"Okay," Tony says, looking wildly around at the smashed windows of the buildings on this half of the block, at the rubble in the street from the fight with the Wrecking Crew and their surprise special guest Nightshade, at everything that is completely familiar in the wake of an Avengers battle. He avoids looking at what's right in front of him, at the empty, broken syringe Nightshade used, at-- "Okay. Nobody panic." His voice echoes a little higher than usual inside the helmet; the sensors say his breathing and heart rate are up. No shit. "We can handle this. No one panic."
"No one's panicking," Carol points out, from somewhere behind him. "Even Cap's not panicking. Deep breaths, Tony."
Deep breaths. Right.
Tony kind of can't avoid looking at him now; the golden blur of his... of his tail catches Tony's eye. Somehow he's still wearing his uniform. Something like his uniform. His shield is clenched in his jaws.
Steve's a wolf now. A werewolf? A Cap-werewolf. A Capwolf. Tony kind of wants to laugh, but he thinks if he started it might end in tears, and someone's got to be responsible here, since Steve's a-- oh God.
Ducking his head, Steve lays the shield on the ground in a surprisingly delicate motion, dropping it a few inches from his own front paws, and then he sits back on his haunches and stares at Tony, wide-eyed. The star gleams on his chest amidst blue scale mail, with golden fur underneath. He's huge, all right, and he's definitely a wolf, but that lean, hungry, predatory look Tony associates with wolves is absent entirely from Steve's gaze. He looks friendly. More like a big golden retriever, even though he's clearly wolf-shaped. Strong, powerful, deadly but... nice. Like a wolf who's on your side. Tony can't say that he's ever spent a lot of time thinking about what Steve would look like as a werewolf, but he has to admit that it would look pretty much like this. Which is exactly what they've got.
Steve looks up at him. His eyes are still eerily human, bright with intelligence. Like he can understand him.
"Actually, this happened to me once before," Steve says, and, whoa, he can talk, and Tony staggers back in surprise and nearly falls, tripping into-- shit, that's Jen right behind him. There are green arms at the edge of his vision, stabilizing him, pushing him back up. Go team. Go Shulkie.
"Holy shit," Tony breathes, once he's righted himself and Jen is standing safely next to him. "You can talk?"
Steve's eyes narrow, and his ears flick back briefly against his skull, against the blue leather of the cowl, which somehow now has ear cutouts. "I'm still me, Tony." His voice is low, guttural -- Tony's mind shies away from the word growly -- but it's still Steve's voice, albeit like he's speaking in a register he doesn't use much.
"Oh." Tony's feeling a little dizzy. "Oh," he repeats. "Okay. Got it."
Steve stands and turns around in a circle, chasing his tail, trying to get a look at himself. "It was Nightshade's fault last time, too, with her serum. I was a little less... lupine... then. Also less articulate. Hmm." The noise is a low, contemplative growl. "I'm sure it'll be fine. We'll figure it out. Like I said, it's happened before." He comes back around to face Tony, sits, and his tail swishes once, slowly, against the ground, like he's shrugging. Like this is just one more everyday thing that happens to Steve Rogers. Werewolf. Capwolf. Capwolf America. Inside the helmet, Tony laughs a strangled, half-hysterical laugh.
"This definitely never happened to you before," Tony says, only a little shakily. "I would have remembered this."
Steve's ears flick back again. "You weren't there. I was in Massachusetts. I did file a report, you know." He sounds... aggrieved, but it's hard to tell, given the low rumble that's permeating his voice and the fact that he no longer has human facial expressions. "It was right after that Kree-Shi'ar thing. Neither of us were on the team. You were having some health problems, from your suit. You were in Japan with the... Masters of Silence?" He squints like he's trying to remember. He tilts his head to the side. His tail droops. "I guess you probably weren't in the mood for reading reports."
"Oh." Tony remembers that time all too well. He'd really rather not. "So I was dying and you were a werewolf?"
"Yeah," Steve says. He picks up one paw and sets it down again. "Basically."
He can't even begin to process this. "Sounds like a great year all round."
Steve's tail twitches again. That must be a shrug, Tony decides. "We've all had worse."
Tony can't argue with that.
And then Carol steps into his field of view. "It's going to be fine, Tony." Her voice is soothing, and Tony wonders why everyone thinks he's so worried. He's in the suit. He can't possibly look worried. "Let's just... get everyone home, call Hank or-- or whoever." She grabs Tony's arm and tugs. "Come on."
Tony turns and follows Carol and the rest of the Avengers. As he turns, he sees Steve picking up his shield in his teeth.
Steve trots next to him, wagging all the way.
They're gathered around the briefing room table, and as long as Tony doesn't look to his left, to the head of the table, everything looks normal. The usual faces look back at him: Warbird, She-Hulk, Ant-Man, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Black Panther. It feels more normal, Tony thinks, if he uses their code names. This is just another Avengers debriefing, he tells himself.
He looks left.
Captain America is -- no, okay, he's still a wolf and he's still Steve and so much for codenames because this is all too weird. Steve is sitting a little awkwardly on the chair, tail dangling off the cushion. His shield is hooked onto the back of his uniform now; it looks gigantic against his thinner lupine body, but it seems to be secure. Then Steve rises and puts his front paws on the table, standing up, commanding the attention of the team. The gesture is so very him, even in this body, that the clash between reality and memory is disorienting.
"Right." Steve clears his throat in a low growl. "I want to stress, as I was saying in the field, that this has happened to me in the past. Nightshade made a cure, and I fully expect the Avengers to be able to effect one in a reasonable time frame. I'm not worried, and neither should you be." After slanting a glance at Tony -- really, why are they all looking at him? -- he tilts his head, and his ears swivel left to point at Carol next to him even before he turns his head to her. "Warbird?"
Carol nods. "I called Beast ten minutes ago," she says briskly. "He's wrapping up some business in Westchester and he should be getting on the road soon. He'll be here in an hour and a half or so. I told him it was important but not urgent enough to rate the Blackbird."
He'd have told Hank to jet over. Hell, he'd have told Hank to scare up one of the mutants with teleportation and be here instantly, dammit--
Tony breathes heavily, the noise rattling inside the suit. This is why they keep thinking he's worried, isn't it?
They really need an in-house biochemist; they used to have one, but, well, Scott's not Hank -- Pym or McCoy. Wrong Ant-Man. Hank Pym is Yellowjacket these days. And, more relevantly, not available right now. Tony wonders if he and T'Challa should draw a blood sample and try to start work anyway before Beast gets here; it's not the focus of either of their skillsets, but dammit, it's Steve--
Wanda raises a hand, and Steve tilts his head inquisitively, like a dog who's heard a word it knows.
"There is a trace of magic about you," she says, and her eyes go unfocused as she lifts her other hand in the air as well.
Goddammit, Tony thinks, and when half the table turns back to stare at him he realizes he said it aloud. He clears his throat. "I, uh. Never mind. Go on."
"The fact that you have retained human-level intelligence and that your body has been altered to permit human speech," Wanda continues, "as well as the alteration of your uniform, are likely all due to magic. Any antidote will likely have to involve some magical component."
