Tony's armor came back online with a sad sounding whir, cervos straining as he flailed out from beneath the bits of building from which he'd been thrown through.
"Iron Man! Report, what's your status?"
Cap's voice brought his attention back to the screens popping up on his HUD, showing the Avengers gathered around the remains of their primary fight location. His scanners showed Doom long gone, escaped once again but at least defeated, for now.
"I'm fine, be right there. What sent Doom running this time?"
"This battle was my victory! He could no longer withstand the force of Mjornir and fled like the true coward he is."
Tony grinned at Thor's obvious pride and stood from his bed of rubble. With repulsors and flight stabilizers back online, Tony blasted up into the sky and shot toward the others. His eyes flickered between screens, listening to his team bicker and Steve coordinating clean-up with SHIELD. A small, barely noticeable blip appeared on a radar designed to seek out unusual tech and without a moment's thought Tony altered his course for the spot.
It was an area that was trashed, clearly where a part of the battle had taken place. It was strewn with broken building pieces, Hulk sized footprints and torn asphalt but mixed in were the destroyed remains of a squadron of Doom’s robot attack dogs. The signal appeared to be coming from one such pile of broken parts. Sensing no potential for threat, Tony set down by the pile in question and lifted the face plate, brown eyes roving curiously over the once sleek metal now charred black and twisted with split wires. The head was in one piece, Tony noted absently but what really caught his notice was the barely there glimmer of red light still visible at the eyes.
“Oh.” He breathed, surprised. The robot was still online, even after all the damage done to it. “Well, can’t just leave you here then, can I?”
The Doom Dog made no response but that could have been damage done to the vocal processors or just that Doom had never given them any in the first place. Tony would put his money on the latter, typical. Doom had no respect for anyone or thing other than himself.
Mind made up, Tony took out two metal balls, magnetized them and used them to gather up all the relevant parts of the robot before spanning out a field of magnetism to carry them behind him with.
“Iron Man, ETA?” Cap asked through the comm, another note of worry in his voice.
“On the way, Cap. One minute.” Tony responded just as Falcon swooped down by him, expression curious even through the mask.
“He’s okay, Cap. Looks like he’s been garbage collecting.”
“Not garbage, Sam. Just a new project.”
Falcon just shrugged, “As if you don’t have enough of those hanging around. Just don’t be putting the spare pieces in my room! Again.”
“You do it once and no one ever lets you live it down.” Tony grumbled. “Alright, alright, let’s head on home, Avengers!”
After washing off the sweat and blood from the battle and dealing with his minor injuries, Tony went down to his lab where the remains of the Doom Dog were. It truly was in a sad state and after poking around it's parts for a few minutes he decided it was best just to scrap most of it's body and build the bot a new one.
"How about that, do you like that idea?" He muttered absently to the still unresponsive tech.
“Scanning complete, sir. All traces of Doctor Doom’s programming has been eliminated and replaced with superior specs.” Jarvis reported and Tony grinned.
“Go ahead and sound a little more proud of yourself why don’t you? Feels good to take something of that asshole’s and not only rebuild it but make it better, doesn’t it?”
“As you say, sir.”
“Yeah, yeah, now come on. Help me get this guy set up with a new body.” Tony made a beckoning motion toward his helper bots to bring him the waiting sheets of metal and lit up his torch.
He loved nothing more than to do this kind of work, when he couldn't be Avenging he would rather be building. And this, this robot, he could fix it, make it better than it was. He could give it a purpose beyond the senseless destruction Doom so reveled sending his little robodogs after.
Besides, he could only imagine the look on Doom's face when he saw Tony's new and improved version of a creation of the megalomaniac’s.
When Tony didn't resurface from his lab by the next afternoon, Steve was concerned enough to venture down on his own. If the other had come back around at some point he probably wouldn't have bothered until the following day to drag Tony back out but after the way they'd briefly lost contact with Iron Man during the battle, well, Steve was a bit worried. Tony wasn't always as open and honest about his own health the way he should be. Steve just wanted to make sure Tony hadn't locked himself away to bleed out on the floor or something else equally horrifying.
And it really said something about their lives that that scenario was a legitimate concern.
When the elevator doors to the workshop slid open, Steve stepped out with an immediate wary and alert sweep of the area. Luckily, nothing was on fire or obviously unsettled but in a place like Tony's workshop, something that looked harmless could be more dangerous than anything else. However, this time Tony was actually in his immediate line of sight and Steve let some tension drain from his stance.
"Tony." He said, mainly to announce his presence, just in case Jarvis hadn't already warned the genius.
