Tony liked it when things broke. It usually was an opening for him to go in and make them better.
That was why he stood in the ruined penthouse suite of Stark Tower with both hands on his hips, surveying the damage. Overhead, a loose cable snapped apart, spraying a shower of golden sparks. Tony barely noticed; his mind's eye was already lit up with Plans, not unlike the visor display in the Iron Man suit. He was feeling more cheerful than he had in months.
"There's something wrong with you," said Pepper.
Tony could only grin wider.
Tony was going at it with the paneling – yes, he could hire contractors to do this, but sometimes a little demolition was good for the soul – and digging into the walls to make sure the security feeds and systems were up and online. Some things couldn't be outsourced, and Tony would be damned if he let anyone else access the security mainframe in the Tower.
"Sir, Mr. Banner is here to see you."
"Let him in," said Tony absently, preoccupied with programming the backup security loop. "Unless he's green, in which case, defensive measures, Jarvis. Fort Knox this place up."
"I heard that," said Bruce, somewhere behind him.
Tony turned his head but didn't bother removing his goggles. "Does gamma radiation give you superspeed, too?"
"Not that I'm aware of," said Bruce mildly. Between him and Thor and Steve, Tony was probably going to go mildly insane with the lack of people who appreciated sarcasm or deadpan or any joke at all. After a pause, with Bruce taking a 360-degree look around, he said, "I guess we did a number on this place, huh?"
"Understatement of the year, possibly, but, eh, what can you do." Tony turned back to the security panel. "Plus, now I get a budget for new toys and Pepper won't even yell at me if I 'accidentally' blow the budget because we saved the world from a giant alien army."
"We're due for a meeting at SHIELD in fifteen minutes," said Bruce, voice somewhat closer now. A pause. "You're programming biosignatures into the security system?"
"Well, can't just let anyone walk in here, can I?" Tony said. Huh. Bruce read that program over his shoulder pretty damn fast. "Say, you're not due back in India anytime soon, are you? It'd be great to have you at Stark Labs. All the perks, even some time off to go be a humanitarian, if that's your jazz. I consider it an investment since it's good PR. Hey, I'll even throw in dental."
"I…" Bruce looked like he was trying to catch up to Tony's train of thought. Tony recognized the look; people often got that look when talking with Tony, although Bruce was quicker on the uptake than most. Bruce said carefully, "You're okay with that? With… the other guy around, too?"
"I trust you," said Tony with a shrug. He turned back to his work, trying to make it sound like it wasn't a big thing. Which it wasn't. If SHIELD kept treating Bruce like a goddamn time bomb, he'd never learn to deal. "Everyone's got their demons, Bruce. Yours just happens to be really big and green and obvious, but that doesn't make you any more dangerous than the kid who wakes up one morning and decides he wants to gun down his entire school."
Bruce was silent for long enough that Tony turned around again.
"Was it something I said? Pepper is normally my mouth filter, but she's in Hong Kong right now."
"No…" Bruce managed a lopsided, quirky movement with this mouth that was the closest he ever got to a real smile. "Thanks, Tony. It'd be great to work with you."
"For me," corrected Tony, but he grinned. "First order of business is programming the Hulk's biosignature into this for me because, against all my better judgment, I figure there may be a point in time when he will need to enter the Tower without being fricasseed."
"You're electrocuting intruders? I feel like that's illegal. Actually, pretty sure that's illegal." Bruce pulled the keyboard towards himself and began typing in the code.
"How about a springboarded catapult? I've always enjoyed the classics."
Tony built things with the intent of making them last. Stark Industries products didn't get replaced because they broke – they got replaced because there was a newer, better, shinier version of the same product and everyone had to have it. In fact, he still had the first robot he ever built, kicking around in the basement somewhere. And Tony wasn't kidding about the kicking, because he built it to play soccer with him. (Oh yeah, his therapist had a field day with that one.)
Point being, when Tony committed to making something, it was going to happen. And it'd likely be around for a long time.
"Are you sure about these modifications to the structure?" Pepper had asked him earlier, while they were looking over floor plans. She was giving him a funny look, full of curiosity. "They'll be hard to uninstall, if it ever came to that."
Tony bounced a rubber-band ball against the ceiling and caught it on its way down. "It won't come to that." I don't think, he adds silently, in the secrecy of his own head.
The Avengers had somehow deemed the Tower to be their post-mission recuperation hangout, seemingly because Tony went there, and everyone else happened to follow him. Clint said it was because Tony had the good booze.
It was the point of the night at which most people were dead to the world. If Tony were still taking pages from his old playbook, this would be the time when the party was just getting started. Everyone had nodded off at some point during Return of the King.
He and Steve were the only ones still awake. Clint was draped over the coffee table, dozing. Natasha was curled up like a cat in one corner of the sofa. Next to her, Bruce was literally nodding off, head drooping down slowly and then suddenly jerking upright, and then drooping down again.
"I'm guessing super-soldiers don't need sleep?" Tony went to the bar, stepping over Thor's legs.
Thor was snoring softly, sprawled over an armchair. Mjolnir was hanging from his wrist like a forgotten party favor.
Steve sat down on a stool on the opposite side of the bar. He folded his arms in front of him, leaning forward a little in his seat, and okay, even that innocuous movement was a pretty impressive sight. Not that Tony was looking. Steve said, "Eventually I need to sleep, but I can go for a fairly long time without it."
"That's what she said," said Tony, who couldn't help himself. At Steve's blank expression, Tony said, "See, it means… Oh, never mind. I'll explain it another time." He poured himself a club soda, and waved the bottle in Steve's direction, offering.
Steve shook his head, and while Tony was ducking behind the bar to put the soda away, Steve said, "Bruce told me you hired him to work with you."
"For me." Tony straightened. "But yeah."
"That was nice of you." Steve didn't say it like it was a surprise; he just said it like it was true.
Thing was, Tony almost didn't know how to deal with Steve Rogers. Something about Steve made Tony feel… itchy. Unsettled. It wasn't a bad feeling exactly, but… Tony didn't know how to classify it; he only knew it was strange.
Tony said, "It was self-serving of me, you mean. If you ask me, I got a bargain deal. He's the brightest mind in bioscience. Aside from yours truly, naturally."
