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Fixer-Upper

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Fixer-Upper


August

“Where are you taking me, Tony?” Pepper scoots lower into the passenger seat and crosses her arms. “You said this would be a work-free weekend.”

“It will be a work-free weekend, Pepper-pot,” Tony counters as he shifts to the next gear. There’s nothing quite like the open road…

“I’m not stupid, Tony.”

“I know that. You’re the most brilliant woman I know.” He catches her scowling at him in the corner of his eye and adds “And the most beautiful. And amazing. Have I mentioned how amazing you are?”

“I know this is the road to the Avengers facility.”

What? How does she know that? She had never come out to tour the site before he had made the decision to give up the Avengering.

“There’s not exactly much else out here,” she adds, as if she can read his thoughts. Christ, with the amount of time she’s spent with Natasha, she probably can at this point. He definitely needs to make sure she never meets Wanda.

“Ah, see that’s where you’re wrong,” he objects as he slows to turn onto a side road. It’s one of those tree-lined country roads that winds around the hills, the kind of road that makes his gearhead heart sing as the Audi hugs the turns, and he gives it full throttle again.

Pepper’s doing the invisible brake thing.

“Almost there, Pep.”

“Good, these turns are killing my bladder.”

He winces as he remembers what he had failed to consider. “Uh, that might be a bit problematic, actually.”

“What?!”

“Well, the plumbing’s not quite… um, you brought your hiking shoes, right?”

“What?! What kind of backcountry place are you taking me to that doesn’t have working plumbing?”

Shit. This is not going at all the way he had hoped. She’s going to end up murdering him before they even get there.

“I can just turn around and we can pop by the Avengers facility to -”

“No,” Pepper interrupts. “As soon as you set foot in there, you’re going to find twenty pieces of equipment that urgently need upgrades and there goes my work-free weekend. Whatever, back to my Girl Scouts roots, I guess.”

“See, it’s that kind of entrepreneurial spirit that I love so much about you, Pep. I think you’ll really like where we’re going. It just needs a bit of imagination.”

“Imagina-” she starts but cuts off when their destination comes into view. “What is this?”

Two massive maple trees bracket the house, the evening sun glinting off their leaves. A hawk is perched on one of the gutters hanging from the second floor eave, and isn’t that just a hilarious coincidence. It had been Barton, after all, who had given Tony the idea to buy a house out in the country. Sure, Barton had also laughed in his face and called him a moron when Tony had mentioned to him that he had actually gone through with the idea, but what does Barton know anyway? That had been enough, though, to keep Tony from telling the rest of his former teammates about the house.

It’s a beautiful old house, the kind that home restoration enthusiasts get their panties all bunched up about. Your typical New England Victorian-era wood-frame house, with a porch around the front and matching fan-shaped transom windows over the door and on the upper floor, and cornices around the roof edge. Yeah, it needs work, okay, a lot of work, but Tony is an engineer and that’s what he does - he fixes things. Together he and Pepper can fix the house and build their home together. It’s, like, a metaphor or something.

He could already picture the two of them, well into their seventies but still spry on their feet and looking great, of course, sitting side-by-side in one of those swinging benches on the veranda on the south side of the house, sipping tea or whatever it is that old people drink while they watch the sun go down over the surrounding hills.

Pepper has already gotten out of the car and is walking towards the house, and Tony scrambles to catch up with her. He wants to see her face when they go inside their new home together for the first time.

“Tony, tell me you didn’t,” she starts when he takes her hand. His heart sinks.

“I did. I did this for us, Pep, a place for just the two of us. No one else knows about it. Just you and me, away from the rest of the world.”

Her lips quirk up just a bit at that. That’s enough for him, for now. He’ll take it.

“Come on, you’ll love it. It’s gorgeous inside. Just needs a little fixing.”

He pushes open the door and gestures for her to step in. Her eyes light up at the sight of the circular staircase and he feels a pool of emotions stirring inside him. He wraps his arms around her waist and pulls her close, nuzzling his nose into the side of her neck.

“This is, wow, it’s beautiful.”

“Hmm.”

“It’s going to need a lot of work…”

“I’ll have time. No more superhero business to distract me. Just you and the house.”

“And Stark Industries,” she reminds him sternly.

He lets out an agonized groan. “And Stark Industries. But not here.” He presses a kiss onto her cheek. “Just you and me here.”

“Why do I have a feeling Stark Industries is going to be introducing a new line of home improvement tools soon?” she says softly, her fingers brushing over his cheek.

“You know me too well.”

