In Tony’s defence, Steve wasn’t even supposed to be in the lab.
So what if Steve had a pass code that actually gave him unrestricted access because sometimes Tony needed a little prodding in the right direction, he was still pretty certain he’d said something like, “dangerous explosions,” and, “don’t come down, I’ll come up.” He wasn’t quite sure how long ago that was exactly, but obviously long enough to make Steve ignore the warnings and come down anyway. So when the experiment Tony was working went tits up and exploded – well.
Steve was mid sentence, “Ohmygod Tony, I cannot believe I have to-,” except not because Steve didn’t talk like that, when the experiment exploded in his face. Tony averted his eyes for a second and then Steve wasn’t exactly there. Exactly, because in his place was a golden retriever, sitting on the floor amongst Steve’s clothes and looking up at Tony inquisitively.
“You realise Fury is going to rip your balls off,” Natasha said with a smile. It was a smile that promised all kinds of joy at watching Tony’s punishment at Fury’s hands and he pointedly ignored it. “You managed to turn Captain America into a dog.”
Clint was laughing his arse off somewhere in the general vicinity of the living room, someone else that Tony was doing his best to ignore.
“It wasn’t my fault,” Tony put in. “I told him not to come down.”
“As if he was ever going to listen.” Bruce was kneeling in front of the dog - Steve - stroking his head and checking for rabies or fleas or whatever other shit you looked for when your friend had shifted from human to canine.
Tony rolled his eyes. “This is not that bad.”
He received twin looks of exasperation from Bruce and Natasha and even Steve was cocking his head in that way – and oh, no, this was not-
“You,” Tony said, waving a finger at Steve. “You don’t get to look at me like that.”
Steve whined. Natasha grinned. Tony turned on his heel and left the kitchen.
He heard a brief shout of, “A midgardian horse!” and Tony was on his feet, skidding into the kitchen just in time to see Thor attempt to straddle Steve. That was something that Tony never imagined he would have to think, let alone see and wondered vaguely how much worse his life could get.
“Thor!” Tony waved his arms and attempted to disentangle Steve from the mess of legs. “It’s Steve.”
Thor frowned. “Nay, Steven is taller.”
Tony resisted the urge to laugh hysterically. He was pretty sure the best way to describe Steve would be human. Then again, Thor’s brother had a child who was some weird eight-legged horse-god hybrid and jesus, there was something Tony didn’t need to think ever again. He tugged at the scruff of Steve’s neck and though his feet skittered on the floor, Steve came to rest by Tony’s leg. “There may have been an error-“
“-he blew up something in the lab and turned Cap into a dog,” Clint put in helpfully as he swept into the kitchen. He grabbed something from the counter which had probably been there far too long, waved it in their general direction and disappeared.
“It’s nice to know this seems almost normal,” Tony said, not at all bitterly.
“Aye!” Thor clapped his hands together and bent down to look at Steve. “He does have Steven’s bearing.”
Steve’s tail thumped against the floor.
Tony was deliberately not looking.
“He’s just going to sit there.”
Glaring balefully at Bruce across the desk, Tony turned back to his schematics. Clearly whatever he had been doing at the time of the “accident”, and he really needed to stop doing these things on such little sleep, had managed to turn Steve into a dog. A dog who was currently sitting on Tony’s left, looking at him. It was the same way he would look at Tony if he’d been down in the lab too long or was being self-effacing again. That little disappointed and sad look that was even worse than a chewing out from Fury.
“He can keep sitting there. The longer this takes, the more time there is for Fury to figure out that Steve isn’t exactly human.”
Bruce snorted. “You’re assuming Clint hasn’t already tattled.”
“He’s an accomplice now,” Tony said, not entirely sure of its accuracy. “If they find out about this, we’re all involved.”
“... You don’t listen to yourself before you speak, do you?”
Steve let out a soft sound that was somewhere between a growl and a bark. Tony turned, raising an eyebrow. “Did you just laugh?”
Tail thumping against the floor, Steve just kept staring at Tony.
“You can’t guilt me into telling them.” A whine. “No. No, don’t even start with that.” Steve walked over to Tony’s chair and rested a paw on his knee. “Dammit, Steve.” Pawing gently at Tony’s leg. “I hate you so much, you have no idea.”
Tony decided to make the call upstairs, if just to escape the grin and knowing look on Bruce’s face.
The yelling lasted a lot longer than Tony was willing to record and ended with Fury promising worlds of pain beyond anything Tony could dream up if he didn’t fix the situation and fix it now. Put together with Coulson’s cold demand of a solution before he turned up on the Avengers’ doorstep, Tony was all out of his usual smartass replies.