Steve tapped his fingers idly on the crook of his elbow, watching Tony with an unreadable expression. Not guarded, but… measuring, almost. His eyes were crazy blue, almost phosphorescent, and Tony wondered if he could duplicate that eye color in a lab. "You know," Steve said slowly, "you're different from what I expected, after reading your file."
"Much more handsome, right?" Tony grinned around the rim of his tumbler. He didn't like where this conversation seemed to be going. Maybe he should add some vodka to the soda.
"No, I mean… You—you say all these things that make people think you're a jerk, but your actions are always…" Steve looked like he didn't know how to finish the sentence, and Tony thought that might be a good thing. Steve rubbed a hand over his face. "Anyway. What I mean to say is… sorry. About before. We got off on the wrong foot."
Tony blinked, and it took him a second to realize that Steve was talking about the fight on the helicarrier. "Wait. Wait, seriously, you're apologizing. For some stupid insults from almost a month ago? Are you sure you're not from 1920s England?"
Steve was turning a little pink, high on his cheeks. "Well, I didn't mean it," he insisted. "I don't even know why I was so irritated at the time. And I don't want you thinking I don't respect you. Because I do. So." He was blushing a deeper pink now.
Ugh, of course the idiot had to be downright adorable, too. Because the world hated Tony Stark.
With a sigh, Tony put down his glass. Stuck out his hand.
After a beat, Steve understood, and he shook Tony's hand. Steve's grip wasn't bone-crushing, just firm, and his hand was warm.
"I'm Tony. Nice to meet you."
"Steve. Likewise." And people didn't really get it, couldn't get it, the difference between the big toothy Captain America smile in photographs and this smile—smaller, but more honest –that hit you full force when it was turned in your direction.
Oh, Tony was in sooo much trouble.
The devil was in the details, and Tony knew this well. People thought Steve Jobs was a nutjob about details, well, he had nothing on Tony Stark.
What was the point of doing anything if you weren't going to do it right?
"You're possibly taking this to unhealthy levels," said Pepper, coming into the lab one morning after Tony pulled an all-nighter to build a long-range target practice simulator. Tony had to calibrate the simulator to ensure all the weapon trajectories were accurate, down to the last millimeter. The Robin Hood wannabe bastard better appreciate it, too.
Tony said around a huge yawn, "C'mon, Pep, when have I ever done anything at healthy levels?"
Tony wandered into the kitchen one morning, blurry-eyed and still half-asleep. He opened the fridge, more by memory of where it should be rather than by actually looking. He noticed an unusual shadow on the tiled floor that was not normally there. Tony blinked, and looked up.
Clint was perched on top of the fridge, in a crouch. He was eating a bowl of cereal.
"You don't look so hot in the morning, either," Clint returned indistinctly, mouth full.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Tony felt like he had fallen back in time to those mornings after nights of too many drinks, too many drugs, too many parties, too many everything—a morning where nothing was making sense, and where Tony felt like he was forgetting something important.
"Ugh, please not so loud," mumbled Natasha's voice behind him. She ambled in, smacked the coffee pot to life, and ambled back out.
Tony stared after her. "Someone want to clue me in on…" Tony turned back to Clint, but when he looked up, he saw Clint was no longer on the fridge. Tony turned, and saw him sitting at the breakfast bar, flipping through a copy of the Wall Street Journal. He was pouring himself a second bowl of cereal.
Tony jumped when he felt a huge hand clap him on the back. "Good morning," intoned Thor, positively beaming, and it just wasn't right for someone to be so happy before 9 AM. "Shall we break our fast together?" Before receiving an answer, Thor began banging open cabinets. "I shall endeavor to make these 'pancakes' of which I have heard much."
Tony rubbed his eyes. Then he rubbed them some more.
"Sorry," said Bruce, shuffling into the kitchen. His feet were bare. He peered at the coffee pot and then settled down at the counter next to Clint. "We got to talking yesterday after you went to your lab, and I guess we fell asleep."
"Ever hear of overstaying your welcome?" muttered Tony, but without any real heat. He reached over and handed Thor a frying pan from the dish rack, because it looked like Thor was about to attempt to cook with a pot lid.
Bruce shrugged, and grabbed a section of the paper from the discarded pile at Clint's elbow.
Steve showed up then, also looking far too chipper for the hour – because of course Captain America was a morning person – with his clothes slightly rumpled from sleeping in them. Steve put the back of his hand on the coffee pot, testing the heat, and pulled out a couple of mugs.
"Thanks for letting us stay over," said Steve. He held out a cup of coffee to Tony.
Tony looked at it dubiously for a second. Steve just waited, impassive, taking a drink from his own mug.
Finally Tony sighed and took the offered cup. "It's fine. You're welcome anytime."
Out of the corner of his eye, Tony could see Bruce giving him a contemplative look and Clint smirking, and he held up one finger to them as he sipped at his coffee. "Shut up. Not a word."
"What about?" said Steve, puzzled.
They were all coming over to the Tower enough that they might as well have their own spaces. Then they wouldn't scuff up the penthouse floors and wouldn't eat all of Tony's Cheetos (at first, Tony thought it was Clint, but Steve's fingertips were slightly orange the other day, and Tony swore he heard Thor one time down the hall, booming about "puffy orange delights" – so they were all in on it). Plus, they needed to train together, and if Tony could do it out from under the one-eyed gaze of Colonel Fury, all the better.
It was logical. It sounded perfectly reasonable when he was explaining to Pepper why he needed the budget for five new suites in the Tower.
Pepper stood up. Patted Tony's cheek on her way out the door. "Whatever you need to tell yourself, Tony."
Being the motley crew they were, their collective state of health after a mission was a crapshoot. A few of them were basically invulnerable, and a few of them (more precisely, Tony) were clearly the opposite of that.
Thor and Steve usually came back from a fight looking none the worse for wear. In fact, Thor looked suspiciously better, nary a golden blond lock out of place. Bruce was usually fine, too, although he often ended up in various states of undress once he shrank back to human size. Usually, he was holding up the barely-decent remains of shredded trousers with one hand, with a slightly bewildered look on his face.
