Captain America ducks and rolls to the right, not a second too soon. Iron Man lifts his arm and sends a blast right at the creature, scattering lizard bits all over the sidewalk. Then he lands next to Cap, offering him a hand up.
Cap accepts it with a smile. “Thanks, Shellhead,” he says when he’s on his feet. Iron Man grins at him. He’s about to say something when an explosion sounds off somewhere in the distance. They both whip their heads around.
“What the hell was that?” Iron Man exclaims.
“Wasn’t this the last of them?” Cap asks.
“Yes,” Iron Man replies, “but this was something else.”
The second explosion is close enough to send them both flying through the air.
Iron Man hits the pavement hard. He groans as a persistent noise in his ear forces his eyes open far quicker than he would have liked. His helmet is beeping at him – something’s wrong, his armor’s been hit somewhere—
His head feels too fuzzy, he can’t figure this out. He needs to—
“Iron Man, status!”
Beep beep beep—
—beep beep beep.
Tony bolts upright, his eyes snapped open and his chest heaving. Over his shoulder, his alarm clock is still blaring away. He reaches back and knocks it viciously off the nightstand, then just buries his head in his hands.
This isn’t the first time Tony has had these dreams, far from it. But each time they grow more and more vivid, to the point that it takes him more than a few seconds on waking to orient himself. He’s taken to coming down to his workshop right after, working on something physical to help anchor himself in the present.
He hammers away at the metal. Last night’s dream had left him more shaken than usual; he could still taste the adrenaline on his tongue. He’s been flitting around all morning, moving from one project to the next to try and find one that would hold his attention enough to drown out the beeping but nothing seems to be going right. He brings the hammer down again, hard.
Pepper finds him a few minutes before the fire engines do. They stand together, safely on the other side of the bulletproof glass, and stare through it to the messy remains of the workshop.
Looking at the complete destruction in the far end of the workshop, Tony’s incredibly thankful that he was far enough from the project that exploded. But while moving on to work on another project had given him that physical distance, the disaster wouldn’t have happened in the first place if he could just focus. He’s been far too distracted lately.
A beam stands diagonal, one side of it fallen to the floor while the other clings on to the ceiling for dear life. A second later, it gives up completely and falls crashing through the wires, throwing up an explosion of sparks.
“Well, Ms. Potts,” he says, feeling her flinch beside him, “I do believe it’s time for me to go home.”
Three weeks later
Steve sketches over a thick line for the third time, realigning the curve of an elbow so it’s turned just so. The angle is a difficult one to nail down, a top-down perspective drawing of a chaotic action scene with the focus on one person in particular. The person in question hovers high in the air and has an arm stuck out in front of him, a strange blue light bursting out of it, much brighter than the blue of the costume of the man fighting beneath him.
He thinks he might hear someone calling his name but he’s almost got it, if he can just fix this one thing—
“Steve.” The voice becomes much harder to ignore when it’s right in his ear.
He stifles a groan. Natasha is hovering right over his shoulder, bent low enough to see exactly what he’s been doing.
“Whatchu got there?” she asks, right on cue. No one could ever say journalism was the wrong calling for her.
“Nothing,” Steve replies, hastily throwing it into his open desk drawer. He slams it shut and spins his chair around, forcing Natasha to back up. “What’s up?”
“Liebowitz case got pushed up. We gotta leave now.”
Steve glances at his watch and sighs. “Yeah, okay, give me a sec.”
She lingers close by as he puts on his coat and slides his work sketchbook into his bag. He bustles around a little more obnoxiously than usual, waiting for her nosy questions but she stays suspiciously silent. He slings his bag over his shoulder, faintly surprised, and even shoots her a smile as they weave their way through cubicles to the elevator.
“So,” she says casually, as she hits the button, “you going in to superhero comics now?”
He should have known better.
Tony face splits in a huge grin when he ducks out of the airplane door and sees the man waiting for them. “Honey bear!” he cries, hurrying down the steps to meet his best friend.
“Hey, Tones,” Rhodey replies, an easy smile on his face. He’s dressed in full Air Force blues, which Tony does his best to crumple when he’s within reach by throwing his arms around him.
Rhodey doesn’t seem to care, hugging back just as tightly. “It’s good to see you,” he says once they’ve broken apart. “You too,” he adds to Pepper, who’s just come up behind Tony. She greets him with a hug and a kiss on the cheek and Tony beams at the two of them.
“Finally,” he says, “my two favorite people in one convenient place.”
Pepper rolls her eyes but Rhodey shifts uncomfortably. “Not for long, I’m afraid.” He rubs awkwardly at the back of his head. “Gotta head back to DC in a couple of days.”
And just like that, all of Tony’s exuberance evaporates.
“Don’t start,” Rhodey says just as Tony opens his mouth. “Tony, I mean it. I don’t want to—”
“I wasn’t starting anything. I was just gonna say—”
“I’m not going to have this fight with you again!” Rhodey cuts in, exasperated.
Tony folds his arms and just glares at him, mutinous, until Pepper tugs at his elbow. “Tony,” she says quietly. “Tony, c’mon, you’ve only got a day or so together. Just let it go.”
Tony chews on the inside of his lip. Then, with a loud huff, he throws up his hands. “Fine!” he snaps. “It’s not like I have anything new to say anyway.”
Rhodey looks grateful but doesn’t say anything, which is probably for the best. Instead, he circles swiftly around the car behind him and climbs into the passenger seat.
Pepper turns to Tony, shooting him an encouraging half-smile. He sighs, but reaches forward and tugs open the car door for her.
The ride back to the tower is completely silent.
It’s only when they’re walking back to the subway after the case that Natasha gets Steve’s not going to explain his drawings and lets the topic move on to something else. Unfortunately, she seems to know how to pick all the ones that hit a nerve.
“So did you hear the news?”
Steve tilts his head at her inquiringly, carefully dodging the asshole hurrying up the wrong side of the staircase as they descend below the streets of New York.
“About Stark?” she elaborates. “I thought you’d have seen by now. God knows you’re obsessed enough with the guy.”
“I’m not obsessed,” Steve bites back. “Or clearly I’d have an idea of what you were talking about.”
“He’s moving back,” Natasha says, swiping her way through the turnstile.
“Moving back where?” Steve asks absentmindedly as he fumbles for his card. Why the city hasn’t switched over to proximity readers like every other major city he will never know but it’s a complete pain.
“To New York,” she says, leaving the ‘duh’ unsaid.
Steve freezes. “What?”
A man behind him curses and Natasha gestures hurriedly for Steve to swipe through.
Steve does, biting back to urge to turn around and snap at the guy for his impatience. He’s got other things to worry about.
He slides his wallet back into his pocket hurries after Natasha, who’s already started moving towards the 4 train.
“What do you mean he’s moving to New York?” he demands when he catches up.
“It’s all over the wires,” she says. “Apparently he’s decided to come back for good.”
“When’s this happening?”
“Now.” A train pulls up and they move forward with the throngs of other commuters. She waits till they’re settled with their hand on a pole before she adds, “There’s a press conference tomorrow.”
“He’s doing a press conference?” he asks, shocked. “Tony Stark, the Tony Stark who disappeared into hiding ten years ago, is going to get up on a stage in front of a bunch of reporters and talk about his move to this city. Tomorrow.”
“Yup,” Natasha says and there’s a challenge in her eye as she looks up at Steve. It’s obvious she knows before he does what he was going to say.
“You have to get me in there.”
“Well, that was a doozy.”
“You’re telling me. I can’t believe someone would try and steal the Statue of Liberty!”
Iron Man laughs. “Well, they did try and steal a few other things. Or did you not also see the heroic battle I was having over the Taj Mahal?”
“I’m afraid I missed it,” Cap replies. “But I’m sure it was quite as heroic as you say.”