Steve just looks polite, with the same interested head-tilt and bright-eyed gaze. "All right. Would you be willing to consult with Hank when he arrives?"
She smiles. "Of course."
"Thank you." Steve wags once, his tail thumping against the back of the chair, and then he sits back, taking his paws off the table. "Right. Nothing more we can do until Hank gets here, so meeting adjourned. Everyone who doesn't currently have paws--" he lifts one in illustration, and his voice is a little rueful-- "can get working on typing up the usual post-battle reports. Except Iron Man," he adds, and he turns to face Tony. "Stay here a minute, would you?" His voice is pitched low, for Tony's ears.
As the rest of the team files out and begins to clatter their way up the staircase, Tony turns in his chair to face Steve. The two of them are alone in the room, and it's... awkward. It's been awkward between them anyway, after the mess three weeks ago that was Mount Rushmore. They haven't really talked about what Tony did. Usually Tony gets one of those patented Captain America lectures about reckless behavior and unnecessary self-sacrifice, and he's been expecting one ever since, but Steve has just said nothing. It's been incredibly disconcerting. All Tony's been able to think of every time he's seen Steve's face since then is the way he looked lying in front of him, not moving, not breathing. All he's been able to hear, over and over again, is the echoing click of his own helmet unlatching, exposing him to the virus.
He doesn't think about his mouth on Steve's. He can't. It doesn't mean anything. Steve was dying and he was breathing for him and if that's the closest they're ever going to get to a kiss-- no. He can't think of it like that. That's unprofessional, despicable, and taking advantage of one of his closest friends. The part where he's been in love with Steve for a decade is just... not relevant. It's never going to be relevant, even now that Ru's left him again and he is, theoretically, single. Knowing that doesn't make the feeling go away, though. It just makes it even more awkward.
And now he looks at Steve and sees a werewolf wearing a Captain America uniform and, well, it's an entirely new and different kind of awkward added to the previous awkward.
Tony clears his throat. "I'm here." He is the only one here. His voice echoes in his helmet, echoes out in the briefing room. He takes off the helmet, just so Steve can see him properly.
Steve looks at him; the stare is completely unparsable. "I'm going to be all right, Tony. I swear I am."
"Okay." So Steve's noticed the concern.
"In the meantime I just... wanted your help with something. Maybe. Possibly."
Huh, that's an unusual amount of hedging for Steve. "Is there something I can do for you?" He smiles encouragingly. "Just name it, Steve. You know that. Anything for you. Always."
He wants to wince at the words coming out of his mouth. He's surprised Steve has never noticed the gigantic crush he has on him.
Now is really not a good time to act on it, anyway.
Steve jumps down to the floor and looks up at him. His tail is between his legs, almost, and though his gaze is fixed on Tony his head is low. "I didn't want to mention it with everyone else around, but it's-- it's a little different, inside my head, this time."
"Different how?" Tony asks, and he knows his voice is sharp with concern. "Is it-- is it something Hank should know about? Are you in danger? Losing your sense of yourself?"
Steve tries to shake his head; the motion doesn't quite work on him and results only in the jingle of the mail of his uniform. He whines, high in his throat. "No, no, I know who I am," Steve says, hastily. "It's just that I keep having these feelings, these impulses. I had them before, sort of, but these are different in nature and more... more powerful, and it's... hard. Not to give in. Wondering if maybe I should."
"What kinds of impulses?" A horrible thought passes through Tony's mind. "You don't-- you don't want to bite people, do you?"
Steve's lips peel back from his jaw in a fierce, disgusted snarl of a grimace. "No! God, no! It's not... that. Not violent at all. Not like werewolves. It's more like wolves. Or dogs." He shuts his eyes. "I can't believe I'm asking this."
"As long as it's not turning me or anyone else into a werewolf, I'm in," Tony says, instantly. It's Steve. He doesn't even need to know what it is. He'll do it. "Whatever it is, I won't judge you. I promise, Cap. Cross my heart."
Steve looks up at him, tail still between his legs. "I want," he begins, and then he looks away and mumbles the rest of the sentence.
Steve looks up at him and repeats the mumble. It's not any clearer this time.
"I want to play fetch, okay?" Steve says. He practically shouts it. His voice, raised in volume, has turned into a distorted bark by the end of it. And then he shuts his eyes and hangs his head, with another ashamed whine.
With some effort Tony forces back the smile, because he knows Steve would take it the wrong way. But, well... it's honestly kind of delightful. Tony guesses that his first comparison of Steve to a retriever wasn't entirely inaccurate.
"I'm up for that," Tony says, and Steve stares at him with an almost suspicious narrowing of his eyes, like he thinks Tony's just humoring him. "No, really, I am. There's plenty of free space in the gym, or we could go outside." He frowns, thinking. "Not sure what to throw for you, though. There are possibly a couple tennis balls, but I wouldn't swear to it." Hmm. That might be a problem, finding something Steve can fetch.
"That's not. Uh," Steve begins, in another low grumble, and his ears are flat against his head. "I already had an idea about that."
Steve just shakes, all over, like he's wet and trying to dry off. He turns his head like he's trying to reach back over his shoulder, like it's some familiar motion that just doesn't work in this body. He stamps a paw.
Tony stares blankly. "I'm sorry, I don't understand."
Steve turns his head to the side, turns halfway around, clamps his teeth on the rim of the shield, and yanks it off his back. He turns back and sits down, shield between his teeth. His tail thumps on the floor as he wags hopefully. He leans forward, and the other edge of the shield bumps against Tony's armored thighs. Tony bends down and takes it from him, because that seems to be what Steve wants him to do; he can't even think about what Steve is asking, really. Steve wants to play fetch with the shield.
"Shiny thing," Steve says, like that's the only word he can manage for it. Tony wonders if the vocabulary is another one of those impulses. Steve drops his jaw in a lupine grin, albeit one that's a little slow and hesitant.
Shiny thing it is. Tony grips the shield with his gauntleted fingers and hopes that it isn't visible on his face that getting to throw Captain America's shield, getting to really play with it, has been a fantasy of his for approximately his entire lifetime. Steve can probably tell anyway. Steve does know him, after all.
"Well." Tony smiles. "Okay. Shiny thing. Let's try this."
They decide on staying indoors, in one of the cleared gymnasium spaces that is already prepared for target practice -- of varying types, mostly energy blasts, because Steve's not the only Avenger that deals in projectiles. It currently sports padded walls; Steve likes that better for practice than the surfaces that let the shield pick up speed on impact, and Tony, for his part, doesn't like the thought of accidentally taking chunks out of the trees outside if he misses. Jarvis will be pissed if he ruins the landscaping and no supervillain would even have been at fault.
Tony stands at one end of the long room as Steve practically dances into the middle of the room, hopping in great leaps and bounds, tail wagging wildly.
Grinning, Tony slides his helmet back on and tests the weight of the shield in his gauntleted hand. He's still armored up; as much as he would have liked to try this barehanded, he imagines protection is a really good idea if Steve misses a throw and Tony has to try to catch the shield on the rebound. He'll need all the protection he can get at that point. Hence the suit.
"Okay," Tony calls out, hefting the shield left-handed. "You got any tips for me, Cap?"
