had swatted Tony’s hand away as if Tony had been grabbing for his ass.
Tony was hurt; physically, as well as emotionally, although he’d never admit to the emotional part of the hurt unless someone had a gun to his head and was threatening to empty his skull of his brains. His hand was still marked where Steve had struck it. The mark was an ugly red against the paleness of his fading tanned skin. Tony looked down at it and wiggled his fingers, wincing when pain flared up radiating from the centre of his calloused palm, traveling outwards to his fingertips.
Steve hadn’t had to hit him so goddamned hard! It had only been toast and a flippant comment. Nothing that was out of the ordinary. He hadn’t even meant anything by it, it had just come out! The pain was a blast from the past that he didn’t appreciate at all. He could almost see Howard sneering down at him if he squinted when he looked up into the fluorescent lights above.
Dummy reached out and patted him on the head with his hand and whirred soothingly at him. Dummy always seemed to know what to do; despite being relatively stupid, the robot always managed to get a good read on his emotional states, providing timely comfort in the form of a pat or aid of some sort. On occasion Dummy would bring blankets or retrieve the bag of cookies Tony had hidden under the couch cushions that were earmarked for really depression occasions only.
“Thanks buddy…” Tony said, dropping his hand to rest against the cold concrete beneath him. He pressed his palm against the cool floor, appreciating the reprieve from pain it gave him as the flesh went pleasantly numb. His hand was probably going to bruise up on him. Fuck. He usually tried to keep his hands as safe from harm as possible. What use was an engineer with broken hands?
Tony took a shaky sip of coffee and set the mug down on the floor beside him, drawing his knees up to his chest. He was not sulking. He wasn’t.
Ok, so maybe he was a little bit.
“Jarvis – turn on some music.” Tony said, rubbing the bridge of his nose with his undamaged hand. The room went a deeper shade of blue momentarily and then dimmed again as Jarvis finished compiling and returned to normal standby status.
“Would you like your usual playlist sir? Or would you perhaps like something more appropriate to your melancholy?” The AI asked, swivelling the security cameras towards Tony as if to watch him. Tony scowled.
“Very funny. Play the music, jackass.”
“Very good sir.”
Country western music began to boom through the speakers loud enough to make his coffee cup skitter across the floor. Tony leaned his head back against the wall behind him and scowled again, feeling the music pound through the back of his skull. Damn Jarvis and his cruel sense of humor. Sometimes he forgot just who programmed the bastard in the first place.
At least the music was loud though. That was something.
Dummy began to sway his arm along with the song and Tony eyed him suspiciously. Stand by Your Man wasn’t something that particularly needed to be this loud or, god forbid, played, ever. “I wanted real music Jarvis… not music to slowly age to death by.” He grumbled, looking up at the ceiling.
“Perhaps when the song ends the playlist will move on to something better sir? I am simply accessing playlist number seventy six.” Jarvis said, seemingly now in a better mood then Tony was, the jerk. Despite his best efforts, Tony found himself slowly mumbling along with the song after a few verses, not making eye contact with Dummy who continued to sway back and forth beside him, oblivious to his creator’s shame.
The sound of footsteps snapped Tony back out of his now considerably smaller sulk.
“Sir, Captain Rogers appears to be trying to find a way to open the door. Would you like me to dissuade him?” Jarvis said, lowering the volume of the music only slightly so that Tony could hear him. Steve jumped on the other side of the glass door and looked around, apparently still not used to Jarvis’s disembodied voice despite having lived in the Avengers Mansion for over two months now.
Tony picked up his coffee and peeked around Dummy, who had turned to stare at Steve as well. The robot began to clench and unclench his hand, whirring in what Tony was pretty sure was what constituted as robot anger. “I know the feeling…” Tony muttered. “Fine, let him in. Let’s see what Captain Asshat wants now. Maybe he’s going to stab me with a butter knife or something for breathing his precious air.”
The workshop doors slid open and Steve walked cautiously in, shoulders hunched. The music abruptly shut off, leaving them in silence. Jarvis had taken liberties; Tony wasn’t sure if he liked that.
“Tony?” Steve called out, looking around the room in confusion. His voice echoed off the walls, bouncing towards Tony. Steve stood up on tip-toes and raised a hand over his eyes, peering over the holographic files. He was tall enough to see over them; Tony hated him for that. He spotted Tony sitting against the back wall and dropped back down onto the flats of his feet, creeping closer. Steve looked at the holograms and then began moved quickly, bobbing and weaving in between them as if he wasn’t sure if he should be touching them; Steve stopped a few feet away from Tony. He was surprise when Dummy charged at him and whirring vengefully, seizing him by the pant leg. Steve’s pant leg twisted in Dummy’s grasping hand, the fabric stretching. Dummy began to wheel backwards towards the door, as if to pull Steve out of the room all on his own. His little wheels spun but he could get no traction on the cement. Steve looked absolutely horrified at the robot’s response to his presence.
Tony chuckled despite his dark mood. Steve’s expression was priceless. They should put it on the Avengers Christmas card – it might brighten Fury’s mood a little.
“It’s fine Dummy. Let him go.”
Dummy whirred dejectedly and wheeled back towards Tony, swivelling his arm to face Tony and then back again to face Steve as if glaring at him. He was reluctant to leave Tony alone. When Tony shooed him away with a wave of his hand, he zoomed off and settled in the house he had built for himself over his charging station; Dummy had created it out of scrap metal he had collected from Tony’s various scrap heaps. It looked like something a grade-schooler might have made out of cushions stolen from the couch in the living room. He buzzed ominously at Steve from within his house, hand still poking slightly out of the entrance so that he could keep a metaphorical eye on Steve.
Steve clasped his hands in front of his waist. He was dressed in his jogging clothing, wearing a tight blue shirt and loose sweat pants; the same clothing he’d been wearing when Tony had encountered him in the kitchen. He cleared his throat, looking down at Tony and then dejectedly sighed, hanging his head. Tony was startled, and peered up at Steve from behind his cup of coffee; he mockingly used it as a shield in case another blow came his way.
“I’m sorry about earlier.” Steve said, shuffling a little in place. He looked down at Tony’s injured hand and paled, dropping down to his knees in front of Tony and then stopped, fingers hovering tentatively in the air. Something flickered across his face, as if he wasn’t sure about what he should do. Steve reached out to take Tony’s hand in his own large hand and then stopped yet again, frozen in a place in between movement. His hand hung in the air in front of him, as if someone had pressed the pause button. Tony cocked his head to the side and slowly pretended to sip his coffee, trying to ignore the strangely warm feeling in the pit of his stomach at the sight of Steve so close. Tony’s left hand shook from the unnatural weight of the coffee cup it had never had to lift before.
“What?” Tony asked after waiting patiently for Steve to take up the conversation again.
Steve sighed and pursed his lips.
“God, Tony, I didn’t mean to hurt you – just don’t touch me next time. It makes me very uncomfortable.” Steve said. He sounded very serious all of a sudden, much more so than he ever did when they were arguing. Tony had only heard him use this particular Serious Voice when they were in the field, when Steve was in his Captain America persona.
Tony gawked at him, flabbergasted.
“We brushed hands Rogers – Hands!” Tony snapped, suddenly much angrier than ever before. His palm began to throb as he clenched his hands and dropped the coffee cup to the ground; he didn’t hear the sound of cracking porcelain or the sounds of liquid splashing. He didn’t see any of it at all; he was so focused on Steve. His eyes locked with Steve’s and for one painfully lucid moment Tony came to understand why they had been fighting since they had met. Steve looked uncomfortable – perhaps even embarrassingly so – at being close to Tony.
“Did you think I was hitting on you or something?” Tony asked, not breaking eye contact. Steve narrowed his eyes a little and his face reflected the absolute irritation that he was feeling.
“Well you’re always hitting on me. And it makes me uncomfortable, so please don’t do it in the future.” Steve said, standing up, body stiffening. He dusted off his pants and turned away from Tony, moving towards the door, done with the conversation already. Tony, however, wasn’t anywhere near done with it.
“Wow… just… wow.” Tony said, struggling upright. He kicked the upended, cracked, coffee cup with his bare foot and cursed, slipping and sliding through spilled coffee after Steve.
“I didn’t think you were such an asshole Rogers. I guess it’s pretty easy to hide behind that cute face, huh?” Tony said, realizing only a few seconds after saying it that he was yet again baiting Steve into yet another fight. Steve stiffened and turned to look at Tony, his face flushed crimson with anger, his arms ram rod straight at his sides.
“Stop it! I don’t understand why you have to be so damned pushy about everything! I’m not a fag – or whatever they call it nowadays. I’m not, so just quit doing it!” Steve shouted. “Not that there’s anything wrong with anyone being… that way.”
“Doing what? I haven’t done anything!” Tony shouted back as he stomped closer to Steve so that they were now mere inches apart. Tony was much shorter than Steve; their height difference didn’t stop him from snapping back at Steve. Steve stiffened further, although how, Tony wasn’t sure. His hands remained clenched at his sides, and he twitched when Tony pushed himself up on his toes to get further in his face.
“Stop staring at me all the time with that goddamned look on your face! I know you stare! I’m not blind! Every time I work out – or when I walk into a room – you stare at me like some kind of animal! I’m your team leader, not your next dame – so knock it off! I frankly find it disgusting that you even think of me like that in the first place –” Steve shouted in Tony’s face, almost hysterical. Tony flinched at the words, and felt Steve’s spittle hit him in the cheek as Steve continued on. “I try to be nice to you! I really do! But you just don’t stop! If you can’t keep your hands to yourself then – then – then I’ll ask Fury to take you off the team!”
