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“Not fair!” Natasha shrieks as Tony runs his fingertips up the inside of her forearm and digs them into her lycra-clad armpit. “Stop it!” she pants from the floor under him, but she’s wearing a great big stupid carefree grin, and Tony’s ridiculously pleased to see her undeniably enjoying herself.

“I can’t believe you’re ticklish,” he says, grinning back. “Surely some torturer has tried this to make you talk, if it’s this easy to get you to give up the remote control.”

“I switch it off, thanks to training,” Natasha says, blowing a swath of titian hair out of her eyes as she suddenly death-grips Tony’s wrists to keep them away. “It’s situational. You're not a foe or threat since we’re teammates, so I’m letting myself be ticklish.”

“That’s incredible. Also, it’s really, really weird,” Tony marvels. Since his arms are still clamped away from her ticklish spots, he leans down and noses up the waist of her top to bare a sliver of stomach, purses his lips to blow a raspberry into her flesh, and she flinches, collapsing in a gale of giggles. He didn’t think she could giggle like that.

“Tony!” she manages.

“Whoops,” Steve says, fumbling a plate in the doorway. Tony glances over just in time to see Steve blush mightily and turn tail. “Sorry,” he calls out as he leaves the living room, and Tony glances down at Natasha, who shrugs.

“Whoops,” Tony echoes. “Cap saw some of your skin. He’s probably going to confession now.”

“Don’t be a dick, Stark,” Natasha says, “Does he know how you feel?”

“Feel?” Tony asks, failing to sound innocent.

“You know, that you’re hung up on him.” He freezes and Natasha drops his wrists and whacks him on the shoulder.

“Ow. Who says I am?”

“I had my fingertips on your pulse points when I asked you. Thump, thump, thump-thump-thump-thump.”

“You’re some kind of freak,” Tony says. “If we put you in weaponized armor you could take over the universe.”

“Matte black, please,” Natasha smirks. “Red and gold is crap for stealth. And you can get off me now, Iron Ass, before I throw you off.”

Tony moves and changes the subject. “We’re watching the Knicks, though. Or I’ll tickle you again.”

“Fine,” she huffs, tossing the remote over, but she’s still smiling.

*

They’ve been calling their names and searching for the better part of two hours, but neither green hide of Hulk nor fluffy hair of Bruce have turned up.

“Probably just sleeping it off somewhere,” Clint remarks, trying for nonchalant but failing.

“Yeah,” Steve agrees, but he sounds concerned, too. The last time they’d found Bruce after a mission, he’d been sleeping it off half-submerged in a pit of quicksand.

“Hey,” Tony says to Steve as Clint shimmies up a power pole to get a better survey of the area.

“Hey what?” Steve answers.

“We don’t do things, you and me,” Tony says, and he sounds a little plaintive to his own ears, which he realizes Steve might find sort of pathetic. He clears his throat. “I mean, you know. We don’t hang out. Outside of missions.”

“You want to hang out with me,” Steve says, like a statement instead of a question, and Tony nods. Steve just squints at him. “I don’t know; you seem busy enough already.”

“I’m not that busy,” Tony says hurriedly. “I’d like to get to uh...know you better. One-on-one.”

Steve shrugs in a noncommittal way and trudges on, and Tony wipes the sweat off his forehead and tries not to focus on Steve’s ass as he walks ahead of him. Why does Steve Rogers’ presence turn him into a conversational halfwit anyway? That didn’t happen when he first met the guy and thought he couldn’t stand him.

Okay. So things change. Steve stops and glances back, and Tony's caught staring. He raises his gaze in time to catch Steve's vexed little headshake. Damn.

Tony curses inwardly again for not making Bruce wear one of the location beacons Tony’s made in the workshop; he stubbornly insists he doesn’t need it. Well, Tony’s just going to have to insist right back, because the Hulk’s hard to miss, but they can’t goddamn find Bruce half the time after he reverts, and Hulk just wanders around doing whatever the fuck he feels like once there’s no threat; one time he tore the roof off a food truck and ate four dozen falafel balls before passing out.

“Holy shit,” Bruce had said when he’d come back to himself, looking chagrined. “He likes falafel. Who knew?”

“It’s handled,” Tony had replied calmly. “I’m replacing the truck and they’re naming a catered party package after the Other Guy.”

At any rate, Hulk generally sucked at post-battle rendezvous, so an expandable locator bracelet or an implanted chip (even better) would really help.

As Clint descends the pole and he and Steve sweep up the alley, Tony edges backward, sure he can hear something rustling behind him. A piece of corrugated metal forming the side of a lean-to is wrenched aside with an accompanying groan, and Bruce’s bare arm appears behind it.

“Oh thank God,” Tony says, and rushes over to move the metal out of the way.

