"Looks like snow."
"Branching out into meteorology?" Steve asked, without looking up from his newspaper. But the words were warm, despite the teasing. Tony stifled a smile of his own, leaning his hips against the kitchen counter as he split his attention between the huge glass windows that ringed the kitchen, and Steve, who was sitting in the pale winter sunshine that streamed through them. He was barefoot and rumpled, dressed in sweatpants and a SHIELD shirt that had seen better days. His hair hadn't been combed, but even as Tony watched, Steve shoved a hand through the strands, further disordering them. Tony must've made some sound, because Steve's head came up. "What?" he asked, a smile curling his lips.
"Nothing," Tony said, with a shake of his head. He took a sip of his coffee. "Just thinking. About when you first moved in, and you got all spiffed up before coming down to breakfast."
Steve grinned. "That's when I thought you were worth dressing up for," he said, his eyes dancing.
Tony clutched his chest, making the most horrified, hurt face he could manage, considering the very early hour, and the lack of caffeine in his system. "Cap. I'm... I'm heartbroken. Here I thought you cared what I thought."
“Oh, I care what you think, I just figured out you're easily impressed,” Steve said, and Tony couldn't hold back a laugh. Steve's lips curled up, a sweet, almost boyish smile, and he set his paper aside. “Times agrees with you about the snow, though. We might have a white Christmas this year.” He looked towards the window, the sunlight gilding the angles of his cheekbone and his jaw. “That'd be nice.” The words were strangely wistful, and his eyes were hooded.
Tony followed his gaze, staring out the window. The gray clouds stretched across the horizon, heavy and repressive, blotting out the sun and dulling the skyline to a flat black. He took a breath. “Steve?”
“Do you ever feel like Christmas is just...” Tony shifted his weight, his shoulders rolling as he folded his arms. “Too much work?”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Steve still, his coffee cup hanging heavy in his hand. Steve set it down, the movements slow and careful. “No,” he said, after a moment of silence.
Tony smiled at him. “Liar.”
Steve's lips twitched up. “It's work,” he admitted. “Sometimes more than I'd like, sure. But there's something nice about the season, Tony.” He ducked his head, looking down into the depth of his cup. “A lot of things, actually.” Tony reached out, ruffling Steve's hair just to make him choke on a laugh and duck out of reach. “Cut it out, Stark.”
“No,” Tony said, flexing his fingers in a threatening manner. Steve swatted at Tony's hand with his newspaper. Tony grinned at him. “I hate this time of year,” he said, and Steve's smile died. “Hate it. Know what I've got for Christmas memories?” He waved his coffee cup through the air. “Something straight out of 'A Christmas Carol.' Waiting to be picked up at boarding school, not sure if I'd been forgotten or was just being punished for something. Endless social events and parties that weren't any fun for a kid and where I was expected to put on a proper face.
“Years of friends who had other places to be when the holidays came, had families to go home to, and really-” He shrugged. “Still full of parties I don't want to go to, people I don't want to see, places I don't want to go.”
Steve was silent for a second. “It's sad,” he said at last. “To remember. All the things that are-” He looked up with a slight smile. “Gone,” he finished, his voice calm. He leaned forward, bracing his elbows on the counter. “It's hard, to remember what I've lost. And it's hard, to be alone.” He shook his head. “I know what you mean, about the memories, Tony, but-”
Tony turned to face him. Steve looked up, meeting his eyes with a smile. Something clicked in his head, something fell into place in a way that it had never had before. Something about this moment made it right, when it never had been before. Tony took a deep breath, his heartbeat thudding in his ears, drowning out everything else. “Want to make some better ones?”
Steve's eyebrows arched, but he was smiling now, his face relaxing. “Got something particular in mind?” he asked, reaching for his coffee cup.
Tony downed the rest of his coffee in one long gulp. “Marry me,” he said.
Steve's hand stilled, his coffee cup halfway to his mouth, his lips parted. His eyes darted up to Tony's, wide with shock. “What?” he managed.
Tony set his coffee cup down with fingers that were far steadier than he'd thought they'd be. He'd expected fear, or even panic, but now that the words were out of his mouth, there was no getting them back, and Tony didn't want them back. Tony smiled at Steve, his lips curling up. “Marry me,” he said again, and it felt better than anything he'd ever said before. “Marry me on Christmas Day. Make some new memories. Ones we want to keep.”
Steve was staring at him, his mouth still hanging open, his cheeks flushing pink. “What?” he repeated, and he looked stunned. Tony grinned down at him, pleasure sweeping through him like a wave.
Tony leaned in. “You heard me, Rogers, so cough up an answer.”
Slowly, Steve set the coffee cup back on the table. “That was the weakest proposal I've ever heard,” he said, and he said it in his field voice, strong and stern and just a tad disapproving. But there was a smile blooming on his face. “Do you plan at all? Was this just-” His voice changed, rising a bit to match Tony's excited pitch. “I'm out of coffee, bored now, maybe I'll propose?”
Tony pointed a finger at him. “Fuck you, Rogers,” he said, laughter bubbling through him. “I had a plan. I planned. There is always a plan. It's just-” He threw his hands up, and spun on one foot, marching towards the pantry. “It's a long ranging plan, it's got depth, it's got FACETS.”
“It's got something, all right,” Steve said, and Tony laughed.
“Here,” he said. “Here, you think-” He yanked the pantry open and started shoving boxes out of his way on the shelf. “You think I don't plan?” He grabbed the container of instant oats from the shelf and stalked back to the counter, where Steve was sitting there, his head resting in the cradle of one palm. “There.” Tony slapped the box of oats down in front of him.
Steve looked at it. Looked at Tony, one eyebrow arched. “Dowry?” he asked.
Tony rolled his eyes, and wrenched the top off of the cardboard tube. He plunged a hand into the oats and, a moment later, he came up with a small, flat slip of an envelope. He held it up between them, and then, when Steve's eyes locked on it, Tony ripped it open, and tipped the contents into his palm.
The ring was a perfect circle of gleaming platinum, smooth and slim, sized exactly for Steve's finger. He held it up, rolling it over in his hand, feeling the familiar sweep of the metal beneath his fingertips.
Steve stared at it. “What if someone had wanted oatmeal?” he asked.
“Then they would've gone for the Irish cut oats,” Tony said, without missing a beat. “No one in this place is eating instant oats, Cap. I bought them specifically as a hiding place.” He reached out, and set the ring directly in front of Steve. “See? I plan.”
“This is the worst attempt at a proposal,” Steve told him, but he stared at the ring, color sweeping up the planes of his cheeks, over the curves of his cheeks. He cupped a hand over his mouth, and Tony had never wanted him more than he did at that moment.
Tony shrugged, and reached for Steve's coffee. “Heard a lot of them?” he asked, expecting that was the case. He smiled into the cup. “Braggart.”
“I'm just saying, 'let's get married so Christmas doesn’t suck so much' is a lousy proposal,” Steve said. His let his head fall into his palms. “Tony, I'm wearing pants with a hole in the crotch.”
Tony's head tipped to the side. “This an invitation, or-”
Steve raised his head, just enough to glare at Tony with one eye. “It's a 'maybe give a fella some warning,'” he said.
“Fuck that,” Tony said. He saluted Steve with the coffee cup. “I'm unpredictable. It's part of my charm. I'm an unpredictable sort.”
“You are, and you could've done a better job at this proposal,” Steve said. But he was smiling, and he was blushing, and if there was going to be a no, Tony would've heard it already.
“Oh, like you could do better,” Tony said.
Steve reached into his pocket, pulling his phone out. Never breaking eye contact with Tony, he dialed, and tucked it between his cheek and his shoulder. “Sam?” he asked a second later. “Yeah. Can you run up to my room for me and get it?” He paused, his eyes falling shut. “Yes. No.” He took a deep breath. “Tony jumped the gun.”
“Wait, I jumped the gun?” Tony asked, setting the cup down. “What gun? Whose gun? Is this a metaphor, because if there's a gun then I'd like to think it went off exactly when I wanted it to go off, and there was no jumping-”
Steve gave him a look, and Tony shut up. “Listen, I can't deal with you yelling at me in one ear, and him yelling at me in the other,” he said into the phone, “can you please just-” He stopped, tipping his head to the side to look at his phone. “He hung up on me,” Steve said.
“You're very demanding, I'm surprised he doesn't do it more often,” Tony said. He kept an eye on the ring out of the corner of his eye, but even if he wanted to retreat, he was pretty sure he wasn't going to make it. Especially since Steve had called for backup.
“I'm surprised I'm still talking to-” Steve started, and the kitchen door opened.
“You missed your window,” Sam said, disapproval all over his face.
“Can we do this later?” Steve asked him.
“No,” Sam said, spreading his hands. “You missed your window on that, too.”
“Just give me the ring,” Steve said.
Tony's world slid sideways, just for a second, his legs seeming to go out from under him. He grabbed for the counter and managed to sit down before he fell down, lowering himself onto the nearest empty stool, next to Steve. “Ring?” he asked, his voice coming from a long way away, echoing hollowly in his ears.
“He had plans,” Sam told Tony. “Missed his window.”
“In about thirty seconds, I'm going to toss you out of one,” Steve said, reaching for him, “so can I have the dang ring now, Wilson?”
Sam skipped backwards a step, staying easily out of reach, his hand pressing down on his hip pocket as if he was afraid Steve was going after it by force. “No, we're waiting for Nat.”
Steve groaned. “No, we're not, give me my-”
The door to the kitchen swung open again, and Natasha leaned in, her hand braced on the panel. She had clearly been in the middle of a workout, dressed in just a pair of yoga pants and a sports bra, a towel tossed around her neck. She took in the scene in an instant. “He missed his window,” she said to Sam.
“He missed his window,” Sam agreed. He pointed at Steve. “I told him.”
“You did tell him. Repeatedly. Stark beat you to the punch?” Nat asked Steve, her voice disbelieving. Her brow furrowed. “Steve, that's just sad.”
“It kind of is,” Tony said, because things would've been so much easier if Steve had been the one doing the proposing.
“Did you come down here just to laugh at me?” Steve asked her, sounding only mildly interested in her response. Tony made to stand up, nerves suddenly making stillness impossible, and Steve's hand snapped out, wrapping around his wrist. Steve's fingers were warm and strong and somehow comforting. Tony subsided back into his seat.
Steve was staring at him. “Actually,” he said, smiling just a little, “I don't care. Sam, can I please have-” Sam's hand snapped out, a little black box flipping through the air. Steve caught it easily, and slapped it down on the counter between them.
Tony studied it. “So, you say my proposal's lousy, but yours leaves a lot to be desired, too, here, Rogers, really, this is-”
“I love you,” Steve said, and the words died in Tony's throat. “I love you, and never thought-” He exhaled, a quick puff of air. “You're hard to pin down,” he explained.
“You're bitching at me now? I at least used the words,” Tony said, and Steve's fingers slipped away from his wrist. Tony missed the contact immediately.
“Give me a dang minute here, will ya?” Steve reached for the box. His fingers hovered over it. “Want to know how long I've had this?”
“Is the answer depressing as all fuck?” Tony asked.
“Yes,” Sam said, and Natasha elbowed him hard in the ribs.
“Then no,” Tony said. He leaned back. “Steve-”
Steve flicked the box open and pulled out the ring. It was pale gold, almost white, more artistic than the one Tony had chosen for him, an almost liquid swirl of movement in the solid state of the circle. It caught the light, a flicker of golden sunlight sliding over the smooth surface, and Tony's heart skipped a beat. Steve held the ring up. “You want the words?” he asked, eyebrows arching. “Really?”
“Unlike you, I don't get proposed to much and I'm trying to enjoy this one,” Tony said. He was pleased with how steady his voice was. He was holding it together. He was proud of himself for that.
Steve smiled at him, his eyes gleaming. “Marry me,” he said, and it was almost an order.