Clint and Natasha were a little worse off—for one thing, they could actually bruise—but not by much. Clint was usually too high up or too far off from the front lines to take serious damage and Natasha… well, she was Natasha. She probably could survive a nuclear blast and still walk out looking great.
And then there was Tony. Whose vital statistics were basically dependent upon the staying power of his armor, although he would never admit it aloud.
"Fuck," he gasped as Thor tore off the dented chest plate of the Iron Man suit. Then he gasped some more, welcoming much-needed air into his lungs. Thor tossed the plate aside, and it landed on the floor of the penthouse with a dull clang. Absently, Tony touched at the arc reactor through his t-shirt; it was still intact and humming with its blue-white glow.
"Shall I remove the rest?" Thor sounded uncharacteristically uncertain. He got a grip on the left shoulder plates, ready to pull them off as well.
"God, no. I can only let my suit can take so much damage in one day. I'll take it off properly in a second." Tony flopped backwards, lying down on the lab table, sending papers and tools scattering everywhere. He flipped the mask up. "You know, this doesn't usually happen," he said casually to the ceiling. "I reinforced the hell out of that flexplating. I'm basically wearing a tank."
"But you got hit by a tank," Natasha said, and Tony pointed a finger in the direction of her voice, acknowledging the point.
Steve appeared in his vision, upside down, leaning over Tony's head. He had pulled the Captain America hood back, and his hair was sticking up erratically. "You need to go to a hospital."
"I'm fine, for the umpteenth time," insisted Tony. "Plus, I have a doctor right here." Tony didn't bother to sit up; he just gestured vaguely in the direction where he thought Bruce was.
"You need to go to a hospital," echoed Bruce, somewhere outside his vision.
"I just need to—" Tony stopped talking and nearly swallowed his tongue when Steve stripped off a glove and reached down, putting one broad hand on one side of Tony's ribcage, feeling and checking the bones through his shirt. Steve had to reach a little bit deeper inside the suit to do it, slipping his fingers between the little-to-no space between the suit and Tony's body. He repeated the movement on the other side of Tony's torso.
"Nothing seems broken," Steve finally admitted.
"See?" said Tony, although the suit's sensors were now warning him about a sudden spike in heart rate and adrenaline. "Totally fine. After a couple of Advil, I'll be peachy."
Steve was still staring down at Tony's torso, strangely intent. His hand skimmed across Tony's chest, and his fingertips brushed against the arc reactor, which was glowing faintly through the thin fabric of Tony's shirt.
The suit's warnings got louder, echoing inside his helmet, and Tony realized he was holding his breath. He forced himself to inhale and exhale regularly, because that was kind of important to do. He had the mask up, and hopefully no one else could hear the literal warning bells going off in the helmet.
"You guys wanna get a room?" said Clint, who was in the middle of raiding the fridge behind the bar, talking over his shoulder with his mouth full.
Steve jerked his hand back, turning red, and Tony pushed a couple of buttons along his inner elbow, so that his damn suit would shut up already.
Bruce was the easiest, probably because he and Tony had a lot of similar interests. Computers, books, science journals, training equipment, and a discreet area for meditation (because Tony didn't want to make assumptions, and he certainly didn't want to imply that Bruce needed it, but he was fairly sure he interrupted Bruce meditating in his room at SHIELD one morning). Tony didn't install a laboratory inside the suite, because the inevitable replacement and repair costs would be ridiculous.
The actual structure of the room was a challenge, though. Ideally, Tony wanted to keep any Hulk-sized destruction to a minimum. He ended up inventing this steel alloy that had a slightly flexible core—it was strong enough to hold up the ceiling but absorbed impact, giving under pressure rather than snapping.
"There's a zen lesson in this, I think," said Pepper, after Tony tested the prototype for her, slamming a sledgehammer into a sheet of the alloy. It dented, but very slowly sprang back into place, straightening itself.
"Yes, bend to the Hulk or you will break." Tony stripped off his safety goggles, satisfied with another genius invention well done.
Tony had assigned a particular ringtone to Nick Fury's number on his phone, so when the "Jaws" theme started emanating from his pocket, he gave it a moment before finally picking up on the fourth "da-dun."
"Hello, honey," said Tony. He cradled the phone in between his shoulder and ear, resuming his work. He hung the frame and took a step back, surveying the effect. Still not quite right.
"Stark, what the hell are you doing with the Avengers." Fury had a way of talking that made questions into statements, even though they really were questions.
"Is your eyepatch on too tight? I'm not doing anything," said Tony, bewildered. For once, he could actually say that was the truth. He had no idea what the hell what Fury was talking about. "I've been keeping my nose clean. Going on missions like a good little boy, sitting here, rebuilding my demolished skyscraper, and without a penny of help from SHIELD, may I add. Ask Pepper. Hell, ask Steve."
"Your," Fury bit the words out, as if it pained him to say them, "your team is never goddamn here. At SHIELD headquarters."
"Uh, I didn't realize we had a curfew, Mom. I'll be sure to relay that message to Wally and the Beave." Tony stared at the wall in front of him. It just wasn't right, but for the life of him, Tony couldn't figure out why. He needed to think about this more. "Jarvis, take a photo of this and make a note for me to reevaluate later."
Fury was getting irritated. Tony could tell by the way he was starting to get shouty. "Look, certain members of Avengers need periodic monitoring. And you need to make your post-mission reports."
"Aha! Lies. I know Steve calls those in every time, because I had to show him how to use a cell phone to do it." Tony picked up the phone in his hand again, now intrigued. "This is about something else, isn't it?"
Fury said, with a sigh, "I would say that I'd like to minimize their exposure to you because you're a bad influence, but I think you may take that as a compliment."
"No, that's not quite it, either. Oh, wait." Tony barked a laugh at a sudden realization. "Oh, this is precious. This is golden. It's because they'd rather be here at the Tower, with me, than over there with you, isn't it?"
Fury's end of the line was filled with stony silence.
"They like me better than youuu," Tony sing-songed into the phone, and Fury hung up on him.
Clint also wasn't hard to figure out, likely because (and this was one of the qualities about Clint that Tony really appreciated), Clint was straightforward. What you saw was what you got.
