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Untitled Playlist Number 5

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It starts with a recommendation in the middle of a fight in downtown New York.

 

“God, this is so boring, I could do this in my sleep,” Clint complains. He fires an arrow at one of the bad guys who dubbed themselves The Leaping Men, a group of twenty-two troublemakers who had too much time and money on their hands. It hits the man, who yelps in surprise as he falls to the pavement with a resounding thud after being electrocuted by said arrow. “See? Easy peasy, I didn’t even have to look at the dude.”

 

“Hawkeye, now is not the time to gloat your archery skills,” Steve says over the comms as he knocks out another Leaping Man. Seriously, where are all these bad guys coming from? “Falcon, on your left!”

 

“Damn it!” Sam yells too late as one of their enemies manage to hit his wing with a powerful kick. Sam, who was flying lower than usual to help assist the other Avengers fighting on ground, goes down.

 

Before the Leaping Man can reach Sam, Steve manages to throw his shield and knock the guy out before he could lift a hand to the grenade strapped to his belt.

 

“I agree with Clint,” Natasha interjects just then. “This is more annoying than threatening.”

 

“Wow, I don’t want to know what you guys count as ‘threatening’,” Peter answers as he webs another Leaping Man’s legs and arms. Then he cheekily adds, “What if we play some music? I’m not talking classical or, like, jazz or something. Maybe something upbeat? I don’t know.”

 

“That’s not a bad idea, Underoos,” Tony comments in glee. He then sees one of the Leaping Men still standing throw a grenade towards Steve and Clint’s direction and immediately fires a repulsor to counteract the attack. “Got any requests?”

 

“Thanks, Tony,” Steve grins sheepishly at Tony when he turns towards the sound of the bomb.

 

Tony winks and makes a clicking noise in acknowledgement.

 

“Don’t sweat it, Cap,” Tony says with a grin. “FRI, how many more are still standing?”

 

“There are ten left, sir,” FRIDAY answers instantly. “Three of them are jumping their way to 5th street while the rest are scattering themselves.”

 

Tony relays FRIDAY’s answer to the team as he circles back to the others regrouping.

 

“There are ten lords a-leaping across 2nd and 3rd Avenue, Cap. What’s your call?”

 

“We divide and conquer,” Steve says, ignoring the others snorting and snickering over the comms. “Spider-Man and Falcon, chase the ones on 5th street. Hawkeye and Widow, take the street across; Vision and Scarlet, take 3rd Avenue; Iron Man, I want you up in the sky and keep an eye on their whereabouts. Let’s wrap this whole thing up quickly before more civilians get hurt.”

 

“Aye aye, Captain!” Peter salutes over the comms.

 

“I think we could use some music now, Tin Man,” Clint requests again as he and Natasha start to run towards 7th street.

 

“Are you really that bored, Clint?” Wanda asks, sounding amused.

 

“I think it has less to do with being bored and more to do with his bucket list,” Vision points out.

 

“What bucket list?” Sam asks, his interest piqued.

 

“Makes me feel like I’m in an action movie, y’know?” Clint replies then, and it’s obvious the man is grinning. “Besides, everything’s better with music!”

 

“Man-child,” Natasha quips.

 

Clint shrugs. “Didn’t say I wasn’t.”

 

“Guys, seriously,” Steve begins with a reprimanding tone. Tony can perfectly imagine Captain America rolling his eyes as he sprints towards 3rd Avenue.

 

“Say no more, birdbrain,” Tony cuts in before Steve can say anything else. “I got just the right song for your epic fight scene.” To FRIDAY, he says, “FRI, play Untitled Playlist Number 5.”

 

“Got it, boss.”

 

There’s a momentary silence before a familiar tune starts to play across the whole team’s comms.

 

“Oh, you are kidding me,” Natasha murmurs.

 

“I love this song!” Sam exclaims in glee.

 

Peter whoops and Tony swears he hears Vision snort.

 

”I get up, and nothin' gets me down
You got it tough, I've seen the toughest around!”

 

Clint, meanwhile, cackles. “I love me some Van Halen. Nice touch on that reference, Tony.”

 

Steve groans. “I don’t understand that reference.”

 

Tony laughs and then requests FRIDAY to increase the volume. “Song title’s ‘Jump’, Steve. ‘Cos, you know, Leaping Men? Yeah, okay, that sounded so lame coming from my mouth.”

 

Steve sighs.

 

“Might as well JUMP!” Sam, Peter, and Clint shout over the comm. “Go ahead and jump! JUMP!”

 

“Idiots,” Natasha murmurs, but everyone can hear the fondness in her tone, as well as the sound of another Leaping Man going down thanks to her Widow’s Bite.

 

Tony does a loop in the air to avoid another grenade and then fires a repulsor at the fourth — or was it fifth? — to last Leaping Man. God, that’s such a fucking mouthful.

 

Before they know it, the rest of the Leaping Men (see? It’s a fucking mouthful!) have been taken down, and the song hasn’t even reached its end yet.

 

“Told you things are better with music,” Clint states smugly once the last bad guy is down and he’s now occupying himself with collecting his arrows.

 

For once, nobody argues with him on that.

 

From there, their battles are surely going to become much, much more entertaining, that's for certain. Tony can’t help but grin at that thought; a warm, weird sensation is starting to creep up his chest, and it continues to spread until it reaches the point where his throat’s too tight to utter a single word.

 

He can’t put a word on what he’s feeling then — it could be indigestion, who knows? — but Tony thinks that this is what pure, unadulterated happiness feels like.

Chapter Text

A week later, Thor comes back to the Avengers Tower after being away for a month doing business in Asgard. Three days after that, Bruce also arrives from a volunteering trip to another third world country. It’s only been two days since Bruce came back when Tony decided to take him out, with excuses of “getting used to the polluted sounds and smells that only New York can produce”.

 

“You know I’m not from New York, right?” Bruce asks Tony as they stroll across the fields of grass on Bryant Park while they munch on corndogs.

 

Tony continues to chew his corndog, and it’s only when he’s swallowed his food that he replies. “Duh, I knew that. But you live at the Tower now with the rest of the team. And, well, it’s sort of your home now, too.”

 

Bruce blinks. Tony chooses to ignore the other man’s silence and, in true Tony Stark fashion, continues to barrel through the conversation.

 

“Of course, you can always choose to go back home. Your home. In, uh, Virginia, was it? Yeah, there. But I’m not saying you should. Because you’re an Avenger now. I’m just saying that while you’re staying here — and don’t get me wrong, Brucie-bear, I don’t have a say on where you stay — but I’m just saying. You know. The Tower is your home. Now. Until you decide where home. Is. For you.”

 

There’s a brief moment of silence after that. Tony, done with his corndog, throws the wrapper in the bin they pass by and continues to ignore Bruce who’s still at staring him.

 

“Man, you have…” Bruce starts and stops, and then he shakes his head.

"Oh, Tony."

 

Tony looks at the curly-haired man from the corner of his eye. He knows that Bruce can see him looking at him, yet he chooses to remain silent.

 

Damn, talk about word vomit. Where did that come from?

 

Oh yeah. Peter. Damn. Is it even possible for Tony to get infected by Peter’s own word vomit problem?

 

He sees Bruce shake his head again and braces for the other man’s next words.

 

“For someone who regards himself as a genius, you can be an idiot,” Bruce begins again. This time, a fond smile crosses over his tired face. Tony fake gasps but Bruce continues to talk. “You’re right, though. New York is my home now. I wouldn’t have come back here to you guys after staying in Pakistan for three months if I didn’t. Kinda funny, too.”

 

“That you think of New York as your home?” Tony questions. Just for the heck of it, he thinks with a smirk.

 

This time, Bruce rolls his eyes but doesn’t rise to the bait.

 

“No, Tony. It's just that, after being on the run for a long damn time, I can finally settle and consider a certain place as home now. All I’m saying is that I’m staying here for the foreseeable future. With you and the team. Okay?”

 

Tony halts in his steps. Bruce stops two steps ahead of him and looks back at Tony with a knowing look.

 

“You — you're serious? You're staying? For good?” Tony asks. Just for clarification, he thinks.

 

“Yes, Tony. I’m staying for good.” Yeah, that’s definitely another eye roll, Tony thinks again.

 

“That’s great, Bruce! Really happy for you — yay — see? I’m smiling really widely. Do you want party poppers —“

 

Bruce doesn’t hesitate to playfully shove Tony when the latter starts walking. Tony covers his laughter with a snort.

 

“Missed you, too, Brucie-bear.”

 

A mock glare is all he gets in return.


Another week and a half pass by uneventfully before the next Baddie of the Week comes up.

 

Tony is with Happy when it happens. They’re on their way back to the Tower after attending a — boring, so fucking boring — meeting with Pepper when he gets the call from Steve.

 

“Hey, Capsicle, what’s the sitch?” Tony answers as a way of greeting.

 

“Where are you?” Steve greets — rather, answers — in return, his voice stern.

 

His playful smirk is quickly replaced by a frown, because Tony knows now how to distinguish between Steve’s ‘Captain America’ voice to his ‘I am not in a good mood so speak now before I make you my punching bag’ voice.

 

“I’m on my way back to the Tower,” Tony replies slowly. “I’m near now, actually. What’s wrong?”

 

“Suit up and meet us at Times Square. There’s been an attack there — some guy who calls himself El Niño has created a device of some sort that alters the mind of an adult.”

 

Shit. That’s not too far but traffic’s a bitch.

 

Tony signals Happy to stop the car. “Go back to the Tower and tell Pepper I’m cancelling that video conference.”

 

He doesn’t wait for the car to come to a complete stop, nor does he wait for Happy’s reply when Tony opens the door and jumps out.

 

“Alter how?” Tony demands as he starts running on the opposite direction of the road, much to the annoyance of the other vehicles who honk at him.

 

On the other end of the line, Steve hesitates before replying. “He alters them into a childish state.” And then he adds, “We’ve just arrived. El Niño isn’t operating alone — looks like he’s got a huge group of lackeys with him.”

 

“How huge?”

 

Okay, that was an innuendo wasted. Damn it.

 

“Around thirty, but could be more. There are a lot of casualties now.”

 

“Okay, I’ll be there in five. Depends on air traffic, to be honest.”

 

An exasperated sigh. “Tony —”

 

Tony huffs out a laugh as he jumps over a puddle. “Relax, Dorito, that was a joke. Be there in two. Don’t die on me.”

 

Tony hangs up without waiting for Steve’s reply as he suits up. He loosens his tie and throws it over his shoulder as he jumps over a moving taxi. He ignores the driver yelling at him; after all, he has to help save the people of New York again, fuck you very much.

 

He presses the arc reactor on his shirt-covered chest and he’s mid-sprint when his suit manifests around him. Tony swears he hears some random kid shout in glee (“Mom, look! It’s Iron Man! How cool is that?!”), and he can’t help but smirk because hell yeah, nano technology at its finest, baby.

 

Between one breath and the next, he fires up his thrusters and he’s up in the air. His comms come alive and he’s welcomed to the sounds of his teammates shouting over each other.

 

“What the fuck! This dude just tried to bite me!” Sam yells in shock.

 

“I got my eyes on El Niño,” Tony hears Natasha say. “It looks like his device is recharging.”

 

“Ten bucks say this literal man-child is planning to fire again,” Clint remarks sarcastically.

 

“Captain, it appears that El Niño’s manservants are robbing the stores that sell stones and jewels,” comes Thor’s booming voice.

 

“Jewelry stores,” Vision deadpans.

 

“We’ll take them down, then,” Wanda concludes. “Steve?”

 

“El Niño's the distraction,” Steve calls out over the comms in realization. “Scarlet, Vision, Spider-Man — go after the lackeys. Widow and Hawkeye, distract El Niño. Falcon, secure the perimeter and get any civilians out of the way. Thor, I want you to round up the ones hit by that, that ray gun.”

 

“Where’s Tony?”

 

“Iron Man’s on his way —”

 

As he comes into view of where the attack is taking place, Tony decides to announce his presence at last. Not missing a beat, he addresses FRIDAY on their private channel, “FRI, play that song and play it full blast.”

 

“Yes, boss.”

 

There’s a short pause before the familiar riffs of a song starts to play across all channels.

 

Tony hears Clint whoop in excitement as he shoots an exploding arrow a foot from where El Niño’s standing.

 

“Yeah, baby!”

 

“Best. Entrance. Ever,” Peter gushes over the comm, and Tony sees his little Spiderling web up the remaining El Minions (that’s totally a thing, right? He’s making it a thing now) who were robbing another jewelry store.

 

“Thanks, kiddo,” Tony says with a shit-eating grin. “I think so, too.”

 

“Now and then when I see her face
She takes me away to that special place
And if I’d stare too long
I’d probably break down and cry”

 

He hears Peter, Sam, and Clint humming along to the song. Even Wanda and Thor are bobbing their heads to the music as they knock out more of the El Minions.

 

“About damn time, Iron Man,” Steve remarks. Though, Tony can totally detect a hint of fond amusement at his tone. Ha, ol’ Capsicle’s got the reference.

 

“I take it you understood the reference, O Captain My Captain?” Tony jests as he lands with a loud thud. He punches an El Minion who was creeping up behind Steve, who then turns around at the sound of the poor guy going down like a ton of bricks.

 

Oops.

 

No regrets, though.

 

“Honestly, Cap,” Tony tells him in exasperation to cover the fear that crept up his spine upon seeing Steve almost getting hit by an enemy. “Where in don’t die on me did you not understand? That’s the second time this month!”

 

Steve rolls his eyes, but a sheepish smile graces his face once Tony lifts his faceplate up to give the super soldier a mock glare.

 

“Thank you, Tony. I promise it won’t happen again.”

 

“Hmm.”

 

“Blech,” Clint voices out over the comms. “Is this how children flirt these days?”

 

“Ask Peter,” Sam answers without missing a beat.

 

“Hey!”

 

“Yo, Harry and Sally,” Clint continues. “You two done flirting?”

 

In the distance, they hear Hulk roar and Tony turns his head just in time to see at least four El Minions flying through the air.

 

“Hmm, I’m definitely Harry in this situation,” Tony responds. He sees Steve look at him in confusion, and he shrugs.

 

“Harry and Sally? What?”

 

Jesus, Steve. You haven’t watched When Harry Met Sally?” Sam cuts in, and he sounded so offended it made Steve pause and blink.

 

“No, I don’t think so.”

 

“Uh-oh, Cap,” Natasha chimes in teasingly. “You’ve just committed a crime.”

 

“Also — Barton, you suck. That wasn’t even good. Come on, man, you can do better. I taught you better.”

 

“Fuck you, man.”

 

Tony winks at Clint’s direction. “Thanks, but you’re not my type, sweetheart.”

 

Before Clint can fire back, Steve interrupts with a shake of his head.

 

“Enough! Look, we have a mad man to stop first. Priorities, please.”

 

“Don’t you mean mad child?” Wanda offers helpfully.

 

“Wanda,” Steve snaps in warning.

 

There’s a murmur of “Sorry, Cap’s” and “Yes, Steve’s” after that as they focus on taking down the last of the El Minions and rounding them up.

 

The song is coming to a close when Thor finally rests Mjolnir on El Niño’s chest, Natasha and Vision retrieving the fallen ray gun device and securing it for SHIELD to collect once they arrive to do damage control. Peter, Wanda, and Sam are busy helping round up the victims, who are either babbling excitedly like toddlers, wailing for food, or curled up asleep in fetal positions.

 

Tony doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry or scream at the ingeniousness of villains nowadays.

 

“Another day, another villain thwarted,” Thor comments with a boyish grin. The God of Thunder breathes in deeply and exhales loudly. “I can smell the rain. There will be a strong downpour soon.”

 

“This is not the end, Avengers! El Niño will return!” El Niño screeches in between pants of trying — and failing pathetically, obviously — to lift Mjolnir.

 

“Yeah, not gonna happen, sweet child of mine,” Tony retorts with an unimpressed look.

 

There’s silence, and then a loud, obnoxious snort.

 

Scratch that, it’s several loud, obnoxious snorts.

 

“Oh, man, that was so fucking lame!”

 

Tony raises his middle finger in the direction where he knows Clint is standing.

 

“Shut up. It’s been a day.”

 

He feels someone stand beside him, and Tony looks up to see Steve looking at him. There’s a soft look in his eyes that Tony doesn’t want to put a name to, and the super soldier’s lips slowly stretch into a lazy sort of smile that sends Tony’s stomach rolling.

 

Fuck, is that the burrito he ate earlier? Or could it be butterflies?

 

“Thanks again for earlier, Tony.”

 

Fighting the — indigestion again? Whatever that’s happening to his stomach — impulse to do something embarrassing like take Steve’s hand, Tony manages to quell those urges. Instead, he grins at Steve and playfully winks at him.

 

“Don’t sweat it, sweet love of mine.”

 

Oh, god fucking damn it.

 

Screw indigestion, Tony’s got a bad case of verbal diarrhea.

 

He looks away, completely missing the stunned expression on Steve’s face, who quickly turns an unattractive shade of red, much to their teammates’ delight.

Chapter Text

Life at Avengers Tower differs from day to day.

 

There are days when they settle around to eat their meals at the dining table as a dysfunctional family. Some nights find half of the members shuffling to the common area at an ungodly hour, no thanks to the nightmares that keep them up at night. And then there are those typical days when Tony finds himself tinkering in his workshop for hours — or days — on end, either improving the modifications of his suits or his teammates’ suits and weapons.

 

Either way, sooner or later Tony always finds himself with the company of Steve.

 

Steve, who never fails to bring down with him a cup of coffee for Tony, brewed just the way he likes it. Most of the time, they don’t talk — either too preoccupied by the horrors of their past or electing to enjoy the silent camaraderie they have developed over the years despite the blood, sweat, and tears shed between them.

 

In the end, they all came out a little more damaged and a little more broken. But Tony thinks it’s okay. Upon reflecting everything they went through, they all came out stronger — and better — because of it.

 

Tony doesn’t know what he did in his life post-Afghanistan, but he’s learned (the hard way) to take any little happiness he can get. He’s not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Well, not anymore, anyway.

 

Insomnia and night terrors aside, there are also several advantages when it comes to living at The Tower with a group of superheroes.

 

For one, there is Movie Night.

 

Ever since Steve was defrosted nearly six years ago, and the Avengers formed since the Chitauri attack in 2012, Tony and the others have made it their mission to help Steve adjust and adapt to his new reality. Tony likes to take credit for the fact that Steve has managed to grasp a lot of the information they thrust upon him daily, and it’s a huge thanks to the serum that Steve’s been able to retain everything he’s been taught so far. In fact, he’s been handling it really well, and it’s times like that when Steve’s face lights up with recognition at a reference or fact one of them makes that causes Tony to feel warm and tingly all over.

 

Though he's been feeling these... feelings for years, Tony hasn’t exactly put a name to the emotions that continue to erupt in his chest every time Steve enters a room or looks Tony’s way — baby blue eyes lighting up, a small yet distinct smile gracing his features every time their eyes meet. Tony’s in his mid-forties, for fuck’s sake. He shouldn’t be going through the whole teenage romance experience.

 

He’s already been there, done that, thanks.

 

But apparently, the powers that be have other plans for him.

 

So here he is, in the very present, accepting the funny feelings blooming in his chest with graceless defeat as the team settles down in the common area for another movie night.

 

And there is Steve, walking towards the couch where Tony is sitting, carrying a huge bowl of salted popcorn (Tony’s favorite), wearing grey sweatpants and a white shirt that’s probably three sizes too small because holy fuck, he’s got a close-up view of the blond man’s pecs and slightly erect nipples, thanks to the air conditioning of the room.

 

With a mental shake of his head, Tony quickly banishes the naughty images that suddenly erupted in his mind on other appendages of Steve’s that could be erect because — fucking obviously — he doesn’t want to sport a goddamn boner for the team to view.

 

Plus, there's Peter! Tony has Peter to think of, too. His rambunctious sixteen-year-old protégé who has already surpassed Tony in leaps and bounds. Tony wants to set a good example for the young vigilante, and though he’s doing it so in unconventional ways, Tony only has Peter’s best intentions at heart.

 

Right.

 

Peter. Steve. No boner.

 

Keep it PG, Tony.

 

“What are we watching?” Wanda asks excitedly from her position on the carpeted floor. Her pajama-clad legs are crossed, arms wrapped around a purple throw pillow as she leans on Vision’s side.

 

Steve settles comfortably on the couch on Tony’s right, bowl of popcorn balanced on his lap. He looks at Tony and gestures a hand to the bowl. “Popcorn? I made your favorite.”

 

No shit. Like Tony hasn’t smelled it. He takes a handful from the bowl and tips it to Steve as if in thanks.

 

“You know just the way to a man’s heart, Capsicle.”

 

Steve shoots him a lopsided smile, and Tony wonders what it’d be like to wake up to that smile every single day.

 

Really, Stark? So not the time.

 

“What heart?”

 

And of course, there’s Clint. The fucking feather-headed dick just had to ruin the moment.

 

Moment? Huh.

 

“Shut it, Merida,” Tony says, but there’s no heat in his words as he takes another handful of popcorn from Steve’s bowl.

 

Tony watches Clint roll his eyes at the reference, and he sees Steve frown from the corner of his eye.

 

“Who’s Merida?” Steve asks in a quiet voice.

 

Fighting off a smirk because god, Tony shouldn’t find it endearing, damn it.

 

“We’ll schedule to watch that film some time, don’t worry,” Tony replies just as quietly.

 

Steve doesn’t say anything, but the gentle nudge of his shoulder hitting against Tony’s is clear to interpret.

 

‘Thank you, Tony.’

 

Peter, who has the remote with him and is sitting on Tony’s left and has been scrolling through the billionaire’s Netflix account for the past ten minutes, finally speaks up.

 

“Okay, ready? We’re watching Ghostbusters!”

 

“Which one?” Bruce asks from his position on the couch adjacent theirs. “I hope it’s the first one.”

 

“It’s the first one,” Peter confirms with a grin. “I promised Steve we’ll watch it this week.”

 

“Then what the heck were you doing for the past ten minutes?” Clint asks incredulously.

 

Before Peter can reply, Natasha shushes him first and shoots Clint a look that made the archer swallow his next words. Satisfied, the ex-Russian spy smirks and sinks back into her bean bag. When everyone is completely settled, Tony asks FRIDAY to turn down the lights while Peter presses play.

 

Forty-five minutes into the movie finds everyone but Steve asleep, the super soldier slowly munching on popcorn so as not to disturb Tony, who’s snoring quietly with his head resting on his shoulder.


The following night, just as they’re all settling down again to watch the Ghostbusters sequel, the alarm rings, signaling another attack in New York.

 

“It’s ten in the evening!” Clint whines. “On a Friday. And I’m already on my PJ’s!”

 

“You’re right,” Tony sasses. “Want me to call the Baddie of the Week and tell them to re-schedule to Monday night instead? Or maybe ‘till tomorrow morning since we don’t have other plans and it’s the weekend, anyway?”

 

Steve cuts in before Clint can retort.

 

“Alright, that’s enough,” he says in his Captain America voice. “Everybody, suit up and meet at the quinjet in five.”

 

Less than ten minutes later, they’re en route to Times Square for the second time that week.

 

Fifteen minutes later, Tony finds himself firing repulsors at a 100-foot Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. A live, actual Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. From fucking Ghostbusters.

 

What the ever-loving fuck.

 

”If you’ve had a dose of a freaky ghost, baby
You better call — ghostbusters!
Lemme tell you something
Bustin’ makes me feel good!”

 

Clint groans. “Aw, man. This is some crazy Ghostbusters-ception right here!”

 

“What the fuck is this?!” Sam exclaims over the comms. “Does Strange have anything to do with this?”

 

“I doubt it,” Natasha replies. “He told us the other day that he’ll be in Kamar Taj for three weeks. Wong’s in babysitting duty at the Sanctum right now.”

 

“Should we call him?” Peter asks as he shoots webs around Mr. Stay Puft’s legs.

 

“We could use his help,” Thor agrees.

 

“I agree,” Vision adds calmly.

 

There’s a pause, and then Steve asks, “Tony?”

 

The engineer snorts. “What do you think have I been doing for the past five minutes? His phone’s going to voicemail. He’s probably listening to Beyoncé with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s.”

 

“That’s… oddly specific.”

 

“Well, it’s a Friday night, after all,” Sam quips.

 

Everyone ignores him.

 

“FRI, can you trace the source of where the technology Mr. Stay Puft is made up of came from?”

 

“On it, boss.”

 

Tony only has to wait a few moments to get answers.

 

“The technology is sponsored by Hammer Tech, sir,” FRIDAY replies, and Tony clenches his teeth because, really? What a fucking idiot. “Further scanning indicates that Mr. Stay Puft is made up of 85% silicone. It is referenced to a film released in 1984 titled —”

 

“Ghostbusters,” Tony finishes, already knowing the answer.

 

Really, now. Can this evening get any weirder?

 

It’s then he hears Clint yelling over the comms. “No shit, Sherlock. We’re fighting off Tubby Soft-Squeeze here, and we’ve only ever seen him onscreen. He doesn’t even fucking exist! He shouldn’t even fucking exist!”

