It wasn’t that Tony kept surprising Steve at every turn, it was that the surprises were… surprisingly pleasant. He’d walked into Stark Tower –– now ‘A Tower’ thanks to the Chitauri, Loki and Thor, mostly –– and winced at the devastating destruction of Tony’s home. Something he’d clearly worked long and hard on, to build and design to be self-sustaining. The wreckage was all over New York; people’s homes, jobs, lives, put on hold for goodness knows how long. And still it was different, a little more painful, to step over pieces of what once was a coffee table of someone he knew, fought with, expected to die next to, and that was why his voice was a little more gentle than usual when he spoke to Tony, as he said,
“Need a hand, Mr Stark?”
He had expected Tony’d be looming over whoever his clearly ample budget had hired to do the cleaning up, but instead he found him on elbows and knees beneath a metal table that obviously didn’t belong in a living room, fiddling with wires. Tony’s back stiffened fractionally, before he turned, careful smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes in place. Steve felt a small stab of unease that this particular smile was one reserved just for him.
“Oh, hey Cap. Unless you know how to rewire a burnt out blowtorch, not really.” Tony sat up on his knees, body half twisted toward Steve. His shirt sleeves were rolled up to bare his forearms, which were scraped and bruised and Steve frowned, wondered what had happened, before remembering his healing was serum-enhanced now and everyone else’s wasn’t.
“I’m afraid I don’t,” Steve said a little sheepishly and still frowning. For some reason that made Tony smile more genuinely.
“Well, then,” he said, grabbing a dirty rag to wipe his hands on. “What can I do for you?” He got to his feet and walked up to Steve, stopping a few feet away.
“I just. Well. I’ve been –– are you wearing a suit?”
Tony looked down at his chest and then his legs, face genuinely amazed as he said, “Oh. I must’ve forgotten ––“ He waved a hand, pulled a face, dismissing it as if what he did wasn’t important, as if he thought Steve couldn’t possibly care. “Press conference, not the first shirt I’ve ruined. You were saying?”
“Ah, um, I’ve been checking up on everyone, see how they’ve been doing and you’re, uh, a little harder to get hold of, so I thought I’d come and find you. Mr Hogan let me in.”
“Oh. Right. Well, as you can see,” Tony swept an arm around the room to indicate the chaos, “everything’s just peachy.” He was grinning, as if it really was. But Steve was learning how to look now, and saw the dark shadows beneath Tony’s eyes, the slightly weary reserve in them. It brought on a burst of honesty.
“Actually, I think we’re all falling apart. The Avengers I mean. In the aftermath of the fight, we all just went our own ways. It took me two weeks to track down Hawkeye and Black Widow, never mind get hold of you. I think we should at least,” he hesitated, didn’t know how to express what he meant, really. “Debrief,” he finished a little weakly. He thought Tony would laugh, braced himself for it, but instead he just looked at Steve, a little calculating.
“You know, Cap,” he said, quietly, “I’ve been thinking the same thing. Come, have a look at this.” He threw the rag down on the metal table and walked toward a desk holding, amongst random pieces of debris, three large see-through screens. Tony tapped a few buttons, touched what looked like plans and spread his fingers. The schematics followed the movement and blew up so Steve involuntary took a step back. “It’s all right,” Tony said with a glance out of the corner of his eye, looking amused but not in an unkind way. Steve looked closer, saw they were plans for the tower, and then recognized a small picture of his shield.
“What are these?” Steve asked, stepping closer, looking at a living room, a kitchen, a bedroom and a small room labeled ‘studio’. When Tony said nothing, he looked back at him and was surprised to see him appearing bashful of all things.
“Well,” Tony said, clearing his throat, “I have all this space and I know that most of you don’t have a place to live here in New York, not really, and, well, even Thor could use something he can call a base when he’s on earth and,” he shrugged, looking down at his hands and back at Steve again. “I thought it could be useful if we have somewhere to call …um, home.”
“Right,” Steve said, having to swallow past a lump in his throat. “Right. That’s, yeah, that makes sense.” He looked back at the plans, saw a gym there, a shooting range, a reinforced lab. He shook his head, wondering how he could’ve been so wrong.