Tony opened his mouth, and started to laugh. “I asked first,” he managed, little hiccups of laughter breaking the words apart. “And now you're demanding an answer? To a question you only asked because I asked mine, thus making you absolutely certain you'd be getting the answer that you want?” He rocked back on his stool, his head falling back. “You're a piece of work, Rogers.”
“I asked you out first,” Steve pointed out. “Which was a much bigger risk, really, if you-”
“No, I'd been asking you out for weeks, maybe months, before you figured it out and made it a date,” Tony shot back, grinning at him so wide that it hurt. “You-”
“Boys!” Nat slapped her hand down on the counter. Her eyes slid from Steve to Tony and back. “On the count of three.” She straightened up. “One. Two.” She smiled. “Three.”
“Yes,” Tony said, and Steve beat him to it by a second, by a breath, and leaned in. Tony met him halfway, his eyes sliding shut as the kiss deepened. Dimly, he heard whooping and congratulations, from Sam and Nat respectively, but he didn't care. The only thing he cared about was the way Steve's fingers weaving into his, his mouth slanting over Tony's.
“Yes,” he whispered again, the word soft against Tony's lips.
“Thank fuck,” Tony said, and Steve started to laugh. His head slid down, landing heavily on Tony's shoulder. Tony wrapped an arm around him, struggling against his own laughter. A glint of gold caught his eye, and he held up his hand, admiring the ring that was now decorating his finger. “You work fast,” he said.
“Not taking any chances,” Steve managed, his arms slipping around Tony's waist. Tony leaned his chin on Steve's shoulder, staring at his own hand over the long line of Steve's back.
“You said yes,” he said.
“So did you,” Steve said, his arms tightening.
“Yeah, but I only did it because of the public pressure you put on me, I mean, you brought your friends down to guilt me into-” Steve's lips caught his again, and Tony stopped talking. Stopped thinking.
“This,” he heard Natasha say at a distance, “is going to be a problem.”
Steve might've been in shock. He wasn't sure. He was sure he didn't care.
He was getting married.
The thought sent a sizzle of pleasure through his whole body, a giddy, childish sort of glee that had him constantly on the edge of hysterical laughter.
“This would've been so much easier if you'd gotten off your ass and proposed,” Sam said over the rim of his coffee cup. “Really. Now he's got the upper hand and we're going to try to do a wedding in less than a week.”
Steve smiled at Tony, who was arguing with Natasha. Or trying to. Natasha was ignoring him, reaching out every so often to pat him lightly on the head in a way that was somehow too funny to really be condescending. Tony didn't seem to notice anyway.
“You know how hard it is to try to propose to Tony Stark?” Steve asked Sam.
“My brain is refusing to even consider that statement, so I gotta say...” Sam gave him a look. “No.”
“Yeah, well, it's hard.” Steve watched, amused, as Tony made a play for the tablet Natasha was using. It was absolutely unsuccessful.
“Know what's great about you getting married?” Sam asked, and then, without waiting for Steve to reply, he kept going. “It's that now every time we go out, we don't have to listen to you whine about how hard it is to propose to Tony Stark.”
“That's true,” Steve said. “Now you have to listen to me whine about how hard it is to be married to Tony Stark.”
“Hey, I didn't sign up for this shit,” Sam said, grinning. “I thought being Captain America's best friend would be cool. You know, awesomeness by association, instead, it's just watching you be morose about your boyfriend.”
“I pay for the drinks, though.”
“Nat takes more advantage of that than I do,” Sam said.
“So, does all this whining mean you're not going to be my best man?”
“You try making someone else your best man, Rogers, you just try,” Sam said, stabbing a finger in Steve's direction, but his eyes were suspiciously bright. He held out a hand. “Missed your window, you coward.”
“Yeah, you don't get to say anything, you don't even know you have one,” Steve said, clasping his hand and dragging him in for a hug.
“Wait, what are you-”
The door to the kitchen swung open, and Carol, clad in running clothes, wrestled Clint, wearing pajama pants and a top that was more holes than fabric, through the portal. “We're here,” she announced, as Jan bounced in right on her heels, and behind her, Thor ducked through the door.
“What news?” he asked, sweeping his hair away from his face with one big hand.
“Where's Bruce?” Natasha asked.
“He said he knew what the announcement is, and he'll be down when the centrifuge finishes,” Carol said, steering Clint towards the table. She pulled a chair away from the counter with one foot, and he fell into it. “What's happening?”
Steve looked at Tony, who waved a hand at him. “You're the one who's gotta admit it to the world, no one's questioning me,” he said.
“We're getting married,” Steve said, and Jan shrieked, throwing herself at him. He caught her, swinging her around, as Carol wrapped an arm around Tony's neck and gave him a one armed hug and a noogie. In the chaos of hugs and high fives that followed, Steve caught Tony's eyes and smiled. Tony, fending off Thor, grinned back.
“Your fault,” he mouthed at Steve, who started to laugh.
Clint, the only one who hadn't reacted, blinked slowly at the room. “Why am I awake?” he asked. “Why- Why is there awakeness?”
“Are you awake?” Carol asked, poking him lightly in the side of the head. His head swayed to the side with the pressure, then languidly returned to an upright position. “I mean, your eyes are open, but with you-” She tipped her head to the side. “That doesn't mean much.”
“It means nothing,” Natasha said, focusing her attention on the tablet in her hands. “I used to ignore the eyes and just see if he responded to verbal stimulus. Then I realized that he's able to carry on conversations while in REM sleep.”
“I'm a freak,” Clint agreed on a yawn.
“That you are,” Carol said.
“Does not explain why I'm awake,” Clint said.
“Because I'm getting married,” Tony said from the other side of the table. He had his feet propped up on the tabletop, leaning back in his chair, a cup of coffee balanced on his stomach. He smirked at everyone. “To Steve.”
Clint studied him. “Sounds like a personal problem, Stark,” he said at last. “Or rather, sounds like Steve's problem, so I still don't know why I'm awake right now.”
“Because we're having a wedding,” Jan said, leaning up against the counter next to Steve. “Congratulations, Cap,” she said, grinning up at him, and Steve grinned back. “What's the plan?”
“The plan is Christmas,” Tony said.
Steve took a deep breath, and braced his hands on the table, leaning forward. “We're getting married on Christmas Eve, so we have four days,” he said, drawing every eye. “We're doing this fast, and we're doing it right. I think we can all agree, we don't want a repeat of Sue and Reed's problems.”
“Or her dress,” Tony said. Steve gave him a chiding look. Tony grinned at him, unrepentant. “What? I look lousy in white and you can't pull off an empire waist.”
Jan tapped a nail against the tabletop. “I'll be doing the wedding party's outfits,” she said. There was a manic light in her eyes that Steve was pretty sure should worry him. “I've been wanting to get my hands on all of you for quite some time.”
Steve considered her. “That's a lot of work and not much time,” he said. “Natasha and Sam are going to be standing for me-”
“And Pepper and Rhodey are going to be on my side of the 'family,'” Tony said, putting finger quotes around the word.
Jan waved them off. “I know what I'm doing. You can move on to the next item on the agenda.” And with that, she turned on her heel and swept out of the kitchen.
Tony stared after her. “That woman,” he said, his eyes narrowed, “is going to have her way with us.”
“And I'm fine with that.” Steve straightened up, his brain clicking into high gear. “Wedding's going to be here. Christmas eve. The annual party will serve as cover, it's low key enough that it's never drawn much attention from the press or the less savory elements, but no one'll question the sudden arrival of a bunch of our friends.”
“Caterers are already booked for the holiday party,” Tony said, one foot flicking in a nervous twitch of movement. “Easy enough for me to pull a bit of a diva act and upgrade the spread a bit, but it was already going to be a multi-course affair.”
“How about the cake?” Carol asked, and Steve was already shaking his head.
“Not enough time to get one, and even if we could place a rush order, it's going to call too much attention to us,” he said. “It's a nice thought, but-”
“It's only a problem if you order it here in New York,” Carol pointed out. “If I pick it up from a bakery up North, and I know a good one, and get it with Christmas decorations, no one'll notice.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “I'll fly it in myself.”
Steve nodded. “That's-”
“I demand Santas on my wedding cake,” Tony said. Carol gave him a look, and he grinned back, unrepentant. “Big fat Santas.”
“I'll see what I can do,” she said, her voice dry.
“Guest list's already in place for the party,” Sam said, bent over a tablet. “Anyone you two want to attend who isn't already coming?”
“We've got a few that said they'd try to stop by at some point,” Steve said. “Answer might change if there's a reason for it to change.”
Sam nodded. “Give a list to me and Thor,” he said, his teeth flashing in a grin. “We can go persuade some folks.”
“Aye, we are fast and most persuasive,” Thor agreed, wrapping an arm around Sam's shoulders. “What is the hour of your nuptials?”
“Party starts at three, we should be able to have the ceremony at four and by five, we'll be ready for dinner. Plenty of time for people to mingle, eat, and still head out if they have other plans in the evening,” Steve said. “It's not ideal, it's not what-” What he'd wanted, on some level, but it was more than he'd ever expected to get. He had his chance, and he was taking it. He'd have his friends, his team, the extended family that they'd built, somewhere along the way, almost without thinking about it.
More than that, he'd have Tony. He'd have his husband.
He smiled across the table at Tony, who smiled back, his dark eyes full of light and warmth. “We're getting married,” he said.
“I've heard that,” Tony agreed.
“Everyone's heard that,” Sam said, his voice full of laughter. “Just show up. We'll take care of the rest. Mostly because if we give Stark a chance, it'll be a spectacle you'll never live down.”
Tony leaned back in his seat, tipping his coffee cup in Sam's direction. “He might as well get used to it. There's going to be a lot of spectacles in his future.”
“Looking forward to it,” Steve said, with a smile.
“Why am I here?” Clint asked, his voice plaintive.
“Because you can get us a marriage license,” Natasha said, her fingers busy on her tablet. She swept a lock of her bright hair back behind her ear.
Clint's eyes opened. “Right,” he said. And then again, his head bobbing in a slow nod. “Riiiiiight.”
“Wait, how-” Steve started, and Natasha cut him off.
“For certain high risk ops,” she said, “SHIELD has contacts in various bureaus and government branches.” She glanced up, one eyebrow arching. “There are times when your paperwork has to pass muster, no matter who starts looking into it.”
“Driver's licenses, passports, birth certificates, Social Security cards, things like that,” Clint filled in. He wandered towards the coffee pot. “And sometimes-”
“Marriage licenses,” Natasha finished. “If the op involves a married couple, or a couple that's no longer married, we need to make sure the proper paperwork will show up in the search.” Her lips curled in a slight smile. “Clint and I have been married six times.”
“Seven,” Clint mumbled, dumping coffee into a cup.
“We don't count Wyoming, you died before we could consummate the marriage.”
“You KILLED me,” Clint said, insulted, and Natasha waved him off.
“In any case, Clint can finagle the license,” she said. “It might raise a few eyebrows, but our usual supplier will assume it's a SHIELD thing, at least for long enough for us to get you out of town.”
“Great,” Steve said, rubbing a hand over his face. “Now we just need to figure out how we're going to get an officiant in here.”
“Coulson can do it,” Clint said, yawning. “He's a Justice of the Peace.”
Everyone stared at him. “What, really?” Tony asked at last.
“Really,” Natasha said. “Every time he goes on vacation, he comes back with a new certification. He collects them.”
“We're not sure why,” Clint said, burying his face in his coffee cup. “But he does. He's a CPA, a paralegal, a certified project manager, he's got his PPL, his EMT license, he's a Notary Public-”
Tony sat up in his chair, his feet hitting the ground. “Wait,” he said, his eyes narrowing at Natasha. “You- Natalie Rushman.”
“Occasionally,” Natasha agreed. She held her tablet up to Steve. “Pick some flower arrangements.”
“I think the decorations in the living room will work just fine, we don't need anything-” Natasha waved the tablet at him, and he took it with a sigh.
