Steve Rogers had really, honestly intended to be annoyed with Tony Stark.
And he’d been genuinely so for a while, as he marched down the hallway, brows furrowed and fists clenched. Tony had missed yet another debriefing, and Nick Fury had all but literally kicked Steve off the Helicarrier to personally give Tony a scolding about it (much to the amusement of his teammates).
Steve was more than a little agitated by this.
Just because Steve happened to engage in kissing Tony senseless on the daily, did not mean the man was his responsibility, darn it.
--Okay, maybe they did a lot more than kiss, and even occasionally cuddle, and maybe Steve made Tony dinner almost every night because the idiot doesn’t eat until he’s reminded to and oh, hell. Tony was like a puppy. An obnoxious, know-it-all puppy that never slept and belonged to Steve.
I‘ve barely seen him all day. The thought brought with it a little sadness and a little more worry. When Tony holed himself up in his lab, he was usually trying to distract himself from thinking about something else. The whole thing just never bade well for either of them, and Steve found his brisk walk turning into more of a jog as he made his way to Tony‘s hi-tech lair.
Sure enough, through the glass Steve could see Tony, turned away from the doorway and hunched over something or other at a large table, his infamous bots surrounding him. I’m warning you about those right off the bat, Natasha had said, Tony talks to those robot assistants he made like they’re people. It’s sketchy.
Steve sighed, jumbled bits of chastisement cloudy in his head as he typed the access code onto the virtual keypad in front of the sliding door. You have to remember you’re part of a team, Tony. Fury really wants you to focus on the mission, Tony.
. . . I really wish you’d just man up and talk to me instead of hide away in your lab, Tony.
Upon entering, Steve simply stood and watched for a moment, his hands stuffed into his jean pockets. Tony was wearing headphones, evidently listening to music and thus hadn’t picked up on the sounds of Steve’s footsteps. Unaware of Steve’s eyes on him, Tony continued to work--which was always a captivating sight to Steve.
When in his “working zone”, Tony seemed to Steve like some kind of fascinating, futuristic enigma. He rattled off equations as if they were as simple as the English alphabet to recite; he pored over scraps of metal and in his brilliant vision made them something spectacular. Tony was a conductor, the elements his band of instruments. It always felt to Steve like Tony disappeared somewhere far away when burrowed here in his inventions, to a place Steve couldn’t ever follow.
He crossed his arms, about to call out to grab Tony’s attention, when Tony’s voice cut in front of him:
“Dummy--don’t even move. Just. Hold that screwdriver. That’s it. God, why do I even still have you?" Tony rolled his eyes in the direction of a bot skidding to and fro on his right. He paused in his analysis of the mysterious-something on the table to glare into the robot‘s something-like-a face. “Don’t look at me like that. I stand by the fact that you are a lost cause. Hey, Spike, grab me that hammer--no, the bigger one. Thank you.”
Wow. He’s really having an honest-to-God conversation with those things. Steve had never really seen these interactions before; usually by the time he made his way down to Tony’s lab on any given evening it would be to either drag him out of the place kicking and screaming, or, if it was closer to 4AM, carry his sleeping form up to bed (Tony would deny the latter until his dying day). Not very many people were allowed into Tony’s workshop besides himself--just Pepper, Steve, and Banner (when assisting Tony in various experiments). And though Tony would never say so, Steve guessed he’d been given the access key for times like those, in the dead of night, with Tony bleary-eyed and needing Cap to steer him back to reality.
But there Tony was, talking to these strange little objects of his own creation, casually as if he were at a bar on a Friday night buying them a few rounds.
Steve wanted to say something, announce his presence, but he found himself so utterly enthralled with the entire situation that he kept quiet.
“So, sorry I’ve been icing you guys lately--Butterfingers, really? Hold that steady, please, we don’t need another explosion in here. Remember what happened last week? Bruce almost Hulked out. And you’d have been toast. Toast, I tell ya.” Tony reached over, snatching something from the apparent Butterfingers as it tilted its head in its master’s direction. “Anyway, I’ve been a little busy. The Avengers all live here now. I guess they like being here, and I guess I don’t mind. It’s nice to have everyone in one place--convenient, I mean.” A thoughtful pause. “No . . . no, it really is just nice. Huh.”
He bobbed his head a little to the music blaring in his ears, absently chewing on a piece of bubble gum as he drilled into his little project which Steve could now see was circular in shape. “Plus, Steve and I . . . well. You know. So needless to say I haven’t had much time to catch up with you tragic misfits--steel plate, please, Spike, gracias--but I really do appreciate the fact that you haven’t packed your bags and left me. Truly. That’s dedication. Y’know, Rhodey and Pepper always found you all creepy; I think they’re totally wrong. Aren’t you glad I’m keeping you company?"
Steve crossed his arms, leaning against the wall, and he thought his heart would nearly snap in two as Tony went on, “You always did the same for me. I owe it to you, I guess.”
