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When Steve finally returns to New York, his intention is to find a place to say, sleep off the travel, and regroup with a fresh mind.

But no. A mere hour after getting out of a taxi there’s an explosion just off Locus Point, so off he goes, shield at the ready. Steve spends the better part of the rest of the morning dealing with scared civilians, the coast guard, and former-SHIELD agents trying to recover stolen tech from black market middlemen.

To be fair, there’s also Tony Stark, who’s suited up and already on the scene when Steve gets there, handling the heavy hitters over open water. Steve stays on the ground, corralling civilians as well as covering Stark and the-maybe-SHIELD agents where he can.

It’s quite the welcome wagon.

Once it’s over, Steve moves to a higher point to observe the damage, then lifts his gaze further out. He can’t really make out Brooklyn or Manhattan from here, but he’s looking forward to it, as well as seeing up close the city’s recovery from the Chitauri attack.

There’s a repulsor hum when Stark hovers nearby. “Late to the party, Cap? Snooze it, lose it.”

“Hey, respect your elders,” Steve says.

For a second Steve thinks Stark didn’t hear him, but then there’s a faint metallic clunk as Stark lands on the ground. When Steve turns, Stark’s got the faceplate open, and it’s strange – the suit’s very much upgraded from the last one Steve saw in action, but Stark himself is unchanged. He looks pretty much the same as he did the day they sent Thor and Loki back to Asgard. Sans the glasses, of course.

Stark gestures at the black marketers being escorted onto shore. “Not friends of yours?”

“Just got here, did not have time to make friends,” Steve says. “You?”

“Nope.” Stark scratches his chin, and Steve has a sudden, sharp flashback to being barely a hundred pounds and sitting in on one of the many fancy dos that Bucky dragged him to back in the day, and not knowing what to say.

It passes quickly, and in no small part because Stark seems just as at a loss as he is. That’s kinda funny, actually. Steve only knew Stark for those few days they’d chased down the Tesseract, but he can’t remember anything about him that didn’t seem overly slick and put on, like a showgirl on opening night.

“I’m going to meet Natasha in a few days,” Steve says. “Was going to lay low until then.”

Stark looks at the charred remains of the boat that’s currently being pulled in to shore. “Good job.”

Steve smiles. “Am I encroaching on your turf? You do know this was my city before your father even—”

“Whoa, okay, we’re not doing that,” Stark says, though he sounds amused. “I heard you were out of DC, but what’s that about? They kick you the curb?”

“It’s what happens when you dump 3 billion dollars-worth of tech into the Potomac.”

Stark nods. “That is actually a pretty good ballpark. Good job, by the way. I am really tired of people not telling me what my tech is actually being used for. Where you bunking down? There’s an ugly building with your name in it, if you want.”

Steve starts in surprise. “Stark Tower?”

Stark makes a gesture with his chin that’s supposed to be a shrug. Steve figures it’s hard to do that in the suit. “Yeah, it’s still there, last I checked.”

“What’s the going rate?”

“Lucky for you, I know the owner.”

Steve had considered this when he’d made his plans. He doesn’t know Stark that well, but he thinks they’d parted on decent enough terms, plus there was Fury’s vague promise/threat to bring them back together if necessary. The only uncertainty had been in how to contact Stark, so this is a nice case of serendipity after half a year of bouncing around from place to place.

“All right,” Steve says. “I’ll take you up on that.”

“Good choice.” Stark’s faceplate goes back up as he fires up his repulsors.

“Hey.” Steve steps forward before Stark can rise more than a few inches off the ground. “Give me a lift.”

The Iron Man face looks at Steve. “What’s that?”

“You expect me to run all the way? I can, but.” Steve reaches one hand towards Stark and flexes his fingers. “C’mon. Give me a lift.”

There is no emotion to be read off the suit’s face, but Steve thinks he can sense Stark’s bewilderment anyway. Steve could feel embarrassed – Bruce wasn’t the only rage monster in the team when they’d last worked together, just the more obvious one – but there are such things as fresh starts, and Steve’s resolved to make this a good one.

“All right,” Stark says at last. He lowers himself down and angles a foot so that Steve can step on it. Steve hops on and reaches a hand over Stark’s shoulder, finding a handhold at the back of the suit.

“You have done this before?” Steve says.

“Yes?” Stark says. “Mostly yes.”

“What’s the point of having a flying suit of armor if you don’t take people flying?”

They lift off. For a moment Steve thinks Stark might gun just it to mess with him, but no, Stark takes a leisurely mostly-straight line upwards and over the bridge. It nicely bellies Stark’s flat, “I can drop you in the Hudson, you know.”

“If your flying is terrible, I’d probably welcome it.”

The wind rushes past Steve’s ears as they fly, but he can still hear the low computerized crackle of Stark’s laugh.

 


 

 

The basic shape of Stark Tower’s the same, but a lot else has changed, much like Stark’s suit. Steve makes note of what he can see as Stark flies them to the upper deck – the structure around the helipad’s been expanded, the glass walls are different, the STARK logo is completely gone. Steve’s still mulling over that last one as he hops off the suit onto the concrete floor.

“Wait a sec,” Stark says, landing behind Steve. “Blue steel for me.”

Steve turns to Stark, confused. There’s a flash of blue from the suit’s eye sockets, and then a hologram appears in the air next to them with an image of Steve’s perplexed face set to a scrolling box of text with ACCESS printed at the top.

“Nice,” Stark says, while Steve sighs. “JARVIS will key you into building’s systems. In and out, easy-peasy, and any questions go to the man in ceiling.”

“Right.” Steve looks around, surprised to find that the interior is nothing as he remembers. He’d only come up the building that one time, but it had been far smaller and with a sunken bar at the side – suitable, at least, for a billionaire CEO’s needs. This is not that. This has floors upon floors in crisscross design, with glass and staircases and open space between them, making the place feel much larger than it looked from the outside.

“Bruce is somewhere,” Stark says.

“Banner?”

“Yeah, try to pick a room far away from his in case the jolly green giant gets loose in a nightmare.” There’s a faint whine as the suit peels open like a flower, letting Stark step out of it mid-sentence. Steve does his best to not look too impressed, even as he’s watching the hinges of the suit click back into place, before the suit itself sinks into an opening in the floor. “That’s a joke,” Stark adds.

“I’ve heard of those,” Steve says. “They’re supposed to be funny.”

Stark trips a little on his feet, and spins on a heel to look at Steve. There’s a beat where Stark doesn’t seem quite sure how to respond, even with Steve putting on his blandest, most polite and not-at-all passive-aggressive smile.

At long last Stark says, “Right,” and shakes his head. “Okay, so… house rules. Don’t break anything. But if you do break anything, don’t worry about it, but let me know, or let JARVIS let me know. Oh, Maria’s here, too.”

“Maria Hill?” Steve says.

“Development work,” Stark says, waving it off. “She doesn’t live in the building, but she’s around. She probably knows you’re already here, I have no idea how she does it.”

“I won’t impose,” Steve says. Stark’s already wandering off, seemingly distracted by something else, but Steve jogs to catch up with him. “I don’t want you to change anything just because I’m here.”

Stark gives him a look. “Why on earth would I change anything just because you’re here?”

“Because I’m a stranger in your home, and we’re going to be sharing living space.”

Stark stops walking, and pointedly looks up, around, and back to Steve. “I’m pretty sure there’s a greater chance of you getting lost and my having to call Lassie for help.”

