“This isn’t a little weird?” Peter asked, frowning at the toy in his hand.
“Weird? What’s weird about it? And let me remind you, I’ve seen your house, kiddo,” Tony retorted, putting down the soldering iron and flipping up his safety goggles. “How many action figures do you have?”
“I don’t have any of anybody I know,” Peter pointed out, waving Captain America in the air. “I mean, apart from Kraven the Hunter, and that’s only because I was so shocked it existed. This is a little--”
He snatched an Iron Man figure off the shelf. “You’ve got you. That’s definitely a little weird.”
“They send me samples for approval.” Tony objected, swiping the Iron Man figure from the boy’s hands.
“Yeah, but you keep them,” Peter pointed out. He reached for another Iron Man. “What do you need to approve, anyway?”
Peter mimicked dialing a phone, and then held Captain America up to his ear. “Yes, Hasbro? This is Tony Stark. This doll won’t do at all; its, crotchal region is much too small!”
“Oh, why yes Mr. Stark,” Peter answered himself in a high-pitched voice, holding Iron Man up to the other ear. “We’ll fix it immediately. Should we double it? Triple it?”
Tony very patiently rolled his eyes.
“Quadruple it and run a, uh, batch of a thousand!” Peter said. He lowered Captain America from his ear, and then posed the two dolls across from each other, tilting Captain America from side to side.
“Why, Iron Man,” he said, now, in a deep voice. “Your enormous plastic crotch lump is very alluring.”
“Oh, Captain America,” he replied, breathlessly. “I thought you’d never notice.”
“Ahem,” Tony interjected, making throat-slashing gestures. “Pete--”
“Take me,” Peter said, in his mock-Captain-America voice. “Take me now.” He smashed the actions figures together. “Mwwwaaaaahhhhh, mmmm, mwaaaaahhh…”
“Er,” came a voice from behind him. Peter turned, to see a very red-faced Steve Rogers standing, with his arms crossed over his chest. “Peter, your aunt’s on her way to pick you up. She wanted to know how your, uh, your…” It was apparent that Steve was trying his hardest to avert his eyes from the action figures, whose faces were still squished up against each other. “Project? Is going?”
“Good!” Peter said, in a strangled tone, as he dropped the action figures to the work table. “Just great, uh, sir. I’ll be done way ahead of the science fair.”
Steve forced a smile. “Great,” he said. His gaze was fixed on the toys on the table; he didn’t even glance in Tony’s direction. “Just great. Good work. Uh, carry on, then.”
There was a long pause at the other end.
“Hello?” Tony tried again.
“Tony?” Steve asked, sounding confounded.
“Ye--ess?” Tony replied. “Hey, Steve-o.”
“Is...Natasha there?” Steve asked, slowly and clearly, like a child asking to speak to a friend.
“Er, no,” Tony said. He glanced around the workshop, since she surprised everyone sometimes. “Should she be?”
Another pause. “Why do you have her phone?”
“Her phone?” Tony looked down at the phone, which was definitely not Natasha’s, unless Natasha also had a photo of Iron Man as her background image, which seemed dubious. “I don’t have her phone.”
“Who did I just call, then?” asked Steve.
Tony frowned. “Is this a trick question?”
“No,” said Steve.
“Me,” Tony answered.
Steve went silent again. “Me what?”
Tony sighed. “You called me.” He scratched his head. “Listen, uh, Steve, about the other day--”
“What about the other day?” Steve asked, his tone brisk.
“You know,” Tony replied. “With Pete and the dolls, and you getting all stiff and--”
“I did not get all stiff!” Steve interrupted.
The phone went silent for so long that Tony wondered if Steve had actually hung up.
Then Steve cleared his throat, awkwardly. “I mean…”
Tony expected that someday, someone would finally get around to awarding him a medal for not laughing at Steve Rogers’ unintentional innuendos, but so far, today was not that day.
“It’s alright, Steve-o, I was only saying, you don’t have to be embarrassed. Pete’s a kid, and...you know what kids do.”
“Did you do that when you were a kid?” Steve asked.
“All the time,” Tony assured him. “Sometimes, I even practiced with real, honest-to-goodness humans.”
Steve coughed. “Too much information, Tony.”
“I could show you how, if you’d l--”
“I know how!” Steve objected. “Anyhow, I have to call Nat; I’lltalktoyoulaterbye.”
“Huh,” Tony said, thoughtfully, as he hung up the phone. He glanced up at the Captain America action figure, sitting among all the Iron Men on his shelf. “You’re not that uptight, are you?”
“Shhh…” Tony began, but then, as the vials of liquid in front of him turned from blue to yellow, he groaned, and stepped back from the worktable. He pushed up his safety goggles. “Well,” he observed. “Now you’ve done it.”
