Thirty Three Years Ago
It wasn’t the first time Tony had run away from home, but it was most definitely going to be the last. He stilled, listening for sounds of pursuit. Then he shook his head. Howard wasn’t looking for him, no surprise there. Howard never looked for him. Unless he needed something. Tony had been hiding in the woods most of the day. He looked down at his mud spattered jacket and torn jeans. He’d be in more trouble for ruining his clothing when they found him than he would be for running away from home.
There was a tracking device embedded in his arm, in case he was ever actually kidnapped. He could feel it sliding around when he flexed his fingers.
The sun was warm against his back. He thought about chucking his jacket, but he knew it get cooler as the sun started to set. Jarvis would worry if he didn’t return to the house in time for supper, so he staggered to his feet and began to head back the way he’d come.
He threw open the door and took off down the hallway at a run, trailing water from one end of the immaculate wood flooring to the other. Jarvis watched him from the shadows, resigned. Tony skidded to a halt in front of him, brushing his eyes with one mud-coated wrist.
“Tony?” Jarvis said softly. “Did you get into a fight?”
He hiccuped, shaking his head slightly. “With what, Jarvis, a tree?” They both knew there were no other children around Stark manor.
His face was on fire. He could feel the first prickle of tears as he tried to pull air into his lungs. I won’t cry in front of Jarvis. I won’t! Stark men don’t cry.
“Dad kicked me out of his office again,” he said sullenly.
Jarvis sat on the bottom step, watching him closely. “So I heard.”
“I was trying to show him my blueprints for an A.I. kitten, but he said it was a waste of company resources. Do you think it’s a waste of company resources, Jarvis?”
“I don’t think anything one does in the pursuit of knowledge is a waste.”
“I saw you last night, in the kitchen.” Tony took a cautious step backward, prepared to run.
Jarvis scooped him up, pulling Tony into a tight hug. “And just what were you doing in the kitchen last night?”
“I saw you washing dishes. You had a tail. You were holding plates in one hand and drying them with a cloth that was dangling from your... your tail. Jarvis, are you a devil?”
Tony looked up, and Jarvis’s eyes crinkled at the corners. The air behind him shimmered and he waved his long, silver tail playfully over Tony’s head. “That’s correct.”
Tony flinched away from the triangular point. He watched it for a moment, transfixed. It wasn’t thrashing about like some of the feral cats’ tails did when they were angry or preparing to pounce, so he wiggled up to get a better look.”Can I... can I touch it?”
“You can, but please be careful, the edges are quite sharp.”
Tony reached up and ran one finger across the flat surface. It was supple and smooth under his fingers, buttery like his dad’s leather recliner. He turned it over, careful not to touch the edges. “I read some books last night, the ones that dad keeps locked up... I know you grant wishes in exchange for souls. I’ve thought about it a lot today. I want to trade you. I don’t need my soul.”
“Why is that?” Jarvis smiled at Tony, but it didn’t reach his eyes.
Tony blinked guilelessly up at him.
Jarvis watched him carefully. “If you could have anything in the world, what would you wish for?”
“Please Jarvis,” Tony whispered, his fists tightening against his butler’s lapels. “Can you make my daddy like me?”
And just like that, he started crying, hearing the unspoken refusal in Jarvis’ tone. “You know what I mean... he doesn’t care about me, he never wants anything to do with me. He... he doesn’t like me! You can make him like me! I know you can. Make them care about me, Mama too!” His face screwed up, and he hiccuped. “Can I ask for both of them, or do I only get one?”
Jarvis hugged him tighter, cradling the back of his head in one large hand. “I’m sorry Tony, I can’t make someone feel something they don’t. It’s one of our great laws. I can’t break it, not even for you.”
Tony inhaled sharply and started talking again, his voice low and thready. “Then… could you bring me a friend? Please?”
“Oh, Tony,” Jarvis sighed, gathering him up and lifting him off his feet. Tony sniffled and clung tightly to his chest. “I’m going to take you up to your room now. You’re not alone, I’ll always be your friend. Keep your soul and your innocence a while longer.”
“Jarvis,” Tony muttered tiredly, letting Jarvis tuck him in. “Thank you... for being my friend.”
“Think nothing of it.” Jarvis ruffled his hair fondly. He turned the lights off and shut the door softly behind him.
Tony curled his arm around his pillow and closed his eyes.
Tony gazed out at the glittering New York skyline, everything shining in a swirl of bold, fluorescent color. Most of the Avengers were out for the evening, with two notable exceptions. He didn’t know what to say to Steve anymore. Sometimes they were comrades, and sometimes they screamed at each other. They were like that couple that no one wanted to take to dinner because it was going to end in a shouting match.
He leaned against the bar and rubbed the bridge of his nose, making an exasperated noise. "This needs to stop."
Steve’s fingers tapped a restless tattoo against his thigh. "Not until we talk things over." He pawed at the back of his neck with one large hand, watching Tony with wary interest.
"I'm not up to talking with you right now. It’s been a long day. You looked good, by the way, riding up on that stallion like the main protagonist in a romantic action thriller. Very buff.”
Steve scowled and stopped tapping. "Could you please be serious for five seconds?"
"I'm tired of being serious. How many times do I have to sing the same song? I got you killed. It was my fault.” It hurt, like it always did. He’d compare it to ripping a band aid off, but it was so much worse than that. He’d watched the footage so many times, and he still couldn’t stomach it. “It was my fault. If you want me gone, I’ll go. But I’m starting to think you don’t know what the hell you want.”
Steve slammed a palm against the counter. “I want you!”
Tony’s eyes flashed and Steve flinched. “We’ve discussed this...”
“You know that’s not what I meant,” Steve snapped. “I want you to help me lead the Avengers, I want you here with us-- you’re my best friend. I want that back.”
“I told you I need some space, Steve.”
“And I need time to think, but that doesn't mean we can't lead this team together.”
“Which is why you were making out with the pretty elf lady in the woods earlier, right?”
“You’ve been spending too much time on Facebook, Steve.”