“I mean,” Tony said behind him. “We don’t have to. Obviously, it’s just an idea, something I thought, but of course it’s stupid, I’ll just ––“ He reached out to swipe away the drawings but Steve stopped him with a hand on his wrists, the bones surprisingly broad beneath his fingers.
“Is Ms Potts all right with this?” he asked, and if he hadn’t been looking closely, learning that Tony’s face was something to be studied to get to the meaning beneath his words, he would’ve missed the wince.
“Yeah. Pepper is, she’s, she’s fine. With it. She’s not, anyway, like I said, it’s just an idea.”
“I’m sorry,” Steve said, and for a second Tony’s eyes widened dramatically before his face closed down.
“For the things I said to you, on the helicarrier. I––“
“Cap,” Tony said, looking down, and Steve realized he was still holding Tony’s wrist, so he let go. “We were under the influence of the Tesseract, we all said things we didn’t mean.”
“No, I did mean them,” Steve said and Tony huffed a startled little laugh, muttered something like, well, that’s good to know, but Steve was shaking his head and talking over him. “What I mean to say is, I did think those things. I would never have said them out loud without the Tesseract but I did think them, and that is why I want to apologize. To let you know I was wrong. I know now that it’s the suit that is nothing without you. So I am sorry.”
“I––“ Tony said, looking for all the world as if he was about to run away, but he gathered himself quickly and waved a hand about, as if it didn’t matter. Steve was starting to know better. “It’s nothing,” he said quickly, and turned around. “I should probably tell you I didn’t mean––“ he muttered but then the door opened behind them and Bruce walked in, nose buried in a folder filled with papers.
“Hey Tony, the basement lab is cleared and you’ll be happy to know all your cars are … oh. Hi Steve.”
“Mr Banner,” Steve said, holding out a hand for him to shake and, of course Tony wasn’t alone. Bruce flicked a gaze between the two of them and smiled.
“Been showing the Captain your plans for Avengers Tower?” he asked and Tony spluttered a surprised cough.
“Avengers Tower?” Steve asked, a smile tugging at his mouth.
“Well,” Tony said, “it’s a joke, sort of, with, you know, just the A hanging around and,” he glared at Dr Banner. “Thanks Bruce.”
“My pleasure,” he said with a pleasant little smile and then turned to Steve. ‘So are you going to help us clear this place out?”
“I––“ Steve began, darting a look at Tony whose face was carefully composed. “If that’s okay with T––Mr Stark.”
“Of course it is,” he said gruffly, “but only if you stop the Mr Stark business and call me Tony.”
“Um. Okay, if you call me Steve. I’m only the Captain with the uniform on.”
“Is that so?” Tony asked, eyes twinkling. “I’ll remember that. JARVIS, do we have a bedroom in reasonable shape for Steve?” Tony said as he walked back to his broken blow torch.
The one down the hall from yours is in relatively good condition, Mr Stark, someone said and Steve just about jumped out of his skin.
“That’s Tony’s AI,” Bruce said, “he runs the house.”
“AI?” Steve said weakly.
“He’s an Artificial Intelligence.”
“Of course he is,” Steve said, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“You can ask him anything you want,” Tony called from the other side of the room. “JARVIS, meet Steve.”
Nice to meet you Mr Rogers, JARVIS said.
“Uh. Nice to meet you too, JARVIS, and please call me Steve.”
“Too British and polite for that,” Tony said, “I’ve been trying to get him to call me Tony for years.”
“But, you …” Steve paused, “created him.”
“Doesn’t mean he can’t have a mind of his own.”
“Does it?” Steve said to Tony’s backside as it stuck out from under the table. Beside him Bruce shrugged and wandered away.
At first he didn’t understand, why Tony did almost all the work himself. He didn’t think about it at all really, until he found Tony underneath a kitchen sink in what would become Black Widow’s floor, swearing like a sailor.
“What’s the matter,” Steve said and then there was a bang, an ow, and a fuck, and then Tony appeared, face smudged with grease. Steve was starting to have difficulty remembering what he looked like clean.
“I never did get the hang of plumbing,” he growled and crawled upright, putting a hand in the small of his back and groaning as he bent around it. “I have the right to suck at something.” Tony glared at the sink as if it personally offended him.
