When Tony wakes up, he doesn’t know what day it is. Honestly, at this point, he’s not sure he knows what month it is – last night had been… whoo boy, last night had been something. Not that every night with his boyfriends (Partners? Lovers? He still can’t figure out what to call them that sounds right in his mouth) isn’t special, but last night had been particularly athletic. And Tony’s not as young as he used to be, so he feels justified in his fuzzy-headedness.
He stretches languidly, glancing at the LED time display on the ceiling of the bedroom. He squints a little – but he does not need glasses, thank you very much, James, and he’ll also thank you kindly to stop insinuating such slanderous lies – and finishes his stretch with a deep sigh. Only around six, but he can tell he’s alone in the bed. The boys must have gone for a run, or something equally horrible that should never happen before six in the morning.
Tony sits up and blinks sleepily, rubbing a hand over his hair, mussed and wild from sleep.
“Good morning, Sir,” JARVIS says quietly from the penthouse system. “And may I say, happy birthday.”
Oh. That’s what day it is. Well, then.
Tony smiles a little as he shuffles his way to the bathroom. “Thanks, J. What time did the boys leave?”
“Sergeant Barnes and Captain Rogers left for their customary run at 5:37.”
Tony steps into the shower, sighing deeply as JARVIS turns it to his preferred settings.
“And what’s on my calendar for today?”
“You have a meeting with the Patents and Acquisitions department at 11:30, lunch scheduled with Colonel Rhodes, followed by a meeting with Ms. Hill and a meeting with the head of Manufacturing.”
“So I’d like to skip everything but lunch,” Tony says, rinsing lemon-mint scented shampoo out of his hair.
“You have been putting these meetings off for several days already, Sir,” JARVIS points out, sounding mildly exasperated.
“So why deviate from form?” Tony argues. He rolls his eyes, continuing to scrub with the matching shower gel. Steve may have mentioned, once or twice, that it’s his favourite scent on Tony, and Tony wouldn’t mind being a little bit extra irresistible to Steve and Bucky today.
“Perhaps it might be interesting to see if you can keep everyone guessing, Sir,” JARVIS says drily, and Tony really, really loves his AI.
“Kill the meeting with Manufacturing, I’m probably going to want to come home early,” Tony finally decides.
“Yes, Sir,” JARVIS says, and this time he sounds resigned – which, for Tony, is a big old red flag that he’s won this round.
He’s in the kitchen slugging back his third cup of coffee when Steve and Bucky come in from their run. He greets them with a flippant smile.
“You know, getting up this early in the morning and doing physical activity can’t be good for you. You boys are getting older, you should probably start taking better care of yourselves,” he tells them, leaning back in his chair. He hits a few more buttons on his tablet, and the holographic screen closes.
“Hey, Tony,” Steve says, walking by him and darting in to give him a kiss on the cheek. He heads straight through the kitchen and toward the bedroom for a shower. Tony makes a show of wiping the transferred sweat off his face, making a disgusted noise.
“I have to work, you know, I can’t go into the office smelling like sweaty superheroes,” he calls after Steve, only mildly miffed that Steve hadn’t wished him a happy birthday. It’s early yet, he tells himself. Steve will probably do it later.
“You go into the office smellin’ like sweaty Steve every damn day,” Bucky smirks, leaning in to press a slightly-less sweaty kiss against Tony’s other cheek. Tony sniffs imperiously.
“You’re both menaces,” he says, trying to keep his voice as snotty as he can. “I can’t believe I live with complete menaces.”
“Pull the other one, darlin’, it plays ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo.’” Bucky throws a hand up in a wave as he walks through the room, following Steve into the bedroom.
Huh. Well, it’s probably fine. They’d just forgotten, which was perfectly normal. Tony shakes his head at himself – hell, he’d forgotten, and he’d been remembering his own birthday for (mumble mumble) years.
They’d probably remember later and call him at the office.
Feeling better about it, Tony finishes his coffee and puts the mug on the counter beside the sink (maybe Steve will spank him for it later) and heads for the elevator to take him down to the office floors.
The morning passes pretty much as expected, with boring paperwork followed by a boring meeting. He gets a text message from Rhodey at 12:30, letting him know he’s across the street waiting for lunch, so Tony heads down. He’s honestly a little surprised he hasn’t heard from Steve or Bucky all morning. He’d been sure they’d remember his birthday, or at least Steve would, and they would have called or texted.
Oh well. They probably just hadn’t wanted to interrupt him at work. He shrugs it off and rides the elevator down and crosses the street to the little high-end Mexican restaurant where he and Rhodey always have lunch.
There are two single shots of tequila on the table, as well as a large platter of taco fixings. Rhodey grins at him from his seat.
“How many times do I have to tell you, Rhodey? If we’re just going to be having tacos, we could just go to the truck on the corner.”