 

“Uh, say something we don’t know,” Tony retaliates. “But that’s not what I meant, Legolas. What I meant is that Mr. Stay Puft here is 85% silicone. And guess what? Ten points if you get it right. That means we can roast this baby to the ground. And oh, another ten points if any of you guess it, because apparently Hammer Tech sponsored this shit show!”

 

”What?!”

 

The rest of the team react in varying degrees of astonishment and confusion, minus the Hulk who’s roaring and landing several punches on Mr. Stay Puft’s torso. In turn, the giant marshmallow roars and swings another arm that destroys another establishment, which just happens to be one of Tony’s favorite stores.

 

Tony almost whimpers. Almost.

 

“Why the heck would Hammer want to sponsor this?” Steve blurts out in shock.

 

“Don’t shoot the messenger, I don’t know,” Tony counters as he lands between Steve and Wanda. “Okay, no. I got two answers. The petty one? Hammer’s a fucking moron and I’d rather be slimed. The serious one? My bet’s on said fucking moron making a statement.”

 

“What sort of statement?” Thor asks.

 

Tony shrugs. “Probably something about bigger being better.”

 

Peter scoffs over the comms. “What a turd.”

 

“Language!” Steve reprimands, but Tony only grins.

 

“What’s your call, Captain?” Vision asks as he hovers in the air beside Wanda.

 

Steve opens his mouth and then closes it, considering his words.

 

“Don’t cross the streams?” He tries eventually.

 

Tony’s mouth drops open in shock as he blinks at Steve. Even Peter swivels his head to look at the super soldier, and if it weren’t for his fast reflexes his face would’ve kissed concrete.

 

“Did Cap just…” Clint mumbles over the comms.

 

"Yep," Sam chimes in.

 

“Uh-huh,” Wanda nods.

 

A grin slowly forms on Tony’s face, and he lifts his faceplate up in time to say —

 

“Looks like you just popped your pop culture reference cherry, Capsicle,” he teases, taking pleasure in watching Steve blush. “That was terrible, by the way, but plus points for effort. I’m proud of you!”

 

“Guys, can we wrap this up quickly?” Natasha interrupts, sounding a tad annoyed. “In case it slipped your narrow-minded focus, there’s a hundred-foot marshmallow destroying Times Square. And Tony, I know you’ll be paying for property damage, so if I were you I’d smoke this thing to the ground now.”

 

Tony winces slightly but doesn’t contradict her words.

 

“Cap?”

 

Steve huffs out a breath and then looks up at Mr. Stay Puft still facing off with the Hulk with so much disappointment, it shouldn’t even be funny, before he turns his attention to the rest of the team.

 

“Alright, everyone, all hands on deck. Get any remaining civilians in the vicinity out of the way and assist those that are injured. Iron Man and Thor — on my signal, you give all you’ve got and light Mr. Stay Puft up. Don’t stop until he’s a charred piece of gunk on the ground.”

 

They all nod and then move in sync.


In the end, it takes Thor and Tony five minutes to melt Mr. Stay Puft into a “charred piece of gunk”. Natasha manages to locate the person controlling it in the first place (he was hiding in the sewers), and it took the redhead less than a minute for the pathetic goon to confess that he was just paid to wreak havoc on Times Square for no reason at all.

 

Of course, the guy mentioned Hammer Tech no less than five times, so now Tony’s suspicions have been confirmed. Justin Hammer is up to something, and it’s likely the imbecile isn’t operating alone, either. With the goon bound and knocked out (thanks, Wanda), Tony is glad to note that SHIELD will be handling the fallout and the investigation on Hammer Tech.

 

“You okay?” Steve asks him at some point.

 

It’s only a little after eleven, but Tony is exhausted. Still, he manages to nod and offer the super soldier a smile.

 

“What a night, huh?”

 

Steve laughs under his breath. “Yeah.” And then, “There’s no way I’ll be willing to watch Part 2 now.”

 

This time, Tony laughs out loud.

 

“I can’t blame you,” he says, still chortling. With a shake of his head, he adds, “We lived to tell the tale and all that jazz. Fuck the franchise.”

 

“Hear, hear,” agrees the rest of the team over the comms.

 

“Let’s watch Brave,” Tony suggests then.

 

He’s met with sounds of agreement.

 

All in all, not exactly a bad night. Except that Tony’s just realized he kept the song playing on repeat, and now he can’t get Ray Parker Jr.’s voice crooning ”I ain’t afraid of no ghost” out of his head.

Chapter Text

Tony and Pepper are walking together in a hallway located at the lower levels of Avengers Tower when Tony’s phone starts ringing. He shoots Pepper an apologetic glance before he fishes his Starkphone from his pocket.

 

Tony takes one look at the caller ID before he answers the call.

 

“You better make it good, Cap,” he says as a way of greeting. “Pep and I got a board meeting to attend in five.”

 

“There’s been an attack,” Steve replies, sounding both grave and apologetic at the same time.

 

Tony halts in his steps, spine stiffening. He sees Pepper stop a step ahead of him but he ignores her for the moment.

 

“What is it this time?” he asks carefully. It’s been nearly two months since the last incident with Hammer Tech’s involvement of Mr. Stay Puft, so Tony knew it was only a matter of time before New York falls prey to someone’s plot for world domination once again.

 

“According to Thor, they’re Dark Elves from some realm,” is Steve’s response. “There’s a portal that they managed to open near the Empire State Building. Everyone’s suited up and we’re on the way there. Thor went ahead, along with Falcon and Vision. I’m sorry, Tony, I know this meeting is important, but we really need you.”

 

Pursing his lips, he finally looks up at Pepper. Whatever his expression is, it must have been enough for her because she nods in understanding.

 

“Go, Tony,” she says compassionately. In that moment, Tony finds himself loving Pepper a little more, and for a brief moment it saddens him that their relationship never worked out. Well, it was for the best, anyway. And it's not like they had an ugly break-up, despite what the media published. In fact, funnily enough, they realized almost at the same time that the love they felt for each other was of the familial kind, and not the one that causes your heart to flutter at the mere thought of them. Or have your palms sweat when they're in close proximity, or the way your stomach does somersaults when they're an absolute dork — whoa, hey. Okay, stop now, Stark. “I’ll handle this meeting. I’ll brief you later on how it goes.”

 

Tony gives Pepper a small, crooked smile. Good ol’ badass Virginia Potts.

 

He needs to give her another raise.

 

With that in mind, Tony then leans forward to peck Pepper on the cheek.

 

“You’re getting a raise,” he says as a way of saying ‘thanks’.

 

Pepper smirks.

 

”Go.”

 

Not needing to be told twice, Tony salutes the CEO of Stark Industries before he turns and briskly walks back the way he came from.

 

He’s approaching the open elevator doors when he tells Steve, “I’ll be there in five, Cap.”

 

An exhale of relief. “Thanks, Tony.”

 

“Save me some elves, yeah? Maybe I can give them a uniform and they can be our servants at the Tower.”

 

There’s a pause.

 

“… What?”

 

“Dobby the free house-elf? Winky? Kreacher from Harry Po — okay, you know what? Not important now. We’ll marathon the whole series this weekend.”

 

The elevator doors close and Tony orders FRIDAY to quickly take him to the common area.

 

“We’re here now,” Steve says after a pregnant pause. “It looks like Thor has a handle of the situation, but the portal is the problem. More of the creatures are coming out.”

 

Tony shoves his way out of the lift before the doors can open completely. He shucks off his blazer and throws it haphazardly towards the direction of one of the couches as he sprints across the common area towards the balcony.

 

“Have Viz analyze the portal and discover how we can close it. I’m on my way.”

 

He hangs up and pockets his phone. Then he takes off his sunglasses and tosses it towards Nat’s favorite bean bag.

 

In record time, he swiftly presses the arc reactor on his chest to activate the suit. As the armor spreads around his body, Tony runs the last few steps and then leaps out of the balcony, firing his thrusters at full throttle once his suit is complete.


“How’s it going over there?” He asks once his comms come alive.

 

“Still standing, Tin Man,” Clint answers, and Tony hears him panting slightly. “But I’m out of exploding arrows now. Crap.”

 

“You’ll survive,” Nat quips over the comms.

 

Tony is still a minute away, but he hears it before he sees it. There are sounds of explosions, screams, and literal lightning zipping near the Empire State Building. It’s a sunny Tuesday and there’s lightning manifesting in the area. There’s only one person who’s capable of producing that, and it’s times like today that Tony thanks every god and deity in all the Nine Realms that Thor’s one of the good guys.

 

“Viz,” he starts. “Got anything on how we can shut that portal down?”

 

“They are using technology that far surpasses ours, and it’s what’s keeping the portal open,” Vision explains, tone calm. Tony can’t help but admire how fucking hardcore he can be. “There are five Dark Elves standing near the device, and the only reference to compare it to is akin to Asgard’s own contraption which their Gatekeeper uses. However, if Thor releases a strong surge of lightning towards the device, he will be able to destroy it.”

 

“Okay, it sounds easy,” Peter gasps out. “I think. Thor?”

 

“Peter?” Tony starts in shock.

 

“Hi, Mr. Stark!”

 

“What do you mean, ‘Hi, Mr. Stark’! What are you doing there? You should be in school!”

 

“Uh… it’s my lunch break?” Peter stammers in response.

 

Tony groans. “May’s gonna kill me.”

 

“Yes, I’ll be able to destroy it and close the portal,” the God of Thunder suddenly declares, breathing heavily. “But I will need a distraction in order to accomplish this task. I believe Malekith’s people are still sore about what happened to their leader at the Battle of London before.”

 

“Well, they sure know how to hold a grudge,” Sam remarks sardonically.

 

Hulk’s roar interrupts whatever anyone is about to say, and Tony smirks as his HUD zooms in on four Dark Elves flying through the air.

 

“Alright, new plan,” Steve’s authoritative voice speaks then after what Tony supposes is the super soldier taking down another Dark Elf with his shield. “Vision and Wanda — cover for Thor as he closes the portal. Spider-Man and Hawkeye — get any remaining civilians out of here. Falcon and Widow — distract the Dark Elves from getting to Thor. Iron Man — attack from above. And Hulk?” Hulk stops roaring as Tony assumes he turns to look at Steve. “Keep smashing them, buddy.”

 

If there is such a thing as a happy roar, Tony thinks Hulk just produced it as the Other Guy begins to smash and tear the armor-clad elves to pieces with renewed vigor.

 

The rest of the team moves in sync as they carry out their orders.

 

Tony becomes preoccupied firing his repulsors at their enemies and simultaneously keeping an eye on his teammates that he almost gets hit by one of the Elves’ plasma energy weapons.

 

“Tony!” Steve yells in horror over the comms.

 

“I’m fine!” Tony shouts back after he fires a repulsor at the creature’s head. Then, as an afterthought, “Gotta say, these Cybermen are a sight for sore eyes. A bit of an improvement from the Chitauri. They should trade secrets. Or not. Maybe not. That’s a very bad idea. Somebody knock on wood, I’m pure metal here.”

 

Even as they work seamlessly, there are still more Dark Elves coming out of the portal, and Thor, Wanda, and Vision are struggling to get near it.

 

“Mr. Stark!” Peter says shrilly. “The civilians —”

 

Tony swivels his head to where Peter is currently fighting off the creatures. For every two the teen knocks out, three more seem to appear. Tony notes that the civilians Peter was referring to — a small group of elderly people who look like they were in the middle of a tour — are shouting and cowering in fear behind the young man who’s protecting them from being killed by aliens.

 

Damn. That’s gonna be one hell of a story for them to tell, Tony thinks.

 

Although his young protégé is doing a great job holding his own, Tony’s not gonna risk it, especially when there are civilians around.

 

He fires up his thrusters and is by Peter’s side in two seconds flat. He punches one on their Cyberman-masked face, fires a repulsor at the other, and then fires up his thrusters and executes a swift jumping roundhouse kick at the third. Tony kicked him (or her? He doesn’t judge) so hard they flew backwards at a considerable distance, taking three others down with him (or her).

 

Huh. He should do that move more often.

 

“You okay over there, Underoos?” Tony inquires after a beat.

 

“Yeah! Thanks, Mr. Stark!” Peter exclaims in relief after he takes down the last creature.

 

“Sick moves, Karate Kid,” Sam quips. He lands behind Tony and Peter to help assist the civilians, Redwing hovering beside him.

 

Tony grins. “Thanks. I thought so, too. Nat taught me that move, would you believe that?”

 

“Yes,” comes the dry reply from half of the team, Peter included.

 

Tony gasps in mock outrage.

 

“Saw it,” Natasha comments, and she sounds amused. “Not bad, Stark. I’m feeling oddly proud right this moment.”

 

“You should,” Tony retorts smugly. “Only took me — what? A couple of times to perfect that move. I’m awesome like that.”

 

“That’s not what you said the first sixty times.”

 

“It wasn’t sixty!”

 

“It was.”

 

“Nuh-uh.”

 

“Are you insulting my memory?”

 

“Practice makes perfect, right?” Steve cuts in with a long-suffering sigh.

 

Tony snaps his mouth shut and then smirks. Before he can make a crude comment, he's interrupted by a loud static over the comms. He grits his teeth and sees the others cringing at the grating noise, and then he hears Thor growl out —

 

“Enough of this madness!”

 

Tony pivots in his position and he sees Thor break away from his spot between Vision and Wanda. The trio are a hundred meters away from the portal, more Dark Elves spilling out from the gateway like they’re entering Target on Black Friday. Tony remains hovering in mid-air as he watches Thor throw Mjolnir towards the approaching mass of creatures.

 

He feels his jaw drop open in awe when Thor suddenly starts to, well, literally light up. He’s never witnessed this before, with Thor always relying on Mjolnir to produce lightning. It’s a magnificent spectacle, to be honest.

 

“FRI, are you recording this?” Tony whispers.

 

“Yes, boss,” comes the AI’s dry response.

 

“Perfect. I’m gonna send this video to Fury the next time he pisses Thor off about going on vacation.”

 

Bolts of lightning begin to dance around the Asgardian’s body, and when Thor turns to punch a Dark Elf creeping up behind him, Tony notes that the god’s eyes have also taken on the same white light.

 

To his right, Sam mutters, “Holy shit, that’s crazy.”

 

Tony’s lips twitch upwards at the display, and it doesn’t have to take a genius to know what the billionaire’s thinking of.

 

“FRI —”

 

“Shuffling it, boss.”

 

Tony grins. “Good girl. Record this with the music, too.”

 

“Leave,” Thor’s voice rings loud and clear as he continues to address the Dark Elves. “Your conflict is with Asgard, not Earth. This realm is not yours to rule, and while I breathe, it is mine to protect. We are its defenders. Leave.”

 

One stupidly brave Dark Elf steps forward and hisses, “This realm will surrender to darkness, and we will stand on your defenders’ corpses as well as your own once it is done.”

 

There’s a pause, and then, just as the riffs of a song begins to play over the comms, Tony can distinguish a smirk forming on Thor’s face as the Asgardian simply says, “Very well.”

 

Just as the distinct howling vocals come up, Thor releases an electrical discharge that immediately sends several Dark Elves to the ground. He leaps towards the advancing mass and several lightning bolts strike from above, circling around the enemies’ armor-clad bodies and burning them from the inside out.

 

This maneuver sends a ripple effect amongst the rest of the Avengers. Between one breath and the next, the team leaps into action.

 

They move together like a well-oiled machine — brought together by unlikely circumstances, bonds forged through the wretchedness and adversities they went through on their own or together, and a camaraderie established over the years fighting side by side — united to bring down a common enemy.

 

Thor gestures for Mjolnir. The hammer hurtles towards the god’s outstretched arm; then, he sidesteps at the last second as Mjolnir hits a succession of Dark Elves before halting in mid-air and hurtling back to its owner’s hand.

 

“We come from the land of the ice and snow
From the midnight sun to where the hot springs blow
The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands
To fight the horde, singing and crying
Valhalla, I am coming!”

 

“Oh, fuck,” Clint says breathlessly over the comms. “I think I’m having an orgasm. This is fucking hot!”

 

“Language!” Steve scolds loudly over the reverberations of his shield hitting his opponents.

 

“Barton! There is a minor with us!” Tony shouts, scandalized. Okay, he may have a potty mouth himself, but at least Tony knows his boundaries, especially when it comes to making crude jokes with a minor in their company. Sheesh.

 

“It’s okay, Mr. Stark! I’m sixteen!” Peter says, and Tony catches sight of the young vigilante slinging his way through the horde of creatures. “I’m not a kid anymore.”

 

“Kiddo, you are still a kid. You just skipped your afternoon classes to play hero.”

 

“But I —” Peter starts to protest.

 

“Tony’s right, Peter,” Natasha concurs, and Tony spots the redhead swiftly execute her signature Widow move on not one, but two Dark Elves. Simultaneously. “You are still a kid.”

 

“Thank you —”

 

“But that doesn’t mean you have to censor yourself with what you’ll soon learn and experience in a year or two. Just don’t get caught.”

 

Tony chokes on his own spit upon hearing those words.

 

Peter seems to be experiencing the same. “Uh…”

 

Suddenly, they’re interrupted by Sam swooping over their heads, the enemy’s energy-based weapon in his grasp as he fires the gun at one opponent about to shoot Wanda’s back.

 

“Yo! There’s some crazy Star Wars LARP-ing shit going on right now, and you’re all arguing about Spidey’s do’s and don’ts?” Sam shrieks at them.

 

“Sam's right,” Steve adds in a grim voice. “We need to focus. Peter’s legal responsibilities can wait ‘till later.”

 

Everyone murmurs in agreement and they carry on, Tony shooting Peter a significant look, even though they can’t see each other’s faces right now.

 

“We are so talking later,” Tony promises Peter, who only groans in response.

 

Before long, Tony finds himself fighting beside Thor with Steve on the Asgardian’s other side. Wanda and Vision are fighting closest to the portal as more Dark Elves spill from the gateway. Steve then back flips to avoid being hit by the energy-based gun, and Tony fires a repulsor at the creature the same moment Steve lands next to Thor and thrusts his shield up.

 

In that instant, Thor brings down Mjolnir on the shield and discharges another voltage of lightning. Upon impact, several bolts of light stretches out around them. It hits its intended targets, including Tony.

 

He comes to a stop when his HUD starts to malfunction.

 

“FRIDAY?” Tony inquires hesitantly. Several moments later, his screen comes back online.

 

Please be good, please be good, please be good.

 

A pause, and then, “Power at 500% capacity, sir.”

 

“Yay.”

 

The fight reaches its end when the song is approaching its fifth repeat. Standing near the portal with Wanda and Vision on one side, Tony and Steve on the other, and Clint and Natasha behind them, Thor sends a strong discharge of lightning from Mjolnir and aims it towards the portal.

 

“We need more power!” Thor calls out after several moments.

 

Vision breaks away from his position to come to Thor’s side. He adjusts his stance and uses the Mind Stone’s power to emit a pulsing yellow energy towards the portal. Following suit, Tony takes his place on Thor’s other side and aims his repulsors in the same direction, calling out to FRIDAY to increase its power.

 

They know they’ve successfully destroyed the device for good when the deafening noise of the portal closing sends a strong force that causes half of the Avengers to topple over — the sound of windows shattering around them.


“Looks like this is going on your bill this month, Tony,” Sam remarks after a long period of silence passes over the group.

 

One by one, they slowly straighten up from their positions. Tony surveys his surroundings and takes in the aftermath of another battle won.

 

“Worth it,” Tony says with a lopsided grin.

 

“Kudos on the song choice, man!” Clint praises, and Tony can see him in the distance as the archer starts to salvage his arrows.

 

“Yes, Tony,” Thor agrees with a nod. “May I also request that you e-mail me the recording? I would like to share it with Jane.”

 

“Yeah, sure, Point Break.”

 

“You better e-mail us a copy of that video, too,” Natasha adds, appearing from behind an upturned SUV with a now human Bruce Banner, who’s bare-chested and has a firm grip on his stretchy pants.

 

“The Other Guy is very pleased,” Bruce announces to the assembled team. “I think he likes you now, Tony.”

 

Tony puts a hand on his chest in mock hurt. “You mean he didn’t like me before?”

 

“Well, you are a bit of an asshole.”

 

“Just a bit?” Clint counters with a shit-eating grin. Tony casually flips him off.

 

“Whatever music you were playing, he enjoyed it,” Bruce continues with a shrug.

 

This time, Tony doesn’t hide his surprise. “Hulk? A fan of Led Zeppelin? Oh my, Brucie, looks like you got competition now. He has great taste.”

 

“Ha ha,” Bruce answers with an eye roll.

 

Tony then hears Steve approaching him from behind, and he lifts his faceplate up to look over his shoulder to see the super soldier smiling at him. “You okay, Cap?”

 

Steve nods and exhales loudly. “I have to say, this was a much better fight than Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.”

 

“Definitely much better than Mr. Stay Puft,” Wanda agrees earnestly over the comms, still breathing heavily from the exertion.

 

Tony snickers as he claps a hand on Steve’s shoulder.

 

“Great back flip, by the way,” he says.

 

Steve’s cheeks turn a faint pink as he eyes Tony from the corner of his eye. “Thanks for having my back, again.”

 

“I should probably attach a camera to your back if I’m gonna be saving your star spangled ass all the time now,” Tony teases with a smirk, secretly enjoying seeing Steve blush.

 

The blond man coughs to cover his laughter.

 

“Admit it, Rogers,” Tony goads on, smirk slowly transforming into a grin.

 

“You got me,” Steve replies eventually with a sigh, palms up as if in surrender. “This is me admitting that I want you on my six all the time.”

 

Tony opens his mouth to reply, but whatever comeback he was about to make escapes him once the implication of Steve’s words sink in. He raises his eyebrows and blinks at Steve, mouth still gaping open like a fish. He vaguely notes that the longer he stares, the pinker Steve’s face gets.

 

“Uh…” he garbles unintelligently.

 

This is it. This is the moment. Call the press, alert TMZ — Anthony Edward Stark has just been rendered fucking speechless.

 

“Is nobody going to tell them that we can still hear them?” Peter says in a hushed tone over the comms.

 

“Yeah, we can hear you too, Peter,” Steve utters awkwardly.

 

“Oh.”

 

Yeah. Oh, indeed.

Chapter Text

It’s three days after the latest battle before Tony gets the opportunity to finally have “The Talk” with Peter. As it’s Friday, Peter’s spending the weekend at the Tower, and Tony’s going to take advantage of the fact that they’re currently in his workshop, working on tune-ups on both their suits.

 

It’s only after several hours passed of working in comfortable silence that he finally decides to speak.

 

“So,” Tony starts nonchalantly. From the corner of his eye, he sees Peter glance up at him from his own workstation.

 

“What’s up, Mr. Stark?” Peter answers lightheartedly, attention focused again on his web shooters.

 

Tony clears his throat. “I did promise you we’d have that Talk, kiddo.” He tries hard not to laugh when he watches Peter look at him like a deer caught in the headlights.

 

The young teen opens and closes his mouth like a goldfish for several moments before finally ending up stuttering, “Uh, um… should — is that, uh, necessary, Mr. Stark?”

 

Tony raises an eyebrow. “Uh, correct if I’m wrong here, Petey. But did you or did you not cut classes to play hero last Tuesday?”

 

“Well… yeah, but —”

 

“Good, so we’re on the same page, then.”

 

“But I received an alert that —!”

 

Tony blinks and raises a hand up to silence Peter, and the latter does so with a loud snap of his jaw.

 

“Wait. What did you just say? You received an alert? What alert? From who?” He demands with a serious look aimed at his young charge.

 

Peter mumbles under his breath, eyes downcast. This action causes Tony to cross his arms.

 

“Sorry, what was that? Can’t hear you, kiddo. You gotta speak up.”

 

Tony feels slightly bad for putting his protégé in a corner, but the more they’re having this conversation the more Tony thinks he was right to start one in the first place.

 

It takes several moments before Peter speaks up, and when he does, Tony notes how the teen squares his shoulders and raises his head to meet his eyes.

 

“I hacked into the servers and programmed the alarm to sync it with my phone. In case of, uh, well. In case I wasn’t around the Tower and you guys needed me.”

 

Tony’s expression softens upon hearing the confession. He can’t help but admire the kid's conviction when he maintains eye contact with Tony, eyes determined but with a guilty look painted on his face.

 

Fuck, this kid is gonna send Tony to an early grave.

 

Or not.

 

God, he hopes not because like it or not, in the deepest parts of Tony, he knows that he considers and treats Peter like his own. He loves the boy, and that’s why it’s times like this when he has to act like the responsible adult that he is (supposed to be) that he’s reminded of how far he’s come since Afghanistan.

 

Pretty fucking funny, actually. Who would’ve thought that he’d be here right now a decade later?

 

Certainly not Tony. And most certainly not Howard.

 

Ugh, okay. Enough ruminating.