Iron Man feels his face heat. He’s grateful for the protection the armor gives him in these instances – Cap’s earnestness always throws him.
“I’ve got to head back to the mansion,” he says suddenly. “Mr. Stark’s taking off for Japan soon, I don’t want to be late.”
“Oh, right, of course. I’ll see you in a couple of weeks then.”
“Looking forward to it.” He prepares to take off, and gives Cap one last look. “Captain.” He nods.
“Iron Man.” Cap nods back. “A pleasure, as always,” he says with a warm smile.
This time, he wishes Cap could see his face, if only to see how bright his answering grin is.
“How’s the love life?” Tony says as he comes back into the living room.
“Why, what have you heard?”
The immediate response startles a laugh out of Tony. He hands Rhodey his soda and collapses back onto the sofa.
“Nothing? I was just making conversation. So there is someone?”
“Oh,” Rhodey says. “Yeah, there is.” A soft smile creeps over his face. Tony grins.
“And?” he says expectantly when Rhodey doesn’t offer anymore.
Tony huffs. “Who is she? What’s she like? Where did you meet? What’s her name?”
“Her name is Carol. She used to be Air Force but she’s retired now. Amazing pilot though. And she’s got a terrible sense of humor.”
“Well, you’re certainly a match made in heaven then.”
“Do you have a picture or something?”
“Yeah.” Rhodey digs his phone out of his pocket and taps at it a moment, then hands it over.
Tony takes it, glances at the screen, and promptly drops it.
“Tony, what the hell?” Rhodey snaps, annoyed. When Tony doesn’t move, he bends forward and scoops the phone up. He tucks the phone back in his pocket and frowns.
“Hey, Tony,” he says, his voice abruptly gentle. He clasps Tony’s shoulder. “You alright?”
Tony turns his head, eyes wide. “I know her,” he breathes.
“Your girlfriend, I’ve met her before.”
“She’s never mentioned that.”
“She doesn’t know.”
Rhodey had seemed vaguely lost before but now he looks completely thrown. “What?”
“Not like anything creepy. I just—” Tony shifts, turning his body sideways to fully face Rhodey. “Look this is going to sound really weird.”
Rhodey chuckles. “Tony, believe me, I’ve seen more than enough weird from you.”
“Yeah, Rhodey, but not like this. This is like—” He taps at the side of his head with two fingers. “This is like possibly seriously fucked in the head weird.”
“Hey,” Rhodey tries. His eyes flick back and forth over Tony’s face. “Tones, c’mon, it’s me. You can talk to me.”
Tony bites his lip and gives in to the genuine concern in Rhodey’s voice.
“It’s just—” He sighs. “I’ve been having these dreams.” Immediately he winces at how absurd he sounds.
“Okay…” Rhodey cocks his head. “What kind of dreams?”
“They’re like—” Tony flails his hands, grasping for the right words. “I guess you could say they’re like superhero dreams. I, I become this like weird robot thing and I fly around zapping bad guys with my band of merry teammates.”
“Well, everyone has these sort of wish-fullfilment dreams, Tones, it’s not that unusual—”
“Okay, one, I’m not harboring some secret desire to go around punching bad guys.” Rhodey looks skeptical at that but Tony ignores it because, no, not really important right now. “And two,” he continues, “these dreams, they’re not recurring, they’re ongoing. Like a television show or something. Every time I come back, things have moved forward. It’s like I’m looking in on another world or something.”
“Huh.” Rhodey sits back, looking contemplative. “Well, okay,” he says, “but what does that have to do with meeting Carol?”
“That’s the thing!” Tony says, a little louder than he should. “I mean, all the people in my dreams so far, they’ve either been complete strangers or, you know—” He gestures at Rhodey. “—you guys. You and Pepper and Happy. Which makes total sense. But Captain Marvel? I’ve never met her before in real life. Don’t you think that’s kind of strange, that this person from my dreams suddenly comes in to my life?”
“Hang on.” Rhodey leans forward. “What did you call her?”
“That’s Carol’s callsign,” Rhodey says, looking perplexed. He drops his focus to the ground, his brain whirring. “When she was an Air Force pilot, she was Marvel. Although she’d actually be Colonel Marvel now but…” Rhodey looks up at Tony shrewdly. “How did you find out?”
“Find out what? Rhodey, I don’t—”
“Find out about me and Carol. Did Pepper tell you?”
“No, she— wait, Pepper knew? You told Pepper about your girlfriend before you told me?”
Rhodey pinches his nose. “Tony—”
“You’re right, not important right now, we’ll circle back later. But listen, Rhodey, I swear it’s not what you’re thinking. I didn’t cyber-stalk her or something.”
Rhodey slumps back, stumped. “Well you did use to interact with the Air Force a lot,” he points out. “You could have met her in passing or something. Maybe you just don’t remember.”
“Yeah,” Tony sighs. “Maybe.” They lapse into contemplative silence.
“Tony,” Rhodey says abruptly, “when’s the last time you got a full night’s sleep?”
“I look that great, huh?”
“You look exhausted,” Rhodey says frankly. “I assumed it was because of the move but now—” Rhodey cuts himself off, looking vaguely alarmed. “Tones, please don’t tell me what that’s what all this is about. Did you really come back here because of some bad dreams?”
Tony coughs slightly, Rhodey’s tone suddenly making him feeling a little bit ridiculous. “Possibly,” he says, dragging the word and Rhodey groans. “But I never said they were bad! Most of them are kinda nice. Terrifying sometimes, and kind of disorienting in their vividness, but…I don’t know. I— I like how I feel in them.”
Rhodey raises an eyebrow. “Superhero, huh?” Tony doesn’t reply. “Well I guess that’s something.”
Fury is surprisingly an easy sell. Steve’s political cartoons have won a lot of critical acclaim for the paper. That is, after all, the real reason Steve stays on – sketch artist at court cases got old very, very quickly and that work is few and far between besides.
He doesn’t know what Natasha tells him – he’s not even sure he wants to – but when Fury gives him his credentials there’s a strange glint in his eye. Still, all he sends them off with is a terse ‘good luck’ so Steve takes the implicit permission to go after what he wants.
He’s not quite sure what that is until he’s standing at the back of the room and watches Stark take the stage. Though the face is filled out and far more lined than the last time Steve’d seen it, the plastered-on smirk remains familiar and brings back a rush of roaring memories that punches Steve straight in the gut.
He feels Natasha’s eyes slide over to him and straightens. The questions whir out one after the other and Tony takes them all like a man in his element, smoothly turning them into a joke or batting them away entirely without the press even realizing it’s happening. He is a mountain in a thunderstorm, sailing unscathed through the chaos around him and it makes Steve want to hurl.
The pencil cracks in his hand but the sound goes unheard as Stark strides off-stage to the chorus of shouted last-ditch questions.
Tony nods but he doesn’t unfold from the chair he’s braced himself on, his head bent. He hears Pepper’s high heels clack towards him and it’s only when her warm hand lands on his back that he realizes he’s not quite breathing.
There’s silence for a few moments, save for the sound of Tony’s increasingly deep and steady breaths. He knows his shirt is soaked through with sweat, is probably translucent at this point, but it doesn’t seem to stop Pepper from moving her hand over the damp material in slow soothing circles.
“You did great,” she says quietly and he’s so eternally grateful that this is what she led with because if she’d asked him again if this is what he really wanted, he isn’t so sure anymore he’d be able to say yes.
He turns around and her hand drops back to her side. “Is that what you’d call it?” he says wryly. He feels like laughing, though he can’t pinpoint why.
“Yes,” Pepper and there’s that stubborn set to her jaw that tells Tony he’s not going to win this one. Still, he tries anyway.