“No, NATALIE RUSHMAN,” Tony said. “Was the Notary Public when I transferred my company over to Pepepr, you were-” He pointed a finger at her. “And she doesn't exist.”
“She does on paper,” Natasha said, waving a hand in his direction. “Sam, are you going to handle the X-folks, or are you sending Thor?”
“Thor, you want the in-town or the out-of-town guests?” Sam asked.
Thor came out of the pantry with two boxes of cereal in each massive hand and a bunch of bananas balanced on one shoulder. “I have the speed on my side, best I leave the city itself to you, and handle all beyond its borders.”
“Makes sense to me,” Sam said.
“I'll split the list,” Natasha said. “Thor, you need to-”
“Was the transfer of my company legal?” Tony asked her.
“Isn't it a little late to be worrying about this?” Natasha asked.
He leaned forward, his eyes narrowed. “I just thought of it, so no.”
“It's fine,” Natasha told him. Tony made a sputtering sound of inarticulate rage, and she gave him a look. “For heaven's sake, I'll sign my real name to the license as a witness, I think that's more important right now.”
“You are not witnessing my marriage,” Tony said. “It's bad luck.”
“Yes, she is,” Steve said, amused despite himself. Tony pointed at Natasha, almost comically insulted. Steve stifled a smile. “She's on my guest list.”
“You have the worst taste,” Tony told him.
“That does explain you,” Natasha said. She stood, peering over Steve's shoulder as Steve flipped through pictures of appaling flower arrangements. “I like these,” she said, pointing out huge vases of red roses interspaced with winter greenery and sweeping stems of white lilies. “What do you think?”
“Bit much, don't you think?” Steve asked.
“No,” Natasha told him.
“Well, then, why'd you ask?”
“Because I want you to feel like you contributed,” Natasha said.
“Do I get a vote about the flowers that are going to be in my wedding pictures?” Tony asked. “The ones that I'm going to be paying for?”
Nat considered him. “Absolutely not. Carol?”
“Oh, God, I'm not getting involved, ask Jan, she's got taste,” Carol said, peering into the fridge. She propped a hand on her hip, considering the contents. “Hey, Clint, what're your feelings about waffles?”
Clint's head came up, suddenly paying attention again now that food was under discussion. “Always pretty positive. Grab the eggs.”
Steve sank into a chair. “Hey,” he said, drawing Tony's attention away from glaring at Natasha. Steve smiled at him, knowing that he was wearing his heart on his sleeve, and not having the energy to care. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” Tony said, resting his chin on one hand. He took a sip of his coffee, his dark lashes sweeping low over his cheeks. “Wanna get married?”
“Apparently, if our team has anything to say about it, we might just manage that,” Steve said. He smiled. “All we have to figure out is what we're doing for our honeymoon.”
“Now, that,” Tony said, with a brilliant grin, “you can leave to me.”
Steve gave him a look, immediately suspicious. “That seems like a bad idea,” he said.
“The bad idea was agreeing to marry me, the sexytimes are what you should be looking forward to,” Tony said.
“Hi,” Bruce said from the doorway. He was carrying about a dozen bolts of fabric, cloth trailing down to the floor in his wake. He blinked owlishly at them from behind the lenses of his glasses. “Uh, Jan said that she'd need this down here?”
There was a long, sustained silence. “This is going to hurt, isn't it?” Tony asked Steve, his lips hovering along the rim of his cup.
“Absolutely. Don't worry. You're worth it,” Steve said.
Bruce's eyes slid from one to the other, and then around the room, where breakfast preparations were in full swing. “What did I miss?” he asked.
Tony held up his hand, showing off his ring. “I'm getting married.”
Bruce looked at Steve, who held up his own hand. “Me, too, as it turns out.”
“Well, at least you're not going into this alone,” Bruce told Tony, then dumped the cloth onto the table. “I need coffee.”
“Ditto,” Tony said. “Jarvis? For the next week, let's keep that pot going. I have a feeling we're going to need it.”
“So, I made the merger offer.”
There was a beat of silence on the other end of the phone. “Which merger?” Pepper asked, at last.
“The merger,” Tony said, stressing the first word.
Even through the phone, Tony heard Pepper put her coffee cup down on her desk with a click. “Right. That merger. How did the negotiations go?” Pepper asked, the words careful.
“The negotiations went well,” Tony said, leaning an arm against the window. He grinned out at the New York skyline.
“We're going to be closing the deal within the week,” Tony said, and she made a sound that was a strange combination between a girlish shriek of joy and a victory cheer. Tony choked on a laugh and a mouthful of coffee. “What was that?” he asked, wiping the back of his hand over his mouth. “Was that the rebel yell? Historians aren't even sure what that sounded like. Until now. Good that we can clear that up.”
“Shut up, Stark,” Pepper said, laughter running through her voice. “You did it?”
“I don't appreciate the way that sounded like a question,” Tony told her. He took a sip of his coffee. He was almost vibrating, and he wasn't sure if it was nerves or just an overload of caffeine. He considered his cup, and then heaved a mental shrug and took another sip. “I did it. I told you I was going to, that I could handle this particular negotiation. That this-” He paused, arching an eyebrow. “Merger was something that I had under control.”
“Oh, yes, I was completely uninvolved,” she said. “Except for the roughly fifty pep talks and reviews of your terms, which were, I'm telling you now, the terms you're offering are frankly-” She paused, and Tony could hear the sound of her bouncing her pen on her blotter.
“Far too generous?” he suggested.
“Embarrassing,” Pepper said. “The word I was looking for was embarrassing.”
“And yet, I sealed the deal,” Tony said, holding his coffee cup in a mock toast. “So apparently, still acceptable.”
“You got lucky, Stark,” she said, and she was laughing, but that was all right, because so was he. Relief left no room for anxiety, for the fear of what lay ahead, of all the ways he could make a mess of this without even trying. For now, there was just relief, and, every time he slipped his hand into his pocket to run his fingers over the slim, elegant lines of that ring, something like joy.
Or maybe just love.
“Anyway, I had a reason to call you,” Tony said.
“Other than bragging about your negotiation skills?”
“Not bragging, just keeping you in the loop, isn't that what you're always asking me to do, to keep you informed, to make sure that you're aware of what's-”
“Why did you call, Tony?” she asked.
“Remember that property I, uh-” He paused. “I acquired? In that-”
“That highly illegal poker game at a convention of arms dealers, some of which might not have been operating one hundred percent on the correct side of international law?” Pepper asked, her voice sweet. “By property, do you mean the private island in the middle of the south pacific?” She took a long, sustained sip of her coffee, making sure that he heard it. “Is that the 'property' that we're discussing?”
“I was hoping to keep it a little more veiled, but yes.” Tony gave the hologram in front of him a quick spin. “You're still mad about that, aren't you?”
“In my defense, I have no memory of agreeing to play in that particular game,” Tony pointed out.
“Or the game itself?”
Tony sighed. “I was a bit drunk.”
“You called me the next morning and told me you were pretty sure we owned a drug smuggling island now.” She paused. “I decided I didn't want to be part of that 'we,' as it turned out.”
“And I was wrong! No drugs! Or even arms smuggling!”
“Small mercies, Stark.”
“Anyway,” Tony said, drawing the word out. “Any idea if we still own that island?”
“We own the every increasing chain of shell corporations which results in the island being owned, at least on paper, by you, personally,” she said.
“Question,” Tony asked, snagging his coffee cup. “Why didn't you unravel that particular knot of paperwork, that's usually your first-”
“Because I do not want to explain where the property involved came from,” Pepper said. “Also, it seemed like a good idea to have some place that wasn't easily connected to you in case we needed to slip you out of the country in the dead of night.”
Tony paused, his cup hovering at his lips. “I'm sensing a distinct lack of trust here, Potts.”
“Also I've been using it for vacations,” Pepper said.
“Also that,” Tony said, with a grin. “You've been crashing my island?”
“I've been crushing St. James Industries, LTD's island,” Pepper said. “They have a very nice island. Nothing else, including employees, but they do have a very lovely island.”
“So I've heard.” Tony realized that he was doodling something that looked more like a heart than any useable piece of machinery, and wadded it up with a flick of his fingers. He gave it a toss towards his virtual trash can.
“Why do you ask?”
“Because I think that it might be a nice place to crash, post-merger,” Tony said.
“Oh.” Then, a bit brighter, “Oh! Yes. That sounds, that-” She paused. “That sounds lovely.”
“Yeah. It does, doesn't it?” Tony's fingers slid through the air, tracing the simple shape of a palm tree in the holographic program.
“Want me to send out a crew to-”
“No.” He sketched a simple pile of sand at the base of the tree. “Once the news of this merger comes out, the press is going to be all over it. I don't want to leave any sort of trail that might lead to where I'm holing up.” He wanted a few days. Just a few. A honeymoon. And it was ridiculous, it was ridiculous that he was even thinking that word, that was nothing something he'd ever thought he'd want.
But he was getting married, and he was going to have a proper honeymoon. Steve deserved that much.
“I'll be taking the jet, we can pack the basics, and rough it.”
There was a long pause. “I'm sorry,” Pepper said at last. “Maybe the job stress is getting to me-”
“Stop angling for a raise,” Tony told her. “All right, fine, you can have a raise. Just a small one though. And only because you deserve it.”
“Wonderful, I'll make sure I notify HR. That being said, I could've sworn that you just said you'd 'rough it.'”
There were now beach umbrellas decorating the holographic beach. “True. Those were words I said just now.”
“Yes, but do you actually understand what they mean?” Pepper asked. “I'm fairly certain you have no experience with roughing it.”
“It's my honeymoon, Pepper, I'm not choosing this location for the restaurant scene,” Tony pointed out. “I'm not planning on getting out of bed anyway.”
“I think Steve's going to insist on feeding you,” Pepper said, amused. “I mean, I know your usual MO is to work until you pass out from exhaustion or caffeine poisoning, but maybe you shouldn't die on your honeymoon. It looks bad, Tony. I would look so very bad for your newly grieving widower.”
“Fine, I'll bring a few loaves of bread and a jar of peanut butter, maybe some eggs and my weight in coffee beans, that should hold us for a week or so,” Tony said.
“I'll have the usual supplies crated up for you,” Pepper said. “Anything else, Mr. Stark?”
Tony leaned back against the workbench. “Yeah. You going to be there when we sign the paperwork?”
“Oh, am I invited?” she asked.
“I had Jarvis sneak it onto your calendar.”
“Is that what that 'Tony demands your attention' notation means?”
Tony glared at the ceiling. “Probably. He's gotten sassy as of late.” He looked back at his holographic picture. He might have promise as an artist. He wondered if he could manage to convince Steve to pose nude. “You were coming to my Christmas party anyway.” He paused. “Weren't you?”
“Of course not, your parties are full of crazy people. And that was before I knew one of them was crazy enough to marry you.”
Tony paused, arrested by the soft catch of her breath on the other end of the line. “Potts. Are you crying?”
“Absolutely not,” she said, and it sounded watery.
Tony braced his hands on the edge of his workbench, letting his head fall forward. His eyes were stinging, and he ignored that. “Thanks. For the pep talks. And-” He swallowed against the lump that had developed in his throat. “For everything else.”
“Everything else?” she asked.
“Everything else,” he agreed. He cleared his throat. “Also, for telling Rhodey about the merger.”
“I'm not telling Rhodey for you.”
“Please?” Tony asked, hopeful.
“No,” Pepper said, the word flat.
Tony heaved a sigh. “He's going to cry.”
“He's-” Her laugh broke on a sob. “He's not going to cry, Tony, don't-”
“He's going to cry, he gets very emotional around mergers, you have no idea. It's going to be horrible,” Tony said. “He won't cry if it's you, because we try to be macho around you, Pepper, really, that's the only thing that keeps us from being over emotional messes, we're trying to be masculine around you, before you, it was just the two of us at MIT crying and discussing our feelings-”
“Tony, this got away from you,” Pepper said, still laughing, and he loved her so much it hurt sometimes.