In Clint's suite, Tony set up a surround-screen target practice program for various long-range weapons, which could simulate distances of hundreds of miles. He also put in gym equipment, sleeping quarters, an entertainment center, and bookshelves full of comics and harlequin romance novels, which Clint read often and openly.
"Seriously?" said Tony, the first time he noticed Clint with a romance novel in hand. They were on a stakeout, both of them taking the bird's eye view, crouched on the parapets of a university building.
Clint shrugged, turning a page, and apparently no further elaboration was forthcoming. The book in his hand was titled The Passionate Pirate.
"Alright then," said Tony slowly, who had plenty of his own vices and wasn't in any position to judge. "I'm sitting on a roof in the dead of night, in a giant metal suit, next to an assassin who is reading a historical fiction romance novel. This is my life."
"Well, when you say it like that, it sounds completely reasonable," said Steve, voice warm and amused in Tony's ear, and Tony realized his comm was on the whole time.
"Oh god, stop with the flirting," said Natasha. "Iron Man, Hawkeye, look alive, trouble at your six."
Clint tucked his book away, and they were off.
Tony found Steve at the Tower one afternoon, hunched over a computer monitor, back to the door. Tony couldn't see what was on the screen from where he stood.
"If you're looking for the 'on' switch, it's the big circular button," remarked Tony. He came up beside Steve and stopped short.
On the screen was black-and-white footage – not newsreels about World War II, something else, although it looked like it was from the same time period. Tony had a brief flash of a dark-haired guy with a cocky grin and a pretty girl with victory curls and a great rack before the screen blipped to black.
"Uh," Steve straightened up. He scrubbed a hand over his face. "Sorry. Jarvis offered to—sorry, I shouldn't have been in here without asking."
"Jarvis?" Tony repeated suspiciously.
The AI was unhelpfully silent.
"I'll—I should go back to SHIELD—" Steve muttered, eyes downcast, and it suddenly hit Tony how bizarre and isolating it must be to take a nap and then wake up to find everyone you've ever known to be long gone.
"Wait, hold on a second." Tony caught Steve's—Jesus, fucking huge arm—and stopped his exit. "You don't have to apologize for being here. You can… I don't know, watch whatever you want. You can watch the entire seven decades of television and film you've missed, if you want. It's fine. But if you want to watch porn, I just ask you to sign an affidavit first testifying that I haven't been a corrupting influence so Fury doesn't maim me."
That got a grin and, predictably, a blush out of Steve, and he said, "Thanks."
"And hey, my afternoon's amazingly free today—" that was a lie, and the inner Pepper voice in Tony's mind was yelling at him about a very important board meeting that he needed to attend, "—and it's too nice out to be retreating to the dungeons. C'mon, there must be someplace you've been wanting to see. Paris? London? London's probably improved a lot since you last saw it—"
"I've been wanting to go to the Met?" Steve offered.
"And—" Tony stopped. "The Met? You do realize I have private jets, right? We basically can go anywhere in the world. The Met is up the street."
"I like art," said Steve simply. He shrugged, smiling a little bit, embarrassed. "I wanted to be an artist, you know. Before the war started." He said it like the war was a couple of months ago, rather than seven decades ago.
"Oh," Tony blinked. "I wouldn't have guessed that. But I guess I could imagine, you know, little-you, being an art guy. Alright, the Met. Let's go."
"Little-me and, uh, me-me are still the same person," added Steve, on their way out of the Tower.
"People get a little fixated on the muscles, Steve, you must realize."
"Do they?" Steve sounded genuinely mystified.
On their way to the Met, Steve strangely kept opening doors for Tony— even the doors that slid open automatically, Steve let Tony pass through first. Tony wasn't sure how to take that; it either meant Steve thought Tony was the equivalent of a girl, or Steve was just exceedingly polite, or, or—
Tony wasn't sure what.
Happy dropped them off at the Met (after swearing on a Bible that he would not tell Pepper where Tony was), and Steve made a beeline for the galleries containing paintings, drawings, and prints. He grabbed Tony's arm excitedly sometimes, eyes lighting up, when he came upon a piece that had been at the Met the last time Steve had been there.
And Tony had been to the Met countless of times before – galas, balls, charity events, too many to remember any event individually—but this time felt different. He hadn't even had the urge to check his phone, except for that one time where Steve stopped in front of a print, examining it for nearly fifteen minutes. But no one could blame him for that.
"Hey," said Steve, putting a hand on Tony's shoulder, turning him away from a da Vinci sketch. "Thanks, Tony. This is great."
Tony didn't know how to react to the sincere expression on Steve's face, and so he adjusted his cuffs, saying, "If you like it so much here, remind me to put you on the board of directors. They'll love you."
"I think I'd rather just visit with you," said Steve, giving Tony's shoulder a final squeeze before releasing him and turning to go down a different wing of the gallery.
Tony stood there, staring after him, until a cluster of tourists in matching neon orange t-shirts jostled him out of the way, demanding he move.
Thor was a little trickier. So Tony hired a consultant.
Jane Foster cocked an eyebrow at the half-finished room. So far, all Tony completed was the sleeping area. Even the training facilities weren't up and running because Tony still had to figure out how to accommodate Asgardian abilities. "This is what you wanted my opinion for?" she asked.
"Hopefully pro bono? A favor between friends."
"We're not friends," said Jane absently as she entered the suite and took a look around. "He likes reading, actually. And cooking. And violent video games, especially the ones with zombies." Jane stopped pacing around and leveled an accusatory glare at Tony. "Why are you doing all this?"
"Clearly I'm trying to steal your boyfriend, Dr. Foster," said Tony, deadpan, and he was rewarded with a punch to the arm in return.
Tony stripped off his goggles and rubbed his eyes. He spared a glance at his phone—which had six missed calls, ten texts, and one voicemail, all from Pepper—but didn't bother to pick it up. The sun was coming up over New York, filling the lab with sharp morning light. Tony rubbed his eyes again.
His phone buzzed, and Tony was prepared to ignore it once more, picking up a blowtorch and flicking it on. It flared to life, hissing blue fire. But when Tony leaned over the lab table, he noticed that the buzzing phone's display said "S. Rogers."