The counter creaked ominously under his fingers. "Maybe it is too soon. I thought we were doing better. This is your home, and I never want to change that. If anyone should go, it’s me. You’re my friend, Tony. It could just as easily have been me, crying over your coffin. I'm done talking about Registration. It's over. It’s been a year."
Tony scowled and turned away.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were jealous.”
Tony’s stomach lurched. “That’s where you’re going with this? Really? From apologies to that. You don’t get to make that sort of accusation. We’ve got an agreement. I let it go... and you don’t throw it in my face. If that’s a problem, you tell me right now. I had to stand there and pretend I was happy watching you make out with some random woman, and I didn’t say a word, so don’t you tell me I’m acting too jealous. You have no idea.”
Steve looked away. “I’m sorry, that was unkind.”
Tony took a deep breath. “Forget it. Forgotten. We’re good. Why did you want to talk to me again?”
"In the future, if you need help, I’d like you to come to me before you make decisions for the whole team. I know we have communication problems, but I really think we should make an effort to talk things out before you fly off half-cocked.”
“It’s starting to sound like you want couple’s counseling, darling.”
Steve’s mouth turned downward. “Tony.”
“Fine, no jokes." He smiled again, all teeth and insincere charm.
Steve eyed the rumpled condition of his suit and tie. "You should probably get some sleep."
He went to the mini-fridge and opened a bottle of water." Look, can we just take this from the top?"
"From the top, how?” Tony asked skeptically.
"Lunch tomorrow. Maybe we can hang out, just the two of us. Like we used to."
Tony sighed. He knew a peace offering when he heard one. "Yeah, ok. I've got a meeting in the morning, but after that — sure." Steve was polite enough not to comment on how wistful Tony sounded as he leaned toward the window, his face obscured in the shadows.
Steve listened to Tony retreating across the room. He looked up at a large framed photograph of the two of them hanging on the wall. He’d known from the beginning that Iron Man was a shell wrapped around some very real insecurities. There were times Tony was so human and vulnerable. He walked toward the painting and reached up, letting the moonlight play across his knuckles as he splayed his fingers over Tony’s chest. “Never let them say you lack heart, Tin Man.
The next morning, the Avengers gathered around the kitchen table for breakfast. Tony was hovering protectively over the coffee maker. He was probably late to the office if the slew of incoming text alerts were any indicator. Steve was reading the morning Bugle, looking far too chipper in his opinion, while Carol carved out small pieces of grapefruit with a spoon. Peter dangled from the ceiling, trying to read the classifieds over Steve’s shoulder. Logan slumped in his seat, arms behind his head, nursing a six pack of beer, each with a single claw hole gouged in the top.
"It's really hot in here," Peter whined, webbing pieces of grapefruit as Carol tossed them at him.
“Suck it up, buttercup,” Tony muttered, burying his face in a giant mug of french roast.
"No, really, Stark, it's got to be ninety degrees in here."
"It's cold out," Steve said, folding his paper in half.
"That would explain a need for more heat, yes, or a sweater, maybe, but it's like a sauna in here. Logan is starting to smell."
"Watch it, bub," Logan growled around his cigar.
"I'm sorry, that was out of line. What I meant to say is that Logan is starting to smell worse than usual."
Logan chucked an empty beer can at Peter's head. Peter snagged it neatly and dropped it into the recycling bin.
"So, what's on the agenda for today?" Jan asked, breezing into the room, Jimmy Choo heels tapping rhythmically against the hardwood floor. "I'm free for the afternoon, if anyone’s up for some shopping?”
"Sorry, I'm taken," Steve said absently, setting his paper aside.
"Oooh, do you have a date? Do tell." Jan grinned at him across the table, reaching for the bowl of sugar.
Steve backtracked, frowning. "That's not what I meant. Tony and I are hanging out."
"Oh, so it's a married couple thing?" Clint stumbled in, his eyes still glazed from sleep, sporting some impressive bedhead. He was wearing a purple T-shirt and some low-riding pyjama pants with little purple arrows printed on them. He poured the remainder of the coffee into a measuring pitcher and leaned over to grab the milk.
Tony took a moment to appreciate his ass. "There are plenty of mugs, Barton."
"This was closer," Clint mumbled into the fridge.
"You're a bad influence." Steve gave Tony a pointed look, like Barton’s fucked up logic was somehow his fault.
He leered. “Jealous.” Steve’s brows snapped together and his nostrils flared. Tony’s smirk widened "Hey, at least I don't drink out of measuring cups, Rogers. So no, totally not the bad influence here, thank you."
“Disgustingly married." Clint plopped down in one of the chairs and tried to grab a section of Steve's paper. Steve swatted his hand away.
Jan rolled her eyes, turning to Tony. "Where are you two going for lunch?"
Tony shrugged, looking at Steve.
"I figured we'd hit up one of the vendors in the park," Steve replied.
Tony grinned at Jan. "He takes me to the nicest places."
"We can go somewhere nicer, if you'd like."
Steve wouldn’t meet his eyes. The ass.
Peter smirked, dangling upside down over the table. "Twenty down is mamihlapinatapai."
"What the fuck did he just say?" Clint grumbled, letting his head fall to the table with a thunk.
Tony scowled at Peter. "He thinks he's being cute, but he isn't. In fact, his pudding supply is hereby suspended."
"What? Hey! You can't do that!" Peter yelped.
"Totally just did." Tony grabbed a cup of pudding from the fridge. He opened it and licked a generous dollop off of his spoon, smirking up at Peter. When he caught Steve staring at him out of the corner of his eye, his grin widened and he slowly ran his tongue over his lips.
Steve frowned and shook himself. "You shouldn't eat pudding for breakfast, Tony."
"Why not? You seem to be enjoying it," Tony leaned back against the island, the hem of his shirt riding up over his hip. Carol rolled her eyes.
"Don't you have a meeting soon?" Steve snapped, the tips of his ears tinged pink.
