“Who broke it?” Fury asked.
The Avengers were assembled around what was once a coffeemaker. It was smashed, almost beyond recognition.
“I’m not mad,” he said, hands on his hips. “I just want to know who broke it.” S.H.I.E.L.D.’s budget for office appliances was already through the roof. He supposed that was what happened when your employees were a bunch of superheroes, assassins, and spies.
No one said anything. Fury fixed them all with his best, ‘I’m-not-fucking-around’ look, but so far no one was breaking. If he wasn’t so annoyed he’d be proud.
“I did,” Steve said after a long moment. “I broke it.”
“No,” Fury said, speaking over him before Steve could finish his sentence. “No you didn’t.” Everyone, everyone in the room knew Captain America didn’t break the coffeemaker. Steve was so painfully honest, he always paid for the things he broke, usually out of his own pocket, even after the many times Fury had explained that S.H.I.E.L.D. had specifically increased their budget for punching bags.
“Agent Barton?” he asked, staring Hawkeye down.
“Don’t look at me,” Clint said, holding up his hands, and putting on an innocent face. Fury had seen that face more than enough to last him a lifetime. Usually after a debriefing where one or more of their targets has suspiciously ended up with an arrow wound in a non-critical body part. “Look at Stark,” Clint deflected.
“What?” Stark asked, clearly outraged at his teammate’s betrayal. “I didn’t break it. I mean, you all have met me right? I need caffeine to just function, I’m not going to damage the source.”
“Huh,” Clint said. “That’s weird. How did you even know it was broken?”
Tony rolled his eyes. “Because it’s sitting right in front of us, and it’s broken. Genius, remember?” he asked pointing to himself. At that, everyone in the room rolled their eyes.
“Suspicious,” Clint said.
“No,” Stark protested. “It’s not. Besides, I could build a better coffeemaker in my sleep. I don’t need this hunk of junk.”
“If it matters,” Dr. Banner said, speaking up. “Probably not, but Jane was the last one to use it.”
“Liar!” Jane protested. “I don’t even drink that crap. Who knows what you S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are putting in it. I don’t trust any of you as far as I could throw you.”
“Oh really?” Banner asked, sounding skeptical. “Then what were you doing by the coffee cart earlier?”
“I used the wooden stirs for my experiments!” she said. “Everyone knows that. And I’m just going to say what we’re all thinking: if anyone was going to smash something to bits it’d be the Other Guy, Bruce.”
“Okay, okay,” Steve said, interrupting. “Let’s not fight. I broke it. Let me pay for it, Director.”
“No.” Fury said. “Who broke it.”
“Uh, Fury?” Stark said. “Darcy’s been awfully quiet during this whole exchange. Just saying.”
“Really?” Darcy asked, turning on him, arms crossed over her chest.
Stark nodded, and the entire room broke into a loud argument. Steve was still doing his best to keep the peace, but his voice could no longer be heard over anyone else’s.
Fury smirked, and stepped back to watch them. He’d broken the damn thing himself. Given another ten minutes or so, he predicted they’d all be down at in the training room, at each other’s throats. Good, he thought. Things were getting a little too chummy around here lately.
“I need you guys to come to come to The Flight Deck after work with me today,” Clint said.
His words were met with a general chorus of moans and protests. Clint was going to have to accept it: his coworkers were a bunch of killjoys. They never wanted to come to the S.H.I.E.L.D. bar with him after work. It was insulting, seeing as he was part owner. Well, part of a part owner. He owned a few shares, but it was a stepping stone to something bigger.
“Tonight’s no good,” Bruce said. “I have some very sensitive experiments that need to be monitored closely.”
“No can do,” Fury said, and didn’t bother to elaborate. Clint was honestly surprised he bothered to speak at all. He usually didn’t.
“I’m on a cleanse,” Darcy said, deadpan.
“Please,” he whined. “This is important. You guys know I only ask you for things when it’s really, really important.”
“Last week you asked me to help polish your bow,” Steve said with a completely straight face. Behind him, Tony choked on air. Clint loved messing with Steve, it was just too easy. Plus, it had the added bonus of annoying the living daylights out of Stark, which was pretty well always a plus in Clint’s book.
“I think you can take care of your own bow maintenance,” Steve said, still completely serious. Clint resisted the urge to drop his head into his hands. Darcy burst out laughing.
“This is really important,” Clint protested. “I’m launching my new, high-end Asgardian style liqueur. I call it: Skald Juice.”
“What does Asgardian style mean?” Steve asked.
“Basically I got Thor to get me a bunch of Asgardian mead, and mixed it with a bunch of sugar and coffee, and some other junk. It kind of tastes like Kahlua.”
“I can only drink warm tap water with cayenne pepper,” Darcy said.
“Fine,” Clint rolled his eyes. He didn’t get why Darcy was doing a cleanse to begin with, but he wasn’t going to be the one to ask her. You just didn’t mess with Darcy, even if you were a world class archer and assassin. He’d heard about the incident with Thor and the taser. “Don’t drink it. Just get other people to drink it.” He shrugged. “Meeting in one hour, if you don’t make it, you’re going on my dunzo list.”
“What’s a dunzo list?” Tony asked.
“It means you and I? Are dunzo. Hanging out, getting food together: dunzo. You want to come over to my room and play video games: dunzo. ‘Hey, Clint, you want to come over and play darts with me?’ No. We’re dunzo.” He looked each of them in the eye to let them know he was serious. This was important.