 

“Peter,” Tony starts, and then pauses. With a deep sigh, he puts down the soldering gun and walks around his table to reach Peter’s side. He places a greasy hand on the kid’s shoulder before he speaks. “Pete, you don’t always have to play the hero. I know that you take this responsibility seriously, and I get that. I do. But you also have to remember that you’re still a kid. Yes, you still are, don’t argue,” Tony adds with a pointed glare when Peter opens his mouth to protest. He continues when Peter closes his mouth with an apologetic look. “You’re sixteen. For God’s sake, all you should be worrying about right now are exams, decathlon practices, and the usual teenage angst. But at the same time, and I hate that I’m saying this but it’s true, I also know you’re not just any typical teenager. You’re Spider-Man. Not just that, you’re also an intern at SI and my protégé. I know that you have a lot of responsibilities on your plate right now. A student, an intern, a superhero — but above all that, you’re still just a young man trying to find his place in this crazy world.

 

“Listen, the point I’m trying to make is that even though you have a responsibility in keeping the world safe, don’t forget that you also have a responsibility to yourself. Your actions have consequences, no matter the intent. May is wholly supportive of your superhero duties, and she trusts me to have your back every time you’re out there saving people. What if something happens to you and I’m not there? What if I was halfway across the world, then you pulled off what you did last Tuesday and you got hurt? Or worse? That’s still gonna be on me, kid, even if I knew about it or not. You know why? Because you’re my responsibility. I made a promise to your aunt that I will protect you to the best of my ability, and I don't take my promises lightly. I just — I'm not saying that this is also about me cleaning up after your mess, okay? It's not. It's more to do with me keeping you safe — regardless of whether we’re saving the world or having movie nights here.”

 

“But I just want to help,” Peter admits in a low voice, his expression sad. “I don’t want to let the team down. I don’t want to let you down.”

 

Tony feels a lump in his throat at the admission, so he tightens his grip on Peter’s shoulder. “I know you do, kiddo. Believe me when I say that there’s no way in hell that you can ever let the team down. Unless your grades slip and you fail your exams, but I doubt that’ll happen, you’re a genius. And as for letting me down?” At this, Tony raises his other hand to place on Peter’s other shoulder. “Peter, have you met me? I am the King of Let-Downs. Pardon my French, but I’ve literally lost count how many times I’ve fucked up. I’m not even joking, ask Pepper and Rhodey, or anyone from the team. Hell, even Google it. You’re already so far ahead of me, and you still have a long way to go! So, no. No way you’d ever let me down. In fact, I’m proud of you. I know I don’t say it enough — you know me, emotionally constipated, blah blah. It’s true. I am proud of you. But above all that — I care about you. And I will always be here for you, for however long you will need me.”

 

In the silence that follows, it’s inevitable for Tony to not hear the slight sniffle that Peter makes. The young vigilante is staring up at him with a heartfelt expression, slight moisture gathering in the corners of his eyes.

 

“That’ll be for a long, long time, Mr. Stark,” Peter rasps, voice choked with emotion.

 

Tony huffs out a breath, lips twitching upwards.

 

“Well, that’s a relief. I’ll be needing my intern at my beck and call for a long, long time, too.”

 

Peter rolls his eyes and sniffs slightly.

 

Throwing all caution to the wind and deciding to follow his instincts, Tony draws Peter closer to wrap his arms around him, one hand caressing the back of the teen’s head. Peter, meanwhile, takes a second to process the gesture before his own arms come up to wrap around Tony’s waist, hugging the billionaire tightly.

 

“We’re there now, aren’t we?” Peter mumbles against Tony’s shoulder.

 

It takes Tony several moments to understand what he was saying, and he laughs weakly as he tightens his hold on Peter.

 

“Yeah, we’re there now,” he replies softly. When Tony hears Peter sniffle again, he doesn’t hesitate to move his head to plant a gentle kiss on the crown of his head, and he feels Peter smile from his position on the crook of his neck.

 

They remain hugging for a long while before Tony feels Peter shift. He slowly lets go and takes a step back, noting the redness in the latter’s eyes.

 

“You okay?” He asks, brows slightly furrowed.

 

Peter nods, a small smile on his face. “I — yeah. I’m okay. Thank you, Mr. Stark.”

 

“At this point, I think we’ve gone way past that now. Call me Tony, kid. Seriously, I mean it.”

 

“Maybe when I reach eighteen, Mr. Stark,” Peter replies with a teasing grin.

 

It’s Tony’s turn to roll his eyes. He ruffles Peter’s hair before he turns and walks back to his workstation.

 

They don’t speak again after that, both lost in thought at the talk they just had. Tony feels oddly proud of himself; he’s just had a heart-to-heart talk with a teenager and not once did he cringe in fear or panic about it.

 

Huh. It seems that Tony’s finally done a bit of growing up himself.

 

“Mr. Stark?”

 

Tony looks up from the gauntlet he’s been working on to see Peter looking at him with a strange expression.

 

“What’s up?” He asks, eyebrow raised.

 

Peter hesitates for a moment before he speaks up again. “Was that all you wanted to talk about?”

 

Tony blinks. “Uh, yeah. Unless there was something else you wanted to talk about?”

 

He doesn’t miss Peter’s eyes widen as the latter shakes his head repeatedly.

 

“No no no, we’re good.”

 

“Uh-huh.” Tony nods slowly. At Peter’s reluctant gaze, he raises his eyebrow again. Now he’s curious. “What is it?”

 

“It’s nothing,” Peter says, acting nonchalant. “Just, for a moment there earlier, I thought you were going to give me The Talk Talk, you know?”

 

It’s Tony’s turn to look like a deer caught in the headlights.

 

Nope. No. No fucking way. He didn’t sign up for that.

 

God, no,” he answers rather vehemently. “That was — no, Peter. Just, nope.”

 

“Yeah okay, cool.” Peter nods his head, letting out a breath of relief. “Good.”

 

One emotional conversation is enough, thank you very much. Two is just — that’s just overkill, Tony thinks with a shudder.


It doesn’t take long after that before Wanda comes down to the workshop carrying two plates filled to the brim with steaming chicken biryani. She reminds them that it’s movie night and that they have to be up at the common area in an hour.

 

After thoroughly washing their hands, Tony and Peter dig into their food, each mentally commending Bruce’s cooking skills. They spent the time eating also talking about Peter’s classes, decathlon practices, and Tony’s plans for creating more tech for SI. Tony’s surprised that he even managed to finish everything on his plate. The fact that he can’t remember the last time he ate is proof that he needs to start looking after his health again.

 

The hour they were given to eat and clean up the workshop passes by quickly than Tony expected because the next thing he knows, he’s up at the common area with Peter to meet the rest of the team for movie night. He takes Peter’s plate from his hands and gestures his head at the teen to go ahead. Peter smiles at him and thanks him before walking to the living room, plopping down on a red bean bag next to Nat’s turquoise one.

 

Tony is in the middle of washing their plates when he feels Steve come up behind him.

 

“Hey, Tony.”

 

Tony looks up and answers Steve’s greeting with a smile of his own.

 

“Hey yourself, Steve McQueen,” Tony quips. He grins when Steve rolls his eyes. “You gonna make popcorn?”

 

Duh. Stating the obvious there, Stark, he reprimands himself. It’s movie night, of course Steve is going to make popcorn.

 

“Yup.” Steve nods as he opens the cupboard next to Tony’s form. He takes out three bags of un-popped popcorn kernels, and when he sees Tony’s puzzled look at the three different flavored bags in his hand, he explains. “Oh, I’m making three. Wanda requested for cheese, and Clint wants barbecue. The salted one is, of course, for us.”

 

Tony has to bite his tongue in order to stop a sappy grin from forming on his face. Fuck, why is it always the small gestures that mean the most? In fact, Tony can’t help but recall the many times Steve has gone out of his way to do something for Tony.

 

It all started with the super soldier bringing him his brewed coffee to the workshop every morning without fault. Then it continues with the little things, things that shouldn’t even draw attention to Tony, but for some unknown reason it does. Like Steve reaching to pull out Tony’s chair for him when they eat meals at the dining room. Or Steve reminding Tony to rest and sleep every time he notices that Tony’s been up for God knows how long. And of course, there’s the usual act of making Tony’s favorite popcorn whenever it’s Movie Night. Steve never does it for the others, unless they request him to, and Tony knows he’s never asked the super soldier to make him salted popcorn. Not once.

 

Really, though. They’re only little, inconsequential things that shouldn’t matter to Tony, but fuck, it does. It does.

 

If Tony wasn’t aware of the fact that Steve is only looking out for his wellbeing because they’re actually really good friends now, he’ll think that Steve was doing those little acts of kindness to send Tony a message that the super soldier likes him. Like, like likes him.

 

Ugh. Honestly, Tony could use a drink or three right about now.

 

In the end, it takes all of two seconds for Tony to process all those before he comes back to the present.

 

“I’d say you were sweet, but that’d just be corny,” he responds with a wink. His smile stretches into a grin when Steve snorts and then laughs, eyes crinkling in mirth.

 

The super soldier is still chortling as he easily works his way with the popcorn maker when he quips back, “No need to be salty about it, Tony.”

 

Tony laughs loudly at the witty reply. He finishes washing the plates and settles them on the rack to dry before opening another cupboard and pulling out three colored bowls. He approaches Steve with the bowls, the other man just staring at him, blue eyes soft with an emotion he can’t discern and lips stretched into that lazy smile Tony’s come to associate as Steve’s smile reserved only for him.

 

It should feel weird or awkward, whatever this is that’s happening, but all Tony can feel in that moment is nothing short of contentment.

 

Steve takes the bowls from Tony’s hands once the first round of popcorn is done popping. Tony, not knowing what to do with his hands, finally opts to just cross his arms and rest his hip against the marble counter as the other man proceeds to make Clint’s popcorn.

 

“Got anything important done?” Steve asks once the popcorn machine is working on popping the kernels.

 

Tony is listening to the rest of their teammates talking to and over each other when he registers the question aimed at him.

 

He looks back at Steve’s curious eyes and shrugs. “Pete and I were just doing tune-ups on our suits. Nothing too important but at least it’s a task done and we can both focus on other more important things.”

 

“Like what?”

 

Steve mirrors Tony’s position, and it’s just now Tony is made aware of the fact that they’re standing less than two feet from each other.

 

“Like creating more arrows for Clint and updating Nat’s weapons,” Tony says after a moment. “I also want to make some modifications on Bruce's stretchy pants so that it'll last longer than three wears every time he turns into the Hulk; and Sam’s requested that I check on his wings ‘cos he ‘feels’ that it’s starting to glitch, so.” He shrugs again. “That’s just off the top of my head, to be honest. I’ve got FRIDAY to update my to-do list — makes it easier to prioritize, you know.”

 

Steve’s frowning slightly by the time he’s finished talking.

 

“I hope you plan on sleeping at some point,” the blond man notes with a concerned look. “You’re also human, Tony. You need to rest.”

 

Tony makes a noise and tries to wave off his concern. “Pfft. Sleep is for the weak, Steve. You know me and my sleeping habits —”

 

“What sleeping habits?”

 

Yeah, okay. He deserved that, Tony thinks with an inward flinch at the unimpressed look Steve was now giving him.

 

“Don’t be such a worrywart, Dorito,” Tony jokes, because that’s what he does when people he cares about worry about him. He jokes. God, how fucked up is that? “I’ll be fine. In fact, I am fine. Saving the world is important —”

 

“Yeah, but you have to put yourself first, too,” Steve interrupts him for the second time, firmness in his tone. “What good is saving the world if the people who do the saving can’t even look after themselves?”

 

Tony opens his mouth to make a classic retort but it falls on his lips when the super soldier’s words register in his mind. He raises his eyebrows and blinks in surprise, eyes tracking Steve’s meticulous movements as the latter transfers the barbecue popcorn from the machine into the second bowl. Tony remains silent until Steve sets the last bag in the machine and it starts popping salted popcorn.

 

“Are you scolding me?” Tony utters at last, sounding both offended and astonished at the same time.

 

Tony watches Steve fidget in his position before looking up to meet his eyes. And — whoa — that’s definitely a pink flush appearing on the super soldier’s neck, and it’s quickly spreading to his ears.

 

“I’m not scolding you,” Steve says slowly, as if he’s carefully choosing his words. “I’m just trying to look out for you.”

 

Okay, what?

 

“I don’t need looking after,” Tony scoffs. “I’m — well, technically — older than you, Rogers.”

 

Steve is still looking at him with that same thoughtful look — eyes soft with emotion Tony still can’t put a name to, except that the voice at the back of his mind keeps whispering, it’s fondness, it’s deep affection, it’s a look he’s been giving you for a long damn time.

 

“Still doesn’t change the fact that I care about you and I’m just looking out for a member of the team.”

 

“Yeah yeah, because I pay the bills and give you crazy bastards all the tech you want and need,” Tony retorts good-naturedly.

 

Steve’s expression remains unchanged.

 

“No, because you’re Tony Stark, and you actually matter to people. Most of all, you matter to us.”

 

That finally gets Tony’s attention. Steve must see it too, because the man has the audacity to smirk at him.

 

“Don’t look so surprised, Tony,” he remarks. “We’ve all been living with each other for several years now, and the team’s grown since then. We’re basically a family, don’t deny it.”

 

Tony shakes his head, mind still reeling. “Not denying anything.”

 

Steve’s smirk melts back into his lazy smile, and he reaches out to lay a hand on Tony’s arm, squeezing it lightly. And maybe it’s all in Tony’s head, but he swears Steve hesitates the tiniest bit before he pulls his hand away.

 

“Okay.”

 

“Okay.”

 

They’re silent after that, Tony lost in his thoughts while he regards Steve from the corner of his eye. The latter is now busy transferring their popcorn to the bowl, so Tony decides to distract his mind from wandering to a territory he doesn’t want to dive in yet by grabbing the two other bowls and making his way to the living room, aware that Steve is just a step behind him.

 

“Popcorn! Finally! What took you lovebirds so long?” Clint comments from his usual spot on the carpeted floor.

 

Tony ignores the jibe and rolls his eyes at the archer before handing the purple bowl to him. “Shut up, Katniss. It takes a while for the kernels to pop, and you kids requested a lot.”

 

“Thank you!” Wanda tells Tony happily as he gives her the maroon bowl. Tony smiles back and winks at her.

 

Once he takes his usual seat beside Steve, he speaks up again. “Okay, I promised Capsicle here we’re going to marathon Harry Potter. Any complaints before we begin?”

 

To his surprise, Steve slowly raises a hand, an apologetic look on his face.

 

Tony raises his eyebrow. “What now?”

 

Steve pauses and then admits, “I was wondering if we can watch something else tonight? We can watch Harry Potter tomorrow, instead.”

 

“Why not tonight?” Tony tries hard not to whine, but he knows he failed when he hears the others snort and laugh.

 

“Because I want to watch something else?” Steve answers with a raised eyebrow of his own.

 

“Come on, Tones, you’re gonna like it,” Sam comments from his position on the couch adjacent theirs. Thor is seated beside him, happily munching on his second box of pop tarts.

 

“Fine. What movie?” Tony relents, sighing in mild exasperation.

 

This time, it’s Bruce who answers. “Footloose.”

 

Tony smothers his laugh with a cough, not expecting that answer at all. When he turns to look at Steve, it’s to see the super soldier looking at him with an innocent expression.

 

“Fine. We’re starting with the 1984 version, though.”

 

“Yeah, duh.” Clint flicks a popcorn at him. Tony swats it away and glowers at the archer’s shit-eating grin.

 

“There’s another version?” Steve asks, looking confused.

 

Tony takes a handful of salted popcorn from their shared bowl while his other hand holds the remote and scrolls through Netflix.

 

Surprisingly, it’s Vision who answers Steve’s question.

 

“Yes, they made a re-make in 2011, but it didn’t garner as much success compared to the original.”

 

“That’s because the 2011 version sucked,” Natasha says emphatically.

 

“Why?” Thor inquires, opening another packet of Strawberry-flavored pop tart. At the rate he’s going, Tony wonders if it’s possible for Asgardians to get diabetes. "What is so special about the original?"

 

Half of the room simply replies, “Kevin Bacon.”

 

Steve blinks.

 

Finally finding the movie, Tony requests FRIDAY for lights off and then presses play. As the opening credits begin, he turns to glance at Steve, only to be pleasantly surprised to find out that the blond man is already looking at him. Slowly, he takes another handful of popcorn and lightly nudges his shoulder against his. Steve’s smile is small and shy, but it’s there, and he nudges Tony’s shoulder back. The billionaire can’t help but smile just as shyly in return.

 

Focusing back on the movie, it suddenly occurs to Tony that he’s had two heart-to-heart conversations in one night, and he’s lived to tell the tale.

 

Maybe it’s not so bad after all.

Chapter Text

A week and a half later, Tony finds himself in the common area, playing Monopoly of all things with Bruce, Wanda, Vision, and Thor. Sam and Clint, who didn’t want to play with them, ended up hogging the television and have been playing Super Mario Kart for the past hour and a half.

 

Tony and Bruce are busy explaining to a clueless Thor why he has to pay Wanda $2,700 when Clint’s voice suddenly breaks up the discussion that was starting to heat up.

 

“Yo, just got a text from Nat!” Clint calls out to them. “Their interview’s coming up next!”

 

“Avengers assemble,” Tony quips, internally sighing in relief at the interruption.

 

He stands up from his hunched position on the kitchen countertop to saunter towards the living room. The other three trail behind him and soon, everyone is sitting comfortably on their designated spots.

 

“Wonder what they’re gonna talk about this time,” Sam muses.

 

“I still don’t get why we have to do this,” Bruce comments.

 

“It’s the media, Brucie-bear,” Tony answers, being the only person in the room who understands how the press works and what it’s like to be in the spotlight. “They are an interfering, disrespectful, and sometimes aggravating bunch of assholes. Besides, it’s a win-win situation for both parties. They want answers? We give it to them. We want them to stop stalking us from all angles? They get to interview us for an hour once a month. The way I see it, as long as we continue to keep up our end of the stick, then we’ll be okay. But hey, at the end of the day they’re just doing their jobs and we’re also doing ours.”

 

“But it will get exhausting at some point,” Wanda speaks up, arms curled around her bent knees. “Won’t it?”

 

“Maybe for them,” Vision answers with a reassuring smile at his lover. “But as an Avenger, we have made a lifelong commitment.”

 

“It’s an honor to fight side by side with brave and courageous warriors like you,” Thor utters with a solemn nod at everyone present. “In Asgard, it is our duty to protect our people to our very last breath, and we do so with pride. If the same shall happen here on Earth, then I can’t think of another group as worthy as The Avengers to die with.”

 

There’s a moment of silence after this declaration.

 

Eventually, Clint breaks it by saying, “Guys, it’s just an interview, not the end of the world. Please think happy thoughts.”

 

Tony closes his eyes and shakes his head.

 

Thankfully, the archer’s playful words break whatever maudlin thoughts the others were thinking of, and the somber mood quickly evaporates. Before anyone can say anything else, the news anchor’s face comes into view on the TV screen.

 

“Joining us this afternoon are two of New York’s resident heroes. They’re members of the superhero group called The Avengers, and they’ll be with us for an hour of this segment. Please help me welcome Steve Rogers, also known as Captain America, and Natasha Romanoff, also known as Black Widow!”

 

Steve and Natasha come into the camera’s view on the 81-inch LED television, the duo dressed in casual clothing for once and smiling at the camera. Steve, dressed in a navy blue sweater and brown khaki pants, waits until Natasha’s black-clad form is seated before he takes his own seat next to the spy.

 

“Thank you for joining us here today,” Kathleen the news anchor says, ruby red lips stretched into a wide, almost crazed, smile.

 

Steve smiles tersely while Natasha’s face remain carefully impassive, save for the slight upwards quirk of her lips that means she is faintly amused, but really she’d rather choke someone with her thighs than be where she is now.

 

“Thank you for having us,” Natasha replies with a nod, tone cordial.

 

“They are so hating it,” Clint cackles.

 

“Yeah,” Bruce agrees. Then the nuclear physicist smirks as he adds, “But it’s your turn next month, Clint. Better start flossing.”

 

The rest bar Clint, who blows a raspberry at curly-haired scientist, laughs at the playful remark.

 

“So, it’s been a pretty quiet month for The Avengers,” Kathleen continues. “Except for that attempted alien invasion, what else can you tell us?”

 

Steve and Natasha trade a look before the super soldier answers. “Well, Kathleen, as you said it’s been a quiet month. The attempted alien invasion was the most formidable opponent we encountered so far this year.”

 

“What can you tell us about these aliens?”

 

Steve considers his words for a brief moment.

 

“According to our Asgardian friend Thor, they are called Dark Elves. They belong in this other realm, and from the information we gathered they were pretty pissed off at what happened to their leader. There was another fight that happened years ago, and we thought it was them trying to carry out their leader’s initial plans to invade Earth.”

 

“Which they failed to do,” Kathleen says with another gushing smile aimed at Steve.

 

This newbie news anchor is seriously starting to get on Tony’s nerves, and he knows he’s not alone in that sentiment when he observes Natasha eyeing the woman with a blank expression.

 

“Obviously,” is the redhead’s dry reply, much to the amusement of those watching in the common area. “We wouldn’t be here now if we lost, now would we?”

 

Kathleen, whose eyes were focused on Steve pretty much the whole time, blinks and then looks at Natasha.

 

“Uh, yes, of course,” the blonde woman stammers.

 

“What kind of heroes would that make us if we allowed them to invade Earth?” Steve attempts at a joke.

 

Sam winces and Tony facepalms.

 

“The really disappointing kind,” Natasha answers with a small smirk.

 

With a nervous chuckle, Kathleen shuffles the papers she’s clutching and then clears her throat.
“Well, we are all very grateful for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, as you’ve been called by the President himself recently.”

 

From the screen, Natasha’s mask cracks slightly as she allows a small, genuine smile to slip past.

 

“It’s quite an honor to have the positive regard of the President,” Natasha utters. This time, Tony notices her sly look as her eyes briefly glance at the camera focused on them, and he can’t help the suspicious feeling that creeps up the back of his spine. “It’s one thing to have the world’s most powerful man say that phrase with a straight face, and another to have someone like Tony Stark say it in the middle of a game of paintball.”

 

Tony groans out loud as the others burst into laughter.

 

“I can’t believe she said that!” Wanda cackles from her new position on Vision’s lap.

 

“Go ahead, Romanoff,” Tony grouses under his breath, his face hidden in his hands. “See if I’ll upgrade your fucking weapons. God, that happened once, and I was drunk off my ass!”

 

Clint is still laughing boisterously when he says, “Oh, please. You have your sex tapes uploaded in every porn site out there, and you’re worried about a harmless joke?”

 

Tony extracts his hands from his face to glare at the archer. Before he can make a sarcastic remark, he hears Steve’s voice cut in.

 

“What Natasha means to say,” the super soldier says, and Tony turns his attention to the TV screen. He notices Steve give Natasha a look of warning before his eyes flicker back to Kathleen’s. “Is that even though we’re The Avengers, and we save the world every now and then, we’re also only human underneath the suits we wear to battle. And I guess that’s one thing the public tend to overlook about us.”

 

“But you’re the Captain America,” Kathleen says imploringly. “You were woken up from being buried in ice after seventy years, and so far you’ve adjusted well in the 21st century.”

 

“Tell us something we don’t know,” Sam mutters under his breath.

 

“I have a great support system to thank for that,” Steve replies, smiling lopsidedly.

 

The news anchor chooses to ignore Steve and instead turns her attention to Natasha. “Natasha, according to your public profile, you’re a former KGB spy. Now, you have completely reformed yourself and you’re regarded as a feminist icon worldwide. Don’t tell me that The Avengers can’t see the big picture here?”

 

“Care to enlighten us on that, Kathleen?” Natasha asks sweetly.

 

“Girl, you’re pissing her off,” Clint remarks in glee, stating the obvious as always.

 

“I don’t think she did her research well on these two,” Bruce criticizes.

 

“All this talk about heroes is giving me the hives,” Tony says with a shudder.

 

“She’s fairly new, and she does appear a little starstruck,” Vision points out.

 

Wanda chortles. “I think she’s more than starstruck, Viz. She looks besotted.”

 

“Midgardians give more importance on the inconsequential things,” Thor observes thoughtfully. “Is this why your race has not advanced as it should?”

 

Kathleen, who’s clearly biting off more than she can chew, keeps talking.

 

“Of course,” she answers with another smile, completely missing the pointed look her interviewees share. She shuffles the papers before her and clears her throat before she speaks. “The Avengers have become a beacon of hope. Not just to New Yorkers, but to everyone around the world. You’ve become every child’s dream and every criminal’s nightmare…”

 

“Oh my God, who wrote that? Did she come up with that?” Tony grouses, nose wrinkling in distaste.

 

“That’s… very flattering,” Steve utters haltingly. Tony notes with glee how uncomfortable the blond man looks. “But we don’t want to —”

 

The super soldier never finishes his sentence as suddenly, a loud explosion cuts him off.

 

From the television screen, Tony and the others watch in alarm as their other teammates swivel in their seats to see the source of the explosion from the glass windows behind them, Kathleen stumbling out of her seat and then out of view in fright.