Tony tossed his empty pudding cup on the table near Steve's elbow. "Sir, yes sir." He saluted with his spoon, grabbing the last pudding cup out of the fridge with a spiteful smirk at Peter.
"Not cool," Peter whined. “Now I've got to stop at the store on my way home.”
"Aaand that’s what you get for sassing your sugar daddy."
"I am officially creeped out now," Peter said, but Tony was already out the door.
“Hey, at least he wasn’t checking out your ass,” Clint replied around a mouthful of cereal.
Steve looked up from his crossword puzzle. "There's more pudding in the cupboard, Peter.”
"I love you." Peter sighed happily.
"It's sugar free."
Peter drooped. "I hate you both."
Steve’s lips quirked. He wrote mamihlapinatapai across twenty down, and tossed Tony’s pudding cup in the waste bin.
Tony turned a critical eye toward his reflection. His goatee was neatly trimmed. He was wearing a ribbed red top, a tailored jacket, and tight black skinny jeans -- he looked good. He reached up, running his hands over the smooth red horns protruding from his hair with a wistful sigh. He could only show them off in public at places like the Renaissance Festival or Halloween parties; even in a progressive city like New York, his options were limited. He’d gotten smashed out of his mind at a charity event, back before he’d sobered up, and he’d lost control of his cloaking in front of an escort. She’d had a minor meltdown-- probably a bit of an understatement, all things considered. Tony was lucky he'd been able to convince her they were body modifications. He’d bribed her not to go to the press and had been extra careful in the future.
His horns were wicked curving things, sexy in his opinion, although they were a bit on the small side, something he could do little about, since they grew with age.
It was a shame that he had to keep them hidden. Both his horns and tail were a deep shade red, tapering to black at the base. In the right light, they had a deep golden sheen. (Yeah, it was like that.) Tony put his shaving kit away and willed both his horns and tail into their usual state of invisibility.
He checked the line of his pants in the mirror, and slid on his favorite pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses. He’d been perfectly fine letting Steve wallow in his heterosexuality, right up until he'd almost lost him. Now it was a problem. Tony wasn’t pushy, he would respect Steve’s wishes, but Steve kept flirting. It was unpracticed, and mostly unintentional, little comments and touches that trod the line between friend and friendlier. Their main problem, miscommunication, was at fault for most of their issues once again. Tony was fluent in the body’s language of attraction, and he was reading signs Steve was busy telling himself he’d never sent. It was maddening.
Steve might be able to lie to himself, but Tony was beyond done.
He checked his watch.
Tony had felt a little dizzy when he'd woken up, so he had turned the thermostat in his room up to ninety and borrowed back under his huge pile of blankets for an extra hour. He’d shivered his way through breakfast, and made up the broken heater as an excuse to turn the heat on in the mansion. A healthy devil ran extremely hot and they needed to maintain a high body temperature to remain healthy. He felt a little better now, so he allowed himself the luxury of a sweater and decided not to cancel his lunch date.
Tony met with Steve later that afternoon at their favorite spot in Central Park, an old metal
picnic bench secluded by a wall of trees. He took in Steve's
appearance, from his sun-dappled blond hair and sky-blue tee-shirt, to the bright smile on his face as he watched Tony approach. He was even wearing a pair of worn blue jeans with the knees torn out. The man was trying to give him a coronary.
They walked to the hotdog cart in companionable silence. Tony grabbed them a table while Steve placed their order. Tony snorted in amusement as Steve handed him a brat with everything but sauerkraut. "Not even going to ask me what I wanted on this, huh?"
"Don’t look so surprised. You still get my bagel order correct." Steve grinned back at him, straddling the empty chair.
He took a large bite of his brat, ketchup dribbling down the corner of his mouth. Steve
watched, amused, as Tony swiped ineffectively at his goatee with his free hand. He grabbed a wad of napkins and dabbed at the corner of Tony's mouth. Tony could feel his eyes widening comically and Steve froze mid-motion, flushing. “Sorry.”
He doubled over, laughing until his stomach hurt. "Jesus, you are such a boy scout. Give
me those." He snatched the napkins out of Steve's hand, blotting the corner of his own
mouth clean. "Better? Or do you want to spit shine it for me too?"
Steve rubbed at the back of his neck, and Tony watched him, smirking, until a light pink flush started to spread under his fingertips. "Sorry, force of habit."
"I'll bet. I can just see you chasing down the Invaders with a bunch of paper
napkins, making sure they all washed behind their ears before you tucked them in at night."
"Not all of us had maids." Steve gave him a wry look that helped to take the sting out.
Tony tapped Steve's ankle with his foot. "Them’s fightin’ words, babydoll. Call it."
"Basketball," Steve exhaled, grabbing the last of Tony's bratt before he could toss it in the trash, and wolfing it down in one large bite.
Tony shook his head, "Garbage disposal." He tossed the empty wrapper in the bin and considered Steve for a moment, head canted to the side. "Strip basketball?"
Steve's swiveled to look at him, startled. “What?”
"It's really hot in the tower. We still haven't figured out what's going on with the heat." Tony leaned back in his chair, balancing precariously on the back legs, his expression both sly and challenging. "You don't strike me as the shy type.”
“How does this count as not pushing?”
Tony dropped forward, chair legs hitting the ground with a metallic clang. “Because I promise not to touch you, unless you ask me nicely first.”
Steve sighed. "You do realize that you never win these things, right?”
Tony licked his lips. "I'm good with today’s consolation package."
"Tony!” Steve snapped. He squared his shoulders. “Fine, prepare to be dominated, Shellhead.”
Tony could feel his jaw drop. “You’re actually going to...”
Steve smiled. “You’re catching flies, Tin Man. Bring it on.”
"You're not allowed to watch any more sitcoms, they're ruining your vernacular." Tony stood,
stretching until his back cracked. "Come on, Old Glory, tempus fugit."
Tony surveyed the gym, his nose crinkling. "Remind me to get the cleaning crew down here, this place smells like a combination of Clint and old gym socks." He shuddered.
