The phone is taunting him. Actively. It’s actively taunting, and Tony will not stand for it.
With a huff, he flips it open, and that’s novel, a flip phone. He hasn’t seen one of these in years.
But see, that’s just like Steve, distracting him with his outdated technology. It’s probably his idea of a practical joke. Tony has no idea what they did for fun in the forties – his dad’s stories are not to be trusted – but he can imagine something like this, a prank that is more exasperating than funny.
Annoyed, he keys in a sentence in the text bar.
Then he deletes it, because his question sounds small and sad.
How do I know what defines need?
Rewriting it with a winky face makes it sound way better, and not at all like a come on.
Satisfied, Tony presses send.
About five minutes and no reply later, he realizes it sounds a lot like a come on, and adds, I have a lot of needs. I need to finish this algorithm or my ex-girlfriend may actually murder me.
An hour after that, he says, I could use a coffee, right now.
Right before he goes to bed, he writes, I need to sleep without nightmares.
When he wakes up in the morning, he has no messages waiting, but then again, he didn’t really expect any.
The Compound is not a fun place to live, with Vision concocting weirder and weirder culinary abominations, Rhodey relearning how to stand on his own two feet, and all the…nature…outside.
Tony doesn’t do well with greenery – he had a shrub, once, from Pepper, and it died quickly enough that she accused him of assassination, which it wasn’t, really, it was more like gently-aided euthanasia – but he also doesn’t do so great inside the empty, echoing halls of the Tower.
Natasha prefers to stay there, closer to the bustle of the city, but she’s worse than nature.
She doesn’t make noise when she walks, even in terrifyingly tall heels. It’s like she’s auditioning for the role of scariest living ghost, and after Tony kind of inadvertently threatened her that one time with arrest, she’s been eyeing him like he’d make great target practice.
Ross won’t arrest her, now, but that’s because Tony’s been working the legislative angle on amending the legal aspects of the Accords like a born politician.
Which he’d always been planning on doing, right, but trust anyone to listen to him ever.
The language that allowed Ross to make any arrests in the first place was ridiculous; outside of the ICJ, the UN had no right to prosecute, um, anyone. And even if they did, the U.S. State Department certainly wasn’t licensed to take enforcement into their own hands. But Tony was waiting for the Accords to enter into force before he did anything about the whole Raft situation.
Because – what he never mentioned to the rest of the team was – if the United Nations failed in their endeavor, the United States would have taken it over. Their plans involved a lot more…unpleasantness…than anything the softies at the multilateral level could come up with.
The Raft would have been one of many permanent solutions.
Now that the Accords are official and the threat of dissection no longer looms, Tony’s making sure the whole international community puts a stop to wrongfully interring any superheroes at super villain GitMo.
“I know, Tony,” Rhodey says when Tony complains about his unpraised heroism on this front for the eightieth time, but like a dutiful friend he’ll listen when Tony complains for the eighty first.
He puts up more of a protest when Tony suggests they all pack up and move camp to New York, because, “We’re supposed to be training new Avengers here, but the only new Avenger we’ve got is Spidey, and his deliciously hot aunt isn’t onboard with him going to sleepaway camp. I have no idea why; I’ve got a trustworthy face.”
And Tony doesn’t think about that, how Steve said the Avengers are his family, but Steve got all of them in the divorce, except for Rhodey, who is and always has belonged to Tony, and Vision, who he basically birthed.
Except in an entirely less gross way, that is terrible imagery.
Under the table, Tony types out, I clearly need creative writing classes.
Meanwhile, Rhodey scowls. “I like it here. It’s peaceful. New Yorkers kill my Zen.”
“Okay, Bruce Banner, I didn’t realize I’d swapped friends, but since we’re worrying about your inner peace and everything I’ll buy you some tea. A whole drawer of tea. Assam, and oolong, and some genmaicha. Even matcha, you can get all ceremonial up inside my nice, bug-free, cozy Tower.”
“Aren’t you scared Pepper will drop by?”
“Fear is for lesser men than me, sugar bear.”
Tony tries to bare his teeth in a smile, or something close to it. Rhodey doesn’t buy it for a second, but he agrees to close shop.
Vision’s more amenable about the trek to NYC.
In JARVIS’s voice, which is still eerie as fuck, he tells Tony serenely that the bodegas in Manhattan have better ingredients with which to ruin his stainless steel kitchen appliances.
That’s totally paraphrasing, but Tony swears up and down to Natasha that that’s how it goes, and she doesn’t stab him, so. Progress.