----

The great part about the new Avengers facility, though it’s far from the happenings of New York City, is the wide open solitude of the surrounding countryside. Steve does occasionally catch himself missing the throngs of people, that feeling of being a part of all the life that is going on around him, the fact that you can get almost any kind of food at almost any time of day (the bagels! Why are the bagels only half as good outside the five boroughs?!), but he genuinely enjoys the serene quiet of the place. The facility itself is almost always buzzing with activity, but he just has to go a few hundred feet past the perimeter and it feels like he has the world all to himself.

He’s taken to running increasingly wider loops around the facility on his morning jogs. There’s a small town a few miles east of it, and the highway behind it. The woods to the north and west are part of a state forest, with plenty of trails for him to explore and rolling hills to race up. There’s a lake out there too, and he sometimes stops for a quick swim on hot days. The training fields lie to the south of the facility. If he runs all the way to their southern edge and crosses the stream that forms the natural boundary of the property, he can pick up what looks like an old farm road that will eventually take him into town.

That’s his plan today, but it’s a nice late summer morning and he got an early start, so when he comes to a track that turns off the farm road and over a small hill he hasn’t seen beyond yet, he decides to explore.

The trees thin out and when he reaches the top of the hill, he’s treated to a wide open vista of rolling fields with a lake and mountains in the distance. The track winds to the east and at the end of it, at the top of another small hill, sits an old house flanked by a red barn. It doesn’t look like anyone lives there, judging by how overgrown the property is, so Steve, his curiosity piqued, jogs the mile-or-so up the track to have a closer look.

The house is fancier than most of the farmhouses in the area; this looks more like an old manor house. A veranda runs along the ground floor overlooking the hill, but most of its windows are smashed or boarded up. There are bay windows on both sides of the house and a tower room juts out on the third floor. The remains of a wooden balustrade run along the second-floor roof. The house itself is in pretty poor shape, with the paint peeling away and visible storm damage in a number of places. A tree leans ominously over the side of the house.

It’s a shame, really, Steve thinks. The house is beautiful, and it’s evident that a lot of effort and love of detail went into its construction back in the day. Maybe Steve just has an overly attuned sense of history, but he finds himself hoping someone would restore the house. It would probably make a nice bed and breakfast, he thinks as he turns and heads back home. If only the neighbors didn’t have such a pesky habit of blowing things up.

----

October

An espresso machine.

That’s what the house needs.

Okay, it needs new wiring, and new floors, some windows, a bit of siding, plumbing, a whole lot of paint, some sort of heating system and probably also a new roof, but that all will come in due time.

Right now Tony needs it to have an espresso machine.

He’s been working for seven hours straight. Hardly a record for him, barely even worth mentioning when you consider some of his more adventurous marathon workshop sessions, but this is hard, physical labor, not just brain exercises but actual heavy lifting and hitting things with a sledge hammer.

And all that without the suit, and more importantly: without coffee. Tony’s pretty sure he deserves a medal for that in and of itself.

Not that there’s anyone around to give it to him. Pepper had seemed to enjoy the rest of their visit that first time he had brought her out, and she’d shared a few ideas for the house, but that’s all “Phase 3” stuff. The house is going to need floors and walls before they can worry about parquet grains and crown molding.

‘Let me know when it’s liveable.’ She hadn’t said it directly, but the implication was there. The next time Tony had mentioned going up to the house, she had countered with a Board meeting in Malibu. The third time, it had been an investor crisis. And Tony gets it, he really does. She’s got the company to run and she’s shown saintlike patience with its absentee Head of R&D. That’s why he’s so determined to get this right. He wants the house to be perfect - their house - and that’s why he’s doing it old-school, by hand, by himself. No throwing money at a problem to make it go away. Because he wants to show her - needs to show her - that he is more than just his suit. It’s part of him, but it’s not everything.

Pepper, on the other hand, is everything.

Which is why he needs to keep going, to get the house in shape. But to do that, he’s going to need coffee. He can do it without the suit, but without coffee? Let’s not get carried away. He sets down the pipe cutter and fishes his car key out of his pocket, and that’s when it hits him. That smell. It’s not something in the house, it’s him. He stinks.

Okay, so not going into town, then. Right about now, he really misses the ability to get anything delivered at any time of day in Manhattan. How do people live like this?!

Whatever, lamenting the lack of delivery options isn’t going to get caffeine in his veins. There is one other alternative, he thinks, tossing the key fob from his left hand to his right as he jogs down the steps and over to his car. They’ve got a shower he can use, and definitely a coffee pot or two (in each room). If he’s lucky, he’ll even be able to get in and out of there without too many people spotting him.