"Quit whining, Stark." Steve tossed him the basketball and splayed his arms in a blatant come-at-me gesture.
They changed into more appropriate clothing, sweats for Tony and knee length cargo pants, patterned with a camouflage print, for Steve. As his advantage, Tony had donned three pairs of socks and an extra tee-shirt. He'd originally tried to wear six pairs of socks, while Steve laughed at him. But his feet wouldn't fit into his sneakers, so he'd given up, tossing the spares at Steve's face.
Steve was shirtless, which really should have earned Tony the extra sock
advantage -- shirtless Steve was a major distraction.
Tony reluctantly agreed to count Steve's dog tags as an item of clothing.
They decide on a modified version of Horse, winner was the first person to spell assemble.
Steve scored the first point, and Tony grinned solicitously, slowly sliding his tank top over
his head and tossing it off court so they won't get their feet tangled in it mid game.
Steve stared unabashedly for a moment, until he realized what he was doing and
ran to retrieve the ball. Tony smirked at him.
Steve scowled. "If I win, you’ll go to the charity gala tonight, you’ll get there on time, and you’ll stay until the very end."
Tony's smile faltered. "That's dirty, Cap. What do I get if I win?"
"What do you want?"
Satan protect him from loaded questions. He grabbed the ball while Steve watched him. "If I win, you're going clubbing with Clint, Carol, and me."
"Done." Steve held up a finger to signal a pause in the game and went to grab a bottle of water. He tossed the cap off to the side and took a long pull.
Tony watched, entranced as a bead of sweat rolled down his neck. Steve dumped the rest of the bottle over his head, shaking like a dog as it streamed off of his shoulders and down the curve of his chest. Tony could feel all the blood in his body rushing south.
Steve tossed the bottle and stepped on his shirt to dry his shoes. Tony didn’t
realize he was being spoken to until Steve placed a large hand on his shoulder. "You in there?"
"I-- Yeah." He shook himself. That little cheater. Even if Steve wasn’t aware of
what he was doing, that shit totally counted. It was time to break out the big guns. "Let's go, grandpa."
They were almost tied. Tony was wearing down, but Steve was still going strong. He had possession of the ball and was concentrating on Tony's ass like it was going to vanish if he looked away.
Normally the attention would be flattering, but Steve was definitely starting to suspect something. Tony had been cheating with his tail for the last twenty minutes; it was still cloaked and therefore invisible to the naked eye, but he'd been using it on the physical plane the whole time, knocking the ball out of Steve's hands, and occasionally adding that extra push to a good jump shot in order to tap the ball in. He’d taken it too far though, using his tail like a tripwire. Steve wasn’t stupid, he could tell the difference between stumbling and something snapping across his ankles. Tony needed to quit being so impulsive. He’d have to finish the game without his supernatural abilities.
Steve was down to his boxers and dog tags when he made the final shot. "Pants off!" he crowed.
"You're lucky I'm a cheap date." Tony stripped out of his boxers and dangled them from his middle finger with a cocky grin. “To the victor goes the spoils.”
The doors burst open and Carol walked in, followed closely by Jan. They both stopped, staring.
"You didn't lock the doors?" Steve hissed, shooting Tony a dirty look.
Tony smirked. "I didn't realize we were exclusive, baby."
"Tony, you can’t just..." Steve gestured expressively.
Carol recovered first, leering at Tony-- who turned... his hands planted firmly on his hips, completely unabashed.
Steve stomped across the gym, or tried to. It was difficult to make satisfying stomping noises without his shoes on. Tony’s grin widened. Steve snatched Tony's shirt off the floor and tossed it at him. He snagged it before it hit him in the face and started pulling it over his head. "Still feelin’ a little exposed here, Cap," he called. Steve stalked toward the locker room, his back ramrod straight.
A few seconds later, Peter swung through the door. He tossed a hand up over his face. "Oh god, my eyes."
"Is there a reason my gym is suddenly overrun by Avengers? Our communicators didn't go off.” Tony eyed the locker room speculatively.
"We were going to ask what colors you were planning on wearing to the gala tonight." Carol smiled and gave Tony a look that practically screamed ‘you are never going to hear the end of this.’
Peter made an abortive gesture. "I just wanted my pudding cup rights back, I never asked to be scarred for life," he whined.
"I'm sorry, Peter. We'll be sure to include you in the next game."
Peter tilted his head. "Cap won, right? I might be willing to play strip basketball with Cap."
Tony’s quirked an eyebrow. “What happened to the whole wilting flower bit?”
Peter shrugged. “Golden opportunity. Also, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but that shirt is entirely too short for you.”
"You're lucky there is a shirt, Spiderboy. You want to play against Cap, you play against both of us. This is a team activity."
"Oh, is that what's going on here?" Carol grinned. "A team activity? Because I know a few ladies who would be interested in signing up."
Steve chose that moment to stick his head out of the locker room. "There are no team activities. I will be wearing blue tonight." He threw
Tony's pants across the floor and slammed the door shut.
“Ah, young love” Peter fanned himself with his hand.
Tony rolled his eyes as he reached for his pants. "I'm wearing purple. Some of us like to mix it up a bit."
"Wait, you’re actually going?" Jan asked.
"I'll be in attendance. Steve just won my cooperation for the evening." Tony stared at the closed locker room door, rubbing his temples. “Which isn’t nearly as much fun as it sounds like it should be.”
"Go get dressed then, we'll see you both there.”
Tony started to head toward the locker room, and paused. "You stay out of the pudding, Peter, you’re still grounded."
"You'll regret it when I web your shirts together," Peter yelled.
"If you can get into my suite, I deserve it." Tony waggled his fingers in Peter’s direction as Peter swung into the hall behind Jan. Tony grabbed his discarded socks and sweats, and went to collect Steve.
Tony didn’t think much of Clint's evening attire, but he let it go. They were probably lucky that the jeans were black.
Steve was gorgeous in a traditional black tuxedo and dark blue accessories. Tony whistled softly. Carol gave him an amused look.
