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Play Nice, Children

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Tony smiles absently as he lays the last few lines of ink down on Thor’s like-new Avengers ID card. Although it’s easily the dozenth time Tony’s had to fix the card, the task always makes him happy because it means his teammate is making use of his technology. Thor is notoriously hard to buy for, being an alien god with only intermittent care for Earthly artifacts, but this is one thing Tony can get right.

For example: he’s repairing the card tonight because it served its purpose of calling Thor to fight alongside his teammates, and was struck by a glancing blow during the melee. Tony volunteered to fix it up quickly after the battle, eager to do one more good deed before joining the team on their traditional post-battle meal out. This afternoon, it sounded like Steve is going to show the team a place he found in Midtown recently. Tony couldn’t be more ready to visit Steve’s favorite restaurants (and thus potential dating spots!) if Steve had invited him specifically (well, maybe a little).

He blows on the ink just a little to make sure it’s dry, then springs up from his lab bench. He’s already dressed for a nice place, in deep gray slacks and a rich red shirt that accentuates his physique (not that he did that on purpose; simply put, most clothes accentuate his physique!). Tony reminds himself not to bounce or otherwise look too excited as the elevator takes him to the main floor, where his team will be waiting.

When the doors open, however, the halls and rooms of the main floor are empty. Tony wanders for a minute, wondering if they’re out in the backyard or in the kitchen for some reason, then gives up.

“JARVIS,” he asks quietly, “have they already gone?”

“I’m afraid so, sir,” his AI replies. “Ms. van Dyne said she believed you were busy with your work, but indicated you would be welcome to join them if you wished. Would you like the address of the restaurant?”

Tony sighs, looking down at his watch on the hand holding the ID card. “No. They’ve probably started eating already. I’ll… see him- see them- when they get back.”

He heads back to the kitchen and makes himself a cold sandwich. Maybe Thor will appreciate his work, at least.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Tony is tinkering with some spec sheets on his tablet in the kitchen when the word ‘explosions’ penetrates his consciousness. He looks up and finds Clint and Jan sitting across the breakfast bar from him. The plates strewn about prove that they’ve been there for a while.

Jan is shaking her head at Clint. “We’re trying to keep it low-key. Nothing to make Thor or Hulk rowdy, and nothing Steve won’t approve of.”

“Are we planning a party?” Tony asks. His voice is raspy. He checks the time while he takes a sip of cold coffee- looks like he’s been working here for a few hours.

We’re planning a party,” Clint says pointedly, grinning at Tony. “You’re about to fall into that tablet and never come out. Do you ever relax?”

“I relax,” Tony defends, mildly affronted. “Just yesterday I took the whole afternoon off to hang out with Ant-Man.”

“You were working on incorporating Pym Particles into weapons on your suit,” Jan says dryly.

“That’s relaxing!”

“Whatever,” Clint replies. “I’m not sure you know how to cut lose anymore. Used to be you were the go-to guy for parties, but now? I don’t think Steve will want to head down to the workshop for a night on the town.”

“The party’s for Steve?” Tony asks, suddenly much more interested. “What’s the occasion?”

“Nothing in particular. I just think it’s time we get him to socialize with non-superheroes,” Jan explains. “We’re trying to decide where to go. Got any ideas?”

“Uhh,” Tony racks his brains for things Steve likes. “You could hit up the Met. I think I remember something about an exhibit opening, and they always have the best hors d'oeuvres. “ He slides his fingers over the tablet screen and quickly summons up his invite. “Yeah, I could get a few of us in there.”

Clint has his face mashed up against his palm, staring like Tony’s the most boring thing he’s ever seen and he’s about to fall asleep. Jan is biting her lip. “I think we’re looking for something a bit more… exciting. Not that art isn’t great, but-”

“If I wanted to fall asleep in front of a bunch of high-society snobs, I’d just go to one of your charity events,” Clint interrupts.

“Okay,” retorts Tony. “What were you thinking?”

“I know lots of great places to meet people!” Jan enthuses. “There’s this new club on 38th Street that actually has a superhero theme! Wouldn’t that be fun?”

Tony frowns. “I’m not sure Cap’s the clubbing type.”

“Me neither.” Clint nods. “Which is why we need to take him paintballing. What’s better for getting to know people than stalking them through the woods?”

Jan makes a weird face. “Um, pretty much anything?”

“How about dancing?” Tony suggests. “There’s a place a few blocks away that does swing nights. Pepper likes them.”

Both of his teammates stare at Tony.

“Ew,” says Jan. “So retro, and not in the cool way.”

“How old are you?” Clint says scathingly.

“Maybe this just isn’t your sort of thing, Tony,” Jan decides. “I think Clint, Carol, Thor and I can show Steve around.”

“You know, the ones who know how to party,” Clint specifies with a raised eyebrow.