"Just throw it!" Steve calls back, wagging, jaw lowered in a grin. His gaze is fixed on the shield. "Think of it like a really big Frisbee," he adds, and Tony has to laugh, remembering how overjoyed Steve was, all those years ago, when he first found out about Frisbees.
He frowns as a thought occurs to him, and even though his expression isn't visible he must be standing differently or something, because Steve tilts one golden ear in concern.
"What is it?"
Tony's pretty sure he's making an awful face and he's glad Steve can't see it. "Are you going to break all your teeth catching this?"
The laugh he gets in response sounds a lot more like a happy growl than any noise Steve has ever made before today. "I'll be fine. I don't break my hand catching it the ordinary way, do I?"
"No," Tony acknowledges, "but you have years of experience doing that, and, as far as I am aware, very little experience catching your shield with your face."
There comes another growly laugh, but Steve's voice is matter-of-fact, calming. "So you're not going to try to hit me in the face, Tony. Throw high. Aim over my head. I can do this. You'll see."
Tony's first throw is slow, tentative, and the shield wobbles its way through the air high above Steve's head. Tony's about to apologize and step forward to pick it up and try again when Steve gathers himself back onto his haunches and leaps. His teeth fasten around the rim of the shield. Rather than taking the blow directly, head-on, he starts at the side and turns with the momentum of it, his long spine twisting in midair, his legs and tail outstretched to balance himself. Light glints off the scales of his uniform. It's an oddly graceful sight. Steve is always graceful, true, but Tony has definitely never seen him like this before.
Steve lands lightly, back paws first, and then he wags at Tony, looking at him bright-eyed. The shield is clenched in his jaws; he can't speak.
"You have to bring it back if you want me to throw it again," Tony says, more than a little amused, and it's only when Steve's eyes narrow that it occurs to Tony that he's talked to dogs exactly this way. "Uh. Sorry. Forget I said that."
When Steve is close enough, Tony takes the shield from his mouth; Steve wags once, hopefully, but then his tail's lowering again.
"Too weird?" Steve asks, and his head starts to droop too. "I understand if it's too weird for you--"
Does Steve think there's anything Tony wouldn't do for him? "Hey, no." Tony cuts him off. "Don't think that. Just because we've never done this before doesn't mean it's too weird. It's still you."
Before Tony can really think about what he's doing, he's shifted the shield to free one of his hands, and he reaches out and scratches Steve just behind his ear. He hopes he's not hurting Steve with the gauntlet, but Steve's tail starts to wag again and he leans contentedly into the touch. He always touches Steve. Of course he always touches Steve. It shouldn't be any different just because Steve is a little furrier than usual.
Steve's voice is a pleased low rumble. "Thanks."
"So." Tony steps back and lifts the shield. "Again?"
Steve practically dances backwards on his hind legs; Tony guesses that's a yes.
The next throw Tony makes is more confident, with a little more force behind it, and the shield sails right out of his hand, spinning across the room, slicing through the air.
Steve turns and runs after it, launching himself high into the air after it. His jaws snap shut on the rim with ease, and he lands easily once again.
He brings it back; they do it again and again. The shield gets easier and easier to handle; it's starting to feel, if not natural yet, like a thing he could get used to having in his hand.
For the next pass Tony takes off his helmet and drops it on the floor next to him. He's pretty sure that at this point he's not going to accidentally brain himself on the rebound -- Steve hasn't let one rebound yet -- and he wants to watch with his full and complete field of vision.
"Throw high!" Steve calls out. His voice is a lot like an excited bark, and he's wagging fiercely.
Tony aims high -- and Steve is in flight. Tony watches, awestruck. He didn't think wolves could jump like that. Maybe Steve is stronger than regular wolves; maybe the serum transferred over. Steve is stretched out, forelegs pawing at the air, hind legs trailing, and everything in him is straining for the shield that is just out of his reach but is coming ever closer. He almost seems to hang, suspended, for one glorious moment, before he gets his teeth around the shield.
The throw was hard and fast, and Steve's nearly at the far wall when he finally gets a grip on the shield. He doesn't slow down. He turns in midair, hitting the wall paws-first with all four feet and then springing off like a runner at the starting block. Steve is crossing the room in great jubilant strides, shield in his teeth, his tail a happy blur.
Tony maybe should have seen it coming, but he is completely not braced for it when Steve spits out the shield and leaps for Tony's arms in one last joyful bound.
Tony topples over backwards in an undignified clatter of armor, with Steve perched on his chest. His arms go reflexively around Steve's shoulders and back; Steve doesn't fight it and his front legs slide down until he's basically lying on Tony's torso, claws scrabbling on the armor.
"Oof," Tony says, and he's laughing and he can't stop smiling. "You enjoyed that, huh?"
Steve wags vigorously; Tony can hear his tail brushing up against the metal somewhere over Tony's thigh. "That was the most satisfying game of Frisbee I have ever played," Steve says. His voice is a low rumble, and his teeth flash white in his mouth as he grins a lupine grin.
Still wagging, Steve puts his head down -- and licks Tony's cheek.
Tony stops breathing, and it feels like the world grinds to a halt around them. Sure, Steve might look like a wolf, and wolves do this sort of thing all the time, but he's also Steve and Steve's lying on top of him, and, oh God, Steve just licked him--
Steve is staring at him, wide-eyed, like he can't believe he did that either.
"I'm sorry," Steve says. There's a piteous lupine whimper, and then he's scrambling off of Tony as fast as he can. "I'm sorry, Tony, I-- I wasn't thinking, it just seemed like the thing to do, it's not--"
Tony holds up a hand. "It's okay. Really." It's not okay. "You're feeling all these strange impulses. I won't hold it against you." I'd like if you did it when you were human, too.
"Okay." Steve gives a tentative wag. "I really am sorry. Won't happen again."
Tony ignores his heart trying to shred itself into tiny little disappointed pieces. "All right," he says. "Okay. How about we take a break from fetch? Hank should be here soon and in the meantime I can--" try not to think about what just happened-- "catch up on your report about the last time this happened? Since I missed it and all."
Steve sits back on his haunches and seems to straighten up; Tony guesses it's his attempt at one of those no-nonsense Captain America postures. "Good idea, Iron Man. I'll go see how the rest of the team is doing."
Well, Tony thinks as he stands up, as he leaves Steve behind, as he starts to climb the stairs, there's another thing they're not going to talk about. He can add it to the list, right after how they're not talking about him saving Steve's life at Mount Rushmore. He wonders how much this list can hold. How much unresolved tension their relationship can take. What happens when they reach the breaking point.
It might make him a coward, but Tony's not really sure he wants to find out. He just-- wants to keep Steve at his side, for as long as he can have him.
He thinks maybe that's a large part of the problem here.
The report, buried in the Avengers' files for that year with the exceedingly dry title "Starkesboro, Massachusetts - Lycanthropy," is anything but dry itself, as Tony quickly discovers. His jaw drops further and further as he scrolls down and by the time he gets to the part about Steve having to fight Starwolf, Tony's covering his mouth with his hands so he doesn't start laughing outright, because he thinks then maybe he'd never stop. What the hell is this? If anyone but Steve had written this, Tony would have wondered just how high they'd been.