Tony didn’t know why he did it. In retrospect, it was probably the stupidest reaction to a reaming out he could have had, but he was angry and tired of Steve’s bullshit. His hand was already bruised from being hit by Steve earlier. It was bruised a lot more after Tony slammed his fist into the side of Steve’s homophobic face.
Tony rocked backwards on his heels, stumbled by his own movement. Steve staggered backwards, more out of shock than from the force of the blow itself. He stared at Tony, stunned. Tony stared back at him, trying to form the sentences to say something in retaliation. Steve opened his mouth, closed it, turned, and stormed out of the room without another word. The door hissed shut as he fled.
Tony stared after him. He managed to pull his thoughts together, and although it was far too late he said the words anyways.
“I’m not even bisexual, you asshole!”
The problem, Tony realized after the words left his mouth, was that he wasn’t even sure that this was the truth. He’d never really thought about men in that way before, but he was pretty sure Pepper had mentioned him having ‘eye-sex’ with everyone who interested him, and that had never been a strictly for-the-ladies-only sort of deal.
He turned to the holographic console and called up the security footage from one of his other arguments with Steve. He zoomed in, biting his lip, and saw that yes, he did appear to be staring at Steve with said certain eye-sex expression on his face. He flipped to the next file and saw that yet again, the same look was on his face – always on his face, actually, when Steve was in the room. Tony picked a file at random and saw that this look didn’t seem to be used when he was with Pepper or Rhodey and it certainly didn’t extend to any of the other Avengers. A file from one of his various one night stands opened up after another haphazard click and he saw a very naked brunette woman climbing into his bed.
The look on his face mirrored the look he had on his face in all of the other videos where he was with Steve.
Tony closed the files with a flick of his wrist and then crossed his arms over his chest. He began to drum his fingers on his arm, thinking. Was he attracted to Steve? A few hours ago if someone had asked him he would have responded with a firm and solid ‘no’, but now he wasn’t so sure. He’d never consciously thought about Steve and his abs that way before…
Well, no, that wasn’t true per say. He had thought about those abs in what he assumed was a purely heterosexual envious sort of way – not a lusty ‘I want to climb you like a tree and molest your coconuts’ way. He sighed. Well, there was an obvious solution to this conundrum. He would have to just watch some gay porn and find out the hard way. Tony smirked childishly at his own pun and then looked around the room once to make sure that no one was approaching who would be walking into something potentially embarrassing. It wasn’t that he hadn’t trolled porn in his workshop before… it was merely a precaution in case someone came down and managed to look through the glass workshop doors and walls.
“Jarvis, can you black out the windows with a bunch of random files? You know the ones. And lock down the workshop for the next three hours or so… I don’t want any visitors, no matter who they are.” Tony said, clearing his throat.
“Would you like me to dim and lights and bring up your usual sites sir?” Jarvis asked, papering the glass walls of the workshop with layer after layer of blue holograms. From the outside, it would look like Tony had put up wallpaper. Tony shook his head and began to type lazily on the holographic keyboard in front of him. He pulled up a search engine. And then, he paused, fingers poised over the keyboard, staring at it as if to make the words appear on their own. When they didn’t materialize, he mentally cursed and then cleared his throat again.
“Actually this is more of a bold new adventure kind of deal – I’m tempted to make you look the other way this time buddy. It’s a little personal.”
“Sir, I would like to point out that I have seen you naked on multiple occasions. I will, however, turn my attention to the next set of schematics for your improved blender if it would alleviate your discomfort sir.” Jarvis said.
“Thank you. That would be nice.”
And with that done, Tony typed the words Gay Porn into a search engine for the first time in his life. The results were enlightening. He went through page after page of hot man on man action, looking at still images. When he found nothing interesting there, he decided to move on to video to see if that would be any more exciting.
Tony picked a video that seemed to be used as a ‘teaching’ tool for young gay men; it caught his attention because it seemed to have the most views of all the videos he found and would answer some of his own questions; mostly the questions he didn’t really feel like typing out for fear of them appearing again in the auto selection bar. The video featured a tall hunky blonde with muscles rippling all over and a slightly slender younger black haired man. Tony watched with ‘scientific interest’ and a little guilt as the pair began to go through a step by step sexy walkthrough of how to have anal sex.
He paused and looked over his shoulder suspiciously to make sure no one was peering in with their face pressed up against the glass walls (he SO knew that Clint would be the one looking if there was anyone looking at all) and finding himself free of peepers, he un-paused the video and continued to watch. At several stages of the video it broke down into ‘learning sections’, most notably the ‘how not to hurt your partner’ section where the video taught Tony several handy tips on how not to make his ‘special someone’ bleed and what would be required for ‘a safe sexual encounter’. Tony was a little terrified to be honest after that part (again, not that he was some kind of blushing virgin or something, he knew how to use a condom and lube of course). The two on screen seemed to be having a good time and were making very happy noises, and no one seemed to be dying or bleeding to death, so it must have been reasonably enjoyable despite the threat of ‘anal bleeding’. Tony shuddered at that and pushed it away as the video continued on. He looked down at his groin. No movement at all. Not that he’d really expected anything in the first place. He was decidedly not interested in sex with another man. Not at all. Tony decided that he should at the very least pretend that Blond Hunk was Steve, to prove once and for all that he was not attracted to him.
Unfortunately that had disastrous and unexpected results. Tony closed the window quickly and then glared down at his hard on as it poked up towards him demanding attention.
“Goddamn you penis! Why don’t you think before you do things?” He growled at his groin. It paid no attention to him. Tony’s thoughts drifted momentarily to a naked Steve and it twitched. He groaned and squeezed his eyes shut, pinching the bridge of his nose.
Oh god… He really was lusting after Steve Rogers…
He was doomed. Steve was going to kill him.
The Avengers received their first call out of the week four hours after Tony had punched Steve in the face and then trolled for gay porn. Tony was sealed up in the Iron Man suit and felt fairly guilty when he joined the others in the Quinjet hanger, knowing that they all must have known something about the earlier fight, or maybe, about his activities on the internet. Someone had to have seen the bruise on Steve’s face and asked about it. But no – not a word was spoken about it, and when Tony snuck looks at Steve, he could see no trace of any bruising peeking out from under the bottom of the cowl.
They boarded the Quinjet all together with Steve in the lead. Tony went on last, checking out the jet with his sensors as a way to calm himself before joining Steve in the cockpit. He had been informed by Jarvis, who had gotten a hold of the mission files ahead of time that this would be a long journey and it always paid to make sure that things were working as they should be. He didn’t want to have to face Steve’s wrath if something happened and he hadn’t caught it; it might be even worse than admitting that he might possibly be in lust with Steve in the first place.
Tony walked through the jet’s interiors and sat in the co-pilot seat, letting Steve drive so that he wouldn’t accidentally fly them into a mountain as he muddled his way through thinking about how he was going to stop thinking about Steve. Steve sat rigidly in the pilot’s seat and didn’t look at him even when he needed to look at the monitors near Tony. Steve talked to the group about what they were going, addressing everyone but Tony, and then fell completely silent and stared out the windshield the whole time after; the silence was comfortable, and Tony was glad for it for once. He didn’t attempt to fill it and instead pretended Steve was mad because the weather was bad (it wasn’t). He pretended that he’d never even seen Steve that morning, that his little porn trolling afternoon had never happened either and kicked his feet up on the console, leaning back to catch a little sleep; although he feared what those dreams would contain now. He was jerked unceremoniously out of his micro nap when Steve shoved his legs off of the console, glaring at him. Tony looked around, dazed, and saw that, yes, they were still flying and nothing bad had happened.
“Keep your feet off the consoles.” Steve snapped at him, turning back to the windshield. His stern face reflected in the window; the Captain America armor was a lot more interesting on him now. All that leather was distracting with its form hugging bulges and the sharp lines of his hips. Tony had to look away to keep from staring blatantly at Steve. He knew that Steve would be able to see him doing it. He could already see frown lines forming on Steve’s face as it was. Tony debated on putting his feet back up in slight retaliation, wanting to try and make things the way they had been before. He decided against it after a moment of quiet consideration, not wanting to start a full on scream out with Steve yet again.
Tony focused his attention on the data streaming around inside his helmet. Jarvis had laid out the most important information first, leaving him to study it at his leisure. The Avengers were heading out into the forested mountains of British Columbia; Canada. They were looking for an old mining town called Sandon. The place was a ghost town, abandoned after the silver rush. It had the look of a movie set for a western that had been abandoned to the ravages of time; it was slowly being consumed by the landscape. There were only a few wooden buildings left of the original township, which had stretched for blocks alongside the banks of the river nearby. Most of the other rickety homes, hotels and shops had been destroyed after a flood had occurred back in the old timey times. Tony was surprised that the entire place hadn’t been turned to charcoal by forest fires as well. It was very close to the trees, and it had been a hot year that year.
