It had been over three weeks since the Avengers had been returned to their adult selves. Tony was still twitchy around Darcy; he continued to use anyone and anything within his reach as a shield. The fact that at one point he was actually using Captain America's shield was a great source of amusement for Clint who had taken to randomly acting like he was greeting Darcy which put Tony on edge. He'd retreated to his lab after this had happened four times.
Steve came down to the workshop every meal with fresh coffee and a plate of food. He never left before Tony finished the whole plate and had dragged Tony towards the small shower once every day; shoving him inside and refusing to let him out until he'd showered. It isn't hygienic seemed to be his go-to phrase and excuse when he would finally shove the fresh clothes into Tony's arms before shutting the door. Dummy would be hovering over Steve when Tony finally remerged complaining that he was only going to dirty the clothes in a few minutes. Steve would just smile and offer him fresh coffee before dropping down onto the couch to talk with Dummy, read a book, play with whatever tech Tony had shoved off on him recently or doze. Other times he might draw.
Sometimes the workshop would be filled with the sounds of Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Tony moving about, Tony talking to himself, Dummy, JARVIS, Steve or whatever he was working on. Other times Tony would question various things, ask Steve his opinions or what he thought of the newest Starktech. Usually he stayed so far from personal things that Steve wondered if Tony even allowed himself to think of them.
"Steve?" Tony's voice had broken through the silence as he stared at nothing in particular. The wrench in his hand was forgotten as he waited.
"Why do you spend so much time around me? Why do any of you even bother?" it was asked almost casually and if he was someone who hadn't spent so much time actively working to figure out Tony Stark then Steve wouldn't have noticed the underlying pain in the questions.
"You're my friend and we all care about you." It was simple and he hoped would prompt Tony to elaborate.
"Why? Steve…I'm royally fucked up. I'm broken. There is nothing here; I'm a shadow of a normal person. You've had to have read some of the stories about me…seen the news or heard the stories. You’ve been around me for months."
"Tony…what is this about?" Steve set aside the Starkpad he had been trying to figure out. Tony had handed it to him wordlessly the day before when he had brought down the fresh clothes and a sandwich.
"I was just thinking on past relationships and I just don't understand why none of you have left yet. Sure it's a nice place to live, but everyone leaves eventually and I have been trying to figure out why the Avengers haven't left yet."
And it clicked. Pepper had to be the source of this whole thing. He knew she had started hanging out with a guy; Steve wasn't sure who it was and he remembered that Pepper had been speaking with Tony on the phone when he had first come down. That conversation must have set this off.
"We're a family. We're a bunch of lost, dysfunctional people who have nowhere that we fit in, but you gave us somewhere to belong. A place that accepts us no matter what. A place that lets Tasha relax instead of putting up a completely aloof persona; somewhere where others don't stare at Clint as though he asked Loki to take over his mind. You created a home that allows Bruce to relax and conduct research without being forced to fear military action; where people don't treat him like a monster. Thor is able to bond with others who are not going to shun him for being Loki's brother or for talking differently and a soldier out of time isn't treated with kid gloves…no one here stares at me as though I'm the second coming or expects me to be this ideal perfect being." Steve rested his hands on Tony's shoulders, "You gave us something that no one else could. And you figured out that Phil wasn't dead and you brought him home; you were the one who noticed how his 'death' had impacted this team and you fixed it. Damn, Tony. It may be a strange concept for you, but you keep this team together." His voice was filled with emotion because Steve needed to get through to Tony.
Tony opened his mouth to say something more, no doubt another self-deprecating thing, before Steve cut him off once more. "You need to get out of this workshop. You've holed up in here long enough; I'm sure Clint isn't going to scare you again." The last was said slightly unsure. "Find a project that will take you out into the world." Steve pushed him towards the exit and went around collecting the various plates while Dummy followed his movements all the while trying to help.