There’s a tickle at the back of Steve’s brain, telling him that this is the part where he could get annoyed at Stark. But then he thinks about what happened in Malibu with the Mandarin, and of Natasha’s telling him that Stark more or less moved to New York after breaking up with Pepper Potts, and of how Stark didn’t have to invite him in at all when the only thing they have in common is how they saved the world that one time.

It doesn’t matter that this is barely a blip in Stark’s fancy, glass-adorned, high-tech world. Steve’s going to do this right, and he’s not going to ask for any greater favors.

“I am technically your tenant,” Steve says. “Even if it’s supposedly rent-free.”

“Supposedly?” Stark echoes.

“Supposedly,” Steve says. “I don’t see a contract, so I’d better be on my toes.”

Stark grins. “Is this, like, you asking me to make friendship bracelets with you? Because that would jump right to the top of the weirdest things that’s happened to me today. Or this week.”

Steve rolls his eyes and holds a hand out. “Just, thank you. I’ll keep to myself and be as unobtrusive as possible.”

“Oh my god,” Stark says under his breath. He looks at Steve’s hand as though it’s infectious and punches Steve’s shoulder gingerly. “Whatever works for you, Cap. Hide in a goddamned storage room if that’s what you want.”

“Really?” Steve says.

“Hey, I don’t judge.” Stark starts walking away, though he glances over at Steve’s shoulder and shakes his head as he goes.

Left to his own devices, Steve returns to their entry point, this time studying the layout carefully and in greater detail.

“JARVIS?” Steve says.

Yes, Captain Rogers.”

That’ll take some getting used to, but Steve likes how JARVIS’s voice seems to come from nearby instead of some overhead speaker like a regular PA system. Not that Steve can see where the speakers are, which is another thing he’d like to investigate. “Is it all right if I have a look around?”

I could give you a tour, if you like.”

Steve considers this. “No, I’d like to explore for myself. But I’ll ask if there’s anything specific I’d like to know.”

Very well, sir.

So it is that after the high-impact exercise of the morning, Steve spends the rest of his day mapping out the upper deck of Stark’s tower room by room and floor by floor, and along the way rewards himself with snacks in the pantry when he finds it. (JARVIS says it’s fine, but Steve makes a mental note to restock everything he takes.)

 


 

It takes just over a day to settle in, moving what little possessions he has into a randomly-picked room, letting Sam and Natasha know about it, and then figuring out the rest of the facilities that JARVIS gives him access to (the gym’s much fancier than the one SHIELD had, and Steve spends a couple of hours trying every single piece of equipment).

Coming back to New York hadn’t really been in his plans, beyond being a vague maybe-one-day-after-he-finds-Bucky kind of thing. But Bucky remained elusive, and thus so did the idea of Steve’s staying anywhere for more than a month after leaving DC. He might’ve continued that way if not for Sam; Steve trusts the guy with his life, but not so much Sam’s ability to be honest about what the chase for Bucky was costing in the long run.

Sam’s back in DC settling his affairs, and will join Steve in New York pending whatever intel Natasha has.

That leaves Steve by himself, and with two not-labor-intensive tasks on his plate: processing their lack of success in tracking Bucky down, and reflecting on this second return to an unfamiliar New York.

On that second one, Steve can say that this time isn’t as disconcerting as when he came out of the ice and couldn’t see much more than the layers upon layers of foreignness set atop the city of his birth. His stint in DC and the travel with Sam helped much more than he’d realized, especially in expanding Steve’s vocabulary of this brave new world that doesn’t seem like it knows how to slow down.

Steve spends quite a bit of time looking out one of the many windows of the Stark building’s upper levels, watching the city rumble on around them. Occasionally something familiar cracks through the façade, and though it twinges like a joint ache (he still remembers those) it’s manageable.

The tower’s still kinda ridiculous, but it’s peaceful. Good for gaining some clarity of mind. Steve will get cabin fever soon enough, but it’s a nice breather after traipsing around Europe and Asia chasing a ghost.

True to his word, Steve doesn’t see much of Stark, either. Steve can’t say he was expecting luxurious parties every other night, but it’s a shame that the fancy floors with the bar and serving tables don’t get used much, or even at all judging by their brand-new smell. Stark keeps odd hours, and Steve only catches glimpses of him whenever he’s in his workshop – the glass walls that light up make it hard to miss – or whenever he’s taking off or returning in the suit.

Funnily enough, it’s four whole days into Steve’s tenure in the Stark building before Bruce even realizes he’s there. Steve is in the pantry, sitting at the table with his laptop in front of him, when Bruce wanders in muttering to himself.

The muttering stops when Bruce notices him. “Wait. What?”

“Banner.” Steve stands up and shakes his hand. “Didn’t Stark mention that I’m here?”

“Yes,” Bruce says slowly, “but honestly I thought he was just messing with me.”

“A reasonable assumption, but no, I’m really here.” Steve sits down and gestures at the coffee machine. “I made fresh, if you want some.”

“There isn’t another cosmic apocalypse on the way, is there? Because I really… Coffee? Are the Jamaican beans yours? I could’ve sworn Tony hated those, so it was a nice surprise when they showed up.”

“No cosmic apocalypse,” Steve says, “but yes, the beans are mine. Picked them up during a road trip with a friend. Help yourself, though. I’m happy to share.”

That’s apparently cue for Stark’s arrival through the same doorway as Bruce. “Oh so that’s where those came from.” He’s dressed down today, in one of those faded band shirts and jeans that’s apparently his casualwear of choice, which probably means he’s working indoors today, likely on a project with Bruce. “Hey, other tenant.”

“Mr. Stark,” Steve says.

“No.” Stark winds his way around Bruce to the fridge and waves a flippant hand at Steve. “Don’t call me that.”

“Superintendent?” Steve asks.

Stark rolls his eyes. “Tony works just fine.”

“Sure,” Steve says. “If you stop calling me Cap all the time.”

“I… do not. Do I?”

“You do.” Bruce raises his hands defensively when Tony squints at him. “From what limited information I have. Which is limited.”

“Anyway,” Stark says, “nice to see the two of you getting along.”

“I didn’t even know he was here, Tony,” Bruce says.

“I did tell you,” Stark says.

“Okay, sure, but I’ve been…” Bruce leans towards Tony and whispers something about letting things wander around the corridors, which Steve is probably not meant to hear but his hearing picks up anyway. “Did you invite him here for… a project?”

Tony sighs. “Why does everyone think that Cap—”

Steve clears his throat.

“—that Steve,” Tony says pointedly, “is only here because I need him for something? Ugh, couldn’t you have a more interesting name? Steve. It’s like a kindergarten teacher.”

“Steve Buscemi’s an interesting guy,” Bruce says, while Tony makes a dismissive noise. “Steve McQueen.”

“Steve Jobs,” Steve says.

“You know who Steve Jobs is?” Tony says.

“He created the internet, right?” Steve says.

Stark’s face freezes in a rictus of deep conflict, while Bruce laughs. Steve basks in the moment by taking a sip of his own coffee, and then says, “Who is this ‘everyone’ who’s concerned about my presence?”

“Has to be Pepper,” Bruce says.

Has to be Pepper?” Tony scowls at Bruce. “I know other people.”

“Colonel Rhodes, then?” Bruce offers.

“No, it’s Pepper,” Tony says. “But come on. Steven. Have I asked you do anything questionable or dangerous since you’ve moved in?”