There was little new in the town, only a few tourist places that had been established in reclaimed buildings, and while Tony’s readouts said there were supposedly residents still living out past the centre of the abandoned town, he couldn’t see how they could survive there for long on their own. They apparently had electricity and phone lines, which was nice to see, but had little else in the way of technology. Residents would probably spend more time shopping and doing their actual living outside the town in neighboring cities. Sandon had a museum and a few other attractions like broken down vehicles and well… some very nicely rounded river rocks, but little else. The town was dead; that hadn’t been enough to stop Loki from messing about in it. The curator of the museum (Tony had been surprised to learn) was a personal friend of Nick Fury’s from grade school, and when strange things had begun to happen in the ghost town, he had been notified of it. SHIELD was always looking for a way to track Loki and this was the perfect way to catch him before he got too involved in one of his plans. Thor had been in quiet agreement with this; he’d been unusually quiet after entering the Quinjet and had been meditating for the majority of the trip.
Tony had always been fascinated by mining towns; he’d made it a point of having Jarvis take him to every single one available to him in his youth, even after he’d come back from the boarding school. They generally had trains – old trains – and he liked to look at all the old engineer reports and smelting facilities records because it felt so damn charming to see how things had been done before computers. He couldn’t believe that people had been able to live that way – steam powered trains for transportation, so much fun, but oh god - He could have gotten out and ran alongside one without his suit and still been faster! Still, there was always something to learn from the past, and he was glad to get the chance to sight see old technology in action – or rather… in permanent disarray and inaction as it was. Nothing ran anymore and the rail lines had been ripped out and melted down for someone’s private endeavors. Nothing old stayed around for long when scavengers were plentiful, and there were an abundance of those to be had when copper and iron was at stake.
When they landed in Sandon, Tony was the first man out the door; he felt like he was on springs. He listened half-heartedly to Clint’s bitching about it being the most boring fucking place ever (Clint’s exact words) and then flew up a few feet into the air above the museum. He made sure to keep his replusor boots away from the ancient looking roof in case he started an accidental fire, and got a good look at the landscape while the others scrambled out of the Quinjet below him. What remained of the place matched up with the satellite images Jarvis had sent him. The main compound was organized into a rectangular area surrounded by white rock gravel; there were no new vehicles around, and the burn out marks from tires suggesting that the curator and employees had fled and hadn’t returned after the initial Loki sightings. He didn’t blame them. Who wanted to mess around with Loki without some kind of projectile or magical hammer? Anyone would be afraid after seeing what Loki was capable of, especially if he was ‘raising the dead’ as the curator had said. Tony didn’t believe there had been any actual dead raisings to be had – he’d have seen the shapes on his sensors already if they had been around.
He scanned the surroundings just encase and saw that there was considerable damage to the surrounding infrastructure. Many of the buildings appeared to have vomited up half their wooden paneling when they had been hit by something – something big, judging by his calculations. This was recent damage for sure; probably from the initial attack by Loki, as there were no hot spots in the town itself. The surrounding forests were brilliantly green, distracting him momentarily from his scanning. It was almost unnaturally green here, as if something had been working behind the scenes to make everything much larger and more vibrant than it should have been. He suspected magic and scowled. He hated magic. It was always such a pain.
Tony could see smoke trailing off in wisps from the abandoned mining facility up in the mountains above. The facility was made of newer materials, probably from the various historian preservation society projects that had swept into the town to save it from itself. A gravel road curved its way up the side of the mountain to allow access by vehicles. There wasn’t any other way up without flight. There shouldn’t have been anything happening up by the mine by all accounts– the mine had been shut down eons ago and it was chained off so that tourists wouldn’t stumble to their deaths down the mountainside. Whatever had gone down had happened within the last hour or so he calculated.
Thor looked incredibly humbled by their surroundings as he looked around. He whispered in hushed tones, which was startling on its own, when he spoke to the others. It was as if they were in a graveyard during someone’s funeral. Thor called out his brother’s name as if he expected Loki to spring out from behind some rock and shout surprise at any moment. Bruce seemed to be feeling the same way as Thor. He kept close to Natasha, nervously eyeing their surroundings, but wasn’t looking even a little green despite his obvious discomfort.
“Well at least we don’t have to worry if Bruce hulks out here… Not much left for Hulk to smash…” Tony joked, dropping down to hover beside one of the old abandoned rusting red trollies. He caught sight of Steve’s scowling face in his cameras and even though he hadn’t been looking directly at him felt a little as if he had been just caught spying on him. He focused his attention on one of the trollies, pretending to scan it as if he’d seen something interesting there and kept his helmeted head turned away from everyone else.
“There’s smoke up on the mountainside.” Natasha said, shielding her eyes to peer up through the blinding sunlight. It was a beautiful day, all blue skies and white fluffy clouds; perfect for Loki’s pranks. Natasha looked to Steve for orders, expectantly; Steve seemed content to continue looking around where they were and didn’t have any orders for her. She frowned at him, obviously unhappy by his lack of leadership, but remained silent. She looked to Tony, who shrugged at her and turned away, not wanting to step on Steve’s toes by issuing any orders of his own.
Tony wasn’t exactly surprised by Steve’s hunt and peck methods. Maybe Sandon was reminiscent of some school field trip Steve had had back in ye olden days. The place looked like it had been waiting for visitors for a long time without getting any. He could almost imagine the buildings looking down at him with pouting windows and sad, frown faced doors.
Tony sighed, shooting up into the air, flying high up above the town. The team looked like marbles from up in the air.
“I’m going to check out the smoke – I’ll scream if anything big pops out and bites me in the ass.” Tony said. He winced internally at his own choice of words and then thought, fuck it, and flew off towards the mountainside as Steve began to yell at him from somewhere below.
“Iron Man – we stick together! There’s no telling what Loki’s done to this place – “ Steve growled through the comms, dashing off into the trees to find the road leading up to the mine Tony had flown off to.
Tony scowled, turning his mic off. He could hear Steve’s grunt of frustration, and rolled his eyes even though only he and Jarvis would know he’d done it. Not like it would have been any skin off Steve’s ass if Tony ran into trouble. He’d probably be happy to be rid of his perverted admirer. Fury wouldn’t even have batted an eyelash if Tony wound up dead, and Tony was pretty much the team’s solo funder.
“I’m so unloved.” Tony grumbled to no one in particular.
“Sir?” Jarvis asked in his ear.
“Nothing – just rambling aloud.”
“Very good sir.” Jarvis said, falling silent.
Tony did a lazy barrel roll and landed at the entrance to the mine, looking around. The area was still cleared out even though mining had ended years ago. The road leading up the mountain was mostly free of weeds and looked in good condition up close. The gravel beneath his feet was old and white like chalk; it crunched and crumbled into dust whenever he walked, the weight of the suit too much for it. He couldn’t see any sign of magical mayhem here, and the smoke seemed to have died down for some reason. His sensors weren’t picking up any breeze to push the smoke away, so it seemed likely that the fire itself had been magical in nature.
A few trees from the swallowing forest had been turned to charcoal, and despite the proximity of the forest the flames hadn’t spread any further then the area directly around a rounded stone plaque set with bronze. The plaque was so covered in soot that even his sensors couldn’t pick up most of the letters written on it. Tony squinted at it, making out a few loose vowels and then gave up. There wasn’t much point in reading it anyways; Jarvis helpfully gave him photographs from the historical society’s files that showed the plaque in its heyday. It had been put up to commemorate the deaths of those who had worked in the mine. It read: For all of those whose souls wander lost within the darkness. Change is only a matter of time. We thank those who work to achieve a new life. A curious sentiment, but as far as Tony could tell it had been meant to keep people from despairing after the initial deaths and hadn’t been linked to anything in the Occult. He turned away from the disturbing words and looked around, spying the remainders of a camp fire. Charred logs lay abandoned by the entranceway to the mine circled around a handful of large rounded river rocks that were blackened with soot. Tony scanned the remains of the fire with his heat sensor and saw that parts of it still showed signs of warmth. Someone had been here a few minutes before.
“Man of Iron – I strongly suspect that my brother has been drawn here by the spiritual energy. I can see the dead all over this place… It is most disconcerting…” Thor’s voice boomed over the comms, shocking Tony out of his private musings. He jumped, the motion translating into a twitching of the armor and turned to look down at the town below. He scanned the surroundings again to see if he’d missed something. He couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary; not even a trace of Loki’s magic, which he had programmed the suit to recognize after their many encounters in town.
“I’m not getting anything up here big man. What do you mean you can see the dead?” Tony asked, nervously air quoting.
“The dead wander within the town, my friends. It is as if their spirits have escaped the land of the dead. They are now gazing up towards your location, Man of Iron. I believe they may be able to see you, but I am not certain of the extent or range of their gaze. Perhaps they merely stare at the mines up above dreaming of better days; I know not. The energy here is strangely familiar.” Thor said. He took to the air with a mighty swing of Mjolnir, waving at Tony to get his attention.
Tony shivered, feeling a cold draft go down his spine; he knew it was impossible to feel cold the suit. That freaked him out more.
“Don’t say that – how many times have I told you not to say things like that Thor.” Tony said weakly. He stiffened when he heard the sound of gravel rolling away and turned to once more stare at the mine entrance, finding himself drawn to its gaping maw. The mine seemed to be looking into him as much as he was looking into it. He shivered again, feeling goose bumps forming on his skin.
He’d have to go inside if he wanted to investigate more. Tony could see a faint trail of crushed stones making their way into the mines; the stones had been kicked and dropped along the entrance to the mine as well, and he suspected that it had been left behind by someone making their way inside in haste.
“Oh man…I’m so not going to enjoy this.”
Tony started towards the mine’s entrance.
