It wasn’t the first thing Tony noticed.
It wasn’t the second, or third, or hell, even the twentieth thing he noticed.
In his defense, it was kind of a crazy week, with Reed solidifying his multiverse theory with the help of an Antonio Edward Stark, freshly transported from another universe.
But as Steve and Antonio walked into the communal kitchen, completely missing Tony at the table slouched over his fourth cup of coffee, it hit him.
Antonio and Steve were having an animated conversation, something about being displaced in timespace, but what caught Tony’s attention was that Steve was looking Antonio in the eye.
Directly. Like, Steve wasn’t looking down, at all. Antonio was maybe only an inch shorter than Steve, if even that, and Tony became suddenly, irrationally angry at his other self. His other, taller self.
Every time he talks to, or generally argues with, Steve, Tony has to look up to Steve’s face, and it sets him on the defensive. He really can’t help himself. It’s ingrained in his brain to snark and act like an asshole toward anyone who looms over him, even someone as ridiculously polite and kind as Steve.
Tony scowled down into his coffee. It wasn’t bad enough that he had to live in the shadow of his father, who was taller and at least as smart, but now he had his own equally intelligent and attractive taller counterpart to compete with?
Tony knew he was not a tall man. Hell, even Pepper was taller than him. He bought her all those viciously high heels so he could pretend that was the reason she towered over him, but he knew he was still shorter even when she was barefoot.
Tony could admit, in his own head at least, that he had always been a little bit self-conscious about his height. In the world of business and politics, appearance was everything. Obadiah had successfully marginalized him for years by physically blocking him in photos and video interviews. Tony maintained his larger-than-life personality so his slighter physical stature would be negligible in the grand scheme of things, but he knew that when people first met him, their first reaction--or second, depending on his most recent tabloid scandal--was usually, “I thought you’d be taller.”
So when a taller but otherwise identical Tony Stark was in his kitchen laughing amicably with a smiling Steve Rogers, that was the last straw. He had been schmoozing his way through the business world and charming everyone he met for years now. Steve was the only one who ever seemed wholly unaffected by his charisma. Tony had felt small and powerless whenever his father had argued with him or yelled at him; with Steve, he felt much the same. He hated the feeling that he was being looked down upon figuratively, but to hell if he was going to let Steve now recognize that it was literally, too.
He was about to get up and stand between them to force the pair apart before Steve could notice this when he heard his own voice from down the hall.
“I’m telling you, portals are not to be messed with! Do you see where we are? We are in a miserable world where Cap and I hate each other. This universe is obviously evil and fuck Richards for sending me here for his stupid experiment.”
“I disagree. This is an exciting opportunity for me to test my theory on alternate universes and their effects on sexuality and gender roles. Did you know that the Thor of my realm is gay, but this one is apparently straighter than his hammer’s handle? And yes, I do mean actual Mjolnir. Can you believe it? What do you think causes that kind of change? Are the straight men of my universe gay here, and if so, can I get in on that action?”
Two more Tonys suddenly entered the kitchen looking slightly disheveled, as if they had been up all night building dangerous explosive toys. Bruce and Reed followed them quietly with clipboards, obviously tracking the clueless Starks for data without them realizing. Tony could see a slight blush on Bruce’s face as he listened to the conversation, but Reed obviously just found everything fascinating, as usual.
Bruce shuffled over to Tony at the table and plopped down, exhausted. “Tony, meet Anton Gregory Stark and Anthony Morgan Stark. They’re even more tiring than you on one of your bad days. Congratulations.” His head fell onto his folded arms, one hand snaking out in an attempt to steal Tony’s coffee.
Tony graciously ignored him in favor of observing the new doppelgangers.
...goddamnit. Those Tonys were about the same height. And more importantly, they were both Steve’s height, too. There were three tall Tony Starks in his kitchen, all having brilliant conversations in the name of science and sex, and he was moping at the table stewing in anger and coffee. His jealousy was probably nearly palpable at this point, but he still wasn’t sure if it was over the height his alternate selves shared or the obvious charm they were all working on Steve. Why did that never work for him?
“Oh hey, Cap!” came a new voice from the hall. “How are you this morning, my fine fellow?” Clint sauntered into the room followed by a slim athletic woman, wearing a ratty band t-shirt and cargo shorts with her hair in a long, dark ponytail. Tony reached out a hand without looking to recapture his kidnapped coffee from Bruce, who seemed to have fallen asleep. “Look who I found. This foxy lady claims she’s your wife from an alternate universe. Guys, meet Natasha Stark.”
She grinned predatorily and swaggered right up into Steve’s personal space. Right there, in his face, also taller than Tony. Fuck no. “Hey, soldier,” she purred. “Listen, I was wondering if you could help me out with some scientific inquiries I had. Maybe later you could come answer some questions for me, big guy?” She added a suggestive eyebrow wiggle and wink that somehow flew right over Steve’s head, but landed smack in Tony’s face.
“Oh good, there’s really another Natasha here. I was afraid I was going to have to tell Cap we need a replacement marksman.”
Tony flailed pathetically, nearly spilling his recaptured coffee in his lap, and spun around to see Natasha Romanoff directly behind him, casually leaning against his chair.
Steve turned to face the voice, automatically looking slightly downward to Tony at the table before shooting his gaze back up directly into the face of Natasha Stark. A broad smile graced his stupidly perfect lips. “Um, sure, uh, Natasha. I’m glad you’re not another Tony. I mean, this is going to get confusing really quickly. The guys are all practically identical.”
That was it.