A realization speeds across Steve's mind, pausing in front of his eyes:
They’re his friends. Tony created these . . . to be his friends. Steve gulped down the overpoweringly thick knot in his throat, about to give in to the overwhelming urge to walk over, wrap his arms around Tony, maybe go a little easier with the debriefing lecture--
“I don’t know if Steve would like this very much, though. He freaks out a little when I spend too much time down here. Speaking of, what the hell time is it--JARVIS, time?”
“Eleven forty, sir,” was the AI’s reply. JARVIS said nothing more, though, much to Steve’s relief, because it was JARVIS’ job to know everything and let Tony know what he (it?) knew and Steve figured it would be awkward to stumble his way through an explanation of, “Mr. Stark, Steve Rogers has been standing here watching you for the past three and a half minutes.” Steve raised his eyes up a little to the all-seeing JARVIS in thanks.
Tony didn’t look up from his work, but winced. “Oops. Yeah, Steve’s probably gonna kill me. But once I’m done making this prototype for him I’ll head upstairs, I guess.”
Prototype? What? Steve tried to crane his neck to see just what in God’s good name Tony was hammering and drilling away at, but Tony’s arm continued to block his view--
“Next week will be our six months. He probably thinks I won’t remember but I totally did. And by that I mean JARVIS did, but still. Full of surprises, aren’t I--Dummy, c’mere, you’re looking lonely over there--and I can’t wait to see his face when I give him this. Well. Assuming it works out okay. I mean, the shield he’s got is adequate, and it’s Stark Technology, but it’s my dad’s technology, and I figure, hey. He could always use an upgrade, right? You think it’s an okay gift?”
Dummy made a peculiar little buzzing sound in response. “Oh, good. Me too. You know me, I’m in constant need of reassurance. Daddy issues, you know. Anyway. I wanted to get him something, but I figured maybe it’d be more personal if it were something I actually made. Jesus.” He sat up suddenly, and Steve thought he’d finally been caught gaping at his (complete and utter wonder of a) boyfriend, but Tony didn’t spin around to face him. “I’m making things all personal now. What has Steve Rogers done to me, huh?”
Steve ducked his head, face burning, a goofy smile unable to resist plastering itself onto his mouth. I really, really should tell him I’m here . . .
“ . . . And anyway, you guys met him that one time, right? Granted he just kind of stared at you with the perplexity of a disillusioned kid who’s just been told Santa Claus is real. That’s what happens when you give a tour of this place to a guy stuck in the 1940’s. But I digress.” Tony bit his lip in concentration, using what seemed to be some kind paintbrush to touch up something or other on the shield prototype.
“Y’know, he’s the typical all-American hero obnoxiously spewing land-of-the-free goodness at every turn. That’s all well and good--drill, please. What’s that, Butterfingers?” Tony reached across his workspace to snatch a pen, scribbling something onto a strewn piece of paper before promptly placing the utensil between his teeth, chewing absently. His voice was muffled as he went on, “Well, of course there are things I like about him. Stop interrupting me. What I was going to say is that he’s kind of amazing. Stupidly amazing.”
Steve shook his head a little, closing his eyes as Tony’s words wrapped around him, gentle like a blanket. “Take the gratuitous star-spangled spandex away, and he’s still a hero. ‘Cause when he’s not fighting baddies, he’s just kind of--I don’t know, reaching into people and bringing out the things in them they thought were lost a long time ago. I said he was stuck in time, but he isn’t really. He just brings with him all the good stuff from the past, that maybe we all forgot.” Pause, a toss of the now almost dented pen behind him. “Why, yes, that was horribly cliche. I know, I know. You three don’t even recognize me anymore, do you? Ah. ‘Kay, that looks good, doesn’t it? I don’t usually go out of my way to paint prototypes, but. This is just for show until he tries it out.”
With that, Tony waved away his robots in mock annoyance, and they skidded back a little as he held up his little project. Steve could almost feel Tony smiling even though he couldn’t see his face. There it was--the outline of circular red, white and blue stripes and a large whie star in the center of the large metal plate. It was shiny, brand-spankin’-new, and though it was only evidently a prototype Steve found himself wanting to run his fingers along the edges, let the feel of it course through him as often happens when he holds his own old battered shield.
He heard Howard Stark's voice in his head, a decades-old memory of his dark, focused eyes (a look Steve sees in Tony every so often): It's just a prototype. The shield Howard Stark made him had led him into one of the greatest battles of his life.
But there’d be something even more special about this one, he thought. Having been crafted by Tony’s hands, it would be like carrying a part of Tony with him, all the time.
Steve evaluated the sheer appeal of this with a happy jolt in his heart for a moment before Tony interrupted his thoughts once again, this time with a tinge of annoyance in his tone: “Okay, seriously, Dummy? Was it necessary to poke me like that? Look, I know you miss me. But the fact is I’m . . . a little less lonely these days. It’s weird, but in a good way. So. Right.”
Spike retorted with something that Steve believed to be along the lines of, zip-zip, buzz buzz blip. “Why, you ask? Because . . . because of Steve, I guess. Because even when I tell myself I’m okay and when I really believe it, he somehow knows I’m not. And he brings me back when things get a little crazy. I . . . I kinda love him for that. I kinda love him for a lot of things.”