“I’m not supposed to be this guy any more,” he says desperately and he knows this is why he tries, because he needs to hear it from her, needs to know that it’s not the same.
“You’re not,” Pepper says. “One press conference doesn’t change that. They’re sharks, you know that. You’re giving them what you’re supposed to.”
“Yeah,” he says.
He needs to hear it from her because when she says it, he almost believes her.
“Thanks for the assist, Captain Marvel!” Cap calls. She salutes from the air, then disappears off into the clouds.
Iron Man watches her go with a strange curiosity. He drops his head and blinks down at his armored hands, brings them close to his face and turns one over to stare at intently. He blinks again and his vision glitches.
“Hey,” Cap says and
Tony Iron Man looks up at him. “Everything okay, Shellhead?”
Iron Tony Iron Man replies, He drops his hands back to his side, shaking his head slightly. “Yeah, Winghead, I’m fine.”
Fury is silent for a long time after Steve hands him the drawing.
“You sure you wanna do this?”
Steve glances at Nat, who just shrugs minutely.
“Yeah,” he says, “I am.”
“Okay, then. We’ll run it in tomorrow’s issue.”
“Is that a problem?”
“No it’s— yeah, no, that’s fine, that’s great.”
“Good. Now get the hell out of my office.”
Tony hits refresh again, thinking that somehow this time the image might be different.
It’s not completely unexpected, if he’s being honest. That doesn’t mean it hurts any less.
The cartoon doesn’t even attempt to be subtle. Tony, dressed in a simple suit with an Uncle Sam-style hat on top, reclines on top of a pile of money. Behind him, explosions light up the sky over the smoking ruins of a city and in the foreground there’s a scattering of gravestones. The caption beneath reads Is his ‘Bang’ really worth our buck?’. The cartoonist has even given him a little devil’s tail. It actually kinda suits him.
It’s the drink in his hand that bugs him the most. Which seems wrong, somehow. He thinks it’s probably all the death and destruction he’s supposed to be upset by no, it’s this. It’s the implication of it; worse still, it’s the reminder of what really happened. Somehow, it makes him want to turn to the bottle all over again.
He reaches for his phone instead.
“Why me? Why not send Nat?” Natasha snorts. Clearly she agrees.
“Potts has requested you specifically.”
Steve just stares at Fury.
“Look, Rogers, she’s giving us exclusive access. Do you have any idea what this’ll do for us? How big this could be?”
Steve sighs. “Alright fine. I have no idea what I’m doing though.”
“Do you ever?” Nat says and Fury shoots her a look.
“Natasha will help prepare you and with the actual article. You’re responsible for the rest.”
Steve catches himself before he snaps off a salute. He nods briskly instead and follows Nat out.
This is going to be a disaster.
“I don’t understand how this is your plan. You’re basically rewarding the guy for this cartoon. And fine, it’s not exactly inaccurate – in fact, it’s probably the most accurate thing ever published about me—”
“—and is also proof that I would still look great even if I’d kept my tail – but that still doesn’t change the fact that this, Pepper, this sets a bad precedent, it’s like negotiating with terrorists—“
“—next thing you know, every paper in town is going to be banging at our door demanding an all-access pass and then where will we be—”
“—up to our ears of pictures of me on the crapper, that’s where.” He claps his mouth shut, wincing a little at the sight of Pepper with her face in her palm.
When he doesn’t add anything else, she drops her hand, eyes wary. “Are you finished?” she asks.
“No,” Tony snaps back mulishly. He folds his arms across his chest. “What the hell made you think I would agree to something like this?”
“Well, I will tell you, if you give me a second to talk instead of yelling about pictures of you…on the ‘crapper’.” He sticks his jaw out and waits, expectant. She sighs. “Look, I know this sounds like a bad idea. And who knows, maybe it is. But all the press has on you right now is Tony Stark: Evil War Profiteer and Irresponsible Party Boy. And we both know that’s not who you are anymore. Don’t you think it’s about time we let the rest of the world see that?”
Tony just grunts.
“Tony,” she tries again, quieter this time. “You need to stop punishing yourself. Let them see what you’ve become. At this point, what have you got to lose?”
“My dignity,” he mutters. “Don’t!” he adds when he sees Pepper open her mouth for the obvious joke. She smiles instead, hiding half of it behind her hand.
He picks up a rag and studiously focuses on wiping every bit of grease off his fingers. She’s probably right. Pepper’s got a keen knack for these things – she was, after all, the main reason he’d been able to keep the low profile he’d needed for the last few years.
“Why this guy?” he says, keeping his eyes on his hands. “He’s barely even a journalist.”
“That’s exactly why,” she replies. “He’s less likely to be looking for an angle he can sell.” She hesitates and Tony glances up. Somewhat reluctantly, she adds, “I also think this might be personal for him.”
Tony frowns, wondering what that even means. “So?” he snaps.
“Well,” Pepper says thoughtfully, “I just think he’s got nothing much to lose either. You know,” she expands, “in trying to see your side of the story.”
He snorts. “Do you really think that’s what he’s going to be trying to do here?”
“I like to believe that,” she says earnestly. “And I’ve got character references that agree.”
Tony tilts his head at her, curious, but she doesn’t give anything else away. He sighs and tosses the rag over his shoulder. “Alright, fine,” he says. “I’ll do it.” Pepper grins and Tony feels a little lighter in response. “But just so you know,” he warns, “don’t you dare blame me if you suddenly find the internet flooded with unsavory pictures. I’m not going to censor myself.”
“Oh, believe me,” she says with a roll of her eyes, “that’s the last thing I’d expect.”
Steve tugs at the bag strap across his chest and looks up at the door to Tony Stark’s penthouse apartment. It’s no larger than a regular door, which for some reason surprises him. Stark seems like the kind of person to have gigantic arcing doors that loom over awaiting guests. But this door is simple, a heavy dark slab of wood with no discernible handle. Instead, a small, seemingly high-tech panel sits on one side. Steve shifts his weight from foot to foot, bites his lip and raises his hand to knock.
And then the door slides open.
He blinks, and stays frozen with his hand suspended in mid-air when a crisp, British voice says, “Welcome, Captain Rogers.”
The title is enough to jar him out of his surprise. He drops his arm back to his side hastily and blurts out, “Just mister is fine, thanks,” before he realizes he has no idea who he’s talking to.
“Would you be mine?” a different voice sings and he turns his head to see Tony Stark himself sauntering in through a door, hands tucked into a pair of well-worn jeans. “Could you be mine?”
“Excuse me?” Steve says, furrowing his brow.
“Mr. Rogers neighborhood?” Stark says, arching an eyebrow at Steve as he approaches. “Popular children’s television show?” He stops about a foot from Steve and gives him a quick once-over before meeting his gaze. “You seem about the right age to have seen at least some incarnation of it.”
Steve narrows his eyes. “Well, I haven’t.” He huffs a breath through his nose. “Didn’t have a TV growing up.”
He waits for an incredulous comment or some stupid joke but instead Stark just stares at him intensely with a strange look on his face – one that Steve can’t quite place.
When the silence has gone way past awkward and into truly horrifying territory, he clears his throat. Stark jumps, ever so slightly and Steve bites back a vindictive smile. “Steve Rogers,” he says, sticking out his hand.
Without missing a beat, Stark clasps it in the well-practiced firm handshake of a lifetime schmoozer. He’s got his game face plastered on now, all traces of that strange expression gone.
“Tony Stark,” Stark says before he drops his hand. “Or Merchant of Death, if you prefer,” he says through a wry grin and any befuddlement Steve might have been feeling is wiped away to make room for his usual Stark-aimed ire.
“I think I’ll just stick with Mr. Stark, if you don’t mind,” he bites out.
“Suit yourself.” Stark shrugs and spins on his heel. He’s halfway across the room before he calls out, “You coming?”