“It kind of did, thanks,” Tony said, grinning.
“Speaking of things getting away from you, where did you propose this particular merger?”
“Kitchen,” Tony said. “And yes, that was a mistake, you don't need to-”
“Don't care,” Pepper said. “But you should care about someone finding one of the other rings you hid around the Tower.”
Tony stilled, his hand hovering in the air. “What... Other rings?” he asked. “Also, why are we talking about rings?”
“Tony, you can play a lot of people. I am not one of them. Also, I know that this line is more secure than most of the ones that the Pentagon uses, so I'm not sure why I've humored you about talking in code,” Pepper said. “But I think I'm done.” She paused. “Yes. I'm done.”
“Thanks for letting me know.”
“Any time. Now. The amount of platinum that you purchased...” She let the words trail off. “I'm estimating you made between ten and fifteen rings.”
“Twelve,” Tony said. “Well, fifteen, but three of them were failures, they were shit, so we're not discussing those.” He paused. “Incidentally, how did you know-”
“Because you were drunk and called me at four am to tell me you were prepped for any possible proposal location, then you laughed for about ten minutes. Then you started snoring.”
Tony considered that. “Did you hang up on me?”
“After the snoring started, yes. How many places did you hide rings, Tony?”
“Well, twelve, I had twelve rings and I figured it was best to be ready.” He paused. “I wasn't ready. Even when I proposed. I wasn't ready.” He shrugged. “To the surprise of no one.” He turned around, studying the workbench. “Don't suppose I told you where I was planning on hiding them, did I? Because-” He leaned over. “I can only find ten. Eleven including the one that I gave him. One's...” He stood up, looking at the row of rings with annoyance. “Missing.”
“Only you would overstock on engagement rings,” Pepper said.
“Engineer,” Tony said. “I believe in strategic redundancies.” He shrugged. “I'll find it. It's somewhere. Somewhere in this-” He made a face. “In this very large tower. Still.” He shook his head. “I found the one that I'd stuck in the shampoo bottle, but-”
“The SHAMPOO bottle?”
“Not one of my better ideas, but hey, I'm in there every day, so why not cover my bases?” Tony asked.
“No possible reason that I can think of,” Pepper agreed. Tony was pretty sure she was humoring him. He was fine with it.
He changed the subject, because he'd given her enough ammunition for now. “You going to walk me down the aisle, Potts?”
“Just try to stop me, Stark.”
It was his wedding day.
Steve stared at the mirror, trying to find something familiar in his reflection. The man he saw there, tall and broad and solid, with a pleasant enough face and perfectly styled hair, always seemed vaguely like someone he should know, but didn't. But he smiled, and his reflection smiled back, and that was all he cared about right now.
He was getting married.
“Yes, you are,” Jan said, ducking around him. “Arms up.”
Steve obediently held up his arms, allowing her to circle him, testing seams and smoothing fabric into place with careful hands. “I said that aloud, huh?” he asked her.
Jan gave him a quick, puckish smile. “You've got that look on your face,” she said, laughter running through the words. “I've seen it a few times before.” She smoothed a hand over his jaw. “It looks good on you.”
“So does this suit,” he said.
“Flattery, flattery,” Jan said, almost skipping away from him, her skirts trailing behind her, seemingly weightless. “I adore it.” She spun on one foot, considering him with her fingers woven together in front of her mouth. “Yes. That's good. That's... Acceptable for a week's work.”
Steve smiled at her. “Thanks, Jan.”
She darted forward to press a kiss to his cheek. “I'm off to check on your worse half,” she said, patting him lightly on the chest. “Relax. Have a drink. Wrinkle that suit and I'll cut you.”
With that, she slipped out the door, passing Sam on the way. He stepped out of her way, and she gave him a bright smile. Sam watched her go. “Why are all the women we know terrifying?” Sam asked.
“Because we like them that way?” Steve asked. He reached for the box containing his cufflinks. “And also because most women are terrifying and good for them, it's just that the ones we know aren't scared of letting us know that they're not interested in humoring us?”
“Or taking our shit?” Sam asked.
“Well, that, too,” Steve said, fastening his cufflinks.
“You ready for this?” Sam asked, and Steve looked up, catching his eyes in the mirror. He was smiling, just a little, his lips curled up at the corners.
Steve gave a quick nod. “Ready as I'll ever be,” he said, smoothing his jacket down. “How do I look?”
“Damn fine, and you know it.” Sam crossed the room, scooping Steve's boutonniere off of the table as he passed. “How do you feel?”
Steve took a deep breath, straightening his shoulders as Sam adjusted his pocket square and slipped the flowers into place. Sam glanced up at him, eyebrows arching, and Steve realized that he hadn't answered the question. “I feel...” He stared at his reflection in the mirror, trying to figure out a way to put this into words. He'd never been good at words. At verbalizing his mental state, his emotional state. Maybe it was his upbringing, or maybe it was just who he was.
Steve stared at the mirror, and caught the slow, inexorable bloom of his smile. “Happy,” he said, because that was right, that was real, that was something he could understand. He caught Sam's eye. “I'm happy,” he said, and Sam grinned at him.
“Love how surprised you sound by that,” he said, straightening Steve's lapels with a snap of his wrists. “It's not at all worrying.” He arched an eyebrow. “Not at all.”
“I wasn't expecting this, so maybe I am a little surprised,” Steve said. His thumb swept over the base of his ring finger, already missing the solid weight of his wedding ring. He wasn't going to be able to wear it when he was working, when they were on a mission, but he liked it. He liked the way it changed the contour of his hand, the way it anchored him.
He liked the way that Tony had made it for him.
“Missed your window,” Sam said, muscling Steve out of the way, checking out his reflection in the mirror. He gave his reflection a grin, and adjusted his cuffs.
“Oh, God, this again?” Steve asked, eyes rolling up towards the ceiling. “It's my wedding day, can we not?”
A brisk knock brought their heads around, just a second before the door open. Natasha slipped through the gap, shutting the door behind her. “Oh, darn,” she said, with a faint smile. “You're both already dressed.”
Sam's hands went to the buttons of his jacket. “I can take it back off if you want.”
Natasha lowered herself into a chair, and crossed her legs, the skirts of her long, green silk dress rustling as she settled. “Please do.” She propped her chin on one hand, her lips curling up. “Though it would be a shame to lose that suit.”
“I love this suit,” Sam said, instantly distracted from his teasing. He twisted around, looking over his shoulder to catch a glimpse of his back in the mirror. “I make this suit look good.”
“You most certainly do,” Natasha said, her eyes dancing. To Steve, she said, “There's still time to back out, Cap.”
“Nope, I'm fully committed to this course of action,” Steve said, grinning at her.
“Still. We've got an exit strategy,” Sam pointed out with a teasing grin.
“You're both horrible,” Steve told them. He pointed a finger at Sam, then Natasha. “Horrible people. I don't know why I'm friends with either of you.”
“Wait, we're friends?” Sam asked. “I thought we were just work buddies.”
“I thought we were just here to listen to his proposal plans,” Natasha said to Sam.
“Okay, I know-” Steve started, but Sam ignored him.
“All that talk, and he-”
“Missed his window,” Steve said, throwing his hands in the air. “Right. Can I-”
“It's better that Stark manned up,” Natasha said, shaking her head. “Remember his plan to somehow rent out the Ritz-Carlton and propose there?”
“Not as complicated as the one where he was going to propose at Walt Disney World.”
“I liked that one,” Natasha said. “It seemed very Steve.”
“I regret ever talking to either of you, you know that?” Steve asked.
“I liked it because of the idea of somehow getting Tony Stark into Disney World without a sedative involved,” Sam said. “Also, the one about proposing at the top of the Empire State building.”
“Wouldn't have worked, Tony would've spent the whole time being smug about Stark Tower being taller,” Natasha said.
“I really hate you both,” Steve said, resigned, because Natasha was grinning at him and Sam was laughing out loud now. He threw his hands in the air. “Fine! I was never going to propose, it's fine, it's-”
Sam wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “You were working up to it,” he said, and Steve's head fell forward. “And we're going to tease you about it forever.”
“We're good like that,” Natasha agreed, glancing at her watch. She stood. “And that being said, it's about time to make our grand entrance, boys.” She paused next to Steve, her chin tipped to the side, her smile soft. “Ready?” she asked, reaching up to adjust his boutonniere, her fingers sliding over the velvety petals.
“Depends,” Steve said, with a smile. “Am I getting backup?”
Natasha's lips curled up. “I think we can all agree that you need us, Cap.” She crooked a finger at him, and he leaned over so she could press a gentle kiss to his cheek.
“Do I get one?” Sam asked, and Natasha looked at Steve.
“I say go for it, he's missed his window,” Steve said with a straight face.
Natasha heaved a faint sigh, and turned to Sam. He was laughing, right up until her fingers closed on his tie, pulling him forward. Steve had a second to savor the expression of shock that rolled over Sam's face, and then Natasha was kissing Sam full on the lips.
It wasn't a long kiss, but it packed a lot of heat for something that lasted only a few seconds, and when Natasha stepped back, her tongue darting out to lick her lips, Sam just stood there, staring blankly at nothing. “Shall we, gentlemen?” Natasha asked, and then she was out the door and gone.
Steve crossed his arms over his chest. “So, about that window,” he said, and Sam blinked at him. Steve leaned in. “Hurts when you run into it, doesn't it, birdbrain?”
Sam nodded, slowly, then with real force. “What just happened?” he asked.
“Nat got sick of waiting for you to pick up on her attempts to date you,” Steve said, heading for the door. “And she's terrifying.”
“God, she really is.”
“You should date her,” Steve pointed out.
Sam threw his hands in the air. “Now that I know it's an option, I'm seriously considering it!” he said, sounding incensed, and Steve let himself laugh, small bursts of chuckles and giggles, as they made their way through the tower, heading for the spot they'd picked out for the wedding.
When they got there, Steve paused in the doorway, arrested by the sight in front of him.
The wedding preparations had taken over the largest of the rooms available in the Avenger's personal quarters, a wide open room that spanned almost the entire length of one floor. Windows spanned the entire far wall, giving them a beautiful view of the Manhattan skyline, lights glittering against the dark velvet of the night sky.
There, in front of the windows, a massive, perfectly formed Christmas tree stretched up towards the high ceiling, covered in spun glass ornaments and tiny, flickering colored lights. Swags of evergreen boughs and red and white velvet ribbons rimmed the room, and towering arrangements of roses and lilies were set around the floor, lining the aisle that had been left clear between the rows of chairs. The lights from the overhead fixtures were dimmed, and the room was lit mostly by the delicate flames of dozens of candles set in tall, heavy candelabras.
People were milling around the room, dressed in suits and long dresses, in tacky holiday sweaters and Santa hats. Laughter and discussion rose and fell amongst the soft strains of Christmas carols, as their guests sipped mulled wine and hot apple cider, snacking on canapes and Christmas cookies.
And it was snowing.
Awed, Steve looked up through the delicate, swirling snowflakes. Up above, perched on an alcove well above their heads, Hank McCoy, Bobby Drake, and Ororo Monroe were sitting together around a piece of machinery that seemed to be spitting out clouds of mist.
“Hank figured it out,” Tony's voice said from behind him, and Steve turned. Tony grinned at him, stunning in a sleek black suit that made Steve's heart skip a beat. Behind him, Sam and Natasha were talking with Rhodey and Pepper, exchanging hugs and handshakes. Behind them, Tony's bots were rolling back and forth, flowers piled high on their bases. “It's a modified sort of fog machine, then Bobby cools it, and Ororo gives it a bit of a push with some wind.” Tony gestured at the room. “And your perfect Christmas wedding.”
Steve felt the smile bloom on his face, heat sparking low in his belly. “It's perfect because you're here,” he said, his voice low, and Tony's grin died. “The rest of it is nice, but this-” Steve held out a hand. “You're all I need.”