“Fair Jane,” Thor boomed. “We must attend Clinton’s meeting.” Jane looked at him fondly.
An hour later, Clint had Jane, Thor, Fury, Darcy, and Bruce gathered around a table in an attempt to actually get some good, free press for his new drink. It was going to be a challenge. He explained how guerilla marketing worked, and what their roles for the night were to be. Fury, Jane, and Darcy looked bored. Bruce looked confused. Thor was taking avid notes.
“Let’s run through it once,” Clint said.
Bruce did a decent job with his lines (for once), Jane sounded dead inside, but that was pretty well her default setting. Then it was Thor.
“Yes!” he boomed. “I’m pretty!” There was a pause. “Boring. So I’ll take a beer too.” It was stilted, but pretty well anything sounded exciting and new in Thor’s voice, so Clint would take what he could get.
“Not me,” Fury said. “I want this night to get,” he paused. “Kay-razzy.”
“Crazy,” Clint corrected, drawing out the word for several syllables.
Fury raised his eyebrow. Clint was clearly going to have his work cut out for him if he wanted this to work. And he did. He really wanted this to work.
“I’m so glad we finally had a chance to talk,” Steve said. “It feels like it’s been forever.”
“I know,” Natasha agreed. “I’ve been so busy with my S.H.I.E.L.D. duties lately. Long hours, away missions. I’m getting sick of it.”
The two of them were sitting together, on a bench in one of the hallways of Stark Tower. Natasha had finally managed to get some time away from the Helicarrier, and Steve felt like it had been weeks since he had seen her.
“Let’s start with the personal stuff,” he said, getting down to business. The time they had together was so short, they couldn’t afford to waste it on small talk. “How’s Andrew?”
“Who?” Natasha asked.
“The guy from the bridge?”
“Oh,” she said. “Yeah, we broke up. I didn’t tell you that?”
“No,” Steve said, shaking his head, genuinely surprised by the news. It was hard to keep up with Natasha’s social life lately. Ever since things had gone sour between her and Pepper, really. “Why?” he asked after a moment. “I liked him.”
“Yeah, I did too,” Natasha agreed. “I just couldn’t handle his... face.”
“Do you think I could get that book back that I loaned him?” Steve asked.
“Oh, well,” Natasha paused. “I’m technically ‘out of the country.’” She made the finger quotes that Steve had seen people doing, but still didn’t fully understand. “So I’d have to call him from a weird number.” She shrugged.
“Oh,” Steve said. “Well, don’t worry about it.” He wouldn’t want her to have to go to any trouble.
“But I’m seeing this new guy,” she went on. “You would love him--”
“Uh oh.” Steve turned around at the sound of Tony’s voice. He was striding down the hall towards them, in his usual crisp three-piece suit combo. “It looks like somebody’s going to be late for his meeting,” he teased.
Steve smiled. “Race you,” he said.
Tony turned. “Really?” he asked. “Steve that’s so childish. So unlike you.”
Steve opened his mouth to say something, but before he could, Tony had taken off down the hall. Steve burst out laughing, jumped to his feet and followed after him.
“Bye, Natasha!” he called over his shoulder. “Sorry, I’ve got to go!” He let out a brief exclamation when he crashed into another person. “Agent Hill,” he said, straightening. “Always a pleasure to see you.”
Hill did not look amused. Steve ran past before she could launch into a lecture, Natasha’s faint, “Bye” following him down the hall.
Steve caught up with Tony right outside Pepper’s office.
“Beat you,” Tony said with a smirk. “That’s a first. Aren’t you supposed to have super speed?” he teased. “Because I gotta tell you, Steve, you’re not really living up to the Captain America hype right now.”
Steve rolled his eyes. “I would have beat you, if some people didn’t cheat,” he shot back.
Tony tsked. “Gotta keep up with the times, Captain. Not everyone is as upstanding and morally good as you. If you want to win, you have to bend the rules.”
Steve looked down. Tony was standing extremely close, and Steve wasn’t quite sure when or how exactly that happened. It was always like that between them, lately. There was a certain... tension that was undeniable.
The door to Pepper’s office opened, and she looked back and forth between the two of them. Steve cleared his throat and stepped back. There was another thing that was undeniable: Pepper’s rule about Tony not dating the Avengers. Steve had found that out the hard way during the unfortunate Clint/online dating site fiasco. It wasn’t a conversation he cared to have again, no matter how nice Ms. Potts had been about the whole thing.
“Gentlemen,” she said with a simple raised eyebrow.
“Hey, Pep,” Tony said, and breezed past her into the office.
Pepper looked back and forth for another moment, before turning and going to sit behind her desk, clearly willing to ignore... whatever it was she had just caught them doing. Steve let go of the breath he was holding.
“We need to find a new PR director between the Avengers and Stark Industries,” she said. “The old one, Janice Anderson, was fired this morning.”
“Why?” Tony asked.
“The short answer?” Pepper asked. “She went batshit crazy. The long answer is that her husband gave her a venereal disease, and she used the budget to put up signs about him all over Stark Tower. I’m sure you’ve seen them.”
“Oh yeah,” Steve and Tony said at the same time.
“Steve,” Pepper said. “I want you to help us choose a replacement. Obviously, the Avengers and Stark Industries work closely together, and you’re the leader of the Avengers--”
“Natasha should do it,” Steve cut in.