“You have more than enough money to treat me to a proper sit-down taco, Tony, and it’s the least you can do for me having to put up with your shit all the time.”
“The worst part of all this,” Tony says, ignoring him, “is that there are only two shots of tequila on the table. What kind of horrible monster goes to a taco restaurant in the middle of the day and doesn’t get at least the bottle?”
“Oh, no,” Rhodey laughs, holding up his hands as if to ward off an attack. “If you think I’m drinking tequila with you in the middle of the day, you are delusional.”
“You know, the last time you said you weren’t day-drinking with me,” Tony muses, “we got hammered on sake.”
“No,” Rhodey says, his voice insistent. “I don’t care what day it is, it’s not happening.”
“Come on, butterbear,” Tony pleads, tossing back one of the shots with a grin. It’s good tequila, barely burning at all. “Live a little.”
“Happy birthday, Tony,” Rhodey says, rolling his eyes and slamming back his own shot of tequila. “I’m having this one shot. That’s it. No more.”
A dozen or so shots of tequila later, Tony’s watch beeps at him. An alert from JARVIS reminds him he’s supposed to be having a meeting with Maria Hill shortly. He taps a few commands into his watch, then looks up at Rhodey, only slightly bleary-eyed.
“I’m serious, man, this whole thing you got going on with Barnes and Rogers, it’s good for you.”
Tony shrugs. “Good for my sex life, I’ll give you that.”
“No, no, no, no. No, man. It’s good for you. They’re good to you. You do – you know, good things. For them. Because of them. Nice things.”
“How many shots did you say you drank?” Tony asks, raising an eyebrow at him. Honestly he loves it a little when Rhodey gets mildly drunk and starts getting painfully honest.
“I am fine ,” Rhodey says, shoving a mouthful of taco into his mouth. He shifts it into the hollow of his cheek and talks around it. “I’m just saying, I thought it was weird, and I mean, it’s still a little weird, but it’s good. Good for you, man.”
Tony shrugs again. “I dunno. I mean, I don’t – I don’t know if it’ll last.”
“What? You’re crazy.”
“I mean… I haven’t really heard anything from them today.”
“What do you mean?”
Tony sighs, rubbing his forehead. “Like, they were gone when I woke up, they stopped by to say hi on my way out the door, and that’s it.”
“That’s not – I’m sure it’s fine,” Rhodey says, glancing at the table to their left. “Of course it’s fine, those boys love you.”
“Sure,” Tony says, feeling unaccountably sober all of a sudden.
He taps off a quick text to Steve while he heads to his meeting with Hill, chugging a strong, dark coffee from the cart on the corner.
Hey do we have any plans tonight?
He’s decided to just bite the bullet and ask. See if it reminds Steve what day it is.
Not really, Steve sends back. Buck and I might go over some hand to hand with Sam, and Clint said he wanted some sparring practice.
Tony stares at his phone, sure he must be misreading it. He reads the response again, double checking every word.
Okay. So, obviously, they’ve forgotten it’s his birthday. It doesn’t matter. It’s not a special birthday, or anything. And he hadn’t really celebrated his birthday in years.
He used to have big blowout bashes, back when he was still embracing the playboy image, but since the one when he’d been dying of palladium poisoning, he’d pretty much avoided big parties. He and Pepper had had a couple of weekends away for his birthday in the years since, and last year he was single, so they’d just had a simple team movie night. They’d marathoned Star Wars and Thor had spent the whole evening laughing at the ridiculous versions of aliens – right up until they’d gotten to Jabba the Hut, and then he’d gone strangely, terrifyingly quiet and refused to speak of it ever again.
But it doesn’t matter. It’s just a birthday. Turning 48 isn’t a milestone, especially while dating a couple of thirty-something supersoldiers (oh god his life is exquisite). They’re good to him all the time, they don’t have to remember his birthday. Tony’s not sure he’ll remember theirs when the time comes, after all. That’s why he has JARVIS.
He won’t worry about it, he decides. They’ll remember, and he’ll get an apologetic text from Steve within the hour, and Bucky will come down and tell him in person, and it will all be fine.
When, after a long and annoying meeting with Maria Hill, he still hasn’t heard from Steve or Bucky, he decides to give up on it. He’d cancelled his last meeting of the day, so he takes the elevator to the workshop instead. He’ll tinker for a while, then head up to the penthouse for dinner. Steve and Bucky will play with Sam and Clint, and they’ll probably just go sleep in Steve’s old suite for the night, or something, and Tony will be single again come morning.
Not the best birthday he’s ever had, but at least this time he’s not dying.
He strips down to his undershirt, tossing his suit jacket, his silk shirt, and his belt over the back of the sofa, toeing his Italian loafers off and making his way across the room in his sock feet.