Tony surfaced from his workshop, showered and changed into clothes before wandering around the tower and eventually venturing out into the main living space. "Tony?" Darcy's voice came from behind him as he had just walked into the movie room looking for Thor. The scream he emitted, that he would later deny with his dying breath, was high-pitched and filled with terror. Darcy failed to recall a time she had seen someone leap over a couch that quickly; it was then that he came up with one of the toy Mjölnirs.
"Back! I'm watching you." The last sounded threatening. She held up her hands and put the most nonthreatening expression on her face that she could without laughing.
"It's ok. I'm not going to hurt you." Darcy watched the hammer, "Liked you better as a kid…" she muttered the last bit mostly to herself. A snort from the hallway informed her that someone of superhearing was nearby. "I was just curious as to what you were looking for; you've been down in the workshop for over a week. Pretty sure Steve is the only one who has actually seen you."
He slowly lowered the hammer still staring at her suspiciously. It had not helped that the first several days he'd returned to being an adult she had continued to coo at him and then she had seen him without his shirt on. The noises she had admitted had chilled him down to the darkest little place in his in very soul and were not human. Of course she had begun babbling about how she had now seen three of the Avengers without their shirts and how could she possibly pick between any of them?
"I'm looking for Thor." His eyes narrowed as she took a step closer; the hammer came back up a few inches.
"Oh." She brightened visibly. "I just wanted to give you something. Thor is in the kitchen polishing off the last of the Blueberry Poptarts." It was then that Tony noticed there was a book in her hand.
"What is it?" there was caution in his voice even as a head poked around the doorframe to look into the movie room. Steve Rogers looked like he was enjoying Tony's obvious suspicion a little too much. The hammer was still clutched in Tony's hand in case she moved too quickly; it was unknown whether or not he would actually use the mini-weapon.
"Memories preserved for everyone's enjoyment!" the book was placed down on the back of the couch before she stepped away as though he was a cornered animal. Darcy smiled encouragingly. Tony could practically hear the ominous music playing in the background while lightning lit the sky of some supervillain's liar. It was a vivid image resting in his mind.
"JARVIS…is there some ulterior motive present?"
Steve snorted on a laugh and came into the room, but he noticeably went around Darcy as he collected the item himself. Flipping it open revealed a picture of seven children curled up in various positions on Tony's bed. The book was filled with images of the mini Avengers and Steve was slightly afraid to figure out how Darcy had gotten the majority of the pictures. Tony had migrated over to Steve to look at the book and it was obvious he was trying to figure out how best to get the book so he could destroy all evidence that he had been a child again.
"I've sent a book to everyone! I had left Steve's in his room on the floor near the door." Darcy grinned, "This one is for you. I'm not sure how to get the videos off of YouTube…"
Steve stared at her in horror, "There are videos? Of what?" Tony would have laughed had he not felt a chill go down his spine.
"The Battle of the Food Court is what it is being called." Darcy wanted a picture of the look on Steve's face; Tony looked slightly disturbed which had been his default expression around her lately so it wasn't anything new.
"And what a glorious battle it was!" came a booming voice. Thor polished off the Poptart in his hand before walking into the room. "Man of Iron, why are you clutching the small Mjölnir?" he grinned widely at Tony, "It is a glorious weapon."
"Thor! I was looking for you." Tony beamed at him as he used Steve as a shield before moving over to Thor. "It has come to my attention that we need to actually furnish your floor! I was wandering around your level, no reason what so ever, when I couldn't help but notice that you haven't changed or added…anything." The final word was laced with confusion.
Thor stared at him for a brief moment before grinning, "I had no idea that I could make changes."
"Well big man I think it is time to go shopping!" Tony seemed beyond pleased with himself as he had found a project all on his own that didn't involve his workshop. This should get a certain someone off his case. Maybe.
"Shopping? Like the time when we were children and there was the battle in the food court?" Thor seemed very interested now that he had focused on the battle once more.