“Done what?” Steve stepped forward, and leaned toward the vials, squinting at them. “Phew!” He jumped back, waving at the air near his nose. “What is that?”
“It’s a very sound sensitive algae,” Tony explained. “You’ve thrown its whole system into shock; it’ll take hours to recalibrate.”
Steve stared at Tony, uncomprehending. “What are you doing with...sound-sensitive algae?” he asked.
“I figure it’s the future of security,” Tony said cheerfully. “Smell that! Completely unhackable--” he held a vial out toward Steve, who looked a little bit pallid. He snatched the vial away, and Steve let out a sigh of relief “And if you touch it, the smell takes days to wash off.”
He looked over at Steve, who was shrinking back toward the door. “What did I leave in your room?”
Steve sheepishly held out an Iron Man action figure.
Tony blinked. “No,” he replied. “Why would I--”
“I don’t know who else would have,” Steve said, sounding slightly resentful. “It’s not one of yours?”
“N--” Tony began to repeat, but he looked up at his shelf of carefully-lined-up Iron Men and noticed a blank space just about the size of an action figure stand. “Huh,” he said, frowning. He took the action figure from Steve, and put it back in its spot. “I suppose--” He rubbed his chin. “I mean, I didn’t--”
Steve was frowning at Tony, Tight-lipped. “If you think this is a joke, Stark--”
“I don’t!” Tony assured him, then frowned. “I mean--” he chuckled, and glanced up at the action figure. “It is pretty funny, but...but--” He coughed. “I mean, I didn’t do it. So I couldn’t say whether it was a joke, just--”
“Who else knows?” Steve asked, propping his hands on his hips.
“About--” Steve, blushing, raised his index fingers, and rubbed the tips together.
Tony squinted. “Are your fingers supposed to be kissing?”
Steve promptly stopped, dropping his hands to his sides.
“That wasn’t a criticism,” Tony assured him. “And I don’t know; I didn’t tell anybody, but...you know kids. Anyway,” he said, with a reassuring smile. “Everything’s back where it belongs.”
Steve looked at him for a long moment, and frowned. “Right,” he said, though he didn’t look so certain.
He flicked the light switch, shut the door behind him, and the sound of his footsteps echoed and diminished down the hall.
“It’s so neat,” Iron Man said, whispering, the moment Tony had cleared the premises. “You wouldn’t believe how neat it is.”
The Iron Man in question was six inches tall, vinyl, and impressively articulated. He scrambled down over the ridge of the shelf and dropped onto the shelf beneath, where Captain America was sitting in wait, elbow resting against one knee, looking up eagerly.
“How neat was it, Shellhead?” Captain America asked nicely.
“He keeps--” Iron Man gestured with his hands, which were held onto his forearms with ball joints and came with six different interchangeable poses, “All his shirts sorted by color.”
“What’s wrong with that?” asked Captain America.
Captain America was an older figure, with a few scratches, his paint fading here and there, one of the last remaining toys from Tony’s own childhood. He didn’t have nearly as many joints as this Iron Man, but he was rather ahead of his time, with poseable knees and elbows and a head that could nod up and down and turn side to side.
“It’s a little...you’ve seen-- Hell, you grew up in Tony’s room.”
“I was lost under a pair of socks for three years, once,” Captain America lamented. “When they found me, the war was over. All my friends were gone--”
“I know, I know, and Tony only found you because he invited a girl over,” Iron Man supplied, nodding sagely, having heard the saga many times before. “The point is, this man’s room is immaculate. It’s-- like nothing I’ve ever seen.”
“Well, that’s good, isn’t it?” Captain America asked. “It’s...maybe he’ll be a good influence?”
“That,” Iron Man agreed, and chuckled. “Or Tony’ll be a bad influence on him.”
Captain America shook his head. “Tony’s not a bad influence,” he said, loyally. “He’s our Tony. He’s just a little rough around the edges.” He nodded, then, with an air of certainty about him. “They’ll be good for each other.”
“You sure?” Iron Man asked. “I hope so.”
“They already like each other,” Captain America assured him. “They just need a little push.”
“Well,” said Iron Man. “Next time, you get to trek all the way to Steve’s room to reprogram his phone.”
“Oh,” Captain America replied. “I’ve got a better idea than that.”
Sure enough, there was a calendar alert on his homescreen.
Security Duty, it said. 3:30 AM - 7:30 AM. Main Surveillance Station.
Even with a super-serum-enhanced metabolism, he hadn’t gotten quite enough sleep-- he’d been kept away by strange sounds, and in spite of being nearly certain that there couldn’t be a rodent infestation, it had sounded like something small scurrying around on his floor. He pulled himself out of bed, and sighed.
A dozen screens glared brightly in the darkness of the main surveillance room, almost too bright when Steve was operating on so little sleep.