“I almost wish you would,” Steve says. “But no. It’s been quiet.”

“See,” Tony says. “What are we even here for?”

“Food,” Bruce says. “We ran out in the lab.”

“That’s it.” Tony turns slowly, as though just noticing where he is. “This isn’t even the right floor. I’ll be right back.” He’s out the doorway before Steve can ask what other floor he could be talking about.

Bruce drags himself to the table and sits down heavily. Now he actually looks like someone who’s just gotten through a long stretch of work, and Steve’s more than happy to get up and fetch the coffee Bruce had forgotten to take.

“Thank you,” Bruce says when Steve pushes the mug in front of him. “Just lost my bearings for a sec. Um. The good kind of lost.”

“I figured,” Steve says with a laugh. “By the way, did I miss something? Where’d Tony go?”

“Oh, he’s downstairs. Probably to warm up something he’d cooked earlier.”

“Tony can cook?”

“He’s an engineer, and cooking is a… type of engineering? At least that’s how he explains it to me, but with more words.” Bruce lets out a long exhale and smiles warmly at Steve. He looks good, and far more relaxed than Steve remembers. “It is nice to see you again, Steve. This place is… swanky, and though I appreciate Tony’s faith in my ability to not smash, all this empty space makes me nervous sometimes.”

“It’s worked out so far, though,” Steve points out. “Tony’s faith doesn’t seem misplaced.”

“I suppose. But hey, whatever your reasons, it’s nice to have someone else around.”

“It’s just temporary,” Steve says.

Bruce shrugs. “Who isn’t here temporarily?”

 


 

 

Natasha shows up two days later, sporting a new hairdo and a thumbdrive of possible Winter Soldier sightings that she’d peeled off from persons unknown. Steve offered to meet her somewhere in the city, but Natasha called him ridiculous, which is how they end up talking shop and playing pool in what Steve’s taken to calling the entertainment deck of the tower.

“After the last guy we traced, I’d say he’s not taking any more chances,” Natasha says. “There’s not that many people left who can do maintenance on World War II biomech.”

Steve nods as Natasha take another shot. “At least, not at the double risk of us finding that person first, or said person wanting to get a piece of Bucky. I talked to Maria; what’s left of SHIELD are tracking down remaining Hydra cells around the globe, but there’s still quite a way to go.”

“I’m surprised you’re not already on that scene,” Natasha says with a grin. “Hydra? And a chance at finding your pal?”

“I’m getting a fuller picture first,” Steve says. “And I’m pretty sure Sam would have words if I go off again by myself.”

“That is so nice of you to take that into consideration.” Natasha pockets the last ball and stands up. “Since we’re here, I’m going to make a courtesy call.”

“Oh, you didn’t come to the Tower just for me?”

“Please,” Natasha says.

Steve doesn’t have much of a schedule at the moment, so he’s more than happy to help Natasha clean up the area and follow her out of the room. Once they’re in the elevator, Natasha looks up at the ceiling says, “Hey, JARVIS.”

To the fabrication lab, Ms. Romanoff? Sir is there.

“Yes, thank you,” Natasha says.

Steve’s aware that Natasha’s known Tony for longer than he has, but it still feels a little peculiar to be trailing after her as she confidently steps out of the elevator onto a floor Steve hasn’t been yet. It’s a lab, but not like the one Tony and Bruce hang out in most of the time. There are still hologram screens all over the glass walls, but this one has long benches covered with clutter, most of it metal or electronics-based, and some of which is moving despite Tony being nowhere near them.

Tony himself is at one of the farther benches, propped up on a stool and wielding something that looks like a combustion engine, but with parts that Steve’s only ever seen on SHIELD’s flight tech. Steve hangs back, but Natasha just walks right up to Tony, who turns and waves a hand in the air, bringing the music down a notch.

“I love what you’ve done with the place,” Natasha says.                                                                                                    

“Thanks, I’ve just finished my spring cleaning.” Tony puts his wielder down and shoves his goggles up. He looks like he ought to be covered with grease and sweat, but even his shirtless tee seems remarkably clean, which is mildly irritating.

Tony leans around Natasha. “Steve—”

“I know,” Steve says. “Don’t touch anything.”

“Oh, no no,” Tony says, “feel free to touch everything. Just don’t come crying if you lose a limb.”

Natasha and Tony start talking about her Widow’s Bites, which apparently she’d asked for some improvements on and Tony has plenty of opinions about. Steve half listens-in as he wanders around the room, making a game out of identifying what he can and guessing the purpose of what he can’t.

It’s only a few seconds before Steve realizes that walking around the workshop is rather like taking a peek into Tony’s mind. It’s a fancy room but the innards are anything but, and there’s patterns of arrangement in what appears at first glance to be a big ‘ol mess. Defensive equipment is over there, Iron Man ancillaries are on the other side, and scattered around the outer benches are relatively low-priority projects – including what seems to be a dismantled lawnmower.

It’s homey, in its own way. It’s also nice that despite what happened to his Malibu home, Tony still has all of this, whether it’s brand new or was recovered from the site. Steve feels a pang of envy at that, but quickly sets it aside.

“Hey!” Tony exclaims. Steve starts, just as he feels something blunt poke into his back. He turns, just as Tony calls out, “Be nice!”

There’s a robot standing – standing? – right up to Steve, though it doesn’t seem to have any face to make eye contact with.

“I didn’t touch it,” Steve says.

“Wasn’t talking to you.” Tony wags a finger, and the bot backs up a few feet. “What’d I tell you about poking the guests?”

The bot whines faintly and its hand droops a little.

“It’s okay,” Steve says carefully. “No hard feelings?”

The bot pitches its head and snaps the claws. Feeling a little sheepish, but figuring that this new millennium will forever surprise him, Steve grips the hand and shakes it.

“Aww, you made another friend,” Natasha says. “Good job, Steve.”

Steve huffs in amusement, and watches at the robot wheels away from him, almost politely. “Of course you’d program your robots to be more curious than is safe for them.”

“Do I tell you how to live your life?” Tony says.

“All the time,” Steve says. “The way I talk, what I wear… Though you have to admit that my dress sense has improved some.”

There’s the faint clunk when Tony puts something down on the bench. “You’re really bitchy, you know that?”

Steve turns his full attention to Tony. That’s his annoyed face, but not the kind that once preceded their almost breaking into actual fisticuffs. Steve marvels that there’s a difference, plus the fact that he can tell there’s a difference. “Yeah, I do,” he says. “People tend to let it pass because I’m pretty.”

Natasha muffles a laugh behind a hand. Tony does not laugh at all, but instead jumps off his stool, marches across the room, and squints up at Steve.

Steve was shorter than Tony once, so he remembers being on the other side of this kind of scrutiny. The jut of Tony’s chin is more pronounced, as though he considers the height difference less an obstacle and more an amusing vantage point from which to view the world.

“You need a new suit,” Tony says. “Bring your old one in. And the shield.”

“Pardon me?” Steve says.

“The suit you used the other day – that’s the SHIELD one, right? It looked stiff around the arms, didn’t give you as much range when you throw.” Tony turns away and pulls up a new holographic screen. “How about the straps for your shield? Comfortable? You know what, don’t answer, just bring it in.”

“I don’t—” Steve cuts himself off when Natasha makes a face at him. “All right. Later, is that okay?”