FRIDAY pipes up as he drives through the side gate of the Avengers facility and informs him that Natasha is out leading a training mission with Rhodey, Sam and Vision. The flyers, Tony thinks with a slight frown. Just a few months ago, that would have been him out with them. A stab of emotion shoots through him, but he pushes it down before he can work out what it is.

Don’t go down that road, he tells himself. You’ve been down that road, and a lot of people got hurt.

Instead he takes an appreciative look around at what the new facility has become. It’s an impressive facility - of course it is, he helped design it - and he’s proud of what Natasha and Steve and Maria have shaped it into.

He makes it to the gym showers, only getting recognized by a few junior agents on the way, and as he steps under the warm spray, he tells himself aloud “They’ll be okay.”

----

Clint liked to tease Steve about how much time he spends beating up a bag of sand, and it had been endearingly annoying at the time, but as he unwraps the bandages on his hands, Steve does have to admit that Barton had a point.

There had been a sighting of the Winter Soldier in Malmö, Sweden, of all places, but by the time he and Sam had gotten there, he’d been long gone. As always. It was almost as if Bucky wanted to be seen but not to be found. And it was getting a bit frustrating. He would let them find him when he was ready to be found, Sam had said, but Steve worried that backing off might give the impression that finding him wasn’t a priority. Which it absolutely was for Steve.

When he wasn’t training the new team members or busy with the bureaucracy that comes with leading a team of superheroes that has a tendency to tango with trouble, he was looking for his friend. It gnawed at him, the knowledge of what had been done to Bucky after Zola had found him, what had happened to Bucky because he hadn’t been able to stop him from falling.

Survivor’s guilt, Sam had called it when Steve had opened up during one of the late-night insomniac walks around the facility that they occasionally (often) meet on. These were the thoughts that had caused the demise of many a heavy bag. He’s spared this one today, though, which is a good start, he supposes.

He gathers his wraps and heads for the locker room. The air is thick with moisture and there’s a bag lying out on one of the benches. Steve figures it probably belongs to one of the junior agents, which is a little strange since he had been alone in the gym, but thinks nothing more of it as he starts to pull off his gym clothes.

Which is why he’s caught completely by surprise when Tony Stark appears in front of him.

“Cap.” Tony sounds as surprised as Steve is. His damp hair is hanging down into his eyes, which look more tired than usual, and all he has on is a towel slung around his waist.

“Tony. What’re you doing here? I mean, this is unexpected. You usually call ahead, and don’t, you know, turn up in the showers.” Steve is suddenly painfully aware of the fact that he’s only wearing sweaty boxer briefs.

Tony cracks a smile, the genuine kind of smile that makes his eyes wrinkle, then he breaks out in laughter as he pulls Steve into a hug. “It’s good to see you, Steve,” he says before pushing him away again. “But not so good to smell you. Geez, Cap, warn a guy.”

“Well where did you think I was headed?” Steve gives Tony a playful shove as he pushes past him towards the shower, shedding his briefs and grabbing a towel on the way. He stops in the doorway and looks over his shoulder. “You’ll be around for a bit?”

“Just popping in to steal all your coffee and say hi. Come find me when you’re not so naked. Geez Rogers, you sure know how to give a guy inferiority complexes.”

Steve flips his friend off casually as he ducks through the door to the shower room. “See ya later, Shellhead.”

He turns on the water and steps under the spray. He certainly hadn’t been expecting to run into Tony in the shower. Well anywhere here, really. Tony was supposed to be in New York. He had let them know that he wasn’t going to be around much, that he needed to put some distance between himself - Tony Stark - and Iron Man. Stark Industries needed him, Tony had said, but Steve knew Tony well enough at this point to hear what he wasn’t saying. It was pretty evident that things were frayed between him and Pepper, that they had been even before Ultron. Steve could see why, too. It had to be tough for Pepper, to watch as Tony threw himself in harm’s way time and again. But as much as Tony denied it, they are soldiers, Tony included. They put themselves in danger to keep others safe. But they also keep each other safe. And not just on the battlefield. The team had grown so close during those months they’d all been living together in the Avengers Tower in Manhattan. They’d become attuned to one another, and it had really shown as they fought together.