“Black Widow!” Pepper said happily.
“Yes,” Steve said nodding. “She’s perfect. She’s already part of the Avengers anyway, and she has the most experience dealing with public relations. And Stark Industries.”
Tony shuddered. “Don’t remind me.”
“Well,” Pepper said. “I have some candidates lined up already, and I want the two of you to interview them all tomorrow, and then choose a replacement. Knowing Tony, SI can’t go for very long without a PR Director.”
“Hey,” Tony protested.
Pepper just looked at him.
“Okay,” he said, shoulders slumping slightly. “Fair enough.”
Steve tracked Natasha down at S.H.I.E.L.D. with the care package he had specifically put together to prepare her for her interview the next day. Steve was so excited at the chance to have Natasha around SI more often, he didn’t let her lack of enthusiasm slow him down. Natasha was probably just overwhelmed by the exciting new opportunity. Once she had time to sit down with all of Stark Industries’ superhero related initiatives from the last five years, and really sink her teeth into the documents, she would come around. He was sure of it.
“I’ve been a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent for over ten years,” she said. “You don’t just quit that.”
“But with this job, you could make a difference. You could make a real change. Plus, we’d be working in the same building a lot more, no more lighting round catch up sessions. You wouldn’t have to go on as many missions. And let’s be honest, it would be nice not to have to pull strange things out of people’s butts every night.”
“You’ve mentioned that before. It doesn’t happen that often.”
“It happened one time,” Steve pointed out.
“That’s already too many times,” Steve said seriously.
“What?” Steve shouts. “Skald Juice! Here! VIP! High end! Exclusive!” He was reciting the words Clint made him remember, though he wasn’t sure he understood what they all meant exactly. Anything to help out a friend, he supposed. He spotted Clint at the bar, and made his way over.
“How’s it going?” he asked.
“It’s going okay,” Clint said. “I think. People better buy this stuff or I’m going to be screwed.”
“It’ll be fine,” Steve reassured him. “People will definitely buy it.” He had no idea if people will or not. He hadn’t been able to get drunk in over seventy years, so he had no idea of what people are even drinking these days. It seemed to him, though, the more exotic the better, and what could be more exotic than a drink partially brewed on another planet?
“Uh oh, uh oh,” another voice interrupted, and Steve turned to see Scott Summers standing at his side. He tried not to sigh. He wasn’t sure why, but Clint actually seemed to like Scott. Steve wasn’t the kind of person to be overtly rude, but whenever Scott was around it was more of a challenge. “S to the T to the E-V-E, he’s the hottest super soldier in all of S.H.I.E.L.D. organization!”
Clint and Tom went back and forth a few times about the club, and the drink, and making money (Steve thought--hoped--that was what they were talking about, anyway), but honestly? He didn’t understand about three quarters of the words coming out of their mouths.
“Well said,” he settled on, when it seemed clear Summers expected a response. “Listen,” he said to Clint. “I wish I could stay and help so more, but I have to get going. Natasha has an interview tomorrow and she’s going to be up all night cramming.”
“She may be up all night,” Clint said with a smirk. “But I don’t think she’ll be the one doing the cramming.” He held up his hand and Summers gave him a high five.
Steve turned to wear Clint was looking, only to see Natasha dancing with some guy, Steve thought he recognized from the S.H.I.E.L.D. PR department.
“Hey,” Natasha said with a smile, when he made his way over to where she was now sitting. “I’m so happy you’re here.”
“And I’m... seeing you,” Steve settled on, not sure how to say what he was feeling. He didn’t want to upset Natasha, but he thought she would be taking this opportunity a little more seriously.
“I’m surprised,” he said. “I thought you would be at home, preparing for tomorrow.”
“Oh,” Natasha waved him off. “That was way too much stuff for one night. There was no way I was ever going to get through it all. It was a ridiculous amount of stuff you gave me. You can see that right?” she asked.
“Oh,” Steve said, disappointed with her response. He had felt so excited about the opportunity to work closer with Natasha, he thought she would be excited by it too. “But you are going for the interview tomorrow, right?” he asked.
She nodded. “I think so.”
He tried to smile and sipped on the Skald Juice that was in front of him for a lack of anything better to do. It burned going down, and he could feel the warm liquid settling in his stomach.
Before either of them could say anything else, Natasha’s date came over and sat between them. Steve had actually met the man a few times before, and as much as he hated to say it, honestly did not like him. He tried to make small talk about something or other, but Steve didn’t pay much attention. He drank another Skald Juice instead.
Natasha and her date made a few more attempts at small talk, but Steve just couldn’t bring himself to participate.
“Oh, by the way,” Natasha said after a moment. “I don’t think I can get your book back from what’s-his-face.”
Steve waved her off. “That’s okay,” he said. “I should have known better than to loan something to one of your boyfriends. They come and go so fast these days.”
There was a beat of stunned silence. Steve couldn’t believe those words actually came out of his mouth. He didn’t usually say mean things like that. He especially didn’t say mean things like that about Natasha. He loved Natasha, she was smart and beautiful and competent and wonderful. He was just so angry at her lately. Had been angry at her, he realised. And not for the number of boyfriends she had, Steve didn’t care about that. But at the way she had been treating the people she dated, like they didn’t matter. Acting like her friendship with Steve didn’t matter.
