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Soul Hoarder

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All dragons have hoards.

Even now, when magical species are integrated with humanity across the globe, and most dragons chose human forms; all dragons have hoards. Whether they keep dragonish features, or hide themselves completely, a dragon has a hoard and it will probably give them away.

In this modern-day society, hoards have changed. Tony has met dragons that hoard pencils, and dragons that hoard plants. The owner of the Met is a dragon, and woe betide anyone not return items on loan from his hoard. Some dragons hoard money, jewellery, but those old dragons are becoming fewer and fewer... some hoard cats, or dogs, there’s one in the amazon who hoards birds, and Tony’s favourite dragon in the world won’t ever give his true name, but he hoards Yosemite and haunts its boundaries to protect those who enter and bless those who leave.

Maria's hoard was books.

Tony's kept all of her hoard, treasured it as a part of his mother since she passed, but it's not his hoard. Howard never realised he’d married a dragon, and never realised he’s fathered one, either; Tony was not ashamed of his heritage, but he’d learnt early on that older generations didn’t care to do business with dragons. Thus, his eyes were merely golder than they should be, and Tony hoarded in his heart but never in a way that could be deemed more than eccentric, a way that could be deemed dragon.

Most people, if they knew, would assume he hoarded technology.

A couple might assume instruments, and Pepper would claim he hoarded paperwork because he never gave it back.

Most people would be wrong.

Tony hoards people.

Or, more accurately, he hoards souls.

It’s a dangerous, risky, heart-breaking thing to hoard, but contrary to popular belief, a dragon doesn’t choose their hoard.

 

Rhodey finds out after Afghanistan.

He covers it up nicely, dispels all reports of the deep crimson dragon seen in the area, and tends to Tony himself until his crimson and gold scales fade back and his eyes return to human. He elects not to ask for a while – not until Tony has built his cover story in the form of red and golden armour, found a way to deal with Obadiah, and ensured his hoard will not lose anyone else – and when he does, he does so with kindness.

He doesn’t ask why he wasn’t told. He doesn’t ask about Howard or Maria. He asks about flying, and Tony’s tendency to curl up while he sleeps. He teases and assures in equal measure, and Tony feels a little lighter knowing that someone knows.

Tony enjoys regaling him with tales, and he ends up laid on the couch in the lab with his head on Rhodey’s lap and the bots gathered around him.

 

“Where’s your hoard man?” Rhodey asks softly, and really, it’s a good thing that as dragons go Tony is not one for formality, nor is he easy to insult. “We should have got you straight back to it…” He murmurs, and Tony leans into the hand Rhodey’s got resting on his head.

He gestures vaguely at Rhodey and the bots. “You’re my hoard,” he mumbles, and falls asleep to the shock on Rhodey’s face.

 

Hoard sickness is fucking weird. When a dragon knows they have to find a way to return to it, the sickness doesn’t set in – but when a dragon loses hope… clocks tick in disjointed patterns, caused by the universe in no science Tony can understand.

 

Tony once paraphrased Ollivander, in that the hoard chooses the dragon, Colonel Rhodes; it is not always clear why, and never has that sentiment been truer than today.

Jarvis was hoard, Maria was hoard, even Obadiah was hoard which Tony understood as much as he resented.

Pepper and Happy and Rhodey are hoard, Jarvis and the bots are hoard, Jan Van Dyne who he gets coffee with once and month and has for the last ten years is hoard – these all make sense to Tony.

So why the fuck, within 2 days of meeting, do the Avengers get labelled as hoard?

 

He doesn’t know, but now they’re eating shawarma and talking about what they’re going to do now, and the dragon half of Tony that usually lays dormant is urging for them to be close, for Tony to keep them close. It’s probably why the words,

“You’re all welcome to live in the tower.”

Leave his mouth.

Natasha merely raises an eyebrow at him, and Clint is gaping at him, Steve looks confused and Bruce looks wary, but Thor is smiling brightly at him.