 

At the same instant, the blaring sound of the alarm starts to ring in the Tower like a siren.

 

“Everybody suit up,” Tony commands, surging upwards from his formerly relaxed position on the couch.

 

The others do the same and sprint towards the elevator. Tony quickly follows, pulling out his phone from his pocket and speed dialing Steve. The other man picks up on the second ring.

 

“We’re suiting up and will meet you there in, say, eight minutes,” Tony speaks without preamble as he takes the next lift to his workshop. “Tell me what you need.”

 

“Nat and I have our comms with us but we don’t have any weapons,” Steve pronounces in mild agitation.

 

“I’m heading down to the workshop now to grab Nat’s gear. Where’s your shield located?”

 

“It’s in my room.”

 

“Of course it’s in your room. Okay, I’ll have FRIDAY tell Vision to pick it up."

 

“Thanks, Tony,” Steve exhales in relief.

 

“Vision has Captain Rogers’ shield in his possession now, boss,” FRIDAY declares a few beats later.

 

“Thanks, FRI,” Tony acknowledges.

 

He steps out of the elevator, the glass doors opening automatically as Tony jogs to his workstation to grab Natasha’s recently upgraded Widow’s Bite. He turns and sprints back to the waiting elevator, the doors swiftly closing as it ascends once more — this time to the landing pad where the others are waiting.

 

“Can you see what caused the explosion?”

 

“No. But from the vantage point we had, the source of the blast is roughly twelve blocks from here.”

 

“I’ll go ahead of the others to meet you and Nat, then,” Tony decides.

 

“Okay.” Steve surprisingly agrees. “Thank you, Tony.”

 

Tony smiles. “See you in a few, Steve. Be careful.” He doesn’t wait for a reply as he hangs up, pockets his phone, and presses his arc reactor to activate the suit.

 

He meets the others at the runway, the quinjet up and running with Clint at the pilot’s seat, ready to take off. He catches sight of Vision holding on to Steve’s vibranium shield, and Tony doesn’t hesitate to take it from the other’s grasp with a nod of thanks.

 

“Everybody’s on comms?” When they answer in the affirmative, including Steve and Natasha, Tony continues. “Okay. Thor, I want you with me, buddy. I have to meet Steve and Nat halfway so I can give them their weapons, and we both fly pretty fucking fast. We’ll meet the rest of you there.”

 

“What’s the plan?” Wanda asks, a steely look of determination on her face.

 

It’s Steve who answers over the comms. “We’ll plan on the fly once we find out what we’re dealing with.”

 

A chorus of agreement is heard before Sam voices out, “Wait, what about Peter?”

 

Tony curses under his breath. He closes his faceplate and says, “He has decathlon practice today. I just had a talk with him last week about responsibility, and I don’t want to appear like a hypocrite to the kid by calling him.”

 

“I wouldn’t think that at all, Mr. Stark!” Peter’s cheerful voice suddenly pipes up just as Tony is about to fire his thrusters. “MJ cancelled practice and I was about to board the train going home when I received the alert. I’m on my way.”

 

“That’ll take you ages, kiddo,” Tony argues weakly.

 

“It won’t! I’m actually halfway there now,” Peter responds, and Tony can hear his exhalation of breath every time the teen shoots a web and slings through the infrastructure.

 

“Fine. Let us know if you catch sight of what caused the blast.”

 

“Will do, Mr. Stark!”

 

Ten seconds later, the quinjet takes off while Tony and Thor fly ahead of them.

 

“All this talk about heroes and we’re playing hero again,” Sam muses over the comms.

 

Something about that remark makes Tony grin as an idea suddenly forms in his head.

 

“Ten bucks say this isn’t a coincidence,” Clint declares with a snort.

 

“Cap, I’ve got eyes on you and Nat,” Tony speaks over the comms after a minute. He commands his thrusters to go faster as he sees the other two running towards the scene of the attack, another loud explosion going off.

 

“Could use a lift,” Natasha comments evenly, barely sounding out of breath.

 

Tony nods and looks at Thor. “Point Break, you take Nat and I’ll take Cap.”

 

At Thor’s nod, he tosses Natasha’s weapon to the God of Thunder in mid-air, Thor catching it with one hand while the other holds on to Mjolnir.

 

Next, Tony addresses FRIDAY. “FRI, play something funky.”

 

“You got it, boss.”

 

And to Steve: “Cap, your service has arrived.”

 

Music starts to play over the comms at the same time that Tony and Thor swoop down. Steve and Natasha’s running figures come to an abrupt halt as they whirl around to face them. Thor immediately wraps an arm around Natasha’s waist and directs Mjolnir to lift them up. Meanwhile, Tony tosses the shield to Steve who swiftly catches it before Tony also wraps an arm around the super soldier’s waist, the latter using his free arm to wrap around Tony’s metal-clad shoulders.

 

“Jesus, you’re heavy,” Tony teases with a groan.

 

Steve ignores him. “You’re kidding me with that song, right?”

 

Over the comms, Tony can hear the others sniggering.

 

“What? The songs fits perfectly, in my humble opinion,” Tony replies innocently.

 

“One time,” Steve voices. “We watch Footloose one time and I tell you guys I liked the song, and now you’re playing it.”

 

“Tell me I’m not the only one who thinks that you look like a ‘streetwise Hercules’,” Tony jests.

 

Steve sighs. “Well, that’s not gonna go anytime soon.”

 

“I need a hero
I'm holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night
He's gotta be strong
And he's gotta be fast
And he's gotta be fresh from the fight!”

 

Without warning, Peter’s frantic voice cuts off the playful banter. “I’m here! Mr. Stark, it’s Hydra!”

 

“What?” Steve, Natasha, Clint, and Sam echoes.

 

“I thought we took them all down two years ago,” Wanda says, stunned.

 

Steve growls and Tony thinks it’s a very bad idea to have a boner in the middle of a fight, but fuck, that’s so hot.

 

“Cut off the head and it’ll just grow another one,” the super soldier says, voice tight. “Peter, what else can you see?”

 

Peter replies after several moments. “The source of the blast is a gun-shaped device. There are two of them. They also look like they’re fighting off two people — a man and woman. They look like civilians but — holy shit!”

 

There’s another loud blast and Tony feels something heavy drop in his stomach.

 

“Peter?!” he frantically calls out. “Kid?!”

 

Tony sighs heavily in relief once he hears Peter’s voice. “I’m fine! Sorry, I almost hit a pole. Where was I? Oh! Yeah, uh, the two people look like they have powers.”

 

What?

 

“Shit. They’re enhanced,” Steve says.

 

“Peter, do not engage,” Tony instructs in a firm tone, panic starting to creep in his chest again. “Remember the talk we had, kiddo.”

 

“I know, Mr. Stark,” Peter replies. “I promise I won’t do something stupid — much.”

 

“Yeah, that’s very reassuring, Underoos,” Tony mumbles under his breath.

 

“Peter, are you sure?” Natasha asks in an urgent tone. “Are you sure that they’re Hydra?”

 

“Yep! I had Karen zoom in on the tech they’re using and it had the Hydra symbol in it,” Peter answers.

 

“Doesn’t really mean they’re Hydra, though,” Sam reasons. “For all we know, they could’ve bought the tech from Hydra.”

 

“Hydra’s not like Hammer Tech,” Clint reasons, serious for once. Tony hums in agreement. “They don’t share their toys. At all.”

 

“So what’s the plan?” Wanda asks a second time.

 

“Scarlet, Vision, and Thor — restrain the enhanced people,” Steve commands in full Captain America mode. “Spider-Man and Falcon — secure the perimeter and get any civilians remaining out of here. Hawkeye, Widow, and Hulk — take down the Hydra agents. Iron Man, if you get a clear shot of the guys with the device, take them down and secure the weapon. I’m not gonna risk anything that Hydra has created.”

 

Much sooner than expected, they arrive at the scene almost simultaneously. Tony lands on the concrete, gently letting go of Steve’s waist as Natasha and Thor land next to them. Peter and Sam are already busy evacuating the civilians still present in the vicinity when Tony lifts his faceplate and addresses their foes.

 

“Guys, why don’t we hold fire and talk about this first?” He announces charmingly.

 

“Why don’t you stay out of this instead, Iron Man?” snarls one of the men carrying the device.

 

Tony pretends to think about it. “Uh, how about no?”

 

“And here I thought we got the last of you,” Steve interrupts Tony in a steely voice, gaze fixed on the small army of Hydra agents.

 

“You thought wrong,” the same man replies haughtily. “Did you really think you can completely get rid of us, Captain Rogers? You’ve been fighting Hydra for nearly a century now. There is no end in sight.”

 

“I beg to differ,” Steve responds, his jaw clenched.

 

The other guy holding the same device speaks up. “I gotta say, Captain, your optimistic nature is touching. But face it, we’ll always be on top. Hail Hydra!”

 

The super soldier smiles a tight-lipped smile. “Want me to prove you bastards wrong?”

 

“You can try.” The goon had the audacity to grin unpleasantly before he aims the device at them and fires at Steve.

 

The gun releases a strong purple energy. From the corner of his eye, he sees Natasha and Thor move out of the way, but Tony doesn’t think twice as he leaps in front of Steve. He raises his right arm, the gauntlet shifting into a shield to protect them from the blast. The impact was strong, Tony almost being pushed into his back, but he fires up his thrusters at the last second and soon he finds himself in mid-air, his right arm’s armor fluidly changing back to its default state.

 

“Tony?!” comes Steve’s panicked voice.

 

Tony quickly glances behind him to see the blond man looking up at him with wide eyes. “You okay, Cap?”

 

Steve nods. “Thanks to you.”

 

Tony winks at him before closing his faceplate and focusing his attention at their Baddie of the Week.

 

“Our turn, assholes,” Tony says between clenched teeth. “FRI, shuffle it.”

 

The current music playing stops as Tony deploys half a dozen small missiles on the three black vans (seriously? That’s a bit much) stationed behind the small group of Hydra goons. While doing this, a new song starts to play, the guitar riffs accompanying the vans exploding.

 

“That is so cool!” Peter gushes. “Did you time that, Mr. Stark?!”

 

“I’m just awesome like that,” Tony replies with a smirk.

 

“Hell yeah!” Clint whoops over the comms. “That’s more like it.”

 

What follows is probably the quickest fight Tony has fought. Minus the deadly arsenal Hydra have with them, it didn’t take too much time for The Avengers to gain the upper hand.

 

“I tell you folks, it’s harder than it looks
It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock n’ roll!”

 

“We’ve secured them,” Wanda speaks after several moments. “They escaped a Hydra facility almost two months ago. They’ve been in hiding ever since, changing states every two weeks.”

 

“Until today,” Vision adds. “They’re also not enhanced. The powers that Peter saw was them using a specialized weapon they stole from Hydra that emits a strong electromagnetic field.”

 

“They were protecting themselves,” Natasha points out.

 

“That’s a relief,” Sam utters with a sigh.

 

“We’ll have to hand them over to SHIELD.” Tony fires repulsors at Hydra Goon #1 and #2, but they duck behind an upturned pick-up truck at the last second. He sees Steve take down two more Hydra agents with his shield, Thor sending a strong bolt of lightning from Mjolnir towards another small group approaching him.

 

Tony sees one goon who’s stupid enough to shoot Thor, the bullet ricocheting from the Asgardian’s armor. Tony notes with glee the unimpressed look Thor gives the guy before swiftly knocking him out with a punch to the gut.

 

Honestly, the billionaire thinks with amusement, he’s literally an alien from another dimension. Won’t these bad guys ever learn?

 

By the time the song reaches the bagpipe solo (and Tony is totally fanboying internally; Clint’s not the only one who has a bucket list), Tony has just knocked out the Hydra goons carrying the weapons.

 

“Dumb and Dumber are down, and I’ve secured the weapons,” Tony announces in delight. He lifts his faceplate and looks around his surroundings. Upon observing that the rest of his teammates have everything under control, Tony shrugs and sits on the upturned pick-up truck, the two weapons laying on his feet. “I’m just gonna chill here and wait for you guys to wrap up.”

 

“Tony Stark, slacking on the job,” Natasha states playfully. “Color me surprised.”

 

“What? I’m tired. I feel like I’ve just done ten rounds of playing paintball,” Tony retorts sarcastically.

 

A collective groan is heard over the comms, and Tony smirks in triumph when he catches sight of Steve glaring at Natasha.

 

“I told you he wasn’t gonna let that comment slide,” the super soldier admonishes her.

 

Natasha shrugs, but Tony detects a hint of apology in her tone when she answers. “I didn’t mean anything by what I said earlier. I’m sorry if I offended you, Tony.”

 

Feeling oddly touched but not wanting to show them he’s affected by it, Tony waves the apology off in true Tony Stark™️ fashion. “Pfft, I wasn’t offended. In fact, I’m flattered. It’s not often someone puts my name with the President in the same sentence. It’s like I’ve met the guy already.”

 

“Do you always have to deflect?” Sam chastises as he lands beside Tony.

 

“It’s part of my charm, Wilson.”

 

Before Sam can say anything else, Tony drowns him out by increasing the volume of the music.


Hours later, when they’re back home in the Tower and SHIELD has dealt with the aftermath and took the two escapees with them, Tony runs into Steve at the elevator after he’s showered and dressed in a ratty black AC/DC shirt, grey sweatpants, and thick black socks.

 

They exchange smiles when Steve steps in, the doors closing as it ascends to take them to the common area.

 

“What a day, huh?” Steve asks, running a hand through his wet blond hair. He’s dressed in a grey SHIELD shirt, black sweatpants, and thick white socks.

 

God, he's so fucking beautiful.

 

Tony blinks in shock once that thought passes. Wait, what?

 

He clears his throat and hums in agreement. “It’s not even six yet.”

 

“You think it’s gonna be an early night for you?” Steve asks him, and Tony tilts his head to meet Steve’s questioning eyes. At Tony’s raised eyebrow, the blond man continues, “You haven’t slept in the past, oh, eighty-seven hours.”

 

“You know, it should be weird that you’re keeping track of my sleeping habits,” Tony remarks.

 

Steve raises an eyebrow. “Do you want me to stop?”

 

Is… is there a double meaning behind those words? Tony doesn’t know, and frankly he’s too exhausted to put too much thought behind the other’s words. He’s just called the man beautiful in his head, for God’s sake.

 

Well, it’s not like he isn’t. Because he is. Beautiful. Steve is beautiful.

 

God, shut the fuck up, Stark.

 

“No, it’s — it’s nice,” Tony eventually voices out. “In a non-creepy way.”

 

Steve nods, a faint flush starting to creep up his neck.

 

They remain silent throughout the rest of the journey. When the elevator doors open and Tony is about to step out, he feels Steve’s warm hand latch onto his forearm. The unexpected skin contact stops him in his tracks and he swivels his head to look up at Steve.

 

Tony waits, and after several beats, Steve opens his mouth to speak. “I know it’s starting to sound like a broken record, but thank you.”

 

His brows furrow in confusion. “Uh, I’d say ‘you’re welcome’, but I don’t know what you’re thanking me for?”

 

Steve still hasn’t let go, and Tony refuses to move the arm the blond man has latched onto. He can feel the slight calluses of Steve’s fingers on his bare skin, his hand a warm and comforting weight against his.

 

Jesus, he thinks, now is not the time to have a heart attack. He can feel his heart hammering against his chest, and he wonders if Steve can hear it. He probably can due to the serum.

 

“For earlier,” Steve simply says, and Tony focuses his attention back on him. “You didn’t have to, and I have half a mind to reprimand you for doing something so reckless, but I won’t. Because I know you, Tony, and I know you’d do it again. So just, thank you.”

 

“You’re welcome,” is all Tony can say, unable to stop the fondness that’s evident his tone.

 

Steve smiles at him, eyes crinkling in the corners as he squeezes Tony’s forearm, and Tony thinks, God, he’s so beautiful. And I’m so fucked.

 

His heart skips a beat, and Tony can’t help but smile back.

Chapter Text

After Tony’s realization that he was falling for his childhood hero — okay, maybe if he’s being more honest he’d admit that he’d already fallen a long, long time ago — there was only one thing he could do: move onwards.

 

Because at the end of the day, Tony knows he can’t just act on his amorous feelings for one Captain Steven Grant Rogers. There is more at risk by adding a romantic relationship into the mix, and there’s no fucking way he’s going to jeopardize the team’s stability. Besides, if Tony is going to start being more upright about his emotions (he’s a growing, maturing boy — shut up) there’s no doubt that if — and that’s a huge fucking if — he does confess his feelings to Steve, his self-destructive nature will only do more damage to them both.

 

And that’s saying if the super soldier even reciprocates Tony’s feelings.

 

Just imagining a future of him and Steve getting together and then falling out after a bad break-up already causes Tony pain. What more if it becomes a reality? Fuck, no fucking way he’s going to take that risk. He can’t, he just can’t.

 

Steve is… Steve. Even though he’s been idolizing Captain America since he was a kid (thanks for that, Howard), Tony knows how and when to separate the man from his suit. After all, who is he kidding? Tony is painfully aware that he is way out of Steve’s league. Like, leagues away from where Steve is.

 

If other people can continue to love someone in secret and still maintain a strong friendship with the one they’re in love with, then Tony can do it. Even if doing so will hurt him more than he can comprehend, he’ll ultimately make peace with it. He’s handled more difficult things in his life than this — he’ll be okay. Besides, he’s a genius.

 

Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.

 

That’s what he told Steve all those years ago.

 

Okay, maybe not the ‘playboy’ part since he can’t remember the last time he went clubbing for the sake of getting pissed drunk, nor can he remember the last time he got laid.

 

Probably since he and Pepper broke up more than two years ago.

 

Yeah.

 

Yeah, definitely that long ago.

 

Goddamn.

 

So he should change it to: ‘Genius, billionaire, pining idiot, philanthropist’ now.

 

Ugh.

 

Tony kinda hates his smartass brain sometimes.


Luckily, Peter has a two-week Spring break so Tony’s conscience is clear about having the kid stay at the Tower five nights a week instead of two. Also, thank God for May’s crazy hours at the hospital — okay, that made him sound like an utter dickhead, but he didn’t mean it that way, swear — that she gave the go-ahead to Tony after the engineer asked for her permission for Peter to stay with the rest of the team during the week, and have him back home at Queens on the weekend.

 

So in hindsight, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise when it’s during the Easter holidays when New York falls under attack again.

 

It’s ten o’clock on a Wednesday morning when Tony finds himself having a late breakfast with the team. They don’t always eat together in the mornings as they often do so for lunch or dinner, so Tony finds it a nice change in their otherwise sporadic routine to have the whole occupants of the Tower dig in to a hearty meal courtesy of Bruce and Clint.

 

There are a variety of foods spread across the dining table — several stacks of pancakes and waffles, heaps of bacon and eggs, a large bowl of oatmeal with berries and almonds for Bruce and Natasha, a plate full of French toast for Wanda and Sam, a box of Hot Fudge Sundae pop tarts for Thor (the amount of sugar the Asgardian consumes in a day is staggeringly high), pitchers of orange juice and lemon-infused water, and a pot filled to the brim with brewed coffee for the engineer himself.

 

All in all, it’s the best breakfast Tony’s had in a really, really long time.

 

And he's not even a breakfast person to begin with.

 

“I don’t get how you can drink that filth with no sugar.” Clint makes a face when Tony drains his large mug. The archer takes a long sip of the same brew from his significantly smaller mug, but his contains a minimum of two sugar cubes.

 

Tony stands up to refill his mug for the third time when he quips back, “It’s the breakfast of champions, birdbrain.”

 

“Coffee is not considered breakfast, Tony,” Steve argues lightly with a quirk of his eyebrow. The super soldier has already gone through six pancakes in less than ten minutes, and is beginning to load his plate with waffles next.

 

Tony also raises an eyebrow when he returns to his seat between Peter and Natasha. “‘Course it is! A cup of Joe a day keeps the doctor away. Isn’t that how the saying goes?”

 

Peter’s face scrunches up in confusion as he swallows a large bite of omelette Bruce made specially for him. “I don’t think that’s right, Mr. Stark.”

 

Tony rolls his eyes as he fondly ruffles the teen’s bedhead. “Doesn’t matter, my little Spiderling.” Then he turns to Steve. “Anyway, I am eating. See? I’m having a pancake.”

 

Steve, who’s sitting across from Tony, rolls his eyes good-naturedly. The blond man eyes Tony’s plate with the half-eaten pancake. “Tony, that pancake has been on your plate for ten minutes now. I’m already on my second serving.”

 

“Look, not all of us have a stomach the size of a warehouse like yours, my darling Dorito,” Tony teases, hiding a grin behind his large red Iron Man mug — a gag gift from Rhodey — as he takes another long sip of his poison. He pointedly ignores Sam’s snort of amusement at the endearment. “Though I think Point Break, Underoos, and Super Smash Bro over there can give you a run for your money.”

 

Bruce looks up from the oolong tea he’s drinking to stare at Tony.

 

“I’m — I’m Super Smash Bro?” he asks, sounding a tad incredulous.

 

Tony rolls his eyes, adopting a ‘duh’ expression. “Obviously, Brucie-bear.”

 

Then he picks up his fork, cuts a huge portion of his half-eaten pancake, and shoves it in his mouth. He hears Peter snort beside him, and Tony glances at his protégé from the corner of his eye to see the sixteen-year-old looking at him with an amused and fond expression. Tony knows he must look a sight, cheeks puffed up like a fucking chipmunk.

 

Add in the presence of the object of his affections — who is sitting in front of him and is most likely thinking he’s an idiot for neglecting to live a healthy lifestyle —and the fact that he’s had at least three cups of coffee, it’s the perfect recipe for an already energetic Tony Stark to act more frenzied.

 

Though, by the size of the mug he’s drinking from, he’d estimate he’s already on his sixth regular-sized cup by now.

 

Yeah, that’s really not helping.

 

“You just really don’t like breakfast, huh,” Wanda says, forking her third piece of French toast.

 

“Nope.” But with the engineer’s mouth still full, it ends up sounding more like “Numpf”. Peter snorts into the orange juice he’s drinking; Tony thumps the kid's back and then winks at him before he glances away, only to find his eyes meeting Steve’s.

 

The blond man is giving him an inscrutable look, but Tony can see the corner of his lips quirked upwards that indicates he’s amused. Finished chewing, Tony swallows the pancake and then licks his lips, eyes still trained on Steve’s face. A shiver runs down his spine when he notices the other man’s eyes quickly glance at his mouth; then he feels his breath hitch when he sees Steve’s pupils dilate, blue eyes still focused on his moist lips.

 

Tony blinks twice, and the subtle motion must’ve brought Steve back to his senses because the super soldier clears his throat before he ducks his head in clear embarrassment.

 

Uh… huh.

 

Okay.

 

Holy shit, did that really happen?

 

Well, with the way Steve’s neck is turning into a lovely shade of red, Tony knows he didn’t imagine what just occurred five seconds ago. To distract his muddled thoughts (holy shit, is Steve Rogers attracted to me? Do I actually have a shot at this? he thinks frantically), Tony takes his mug in his hands and takes an extra long gulp of coffee.

 

As he moves to stand up to refill his empty mug again, he feels Natasha’s hand on his two-day old sweatpants. He jerks slightly and peers at the redhead, who only gives him a knowing look and a slight quirk of her lips. Years of living with the assassin has given Tony the opportunity to understand and keep track of the many significant stares that Natasha can give and what they could mean.

 

Yeah, he’s made a list, and it’s a pretty long one, too.

 

That particular look he received literally translates to ‘I saw that and you better not fuck it up or I will fuck you both up’ look.

 

In response, Tony smiles weakly. But before he can say anything, much less think of what to say, he’s interrupted by the alarm suddenly blaring loudly.

 

Tony doesn’t know if he should be thankful for the distraction or not.


“Are you fucking kidding me?” Sam swears indignantly.

 

Bruce sighs heavily over the comms. “I’m sitting this one out. I’ll work from the quinjet and see if I can locate where the source of these… robots are coming from.”

 

“Good idea,” Natasha says, and it’s clear to everyone she sounds more annoyed than exasperated at the situation before them.

 

“This is a joke, right?” Tony asks in a faint voice as he observes the ruckus that’s happening at Central Park in disbelief. “I didn’t miss April Fool’s Day, did I?”

 

“No,” Wanda says, drawing out the vowel.

 

“Unless the public pulled a prank on us, which is so not cool, by the way —”

 

Steve interrupts Tony’s tirade. “I don’t think it’s a prank, Tony.”

 

“This is so weird,” Peter interjects, sounding lost. “I wonder what they’re gonna do?”

 

As if his question was heard, the rabbit robots — yeah, rabbit robots, what the fuck? — happily hopping across the fields of grass suddenly come to an abrupt halt. Then, turning their heads in unison to face the Avengers, the members closest to the androids catch sight of the once silver eyes of the bots shift to red.

 

“I believe that that is not a good sign,” Thor observes, adjusting his stance as he lifts Mjolnir.