“And give me a list of everything you need improved.” Tony has the schematics of the previous Captain America suit on his screen, and flips through what appears to be SHIELD files for the current stealth suit. “Actually, when you come by later, wear the suit. I want to see you in it.”

“That’s pretty forward,” Steve says without thinking.

Tony slowly turns to stare at Steve, his mouth pursed tight as though trying very hard to suppress a laugh. “I’ve been told that that’s a prominent aspect of my personality.” He taps a button on the screen and snaps it shut. “Natasha, where were we?”

“Reboot times,” Natasha says.

“Right.” Tony flaps a hand at Steve dismissively. “As you were, Cap. But wear the suit!”

Steve watches Tony go in bemusement, and tells himself that he really should be getting used to this by now.

 


 

 

Steve honestly doesn’t need a new suit, but over the next few days and various discussions in Tony’s workshop on the matter, he finds that he does not at all mind getting a new one. Tony at work isn’t like Tony in the field, or maybe it’s just the circumstances of their first meeting that were skewed. Either way, Tony interested and animated in a way that Steve realizes he’s seen many times before in other people, who are doing what they love.

“I was thinking gauntlets,” Tony says during one of these sessions. “With the option to switch between handle and magnetized. How about that?”

“That sounds interesting, but I use the handle more than just to hold the shield,” Steve says. “It’s necessary for adjusting the angle of the shield itself, and switching hands…”

“I’ll make a mock-up. Won’t be vibranium, but it’ll give you an idea what you can do with it.” Tony’s fingers dance over his screen, and for a second Steve sees paint and color in the motion instead of schematics, and the overlap is so disconcerting that he misses what Tony says next.

“What?” Steve says.

“I said, how about me?” Tony says. “We’ve been talking about you, but I want to know. What would you improve about my suit? You’ve seen the latest one, right?”

“The one you’ve been using? It looks fine, but I can’t tell what you’ve changed besides the stabilizers.”

Tony’s mouth quirks. “The fact that you even noticed the stabilizers tells me plenty. But what would you change from what you do know of the suit?”

Steve thinks. “I know you’re fighting against wind resistance and the weight of the suit, and your repulsors seem pretty flexible already, but sometimes it looks like you’re really struggling to stabilize when you switch your axis. Like, when you move from…” He makes a motion with his hand, showing the pitch. “I have no idea you’d fix that, though.”

“It’s still good,” Tony says. “If you noticed, other people will too, and might use that against me. It’s all about reaction time, right?”

“Yeah. I’m surprised Colonel Rhodes hasn’t said anything on that. His War Machine is similar tech, isn’t it?”

“Was,” Tony says archly. “But he’s Air Force first and foremost, so his expectations are different.”

“I like your new opening mechanism,” Steve says. “The one you’ve already implemented. It’s nifty.”

Tony blinks in surprise, then beams. “Of course, it’s mine. But uh… Keep thinking, all right? Let me know if there’s anything else about the suit. And are you sure you don’t want to me to give your gloves extra kick? Natasha swears by the electroshocks.”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

Steve sits back quietly while Tony adds in the latest feedback. Steve’s still learning the language of it, but he’s getting a decent hang of Tony’s UI, and watches with interest how Tony plugs in the new info, supplementing it with extra detail that adjusts some minor corner of suit and shield schematic. Maybe one day Steve could learn to design like that, too. Or at least, sketch something out and Tony could bring it to life.

“By the way,” Steve says. “I have a favor.”

“Oh, here it comes.” Tony sounds amused. “Hit me.”

“I have a friend.”

Tony raises an eyebrow. “A lady friend? A non-lady friend?”

“Sam Wilson.” Steve laughs when Tony rolls his eyes in disappointment. “I might’ve mentioned him already? He’s going to be in town and—”

“Yeah yeah, the more the merrier.”

“You don’t even know him, or how long he’ll need to stay.”

“He’s friends with you and Natasha, which means that he can’t be that awful. But if he does turn out to be that awful, I’ll just kick him out, because I have no heart.” Tony pauses, frowning at nothing in particular. “No, I can’t say that anymore, I do have one.”

“Yes, you do,” Steve says.

It’s a small motion and easy to miss, but Steve’s senses are what they are and he catches the way that Tony’s fingers slip a little as they type. On the one hand, Tony must be used to praise by now, but on the other hand, Steve hasn’t seen a single magazine cover or awards trophy or any sort of memento for its accomplishments anywhere in the building.

Steve’s eye drifts over to the row of Iron Man suits lining the far wall. Those are given place of prominence, and fully lit up under individual spotlights.

“So here’s the thing,” Tony says, with a deliberate light-heartedness that draws Steve’s attention, “you don’t need to ask if want to bring people over. On the short-term, or even shorter-term like for drinks or fondue—”

“Howard told you that?”

“Peggy told me that,” Tony says, while Steve laughs. “Just, you know. I’m glad you’re making use of the party floors downstairs, but you can bring friends over. Well, if you have any friends.”

“You mean, any friends who are still alive?”

“Doesn’t even have to be that,” Tony says easily. “Zombies are cool, but just take note of the no-bite policy.”

Steve regards Tony thoughtfully. “We’re friends now, aren’t we? Kind of.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” Tony says, though he’s smiling. “I still have zero interest in braiding your hair and having sleepovers.”

“Half of that’s already untrue. I am actually sleeping over right now.”

“Damn it!” Tony laughs. “Can’t you just give me the moment? I’m trying to be nice and acknowledge your – your experiences. Or whatever new age thing Bruce keeps telling me I to try.”

“It’s not like my being a man out of time is new information, Tony,” Steve points out. “You’ve known that from the start.”

“Yeah, but you were a dick at the start.”

“Can you blame me, though?” Steve’s vaguely aware that they’re swerving into dangerous territory, but it’s easy enough to continue with: “The future is… loud.”

“And I’m the loudest.” Tony’s not even looking at him as he says this. His eyes are still on the computer screen, which means that he doesn’t see Steve’s jolt of surprise. “Yeah, I get it. You still call it the ‘future’, which says a lot, and I am all about the looking forward part of it. Figures I’d be the one to rub you the wrong way. At the same time… can you blame me? I mean, Captain America. Had to find out what you’re made of.”

“What’s your conclusion?”

“You’re still a dick,” Tony says promptly, which has Steve bursting out laughing. “Fortunately, I have matured enough as a human being to accept you as you are.”

“That’s very decent of you,” Steve says.

“You know what else is interesting?” Tony spins on his stool, meeting Steve’s gaze directly. “You haven’t asked me to help you find your friend, Bucky.”

Steve double-takes, and wonders if Tony was deliberately steering the conversation this way, or simply found a neat point to drop it in. It’s tricky to tell with him sometimes, what with that laser-sharp brain and tendency to switch topics at the drop of a hat. But there’s no hurt in Tony’s question – just curiosity.

“Have you looked through the SHIELD files?” Steve asks.

“The ones Natasha leaked? Some. Why?”

“You might want to look again. It’s…” Steve realizes he’s drumming his fingers on the bench, and stops himself. “There’s some Winter Soldier missions that would be of interest to you.”

Now Tony’s just perplexed. “What’s that go to do with anything?”

Steve inhales sharply when Tony calls up the files. “Not while I’m here,” he says quickly. “Trust me on this.”

“Okay,” Tony says. “Now you’re just making me antsy.”

“Please. Tony.”

Tony stares at him for a long moment, then nods. “Fine. But that’s… fine. Okay. Let’s finish your suit first then?”