“I would be honoured to stay with you, den som är gyllene och röda.” He speaks as grandly as he does with every word, and perhaps the address was somewhat informal for a dragon, but Tony understood the Scandinavian easily, and preened a little at the title. The One Who Is Golden and Red.

Bruce gave a little sideways glance at Thor, still unsure.

“I can promise lab space, a shooting range, state of the art gym, weapons upgrades, no bills, no rent, and hey, team building, right? I’ve got to renovate anyway after the damage. Let’s customise and build a clubhouse.” Tony implored, and though Natasha looked no less suspicious, and Steve no less confused, the Avengers come to stay in the tower.

 

Another thing about dragon hoards; they all have a jewel.

Something that holds pride of place within, the last piece that the dragon will defend and protect more than any other piece. Maria’s had been a journal of her mama’s, from which she’d taught Tony all there was to know about dragon lore. She’s taught him about every magical species known to man, and even a few that were not.

Tony treasured that book as much as a dragon can treasure something that is not part of the hoard, and sometimes thought of it as his jewel too, in place of his Mama. How can a soul hoarder dragon have a jewel, after all? That would be the equivalent of having a soulmate, and those are extremely rare, if they even exist at all.

The Faye believe in star fates, in soul mates, and vampires believe in the power of a blood bond. A werewolf believes in the power of a pack instead of two individuals – dragons believe it’s every dragon for themselves.

 

It completely took Tony by surprise one evening, upon waking to Steve’s gentle hands pulling a blanket over him on the common room couch, to realise that Steve was his jewel.

His pride of this soul-hoard.

 

Stjärn öde.Star fate, Thor nods understandably when Tony goes to him in a panic – Rhodey had hung up on him, and Thor was the only one who knew, who even if he hadn’t worked it out, the only one of the Avengers that he knew wouldn’t care. “I had suspected for some time... you and the good Captain have become close, gyllene som.

“I didn’t realise though! Sure, Nat’s part faye and we’re comfortable around each other because of that magical thrum- not that she knows what I am yet- and Clint’s definitely got some gryphon ancestry somewhere, and Bruce has the weirdest lycanthropy you’ve ever seen, but Steve’s human.” Tony finishes, and Thor is smiling at him fondly.  

“Is that not the beauty of it? My own stjärn öde is human. Maybe we just love breakable things? Things are not beautiful because they last, dear friend. They last because we love them.”

“Dragon Jewel’s are impervious to decay, but that... I’ve never heard of a soul hoarder. Dragons don’t believe in star fates for a reason. I cannot bare to lose a jewel Thor.”

“If you would talk to him, Anthony, you will not have to.” And with that, Thor claps him on the shoulder and returns to his reading.

 

The chance to talk is robbed from him, however, by the Avengers’ 14th Villain of the Week – with a particle gun. That leaves them all stood weaponless, with no way to stop him. Mjolnir will reform, but not yet, and one more blast with that gun, and the Avengers will be dust.

“Where’s a dragon when you need one?” Clint growled, all six of them advancing in reverse, not daring to risk a blast as the villain ranted and raved.

“Impervious scales would be useful right now,” Thor agreed, giving Tony a pointed glance. Tony sighed, and steeled himself for a moment.

“I really like this shirt...” He muttered grumpily, rolling his shoulders. “Somebody tell Pepper I’m sorry about this?” he tossed over his shoulder, walking forwards.

“Tony, what-?” Steve began to ask, but he was cut off.

“It would be best if we all stood back.” Thor warned – and with that cue, Tony shifted.

 

It was by far the easiest shift in his life, the anger at the harming of his hoard fuelling the smooth transition from mild-mannered billionaire, to fifteen feet of winged fury.

 

“Holy shit!” Clint exclaimed from somewhere behind him, standing out amongst the shock that was yelled behind him. Tony grumbled a laugh, advancing in two steps to tower over the gun-wielding villain, wings stretched wide and high. The Villain (Particle Man?) had gone extremely pale.