"Tony?" Carol's voice on the comm snaps him out of the report. "Hank just got here, and he's heading down to the infirmary to see Steve. I assumed you'd want to join them."
Tony thumbs the nearest comm panel. "Thanks, Carol. On my way."
Steve's his friend. One of his best friends. He's just not going to think about any of the... awkward situations that have happened between them, or that could happen. He's not going to do anything about it. It's worked for them.
By the time he's shucked the rest of the armor and changed into actual clothing to join Steve and Hank downstairs, he's not really surprised to be the last of a crowd that is comprised of the entire team, clogging the hallway outside the infirmary. He gets there, in fact, about ten seconds after Hank himself does; he's pretty sure about this because the very first thing he hears is Hank's voice.
"Oh my stars and garters," Hank says, very softly. Hank is standing in the infirmary doorway, blue against the white paint. Tony can't see in at this angle; all he can see is the back of Hank's head, from the side.
You didn't tell him what happened? Tony mouths to Carol, across the hallway from him, and Carol shakes her head.
Steve's voice echoes from inside the infirmary. "Come on, Avengers, don't think I don't know you're all there. Clear out and let Hank get to work." His voice is a little softer. "Hi, Hank. You like the fur?"
Hank laughs. "I like the fur. What did you do?"
"A better question," Steve says, "is 'what did Nightshade do?'" Tony recognizes the rueful shading of Steve's tone. "She injected me with... something."
"The remains of the syringe are on the counter over there."
They've got it in hand, Tony thinks. As the rest of the Avengers begin to make their way back down the corridor, Tony pushes himself away from the wall and turns to follow. "Hey, Carol?" Tony asks. "If you're done with your report, do you want to put a movie on or something? I don't think we're going to be of any use here."
Carol opens her mouth -- and is drowned out by Steve.
"Tony?" Steve's voice has the tiniest edge of a howl to it; Tony is reminded, somehow, of a lonely puppy. He tries to quash the comparison. "Is that you out there?"
Tony turns back. "Me and everyone else, Cap. What do you need?"
"Nothing, if you're busy." And Tony recognizes that voice, too, that slow, hesitant voice -- the one Steve uses when he doesn't want to bother him, when he wants something just for himself, for Steve Rogers, not for Captain America, when he says I can't sleep either so do you mind if I keep you company? or is it all right if I sketch you? Tony will do pretty much anything Steve asks in that voice. He knows Steve knows it. He also knows Steve doesn't sound like that unless he really means it.
He knows Carol knows that, too; he can see Carol's mouth shape the words. I'm fine, she says. Go with him. We'll wait.
"Not busy," Tony calls back, and he's already walking toward the open doorway.
When he sticks his head in, he doesn't see anything too alarming; Hank's prepping a needle and various vials, presumably to get blood out of Steve.
Steve looks up at him, guilty relief in his huge eyes. "I don't need anything, really," he says, but the eager wag he gives belies his words. "I just... wanted moral support."
Tony smiles at him. "You can have that."
"Hi, Tony," Hank says. "Good timing, actually; I need an assistant."
Tony is probably the Avengers' poster child for dubious impromptu medical procedures -- if there were some kind of award for "most inappropriate time and/or place to undergo open-heart surgery" he'd have won it more than once -- so he does have some familiarity with this sort of thing, but he's definitely not the first person he'd ask for help. "Me?"
"If the good captain does not object," Hank says.
Steve wolf-grins. "Fine by me."
"Indeed." Hank eyes the scene thoughtfully. "Cephalic vein. Right foreleg. Tony, you're going to need to push up the sleeve of Steve's uniform, then come around behind him and hold his foreleg at the elbow."
After a few seconds of wrestling with the uniform and another few seconds of illustrative miming from Hank, Tony's standing behind Steve, pressed up against his back -- Tony is not going to think about how close together they are -- holding Steve's leg out for him in what is apparently the best way to make the vein visible. Steve's starting to object to something about this, though, because he's panting harshly and his ears are starting to flatten to his head again, pressing down on the leather of the cowl.
"I can sit still all by myself," Steve growls, low, anger-tinged. "I'm not actually a--"
And Hank just gives him a look, more piercing than any words could be; he of all people would never forget about Steve's humanity, and everyone here knows it.
"It's not about that," Hank says, very softly, not looking away from Steve's eyes. "Trust me."
Steve stares at him for long moments. "I trust you."
Hank nods. "All right." He has the needle in one hand. "Just like that, Tony. Small pinch, Steve."
The actual procedure goes swiftly, and soon enough there are four vials of blood sitting on the counter and Tony, having come back around to the front of Steve, is helpfully applying pressure to get Steve's leg to clot.
"Now what?" Steve asks. Tony is still holding Steve's leg and trying in vain not to think about how this is like holding Steve's hand.
Hank smiles. "Now I take these--" he has the vials in one hand-- "and this--" he has the remnants of Nightshade's syringe in the other-- "and I go down the hall to the lab and start on the analysis. You two can do... whatever you were going to do anyway. I'll let you know if there are any breakthroughs; don't worry."
"Okay. Thank you." Steve's tail thumps against the exam table and he turns to Tony, who lets go of Steve's leg. "Want to go see what movie they're watching upstairs, Shellhead?"
Tony can't help but grin at the old, old nickname. "I bet they're waiting for you before they start, Winghead."
Steve jumps down off the exam table in a skittering slide of claws on metal, and Tony picks up the shield from where it leans against the wall and hooks it onto Steve's back for him. They walk out -- and Steve stops suddenly in the doorway, like he's just remembered something.
"Tony," he says, almost mournfully. "I lost my wings."
Tony peers more closely at the cowl and stifles a laugh. Steve's right. The cutouts for his ears are where the wings would have been.
"We'll get them back," Tony says, and on impulse he leans down and scratches Steve behind the ears again. "And you'll always be Winghead to me."
Carol scoots over to the end of the couch as soon as she sees them, so they can take their customary places; there's enough room for three people. Or two people and a very large wolf, Tony thinks. Steve leaps up into the middle seat and turns around once before sitting a little precariously, still sitting up, front paws braced on the very edge of the cushion.
"You made it," Carol says, cheerfully, as Wanda comes back in with a bowl of popcorn in each hand, passes one to Carol and the other one to Scott, and then sits down in the nearest armchair. "Mmmph," Carol adds, munching on a handful of popcorn and picking up the remote to flip the channel off the news and onto video, "Cap's had the worst day, so he gets to pick the movie."
"Whoever suggests anything about dogs or werewolves gets extra hand-to-hand training next week," Steve says, and he pointedly draws his lips back in a snarl in Tony's direction.
Tony is very, very good and does not say Lassie, White Fang, or The Wolf Man, the last of which he's pretty sure Steve saw in theaters back when it was new.
Tony offers his best innocent smile. "I have absolutely no idea why you're looking at me."
Clearly not fooled, Steve huffs out a sigh and thwacks Tony with his tail. It's a bizarrely affectionate gesture. "I want to see that spy movie from last year, the one you got me for my birthday. I haven't watched it yet."