Tony reached out, taking Steve's hand. “Should've told me before I wasted all this money on flowers,” he said, and Steve laughed.
“We ready?” Clint asked from the doorway. He braced a hand on the doorframe. “Think everyone's here. We're just waiting on you two.”
“Ready?” Tony asked Steve, never breaking eye contact.
“Why does everyone keep asking me that?” Steve asked, smiling. His fingers tightened on Tony's. “I'm ready.”
Tony turned to Clint. “Cue the music, and get the butts in seats,” he said, and Clint snapped a mock salute.
“One last hug while you're single?” Pepper asked, holding her arms out, and Steve accepted the gesture gratefully. She was strong, despite the thin delicacy of her arms, and he closed his eyes, feeling his mother's strength in her arms.
“Thanks, Pepper,” he whispered, and her arms tightened.
“If you grab his ass, I'm firing you,” Tony said, and Pepper laughed against Steve's shoulder before releasing him.
“That's fine, I like him better, anyway,” she said, as the music swelled in the other room. “I think that's our cue.”
“Right,” Tony said, slapping his hands together. “Boys. Off you go.”
Dummy, You and Butterfingers rolled up the aisle, all three of them wearing crowns of mistletoe and baby's breath, and accompanied by general amusement from the gathered attendees. You and Butterfingers went first, each carefully balancing a ring on a pillow, held proudly in front of them as they rolled down the aisle. Behind them, Dummy swung a modified fire extinguisher from side to side, spraying bursts of flower petals to float through the air with the snowflakes.
“He's very enthusiastic,” Steve said to Tony, as Rhodey and Pepper started down the aisle, arm in arm, Rhodey resplendent in his dress uniform, and Pepper almost glowing in a dark green silk dress.
“He likes to fell like he's making a difference,” Tony agreed.
Sam gave Steve a thumbs up before offering Natasha his elbow. “See you up front,” he said, making Steve laugh.
Alone in the back of the room, Steve wove his fingers through Tony's. “I love you,” he said, and Tony glanced over at him.
“Well, I hope so, otherwise this is a huge mistake,” Tony said. Steve just stared at him, smiling like an idiot, and Tony 's fingers tightened on his. “I love you, too. You know that, right?”
“I figured it out when you proposed,” Steve said.
“That was just me trying to get my hands on your massive fortune,” Tony said, as the music swelled. Without further prompting, hand in hand, they started up the aisle.
“Joke's on you,” Steve said, under his breath. “My dowry is a couple of overworked, traumatized super heroes and a stack of paperwork about six feet tall.” Tony burst into laughter, and Steve tipped his head back, letting the snowflakes settle, cool and damp, against his cheeks. Together, they made their way to the front of the room, where Coulson was waiting, flanked by their friends and teammates, at the base of the Christmas tree.
Coulson gave him a reassuring smile, and settled his reading glasses on the bridge of his nose. “Dearly beloved, and those we only tolerate,” he said, setting off a ripple of laughter through the room, “we are gathered here today to join these two in the bonds of holy matrimony.”
He looked up. “The official text calls for asking if there are any objections to this union, but-” His head tipped forward, and he gave everyone a look over the top of his reading glasses. “Given the assembled parties here, that seems unwise.”
Another burst of laughter, and Coulson smiled at Steve and Tony. “Instead, I'm going to ask who pledges their love and support for this union, who will stand with them in good times and bad, who will be their family in the long days ahead.” He looked up at the room. “Speak now, or forever hold your peace.”
And from all corners of the room came “I do!” shouted out by dozens of voices. Steve twisted around, staringcla out at their friends, their family, who were coming to their feet, clapping and cheering, raising glasses above their heads. He swallowed hard against the lump in his throat, and felt Tony's fingers tighten on his until it was painful. He didn't mind; he was pretty sure his grip was just as hard.
Coulson waved a hand, and laughing and clapping, everyone sat down again. In the silence that followed, Clint said, “I object.”
“What are you even doing here?” Tony asked him, as everyone laughed. “Who invited you?”
“I'm crashing,” Clint said, as Bruce tugged him back into his seat.
“Now that we got all of that out of the way,” Coulson said. He smiled at Steve. “Do you, Steven Grant Rogers, take Anthony Edward Stark to be your husband? Do you promise to love, honor, cherish and protect him, forsaking all others and holding only unto him?”
Steve took a deep breath. “I do,” he said.
“Idiot,” Tony said, under his breath, and Steve grinned at him.
“And do you, Anthony Edward Stark, take Steven Grant Rogers to be your husband? Do you promise to love, honor, cherish and protect him, forsaking all others and holding only unto him?”
Tony's eyes were bright, and he blinked hard. “I do,” he said.
Coulson nodded. “Rings, please?”
You and Butterfingers rolled forward, offering up their pillows, and Steve collected his. “Thank you,” he said to You, who bounced back to his place in line.
Steve made an effort to steady his hand. “With this ring,” he said, holding it up. “I thee wed.” He took Tony's hand, and slid the ring into place.
Tony flexed his fingers, and, grinning up at Steve, took his hand. “With this ring,” he repeated, slipping it onto Steve's finger, “I thee wed.”
Coulson nodded. “With the power vested in my by the State of New York, I now pronounce you married,” he said. His face split in a wide smile. “You may kiss your groom.”
Steve's head was spinning, he was shaking, he was having trouble breathing, but none of that mattered, none of it made a single bit of difference, because Tony's hands were strong and steady on his, and because Tony was kissing him. Kissing him like he was never, ever going to stop.
Somewhere, distantly, Steve heard Coulson say, “I present to you, our happy couple.”
There was a muted boom, and then flower petals hit him hard on the side of the face. Steve started laughing, his mouth still clinging to Tony's. “I think we're married,” he mumbled against Tony's lips.
“Yeah, think that was Dummy's way of welcoming you to the family.” Tony leaned back, and there were flower petals in his hair and all over his suit and he was grinning, wide and bright.
“Thank him for me,” Steve said, leaning in for another kiss.
“Are we there yet?” Tony called, without looking up from his work. His head was comfortably ensconced on Steve's lap, his attention focused on the gauntlet in his hands. He made a minute adjustment with the microwelder, his eyes narrowed on the circuitry.
“Ask me again and I'm dumping your ass mid-ocean,” Rhodey called back from the cockpit. Tony was fairly certain he wasn't joking.
“Leave the pilot alone,” Steve said, with a faint smile. He was focused on the tablet in his other hand, but his fingers combed gently through Tony's hair, smoothing the strands away from Tony's forehead.
“No, he's kidnapping us,” Tony said, even as he leaned into Steve's touch. “It's corporate espionage, Steve. Man's up to no good.”
“He's doing us a favor,” Steve said. He gave Tony's hair a slight tug. “You should be more grateful.”
“I'll leave that to you.” Tony shifted on the couch, adjusting his position in Steve's lap. "I'm bored," he said, even as he finished a particularly difficult electrical bypass on the gauntlet. He tucked the microwelder between his teeth and slipped the gauntlet on, flexing the fingers.
"I brought everything that needs minor repairs specifically so that you wouldn't spend this entire plane flight annoying both me and Rhodey," Steve pointed out, not even looking up from his tablet.
"I can repair and annoy, all at once. I'm a multitasker. I can multitask," Tony pointed out. "I could also sex you up while annoying you, just putting that out there, I bet I could pull both parts of it off with gusto, so-"
Steve rubbed his chin with his free hand, pretending to contemplate that and really just trying, and failing, to hide an amused smile. "Yeah," he said at last, drawing the word out. "We're not doing that."
"Darling, I think that's exactly what I'll be doing for the next few decades, so it's probably better that you get used to it now," Tony drawled, and Steve gave him a look.
"You could try not to be annoying," he pointed out, his eyes alight with laughter.
"I could try, but I will fail," Tony said, reaching up. The servos of the gauntlet, still a little bit off, whirred as he wrapped his hand around the back of Steve's neck, tugging him down. "Luckily," he breathed, as he arched up to press grinning lips to Steve's, "you put up with me."
"I do," Steve said.
"You like it," Tony said.
"Not a chance I'm owning up to that," Steve said. Tony pouted up at him, enjoying the visual of his gauntlet covered fingers slipping through Steve's pale hair. Steve tried for a stern look. "You've got enough ammunition without that."
"Yes, but everyone knows I go through it very quickly," Tony said, and Steve laughed, a quick, warm burst of laughter that washed over Tony's skin like a physical touch. He smiled up at Steve, enjoying the way he looked when he was laughing and relaxed.
Steve caught his eye and raised his eyebrows. "What?"
Tony shrugged. "What?" he parroted back.
"That's a dangerous sort of smile, and you know it," Steve said. He leaned over and pressed a kiss against Tony's forehead. "What's going on in that head of yours, Stark?"
"All sorts of things, want the dirty version or the clean version?" Tony asked, smirking up at him.
"I'd say I came in at a bad time, but I'm pretty sure there isn't a good time, when it comes to you," Rhodey said from the cabin doorway. “Because there is no clean version.”
"I am incorrigible," Tony mused. “But I'm sober, so there's a chance at a reasonably clean version.” He went back to fiddling with his gauntlet, happiest when his hands were busy. “Want to hear it?”
"Don't encourage him," Steve said, going back to playing with Tony's hair.
"Yeah, I'd put more weight on that if he didn't take anything and everything as encouragement," Rhodey said.
"I'd object, but that's probably true," Tony said, glaring at a particularly fussy joint. “I'm easily encouraged. Also-" He pointed a finger in Rhodey's direction. "Who is flying my plane right now?"
"Jarvis," Rhodey said, dropping down onto the couch opposite them. He let out a long sigh, his head falling back. "We'll be there soon. I'm going to kick you both off and get back in the air as quickly as possible so we don't attract any attention.”
“Sure you don't want to stay?” Tony asked, his teeth flashing in a grin. “Judging by the crates in the hold, we've got enough food for a small army.”
Rhodey gave a snort. “Stick around for your honeymoon?” he mused. “No. I think I can safely say that this island isn't big enough three of us on your honeymoon, Tone.”
“Your loss, I'm declaring naked beach time,” Tony said. Rhodey looked at Steve, his eyebrows arched.
“I'm vetoing naked beach time,” Steve said. “With our luck, he'll get photographed.”
Tony let out a snort. “Oh, like it'll be the first time naked pictures of me cavorting on a beach surface. That's old hat by now, which is why you have to be naked, too, or the poor paparazzi will have come all this way for nothing.”
“No, Tony,” Steve said. Ignoring the mock grumbles that Tony was making, he looked back up at Rhodey. “You due back on base?”
“No, actually, currently on leave, so after I get the plane back, I might do a little island hopping of my own.”
“He's using the armor for illicit purposes,” Tony said.
“That's what you do all the time,” Rhodey pointed out.
“Yeah, I'm proud that you're finally following my example.” Tony pulled the gauntlet off and tossed it onto the table next to them. “What time is it, anyway? I'm hungry.”
“How're you hungry?” Rhodey asked. “There was more food at that wedding than any one I've ever been at, and I've been to several Southern Baptist weddings, and those people might just get married for the excuse to feed people.”
Tony waved him off. “I was too busy hosting to hit the buffet,” he said, which was a damn lie, but still. It felt like forever since he'd eaten.
Steve checked his watch. “New York time is about four am,” he said, with a smile. “It was a long party, and a very early departure.”
“Still. Excellent party,” Tony said, rolling to his feet. “Let's do that again next year.”
“Sure,” Steve said, not moving. His eyes tracked Tony as he moved around the cabin, though, and Tony was satisfied by that. “I might've recovered by then.”
“I think I'm going to go make something to eat,” Tony declared, and that got everyone moving.
“Know what, think I'm needed in the cockpit,” Rhodey said,
“Coward,” Steve said, with a grin. Rhodey tapped his nose, and gave Tony a grin before he slipped back out of the cabin. Steve wrapped an arm around Tony's shoulders. “Let's go see what we have to microwave,” he said, and Tony leaned into the warmth of his body.