 


 

 

After that, there’s a stretch of days where Steve doesn’t see Tony at all, but he’s more than okay with it. He hadn’t known how to bring up the matter of Howard and Maria’s deaths, or if he even had the right to do it at all. On another level he’d assumed that Tony already knew, especially with it being months now since the original leak, but maybe that had been wishful thinking.

But despite Tony busy dealing with that elsewhere, he still manages to have the redesigned Captain America suit completed and sent to Steve’s room, along with the promised mock-up of a shield with gauntlets. Steve spends some time in the gym testing out both, and afterward drafts an email to Tony about his thoughts of the get-up. He debates over sending it – he doesn’t want Tony to think he expects him to work on the suit while he’s dealing with emotional matters, but on the flipside Tony does seem to have a penchant for enjoying work as a distraction.

Steve sends the email.

He also checks in with Bruce, who promises to keep an eye out if Tony’s acting stranger than usual.

Steve’s attention then turns to Sam, whose arrival in New York requires pomp and a short tour of the city, which to Steve’s consternation Sam seems to enjoy less than his tour of the Stark building.

“I don’t know, man,” Sam says, after Steve’s finished taking him around and they’ve settled at the bar in the entertainment level. “We could’ve used this as home base the whole time? Suspect.”

“I didn’t even know it’d been refurbished.” Steve waves away Sam’s offer of a drink. “Go ahead.”

They talk a while about what’s been happening in DC with the VA, Sam’s friends, and the remains of the Triskelion. Sam makes some noise about having to lug some of Steve’s things out of storage, but overall, the side trip seems to have done him well, and Steve feels somewhat easier at having dragged him into all of this.

“Oh.” Sam straightens up suddenly. “That him?”

Steve glances over his shoulder just in time to see the form of Iron Man grow larger in its approach, and then turn to fly upward and past their windows.

“Red and gold,” Steve says. “Those are his colors.”

“Come on, introduce me.” Sam gets up, and gestures for Steve to follow. “Hey, get up. You gotta do this. Introduce me.”

Steve hems and haws, but Sam is adamant. It’s not like Steve can say why he’s reluctant, so all he can do is let Sam drag him into the elevator and hope for the best.

“Do not offer flying lessons,” Steve tells him.

“I won’t,” Sam says with a grin. “Better to just talk shit about his flying.”

Luckily, Natasha is also on the landing floor. When Steve and Sam make their way out of the elevator, she and Tony are in the middle of an active conversation, and Tony’s just stepping out of his suit.

“I’m just telling you what it is,” Natasha’s saying. “There are other ways to source it—”

“Everything has to be above board.” Tony scowls at one of his shoes as he pulls it out from the suit. “Okay, that is not supposed to pinch. Anyway, yes, everything is to be above board, because we are not Nick Fury. You can tell Maria that.”

Natasha turns at Steve and Sam’s approach, and nods. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Sam says. “Sorry I’m late.”

“What’s supposed to be above board?” Steve asks.

“Tony’s building a jet,” Natasha says. “But some parts of his design are… unique.”

“I know Maria knows how to get the cells.” Tony nods vaguely at Steve, which is a bit anti-climactic, but Steve considers the direct eye contact a win. “How’s the flying? Did you see me turn?”

“It’s pretty tight,” Sam says. “Considering you’re effectively wearing a tank.”

“Who’s this guy?” Tony says. “Oh, the bird.”

“Falcon,” Sam says.

“That’s what I said.” Tony makes a distracted salute and pulls up a hologram from his watch, flicking through numbers and diagrams. “Welcome to the frathouse, everything we do here is legal and proper, so I hope you will also only do things that are mostly legal and mostly proper. In that vein, you should talk to Natasha here about what that actually means, because Steve is not to be trusted on such matters.”

“Ohoho,” Sam says, while Steve inhales sharply.

“What did I do?” Steve asks.

“Base jumped off the landing pad,” Tony says. “At night. In the stealth suit.”

“Yeah, he does that,” Sam says.

“I had a parachute,” Steve says defensively.

“Permits, Steve,” Tony says. “You need permits to do that within city limits if you’re going to let civilians catch you on camera. God, what kind of Captain America are you? Natasha?”

“I’ll handle it,” Natasha says.

Steve opens his mouth to defend himself, but Tony interrupts him with, “And give me all the intel you guys have on Bucky Barnes. His scope of training, last sightings, all of it. No, don’t argue – if you want me to help you find him, I need to know everything you know.”

“Tony—” Steve starts.

“Look, I…” Tony sighs. “I have questions of my own about what went down, okay? Who held his leash, what the objective was, other interesting things like that. Oh, and I know a doctor, you’ll like her, Christine Palmer – genius about the brain. Might be able to do something for your buddy.”

“You don’t have to do any of this,” Steve says.

“You’re right. I don’t.” Tony holds Steve’s gaze, and the hard challenge there brooks no argument. “We good? Okay, I’m hungry.”

Steve watches Tony saunter off, feeling a little shaken. He wants to go after Tony, clarify some things, but he can see the dismissal for what it is.

“He’s kind of a prick, isn’t he?” Sam says. “Oh, sorry. My bad.”

“I didn’t say anything,” Steve says.

“Didn’t have to,” Sam says. Steve’s about to ask what that’s about, but Sam’s already turned his attention to Natasha and asking about the fun parts of living in the Stark building that Steve’s obviously neglected to mention.

Steve’s gaze drifts back to the far end of the room, and watches Tony disappear into the elevator.

 


 

 

On a whole, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what Tony’s big, overarching project is. Aside from his occasional field trip in the Iron Man suit (coupled with sighting reports on the news), he’s working on practical upgrades for everyone: Natasha, Steve, Bruce, and possibly even Clint based on some of what Steve’s overheard Tony and Natasha talking about.

Then there’s the tower itself, with its greater space, facilities, and expanded private quarters; a great deal of which is still unused. Hell, there’s the new Quinjet that Tony’s working on, which is awfully superfluous considering that he has multiple versions of a personal flying suit.

Even more curious is that, as far as Steve can tell, Tony isn’t doing any recruiting. Steve’s only here by coincidence – at least, he thinks he is, though he wouldn’t put it past Natasha for having something to do with it. But Tony isn’t actively bringing people in, or even doing the most basic of teambuilding groundwork. He seems only interested in providing the ancillaries – the equipment, the weapons, the support structures – and then what? Leaving them around for someone else to figure out?

Tony can be brilliant, but he’s not Nick Fury, and there’s no long con going on to trick the people around him into becoming a team. Natasha could be up for it but only if she’s asked properly, Bruce seems mostly concerned about finding new ways to manage his condition, and Tony only ever goes on his Iron Man missions by himself.

Steve’s experience with teams is highly mixed, as well. The only reason he, Tony and the others were able to take down Loki and the Chitauri was because they had a shared goal and could stay focused enough to go for it, but even that was a close call. The Howling Commandos were true brothers and friends, but Steve has to live with the fact that he never said goodbye to any of them. As for SHIELD’s strike teams, they left a deep sting that Steve is perfectly glad to hold on to.

That said, Steve’s really curious to see where Tony’s going with this project.

On paper, the only thing keeping Steve and Sam in the Tower is Tony’s promise to help find Bucky. But that’s on the surface level. Steve’s self-aware enough to recognize that he’s enjoying the building’s facilities and view, the city around them, and having good company with a comfortable padding of personal space. Steve’s also aware enough of how much he enjoys watching Tony improve his Iron Man suit, perhaps even more than Tony’s improvement of the Captain America one.