But that was no excuse. Steve shouldn’t say mean things, particularly when he didn’t really mean them. It was just... he was drunk Steve realised. Or at least on his way there. Steve hadn’t been drunk in decades, hadn’t been capable of getting drunk in decades. Whatever Clint had invented was powerful.
“Excuse me?” Natasha asked, raising her eyebrow. “What are you saying exactly?”
“Oh come on,” Steve continued, unable to stop the words coming out of his mouth. “How long is it going to last with this one?”
They went back and forth a few times, Natasha talking about how the entire point of dating around was the chance to try on different hats, and Steve... Steve just couldn’t understand. Didn’t understand the entire concept of dating around, of having multiple partners. He didn’t care if that made him old fashioned or stupid, he just didn’t get it. Wouldn’t.
“Steve,” Natasha said slowly. “Are you mad that I came here?”
“No,” Steve said quickly. “You seem mad at me.”
“I’m not mad at you,” she said.
“I’m not mad at you either.”
They both sipped their drinks. Steve tried to think about another topic, something else--anything else--that they could discuss. Nothing came to mind, however, and all Steve could think about was the the thrum of anger and alcohol under his skin, an anger that had to have been building for weeks now without him having realised it, and a seven decade long sober drought.
Things quickly escalated from there.
“No offense,” Natasha said some time later. “But maybe you think I’m going too fast because you’re going too slow with Tony.”
Steve recoiled back from that. He hadn’t talked much with Natasha about his feelings for Tony. Hadn’t talked much about them at all. He felt a sinking in his stomach that he had been so obvious about how he felt. Who else knew? Did Tony? “No offense,” Steve snapped, feeling defensive. “But I’m going slow with Tony because I might lose my job.”
“No offense, but maybe that’s a little bit of an excuse for not acting on your feelings.” It was. It was an excuse, and Steve knew it. Pepper’s rule was in place for a reason, Steve knew, but it wasn’t like S.H.I.E.L.D. was going to fire him as Captain America. It wasn’t like he was going to be kicked off the Avengers. S.H.I.E.L.D. wouldn’t--couldn’t--do that. The same was true about Tony. No one was going to stop either of them from being superheroes, and yet, that was the excuse Steve hung onto, and really, when it came down to it, he was just scared.
“No offense, but I don’t remember you having an assassin’s degree in feelings.”
“Offense!” Natasha said, pointing her finger at Steve. “That’s rude.” She looked at him. “I’m going to go dance.” She grabbed her date’s hand and pulled him onto the dance floor.
Steve stood up. He couldn’t understand how things had gotten so out of hand so quickly. He looked down at the Skald Juice in his hand. Oh right. He was a little out of practice at the whole being drunk thing.
“Are you okay?” Tony said. Steve wasn’t sure where he had appeared from. “I heard yelling.”
Steve stood. He was angry. He was angry and upset, and he just didn’t want to think about it anymore.
“Yeah,” Steve said. “I’m very angry, and I’m very drunk. Do you want to dance with me? Go get me another Skull Juice.” The words he was saying were rude and didn’t make any sense, and yet Steve couldn’t seem to stop himself.
“That’s maybe not the best idea for you,” Tony said slowly.
Steve shook his head. He’d had enough of people telling him what to do. “Forget it,” he said. “Summers!”
“Yes,” Scott said. “Yes, I’m here.”
“Dance up on me.” He tossed back another shot.
The rest of the night passed in a haze of dancing and yelling. Steve couldn’t remember everything that was said, because between said dancing and yelling he also consumed a lot more Skald Juice. He definitely remembered saying, “Maybe we shouldn’t work together,” and Natasha agreeing.
That was just. Great.
“Is this everybody?” Fury asked at the end of the night.
“Natasha took a cab,” Darcy said. “Clint’s in the trunk, Bruce is on the roof.”
Tony staggered into Steve’s office the next morning. All he could see were his feet poking out from under the desk. “Steve?” he called.
Steve popped up with a speed that made Tony’s head spin. He had never seen Steve look that terrible.
“We have to go hire a new PR Director for SI,” he said, fighting off the urge to dry heave.
“I’m so hungover,” Steve said. “I’ve never been this hungover. I shouldn’t even be able to get a hangover. What was in that drink?”
“I feel great,” Tony said. “I ran 5K this morning.”
“No, I threw up in the shower.” Tony wished he could say this was his worst hangover, but it was definitely up there. Throwing up in the shower was something he hadn’t done in years. It was not an experience he had wanted to relive.
Somehow the two of them made it through their first few interviews without passing out or throwing up in the garbage can. It was a near call on a few cases, and Tony had definitely given better interviews (he’d also given worse) but they made it through.
“I cannot believe that fight I had with Natasha,” Steve said after the candidate left. Tony couldn’t even remember the guy’s name, let alone what any of his answers to their questions had been. It was going to be fun explaining that to Pepper later.
“Look, I’m sure you guys will work it out,” Tony said. He couldn’t imagine anyone being mad at Steve for long, especially Natasha. The two of them were usually joined at the hip, and Steve clearly loved her a lot. Tony fought down a pang of jealousy at that thought.
“I owe her a million apologies,” Steve said, and paused. “I think I owe you one too. I’m sorry.”
Tony stared into his eyes, and wondered how one man could be so painfully earnest. It was one of the things he loved and hated most about Steve. Steve always let everyone know how he was feeling, he was always honest, and good, and Tony had trouble understanding what Steve even saw in him.