“Tony – no! Do not head into the mines without us!” Steve’s voice cut in as he appeared on the horizon; Steve ran up the gravel road, not quite out of breath but close to it. He must have sprinted all the way up the hill, because Clint, Bruce and Natasha weren’t even in sensor range yet and Thor was still flying towards him, waving madly. Tony shrugged his shoulders, looking back into the mine. He felt its strange pull again. Tony looked at Steve, debated on waiting and being a good boy, and then walked into the mine without looking back.
It was very dark inside the mine. He’d been in mines before, but this one seemed almost unnaturally so; it reminded him a little of the overly brilliant forest outside. He hadn’t been expecting to see any light in here as there was no electricity, but he’d expected at least a little light to have followed him in from the mine’s entrance. The unnatural darkness was the first thing Tony noticed as his sensors started to scan their location. The second thing he noticed was the fact that cold was suddenly able to permeate the armor. The chill wouldn’t be chased off with his central heating even when he tried to turn it up to a level that should have been very uncomfortable warm. A faint sheen of ice clung to the chest of the suit and he shook it off, scattering ice crystals all over his feet. Tony looked around and was very, very aware that he couldn’t pick up any of the walls or even the floor of the mine he had supposedly entered. He could hear the sound of sand and stones beneath his feet; he could see nothing and the sensors were just as devoid of life.
Even with his cameras and advanced tech in the Iron Man Tony seemed to be walking into the darkness itself, heading down into nothingness. He turned to look out the mine’s entrance and found that it had been swallowed up, the light extinguished. Tony shivered again and took a few steps backwards, bumping up against something unseen; the shrill sound of scraping metal made his teeth ache.
Hm… that wasn’t good. Tony bit down on panic and gave the area a good scanning on the off chance that something might have changed.
Tony checked his readings again and then once more for good measure. As he expected, he was stuck in something that was completely enveloping him, yet there was no actual data supporting that conclusion at all. Everything was solid and stable. He was in what his armor believed was a void. Jarvis’ voice broke up and crackled as the AI read out some details; all sound then fell away and Tony found himself in silence. He was alone with only himself for company. Now he was seriously regretting his suicidal tendencies.
Tony looked around; he could see that the darkness was formed into two distinct directions – a backwards and forwards, although those could have been up and down for all he knew. He hesitated, tried calling out through the comm again but found that he was now in radio silence, and not even static seemed to reach his ears. The cold wavered in his sensors suddenly, taking the shape of something solid; the sensors fell quiet a moment later.
“Stark. I should have guessed that you’d be the one stupid enough to walk into the spell without thinking.” Loki’s voice surrounded him, smooth as silk. Tony jumped, skidding backwards.
The scanners still reported nothing. Thermal scanning showed only his body heat and nothing more. Tony raised his left hand repulsor in front of him and even with the repulsor there charged and ready to fire, the light refused to free him from the overwhelming darkness.
“What’s all this about Loki? You got some kind of boogie man fetish these days? Or you are planning to pick up chicks here because they can’t see your ugly-ass face?” Tony called out, hoping to taunt Loki into revealing himself. He was not disappointed. Loki slid out from the darkness as if he had been swimming in it. He wrapped his arms around Tony’s shoulders in a manner far more comfortable than Tony appreciated, lips curled in the most sweet of smiles.
It was then that Tony noticed that he couldn’t move.
He swore loudly.
“My my… such naughty language. Not that it bothers me any, but if your handsome Captain heard you he’d probably turn bright red like one of those midgardian vegetables they sell in the supermarket.” Loki laughed and tapped the faceplate. Tony found himself suddenly face to face with the villain, the faceplate having snapped up without his permission. He composed himself, hiding his horror, and tried for cocky. Loki looked him right in the eye, absolutely gleeful. His lips curled dangerously at the corners when he saw Tony’s expression through the darkness; he was unconcerned by it.
“You have no idea what you’ve wandered into, do you? It took me months of casting runes to even find the entrance to this place and here you are, stumbling in here like a foolish little puppy chasing a tennis ball. While my brother might find this endearing, midgardian, I do not. The Crystal of Change is a worthy prize and it is mine. It will remain that way. You can linger here in the darkness for all I care – maybe the dead will be kind enough to release your soul when they tire of your corpse.” Loki laughed. He reached out, running a finger down Tony’s cheek and paused to rub Tony’s beard, seemingly intrigued by the textures as the hair bristled beneath his smooth slender fingers.
“Piss off Loki!” Tony spat. He tried to force his arms to move and willed his legs to get with the picture so that he could wipe the smug look off Loki’s face.
Nothing. He couldn’t even turn his head. He began to sweat, remembering Obi and those minutes spent struggling alone against immovability; it had seemed like forever when he had been trapped there on his own couch. Tony wanted to grab for his arc reactor and clutch it; to keep it safe from prying hands. He wanted to call out for Steve and the others to help him. For anyone to help him, really, he wasn’t picky.
Loki spun him around as if dancing with him and reached into his robes, pulling out a pinkie length clear crystal that sparkled in the darkness. Loki stroked the crystal lovingly, lifting it up so Tony could get a better look at it, eyes twinkling. He held it out, laughing when Tony’s face scrunched with concentration in another vain attempt to lash out.
“Pathetic.” Loki laughed.
Loki’s eyes widened suddenly and he staggered forwards, slamming into Tony’s chest, bouncing off with a squawk; he’d been hit from behind by something that didn’t show up on the sensors. Loki lost his grip on the crystal. It leapt out of his grasp and disappeared into the neck section of Tony’s armor, dropping down into the centre of the suit.
Tony felt as if his entire body was suddenly on fire. He tried to pull away from the crystal’s touch, wanting to yank the amour off and flee from the pulsing, burning heat, but found that his body still wouldn’t cooperate. The intensity of his pain flared up higher; he choked back tears as pain ripped through his entire body. The sensation burned and froze his flesh simultaneously. He screamed aloud, voice rising in pitch as pain blossomed within him; he bit his tongue so hard that he tasted coppery blood.
Tony could hear Loki’s screams of frustration and rage echoing his own; he heard the sound of metal ricocheting against stone. The darkness seemed to swell and pulse in time with the burning tempo of the crystal scraping against his flesh. The scent of burning hair choked his airways. Tony thought momentarily about Steve and how angry he would be at him. He blacked out and then he saw nothing.
Tony woke up in darkness. He scrambled to regain his senses, clawing at everything around him and found that he was still in the suit; it was suddenly far too large for him. He called out, trying to get someone, anyone, to help him but nothing came out of his mouth when he opened it except for a harsh bark. Fabric flowed around him, pooling around his hips. He kicked away from it and turned his body around and managed to orient himself so that he could look up above him. The Iron Man helmet had fallen off, leaving the neck of the suit gaping open. Tony saw precious, precious light. He could hear Steve’s voice calling out to him.
Steve. So close – so very close.
He began to crawl towards the light and Steve’s voice, seeing the interior of the suit around him lit up in glorious white and beige. His paws scraped against the metal as he wiggled and wiggled – wait.
That wasn’t right.
He pulled his way out of the neck of the armor with fear and stared down at his paws, aghast.
His white and fluffy paws. Paws where his hands had once been.
His brain registered the change but didn’t seem to be able to process it.
The crystal that Loki had been holding fell out after him as he struggled to be free of the suit, untangling from his fur; it hit the ground with a soft plink.
Steve’s giant hands encircled Tony’s entire body and lifted him up. Tony stared at Steve and noticed vaguely that there was something wrong with the way Steve’s uniform looked. It was still blue and white, but now the red was some kind of greyish-beige that didn’t look right at all. He stared at Steve, shell shocked, and Steve stared at him with blue saucer-eyes of horror.
“Tony?” Steve asked, dismayed.
“Yes Steve…” Tony said. Or rather, he meant to say yes Steve, but it came out as a mixture of ‘buff ruff whine’. He looked down at the half of his body hanging from Steve’s hands and saw medium length white fur and a semi-curled, furry white tail.
He had been turned into a dog. He groaned. He hated magic!
“Steven! Have you found the Man of Iron?” Thor boomed from behind them. Steve turned so fast that Tony was almost certain he’d end up with whiplash afterwards. Steve held up Tony, mouth opening and closing rapidly.
Thor looked more amused than concerned when he saw Tony’s condition. The god reached out and took Tony from Steve’s hands, cradling him baby style in his arms and then pointed lazily at the crystal lying at Steve’s feet.
Thor scratched Tony’s head. Tony’s eyes closed halfway; he was pretty sure he was going to start drooling if Thor didn’t knock it off, but he had no way to tell him this. Tony shook his head, ears flapping against his skull, and squirmed in Thor’s grasp but couldn’t escape the god’s hold.
Steve picked up the crystal, apparently using the time between bending and returning to an upright position to collect his calm once more. He held the crystal out in the palm of his gloved hand and offered it to Thor, who took it from him, examining it while Tony continued to squirm. Thor made an ‘ah!’ sound and then rested the crystal on Tony’s head and commanded: “Speak, Man of Iron!”
“What am I a – “
Tony stopped in mid-snark and cocked his head to the side, ears twitching. He had heard his own human voice, not barking, this time. He fell still, pondering this new development. Thor laughed loudly; he winced.
“Friends, my brother has fled this place – the magic of the crystal has drained and now requires replenishing, although I am unsure as to what it uses as a source of power. It seems familiar to me, although I admit that I cannot place the information. I have seen transformations similar to this before, and I believe that Anthony will be required to keep the crystal with him so that he may communicate – perhaps we will need to fashion a receptacle for it of some kind… a band perhaps of leather or some other fabric.” Thor mused, handing the crystal to Steve, who slipped it into his pocket, being very careful with it.