Steve tugs at his bag strap again and follows.
As soon as the fight’s over, Iron Man lifts his hands to his eyeline again. He removes one gauntlet carefully and wiggles the fingers on his bare hand. Then he pinches his index finger hard between his thumb and his other fingers, hard enough that the skin breaks.
He hears footsteps approaching behind him and hastily replaces the gauntlet.
Not a moment later, Captain America claps him on his heavily armored back.
Iron Man Tony turns and runs his eyes over the other man’s masked face, over and over again until Cap feels compelled to say, “What? What is it?”
Tony hesitates. He’s not sure he’s ready yet to figure out what this is. Reality or some strange escapist fantasy or— or something else entirely. “Nothing,” he says, shaking his head. “It’s nothing.”
Cap tilts his head, clearly not accepting that. “Iron Man—” he starts but before he can say another word, Tony takes off into the sky.
Rogers is by far the strangest journalist Tony has ever met. He thinks of Christine, of how she’d more than likely have asked him a dozen pointed questions by now, most of them more for the reaction and less for the actual answer.
Rogers, he doesn’t do anything like that. In fact, he barely speaks at all. He simply follows Tony around and curls up in a corner of whichever room Tony finds himself him, scratching away on that small pad of his.
The first time it’s quiet enough he can actually hear the scratch of pencil against paper, Tony’s caught off guard. Not just because of the choice of writing implement (pencil seems even more offensively archaic than pen, if that were even possible), but because the rhythm of the sound is strangely irregular. The strokes that sweep across the page seem far too long to be any kind of lettering. Still, Tony doesn’t want to be the first to engage. Rogers is here for a reason – he’s definitely going to crack first.
“What’re you doing?”
Rogers looks up and okay fine, he cracked, but it’s been almost three days of this and if he’s being honest, Tony is a little impressed by this point. Rogers hadn’t even snooped around when Tony had (purposely) left the room for extended periods of time. (He’d stopped doing that when Rogers had asked him if his stomach was feeling okay).
“Hmm?” Rogers barely spares him a glance before returning to his sketching, his tongue just sticking out of one corner of his mouth.
Tony stares pointedly at him from across the room, keeping his silence until Rogers looks up. “What’re you doing?” he repeats, gesturing towards the pad of paper in Steve’s hands. “Working on another brilliantly cutting comic? Because I didn’t realize drawing them was such a laborious process.”
Rogers’s mildly inquisitive look quickly turns annoyed. He opens his mouth to say something no doubt just as brilliantly cutting as his cartoons but Tony cuts him off. “Aren’t you supposed to be like,” he waves his hand around, as if pulling the words from the air, “asking me questions or something?”
Rogers stares at him. No, ‘stares’ is the wrong word. Tries to set fire to him with his eyes, that’s probably more accurate.
“I’m waiting,” Rogers inexplicably announces.
Tony frowns. “For what?”
Rogers sighs. He sets his pad and pencil to one side, whatever he’d been working on facedown as if he can sense Tony’s burning curiosity. He runs a hand through his hair and looks off to one side. “I want to do this right,” he says, the words heavy.
It’s all very cryptic and dramatic and leaves Tony no closer to understanding what the hell Rogers is trying for here.
He narrows his eyes at the man for a moment, then gives it up with a toss of his head. “Whatever,” he mutters. If Rogers just wants to sit there and practice his GQ poses, that’s fine by him. He’s got better things to worry about.
He only manages to tap out two lines of code before Rogers voice cuts across the room. “You don’t get it, do you?”
There’s enough of a challenge in his tone that Tony pushes away from his desk, sensing that they might have finally reached their breaking point.
Sure enough, Rogers is up and striding towards him, a snarl on his face. “None of it means anything to you. It’s all theoretical – you get to just sit here, at this desk and you clack away at your stupidly large computer and you glue a bunch of things together and then you just send your –” He throws his hands up in a vague gesture. “—whatevers, you just send them out into the world without even caring where they’re going, what they’re doing, no you just sit here in your hideously overpriced designer jeans and stupid indoor sunglasses and drive your fancy cars and have your drinks—”
Tony jumps to his feet, startling Rogers into silence. At some point Rogers had gotten close enough that they’re now standing face-to-face, barely an inch between them.
For a moment, Tony’s caught off-guard by the incredible familiarity of those eyes. He stares at them long enough that Rogers’s steely glare falters. Before he can say anything though, Tony swallows it all down, all the anger from before and the confusion now, he tucks it all away and brings up a smirk instead. “Oh sweetie,” he says with a wink, “I didn’t realize you were paying such close attention.”
Rogers stares at him, mouth agape. Then he just shakes his head, a wry smile on his face. “You know what?” he says. “I feel sorry for you. To be so completely out of touch with the real world – must be lonely.”
“Oh you don’t have to worry about poor old me,” Tony strikes back. “Unlike you, I don’t have a stick in my ass that gets in the way of other people sticking their dick in it. I wouldn’t exactly describe myself as lonely.”
Rogers steps back, blinking, and Tony suddenly realizes he might have accidentally outed himself – to a journalist, no less. Well, he may as well embrace it now.
“I can help you with that, by the way,” he continues easily. “If you ever want your ass filled with something else, I mean.”
Tony has to give the guy kudos. He only looks thrown for about a second before he sneers, “You’re pathetic.” And then suddenly he’s surging forward, his mouth landing on Tony’s almost painfully and it’s a brief of moment of messy, awkward movement before Tony gets his act together and kisses back.
“Is this what you want?” Steve pants against Tony’s mouth and then he bites down on Tony’s bottom lip and it’s all Tony can do not to moan.
Tony tilts his head, swipes his tongue over Rogers’s mouth until Rogers gets the hint and deepens the kiss, his tongue moving hot and heavy over Tony’s own.
Rogers pulls away until the string of spittle between their lips breaks, leaving them both gasping for air. He steps back and swipes the back of his hand across his mouth. Without a word, he turns around and goes to gather up his stuff. Tony just stares after him.
Rogers turns back, slinging his bag over his shoulder and they look silently at each other for a brief moment. There’s a hint of a blush high on Rogers’s cheeks but the gaze that meets Tony’s is unflinching.
“See you tomorrow, Mr. Stark,” he says placidly and then he’s out the door.
“What the fuck, Steve.”
Sam doesn’t even bother to phrase it like a question. Steve can’t really blame him.
“I know,” Steve sighs. He moves the phone to his right ear and flops down sideways on the couch. “I don’t really know how it happened. He’s just so— so infuriating!”
“So you stuck your tongue in his mouth,” Sam deadpans.
Steve moans. “I knowwwwww.”
There’s a long silence on the other end of the line.
“Was he any good?” Sam says eventually. “He seems like he would be.”
“Yes,” Steve says begrudgingly. “He was.”
Sam laughs. “Aw man, that’s all you’re gonna give me?”
“I don’t kiss and tell, Sam.”
“No, you don’t kiss at all. When’s the last time you got any? Does Nat know about this?”
“Hey! I do just fine, thanks. And no,” Steve says emphatically. “Nat does not know and she cannot find out because I’m pretty sure it’s frowned upon, considering I’m writing a story about the guy.”
“Well,” Sam says, “you’re just getting the real intimate story, right?”
Steve wishes Sam were there, just so he could chuck a pillow at him.
“When’re you coming to visit?” he says suddenly. It comes out way more wistful than he meant it to and Sam sobers right up.
“Not for awhile, probably,” he says regretfully. “Things are crazy hectic at the VA right now.”
“Yeah,” Steve sighs. “Clint seems pretty swamped too.”
“I’m sure. And on that note, I’ve actually gotta get going. But if you get anywhere near Tony Stark’s dick, I want to know immediately. Like, text me while it’s happening kind of immediately.”