“I can have a go if you like,” Steve said and then rolled his eyes when Tony peered at him. “We did have sinks in the forties, you know. And unless this one comes with relays, I think I can deal with whatever’s wrong with it.” He frowned as Tony took a step back, splaying out a hand as if he was inviting Steve into his living room instead of an uncomfortable spot in a slightly wet cabinet. “What is wrong with it?” he asked, kneeling.
“It just keeps leaking,” Tony said, and Steve rolled over onto his back, lifting his head a little to look up.
“Can you be a bit more specific?” Steve asked and Tony crouched down between his legs, leaning over him to point where the tailpiece joined the P-trap.
“Ah,” Steve said, wriggling into a more comfortable position, if that was possible, his knees brushing Tony’s thighs. “You need to use a slip nut washer, not a normal one. Hand me the wrench?” He held out a hand. “Is it drained?”
“Yes,” Tony said, the warmth of him leaving Steve as he stood. It didn’t take long and he scooted out from underneath the sink, while saying, “Try it now.” Tony did and the cabinet remained dry.
“Thanks,” Tony said, handing Steve a rag.
“Why didn’t you get a plumber in for this?” Steve said, wiping his hands but Tony just shrugged, looked away and Steve assumed it was a pride thing.
Until three days later when he found Tony looking out over the city, being oddly quiet, his face lined with grief and worry. Below them, day and night, the city worked. It would take years to rebuild everything, even with everyone working as hard as they could. That’s when he understood; Tony’s stubbornness to do everything himself had nothing to do with pride. He could pay all those workers out there twice over to get his tower done, but he wasn’t going to take anyone away from repairing someone’s roof, providing someone with running water. Not when there were so many homeless people, so much destruction, so much pain.
Steve said nothing, but gently put his hand on Tony’s shoulder and squeezed. Tony stiffened, then turned and smiled, soft and private, so Steve couldn’t do anything but smile back. And maybe he had been wrong about that too. Maybe Tony didn’t reserve his pained smile for Steve, but it was Steve himself who never smiled at Tony.
Clint was the first one to take residence on his floor. Then Natasha followed. Then Thor. Steve didn’t even know how they knew, or how anyone got a hold of Thor, but one by one they appeared, quietly, out of nowhere, unassuming but immediately at home. It didn’t escape Steve’s notice that Tony’s quarters were the last to be finished. It didn’t escape his notice either, that they both kept using the bedrooms beside each other even though their own apartments were long done.
He moved onto his own floor when Natasha caught them opening their doors simultaneously one morning, one eyebrow raising high even though she never said a word. It made Steve feel uneasy, while he didn’t know why, really, so he assumed that it was because he was always a little uneasy around her. He hadn’t forgotten that feeling, that very familiar feeling he’d felt not so long and decades ago, when Peggy had decked that insolent soldier. The same feeling when he’d given Natasha a boost on his shield so she could catch a ride on the back of a Chitauri. Apparently he had a type, he thought and he left it at that, refusing to look into that any deeper. That way lay nothing but heartache and self-loathing.
Whenever he asked about Ms Potts, he got vague answers. True ones, he was sure, because he’d answered Tony’s phone once when he’d been sleeping on the couch after spending over forty eight hours with Bruce in the lab, and she’d confirmed that yes, she was in Washington and no, Steve, I don’t think I’ll be coming back anytime soon. But thank you for asking.
He learnt to stop asking because every time he did, Tony’s mouth would pinch and he’d disappear for hours, sometimes days on end.
The idea came after another attack. New York hadn’t even been cleaned up yet, never mind recovered (some guy called Doom and then the Fantastic Four had showed up. Fantastic Who? Steve had said, and then Tony had looked from him to Johnny Storm and back again, and laughed and laughed and laughed. Steve didn’t get it, but the sound of that laughter warmed him to the bone.) and their reaction times had been slow, too slow. Clint had clutched his bleeding shoulder, had said, “I need a holiday,” and Natasha had looked white around the mouth. Steve had felt a small stab of regret when he noticed, as if another escape route had been closed down.
“I have a place,” Tony had said and Steve had smiled at him, said,
“Of course you do.”