 

Vision nods. “I believe you are correct.”

 

Clint snorts. “No shit."

 

That’s when all hell breaks loose.


If somebody asked Tony a week ago — hell, even a month ago — what his plans are for Easter, his answer would definitely pale in comparison to what he’s doing now. Fighting rabbit robots jumping all over Central Park that’s being controlled by a deranged lunatic who calls himself The Hopper is the total opposite of how he imagined he’d spend Easter with his makeshift family.

 

Yeah, Tony’s gotta hand it to the dude — that’s some great engineering work he’s done on the bots and a truck load of baggage to inflict horror and pain upon innocent people.

 

“Easter is hare!” The Hopper hollers, laughing maniacally as he controls his army of bunnies to attack the screaming public and the Avengers alike.

 

Oh, yeah. These hopping bots can also kill due to them having two sharp pointed teeth. So, just another regular day in New York, right?

 

“I gotta hand it to Peter Rabbit,” Tony grunts as he fires a repulsor at a bot about to attack a family of three. “He knows his puns. Though, he's a couple days early for Easter Sunday.”

 

“This is another level of fucked up, man,” Sam cries out as he dodges past a leaping bunny about to bite him.

 

“Evacuate the people first,” Steve commands over the comms as he destroys two other bunny bots with his vibranium shield. He straightens from his hunched position and adds, “Bruce, can you point to us the other areas where these robots are also located?”

 

“Working on it now,” Bruce replies.

 

Tony fires another repulsor at a bunny bot before gesturing to a young couple to vacate the grounds. Then he turns to his private channel with FRIDAY and says, “FRI, scan these bots and show me where its weak spot is.”

 

“Yes, boss,” FRIDAY replies.

 

“Thanks, FRI.”

 

Tony switches communication channels as he addresses the team, “Any luck getting a hold of Bugs Bunny?”

 

“Nope,” Clint answers, popping the ‘p’ sound.

 

“These rabbits are just all over the place,” Natasha says through gritted teeth, and Tony can see her destroying one bot with her bare hands.

 

Just then, Tony has an idea. “Hey, Thor, buddy. What if you light ‘em up with your lightning?”

 

Thor considers it for a moment. “I can do it, but there are still several civilians scattered throughout the park. I do not want to bring any harm to them.”

 

“Fair point.” Tony lifts his faceplate as he lands beside Steve. “Cap?”

 

Steve hums in thought before he reaches a decision. “Clear out this area of civilians first. Once the people are safe, you can light ‘em up, Thor.”

 

The Asgardian, standing several meters ahead of them, nods his head in response. Suddenly, FRIDAY’s voice interrupts Tony’s thoughts.

 

“The weak spot is located on its head. Further scanning indicates that the robots are linked to a servo amplifier.”

 

What.

 

“And where is the servo amplifier connected to, FRI? Where’s the motherboard? It can’t be in all these bunnies.”

 

“The motherboard is located inside the controller The Hopper is using to command the bots, boss.”

 

Wow, okay. That’s some insane control systems engineering at work.

 

“So we get a hand on the controller, and we stop these energizer bunnies from biting more people,” Tony mutters to himself.

 

“That seems to be the viable solution, yes,” is the AI’s dry response.

 

Tony wonders how his AI has become such a smartass, and then he remembers he configured them that way. Heh.

 

Soon, he relays FRIDAY’s findings to the rest of the team, and everyone agrees that they have to literally fight their way through the army of bunny bots to get to The Hopper and relinquish the controller from him. Shortly after agreeing to the new plan, Bruce informs them over the comms that the only area infested with the robots are located in their current location in Central Park.

 

“But why only specifically here?” Peter queries, looking puzzled over that bit of information.

 

Tony can tell Bruce hesitates before the nuclear physicist replies. “Well, the Easter Egg Hunt Event takes place in Central Park every year without fault. So…”

 

“So, what, he just wanted to ruin the Easter Egg Hunt Event here to traumatize the kids?” Tony scoffs. “God, that’s a level of petty that even I wouldn’t go for.”

 

Clint snorts. “I gotta say, this dude went to pretty egg-streme lengths.”

 

Tony makes out the grin on Sam’s face when he says in between laughter, “Good one, Clint. You cracked me up real good.”

 

The engineer feels his lips twitch in mirth at the puns, and he’s about to make one of his own when he notices Steve move from the corner of his eye. He turns and sees the super soldier looking at him with a half-amused, half-serious expression.

 

“Guys,” Steve interrupts the jibes in an authoritative tone. “Let’s focus on the mission, okay? Spider-Man and Falcon — continue to secure the perimeter. Bruce, keep us posted if there are new developments. Thor — send that bolt of lightning as a distraction once the area is clear of civilians. Iron Man and Vision — clear a pathway for us to reach The Hopper so we can get a hold of that controller. Hawkeye and Widow — we’ll surround The Hopper from all sides; and Scarlet — watch our six.”

 

“Gotcha, Captain Rogers Rabbit!” Tony quips before closing his faceplate. Over the comms, he hears the others chuckle in amusement while Steve lets out a resigned sigh.

 

They all split up to carry out their orders. Tony flies over his teammates and then fires his repulsors at a small division of bunny bots lining up ahead. As he does so, he notices Thor’s huge frame start to emit lightning. In the distance, Tony can discern Thumper punch buttons on the controller as dozens of bunny bots start to circle protectively around him.

 

“Hmm, FRI, play track 12 of Untitled Playlist Number 5,” Tony instructs as he fires his repulsors at more bunny bots. “And blast the song over my built-in speakers, too — I want Buster Baxter over there to hear it.”

 

“Sure, boss,” the AI replies, and Tony’s certain if FRIDAY had a physical form, she’d be rolling her eyes in exasperation by now.

 

Over the comms, Clint starts to cackle. “Ooohh, this better be good, Tin Man.”

 

Tony smirks. “Why, Legolas, have I ever let you down with my music?”

 

Suddenly, a very familiar disco song starts to play over the comms, drowning out Clint’s reply.

 

Tony grins when he hears Peter laughing, the young teen whooping in delight as he webs a group of destroyed bunny bots together.

 

“I love this song, Mr. Stark!” Peter exclaims, obviously pleased. If possible, Tony’s grin widens.

 

Without warning, Thor releases a bolt of lightning, wrecking several dozen of bunny bots in his wake. Behind him, Tony hears The Hopper scream in frustration.

 

“Na na na na na na na na na na, now
Baby, give it up, give it up — baby, give it up!
Na na na na na na na na na na, now
Baby, give it up, give it up — baby, give it up!”

 

“No, I will not give up!” Buster Bunny yells petulantly once Tony comes within hearing range.

 

“How many playlists do you actually have, Tony?” Wanda asks, sounding curious as she blows up another herd of the bots with her powers.

 

“Last I checked, it was around 9,” Tony answers offhandedly as he fires a repulsor at two leaping bunny bots who were chasing another family who’s managed to escape.

 

“Why’d you title them like that, then?” Steve asks out of the blue.

 

Tony blinks and then shrugs. “‘Cos I couldn’t be bothered with titling them properly? I don’t know. Why, Cap, do you wanna title my playlists for me?” He adds teasingly.

 

“Not really,” Steve answers haltingly, but there’s a smile in his voice. “I’m still busy going through the ones you gave me to listen to.”

 

Over the comms, Sam chortles loudly. “Whoa, wait. Are you telling me that Tony here made you, Steve Rogers, a mixtape?”

 

From the corner of his eye, Tony sees Steve falter in his steps as the super soldier reacts to the Falcon’s words.

 

“I — what? Mixtape?”

 

“I bet there are love songs in there,” Clint adds, snickering. “Are there, Steve?”

 

Steve splutters. “Uh, I don’t — well, there are a few.”

 

Tony grimaces at the loud laughter over the comms.

 

Yeah, he can’t see what’s funny about that.

 

Actually, no. He can see what’s funny about it, but considering Tony’s crazy for the guy, he can’t help but take the jibe personally.

 

“That is very sentimental of you, Tony,” Vision remarks approvingly.

 

Wait. What?

 

“Whoa, whoa, hold up,” Tony raises his voice over the laughter, and thank fuck for his helmet because he knows he’s blushing like a beetroot right now. “First off, fuck you, assholes. I didn’t make Capsicle a mixtape. That’s just so juvenile. And second, Steve asked me to recommend him some music to listen to, so I gave him a couple of playlists for each decade he’s missed. Thirdly, I don’t know why I’m explaining myself so I’ll just shut up now.” As an afterthought, he adds, “Also, I am not sentimental, Viz.”

 

“I beg to differ, Tony,” Vision deadpans. “I believe my predecessor has substantial proof that —”

 

Tony chokes on his spit. “Yeah, okay. Shush now. Please. Jeez.” This time, he misses the contemplative look on Steve’s face when he casts a quick glance at Tony.

 

“Whatever helps you sleep at night, Tony,” Sam says, still snorting in amusement.

 

Tony just flips him off and decides to fly to the other side of the field to help Peter destroy another herd of bunny bots.

 

“Boys,” Natasha and Wanda mutter under their breaths.

 

In the end, it’s Natasha who reaches The Hopper first, literally kicking her way through the throng of biting bunny bots to knock the guy out on his back, controller in her grasp. Tony lands beside the redhead assassin to switch the device off, and within seconds, the rest of the bots still hopping on Sheep Meadow fall to the ground in a graceless heap.

 

The Hopper, a sweaty thirty-something with a receding hairline and terrible acne, glares hatefully at the Avengers surrounding him.

 

“Alec Azam, jackass,” Clint states with a smug smirk as he hauls the guy up to his feet. The archer tugs The Hopper’s arms behind him, restraining his hands with Tony’s own version of SHIELD’s magnetic handcuffs.

 

“What’s up, Doc?” Tony taunts once he’s lifted his faceplate up.

 

“I admit, this whole ordeal was looney tunes,” Bruce quickly adds over the comms.

 

Beside him, Steve groans and facepalms, and Tony can’t help but grin at him.

 

“Well, some bunny’s feeling a little overwhelmed with the rabbit puns,” Tony jests at the super soldier. He receives an ‘Are you kidding me?’ look in return.

 

“If I didn’t know you guys like I do, I’d be hopping away by now,” Steve retorts with an eye roll.

 

Tony’s eyes crinkle in mirth as he doubles over in laughter at the witty remark, the others bar the pouting villain following suit in varying degrees of amusement. Except Natasha, who rolls her eyes with a smirk on her face.

 

His laughter subsiding, Tony accidentally meets Steve’s eyes, and he feels the breath punched out of him at the intensity of the stare. Steve’s smiling lopsidedly at him now, blue eyes twinkling with an emotion Tony can’t read.

 

“Made you laugh,” Steve mouths the words to him, clearly not wanting the others to hear.

 

Shaking his head, the engineer clamps his mouth shut to stop another burst of laughter from escaping. Fighting a dark flush from creeping up his neck (though he doubts he succeeded), Tony allows a grin to grace his lips as he winks at the super soldier. He can’t help but bite his lower lip when he notices Steve’s cheeks flush an attractive shade of pink.

 

Unbeknownst to him, Tony doesn’t notice the three pairs of eyes trained on them throughout the exchange.

Chapter Text

Several weeks pass by until it’s nearing the end of May when Tony has to leave for a business trip to Tokyo. Usually, it’s Pepper who goes to these meetings since Tony is more focused on the R&D side of Stark Industries and The Avengers. But there are certain cases that are inevitable, so the engineer has no other choice but to go. Besides, he doesn’t really mind that much — he just pretends to — and it’s clear by the way that his ex-girlfriend smiles at him that she knows as well.

 

“How long are you gonna be gone for?” Steve asks when Tony makes an appearance at the common area, duffle bag in one hand and his Starkphone in the other, busily typing a text.

 

Ever since that insane catastrophe in Central Park that was The Hopper Event, Tony’s become even more aware of the super soldier’s behavior around him. Weeks of observing Mr. Tall, Blond and Righteous has left Tony to the conclusion that there is a likely chance of Steve being interested in him. Even if his feelings aren’t reciprocated, at least the super soldier is showing more and more signs that he is interested in Tony in that way.

 

“Three days, maybe five.” Tony finally looks up from his phone after sending Happy a text to pick him up. He sets down his duffle bag near the elevator before he saunters towards the living room where the others are sprawled around. “There’s this convention taking place in Tokyo next summer, and they want us to finalize the rest of the details before production begins. All boring stuff, trust me. I don’t even wanna go.”

 

“But you’ll be back just in time for your birthday, right, Mr. Stark?” Peter asks from his place on the couch, Playstation 4 controller in hand as he pauses the video game he and Clint were playing.

 

Tony’s lips twitch slightly as he approaches the teen and doesn’t hesitate to ruffle his hair.

 

“Yeah, most likely, kiddo. Why? You planning a surprise party for me?”

 

Peter tries to duck from Tony’s insistent hand but fails, laughing as he says, “Mr. Stark —! Stop it — haha! No! What’s the point of planning one if — haha — you’re expecting it?”

 

Tony stops tickling his protégé and then wrinkles his nose. “The delivery of the presentation, of course! You have much to learn, my little Spiderling.”

 

“Looking forward to your lectures in AP Stark Event Planning, Mr. Stark.”

 

God, the snark on this kid is unbelievable sometimes, Tony thinks with fond amusement. He rolls his eyes before leaning a hip against the corner of the couch. From beside Peter, he sees Steve duck his head to cover his smile. Tony notes the tattered sketchbook the blond often carries around with him, and though he doesn’t see what he’s drawing, Tony manages to catch a glimpse of a sharp jawline that looks horribly familiar.

 

“Whatcha drawing, Stevie-pie?”

 

Steve rolls his eyes good-naturedly at the nickname. Even Clint reacts by snorting, while Sam gives Tony a ‘what the fuck?’ look. It’s only Peter who doesn’t react, too busy kicking Clint’s ass at Mario Kart.

 

“Nothing interesting,” Steve answers coyly, and that just piqued Tony’s interest, damn it. Before the engineer can react further, the super soldier adds, “What time is Happy picking you up?”

 

In that instant, Tony’s phone pings with a notification, and he glances at the lock screen to see Happy’s text that he’s waiting for Tony outside.

 

“Right now,” the billionaire says as he quickly types a text and hits send. He looks up at his other teammates and adds, “Okay, I’m off. Steve, you’re in charge of everyone and everything — and I literally mean everything — here until I get back. Hopefully, the Tower’s still in tact when I return. Kiddo, don’t forget your homework and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do or do!”

 

Everyone calls out their goodbyes behind Tony’s retreating back. However, Peter, after defeating Clint in Mario Kart for what looks like the umpteenth time, gets up and walks around the couch to run after Tony and pull the engineer into a tight hug. Tony lets out a noise of surprise but immediately hugs his protégé back just as tightly.

 

“Take care of yourself, okay?” He tells Peter in a low voice. He feels the kid nod his head against his shoulder, so Tony ruffles his hair before adding, “Good luck at the Decathlon thing. I know you’ll make me proud. Let me know if you need anything, okay? I may be on the other side of the world, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be there for you. Got that? I’m just a text or call away.”

 

“I know. Thank you, Mr. Stark,” Peter mumbles against Tony’s black blazer. “And you take care of yourself.”

 

Touched at the concern in his voice, Tony squeezed Peter once more before extracting his arms and taking a step back.

 

“Always do, kiddo.”

 

Tony once more ruffles Peter’s already disheveled hair before dropping an affectionate kiss on his forehead. He sees Steve approach when Peter pulls away to rush back to his spot on the couch, where Clint and Sam are arguing over which video game to play next.

 

Tony reaches down to take his duffle bag when the elevator doors open. He steps in, and is pleasantly surprised to find Steve step in with him.

 

“Going somewhere?” He asks nonchalantly. Then he addresses FRIDAY, “Ground floor, FRI.”

 

Steve smiles at him once the elevator doors close and it starts its descent. “Nah, I’ll walk you out.”

 

Now, if Tony were someone else, his reaction would be more pronounced. Wide eyes like saucers and jaw hanging open while looking at Steve as if he grew four extra heads. But since he is Tony Stark, his actual reaction was a lot more unobtrusive — a blink, raised eyebrows, and then a tiny smirk on the corner of his mouth. But two non-obvious tells that show Tony Stark Has A Heart™️ and is actually affected by the super soldier’s words would be his heartbeat picking up a staccato against his ribcage, as well as the slight dampness in his palms.

 

In short, Tony’s in love and he’s fucked.

 

But that’s nothing new, to be honest.

 

“Well, look at you, Mr. Chivalrous,” Tony jokes with a full-fledged smirk to hide what he’s really feeling.

 

Okay no, that was just terrible.

 

A faint pink flushes across Steve’s cheeks as he casually shrugs. “It’s the decent thing to do.”

 

Puzzled, Tony turns to look at him. “‘Decent thing to do’? You’re not my butler, Steve. That was Jarvis’s job — well, the human one, anyway.”

 

“I know, I know,” Steve replies with a roll of his eyes. Then he stumbles over his next words, “I just… well, I just want to.”

 

Oh.

 

“Oh,” Tony verbalizes, stunned at the admission. There’s a heavy silence that falls between them, and then, “You don’t have to.”

 

Steve nods his head in a jerking motion. “Yeah. I — I know. But I want to.”

 

Tony bites his lip. “Um, yeah. Okay… Thanks.”

 

Steve looks at Tony and gives him a small but genuine smile, and Tony feels a little lightheaded then.

 

Shit.


Four days later, Tony arrives at his hotel suite after a grueling eight-hour meeting. Shucking off his blazer and loosening his tie, he’s just about to order room service when his phone starts vibrating in his pocket. Abandoning the hotel’s telephone in exchange for his, the engineer pulls out his phone, glances quickly at the caller ID, and then answers the call.

 

“Hey, sweetheart,” Tony greets flirtatiously. “Last I heard, international calls cost a bitch. You miss me that much?”

 

Unfortunately, the answer he gets is not the answer he expects — or wants.

 

“New York’s under attack,” Steve answers without preamble. In the background, Tony can barely hear anything so he assumes that the super soldier is in the quinjet.

 

“You’re kidding me,” Tony says flatly. “Please tell me you’re kidding.”

 

Steve makes a noise that sounds like a laugh and groan at the same time. “Sorry, Tony. I wish I was.”

 

Tony curses under his breath. “Fuck’s sake. What is it this time? Please tell me it’s not an army of butterflies or something resembling any cute animals.”

 

This time, Steve huffs out a laugh and Tony can’t help but grin a little.

 

“No, Tony, nothing of the sort,” Steve replies, and then he sighs heavily. Tony frowns, but before he can ask, the super soldier continues in a more serious tone, “It’s aliens this time. Again. We still don’t know how they came to Earth, but luckily there are only about three of them. Thor went ahead with Vision and Wanda, and Peter’s not here ‘cos he’s in New Jersey for that Decathlon Competition. And, well…”

 

“Is there anything I can do?” Tony cuts in, already knowing what Steve’s thinking.

 

Because he’s known Steve for almost a decade (and has been in love with him for almost as long as that), Tony knows that the super soldier is biting his lip, his chiseled face most likely frowning.

 

Wait. Chiseled face? Seriously? What the fuck, Stark?

 

God, he could really use some food right fucking now.

 

But no, that’ll have to wait. He has some alien ass kicking to do first.

 

“We could really use your help,” Steve admits, at the same time sounding very apologetic. “If that is even remotely possible. I mean, I wouldn’t have called if it weren’t —”

 

Tony quickly interrupts him. “No no, it’s fine. Steve, it’s fine. I’m glad you called me. Listen, I can help from here. But I literally just got back to my suite from another meeting, so just give me, like, five minutes. Okay? Five minutes, and Iron Man will come.”

 

Aw, man, that’s another innuendo wasted. Or not.

 

He hears Steve make another odd noise before he coughs and clears his throat. Tony tries his best not to think that the super soldier was affected by his unintentional pun.

 

“It’s okay. Thank you, Tony,” Steve replies, sighing in relief. Then he adds as an afterthought, “We’re located near the 911 Memorial, in case you need specific coordinates to fly your suit.”

 

“Gotcha. Thanks, Cap.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

Tony grins. “Be careful, Dorito.”

 

“You, too.” He hears a smile in the blond man’s voice, and just as Tony is about to hang up, he hears Steve quickly add in a softer, quieter voice — as if he only wants Tony and only Tony to hear what he has to say next. “Oh, and Tony? I do miss you. I can’t wait to see you soon.”

 

Then Tony hears the line click and it’s just the dial tone ringing from his phone’s speakers now, and he’s still staring at the distance with his mouth gaping open like a goldfish, dumbfounded at the bold confession he just heard.

 

Okay. So. That happened.

 

Steve is totally into Tony, that’s for sure. The signs — bright, neon signs — are right there, and said signs indicate that Captain America is interested in Tony that way.

 

It’s not just in his head, right? He’s not reading the signs wrong. Right?

 

Grinning stupidly now, it takes Tony several more seconds before he can focus completely on the more important picture. New York needs The Avengers, and The Avengers need Iron Man.

 

Rather, it’s Steve who needs Iron Man.

 

Oh, hey, how ‘bout that? That’s another fantasy in his spank bank.

 

Goddamn it, Stark. Fucking focus on the mission first! At least keep it in your pants until you’re done saving the world again!

 

Shaking his head one more time, Tony finally manages to clear his head enough to contact FRIDAY and have the AI patch the engineer up to one of the suits. Because the arc reactor is attached to his chest, he can’t use the Mark L, so he’ll have to settle for one of his older suits instead.

 

“FRI, activate Mark XLVII,” Tony commands once he’s standing comfortably in the spacious area between the living room and his bedroom — directly in front of the windows where he has a view of Tokyo’s skyscrapers.

 

“On it, boss,” his AI responds in what Tony can describe as a warm tone.

 

Once he’s wearing the Stark Glasses he designed specifically in case of dire circumstances such as today, and also the gauntlet bracelets that connect to the actual suit’s gauntlets, Tony sets the coordinates for the location of the attack to his Iron Man suit, and has it up in the air in five seconds flat.

 

His comms come alive and he’s welcomed by the familiar voices of his teammates-slash-family.

 

“How’s everybody doing?” He asks, announcing his presence.

 

“Just splendid, Tin Man,” Clint answers. “Sam, Nat, and I are sitting this one out.”

 

“What? Why? What are you doing, then?”

 

“Clint’s piloting the quinjet. Sam and I are evacuating the civilians,” Natasha answers calmly over the comms.

 

That strikes Tony as a little odd. “Never took you three to sit any mission out, much less work from the sidelines. Did I miss something?”

 

It’s Thor who answers his query next. “They are no match against the Dire Wraiths. These creatures possess an uncanny strength and have shape-shifting abilities. I recommended that they not participate in this battle, and Captain has agreed.”

 

“Right.” Tony blinks, and he’s about to say something when the rest of Thor’s words register in him. “Wait, did you say Dire Wraiths?”

 

“Yes.”

 

Before he can stop himself, a bubble of laughter bursts from Tony’s lips. He’s still giggling when he hears Steve talking to him.

 

“Tony,” Steve says in a reprimanding voice. “Now is not exactly the right time to be laughing.”

 

It takes several more moments before Tony gets a hold of his laughter. “Sorry. I’m sorry, it won’t happen again. I think. No promises, though.”

 

“Mind filling us in on what you find so funny?” Wanda asks, sounding a tad amused herself.

 

Tony succeeds in curbing his laughter in order to reply, “Gladly, my dear.” And then to FRIDAY, “FRI, shuffle it.”

 

“You got it, boss.”

 

From his suit’s HUD via his glasses (damn, isn’t he the best?), Tony can see the 911 Memorial and where his team are currently battling against three, stocky and troll-like creatures. Over the comms, the intro of a song starts to play. Nobody says a word, except for the occasional grunting and exclamation. That is, until the drums start to beat differently, followed by the guitar riffs, and then —

 

“No way!” Sam and Clint reacts in unison before breaking out into gales of laughter.

 

“Oh, God, what now?” Steve groans, almost to himself.

 

“O Captain My Captain,” Tony says gleefully. “You probably haven’t reached this part in the playlists I gave you, but let me introduce you to Dire Straits.”

 

At the same moment, his Mark XLVII suit arrives at the scene, and Tony doesn’t hesitate to fire his repulsors at a Dire Wraith running towards him.

 

“Now look at them yo-yo's that's the way you do it
You play the guitar on the MTV
That ain't workin' that's the way you do it
Money for nothin' and chicks for free!

 

“Oh,” Steve utters. Then, after a moment, a long drawn-out, “Oh.”

 

Tony grins.

 

“Now I get the reference,” the super soldier adds, albeit sheepishly.

 

Tony can’t believe himself sometimes, but now and then he surprises himself. Especially when it comes to his feelings for Steve. Because right now, he can’t help but think that he’s just so fucking enamored with this man.

 

Such a pure soul.

 

Okay, maybe not, but Tony’s just waxing poetic. Or attempting to. Whatever.