Tony hated seeing that look on Steve’s face. Especially when there was something he could do to help.
It was easy enough to get Happy to drive him over to the S.H.I.E.L.D. base where Natasha stayed. He knocked on her quarter doors, and when she answered it was the least put together Tony had ever seen her. Her hair was matted on one side, and she was still wearing yesterday’s makeup.
“You’re wearing snow pants,” he said for a lack of anything better.
“Yeah,” she said. “I came home and thought I might go sledding.”
Tony took a look around the clean lines of the S.H.I.E.L.D. base and wisely refrained from commenting.
She let him into her room, and flopped back onto the bed, curled up with a bottle of Powerade.
“Steve doesn’t know I’m here,” he said after a moment.
She moaned. “I can’t believe Steve and I got into a fight about boys in a bar. I just keep getting flashes of all the things I said to him, and I just feel like such a dick.”
Tony couldn’t believe he was here, actually trying to intervene in another person’s friendship. In Steve’s friendship. Normally he hated people, and actively avoided them. “All I know is,” he said after a moment. “Steve is always talking about how important you are to him, and how much your friendship means to him. I just wanted you to know that,” he trailed off awkwardly, not knowing if that was the right thing to say or not.
Natasha smiled at him. “I can reluctantly see why he likes you, Stark,” she said.
“When did he--likes me?”
Natasha moaned again. “Oh god. Just ask him to the prom already. I’m sure he’ll say yes.”
Tony fought down a grin. “Did you want me to leave Happy here? He could drive you over to Stark Industries?”
Natasha rolled her eyes. “Yeah,” she said. “Yes, thank you, Stark.”
Tony shrugged his shoulders. “See you soon, Romanoff.”
It was worth it to see Steve’s face when Natasha showed up for her interview.
“I am sending you two on a trip,” Pepper said two weeks later.
Steve’s stomach sank. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to go on a trip with Tony, or that he wouldn’t enjoy going on a trip with Tony. That wasn’t the problem. Quite the opposite, in fact. Every time they were together lately, it was charged.
“That was the most sexual tension I have ever seen in a conversation about documents,” Natasha had calmly remarked earlier, when Steve and Tony had been going over cost analyses together. Steve had groaned and hung his head, not sure what to do about it. “Just avoid one-on-one tension-y situations,” she advised. And that was what Steve had planned to do.
Now Pepper was sending them on a trip together.
Steve didn’t like to think uncharitable thoughts, but Ms. Potts was evil.
“It’s Stark Industries AGM in Washington this week, and Tony, you need to be there,” Pepper continued, fixing Tony with a stern glare.
“Okay,” Tony said. “No problem.”
“It is a problem,” Pepper said. “Because every time you say, ‘No problem, Pepper,’ or ‘I’ll get to it later, Pepper,’ you never do it, and then I’m the one who ends up paying, Tony. Me.”
Steve and Tony stared at her little outburst.
“So, I’m sending Steve with you, because he’s a good influence, and you’ll do what he says.”
“Steve doesn’t work for you,” Tony pointed out.
“But he’ll do it anyway, won’t you, Steve?” Pepper asked, and Steve knew he would. “You’re the only one who can keep Tony in line.”
“Hey!” Tony protested. Pepper quelled him with a look.
“What about Natasha?” Steve asked. He knew it was a feeble attempt, and Natasha would likely murder him if she knew he was throwing her under the bus like this, but it had been her idea to avoid alone time with Tony. “Isn’t this kind of her job?”
Tony and Pepper both looked at him like he was crazy.
“You want to put Tony and Natasha in an enclosed space for an extended period of time?” Pepper asked.
Steve sighed. “Right,” he said.
Pepper clapped. “It’s going to be great.”
Later that night, Steve was over at Natasha’s quarters, trying to get ready for the trip he and Tony would be taking tomorrow. Together. Alone. “This isn’t working,” he said. “Everything you wear is too sexy, you’re not going to have any pointers on how to keep a situation unsexual.”
“For example,” Steve said, holding up a tiny garment. “What is this?” He blushed slightly.
Natasha smiled. “It’s the dress Julia Roberts wore as a prostitute in Pretty Woman. It looks great on me.”
Steve frowned. It wasn’t that he disapproved, exactly, of the revealing clothes women wore in this day and age, and he knew perfectly well that Natasha could take care of herself. It was just hard to get over the urge to protect. To shield. He shook his head.
“I need a sweat suit, or something,” Steve said, getting back on topic. He had come over for pointers on how to keep it in his pants, not to think about how Natasha got other men out of theirs. “I need to send out a signal that nothing is going to happen.”
“This is so insane,” Natasha said, throwing up her hands. “It’s so obvious that you two are dying to be together! And now you’re going on a road trip together? You guys could literally ‘get a room.’” She did the finger quotes again.
He groaned. “Pepper trusts me,” he said. “She asked me to help be a good influence on Tony. She has that rule,” he trailed off helplessly.
She shrugged. “All right. I’ll help you anti-seduce him. Just tell me what else you need.”
“I need to think about unsexy, boring conversation topics we can talk about in the car,” he said, coming around to sit on her couch. She joined him. “I have a few ideas. We could discuss the New Yorker article ‘The History of the Ladder.’”
“Okay,” Natasha said slowly.