I need Nat to stop making murder-eyes at me, he types.
Steve doesn’t reply, ever, but Tony’s wearing him down, probably.
He hopes he’s wearing him down.
Getting Ross to drop charges against the Avengers is a lot easier once Tony’s established that he doesn’t actually have any kind of jurisdiction to enforce the United Nation’s mandates.
Publically. In front of many, many, many cameras that project to even more televisions across the whole wide world.
Hooray for overzealous media coverage.
Bruce texts him a whole string of smiley face emoji afterward, and Tony checks the day off as a win.
Vision has taken up knitting, which is an okay hobby, but Tony takes exception to planting even more pointy objects in the Tower with which Natasha can kill him.
“Hide the needles when you’re done,” he insists, cutting his eyes towards the left, where said spy is flipping through the New York Times.
She’s probably plotting her next political assassination off of the headlines, or something.
Better the mayor than Tony.
“Please.” Natasha doesn’t so much as blink, but still, knowing, she says, “Like I need anything other than my pinky nail for you, Stank.”
Tony is beginning to suspect Steve wrote that on the phone’s package on purpose, but. “That’s terrifying. You’re terrifying. Is anyone else here terrified?”
“Don’t hide the needles,” Rhodey advises Vision. “I want to give it a try.”
He scoops up a ball of red yarn, and Tony stares and stares and stares. “I’m not asking, but I’m asking.”
“I’m not telling, and don’t police my interests,” Rhodey replies.
Vision hands him a spare pair of needles. Great, there’s even more sharp objects in the Tower.
“Maybe we should go back to the Compound, guys,” Tony says, voice pitching high. “There’s a lot of, uh, green stuff there. Which makes people feel peaceful. I hear.”
Casually, Natasha replies, “Pollen gives me hives.”
“Ixnay on the Compound then. I’m just gonna…go…cry myself to sleep, then.”
Tony winces when Natasha flips a page, and no one else acknowledges his very real fear.
“I want Steve to come back,” Tony tells Natasha, at the breakfast nook. On the spot, he also decides, “I want Bucky to come back,” because he knows full well there’s a fat chance that Steve will ever come running without the Winter Soldier skipping along behind him.
Tony would begrudge him that if he didn’t have a Rhodey-shaped best friend of his very own, sitting on his couch, drinking craft beer and bitching about the MLB.
“You want…Barnes…back?” Natasha prods at her dinner – eggs, because they are being very adult tonight – purposefully. Tony, who is joining in on adulthood, has a bowl of Lucky Charms. He nearly chokes on a marshmallow when she asks, “So you can kill him?”
“What? No. Of course not. Why is everything about murder with you Russians?”
“Fine. I might want him very dead. Occasionally. The urge takes me when it will. But-“ He takes a deep breath. “I get that he wasn’t using his brain the right way, in that it was hijacked and everything. I’m not saying I forgive him.” Tony doesn’t think he’ll ever forgive dear old Jimmy, actually, but that’s not the most helpful thing he could say right now. “No killing. I promise.”
She sets down her fork. Quietly, she asks, “Why are you so invested in Steve?”
Tony’s heart kicks out, a dull pain in his chest even though the fragments and shards of his past are gone. It’s not like he and Steve were ever buds; if anything, he grew up in Captain America’s shadow.
Literally. His dad had like, eight posters of the guy forcibly hung in Tony’s childhood room.
But. They were getting there.
The Compound. The team building. The late night talks about whose PTSD was worse…
They were becoming partners.
For one hot second, Tony had it all; the crazy fine girlfriend, the strangely complementary Avengers co-captain, the dysfunctional family.
Now he has a big empty building upstate, some sports cars, and too much quiet. It’s like Steve left and all the color and sound in the world followed.
And he knows things won’t magically be right if Steve returns. The last time he saw the guy, he was holding a shield poised over Tony’s throat. He can still see the way the suit’s arc reactor dimmed, and that shouldn’t be so easy to forgive. Not a single bit of it.
Except Tony knows better than most that sometimes when emotions get too strong, you need to drink them down or punch them out.
All he wants is for Steve and the rest to come back.
He tries to put that into words for Natasha, but he can’t quite find them.
She stares until it becomes clear that the answer she wants isn’t forthcoming. Finally, she says, “I can’t get you Steve. But Clint. I can get you Clint. If you can make accommodations for his family.”
“Done and done.” Tony leans the stool back on its hind legs. “Ask him how his wife feels about mint green, for the walls. I was painting Bruce’s loft, and I have a lot left over.”