Tony spun toward him on the stool and grinned up at the super soldier, the genius' hair was disheveled and there was a streak of something dark down near the right side of his jaw. His eyes were light with excitement and eagerness, a usual expression when Tony had something to share.
"Steve! Great timing! Check out our new addition to the Tower security." Tony got up and moved around the lab table before making a beckoning gesture. From behind the table a large metal dog shaped thing appeared to stare up at Steve with shining electric blue eyes, head cocked to one side.
Steve blinked and looked over at Tony with one brow raised. “Is that what I think it is?”
“Depends on what you think it is. If you think it’s an awesome new guard dog that won’t ever poop in your shoes then you’d be right!”
“No, Tony, I was thinking more along the lines of that being one of Doom’s robot things.”
“Oh.” Tony crossed his arms over his chest, the light of the arc reactor disappearing as he did. “Well, you’re half right then. He used to be a Doom Dog but I found him all busted up and gave him a whole new functioning system and shiny new body to match.”
That seemed like a really bad idea. Wouldn’t a machine of Doom’s be safer disposed of rather than a possible leak for him to slip through? Steve said as much and Tony scoffed, crouching down to pet the robot between it’s pointy ears.
“Please, have a little faith in me. Jarvis and I completely removed anything in this pup that could connect with Doom and recreated it. He’s safe as kittens. Kittens with defensible lasers and such but you know, kittens. You get the idea.”
Terrifyingly enough, Steve did. He wasn’t a genius in robotics or math or engineering but he was getting to be fluent in Tony and his Tony Translator was explaining a lot more then the man himself. It was likely that Tony had stumbled across the robot mostly smashed to bits on the battlefield, felt some form of compassion or need to fix it then brought it home. Where he promptly became obsessed with not only fixing it but making it better than it was. Doing something better then making a weapon meant only for destruction. Tony Stark, despite all outward appearances, was a tangled and complicated mess of human emotion and if his form of coping was occasionally rebuilding a seemingly mistreated robot then Steve was inclined to let it go. There were many more unhealthy avenues the genius could be using and he’d much rather keep Tony away from any temptation toward those.
“Just make sure you keep an eye on it.” He said finally, grinning slightly at the immediate loss of stiffness in Tony’s shoulders and more genuine expression in the smile on his face. “Have you named it yet?”
Steve paused tellingly and Tony looked at him, brows furrowed. “What? It’s a classic, alright. And it’s ironic. And Doom will hate it so it’s perfect, will you stop looking at me like that!”
“Sorry, it’s just as a genius I would have thought you’d be better at this naming stuff.”
Tony snorted and waved his hand to indicate the lab in general, “Steve, I named my first robot Dummy. My superhero moniker is Iron Man, which isn’t even right, the armor’s not made of iron, and the smartest AI in the world I named after an old butler of my family. Obviously, names aren’t my strong point but that doesn’t matter because Sparky is perfect so shut up.”
Shaking his head but obeying, Steve crouched down and also reached out to touch the robot’s head, which it actually seemed to like. Out the corner of his eye he saw Tony smiling at him, a small smile tinged with a bit of puzzlement, like he didn’t know why Steve was so clearly humoring him. But that was okay, Tony would figure it out one of these days. The man was a genius after all, just a bit slower sometimes when it came to emotions and such things.
“So, Sparky. Are you keeping him silver?”
“I’m not sure. I was thinking a red and gold color scheme to match Iron Man but then people might get ideas and start calling him the Iron Dog or something. Which is lame, okay, no. Then I thought of red and blue but figured people would try and label him Superdog, ugh, and green just wouldn’t work. Purple is a horrible dog color and would give Clint airs anyway, red and black won’t do because I want him to be badass not scary as shit. So I’m thinking of keeping him silver and painting a nice big A for Avengers on his chest.”
“I think that would be a great idea. Just make sure to introduce everyone to him before you set him loose on the Tower. One of the others might take exception and break him if they don’t know who he is.” Steve said and Tony nodded.
“Good point. That would not be fun.”
Sparky bobbed his shiny head as if in agreement and Steve grinned. “So, how much does he understand?”
“Simple commands so far. He’s smarter then Dummy but nowhere near the level of Jarvis. I’m debating on giving him English or keeping the canine vocalizations.” Tony said.
“Letting him talk would be a smarter tactical move.”
“I thought of that too but he’s really just extended eyes and ears for Jarvis. Anything he sees, Jarvis sees and can relay to us. But, I don’t know, I do like the idea of having a talking robot dog stalking the halls of the tower.” The genius was smirking, clearly imagining all the trouble he could entice with his new project loose on the Avengers.
Amused, Steve just shook his head. “Well, it’s really up to you, Tony. He’s your responsibility.”
