Tony groaned when he saw the throng of journalists – vultures, really – in front of the tower. They wouldn’t leave him alone since they got wind of his break up with Pepper. It was as if Stark Industries new (and improved) prosthetics mattered less than his personal life.
Who was he kidding? These so called journalists always preferred the gritty and the bloody. When they smelt blood – or think they did, they always come hoping for more. In this case, there was no blood, it was not even a blip in the news. Yes, Pepper and he broke up. Yes, it was awful because even though you wished it, some relationships were not meant to be. And Tony wished with all his heart that their couple could work. If Pepper couldn’t love him that way, who was going to? That was not point.
And really, they actually parted on good terms. More or less. He just needed to let her have her space for a while. Until Pepper thought she was ready to see or call him regularly, Tony was going to work diligently to sign paperwork (boring), go to board meetings (boring) and go to shows he was invited (so very boring).
Not wanting to deal with the crowd, Tony passed them discretely and entered the alleyway behind the tower. There was a service door that he used when he didn’t want to deal with people. He sighed with relief when no journalists followed him. He was going to press the code to open the door when he heard a small yip.
Tony looked but didn’t see anything unusual. It sounded like a dog. he yipped again. Something shuffled near the wall and whined. Yeah, it was a dog. Tony grimaced. He wasn’t a fan of dogs. They were overexcited 99% of the time, always asking for attention and not potty-trained.
(Pepper’s sarcastic voice rang at the back of his mind, “Oh, that reminds me of someone.”)
“Shut up,” Tony muttered, “I’m at least potty-trained.”
A dog’s head jutted out from behind a cardboard box. It had a short brownish coat and the most hypnotizing blue eyes Tony has ever seen on a dog. It was adorable the way the dog looked at Tony.
Tony shook his head. No. Dogs were not adorable. They might be friendly but they were messy and so dependable. The dog cocked his head on the side as if he didn’t understand Tony and whined.
“Whatever, I need to–” he trailed off and entered the code. The door opened with a click. The dog chose this moment to jump over the box and bark at Tony. Gripping fiercely the door, the engineer took a step back, startled, his other hand over his heart.
“Don’t… I have a bad heart, ok, don’t scare me like that dog.”
Tony closed his eyes to get his heartbeat under control. But then he thought that it might not be a good idea: what if the dog attacked him and he didn’t see it in time? When Tony opened his eyes, the dog had moved up him and sat down next to his right shoe, looking at him with an expectant air.
“Ok, stupid dog, what do you want from me? I don’t have any food.”
The dog whined and started to wag his tail.
Hm, Tony mused, maybe he is hungry.
“Listen, puppy, I don’t have time for you. You should go back to wherever you come from.”
The dog tilted his head but stayed put. Tony shrugged and stepped inside the tower. The door closed with the mournful whine of the dog. The engineer felt a twinge of guilt but dismissed it quickly. It wasn’t his dog; he didn’t have to take care of it. The owner would surely find it or the dog would remember where he lives.
A few days passed and Tony completely forgot about it until the day Pepper came (barged in) in his office and told him that she was going to call animal control.
(Also, he would later remind her she broke her own rule about space.)
“I’m sorry, what? Why do you want to call animal control? Don’t tell me there’s a gerbil on the loose in my tower.”
Pepper took the time to roll her eyes.
“No, there are no gerbil on the loose. Not since last time.” She threw Tony a glare and continued, “I’m going to call animal control because the situation has become unbearable. Employees complained and–”
“Wait,” Tony interrupted, removing his goggles and squinting at Pepper. He didn’t understand what was happening. “You told me there was no gerbil, why do you need to call them? Is there something more dangerous than a gerbil?”
He saw all the self-control Pepper was harnessing. It was truly impressive.
“A gerbil is not dangerous.”
“It ate wires.”
“Alright,” Pepper conceded, “it was dangerous. So is the dog. Even more so.”
“Yes, Tony, a dog outside the tower. At one of the service door. It whines and growls every time an employee goes in and out of the building.”
Tony asked his computer to pull the images of security camera on hunch to look for the dog. When he saw the puppy half hiding behind that box, the guilt came back with a vengeance.
He might be heartless but letting a dog, which was now clearly lost and starving, wasn’t in his habits.
Tony turned toward Pepper who was already on the phone.
“Wait, Pepper, don’t call animal control yet. I’ll take care of it.”
Pepper raised a skeptical eyebrow but stopped the call.
“You? But you hate dogs.”
“I know. You can add “helping dogs off the streets” on my resume, under “Philanthropy”. Or whatever name it is for animals.”
“Tony!” Pepper warned when the engineer started to leave to call the elevator.
“Be right back.” He said as the doors closed. When Pepper will see the dog, she wouldn’t murder him. Right? Yeah, she wouldn’t. Yet.
So yeah, he felt guilty. Big surprise. The dog had been nice to him and Tony left him outside with no food or water. That was irresponsible, even for him.
