“We can’t find Steve,” Natasha says, concise and to the point, as she strides into Tony’s workshop amidst a cacophony of squealing alarms from both DUM-E and U.
“Is that supposed to upset me?” Tony replies, from where he’s lying on his back on his favorite car creeper, half-covered by the sleek body of his bright orange McLaren. “Also, security breach. Another one.”
“It will,” she warns coolly, completely disregarding his tirade as Tony knew she would, and he watches with no small amount of horror as her feet move closer to his position of dwindling safety in the gap between the car’s chassis and the floor. “Because you’re going to find him.”
Tony sighs as he feels himself being wheeled out from under the belly of the car, until Natasha stops him shortly with an outstretched boot to his shoulder. He looks up, and her piercing glare meets his.
“So I’m supposed to believe that the most proficient spy agency in the world can’t track down one lone super-solider without my help. Yeah,” he scoffs, rolling his eyes pointedly. “Right. So I’m just going to—”
“We know he has his phone,” Natasha says, “but it’s been switched off, and our facial recognition systems are not yet back online after Loki’s assault on the helicarrier so—”
“Colonel Cyclops is really dropping the ball without Coulson around, isn’t he, I mean it’s been months—”
“—we have no way to track him. No easy one, at least,” she amends, before falling silent. Only then does she look miffed at his interruption.
“So if anything is too difficult for SHIELD you dump it on me? Good plan.”
“I agree,” Natasha says. “Good plan. Now go find him.”
“It’s not as difficult as—look, I made that phone he uses, and it has a power system comparable to my arc reactor. You can’t turn that off.” He grabs a hold of the car and moves to pull himself back under. “Just pinpoint the phone’s power signature and—oof,” he grunts, as Natasha’s foot presses down sharply on Tony’s shoulder, stopping him in his tracks.
“Stark,” she warns.
“Dammit. Fine, yes, okay, stop torturing me, Jesus,” Tony whines, and he lets Natasha drag the car creeper completely away from the McLaren, then glares at her until she finally lifts her foot. He scrambles to his feet. “Please note that I am doing this under protest,” he shoots at Natasha, who just smirks at him with a self-satisfied gleam in her eye. “JARVIS, wake up,” he says dejectedly. “We’re apparently going into Senior Citizen Retrieval Mode, chop chop.”
“Where shall we start, sir?” JARVIS asks, prompt and efficient like always, and the holographic projectors flicker to life, a slowly rotating globe about seven feet in diameter appearing in the air in front of him. Natasha moves a few paces away, off and to the side and unobtrusive, just as Tony likes his unwanted spectators. Good girl.
“Let’s start with Manhattan, he probably hasn’t gone far.” The hologram shifts and zooms, and a flat ceiling-high map of the city appears, dotted with about a dozen blue orbs of varying size.
“Here’s the Tower, and I’d know—you’d know, if he was here,” Tony says, pointing at the largest orb, before swatting it away. “Clint’s out on patrol, and if he stuck to today’s route and brought his phone like he was supposed to—” he swats away another smaller ball of light. “These are all different facilities of Stark Industries,” gesturing away the last few orbs. “So that leaves us with…. Huh. Is that—? Huh.” And he quickly swipes away the last location before Natasha can maneuver herself in position to see.
“Stark,” Natasha growls, crossing her arms and fixing Tony with an exasperated look. “Do you have his location? Do you know where Steve is?”
But Tony merely grins, already making his way over to the Audi and throwing open the door with a flourish. “Yeah, I do,” he replies with uninhibited glee. “And I’m going to go get him. Hang tight, sweetheart, I’ll be back in a few,” and he’s gunning out of there before he can hear her curses. No doubt she’ll have a tail on him in the time it takes to weave through the maze of the Tower’s private underground garage, but a head start is never a bad thing; maybe it’ll give him enough time to lose it.
Tony whoops loudly as the car hits the street in a squeal of tires and a roar of the engine, before setting his sights on East Harlem.
* * *
Steve is sitting calmly on a park bench when Tony finally finds him. He’s smiling dopily at a small golden-colored French bulldog curled up in his lap, and Tony can tell it’s asleep; figures Steve’s lap would be comfortable.
“You are just dripping with clichés, Rogers,” Tony says as he approaches. “Dripping.”
Steve sighs, but he doesn’t look surprised to see him. He probably smelled Tony coming from a mile away, the freak. “Hello, Tony,” Steve says, and his shoulders go taut, his warm smile all but vanished.