“Hey,” Bruce gasps weakly in greeting, but he looks unharmed, thankfully.

“Over here!” Tony shouts to the others. In a low voice, he mutters to Bruce. “Dude, you’re wearing the beacon from now on. Implant if the other guy allows it, but if not, the bracelet.” Steve runs up as Tony continues: “No arguments. As soon as we bring you back home, we’re getting it on.”

Bruce nods weakly. “You’re right,” he says. “I need it.”

“On you or in you,” Tony agrees. “I don’t care which.”

They both miss Steve turning away, eyes wide, as Clint dashes up to proffer a canteen full of water for Bruce.

*

He knows Thor can unintentionally power-up his Iron Man suit with his magical...thunder magic, so it makes a kind of Thor-sense that he can run a controlled therapeutic shock through tired muscles with his fingertips.

“Whoa,” Tony says, as Thor, sitting in front of the sofa, grips both of his legs in his massive hands and sends a thread of energy pulses into Tony's weary calves.

“How is it?” Thor asks with a smile upward, and Tony sighs into a full-body stretch, arching his back as he feels the tingle climb up the backs of his legs.

“Awesome,” Tony moans. “Thor, don’t stop. That feels so good.” Tony lets his eyes flutter shut and retreats into a humming bliss. So he’s not quite certain whether he actually hears the mortified whimper someone makes from the balcony. Someone was definitely there, though, and left in a hurry through the adjacent room.

Tony’s really too relaxed to care.

*

Tony wanders into the gym to see Steve straddling a weight bench, shirt damp from his workout, watching Clint and Natasha spar. It’s always a treat to observe those two; they’re both flexible and fast, and Tony loves the way they trash-talk one another hilariously when it’s just a workout versus a real-world showdown with villains.

“Barton, you ryōtedori like a pregnant yak,” Natasha taunts him, and Steve’s shoulders shake with laughter until Tony drops his hands to them. That’s when he freezes and looks up.

"I don't even know what that means,” Tony says lamely into those blue, blue eyes, and Steve shrugs his hands away with a nod, grabs his towel and heads off to the showers.

Shit.

*

“Steve’ll be down later,” Tony says. “I told him there would be pizza, and he likes you, anyway. So you know, he’ll enjoy himself hanging out with at least one person he can stand.”

“Does he know?” Rhodey asks Tony, and Tony offers up his best clueless face.

“Does who know what?” he asks.

“Cap,” says Rhodey, exasperated. “Does he know you have it bad for him? Because everybody else is sick of hearing you wig over the guy.”

“I don’t wig. I don’t even...talk about him that much,” Tony says, and Rhodey rolls his eyes.

“Bullshit, Tony.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Tony says gruffly. “He doesn’t lean that way anyway. And even if he did, I don’t think I’d be his first choice. Or his tenth choice. He barely tolerates me.”

“You’ll never know unless you ask,” Rhodey points out. “Worst he can say is ‘no.’ Man, I have never known you to wuss out so spectacularly.”

“Yeah, that’s right. Big wuss, that’s who I am. Could we just get back to the job at hand before he comes down here?” Tony asks. “And don’t say anything, for god’s sake.”

“Are we in 7th grade?” Rhodey throws him an eyeroll. “Okay, as I was telling you, I practically need a can opener to get the suit off. It’s unsmooth.”

“Well, you took that one,” Tony points out. “It wasn’t made specifically for you.”

“It gives me a wedgie,” Rhodey complains to Tony’s laughter. “I mean, come on. Do your suits give you a wedgie? Of course not, because you have no ass to speak of.”

“Okay, despite that harsh crack at my physique, which is fantastic, thank you very much, I’ll adjust the dimensions. Give me a couple of days for fabrication and we’ll fit you out,” Tony agrees. “I need to get your resting arm angle right, too; stand still.”

Obligingly, Rhodey stands in the workshop in his boxers as Tony places himself behind him and pulls his wrists down to his sides. “See, you have this military bearing bullshit to work around; your posture’s different than mine.”

“Not ‘different.’ ‘Better’ is the word you’re seeking here,” Rhodey says.

“That is arguable,” Tony replies with a laugh, planting his hands on Rhodey’s hips. “It’s just that you have such a big stick shoved all the way up your ass all the time that it keeps you upright.”

Both men miss the whoosh of the workshop’s hydraulic door sliding open and then closed again.

Tony’s disappointed that Steve doesn’t show up, but he has a good time demolishing a cheese pie with Rhodey and tries to forget about it for another week. It’s not as if Steve hasn’t made his lack of interest obvious, but you’d think he could stand to hang out over a slice or five.

*

They’re in the communal TV room and Tony’s trying unsuccessfully to spin a basketball on one finger and getting more frustrated by the second.