Simply put, Steve wants to see Tony succeed. Tony may be a mess and sometimes makes bizarre choices, but Steve’s far from perfect himself, and the world needs more people who walk the walk instead of just being blowhards about it.

Assuming that that is Tony’s endgame, which it’s just as possible that it might not be. Tony may be simply trying to give everyone he trusts – and Earth as a whole – a decent leg up for when the next wave comes through the great cosmic portal, which is just as good a goal.

There’s one thing Steve learns for sure about Tony, though. When he makes tools for people, it’s not about the tools in themselves, or even about wanting people to use said tools. It’s about the people he cares about being able to protect themselves, by whatever means Tony can give them.

Tony’s a prickly guy, but when he goes to bat for his friends, he really goes for it.

That last point is driven home a couple of days after Sam’s moved in and made himself so at home in Stark Tower that JARVIS knows which playlist to use whenever Sam wins at any of the games they play on the entertainment level. He and Steve actually there by the darts board, and Sam is doing a jig of success when the music cuts abruptly.

Captain Rogers,” JARVIS says. “Ms. Romanoff has asked for assistance in some delicate matters downstairs.

“Got it,” Steve says. “Suit up?”

Time is of the essence in this case.

Steve goes and Sam follows, and JARVIS provides a brief recap as they travel down the elevator.

There’s a ruckus on one of the lower floors of the tower. All Steve knows about the rest of the building is that it’s used by Stark Industries and under the purview of Pepper Potts, though Tony, Maria and Natasha carry out business there as well.

The floor that JARVIS lets them out on is one of the lower-security R&D sections, and by the time Steve and Sam get there, is in a mild panic. There are people running and alarms blaring, so they move quickly in tracking down the epicenter, which in this case involves a locked-down lab, overthrown furniture, and Bruce hunched down in a corner.

Natasha’s crouched nearby Bruce, hands out and trying to calm him. There are two people a little further away, one of them armed with an unusual-looking gun, and neither person familiar to Steve. They look young, almost boyishly-so, and they’re both wearing labcoats but their stance is military. An undercover op, then.

“Sam,” Steve says.

“Yep,” Sam says.

Steve steps in, drawing the others’ attention away while Sam joins Natasha seeing to Bruce.

“Trying to provoke the Hulk?” Steve says. “Anyone could tell you that’s bad news.”

“It’s always bad news,” the one with the gun says. The other has a sleek gray baton, which crackles faintly with electricity. “We’re just speeding it up so everyone’s on the same page.”

The building’s on lockdown by now, but they don’t seem concerned. All they’re after is the Hulk. Steve cracks a knuckle.

There’s a fight.

The close quarters make it tricky, as does trying to keep an eye on both of them. Steve tries to steer them away, but they keep switching it up, and it’s mainly Steve’s being better at improvisation that keeps them at bay.

A door opens at the far end and for a second Steve is relieved at the help, until he registers that Tony didn’t bring a suit. He’s just a guy in a shirt and jeans, glasses thrown aside, but he throws himself in anyway. Thank goodness Tony knows enough to let Steve take the big hits and provide cover to ensure sure that they don’t get close to Bruce.

Then it’s over. One interloper is unconscious, and Steve ties the other one up with unused cables and hauls him to his feet.

“Tony—” Steve holds an arm out, but Tony moves past him to get in the guy’s face.

“You do this here?” Tony yells.

The man sneers. “If you’re going to hide a military weapon in the city then you should—”

Tony punches him. A neat clock right across the chin, angled right and solid enough for a crack to resonate through the room. Steve’s holding the guy as Tony does it, so he feels the indirect force of the punch, and the way the guy’s whole body jerks in response.

It accomplishes nothing. They already have the situation under control, and this might even make it worse by antagonizing them in the long run. But the guy’s face, and the dismissive way he spoke about Bruce?

It’s a beautiful punch.

“Tell Ross to suck my dick,” Tony spits. “Bruce Banner is a person. You can quote me on both. JARVIS, let security up.”

Yes, sir.

Tony scowls when he sees Steve’s face. “Don’t give me that look.”

“I’m not…” Steve trails off as Tony stomps away, heading for Bruce who’s slowly uncurling from his crouch and talking haltingly with Natasha and Sam.

It’s at this point that Steve realizes that he’s breathing hard, and not only because of the fight. (A fight like that wouldn’t wind him, anyway.)

Steve’s heart is hammering. He can still hear that punch and see Tony’s grim face as he sent it flying, and the way he briefly rose up onto his toes to get it done properly.

Beautiful form. Passionate and righteous.

Tony sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of Bruce, easing into an empty spot next to Natasha and Sam. Tony’s smiling and cracking a joke, but his eyes are still alight with worry and anger. That’s beautiful, too.

Steve takes a deep breath.

So, yeah. Staying in Stark Tower is a learning experience.

 


 

 

That’s another new piece of information about Tony that Steve didn’t really need. But it’s there in Steve’s brain now, immovable and making him acutely aware of every detail of Tony.

There is new appreciation to be had of Tony’s form, with the sheer expressiveness of his eyes, his hands, his mouth, and even his body language that he switches up depending on who’s nearby. There’s way his facial hair trails up to the angle of his jaw. The way he bounces on his feet when he’s restless, the way his eyes move when he pretends he’s not paying attention.

There’s the way Tony speaks, how sometimes he can pass off bullshit for being witty, and how he flips through different tracks of conversation both consciously and unconsciously.

There’s Tony’s many quirks of habit, some of them used deliberately to distract, and so obviously for that purpose that Steve wonders how anyone can fall for it. Tony is always moving, always thinking, always keeping his hands occupied; that last one sometimes with the snacks he’s always eating but never ever leaves crumbs or rubbish behind.

Steve is perfectly capable of compartmentalizing, but in the days after the near-miss with Bruce this is all he can think about.

And it’s made worse because Tony gets it wrong. He got it wrong from the start, when he’d registered whatever expression Steve was making at the time.

After they’d gotten Bruce to his quarters safely, Tony caught Steve staring and said: “Oh my god. Are you mad that I punched Ross’ lackey? Is it an army thing?”

“No,” Steve said quickly.

This should pass, too, along with other misconceptions Tony once had, but no. It lingers, like the two dozen other things Tony likes to call back to out of the blue – much like how the image of Tony in full attack-mode lingers behind Steve’s closed eyelids, but more annoying.

Such as, they’d be having a rare group lunch and the topic would veer towards crowd tactics, and Tony would pipe up with, “Well, Steve thinks we shouldn’t punch people in the face.”

“I don’t think that,” is Steve’s sharp reply.

Another time, when they’re in Tony’s workshop testing the new gauntlets for the shield, Tony demonstrates how the magnets work and says, “I promise I won’t hit you in the face, because I am actually a decent person sometimes.”

“That’s not—” Steve takes a breath. “Stop that.”

The last straw comes on an otherwise sunny day, when they’re standing at the windows overlooking the landing pad. It’s just the two of them here, and they’re watching Natasha and Sam take the new model Quinjet out for a test flight.

“How’s that for a take-off?” Tony says.

“That is incredibly quiet.” Steve clicks the comm in his hand. “Take a few laps, let’s see how the drops looks.”

We read you,” Natasha says.