Steve blushed scarlet and looked anywhere but at the others. Darcy squealed and Tony would once more swear that the sound did not put him on edge. "There shouldn't be a battle this time. You've been shopping before, right?" there was a considering tone present in this voice.
"No. There has been no reason for me to go on such a quest. Jane has supplied many of my garments."
"Yeah…we're going to rectify this! JARVIS! Move all my appointments to a later date...if I have any. Thor and I are going on a quest!" Tony grabbed on to Thor and started to lead him towards the elevator. "Inform Happy we need a ride."
"Of course, Sir. Shall I inform Ms. Potts of your change in plans?"
"I'm sure she's busy…" Tony hedged as he walked faster towards the exit. Thor waved behind him at the staring Steve and Darcy before they disappeared from view.
"Will there be ale on this quest?" was the last thing they heard as the elevator slid shut.
"That just doesn't seem like a good idea…" Darcy trailed off before she moved to the couch and dropped down onto it. Steve stared at her briefly before moving to place the photo book that was clearly labeled as Tony's out of the way.
"JARVIS?" he questioned as he headed out of the movie room which seemed to be the main meeting area. "Can you find out where Ms. Potts is?"
"Yes, Captain." the smooth response came as Steve walked through the tower towards the elevator. "Ms. Potts is at the main Stark Industries office in New York in her office. Do you need to make an appointment?"
"Is she available in," Steve glanced at the clock, "thirty minutes?"
"Yes. Her schedule has cleared, slightly, since Mr. Stark cancelled several meetings."
"Please schedule me that appointment." The elevator took him to ground level where his motorcycle was housed. He pulled on a coat before leaving.
"Alright, we're going to get you some custom designs for your space. Find some fabrics that you prefer and get you some clothes because you are seriously lacking." Tony grinned over at Thor who was staring at him in rapt attention. "If at any point you see something that you want tell me and we will acquire it. I designed everyone's floor so that there could be customization! Even though I made the spaces to fit everyone's individual needs I wanted to give everyone a chance to make their floor their own. You, my friend, have not taken advantage of that!"
"How have the others changed their…floors?" Thor had been trying harder to use a similar vernacular to the other Avengers. That and Clint had been working to educate him on Earth via TV shows and movies. Tony was sure that Coulson was a step away from choking Clint or blaming Tony for the whole mess. Both would probably work.
"Well Clint spends a bunch of time on Coulson's floor, but he has had a few walls knocked down so that he could have an archery practice area as well as a huge wall TV with several gaming systems. Coulson has changed around his furniture, used different colors, created an office space and an Avenger-free sanctuary. Natasha has added fabrics, pillows, plants, custom furniture and other female things." Tony paused watching as Thor was taking in all the information, "Steve, surprisingly, has had a bunch of the more recent technology added to his floor which is all Starktech because anything else is obsolete, he has also added various paintings and photos on the walls."
"What about your floor?" Thor was clearly trying to get an idea of what exactly Tony was dragging him along to accomplish on this quest.
"Oh…well you've been on my floor when we were all kids." He looked out the window. "I had a huge bed put in because when I want comfort I want comfort, my windows display any information I have JARVIS call up, I have a mini-workshop area in case someone tries to ban me from my actual workshop since many have tried that before. Part of my floor I had modeled after my home in Malibu with a fireplace in one of my rooms which is supposed to act as a sort of office/library and in the sitting room I have a wall waterfall along with a huge TV…" he trailed off. "Basically I put whatever I could think of on my floor."
Thor nodded sagely. "That is wise." He appeared to be thinking about something, "I would like to make my quarters similar to those I have on Asgard."
Tony offered a slight smile, "We can do that. I know many people who do excellent custom work. We'll get you to work with a designer and then send the requests off."
He met Happy's eyes in the rearview mirror and received a nod as his friend took a left heading towards Tony's unspoken destination.
"Captain Rogers. To what do I owe this unexpected visit?" Pepper stood from her desk chair as Steve was led into her office. He headed straight for the chair in front of her desk and at her nod took a seat.