“Fine, but I want pizza.”
“That the last of it?” Rhodey asked,
Steve tossed the crate on top of the pile. “Hold's empty,” he agreed, with a nod. At least he hoped it was, it was a pretty impressive pile. He held out a hand. “Thanks for the ride.”
Rhodey clasped it with an easy smile. “I'm fueled up and ready to go. Call me if you need anything, Cap.”
“I need something,” Tony said, flipping up a lid to one of the boxes. “I need so many things.”
“I know, that's why I made the offer to Cap and not you, because you're, well, you're needy,” Rhodey said.
“This is the worst wedding present,” Tony complained. “Really. You're skimping.”
“Thank you,” Rhodey said to Steve, clasping Steve's hand between both of his. “Thank you for taking him off of my hands.”
“Hey,” Steve said, eyebrows arching, “this isn't a transfer of ownership here, you're still responsible for him.”
“Like hell I am, you're not getting the fun parts and leaving me to-”
Tony picked up his bag and headed back towards the jet. “Well, I can see that I'm not needed around here, so I'll be taking the jet now, enjoy yourselves, have fun, talk to you-”
Steve snagged him around the waist with one arm, pulling him back against his chest. “Fun parts,” he reminded Tony, and Tony relaxed against him, going boneless in an instant.
“Know what?” he asked. “Maybe I'll stay.”
“I'd appreciate it,” Steve said, taking his bag from him.
“And with that, I'm off,” Rhodey said. He grinned at them. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas,” Steve said, perfectly content to stand there, his arms wrapped around Tony's waist, leaning into Tony's back, watching as the jet taxied and took off, leaving them behind in the tropical sunshine. He took a deep breath, and tasted salt in the air, smelled the traces of jet fuel and the smell of Tony's skin, and never wanted to move.
“It's Christmas,” Tony said, and Steve looked down at him.
“I suppose it is,” he said, nuzzling at the hollow of Tony's neck, his mouth gentle and needy all at once. “Let's deal with our supplies, and then we can-” He grinned against Tony's skin and felt him shiver. “Make some pleasant memories.”
“Moving a little fast here, aren't you, buster?” Tony asked, leaning into Steve's body. His head fell back, giving Steve easy access to his neck.
“You objecting?” Steve asked, his hands flexing on Tony's stomach.
“Not at all.” But Tony pulled away, his breathing ragged. “We're not dragging all of this up to the house,” he said. “There's a refrigeration unit right here, so let's-”
“What?” Steve followed behind him as Tony lead the way to a metal door built into the hanger wall. He gave the handle a yank and pushed it open. A burst of cold air wafted out, and Steve looked at it, confused. “Why?” he asked after a moment.
“Because rich people are lazy,” Tony said. “And it's easier to offload shipments here and then have them brought up to the house when you have the manpower.” He leaned back against the door, his face flushed, his eyes dark. He gave Steve a wicked grin that sent a shot of heat through him. “You complaining that we don't have to carry all of this up right now?”
“No. No, I am not,” Steve said, and he meant it.
“Then let's shove everything in here,” Tony said, his voice urgent, “and find a bed.”
“Right,” Steve said, and moved.
Ten minutes later, he slammed the door of the refrigeration unit and grabbed his bag. “Lead the way,” he said, and, laughing, Tony picked up his bags, heading out of the hanger towards the path that was half hidden in the foliage beside it. Steve took a few fast steps, catching up with him and grabbing his hand. Tony wove their fingers together, tugging him along up the path.
It wasn't a long trip, but Steve savored every step, every flex of Tony's hand in his, every soft breeze on his skin, every rustle of the leaves over his head, every crash of the waves in the distance. He tried to memorize every single moment, because there was nothing about it that wasn't perfect.
Tony glanced over his shoulder, grinning at Steve, his face golden in the sunlight, his hair a mass of dark curls, and Steve loved him so much that it hurt. His hand tightened on Tony's, and they stepped out of the jungle right in front of the house.
“Welcome home,” Tony said, head going back. “Well. Temporary home. For a week or so.” He looked at Steve. “What do you think?”
The house was more of a sprawling compound, covering the crest of the small island, gleaming white walls and red stucco roofs reaching up towards the sky, at least three floors high. Steve looked up, impressed and dismayed by equal parts. “Well, it's really something,” he said at last, and Tony laughed.
“You're a very diplomatic man, you know that?” he asked, leading the way up the front path to the massive front door. He pushed the doors open with a theatrical gesture and strode in. “Wait until you see the pool.”
“Of course there's a pool,” Steve said, shifting the straps of the bags higher on his shoulder. He followed Tony into the vestibule, his head tipping back to stare up at the arched ceilings and crystal chandeliers overhead.
“There is, it's lovely, and you're going to be naked in it by the end of this week,” Tony said. Steve opened his mouth to object, and Tony held up a hand. “Christmas present. You could get off very cheaply.” He pointed. “Naked by my pool. Best Christmas memory ever.”
“We'll discuss it,” Steve said, and he knew how this was going to go already. Tony could talk him into anything when he got going, and sometimes it was just easier to give in early. Especially when, okay, the idea was kind of pleasurable. He padded along behind Tony, trying not to think about things that were going to get him into some serious trouble.
Tony pushed a door open, striding through. “Kitchen's here, the dining room's through there,” he said, pointing. “The patio and the pool's out that way, through the glass doors, great view of the sea from there, it's a straight drop from the patio down to the ocean.”
“You built a pool on the edge of a cliff,” Steve said.
“I didn't build it, I just acquired it,” Tony said. “We can bring the supplies up here as we need them, so-” He paused, his nose twitching. “Do you smell coffee?”
“No,” Steve said, watching as Tony made a beeline for the very expensive looking coffee machine. “But I take it you do.” He leaned back against the counter, enjoying the clean, open lines of the kitchen. There was a small table tucked in a sort of breakfast nook in the corner, surrounded by huge windows that let in the tropical sunshine.
Tony held up a bag of coffee. “She went behind my back,” he said. Confused, Steve watched as Tony tore through the kitchen, opening the fridge and the pantry, peering into cabinets.
“What's wrong?” he asked.
“Pepper sent someone to stock up,” Tony explained. He threw open the door to the freezer. His eyebrows shot up. “And she's very optimistic about the number of steaks we can eat. Apparently she thinks we need the protein.”
“She's not wrong,” Steve said. Tony turned, and Steve let his bag slip off of his shoulder. It hit the ground with a solid thump. He held out a hand. “Do you really want to eat right now?”
Tony's eyes went dark, and his bags hit the ground, one after another. The one with the spare bits of armor that he'd been repairing on the trip in crashed to the stone floor, and Steve barely noticed because Tony was in his arms, and kissing him.
Steve wrapped his arms around Tony, lifting him off the floor and heading for the main staircase. “Tell me where to find a bed,” he said, and Tony laughed against his mouth.
“March, soldier,” he said, and laughing, Steve did just that.
“Do you have any idea where my pants are?”
Tony managed to pry one eye open. His vision was completely obscured by the broad, bare expanse of Steve's back. He fumbled out with one hand, making a happy sound as his fingers slid over Steve's warm skin. “Why?” he mumbled. “Why are we asking about pants?”
Chuckling, Steve twisted around, catching Tony's hand in his. “Because I'd like to go down to the hanger and grab some of the food we left behind.” He grinned down at Tony, all tousled hair and warm eyes. “And I'd like to be wearing pants when I do.”
Tony considered him with narrowed eyes. “The pants are gone,” he said, flipping a hand through the air. “I burned them.”
Steve laughed, reaching out with one hand to push Tony's hair away from his face. “You did not.”
“Yes. Yes, I did,” Tony said. “It was my wedding present. To myself. I burned all of your clothes.”
“Oh, you did.” Steve was still playing with his hair. Tony considered pushing his hand away, but decided to let it go this time. Mostly because of the besotted look on Steve's face.
“Yes, I did,” Tony said.
“So I'm going to be naked from now on?” Steve asked.
“Absolutely. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to me,” Tony said.
Steve stared down at him, his lips curled in a slight smile. “Yeah, that's not going to work for me.” He pushed himself up. “Where are my pants, you lousy rat?”
“No idea,” Tony said. He rolled over, wrapping his arms around his pillow, and appreciated Steve's very fine ass. “Feel free to search around though. Lean over. You know. If you think that maybe they're under the chair or something like that.” Steve gave Tony a look, and Tony smirked at him. “Not admitting anything.”
Steve picked up a pillow and tossed it at Tony's face. “It'd serve you right if I let you starve,” he said, and the bed shifted as he pushed himself up. Tony pushed the pillow away from his face to watch as Steve went looking for his shorts.
“Looks like we don't even need it,” Tony said, yawning. “So why don't you just come back to bed and-” Steve held up his shorts on the end of one crooked index finger, and Tony made a face. “That's a no?”
Steve leaned over, pressing a kiss to Tony's temple. “It's a no,” he agreed. He smoothed Tony's hair back, his touch familiar and his fingers warm. “I'm going to make a quick run down to pick up something other than eggs and steak, Tony. Stay here, I'll be back before you know it.”
Tony made a displeased sort of noise, and that earned him another kiss. “You're humoring me,” he grumbled.
“Yep. Want me to stop?” Steve asked.
“I think it's in the wedding vows that you have to keep it up for at least a few months,” Tony said.
“Pretty sure it wasn't.”
“I wrote that in, maybe it was just in my copy, I assumed you'd figure it out from the context,” Tony said. He pushed himself up into a seating position, running a hand through his hair. “I should-”
“Stay here,” Steve said, stepping into his shorts. “Or take a shower.”
“I can make something to eat,” Tony said.
Steve caught his chin and tipped it up. The kiss was sweet and warm, and carried a hint of heat, banked for the moment, but never gone. He pulled away, his fingers lingering on the line of Tony's jaw. “Shower, Stark,” he said, his voice low and rough, “and I'll be right back, and we can eat together.”
Tony considered fighting him, but it seemed a lot easier to just to lounge around and wait to be served. “Can we eat in bed?”
Steve grinned. “Seems messy.”
“How about the bath?”
“That seems worse.”
“Bed it is,” Tony said, and pushed the covers aside with a theatrical gesture. Steve stopped, his eyes sliding down over the length of Tony's bare body. Pleased, Tony ambled towards the bathroom, patting Steve lightly on the ass as he passed. “Off you go, darling, hunt, gather, I'll be in the bath.”
“You're a piece of work, Stark,” Steve said, but he was still smiling, his eyes dancing, and Tony blew him a kiss.
“Bathtub's big enough for two,” he said, throwing open the bathroom doors. He paused, staring at the expanse of marble in front of him. “Correction. The bathtub's big enough for four. Maybe five or six-”
“Two is plenty,” Steve said. He gave Tony a smile. “You're about all I can handle, Stark.”
“Damn right,” Tony said, pleased with that, he headed for the bathroom.
He probably should've grabbed shoes.
Steve jogged down the path towards the runway and the hanger. The path wasn't paved, but it had been laid out professionally, and recently graded, the ravel smoothed along the whole way. It wasn't the most comfortable walk he'd ever taken, but it wasn't painful enough to make him go back to the house.
He glanced up at the sky, trying to figure out what time it was without looking at his watch or his phone. Before noon, he was pretty sure about that, but that was about all he could say with any certainty. They'd managed to sleep, off and on, but waking up with Tony tucked up close, his legs tangled with Steve's, his head resting on Steve's shoulder or under his chin, was a temptation he had a hard time resisting.
Steve wondered when he'd become so obsessed with sex. He was pretty sure Tony factored into it somehow. At the very least, he hoped that Tony had something to do with it, at least that, he could understand.
Distracted by his thoughts, he made it down the path and onto the runway before he realized that there was a small prop plane on the runway.