Tony flicked the torch off and picked up the phone. "Please don't tell me something is about to invade and/or blow up the Earth."
"Nah, not that." Steve sounded amused. "Pepper called me 'n told me to call you." His voice was rough and guttural, like he'd just woken up. He also bizarrely sounded more Brooklyn, although Tony had never noticed an accent before.
"Oh god, she's actually resorted to employing other people to nag me." Tony returned to the lightning conductor schematics he had been examining. It would be great if Thor could practice with his hammer without demolishing the Tower.
"She said somethin about regular meals and sleep, and using her secret weapon? Not sure what she was talkin about." Steve yawned into the phone. "You've been up all night." It was a statement, not a question.
"I'm a big boy, Steve. I'll be fine." Tony gestured at the conductor with a flick of his wrist, rotating the schematic to display it vertically.
There was a rustling noise on Steve's end of the line, and Tony's sleep-deprived brain really didn't need the mental image of a disheveled Steve getting out of bed.
"I'm gonna go for a run, and then I'm gettin bagels. What do you want?" It came out more like whaddya want, low-pitched and gravelly, which was not arousing at all, it really wasn't.
"To not be treated like a child?"
Steve ignored him, continuing, "I'll just get one of each kind; you don't eat enough," and without so much as a by-your-leave, he hung up.
Tony stared at his silent phone for a second. Then he got engrossed in building the prototype lightning conductor and it seemed like no time had passed at all before the scent of fresh coffee broke through the smell of iron and electricity and grease.
"Never mind what I said before, I think I love you," said Tony, pushing his goggles off and making a grab for the tray of coffee in Steve's hand.
"You're welcome," said Steve, and he was smiling, setting a paper bag on the corner of the worktable and opening it up. He was dressed in track pants and a t-shirt, and the center of the shirt back was damp with sweat, and sweat curled the hair at the top of his neck.
"I was talking to the coffee," said Tony, prying the lid off of one coffee cup and drinking deep. "But you're pretty great," he added with a wink over the rim of the cup.
Steve turned a little pink—Tony thought he would never get tired of seeing that, and that thought alone was worrisome. He offered Tony half of a bagel, already smeared with cream cheese. "You should eat. Then you should sleep."
"But I'm almost done with this," said Tony, gesturing towards the conductor. He took the bagel half anyway, biting into it. "And it'll be awesome. I mean, as if there were any doubt." Tony started explaining what the conductor was supposed to do, the energy alignment between the conductor and Mjolnir, and how Tony actually could link the thing up to the Tower's power generators to save on electricity, but then he noticed Steve was just smiling at him over his coffee cup, and abruptly Tony's throat dried up but his mouth became wet. He trailed off, saying, "Uh, what is it?"
"Nothing," said Steve, still smiling, and he was standing so close that Tony suddenly felt like there wasn't enough space in the room, not enough air. "I just think you're pretty great, too." And unlike Tony's earlier statement, Steve's was quiet and sincere.
Who said shit like this? Who was this direct and honest nowadays? Tony didn't know how to deal with these kinds of statements, and he was about to say so, but his voice stuck in his throat when Steve leaned in even closer, so close the fringe of his hair dusted Tony's cheek, and people shouldn't smell this good when they were sweaty after a run, should they?
Steve murmured, "I want… can I—"
But that was when Pepper burst into the lab, heels clicking, saying, "Tony, you really need to—"
Steve jumped back, blushing to the tips of his ears. Tony nearly dropped his cup of coffee on the floor.
"—oh. Um." Pepper was rarely at a loss for words, but it seemed this was one of those rare moments. She pointedly looked at neither one of them, fixing her gaze on something outside the window. "I think, I will… go back to my office now. I'll just… yes, I'll do that." She swiftly backed out of the lab.
"I…" Steve cleared his throat. He replaced the lid on his coffee. "I should go, too. You need some rest."
"Wait, what—" Tony demanded, bewildered, but Steve had already ducked out of the lab, throwing a wave over his shoulder as he went.
Tony gawked at the empty doorway. "What the fuck was that?!" he demanded to the now-vacant lab.
"I believe that was an aborted attempt to kiss you, sir," said Jarvis.
"Oh, shut up," said Tony, and he went to bed. And jerked off.
Natasha was even more difficult than Thor. But Tony had a suspicion that she would not appreciate Tony guessing at her personal interests or tastes, or Tony entertaining the idea that she had any at all. So he focused on making her suite sleek and efficient, if devoid of any personal characteristics. He's pretty sure she would prefer it that way.
"It's still missing something," said Tony, when the suite was nearing completion. It was modern and beautiful, but you couldn't really glean anything at all about the person it was meant for. Tony hadn't even installed any artwork – or color at all, for that matter. The suite was mostly white, offset with light gray, with accents of black and silver.
"A girl always appreciates flowers," said Pepper, not looking up from her tablet full of quarterly projections.
Tony refrained from saying that the idea of Natasha liking flowers was totally ludicrous. Pepper was rarely wrong, so Tony ordered a few rare orchid breeds—pale yellow, dark fuchsia, spring green—to put on the bedside table, at the desk, and arranged for biweekly deliveries of a rotating set of varieties.
"See? Much better," said Pepper, surveying the final effect, and Tony had to agree.
After the… incident with Steve, Tony had no idea what the hell to do. He ignored Steve's calls and threatened Jarvis with reprogramming if the AI ever let Steve into the lab again.
Tony was perfectly content to only speak to Steve from within the Iron Man suit going forward. And he would've followed through with that plan, too, except after only three days of this, Pepper cornered him in his lab. Where he was not hiding out, for the record.
"Okay, what the hell is wrong with you?" Pepper demanded, loud enough to be heard over the AC/DC blaring from every available speaker.
Tony pretended he couldn't hear, twirling a wrench around his ear, miming his confusion.
Pepper glared at the ceiling and snapped, "Jarvis, shut it off."
The abrupt silence that resulted seemed to swell and fill the room.
"Traitor," muttered Tony, and the AI made no reply.
"Please explain to me why you're being an idiot," said Pepper, perfectly calmly, although a nerve in her forehead visibly twitched.