“You mean like a collar?” Steve asked, bewildered.
“Yes my friend! That would prove most useful!” Thor said, smiling widely. He noticed Tony’s fallen suit and helmet lying discarded on the dusty ground. Thor held Tony out to Steve, and stooped to pick up the suit and the helmet. Steve held Tony out in front of him as if he were a bag of garbage, not wanting to be too close to him. Tony felt insulted.
“What the hell Steve?” Tony barked; he cursed aloud with a howl when all that came out was that same whining bark as before. He wanted that damned crystal back right now, just so he could complain! He stared at Steve, who turned him around and pointed him in the opposite direction as if having been burned by Tony’s gaze.
“We should probably go tell the others…” Steve said, shaking his head; for the first time since Tony had known him, Steve’s eyes looked shaken despite the rest of his calm exterior. Thor lifted Tony’s armor over his shoulder and smiled, positively beaming despite the obvious problem they now faced. The Iron Man helmet was tucked under his other arm, Mjolnir hanging from his belt once more.
“Yes Steven, I believe this would be a most excellent idea. We should regroup so that our strength is once more balanced.” Thor said, smiling. Steve smiled weakly back at him in agreement.
They walked out of the mine together, unsure of just what had happened.
Tony sat on the floor of the Quinjet enduring the inevitable poking and prodding from the others. He had been looked over by Bruce, who had come to the conclusion that, yes, Tony was a dog; then Bruce had sat down and began to look at research notes and had been silent ever since. Natasha had given Tony one look, mentioned ‘crotch sniffing’ and then gestured with one of her knives at him. Tony had gotten the picture pretty fast and had retreated to hiding behind Clint’s legs.
Clint was the most amused by Tony’s transformation. He was the only one of the team aside from Thor who seemed unconcerned with getting dog fur on their clothing.
“I always wanted a dog!” Clint said fondly picking Tony up. He played with Tony’s slender, white, front legs, flapping them and squeezing the black pads of his toes. Clint proceeded to mime shooting the others with Tony’s little white feet. Tony hung his head, having given up on trying to get away. Clint had him in a vice like grip and no matter how much he struggled to get free he couldn’t; it was almost worse than when he had been snared by Thor.
Clint grinned down at Tony and cackled with laughter, nearly crying; he was joined by Thor, who probably didn’t fully understand the insanity, but knew that it was funny anyways. Natasha smiled despite herself and then went back to filing her nails with one of her knives.
The Iron Man suit lay abandoned and forlorn in the back of the jet resting against the wall beside the bay doors. Tony felt a little twinge of guilt when he noticed it was listing slightly to the side as they took off. He hoped that it wouldn’t fall over. God knew how he’d buff out any dents the way he was now.
Steve got the Quinjet into the air and they flew home in relative silence, punctuated only by Tony yelping whenever Clint pulled his tail too hard. The trip was a long one, dragging on for everyone, not only Tony. It seemed even longer than it had the first time around, Tony mused. He was able to break free from Clint’s death grip when the archer nodded off; Clint lay limp against his chair, head lolling against his chest. Tony slipped out from under his arm completely when the archer twitched in his sleep; he jumped down from Clint’s lap and landed with a roll, bumping against Natasha’s legs. She watched him curiously for a moment and then leaned back and went back to sleep herself.
Tony padded along the metal floor to the front of the jet and hopped up onto the co-pilot’s seat, peeking up over the dash as they moved. He caught a glimpse of the sky and clouds before Steve turned and shooed him off the seat with a sweep of his arm.
“Tony – no. You’ll get fur all over the upholstery.” Steve said, crossing his arms over his chest.
Tony looked up at him, affront in his little black-rimmed brown eyes. He darted forwards and seized Steve by the pant leg as Dummy had done in the workshop that morning. His black nose twitched as he sneezed on Steve in defiance. He wasn’t entirely sure what had gotten into him – he’d always been willing to start a fight with Steve, but this just felt bizarre.
Steve set the jet controls to auto-pilot and sighed, turning the seat around to give Tony his full attention. He reached down and pried Tony’s jaws open gently, pulling his leather pant leg free. He pushed Tony back with one gloved hand. God, Tony thought, it was even easier for Steve to push him around now than it had been before. Steve’s hands were massive against his body; he looked like a giant in comparison with Tony. Steve had always been big, but he’d never been this big. Tony felt a little depressed. Steve reached into his pocket and pulled out the crystal, looking at it in frustration, as if it would magically decide to transform Tony back into Tony. When it didn’t, he sighed and put it away again, safeguarding it.
Tony pawed at Steve’s leg. He cursed himself for the action; cursed Steve for glaring at him yet again. He tried to think responsibly and wanted to act like an adult. Instead, he stood up and jumped up onto the co-pilot’s chair again. Steve groaned and pushed Tony off the seat.
“Tony – no!”
Tony readied himself for another jump once he hit the floor, infuriated that he was being kept off his own chair.
“It’s my jet Steve!” He barked. Steve rolled his eyes at him, unable to understand a word of what Tony was saying.
Tony’s next jump ended with him being seized out of the air and held up by the scruff of his neck. He dangled from Steve’s hand, yelping. Embarrassment flooded his face and he looked desperately down at the floor, legs kicking haphazardly in the air as he tried to find purchase. Steve set him down on the floor and shooed him away from the front of the Quinjet with both hands.
“Tony. No.” Steve grumbled with a sigh.
Tony scooted away from Steve, picking up speed as he tried to get away. He scraped his way back towards Thor, claws clicking on the metal flooring. He turned at the back of the walkway and prepared to run, throwing himself forwards as his claws scraped from the initial take off. Steve noticed before Tony had even managed to get even remotely close.
“Thor – can you hold onto Tony? He’s being a pain.” Steve called out from the front with yet another loud sigh. Tony skidded to a halt, fur bristling. He growled and bared his teeth as Thor reached down and scooped him up, snapping at his hands. Tony found himself hoisted up and set down on Thor’s muscled thighs. Thor’s hands stroked him roughly and made his brain melt into a puddle of happy goo; Tony’s back fur pulled against his body in a way that was far more pleasant than it should have been if he were still in his real form. Sitting on Thor’s lap was like sitting in front of a wood stove; he was warm and comfortable. Tony found his eyes half closing without his permission, almost falling asleep as Thor continued to stroke his back. Tony was quiet for the rest of the trip as he sat still and quietly in Thor’s lap, thinking on the challenges ahead.
What if they couldn’t turn him back? How long could he be stuck like this?
The crystal would make it possible for him to speak and at least express himself, but he couldn’t use his suit like this and he certainly couldn’t run his company. He couldn’t even see in the same frequency as a human anymore, and that would be a bitch to adapt his workshop monitors to. He rested his head on Thor’s knee and sighed. There were so many problems to go through and only so much he could do about it without being able to talk; there was even less he could do with four paws instead of hands. Hopefully Steve would let him have the crystal again. He wouldn’t put it past Steve to punish him for having run off into the mine in the first place though. There were so many ways to teach him a lesson now – Tony didn’t even want to think about how creative Steve could be with this.
Forget Steve though – Steve wasn’t going to rip his head off and skin him alive.
Pepper would; in a heartbeat.
Pepper was going to be mad. Very, very mad.
At least he’d have an excuse for not signing all of those papers now though. There was that.
Tony sat patiently in the SHIELD HQ medical bay as he was poked and prodded by a whole new selection of scientists and acquaintances. Colson had even found time in his busy schedule to come and stare at Tony. To stare at the freak show just like the rest of them. Creepily enough, Colson seemed to be smiling the whole time he was there and didn’t, for once, reach for his Taser or make any Supernanny related threats. Tony found him a lot more frightening.
The Medical Bay Officer, a balding man who towered above even Steve’s shoulders, put him up on one of the many examination tables and held him there with one hand while his assistants made notes and took blood samples.
“List please. We have a dog – so far unspecified in breed. Excellent appearance with no visible injuries. White fur, pointed ears, long snout…”
The Medical Officer opened Tony’s mouth and looked at his teeth. He inspected each of Tony’s slender legs and paws, poking at the footpads and testing his joints. He turned Tony over on his back to stare at his belly, poking and prodding with a gloved hand. Tony felt as if he were being examined by a mortician. He shuddered involuntarily. He was allowed to pull away after the assistant took one final vial of blood and urine (which he had not been happy about, but Steve had insisted it be done anyways) and dropped down to dash off to the other side of the room. He took cover under one of the beds and yelped when he was dragged unceremoniously out from underneath by one of the Agents guarding the room. Tony had always hated the Medical Bay at SHIELD. They didn’t seem to understand bedside manner; they thought it meant ‘please abuse patients’. He whined aloud, knowing that they couldn’t understand his complaints anyways, and for once was happy when Clint picked him up and carried him away to safety. He wasn’t quite as happy when he found himself shoved into Coulson’s arms when Clint was called away to talk with someone out in the hallway. He couldn’t see who, but he suspected that it might be Bruce asking for an opinion on something. Bruce usually asked for personal opinions before he did anything; it was strange that someone who could turn into a giant green rage monster would ask for an opinion in the first place, seeing as how most people would just agree with him by default. Coulson had held him carefully and commented loud enough so that only Tony could hear him that he had better not pee on him in revenge. Tony had glared at him for that, but at least Coulson was treating him like a human; Tony had threatened to pee on him once when he had been drunk – it hadn’t gone over as well as he had liked. He distinctly remembered drooling into the rug after doing it.