“Well, you’re happy to see me,” Tony says cheekily. He plops down on the bench beside Steve, and reaches out to bat at the dog’s paws. The dog opens its eyes, and snuffs at Tony sleepily.
“SHIELD made me track you,” Tony begins, in way of an explanation. “You ran away from SHIELD long enough that they started to get worried, and I find you in an animal shelter. Volunteering. Helped an old lady across the street yet today too, Rogers?”
“I’m not in the mood, Tony,” Steve says in warning, but it’s a half-hearted protest and Tony doesn’t care anyway.
“Are you ever?”
Steve opens his mouth with a retort, but is distracted when the dog jams its paws into his crotch as it stretches, tongue lolling out adorably in a yawn. “Easy there,” he says with an embarrassed laugh, and deposits the dog on the bench between them.
“Hey, buddy,” Tony says, and offers the dog a hand to sniff, before scratching the underside of its chin with an index finger. “You’re a handsome fella, huh. You must get all the ladies.”
“Her name is Dolly.”
“Excuse me,” Tony says in mock horror. “All the men.” Tony huffs out a soft laugh when she licks his fingers, before rubbing at a spot just underneath a floppy ear. “But eh, then again, you still might get all the ladies.”
Steve surprisingly laughs, startling Tony into glancing up. The loopy smile is back, and he’s looking down at Dolly affectionately while scratching a hand at her neck.
Tony’s offhand comment was meant as instigation for an uncomfortable reaction from Steve, but surprise, surprise; Captain Forties apparently doesn’t have any homophobic hang-ups. How’s that for a curveball.
“When I was—before,” Steve begins suddenly. “Before all this,” he says, gesturing to himself. “Before—”
“Big Steve,” Tony adds helpfully.
“Alright, yes,” he says, exasperated, “before ‘Big Steve’ I was—”
“Little Steve,” Tony adds unhelpfully, because hey, maybe he just likes the sound of his own voice.
“Yes, Tony, can I get to the point?” Now Steve looks just a little bit ticked off, so Tony gives him the go-ahead with a flourish of his hand.
“Look, the first and only time my mother took me into a pet shop turned into a night’s stay at the hospital. Because of my allergies I couldn’t pet the neighborhood cats, couldn’t play with the dogs my friends had raised since they were pups. And having a pet of my own was out of the question.”
Tony notices Steve’s hand has stopped scratching at Dolly’s back, instead curling up tightly into a fist, desperately grasping at her short cropped fur.
“After Doctor Erskine’s serum,” Steve continues, hand still holding tight, “the allergies weren’t a problem, but we were at war, and I never got a chance to own an animal of my own—the point is: I can finally hold a dog now without having a coughing fit, or not being able to breathe, or—” and he pauses, eyes growing distant, “—or watch them run off into a war zone and never come back.”
There’s more to the story there, tales of a war that are simply faded memories to the rest of the world, but still fresh and painful for this man out of time. Tony doesn’t even try to think of what that must feel like.
“Just please don’t tell people I come here,” Steve finishes softly. ‘Please don’t ruin this for me, Stark, like I know you’ve ruined everything else,’ is what he means to say, and Tony tries to feel offended, but it’s hard to when he knows Steve is right.
“Then at least tell Fury when you decide to take your little fieldtrips,” Tony sighs, knowing that he would have kept quiet about this even if Steve hadn’t asked, and hating himself just a little bit for it, “I don’t want SHIELD worrying their little asses off trying to figure out if someone kidnapped you, and then wrangle me into helping.”
“I can do that.”
“Good,” says Tony, and only then does Steve’s hand relax.
“How did you find me, anyway?” he says after a moment. “I turned my phone off. Bruce told me I should do that if I didn’t want to be found.”
“No one hides from me, Capybara,” he says mysteriously, waggling his eyebrows when Steve looks affronted at the nickname. “I’m Tony bleep-ing Stark.”
Steve’s face goes utterly expressionless, before fixing Tony with an incredulous look. “…Did you just censor yourself?” he asks cautiously, as if he’s not quite sure he wants to hear the answer.
“I didn’t want to insult your delicate 1940’s mentalities, Steve,” Tony replies, as if it’s obvious. “Can’t have you having a conniption before I can return you to SHIELD or I’ll never hear the end of it.”