“Not happening!” Steve shoots back.
“Which part?” Sam asks. “The dick? Or the texting?”
Steve doesn’t answer and Sam laughs.
“Yeah, yeah. Hey, Steve?”
“Just…be careful, alright?”
“Yeah, Sam. I will.”
In Steve’s defense, it has been a long time. And for all his shortcomings, Tony Stark is…well frankly, he’s absolutely stunning.
And his mouth is lethal.
“Oh god,” Steve cries out. He chances a look down to find Stark grinning at him around his dick.
“Nope,” Stark pulls off to say. “Just Tony.”
“Do you ever shut up?” Steve pants. Stark shoots him an absolutely wicked grin, his mouth glistening with pre-cum.
“Only with the right incentive.” And then he swallows Steve down all the way to the hilt.
It happens the third time they fuck.
Rogers has broken one of their unwritten rules and fallen asleep right there in Tony’s bed. Looking at how thoroughly wrung out the other man looks, Tony can’t help but take it as a compliment more than anything else.
It’s when Tony’s on his way back from the restroom that he spots it – Rogers’s precious notebook peeking ever so slightly out of that hideous green messenger bag of his.
He darts a glance at the slumbering lump on the bed but it shows absolutely no signs of stirring. Still, Tony gets up on his tiptoes to circle nimbly around the foot of the bed to the chair the bag rests on. With one last check on Rogers, Tony holds his breath and carefully pulls the book open.
His breath comes whooshing out of him at what he sees. He claps one hand over his mouth and brings the book closer to his eyeline, blinking rapidly at the drawing on the page. He glances over his shoulder, then quietly moves his hand from his mouth to the paper, lightly tracing the thick lines with the pad of his index finger.
It’s his dream – one of the many, at least – but it’s here, in front of him, meticulously brought to life by Rogers clever hand. He turns the page and it’s the same on the next one – another sketch, another dream. On and on it goes, the entire book filled with snippets taken straight from Tony’s subconscious.
There’s a snuffling noise behind him, snapping Tony out of his racing thoughts. He hastily closes the book and shoves it back in the bag. Ever so carefully, he tiptoes back over to the open bathroom and takes the doorknob in hand, keeping his back to the door. Then he pulls hard.
Rogers shocks awake, his eyes snapping open.
“Oh sorry,” Tony says sweetly, and Rogers’s focus zeroes in on him. “Did I wake you?”
Rogers grumbles incoherent. He rubs hard at one eye with the heel of his hand, then forces himself to sitting with what looks like a great deal of effort.
“Sorry,” he mutters, no longer looking at Tony. “Didn’t mean to pass out like that. I’ll get out of your hair.”
“You do that,” Tony says.
Rogers shoots him a glare but gets to his feet and starts gathering up his clothes, pulling them on one-by-one as he traces their path back out to the living room. Tony lovingly watches that beautiful ass go.
Rogers call of “See you tomorrow!” filters through the bedroom and it’s only then that Tony collapses onto the bed.
“Well, fuck,” he says to the ceiling.
Cap officially calls their monthly Avengers meeting to an end. He asks Iron Man to hang back a moment and the others shuffle out, making teasing jokes about Iron Man in trouble. Tony leans on the table, wondering what Cap could possibly want to talk to him about.
“I just wanted to say thank you,” Cap says, coming around the table to close the gap between them. “This mansion, this team, it’s my home now. And you’re a big reason for that. So thank you.”
Tony swallows hard. “Of course,” he says and if the words come out a little strangled, well he can always blame the voice modulator.
“There’s something else,” Cap says. “Jan mentioned something and I wanted to— I think we should talk about it.”
“What is it?” Tony asks, feeling slightly nervous.
“She said, well, insinuated, really, that you might feel for me…as more than a friend.”
Tony’s eyes widen.
“After she said that, I started paying a little more attention. She was right, wasn’t she?”
Tony nods miserably. “Cap, I—”
“Please, Shellhead, let me finish.” Tony falls obediently silent.
“I think I know why she wanted me to know. It’s because she could see that I too, felt that way about you.” This time, Tony holds his silence more out of shock than anything else. Hope stirs treacherously in his gut.
“But while I would never force you to tell me your secrets – they’re yours to give or keep – I just know that I cannot begin a relationship with something this large between us.” He gestures at the armor. “I’m sorry. I hope you can understand.”
If possible, Cap’s carefully worded rejection just makes Tony want to kiss him even more. He’s not sure if this is just Iron Man’s crush he’s feeling or if Tony himself has fallen for Cap too. It doesn’t help that he can now picture quite thoroughly what those lips would feel like.
Either way, he doesn’t get the intense need for secrecy at this point. “I do understand, Cap,” he says, feeling decisive. “But I also think it’s about time I let you know who I am.”
Cap inhales sharply. “You do?” he says.
Tony nods. He opens his mouth but before he can say anything else, the world begins to blur. He tries to speak but nothing comes out. A loud roaring noise fills the air, everything is spinning wildly now and somewhere in the distance, he hears Cap call “Who are you?”
He comes awake with a gasp, the echoes of ‘who are you who are you who are you’ ringing in his ears.
When Steve next walks through the door of Stark’s building, he’s greeted by the sight of Stark barefoot and leaning on the doorman’s desk.
Steve raises an eyebrow and Stark shrugs. “Even us rich folk have to pick up our mail,” he says. “Though why people still use paper letters is beyond me.”
Steve rolls his eyes.
“Well, Charles Addams, let’s go. See ya later, Carlos,” he calls to the doorman, who just nods.
Steve stands next to him as they wait for the elevator. Stark can’t seem to keep still – he bounces on his toes and swings his keys around on his finger, whistling as the elevator descends towards them.
They get in and Stark hits the PH button with a bit of a flourish.
“Thomas Nast,” Steve says and Tony cocks his head at him.
“Addams wasn’t a political cartoonist. He was more famous for dark humor. Like, you know, the Addams family.”
Stark just looks perplexed. “Right,” he says, dragging out the ‘i’.
Clearly Stark is wholly uninterested and Steve should just let it go. “Nast, you see, he—”
He’s cut off by the elevator jolting to a stop.
“Oh, great,” Stark mutters.
“What’s happening?” Steve asks, watching as Stark takes a seat in the corner of the elevator, his legs folded beneath him.
“Elevator’s stuck,” Stark says and shockingly his voice is devoid of derision at Steve’s obvious question. “’s an old building, it happens once in awhile.” He looks up at Steve with a wry smile. “New York real estate, am I right?”
Steve doesn’t even know what that means. “Well how do we get unstuck?” he asks.
Stark shrugs. Steve throws his arms up and turns to the panel of buttons. He pokes at the red button at the bottom. Nothing happens.
“None of those buttons work,” Stark informs from behind him. “You can blame the kids downstairs for that.”
Steve turns back around. “Aren’t things like this not supposed to happen to rich people?”
“You’d think, wouldn’t you.”
Steve sighs. He glances at his watch.
“Don’t worry,” Stark says, though it doesn’t come out at all reassuring. “Someone’s bound to try and use the elevator eventually. It’s not like we’re gonna die in here. Unless, of course, you keep huffing like that and using up all the air.”
“Yeah? And how long’s that gonna take?”
Stark shrugs. “Could be a minute. Could be an hour. Who knows?”
Steve sighs again.
They wait in complete silence for about fifteen minutes before Tony breaks it with a long drawn-out “So…” Steve glances over at him. “Wanna fuck?”
Steve shoots him a look and Stark snorts, looking away.
“What’s your big rush anyway?” Stark asks.
“I’ve got a case to get to nearby,” Steve explains. “I was just stopping by on the way.”
“For work? Or for a quickie?”
Steve doesn’t answer and Stark laughs knowingly.