In an instant, Steve was in fight mode, darting back into the shelter of the foliage next to the path, and from there, he slipped back into the shadows behind the hanger, crouching low to the ground. He studied the plane, his eyes darting around the area, looking for the pilot. A crash from inside the hanger brought his head around, and he started moving towards the nearby door.
“You're both idiots,” he heard, right before a familiar figure came stomping out of the door. Steve froze, but Wrecker never even looked in his direction. “We're playing with the big leagues now, I don't got time for this shit.”
“I'm hungry!” Bulldozer yelled back. “And there's food in here, I'm just gonna grab a snack, then I'll be right up.”
“Probably better nobody else sees your lack of table manners,” Wrecker agreed, stomping up the path. “Just don't make a mess and get your asses up here as soon as you're done.” And with that, he turned the corner, and disappeared from sight.
For an instant, Steve stayed still, his heart hammering in his ears. The Wrecking Crew. Why was the Wrecking Crew here? Here of all places? How had they found out where he and Tony had-
There was a crush from inside the hanger, and Steve stopped thinking and started moving.
He slid along the side of the building, his feet silent, his back pressed up against the wall. His breathing slowed, fell into the measured, easy rhythm of battle prep. He didn't have to think about it, he didn't have to do anything but let the muscle memory carry him forward. He moved through the door, still low to the ground, his eyes darting over the interior of the hanger.
Bulldozer was digging through the crates of supplies he and Tony had left behind, cans and boxes scattering as he tipped a box on its side. In the back of the hanger, Piledriver was looking over the mechanic's tools, his back to Steve and the rest of the hanger. “Think they'll notice if some of this stuff disappears?” he asked, scratching his head.
“Maybe,” Bulldozer said, ripping open a bag of Doritos. “But with how many light fingered assholes are gonna be around this weekend, how they gonna figure out it was us?” He jammed a fistful of chips into his mouth, covering any sound Steve might've made as he moved up behind him. “I say help yourself.”
“Yeah, don't mind if I do,” Piledriver said, reaching for a toolbox. “Save some chips for me, you greedy ass.”
Bulldozer flipped him off, even as he poked around the hanger. “Find your own. Hey,” Bulldozer called, opening the fridge door, “look, a walk-in fridge, that's-”
That was as far as he got before Steve came around the corner, slamming into Bulldozer's back, lifting him off his feet and sending him crashing forward into the refrigeration unit. He hit the crates that had been stacked up earlier and the whole pile went crashing to the floor.
Steve turned, just in time to meet Piledriver's headlong rush for him. He ducked under a wild punch, throwing himself forward and driving his shoulder into the solid muscle of Piledriver's stomach. With a twist and a heave, he tossed Piledriver over his shoulder, sending him slamming straight into Bulldozer, who was still trying to get to extricate himself from the wreckage the crates.
Piledriver hit him dead on, and both of them went slamming back into the ground.
Steve grabbed the door, slamming it shut. With a twist of his wrist, he jammed the handle, twisting it until it snapped off, sealing them in. An instant after he did, a body hit the other side of the door, and the impact made the walls shake. A long string of obscenities followed, but Steve didn't care. He took off for the hanger entrance, his bare feet churning along the runway, straight for the path. Above him, he heard the sound of another plane, and he dove for cover.
But there was nothing.
No gunfire. No explosions. Nothing at all. Steve crouched in the foilage, his heart pounding in his ears. He braced a hand on the ground, trying to concentrate, trying to figure out what was happening. His eyes slid shut as he tried to think. The Wrecking Crew. Here. Why?
There wasn't time to think about it, no time to decide if the threat was here on the runway or ahead of him on the path, if all of it was a trap. Because if it was a trap...
“Oh, God,” he whispered, the words slipping out from numb lips. “Tony.”
He was running almost before the word was out, running faster than he'd ever thought possible, running for his life, because Tony was up in the house alone.
Or, far worse, maybe not alone at all.
Baths were pretty boring, actually.
Tony stretched, the muscles of his back flexing as he slid a little lower into the steaming water. He let his head fall back on the rim of the tub, trying to do a little light engineering in his head. But jet lag and lack of food made it hard to concentrate, and he closed his eyes, wondering if it was inadvisable to catch a quick nap in a bathtub.
A moment later, he cracked one eye, peering at the open bathroom door. Maybe he could grab a gauntlet. They were mostly water proof.
Tony boosted himself out of the tub, ignoring the way that water splashed over the floor as he got his feet under him and headed for the bedroom. Halfway there, he remembered that they'd left their bags in the kitchen, and made a face. It was a long way to go for a little light work, but... He wondered if he could manage to get a cup of coffee before Steve got back.
Probably not. He also probably didn't care.
Dripping with every step, Tony padded across the bathroom and towards the bedroom. He set one foot into the bedroom and stared down at the wet spot he'd left on the plush carpet and made a face. Steve would not approve. With a sigh, he ducked back into the bathroom, reaching for a towel.
A bang from the bedroom brought his head up.
Tony paused, his fingers closing on the plush fabric of the towel. His head swiveled towards the door, his eyebrows drawing tight. For an instant, he thought that Steve had returned, but it was too soon. And something felt wrong. Moving silently, he wrapped the towel around his waist and slipped towards the door. One glance was enough to tell him that the newcomer was not Steve.
The Vulture was looking around the bedroom, his face twisted an expression of rage. “This is unacceptable,” he hissed. “I had right of first refusal, who dares to try to usurp me?” He lashed out with one arm, the metal plates of his wing slicing through one of the bedposts, cleaving it neatly in two.
As the wood clattered to the ground, Tony ducked back into the bathroom, his back pressed up against the wall, his breathing coming in rapid bursts. He gritted his teeth, his eyes darting back and forth. There were no windows in the bathroom, no doors other than the one leading back into the bedroom, no way out other than through the Vulture.
Tony's head tipped towards the doorway. Not much of a threat. But enough of one, especially considering... He glanced down, making a face as he stared at the towel knotted around his waist. This might very well be the definition of 'unarmed.'
Something else broke in the bedroom, and Tony's shock crystallized into anger, cold and controllable. Taking a deep breath, Tony picked up a bar of soap from beside the sink and lobbed it through the air at the bathtub. It hit with a splash, and there was a beat of silence. Smiling, Tony picked up one of the large mason jars that lined the marble counter beside the sink.
The Vulture poked his head into the bathroom, his attention caught by the steaming water in the bathtub, and Tony shifted forward.
“Bathroom's occupied,” Tony said, and the Vulture swung around, his face twisting an expression of rage an instant before Tony slammed the heavy glass jar of bath salts into the side of his head. The force of the blow was enough to spin him in place, his body twisting as it fell. A moment later, he hit the ground with a thump, boneless and unconscious before he hit the ground.
In the silence that followed, Tony stared down at him. “What the ever loving fuck?” he asked aloud. He spread his hands. “Really? You? Have we even ever had a fight with you? Don't you bother Spider-Man? Did you really think you were stepping up here? On my damn-”
He rolled the Vulture over, wrenching his wings free and dropping the Vulture back to the floor. “Okay, without these you are just crotchety crime grandpa,” Tony said, “and I still feel absolutely no guilt about cold cocking you, most people learn about crime not paying before they qualify for Medicare.”
It took him a few minutes to tie the Vulture up and lock the bathroom door, and then he was sprinting through the bedroom. “Pants, pants, pants,” he said, tossing the towel aside and grabbing the first pair of pants he could find, stepping into them. “And these are Steve's pants.” He gritted his teeth. “Fine. Better than a towel.” He took two steps and nearly lost the pants as they slid down his narrow waist. “Goddamn, why didn't I marry a smaller man?” he asked the ceiling, and hitched the pants up with one hand. “Fine. I can do this. First. I need a weapon, and maybe some pants. Second. I need a phone, so we can get some back up here.”
He stopped, his head snapping up. “Actually, first, I need Steve.”
He headed for the stairs at a sprint, holding his pants up with each step. He was halfway down the stairs when the front door slammed open. He fell into a crouch, making himself a small target, but Steve's eyes locked on him an instant, and Tony pushed himself back up.
Steve's face went lax, terror that Tony hadn't even really recognized dissipating in a second. “Are you all right?” Steve snapped, tension still evident in every sharp line of his body. “Tony, tell me-”
“I'm fine, Cap,” Tony said, hopping down the last few stairs. “I mean, I just took out the Vulture with a bottle of bath salts and that was closer than I wanted to be to that guy while wearing only a towel.” He gave Steve a reassuring smile. “But I'm good at improvising. I take it this wasn't something you arranged to keep me on my toes.”
Steve gave him a look. “No. Not at all.” As soon as Tony was in reach, Steve grabbed hold of him, his grip a little too hard, a little too tight, dragging him in. “Are you all right?” he asked, his voice clipped, demanding.
Tony gave him a smile. “Fine,” he said. “Why do you-”
“Because I just took out half of the Wrecking Crew down on the runway,” Steve said.
Tony's heartbeat accelerated. “Only half?”
“The stupider half,” Steve said, and Tony's head jerked in a nod.
“Kitchen,” he said, “I need my gear.”
“Right,” Steve said, turning on his heel. “How did they find us, Tony?”
Tony shook his head. “No idea,” he admitted. “And I'd like to know if there are any others. Let's go. Kitchen first, I need my gear, Steve.” He glanced at Steve as they started to move. “You bring the shield?”
“No,” Steve said, his jaw tight. “Seemed like tempting fate.”
“Yeah, well, fate hates us, so we might as well tempt it and see what it gets us,” Tony said, shoving the kitchen door open.
Wrecker stared at them, Steve's bag hanging from his hand. “Hey,” Tony said, with a bright smile. “I think you've got our bag.”
Shock came and went, an instant of surprise crossing Wrecker's face, and then he lunged forward with a roar. His arm came up, and Steve's arm wrapped around Tony's waist, wrenching him back out of the way. The bag flew through the air, nearly clipping Tony's head, and then crashed into the window. The glass shattered and just like that, the bag was gone.
“Well, that was rude,” Tony said, and then Steve was shoving him to the side, charging forward to meet Wrecker's attack. Steve hit him hard and the two of them crashed into the table, two of the legs snapping under the sudden weight. They hit the ground together, breaking apart as in an instant. Wrecker scrambled to his feet, and Steve rolled out of reach.
Tony darted forward, grabbing his bag with one hand and snagging a stool from the breakfast bar with the other. He twisted around, the stool swinging through the air to collide against Wrecker's head. Wrecker let out a howl of pain, turning to face the new threat, and Tony fumbled in the bag, grabbing for a gauntlet.
Before he could manage to get hold of one, Steve tackled Wrecker from the side, bringing him crashing back to the ground. Together, they rolled, one of Wrecker's huge fists coming up, aimed straight for Steve's face. Steve twisted, jerking to the side, and Wrecker's fist crashed into the floor. Steve rolled free, aiming a kick at Wrecker's side just as Tony managed to get his gauntlet on.
It powered up with a sustained whine, and Wrecker's head snapped in his direction. Steve took advantage of the distraction, landing a punch that snapped Wrecker's head back. For an instant, he swayed back and forth, and then collapsed back to the floor with a thump.
Tony kept his hand up, gauntlet at the ready. “Is he down?” he asked.
Steve huffed out a breath. “Hope so,” he said, rolling back up. He shoved a hand through his hair. “Let's not take any chances.” He yanked a knife from the block on the counter and sliced one of the cords securing the blinds in the window. He rolled Wrecker over with a solid kick, and wrenched his arms up behind his back. He wound the cord around Wrecker's wrists and arms, tying it off with a series of knots.
Halfway through the process, Wrecker let out a groan. “What the-”
Tony crouched down, making sure that Wrecker could see the glowing light of the repulsor in the cradle of his palm. “Hi,” he said. “Where's-” He looked at Steve. “Who are we missing?”
Steve tightened the cord with a yank, ignoring Wrecker's curses. “Thunderball,” he said.
Wrecker slumped against the floor. “He's with his family,” he spat out. “It's CHRISTMAS.”