Slowly, Natasha blinks.
She’s got a magnificent handle on pointed facial expressions. Every time Tony tries to convey something with his face, he ends up looking tired and/or constipated.
Usually a compilation of both.
“You haven’t painted my apartment.”
“I’m terrified of entering your apartment,” Tony corrects. “I don’t want to find your trophy case. It’s the heads of your mates, right? I say it’s heads, but Rhodey says you’d go for the feet. Originality, and all that.”
“Only three heads,” Natasha agrees, with that miniscule curve to her lips that means she’s pleased. “I like purple.”
“Purple walls,” Tony says, “I’ll get on it.”
“Do you paint them yourself?”
“It’s cathartic.” He shrugs, spooning up some marshmallows. “Not for me. For Dummy. He misses JARVIS. Friday won’t sing him English lullabies.”
A burst of static over the loudspeakers relays exactly what Friday thinks about that.
Vision’s latest aromatic disaster gets him a time out from the kitchen for all of ever, which means now all he does is sulk and stare longingly at framed photos of Wanda’s face.
He has framed photos of Wanda because Tony obligingly printed a few out and put them in bedazzled frames.
“And you thought that that was a good idea?” Clint asks, because he’s back, with his like, eight children – two, Rhodey points out, there are only two, but Tony holds that they make enough of a racket that there must be eight of them – and he’s taken it upon himself to be the purveyor of all things sassy.
“I think a lot of things are good ideas, but I also drink twenty cups of coffee a day. I don’t know why people listen to me,” Tony tells him, utterly mystified.
Clint gives him a look that is frighteningly similar to the ones Natasha is always throwing his way. “No one listens to you, Stank.”
“I’m going to kill Rhodey,” Tony says calmly.
Then he calmly tries to kill Rhodey, who kicks him with more strength than he should rightfully have in his cybernetically augmented leg. Tony slumps back against the wall of his own common area, one of Clint’s rugrats climbing up his shoulder like he’s a human jungle gym.
He tells Clint, “I think you should forgive and forget this whole underwater prison thing. Was the Raft really that bad?”
“I saw things down there,” Clint says. “Things with tentacles. Things a man can’t ever forget.”
“Fair enough,” Tony allows, and then, with a pint sized sneaker dangling somewhere near his nose, and another jabbed into his collar bone, he takes out the phone Steve gave him.
Nearly punching the buttons, he types, Vision made my kitchen smell like Staten Island and Clint’s kid is nesting on my face. I need you to stop being a child and come home.
Steve sends Wanda instead.
Thanks, he tells Steve. Life’s brighter with her around.
Tony’s on the phone with Happy, checking up on things in Malibu – not stalking, that would be weird – such as how Pepper is doing and who is her new boyfriend, b-t-dubs, when Rhodey walks in with an arm around Sam Wilson’s shoulders.
They’re laughing, that armed forces camaraderie Tony can never quite replicate forcing spirits high.
It dies down when Sam sees Tony. He straightens and says, “I was told you’d have a room for me.”
“Were you?” Tony asks coolly, because he may have spent the last three days plying Rogers with sad I need to not be lonely texts. He wonders if Sam will play monopoly with him, because Wanda, Vision, Clint’s kids, Clint, and Rhodey all cheat.
Natasha’s the only one with a sense of honor among the bunch. They should be ashamed.
Sam totally misses the weight in Tony’s words, however, because he’s staring gape mouthed at the silvery object on the workshop counter. “Stark! What’d you do to Redwing?”
“Nothing! Well. Close to nothing. I changed his name to Coffee Maker. Because he makes coffee now.”
Tony whistles, demonstrating.
Obligingly, Redwing whirs to a hover between them, dispensing a steaming hot mug of coffee right before Sam’s bulging eyes.
“That’s – you. Why. What? Why?” He whimpers pathetically, and Rhodey claps him on the back.
“I had no other use for him,” Tony explains. Rhodey glares, and Tony hastily tacks on, “I’ll retcon him for you, now. Obviously. Of course I wouldn’t keep my…favorite…coffee maker…”
That does not stop Rhodey from glaring, so Tony renews his focus on the schematics for this shuttle engine NASA asked him to consult on.
He also makes sure to tell Steve, I need a new coffee maker.
T’Challa drops by at one point with a bag of Wakandan roast, under strict instructions from Captain Rogers to make sure that Wanda, Clint and his brood, and Sam are all settling in.
That’s all well and good, and everything, but then Tony bars the elevator when he tries to make like a normal person and leave.