 

Suddenly, FRIDAY warns Tony that there’s a Dire Wraith approaching him from behind, so the engineer quickly clears his head of anything Steve-related (that isn’t mission-related) before he turns on the spot and fires another repulsor at the creature before fluidly executing a jumping roundhouse kick.

 

Huh. He really should do that move more often.


Seventy-eight hours later, Tony arrives at The Tower at last. The board wanted to hold another meeting after the last one, so Tony had no choice but to postpone his return for another few days. In the end, he managed to get shit done, so that was that. Pepper better not bother him to attend another meeting halfway across the world anytime soon.

 

Tony exits the elevator at the common area and shuffles to the kitchen where he proceeds to drop his duffle bag by the kitchen counter. Or what he thinks is the kitchen counter. Anyway, it’s late, a little after two in the morning, so the lights in the area are switched off. But after several moments of fumbling in the dark, the lights — dimmed at fifteen percent — flicker back on, and Tony smiles to himself and silently thanks FRIDAY.

 

He makes a beeline for the fridge where he opens it and takes out a bottle of water. He empties the first one in record time, and he goes through two more bottles of water before he’s deemed himself hydrated enough. Then, after disposing the plastic bottles, he turns on his expensive coffee maker. While the machine whirs and produces his favorite poison, Tony opens the cupboard above him and takes out a white Stark Industries mug.

 

Rubbing the back of his neck to soothe his aching muscles — sleeping on a plane is never a fun thing, and he’s getting old, damn it — Tony thinks back to the battle they fought a few days ago. Taking down the Dire Wraiths proved to be pretty fucking tough. The battle went on for nearly an hour. Even Tony, who wasn’t physically present during the battle, was bone-tired in the aftermath. In the end, it was a combination of Thor’s lightning and Hulk’s strength that ultimately took down the creatures and closed the portal they managed to open near 911 Memorial.

 

And Thor wasn’t joking when the Asgardian said they had an uncanny strength. If it weren’t for his suit’s flying capabilities, there was no doubt in mind that the Mark XLVII would all be but a ball of metal. Or scraps of metal, who knows.

 

“Fuck, I need a massage,” Tony groans to himself when he alleviates a little of the pain on his neck.

 

The machine stopped whirring, so Tony takes the pot to pour a generous amount of black coffee into his mug. Without blowing on the surface or waiting for it to start cooling, Tony takes a long sip of the beverage.

 

He’s halfway through his second cup when he hears the elevator doors open behind him. Setting the mug down on the countertop, Tony turns and is mildly surprised to see Steve enter the common area. Steve, who’s barefoot and dressed in a tight white shirt and an old pair of grey sweatpants, the waistband unfastened so it’s hanging loosely on his hips. Unable to resist himself, Tony catches a glimpse of the V-shape of the super soldier’s hips.

 

Oh, Jesus, Tony says to himself, his tired eyes zeroing in on the patch of bare skin he can see. Fuck, I need to Steve. Sleep! I need to sleep. Damn it.

 

“Tony?” Steve’s voice is groggy from sleep as he approaches Tony. And Tony — jet lagged and sleep deprived — still manages to get half-hard from the blond man’s voice alone. “When did you arrive?”

 

“Hey, Steve,” Tony replies, a small smile on his face. “I arrived, like, twenty minutes ago. What are you doing up?”

 

Steve is still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, blond hair unkempt in a very adorable way, when he answers with a yawn, “I told FRIDAY to wake me up when you got home.”

 

Oh. That’s… oh.

 

Tony raises his eyebrows, eyes widening a bit at that tidbit, and not for the first time, he doesn’t know what to say. Steve, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to mind his unresponsiveness. Rather, he doesn’t seem to notice it, because the next thing Tony knows he’s enveloped into a warm and tight hug.

 

By Steve Rogers.

 

Steve is hugging him, is hugging Tony.

 

Okay. Who else knew that a sleepy Steve is an affectionate Steve? God, Tony hopes no one else knows because he is keeping this information to himself, thank you very much. Call him greedy, but Tony will take what affection he can get from the other man. Even if it only happens in the dead of the night with no one else to see them.

 

Except FRIDAY. But FRIDAY doesn’t count. Much.

 

It takes Tony a second to recover from the shock of Steve hugging him before he tentatively raises his arms to hug him back. He wraps his arms around Steve’s waist, hands splayed on the middle of the taller man’s back, and this time Tony doesn’t hesitate to bury his head in Steve’s shoulder, subtly inhaling his scent.

 

“I’m so happy that you’re home now,” Steve murmurs against his ear, voice still a little gruff. Tony can’t help the involuntary shiver that runs down his spine upon feeling Steve’s hot breath on his bare skin. “I’ve missed you, Tony.”

 

Tony swallows through the lump forming in his throat, and for some unknown reason he feels a stinging in the corners of his eyes. Closing them to refrain the tears from falling, he inhales deeply in an attempt to get a hold of the strong surge of emotions rolling in him.

 

In an act of weakness, to which Tony will blame on his sleep deprivation (denial isn’t just a river, he thinks bitterly), the engineer braces himself to what he’s about to say next.

 

“Me, too, sweetheart,” Tony says in a low voice, and when he turns his head just so, his dry mouth meets the curve of Steve’s neck. He can’t help it, he plants a chaste kiss there, and he hears Steve’s sharp intake of breath at the contact. “I’ve missed you, too.”

 

Steve doesn’t reply. He doesn’t have to. Instead, the super soldier hugs Tony tighter and turns his head to press kisses on his jawline and neck. Tony’s stomach flips, his heart pounding in his chest. He closes his eyes to commit to memory the feel of Steve’s soft lips on his skin. He shuts his eyes tighter to memorize this moment in his mind’s eye — the feeling of safety and comfort and home that only Steve can bring. With that thought, Tony burrows deeper in Steve’s embrace.

 

Tony’s probably going to question his actions when morning comes. Not only did he lower his defenses, in one way or another, he’s also completely given his heart to Steve. Wholly and unconditionally. There was no turning back now. Regardless of whether Steve reciprocates Tony’s feelings or not, Tony is certain of the fact that he’ll never love another person the same way he loves Steve.

 

Well, as the famous saying goes: ’’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.’

 

Fuck it. He’s dealt with the fall. He’ll deal with the aftermath next.

 

Anyway, none of that matters except right now. With Steve dressed in his sleepwear and Tony dressed in his two-day old suit, most likely smelling of dried sweat and the funky smell of the plane’s cabin. In the privacy of the Tower’s communal kitchen at past two in the morning, with the New York skyline shining brightly behind them on a cloudless night, Tony is locked in a loving embrace with the love of his life on his birthday.

 

As far as surprises would go, this is the best surprise — and birthday — that Tony’s ever had.

Chapter Text

They don’t talk about what happened.

 

It was like an unspoken agreement between the two to never bring it up. For Tony, he didn’t see it as a bad thing. Not at all. In fact, he surmises that it was a major step forward in this cat and mouse dance they’ve been doing.

 

It shouldn’t also come as a shock when Tony notices a few days after his birthday the change in their interactions after that night. It was such a subtle change — but a change no less — that it took the engineer a while to fully grasp on the gradual development in his relationship with one Steve Rogers.

 

Oh, they still act normally around each other. That part’s never changed — the constant teasing of Tony with his plethora of nicknames for the super soldier, or Steve’s mother hen nature when it comes to Tony’s insomnia and appetite (yeah, he’s still not a fan of breakfast) — and Tony thinks it never will. Which is really nice, but that’s not the point he’s making. The point is that the shift in the interactions he’s noticed has more to do with the — well — the physical contact and lack of personal space.

 

When Tony found out that night that a sleepy Steve is an affectionate Steve, he thought that it was just the super soldier acting like that due to his defenses being lowered. But nope, not the case, apparently. Because even though he knows that Steve is sort of affectionate around their teammates — a hand on someone’s shoulder, a pat on someone’s back, or the occasional short but tight one-armed hug he gives after missions sometimes — Tony never anticipated that he would get a similar treatment from him like what happened That Night™️. And lo and behold, he’s proven wrong by the man himself when Steve behaves moreonly.

 

Not that Tony has anything to complain about, because Jesus. He’s been dreaming and fantasizing about something similar to this happening since, well, since ever, if he’s going to include his hero worship of the blond man from the tender age of 5. Plus, that gives Tony more hope about his chances with Steve. The most dangerous pill to mankind — hope — and Tony knows he’ll either die a heartbroken man or live a fulfilling life should he finally decide to nip this shit in the bud and confess his feelings to Steve.

 

But yeah, that’s not likely going to happen anytime soon.

 

For now, Tony’s pleased with where he and Steve are at. Not completely so, but it has to be enough. Tony knows when not to look a gift horse in the mouth, and fuck, this is one beautiful gift he’s been given. No way is he going to fuck this up; even if he’s dubbed himself the King of Let-Downs, this is one thing Tony is not going to take for granted.

 

So he’s going to do the smart thing. He’s going to observe and collect more data before he can decide what to do next. And if Tony enjoys and treasures each affectionate gesture and smile Steve gives him in the process of collecting said data, then… well, thankfully Tony’s used to keeping everything bottled inside. That is, until he can’t take it anymore and he breaks.

 

But he’ll cross that bridge when he gets there. For now, it’s time to start memorizing the feel of Steve’s arms wrapped around him, or the feel of his lips on his skin observe and gather information.


Tony is at the communal kitchen about to wash his dishes after eating a late dinner. He can hear Thor and Sam at the living room bickering over which season of Friends they should watch next. Who knew that the God of Thunder would develop an obsession with the sit-com? Definitely not Tony.

 

He’s about to rinse the dishes when he’s pulled from his thoughts upon hearing a familiar voice behind him.

 

“Hey, Tony,” Steve greets warmly.

 

Tony looks over his shoulder to see the blond man walk towards him with an easy smile. Tony smiles back and calls out a casual, “Hey, Stevie-pie,” before he turns his attention to rinsing the plate. If he happens to be doing it more thoroughly than before, then that’s only for Tony to know.

 

Hyperaware of the other man’s presence, Tony reminds himself that his main priority is to observe and analyze his findings, and not to jump on the super soldier the first chance he gets. Not yet, anyway. So with his back turned to Steve, Tony braces himself for the first contact, and boy was he not disappointed.

 

The common area is an incredibly spacious area, so it stands to reason that the kitchen is also just as extensive. Nonetheless, somewhere between Tony’s birthday and tonight — almost a week later — that fact just went over Steve’s head because Tony senses the super soldier brush against him. Cognizant of his presence, Tony’s heart stutters in his chest when Steve’s huge hand — warm and comforting and so familiar by now it’s not even funny — rests on his jean-clad hip. The engineer feels Steve lightly squeeze his hip before he extracts his hand.

 

Turning his head slightly to look at Steve open the cupboard next to him, he notices the latter also looking at him from the corner of his eye. There’s a bashful smile etched on the corners of his lips, and Tony can detect hints of uncertainty and determination in his bright blue eyes. Biting the inside of his lower lip, Tony blinks at him and smiles, a slight upwards quirk of his lips.

 

“You missed dinner again,” Steve remarks casually in a low voice. His eyes are fixed on the contents of the cupboard as he shoves boxes of cereal and biscuits out of the way. “That’s the third time this week.”

 

“Yeah, I got swamped with work. Sorry ‘bout that.”

 

“It’s fine. Just don’t miss tomorrow’s meal.”

 

The engineer shoots him a playful wink. “Why, Steve, do you miss seeing this pretty face at the dining table?”

 

Steve’s response comes quick, a hint of teasing in his tone. “It’s not so much as the pretty face as your presence. Though, for a fella like you, I wouldn’t say no at all.”

 

Oh, God.

 

Tony can definitely feel the heat creeping up his neck as he flounders for what to say to that. All he can come up with was a weak, “Heh.”

 

’Heh? Heh?!’ What the fuck? You can do better, Stark!

 

He blinks and focuses his attention on rinsing the glass and utensils. They remain quiet for a while before Steve breaks it again.

 

“Um, so. You got a lot of work done, then?”

 

Tony nods his head, secretly relieved at the change of subject. “Yup, I just finished fixing the Mark XLVII before I came up here. That suit took the fucking beating of a lifetime.”

 

Steve lets out a noise of triumph as he pulls out a box of chocolate McVitie’s. He closes the cupboard and then turns to Tony, leaning his hip against the counter as he opens the box in his hands.

 

“Well, I’m glad it was the suit and not you,” Steve says earnestly, eyes boring significantly into Tony’s.

 

Tony can’t help but smile at that. Steve’s just so fucking caring and thoughtful, always worrying about his teammates’ wellbeing and not his own. Frankly, it’s what makes him such a great leader, and another reason to make Tony love him more. Warmth blossoms in his chest at that thought.

 

“Tell me, are you this sweet to everyone?” The engineer utters, masking his real thoughts by shooting him a teasing smirk.

 

The super soldier flushes faintly, but he’s smiling that lopsided smile Tony knows is reserved just for him. Steve shakes his head and answers, “Nah, just you. I’m a one-man kind of guy, you know.”

 

Then the super soldier takes a significant bite of the biscuit and shoots Tony another lopsided smile before walking out of the kitchen to approach Thor and Sam — who’s finally settled on re-watching Season 5 of Friends — leaving Tony astonished at his parting words.


The following weekend, the team is found assembled in the living room for another movie night. It’s Wanda’s turn to choose, so the Sokovian decided on a computer-animated movie she’s been wanting to watch for some time now.

 

“The LEGO Movie?” Thor reads the title as Wanda, who’s controlling the remote, presses play.

 

Peter perks up. “Ooh, good choice, Wanda! You’re gonna love this one.”

 

Wanda returns Peter’s grin as Clint pipes up, “Yeah, everything about that movie is awesome.”

 

Bruce chuckles under his breath, Natasha rolls her eyes, Steve looks like he doesn’t understand the reference, Vision remains expressionless, and Sam shoots Clint a dry look. Tony just rolls his eyes before he settles comfortably on the couch, Peter and Steve on either side of him. He snaps his fingers twice, a signal for FRIDAY to turn down the lights as the opening credits begin.

 

Halfway through the film, where Emmet and the gang are under attack at Cloud Cuckoo Land, Tony feels Steve shift in his seat before he stands up. The engineer turns his attention from the TV screen to look at him.

 

“Going somewhere?” Tony whispers in a curious tone as he cranes his neck further when Steve pads barefoot around the couch.

 

The super solider leans over the back of the furniture, face several inches from Tony’s to answer in a low voice so as not to disrupt their teammates’ rapt attention to the movie, “I’m gonna get myself something to drink. Do you want anything?”

 

Fighting off the urge to ogle at Steve’s pink lips that’s only a few inches away from his, holy shit, Tony subtly clears his suddenly dry throat and mentally shakes his head to clear his thoughts.

 

“Yeah,” Tony replies, unconsciously wetting his lips. He’s so focused on keep his breathing even that he completely misses Steve’s eyes dart to his mouth. “Will you make me more popcorn? Please?” He adds, shooting the blond man a puppy-dog smile.

 

Fuck, Stark. Be more pathetic, you idiot.

 

Steve rolls his eyes good-naturedly, but he smiles down at Tony.

 

“Sure thing, Tony.”

 

Tony winks at him. “Thanks, sweetheart.”

 

Despite the darkness, save for the light emitting from the screen, Steve blushes (Tony counts that as a fucking win), and then he brushes a large, warm hand over Tony’s tangled hair, causing the engineer’s brain to short circuit at the sudden display of affection. Before Tony can so much as react, Steve drops a chaste kiss on the engineer’s brow before he strides towards the kitchen, once more leaving Tony gaping open-mouthed after him.

 

From beside him, Tony hears a thump and a muffled groan, and he quickly turns his head to see Peter, face buried in his hands as if in pain.

 

“Pete, you okay?” Tony murmurs in concern. “What’s wrong, kiddo?”

 

From behind his hands, Peter mumbles back, “Yeah! Yeah, I’m fine, Mr. Stark. Nothing’s wrong. Nothing that can’t be resolved, anyway. Uh, just remembered, um, something. School thing, you know. Heh.”

 

Tony frowns, obviously not believing him. But seeing as the kid is physically okay, he decides to drop it. He ruffles Peter’s hair before settling back on the couch to concentrate on the movie once more.

 

He never manages to, though, his mind too caught up on the part where Steve’s fingers ran through his hair, and the feel of his soft lips leaving a burning mark on Tony’s skin.


“Hey, Mr. Stark?”

 

“Yeah, Pete?”

 

Tony looks up from re-configuring the control settings of Clint’s quiver. He’s added another section at the bottom of the quiver since the archer has been complaining to Tony recently that he’s almost always running out of arrows before the battle is over. He’s been working non-stop for about, well, fifty-eight hours now, give or take.

 

It’s a Tuesday, so Peter’s come over from school to help Tony with the upgrades of their teammates’ weapons, his young protégé currently doing tune-ups on Redwing.

 

“How do you tell someone you like them without making a fool out of yourself?” Peter asks, trying to sound composed but actually sounding like he’s regretting the words that left his mouth.

 

Thankfully, Tony is more composed than the teen. He doesn’t reply at once, choosing instead to study Peter with a curious, if not slightly suspicious, look.

 

“Are you having girl problems, kiddo?” Tony asks at last.

 

The engineer observes Peter set the screwdriver down on the table, desperately trying hard not to fidget under his stare. “Uh, well, no. Yes. Maybe..?”

 

Rolling his eyes in mild exasperation, Tony abandons the quiver to pay attention to the kid.

 

“You opened up the topic, kid,” he says with a shrug. “Can’t say I’m the right person you should to talk about this, given my long history of failed relationships. But hey, if you really want my advice, I’m willing to help you out.”

 

“Really?” Peter asks carefully, but there’s something akin to hope shining in his eyes that Tony can’t help but find endearing.

 

Ah, his little Spiderling has finally reached that stage in his adolescent life. Puppy love. If Tony didn’t care about the kid or love him as a father would, he’d be running for the hills by now.

 

“Yeah, why not? So, uh, is she in your class, then?”

 

Peter nods. “Yeah. Yeah, she is.” A dopey smile suddenly forms on his face, and Tony hides a smirk.

 

“Okay. Well, are you two friends?”

 

The young teen ponders on the question for a moment. “I… think so? I mean, I consider her a friend, but I don’t know what she thinks. But she, uh, she’s really nice. And pretty.”

 

“Right. Good. That’s good. Continue to establish a good relationship with her, and see how she warms up to you.”

 

“MJ’s a bit unpredictable, Mr. Stark.” Peter scrunches his face in doubt. “I don’t really know how to read her. Sometimes she’s really nice to me, and sometimes she’s very cryptic with her words. But she’s not mean or anything! It’s like, where do I even stand with her? I just, I mean — I don’t understand girls, in general. How to act around them, what to say. MJ is just… she’s just so cool. And she’s more of an actions speak louder than words kinda girl. I think. Plus, I’ve been trying to drop, um, hints on her. Like, uh, hugging her goodbye, or looking at her eyes for more than two seconds. And I — I don’t know, Mr. Stark. I don’t know if that’s enough, you know?”

 

Slowly, Tony nods his head in understanding, although deep down he doesn’t really get it. Jesus, is this how the youth flirt nowadays? Do they choose to tip toe around the person they like instead of just, well, simply talking to them? Like normal people? Tony himself has lost count how many times he approached someone he found an interest in, talked to them, and then scored a date with them. Most of the time he ends up in bed with them, but that’s completely irrelevant now.

 

He’s left that kind of lifestyle behind years ago, anyway. Gone are his philandering days, yes, and Tony considers himself fortunate enough to be given the chance to fall in love. Twice. And though he’s still in the process of collecting data, Tony knows not to raise his expectations when it comes to Steve reciprocating his feelings. Yeah, it’s obvious now that the super soldier is interested in him; fuck, he can admit to himself that Steve is physically attracted to Tony. But that doesn’t mean he has feelings for Tony.

 

Oh sure, Steve loves Tony. That much is true, and he does accept that. They’ve been friends — best friends — for years now. But Tony also happens to be in love with Steve, which brings a different equation to his relationship with the Captain.

 

If, at the end, all Steve wants with him is to be fuck buddies, Tony knows he’d be unable to say no. But he also knows that he’ll hate himself for saying yes. At this point in Tony’s life, he doesn’t think he can settle for only a physical relationship. He wants more, so much more. He wants the complete package that comes with being in a healthy, committed relationship with someone who loves and cares for him the same way he does for them.

 

True, he doesn’t live a normal life. He’s Tony Stark, when has his life ever been normal? Plus, he’s a fucking Avenger, and he’s Iron Man, so no way is his life ever going to be normal. Even so, at least a semblance of normalcy aside from his superhero duties is one that Tony deeply craves. It just so happens that it’s Steve Rogers that Tony wants to be with — to build a life together. The idea of being in a relationship with Steve, of settling down, and maybe starting a family of their own —

 

Tony startles and pushes those thoughts to the very back of his mind because he can’t think that far ahead.

 

Christ, he hasn’t even told the guy he’s in love with him yet!

 

Ugh, he really hates himself sometimes. Nothing new.

 

“— ark? Mr. Stark?”

 

Tony blinks, and he’s interrupted from his thoughts when he hears Peter trying to catch his attention. There’s concern written on the kid’s face, and Tony shakes his head to clear his thoughts.

 

“Sorry, kiddo. I was just, uh, thinking.”

 

Peter gives him a doubtful look. “You were thinking?”

 

“… Yes?”

 

“Okay…” Peter bites his lip as he waits for Tony to speak. When he doesn’t, his young protégé has the gall to sigh heavily. “Well, Mr. Stark? What should I do, then? With MJ?” He adds imploringly when Tony continues to stare blankly at him.

 

The kid’s words register in him after a beat. “Oh! Yeah, your crush. Huh.”

 

He considers his words for the next few moments. However, when he opens his mouth to speak, he’s interrupted by the glass doors sliding open. Tony and Peter swivel their heads in unison towards the person who entered the workshop, who happens to be Steve carrying two Chinese take-out containers in one hand and two bottles of Coke in the other.

 

“Hey, guys,” Steve greets as he waves the containers and bottles at them. “I come bearing gifts. You two missed dinner. Again.” He shoots Tony a pointed look, who winces and stares apologetically at the blond man.

 

“Thanks, Steve! Is that orange chicken? I can smell orange chicken.”

 

Peter scurries to Steve’s side. The sound of his stomach grumbling can be heard as he chooses one and enthusiastically opens the container. After sniffing the orange chicken and egg fried rice with a contented smile, he grasps the chopsticks and quickly inhales through his meal.

 

Shaking his head fondly, Tony opens the other take-out container — sweet and sour chicken, his favorite — while Steve opens their drinks before handing it to them. Peter murmurs his thanks through a mouthful of food, and Tony doesn’t hesitate to chastise the teen for talking with his mouth full.

 

“Sorry,” Peter mumbles after he’s swallowed the food. He takes a sip of his drink before he resumes eating. Steve smirks at him while Tony rolls his eyes.

 

“Thanks, Steve,” the engineer says after he’s had a few bites. “Sorry for missing dinner again. Peter and I have been elbows-deep in doing upgrades and tune-ups.”

 

Steve shrugs with a lopsided smile. “Don’t worry about it. But it would help if you have FRIDAY set you an alarm from now on so you don’t miss any more meals.”

 

“Yeah, sure. I’ll have FRI set that up.”

 

“Alarm’s been set now, boss,” FRIDAY’s voice declares after a few beats. Tony raises his bottle of Coke to Steve as if in a toast before he takes a few long sips of the cold beverage.

 

“Well, I’ll leave you guys to it,” Steve announces when the silence continues to stretch on. Turning to Peter, who’s almost finished with his dinner, the blond man adds, “Pete, it’s almost eight. Happy’s coming in an hour to drop you home.”

 

Peter nods his head. “Okay, gotcha. Thanks, Steve. Oh, and sorry we missed dinner!” He adds with a small pout, clearly feeling bad that he didn’t make enough time to spend with the others.

 

Steve waves off his apology with another smile. “Like I said, don’t worry about it. Though, I’m sure Clint won’t say the same. I literally had to fight him with the last container of orange chicken.”

 

Peter snorts; even Tony grins wickedly at the mental image of Clint facing down Captain America over Chinese take-out and losing to the super soldier. His eyes meet Steve’s amused ones, and they share a look that speaks of familiarity, one where they can easily read each other’s thoughts without needing to verbalize anything. Tony’s so focused on having a silent conversation with Steve that he fails to notice Peter’s eyes swinging back and forth between them, bewilderment and frustration visible on the young teen’s face for a brief moment before he clears his expression.

 

After some time, Steve shrugs and then smirks while Tony’s mouth drops.

 

“You didn’t.”

 

“But I did.”

 

“No fucking way.”

 

“Language, darling,” Steve drawls in a disapproving tone. But there’s a grin spreading on his face, and Tony’s stomach flips at the endearment because he called me ‘darling’, holy fuck. The super soldier shrugs again and adds, “And like I said — I did.”

 

Tony laughs out loud then, and from the corner of his eye he sees Peter still staring at them. At his confused expression, Tony takes pity on the kid and explains.