Steve chuckles and shakes his head, and quite visibly gives up on ever understanding Tony. Tony preens.
* * *
Tony returns to his floors of the Tower late, and makes a beeline for his workshop, leaving a path of shoes and socks behind him. He pulls out the robot dog from underneath the pile of scrap metal and spare parts strewn haphazardly in a corner of his workshop, flips the power on and watches in slight bemusement as it wags its tail once, weakly, before it shudders to a stop. He’s surprised it even had enough power to do that much at all, because for thirty-odd years it’s been unused and forgotten, kept in closets and drawers as nothing more than a painful memory of a lonely childhood long gone.
Tony stands down there in the dim light for quite a while, staring down at the only evidence of his weaknesses he’s ever allowed to exist, and he thinks of Steve and the tight, almost desperate grip of his hand in the dog’s fur, and he gets it.
“Oh, Steve,” he says into the quiet of his workshop.
* * *
Tony’s back at the animal shelter just under a week later, having hacked its volunteer scheduling software with relative ease to know just what to time his visit. He bribes the frumpy but kind middle-aged lady sitting at the front desk with smiles and cash donations, until she finally gives up Steve’s location.
The room is in the back of the shelter, down a long, sterile hallway, and a massive window allows him to see inside to where Steve is sitting on a low wooden bench in the corner. At least three cats are visible wandering about the room with a fourth in Steve’s lap. Tony grins and throws open the door.
“Cats today, Rogers? I’m shocked. I’d figured you’d be exclusively a dog person,” he says loudly, and Steve looks up at him, first with a bewildered frown, and then with an annoyed one, and Tony knows Steve is wondering why he’s back at this dilapidated animal shelter of all places, with absolutely no apparent reason for being there than to get on his nerves. He sends a silent plea to the only deity he knows personally that Steve just rolls with it; he’d rather not have to explain his motives.
“Cats are independent, clever creatures, Tony,” he finally says absently, returning to his ear scratching ministrations on the white and black animal lounging in his lap. “I have a great respect for them.”
“So you do prefer dogs, and are just too decent to say otherwise. I knew it,” Tony crows triumphantly, as Steve gives him an embarrassed smile. Tony then plops down in the middle of the floor before cooing at the nearest cat, trying to lure it close enough to pet. Steve eyes him suspiciously, glancing down blatantly at Tony’s legs, and he’s a little struck dumb, mind going to places it definitely shouldn’t, until he remembers that oh, right, he’s sitting on a no doubt less than sanitary floor in a four thousand dollar suit. He makes to get up, but a grey, long-haired beauty decides that it’s the perfect opportunity to climb into his lap, so he shrugs amusedly at Steve and gives the suit up for lost.
“That’s Gertrude,” Steve says after a moment, and Tony looks down at the cat in his lap, who is staring right back up at him with strikingly yellow eyes.
“Hi. You’re getting cat hair all over my suit,” he says, matter of fact, and the look Gertrude gives him is completely unimpressed. When Tony shifts to get more comfortable, she digs her claws into the fleshy part of his thigh in warning, then continues to glare at him as if to say, ‘I have done you a great honor by choosing your lap. Appreciate me.’
The immediately swell of affection he feels for the cat is utterly ridiculous.
“Gertrude, my love, my sweet, you are my reason for existing,” he says, and Tony knows he’s being completely asinine, and maybe it’s partly for Steve’s benefit, because when Steve laughs at his antics it feels like an accomplishment, but this, this is love at first sight, and who is he to deny it.
Tony showers Gertrude with affection for the better part of an hour, until his legs go so numb he’s forced to stand up, unfortunately leaving him the victim of yet another of Gertrude’s unimpressed glares after he deposits her on the floor beside him. He and Steve don’t talk much during that hour, but Tony is surprised that they don’t need to, and he leaves the shelter ahead of Steve that afternoon, completely bewildered but wholly satisfied. It’s an unfamiliar feeling.
* * *
So Tony keeps coming, every week without fail, much to the chagrin of Steve (and the incredulity of himself, if he’s in the habit of being honest). He knows his continuous presence bothers Steve, because he's encroaching on his alone time like a leech, but Tony’s slowly come to realize that Steve shouldn’t be left alone, because it’s loneliness that keeps bringing him.