And then it had fallen apart. Bruce was gone, and Natasha, as much as she kept her emotions close to her heart, was having a tough time dealing with that. Clint was back with his family, the family no one except Natasha had known about because the best way to keep someone safe in their line of work was to keep them secret. Pepper had almost been killed by someone trying to get to Tony, after all. That was probably when things started to fall apart for them, Steve reflected. Tony definitely loved her with all his heart, that was clear from the unbridled and often excessive way he showed it, but grand displays and overtures can’t patch a crack in the foundations. Even when they’d been living together at the Tower, Pepper had been in and out a lot but was rarely there for any real length of time.

Tony hadn’t said it (he never would), but Steve knows that’s why he didn’t come along when the team moved upstate. He comes by for visits about once a month, which is great, but he always lets them know beforehand and tries to schedule his visits so most of the team is there. He usually comes up with a pretense - new wings for Sam, stingers for Natasha, enhancements to the magnetic gloves he’d designed for Steve, improvements to Rhodey’s suit.

This time feels different, Steve thinks as he turns off the water. Most of the team is out on a mission, including Rhodey, who Tony spends most of his time with during his visits. Steve and Wanda are the only Avengers on site now, and Tony and Wanda aren’t exactly best buds. On top of that, it’s four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. His other visits had always been during the week and he usually flew in by quinjet, but Steve would have heard it if that was how he’d arrived this time, so he must have driven. Which is a long trip if he’s planning on heading back tonight.

Well, Stark’s bound to have his reasons, whatever they are, and Steve doesn’t really care what they are because he’s just glad to see his friend again. He finishes toweling off and dresses, ignoring the lightness in his steps as he heads off to find Tony.

Predictably, he finds him in the science lab with a cup of coffee in each hand. Steve lingers in the doorway, leaning against the frame as he watches Tony pester the scientists.

“...that’ll give you a lot more durability at about half the weight.”

“Yeah, but it’s about three times the cost of the aramid blend,” one of the scientists counters.

“There’s that. You guys really should find yourselves a better sponsor, geez. Tightwad bastard.”

The scientist laughs as she turns back to her screen. “Yeah, someone should talk to him about that.”

“I volunteer as tribute,” Steve says with a smile.

Tony spins around, a look of mock surprise on his face. He claps a hand - and a coffee mug - over his heart. “Capsicle, did you just make a pop culture joke?”

“I did.”

“Rogers, I have a heart condition. You can’t just surprise a guy like that.”

“You fixed your heart condition, Stark, and you’re the one who snuck up on me in the locker room.”

The scientist raises an eyebrow at that, her gaze carefully fixed on the screen.

“Clint made me watch that movie after you called him Katniss when we were fighting those Doombots and I didn’t get the reference. I think you were at a conference in Edinburgh for that movie night.”

Tony huffs. “Let me guess, he spent the whole movie ranking on her archery stance?”

“He did,” Steve recalls with a faint smile. It had been a fun night. “It was almost as bad as that time he made us all watch I, Robot.”

Tony shoots him a glare and wags a finger at him. “Most unrealistic representation of-” he starts mumbling, but Steve interrupts him with a nudge.

“Come on, Stark, let’s let these guys actually get some work done and I can show you what we’ve been up to.” He resists the urge to add “and you can tell me what brings you here.”

They head to the lounge that is the unofficial gathering place for the Avengers, keeping up a steady stream of jokes and light conversation on the way. Tony takes an appraising look around and makes a beeline for the coffee pot on the counter to refill his mug, then plunks himself down into the oversized armchair and throws his legs over the armrest.

“You know,” Steve says, settling onto the couch next to it, “I don’t think that’s how it’s meant to be used.”

Tony takes a long sip from his mug and gulps dramatically before he replies. “It’s called innovation, Steven. We’d never get anywhere if we only used things the way they were designed to be used. Teflon was made for artillery shells, but someone thought to put it on a cooking pan and chefs around the world thank them for it. Hell, beer was just a failed attempt at making bread. Sometimes you gotta chuck your preconceived notions out the window to come up with something awesome.”

“You know, that would almost sound like a profound revelation if you weren’t just saying it to justify not sitting up straight.”

Tony tosses a pillow at him half-heartedly, but it misses by a long shot. Steve watches it sail past and land a few feet from him. It’s nice to have Tony around, he thinks. He’s missed their banter.

“Speaking of beer, I’ve got a few bottles from the brewery in town. It’s pretty good. You want one?”

Tony kicks his feet over the armrest and sits up. He seems to be considering the offer for a moment before he says “sure.”

When Steve returns from his apartment, Tony has moved over to the couch Steve had been sitting on. He’s doing something on his phone, but he pockets it when he sees Steve come in. Steve hands him a bottle as he drops into the couch next to him and Tony shifts so he’s angled towards Steve, his back against the armrest. He brings his leg up onto the couch, his knee bumping Steve’s thigh.