“TELL ME, HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR CHANCES NOW?” he asked, his voice reverberating between the buildings either side.

“P-please-“ he begged. “I- I can undo it!”

“THEN DO SO!” Tony demanded, and Particle Man (Tony was sticking with it, names were a useless thing in the face of titles to be won and earned) set to work, returning the items to their former state, under Tony’s watchful gaze. Not long after he’d finished, were Shield taking him away, and Thor was grinning up at Tony – Tony gave him a smile that showed all his teeth, and then called out; “I WANT THAT TECH.”

“Of course, O’ Mighty Crimson One.” The agent carrying it replied, hands shaking but voice firm, and Tony huffed his approval of the address, and the agent scurried away.

“We should head back to the tower, gyllene som, before the press appear in person.” Thor warned, and Tony grimaced.

“IT WAS NICE TO STRETCH MY WINGS WHILE IT LASTED.”

He shifted back slowly, and Thor swept off his newly returned cloak for Tony to stagger into. Tony wanted to protest the act of Thor picking him up, bridal style no less, that followed, but he realised how much he ached – he’d not shifted since Afghanistan, after all, and before that not for years. “Thank you, Anthony.” Thor told him, and Tony mumbled something in response, but it was unintelligible as he drifted off against Thor’s chest to the sway of being carried as they walked back to the tower.

 

No one said anything in the elevator, and Tony had Thor’s cape wrestled into a makeshift toga to step out onto the common floor, hoping for a snack, god he was hungry now.

The flaw in that plan was Pepper.

Stood in the middle of the common floor.

Looking really rather fucked off.

“Ah.” Tony came to a halt, standing in front of her as the Avengers filed out around them to crash on various surfaces and raid the fridge. “Pepper, darling, light of my life-“ he began.

“You should have told me. This- this is a mess, Tony.” Her voice was shaking, and Tony immediately felt even more guilty about his secret than he already had.

“My secret was not worth their lives,” he told her, “I had no choice.”

“I don’t mean transforming in the middle of the street!” She snapped, and then took a deep breath. “The world will get over it. I mean why didn’t you tell me?” Tony’s heart clenched, realising she had tears in her eyes. He stepped forward, and carefully brushed a tear away as it fell – his eyes wouldn’t be human yet, he still had scales down his arms, his horns were still grown and his teeth were still sharp, but she didn’t flinch, leaning into his hand for a moment.

“I don’t have a good reason, in retrospect.” He admitted. “I never told anyone, and then it was what was best for the company, and then it was best to protect-“ he cut himself off, and smiled at her. “Rhodey’s only known since Afghanistan, and Thor worked it out. No one else knew up until today.” Pepper sniffed.

“Okay.” She murmured, “okay.” She pressed a kiss to his palm and then stepped back to compose herself and smile. “Do not leave the Tower, you’ll have a press conference in three hours, be clean, and if you can, stay at this level of Shift. Board meeting tomorrow, 10am. You owe me.”

“I owe you.” Tony agreed, smiling back all teeth, and Pepper sighed.

“I have some phone calls to make. Tony,” she nodded at him with a smile, “Avengers,” she waved to them, and then stepped back into the elevator. Tony watched her go, and then headed into the kitchen. He intended to grab something from the fridge, but Bruce – who hadn’t been called out – pushed a plate over to him, with what they all jokingly called the Steven on it. The Steven was a foot-high monstrosity of a sandwich, designed to give Steve all the calories his heightened metabolism burnt off during callout. Tony considered a protest, but it was pointless now they knew, and happily tucked into the meal.

“Were you going to tell us?” Bruce asked eventually, and Tony nodded, hastily swallowing his mouthful.

“Don’t ask me when though. Thor made some good arguments, but having never told someone before… I can’t tell you how or when I would’ve. Know I wanted to, though. I am… relieved, that you all know, now.”