Because this is easier, this preference for unconditional love instead of the attention of his peers, and Tony knows this from experience, because it once took him months of hard work and wasted hours to build himself a robot dog, instead of going out and making friends and demanding he not be left alone, because making something to love you is a lot different than making someone love you.
So he keeps coming back, asserting himself in Steve’s life though he’s almost certain he’s unwanted, and it creeps up on him slowly, the revelation that hanging around Steve doesn't feel like an obligation anymore, but something he enjoys.
The revelation terrifies him, and yet he doesn’t stop coming.
* * *
It’s a rare morning when the full roster of the Avengers are all in the Tower at once, and this one is no exception, but a cursory announcement from JARVIS as he wakes lets him know that both Natasha and Steve are in the Tower’s communal kitchen. Still, Tony is completely unprepared when he walks in on a rumpled-looking Steve standing lazily in front of the coffee pot, dressed in nothing more than a thin white t-shirt and boxers.
“Morning, Tony,” Steve says in all his golden-haired glory, not even glancing Tony’s way but still somehow knowing it’s him. Natasha’s sitting at the table with a bowl of dry cereal in front of her, clearly waiting for Steve to join her before pouring the milk.
Tony murmurs some incoherent greeting, making grabby hands at the coffee pot and moving to push Steve out of the way to get his cup first. “Hey, Tony, I got it,” he hears, and Steve stops him with a hand to his chest. The feel of rough fingers through the warn cotton of his tank distracts him from his objective, and that’s when he hears the gurgle of liquid being poured, feels the outstretched mug against his palm. When Tony fails to take it from him fast it enough, Steve closes Tony’s fingers around the handle, before letting go and turning back to pour out a mug of his own.
Tony’s brain is not yet fully online from his indulgent nine hours of sleep, and he feels such a sudden and sincere rush of gratitude at this small but significant gesture, that Tony makes an aborted movement forward, as if he’s going to touch Steve’s shoulder, or hug him in thanks, or even kiss him.
Suddenly he’s wide awake, stopping himself just in time with a jerk of his head and an angry huff. Steve’s face is close, but not enough that it’s uncomfortable, or that would betray the true implications behind his halted motion. Steve takes a noisy slurp of his coffee, eyeing him amusedly, before joining Natasha at the kitchen table.
His next coherent thought is of Pepper, that’s he’s somehow betrayed her with simply a stray thought, a silly motive never fully realized, but he remembers with a jolt that they separated months ago, that he’s perfectly entitled to look at and appreciate and long after Steve.
Because it was Tony that broke it off in the end, to the surprise of most everyone but Tony himself, because he’d felt in the weeks prior that Pepper was pulling away, her natural affinity for independence suffocated by Tony’s need, and it hurt him more than the thought of being alone, that he was smothering Pepper with his desperate affection, and that she stayed with him regardless.
“I don’t want to be an obligation, Pep,” he said into her hair one night, as they lay curled up around each other in Tony’s bed, when the bruises from his run in with Loki and the Chitauri and the helicarrier engine had all but faded away, when he felt fresh enough for more.
“…Are you breaking up with me?” she asked tentatively, and it was not until she whispered that laden question into the skin of his shoulder that he realized that yes, he really was.
It was quick and relatively painless in the moment, given that it’s the hardest thing he’s ever had to do, harder than guiding a nuclear missile into the horrors of deep space with no apparent hope of return, harder still than leaving behind the pale, lifeless body of Yinsen as he made his desperate escape all those years ago.
She left that night, dry eyed and angry at Tony but mostly at herself, and when the door swung closed behind her it was as if the arc reactor in his chest had gained sentience and crawled right out of him. He didn’t cry, wanted to but didn’t, instead spending the rest of the night drinking his way into oblivion, because when it hurt that much, forgetting was always better than admitting he’d done the right thing.
It surprised Tony that Steve was the person to pick him up off the floor of the bathroom the next morning, to flush and wipe away the reminders of his binge, to force a couple of aspirin and a large glass of water into Tony’s pliant hands, and finally to call up Rhodey and unceremoniously dump Tony into his care.
(Rhodey stayed with him for the next three days. Tony didn’t even have to ask. Tony really, really loves him.)
He found out a week later that Pepper moved back to Los Angeles, throwing herself fervently into her work at SI, and it took a while but now she’s single and happy and still stubbornly Tony’s best friend, and Tony misses her like an amputated limb sometimes, but he knows that in this at least, he has no right to be selfish.