Coulson wasn’t that bad though. He even brought Tony a bowl of water and scratched him behind the ears. He’d been muttering about Tasers when he did it, but it had been good natured muttering about Tasers at least. Tony suspected that the new SHIELD weapons catalogues had come out and that he’d been sneaking a peek at the newest models.
Steve and Natasha had been in and out of the room already. Tony had been annoyed when Steve had started reading off one of the SHIELD issue tablets two seconds after they had gotten back to SHIELD, completely ignoring Tony being manhandled a few feet away. Steve was probably taking Tony’s transformation as yet another reason to hate him. Tony was steadily building up a pile of faults for Steve to catalogue one by one. Steve probably had a handwritten list by now that he updated every time Tony did something stupid. Tony wanted to pout. He’d fully intended to corner Steve so that he could attempt a half-hearted apology using his eyes to convey his sadness and then Steve had ruined it all by walking out with Natasha. He had vanished, leaving Tony alone with Clint and Coulson in the Medical Bay. They had been given orders to not move an inch. Tony just wanted to go home.
The one piece of good news was that Bruce was in the process of building Tony a collar that would keep him in contact with the crystal at all times. Tony would be able to speak soon and then…
Then he could return to his standoffish silence with Steve and his anxiety attacks from being trapped as an animal. Oh god, he wouldn’t even be able to open doors – how the hell was he supposed to live like this? Oh god – he couldn’t even go to the bathroom in his own bathroom anymore! He buried his snout under his paws and whined. Clint ruffled his neck fur and patted him on the head.
“Cheer up. We can totally go get a burger after all this is done. You still like bacon, right?” Clint said, sitting down on the floor next to him. He had taken refuge beside the archer once the devil assistant had finished taking oral swabs to get his D.N.A. Tony gave him a dirty look and then realized that the expression probably didn’t come across the same way in dog. He looked back at the floor, unhappy, and went back to trying to fix his problems.
Loki had called the crystal ‘The Crystal of Change’ back in the mine. Maybe this would be something that Thor’s people would know about… but Thor hadn’t seemed to recognize the crystal by name, and he’d made it clear several times that Loki had been the ‘reader of tomes’ in the family, so it was probably a long shot at best to hope for any information from him. He doubted that Loki was going to lend him a hand either, especially after the damned thing had been accidentally used on him when it had been intended for other purposes. Loki loved his pranks. He would probably get a kick out of seeing Tony as a dog anyways. He’d probably just laugh in Tony’s face; assuming that Tony could get anywhere near his face that was.
What else was there to do? He should probably change his will so that someone would be able to take Stark International over if he died. Of course he’d already made sure that Pepper had authority and full power, but he’d have to deed out the Avengers’ mansion and all the other little things he kept in his house… His cars would probably enjoy new homes without him. Rhodey would probably like the Ferrari. Wait – what was he doing? He wasn’t dead, he was just a dog. He could deal with this; it wasn’t the end of the world. He could do it – he’d had to live for years dealing with Howard’s drunken rants and his heavy fists. He’d fought off the feelings of helplessness then and he could do it now. He could deal with this.
Clint began to wiggle Tony’s ears with his hands, tugging at the corners so that they seemed to flap; he was oblivious to Tony’s internal ramblings, which was probably a good thing, because there were some pretty weird things in Tony’s head to begin with. Tony sighed and closed his eyes. Great. Now that he thought about it, he’d have quite a few other problems to deal with. He wouldn’t be able to go anywhere without someone unless he wanted to end up in an animal shelter. That would be traumatizing. He would probably have to be on a leash at all times outside – oh GOD. Fury was going to have the world’s first happiness induced stroke. Tony Stark. On a leash.
Tony opened his eyes and looked up to see Bruce leaning down over his head. He’d been so lost in his thoughts that he hadn’t even heard Bruce approaching. Bruce looked nervously calm as usual, as if he’d been knocking back one too many green teas and wasn’t quite coming off of his caffeine high. Tony had to resist the urge jump up and stick his wet nose in Bruce’s face on impulse. Bruce gestured with the collar, clearing his throat.
“Can you sit up so I can put it on?” Bruce asked, kneeling down.
Tony sat up, giving Bruce space so that the beige leather collar (complete with handy glass protection for the embedded crystal) could be fastened around his neck. Bruce ran his fingers underneath the collar to check to make sure he’d left enough room; he was pleased when he saw that it wouldn’t end up choking Tony. Bruce then stood back up, running his fingers through his hair and cleared his throat.
“So I uh… took the liberty making it Iron Man red and putting a nameplate on it so you... have your name and stuff. Steve suggested the address of the mansion too, so that’s engraved in there too underneath your name. I encased the crystal in unbreakable polymer so that if you get hit with something it won’t actually take damage. Thor was pretty specific about the whole not breaking it part.” Bruce said.
“Great.” Tony said with a grumble, wanting nothing more than to get some peace and quiet so that he could think properly. His ears perked up at the sound of his own voice and he moved from laying down to standing in a split second, eyes widening.
“Sweet Jesus it’s good to hear my own voice again! Thank you Bruce! I owe you a new lab.” Tony cackled, turning around in a circle as his tail wagged behind him.
“Thanks a lot Bruce.” Clint grumbled, rolling his eyes. “Now he’s never going to shut up again. You just watch.”
Tony stood up on his hind legs and pushed his face into Clint’s. He intended to glare. He really did. Unfortunately his new body didn’t seem to be able to glare, and instead he ended up with a goofy grin on his face instead when his mouth dropped open of its own accord, tongue lolling.
“Deal with it Barton.” Tony breathed out. Clint’s nose wrinkled at the dog breath.
“Right…” Bruce cleared his throat and shifted a little in place.
“So um, the doctors told me to tell you that you’re pure bred American Eskimo or something – some kind of Spitz breed. You’re about nineteen inches tall and 30 ish pounds, meaning that you’re kind of considered the standard size of the breed. You have fluffy white fur, black rimmed brown eyes, and a black nose. I’d show you a mirror, but well… I don’t really carry one around.” Bruce said.
“You sound like you rehearsed that.” Tony said, still gleeful despite Bruce.
“Steve asked me to look it all up for him on the SHIELD databases. They said that your breed of dog is supposed to be really smart and were once used in the circus as a performer. Steve told me to tell you that he and Natasha went out to go buy some stuff and that they’ll be back as soon as they can.” Bruce recited one hand in his pocket. He pulled out his phone, looking at it suspiciously and then put it back, scratching the hair on the back of his neck.
“I guess we’re waiting for them before we go home.” Bruce said.
Tony jumped away from Clint, who kept eyeballing him strangely for some reason and crashed head first into Bruce’s legs; Tony didn’t know why he did it. He was just so blissfully happy to know that they would be leaving. Bruce teetered and managed to stay upright by grabbing a hold of the nearest chair, which wheeled him away a few inches and left him hanging precariously. Bruce looked at Tony, his right eye twitching, and then relaxed when Tony stared up at him with his warm brown puppy dog eyes.
“What’s wrong Stark? Want to go for walkies?” Clint grinned.
“Fuck yes – “Tony hopped up again and then realized what he’d done. He tried to sit as dignifiedly as possible, glowering as Clint began to bray with laughter. The archer wiped tears from his eyes and snorted when he caught sight of Tony’s ‘dignified’ pose.
“I mean yes, I would like to go for a walk now. Home. Now. You know what I mean so just shut it.” Tony grumbled.
“Whatever man.” Clint laughed again. He stood up and then leaned down and patted his thighs, making little kissy noises.
“Walkies? Stark want to go for walkies?”
Tony promptly jumped up and bit him on the nose.
Clint swore and wiped his face, giving Tony the stink eye. He paused a little, as if debating on a few different ways to get revenge and then smiled at Tony and bent down again, picking him up. Tony didn’t even have time to dart away. He was soon flailing in the air as Clint spun them both around in circles cackling again. He caught sight of Bruce smirking every time he spun around.
“Nooooooo!” Tony howled as they spun.
“Clint – put Tony down. He’s going to barf if you keep doing that.” Steve said, appearing in the doorway. He was flanked by Natasha, who looked distinctly bored. Both of them were carrying thick plastic shopping bags that were heavy and overflowing with goods. The plastic handles were stretched and straining, likely to break. Clint grumbled to himself when Steve gave him a disapproving look, and put Tony down reluctantly. Tony did the first thing he thought of. He charged at Steve and bounced on his back feet, leaping in place while his front feet swung out in front of him. Steve. His savior.
It took Tony a moment to realize that he hadn’t exactly meant to say this aloud and that he’d only meant it to be an internal thought at best. Steve looked down at him suspiciously; because his hands were full, didn’t bother to push Tony away.
“Tony. No. Stay down.” Steve muttered. He set one of the bags down and Tony was instantly buried up to his neck in it; choking himself in the process. He stared curiously into the plastic bag, wondering just what had taken Steve so long to get back. Tony managed to see a few large bags of kibble and dog treats, to his disappointment, before he was yanked unceremoniously away from the bags by one of Steve’s giant hands.
He whined. He realized he had whined and then remembered that he could now verbally complain.
“Hey – what’s with all the dog food? You expect me to eat that crap?”