“I had wondered what you were.” Bruce replied with a smile, and Natasha took a seat to his other side to agree.

“You have a magic about you,” she said, her eyes slipping from their human grey to the signature pale pink of the faye. “But there’s no evidence of a hoard, which I’ll admit threw us off.” She reached out to squeeze his hand then. “I’m glad to know.” Tony grinned at her, relief growing with each passing moment.

The other three joined them at the table then. “You’re not mad?” Tony asked, hating himself for asking, but needing to know.

“Of course not.” Steve murmured, but he didn’t look up. In fact, he looked impossibly sad for a moment, but Clint interrupted before Tony could ask what was wrong.

“Yeah man, but what’s your hoard? I bet you were gryphon because of your lack of one!” Natasha shot him a glare, but Tony merely sighed.

“My hoard is… unusual.” He admitted.

“You don’t hoard, like, something completely intangible like music, do you?” Bruce joked, and Tony shook his head.

“Not exactly.” Tony told him, and then sighed when he realised this was going to turn into a guessing game.

“You don’t hoard New York, do you?” Natasha asked idly, seeming to release it was anger that had allowed him to shift so easily.

“No, I do not. This city is hideous on the best of days.” Tony told them, making Bruce chuckle.

“I bet you hoard technology,” Clint quipped, but it was Natasha who refuted him.

“Too obvious, and there’s not enough of it to be a hoard.” Natasha explained, and then a debate ensued between the two of them and Bruce, caught up in the puzzle and forgetting for a moment that often, dragons kept their hoards a well-guarded secret.

Tony caught Thor’s eye across the table, and the god merely raised a pointed eyebrow at him. Some help he was going to be. “Good luck working it out,” Tony told them – though they barely noticed, not even glancing away from the debate as he stood from his chair, “I’m going to find some clothes.”

 

“So, what’s up with you?” Tony asked several hours later, stepping off stage from the press conference. It had gone well, Tony had attended exactly as Pepper had asked him to, and nicely answered and fielded all questions. It was like the press had a newfound respect for him in places, and Tony only wished it would last. Once they got over discovering that he was a dragon – and a baby one, by all respects – they’d go back to degrading him.

Steve’s gaze flicked to him at the question, but he went back to staring out across the stage Tony had just vacated. “Nothing.” He replied.

“Yeah, no, you can’t lie for shit Steve. Talk to me.”

“I am fine, Tony.”

“Of course you are, dear.” Tony conceded, watching him carefully but changing the subject. “How long did they argue for?”

“Too long.” Steve quirked a small smile and glanced down at him. “They only stopped because Thor pointed out a dragon’s hoard is often private.” Tony laughed.

“Not always though... did you know there’s a dragon who hoards Yosemite?” Tony told him, and delighted in the way Steve’s eyes went wide with wonder.

“Really? How does that work?” he asked – and Tony watched his fingers twitch, like he was itching to draw what the forest guardian might look like.

“The forest’s life is his hoard... he protects those who enter and often blesses or curses those who leave dependant on their respect. Never gives his true name, rarely shows himself... a good dragon. Prideful.” Tony told him, and Steve’s face split into a grin, whatever sadness that had been lingering dispelled.

“That’s a dragon I would love to meet.” He murmured, and Tony smiled at him.

“C’mon Rogers, there’s something I want to show you.” Tony spoke as he was already walking off, grabbing Steve around the wrist – even to a dragon, Steve ran so warm, and Tony found contact with him delightful because of it.

“Okay, Tony.” Steve laughed, allowing himself to be pulled into the elevator. Tony was bouncing on the balls of his feet – he’d wanted to share this with Steve since he’d realised the man was his jewel, but up until now he hadn’t known how.

They stepped out onto the penthouse floor – the team had never been up there. It was the one place Tony could be himself, nested and comfortable. All his mother’s books were up here, along with other heirlooms and comforts – the entire floor was open plan, and filled with cushions and blankets, darker and warmer than the rest of the tower. Tony made straight for the shelves, not needing to scan the spines to pick out the book he was looking for.