The Quinjet makes slow and then progressively quicker turns around the tower. Steve’s fully focused on the vehicle’s movement, and at his side Tony chatters away with JARVIS about numbers and performance analysis.

All right, we’re warmed up and ready for a proper run,” Natasha says.

“Punch it,” Tony says.

The repulsors flare, and the Quinjet soars up into the sky, does a few barrel rolls, and disappears into the clouds. Tony’s computer screen has a radar of the jet’s position, and it beeps comfortingly as the jet itself increases in altitude.

“Have fun, but don’t forget check in.” Steve clicks off the comm. “Okay, a good start.”

“That’s it?” Tony says incredulously. “Good start?”

“Well, it’s not as showboaty as the suit, but it’ll do.”

“Aww, that’s great,” Tony says with a laugh. “At least I can do something that meets Captain America’s standards.”

Steve sighs. “Can you please drop that?”

Tony makes a show of thinking about it. “No.”

“It would be a great favor, and I will owe you one.”

This seems to be a mistake, because it just makes Tony perk up even more. “Wow. I haven’t gotten this disappointed face of yours since you got back. Did not realize how much I missed it.”

“I’m not—” Steve grits his teeth. He’s well aware that Tony is baiting him, and enjoying the fact that Steve is failing to rise to the challenge. It’s a strange sort of mirror to how Tony used to bait him in the past, though the anger that now rises up in Steve in a very different sort. “I’m not disappointed.”

“You should’ve just had me out then and there,” Tony says. “Gee, Tony, maybe you shouldn’t punch an unarmed man in the face, that’s not polite.”

“I’m not upset about that!” Steve exclaims. “The guy deserved to be punched!”

“Are you lying now, Steve? Advocating violence?”

Tony’s smile is near-blinding. There’s a flare of panic in Steve’s chest that Tony might be actually speaking his mind, and that he’s gone back to thinking that Steve’s the straight-laced stereotype he once did. But no, Tony is fucking messing with him, and looking so damned proud and lovely as he does it.

Steve wants him to stop. Or never stop. It’s confusing.

There’s a swoop in Steve’s stomach as he moves – almost like jumping out of a plane, really – to take Tony’s face in his hands and kiss him.

This is not Steve’s finest hour. Tony smells like metal and cologne, his moustache tickles, and his mouth, though warm, is flat and unresponsive. Steve’s not an expert on kissing, but he can recognize a dud.

He draws back, breathing heavily.

Tony’s eyes are very wide. There’s a small surge of triumph at being able to catch Tony off-guard, but that’s cancelled out by the lack of any kind of response. Steve quenches the urge to shrink back; he stands tall and keeps his gaze steady, owning his action.

At long last, Tony clears his throat. “This is part where you say that was a joke.”

“Do you want it to be a joke?” Steve says.

“I think that would make more sense.”

“Would it?” Steve says, challenging. “Would it really?”

Tony breaks first, taking a step backward and squinting at Steve suspiciously. Steve wouldn’t mess with another person this way because there are lines, and he hopes Tony knows that this is a line for him. Steve can almost see Tony mentally reviewing his memories of the last few days and weeks, perhaps in search of answers, or perhaps in observing the natural progression towards this.

Steve thinking of Tony this way may be new, but it feels like an understandable step forward, or at least a possibility that came within stepping distance after these past few weeks.

“I need to… Hmm.” Tony looks at the screen, which has a new batch of numbers of the Quinjet coming in. “You have terrible timing, by the way. Now I can’t think.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You are most certainly not,” Tony says. “I… JARVIS, record everything. Wait, you always record everything. I’m going to – I’m going elsewhere.”

Steve swallows. “All right.”

“Nope!” Tony backs up step by step, all the while holding a hand up as though to keep Steve at bay despite the fact that Steve hasn’t moved an inch. “Don’t do that. That face is even worse. I don’t like it. I need to go away because I can feel myself about to say something really stupid, and I’d rather not say it where you can be listening.”

“Oh.” Steve’s pretty sure he wasn’t expecting anything, so it’s a little odd to be disappointed. He tries not to be, and nods. “I’ll stay here to watch Nat and Sam’s progress.”

“You do that. You – yes.” Tony does not run, but he walks very fast on his very shapely calves.

Steve turns back to the hologram projection and tries to only think about that.

 


 

 

Surprisingly, Tony doesn’t leave him hanging for long. This is good, because being grim and broody is exhausting. There’s always the possibility of their pretending that Steve’s attempted kiss never happened, which would be disappointing but understandable, and Steve would accommodate that as is necessary. But that’s not what happens.

The Quinjet test finishes up smoothly, even if Natasha is confused why Tony’s stopped monitoring them. The pair return to the tower, and there’s a debrief and dinner, followed by Steve’s excusing himself for some private time.

He chooses a bench on one of the mezzanines of the entertainment level, where the view of the city is particularly breathtaking at night.

Tony’s approaching footsteps are distinct. He’s taking his time and making sure that Steve knows he’s coming. He eventually sits on the other end of Steve’s bench, waits a respectable beat, and then shimmies closer to peer at Steve’s tablet.

“That looks nothing at all like the night skyline,” Tony says.

“It’s not,” Steve says. “It’s the view from my old apartment in DC.”

“Then why the hell are you sitting here to draw?”

“Ambience.”

Tony falls silent, though Steve can hear the restless tapping of his heel against the floor. Tony clears his throat, looks around, and then mutters something too soft for even Steve to catch. Faint music starts playing, though JARVIS is otherwise quiet.

“So here’s the thing,” Tony says. “SHIELD – what’s left of SHIELD – is way understaffed. They’re doing what they can, but they’re starting to crack, and it won’t be long before they’re going to ask for help. I want them to ask us for help.”

“From your reboot of the Avengers initiative?”

“You know about that.”

“One, it’s all over the screens in your workshop. And two—” Steve waves vaguely at the building around them. “I think it’s a good idea.”

“Oh.” Tony scratches his goatee, as always ignoring the direct praise. “Yeah, so that’s the big thing. One of the big things. It’s important. Not just to get more info about Bucky, but, you know, in general. HYDRA.”

“Yes, I get that.”

“So I need to know what this…” Tony gestures between them, “…is. Is it a sex thing? Do you want to sleep with me?”

“I can’t say that I’ve thought about that.”

Tony’s brow knits, and he looks honest-to-goodness offended. “You did not think about bumping uglies with me? What on earth did you kiss me for, then?”

“You were…” Steve carefully puts his tablet down and turns to give Tony his full attention. “You were very kissable, so I kissed you. It does tend to work out like that for me. In general. But I have been – well. Looking at you. But only recently.”

“So is it a dating thing, then?”

“I don’t know that either.”

“Then what’s the use of you, Rogers?” Tony exclaims, though at least the anxiousness seems to have melted away into more familiar (and welcome) exasperation. “Did you not think that through? Of course you didn’t think that through. I’m just saying, I don’t do very well with the dating thing. There was Pepper, but she, uh… I couldn’t let go of the suits. I tried, but I couldn’t, so that was that.”

“Yes, because I’m such an expert at dating and work-life balance.”

“Don’t do that,” Tony says sharply. “Don’t smile. I can see you smile.”

Steve fixes his expression. “Well, look at it this way. You’re not a team player—”

“Hey!”