“Right, I’ll think it over. In the meantime, I’m guessing the reason you came down here wasn’t to marvel over my work.”
“No, not this time.” Steve said, taking in Tony’s raised brow at that. “I came down to make sure you were all right. It’s about time you got some rest and food.”
“Hmm, I am hungry. Anything particular you have in mind?” Tony began shoving at some of the tools on his work top and tapping at various blue buttons suspended in the air that disappeared at his touch. Sparky sat down, his metal tail swishing over the floor with soft metallic sounds, head cocked as he also watched Tony move.
Relieved that Tony was willing to leave, Steve shrugged. “Come to the kitchen and I’ll cook something, I’m pretty sure the others all ate and crashed already.”
“Oooh, home cooked dinner by Captain America himself! I feel so patriotic.”
“You should feel privileged, Stark.” Steve said lightly, “American icons don’t cook for just anybody after all.”
Tony turned to look at him, pausing in his movements as he stared assessingly at Steve, as if looking for something. Steve just met his gaze steadily and after a moment, Tony shook his head but his eyes gleamed with contemplation now as he snorted. “Just the billionaire genius’ who can’t fend for themselves when it comes to frying pans or eggs, right?”
“You’re catching on.” Steve said with a touch of laughter.
Unamused, Tony rolled his eyes and waved both hands at Steve. “Alright, alright, let’s go then. Feed me, boy wonder. Jarvis, make sure Dummy doesn’t break anything and Sparky, stay.”
“As always, sir.” Jarvis replied as Sparky looked after the both of them with his glowing eyes but obediently made no move to follow them out. Instead, he stood up and circled in place a few times for lying down, head on his silver paws.
After a moment, Jarvis’ voiced filled the workshop, amused. “Yes, Sparky, they are always like that. You’ll get used to it.”
“Jesus, Stark! What is it with you and machines! You’ve got that creepy English butler that I am convinced watches me in the shower, a demented one armed robot that always follows me around with that stupid dunce hat and now you’ve got a killer robo-dog!”
“He’s not a killer robo-dog, Barton, get a hold of yourself.”
“It’s got lasers! It almost lasered me!”
“He, Barton, it’s a he and yes, he has lasers. Maybe now you’ll stop sticking arrows in places they do not belong.”
“Is something wrong, fellas?”
“Clint was picking on Sparky.”
“I hate everyone in this place.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Well, I hate you.”
“Nope. I make you awesome stuff, you love me.”
“That’s the Captain’s boat, not mine.”
“Well, I’m out! Keep your creepy little robot dog away from me, Stark!”
“Just be nice to him and remember he has access to the vents too.”
By the time Doom made another move against the Avengers, a month had passed since the last attack and in that time Sparky had already proved his worth in a previous attack on the tower by Hydra. Needless to say, there wasn’t a person on the team who didn’t like him, even Clint who finally wised up and stopped trying to antagonize the robot dog. In the end, Tony had decided against giving Sparky a human voice of his own, citing that he got enough sass from Jarvis and didn’t need any more. But he did give the robot a versatile range of canine vocals to mirror that of a real dog nearly exactly.
And the super vicious growl was probably Tony’s favorite, though that might just be because Sparky was the only thing standing between him and a really pissed off Doom and Tony was currently armorless. Not the best situation in the world but at least he had some form of backup. The other Avengers were held up in different areas of the tower fighting off Doombots and Tony, for once, was not in his lab when the attack happened and neither did he have his homing bracelets. He was really kicking himself for that right now.
“Hey, Doom. You look stressed, is something the matter?” Tony said over Sparky’s snarls of warning.
Doom was eyeballing Sparky with a distinctly irritated slant to his head. “You dared to rebuild one of Doom’s creations?”
Tony shrugged, “Well, yeah. You did a real shitty job so I made him better, stronger, faster.” He couldn’t help his grin because Jarvis was totally right, this felt awesome.
“Doom will not stand for such insult!” The crazed Doctor lifted both hands, which were glowing the disturbing color of magic, and Tony grimaced. When Doom released the energy toward them though, it flowed around and over he and Sparky thanks to the force field the robo-dog was emitting.
“Huh, I think you missed.” He mused, grinning like a loon.
Doom gave a cry of rage but there was an even louder, much more familiar yell of anger, as the wall caved in and a giant green Hulk bowled over Doom like a freight train. Debris from the attacked bounced harmlessly off of Sparky’s shield and Tony patted his head as he watched Hulk beat on Doom. His attention was caught though when Captain America’s head poked through the enormous hole in his wall and was soon followed by the rest of the man when he caught sight of Tony and rushed over.