Steve rolled his eyes, arms crossed over his broad chest. He had changed into street clothes when they had gone out, as had Natasha. Steve looked comfortable in a much too tight white t-shirt and faded jeans. Tony wasn’t used to seeing him so relaxed. Whenever they were around one another Steve had a very stern and stressed look on his face. He had to restrain himself to keep from commenting on how very nice Steve’s muscles looked and how he wanted to sink his teeth into the fabric to tear it off of him. The naughty thoughts of Steve were new to him; he tried not to blush at the thought of explaining himself. Natasha raised an eyebrow, as if having read Tony’s mind from a distance.
“We can’t exactly feed you people food now you know. It’s not healthy for your digestion.” Steve explained. He seemed pleased by this fact, and his lips curled up at the corners a little. When he saw that Tony was now attempting to slowly back away, ears pressed flat against his head, he let out a long weary sigh. Steve reached into the bag and pulled out a beige leash and harness. He held the harness in one hand and the leash in the other. The metal clip on the end of it flashed in the artificial light. A determined look replaced the weariness when he moved with the leash towards Tony.
“Come here Tony.”
“Oh no. You do not get to put me in that – I am a grown man – you do not – Steve. No. No Steve.” Tony babbled, backing into Clint’s legs. Clint seized him from behind and held him still, the traitor. Tony was manhandled into the harness which was then attached quickly to the leash before he could bite anyone. He was set down on the floor again and patted on the head by Clint; Tony attempted to nip at him in frustration and missed when Clint jerked his hands away. Tony struggled against the leash, trying to pull the damn thing out of Steve’s hand but found that, surprise, surprise, he found that he couldn’t move a super soldier anywhere he didn’t want to go. Tony dropped himself into his belly and became dead weight, paws splayed out starfish style on the floor.
“Tony.” Steve grumbled in exasperation, tugging at the leash gently. He looked down at Tony, scowling; he rolled his eyes when he saw that Tony was refusing to make eye contact with anyone, eyes squeezed shut.
“Come on – it isn’t so bad. It’s just until we’re back at the mansion and whenever we’re outside. There are laws you know, about dogs not being allowed off leash outside.”
“I’m not a dog Steve. I may look like it, but I’m not a dog. I do not need to be on a leash.” Tony growled, pressing himself closer to the floor.
Steve’s hands went to his hips.
“Tony. We are going home now. Do you want to walk, or am I going to have to drag you? I am not going to carry you.”
“Go ahead Steve. Drag me.” Tony growled, daring Steve to do it.
Tony was dragged rudely through the SHIELD hallways while Steve led the way. Clint and Natasha followed along behind them lugging the bags from the pet store while Bruce and Thor trailed behind them, muttering to one another. The four of them looked as if they were retainers being forced to carry a princess’s wardrobe around with her. Tony tried to imagine that it was Steve who was the princess in the current situation, but knew bitterly that it was probably him. He didn’t say anything to Steve the entire time. Tony’s soft body was especially slippery, and he slid across the polished cement floors with little resistance, to his immense disappointment. He had no grip, even when he tried to force his body stiff. He was distinctly aware of how Dummy had felt when he’d tried to pull Steve around; he’d have to give Dummy some better wheels when he turned back.
Tony knew he looked undignified. He knew that he looked childish. He didn’t care. He was making a metaphorical stand. He could hear the SHIELD agents making ‘aww’ noises and heard them snickering as he was tugged across the threshold of the front door and out into daylight.
He reluctantly gave up the ghost once he realized that he would be suffering serious road rash if he let Steve drag him across cement. He walked alongside Steve and they weaved their way through the crowds to a familiar mini-van. He could see Happy waiting for them in the driver’s seat and recognized this vehicle as the one Steve liked the best. Tony was so happy to see Happy that he practically jumped up and down upon catching sight of him through the side window. Happy didn’t seem as interested as Tony was, however. It was a little disappointing. He debated on telling Happy off; he was distracted when Steve opened the car door and tugged on his leash, trying to encourage Tony to jump inside. Happy remained fairly deadpan; he didn’t comment about Steve bringing a pet into the newly cleaned leather interior of his mini-van, although Tony could tell that Happy probably wanted to.
Tony tried his best to glower at Steve; he found it relatively impossible because of his furry eyebrows only seemed to know ‘cute’ and ‘concern’. Steve’s hands went back to their default position on his hips and he watched Tony patiently while Tony decided whether or not he was going to allow himself to jump up. This, however, was not a battle Tony was going to win with sheer stubbornness– especially when the other people waiting on his decision had hands where he had paws.
“Oh for god’s sake Stark!” Clint grumbled, “You’re such a brat.” He stuffed the bag he was holding into Thor’s hands and hoisted Tony up into the car, scrambling inside behind him. Tony wailed in frustration, trying to turn to nip at Clint’s ear; Clint flicked him in the nose and Tony went still, glowering once more. The leash dropped from Steve’s hands and trailed behind Clint like a tail as he settled Tony into his lap, seated against the window. The others followed Clint’s example, piling into the mini-van and soon they were seat belted in and driving home.
Tony was simultaneously relieved and frustrated. He wanted to disappear inside his workshop so that he could be free of all the poking and prodding; he knew he wasn’t likely to be allowed back inside without supervision, if at all. He whined at the realization, realized that he had whined aloud and then tried to once more glare at everyone in the vehicle as punishment for making him whine. When that didn’t work, he went back to internally pouting, glad that no one could tell.
Tony stood up on Clint’s lap and pressed his front paws against the glass, peering out at the free world beyond. Clint reached up and lowered the window a crack. Tony’s nose immediately picked up strange, new, smells. He caught a whiff of bacon and found himself almost drooling, stomach growling. He hadn’t eaten in hours, and his last coffee had been hours even before that. He strained to try and reach the open part of the window, wanting to squeeze his way out and then slid down the glass with a squeal of paws against glass. He watched the cars go by for a few seconds and then he was yet again pushed down by one of Steve’s hands. He heard another ‘Tony! No!’ and then found himself being smooshed into Clint’s stomach as the car braked suddenly; he nearly dislodged from the archer’s lap to rocket across the interior of the vehicle as gravity caught up with him.
Steve looked concerned then. His lips pursed with a frown and his arms crossed as he leaned forwards between the driver’s seat and passengers.
“Happy, could you drive a little slower please? Tony’s not wearing a seatbelt.” Steve asked, leaning back.
Happy raised an eyebrow and glanced around the car. Not spotting anything vaguely resembling Tony, he shrugged and began to drive again.
“Tony’s the dog by the way.” Clint said, grinning.
The car screeched to a halt. Clint just barely kept hold of Tony this time. His fingers dug in to Tony’s flesh a little, but Tony didn’t mind so much seeing as how it had kept him from smearing himself across the windshield.
Happy whirled around again and stared at the white dog on Clint’s lap.
“Jesus – what the hell did you get into now?”
“Just drive Hap. We’ll explain at home…” Tony sighed.
“Pepper’s not going to be happy…” Happy grumbled.
“You’re telling me.”
The car resumed driving, with Happy going considerably slower than before. Happy even started called out whenever they were turning; Clint gripped Tony tighter whenever it happened. It was strangely comforting to be squished and held this way. Clint’s body was warm and oddly firm. He’d never really noticed before; he never really hugged anyone other than Rhodey or Pepper. Tony wondered what it would be like to get a hug from Clint – not that he’d wanted to be hugged by anyone (he did, but would never admit it).
No sense going down that path. That way lead to madness – he was not going to try to be cuddled by people. Definitely. Probably not. Maybe.
Pepper was a wonderful person, Tony reflected as he sat with his snout pressed against her breasts, and he really should give her another raise. She smelled like clover and cinnamon today; he’d never smelled her like this before and it was a little strange to tell the truth, but still lovely. He breathed Pepper’s smell in, feeling comforted by the mere proximity of her. She had her arms wrapped around him so tightly he was almost unable to breathe. Almost. He still managed to get in little sniffs of cinnamon every once in a while to his delight.
They were sitting on the Ugly Couch (as he had named it) in the living room by themselves, having been given privacy after Steve had explained the situation to Pepper. Tony had watched Steve’s face as he had broken the news to her. Steve had looked as if he were reporting a death on the field, all clinical and grim. Tony wasn’t sure how he would have phrased it if in Steve’s position. Pepper had looked as if she had been just told that she was giving birth to quadruplets in the next ten minutes with no epidural.
“Oh Tony…” Pepper said, close to tears. Tony didn’t look up, feeling as miserable as she did despite the comforting hold she had on him.
“I know Pep, but it’s not like its forever…”
“You don’t know that! Why the hell do you always rush into things without thinking?” Pepper said, trying to bite back the anguish in her voice.
“You have to admit I’m still my same cute self though.” Tony said, wiggling in her grasp. He tried to charm her into smiling; he rubbed his wet nose against her chin and she sniffled a little, wiping away her damp eyes. She smoothed down the fur around Tony’s face and looked him in the eye.
“You’ve always been cute Tony. That’s part of your problem. I just don’t understand how this is going to work out for us; for the company. You have three board meetings this week alone – and I need you to sign papers! How the hell are you supposed to do that with no HANDS?” She said. “I can’t exactly submit them with paw prints you know. I’m pretty sure they have rules about that.”