Tony opened the service door and looked for the dog in his hiding place. He was there, tightly curled up. The dog heard Tony’s steps and looked at him. For a moment, the engineer thought the dog would attack him but it didn’t. Instead, he stood and trotted carefully toward him. Without a second thought, Tony grabbed the dog and cradled him in his arms. It was heavier than he looked. The dog whined at first, then he settled and buried his snout inside Tony’s shirt. The genius hissed at the cold wet touch. The dog let a deep sigh and stilled.
That was easy (ish). Now he needed to go back to the workshop. On his way there, he luckily didn’t meet any of his employees. The workshop was empty when he snuck out of the elevator. Pepper must have left sometime in the last… fifteen minutes. Tony looked around, undecided where he should put the dog. Finally, he settled for his old sofa. It was already used: holes, various stains littered it. Some parts were even charred. A dog couldn’t do worse than that.
Delicately, Tony put the dog on the sofa. At first, he barely moved. Then, he started sniffing and walking in circles. When he was apparently satisfied by his inspection, the dog laid down on its stomach and looked at Tony, ears perked up.
“Ok, I’m going to bring you water and food.” Tony announced. He frowned on second thoughts. Why was he saying everything he was going to do? The dog wouldn’t understand him anyway.
Tony walked the small fridge and the sink he put into his workshop for convenience. Tony took a bowl and poured water from the sink. He put it next to the sofa. The dog must have recognized what was inside because he scrambled to get down to the floor. He sniffed the water and started drinking enthusiastically, splashing water everywhere.
“Wow, ok, slow down, puppy, there’s no rush.” Tony laughed.
Surprisingly, the dog listened to him and slowed down a bit. He was looking sideways at Tony, his ears flickering towards him every time Tony moved.
“You must be hungry now, little guy,” Tony remarked when the dog stopped drinking and watched intently the engineer.
He opened the fridge and made a face. He didn’t have any dog food. Only some pizza leftovers, lasagna and a mug with coffee. Stinking coffee. Tony looked at the mug with disgust and threw the liquid in the sink. He didn’t even remember putting it here.
Could a dog eat pizza? Tony shook his head. Even he knew it wasn’t the right food to give. He fished out his phone from his pocket and called Pepper.
(So this time, it was Tony’s fault. He could admit it.)
“Pep!” He said sweetly when she answered. “Pepper, love of my life, you’re the core of my existence, the line that keeps me on the right track, the buoy–”
“What do you want Tony?” She cut with a sigh. “And a buoy, really?”
“I need help. You keep me afloat.”
“Don’t I know it,” Pepper muttered. “You need help.” She continued, enunciating slowly. She stayed quiet. Tony looked at the dog which was now playing with one of his socks that he must have found under the sofa.
Tony hated long and awkward silences.
“Alright,” she said sounded like she weighed the advantages and the drawbacks in helping Tony. “What do you need?”
“Dog food. For a puppy. You know. For the dog.”
Tony turned on his charms and smiled even though Pepper couldn’t see him.
“You… kept the dog. Why would you do that?” Pepper asked, surprised, her tone verging on suspicious. “Is it the dog of someone you hate?”
“No!” Tony vehemently denied. “I’m not that much of jerk. Just… ask one of your minions. The dog is hungry and is now slobbering on my very expensive shoes. I can’t buy new shoes, Pep.”
“You can and you will. And they are not my minions. They’re assistants because you appointed me CEO.” She relented.
Tony smiled. That was a success.
“Thanks Pep, I’ll owe you one.”
Pepper sighed exaggeratingly loud.
“You’re lucky I like you.”
She hung up before Tony could say anything.
“Did you hear?” Tony said looking at the dog. “She said she liked me but I know she loves me.”
The dog didn’t really seem to care as it was now chewing the sock. Tony guessed he didn’t care, being a dog. The engineer sighed and went to his workbench. He would work for a bit until Pepper’s minion came back with the food. He should call animal control anyway. There was no reason for him to keep the dog longer than he needed to.
He looked the number up and called them. If it turned out the dog didn’t have an owner and had to go to a shelter, Tony would choose a shelter with a no kill policy.
“Animal Care Centers of NYC. I’m Sandra, how can I help you?”
“Hi, I found a dog and wanted to know if he belonged anyone.”
“Of course. Can you describe the dog, sir?”
“It’s brown, short-coated, blue eyes. I’m sorry, I don’t know the breed of this dog.”
“It’s alright. Can you tell me his tattoo?”
Tony looked at the dog.
“Where is it?”
“Inside one of the ears, sir. Are you comfortable doing this?”
Tony made a face. He was Tony Stark, of course he was comfortable.
“Yes, yes, I’ll do it.”
Silence fell as Sandra waited. Tony walked to the dog and crouched. The dog perked up and started snuggling against Tony. The engineer smiled and petted him. Carefully, he edged his hand toward the left ear and lifted it up. The skin was bare. The dog didn’t seem to care so Tony went to right ear.
“I found the number.”
“Great! Can you tell me what it is?”
“Uh, sure. It’s NY-525-1252.”
Tony heard keys being pressed. The woman made a thoughtful sound.
“This dog is lucky; she has an owner. Can you give me your contact information? I’ll let them know where to contact you if it’s no trouble. Otherwise, find the nearest vet and drop her here.”