“Tony! Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, Steve, relax. Sparky took care of me.” At his side, the robot wagged his tail and barked, clearly self-satisfied.
Steve didn’t fully relax, still keeping one eye on Doom’s battle with Hulk but some tension did drain from his shoulders as he obviously swept his eyes over Tony in search of injury. “Good, I’m glad.” He hefted his shield more comfortably on his arm but didn’t move from his spot in front of Tony. “Good boy, Sparky.”
Sparky looked up at him with his bright blue eyes and Steve winked at the robot, taking in the very fitting red painted capital A on the robo-dog’s chest and his protective stance at Tony’s side. It made him so much less stressed to know that Tony had Sparky looking out for him and to know that the robot would do anything to keep it’s recreator safe.
Tony, watching this exchange, added it to the ever growing pile of evidence he was compiling and then tucked it away for later examination.
“Do we know what he was after this time?” Steve asked.
“Revenge, I think. For messing up his last scheme but he didn’t get really mad until he realized who Sparky was.”
“Right in the pride, huh?”
“Yup, must of hurt like a bitch.”
Steve grinned, “Could you sound any more pleased?”
“I’m sure I could give it a shot.” Tony responded with a smirk and a quirked eyebrow.
An explosive arrow shot through the hole in the wall and impacted with Doom from behind right before Hulk smacked him with a huge, green hand. Only a moment later Clint rolled through the hole.
“Do you think you guys could, maybe, I don’t know, stop flirting and join the fighting! I’m missing my show for this monthly addition of Doom Beatdown.”
“Oh, is Animal Planet showing another special on predatory birds?” Tony asked as Steve ran toward the fight.
“Just go get your armor, Iron Man.” Steve shouted behind himself, cutting off whatever scathing remark Clint might have made.
“Aye-aye, sir!” Tony saluted and gestured for Sparky to follow him as he took off at a run for the labs. Though, by the time he got back there really wasn’t much left of Doom that needed fighting.
Just to be sure, Tony let Sparky laser him a few times as therapy for them both.
Later that night found Steve once more down in Tony’s lab, settled on a stool as he tossed a rubber bounce ball around for Sparky to chase down. Tony was working and talking, mostly to himself, sometimes to Jarvis and occasionally to Steve or Sparky. Steve was just watching him work, as it was one of his favorite things to do. Besides, he knew that the more time he spent down here with Tony, the more likely it would be that Tony would finally put the clues together.
After a while, Tony paused and spun in his chair to look at Steve. Surprised by the sudden movement, Steve stopped as well and tilted his head in question. The other’s eyes were studying him again, narrowed and serious. Sparky sat on his haunches and looked curiously between them. After a moment, Steve gave in.
Steve blinked. “Okay.” That was good, actually, that Tony was admitting it without having to be told.
Tony’s lips quirked ever-so-slightly and he got up to approach Steve, standing somewhat closer than personal space. “Do you think I can convince Captain America to cook dinner for me again?” He asked lowly, shifting closer still.
Steve felt himself suddenly out of breath and had to fight off the giant smile he felt threatening to take over his face. “Hmmm, I’m sure you can think of something.”
The kiss, when it came, was quick. Tony’s lips were there against his then gone again in the worst kind of tease. Steve’s hands came up to catch Tony and hold him close but the other was too quick for his surprise deadened reflexes and Tony backed away.
“It’s the appetizer first, right Steve?” Tony asked, eyes bright and smile small but more genuine than any of his full sized megawatt smiles.
Caught off guard by the tease of a kiss and the joke, Steve floundered for a moment before regaining his thoughts. He smiled, “Yeah, that’s a good start.”
“Good. Now come and cook for me, my Captain.” Tony said, offering a hand to him.
Steve took it and stood up but didn’t let go, instead using the grip to pull Tony in for a more thorough and deep kiss. It was like everything he’d been imagining but he didn’t drag it out, releasing Tony after only a minute. The genius’ eyes fluttered back open and he grinned up at Steve, looking at him through his lashes.
“I like that appetizer better.”
So did Steve but rather than pursuing what he had, well Tony had, started, Steve slipped his fingers between Tony’s and began to pull him toward the doors. “C’mon, Tony. I’ll make you dinner.”
“Something high in energy, right? I think I’m going to need it tonight.” Tony said, following willingly.
Steve just grinned and ignored the slight heating of his face.
“Hold the fort, Jarvis.”
“Of course, sir.”
“Sparky, come on.” Tony called and the robot dog sprang up to reach them before the doors of the lift closed and he slipped inside to sit at the feet of his creator. As the two of them stood close and touching, Sparky felt nothing but contentment and happiness from every wire to the core of his processor.
This was where he belonged.