He thought he heard something over by the station, and saw a slight shift in the shadows, but he stepped closer and saw nothing-- clearly it was just exhaustion.
But there, at the station, was a plate of cookies and a little carton of chocolate milk. He smiled, and picked up the note on the desk, but he didn’t have to read it to guess who it was from when he saw the Captain America action figure that accompanied them.
“Tony,” he said, and looked down at the note. It was written in crayon, in a rather childlike scrawl, and Steve wondered if Tony had gotten enough sleep before leaving it.
“Sorry I keep leaving my dolls everywhere,” the note said. “Wonder if it’s a coincidence.”
Steve could feel his ears go hot, and he slid into his chair, poking at the fading star on Captain America’s chest with a sleepy, lopsided grin.
“Hi, pal,” he said to the action figure.
He opened the chocolate milk, took a sip, and got to work.
“You look nothing like me,” he informed Captain America. “You’re so...blocky.”
The doll seemed to smile back at him knowingly. Knowing what? Steve wondered.
He went back to his own room, and reached up for a small plastic container on the top shelf of his closet, removing something wrapped very carefully in paper towels before he put the container back.
And then he went to Tony’s workshop.
It was still so early that he was almost positive Tony wasn’t awake yet-- after all, the man rarely went to bed before sunrise. He sat Captain America down on Tony’s desk, with a box of those chocolate-covered coffee beans he personally detested but Tony seemed to love, for some inexplicable reason, and then, gently, lay down the thing he’d taken from his closet.
Admiring his handiwork, he left a short note of his own, and went back to bed.
He was awakened by his phone ringing this time, and he rubbed his eyes as he looked at the caller ID, then answered it.
“Nat?” he said. “How--”
“It’s Tony,” said Tony.
“Why are you calling from--” Steve looked at his phone, and frowned. “It still says you’re Natasha.”
“Maybe check your contacts,” Tony replied. “I-- hey, I just wanted to say thanks.”
“Thanks?” Steve asked. “Thanks for--” and then he remembered, and smiled. “Oh. Yeah.”
“This must be from...1941? 42?” Tony asked. “I looked it up, these things go for thousands of bucks. The paint job’s still like new. How long have you been holding onto this?”
“Someone gave it to me when I got out of the ice,” Steve answered. “A fan. Don’t worry; it doesn’t have any sentimental value. I just thought I’d give it to someone who’d actually get some mileage out of it.”
“It’s pretty great,” Tony said. “I mean...not as great as the genuine article, but it’ll do in a pinch.”
Steve wondered if Tony could hear him blushing over the phone.
He lay awake for a long time, long after the painkillers had kicked in and he’d finished the entire glass of water, gotten up, refilled it, and finished it again. He groaned, and tossed in his bed, squeezing at his pillow.
But there was something there-- something solid, underneath his pillow, and he frowned, and withdrew it, squinting in the dimly-lit room.
“How--” He rubbed at his chin, holding the doll at eye-level. “How’d you get in here, Cap?” he asked.
He frowned at Captain America. “I know,” he said. “I know, I should be asleep, but its...yes, I know you were probably in bed at nine o’clock sharp, and brushed your teeth, and everything.”
He put his free hand up to his mouth and breathed into it to check whether he’d brushed his own teeth.
“What are you looking at?” he asked the action figure. “I had a rough day, all right? And Steve--”
Tony frowned at the action figure again. “How did you get in here?”
He pulled himself out of bed, and rummaged around on the floor for a pair of relatively clean sweatpants, which he pulled on before leaving his room and taking off for Steve’s quarters.
“I don’t know about this,” he admitted to the Captain America action figure in his hand. “It’s late; Steve’s going to lecture me if I wake him--”
He sighed. “No, you’re right,” he agreed with the doll. “He won’t. Right,” he decided, taking a deep breath. “Here goes--”
He raised a hand to knock.
Just as he did, the door swung open, and there was Steve, blinking, an Iron Man action figure clasped in his hand.
“Sorry to--” Tony started.
“I was just going to--” Steve interjected.
“--Wake you,” they both said in unison.
They each looked at the action figure the other was holding, then looked at each other.
“You’d better come in,” Steve said, backing away from the door.
Tony set his action figure down on Steve’s dresser, and Steve followed suit, dropping Iron Man down gently beside him, so both of the toys’ legs were dangling off the side.
“Hi,” Steve said.
“Hi,” said Tony.
Steve looked around, a little helplessly, began to gesture toward the bed, and then hastily corrected himself toward the sofa. “Do you want to--”
His hand brushed Tony’s, and Tony caught at it and held it.
Tony nodded. “Yeah,” he agreed.
On the dresser, the two action figures watched as their human counterparts sat down together.
Captain America smiled serenely, satisfied.
“Good,” whispered Iron Man, watching the two men intently. “Now kiss.”