So this creeping infatuation, these sudden jolts of revelation and wild dreams of intimacy, they are no longer taboo for him, but somehow it just makes it all the worse. He’s admired Steve before, sure, but the rare times Tony does commit he commits himself fully, and his relationship with Pepper insured that it never became more than appreciation.
Now he’s free to chase after Steve, and he’s still surprised that he wants to, but the darling Captain is the very definition of unobtainable. After all, it would be very difficult to win over the object of Tony’s affections when Steve doesn’t even like him.
And maybe Steve’s learned to accept the radical ideas of the future on topics of sexuality and same-sex relationships, but it’s an absurd notion to think that Steve is anything more than a forward-thinking, run of the mill, straight boy.
So Tony resigns himself to a future of pathetic yearning, and decides for the umpteenth time that any inappropriate thoughts he has towards Steve will be crushed, quelled, and forgotten. Maybe with enough practice, it won’t be such a daunting task.
* * *
“You’re being nice to me,” Steve says, after Tony settles down on their bench next to him, handing him a bag of Cheetos and a sandwich he pettily stole from Bruce’s hidden stash. Tony knows for a fact that Steve skipped lunch in his rush to get to the shelter that afternoon, and it had been second nature to grab the food for Steve on his way out. He hadn’t really thought of the consequences of his apparently kind gesture.
“Why are you being nice to me?” he continues, even as he tears open the wrapping on the sandwich. The German Shepherd mix Steve’s walking today looks up with soulful eyes at the noise.
“This is not being nice,” Tony finally manages, his grin cheeky. “This is called charity.”
Steve’s look is incredulous, and he doesn’t take offense, and it’s a sudden realization that Steve has already learned to look past Tony’s bullshit, all without Tony even knowing. It warms his heart as much as it alarms him; it’s an ability only Pepper and Rhodey have ever had in the past, because it’s a skill only learnable by people who care.
And then Steve smiles, genuine and bright, and Tony has to resist sucking in a breath because he’s smoother than this. He’s not going to be struck dumb every time Steve has the audacity to smile at him.
“Thanks for the snack,” Steve says, bumping Tony’s shoulder with his own. He watches as Steve licks away the cheesy residue left on his fingers from the Cheetos. Tony swallows.
“Sure,” he replies, and he suddenly wants to be anywhere but sitting on a bench with Steve. He mumbles some excuses before hightailing it out of there, but there’s a buzz of pleasure deep in his gut—something he hasn’t felt since his time with Pepper—that follows him no matter how far he runs. He finds Gertrude in her enclosure almost immediately, desperate for her calming presence, hoping it would allow Tony to ignore it.
It doesn’t. It was a fool’s hope anyway.
* * *
One of Steve’s favorite things about the future, he once told Tony, is the cookbooks. He takes to buying them off Amazon like a champ, until stacks of them are littered all about the kitchen, and Steve goes through them methodically, slowly branching out into ethnic food and baking, and even experimenting with his own recipes. He’s also constantly asking Tony to order new and exotic ingredients, and Tony’s too amused by his enthusiasm at this point to be annoyed.
Steve’s creations don’t always come out perfect, but he has a good feel for cooking, and his eagerness seems to bleed over into the food, until even a mediocre dish tastes delicious. He always leaves enough for anyone hungry for a taste, and Tony, who has never been one to turn down a good meal, always takes his share.
So it’s a usual day with Tony tinkering away in his workshop and Steve’s tinkering away in the kitchen when Steve’s voice suddenly comes through the intercom. “Hey Tony? Want to help me make crepes?”
Tony shuts of his blowtorch. “At three o’clock in the afternoon?” he asks. “Isn’t it a little late to be making breakfast?”
“They’re savory crepes. They’re good. Come on and help.”
Normally he’d laugh it off, cite a million and one excuses to get out of something he’s never actually been particularly good at, but this request is unexpected enough to make him pause, because Steve’s never asked for help doing things he could easily accomplish for himself. He’s even worse with his cooking, outright refusing help from Natasha and Bruce and Thor of all people when they offered before, and has never once asked for it.
So Tony’s got to admit it; he’s a little flattered.
And then he absurdly thinks of a laughing Steve covered in flour, smiling at Tony through his thick, dusted lashes.
The temptation is too much to resist, but who is he to resist temptation.
“I—sure,” he says, and he can’t for the life of him think of something else more flashy to say. “Let me go wash up.”