“Cheers,” he says, tilting the bottle towards Steve. “And thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Cheers,” Steve replies and takes a sip.

“No, I mean thank you. Not just for the beer. It’s good to see you, Steve.”

Steve smiles. He’s about to say it’s good to see Tony too, but Tony speaks first.

“This is good. And it’s from out here?”

“Yeah, there’s a place in town that brews it. Pretty good food too.”

“Huh, who’da guessed. I didn’t think there was anything around out here.”

“Well, there’s not much. There’s the brewpub, a B&B, a grocery store, couple of other places. A bunch of new businesses moved to town after we started that energy program.”

That earns him a smile from Tony, and Tony has every right to smile about it - it was his brainchild after all. The Avengers facility is powered by its own arc reactor, which produces a lot more energy than they need, so the excess energy is sold at a reduced rate to the residents of the town and to local businesses, but only the local ones to avoid big corporations from taking advantage. The program has proved to be a huge boost to the local economy, bringing new jobs and drawing more families to move to the area.

“There’s a decent Chinese food place now even, but no good bagels, just the crummy supermarket ones. Which is a shame.”

“I’ll be sure to bring some next time I come up,” Tony offers with a smile.

“Oh god, that would be amazing,” Steve says, groaning at the thought of a New York bagel, and as he does, his hand involuntarily drops onto Tony’s leg. He looks down to where his hand lies, gives his leg a quick squeeze before pulling his hand away. He looks up and his eyes catch Tony’s.

Tony quirks a smile and takes another sip of his beer. “I’ll try and come more often. You clearly miss those bagels.”

They end up chatting until late in the evening and finishing the six-pack between them. It’s too late to make the drive back anyway, Tony says as he tries to hide another yawn, and he agrees to stay in one of the guest rooms.

When Steve heads out for his daily run the next morning, though, Tony’s car is already gone. It’s understandable - Stark’s a busy man - but Steve can’t help but feel slightly saddened.

----

They’ve called in an extraordinary Board meeting. It’s such a misnomer, Tony thinks not for the first time. These meetings are anything but extraordinary. Extraordinarily dull, maybe.

If he had even half the drawing skills Steve has, he’d be doodling pictures of all the Board members in capes. Or the Avengers in a Board meeting. There’s a funny mental image: Fury suggests disposing of assets and Thor smashes the table with Mjölnir.

God, Tony is bored. It’s the third one this quarter. You’d think at some point they’d just start scheduling them more regularly so they can call them what they really are: painfully ordinary.

Tony’s mind is wandering. He is so fucking sick of rehashing the ramifications for Stark Industries of the events in Sokovia and Wakanda and SI’s involvement in rebuilding. It’s pretty damn clear for Tony: his mess, so his to clean up. But not even his bank account is deep enough to cover all of it, especially not with the expenses of keeping the Avengers facility running and rebuilding the Tower (again… hopefully this third time’s a charm), so SI is going to have to get involved.

Except every time there’s a story in the news about Sokovia or Wakanda or even the Avengers, the Stark Industries share price drops. Which is so not fair; Tony’s not even one of the Avengers anymore. Pepper’s taken the businessman’s perspective on the matter: It’s hurting the company, so we need to disassociate ourselves from it. Tony has given so many press conferences stating that he is no longer part of the Avengers team, nor is he involved in their active operations, that he can do them in his sleep by now. He’s pretty sure he has, actually. He certainly dreams about it frequently enough. He wakes up in a cold sweat more often than not, the image of his friends - Natasha, Bruce, Clint, Thor, Steve, hell even Fury, Coulson and Hill some nights - staring at him with looks of utter betrayal for publically denying their friendship again. At least in this dream they’re not all dead, he thinks, and he feels himself frown as he does.

“You could at least pretend to take part in these meetings,” Pepper tosses at him afterward. Her expression is so, so sour. Whatever happened to his sweet Pepper Potts?

“I was there. I listened. Some. I responded when spoken to.” He moves to step closer to her but thinks better of it when she crosses her arms and leans back against the desk. He’d followed her back to her office after the meeting, hoping to catch a few moments alone with her before she heads off to Malibu for the rest of the week, but this is not what he’d had in mind.

“You insist we stay so closely involved in this, you could at least get involved in what it’s doing to us. The company,” she clarifies quickly.