"Tony." So much was conveyed in that one word and had Pepper sitting down to regard Steve seriously. Slight worry filled her features.
"Is he ok?" it was best to get the standard question when dealing with Tony out of the way.
"Physically, as far as I know, he is doing fine. I'm here in regards to the dissolution of your relationship. I know it is none of my business, but I believe it has had a negative effect on Tony."
Pepper stared at him, "You're right. It is none of your business." Her tone was cool as she regarded him. The break up was a touchy subject for her.
Steve pressed forward regardless. "I'm aware that on some level Tony believes your relationship ended mutually, but I can't help but wonder if there wasn't something that might have been said to him that would indicate otherwise. Tony appears to be waiting for us to leave him." Steve stared at her without moving his gaze.
A sigh escaped as she looked away letting her mind go over things she might have said prior to the end of their relationship. "I told him that I couldn't continue to let him go off and play hero while I'm stuck on the sidelines constantly wondering if this is the last time I'm going to see him alive. If I'm not watching him go off to his death." She glanced back at him, "I saw Iron Man fly that nuke up into that hole in the sky and I saw it start to close. He did that believing he wasn't coming back. That it was going to be the end and there was nothing left. I believed he was dead. He fell from the sky, no movement, no slowing down; he wasn't answering my calls and I had nothing to let me know that he was alive." Tears had formed in her eyes, "Then he came back and was officially part of the Avengers. He had found a group of people who had similar goals, who accepted him…all of him which I can tell you is very rare. Then he started to distance himself from our relationship. I don't know why or what I did that caused him to pull away. All I know is that I can't live that kind of life. The kind of life where I don't know if he is coming home, where I have to wonder if the man who I am in a relationship with is going to pull another suicidal stunt without a thought…"
Steve frowned slightly. This was so familiar to the letters soldiers would get from their girls because they couldn't wait for their men to come home. Or messages. Because they couldn't take not knowing if they were dead or dying. If they were coming home. Not all of them received such messages, but some did.
"He isn't going off to play hero, Ms. Potts." Steve stood up, "Tony is a hero." That part had struck him wrong and it might have been due to his own comments he'd made in the beginning that made him very defensive of Tony on this subject.
She smiled at him sadly. "But I don't want a hero. I want someone who loves me and who I don't have to worry about dying while he is off trying to save the world. I need stability in my relationship because if there is one thing I have learned since I started working for Tony it is that Tony does not represent stability. Us separating was the best decision we could have made. We had a conversation and decided to go our separate ways. It doesn't mean I don't still love Tony. I do. He is one of the most important people in my life; one of my best friends in this world. But I can't be in a relationship with him that is beyond what we have presently."
Steve sighed; he could only imagine how Tony had internally taken that conversation. It was obvious what things the other man had committed to memory and those he had disregarded. "Thank you for answering." It was formal and distant. He was grateful that she had taken care of them while they were children, but despite his normally forgiving nature it was going to be hard to push this aside until further in the future. She could have handled that differently because Steve knew that Pepper had to have an even better idea of Tony's personality and character.
Pepper stood up and came around the desk to stand in front of Steve. "It wasn't the most tactful way I could have explained things to him or broken the relationship off. I'm beyond grateful for the fact that you all kept him from doing something stupid afterwards and that you all care for him so much. He needs more people in his life like that; he has been on his own for the most part." She smiled softly now, "I'm happy that he has you and that someone as intrinsically good as you loves him."
It caused his heart to stop and then rapidly speed up, "I…I didn't s—"
Pepper held up a hand. "I've seen the two of you interacting; how you watch him, heard about your reactions when he was still a child and know that you spend so much time with him. You don't bring any of the others with you when you go out to explore the city or attend events. Tony is your first choice. There have been many meetings cancelled for these impromptu trips."