Tony smacked Clint upside the head as he walked toward the bar. "Nice duds, Barton."
"You're just jealous that I'm comfortable and you're stuck in a monkey suit for the rest of the evening." Clint followed him as he cut a swath through the crowd.
Tony leaned against the bar. "The usual.” He slipped a hundred dollar bill into the tip jar. The bartender slid him a bottle of IBC root beer.
"Steve is becoming a bad influence on you," Clint smirked knowingly at the bottle. “Soon you’ll have him drinking coffee for breakfast.”
"Don't be ridiculous, Barton. I'll grant you most nonagenarians do have a bit of a coffee fetish, but Cap's not really a fan."
"What am I not a fan of?" Steve asked as he walked up, grabbing the stool next to Tony and ordering his own bottle of IBC. Clint rolled his eyes.
Tony stuck his tongue out and clinked bottles with Steve.
Steve looked at Tony, confused. "Should I ask?"
"Nothing important." Tony smiled. "Drink your root beer, hot stuff."
Steve rubbed the back of his neck with one hand and ducked his head.
"Tony!" a woman caller.
He looked over Steve's shoulder at the vivacious brunette trying to flag him down. "Duty calls. Hold this?" He shoved his drink into Steve’s hand and made his way over to Kathy, or Catherine... maybe Deborah?
Tony sidled up next to her, completely oblivious to Steve’s faintly annoyed expression.
"Hey, Tony," she said, batting her lashes. "Remember me? Ms. Juno."
He turned toward her, amusement coloring his reply. "Twins, right?"
She beamed. "Right, my sister Kathy is here somewhere."
His grin widened. "So you must be Deborah."
She nodded an affirmative, and pulled him toward the dance floor. He turned toward the bar to wave at Steve. Clint was watching him, and slowly brushed his cheek with his middle finger. Subtle. He looked over at Steve, and was taken aback by the angry look Steve was giving him. He cocked an eyebrow and Steve's expression rippled like water into a ridiculously forced smile. Tony gave him a little finger wave and smirked, dipping Deborah. She giggled and pressed up against him, letting him lead her around the floor. As the song ended, she kissed his cheek and melted back into the crowd. Tony glanced back toward the bar, but Steve was gone.
Outside, the terrace was wet from a steady drizzling rain. Tony almost missed Steve entirely. Steve was sitting on one of the concrete garden walls, looking up at the sky, his body a taut line. He was wearing a puffy blue jacket over his tux. Tony wondered who he’d bribed to get that inside.
"Come inside, it's cold, even with that gigantic down jacket."
"I'd prefer not to." Steve looked over at him, his expression wary. He took in Tony's goose bumps and the way he was wrapping his arms around his torso in a glance. He stood, slipping out of his jacket and reached for Tony.
Tony's expression hardened. "Don't. I don’t want your damned jacket."
"You're cold. You need this more than I do.” He sounded baffled as he shoved the jacket into Tony's hands.
Tony could feel the warmth of Steve's body fading from the fabric as he slipped his arms into the sleeves. He shivered and leaned toward Steve, letting their shoulders touch.
"How's the construction on your house coming along?"
Tony closed his eyes. "You can be a real buzz kill sometimes, Steve."
Steve frowned at him. "You really do look pale. Are you feeling alright?"
"Stress. I don’t feel too well, actually."
Steve reached toward him and pulled his hand back. “You must be sick, you normally wouldn’t say anything...”
“Let it go." Tony turned away. “I’ll get some rest after the soiree.”
A cheer went up inside the building, and Steve peeked through the terrace doors. "I wonder what's going on?"
Tony pulled Steve back toward the building. "Let's go find out."
Jan hurried over with a huge grin on her face.
"What's the story, sweetheart?" Tony asked.
"Mr. Dawson, the vice president of human resources, just got engaged." Jan said excitedly.
Tony smiled. "I’ll have Pepper send him a bottle of wine and a fruit basket. He’s with Jerry from accounting, right?"
"Should we congratulate them?" Steve asked..
"Maybe later. It looks like they’re swamped right now," Tony replied.
“Nice jacket, Tony,” Jan said with a raised eyebrow.
“Ah, I forgot.” He slipped out of Steve’s jacket and handed it back-- instantly regretting the loss of warmth. Steve frowned at him.
Over the din, the DJ announced a dance in support of same sex marriage. Tony nodded his approval.
Steve slid the jacket over the back of a chair and grabbed Tony’s sleeve. When Tony looked up at him, he held his palm out. "Care to dance?"
“That sounds like a violation of our agreement.”
“If strip basketball doesn’t count, I think we could get away with one dance. It’s for a good cause, right?”
Tony took his hand and let Steve lead. He didn’t say a word the entire time. His eyes felt heavy. He leaned against Steve, tilting his head against his shoulder, and Steve let him.
Tony felt dizzy.
He startled when Steve’s hand left his back, his fingers curling in the hair at the nape of Tony’s neck.
He nuzzled his face against Steve. He smelled really good, Tony made a low noise and parted his lips -- he could smell Steve’s soul, warm, sweet like honey. He jerked away, panicked.
Steve’s eyes widened, startled. He dropped his hand. “Tony?”
Tony’s heart was pounding. He took a deep breath, trying to clear his head. “I can’t stay here,” he said, and bolted for the door.
Tony burst through the door of his workshop. He grabbed a chair with shaking hands.
He had been drooling over Steve’s soul like a novice. He shouldn’t be having cravings like this unless...
He pulled up several of his feeds at the mansion, including his secure storage facility, still intact under about twenty feet of debris. Upon closer inspection, there were several areas where the videos from his surveillance cameras appeared to be looping old footage. He swore colorfully. Heat scans of the safe in the underground vault stopped him cold. His souls were missing.
“You’re being an idiot”
Steve opened a can of beer and sprawled across Logan’s couch, tossing his tuxedo jacket across a battered footrest.
“You want him, he wants you, what’s the problem?” Logan turned the TV on and flipped to Ice Truckers.