"I have a lot of reasons. The first being that I didn't get enough hugs as a child." Tony let Pepper grab him by the elbow and force him to sit down in a chair. "Are we gonna have chair sex? Because, not gonna lie, that would be really awesome."
Oh wow, that glare really could kill, no metaphors necessary.
"Now," said Pepper through clenched teeth as she stood before him, hands on her hips, "I know real emotions give you heartburn—"
"And indigestion; don't forget indigestion."
"But," Pepper grated out, "you need to figure out how you feel, and how you want to handle this situation, because if you're not careful, you could lose a teammate, and a friend, and maybe a lot more, who knows. You understand me, Stark?"
Tony felt he had to look away from Pepper, because she could read him too well, and he didn't want her to read this. "He was the one who backed off first," he muttered. "Couldn't run out of here fast enough."
"God," Pepper sighed. She grabbed the arms of the chair, forcing Tony to look up at her. "Has it occurred to you that, maybe, the last time he's had a romantic interaction was in 1943? He tried. You have to give him more of a chance than that, and if you're running away now just to stop yourself from being hurt, I… I don't know what to say, except you will have to run your SHIELD errands personally from now on, because I can't deal with seeing that kicked-puppy face every time I go there."
"Are you done?" Tony asked, quiet.
Pepper straightened. "Yes, I'm done," she said evenly. She turned to leave.
Tony tried to smirk a little, but it felt wrong on his face, stretched and flat. "It's kinda funny, isn't it? You trying to set me up with someone new."
Pepper stopped on her way out. "I think he'd be good for you, Tony," she said softly over her shoulder. "For what my opinion is worth."
When Tony was alone again, he put his face in his hands, and sorely wished he still drank like he used to.
"Sir, per your request, I remind you of this photo and your note to reevaluate."
"Wha?" Tony looked up from his work and saw the image appear on the monitor closest to him, and abruptly remembered. "Ugh." He rubbed at his eyes, putting down his digital drawing pad. "And I still don't know how to deal with it." He had an old photo of Brighton Beach on the wall right now, but it seemed wrong. Impersonal.
"Shall I reset the reminder for a later date, sir?" Something in Jarvis's tone was… strange. Tony thought he must be imagining things; it was a program. But…
"Do you have any suggestions, Jarvis?" asked Tony suspiciously.
The answer Tony got was a different image on the screen. A pen and ink drawing of the Brooklyn Bridge, scanned from paper. It was done at an unusual angle, from up close and from below. There was no signature on it.
"Where did you get this?" Tony asked, but he had a feeling he already knew the answer.
"Captain Rogers discarded it. I believe he intended to give it to you, but recently decided against it." And what the hell, the AI's voice sounded mildly accusatory, and Tony was definitely not imagining it. "I took the liberty of archiving it."
Tony briefly felt ill, and he knew he was in serious trouble then, because the only person who ever made him sick to his stomach like this was Pepper. "God. Okay, blow it up and have it printed and framed."
It went on the wall of the last suite to be finished, and it was perfect.
When the time finally came to hand the keys to the suites over, Tony strongly felt like he didn't want to be there when it happened. He left them all electronic key fobs in their SHIELD lockers, labeled with their respective floor numbers – from Tower 45 for Bruce all the way up to Tower 49 for Steve – and let them figure it out on their own.
He himself sat in his penthouse, making a bit of a dent in his reserve bottle of scotch, watching the sun go down on Manhattan.
Jarvis said, "You may want to see this, sir."
"What is it?" Tony wandered over to the computer monitors, and he saw the live feed flip to the camera on the 48th floor, where Natasha was swiping into her suite. Tony only installed security cameras on the exterior side of the suite doorways, and nothing inside. Everyone was entitled to their privacy. But Tony had to smile a little to see Natasha put her hand over her mouth in surprise, and slowly walk into her suite. With Natasha, that was the equivalent of shrieking and crying.
The Avengers trickled into the Tower, one after another, opening their doors. Thor laughed like only Thor could—head thrown back, deeply amused. Even Bruce laughed a little, which made Tony feel proud, like he accomplished something. Clint shook his head, and he turned and looked over his shoulder, directly at the security camera, and pointed at it with a wink. The little bastard knew where the camera was? Tony thought he had completely concealed them all.
Then, lastly, Steve swiped open the door to Tower 49. He stood there for a full minute, not moving, expressionless.
Tony watched him on the monitor for a moment longer, but then he had to look away. His stomach felt hollow, and his hands were a little shaky.
But then his phone buzzed.
Tony checked the display, and answered.
"Where the hell are you?" demanded Steve, voice tight.
Steve knew how to curse? Tony's heart started skidding around in his chest. "Um. Upstairs?"
"Get… get down here, Tony, Jesus."
Two swears in one short conversation; this was groundbreaking. Tony took the elevator downstairs to the 49th floor, not entirely sure what to expect. He was jittery all over, like he had been on an IV drip of straight caffeine.
The elevator doors opened, revealing Steve standing there in his civilian clothes—even his clothes screamed 1940s, with his ironed trousers and tucked-in button-down shirt—with his hands on his hips. His expression was stern.
"You… don't like it?" Tony hazarded a guess.
"I don't—?" Steve repeated. "Tony, you—this is crazy. Where did you find all this?" He gestured behind him to the open door of his suite.
Steve's suite was basically a step back in time. The furnishings, the fixtures, the radio (which looked old-fashioned but really received satellite radio), the baseball memorabilia, the art supplies, the drawing desk and easel—everything either came from Steve's time or was designed to look like it did. The suite was split into two, like all the others – sleeping quarters and a training center. Even the gym equipment was vintage, but Tony had redesigned the punching bag himself, reinforcing the core with titanium. The ink drawing Steve had done hung on the wall opposite the bed, its glass cover catching the last of the daylight.
"Would you believe eBay? No? Uh. Well, my dad had a lot of your possessions. He wanted to find you, spent a lot of years trying to do it, and that probably led to him being something of a Captain America collector." Tony offered Steve a grin, which felt forced, stretching his mouth too tight with the effort. "Guess I followed in his footsteps in that respect, at least. But if you don't—I mean, I can—"
"I like it," said Steve, and he grabbed Tony's shoulders for emphasis, "you completely insane genius billionaire playboy, of course I like it."