She stepped away from him and Steve Rogers watched her every move waiting for the other shoe to drop. He knew it was more accepted nowadays, but there were still those who were disgusted. At this point he had decided he wasn't going to say anything especially since Tony hadn't been separated from Pepper for very long. It wouldn't be appropriate at this point and Tony had not shown any interest in him other than as a friend. The fact that he had not given his feelings a name also factored in.
He didn't try to deny her claim, "Thank you for your time, Ms. Potts. And thank you for taking care of us while we were children." Steve nodded to her and walked out of the office.
Pepper stared after him and finally let the look of sadness she had kept at bay wash over her features. Steve had every right to see her as an object of blame for Tony's current feelings even though she knew he would rather die than admit to them. Tony Stark would keep it to himself and must have asked a leading question when his guard was down; Steve would have seen through it. She had never seen someone watch another so intently and almost obsessively as Steve Rogers watched Tony Stark. From what she had gathered Tony had started off as a great source of frustration for Steve and at some point must have done something that caused Steve to give it a second try.
Tony sat there, playing on his Starkpad, while Thor continued to elaborate on the types of furniture, their sizes and textures he wanted for his floor. The colors and fabrics had already been swiftly dealt with as Thor was very particular that he wanted rich vibrant colors. Royal blue, crimson, golds, and silvers seemed to dominate the various types of fabrics in numerous rooms on his floor. Other colors were also present, but did not play as big of a role. He seemed to love the deep crimson color for his bed and heavier fabrics were closer to those he was used to on Asgard.
Thor practically bounded over to where Tony was sitting while the designer was putting everything into a simulation for Thor's approval.
"I had no idea that Earth had so many wonderful fabrics or that it was possible to create items similar to those on Asgard." He seemed so excited and in awe that Tony chuckled.
"What we can't get built or designed here I can get for you out of my own workshop." He stood up and went over to look at the screen. Andy moved out of the way to let Tony get a closer look and did not object when he moved a few of the items around as well as adjusting a few sizes to fit better within the parameters of Thor's various rooms. "Excellent job. Were there any problems or items you think would be harder to create?"
"I don't see any problems. Thor was very specific on all items, how they were to look and positions in his space. I can send a copy of the floor plans or you can grab them for yourself." There was a slight smirk as Tony held up some of his newest Starktech and captured the plans before sending them off to JARVIS.
"Great. Can you send the requests off once Thor approves?" at Andy's nod Tony waved Thor over who loved everything.
"How does lunch sound, big guy?" Tony clapped him on the shoulder before paying Andy and leaving a huge tip for such quick work on a short notice. "Next is clothing shopping. I've got a tailor who can custom make anything. I'm sure you'll need some suits…"
"A worthy plan, Man of Iron." Thor's enthusiasm was contagious as Tony grinned before leading them over to Happy.
Steve was sitting at the island in the kitchen sketching when the loud sounds from the elevator interrupted him.
"FRIENDS!" Thor's voice boomed, "Come see the items we have collected for my quarters!"
The sight that greeted him caused Steve to laugh. There were bags upon bags of items everywhere; it appeared as though Thor and Tony had bought out an entire mall. There were a few boxes scattered around in various piles.
"I have discovered shopping!" it could only be described as glee. That was the expression on the god of thunder's face and Steve grinned. "There are entire places filled with shoes! And pants, hats, shirts, towers of pillows and sheets." Now the look had turned to rapture. "The Man of Iron took me into a store that was filled with music!"
Tony looked almost like a proud parent as Thor continued to go on about his discovery of what shopping truly was and how many amazing items he had discovered. "There was even an epic battle!"
That got the attention of everyone who had gathered in the foyer. "Battle?" Steve dreaded the response, but before Thor could recount the tale Agent Coulson stepped into the room.
"Why have I just been informed that two of my responsibilities were sword fighting down a toy isle with lightsabers?"
"That was from our battle!" Thor beamed as he set down the bags that were still in his hands. "Tony and I engaged in battle with these lightsabers before we ventured toward the shoe store."