Tony looked at Steve. Steve looked back at him, confusion written all over his face. “Right,” Tony said, because yes, he had no idea what was going on here.
“Why are you-” Steve started, one hand braced on the center of Wrecker's back, holding him down, but it wasn't enough. With a roar, Wrecker arched up, his legs kicking out at Steve, and Tony fired.
It was a half power shot, and the concussion was enough to slam Wrecker back to the ground. His head hit the tile with a hollow sort of thunk and then he went still. Tony sucked in a breath. “What do you say we gag him and shove him in the pantry?” he asked Steve.
“Good plan,” Steve said. “Then we need to get out of here.”
“No, we have to go down,” Tony said. “There's a security room in the basement, there's cameras all over the property, if we get there, we should be able to find out if he was telling the truth, or if we've got Thunderball to worry about.”
“Why is there a security-” Steve shoved Wrecker into the closet.
Tony peered out the broken window. “I think your bag went off the cliff,” he said.
“I don't care, why don't you have Jarvis installed here?”
“Because it didn't seem worth it,” Tony said. “Look, I won this island off of a guy in a poker game at an-” He waved his hand through the air. “A meeting of arms dealers. I might've been a little drunk when I agreed to it, because some of the guys there weren't strictly on the up and up.”
Steve's eyes closed. “This island belonged to a black market arms dealer,” he translated.
“Used to belong to a black market arms dealer,” Tony said. “Do you see my other bag? The one with my clothes?”
“No.” Steve stared at him. “And you didn't think that this guy might be keeping tabs on the island in an effort to get you alone and get revenge?” he asked, his voice incredulous.
Tony stopped. “Well,” he admitted, “now I am.”
“I bet you are,” Steve said, his eyes rolling up towards the ceiling. “We've been set up, Tony.”
“Probably, but we've still got the high ground,” Tony said. “Come on. Let's get whatever intel we can.” He hefted the bag of mostly functional Iron Man components on his shoulder and headed for the basement door. “And preferably, a secure line to SHIELD.”
Steve followed behind, keeping an eye on their retreat. “Tony?”
“Are those my pants?”
“Really?” Tony said, giving him a look. “That's what you're going with here?”
“You really want me to focus on something else?” Steve asked.
“On second thought, you're right. Focus on the pants.”
“We're on our way,” Clint said, his voice tense. “And SHIELD's dispatched staff from the nearest office, but it'll be a good hour and a half before we'll have boots on the ground. Thor's going to try to make it before then, and we've got the quinjet up and running, but-”
“But for now,” Steve said, taking a deep breath,“we're on our own.”
“Sorry, Cap, but that's pretty much the case.”
Steve's eyes darted over the bank of monitors in front of him. It was worse than he'd thought. No sign of Thunderball, but he'd picked out a half a dozen others. Kraven, stepping out of a small plane on the runway. Attuma, one of Namor's more problematic enemies, slipping out of the ocean on the beach, a small phalanx of his men behind him. Tiger Shark was clawing his way up a nearby cliffside, and Blizzard and Whirlwind were disembarking from a sport fishing boat.
“What the hell is happening here?” he asked, under his breath. He braced his hands, folded into fists, on the desk in front of the monitors. His eyes narrowed. “Do we have anything on the island's former owner?” he asked.
Steve stared at the monitors in front of them. “Excuse me?” he said at last.
“What?” Tony asked from behind him. He leaned over Steve's shoulder. “No. I would've known if that had happened, how could I have missed that?”
Natasha sighed. “The island's previous owner is dead,” she repeated. “Pepper had the intel, but SHIELD just confirmed it. He was shot, execution style, less than a month after the property was transferred. Due to his side business, most people didn't want to get involved, there was almost no coverage of it, and StarkIndustries was having some problems with a subcontractor in Taiwan at the time, so you probably had bigger problems.”
Tony sank into a seat next to Steve, his face blank. “Then who the hell knew we were here?” he asked.
“That's a very good question, we're-”
The transmission ended abruptly, and Tony sat up. “Natasha?”
Steve glanced at him. “What happened?”
“No idea.” Tony reached for the phone, frowning down at it. His face creased in a frown. “Something's blocking the signal,” he said. “Which is strange, we were fine a second ago, what-”
Steve turned his attention back to the monitor just in time to see the sleek jet come around for a landing. “I think I know,” he said, tapping the monitor. “Tony.”
Tony followed the gesture. “Is that...” He leaned in. “Is that the Latvian seal?”
“That,” Steve said, sinking down next to him, “is the Latvian seal.”
“Doctor Doom,” Tony said, shaking his head. “This doesn't make sense. All of these guys are strictly small time, Steve, what the hell is Doom doing here? He wouldn't even hire most of these idiots, let alone team up with them.”
Steve stared at the monitors. “I don't know,” he admitted. “But I don't care.” He glanced at Tony. “Your repulsors working?”
“Two of them are fine, the third one is scrap,” Tony said, pushing himself up. His pants slid down his hips, and he yanked them up with a muttered curse. “I've also got a single boot that's mostly working, but I'm not going to manage to get airborne on it.”
“So at least we have weapons. Or you do.” Steve run a hand through his hair.
“So we're doing better than these idiots,” Tony said. Steve looked at him, and Tony waved a hand at the monitors. “Wrecker didn't have his crowbar. It wasn't an easy fight, Steve, but if he'd had his-” He stopped, his jaw working. “His magic crowbar, oh, God, I hate saying that, it physically hurts me to have to say that-”
“Tony-” Steve said, rubbing his forehead, and Tony broke off.
“Yeah, right, anyway, why come after us without the thing that makes him a threat?” Tony asked. He shook his head as he yanked a repulsor on. “Did he leave it behind with the others?”
Steve shook his head. “No. They weren't-” There was a crash from above them, and Steve grabbed for the counter to steady himself. “What the hell?”
Tony pushed himself forward, reaching up to tap a monitor with one fingertip. “They're gathering in the main living room,” he said. “It's our chance to get out of here.” He glanced at Steve. “Grab a plane off the runway, and regroup, wait for reinforcements.”
“It's our chance to take care of all of them all at once,” Steve said, and Tony sighed.
“Or that,” he said, with a grin. “Let's go, Cap. I think there's something in the kitchen we can use.”
Watching Captain America, clad in a pair of boxer shorts and armed with a catering tray, smash his way through an army of second tier villains was almost comical. Almost. The guys he was fighting didn't seem to find it quite as funny.
Tony ducked as someone, he was pretty sure it was the Rhino, went flying out the window. “On your six,” he snapped, and Steve turned, swinging the tray like a discus, and knocked Molecule Man into the wall. He hit with a crunch, and slumped to the floor, a nearby vase tipping over and rolling off the table to crash onto his head.
“Thanks,” Steve said, and he wasn't even breathing hard, and Tony tried his best not to think about how hot that was. Getting turned on while wearing ill-fitting pants was probably not a good idea.
Tony picked off Scorpion with a quick burst of repulsor fire and turned, coming up back to back with Steve, both of them circling as they checked the room. A few of the combatants struggled to get up, and Steve swung out with the tray, smacking a guy in a knock-off AIM outfit on the head. “Stay. Down,” he snapped, and faux AIM apparently decided to take that advice.
A slow, metallic clapping brought Tony's head around. Doom, standing alone at the far end of the room, slapped his hands together in a sarcastic clap. “Very impressive,” he said, and Steve's whole body tensed.
“Wish I could say the same for you, Doom.”
Doom's head tipped to the side. “Your presence here is unwelcome,” he said, waving a hand through the air. “Leave now, and I shall permit you to leave with your skin intact.”
“Big talk from the only guy left standing,” Steve said, his feet braced, his shoulders tucked in behind his makeshift shield.
Doom crossed his arms. “I, at least, managed to dress myself fully before joining proper society.”
“You can't pull of his look,” Tony said, hands still up, repulsors humming against his palms. “And anyway, we were here first.”
“But we had a reservation.”
Tony stared at him. “Wait, what?”
Steve straightened up, his hand falling to his side. “You're not here for us,” he said, his voice resigned.
“And I suspect you have not come for us.” Doom looked around. “Every year, we gather to discuss advancements in our respective field and the difficulties that face our objectives for the coming year,” Doom said. He waved a hand through the air. “It is always arranged by a... Sympathetic party, and it is strictly for general discussion.”
Tony gaped at him. “It's a bad guy convention and bitch session,” he translated.
“I prefer to think of it as a chance to unwind among like minded individuals, although most of the invited parties are beneath my notice under normal circumstances. I do appreciate the chance to strengthen bonds of loyalty and strike terror in those who may be considering defying me.”
“Sounds like every engineering convention I've ever been to,” Tony said. He slapped a hand to his face, and immediately regretted it. Without the helmet, that was far more painful than he liked.
“On Christmas?” Steve asked, incredulous.
Doom shrugged. “Bookings are cheap.”
Steve's mouth worked, but nothing came out. Tony patted him lightly on the shoulder. “So, this was set up some time ago?”
“Yes. We were aware of our host's demise, but the holding companies were still in place, and his heirs seemed amenable to our goals.”
“Yeah, but they don't own the island,” Tony said. He felt almost bad about this. He wasn't sure why. But he did feel bad about it. “I do.”
Doom paused. “Really,” he said, his voice flat. “Well. It appears that my research division requires some-” He tented his fingers in front of him, the metal of his gauntlets creaking as his hands flexed. “Retraining.”
“I do not envy your HR department,” Tony said.
“So you did not come here because of us,” Doom said.
Steve held up his hand. “We came here on our honeymoon.”
Doom considered his hand. “That does explain your state of undress.” He tapped his chin with one finger. “Have you a gift registry?”
“Not so much,” Tony said.
“Then I shall send my usual congratulations and a fondue set,” Doom said, waving a hand through the air. And with that, he turned on his heel and stalked towards the door, his cape fluttering in his wake.
Tony watched him go. “We should... Probably try to stop him, right?” he asked, without any enthusiasm.
“He hasn't technically done anything wrong, and I'm pretty sure we're not armed for his level of trouble,” Steve said. He looked at Tony. “Fondue?”
“It used to be a thing, I'll explain later.”
“No, actually-” Steve grinned at him. “I got that reference.”
Someone on the floor groaned, and Tony aimed a blast in that general direction. “Good. You can explain it to me. While we're waiting for the clean-up crew.”
“We can try again next year,” Steve said.
“Know what?” Tony flopped down on their bed, his arms thrown out to the sides. “There's no place like home, Steve.”
Steve laughed. “That's true,” he said. He took a seat next to Tony, bracing his hands on the bed. “We can lock the doors, turn off our phones, turn on the fire and curl up on the couch.”
“We have so much wine left over from the wedding,” Tony said, staring at the ceiling. “So much wine.”
“I've got the mulling spices,” Steve mused, reaching out to push Tony's hair away from his face.
“Just you, me, and-” Tony's eyes slid to the side. “Your shield?”
“Listen, I'm carrying that for the remainder of our vacation,” Steve said. “You can deal with it.” He pushed himself up. “I'll get the wine, and maybe a cheese plate.”
“Soon, we can have a cheese fondue!” Tony said, and Steve paused long enough to throw a pillow at his head. “Rude!” Tony pushed the pillow away from his face. “And if you insist on bringing the shield into the bedroom, I'm going to use it! Use it in sex things!”
“Remind me to disinfect it,” Steve said with a smirk, and then he was out of the door and gone.
Laughing, Tony rolled over, scooping up the shield with one hand. He flipped it over, considering the possibilities. He'd flipped it over twice when something caught his eye.
Tony sat up, setting the shield in his lap, tilting it into the light. “Well, son of a bitch,” he said, under his breath. There, securing one of the straps in place next to the bolts, was a simple, perfect circle of platinum. Tony grinned down at it. “That was clever of me,” he said, and he flipped the shield back around, setting it face up on the bed.
He pushed himself up. “Steve, we have any cookies left?” he called, and headed out to the kitchen.