Bzzzzz. Zip. “No, I don’t think I . . . I don’t think I’ve ever told him that. But I think he knows.” Tony lifted a hand to brush against the shield. “He has to know.”
At this point Steve felt as if he’d burst if he stood still a minute longer (when it came to Tony, all his self-control seemed to fly out the window, this moment being no exception). He cleared his throat loudly, shuffling out of the doorway and close enough that he could see his own reflection--and Tony’s--in the shine of the shield. He didn’t bother to hide his amusement as he watched Tony’s expression switch from that of complacency to genuine surprise as he jumped a little, spinning round in his chair and removing his earbuds.
“Whoa. Hi. When did you get--oh. This was supposed to be a--hi, Steve. How long have you been standing there?”
It was funny, hearing Tony kind of slip and fall over his own words for a change instead of letting them fall smoothly, suavely from his lips. Steve knew a thing or two about stumbling through words.
Steve shrugged. “Uh. A few seconds.” Not.
Steve could no longer see his reflection, but he sincerely hoped he was not making his trademark Lying Face, which Clint had once described as that of "a ten-year-old who stole the last cookie from the jar and feels really fucking bad about it."
Oddly enough, Tony seemed to buy Steve‘s answer, which Steve would’ve found unnerving if total relief hadn’t taken the emotional forefront. “Oh. Um, hey. Haven’t seen you since this morning. That’s kinda my fault, though. Got a little wrapped up down here. You up for late night Chinese or something?”
For a little piece of a moment, Steve could do nothing but gaze at the wild, colorful mystery that was Tony, who sat before him with a shield prototype in one hand, his other held up in an awkward half-wave, the glasses he only sometimes wears for working falling down his nose and big brown eyes alight and, oh, golly. He was beautiful--and what had Steve come down here for again?
Oh. Right. “You missed the debriefing,” was all he managed to choke out. Nice one, Cap.
Tony sighed, running a hand over his face. “Oh, shit. My bad. I was, um . . . busy. Also, fun fact: you weren’t supposed to see this. Another fact: do you know how actually rare vibranium is?" He held up the shield a little, looking utterly defeated, and it was both the most adorable and the most pathetic thing Steve had ever seen. “It’s for next week, um, but I guess it’s too late for that now, so, here it is; you can try it out in the training room later and I guess I could see what needs fixing and give you the real one next week, if you--”
As his stumbling words folded in on themselves, Steve gradually made his way closer to Tony until he could reach out, take the shield out of his hand and gently place it on the table before pulling him into an embrace, cutting off Tony’s stammered syllables. Steve ran his hands along the contours of Tony’s back, wanting--hoping to convey everything unsaid in the warm, close air between them: You’re not alone anymore, Tony. You’re never alone. I’ll make sure you don’t have to be.
It was a silent communication that buzzed between them, electrified. Steve could tell Tony felt it, for he leaned into the touch, not saying a word.
After a moment there was a rustling between them as Tony stood up with an, “Oh. Okay. I like this better than you lecturing me. That was coming, right?” And then Tony’s arms were around Steve’s broad shoulders, and Steve sort of nuzzled his nose into Tony’s hair and decided there was no other place in this funny world, among its past he knew so well or its undetermined future, that he would rather be.
“Thank you,” he muttered, almost surprised at the emotion packed in behind the two simple words.
Tony‘s voice hummed against his chest. “Hmm? For the shield? I don’t even know if I should give it to you now, you big snoop. Haven’t you heard of knocking first?”
“I believe the sliding door is see-through, Tony,” Steve chuckled, pressing a light kiss to the top of Tony’s head.
A grumbled reply: “Yeah, well. Point still stands. You threw off my workshop groove. Look. Even Dummy’s mad at you.”
Steve cast a glance in the direction of Dummy; the robot had sped off and was currently spinning around in a corner, occasionally hitting its head against the wall seemingly by accident. “Well. I’m truly sorry about, um . . . ‘throwing off your groove’, Mr. Stark.” Steve brought a finger under Tony’s chin, lifting his head slightly to match his eyes. “Any chance I can make it up to you?" He dipped his head a little, letting his tongue flick against the skin of Tony’s neck, feeling him shudder a little.
“Hmm.” Tony cleared his throat, and Steve felt the warmth of his hand slinking up under his shirt to rest on the small of his back. “Possibly. Why don’t we find out?”
Steve really, truly and honestly had intended to be annoyed with Tony Stark tonight.
But as he all but sprinted up the stairs, pulling Tony along (who stopped him every so often for kisses), he found he was anything but.
And that was okay. Tonight, Steve had seen a side of Tony he’d always known was there, but had never really experienced directly. And--Nick Fury would probably kill him for such a thought--that had been worth a debriefing missed, a (potentially very silly) argument avoided.
Back in the peaceful quiet of the lab, Tony’s little bots and the newly made shield-- the products of old loneliness and newfound happiness coexisting harmoniously--glistened in agreement.