DUM-E whirs and beeps excitedly at him, rolling forward with a trilling noise.
Tony gives him an affectionate rub on the support strut, flipping a wave at U and Butterfingers as he makes his way over to the work bench. He runs a hand through his hair to work out some of the stiffness of product, probably leaving it messy, but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because he’s going to be spending the next few hours with just JARVIS and the bots for company, and then he’s going to go to bed.
He pours himself a shallow tumbler of scotch, but promises himself he’ll only drink a couple of them. Even he’s not that pathetic.
“Hey, Tony,” Bruce says, coming in through the workshop door. “Whatcha working on?”
Tony shrugs, popping an almond into his mouth. He crunches it loudly. “Just working on some of the circuitry connections in Barton’s quiver selection mechanism,” he says. “What’s up, Big Green?”
“Oh, I just thought I’d come down and check on you,” Bruce says. “I’m making paella upstairs if you want to come up for dinner.”
Tony shakes the little dish of almonds a little. “Thanks, I’m good.”
Bruce blinks at him. “Oh. Are you – are you sure? You don’t want to come upstairs and eat with us?”
Tony shakes his head, eyebrows furrowing as he tries to angle his soldering iron properly to get into the tight space in the assembly. “Nah. I’ll maybe grab leftovers later if there are any.”
“Thor’s eating here,” Bruce says, voice coming out in a breathless rush. “If you want any you’d better come right away.”
“Thanks Brucie bear, I’ll be fine.”
Bruce stares at him for a moment more, then sighs and heads for the door. He looks like he’s about to say something else, then shakes his head minutely and leaves, bound for the elevator.
Tony gets back to work.
He has no idea how much time passes before he hears the sound of glass rattling, a heavy hand banging on the workshop door. Bruce has an entry code, but Thor and Clint do not, so Tony can only assume it’s one of them. He glances up, eyes barely focused as he continues to fiddle with the parts in his hands. JARVIS turns the music down, and Tony scowls at the lack of driving, screaming guitar.
Clint is at the door, banging on the glass with a somewhat manic grin on his face. Tony meets his eye, stares him down, and then, very deliberately, spins his chair away from the door and goes back to tinkering with his tools.
He hears a muffled shout that sounds suspiciously like ‘this wasn’t even my idea,’ but he ignores it. The banging on the glass intensifies, and Tony lets it go on for another moment before he huffs out a slow, centering breath.
“Let him in, J,” he says, and listens to the workshop locks disengaging.
“Why are you such a dick, Stark?”
“Because I keep thinking if I torture you enough you’ll leave my tower and I can have my home back.”
“Ha!” Clint barks, walking over and hopping up to sit on the lab bench, swinging his feet. “Joke’s on you, man, I’m never leaving. Guess you shouldn’t have put in the range floor.”
“I can convert it into a bowling alley,” Tony says, not looking up from his work.
“Good, then I can kick everyone’s ass at bowling, too.”
“Seriously, though, when are you moving out?”
“Seriously, though, when are you going to quit pretending you don’t love me?”
Tony glares at him. “What do I have to do to get you to leave me alone?”
Clint purses his lips and appears to think about it, tilting his head and furrowing his brow. “I wanna borrow the Aston Martin tomorrow, and I want your next two movie night picks.”
Tony blinks. “I’ll let you borrow the Ferrari and you get one movie night pick.”
“The Porsche and two movie nights.”
“No car, no movie nights, and I sic Butterfingers on you with the fire extinguisher.”
Clint gapes at him. “You are a terrible human being. I can’t believe they let you be a superhero.”
“Hey, I didn’t even wanna be in your little club,” Tony starts.
“Oh, please, we all know you love it.”
“Are you going to leave, or am I going to call Butterfingers? I haven’t needed fire safety watch in a while, he’s really missed using the extinguisher.”
“Can I go back to the Ferrari and one movie night?”
Tony lets his head fall back in supplication, wondering where exactly he had gone wrong. He just wants to spend his evening – and it’s almost eight o’clock somehow, when did that happen? – tinkering with machinery and programming, wallowing in the fact that his boyfriends hadn’t remembered his birthday. Is that really so much to ask?
“Fine,” he says finally. “If you leave, you can borrow the Ferrari and you can have my next movie night.”
“Cool!” Clint says, hopping off the bench and heading for the door. He’s not even two steps up the stairs before he’s hollering up the staircase. “He doesn’t wanna come up! I tried as hard as I could!”
Tony rolls his eyes and goes back to work.
He’s barely back in the groove when he hears clomping on the stairs, heavy footfalls moving swiftly and with determination.
The mere fact that he hears footsteps at all makes him think it must be either Steve or Bucky come to drag him out of the workshop (you can’t work all night Tony, it’s not good for you! Come upstairs and have dinner with the rest of us!) , so he spins his chair back to the door to meet them head on. He may have lived the better part of his life in denial, but Tony Stark will never be labeled a coward.