"What could have possibly led you to believe that sword fighting with Star Wars props was a good idea?" an incredulous note was obvious in his voice.
"What could have led us to believe it wasn't a good idea?" Stark was smirking now as he finally removed his sunglasses. "We had accomplished most of our shopping and it was a great way to pass the time. Besides it isn't like I didn't buy all of the lightsabers when we were done. If anything that store should be thanking me! I could make better ligh—" Tony cut himself off as a faraway look took over his face. Brain going a million miles a second.
Coulson was filled with dread and resignation. That look never equaled anything good. Natasha was watching Tony carefully before inching towards one of the bigger boxes. She read the label and her eyebrows rose up to her hairline before she carefully stepped away; some things were better left unquestioned.
"Alright. Let's get these to your room. You should start getting your furniture and other purchases over the next few days."
Thor began picking up the boxes to place in the elevator before collecting as many bags as possible. Tony grabbed a few before looking around before settling his eyes on Steve.
"Hey supersoldier, you mind using some of that strength so we can make fewer trips?" Tony flashed an award winning smile.
Steve shook his head before scooping up several of the bags and walking towards the elevator.
"I give him a month." Clint muttered.
"Three and a half." Natasha said with absolute certainty.
"Half a year." Bruce chimed in.
Coulson stared around at them all, "I'm hoping for never. I can just see the amount of paperwork in my future if that happens let alone imagine Director Fury's reaction…" he stared down at the folder in his hands which had record of the most recent public incident with Thor and Tony Stark. Sword fighting in a toy store…what was next? Running through the grocery store throwing eggs at each other?
Steve stared at the boxes that formed a small mountain in Thor's room. "Are those all…shoes?" he asked incredulously. Tony dropped several bags to the floor where a pile had been formed so that the bots could come in and collect them for the washer later. Thor looked up from the box of frames filled with images of battle, rich landscapes and depictions of the Battle of New York. "What would you need that many pairs for?" Steve stared at Thor as he reflected on the fact that he owned six pairs because Tony had informed him that it was the minimum of shoes required in order to live in Avengers' Tower.
"Captain, you can never have too many shoes!" Thor beamed, proud of himself for remembering the wise words he had heard a young lady say while Tony and he had been purchasing all of his shoes.
Captain America's mouth dropped open in shock while Tony smiled in approval. "Don't worry, Cap! I will be correcting the oversight of your wardrobe next." The gleam in Tony's eyes caused Steve to take a step back and look at the exit.
"We are going shopping again?" there was hope laced in every word as Thor stared at Tony.
"Without a doubt. The good Captain here only has six pairs of shoes and don't get me started on his lack of clothing. Steve, whoever purchased your clothing should be shot."
"Only six? I'm sorry for the hardship you are enduring, Steve." Thor looked at him mournfully while Steve looked between the two of them.
"Tony…what have you done?" it was whispered.
A sigh escaped him as Tony looked away, "Why does everyone ask me that?" a grown man should not pout like that was all Steve could think in that moment. Tony's phone beeped at him as JARVIS' voice rang out informing Tony about some fair at a school.
Steve was looking at Tony who was surrounded by shopping bags, bonding with Thor over the acceptable number of shoes one should own and thinking about how Tony would be covered in various oils as well as dirt in his workshop and be so completely enthused about whatever he was working on that it would give him pause. Those dark eyes that were always filled with intelligence would spark with excitement as Tony would start talking about whatever idea had taken over his attention.
It appeared as though Pepper was right. He had been trying not to put a word to the feelings and emotions that Tony brought out in him. How he felt whenever those dark eyes turned their full attention to him or the complete horror and fear; the crippling fear he had felt when Tony had almost been killed by a cab when he'd been turned into a child. It had seemed right to consider it friendship; to think it was because he considered Tony Stark his best friend. But recently he couldn't deny it.
It appeared as though Steve Rogers had gone and fallen in love with Tony Stark.