When Tony enters the kitchen a short time later, (a tad bit disappointed that Steve is completely flourless) Steve smiles happily. “You can start on the batter,” he says. He points at an orange bowl sitting on the counter beside him.
Tony grabs for the nearest spoon.
The work in companionable silence for all of two minutes before Steve clears his throat. “The shelter is being foreclosed,” he says.
Tony nearly drops the bowl of crepe batter all over the floor. “What the fuck? Why didn’t you tell me about this before?”
“I didn’t know until last night, and I’ve been waiting for a good time to tell you,” Steve explains, and Tony wonders why that couldn’t have been yesterday. “And it’s not like there’s anything we could do about it,” Steve says bitterly. “We can’t exactly sock debt in the jaw.”
Tony blinks in surprise, can’t quite believe what he’s hearing. There’s an obvious answer to the whole problem, and Tony wonders if Steve has suddenly lost all brain function. Then an ache blooms sudden and warm behind his arc reactor, and he gets it. Steve honestly expects nothing from him. Steve, bless his innocent little heart, doesn’t take Tony’s money for granted.
And god if that doesn’t make Tony want to tell Steve he’ll fix it, fix everything, so as to wipe away the crushed look on his face that makes Tony more upset than he’ll ever admit; but oddly enough, it just doesn’t feel like the right time.
Besides, he has a sinking suspicion that Steve will take personal offense to anything Tony would do to help, and it’s always better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.
“I think we should start cooking the crepes now,” Steve says.
“Yeah, about that, I think I’m done playing chef now, so I’ll—” and he shoves the bowl at Steve’s chest until he’s forced to take it. “I’ll just go, and you can…stay. Right. Have fun. Save me a few.” He walks away.
“Tony?” he hears, Steve’s small voice following him out into the corridor, but Tony ignores him.
* * *
Tony heads over to the shelter later that evening, and it’s the first time he’s been there alone, but he still manages to charm the woman behind the front desk (“Margery, sweetie, call me Margery”) to keep the place open past their normal hours while he visits the absolute love of his life.
Gertrude acts as unimpressed with Tony as ever, while still demanding every bit of his affection that he could spare, and she’s gorgeous and beautiful and so perfect it makes him hurt, and even if against all odds he still hated Steve after all these weeks of spending time together, he’d had given up half his fortune to keep this place afloat in a heartbeat, if only for her.
When Tony finally leaves, he gives Gertrude a sloppy kiss on her head as goodbye, and laughs when all she does is grumble.
Tony slips his check into the donations box as he’s heading for the exit, gives Margery another charming, megawatt grin, then says, “I just donated a check for five hundred thousand dollars. Please don’t tell Steve Rogers it’s from me.”
Margery squeaks in surprise, and Tony leaves with his grin still intact amidst a tizzy of her disbelief.
Man, being generous is so cool.
* * *
When Tony gets back to the Tower, Steve is waiting for him.
“You gave the shelter five hundred thousand dollars?” Steve exclaims.
He’d been hiding out in Tony’s workshop, obviously figuring it to be the best place to trap Tony into having this Serious Conversation, and damn him, but it works.
“She told you already?” Tony says, because there’s no point in denying what he’s done in the face of Margery’s betrayal. “I told her not to tell you.”
“Nobody told me anything,” Steve replies. “It wasn’t that difficult to figure out; I got an e-mail from the volunteer coordinator, telling everyone that the shelter miraculously found the funds to pay off their debt, and honestly, Tony, do you that I’m that dimwitted?”
“Do you really want me to answer that?”
Steve growls, and Tony rolls his eyes, shrugging off his coat and tie and waving his computers to life. He pulls a swivel chair closer to him but doesn’t sit.
“I just—I want you to understand,” Steve huffs, but he sounds exasperated instead of angry. “When I told you about the foreclosure I wasn’t trying to use you, or strong-arm you into forking over your money.” He steps around a floating model of the Mark VII to move closer to Tony. “I hadn't even thought to ask you about helping, and even if I had—”
“I know, Steve; you were just the bearer of bad news. I donated that money of my own prerogative. You think I want the shelter closed?”
“Of course not, but I don’t think donating a small fortune was the only way to help.”
Tony stops fiddling with settings on the hologram in front of him, turning on his heels to lay on Steve the full weight of his glare. Steve almost seems to shrivel underneath it.