He had turned Captain America into a golden retriever and admitting to Fury and the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D that he had no way to fix it was not an option. Hanging up on them was. Tossing the phone on the bed and looking at it like it might explode at any moment; Tony ran his hands over his face. “JARVIS, where’s Steve?”
There was only a slight hesitation before JARVIS said, “Down in the lab, sir.”
“But I’m up here.”
“Really?” The tone JARVIS employed was the wrong side of dry. “I could hardly fail to notice.”
Tony made a mental note to reprogram him at the earliest opportunity and made his way down to the lab.
The schematics were still open when Tony entered the lab and Bruce was nowhere to be seen. His eyes landed on Steve, sitting next to Tony’s bench like he was on sentry duty and Tony’s heart did a weird flip-flop thing that made him think the arc reactor was doing something hinky. He rested a hand against it, but kept his eyes on Steve. It was still weird to think that his best friend was now a dog, a golden retriever, who had stupid earnest eyes and whose tongue lolled out at stupid times and caught Tony off guard.
Not that he was caught off guard because having a dog wasn’t cute. He hadn’t ever wanted a dog as a kid, there had been no need because Tony built the friends he couldn’t make and there was no way his father would never have stood for having a dog in the house. Steve pawed at the ground and Tony grinned. “Miss me?”
Steve whined and turned his head in the direction of the worktop. “Yeah, yeah,” Tony muttered. “I’m working on it.”
As he sat down at the bench, Steve rested his head on Tony’s knee and whined. Dropping his hand to the soft head, Tony scratched at the soft skin behind Steve’s ear and tried to focus on just how he was going to turn Captain America back into a human.
Clint, Natasha and Thor all poked their heads in at random times, checking in on progress (Natasha), mocking him (Clint) and proclaiming loudly that they were out of pop tarts and could Steve be ridden to get some (Thor). After vehemently disallowing the latter and dealing with the former, Tony threw something heavy in Clint’s direction and dropped his head to the desk.
Bruce said something sympathetic but Tony was focused on the feel of Steve’s chin resting against his foot. He peered under the table to see Steve stretched out against his feet, fast asleep. His chest did that flip flop thing again. Jesus, if he didn’t fix this soon –
“You know,” Bruce seamlessly interrupted his thought processes and his expression was calculating. “This could be a good thing.”
Tony scrubbed a hand through his hair and tried not to see just how stuck up it was in the glass behind Bruce’s head. “I don’t see how Steve being a dog is a good thing.”
Bruce opened his mouth once, twice and then shut it with a shrug.
“Well,” Tony said, with just a little too much heat. “Thanks, Bruce. That was very informative.”
The silence that descended on the lab was just the wrong side of comfortable and not even Steve waking up a half hour later and resting his chin on Tony’s thigh could shift it.
Tony registered the passing of time in relation to what Steve was trying to get him to do next. He would tug on the ankle of Tony’s jeans, growling low in his throat when it was time to eat something. He would rest his head on Tony’s leg and stare balefully until Tony made his way upstairs and into bed, landing on it with a soft thump. There would be a subtle shift of the mattress as Steve leapt onto the bed and curled himself around Tony, head nestled under his hand and paw against his chest. Tony would smile into soft fur and fall into a dreamless sleep. He would sit through Tony’s tantrums and rants, the endless stream of babble that must make even less sense to Steve now than when he was human. Which was kind of weird to think about because -
“What do you eat?” Tony asked, sprawled on the sofa amongst the other Avengers and watching Steve chew on the end of some rope someone must have found somewhere.
“Food,” Clint supplied helpfully.
Steve just kept chewing on the rope, shaking it back and forth in his mouth. Thor was watching the movements with rapt attention and finally he grabbed the other end of the rope, starting a game he was surely going to be the winner of. Steve was a super soldier but Tony wasn’t entirely sure that translated into dog form.
“Ha,” Tony said. “And also ha. What food?”
Natasha looked at him dangerously. Everything she did was dangerous but apparently implying that he thought they were feeding Steve dog food took the metaphorical biscuit (excuse the pun). “Food he would eat as a human, Tony. He’s still Steve.”
Tony looked back to where Steve was crouched low, bum waving in the air and tail wagging ninety to the dozen. Apparently he enjoyed playing. Who knew. “Right.”
Comfortable silence descended on them until Steve gave up on the game, letting go just as Thor gave a violent tug on the rope. Steve sat back on his haunches and watched as Thor tumbled over the sofa backwards. Tony took one look at the self-satisfied expression on Steve’s face (and ohgod he could read dog expressions) and burst out laughing.
That night, with Steve’s head resting against his chest and eyes lit up by the flow of the arc reactor, Tony curled his fingers into tan fur and tried not to think about life with Steve as a dog permanently.