“This is cosy.” Steve commented when Tony turned back to him, and Tony paused.

“You like it?” he asked, unsure, and Steve smiled.

“I do. It suits you.” Tony was glad to be partially shifted, or his blush would show on his face.

“Huh. Um, well- here.” Tony held the book out to him, and Steve took it reverently, tracing his fingers over the inscription in the heavy binding with a feather-light touch. “This was my mother’s jewel,” Tony told him, and Steve looked up from the cover to gape at him. “My grandmama’s journal. A wealth of information on dragon lore.”

“This is-“ Steve swallowed hard.

“Precious?” Tony asked, and Steve nodded slowly. “You can- I’d like you to borrow it. If you want to,” Tony offered, and Steve smiled softly.

“I would be honoured.”

 

“Can I ask you a question?” Steve asked. He was laid on the couch in Tony’s workshop, carefully reading through the journal. Tony spun on his stool to face him – completely human today, it was more comfortable to be wholly one or the other, and certainly more stable, dragons that chose to remain partially Shifted had more control that he did, though he would gain control with age.

“Well you just did, but I’ll allow another.” Tony grinned as Steve rolled his eyes at him.

“Thank you, O’ Mighty Crimson One.” Steve remarked dryly. “Um, it says here that a dragon may not chose their hoard, nor its jewel, but its jewel may also not reflect the hoard, and instead one’s stjärn öde,” Steve read from the page with a regal tone, but Tony was too shocked at the mention of star fates to appreciate it, “and I was wondering what that meant?”

Tony put down the solder, and turned fully to give Steve his full attention, considering how to answer. “In dragons,” he began slowly, “it is often expected that a dragon’s jewel is the same as their hoard. A book hoarder’s jewel will be a book, a plant hoarder’s jewel will be a plant.”

“Right, that I get.”

“Sometimes, a jewel is... a jewel pertains to that dragon’s stjärn öde. Their star fate.” Tony swallowed. “A soulmate.” Steve’s eyes went wide.

“Soulmates are- are real?” Steve asked, sitting up.

“They’re extraordinarily rare. Rarer than rare. I would’ve told you impossible but...” Steve looked confused for the briefest second and then his expression went oddly blank.

“You’ve got one.” It wasn’t a question.

It’s you, Tony wanted to say. “Most likely,” He lied. “I’m- I’m a soul hoarder. I hoard people. So, either I will never have a jewel to hold pride of place, or I have a soulmate. Each is as unlikely as the other.”

“You hoard people?” Steve asked. “That’s- how do you-?”

“I keep people close. I don’t have a large hoard, and I steel myself to get my heart broken. Only a jewel will live as long as I do. Everyone else, I’ll lose.” He swallowed. “No one knows. I can’t- people aren’t property, and often the significance of dragon hoards are lost on other species. I don’t want…”

“You don’t want to be rejected…” Steve finished for him softly. “God… Tony, I’m sorry.”

“So am I.” Tony muttered after a long moment of silence. Steve looked heartbroken for him for a moment, but then the moment was shattered by Jarvis informing them both that Clint was ordering pizza for dinner.

 

Steve had taken a hit in battle.

He’d been unconscious for three days.

Tony had been banned from the hospital for the last forty-four hours.

He had four hours until hoard sickness set in.

Seventeen hours until it rendered him unable to shift,

And thirty-four hours until it killed him.

 

He was curled up on his floor, partially shifted – he’d once been able to choose the size of his shift, from two feet to thirty, but now he found it more difficult – but now where the blankets weren’t enough to hide him, his wings did the trick.

The elevator ticked up past the floor below, and came to a stop, dinging softly.