“We could talk about different dorms at John Hopkins University, and I could read from my SoniCare booklet.”
“Oh, I have a good idea!” Natasha said excitedly.
“What?” Steve asked. He knew he was grasping at straws, and Natasha was always great at taking control of any situation.
“Why don’t you ask him about his penis?” She smiled hugely.
Steve just gave her a look.
The next day, Steve and Tony climbed into one of his cars. Tony had decided to give Happy the time off, so it was just the two of them. Which was fine. It was totally fine that they were going to be alone together for the next two days. It was fine.
They drove in silence until they were out of the city. By then, the quiet was driving Steve crazy. Despite Natasha’s warning that he should absolutely avoid his preselected conversation topics--he panicked.
“Did you--did you go to John Hopkins?” Tony asked, sounding bewildered when Steve had finished his rambling on bed lofting.
“Nope,” Steve said, feeling stupid.
Tony nodded as if this made sense, but otherwise didn’t comment. They were silent for several long moments.
“Do you want to play some music?” he asked finally.
“Sure!” Steve said, grateful for the distraction. “Natasha helped me burn a CD for the trip.” They had carefully selected a number of tracks that Natasha assured him were completely unsexy. Jimmy Carter’s ‘Crisis of Confidence’ speech, Learning to Speak Mandarin, sixteen minutes of old timey car horns (which Steve actually found a little comforting and familiar), and something called ‘Banjo Boogie Bonanza.’
Tony kept shooting Steve weird looks as they listened to car horns. Steve sat on his hands and tried not to say anything.
“It’s an amazing instrument, the banjo,” Steve said, when he finally couldn’t take it any longer.
“Yeah,” Tony agreed, nodding. “I didn’t realise it could be this... loud.”
By the time loud, screeching whale sounds filled the car, both Steve and Tony were clearly on edge. Steve had been so sure the tracks he and Natasha had picked out together would help diffuse some of the tension that had been building between him and Tony over the last few months, but instead, it just seemed to make them even more awkward.
“What is this?” Tony asked eventually.
“Whale sounds,” Steve said with a shrug. “You can change it, if you want.”
Tony leaned forward and pressed a button on the console. The car with filled with slow, smooth beats, and a deep, sultry voice.
“What the hell?” Steve asked, startled enough into cursing. He reached forward to turn the music off, but Tony grabbed his wrist, preventing him.
“No, leave it,” he said. “Al Green,” he said with a shrug when Steve looked at him. “It’s such a great song.” His fingers lingered on Steve’s wrist for a moment, until Steve sat back in his seat. Tony coughed and put both hands back on the wheel.
Most of the tension that had been mounting in the car as they listened to car horns, banjos, and whale calls, drained out. Steve allowed himself to relax, and listen to the song. He knew Natasha was behind it, obviously she was the only one who could be, but at that moment, he found it hard to be mad at her. He knew she wanted him and Tony to work out their feelings and get together.
Steve wanted that too. But there were rules. He was the leader of the Avengers, and he had responsibilities. To his team, to Pepper. He had to respect the rules.
“So what is this meeting anyway?” he asked.
Tony rolled his eyes. “It’s the Stark Industries annual general meeting.” He paused. “Basically, it’s a meeting that most companies and organizations are required to hold by law, involving the public, the shareholders, et cetera. It’s a waste of time, if you ask me, but we have to elect a new board of directors, go over all the year’s earnings and plans. Fun things like that.”
Steve nodded. “Why doesn’t Pepper have to go?”
Tony shrugged. “She does, she’s the CEO. I think she’s flying down tomorrow? I don’t know, she explained it to me, but I wasn’t really listening.”
“Tony,” Steve said.
Tony shrugged. “You know me, Steve. If it isn’t made out of circuit boards, or covered it blueprints, it’s going to have a hard time holding my attention.”
“Or a supervillain,” Steve added.
“Or that,” Tony conceded with a nod.
“I don’t have any of those things,” Steve said, then clamped his mouth shut. He couldn’t believe those words actually came out of his mouth.
Tony looked over. “You’re the exception,” he said.
Steve struggled to fight down a blush.
“Oh hey,” Tony said, reaching out. “You have an eyelash.” His fingers brushed up against Steve’s cheek, and he felt warm all over. “I got it,” Tony said, pulling back. “Make a wish.”
Steve thought for a moment, but before a wish could form in his mind, the song ended. “Learning to speak Mandarin,” blared from the speakers. He jerked back, and pushed Tony’s hand away from him.
“Get away from me,” Steve said.
“Sorry,” Tony said.
“I’m allergic to fingers,” Steve said lamely. He felt that familiar sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. The one he felt whenever it seemed like he and Tony were getting close, like maybe something could happen, and Steve could act on his feelings. He couldn’t. Steve knew he couldn’t.
“Maybe we should just not talk to each other for the rest of the trip,” Steve said, feeling terrible. “I’m just going to concentrate on these training drills.” He gestured to the paperwork he had brought with him as a distraction.
“O-kay,” Tony said, sounding a bit hurt.
Steve hated that he had made Tony sound like that. That it was his fault. But he had to be responsible. He was the leader. He had to follow the rules.
The meeting went off without a hitch. It wasn’t really a meeting so much as a whole day’s worth of events and activities, but Steve tagged along, made sure Tony showed up where he was supposed to be, had the documents, or the speeches he needed. It was boring, but it was a whole day with Tony and at the end of it, Steve couldn’t really bring himself to care.