“Shit,” he mutters. “I’m gonna master this, I swear.” He gives the ball a spin with his other hand and it drops to the floor and bounces over to Steve at the other end of the sofa, who puts a foot on the ball, his eyes still focused on the television.

“Pass that back?” Tony asks, hands up to catch.

“No,” Steve says.

“Can you spin a basketball?”

“Yep,” Steve says. He picks up the ball and gives it a whirl on his finger, using his other hand to keep it moving.

“Teach me how and I’ll kiss you,” Tony jokes, though he’s not actually joking. He’d take any excuse at all to plant one on Steve, and sadly, reflexive flirting is as close as he can seem to get. “I mean, I’ll take you to a game. Courtside seats?”

Because he’s a huge fucking wuss; Rhodey was right. Yeah, the worst thing Steve would probably say is ‘no’ but Tony doesn’t want to actually hear the word spoken aloud, so he’s not going to ask. Not seriously, at least.

“No thanks.” Steve replies laconically.

Tony closes his eyes. Figures. So he makes a decision, Rhodey’s words bouncing through his mind. “I mean, all kidding aside, I’d kiss you anyway. But we could go out first. I think that’s what we should do. Go out. Lets. A game or whatever you want. Dinner first?”

Steve turns his head and stares at him.

“I'm talking about a date,” Tony clarifies. “In fact, I’m tired of being such a wimp about this, so I’m officially asking you out.”

And the staring. Still.

“Say something,” Tony begs. “I’d prefer an enthusiastic yes, though, let it be noted. But I expect ‘no.” I’ll be devastated, possibly forever, but--”

“No thanks,” Steve says, forcefully. “I don’t stand in line.”

“Huh?” Tony asks, because there it is: NO. But a confusing no.

Steve raises an eyebrow and tosses the ball back to Tony at the other end of the sofa. “I’m not interested in being a part of your harem, Stark.”

Huh?” Tony asks again. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“You’re,” Steve gestures at Tony, then looks away. “You’re just, you sleep with everybody. It’s just... never mind. Forget I said anything.”

Tony stares. “I do not sleep with everybody. Okay, you know, maybe if you’d said that a few years ago, it’d be verging on truth, but I haven’t even been on a date in months.” He glances up, counting. “Eight. Eight months. That’s when you moved in. And,” he glances down. “That’s how long it’s taken for me to uh...ask you out. In a definitive way.”

“Liar,” Steve hisses, and Tony’s eyes widen, because Steve looks incredibly angry right now and he’s not certain why. He’d pictured Steve either laughing in his face with polite embarrassment or mumbling a polite explanation about only being interested in ‘dames’ or maybe politely running away when Tony finally grew a pair and asked, but not this strangely impolite...anger thing.

Tony realizes he’s still clutching the basketball, and sets it on the floor. “I’m feeling a little lost here. What am I lying about?”

“You’re having...” Steve’s voice drops to a hiss again. “Sex...” He repeats it, louder. “Sex. You’re having sex with practically everyone in the tower. Thor, for one.”

Tony’s shaking his head in disbelief, because this is crazy. “Thor?”

“Thor. I saw you,” Steve says with a challenging look. “Together.”

“When?”

“Couple of months ago,” Steve insists. “I saw him...between your legs, right here.” He jabs at the sofa.

“Thor!” Tony shouts, because Thor is in the kitchen area making a racket. “You busy?”

“I am making a Shrimp-Flavored Top Ramen,” Thor shouts back.

“Gods eat such crap,” Tony mumbles to Steve before yelling again: “Just come in here for a second!”

Thor alights in the doorway, a crumpled packet in one huge hand. “Yes, Tony?”

“Tell me; are we sleeping together?” Tony asks him, and Thor looks befuddled.

“You and Steve?” Thor asks. “I know that you are desirous of such, but I do not know if you have yet accomplished your wooing.”

Tony quirks a brow at Steve, who looks more than slightly floored. “See? No, Thor - us. You and me.”

Thor starts laughing. Loudly. “No!”

“Steve claims he recently saw you blowing me on the sofa, a while back,” Tony adds, ignoring Steve’s rapid headshaking. “Did that happen or is he smoking something he’s not sharing with the class?”

Thor looks thoughtful. “I do remember massaging your legs on this sofa,” he says, and Tony throws his hands up in vindication.

“Massaging your...” Steve begins, “...but I heard you, and I could see his head, and it sounded like...”

Thor drops the ramen packet, falls to his knees, and wraps two big palms around the backs of Steve’s calves.

“Like this,” Thor says, digging with his fingers, sparking as he goes, and Steve’s head drops back on the sofa.

“Oh, oh that’s...oh wow,” Steve moans.

“See?” Tony crows. “Point proven, Thor. Thank you.”