Feeling drawn thin by this point, Steve snaps, “Sorry I don’t want to be late. Some of us can’t afford to just skip work.”
That isn’t entirely fair. For all the time he’s been following him, Steve’s definitely seen that whether he agrees with the work he’s doing or not, he can’t deny Stark is a hardworker.
“You know,” Stark says, his voice light, “in all the time you’ve been supposedly investigating me, have you even bothered to look at what I’m working on?”
“I’ve already seen you at work,” Steve retorts. “I’m here to get the rest of the picture.”
Stark is silent for a long moment. “I was wondering if you were ever going to bring that up.”
Steve freezes. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t play dumb, it doesn’t suit you.” Steve blinks, feeling as if he’d just been complimented somehow. “I read your file, Captain Rogers.”
“That’s confidential,” Steve snarls.
Stark shrugs. “I’m making my entire life privy to you. Seems only fair you do the same.”
“I get it. I’m Dr. Evil and you’re the hero out there on the frontlines. Look, I’m sorry I stopped making stuff for the DOD. I’m sorry you guys got stuck with second-rate shit instead, believe me, I’ve heard all the complaints. God knows Rhodey won’t shut up about it,” he finishes in a mutter.
“You think that’s why I hate you?” Steve asks incredulously. “Because you say you’ve stopped making weapons?”
“I have stopped making weapons,” Stark snaps.
“What is your problem?”
“My problem, Mr. Stark, is that Stark Industries is still the biggest contractor for the DOD and is therefore currently doing more than it’s part in the conflict in Afghanistan.”
“Yeah,” Stark says, “and I got thrown out of Stark Industries just under ten years ago. So, you know, fuck you very much.”
Steve gapes at him. Stark sighs and tips his head back against the cool metal wall, closing his eyes. “Close your mouth before I see how good my aim with my keys is.”
Steve’s mouth obediently claps shut. He stares down at him, brain ticking.
“Stark Industries is publicly traded,” Steve says.
“You don’t say.”
“So the board…”
Stark’s eyes flutter open, locking on Steve as he waits for him to finish his thought. When Steve doesn’t add anything else, Stark snorts.
“Yeah, they weren’t too happy when I said I didn’t want to make weapons anymore.”
“Why do you think? A weapons company, doesn’t make weapons? Probably not great for shareholders,” he says, drawing out the ‘probably’ in a slight singsong.
“No, I mean—” Steve drags a hand through his hair. He spins halfway and slumps back until his back is against the wall perpendicular to Stark. Stark lifts his head off the wall, eyeing him as he slides to the floor with a thump. “You, I mean. Why did you say you didn’t want to make weapons anymore?”
“’Cos I didn’t,” Stark replies lightly.
“Thanks, I got that,” Steve retorts. “Why didn’t you—”
“Why is it,” Stark interrupts, “that it took getting stuck in an elevator with me for you to do your job? It’s not like you had to trap me; I wasn’t trying to run away.”
“Oh, god.” Stark lets his head thump back against the wall again. “First you start interrogating me, now you’re trying to psychoanalyze me.”
“Stark,” Steve says. “This is the first interview you’ve given in ten years. It’s not unexpected for you to have been a little closed-off to it.”
“I wasn’t ‘closed-off’. You didn’t even ask me anything!”
Steve pulls his legs in towards him, folding them so that he can rest his arms across the top.
“Well, I’m pretty new at this,” Steve admits. “And I guess—” He hesitates. “—I guess I just didn’t know how to ask what I really wanted to ask.”
“Okay. So ask me now.”
Steve turns his head, leaning the side of it against the wall and meeting Stark’s firm gaze head-on. Whatever Stark’s been projecting the last few days, it’s all gone now. All that’s left behind is wariness; wariness and resignation.
He runs his eyes over Stark’s face, struck suddenly by the thought that this is the most naked he’s seen him since they first met five days ago. Even in the bedroom, Stark manages to always keep his smug smirk on full-force. But that first day, when they’d first come face-to-face, something about Steve had caught Stark off-guard enough for him to, just for the briefest of moments, drop the act.
“What did you think of me, when we first met?” Steve finally says and Stark stares at him.
“That’s what you’re going with?” Stark asks incredulously. “I just told you I was secretly thrown out by the company my father started because I refused to make weapons for the US government anymore and you want to ask me what I think of you?”
“No,” Steve says. “I want to know what you thought of me when we first met.”
There’s an understanding in Stark’s eyes now. “Huh,” Stark says. “You’re more observant than I would have thought.”
“Artist.” Steve shrugs.
There’s a beat of silence in which Stark seems to be warring with something; Steve watches, fascinated. “You just look like someone I know,” Stark says finally, his gaze flicking to one side. “That’s all.”
Steve squints at him briefly but decides to let it go for now. With a deep sigh, he lets his own head rest back against the wall and closes his eyes.
The quiet lasts for a good few minutes before Stark breaks it.
“You were right, before,” he murmurs. Steve opens his eyes. Stark’s got his head bent and his right hand is tapping a rapid staccato against his leg. “I didn’t care. What my ‘whatevers’ were doing. My weapons.” He spits the last word like it’s poison, like if he lingers on the syllables too long, they’ll take hold of him somehow. “I didn’t know and I didn’t want to know. I was lost in my own, pathetic oblivion. But then I was there. And I had my eyes forced open for me. And suddenly I couldn’t pretend anymore.”
Stark’s head comes up. His eyes are unfocused, caught on some moment in the past that Steve can’t see.
“I was there too,” Steve murmurs, half to himself. “’05, right?” he says, louder. “You were coming to give a presentation on some new missile system. Incredible, really, the amount of destruction that thing could do.”
Stark doesn’t say a word, doesn’t even look like’s breathing.
“You were drunk,” Steve continues.
Stark snorts. “I was a lot more than drunk,” he says dryly.
“Whatever it was, didn’t stop you from putting on a show. You had those soldiers eating right out of your hand. Quite the businessman, you were.”
Stark’s tucked his knees against up his chest by now, as if trying to fold into the corner as much as possible. Still, his words don’t waver when he says, “I try.”
“You know, for two years, I’d seen your name everywhere. And I mean everywhere. We had Stark weapons and Stark medical supplies and Stark transports. I guess it just seemed natural to associate everything that I was angry about with your name.”
“And what was that?”
Steve huffed out a mirthless laugh. “Everything. All of it. All those lives ruined, all those things we did in the name of freedom – it wasn’t right. Those insurgents that popped up? That was our fault. So many people were dying, and for what? What were we even there for? I— I felt betrayed by my country. I’d been lied to by the people I was supposed to trust the most. I thought I was—” Steve clenches his jaw, turning away. “It just wasn’t what I signed up for,” he finishes. “It wasn’t how it was supposed to be.”
The look Stark gives him is considering, as if weighing him up. “Yeah,” is all he says, the word quiet in the space left behind by Steve’s outburst.
They lapse into silence once again but something’s crackling beneath Steve’s skin now. Suddenly the elevator seems way too small.
“So how’d they manage to get rid of you?” he asks, eager to flip the conversation away from him and back onto his subject. “You seem like you can be pretty sticky when you want to be.”
Stark doesn’t laugh. “I was in rehab,” he says simply. “Cut off from everything. By the time I got out, it was too late. They gave me a pretty large settlement, of course, so I wouldn’t talk. But I could have fought it. I probably should have. Instead, I ran.”
Steve bites his lips. He’s feeling a little off-kilter at the sudden frankness in Stark’s words. Everything he’s saying now sounds so matter-of-fact.
“Why are you suddenly telling me all this?” he asks because it’s about all he can manage, right now. He’s not ready to think about all the rest of it.
“It’s your jawline,” Stark cracks. “It’s trustworthy.”
“Right,” Steve says, bemused.