“I wasn’t planning on staying.” T’Challa frowns at Tony, and he may or may not be considering whether to call his scary bodyguard, who Tony also knows as his sister.
Not because he hit on her at a charity gala and paid dearly for it, or anything. That would have been dumb of him.
“Come on,” Tony wheedles. “One night. Then I can advertise my Tower space as fit for royalty.”
He makes an emphatic gesture with his hands as he says fit for royalty – the marketing people at SI would love it.
T’Challa mostly appears alarmed. “I only came as a favor to Captain Rogers.”
“I know!” Tony is aware that his grin is a bit manic, and there is a very real possibility that he’s going insane. “Um. Is he okay?”
He hasn’t dared to ask Clint that, or Sam, or Wanda. They all have their own reasons to be angry or suspicious of Tony’s motivations, and even if they appear to harbor no ill will, he doesn’t want to press his luck. It’s driving him up the river, though, going so many months without hearing Steve’s voice.
Carefully, T’Challa says, “He is well.”
“Yes, but…is he okay?” Tony demands, because he knows that there’s a difference, and even if he and Steve aren’t besties, they’ve talked about nightmares, about hoarfrost and the cold and what it feels like to drown.
Eyes dark, T’Challa replies, “I think that is a question better suited for Captain Rogers, directly.”
“Yeah.” Tony swallows, and does not say that Steve won’t answer him. “Yeah, you’re right.”
I need you to know, Tony writes, That I’m sorry. I think we were building something, and it’s broken now, and it’s not my fault, or yours, but it is ours. Together. And I don’t know what we would have been, but I miss it.
He erases that text.
Friday hacks into the phone and sends it anyway.
“I took the liberty of taking all the rhinestones off of your picture frame,” Wanda says proudly, waving her hand towards a new and improved and infinitely sparklier Vision, who is clearly being punished for being a creeper with all those black and white photos.
“You’re housebreaking him?” Tony asks. JARVIS would never have stood for this, but JARVIS isn’t Vision, not really, and that makes him miss the real Jarvis, and his dad, and god, now he’s going into a spiral that only whiskey can cure. “Do you drink?”
Wanda is unimpressed by that question, because clearly he’s a bad person for presuming not to stereotype Slavic women. What the hell, Tony figures, what’s one more stereotype for the road? “Call Natasha up,” he tells Friday, mostly because Rhodey and Sam are off doing military things with their military friends. Losers. “We’re drinking.”
Natasha and Wanda are so much better at drinking than Tony that it’s insulting.
“I’m insulted. Offended! Disturbed,” Tony swallows back some whiskey and says, “Next time I’m inviting Darcy. She’s a cheaper date than you two.”
“She’s a prettier drunk than you are,” Natasha replies.
Wanda doesn’t say anything, because Wanda doesn’t know Darcy, and also because she’s busy using her freaky red magic to make magic tentacles dance around Clint’s head.
Tony observes, “See, now you wish you went over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house with Laura and the hellspawn.”
“You’re supposed to be my pal,” Clint answers emphatically, cringing away from one of Wanda’s sinuous red octopi. He tries to bat at a limb, which makes her smirk and channel more magic into it, enlarging the thing. “First prison, then this, and now you taunt me with my mother-in-law in Jersey? What kind of man are you, Stark?”
Solemn, Tony says, “One with very poor judgement and even less sense. Which is why I think we need another bottle. Friday! Have Dummy fetch the good stuff.”
“You’re my AI. You can’t say no.”
“Friday,” he pleads, singsong. She doesn’t answer, so he turns to a blindingly bedazzled-Vision and bats his eyelashes. “What about you, big boy? Feel like a trip down to my workshop?”
That gets Friday’s attention. “It’s five a.m.”
“Time to rally!” Tony cheers.
“It’s five a.m., and Captain Rogers is downstairs.”
“I don’t see why that precludes my robot grabbing- wait, what?”
“What’s up, Steve? You look pale. See Goodie Proctor speaking with the devil?”
Tony holds open the door so that Steve can bring his duffel bag full of nothing into the tower, and he wonders if he should offer up the shield now or later.
“Funny. You’re so funny,” Steve replies, and he is wearing a lot of black. Tony hopes he’s not married to the idea of it – the nomad thing is cute, but people need Captain America back in action.
Tony needs Captain America back in action, and one day he’ll figure out how to say that. For now he settles on a wide grin and, “I’m aware.”
“I’m not a Puritan,” Steve continues. “All the Puritans were dead by the time I was born.”