“I’m not going to beat around the bush here,” Tony says, “because I think you’d rather I be frank with you than to lay it on easy.”
“Tony,” Steve begins, but stops when Tony puts a hand up.
“It may be callous of me to say this,” Tony continues, and he smiles a bit at his words, “but that amount of money means nothing to me, and everything to them, so if I decide that helping keep the place afloat is the best use of my money, then it’s the best fucking use of my money.”
“It just wasn’t my intention to make you—”
“Steve, Stevie,” he says, and he just has to smile because of how fervently Steve wants to defend his spotless, poster boy reputation. Tony gives in to the sudden urge to pat Steve on the cheek, and he feels it flinch under his touch. “Your worry is unwarranted. Nothing you said played any part in my decision to save the shelter, alright?”
Steve nods, and raises a hand as if to touch his face. He seems to think better of it; clenching his hand into a fist and letting it drop away. “Sorry to have bothered you, then.” He smiles and just like that, he leaves.
There’s a ghost warmth still lingering on Tony’s fingertips. He flexes his hand as he watches Steve walk away.
* * *
Tony’s sitting on the edge of his bed, fiddling around with a few blueprints on his tablet, when he hears a tentative knock on the door. “Tony, you have a minute?” It’s Steve.
JARVIS clicks the lock open before Tony can respond, which Steve takes as permission to enter. He walks cautiously into the room, and wow, Tony does not have a minute, not now, not ever, because he doesn’t have time enough to get up from the bed, and now Steve is towering over him, and this is quickly becoming an ultimate test of his self control.
Steve seems apprehensive, and he’s hiding something behind his back.
“Is this the part where you kill me?” Tony asks, because he’s pretty sure he’s seen this in a horror movie before. “But I’m not wearing my skimpy underwear.”
Steve flushes lightly, and he finally takes his hand out from behind his back.
“Is that…” he begins, and yes, it is, that’s Gertrude. Steve is holding Gertrude.
“Here,” Steve says. He unceremoniously shoves Gertrude into Tony’s hands, and then takes a few quick steps away, as if trying to insure Tony won’t hand the cat back.
Tony blinks. “What.”
“I asked the shelter about adopting Gertrude for you,” Steve says, “and they happily agreed to waive the adoption charges because of your donation.” He smiles sheepishly, scratching at the back of his neck, and he’s adorably avoiding Tony’s gaze by looking steadily down at the carpet. “So we’re giving her to you as a token of our gratitude. I mean, I’m not naïve enough to think you were coming there for me, Tony.”
I did come there mostly for you, Tony thinks stubbornly, and he quells the urge to say that aloud by murmuring sappy endearments at Gertrude instead, clutching the poor cat close so as to bury his expression in her fur, and to muffle the sound of his whispering, though he has little doubt that Super-Duper-Soldier-Steve can hear him anyway.
It’s perfect really, and he doesn’t know why he hadn’t thought of this before, of having Gertrude to himself and in his home and by his side and close enough to pamper whenever he damn well pleases, but he’s trying this new thing where he’s being realistic and sort of responsible, and decides it would all just be a really giant mistake.
He pulls Gertrude away from his face reluctantly. “I really can’t be responsible for a cat, Steve,” he says, as his mind screams otherwise. “My ability to look out for living things is nonexistent; there’s a reason all my friends are robots. I’ll forget to give her food or step on her while I’m in the suit or I’ll leave a window open somewhere and she’ll fall out of the Tower.” He holds out the cat for Steve, makes to give her back, and tries to ignore the fact that it’s actually breaking his heart. “Bad idea, nope, not happening.”
Steve takes another step away, as if the distance alone will dissuade Tony from giving her up. “That won’t happen. I know that won’t happen. Because honestly—and I can’t believe I’m saying this, and I never thought it possible, but Tony, you love that cat even more than you love yourself.” And he kind of smiles then, a wry crook of the corner of his mouth, and Tony sudden doesn’t have the wits about him to mind. “Plus you have me—you have the Avengers to help you. It’ll be nice to have an animal around the Tower. She’ll be our mascot.”
Tony’s paper-thin resolve is disappearing hilariously fast. “She’ll be the Tower’s watchdog,” he suggests. “But with more awesome, because she’s a cat. I can build her a suit. We’ll call her the Iron Feline.”
Steve laughs, says, “Somehow, I don’t think she’d mind that.”