Tony slumps down into one of the leather armchairs, consciously keeping the length of the room between them even though he longs to reach out for her. He remembers a time when her touch used to be reassuring. Damn. He also longs for a good stiff drink, but he pushes down that desire too. “I need to do this, Pep. This is all a part of it. Of that choice I made all those years ago. To clean up the Stark messes.”

“Cleaning up shouldn’t cause more messes.”

Her curt words cut through his last shred of resolve and he gets up and walks out of her office. He makes it to the elevator before he breaks down, his knees buckle and he slides to the floor.

“JAR- FRIDAY, stop the elevator.”

He doesn’t know how long he sits there in the silent, unmoving elevator. He keeps turning his hands over, again and again. They’re clean, not even any grease under his fingernails, but all he sees is blood dripping from them.

So much blood.

----

“Um, I think you’re doing it wrong.”

Steve, Sam and Rhodey are goofing around in the gym at the end of a workout session, and Sam was just demonstrating a rather obscene alternative to pushups that is, in fact, not the correct way to do them. Rhodey is bent over in laughter and Steve is trying his best to keep a straight face. They all turn at the sound of Tony’s voice.

He’s standing in the doorway with an amused look on his face, though the smile does not quite reach his eyes, and a large brown paper bag in each of his hands.

“Special delivery for Captain Carb-Fiend. Two baker’s dozen bagels imported all the way from Brooklyn, New Yawk.”

In hindsight, it’s a little embarrassing how quickly Steve is on his feet and across the gym to where Tony is standing. Maybe it’s also a little weird that he wraps Tony up in a bearhug.

“I don’t remember getting that kind of welcome when we got back from a mission, do you?” Sam asks, looking at Rhodey.

“Nope, definitely not,” Rhodey confirms.

Steve pulls away quickly, rubbing the back of his head before taking the bags Stark is still holding and shaking them at Sam and Rhodey. “You didn’t bring me bagels from New York.”

He flashes Tony a smile of thanks; Tony returns the gesture.

“That’s because we were in Wisconsin.”

“Coulda brought some cheese, Platypus,” Tony says, holding his arms open to offer Rhodey a hug, which he accepts.

“Coulda. Didn’t. What brings you to town?”

Tony pats Rhodey on the chest. “I come bearing gifts. I’ve been fiddling with the repulsor output levels, so there’s new gauntlets waiting for you in the quinjet and a fancy new outfit for Wanda.”

“I see how it is,” Sam ribs.

“Hey, I can’t bring everyone presents every time I come up here. You guys will get spoiled.”

“They already are,” Steve pipes in, mumbling around a mouthful of blueberry bagel.

“Shut up, bagel boy,” Sam says, tossing a towel at Steve.

“Alright kids, I’m gonna go point out all the mistakes in whatever the science team is working on. You all need to hit the showers. Sheesh. But I hear there’s a good burger joint in town. Maybe we go check it out later?”

“Sounds great, Tony,” Rhodey says. Steve and Sam nod in agreement.

A few hours later, after Tony and Rhodey have put the new gauntlets thoroughly through their paces, they’re headed into the brewpub.

“We have to keep an eye on Wilson. He keeps trying to hit on the manager.”

“Shut up, Rhodes. We’ve been out twice already, I’ll have you know.”

“He’s just jealous cuz he was after her too,” Steve stage-whispers to Tony. Sam preens as he holds open the door to the restaurant while Rhodey scowls.

“Look at you guys, already getting wrapped up in small-town dating drama.” Tony shakes his head in amusement. “What about you, Cap? Anyone caught your eye? The lady that runs the B&B, maybe?”

Steve lets out a laugh. “Myrtle is very nice, but she’s also about 73.”

“Yeah, that’s probably a bit young for you, huh?” Tony says with a grin, taking off his sunglasses as they slide into the booth.

“Hey guys,” the manager, Elena, greets them, laying a menu in front of each of them.

“Hey back at you,” Sam replies. “Elena, this is our friend Tony. Tony, Elena.”

Steve watches as Tony flashes his meeting-new-people smile.

“Hi Tony. You guys know what you want to drink? The usual?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Steve replies. The usual is a pitcher of the home-brewed lager. They start with one, but it usually turns into two or more by the end of the night, depending on how many of them are out. Natasha and Wanda come along most times; Vision, on the other hand, tends not to come along often.

Steve can’t help but smile as he watches Tony and Rhodey bantering. He understands and completely respects Tony’s decision to distance himself from the team, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it.

----

He was aiming for an early start the next morning, to sneak out of the facility before most people were up, and he’s just about managed it, he muses proudly to himself as he’s filling his thermos with coffee, except then Captain Morning Person wanders in from his morning run.