 

“Steve gave Clint a wedgie.”

 

Peter’s eyes widen in shock before he bursts out laughing. Tony, knowing that the teen is envisioning the resident archer being wedgied by Captain America, laughs along with him.

 

“I hope FRIDAY recorded that!” Peter gasps out.

 

Tony looks at the ceiling in question.

 

A split second later, FRIDAY replies in what sounds like an exasperated voice, “Recording saved to your private drive, sir.”

 

Tony and Peter erupt into fits of laughter again, Steve joining in a moment later. When their laughter finally subsides, Tony resumes eating his lukewarm dinner, chuckling every now and then.

 

“Wait. You got that from not speaking to each other?” Peter asks out of the blue, sounding incredulous and amazed at the same time.

 

It takes Tony two seconds to understand what he’s asking about.

 

“Yeah,” he replies with a small shrug.

 

“That is so cool.” Peter stares at them in awe.

 

Steve chuckles. “Years of friendship and fighting on the field will do that to you, Pete.”

 

Peter scoffs. “Yeah, but still! You guys must really trust each other and know each other so well if you can easily have non-verbal communication.”

 

Tony and Steve share another significant look, the engineer ignoring the fluttering in his chest when Steve smiles brightly at him, eyes crinkling at the corners. Tony swallows the sweet and sour chicken with a quirk of his lips before he breaks his gaze from Steve to look back at Peter.

 

“I know.”

 

Later that night, when Tony is hard at work doing upgrades for Peter’s Spider-Man suit, it registers in him that he never got to give Peter proper advice on how to deal with his crush. Funnily enough, the kid never brought that topic up again. Ever.

Chapter Text

“Tony, where the hell are you?” Natasha demands over the comms.

 

Clint grunts in agreement. “Yeah, man. We could — fuck — use some help — damn this fucker! — here. Like, oh, ten minutes ago.”

 

Tony rolls his eyes, his thrusters already at full throttle. “Don’t get your panties in a twist, birdbrain. I’m less than a minute away. How’s it looking over there?”

 

Neither of the assassins reply this time. Instead, he hears Steve’s voice filter through.

 

“Not good,” the super soldier grunts in response, the sound of flesh hitting flesh a distinct noise followed by the loud clang of his vibranium shield hitting someone. “We are not good at all.”

 

With Bruce away for a conference in Chicago, Peter having to study for his exams, Thor visiting Jane in London, and Vision and Wanda taking a week off in Florida, there’s no doubt in mind how much the remaining team needs Tony now. Of all the times to infiltrate a Hydra base, it just had to be today.

 

Ah well, you can’t always get what you want.

 

“Roger that — oh, hey, pun intended. Also, relax. I’m less than thirty seconds away, so look alive.”

 

The engineer hears Sam grumble, “We won’t be looking alive if you don’t fly your ass over here in the next ten seconds.”

 

Tony feigns a gasp. “I wish I could say ‘you wound me’, Sam, but I’m wearing a suit made of gold-titanium nanoparticles. So joke’s on you, buddy.”

 

“Tony,” Natasha warns through gritted teeth.

 

Tony was in the middle of a video conference with the R&D team in London and Tokyo when he received the alert from FRIDAY that the team needed him ASAP. Steve had been trying to reach him via his phone — which was put on silent mode, oops — that Director Fury has asked (okay, ordered is more the word) the Avengers to infiltrate a Hydra facility, based from the information the two escapees from months ago disclosed to SHIELD.

 

Having to cut the conference short (there wasn’t much new development to begin with, so Tony counts that as a win), the billionaire quickly took the elevator to the common area and suited up while leaping off the balcony. He probably gave the cleaners heart attacks for that reckless stunt, but it’s not like he had many options to begin with. Setting the coordinates to the team’s location, it took Tony less than fifteen minutes to reach his destination.

 

The derelict-looking warehouse located in the outskirts of Harlem comes into view, and as Tony asks FRIDAY to play a track while firing repulsors at the secured windows on the third floor of the building, he placates the redhead by saying, “Incoming”, just as the familiar riffs of a rock song begins to play.

 

He sees before he hears all fighting stop when he enters through the broken windows, landing on the concrete in his infamous Iron Man pose. Tony feels a smug smirk grace his face as he rakes a glance over the Hydra goons and his teammates alike. It takes him all of two seconds to assess the situation, and to say he was surprised that Steve was serious when he said that it wasn’t looking good would be an understatement.

 

No wonder. They were fighting against almost a hundred Hydra goons. Jeez.

 

“Classic,” Natasha murmurs in barely concealed amusement.

 

Sam and Clint are now chortling in glee, obviously entertained by the song choice.

 

“Surprise, bitches,” Tony intones lightly at the startled Hydra agents. “Miss me?” Then he turns his head to survey his teammates before he adds coyly, “Daddy’s here.”

 

He hears his teammates groan over the comms — hang on, was that a stifled gasp? Oh, well — just as he aims his gauntlets at the nearest Hydra goon and releases a strong repulsor blast that it sends three other down with him.

 

Next, he hears Steve exhale in relief as the super soldier says, “About damn time, Tony.”

 

After that, the team continue to work their way through dealing with the remaining Hydra agents still standing. It proved longer to take them all down considering they were using alien technology, the same device that they dealt with a few months ago. Although, apart from the gun-like gadget that releases a strong purple blast that could probably kill Tony if he wasn’t wearing his suit, they also had a taser-like gun.

 

And that same device hit Clint.

 

The archer was propelled at a significant distance, Tony and the others shouting in alarm when they saw Clint drop to the ground in a graceless heap.

 

The archer didn’t get back up after that.

 

“Son of a bitch,” Tony growls, concern for his teammate palpable even in his voice. “You assholes are so gonna regret that.”

 

Over the comms, Natasha snarls something in Russian; Sam mutters creative curses under his breath, and Steve growls and starts knocking down more Hydra goons by the second.

 

“'Cause I'm illegal, I got everything
That all you women might need to know
I'm gonna take you down — yeah, down, down, down
So don't you fool around
I'm gonna pull it, pull it — pull the trigger!”

 

Tony bares his teeth as he shifts one arm into a shield and, quickly using the force of his thrusters, knocks down two goons carrying the same taser-like device that hit Clint.

 

In no time at all, and just as the song is coming to a close, no Hydra agent is left alive — save for one. Natasha broke the poor guy’s arms before knocking him out, binding his limp hands and feet with the magnetic handcuffs when she’s done. Sam, who’s seeing to Clint the minute he reached the archer’s side during the fight, whistles low once he catches sight of the state of the Hydra goon Natasha caught.

 

“Damn, that ain’t a pretty sight. Nice work, Romanoff.”

 

Tony lifts his faceplate in time to exchange a dark look of satisfaction with the redhead.

 

“He deserves much worse than that,” the engineer comments offhandedly. “He’s the one who hit Clint, right?”

 

Natasha nods a little stiffly.

 

Steve, who finally reached Tony and Natasha’s side, gives one look at the unconscious goon before he says, “I’m pretty sure Fury said keep one alive, Nat, not keep one barely alive.”

 

“Same difference,” Natasha grumbles under her breath.

 

Steve frowns, and he’s about to say something when Tony raises one metal hand and rests it on the super soldier’s broad shoulder. The other man closes his mouth and turns his head to meet Tony’s eyes, who gives a minute shake of his head — a clear gesture to drop it. Heaving a sigh, Steve’s shoulders droop slightly as he nods.

 

“We should head back,” Sam announces after a few moments of silence. “Clint needs medical attention.”

 

Natasha nods. “SHIELD will be here soon.”

 

The next few minutes seem to drag on as they set to focus on their tasks.


It doesn’t take long for SHIELD’s damage control team to arrive at the ruined Hydra base. They carried several empty cases in tow to secure the alien technology Hydra had been tampering with. Assured that the organization has got it covered, Tony and the rest of the team left immediately for the quinjet located not far from the building to fly back to SHIELD’s HQ to have Clint checked over.

 

The archer looks like he’s sleeping, but the nasty burns on his torso left by the taser-like device say otherwise. Sam also discovered that Clint has a huge lump at the back of his head from where his body hit against the wall, which could be one of the reasons for the SHIELD spy to get knocked out and fall heavily to the ground like a sack of potatoes.

 

With Sam checking over Clint’s unconscious form every now and then, Natasha and Steve piloting the jet, Tony stands between the two. He hesitantly places a hand on the redhead’s hair in comfort, and he feels more than sees Natasha’s stiff body relax at the contact. After a while, when he moves his hand to rest on the Russian’s shoulder, Natasha tilts her head and leans a warm cheek against his hand, an unspoken gesture of gratitude.

 

Tony smiles then glances at Steve, and from the man’s clenched jaw and hard eyes, he knows that the blond man’s trying to put up a strong front.

 

Oh, Steve, Tony thinks with understanding. He doesn’t hesitate to place a hand on the back of the blond man’s neck, his gauntlet-free fingers slowly massaging the small hairs on his nape. It takes less than a minute before Steve's rigid form relaxes, and when he does, he closes his eyes and releases a breath he seemed to be holding.

 

Steve turns his head to look up at him with troubled blue eyes, and Tony, who’s still rubbing slow circles on the back of his neck, stares back at him with compassion.

 

He’ll be okay, the engineer speaks with his eyes.

 

I know, but I can’t help but be scared, Steve’s worried gaze answers.

 

Tony bites his lower lip. He lightly squeezes Steve’s neck and feels the man fight off a shiver.

 

This is Clint fucking Barton we’re talking about, Tony gestures with a raised eyebrow. Birdbrain’s made of sterner stuff. Trust me, he’ll be okay.

 

The cloud of concern in Steve’s eyes slowly dissipate. It’s still there, but not so much compared to a few seconds ago. He returns Tony’s reassuring smile with an upwards quirk of his lips.

 

Thank you, Tony, Steve’s eyes bore into him warmly.

 

You’re welcome, sweetheart, Tony stares back with a tender expression.


That incident soon melts into a distant memory when Clint makes a full recovery after staying overnight at SHIELD’s medical facility. When Bruce came back from the conference in Chicago, Tony had the scientist immediately check over Clint to make sure that there weren’t any lasting damage. Though the engineer had no doubts about the organization’s medical team’s competency, it didn’t hurt to make sure. Besides, the others — meaning those who were present during the fight — agreed, so Clint had no choice but to relent under their combined glares.

 

Several weeks pass uneventfully. Peter’s school closes for the summer, and Tony is secretly glad to have the young teen spend most of his time at the Tower. With May’s permission, of course. Tony even had a guest room set up for her in case Peter wants to invite his aunt over on her day off.

 

The rest of the team who weren’t present at the latest fight expressed guilt for not being there to help them, but Tony — with the help of the other four members — insisted that there was nothing they could’ve done. Shit like this happens all the time; nobody could predict when the next battle will be, and they shouldn’t feel guilty because it’s understandable that they all have lives outside of being an Avenger. Thor felt the most guilt for leaving for London to be with Jane instead of helping his fellow warriors. Tony was quick to point out that even if they had called him to ask for assistance, it still would’ve been too late. Besides, the Norse god rarely sees his girlfriend, so whenever he gets the chance to visit, he does.

 

Though, from Fury’s bitching about having half the team gone AWOL, Tony only had to e-mail him the footage he had recorded of Thor lighting up like it’s the Fourth of July from a few months back when they fought the Dark Elves near the Empire State Building for the Director to shut his fucking mouth.

 

He never got a reply, anyway.

 

So, following the non-verbal conversation he and Steve shared at the quinjet, and also Tony’s less than subtle methods of comforting the super soldier, the billionaire thinks that that brief interaction only seemed to move things along in the cat and mouse dance the engineer has been engaged in with Steve for the past several months.

 

But then again, ‘cat and mouse dance’ should be rephrased to a ‘mating dance’ by now.

 

At this point, there’s no doubt in Tony’s mind that the rest of their teammates seem to have an idea of what’s happening between him and their leader, but thankfully none of them had made a comment so far. Sure, there’s the knowing glances and the pointed looks aimed at Tony every time his eyes lock with Steve’s for a second longer, or when his hand lingers too long on his shoulder. Or arm, or the middle of his back, or —

 

Okay, so Tony’s ramped up his tactility around the super soldier. So what? It’s not like Steve isn’t giving as good as he’s getting. Fuck, he’s lost count the number of times the other man’s large hand ends up on his hip in a somewhat possessive way, like it’s a reminder to anyone — and maybe to Tony as well — who he belongs to. And goddamnit Tony finds that notion so fucking hot, there’s no amount of jerking off in his large, lonely bed that will cure him of his sexual frustration unless it’s by the super soldier himself.

 

Tony thinks back to an encounter a few nights ago when the whole team was sat around the dining table for dinner. The billionaire was seated between Steve and Wanda, and everyone was enjoying the risotto and grilled chicken that Bruce and Natasha cooked. Somewhere along the strings of conversations that overlapped every so often, they ended up talking about their favorite road trips. Clint was talking about his time at the circus, and somehow Tony missed the punchline because everyone was laughing, and he ended up laughing not because of Clint’s story but because of Steve. Steve, who had his gorgeous blond head thrown back in laughter, one hand on his chest and the other unconsciously landing on Tony’s sweater-clad thigh.

 

It was a rare look on Steve, and Tony was both entertained and humbled to bear witness to Captain America proverbially letting his hair down like that.

 

Nonetheless, the contact almost made Tony jump out of his seat, but he managed to control his reaction. Instead, he had wrapped his hand around Steve’s forearm and squeezed it gently. That action caused the super soldier to straighten in his seat and look at him, eyes dancing in mirth and lips stretched wide in a grin. Tony can still vividly recall the exact moment Steve realized where his huge, warm hand was grasping the engineer’s well-toned thigh. Shock and embarrassment filtered through his expression briefly before it settled on an inscrutable look Tony still can’t read.

 

Even now, almost a week later since that encounter, he’s unable to get Steve’s heated eyes trained on his hand resting on Tony’s thigh out of his fucking mind. Seeing that look on the blond man’s face only seemed to solidify in Tony the running theory he has that Steve is interested in him in That Way™️. Then again, neither of them have talked about this recent development in their relationship.

 

He can’t just walk up to the man and postulate his findings on their mutual attraction like, “Hey, Steve. Cap. My darling Dorito. So I know you and I have been pretty touchy-touchy lately, for like, months now. And I was wondering if you wanna go further than this like, I don’t know, maybe dinner? Then we can make-out afterwards and see where that leads us. Which I hope is the bedroom — yours or mine, I’m not picky. But hey, no pressure!”

 

Yeah, like that would work. Also add in his feelings in the mix, and that’s just a recipe for disaster.

 

“Oh, and by the way, I’m in love with you. I’ve been in love with you for years now, as a matter of fact. But hey, no pressure if you don’t feel the same way! I’m fine. I’m okay if you don’t feel the same way. Yet. Or not. Just wanted to let you know ‘cos. You know. I love you.”

 

No fucking way is that gonna work. The way Tony sees it, this weird mating dance could go on for another couple of years — filled with heated gazes, flirtatious remarks, lingering touches, and the occasional pet name or two (he accidentally called Steve babycakes, which resulted in Clint inhaling his cereal through his nose when he heard it that one time); or he could just stop beating around the bush and approach Steve to have a word in private where he will take a really, really deep breath (and maybe hold it for a minute) before confessing his love to the super soldier.

 

Tony contemplates on both plans and eventually settles on a third:

 

#YOLO, according to youth these days, and just make the most out of the situation he’s in.

 

Huh. Tony has a feeling it’s gonna bite him in the ass someday. Hopefully not anytime soon.


It’s three twenty-five in the morning on a Thursday when Tony quietly requests FRIDAY to turn the lights on at the common area to thirty percent as he pads to the communal kitchen.

 

He’s been up for almost sixty-two hours now working on upgrades on Wanda’s suit and Sam’s wings. He’s just finished tuning up Redwing when he decided to make himself some coffee. The engineer deftly turns on the coffee machine before he opens a cupboard and takes out a Stark Industries cup. Hair spiked up from a combination of grease and sweat, and dressed in his two-day old grey sweatpants and black AC/DC shirt, Tony knows that he must look a sight. And that’s excluding the bags under his eyes and his chapped lips. Idly wetting said lips to prevent it from bleeding (he’s had those one too many times, and Tony hates it), he hears the machine stop whirring. He doesn’t hesitate to fill his cup to the brim with his favorite poison.

 

He hops to sit on the island as he gently blows on the surface before taking a sip. Eyes closed in bliss, Tony inhales the strong brew before he takes a longer sip of the beverage. He empties his cup in record time and has just refilled his cup a second time when he hears the elevator doors open. Tony turns his head to see Steve, Natasha, and Bruce step out — all three dressed in their sleepwear.

 

It doesn’t take a genius to guess why they’re up and what kept them up after.

 

So it’s going to be that kind of night then, Tony surmises. And it’s nights like tonight when the engineer is reminded that underneath all the armor they put on, they’re as vulnerable as any human being can be.

 

Raising an eyebrow, Tony sets down his cup beside him when the others catch sight of him. Natasha nods at him before making a beeline to fall face first on one of the couches. Bruce acknowledges Tony with a small wave before he shuffles behind the redhead at a slower pace, settling instead for one of the beanbags. Seconds later the television is turned on and Natasha, who’s obviously in control of the remote, swiftly goes to Tony’s Netflix account and selects a random episode of Friends.

 

Steve, on the other hand, doesn’t follow the other two as he walks to the kitchen where Tony is. Hair perfectly tousled (is that even a thing? Tony decides he’s going to make it a Steve Thing™️) and dressed in an old pair of sweat pants and a white vest, Tony can see from his position on the island the sleep lines that mark Steve’s face as the other man approaches him.

 

“How are you feeling?” Tony asks quietly, sympathy in his voice. He doesn’t see a point in asking ’Nightmares?’, because they’re all superheroes. Of course they fucking get nightmares.

 

Steve stops a few feet in front of him, his eyes alert and haunted — a far cry from his languorous appearance.

 

“Could be better,” he replies, voice a little raspy.

 

Tony feels his heart ache for him. So it’s one of those nights, he thinks to himself again. By that, Tony means Steve has dreamt of crashing into the Arctic and being frozen in time for seventy years. He knows this because he and Steve have talked about it before.

 

Tony nods his head in understanding before he gestures his thumb to the coffee pot that’s half-full of the brew.

 

“Do you want coffee?”

 

Steve’s brows furrow as he adopts a stoic look. He bites his lower lip and shakes his head in the negative. He’s shaking a bit, hands hanging limply by his sides as his fists clench and unclench. Comprehension dawns on Tony then. Sure, he’s recently discovered that a sleepy Steve is an affectionate Steve, but he’s also witnessed first-hand that a sleepy Steve who got woken up by night terrors is a vulnerable and touch-starved Steve.

 

The fact that he went to Tony for comfort speaks volumes. This doesn’t happen often. In fact, Tony can count on one hand how many times this has happened (it’s two), and he knows that Steve abhors showing his vulnerable side as much as Tony abhors talking about his feelings (unless it’s about Steve because he’s an exception). So to see the super soldier extend this level of trust towards Tony, especially in the company of two of their teammates, it says a lot.

 

Nonetheless, Tony wants to be sure of what Steve wants from him exactly.

 

“Do you want a hug?” He asks carefully, softly, bearing in mind to keep his voice low.

 

He watches Steve take a deep breath and exhale slowly before he nods, his stoic expression melting into one of utter despair. If it’s even humanly possible, Tony feels his heart break at that look.

 

“Please,” Steve murmurs, his voice breaking towards the end.

 

Without further hesitation, Tony spreads his legs a little wider and opens his arms to the blond man standing two feet away.

 

“Come here, baby,” Tony says in a soothing tone.

 

He’s barely finished his sentence when Steve promptly closes the distance between them. Tony quickly envelops his arms around his broad shoulders, Steve’s muscular arms wrapping around Tony’s waist and gripping him tightly to his chest. Tony finds himself running one hand through Steve’s blond locks, fingers raking his scalp in a calming gesture while his other hand rubs soothing circles on his back. He can feel Steve shaking in his arms, and Tony’s painfully aware of the fact that it’s not because he’s crying. It’s because the aftermath of his nightmare has left him feeling utterly exposed and unprotected, that he doesn’t know if he’ll ever be okay again.

 

“Tony,” Steve mumbles against the curve of Tony’s neck.

 

Tony makes a shushing noise as he continues his ministrations, not once slackening his grip on the man.

 

“You’ll be okay, Steve,” Tony murmurs back in the shell of his ear, and he feels Steve shiver. He strokes his thumb on the small hairs on his nape as he continues to comfort him. “You’re okay, sweetheart. I’m right here, I’m not going anywhere. None of us are, got that? Your family’s okay — you’re okay. I got you, baby. I got you. Shh.”

 

Steve makes a noise between a sob and whimper, and he mutters something to Tony but the words don’t register to him in that moment. Instead, Tony closes his eyes and chooses to hug him tighter. They stay in that position for a long time. Not once did Tony move, despite the stiffness he can start to feel in his arms. From the living room, he hears the opening credits of a new Friends episode, and Tony discerns that they’ve been hugging for more than twenty minutes now.

 

Wow, the engineer thinks to himself. This is the longest we hugged. Achievement unlocked, Stark.

 

Then he proceeds to berate himself for taking note of something so inconsequential when clearly the love of his life is going through something traumatic and he’s here thinking about the length of their hugs.

 

God, he can be an insensitive asshole sometimes.

 

Also, if he were a better man, Tony wouldn’t pay too much attention to the fact that he fits perfectly in Steve’s arms. Like the super soldier’s huge physique was designed specifically for Tony to fit in. As much as he tries to ignore it, he can’t help but be aware of it. Jesus, Steve is standing between Tony’s legs. Tony can practically feel Steve’s half-hard cock pressing against his stomach. But alas, he is Tony Stark and he can’t help when his mind gleans on the inappropriate. But despite the traitorous thoughts in his head, Tony does his best to block them out to focus on the more important issue at hand. He needs to be strong for Steve because Steve needs him.

 

Eventually, the super soldier’s shaking subsides, and it takes another few minutes for Steve to break away from the hug. But before he can take a step further away, Tony stops him by framing his face with his hands. Steve's eyes are slightly damp, baby blues bright with emotion, but there are no signs of tear tracks. Still, that doesn't stop Tony from running his thumbs over his face, lightly stroking his cheeks in affection.

 

“Feeling better?” Tony asks quietly, eyes traveling from the latter’s eyes to his downturned lips. He feels the worry in his chest uncoil when he notices Steve’s lips twitch upwards into a half smile.

 

“Much better,” Steve replies, and then he clears his throat. “Thank you, Tony.”

 

Tony smiles at him, and when Steve smiles back — this time, it comes out more genuine — the engineer can’t help but pull Steve’s face closer. He lifts his head and plants a tender kiss on the blond man’s forehead, his slightly chapped lips lingering for a second longer than necessary. When Tony pulls back, it’s to see Steve’s eyes closed with an expression of tranquility etched on his tired but beautiful face. The hands on his waist tighten for a fraction of a second before Steve relaxes, and when he opens his eyes, Tony can see more of his Steve back.

 

“Anytime, Steve,” he replies earnestly. “I mean it. Anytime.”

 

Afterwards, Steve decides to join Natasha and Bruce in the living room and Tony returns to his workshop with a new cup of coffee. The engineer ponders on what just occurred in the past half hour when he suddenly remembers the words that Steve muttered in his ear.

 

“It's you that I thought of when I woke up. Didn't know why at first, but now I do. I just... needed you. I need you, Tony.”


Ten hours later, Tony’s freshly showered and is just about to enter the communal kitchen for a bottle of water. And maybe a banana. He can feel his stomach rumble in hunger already, but he only has an hour to wait until Sam’s done with cooking lunch, the delicious smell of stir fry noodles wafting in the air.

 

“Hey, Tony.”

 

When he hears his name, Tony turns and sees Steve approaching him. The blond man is dressed in jeans and a plain black shirt that looks to be two sizes smaller, and Tony smiles genuinely at him because Steve looks a lot better today. It’s like the man didn’t have a nightmare ten hours ago and barely got enough sleep. But hey, that’s most likely the super serum doing its fantastic job.

 

“Hey,” Tony greets back with a smile. “What’s up, buttercup?”

 

Instead of verbally answering, Steve elects to hug Tony once he reaches his side. Tony, although surprised, automatically brings his arms up to hug him back. When the former lets go and takes a step back after a minute, Tony raises an eyebrow.

 

The engineer notices the faint blush that's blooming on Steve’s neck, and he notes with glee as it quickly spreads to the blond man’s ears.

 

“Thank you for, you know,” he stammers, rubbing his hand on the back of his neck. “You didn’t have to, but. Thanks.”

 

Tony purses his lips to refrain from grinning like a Cheshire Cat because wow, he’s just so fucking adorable. He waits until he has complete control of his facial expression before he speaks.

 

“Like I said — anytime. Besides,” he adds, voice going soft as he takes a step closer towards Steve. Their chests are nearly touching, and Tony has to crane his neck a bit to maintain eye contact with Captain Gorgeous. “You said you needed me. And you bet your gorgeous ass I’ll always be there for you.”