He had been the lab for thirty-six hours. He knew this because he had told JARVIS to shut Steve out after twenty four and the barking had begun just after. Natasha and Clint had alternated between calling him an asshole and trying to crack the codes. Thor just spent the time trying to carry Steve up the stairs, only to have him come right back down. It was in vain but perhaps Thor just needed something to-
Tony just needed to get this done. Steve was fine as a dog, dandy and great and cute and every other lovely adjective he could find to use, but Tony wanted human Steve. Human Steve who would talk to him, and look at him exactly the same way dog Steve did but not so ... canine. He missed the warm press of a hand to his shoulder, or the press of a hip leaning against his. He missed Steve’s smile and his dry wit, something pleasantly surprising that Tony had managed to discover all alone and the soft smile he reserved just for Tony. Tony missed Steve and he was damned if he was going to fail.
The barks turned into scratching and this time it was Bruce, who was about to discover he’s been locked out of the lab as well. Tony needed to focus.
Another twelve hours and Tony stretched, limbs popping and creaking as he stood. Steve was still at the door, sitting as still as a statue but looking every bit the American hero. He was a dog and he could still be the embodiment of everything the country held dear. Letting the door slide open between them, Tony came to sit on the step next to Steve and sigh.
“I can’t figure it out,” Tony said gently, admitting the words to himself only when they were in the air between them. Steve just gripped Tony’s sleeve in his jaw and tugged. Taking the hint, Tony curled his fingers into Steve’s fur and allowed him to tug Tony up the stairs and towards his bedroom. It was weird, bent low at the waist and following a dog but Tony trusted him even as a dog.
It’s not until they’re on the bed, Tony’s fingers skittering over Steve’s head and back that he presses his face into Steve’s neck and whispers, “Sorry.”
He liked the early morning’s best. 2am and sitting on the sofa, feet up on the table and watching mindless TV. Steve was sacked out next to him on the couch, waking only to flop over Tony’s leg and fall back asleep, head nestled in Tony’s lap. Without thinking too much about it, he scratched gently at Steve’s head and thought of the nights he had spent like this with human Steve, running his fingers through soft blonde hair as they watched whatever movie Steve had decided he’d wanted to force Tony to sit through. Not that it had been particularly horrible. Nothing with Steve beyond their initial meeting had been horrible.
It was just not something Tony was used to – wanting quiet with someone when he could have the loud and the awesome. Steve was different. Steve treated Tony differently. Whatever it was they had landed on, somewhere between best friends and just-a-little-bit-more, was working for them. Tony could count on one hand the numbers of times he had allowed his mind to wander into fantasy where Steve was concerned. The amount of hours he spent ensconced in his lab, as if he could beat the thoughts away with science.
The amount of time he spent with Steve, doing things for Steve, wanting Steve.
Realising it while Steve was still a dog was kind of a kick in the teeth that Tony could do without.
Waking up with a crick in his neck was not unusual. Waking up to the naked form of Steve Rogers sprawled across his lap was.
“Um,” Tony said.
“Ohgosh,” Steve muttered, blush spreading across his face and down his neck.
A scream from Clint, a yell of, “Captain you have returned!” and Natasha’s smirk following them down the hall later, Tony had Steve safely in his bedroom.
“Um,” He said again, cursing himself for his inarticulate speech.
“Yeah.” Steve was tugging a shirt on and stood awkwardly in the middle of the room, a sheepish smile on his face. “Uh, thanks?”
Tony snorted. “For what? I’m sure revelations about feelings are not supposed to be the key to-“
He cut off at the look on Steve’s face. “What?”
He backtracked, going over everything he had just said. Well shit. “You could, you know, forget that-”
“No.” Steve took a step forward. “Revelations?”
Tony sighed, rubbing absently at the side of his face. “I missed you,” he said quickly, as though the rush of the words would make them incomprehensible.
Steve’s lip twitched. “I missed you too.”
He was so fucking earnest. “Steve-“
“Tony.” This time there was no mistaking the amused smile Steve gave him. “I’m not angry.”
His voice was soft enough to bring Tony’s head up. Well. That was something at least. “Sure.”
“Tony.” Steve curled a hand around Tony’s neck and tugged him forward. “It’s okay.”
Which, yeah, none of it really was but Tony could believe Steve, wanted to believe Steve, so he let out a slow breath and smiled. “At least you’re not shedding anymore.”
“I did not shed,” Steve said, pulling back and looking horrified.
“You could, you know. Shed your clothes.” Watching the blush spread again was even better now that he knew exactly how far it went. Tony rubbed his thumb along Steve’s jaw and smiled. “I wouldn’t object.”
Steve’s eyes were wide and blown, dark despite the light in the room. He blinked slowly, fingers tightening against Tony’s neck. “Yeah.”
Pressing forward, tugging Tony’s head up against his, Steve grinned against Tony’s mouth. “Yeah.”