“Remind me, that was over a hundred years ago now, right?”
Steve changes the subject. “Are you drunk?”
Happily, Tony says, “Those super soldier senses of yours are still on point, I see.”
“It’s five am.”
“Hey, anyone can be drunk in the morning if they’re dedicated to the cause, and I am definitely, definitely devoted to my craft. The craft of drinking, that is.” Tony burps for emphasis. “Where’s Bucky?”
“Bucky froze himself. To protect people,” Steve clarifies.
“Well. That’s not going to work at all.” Tony frowns, because how dare Steve go against his carefully laid plans to rebuild his family? “I made him his own suite. It has a sound machine and everything. Ocean noises, Cap. It makes ocean noises.”
Steve gives him a look that plainly asks if Tony is even speaking English right now, but Tony is accustomed to getting that look from pretty much everyone he knows. He hauls Steve bodily into the elevator, and it’s embarrassing how much effort it takes, but the doorman won’t judge Tony, and he’ll delete the video footage later.
Safely inside, Tony says, “How do we get Bucky unfrozen?”
“So you can kill him?”
“Why does everyone keep asking me that? I helped found children’s charities. I don’t murder people.” Tony falters under Steve’s level gaze. He amends, “I know I maybe sort of a little bit tried to murder the guy. Once. Just that once. But I’ve had time to reflect on my actions. It’s the Christian thing to do.”
“You got Ross to drop the charges.”
“I did,” Tony agrees, because he’s still damn proud on that count.
“You didn’t do anything about the UN.”
“No. The Accords are still in effect, but hey, it’s a miracle 117 countries agreed on anything in the first place. You want to try and make them go back?” Steve makes a face. Tony says what he should have said in the first place, when the text of the Accords landed on that conference room table with the echo of the war to come. “It’s the United Nations, Steve. They help refugees and feed babies. If they tell me no, about anything, I’m not planning on listening.”
“What if they ask us to intervene somewhere…wrong?”
“Yeah, I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to the number of peacekeeping missions sent out a year, but the UN isn’t going to send us anywhere any time soon. We’re still operating on our own. It’s like working for a less creepy version of SHIELD. Imagine a whole bunch of differently shaped Furies yelling at us instead of just the one.”
Steve snorts at that. He snorts with laughter, and he’s here, in Tony’s elevator, and god Tony has missed him like he’s never missed anything else in this world, it doesn’t even make sense.
Quietly, Tony asks, “Why’d you come back?”
“You have a lot of needs,” Steve answers, wry. “Besides. I, uh. I liked what we were building, too.”
Tony suffers the vague horror that Friday is a complete and total traitor. He should build a new A.I. – he shall call her Jocasta, and unlike JARVIS and Friday, she’ll be obedient, damnit. But mostly he just lets that wash past him, too busy reveling in the fact that Steve is back.
He’s back, and they’re not trying to kill each other, and even though Steve is wearing road-weariness and serious, soldier-like, actual wariness, Tony can’t control his absolute delight that any of this is happening at all. He almost sticks his hand in his pocket to text Steve, only he doesn’t have to, anymore.
Grabbing Steve and kissing him instead seems like a really good idea, what with his blue eyes and his golden hair and his stern face, until Tony realizes…he has no idea what he’s doing or why.
He starts to draw away.
Steve’s fingers tighten on the lapels of his suit, and alright, Tony’s never been one to deny a fan. Their mouths slide hot and slick and wet, Steve pressing Tony back against the wall of the elevator. His body is long, lean, hot, and there is anger still in the lines of his shoulder blades and the harsh scrape of his stubble, but there is also relief. He melts against Tony, and Tony melts right back.
He’s just about decided that clearly his impulsive decisions are the best when, abruptly, the kissing comes to a complete and unwanted halt. Steve leans his forehead against Tony’s, his breath warm and sweet. He says, “I think you lured me here under false pretenses.”
Tony, who has kissed quite a few people since Pepper, and cared about exactly none until now, nods. “I’m the worst. I’m a garbage human. You’re the only one other than Thor who can reach high shelves for me, and Thor won’t come back from Asgard. You’ve caught me out.”
“Let’s just. Not talk.” Tony sags against him. He inhales, tasting the air from Steve’s lungs. “I needed you here. That’s all.”
“Okay. Yeah.” Steve’s fingers clench in the front of Tony’s suit, but he does not pull away, or run back into hiding. There’s no more war on, now. “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”
There’s nothing but the two of them, alone, in this moment, and they’ve got all the time in the world to work everything else out.