They'd been planning to actually go to the movies for that one, Tony remembers, just the two of them, but then Kang had tried to take over the planet again and suddenly there had been more important things to think about than movie showtimes. Tony had tried to make it up to Steve by getting him the DVD as a present, but then they'd still somehow never found the time to watch it. "Can do," Tony says. "The Bourne Identity. Hope it's good." He hasn't seen it either.
Carol sets the popcorn on the floor next to Jen's chair and gets up, finding the disc and putting it in the player.
As the various warnings and logos come on screen and the Avengers begin to settle down, Steve turns to face him and gives him another one of those odd looks. "Tony?" he asks. "You think you could get the cowl off for me?"
It fastens under Steve's chin and comes loose easily. In a few moments he's worked Steve's ears free and pushed the whole thing back down Steve's neck; Steve shakes in a clicking jingle of mail, looking pleased.
Tony's not going to pet him, although his fingers itch to touch him. It would be inappropriate. Steve hasn't offered, and he shouldn't ask. Besides, it's not like Steve's lacking for human contact; the back half of him is practically wedged up against Carol now. When he wags in thanks he hits her in the lap and rattles the popcorn bowl.
See, he tells himself. Steve's fine.
The movie starts, and Italians are hauling an unconscious Matt Damon onto a boat. Tony doesn't need to read the subtitles for this, so he watches Steve and Carol watch the movie for a bit. Matt Damon's character has two bullets in his back and a severe case of amnesia. Tony feels like this is something that could probably happen to him and it would be one of the less weird moments of his life if it did. After all, it would have to compete with his life today. Carol distractedly passes the popcorn to him over Steve's head, the bottom of the bowl brushing the tips of Steve's ears, and Tony takes it.
After a few handfuls of popcorn, he realizes Steve is watching him. Hungrily. "Hey, Cap," Tony whispers. "Do you want some-- oh."
Steve's head droops, dejected. "I can't just put my face in the bowl," he whispers back, though his idea of a whisper is really more of a growl.
Tony wants to tell him that it sure as hell doesn't matter to him, but it clearly matters to Steve. "I can get up and get you your own bowl?" Tony offers.
"No," Steve says, but the sad-puppy look in his eyes is about ten thousand times more heartbreaking than it really has any right to be. "I'm fine. It's not necessary. You should watch the movie."
Sighing, Tony stares at the bowl. Then he has an idea. He'll feel like shit if Steve turns him down, but, well, what else is new? "Here," he says, digging out a small handful of popcorn and offering it to Steve, flat-palmed.
It's about half a second before Steve figures out what he means. "Tony," he says, and he says Tony's name like he really wants to say yes but thinks he ought to say no. "You can't possibly--"
"Of course I can," Tony says. "You're currently lacking fingers. I have fingers. Easy fix. You're my friend. Not a big deal. Really." He smiles.
He wonders how much he's lying to himself when he feels Steve's mouth against his fingers, Steve licking butter off his fingertips, and it's Steve and Steve is a wolf and Jesus Christ, this is weird. He's not going to think about it. He isn't.
He gets Steve another handful of popcorn.
Everyone else, luckily, is already engrossed in the movie.
He keeps feeding Steve more popcorn, and a few minutes later Steve ducks his head away and has had enough, so Tony passes the bowl back to Carol and tries to pay attention to the movie.
And then Steve starts leaning into him. He doesn't know if Steve is aware he's doing it, but he can feel Steve pressed up against his side, one long line of warmth along his torso. Steve is slowly sliding downward as the action plays out on screen -- not that Tony is really watching the movie at all -- and at the point when Matt Damon has opened a Swiss safe-deposit box whose number had been implanted under his skin, Steve is actually stretched out with his forelegs all the way across Tony's thigh and his head in Tony's fucking lap.
Tony must freeze up, because Steve lifts his head. "Tony?" he asks, in a low growly undertone. "I can go away--"
"No, no, I'm fine," Tony says, because there is really no adequate way to communicate this is everything I ever wanted but it's freaking me the fuck out because you are a giant wolf and yet I still like you. "Just startled me, is all. You're very comfortable," he adds, because, well, Steve is. "You should stay there if you want to."
The awful thought that he always kind of wanted a dog drifts through his head.
Steve's sigh now sounds contented, and he puts his head down in Tony's lap. He points one ear at Tony and one at the TV. Tony's not sure how much of the movie Steve is actually watching.
By the time Matt Damon's character runs into Franka Potente, Tony thinks Steve is asleep. He hasn't dared to touch Steve; he has one arm on the side of the couch and the other draped on the back of the couch. But he looks down at the fluffy golden fur on Steve's head and neck with longing. Steve looks so soft. Tony can't decide whether still really, really wanting to touch Steve when Steve is a werewolf is completely fucked-up or completely normal, but he's pretty sure it's either one or the other.
"Hey, Steve," he whispers, because he is not going to be that asshole who touches someone in their sleep, and touching most Avengers in their sleep -- Steve included -- often results in getting decked, and he really, really does not want to be bitten by a werewolf.
Steve's response is a sleepy growly grumble. "Rrrr?"
"Can I pet you?" he whispers. He's positive his artificial heart is pounding louder than his actual words.
Steve wags once, sleepily. He's hitting Carol in the thigh again. "Knock y'self ou'." His slurred words are a low growl, with that accent he only gets when he's exhausted, the one that only shows up in New York as depicted in very old movies.
So Tony takes a breath and puts his hand on Steve's head. It's just as soft as it looked, and Steve wags again as Tony strokes his fur. "S'nice," Steve says, another low, pleased growl.
Tony keeps petting him, and he's pretty sure Steve is lulled into sleep, because he stops pointing an ear at the television.
Carol glances over at them and grins, and Tony feels himself go hot. It's not what it looks like, he wants to say, except it kind of is. He shrugs, and she grins again and turns back to the movie.
On screen, the characters are running around the French countryside shooting unspecified bad guys -- and then someone's Avengers card beeps. Carol pauses the DVD while half the room goes through their pockets. Steve puts his head up and then pushes himself off Tony's lap; it looks like no one but Carol even noticed he was in Tony's lap in the first place.
"It's mine," Wanda says, and she rises. "Hank wants me downstairs."
"Just you?" Steve asks.
She nods. "He wants to talk to me about the magical component, and then we'll present the complete solution to you. He says it shouldn't be too long." She smiles. "Enjoy the rest of the movie."
Carol hits play again after Wanda leaves, and Steve looks at Tony with an awkward tilt to his head. Tony doesn't want this to be weird. He just... he just wants Steve. And it looks like Steve wants to be here, so it shouldn't be a problem.
So he smiles. "Come on, Steve," he says. "You can put your head back down."
The set of Steve's head is still doubtful. "If you're sure it wouldn't bother you."
"It is absolutely not bothering me," Tony says, and if that statement is sort of a lie, Steve doesn't need to know. The longing is none of Steve's business, and especially not now.
So Steve wags again, and he lies back down, head in Tony's lap, and Tony runs his fingers through Steve's fur until the movie ends.
This is really not how he thought he would ever get to cuddle with Steve, but he'll take it.
Tony is in the lab with Steve, Hank, and Wanda -- Steve had asked him to come, when the movie ended -- and Hank is grinning triumphantly. Good sign, Tony thinks, and he lets out the breath he's been holding.