After that, they don’t speak again until help arrives.
As soon as Tony gets back up to the penthouse, he heads straight for the high cabinet over the fridge. He’s not surprised to find it completely empty – no one can ever say that Pepper isn’t thorough.
He fumbles for his phone. His mind is flashing with images of bodies, so vivid that the smell of burning flesh lingers in his nose. He throws his forearm across his mouth and retches, his phone gripped tightly in his hand. Once he feels like he can open his mouth again without spewing up the entire contents of his stomach, he sits down on the cold kitchen floor and calls his sponsor for the second time in a week.
“You know, you probably should get a sponsor who’s a little closer to home,” Clint says and the warm teasing in his voice is enough to ground Tony just a little more.
“Hello to you to Barton.”
“How’s the Big Apple? You’re missing some great surf here man. Hit the waves this morning.” He whistles lowly. “Can’t believe you’re trading that in for soggy winters.”
“Soggy winters, is that the new name for your band?”
Clint hums. “Hmm, kinda like that actually. I’ll pitch it to the guys.”
Tony laughs and feels a little warmer for it.
“Alright,” Clint says, “so what’s going on?”
Tony tips his head back against the counter and tells him everything.
“Great job, Shellhead.”
Iron Man tosses the last Doombot head onto the pile with the rest, then spins with a grin. “I try,” he says.
He drops the last foot or so to the street with a light thump and Captain America quickly closes the space between them. And then abruptly takes a step back.
“I’m going to stick around and help with cleanup. I’ll see you back at the mansion.”
Tony frowns, watching him go.
As usual, the door slides open when Steve gets within a foot of it. He realizes suddenly that for all the time he’s spent around here, not once has Steve asked Stark how that works. Or how everything in his apartment seems to work like that, like it can sense his every need without a word.
Stark was right. Steve has been too busy resenting him to even take a look at the things Stark is creating everyday.
“Mr. Rogers!” Stark greets him as he steps over the threshold. “Welcome back.”
“Steve,” he says. “You can just call me Steve.”
Tony lips curve up just the tiniest bit. “Only if you call me Tony,” he shoots back.
Steve nods, determinedly ignoring the warmth in his chest. He follows Tony’s lead and heads over to the couches, taking the one perpendicular to Tony’s.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d see you again,” Tony says. “After all the scandalous gossip I gave you yesterday.”
“I don’t know if that’s precisely what I’d call it,” Steve says dryly.
Tony shrugs. “Eh, close enough.” He leans back in his chair and props his ankle up on his left knee. “So, more questions?”
“Yeah,” Steve says, leaning forward, feeling on even footing in this room for perhaps the first time. “Can you show me some of the stuff you’re working on?”
Tony ends his tour with a brief overview of his AI. It’s still in its early stages but he has to admit, he’s pretty proud of it.
“It’s like magic,” Steve breathes.
Tony scoffs. “Please don’t ever make that comparison again,” he says. “In fact, just don’t ever say that word in my presence again.”
“Well it is!” Steve says laughingly.
Tony groans. “What did I just say?”
“So what, you just invent all this cool stuff and it never sees the light of day?”
“Not quite,” Tony says, one side of his mouth ticking up a little. “Ever heard of a little company called Fujikawa Industries?”
“You mean the world’s biggest maker of smartphones? Nope, no clue what you’re talking about.”
“Uh huh. Well, I notice you’ve got a nice iPhone over there. How’s that going for you?”
Steve shrugs. “It takes and makes phone calls. That’s enough for me,” he says, and then laughs at Tony’s expression. “So what about Fujikawa?”
Tony pulls his phone out of his pocket and waves it in front of him. “I made this,” he says. “And a lot of their other stuff too,” he adds, sliding his phone back into his pocket. “I’ve been operating a small R&D branch of their company out in Malibu for the last ten years.”
It’s strange how thoroughly unsurprised Steve looks. “Why?”
“It seemed to be the easiest thing to do at the time,” Tony says simply.
“Huh.” Tony doesn’t elaborate and Steve doesn’t ask him to. “Alright,” he says instead, “since you showed me yours, I’ll show you mine.”
“I thought you already did.” Tony waggles his eyebrows.
The eyeroll Steve gives him seems almost fond. “I meant,” he says, reaching behind him for his bag, “my sketches. What I’ve been doing the whole time I was supposed to be working.”
“Oh,” Tony says, suddenly feeling guilty. “About that…”
Steve stops tugging his notebook out and looks up, curious. “What?”
“I might…have already snuck a peek.”
“You what?” Steve’s eyes are huge. “When?”
“That day, when you fell asleep.”
“What was it, some kind of punishment for letting my guard down? Because I fall asleep in your bed, it gives you the right to go through my stuff?”
Tony doesn’t know what to say to that. He doesn’t really have any defense for his behavior. But this whole argument is missing what’s important anyway.
“Okay, fine, I probably shouldn’t have done that—” Steve snorts loudly and suddenly Tony wants to smack him. He grits his teeth. “Listen, that doesn’t matter right now—”
“It doesn’t matter?” Steve looks incredulous. “You don’t even think you did anything wrong, do you?”
“Yes, yes, it was very bad, bad Stark, but Steve listen, I know about the drawings.”
“Yeah, I already got that part.”
“No, I mean, I know they’re— they’re from your dreams, right?”
Steve gapes at him. When he speaks again, his words comes out barely above a whisper. “What did you say?”
“Iron Man and Captain America, right? Going around, taking down bad guys and possibly falling in love—”
“Shut up.” The words come out quiet but Steve’s eyes are afire and Tony finds himself taking a half-step back. “Shut the hell up.”
Tony doesn’t care, he has to tell him, he has to try again. “Will you just listen to me for a second—”
“No,” Steve cuts him off. “I’m done listening to you. I don’t know what you think you saw, whether I said something in my sleep or what, but I’m done.” He shoves his notebook back down into his bag and picks it up, slinging it roughly over his shoulder as he turns for the door. “I’ll let you know when the article’s ready.”
He’s half through the doorway when Tony bursts out, “I’m Iron Man!”
Steve pauses and Tony takes a deep breath. “That’s how I know,” he says, quieter. “Those dreams, I have them too and I’m— I am Iron Man.”
Steve stays frozen for a second in the doorway and Tony waits, hopeful. Then he walks out without a word.
Cap looks up with a huge smile and something warm blooms in Tony’s chest. “Iron Man! How are you?”
“Good, good,” Tony replies distractedly. “Actually, there’s something I wanted to talk to you about. Do you have a moment?”
Cap comes over to Tony. “Always,” he says. “Everything alright?”
“Not really.” Cap immediately looks concerned and Tony takes a deep breath. “Did you ever wonder if this was all real?” he asks.
Cap frowns. “What do you mean?”
“I mean—” Tony looks around the room, thinking. “Here, give me your hand.” Cap obediently does. Tony pinches the end of one of the fingers of Cap’s glove and glances up at him for permission. Cap nods and Tony pulls, removing the glove completely.
Without prompting, Cap lifts his hand to his eyes and looks at it closely, clenching and unclenching. “Strange,” he whispers. He stares at it a moment longer, then lowers it slightly so he can meet Tony’s gaze. “I don’t…” He trails off, giving Tony a helpless look.
“What’s your name?” Tony tries, keeping his voice low.
Steve Cap’s face screws up, like he’s searching the furthest corners of his mind for the answer.
“Steve,” he murmurs finally. “Is this— I’m dreaming.”
“Yes,” Tony says happily, “you are.”
“Wow,” is all Steve says. He lifts his hand, examining it again.
“Hey,” Tony says, and Steve drops his hand. It probably isn’t the right time for this but Tony knows from experience that they don’t have long now before they wake up. “Remember before, when you said— you said you needed to know who someone was, if you were gonna be with them.” Steve nods, hesitant. “I tried to tell you then but I guess I wasn’t ready.”