“That is the problem, I’m not into men like that, never have been. I support gay rights, but I’ve never been attracted to a man.”
“But you are now,” Logan said, downing half a can of beer.
“How do you figure?” Steve asked, running a hand through his hair.
“Listen Steve, when you’ve been around the block as long as I have, you learn some shit real quick. Pheromones, bub. The two of you reek when you’re around each other. Your body wants him, and trust me, Stark reciprocates. The only thing stopping you is right here.” Logan extended a claw and tapped his head lightly. “Don’t get me wrong, you can ignore it, and lot of people do, but you’re lying to yourself when you say there’s no interest.
“That’s one solution.” Logan picked up a cigar and bit the end off, spitting it on the floor.
“You know I hate it when you’re right.”
“No you don’t, or you wouldn’t be here.”
Steve leaned back and took another drink.
Tony’s scared out of his mind when he returns from Afghanistan. His chest feels raw. He shivers under the blankets. When he walks into his office the next morning, Jarvis is waiting.
Tony’s holding a whisky bottle in one hand, and his cellphone in the other. “I want to make a trade.”
“You’re not going to turn me down this time?” he slurred.
“You’re not a little boy anymore. You’re a good man, Tony Stark. The masses may have skewed opinions about us, but Devils are honorable creatures. So I’ll ask you again, if you could have anything in the world, what would you wish for?”
Tony closed his eyes, thinking. “To be able to breathe. To be pain free. To be able to protect Pepper, Rhodey, and Hap. That’s all I want. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
“You don’t want to get rid of that metal plate in your chest?”
Tony stared down at himself, his expression grim. “I want to remember. I just don’t want to feel the physical pain anymore.”
“Once your soul is gone, you’ll have about two days to start collecting your own. You really only need one, but the more you have, the safer you are. The souls regenerate, so you won’t need to replace them to feed yourself. Don’t keep them together. If someone takes them all, and they wish you ill, you will sicken and fade. You can go several months without feeding, but if you do so for too long, you will die. Do you understand?”
Tony turned away, “I do.”
Tony’s room was in shambles. He was staggering around in his boxers, robe tangled around him. He tossed a decanter of juice at the wall with a snarl. His bed hangings were shredded. The mattress was scorched from when he’d tossed one of the blankets too close to the fireplace and failed to put it out quick enough. He was well and truly pissed off.
“Are you drunk?”
It was only the fact that he wasn’t drunk that kept Tony from grabbing Steve by the neck with his tail. He dropped back, hiding in the shadows, and resumed his camouflage. His eyes flashed silver in the low light, startling Steve. “How the hell did you get in here?” Tony nearly hissed in frustration.
“You gave me the overrides.”
“For emergencies, not so you can traipse around here checking up on me.” Tony snarled.
Steve crossed his arms. He looked at the glass scattered all over the floor, disapproval clear in his expression. “You shouldn’t have the heat up so high, you’re already running a fever. I think you should know, I checked the heaters. There’s nothing wrong with them.
“I don’t want to talk to you right now.”
“I can see that.” Steve frowned. “What’s going on? Do you need help?”
“You can’t help me.”
Steve flinched. “I can’t help you because you won’t let me help you, I came here to discuss something important... are those claw marks?” Steve ran his finger down the notches in the wood of Tony’s bedpost.
“Fine. I’ll go, but when you get in over your head, and you end up in another burning building, or in trouble with the government, don’t come crying to me,” Steve snapped. He turned heel and slammed the door shut behind him.
Tony leaned against the bedpost, his forehead pressed against the cool wood. “Fuck you too.”
“In the interest of self preservation, Stark, would you like to spar?” Carol asked, folding her arms across her chest.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’ve noticed you keep coming up with excuses not to spar with Steve, and since I’m a full disclosure kinda gal, maybe you should just bite the bullet and tell him about your feelings, let him make his own decision. There’s a fifty percent chance that actually talking to the man might make any awkward erections while sparring that much easier to deal with, just a bit of friendly advice.”
“And here I thought we were being subtle,” Tony shot back, grabbing his gloves of the console. “He knows, we’ve discussed it. He doesn’t want anything to do with it.”
“But he was dancing with you last night.”
Tony sighed. “He’s trying to be supportive.”
“What a crock,” Carol frowned, delivering a solid roundhouse kick.
Tony caught it neatly in one glove. “It doesn’t matter. He’s pissed at me.”
“And what did you do to deserve it?”
Tony was breathing heavily, listing to one side. “I don’t feel like talking about it right now, that was half assed, are going to hit me or --”
Her foot connected with his face and sent him flying, he pushed himself to his feet and then fell back on his ass.
“Tony!” Carol and Steve shouted simultaneously. Tony looked up, surprised to see Steve crossing the gym at a sprint.
“I’m fine,” he waved them off. “Peachy.”
“You don’t look fine. I knew it. You’re still sick. You’re just too damned proud to admit it.”
“I’m fine, and that’s fairly hypocritical coming from you. Go mother someone else.”
“No, I want to talk to you. Right now. If you won’t cooperate, consider yourself benched.”
“Good luck with that,” Tony snapped.
He tossed his gloves on the mat and began peeling the tape off his hands. “Don’t bother looking for me in the lab, Steve. Your codes won’t work. Please consider yourself persona non grata.”
Steve realized he was clenching his fists. He took a deep breath, and forced himself to relax.
“Should, I... Should I try to talk to him?”
Carol’s eyed him sympathetically. “That depends, are you done beating around the bush?”
“Look, something is going on, I don’t know what it is. I tried to talk to him earlier, but he got mad at me... Carol, he destroyed his room.”
Carol tilted her head to the side. “Did you know he called Pepper last night, and she flew back here all the way back from Milan in Rescue.”
Steve paled. “You don’t think he’s dying, do you?” His voice broke.
“Steve, you’re jumping at shadows. I think you need to talk to him.”
Tony stared at the screen blankly, he had written the same line of code three times. He tried to take a sip of his coffee and it sloshed onto the table.