“Hey Tony, heading out already?” Steve opens the fridge and pulls out a bottle of Gatorade, twists it open and takes a long gulp. A bit dribbles out of the corner of his mouth and he wipes it away with the back of his hand, which he then runs through his hair. Tony’s eyes catch Steve’s as he drops his hand again.

“Uh, yeah. Gotta head out, lots to do. You know how it is, always busy.” He’s rambling again. Dammit.

“Oh. Well, it was great to see you again,” Steve says, and he looks so crushingly sincere. “And thanks for the bagels.”

“Sure thing, Cap. Anytime. I’ll consider it a standing order.” He picks up his thermos and heads for the door. “Tell the others I said bye,” he adds over his shoulder.

The great thing about quinjets is that, unlike normal planes that are restricted to runways and airports and boring stuff like that, they can be landed in just about any open space. And while it seems silly to fly the handful of miles to his house, he can’t exactly leave the jet at the facility and then come back on foot in a few days to pick it up again. That would definitely raise a few eyebrows.

So he makes the short flight, hoping no one is actually watching his flight path - at least not anyone who cares enough to ask questions or doesn’t know better not to - and touches down again in the clearing in front of the house. There’s a slight breeze, and the remaining golden leaves on the trees around the house rustle quietly. He breathes a deep sigh as he takes it in. It is a beautiful house. Full of potential.

“Time to get to work,” he says aloud as he jogs up the steps to the front door. There’s lots to be done, but first the holes in the roof need to be patched and the broken windows have to be replaced. After all, he says to no one at all with a smile at his own joke, “winter is coming.”

----

November

It’s been a few weeks since Steve has run along the old farm track to the house on the hill, so he decides to head that way. It’s nearing the end of autumn, and the leaves still clinging to the trees are all shades of red and yellow. He revels in the crunch of the leaves under his feet as he runs along. He certainly didn’t get views like this in New York City. Luckily the stream is narrow enough for him to jump across with enough speed, because the water has definitely gotten too cold to wade through. Even for people who don’t have an inherent distrust of cold water.

He’s wrapped up in thought as he jogs around the bend where the house comes into clear view, but he stops in his tracks as soon as he notices it. There are tarps covering parts of the roof and the new plywood over the previously broken windows stands out against the rest of the weathered siding.

So someone has bought the house, he thinks. Good. It needs some TLC.

He doesn’t see anyone around now, though, so he loops around to have a look at the front of the house. A camper van is parked next to the old barn and off to the side there’s a portable toilet, but the fancier kind that probably self-composts. He’s seen ones like it at some of the campsites in the area.

He’s glad to see that someone has decided to fix up the old house, but he can’t help but feel slightly saddened. This place has become like his own local secret spot - he’s come out here a few times and sat in the crook of the old oak out front when he’s needed to gather his thoughts - and soon he won’t be able to come by anymore.

This belongs to someone else now.

He’s pulled out of his thoughts by the sound of tires on the gravel driveway. Must be the new owners, he thinks, and he’s about to duck behind the house and head back to the facility when he recognizes the riff to Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap streaming from the car’s stereo.

“Sonofabitch,” Steve says aloud when he sees the familiar garish orange lacquer of the car. STARK 7, the license plate reads.

The car slows, then pulls to a stop just in front of him. The door opens and Tony steps out.

----

“Well, well, well. Figures. Old man, old house. Who’d have guessed.”

Steve narrows his eyes at Tony. So much for skirting the topic, then. “What are you doing here, Tony?”

Tony pulls his sunglasses off. “Uh, this is my house. What are you doing here?” he counters, gesturing at Steve with the glasses.

“I was jogging in the area,” Steve replies defensively.

“More like trespassing on my property,” Tony snaps.

“Well I didn’t know it was your property. Because, you know, you didn’t tell anyone.”

Tony frowns at that but softens his tone when he replies. “Yeah, it’s my latest project. Who doesn’t love a nice old house? I’d appreciate if we could keep this between us, though. I’m trying to keep it off the radar. On the DL.”

Steve raises an eyebrow. “You sure that’s a good idea? I mean, after last time?”

“Oh, be-lieeeeve you me, I have learned from that one. No, this is nothing like that.”

Steve shoots him a skeptical look, so he continues. Cat’s out of the bag now anyway. “I’m doing this old-school - kinda like you. Come on in,” he says, clapping Steve lightly on the shoulder, “you’ll like it, I bet. No tech here, not even FRIDAY, just good old-fashioned hard work. Call it catharsis or something.”