The catches on Tony’s helmet release and Steve’s breath hitches. “Iron Man?”
Tony grasps the sides of the helmet firmly and pulls up. “No,” he says, shaking his hair out of his eyes, “my name is Tony.”
Steve’s eyes snap open.
“Steve.” Steve doesn’t turn his chair around. Natasha spins it for him and he looks up with a sigh to meet her intent gaze.
“Yeah?” he says tiredly.
“Steve, you’ve gotta give me something. Fury wants that article yesterday.”
“That statement doesn’t even make sense,” Steve mutters. Nat just glares at him. “Well, what am I supposed to do? Stark just blurts out a bunch of things in a broken elevator and I’m supposed to turn that in to a story? How do I even know how much of it is true? Am I just supposed to believe the guy had this sudden massive change of heart?
“No,” Nat says. “Of course not. You’re a journalist. You’re supposed to do your research and find something to back up whatever statements you want to make.”
Steve sighs but gets to work.
A bit of reading and a whole lot of phone calls later, he slumps back in his chair, feeling frustrated. “How did I never know?”
Natasha perches on the desk next to the computer, sparing the screen a quick glance. “Hey, don’t beat yourself up too much,” she says. “None of us knew.” She looks at the information on the screen again. “They did a pretty good job of keeping it quiet.”
“I get the whole SI thing, why they’d want to keep it quiet. What I don’t get is why I didn’t know about any of this.” He waves a hand in the direction of the screen. “I mean, look at these numbers! Forget all the anonymous donations, he’s actively changed hundreds of veterans’ lives! Why the hell didn’t Clint tell me? Or Sam? One of them must have known. I mean, there’s no way Stark could have provided career options to this many vets without either of them knowing.”
“I guess Stark just wanted to disassociate himself from all that for awhile. Probably wanted some separation. I would think you of all people would know a little bit about that.”
His head snaps up. “What do you mean?”
She rolls her eyes. “Right, Steve. Because I don’t know about you sneaking off to meetings and rallies for the Iraq Veterans Against War and I also don’t know about how you used to teach drawing classes back at the VA in DC and I definitely do not know about your work with Iraqi refugees on weekends.”
Steve gapes at her. She leans forward and pats him on the shoulder. “I’m an investigative journalist, Steve.” She drops her head and whispers into his ear, “It’s what I do.”
She pulls back and stands, stretching her arms over her head. “Besides,” she says half through a yawn, “you’re really not very good at the whole secretive thing.”
“Sorry,” he snaps, “I didn’t realize I was being stalked. I’ll try better next time, shall I?”
“You do that. So what’re you going to give Fury?”
“Ugh.” He props his elbows on his knees and buries his face in his hands. “I don’t knowwww,” he moans through his fingers.
He feels her pat his head, once, twice. “Yeah, well,” she says, “good luck with that.”
WHO IS TONY STARK?
They’d gone for the simplest headline possible, which makes sense for the Steve he’d gotten to know over the last few days. Of course, the others who’d picked up the story had gotten a lot more creative. Still, Tony is surprised by how many of the articles seem to be on his side.
Something still doesn’t feel right though.
“So?” Pepper asks. “Think we can consider this a success?” Tony spins his phone round and round in his hand, thinking that maybe if he stares at it hard enough, it’ll ring.
Of course, it’s Pepper’s phone that goes off, just like it had been every five seconds since Steve’s story came out.
Pepper ignores it, leaning in towards Tony instead. “Tony?” she tries.
“Hmm?” Tony says with a quick glance up at her.
“This is a good thing, right?”
“Yeah, Pepper, it’s great. Listen, I’m going to go make a phone call…” He stands abruptly and Pepper groans in frustration.
“Stark again?” Nat asks when Steve’s phone lights up with an incoming call. Steve ignores it. He’s become very practiced at that by now.
“You did a good thing for him, Steve,” Nat says. “Why don’t you let him thank you for it?”
He doesn’t say anything and she heads back to her desk with a sigh.
His phone lights up again, this time with a voicemail. Steve stares at it for a long moment. Then, in one swift decisive movement, he scoops the phone up, taps at it and presses it to his ear.
“Steve I hope you can actually hear this – you said your shitty iPhone takes calls and I guess I’ll believe you. Look, I just wanted to say I’m sorry because I realized I never actually apologized for going through your stuff. And, more importantly, I wanted to say thanks. For writing all that stuff. I— seeing it all laid out like that really helped me figure some stuff out. Things are going to be crazy the next few months – we’re opening up a new company, which, you know, is a whole thing, and on top of that there’s a crapload of legal stuff that’s gotta happen before we can even begin— anyway, not the point. What I actually called to say is, well, I’d like to see you again. Sooooo give me a call if you get the chance. Alright, bye.”
Tony presses his forehead to the glass and stares out the window at the city below him. He watches as a taxi takes a corner, nearly colliding with a bike messenger that comes screaming out of nowhere.
He hasn’t had another of those dreams since that night; he’s not quite sure what that means but he doesn’t find himself missing them as much as he thought he would.
“Tony?” Pepper calls from somewhere behind him. “I need you to sign this.”
He gives the city one last look, then turns back around to face the company he’s building instead.
“So these are the new digs, huh?”
Tony whirls around. Steve stops just inside the door, his hands tucked into his pockets.
“Steve!” Tony hurries forward. “Hey, what’re you doing here?”
“I got the address from Ms. Potts. Or I guess, Natasha did. I hope that’s okay.”
“Of course that’s okay.”
Steve nods, feeling slightly awkward. Maybe he should have called first.
“Hey,” he says, struck by a sudden thought, “you don’t think there’s something going on between those two, do you?”
“Who?” Tony asks, looking confused.
“Nat and Ms. Potts.”
Tony blinks. “Character references,” he mutters to himself.
“Huh? Oh, it’s just something Pepper said. But yeah, actually that makes a lot of sense.”
“Doesn’t it?” Steve laughs.
Tony nods, a little smile on his lips.
They lapse into silence again.
“Look, Tony,” Steve bursts out, “I owe you an apology. I completely overreacted. You just— you freaked me out a little.”
“Yeah, I get that a lot.” Steve ignores the dry commentary.
“You know, I’ve never told anyone about those dreams. And they’d been going on for months. I was really starting to think I might be going nuts. So when you told me you were having them too, well I had no idea how to react.”
“I get it. Freaked me out too, when you showed up at my apartment with those familiar eyes and that killer jawline. Guess a cowl doesn’t work quite as well as full armor for the whole secret identity thing.”
Steve tilts his head. “So you knew right from the beginning?”
“Not quite,” Tony replies. “At least, not that you were having the dreams too. But you weren’t the first person from the dreams to show up in real life. I can’t say it didn’t throw me off more than a little though.”
“Yeah.” Steve bites his lip, mind whirring. “You know what?” he says abruptly. “I think what we need is to start over. So hi.” He sticks out his hand. “I’m Steve Rogers.”
Tony just stares down at his hand for a long moment but Steve keeps it there, feeling stubborn. Finally Tony takes it, one hand on either side, and squeezes lightly. “Tony Stark,” he says and the smile he gives Steve is tiny, nothing like the toothy grin he’d flashed him the first time he met, and it’s enough to make Steve’s breath catch.
They drop hands, never breaking eye contact. Steve’s face is burning up.
“So,” he says, “you gonna give me a tour or what?”
He’s mostly joking – the office is still just a bare, open space at this point, with half-painted walls and bits of exposed wire everywhere – but Tony grins. “Sure thing,” he says and he takes a step back and opens his arms out wide. “Steve Rogers…” he says.
“Welcome to Stark Resilient.”