“No, it’s find. I’ll... keep the dog until then.”
Tony rattled off his number and a name.
“Thank you Mr. Hogan. What you’re doing is great! I’ll let you know as soon as the owner is found. Have a good day, sir!”
So, the dog was a girl, Tony mused as he saw Pepper’s minion waiting awkwardly outside the workshop with the dog food. He gestured him to enter. The young man opened the door and kind of shuffled inside, eyes on the ground.
Tony observed him, amused.
“It’s ok, you can leave it here. Go back to Ms. Potts now.”
“Of– of course, Mr. Stark.”
The assistant didn’t linger and scurried back into the safe space that was the elevator. Tony chuckled a bit. It was always fun to see them squirm in his presence. Pepper would certainly admonish him but still. It was entertaining.
The engineer went to retrieve the bag of dog food. The bristling sound of the bag got the dog excited. He– she started jumping around, wagging her tail like a hurricane.
“Ok, ok, I know. You’re hungry. Wait a second, let me pass. You’re going to make me fall.” Tony warned, trying to be serious. He found it was quite hard not to smile.
Tony took out another bowl, opened the bag and poured it in the bowl. The dog didn’t even wait to eat.
“Alright, eat. I’ll work on something.”
With a smile, Tony went back to his workbench and resumed what he was going before all this. As usual, when the engineer was working time passed quickly. It was only his phone ring tone that broke his concentration.
“Mr. Hogan?” A masculine voice asked.
Tony frowned, ready to correct that person on the name.
“I’m calling because you apparently found my dog.”
The dog. Tony completely forgot about the dog.
“Uh, yes, that’s me.”
“Oh, thank god! I’m… so glad you found her. How is she?” the man rushed, relief and fear clear in his voice.
Tony searched for the dog, hoping she didn’t leave somehow. He found her curled behind the sofa, sleeping.
“Oh, yes, she’s fine. Totally. I fed and watered her so yeah.”
“Thank you. When can I take her home?”
The guy sounded like he was ready to have a meltdown.
“Today? We can meet in Central Park?”
“You– Really?” he said, sounding incredulous then more assured, “yes, of course. Central Park. Text me a time and a place, and I’ll join you.”
“Sure, see you.”
Tony hang up with a satisfied sigh. The dog could finally go back to its rightful owner. Everything was sorting itself out.
“Come on, dog, let’s find you owner.”
The dog yipped and wagged her tail excitedly. Tony smiled despite himself.
“Ok, let’s go. Wait. You need a leash. And a collar.” Tony said after looking on the dog’s neck. He sighed and looked for something that could act as a collar. Finally, he decided to use two straps: one as a collar and the other as leash. The engineer made sure the straps wouldn’t choke the dog. He put on his sunglasses, grabbed the leash and took the elevator to leave the tower.
On his way to Central Park, he texted the owner where to find him. Maybe he should have asked for a picture or how the man was dressed. Tony guessed the owner would recognize his dog but he felt a little uneasy not knowing who he was going to meet.
Fifteen minutes later, he found himself near the Obelisk. He chose this emplacement because it one of the most famous monuments in Central Park. And it was also the closest from the Tower.
Tony had been waiting for ten minutes when he received a text from the dog owner asking where he was. The engineer frowned and started to walk around with the dog.
Someone shouted “Blue” and the dog went crazy. She started to pull and pull on the leash. When it was ineffective, she tried to remove the collar. Tony struggled keeping her by his side. The man was scared he wouldn’t be able to control her. She whined, like she was stopping herself from barking, still tugging on the leash. She was strong. Someone was running toward them and the dog pulled sharply and Tony had to let go or she would have tear his hand.
The dog ran toward a man. He crouched and the dog plowed into him. Tony followed at a more (much more) sedate pace. The man looked up and Tony sucked a silent breath when he was the target of piercing blue eyes full of tears.
“Are you–” The man started, his voice shaking. “Are you the man who found my dog?”
“Yes, that’s me. I… yes.” Tony smiled tentatively. The man closed his eyes and buried his head in the dog’s fur. She was trying to lick her owner’s face, alternatively whining and wagging her tail.
“So, uh.” Tony felt incredibly awkward. Which did not happen. Ever. And certainly not in front of a hot blue-eyed buff. With a dog.
The man sighed and stood. The dog sat next to him, calm and alert. The man looked at him and he smiled, extending his hand.
“Thank you so much. I thought I’d lost her.” The man visibly swallowed.
Tony shook his hand, shrugging.
“It’s fine. She would have found her way home anyway.”
The man had a watery smile.
“She’s a service dog, without her I’m…” He started to say but stopped, embarrassed.
“Well, that’s healthier than what I do which is not sleep or eat for two or three days at a time.”
The man chuckled. They were still holding hands.
“Steve Rogers, and this is Blue.” The man – Steve – said, gesturing toward him and the dog.
“Tony Stark.” The engineer blurted.
Steve’s eyes crinkled.
“Nice to meet you, Tony.”
Tony might just fell in love right about now.