“—but you’re trying. I bet it’s new and scary, and you’re making it up as go along, but the desire is there. Your eyes are set on that objective.” Steve has no idea where all of this is coming from, but it sounds pretty good. “Me and you? Could be like that. I think that would be… interesting.”

Tony studies Steve for a long moment. “That would require you doing your part to help it work.”

“Yes, obviously.”

“So you want to be an Avenger?”

“We’re not talking about that right now.”

“Yes, we are, if you’re going to line ‘em up side by side that way.”

“It’s completely separate,” Steve says. “I can’t make a decision about that on the spot.”

“But you can make a decision to bang me on the spot?”

“I didn’t say that, either.”

Tony makes a frustrated noise. “I feel like I’m betraying some fundamental sense of self if I admit how much I’m attracted to you.”

“You shouldn’t feel bad. Lots of people are attracted to me.” Steve laughs when Tony lunges for him, planting his hands on Steve’s face as though to mess up his features.

It’s not a wise tactic, but there’s genius in there anyway. Steve wraps his hands around Tony’s forearms to stop him, Tony wriggles and snarls in response, and by perfectly random happenstance Tony ends up bodily stride Steve’s lap, thighs on either side of Steve’s body.

Tony seems a little surprised to be where he is, but it passes and his attention turns fully to the study of Steve’s face. His scrutiny is intense up close, and Steve cannot look away. Tony settles an arm around Steve’s shoulders to hold himself steady, and then takes full stock Steve’s eyebrows, eyelids, the bridge of his nose, and more. He touches Steve’s face carefully with calloused fingertips, as though to unlock its secrets. When his thumb settles at the corner of Steve’s mouth, Steve parts his lips – only realizing how suggestive that is once he’s done it and Tony’s breath catches.

Arousal, unexpected in how sharp it is, pools low in Steve’s stomach.

Steve puts his hands on Tony’s waist, gripping it just hard enough to feel the strength there. He could lift Tony from just this grip if he wanted. He wants to.

This time when they kiss, Tony’s a full participant.

Tony’s lips are warm and soft, and his facial hair prickles in an interesting way when their mouths slot together. Steve follows his motions, intrigued by the rhythm of it – the push and glide of their lips, the teasing hint of tongue, and then the press of a full-mouth kiss that steals Steve’s breath.

“Wow,” Steve whispers.

They go at it for quite a while. Tony kisses the way he works, i.e. with complete focus and full steam ahead, albeit with much less chatter. Steve thinks he’s doing a decent job keeping up, judging by the way Tony’s practically writhing in his arms, but it could be better. A great deal better.

“All right,” Steve says when they pause to catch their breaths. “This is also a sex thing.”

“Got it.” Tony drums his hands on Steve’s shoulders, considering. “Can it be a sex thing now?”

“One thing I’ve learned beyond all else,” Steve says, “is that life is way too short.”

They get up and leave at a half-run, Tony leading the way and Steve’s hand in his. Down the connecting stairs, up the elevator, then down the corridors to the private quarters.

They pass Bruce on the way, and he calls out to them, asking Tony if he saw the results from some test or the other.

“Can it wait?” Tony says, not slowing down. Steve waves at Bruce, apologetic. “Me and Steve are going to my room to fool around.”

“Sure.” Bruce double-takes, his head snapping up. “Wait, what?”

But Tony’s already turned the corner with Steve in tow, and there are other matters to concern themselves with.

 


 

 

Breakfast the next day is not as awkward the Steve had been led to believe it could be.

Instead it’s nice and easy, and not that unlike every other breakfast in the tower they’ve had recently. Steve has his stack of pancakes, Tony is busy with his coffee, Bruce is reading the newspaper and absent-mindedly spooning cereal into his mouth, while Natasha is eating an apple and watching the news on the TV.

It’s comfortable. Steve realizes that he’s pretty damned relaxed, and very much enjoying the peace and quiet with available company. If he occasionally has flashbacks to Tony on top of him, head tossed back and gasping wildly, that’s his own business.

“Next round of tests with the Quinjet today?” Natasha says. “Steve should take it for a spin, see if it passes his jump requirements.”

“I would be up for that,” Steve says.

“Ugh,” Tony says.

“There’s also…” Steve nods when Sam enters, eyes still sleep-heavy and doing arm stretches. “That reminds me. Tony, could you do me a favor? I think it’d be good if you consider Sam for our—”

“Whoa,” Sam says, making a face. “I like you, but I’m not interested in a threesome.”

“Nobody asked you, Wilson!” Tony says.

“Tony,” Steve says.

“Yeah, well.” Tony puts a hand on Steve’s shoulder. “Dibs.”

“You should not be this cranky this morning,” Bruce says quietly.

Tony’s exhale is drawn out and dramatic. “Sorry. Weird headspace. World turned upside down, trying to deal. You were saying?”

“Sam,” Steve says. “His wings could use some looking at. I think he’d be valuable addition to the team.”

“You should ask me first, man,” Sam says. “And there’s nothing wrong with my wings.”

“I didn’t say there’s anything wrong with them,” Steve says. “But they are old—”

“You’re old,” Sam says petulantly.

Tony laughs and squeezes Steve’s bicep comfortingly. “Vintage. Let’s go with vintage.”

“I get a vote, too, though,” Natasha says. “This guy might slow the team down.”

“That’s dangerous talk right there,” Sam says.

Bruce frowns. “What team?”

Sir,” JARVIS says, just as the hairs at the back of Steve’s neck rise ominously. “There’s… incoming.”

When Steve was young, he’d seen the future that was meant for him, or at least, a future that people said was meant for him. He’d rejected that, for good or for ill, and everything since then has been a whirlwind of madness that he thinks (as prideful as it may sound) not everyone could’ve gotten through. Steve doesn’t believe in destiny, but he does believe in doing more – so much more – than what has life has dealt you. That belief has brought him here.

Steve doesn’t know if this team can work. Steve doesn’t know if he can handle having a sweetheart like Tony Stark, who’s nothing at all like what he’d ever dreamed for himself. Hell, Steve doesn’t know if he’ll ever stop feeling like the world is spinning wildly beneath his feet, forcing him to always be on edge, and always expecting the next big turn.

But it is what it is, and Steve will adapt, learn, and roll with it as necessary.

He does that now, gears in his brain shifting into readiness as he watches the streak of lightning that’s travelling down the long windows of the tower. It’s behaving not at all like proper lightning, bouncing through the open window on the far end of the floor, into the open rec area.

Steve stands up and approaches, and he hears the others do the same behind him.

Thor lands through the open window and unfolds himself. His cape flaps in the wind and his hammer is at the ready. “Greetings. Ah, I’m interrupting your morning meal, I apologize.”

“Thor,” Steve says. “Feel free to join us.”

Thor grins and sets his hammer to his belt. “I shall. Then we will talk of business, and of my brother’s wayward scepter, which I believe is still on Earth and will need collecting.”

“Can you stop crackling everywhere?” Tony says. “You’re messing with my security systems.”

Thor ducks his head, abashed. “Sorry. Breakfast?”

Steve turns back towards the dining area, and is only a little surprised to see Tony’s careful watching him. It’s not a look of deference – Steve doubts Tony even knows how to do that – but of anticipation. He’s been waiting for that missing piece to slot in and make sense of everything that he’s been trying to put together, but couldn’t do by himself.

Steve saw this coming. Tony could probably lead, but he doesn’t want to, and is self-aware enough to know that he needs someone else.

Steve smiles. Tony nods and smiles back.