“Tony?” Natasha called out, and Tony slightly raised a blanket to look at her. Since Tony’s coming out, her eyes remained pink, and Tony’s often remained in their natural form because of it. “Oh Antoshka…” she murmured, coming forward slowly and folding herself down onto the cushions beside his head. She ran a hand through his hair, and Tony couldn’t help but lean up into the touch. She smiled lightly for a moment, threading her fingers through and neatening his unwashed curls around his horns.

“Any news?” His asked, his voice rough but not yet at its deepest resonance.

“Just the same,” Natasha told him softly, “stable, and will wake when he does.” Tony whined without his own permission, and buried himself a little further into his blankets. Natasha just watched, and then moved to curl up against his chest – his wings curled round them both automatically when she shoved him to roll onto his back. “Is this okay?” she asked, and Tony nodded.

“How long have you known?” he asked.

“Since you hid up here when they banned you from the hospital.” She told him, tucking her chin into his neck. “Thor made to follow you, until you snapped at him. Then the pieces fell into place, with how much it means to you that Clint calls us family, and Bruce insists we eat together. Your floor… built for a giant cuddle pile and having your treasure, so to speak, close.”

“Never had it…” Tony admitted. “But I don’t really get a say in building it.”

“Maybe you would- tell me about it? Sometime. I know so little of dragons.” She confessed, and Tony nodded slightly, swallowing.

“I would be happy to.”

 

Eight hours later, Tony had re-mastered multi-sized shifting, and was now a cat sized crimson dragon curled around Natasha’s neck as she took them both down to the common floor for dinner. No one commented on it – he was softly shaking, the sickness setting in. He could still shift to human, but it was a hell of a lot more comfortable to be shifted into his natural form. He kept himself happily dozing around her neck until she gently tapped his nose part-way through the meal to offer him a bit of the meat from her plate. She did this several times – he realised Bruce had given her a larger portion than normal for the exact purpose – and then he carefully got down from his perch to sit on the table.

“I never realised just how cat-like dragons are.” Bruce mused. “How you feeling, Tony?”

“IT IS CATS WHO ARE DRAGON-LIKE.” He murmured. Bruce laughed.

“Hey Tones, catch!” Clint called out, and Tony turned just in time to bite the thrown bit of food out of the air before it smacked him in the snout. Clint whooped.

“THANK YOU FOR THE OFFERING.” Tony smiled as best a dragon could, and Clint gave him a half salute, before sending another piece flying. Tony had to flap to catch that one – but he was easily getting the hang of it again, and with the fourth piece, he did a graceful spin mid-air to catch it. Thor applauded, and just like that the team were laughing again.

 

“Is there any stroganoff left for me?” A voice asked, and Tony fumbled his landing, almost straight into Thor’s Thor-sized mug, in his haste to turn.

Steve stood in the doorway to the common floor, pale, still clearly not fully healed, and chest heaving. Tony narrowed his eyes. “STEVEN GRANT ROGERS, DID YOU JUST RUN HERE?” Steve immediately looked a little sheepish. Bruce sighed.

“You didn’t even sign out, did you?” he asked, shaking his head and standing to fetch Steve a plate.

“I’m fine now, honestly.” He insisted, “I just wanted to see you.” He admitted, watching Tony as he leapt off the table to slink up to him. He circled him once, and then huffed. Thor held out the cloak from the back of his chair without prompting, and Tony nestled himself under it to shift without losing his modesty. He managed to shift so that he was stood up with the cloak wrapped around him, and he glared at Steve despite how his heart leapt to see him.

“Upstairs,” Tony ordered, poking him in the chest. Steve didn’t move, just blinking at him in shock. “Now, Rogers.” Steve looked about to protest, but Thor cut him off.

“Aye, you should rest, Steven. I am sure the Lady Tasha or I will be more than pleased to bring you up a plate.” He offered, and Natasha offered her agreement. She glanced at Tony, who smiled at her, and her softness became a smirk.