There was a reception at the end of everything. Steve and Tony were hanging around for a little while. Tony had to put in some face time.
He looked down at his phone. “Pepper says, ‘Congratulations,’ and that ‘Together, we’re unstoppable!’” He grinned.
“Cheers,” Steve said with a grin. “You did it.”
Tony shook his head. “No, you did it. You were the one who got me everywhere on time, made sure I was prepared.”
Steve waved him off. “No,” he said. “Normally, I do it. This time you did it. It was all you, Tony. Just take the praise.”
Tony ducked his head and smiled.
A man with a camera walked over to them before Steve could reply. “Can I get a picture?” he asked.
Steve smiled. “Sure,” he said. He was used to having his photo taken by now, though it always made him feel vaguely uncomfortable.
Tony slung his arm around Steve’s shoulders and held up a peace sign with his fingers. They both smiled.
“Hey,” Tony said after the flash. “When this thing’s over do you want to go grab some dinner? Pepper recommended a place.”
“Sure,” Steve said slowly. He wanted to. He wanted to get dinner with Tony, but he also remembered what Natasha said about avoiding one-on-one situations. He didn’t want to say no and hurt Tony’s feelings, but he also didn’t trust himself to be alone around Tony.
“Yeah?” Tony asked.
“Hey, we were thinking about going for dinner, photographer. You want in? You want to grab some grub?”
“No, thanks,” the man said, sounding awkward.
“Are you sure?” Steve asked. He knew he should stop. He knew sounded ridiculous, but he couldn’t help himself. “They have great burgers.”
Tony looked at him like he thought Steve was crazy. “You don’t even know where we’re going.”
“I’m sure they have great burgers there, though,” he continued as if that was a sane and rational thing to do. “Come on, photographer! Last chance.”
The man walked away.
“Okay, well, then.” Steve said awkwardly. “It’s just us, then. I tried.”
Tony took him to a gorgeous restaurant. The atmosphere was quiet and intimate, the food was amazing, and the two of them sat closer than was strictly speaking necessary. They laughed and flirted, and Steve felt his resolve crumbling.
“You were great today,” Steve told him.
Tony smiled. “Thanks,” he said.
“I mean it, Tony. I liked getting to see this other side of you. I liked watching you work with people. You’re good at it. And I,” he paused. “I liked the things you said about the Avengers. It was really nice to hear.”
Steve hadn’t sat in on all of Tony’s meetings, mostly because he felt it would be rude to attend and not pay attention, but he had gone to the one where Tony talked about his role in the Avengers Initiative. They had been a team now, officially, for several months, and hearing Tony talk about how the team was special, how the team cared about people, and the work they were doing. It meant a lot to Steve.
“The Avengers are a really special team,” Tony said. “I love working as a part of it.” He paused. “And I look forward to the moments in my day where I get it hang out with the team, and talk to the team about stuff.”
He looked Steve right in the eye, and suddenly, it was clear they weren’t just talking about the Avengers.
“And,” he continued . “The team has really nice blonde hair too. They’ve read a shocking number of political biographies. For a team.”
“Oh gosh,” Steve said.
Tony put down his fork, and touched the back of Steve’s wrist. “I’m sorry,” he said. “And I know we can get into trouble, but a) when have I ever cared about trouble in the past, and b) I can’t take this anymore, Steve. I feel like we have to at least talk about it. It’s not just me, right?”
He sounded worried, vulnerable. It broke Steve’s heart a little bit. “No,” he assured him. “It’s not just you.”
They smiled at each other, and Steve felt happy. Then he cringed. This was wrong. He was the leader. He couldn’t--shouldn’t be doing this.
“Oh gosh,” he said again, and put his head in his hands.
“Are you alright?” Tony asked.
“Perfect,” Steve said straightening up. “I’m going to go see a man about some porcelain, you know what I mean?” He waved his hands. “I’m not buying cocaine.” Clint had explained that one. “I’m going to go to the bathroom. The wizz palace, as I like to call it.” Clint explained that one as well. “And I’m not calling Natasha. So.”
Tony looked at him as if he were crazy. Steve turned and fled.
He pulled out his cell phone and carefully dialed Natasha’s number. “Natasha,” he said when she answered. “We have a serious code Tony.”
“Well, it’s not really code if you say his name,” she said calmly.
“He told me that he liked me,” Steve said, frantically. “And I’m going to go make out with him right now. On his face.”
“Awesome!” she said.
“No,” Steve said. “No. Read me the script.” Steve had planned for just this occasion, because he knew that he wouldn’t be able to hold out against Tony forever. He knew that he wouldn’t want to.
“Seriously?” Natasha asked. She never thought Steve was serious about his scripts.
“All right,” she huffed. “Steve, it’s Steve Rogers from the Avengers, speaking to you through Natasha Romanoff, friend and beautiful assassin.” Steve mouth the words along with her. He knew what they said, and they were important.
“Thank you,” Natasha said, breaking from the script. “Do not do anything with Tony,” she said, getting back on track. “Be responsible, no matter how cute his mouth is. Your job is on the line!”
“Shut up, Natasha!” Steve said.
“You wrote it!” she countered.