Thor stands and cocks his head. “Would you both like to share in my ramen?"

“No,” Tony and Steve chorus as Thor retreats back to the kitchen.

“Fuck,” Tony mutters. “Ramen. Anyway, I am clearly not boning Thor.”

“But...” Steve says. “I did see you with Natasha, and you were licking. Licking her stomach,” he adds, with apparent difficulty.

“I was tickling her, Steve,” Tony says. “I gave her a flurbit.”

“A what?” Steve’s brows knit together.

“This,” Tony says, and lifts up Steve’s t-shirt, leaning in, but Steve’s hand stops him from going further as he shakes his head.

“It’s none of my business anyway,” Steve mutters as Tony pulls out his phone and dials.

“Natasha, I’m putting you on speaker.”

“What’s up, Stark?” She answers, sounding wary.

“Steve’s here, and he seems to be under the impression that you and I are doing the nasty.”

Natasha snorts loudly. “What?”

“He saw us on the floor that day when you were unlawfully hogging the remote and thought I was about to slip you the Stark salami, apparently.”

“Ugh! God. Fuck. No!” Natasha says, with vehemence.

“Thanks,” Tony says, feeling vaguely hurt. “Appreciate that.”

“Nothing personal, Tony,” she adds in a breezy tone. “Now, if Steve wanted to--”

“Okaythanksbye, Natasha,” Tony says quickly, before clicking off and tossing his phone on the table. He looks up at Steve to see his arms folded.

“You and Colonel Rhodes, in the workshop...” Steve says.

“In the library, with a candlestick?” Tony squints at him. “What are you talking about?”

“I was coming down last week, and he was in just his skivvies, and you were uh, grabbing him from uh...behind.”

Tony waves a hand. “Measuring him for some alterations to the suit. Rhodey and I have been friends for decades and we’re still not banging. Call and ask him, too, if you want.”

Steve scrubs his jaw with his hand. “No, it’s... it’s okay,” he says. “But...how about Bruce? When we found him after the last mission, you mentioned getting...getting it on...”

Tony stares at Steve for a long moment, thinking back, and sighs. “The tracking bracelet I made for him. Or a chip for implant. You know -- I mentioned that at the debrief?”

“Oh,” Steve says, faintly.

“Uh huh,” Tony replies, nodding.

“Geez. I’m an idiot,” Steve says, covering his face with one hand.

“No, but you have a dirtier mind than I’d ever suspected.” says Tony. “Kidding. I think we’ve established that idiocy as a descriptor applies mostly to me. I mean, I should have said something sooner.”

“Said something...” Steve trails off as Tony moves closer to him on the sofa.

“I’ve been pining over you for months, Cap. Steve.” Tony says. “I’ve been agonizing over how to approach you, and that is so unlike me, but it’s you, and you’re...you’re telling me the only reason you would turn me down is because you thought it wouldn’t be exclusive?”

“I...” Steve colors again. “I didn’t say that. I didn’t say that exactly.”

“Because it would be so exclusive, oh my god, Steve. You’re all I think about. Ask anybody; I’ve been driving them all up the wall.”

Steve sits quietly for a moment, and Tony realizes his hand is on Steve’s thigh, and maybe that’s not really appropriate at this juncture because he’s really kind of an old-fashioned guy, and he could still laugh or walk out, and the polite letdown is about to happen anyway, so... “Uh, sorry,” Tony says, but before he can pull his hand away Steve’s clamps down over it, and Jesus, he's strong.

“No,” Steve says. “You don't have to apologize.” And his gaze is steady on Tony as his lips sneak up into a smile. “I should be the one saying I’m sorry. I made a lot of assumptions.”

Tony stares back and when Steve’s fingers curl around his own, just slightly, he decides caution isn’t worth it. “Yes, you did. You should apologize and then show me how to do the spinny thing with the basketball and then maybe agree to go out with me. On a date.”

He pauses and Steve looks exasperated, but not angry any longer, thank fuck. Here comes the polite rejection, Tony thinks. "Or we can just forget we had this conversa-" he starts.

“I was jealous,” Steve admits, interrupting, and it’s Tony’s turn to look surprised. “I mean, you’re a flirt. But I thought...”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Tony says.“I flirt all the time but that’s just...it doesn't mean anything. Unless it’s you I’m flirting with, in which case I totally mean it.”

“I'm sort of used to you by now. But...you left out the kissing. Why did you leave that out?” Steve says, his voice dropping into a register Tony has never heard him use before and it’s kind of making his heart twist in his chest and then Steve leans in.

“Because,” Tony murmurs into Steve’s mouth when he can catch his breath, but but he doesn’t have any way to finish the sentence, or any need to, because Steve’s kissing him again.

And Tony’s pretty sure Steve realizes that he’s first in line.