He leads the way up the steps to the house, and as the door swings open with a long creaking sound - note to self: oil door hinges - Steve’s eyes widen. He steps inside, turns slowly on his own axis as his gaze follows the grand oval staircase that sweeps up to the second and third floors, taking in the entry foyer, the octagonal gallery behind the staircase, the twin sitting room and living room on either side of the foyer. Steve rubs a hand idly through his hair as he looks around.

Illustration1

“Tony, this place, it’s…” There’s a sense of wonder in his voice. Tony smiles inwardly. It is just the kind of thing Steve would like. Steve, who has a keen appreciation for fine aesthetics, who has a healthy - okay, sometimes more than healthy - sense of history and an acute desire to preserve things he deems worthy.

“This place is a dump.”

Well, so much for that, then. “Ouch, Rogers. Words hurt, you know.”

Steve smiles at him. “It’s got a lot of potential.”

“Better.” Tony relaxes his stance, shifting his weight to one leg as he takes an appraising look around. “It’s a bit of a fixer-upper, yeah, I’ll give you that, but it’s not past saving and I think it could really be good. Just needs some TLC.”

Steve lets out a huff. He steps into the gallery, looks around again, then turns to face Tony. “This is a beautiful house, Tony. The details are really remarkable. I’m sure you’ll do a great job fixing it and bringing that out. That’s what you do, after all.”

Well shit. He wasn’t prepared for a statement like that.

“Come on, I’ll give you a tour,” he deflects. He clasps Steve’s shoulder and gestures for him to step back into the foyer, then leads him through each room, pointing out the things that need to be worked on in each. They finally reach the open gallery on the third floor, where the floorboards creak slightly under their weight. Steve steps in front of the floor-to-ceiling window, one of the few that isn’t broken. Tony watches as he looks out over the grounds. It’s a clear day, and with most of the leaves gone from the trees, the Avengers facility is just barely visible in the distance.

Finally Steve turns his gaze from the window and looks at Tony with a smile. “You know, when you said you were thinking of following Barton’s lead and buying a farm for you and Pepper, I thought you were joking.”

“I wasn’t joking. I never joke. I’m a hundred percent serious all the time.”

Steve cocks his head slightly and crosses his arms.

“Okay, that might be an exaggeration. But I figured it might be nice to have a place for just the two of us, me and Pep, somewhere we can get away from it all…” He flicks idly at the chipping paint on the windowsill.

“Pepper hates it, doesn’t she?”

Damn that super-soldier and his heightened powers of observation.

“Yeah. Oh god, she does. Won’t come up here with me. But,” he continues with a shrug, “I figure once it’s fixed up she’ll be able to appreciate it for what it is.”

Steve uncrosses his arms and shoves his hands in the pockets of his running pants. “Well listen, you ever want an extra set of hands with some of the work, just give me a call. I’m in the area, after all.”

----

“Goddammit Rogers, one more snarky comment from you and I will staple your ass to this roof.” Tony waves the staple gun at Steve in a way that’s probably meant to be menacing.

Steve just laughs. “I’m just saying…”

Illustration2

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well how ’bout you go ‘just say’ it over there and haul up the rest of those shingles. Put those biceps to use for once.”

Steve shakes his head at Tony with a soft laugh as he steps carefully along the sloping roof to where the hoist for the roof shingles is. He gives it a hefty tug and the pallet lifts up off the ground. A few good pulls and it’s at roof level. Tony reaches out to reel it in, struggling somewhat under the weight.

“Got it,” he grunts. He pushes it into position and Steve sets the pallet down carefully as Tony pulls out a pocket knife to cut open the bundle.

After a few hours, they’ve managed to finish the rest of the roof. Tony sets down his hammer and sits cross-legged with his back leaned up against the chimney, surveying their handiwork. Steve unhooks his toolbelt and slides down next to him.

“We done good,” he says.

There’s a smile on Tony’s face as he replies. “Yeah, we done good. Couldn’t have managed it without you, Steve.” He reaches over and gives Steve’s shoulder a pat.

“Glad to help,” Steve says. “I like doing it. Feels like we’ve accomplished something real. I could’ve stayed home and gone over some mission files or played Halo with Rhodey and Sam, but no. I helped put a roof on a house.”

Tony huffs out a laugh. “You put a roof over my head.”

“Well you’ve done it often enough for me. Come on,” Steve says, getting to his feet and offering Tony a hand, “this calls for beer and burgers.”