But it’s not Steve, and it’s not Bucky. It’s not even Thor. It’s Natasha.
Natasha, stalking audibly down the stairs and across the floor of his workshop. She hadn’t even had to wait at the door, because JARVIS never even tries to keep her out. It had swung open before she’d even reached the bottom landing, and she strode through it and across to him.
“Hey, Nat, listen, I’m just going to be a few more –”
“No,” she says, her voice light and easy. Lightning fast, she reaches out and takes hold of his ear in deceptively delicate looking fingers, her thumb sitting in the antihelix of the ear, her index finger curled around the back.
He instantly stands up from his chair, tilting his head to the side to relieve the sudden tugging pressure. “Ow ow ow ow ow ,” he says, grimacing. “ Ow. ”
“Shut up, you big baby,” she tells him, starting to walk back toward the stairs, pulling him along with her. He skips and stumbles and falls into step just behind her, helpless to keep from following her up the stairs as she drags him by the ear.
“Fuck, fuck, that hurts ,” he says, hopping up one stair after another. “All you had to do was ask .”
“Oh, please.” She gives him a disbelieving look and makes a delicate scoffing sound. “We both know you would have come up with 13 different excuses as to why you had to stay down there.”
“But you don’t have to haul me upstairs like a poorly-behaved –” he cuts himself off mid-sentence, eyes widening as Natasha lets go of his ear and he straightens up. Natasha shifts to the side and all Tony can do is stare.
The common floor is full of people. There are balloons, and streamers, and tables with snacks and food. It’s dead silent as everyone stares back at him.
“Surprise!” they yell.
Tony just stares.
Okay, so maybe he had jumped to conclusions. But, well, what was he supposed to think? They hadn’t said a word . And Steve is terrible at keeping secrets. The fact that they’d planned this, made it work, and kept it from him the whole time? Even Jane and Darcy are there. The party looks like it’s been going on a while without him, probably on account of the fact that he’d refused to come upstairs, but Steve and Bucky are off to the side of the room, watching him intently.
Rhodey steps up to give him a hug. “Man, you’re such an idiot,” he breathes into Tony’s ear.
“You didn’t tell them I thought they’d forgotten, did you?”
“Course I did,” Rhodey says, pulling away to grin smugly back at him. “Right before I told them to never do it again. Or we were gonna have words.”
“You threatened Captain America and the Winter Soldier?”
“No, I threatened my best friend’s boyfriends, Steve and Bucky. And they’ll damn well listen to me, too, if they know what’s good for them.”
In that moment, Rhodey looks fierce and dangerous, the way he only does when he’s serious about something. Tony loves him for it.
But he also hates that Steve and Bucky know what had been going through his head all day.
He accepts a few more birthday wishes and hugs, coughing a little when Thor pounds him affectionately on the back – and he thinks he probably won’t have to go to the chiropractor for a year after that one – and slowly makes his way across the room to where Steve and Bucky are standing, looking equal parts proud and miserable.
“Hey, sweetheart,” Bucky says, reaching out a hand to wrap his fingers gently around Tony’s forearm. “Happy birthday.”
“Thanks,” Tony says, ducking his head a little.
“Tony…” Steve trails off, looking sad. “I’m sorry. I thought it would be – I didn’t think you’d – of course we didn’t forget.”
Tony feels his cheeks heat. “It was dumb, I shouldn’t have –”
“No, don’t,” Bucky says, squeezing his arm a little. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Tony.”
“We shouldn’t have pretended to forget. A surprise party was –”
“A good idea,” Tony interrupts him, looking right up into Steve’s bright blue eyes. “It’s nice. It’s really nice, and I appreciate it. I was just – I was just being… you know how I am.”
“Which is why we should have known better,” Steve agrees, stepping closer and putting a gentle hand on the back of Tony’s neck. “At least until you’re used to this.”
“And until you figure out we’re not going anywhere,” Bucky adds.
Tony doesn’t know what to say – he’s not sure he could force words out his throat if he tried.
“We love you, Tony,” Steve says, tugging Tony forward so he’s pressed to Steve’s body. He doesn’t pull him into a hug, just stands there, pressing them together from knee to chest. Bucky steps in and presses himself against both of them.
Steve presses his forehead to Tony’s and sighs. “We love you, and we’ll keep telling you that until you really believe it, until you really, truly believe it. However long it takes.”
Tony looks up at him, then up at Bucky, and doesn’t say a word.
Bucky leans forward and presses a gentle kiss to Tony’s cheek, while Steve kisses the opposite temple.
“Happy birthday, Tony,” Steve whispers into his hair.
“It’s been pretty good so far,” Tony whispers back.