"We have an antidote," Wanda says. "Reversing spell included."
Steve wags happily. His tail hits Tony in the leg. Thwap, thwap, thwap.
"We will have an antidote," Hank corrects her. The look he gives Steve is apologetic. "Sorry, but it's going to take all night to synthesize. It'll be ready in the morning."
Thwap, thwap. "Another eight hours won't kill me," Steve says. He's cheerful, and why shouldn't he be? "Thank you so much."
"You're sure this is it?" Tony asks. He doesn't mean to doubt Hank, but, well, it's not like they could test it.
Hank nods. "One hundred percent positive. Combined with Wanda's spell, this will be simple. No need to worry." He pats Tony on the arm.
He's not worrying. He's not. Okay, maybe he is. A little.
"Right," Steve says. "Everyone get some sleep, and I'll see all of you down here tomorrow morning. Hank, there's a guest room, second floor, first door on the--"
"I remember," Hank says, smiling. "I was an Avenger once, you know."
Steve barks out a laugh that sounds a whole lot like an actual bark, and Tony waves good night to the three of them and heads upstairs alone.
Tony has brushed his teeth, changed into his pajamas, and is just about to get into bed when there's a noise at the door. It's not a knock, exactly; it's a sort of brushing-scratching noise that sounds like it's coming from about a foot or two off the ground. It's exactly the sort of noise someone would make to get Tony's attention if they couldn't knock on the door. That narrows it down to exactly one person. Well. Werewolf.
"Steve?" he calls out, and he's across the room in three quick steps, flinging the door open. "Is everything all right?"
He opens the door and looks down to find Steve, looking pretty much exactly as he'd left him: still in uniform, cowl pushed back, shield on his back. The awkward tuck of his tail, though, that's new.
Steve looks up at him with that especially piteous sad-dog stare again; Tony is pretty sure that Steve isn't doing it on purpose and that his face just looks like that, but Tony's damned if he can resist it. He clears his throat; the noise is mostly a bark. "Tony?" His voice has a pleading, lonely whine, oh God. "I'm fine. I just-- can I-- can I come in?"
Tony takes a few steps back and lets Steve slither in, scale mail and shield scraping at the door frame. He doesn't close the door all the way, because then Steve won't be able to get out without him. Instead he leaves it open a crack, narrow enough to discourage their gossipy teammates but just wide enough for a paw or a nose.
Tony spreads his hands. "Here we are. What's up?"
Picking up his front paws and setting them down in turn, Steve looks up at him and then away, like he can't meet Tony's eyes. "I-- I can't," he says. "Never mind. I can't ask you to-- I should go."
"Hey, no," Tony says, softly. He wants to crouch down and say it at Steve's level but he's pretty sure Steve would take it badly. "You can always ask me anything. You know that." He smiles. "Is it more fetch? You'll have to give me a minute to change, but--"
"Not fetch," Steve says. He sounds fucking miserable. "But it's another one of those-- those impulses. God, Tony, I don't-- I don't mean that the way it sounds. You're my friend, Tony, and that means more than-- more than anything, more than this, I swear, but it feels hard-wired, and I can't fight it--"
Tony holds up a hand. "Back up," he says, because he really doesn't like the pictures this is starting to paint in his head. "You're having more, uh, lupine impulses?" He swallows hard. "Involving me?"
He scans the room automatically. Steve's between him and the door. The windows are all shut, but there's one of his briefcase armors under the closest window. Getting the suit itself on would take too long if Steve were going to bite him imminently. That's right out, then. Okay, backup plan. Grab the case, smash the window, jump -- Christ, that's twenty feet to the ground, easy, but it wouldn't be his first time -- but Steve would still be after him, and he'd probably make a better landing than Tony would. Still, it's the only shot he has.
"Yeah," Steve says, but he doesn't look violent at all, so this -- this must be something else, whatever it is. He just looks embarrassed. Ashamed. Like he wants to slink away. "Okay." Steve heaves out a sigh. "You know how dogs, wolves, whatever -- they're social creatures? They have their packs, right?"
"Right," Tony echoes, confused. And then something clicks in his head. Steve hasn't been alone all day, since this happened. He's been with Tony for most of it, actually, and even when Tony had left Steve had said he was going to see the rest of the team. "The Avengers," he says, slowly. "We're your pack."
Steve wags in acknowledgement; he looks both grateful and still ashamed.
Tony works through the rest of the comparison. "You don't want to be alone," he says, realization dawning. "It upsets you."
Steve wags again.
Tony exhales hard. Sure, he can see how Steve would think this was embarrassing, but this is so much better than the nightmare scenario he had been imagining that the relief is profound. "Okay," he says. "You want company. I can work with that. Who do you want me to wake up for you? Carol? Wanda? I'm sure any of the team would be happy to stay awake with--"
"Tony." Steve's staring at him like Tony's missed some crucial step. "I do want to sleep. I just-- I don't want to sleep by myself."
Steve's here. In his room. Steve's been asking him to stay with him all day. Steve was cuddling up to him during the movie. Steve's picked him.
"Oh." Tony can't think of anything else to say. Sometimes Steve just does this to him. He knows he's one of the smartest people on Earth but sometimes being around Steve Rogers just robs Tony of his powers of speech entirely. If Steve ever turned supervillain he could exploit the hell out of that one.
Steve's lips pull back and the fur of his snout wrinkles. "It's-- God, this is going to sound awful, but you know how dogs will sometimes have a favorite person, out of their people?"
"It's. Uh." Steve stares up at him with those huge eyes. "It's you. I'm-- uh. I'm certain of that."
Tony tries to put a sentence together. "You want to sleep with me. Because I'm your favorite."
Steve wags again. This one is a hopeful wag. "I know how it sounds," Steve says, voice low and anguished. "You don't have to."
This is really not how Tony had ever pictured one of his oldest and most cherished dreams coming true.
"Of course you can stay," Tony says, because no matter how weird it is, this is still Steve, dammit, and the answer is always yes. "Please." He holds out his hand to the bed. "Make yourself at home."
Steve takes a few hesitant steps, looking back at him in disbelief, and then -- after Tony makes an encouraging motion -- leaps lightly up, curling awkwardly at the foot of the bed. He's still wearing the shield and everything. It can't be comfortable.
"Like this?" Steve asks.
"You're not an actual dog," Tony says. "You can have one of the pillows. Come on. I'll share." He watches Steve stand up and bump the shield against the blankets as he makes his way to the head of the bed. "You want me to take your shield off for you?"
"Sure," Steve says, but then his tail falls again. "I, uh. Do you think you could take the rest of the suit off too?"
Tony's brain gibbers incoherently to itself at the question -- everything he has ever wanted in entirely the wrong context -- but luckily for him, his mouth's on autopilot. "Naturally."
He sets the shield on the floor next to the bed where Steve can find it, and then he slowly unfastens the rest of the uniform. It's heavier than he thinks dog outfits generally are, but then most dog outfits probably aren't solid leather and scale mail.
"There you go."
"Thanks." Steve wags at him. His bright-eyed gaze is tempered a little by embarrassment.
"Hey," Tony says. "It's fine. Not like you've got anything I haven't seen before, right?"