Tony stands up then, gently tossing Gertrude onto the middle of the bed behind him, and she primly stalks away, obviously not wanting to betray the eagerness with which she’s exploring her new surroundings. Tony and Steve watch her awhile, until she disappears with a flick of her tail underneath the bed. Tony glances at Steve, who looks sheepish but hopeful.
“Look, Steve—” he begins, and that’s the wrong thing to say, because Steve’s face just sort of crumples.
“I get it, I know,” he says with a soft sigh, “I overstepped my boundaries, I’ll take her back and—”
“Uh, no,” Tony interrupts. “No, Steve, if you take her back at this point I’ll probably cry. Seriously,” he adds, when Steve’s expression turns into one of amused incredulity. “That cat is my soulmate, and I’ve made up my mind and I’ll die before I give her back now. It’s perfect, this is perfect, you’re perfect, and I—aw fuck,” he curses loudly. “That wasn’t supposed to happen yet.”
The silence in the room is heavy, palpable, and Tony looks to the ceiling to avoid seeing any proof of rejection, but his burning curiosity eventually wins out. He looks back at Steve. His face is inscrutable,
“So you were planning on saying something. Eventually,” Steve finally says.
“Probably. Yes.” Tony braces himself for the other shoe to drop.
“Well I find that all just a little hard to believe. I mean Jesus, Stark, for a self-proclaimed playboy I’d have expected a little more finesse.”
Tony stares at him. Steve stares right back.
“So I’m going to kiss you now,” Tony says.
“Yeah, that would be—yes.”
They meet halfway, Tony grabbing the back of Steve’s neck to pull him down, and Steve is licking into his mouth almost immediately, demanding and wet and rough, and it’s the opposite of what Tony expected but so not unwelcome, and when Steve makes the smallest of keening noises against his lips, Tony completely loses it.
But the angle is not quite right, Steve’s too tall, too far away for the fervency of this kiss, so Tony breaks off, ignoring Steve’s indignant sound of protest, taking his shirt in his fist and tugging at it, until Steve is compelled to follow, sitting when Tony pushes him down on the bed. Steve stares at his mouth while Tony settles down on Steve’s lap, effectively straddling him.
He puts a hand on either side of Steve’s face, holding him steady. “You should—” Steve begins, but Tony shuts him up with his mouth.
The kiss is slower now that Tony’s in control, moving his tongue against Steve’s almost leisurely, and keeping the pace teasingly light, Steve’s eagerly straining against his hands, and Tony finds himself moving, a slow grind of his hips, easy and light.
It makes Steve go still for a moment, one terrifying moment when Tony’s sure he’s messed this up, moved too fast, that Steve’s regretting everything they've done in the past few heady moments, but Steve suddenly has an arm around Tony’s waist, tugging him close and twisting, putting Tony on his back and underneath Steve faster than he can register what’s happening.
“Oh shit,” he warbles, as the evidence of Steve’s certainty rubs hot along Tony’s thigh.
“Tony, oh god,” Steve says, hips stuttering as he mouths at Tony’s neck.
And then Gertrude sits on Tony’s face.
He gives a started yelp, scrabbling at her fur in surprise, and Steve must look up, because Tony hears him snort, then laugh in a way that would put a hyena to shame, which shouldn’t be such an appealing sound but is, and Tony’s struggling to breathe because there’s a cat on his face.
“A little help here!” he says indignantly, and it doesn’t really sound like anything more than a muffled yelp, but Steve takes the hint. He rolls off of Tony before plucking Gertrude from his face and putting her on the bed between them.
“Hilarious,” Steve offers.
“I was going for horrific.”
“Well it was a good look for you.”
“Let’s leave the jokes to me, Steve,” he says, even as he smiles.
Gertrude rubs the top of her head against Tony’s cheek, demanding his attention. He tries to be mad at the cat (his cat, his!), but she purrs at him and he fails miserably.
“Should have known you’d be the jealous type,” Tony says as Gertrude studies him with those gorgeous, yellow eyes. “But it’s okay, honey bear; I’ll never stop loving you.”
Steve laughs, carding gentle fingers through Tony’s hair. He slides a knee up to tangle their legs together.
“You’re going to be the bane of my existence,” Tony finds himself saying. He isn’t quite ready to specify who he’s talking to, but he knows Steve will understand.
When Steve grabs his hand, Tony lets him. Gertrude primly flicks her tail, completely unimpressed.