"Oh," said Tony. "I… That's good. I wasn't sure—"
"Stop talking for a second," said Steve, soft. He was still holding onto Tony, but he slid his hands down from Tony's shoulders to cup his elbows.
"Have you met me? Not sure that's possible without knocking me unconscious somehow," rambled Tony, feeling a little woozy from how close they stood. He had no idea where the hell to put his hands; they clenched and unclenched uselessly at his sides. It was ridiculous, but somehow Steve had the ability to make Tony feel like he was all of fifteen again, confused and jumpy. And turned on. All. The. Damn. Time.
"Tony," said Steve, still quiet but so damn inevitable, and Tony's mouth snapped shut on its own accord, and Steve leaned in and kissed him.
Even though Tony knew it was coming, he still inhaled sharply, surprised, at the first contact of Steve's mouth against his. Steve's mouth was searing, over-warm like the rest of his body, his lips chapped and sweet with coffee. He kissed chastely but deep, angling his head to better access Tony's mouth. Tony groaned, hands finally figuring out what to do, reaching up and cupping the back of Steve's head, pulling him in more, opening his mouth and pressing the tip of his tongue against Steve's lips.
Steve made a little choked noise against Tony's mouth, his grip on Tony tightening painfully for a second, but he opened his mouth too, deepening the kiss, and oh god, if Tony wasn't already acutely familiar with heart trauma, he'd think he was having a heart attack. As it was, he thought he might possibly be losing his mind—or maybe it was dribbling out of his ears.
Steve broke away, taking a breath, and Tony groaned a little at the loss, grabbing a handful of Steve's shirt and jerking him close again. Their noses bumped. Tony pressed a kiss without really aiming anywhere in particular, landing on the corner of Steve's mouth.
"Was that—was that okay?" Steve was kind of breathless, his warm exhales tickling Tony's cheek. He nuzzled at Tony's lips, nosed at Tony's goatee, and this guy was going to drive Tony completely bonkers with how hot he was.
"Okay? Okay?" Tony repeated. "Christ, let me show you how okay it was." And he pushed Steve backwards into his room, kicking the door shut behind them.
"Wait, wait," said Steve on the edge of a laugh, as Tony kept pushing him back, towards the bed. They were tangled up in each other, Tony still grabbing Steve by his shirt, Steve still gripping Tony by the arms.
"Like hell I'm waiting," said Tony, in between kisses, "Drove me—fucking crazy—this whole time—"
"Me?" said Steve, and the sound came out more like a squeak when Tony kissed along his jawline, dragging his mouth close to the juncture between Steve's ear and neck. He smelled good, like hard soap and coffee and a hint of peppermint. "What about you? You, you're—oh, your mouth, Tony—"
"My best and worst feature, I'm told," Tony mumbled, and he released his hold on Steve's front, skimming his hand down and feeling Steve's stomach jump under his touch, Steve's gasp in his ear, and Tony groaned. Even his breathing was hot. "I'm, I wanna— Jesus, I want to do everything to you—"
"Oh god." Steve squeezed his eyes shut, pressing his forehead against Tony, breathing heavy. He was blushing like crazy, spilling down his neck, into the front of his shirt, and it was so damn attractive on him that Tony thought it should probably be illegal, looking like that. And then Steve nodded, oh thank the lord, because Tony was pretty sure he'd go and shoot himself if Steve wanted to stop now.
Tony tugged Steve's shirttails out of his waistband, reaching up underneath to run his hands over the over-warm skin of Steve's torso, feeling the shift of Steve's muscles under his hands. Then he had to let go for a second—a horrible, terrible tragedy—to fumble at the shirt buttons, finally prying them open—although possibly the last few popped off and flew away, making Steve laugh and Tony mutter, "I'll buy you another one." Finally, finally, he had Steve's shirt open and his hands spread over Steve's—god, ridiculously muscled—chest, warm smooth skin everywhere.
Steve tugged on the hem of Tony's shirt as he licked into Tony's mouth in another kiss. "Only fair," mumbled Steve, and hell, Tony wasn't going to complain. He obediently lifted his arms and Steve tugged his shirt off, tossing it aside. Steve mouthed at Tony's neck, bending his head low and kissing him there as thoroughly as if he were kissing Tony's mouth and Tony was making high, breathy, completely embarrassing noises into Steve's ear.
"Wha?" Tony belatedly realized Steve was asking him something.
"Does it hurt?" Steve's voice was quiet, and his fingers were careful as they brushed against the exposed arc reactor in Tony's chest.
"Uh." Tony had to pause a second to figure out what Steve meant. "Huh. No one's asked me that before." Tony reached between them, taking Steve's hand in his own, pressing a kiss to the knuckles. "No, it doesn't hurt," he said gently. Then, less gently, "So, just letting you know, I'm going to jump you now."
Then it was Steve's turn to say, "Wha?"—just before Tony proceeded to act as promised, and he pushed them down onto Steve's brand new bed. Steve landed on his back with a bounce and a laugh that quickly turned into a gasp when Tony braced himself over Steve and kissed him hard.
"Tony," Steve groaned, when Tony broke away to kiss at Steve's chest through the open front of his shirt, "come back up here."
"Wow, you're really going to change your tune in a second," said Tony with a chuckle, and he made his way down Steve's body with biting kisses, enjoying the way Steve gasped and clutched at him, putting warm hands into Tony's hair, and he was especially noisy when Tony licked at the underside of his pectoral muscles, pressing kisses above his ribs. Tony skimmed a hand around Steve's waist, undoing his belt buckle and zipper, exposing how his cock strained against his underwear.
"Uh," Steve choked when Tony's fumbling caused him to brush against the prominent ridge in his underwear, "Are you—" Tony crawled further down. "Oh my god—"
"You said you like my mouth, right?" said Tony, voice falling to a pitch he himself didn't even recognize, and he mouthed the tip of Steve's erection through his underwear, dampening the cotton there.