“What are you going to do?” Pepper asked.
“I’m trying to figure out where the hell they are...” He grabbed another post it note with his tail and tried to scrawl an address but his hands were still shaking, and the pen scratched uselessly against the paper.
“You can’t even see straight. You need to tell them.”
Tony dropped the pen.
The console lit up. “Captain Rogers is attempting to enter the workshop.”
He swung around, cursing violently, “I told him to stay away.”
Pepper arched an eyebrow. “Because that’s worked so well in the past.”
“Perimeter Breached!” The sirens began to blare.
Tony’s eyes widened, “Pep, I’m too weak, I can’t cloak myself right now. Get rid of him. Please!”
Pepper gave him a nasty look and headed toward the sound of shattering glass.
Steve stopped in front of Pepper, trying to look past her into the workshop. “Where is he?”
She crossed her arms and stared up at him, “Steve, I’m going to ask you politely to leave. He doesn’t want to see you right now.”
“Ms. Potts, I respect you a great deal, but I’m going to have to ask you to move aside.”
“And If I refuse?” Pepper asked, curiously.
“I will be forced to create an alternate entry point that will probably result in a great deal of property damage.”
She frowned. “Personally, I think you’re both idiots. But Tony needs your help, and he’s too proud to ask. So sure, why not.
Pepper rolled her eyes and walked past him, her heels clicking smartly on the concrete floor.
Steve pushed the door open and walked toward the center console.
Tony was facing away from him.
Steve froze, transfixed.
Tony was touching the screen with one hand, and jotting notes with the other, and he had a... a tail... long, curving and sinuous, currently wrapped around a cup of coffee that it was holding aloft near Tony’s mouth. Steve made a choking noise and Tony whirled around, dropping the cup. It hit the floor and rolled toward Steve’s feet.
“What?” Steve choked out.
“I told her not to let you in!” Tony growled, his tail lashing.
“Are you a mutant?”
Tony prowled toward him. “Guess again,” he snarled.
Steve reached out, unthinking, and ran his thumb over the curve of Tony’s horn.
Tony jerked away, startled. “Don’t touch me!”
Steve dropped his hand. “I came to make sure you were ok.”
Tony’s tail lashed, and he tilted his head. His eyes flashing in the low light. “Someone has my souls.” His tail wrapped around Steve’s ankle. “Without them, I’ll die... I’m dying right now.” His tail continued to spiral around Steve’s leg until it curved away from his body, hovering near Steve’s face. “I’m too weak to reclaim what I’ve lost. All I need is a soul. One soul. Are you willing to trade me yours?” The tip of Tony’s tail brushed Steve’s cheek.
“Noble, self sacrificing fool.” Tony hissed in disgust. “Do you know how badly I want you? How good you smell?” Tony leaned toward him and Steve could see how he was trembling.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, Tony. I’ve been lying to myself. I want this... I'd like to try, anyway. And if that means I have to hunt down the people trying to hurt you,” he cupped Tony’s cheek, running his thumb over the stubborn set of his jaw, “I will. And if that means giving you my soul, I will. And if that means waking up every morning with a tail wrapped around my leg, I will. You’re beautiful. What did you think I would do if I saw you like this? Even if we haven’t been lovers, we’ve been partners for a long time, I wouldn’t... not over this,” he choked.
Tony’s eyes softened. “You’ll be like me. A devil. I—You know the reputation we have...”
Steve leaned in until their foreheads were touching, “I won’t be evil, because there’s no evil in you, and that’s all that matters.”
Tony closed his eyes for a moment. “Then... what would you wish for, if you could have anything?” Tony paused. “I can’t send you back in time, and I can’t make anyone love you. And darling, don’t wish for anything ridiculous like world peace, it has to be something personal.”
Steve wrapped his hand around the back of Tony’s neck. ”I think someone already loves me... I want your home back. And I want the location of the bastards who have your souls.“
“Don’t you want anything for yourself?”
Steve gave him a heated look. “Just you.”
Steve screamed when Tony inscribed his name in his flesh in broad looping strokes, using the sharp point of his tail as a pen. He coaxed Steve’s soul out through his parted lips.
Steve fell to the floor, like a puppet with severed strings. Tony sat with him, running his hands through Steve’s hair as he changed.
“I’m going alone.” Steve said.
“Tony, you’re still sick. You need to stay here and rest.”
“I promise, I’ll make it up to you when I get back.”
“Hmmm.” Tony paused, considering. Eventually he smiled. “Blue is a good color on you.”
Steve flicked his tail, and smiled.
“Azure, like your eyes.”
Steve ran his fingers over his horns. “Flattery will get you nowhere. Now be a good boy and eat your soul.”
Tony rolled Steve’s soul between his palms, watching him under his lashes as he lifted it toward his mouth. He closed his eyes and licked.
Steve made an obscene noise almost dropped to his knees.
Tony’s eyes flew open.
Steve closed his mouth and swallowed. He was flushed from the tips of his ears to the skin at the base of his neck. “Is that normal?”
“That’s a first for me,” Tony said, running his thumb across Steve’s soul.
“Stop that,” Steve said, closing his eyes.
Tony grinned. “Jarvis always said whoever had possession of your soul could project certain emotions that would manifest as a physical response to stimulation. For instance if your soul falls into the hands of an enemy, you would sicken, like I have, but this, this is much more... interesting.”
“Don’t worry,” Tony leered. “I’ll be good... until you get back.”
Steve shook his head.
“Will I get sick too?” Steve asked.
“That depends on you.” Tony smiled. “When you said you wanted me, I decided to interpret that literally.I transferred my soul to you as part of our bargain. I was one of the few devils lucky enough to have possession of my own soul. Jarvis left it to me after his passing. So the faster you get the souls back, the better the odds.
Steve was gone almost three days chasing down members of the Wrecking Crew. In the end, they didn’t know what they had. They’d raided the remains of Tony’s mansion looking for blueprints and technology. When they’d broken into the safe, they were confused by their spoils. Eventually they’d decided to take the souls for further study. If they were locked up in Tony Stark’s basement, there was probably a good reason for it. It took Steve less than an hour to clear out their current headquarters and pile Tony’s souls in the back of his car.