With his chest filling with disappointment, Tony laughs awkwardly and collects his tablet. He heads back to the lab, hearing Clint’s and Jan’s enthusiastic planning continue behind him.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Tony enters the conference room a few minutes ahead of the scheduled meeting, ready to call up his presentation materials. He finds the wide room already lit by holograms above the conference table. Black Panther is wiling away the tail end of his monitoring shift by working on some blueprints.

Tony squints at the images as he approaches, racking his brains.

“Hey!” He snaps his fingers, grinning. “Are you using modulated sound waves to counter vibration damage there? I worked on something like that for bridges a few years back. Well, I worked on the code for the monitoring and transmission systems, the actual sonic modulator won’t be invented for a few years on the outside. Maybe I could work with you on the plans?”

It’s tough to figure out T’Challa’s emotions through the mask he wears most of the time, but considering he’s usually being either serious or disdainful, an intelligent man can make a pretty good guess. Tony fidgets as Panther turns away from him wordlessly and goes back to the hologram, but there’s always the chance his teammate is considering his offer.

“I mean, you’re a great inventor, and your country is famous for being technologically innovative, and, well, I’m Tony Stark. You know, it’s actually kind of weird that we haven’t collaborated yet-”

Tony cuts off as T’Challa opens a new file and a detailed technical sketch of a sonic modulating device fills the air above the conference table. Tony stares at it for a minute, taking in the evidence of production specifications for the clearly functional device, then looks at T’Challa with his jaw hanging open.

“My country’s designs are private,” Panther tells him, closing the file. There’s something smug in his tone, or maybe it’s just superior. Tony is too off-balanced to tell. “And though you are a very smart man, Iron Man, Wakandan science is significantly ahead of your own. I have no need to collaborate with you.”

“Uh. That’s great,” says Tony weakly. “You… good luck with your thing there.” T’Challa nods coolly.

Tony circles the table to find his own seat. He sits there in silence until the rest of the Avengers file in, as loud and enthusiastic as always.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Tony is shuffling files- paper files, because SHIELD- in his arms as he walks into the Avengers Mansion. He’s so engrossed in the latest risk analyses that he doesn’t hear the sounds of a party going on in the living room. He does look up when he smells food, his stomach giving a hopeless little gurgle.

He looks. Thor, Jan, and Vision are facing the hallway, the organics holding plates of wings and bottle of beer, and Vision sipping one of the carbon-based conduction ‘beverages’ Tony invented for their resident robot. On the long couch facing the TV, Hawkeye, Carol, and Steve are lounging. The atmosphere is great, with various conversations overlapping as something plays on the TV, and laughter rises above poppy background music.

Tony wobbles a little bit in the direction of the scene. It’s been so long since he relaxed with friends; lately everything has been work, work, and more work. It’s been a long day at Stark Industries and meeting with SHIELD and Fury’s latest minion. He wouldn’t mind taking a load off, maybe having one of those beers and a few fresh, hot wings.

But his team looks like they’re having fun, and Tony feels like he barely even remembers how. He’d probably bring down the mood, and anyway it doesn’t look like there’s space for another person on the couches.

He doubts they’ll miss him, anyway.

“Tony!”

Tony has already reached the kitchen by the time a voice pulls him from his redoubled concentration on the files. He turns and finds Steve slowing from a jog to stand at his side.

“Didn’t you hear me calling?” Steve asks, smiling.

“Sorry,” Tony says, “I was wrapped up in my thoughts.”

He feels bad for making Steve rush to catch him. The man should be enjoying downtime; they all get little enough of it these days as it is. Steve in particular has had a rough go of it, what with being kidnapped by the Skrulls and facing down the public backlash.

Steve clearly isn’t offended, though. His smile softens as he looks at Tony. “You work too hard, Tony. Come relax with us.” Steve reaches out to tuck a hand under Tony’s bicep, gently tugging him toward the atrium and the living room.

Tony resists, still unsure. “I don’t think I’ll be much fun, Cap.”

“Nonsense,” declares Steve. “We’re about to play charades. You can be on my team,” he suggests, pearly whites flashing.

“I don’t know,” Tony prevaricates, but Steve removes the files from his hands and sets them on the kitchen island.

“Work will be there when you get back.” He throws an arm around Tony’s shoulders, whisking him away. “I’ve missed you lately, Shellhead.”

“Yeah,” Tony says. He can feel his cheeks getting warm at Steve’s words and the feel of his arm around him, so he makes sure to look away, like he’s inspecting the Mansion for damage (not an unusual activity). “I’ve… missed you too.”

Steve’s arm tightens around his shoulders. “Well, we’ll have to change that, won’t we?” he says firmly.

Tony smiles and melts into the partial embrace, and his loneliness melts away.