“We’ll think of something Pep – Hey wait, you can just take over for me as CEO again while I’m stuck like this! I’ve still got those papers signed from last time – I made doubles just in case something happened and well… You can handle most of it, right? I mean, I feel shitty dropping this all on you but…” Tony huffed.
“Can’t exactly waltz into the board room and stand on the table and bark at them. I mean I could, they would be able to hear my real voice, but come on – I highly doubt it’d be legal and I don’t really want to be banished to the corporate, no pun intended, Doghouse by trying. They’d take over and we’d be making bombs again before lunch. Possibly by their mid-morning bagel even.”
Pepper leaned back against the couch, staring up at the ceiling; she blew her bangs out of her face. Tony pressed himself against her chest again and closed his eyes, sighing softly.
“I know, I know.” Pepper said. She reached up and began to stroke his head again, the movements long and gentle. Her hands always had been soft. He was grateful for that now more than ever.
“How long is this supposed to last?”
“Fucked if I know.”
“Well I don’t know – it’s not as if the damn thing came with an instruction manual or a timer. Would have been handy if it did. Jarvis – make a note of telling the creators of magical cursed objects to always make manuals and watches to be included with every cursed object.” Tony said.
Jarvis sighed, the sound echoing through the interior of the entire house. He didn’t remember programming Jarvis to sigh. Maybe he was learning.
“Noted sir. Do you require anything else?”
“Yeah – start looking for ways to set the house up to be dog friendly – you know, like how they make ropes and buttons that service dogs can use or something. I have no intention of being stuck in my own living room forever.” Tony grumbled.
“Master Rogers has already taken the initiative and begun preparing the house sir. He has informed me that I am in no way allowed to help you open doors on your own. You are to be supervised at all times sir.” Jarvis said.
Tony stiffened. Pepper’s hands clamped onto his middle and held him still as he started to stand, hackles rising.
“Tony. You should listen to Steve. He’s only got your best interest at heart.” Pepper said softly.
Tony sighed and flattened against her chest again.
“Yeah… I’m sure he does.” He said sarcastically. “He’s been waiting for something like this ever since we met.”
Pepper smacked him lightly atop the head.
“He has not. He’s just worried about you. He thinks that you’re not taking this seriously.”
Tony looked up at her, raising one furry eyebrow.
“And you know this because…?” He asked, resting a paw on her shoulder.
“Because he’s always concerned that you’re not taking things seriously. And what does it matter? You can’t go outside on your own – what if someone takes you to the pound or something? Kidnapping could be so much easier if they found out who you really were. Oh god – we don’t have you tagged or registered! Not to mention you don’t have a tracking chip – oh Tony…” Pepper groaned, head flopping back against the couch.
“You always make things so complicated!”
“If you try to get me neutered, I’ll poop in your most expensive shoes Pepper. I swear it.” Tony threatened.
Pepper laughed and shook her head.
“Only you would think of something like that.”
“I’m sure Steve’s thought about it too…” Tony said darkly. He winced when Pepper playfully swatted him again.
“He has not. I’m sure Jarvis would have said something if he started researching something like that. If he even knows what neutering is – I don’t think Steve’s ever had a pet before actually.” Pepper said.
“If I may interject sir, Master Rogers has been searching many dog training sites and has been especially concerned about your dietary requirements and the health problems associated with your particular breed. He was especially concerned about food allergies for dogs. He has also asked me to create a schedule so that you will have proper physical exercise and planned out meals. I believe he intends to take good care of you sir. If that is any consolation…” Jarvis said.
“Well that’s just dandy.” Tony groaned. “Now I’m going to have to go on those godforsaken runs with him in the morning. Pep? Save me? Take me home with you? You can smuggle me out in your purse right?”
“I’m not smuggling you out of the mansion Tony. Besides, you’re much too large to fit in any of my purses. I’d have to use a duffle bag, and then with our luck some reporter would think that I’d dismembered you and was disposing of your body. It’s far too much hassle.”
“You seem to have thought that out a little more than I’m comfortable with…” Tony said with a grumble.
“Well we’ve all had our share of wanting to kill our bosses Tony. I’m sure you know the feeling.” Pepper said with a smile.
Strangely enough, Tony knew exactly what she meant.
Tony stared at the kibble in his new, shiny, beige bowl. He guessed that his bowl looked red to humans; most of his beige things seemed to be this same shade of beige which he now associated with Iron Man red. He assumed that this was some kind of attempt at regularity on Steve’s part. This revelation, however, did not make the kibble in the bowl look any more appetizing. Nor did it improve the bouquet that wafted from it. He wrinkled his nose in disgust. It had been two days since Tony’s transformation and he hadn’t eaten anything Steve had put out for him. There was a faint odor of fish oil to top off the dry kibble smell. Steve had read on the internet somewhere that fish oil was necessary for a ‘silky coat’ and a healthy body. Tony didn’t really understand the reason for the oil, seeing as how Steve didn’t really seem to want to touch him; Clint, Natasha and Thor didn’t really have a problem with picking him up and using him like a lap warmer when they watched television. Even Bruce had picked him up and carried him around the house a few times already. Steve had adamantly refused to so much as touch Tony when it wasn’t required.
Tony looked up at Steve, trying to catch his attention. Clint and Steve were sitting at the table eating Chinese takeout; delicious, delicious takeout. Tony began to beg for all he was worth. He was starving. He was used to not eating for days, but it had never been because he couldn’t eat. The takeout containers sat near the edge of the table, taunting him from up above. He could smell sweet and sour pork and the tantalizing odor of pineapple chicken and found himself close to drooling. Begging was pathetic, he knew, but it would be better to get a mouthful of stolen rice noodles than to get a mouthful of the garbage Steve was trying to feed him.
“Please?” Tony tried. He wagged his tail a little and stared at Steve, who frowned at him and went back to eating; he completely dismissed Tony’s watery brown puppy dog eyes, the heartless bastard. Tony turned his attention to Clint, who was unable to look away once Tony’s eyes met his.
“Clint? Please? Food?”
Clint’s arm moved on auto-pilot, a fork full of delicious black bean coated beef descending toward Tony’s open mouth. Clint looked hypnotized, eyes wide and slightly glazed over. Black bean sauce was smeared around his lips, forgotten.
“Clint!” Steve snapped, reaching out and grabbing the piece of meat just as it slipped from the fork.
“We have a rule, remember? No people food for Tony. It’s not good for him.”
“But –“ Clint began.
“But Steveeee – “ Tony whined, pawing at Steve’s leg. “I’m really hungry!”
Steve pointed sternly at the kibble bowl. “You have your food Tony. It’s healthy and nutritious and just what you need. You’ll get all gassy if you eat people food – “ Steve went a little red at that and then put the piece of meat onto one of the take out container’s abandoned lids, reluctant to waste food even after it had come off of Clint’s fork.
“I’m not going to eat that. It smells awful.” Tony protested, standing up to rest his chin against Clint’s leg. Clint’s fork hand moved towards his food again and Tony leaned closer, looking up at Clint. Clint looked away when he noticed that Steve was frowning at him. He shook his leg and dislodged Tony, who slid off his knee. Tony stood up on his hind legs and stared deeply into the archer’s eyes.
“Come on Clint. You know you want to.” Tony said, grinning.
Steve took the plate away from Clint; Clint pouted. He set the plate down beside his own, guarding it like a lion with its kill.
“You can have your plate back once Tony leaves.” Steve said sternly, addressing Clint only.
Tony was staggered. He dropped down from Clint’s leg and fixed his eyes on Steve’s, furious.
“You do realize that I pay for everything in this house, right?” Tony growled, going dangerously quiet.
Steve didn’t budge from his position.
“I know that Tony, but you’re still not going to eat people food. You have your food. Eat it, or don’t eat it. It’s your choice.” Steve said. He glared at Clint, who shuffled in his seat and tried to avoid eye contact again. “And I’d better not catch anyone on the team feeding him people food – He gets his dog treats and dog food only.”
Tony turned and backed up, his mind working on its own; he was half starved and desperate, just on the edges of desperation. He lunged and threw himself up at the table, snapping at the takeout box sitting nearest the edge before Steve could even look at him. Fate was on his side. Tony managed to snag the container in his jaws and then all hell broke loose.
Steve leapt from his seat and Tony ran, screaming around the corner of the kitchen, takeout container clenched tightly between his teeth. He heard the sound of a chair clattering onto the ground, avoided Thor, who had stepped into the room upon smelling the takeout and then took off into the living room with Steve hot on his heels.
Tony ran. He ran past the couch, past the television which was blaring with one of Thor’s cartoons, zigzagging around Natasha who was just stepping into the room from the other side. Tony ran as fast as his little legs would carry him, ran so fast, in fact, that he didn’t actually have time to break when he made it to the sliding glass door in the living room. The door seemed invisible. He hit the glass at full speed; he bounced off the glass with a loud crack, white flashing in front of his eyes and rolled backwards. The takeout container dropped uselessly from his mouth as he collapsed, contents spilling all over the carpet, staining it a bright red. Tony whimpered and tried to stand. The room spun uncomfortably. He felt sick and lowered his snout.
He heard Steve’s voice as if it was from very far away and then collapsed onto the carpet, seeing and smelling the coppery smell of blood. He looked up weakly as Steve dropped to his knees beside him, horror painted across his face.
“Tony!” Steve shouted, scooping him up. Tony blinked unfocusedly at Steve, seeing two of him instead of the normal singular Steve. That probably wasn’t good…
“Steve? My head hurts…” Tony managed to get out before he passed out.