Steve bucked up, head thrown back, "Oh, oh Christ, Tony—"
Tony thought he should probably do this right, make it good, but Steve was getting a death grip on his hair and Tony was kind of dizzy from all the kissing and there was a dull roar in his ears and he was practically humping the bed, he was so turned on, and he wasn't thinking, not at all. He just nosed open Steve's underwear, letting Steve's cock slip free, bumping Tony in the chin, streaking its wetness against there, and it was just so easy for Tony to open his mouth and—
"Tony, fuck," Steve moaned, and he must be doing a good enough job, to get Steve to swear like that. But then Steve was pushing at Tony's shoulders, gasping, "Oh god, stop, stop—"
Tony pulled off. "Wh—" he was about to ask, and then Steve came on his face, splattering come on his chin, on Steve's stomach.
"Oh my god," moaned Steve, clapping his hands to his face, and Tony couldn't tell if it was afterglow or if he was embarrassed.
"Okay," said Tony, wiping at his beard and licking his lips, straightening up again and leaning over Steve's body, "You do realize that was stupidly hot, right? It's alright. Hey, come back down to earth, soldier." He pulled Steve's hands away so he could kiss him.
Steve kissed him back, and then he licked at the come on Tony's face, Jesus Christ, this guy was going to drive Tony out of his ever-loving mind, and Tony was distracted enough by the licking that he almost didn't notice Steve's hand reaching down between them to tug down Tony's pants and—
Tony gasped, and bit Steve's mouth by accident, drawing blood. He arched up, bracing himself over Steve with one hand flat against the headboard, fucking into the warm circle of Steve's hand. "You, you're—" Tony couldn't even say it, choking on the words.
"Let me do this," said Steve, licking away the blood on his lips absently, turning on that soldier-in-the-field intensity that Tony had seen plenty of times before, except now he was focusing it on Tony's dick. Steve jerked him off with a hard, stripping grip, and his other hand roamed over Tony's back, sliding over his spine and down, cupping his ass, pushing him forward encouragingly in rhythm with his pulls.
"Uh, oh god, I'm gonna come on you," panted Tony into Steve's hair.
Steve just growled, dragging his mouth over Tony's collarbone in loose kisses, jerking him faster, and oh fuck, he wanted Tony to do it, he wanted—
Then Steve mouthed the arc reactor, kissing slowly, tongue running around the rim of it.
"Holy motherfucking shit." Tony moaned and came helplessly, like it was forcibly punched out of him, completely broken.
His supporting arm gave out on him and he fell forward, feeling like it was happening in slow motion, and Steve caught him.
"Tony?" Steve ran his two broad, warm hands up and down Tony's back. "Alright?"
"Oh my god, I'm totally going to build a time machine just so we can go back and do that again. And again." Tony panted into Steve's chest. He was buzzing all over, shivery with it. "And one more time."
Steve's laugh was warm rumble against Tony's body, more felt than heard. "We don't need a time machine for that."
"Oh, I like you," said Tony, and grabbed Steve by the ears to pull him into a kiss.
They agreed the next morning, without saying in so many words but rather by silent mutual understanding, that they would be discreet. Which was why Tony was sitting at one end of the breakfast bar, trying to read the news on his tablet, while Steve sat on the opposite end, eating his toast, with two seats between them.
Except whenever Tony glanced up to sneak a look at Steve (who was sitting there in a rumpled t-shirt and sweatpants, who wouldn't look), he inevitably found that Steve was already looking at him. Steve would jerk his gaze away, turning a little pink, and Tony would smile down into his coffee like an idiot before he could stop himself.
Bruce wandered in, rubbing his eyes. He sat down on one of the barstools between Tony and Steve wordlessly. Then he put his head down on the counter.
"You alright there, Doc?" remarked Tony.
"Nothing coffee won't fix," said Bruce amiably, voice muffled as he didn't bother to lift his head. He yawned. "I'll get it in a sec."
Steve got up instead, retrieving the coffee pot and pouring out a cup for Bruce.
"Thank you, by the way," said Bruce to Tony, and Tony waved the words off.
Natasha slid into the kitchen then, snaking the mug out of Steve's grasp just as it was filled. Steve frowned at her, and she smiled winningly at him in response. "Thanks, Dad," she said, insincere.
"Hold on," said Tony. "If anyone is the father figure of this Island of Misfit Toys, it's me."
Natasha snorted, and Tony was not sure how to take that.
"How 'bout we call it moot and just say you two've become alarmingly codependent in a short amount of time," said Clint, arriving just in time to steal Steve's second attempt at pouring Bruce a cup of coffee. He raised his pilfered mug in salute to Tony, sliding into the last open barstool. "Thanks, man. For the room. The simulator is awesome."
"Greetings!" Thor burst in, because Tony was pretty sure Thor didn't know how to enter a room any other way. He paused, and his face positively lit up as he looked back and forth between Tony and Steve. "Oh, friends, let me congratulate you on your post-coital happiness."
Tony choked on his mouthful of coffee, and Steve nearly dropped the mug in his hand. He saved it from shattering on the floor by catching it at the last second.
"Our—what?" Steve stammered.
Thor said, confused, "Am I incorrect? I can sense it. It is in the air."
"Are you telling me Asgardian superpowers include the ability to know when people have had sex?" said Clint.
Bruce thumped on Tony's back, since he was still choking and coughing.
Natasha glanced at Tony, then at Steve. "Wait," she said slowly. "Thor is right, isn't he?"
"Ooohhh Fury is gonna castrate you," said Clint to Tony, entirely too gleefully.
Forgetting about pretenses, because it was basically a lost cause now, Tony demanded, "Why me? It takes two to tango. Especially the horizontal kind of tango."
"Oh my god," said Steve, putting a hand over his eyes.
"Do not concern yourselves with Colonel Fury," declared Thor, "for we shall defend your virtue."
"Or lack thereof," said Natasha in an undertone, but she was smiling a little.
They continued like that over the last of the coffee and a round of eggs and toast, and Tony let the conversation wash over him—because if he listened too closely, he was bound to get a headache. He folded his arms and put his head down on the counter.
A warm hand landed on his shoulder, squeezing a little.
Tony raised his head to see Steve looking down at him with a smile. Behind Steve, Clint was foolishly agreeing to a boiled-egg eating contest with Thor. Bruce and Natasha were placing bets.
"Hi," Tony said.
"Hi yourself," said Steve, and it sounded a lot like welcome home.