“Indeed. Let Mama Dragon care for his hoard.” She said, and Tony used Steve’s shock to shove him into the elevator. Jarvis took them up to Tony’s floor without a word, and Tony determinedly did not look Steve in the face as he carefully began to check him over and see if each scratch Tony could remember had healed. The elevator doors opened behind him, and it was then Steve began to protest.

“Tony, I really don’t need-“

“Humour me, Steve. Please.” Tony stared him down for a moment (impressive given he was half a foot shorter), and then Steve visibly relaxed as he gave in – Tony hadn’t realised he’d been quite so tense.

“Okay Tony,” Steve whispered, and allowed Tony to pull him out of the elevator. Tony pushed him down into the central pile, where he’d been curled up several hours previous, and went towards one of the smaller shelving units. He rescued a first aid kit and some snacks, and a bottle of water, bundling them in a corner of Thor’s cape and taking them back to Steve.

“Eat, drink. I need to find clothes.” Tony pointed at the food and then at Steve, and Steve dutifully picked up one of the bags of trail mix and began to eat. Tony wandered over to the closet hidden behind a barrier, and dug around until he found underwear and comfortable jeans. He realised with a startled glance in the mirror that his eyes were still golden slits, and that while he’d lost the extra extremities that came with his dragon form, crimson scales were starting to take up permanent residence in small patches. He tugged on a shirt but left it hanging open, and returned to find that Steve had already moved on to a second snack bag. Tony grinned in triumph, and dropped down in front of him, cross-legged. “Shirt off, Rogers, I need to check you haven’t torn your stitches.” Tony told him.

Steve huffed, but he tipped the last of the bag into his mouth, and pulled off his shirt without protest. Tony bit back a groan at the number of bandages covering Steve’s torso, but there was no visible blood – Tony couldn’t smell any either – and he let his fingers trace over the bandages. They were still secure and Tony hmphed in surrender. He looked up to tell Steve that he was happy, and found his face mere inches from his own.

“Hi.” Tony murmured, and Steve’s lips quirked into a sad little smile. Tony raised his hand to brush a thumb across the scratch under Steve’s right eye, and Steve’s eyes fluttered for a moment as he leant into Tony’s hand before catching himself. “This- this really doesn’t bug you at all?” Tony asked, and Steve frowned.

“What would bug me?” He asked, the breath of his words ghosting over Tony’s face.

“I’m very visibly not human, Steve – and yet, you’re just…” Tony trailed off, and Steve looked a little like a rabbit caught in headlights.

“You’re still you.” He murmured eventually. “That’s all that matters to me.” Steve went to pull away, but Tony gently held him in place with the hand on his cheek. “Tony?”

“You like me.” It was not a question – suddenly it seemed strikingly obvious, the time Steve spent seeking him out, the hit Steve had taken – “and yet, you’re pulling away. Why?”

Steve swallowed, and licked his lips. “I- what about Pepper, Tony?” he asked, no bite, just sadness, and Tony groaned, rocking forwards until his head was resting on Steve’s chest.

“You idiot.” Tony mumbled, dragging his hand down until he could push on Steve’s shoulder to sit back up. “You think she’s my jewel.”

“Well of course, everyone knows that the two of you were-“ Steve began, and Tony cut him off with a kiss, just a soft, chaste one, lasting barely more than a second.

You’re my jewel, you meatball.” Tony told him, the words flowing easily. “You’re my star fate, Steve.” Steve gaped for a moment, opening and closing his mouth like a fish out of water as he tried to find words.

“It’s- me?” He managed eventually, the beginnings of a smile of his face.

“It’s you,” Tony confirmed, “and it’s only ever going to be you.”

Steve’s grin was almost blinding, and then he leant forward to kiss Tony, hard, bringing his hands up to cradle Tony’s face. Tony let out a little noise of shock, and then let his hand twine into Steve’s hair. It was… thrilling, to kiss someone like this; not partially shifted, no, but with the truth, out there between them. Accepted.

Wanted.

Tony had the best jewel.