Steve's voice is a grumbly sort of growl. "Yeah, I'm sure you've seen wolves naked, Tony."
"Also I've seen you naked," Tony points out, probably far too quickly. So much for his attempts to sound like a person who does not think about Steve naked. Not that he does that. He tries not to do that. He fails a lot. But, he reminds himself, it would be unwelcome. Right. At least Steve hasn't noticed anything suspicious right now; Steve has bigger problems. "So, you know, I've got this covered in every direction. Old hat."
"Right," Steve says, dryly, and he slides until he's lying down with his paws on the pillow and his head on his paws.
Tony pulls back the blankets and crawls in on the other side the bed; Steve lifts his head and he has that same awkward look in his eyes.
"Yeah?" Tony asks.
"Can I," Steve begins, and Tony sighs inwardly. Not this again.
"You can do whatever you want," Tony says. "Carte blanche." And maybe that's one of those dangerous things he shouldn't say, but it's not like he has ever had boundaries around Steve. Which is probably also dangerous, but whatever. It works for them. It is not even remotely close to being the most dangerous thing about his life, at any rate. "Go for it."
So he lets Steve take a lot of liberties with him. That doesn't mean he's not surprised when Steve wriggles across the blankets and drops his giant wolf head on Tony's shoulder.
Oh. More cuddling.
"Night, Tony." Steve's breath is warm against his face. It tickles his beard.
Steve is a little warmer than most people are anyway; he's especially warm now. Tony brings his hand up to run his fingers through the fur of Steve's back, and Steve sighs happily, eyes shut, and shifts a little more weight onto him.
"Night, Steve," Tony whispers.
This is definitely one of the weirdest nights of his life.
Probably one of the best ones, too.
If anyone else notices that Steve didn't spend the night in his own room, no one says anything in the morning; once again Steve asks Tony to come down with him to the lab, and once again Hank and Wanda are still there.
Hank has a syringe in his hand. "Morning, you two. Sleep well?"
"Never better," Steve says, and Tony bites his lip so he doesn't start smiling; whatever expression his face wants to make, this definitely isn't the time. "So today's the day?"
"It is," Hank confirms, as Wanda steps closer. "This is going to be intravenous; I want to do the other foreleg this time. Tony, if you could hold Steve for me?"
Tony nods. "No problem." Definitely not a problem.
So Steve leaps up on the nearest table -- it's not quite designed to have wolves sitting on it, but it'll do -- and Tony comes up behind Steve, gets an arm around his chest, and pushes Steve's sleeve up and presents his foreleg for Hank.
A thought occurs to Tony as Wanda's standing there, a faraway look on her face as she starts to focus, to concentrate; he's seen that look so many times before, before she hexes whatever opponent is unfortunate enough to go up against the Avengers that day. "Hey, Wanda," he asks, "I'm not going to be in the line of fire for this, am I? I mean, I'm standing right here behind Steve."
"You'll be fine," Wanda says. "Unless you have a human form to turn back to, the spell won't affect you."
It's at that point that Tony feels like a complete asshole, because Hank bites his lip and looks away.
"It won't work on me," Hank says. "We already-- we already checked."
Hank gives a firm nod, pushing everything else away. "All right. Everyone ready? Wanda? Steve? Tony?"
Wanda raises her hands and nods, Tony takes a better grip on Steve's leg, and Hank looks at them and uncaps the syringe.
"More than ready," Steve says.
"All right," Hank says, and he rests the needle just above Steve's skin, fur brushed back. "Wanda, on my signal. Three, two, one -- now."
Wanda's fingers sketch a symbol in the air, and Steve trembles once in Tony's grasp as the needle goes in, the plunger depressed. Then Tony's vision goes red, and under his hands Steve shifts, ripples, changes--
And then it's over, and Steve is a human. Tony is still standing behind him, one hand on Steve's elbow, the other hand splayed over Steve's chest, covering the star of his uniform. Steve is looking down at himself, turning his hands over with the delight of someone who has spent a day deprived of opposable thumbs. He pats down his thighs, his torso, and then up to his chest. His fingers brush over Tony's, and Tony guiltily slides his hand up to Steve's shoulder.
"You good, Cap?" Tony asks.
In his fantasies, this is where Steve holds his hand.
"I'm great," Steve says, and Tony lets him go. Steve smiles at Hank and Wanda. "Thanks for all the help."
"No need to thank me," Hank says.
Wanda smiles back. "It was no problem."
Steve turns to face Tony.
And Tony... doesn't know what to do anymore. He doesn't want to know what Steve will thank him for. He doesn't want Steve to be grateful for the time Tony spent with him, like Tony was doing it just to indulge him. He doesn't want to hear that Steve wanted to spend time with him only because some weird werewolf impulses made him. He can't possibly listen to Steve tell him that.
"I'm behind on some work," Tony says. "Excuse me."
He ducks out before Steve can say anything.
It's not that he's avoiding Steve. He legitimately has things to do.
Okay, maybe he's avoiding Steve.
He has a gauntlet that did not, strictly speaking, need a rebuild quite yet spread across his workbench in pieces when someone knocks on the frame of the open door. When Steve sticks his head in and grins, Tony's stomach turns over in a mix of anxious nerves and that heady excitement that he still can't shake no matter how hard he tries.
"Hey, Tony," Steve says. "I was going to ask if you wanted to spar." He frowns at the gauntlet pieces. "I guess you're in the middle of something, though?"
"Yeah, I'm a bit busy right now," says Tony, Tony the fucking coward who certainly did not time his work to give himself this excuse. Except clearly he did. "Maybe later?"
He must be imagining the fallen look on Steve's face, he tells himself.
Maybe Steve has leftover weird werewolf feelings about him. Whatever. It will fade.
Two hours later, Steve's hair is still damp from the gym showers when he sticks his head in again, and Tony's finished the gauntlet, so he's out of obvious excuses.
"What can I do for you?" Tony asks, smiling, even as he knows the answer will never be what he wants.
Steve's gaze darts away from him for a split-second before he meets his eyes and smiles back. He's leaning casually against the door frame; he's in civvies, in those jeans he hardly ever wears that are much tighter than the rest, the ones Tony tries not to think about Steve wearing, the ones that cling so tightly to his ass that they should probably be illegal. Steve's shirt, a rich blue, sets off his eyes beautifully. If he'd been trying to pick out an outfit to make Tony stare at him, to make Tony remember that Steve looks like himself again, he couldn't have done a better job. Tony's mouth goes dry.
But of course, Steve didn't do it on purpose.
Steve beams at him; the smile is at first blinding, then fading into awkwardness. "I was just wondering if you were hungry? I haven't had lunch yet, and I thought maybe we could go out. Just the two of us. There's this great place I've been meaning to try that Jen told me about--"
Fuck. Nope. Not happening. He can't possibly survive a meal with Steve, Steve sitting across from him and looking at him so earnestly, and wearing that fucking outfit, and, worst of all, probably wanting to talk about everything they're not talking about.
That kind of makes it sound like their relationship is based on lies. It's not, really. There might be a couple of lies thrown in, but for the most part it is a carefully calculated and crafted series of omissions. Steve gets exactly as much of Tony as Steve can handle, and that definitely does not include everything Tony has felt about him in the past two weeks. Or ever.