One of the souls in particular, a large red sphere that reminded Steve of fresh saltwater taffy, called to him. He separated it from the rest, setting it in the front seat, and absently ran his fingers through it as he headed back toward Manhattan.
Tony’s toes curled, his fingers fisted in the sheets, warmth pooling in his groin. He moaned, chasing the dregs of his dream toward a pulsating climax, the warm mouth pulsing along his dick, in a slow, pleasurable glide, sunlight and arousal warming his body into a languorous, contented puddle of sensation. He splayed his legs wider, licking his lips as his tail slithered around Steve’s ankle. His brain began to catch up with his body, and Tony opened his eyes. Steve’s mouth was wrapped around him under the covers. He fisted one hand in Steve’s hair to let him know he was awake. Steve’s tongue curled along the base of his cock in response. He grabbed Tony’s thighs, dragging his body down the bed, and deeper into Steve’s mouth.
Tony didn’t last long, arching into Steve’s mouth with a slow snap of his hips and a sleepy stuttering moan. His mouth felt pleasantly swollen. He closed his eyes, focusing on the aftershocks. Steve crawled out from under the blanket and settled on top of him, a heavy weight that was both protective and smothering. His tongue darted along the seam of Tony’s mouth in a slow trace. Tony parted his lips, tasting his come in the slow swirl of Steve’s tongue. Tony sucked on the tip of Steve’s tongue, sliding his hand between them, under the band of Steve’s classic white briefs, drawing the elastic over Steve’s cock, until it settled snug against his balls. Tony withdrew his hand and spread his legs a little, inviting.
“It’s your day, not mine,” Steve rasped against his mouth.
“I want my boyfriend to fuck me into the mattress while I’m half awake,” Tony slurred, drowsy and sated.
Steve closed his eyes and positioned his cock between Tony’s thighs, the sunlight streaming through the window a warm brand against the gentle sloping curve of his ass.
Tony tipped his head back, the damp curls at the nape of his neck a startling contrast to the white cotton pillowcase. He let his breath go deep and even, floating between sleep and wakefulness.
Steve closed his eyes, rolled his hips in a slow dragging fuck, sliding into the damp cleft between Tony’s legs.
Tony’s lips curved and he pressing his legs together in a slick vise.
Steve’s heart was pounding to the rhythm of skin on skin, pulsing in tandem with each deep thrust.
Tony made soft whimpering noises beneath him, one hand curled in the sheets as Steve savored the warm hollow of his thighs. He opened his eyes slowly, his tail curling around Steve’s thigh, sliding across his ass, as he whispered, “Come.”
Steve moaned, shooting hard across Tony’s stomach. He landed heavy and sweat slicked against the hard plane of Tony’s chest. Tony licked the curve of Steve’s mouth, smiling against his lips. He pulled back, running his tail through the mess on his chest, and drew the tip into his mouth as Steve watched...
Tony startled awake, panting for breath. The heavy blanket he was wrapped in was saturated with sweat. His pants were unpleasantly sticky from the most vivid wet dream he’d had since high school.
Steve was sleeping in a chair a few feet away, his hands wrapped around a very familiar soul. Tony’s lips quirked.
Careful not to wake Steve, he slipped into the shower and cleaned himself up. As he started to feel more awake, he realized that his fever was gone.
When he came out, toweling his hair dry, Steve was watching him with a hooded expression.
“Yes, thanks to you.”
Steve smiled. “You were cheating at basketball.”
Tony gave him an incredulous look. “Yeah, ok,” he said grudgingly. “That’s really what you want to discuss first?”
“Not really, but you totally owe me a rematch, with tails.”
“You’re very odd. You do realize you won the game, right?” Tony shivered as Steve ran his thumb across the soul sitting in his lap. “And... in the interest of self preservation, could you please stop stroking my soul. While I normally consider myself virile, I’m not sure I can go again quite this soon...”
Steve’s hands stilled. “I”m sorry... I didn’t... you mean?”
“It’s fine, they very pleasant dreams, don’t apologize, although, for future reference, I find the real deal preferable.”
Steve reached out, and grabbed his wrist, tugging Tony down until he settled his weight in Steve’s lap.
“Why didn’t I do this sooner?” Steve sighed.
“I don’t know Steve, I want you so badly, you have no idea...I want stupid, sentimental things that I have no right to want. I want you in my bed in the morning, I want your toothbrush in my bathroom, and your awful tee-shirts in my closet --”
“Only if you’ll wear my letterman’s jacket --”
“And I want you to try and trick me into adopting a three-legged golden retriever, wait, was that a joke --”
“That’s oddly specific, and yes, I think it was. Tony?”
Steve grabbed the collar of his shirt and yanked him forward, sealing their mouths together. Tony made a low humming noise and closed his eyes, melting into it. Steve ran his fingers through Tony’s hair, brushing them lightly over the base of his horns, and Tony moaned into his mouth.
When they broke apart Tony grabbed his hand, twining their fingers. “We should probably tell the team about the devil thing, huh?”
“Where’d you put my souls?”
“They’re in the safe.”
“You know, I think you deserve a reward.”
Steve grinned. “What did you have in mind?”
“Come to bed and I’ll show you.”
When they came down to breakfast the next morning, Logan snorted.
“What was that about?” Peter asked.
“Well, kid, when a man and another man love each other very much...”
“Woah, woah... stop. I’m sorry I asked!”
Tony ran a hand through his hair and slumped over the table. “Your pudding’s in the fridge. Bottom shelf. In the back.”
Peter hit the floor and started rooting through the fridge. “Man, this is shaping up to be a good day. He smiled at his pudding cup. I’m glad they finally got the heat fixed.”
“Yeah, me too,” Steve laced his fingers through Tony’s under the table.
Logan grinned knowingly and cracked opened a beer.