“No,” Steve said, pulling the phone away to speak clearly into the mouthpiece. “You--no! Steve,” he said. “Steve, you don’t know what you’re talking about. I care about him very much, and I’ve had two and a half glasses of red wine.” He ignored the fact that he couldn’t get drunk. “And what that means is I’m going to go and make out with him right now and it’s going to be awesome.”
“Yay!” Natasha said. He could tell she was smiling.
“No!” Steve protested. “You’re supposed to talk me out of this.”
“No,” she said, dully. “Don’t. Stop.”
“Shut up, Natasha. I’m doing it anyway.”
“Yay!” she said again. Steve hung up.
He squared his shoulders. This was happening. Right now.
“Steve!” Pepper said when he walked back to their table. She sitting across from Tony and sipping on some wine. Steve felt his heart sink.
“Ms. Potts,” he said in greeting.
“I finally got away from my own meetings, and decided to come and join you. I heard things went so well today, thank you.”
Steve shook his head and sat back down. “I didn’t do anything. It was all Tony.”
Tony smiled tightly at him.
“So,” Pepper said, a bit of a smirk on her mouth. “What’s the plan now? Should we go for a long walk? Mini-putt?”
“I’ll probably just--” Tony cut off. “We should probably just head back to New York?” he looked at Steve.
“Yeah,” Steve said. “Yeah, that sounds good.”
“Nonsense!” Pepper said, and she was outright smirking at Tony now. “It’s too late, and we have a perfectly good hotel room.”
That was how Steve found himself, an hour later, sitting on the couch in the biggest hotel room he had ever seen. It was bigger than his apartment in Brooklyn. Pepper was in the adjacent office, getting some last minute work done.
“So,” Steve said. “Here we are.”
“Here we are,” Tony agreed.
He wanted to say something about what had happened earlier. Or more specifically, what hadn’t happened. Steve spent so much time fighting whatever it was between him and Tony, denying the feelings were there, and not allowing himself to hope that Tony felt the same way. Now it was all out in the open, and they couldn’t act on it, and that was somehow even worse than before.
Steve opened his mouth to say something else, but Pepper breezed past. “I keep myself very well hydrated, and my bladder is the size of a pimple. I urinate roughly twelve times a night.”
“You could have used the bathroom in the office,” Tony pointed out.
Pepper smiled sweetly.
Steve had the feeling he was missing something. “I think I’m going to go to bed,” he said at last.
“Oh yeah?” Tony asked.
“Yeah,” Steve said. “We have an early morning tomorrow anyway.”
“Okay,” he said. “Well,” he paused, and turned to face Steve. “Thanks again. For today I mean.”
Steve smiled. “Any time.”
Tony opened his mouth to say something else, but before he could they heard the sound of the toilet flushing, and Pepper came back out.
“That was quick,” she said with a smile. Steve could swear he heard Tony groan.
“Okay,” Steve said, standing. “Good night.”
“Night, Steve!” Pepper called.
“Yeah,” Tony mumbled.
Behind him, he heard Pepper say, “Well, now I’m up. Do you want to Boggle?”
The next morning they got an early start. Pepper decided to drive back to New York with them.
“Can’t you take the jet?” Tony whined. “You flew here.”
“I could,” Pepper said, hands on her hips. “But I don’t think I will.” She smiled again, and this time Steve knew he was definitely missing something between the two of them. With Tony he found it was better not to ask.
Steve tried not to feel too disappointed. It was for the best that nothing had happened between the two of them. It was what he had wanted, after all. The rules were in place for a reason, and Steve had to follow him. Steve knew that.
He tried not to feel too irritated on the drive back as Pepper asked him questions about the history of the ladder, and rocked out enthusiastically to the banjo music. He tried really hard.
The next day he was back at Stark Tower going over some paperwork from their last mission. S.H.I.E.L.D. was missing some details, and Hill had tracked him down and demanded it get done today. The ‘or else’ was silently implied.
Steve sighed when he realised there were parts on the form that he would need Tony’s input on. He gathered everything, and went to go track him down. He was usually in his workshop this time of day.
He trekked down, and punched his code into the door at the workshop. He could see Tony bent over his table, working with his soldering iron. Steve walked over, and waited patiently for Tony to finish up.
It was several minutes before Tony put down his tool and noticed Steve standing there. Steve took the time to admire him. Tony always looked good, but this was where he was in his element. Steve was constantly amazed at the things Tony could do. He felt the now familiar longing in his gut, and tried to remind himself he was thankful nothing had happened between the two of them yesterday. It was for the best.
“Steve,” Tony said when he was done. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh,” Steve said. “Well, I just needed your help on this paperwork before I can file it.”
“I see.” Tony stood, and walked over to where he was standing.
Steve held out the papers so that he could take a look, but Tony ignored them. He pushed them aside, and reached out for Steve, his hands coming out to settle on the back of Steve’s neck. Too stunned, he didn’t have a chance to say anything as Tony pulled him down and kissed him.
Instinct took over, and Steve wrapped his arms around Tony’s waist pulling him closer. Tony groaned slightly against his mouth, and licked along Steve’s bottom lip, and then inside his mouth when he gasped at the sensation.
Tony’s fingers were scratching lightly at the base of Steve’s skull, and when he pulled back after a moment, the look in his eyes was so open, so honest and affectionate, Steve had no choice to kiss him again, a little dirtier, and with lots of tongue.
They broke off gasping after a moment, and Steve rested his forehead against Tony’s. “Uh oh,” he said.