"I just ate, sorry," Tony lies.
Steve's face definitely falls this time. "Oh," he says quietly, and he looks away. "Okay. Sorry to bother you. I guess I'll see you later."
Tony waits until the sound of Steve's footsteps fades, and then he drops his face in his hands.
Tomorrow. By tomorrow he'll come up with a plan for how to deal with this. How to deal with Steve. He just has to avoid him today and regroup. He can do that.
Tony's stomach growls.
"I hate myself sometimes," he says to the empty room, and he gets a piece of cold pizza out of the fridge in the corner.
Tony manages to time his dinner run to miss team dinner as well, and then it's back downstairs hiding with his armor all evening. He charges his heart. No one looks in on him in concern when he grits his teeth and flips the switch. No one bothers him at all, in fact. And then he's in his bedroom, getting ready for bed and thinking about what last night was like; the thought is an odd combination of wistful and terrifying.
And then someone knocks on the door.
"Tony?" Steve asks, and there's really no good excuse for avoiding him this time.
Tony opens the door and Steve's still standing there in that goddamn outfit. He takes a breath and meets Steve's eyes. "Yes?"
"I was wondering if I could talk with you," Steve says. The words are neutral enough, but the look in his eyes, for just a second, is awful: it's the kind of faraway sadness and loneliness he hasn't seen on Steve's face in years, not since they first pulled him from the ice.
Tony lets him in, because what else can he do?
"Of course," he says, and Steve shuts the door behind him with a resounding thud. "Is it something about the team? You know I always have time for--"
"It's not about the team." Steve's voice is quiet, firm, final. "It's about us."
Tony catches a breath and holds it. "What do you mean, us?"
"I'm not stupid, Tony," Steve meets his gaze; his eyes are ice-pale. "I know you've been avoiding me. Today, I get that; the wolf thing was too much. That explains today. But you've been avoiding me for weeks. You've been avoiding me since Mount Rushmore." He swallows hard. "You're my best friend, Tony, and if I've said something, if I've done something -- can you please just tell me what it is?"
It feels like he's falling without the armor, just plunging down and down and down. Steve's here and he wants answers and Tony can't hide, not anymore. There's nowhere to hide. But Steve will never forgive him if he tells him the whole truth.
"You didn't do anything," Tony says, because he owes Steve that much of the truth. "It's not you. It's really not." He runs his fingers through his hair. He's a mess. "I promise."
"So it's you, then, is it?" Steve asks, and Tony very briefly wishes Steve weren't as smart as he was. He stares at Tony for a long silent moment. His lips thin. He sighs. "I wish-- I wish you would just let me in, Tony. Whatever it is, I can deal with it. We can deal with it together."
Tony laughs. "You really don't want to. You have no idea what you're asking."
Steve's jaw sets obstinately, the way he gets when he's set on something and not moving. This is not going to end well. "No, but I can work it out, can't I?" His eyes unfocus. "Okay. Mount Rushmore. The virus. Are you--" he ventures this guess-- "upset because I nearly died? No, that can't be it; that happens all the time. You were the one who saved me. You would have traded your life for mine." The look he gives Tony is an affectionate kind of annoyance. "And that's not new for you either, much as I wish you wouldn't do that."
Tony shrugs. "You're Captain America. The world needs you."
"The world needs you too, Iron Man," Steve says, and then he reaches out and puts a hand on Tony's shoulder. "I need you, Tony."
His voice is raw, pleading, earnest, and Tony goes more than a little weak in the knees at the touch, at the way Steve sounds, the way Steve is looking at him, even though he can't mean it like Tony wants him to mean it. Tony's shaking.
"Steve--" Tony begins, and he doesn't even know what he's going to say, but Steve's staring at him like realization has just struck with all the power and finesse of pure lightning.
Steve's looking down at his hand on Tony's shoulder. "That's it, isn't it?" he says, quietly. "It is me, it's me because it's us, because of how you feel. About me."
Tony squeezes his eyes shut in abject misery. "I'll go," he says. "I'll go. I'll leave the team. Please-- please don't make this harder than it has to be. I never meant to make you feel-- I know it's unwelcome. I'm sorry."
And then Steve's hand is warm on his face, and Tony's eyes snap open.
Steve is smiling.
"Exactly why," Steve asks, "did you think it was unwelcome?"
Slowly, slowly, Steve steps in and puts his other hand at Tony's waist, drawing them close. Then he tips their mouths together. The kiss is gentle and achingly sweet, and Tony never wants it to end.
"Mmm," Steve says, and Tony watches him lick his lips. About ten thousand thoughts attempt to pass through Tony's mind at once, the foremost being I wonder if he'll let me kiss him again right now. Then Steve grins. "Better than CPR, I hope?"
Tony's laugh is relieved and a little strangled. "Much." And then a thought occurs to him. "You... you knew about this?"
To his credit, Steve looks only a little guilty. "I've suspected for a while. Didn't want to say anything in case I was wrong. Was hoping you'd be the one to say something on one of those movie dates--"
"Hang on," Tony says, indignantly, "those were dates?"
"--and you didn't, and I... kept trying to work up the courage. And then you were avoiding me after Mount Rushmore, and then there was yesterday, and that was a little too strange, and--" Steve looks down at himself-- "I figured I'd finally try today, but you didn't seem to want-- and I even wore your favorite outfit for you." There's a faint flush of red on his cheeks. "This is your favorite, right? I mean--" he goes redder-- "I see you looking, sometimes."
Tony thinks maybe he's going to die. "I-- yes," he manages. "Yes. I, uh. I like the outfit."
Steve takes a deep breath. "Do you want to go out with me?"
They're standing in the middle of Tony's bedroom. Tony's wearing ratty pajamas. He's pretty sure they skipped a step somewhere.
"Yes," Tony says, and Steve just smiles at him soft and sweet, smiles at him like Tony is the best thing he's ever seen, and Tony has no idea what he's done to deserve this but he just wants to hold on to Steve and never let go.
So he does. They're standing there, holding onto each other, and Tony smiles and drops his head onto Steve's shoulder as Steve wraps his arms around him.
"Dinner tomorrow?" Steve asks.
Tony laughs against Steve's shoulder. "Sure," he says. "We already slept together, you know. I think we're going about this all backwards."
"Doesn't matter to me." Steve presses a kiss against Tony's hair. "Besides, I'm hoping you'll give me another chance at that. I wasn't exactly at my best."
"You can have another chance right now," Tony murmurs. "Have anything you want. I told you that."
Steve tilts Tony's head back toward him with the gentle press of fingers and kisses him again.
"Let me take you to dinner first," Steve says. "Let's do this properly."
Tony clicks his tongue in mock reproach. "So old-fashioned."
"You knew exactly what you were getting into," Steve says, with another grin, the kind of grin that makes Tony want to lean in and kiss him, and the joy of it is, he can.
Eventually Steve gets to the door. They're both breathing hard and Steve's mouth is bright red. Tony counts this as a win.
"Tomorrow," he says, very firmly.
Tony's smiling and smiling. Tomorrow can't come soon enough.