“No we’re not!” Tony yelled from the table. He stood, not even caring at this point that he was the smallest person in the room, save for Bruce, but Bruce became an eight-foot-tall rage monster so the law of averages made him the same height as the rest of these traitors, or something. Tony was too angry to use his usually perfect math skills.
If only I could be a rage monster. I would be the tall one right now. Hell, I would be a twelve foot rage monster, just because I could!
“Steve,” he gritted out as he marched across the kitchen. “We are not identical. I am Tony Stark. Anthony Edward Stark, and I belong in this world. Coincidentally, your world. I do not look like them. This one,” he pointed to Antonio, “is taller than I am. He is tall and beautiful but I have better hair, thank you very much. This one,” he pointed at Anton, “has no arc reactor and therefore is obviously either not as smart as I am or else he hasn’t been through half the shit I have and survived, so he’s probably more of an asshole than you’ve ever seen from me. And that one,” he pointed to Anthony, who was standing awkwardly in front of Reed, “has only a moustache and is therefore the dumb Tony. But they are all six feet plus and I’m just not, okay?”
Steve made that stupid face where his forehead crinkles in that stupid way that is so adorable it makes Tony feel like he’s kicked a puppy or an orphan. Or an orphan puppy. His confusion cleared up momentarily, only to be replaced by a foreign expression that on anyone else Tony would call sly or coy. “Fuck’s sake,” Tony mumbled, losing steam, “even the fucking girl version of me is taller.”
“Tony,” Steve said, grinning softly, “are you jealous of yourself? Do you wish you were taller? Is that what this is?”
“No,” he grunted, turning away to hide the slight flush he knew was on his face. And it really wasn’t about his height, he realized. He didn’t actually give a flying fuck about the height on its own. As Iron Man he towered over everyone, besides the Hulk. In battle, Steve looked up at him. In a fight, his size wasn’t a disadvantage that he had to overcome. In public, his name was big enough to hide his body and it never mattered.
He cared now because Steve seemed to appreciate the taller Starks. He cared because he was sick of feeling belittled, and worse, belittling himself. He had worshipped Captain America as a kid so he was used to the idea of looking up at him both literally and figuratively, but now he was his equal. He was a hero and a fully grown, albeit small, man, and he didn’t need to act like he was any lesser.
He opened his mouth to tell Steve this when suddenly he found himself turned around and lifted into the air. Before he could protest the indignity of it all, Steve’s lips were against his. His eyes widened and he shoved at the super soldier’s shoulders to get him off. Steve looked disappointed, but put him back on the ground, though he didn’t let go of Tony quite yet.
“What the hell, Steve?” Tony spluttered.
“Sorry,” he muttered. “It’s just, well, you know what I was like before the serum. I was the little guy before this all happened. I know what it’s like to see yourself in some new form and feel like all your inadequacies must have been obvious to the whole world because you see them so clearly yourself.”
Tony looked down angrily. Steve was hitting the mark perfectly.
Steve put a gentle hand under his chin and lifted his face to look him in the eye. “But you’re better than I am. I sat around forging documents and waiting for someone to fix my problems. You built yourself a name, and then a suit of armor. You made sure your problems, your height, didn’t matter, and you kept fighting. I had help to become a hero. You did it yourself. And I admire that in a person. I’ve always admired that in you, but seeing how it’s a trait apparently unique to you, it makes you truly special.”
Tony struggled to come up with a response. “So...you like that I’m short?”
Steve grinned and again Tony felt like he should be using adjectives one would not normally associate with Captain America. “Yeah,” he agreed. “Plus I sort of like the idea of having a fella who I can carry around and manhandle a little. You know, for the sake of my 1940s masculine pride and traditional upbringing.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “I will still lead if we ever dance. I am not some little dame you can pick up bridal style and perch on your lap.”
Of course, the next thing he knew, he was seated in Steve’s lap at the kitchen table, lips once again smashed together in a long-awaited kiss. “Ok, maybe this once,” he conceded, then returned to kissing Steve.
“So how does this hold up to your theory about sexual orientation and multiverse travel?” he heard someone say from behind them.
“It tells me only that I need to pray to any and all gods that my Steve has been lying about his sexuality and I can get in on the action in my own world, because this one is obviously not open to discussion,” another Tony whined.
Tony smirked into the kiss and flipped the bird in the general direction of his alternate selves. That’s right, he thought. This Cap is taken.
Steve pulled away just long enough to call out, “Sorry, boys, but I like my men a little, well, little. Mine may be smaller, but I wouldn’t have him any other way.”
The other Starks gasped.
“Holy shit, this Cap makes dick jokes?” one of the Tony clones asked.
Clint snickered in the background somewhere as Reed leaned over to ask what he missed.
“No fair, my Cap has a stick up his ass!” another Tony whined.
“Get home soon enough and maybe you can make dick jokes and get your stick up his ass,” Natasha drawled.
“Screw you, Stark,” he shot back.
“Seriously, guys, he has a sense of humor, who knew?”
“Still jealous here.”
“Get over yourself, he’s not yours,” the Black Widow muttered, silently stalking from the room.
“Let’s just get out of here and give them some privacy. We know ourselves, this is not something we want to keep watching,” one Tony offered.
“Umm, I don’t know about you, but this seems like exactly something I want to be watching--”
Clint clapped a hand over the other Tony’s mouth and shook Bruce’s shoulder. “Okay, I think that’s enough for one breakfast. Come on, Bruce, Reed, let’s get these morons back to the lab.”
Tony listened as the bantering Starks wandered back down the hall, herded by Bruce and Clint with Reed staggering along behind, head still buried in a clipboard. Tony found that he couldn’t bring himself to care about the scientific matters still at hand. No matter how huge the issue was, he had something a little bigger to deal with at the moment.