 

Okay, so he didn’t mean to say that last part like that, but. Well. Regardless, Tony does mean every word.

 

Still, though.

 

Brain. Mouth. Filter.

 

If possible, Steve’s face turns pinker. But upon seeing the sincerity in Tony’s gaze, the super soldier’s chagrined expression changes to a look of wonderment. Steve smiles a little goofily down at him before he leans down and presses a gentle kiss on Tony's forehead, lips lingering for a fraction of a second longer.

 

Tony blinks, mouth dropping into a small “o” as his mind goes blank at the contact. When Steve leans back from the kiss, Tony barely hears what Steve says next. He just nods his head and smiles back at him before the other man walks away.

 

Lost in his thoughts, he’s pulled back to the present when he becomes aware of Clint walking past him, tunelessly singing under his breath, “Oh can’t you see, you belong to me. My poor heart aches every step you take.”

 

Tony glowers at him and doesn’t hesitate to slap the archer on the back of his head.

 

“Hey! Can’t a man sing in peace?”

 

Tony rolls his eyes.

 

“Fuck off, Barton. It’s like hearing nails scraping against a chalkboard.”

Chapter Text

“Alright, settle down and pick a card.” Bruce finishes shuffling and holds out the cards before him. One by one, they choose a card, going so far as to bend backwards in their positions (that’d be Clint) to conceal their card from the nearest teammate.

 

Tony hides a smirk as he takes the lone card from the physicist’s hand, and with his other hand shielding it, he ducks his head to quickly glance at what he got.

 

Ooh, this should be good. He makes sure his face remains blank, but deep inside he’s cackling. This should be a fun first round.

 

The engineer eyes the rest of his teammates, not surprised to see impassive expressions on their faces — save for Peter and Wanda who can’t pull off a poker face to save a life. His eyes wander over to Steve who’s sitting across from him. The super soldier meets his eyes and they exchange smiles.

 

It’s past midnight and the engineer finds himself roped into playing The Resistance: Avalon with the team. The New York skyline is a beautiful backdrop to the scene before Tony, Looking Glass’s Brandy playing from the incredible sound system he’s set up in the common area as his dysfunctional family lightheartedly fights over food. There’s literally a box of pop tarts beside Thor, including a variety of boxes of cookies and junk food, several bottles of beer, and cans of soda strewn around the ten Avengers.

 

Tony doesn’t even remember how he ended up sitting cross-legged on the plush carpeted floor of the communal living room in the first place, though he can vaguely recall Peter visiting him at his workshop and pleading with him to join them for Game Night with his ridiculous puppy-dog eyes.

 

God, he needs to start building up an immunity to it.

 

“Everyone knows who they are?” Bruce asks for confirmation. When everyone nods their heads — Clint rubbing his hands with an evil look — the mild-mannered man looks at Vision and adds, “Viz, are you sure you want to sit this one out?”

 

Vision, the only member perched on the armchair as the rest of team are seated cross-legged around the rectangular coffee table, nods his head. There’s a small smile on his face when he says, “Yes, Dr. Banner. I think I would find it more entertaining to watch everyone play instead of participating.”

 

“Your loss, Viz,” Clint quips.

 

Before anyone can say anything else, Bruce — who wanted to be the moderator — clears his throat, catching everyone’s attention once more.

 

“Let’s begin, then.” Bruce turns a page on the game’s manual. Tony purses his lips when he catches sight of Peter attempting to clear his face of any emotion (he obviously fails, his poor little Spiderling). “Everyone, extend your arm into the circle and close your eyes.”

 

Tony closes his eyes and extends his arm to the center of the table, the others following suit.

 

Bruce continues. “Minions of Mordred only, open your eyes so you may know each other.”

 

There’s a shuffling sound somewhere to his right, and Tony hears someone stifle a snort.

 

“Minions of Mordred, close your eyes. Merlin, open your eyes.”

 

Tony opens his eyes, and this time he doesn’t bother to conceal a smug smirk when he meets Bruce’s eyes, the latter pursing his lips to smother a grin. He even spots Vision smirking from his seat.

 

The physicist continues to read out the instructions. “Minions of Mordred, extend your thumb into the air so Merlin will know you.”

 

This time, the engineer has to bite the inside of his cheek to prevent from reacting when he sees Steve, Wanda, and Sam raise their thumbs.

 

“Minions of Mordred, lower your thumbs, and Merlin, close your eyes.” Tony shoots a wink at Bruce before he closes his eyes. “Percival, open your eyes. Merlin and Morgana, extend your thumb into the air so Percival will know you.”

 

There’s another shuffling sound, this time somewhere to Tony’s left. It doesn’t take a genius to find out that Percival is seated there. So between Thor and Natasha — Sam’s on Tony’s left, but it can’t be him because the guy remained still, too still — it’s either the Asgardian prince or the redheaded spy. Tony’s bet is on Natasha.

 

“Merlin and Morgana, lower your thumbs, and Percival, close your eyes.” There’s a short pause after that. Then, “Everyone, open your eyes. You can lower your arms now.”

 

Tony opens his eyes once more, surveying the others around him with his best poker face.

 

“Aw, man, I’m gonna suck at this again,” Peter groans. Tony smirks and doesn’t hesitate to ruffle the teen’s hair as Bruce hands the King/Leader token and three player tokens to Wanda.

 

“Your turn to choose, Wanda,” the physicist says.

 

Wanda takes the proffered tokens from him with a smile. She looks around the table carefully, humming under her breath as she deliberates on who to choose, before finally settling with, “I choose Thor, Nat, and Sam.” She hands the player tokens to them as she calls out each name.

 

“Does everyone accept this quest?” Bruce asks the rest. “Raise your hands if you do.”

 

A chorus of ‘yes’s and raised hands is his answer. With a short nod, Bruce quickly passes on the Success and Fail cards to the chosen players.

 

“Give me your chosen card,” the physicist next speaks, and Tony bites his lip to hide a grin because damn, Bruce is totally enjoying being a moderator. At least there’s an unlikely chance of him turning into a green rage monster; everyone learned their lesson the first time they played this game.

 

Thor, Nat, and Sam give out their chosen cards face down to Bruce, who quickly asks for the discarded cards face down as well. Bruce shuffles the cards before he lifts them up for everyone to see the results.

 

Three Success cards.

 

The engineer adopts an impressed look as the others look skeptically at each other.

 

“One of you is totally a bad guy,” Clint remarks as he eyes the three initial players with a shrewd look.

 

Thor looks scandalized. “Nay, my friend! I am good!”

 

Clint looks at him in triumph. “Ha! That’s what all the bad guys say!”

 

Tony smirks at the archer. “That what they teach you in spy school, birdbrain?”

 

Nearly everyone laughs at the jibe as Clint blows a raspberry at the engineer. Tony just rolls his eyes as he casually suggests, “I don’t know, Thor looks pretty innocent to me. So it could either be Sam or Nat here.”

 

“Thank you, Anthony,” Thor grins at him, clearly pleased that at least one person doesn’t think he could be a bad guy.

 

Tony playfully winks at the Norse god amidst a chorus of protests at his declaration as he subtly eyes Sam from the corner of his eye. The veteran laughs as he retaliates against Clint’s claims, and when Tony glances at Natasha, he sees the redhead’s eyes already locked on him. The look they share happens swiftly, but it’s in the knowing gleam in her eyes and the way the corner of Natasha’s mouth twitches that Tony gets an inkling that his suspicions are confirmed.

 

He found his Percival.

 

Not long after that, it’s Peter’s turn to choose the players — four this time — and the young vigilante doesn’t hesitate to pick Tony, Clint, Steve, and Natasha. While they continue to call out accusations to one another (Clint, Wanda, Peter, and Sam), or quietly sit and observe (Thor, Natasha, Tony, and Steve), they approve the quest and Bruce is quick to hand out the Success and Fail cards to the selected players. Tony keenly chooses the card while keeping it out of Sam and Peter’s sight as he hands his chosen card face down to Bruce, the others following suit, plus sliding his discarded card across the table to the physicist.

 

Once Bruce has shuffled the cards and lays them out before him to find out the result, Tony isn’t surprised when nearly everyone gasps and shouts at the lone Fail card.

 

Thor points a finger at Clint as he enthusiastically exclaims, “Traitor! You are the bad guy, Clinton!”

 

Clint squawks in indignation. “I’m not! I’m a nobody here!”

 

“That’s what all bad guys say!” Peter quickly adds.

 

“I swear I’m not! I’m not bluffing!”

 

Tony observes Steve raise his eyebrows as the super soldier finally speaks up for the first time. “Clint, you claiming you’re not bluffing sure cements the idea that you could be the bad guy.”

 

Clint, obviously, doesn’t back down. “The hell I am! Nat played twice, so it should be her!”

 

Natasha raises an eyebrow at the archer. “I adore how illogical you get when we play board games.”

 

Tony laughs along with the rest, but he quickly roams his eyes around the table before exchanging a swift but significant look with Natasha. He lets his eyes casually slide back to Steve, linger on him for half a second, and then glance back. The redhead blinks, expression carefully blank.

 

“Stevie-pie’s right,” Tony interjects thoughtfully. He doesn’t miss the barely concealed look of surprise on the blond man’s face before he covers it with an impassive look. “Although, Clint could also be telling the truth, and Capsicle’s trying to paint Katniss here with a bull’s eye to throw us all off.”

 

“Ha! See? Even Tin Man thinks I’m a good guy!” Clint crows in delight.

 

“That makes sense,” Peter mumbles to himself. Then he adds, “I think. Does it?”

 

Wanda and Sam are nodding along to Tony’s reasoning, Thor scratching his head with a befuddled expression while Vision, Bruce, and Natasha remain silent.

 

Steve’s lips twitch as he regards Tony with a mildly amused look. “Now I wonder why I would do that. Isn’t the point of the game to try to deduce who is who? I’m just doing my part as a good player, Tony. I don’t see how you’d do yours.”

 

Tony can’t help the snort that escapes him. “Oh, honey, I bet you my Mark L that you’d love to see how I’d be doing my job, if you catch my drift.” He adds the last one with a coy wink, and the terrible innuendo was worth it to see Steve’s face flush pink.

 

“You know we have a minor here, right?” Sam reminds helpfully, though his playful smirk contradicts his words.

 

Tony winces, and he turns to apologize to Peter who’s quick to wave off any apology. “No, I’m good! I’ve heard worse. Uh, I mean, not worse worse. Not like that. Like, in a bad way. Just, you know, people talk. People — young people like me — hear ‘em talk. All the time, I’m not even kidding. So, it’s cool. It’s fine. I’m cool with it.”

 

“Right.” Tony draws out the vowel as he continues to stare at the young teen with doubt.

 

Before anyone can say anything, Bruce interrupts them and reminds them that they’re currently in the middle of a game, so if Steve and Tony can stop their flirting for one goddamn second please, that’d be great. The engineer shares a sheepish look with Steve and they apologize to the unimpressed physicist-slash-moderator, much to the others’ delight. Soon they’re all focused back in the game, and it’s Tony’s turn to choose the players for the next quest.

 

He chooses Peter, Wanda, himself, and Thor for the next round of play, and everyone raises their hands to accept the quest. Bruce hands them the Success and Fail cards, and in no time at all, he’s shuffling the chosen cards and laying them down on the table for all to see.

 

Three Success. One Fail.

 

“It’s Peter!” Clint hollers excitedly.

 

Peter looks at the archer with a panicked look. “Nuh-uh! I’m just, I’m only an unknown soldier!”

 

Wanda pats his shoulder with a sympathetic look. “It’s okay, Peter. I know it’s hard to hide your true colors from a group of grown-up superheroes.”

 

“I swear I’m not! I — wait. You could be the bad guy, Wanda!”

 

Tony hides a smirk when he catches the brief look of panic on Wanda’s face before she hides it with an innocent expression. It was fleeting, but it was there, and Tony gleefully thinks that he’s barely done anything to clue the others in on the bad guys because they’re all doing the hard work for him.

 

“Kid’s right,” Natasha cuts in with a pensive look. “He can’t even pull off a poker face to save a life, so he can’t be the bad guy. Something tells me it might be you instead, Wanda.”

 

Wanda splutters as she tries to make an excuse. “It’s my first time being chosen! Besides, Tony chose himself so it’s his second time. He could be the bad guy! He could be Morgana or the Assassin!”

 

Before Tony can protest, Clint shouts in triumph. “You asshole! You’re the bad guy! How dare you betray my trust?!”

 

Tony rolls his eyes at the crazed look in the former’s eyes. “You know, Katniss, all you’ve done so far is throw accusations left, right, and center.”

 

“Your point being?” Sam prompts with a raised eyebrow.

 

“Clint is the bad guy, then,” Steve offers, though his answer ends up sounding like a question.

 

“Or he’s just really terrible at this game,” Natasha supplies helpfully.

 

“That’s true,” Bruce mumbles to himself.

 

“Nat, you wound me. I’m on your side.”

 

“You don’t even know which side she’s on,” Peter starts curiously. “For all we know, Nat could be the bad guy.”

 

“That could be,” Tony replies before Natasha can react. At the redhead’s raised eyebrow, the engineer shrugs and adds, “Though, I doubt it, kiddo. I have a feeling Nat’s good. She’s a bit more talkative if she’s the bad guy.”

 

“That is also true,” Thor agrees.

 

Tony continues, “My money’s on Steve and Wanda being the bad guys here. It also could be Clint, but he’s so shit at this game, it’s not even a joke. So I’m guessing it’s Sam.”

 

“What? I didn’t even say or do anything!” The veteran complains with an outraged expression.

 

Tony pats his shoulder as if in comfort. “Sure, buddy, keep telling yourself that. You’ve been quiet since we started.”

 

Sam gives him an unimpressed look. “And my being quiet means I'm the bad guy?”

 

Tony shrugs. “Dunno. I guess. But hey, that’s just me thinking out loud. I could be wrong, but I also could be right.”

 

This time, it’s Steve who speaks. “Y’know, you’re also doing an awful lot of deflecting, Tony. It’s quite telling.”

 

“Yeah, it’s very suspicious, don’t you think?” Wanda supports through narrowed eyes.

 

Thor gazes at Tony with a doubtful expression. “Are you going to stab us in the back, friend?”

 

Bless his Asgardian soul, but Tony can’t help but bark in laughter at his words.

 

“Don’t cry on me, Point Break. I’m not gonna break your heart like Spangles did here.”

 

Steve makes a noise in protest. “Oh, c’mon, Tony! That was one time!” And then looking at Thor, he adds, “Thor, buddy. C’mon, that was one time, and it was only a trial run!”

 

Obviously, the Asgardian is still a bit salty at the previous round they played from a different Game Night, and Tony inwardly cackles at deviating the attention from himself to the object of his affections.

 

Thor shifts his uncertain gaze towards the blond man as he says, “I understand, Steven. Nevertheless, you are a formidable opponent, and a very skilled liar. It’s one thing you and my brother Loki have in common, I suppose. But please do not take it the wrong way, I meant them as a compliment.”

 

Nearly everyone is laughing in hysterics, Clint clutching his sides while Peter and Wanda are almost leaning on each other for support from how hard they’re laughing. Even Natasha’s mask cracks a bit at their friend’s innocent words, Tony banging his fist on the coffee table in mirth when he spots Steve’s flushed face as he looks at Thor with a mixture of horror and embarrassment.

 

Tony stretches his legs in front of him, his bare feet accidentally prodding Steve’s calves. The super soldier blinks and glances down at the engineer’s wiggling toes. Tony smothers a shit-eating grin when he notices Steve’s cheeks darken further. The latter studies Tony from under his lashes, and Tony sees him move his hands to gently grasp his feet. The engineer gulps inaudibly at the feel of Steve’s long, slightly calloused fingers move lightly over the skin of his feet. He bites the inside of his cheek when Steve’s lips curve into a pleased smirk.

 

Okay, so that sorta backfired, he thinks dumbly as his pulse picks up. Oh, what the hell, best decision ever.

 

Steve starts to tap a finger on the bridge of Tony’s left foot, and it takes the engineer a moment to realize it’s Steve talking to him in morse code.

 

U r blushin.

 

Tony casually leans back on his arms as he taps a reply on the blond man’s calf.

 

U 2. Wanna byt ur cheeks. Or kiss.

 

Maybe it’s just a trick of the light, but Tony swears Steve’s pupils dilate. The blond man licks his lips before he taps his response on Tony’s skin.

 

Me 2. Maybe both?

 

Wud u lyk dat?

 

Yes. Wats stoppin u?

 

Tony hides the hitch in his breath with a small cough. Next, he raises an eyebrow and taps back, Wats stoppin u 2?

 

Instead of tapping a reply, Steve runs his thumbs on the soles of Tony’s feet in a sensual caress. It’s through sheer force of will (and mentally reminding himself that Peter’s sitting next to him) that Tony doesn't moan out loud, because that'd be fucking mortifying. The engineer breathes deeply, and he shares another intense look with Steve before he glances away.

 

He doesn’t remove his feet, and Steve continues to stroke his skin.

 

Thank God the coffee table isn’t made of glass.

 

All throughout, their teammates remain oblivious to the heated moment they just shared, and it takes a few more minutes before the laughter subsides and they carry on to the next round.

 

It’s Sam’s turn to choose, and he’s studying them through narrowed eyes before he makes a decision. The current round needs five players, so he chooses Steve, Natasha, Clint, Peter, and the veteran himself. As Sam passes the tokens to the players, Tony discreetly looks at Nat and they silently communicate with each other.

 

Bruce clears his throat before he speaks. “Good guys — bear in mind that this round requires two fails for the bad guys to win the game. So choose wisely if you want to accept or reject this quest.”

 

“I reject!” Tony, Thor, and Natasha call out in unison while Sam, Wanda, and Steve raise their hands to accept the quest.

 

Bruce turns to stare at Clint and Peter, the only ones who hadn’t made a decision. “It’s a tie, guys. What’s your decision?”

 

Tony notices Peter bite his lip in uncertainty. When the teen’s eyes meet Tony’s, the engineer gives him a pointed look. Peter sighs and then looks back at Bruce to say, “I reject.” Clint mutters the same thing as well.

 

He knows it’s just a game, that it’s not a matter of life or death, but Tony can’t help but inwardly sigh in relief when the players for the quest is rejected. Let it not be known that The Avengers turn into a bunch of competitive assholes when it comes to Game Night. God forbid they actually play Uno.

 

Because Sam’s was rejected, it’s Thor’s turn to choose, and the God of Thunder doesn’t hesitate to pick himself, Clint, Peter, Steve, and Natasha. Once the chosen players hand out their chosen cards to Bruce and slide the discarded ones on the table towards the physicist, Bruce quickly shuffles the cards before laying them out on the table. As one, they lean towards the cards to catch a glimpse of the results.

 

Four Success. One Fail.

 

Thor and Sam gasp while Steve’s eyes widen in shock. For a moment, Tony thinks that if he didn’t draw the Merlin card, he’d be fooled by their reactions. Thankfully, that’s not the case, and the engineer exchanges another discreet look with Natasha.

 

“The good guys still win this round, right?” Peter asks, looking uncertain. “‘Cos it needs two fails for the bad guys to win.”

 

Bruce nods. “Yes, the good guys win this round. So that means it’s a tie.” He puts down a Success token on the player sheet, the sheet displaying two Success and two Fail tokens. “Now, we’re on to the last quest of the game. If the good guys win this quest, the bad guys still gets the chance to guess who Merlin is. If they guess it correctly, then they win the game.”

 

“Jesus, this is even more stressful than taking my final exams,” Peter comments as he buries his face in his hands. Tony snorts as he shoots an amused glance at the teen before ruffling his hair. His protégé looks up at him with a sheepish grin before he turns and hugs Tony around the middle.

 

There’s a chorus of ‘aww’s from the others. Tony rolls his eyes but he hugs Peter back with a fond smile. There’s the sound of a phone’s shutter going off, which could only mean Vision taking a picture of them.

 

Focusing back on the game, it’s Natasha’s turn to choose. The redheaded assassin flips the King/Leader token through her fingers as she studies her teammates with a measured look.

 

“Pick me! I’m good!” Wanda raises her hand in the air.

 

Tony hears Vision snort, but the sound is immediately drowned out by Sam, Peter, and Clint joining in and begging the Russian to choose them.

 

“C'mon, spider sis! Pick me!” Peter insists with a toothy smile.

 

“Nat, we’re friends! I’m on your side. Pick me!” Sam begs with a pout.

 

“Nat, you and I are the only ones who know what happened in Budapest. You know I’m a good guy. Pick me.” Clint points his thumbs at himself with a suggestive waggle of his eyebrows.

 

This causes Steve and Tony to snort at the crazed look in the archer’s eye. The engineer once again finds himself locking eyes with Steve, but Tony looks away after a moment as he tries not to laugh out loud, the super soldier doing the same as he fights back a grin.

 

In the end, Tony meets Natasha’s eyes, and the latter rolls her eyes and huffs out a breath before she rattles off the names. “Tony, Peter, Thor, Sam, and myself.”

 

“Yes!”

 

Natasha rolls her eyes again when Peter and Sam cry in delight while Bruce asks them if they accept or reject the quest. Tony and Peter were the only players to reject the quest, but majority wins, so Bruce swiftly hands the selected players the Success and Fail cards. Decisions made, Tony hands out his chosen card face down on Bruce’s outstretched hand, and then slides the discarded one across the table. Bruce shuffles the cards in his hands before he lays them out on the table, the rest — including Vision who gets up from his seat to stand behind Bruce — leaning in to catch a glimpse of the results.

 

“Oh, shit,” Bruce mumbles when he sees it.

 

Four Success. One Fail.

 

“What.”

 

“We lost?!”

 

“What the fuck?!”

 

“Aye, this is disappointing.”

 

“Alright, minions of Mordred, why don’t —” Bruce starts.

 

“Booyah!” Sam hollers just then as he raises his fists in the air with a look of triumph. “This Assassin just smoked you, asshats!”

 

Tony, along with the rest of the team, looks at the veteran with a stunned look. The silence stretches on for two seconds before Wanda groans out loud and Steve facepalms.

 

“Sam,” Wanda whines, the young woman emitting a noise between a groan and a laugh. After a moment, she sighs in resignation and adds, “I’m Mordred.”

 

“Yeah, I’m Morgana,” Steve says with an eye roll. There’s a shit-eating grin starting to form on Tony’s face as he notices the super soldier give Sam the stink eye. “Damn it, Sam! You had one job. One job!”

 

Sam’s victorious grin dissolves into a grimace as he mutters a quiet, “Oops”, before Tony and the others start to laugh in earnest. Even Vision is chortling from his comfortable position on the armchair.

 

Bruce raises his voice in an attempt to catch their attention. “Okay, wait! Minions of Mordred, you may have won this round, but can you guess who Merlin is?”

 

Steve, Sam, and Wanda trade looks as they look around the rest of their teammates.

 

“Clint was too loud, so it can’t be him,” Wanda remarks, much to the amusement of the others who ignore the archer’s indignant protests.

 

“It can’t be Peter ‘cos reasons,” Sam continues, and the young teen rolls his eyes with a rueful smile.

 

“So that leaves Tony, Thor, and Natasha,” Steve concludes pensively.

 

Tony makes sure to put on his poker face as Steve’s eyes lands on him for several moments. The blond man dares to smirk, one hand still gently massaging his foot, and Tony relaxes his features enough to shoot the man a sweet smile. Steve blinks at the sudden change in Tony’s expression, so he looks away to eye Thor next, though seeing as there’s a pink flush starting to creep up his neck, Tony is smug that at least the other man is not unaffected by his charms.

 

Once Steve has finished studying Natasha, he turns his focus back on Sam and Wanda. The blond man bites his lower lip.

 

“They have really good poker faces, even Thor,” Steve admits, albeit grudgingly. “So it’s gonna be a bit hard to decide between the three.”

 

“Tick tock goes the clock,” Clint sing-songs.

 

Sam flips him off first before turning to Steve and saying, “Thor looks too clueless to be Merlin, so let’s cross him out. Let’s choose between Tony and Nat, then.”

 

“I’m choosing Nat,” Wanda pipes up.

 

Natasha blinks at her but doesn’t react further.

 

Steve hums. “Yeah, she was a lot quieter than Tony. And we all know Tony babbles a lot when he’s Merlin. Well, babbles a lot more than he did tonight.” He adds as an afterthought.

 

The super soldier grins at Tony, and the engineer gives him a feigned look of embarrassment. “Am I really that obvious?”

 

Tony feels the butterflies fluttering like crazy in his chest when Steve has the audacity to shoot him a playful wink.

 

“So have you reached a decision, then?” Bruce asks patiently.

 

Steve, Sam, and Wanda share one last look before they nod in agreement. The super soldier straightens his back as he confidently declares, “Nat is Merlin.”

 

Everyone looks at the redhead for confirmation. However, Nat’s poker face melts into a smirk as she shares a meaningful look with Tony. They share smug grins, and Tony shifts his focus back to Steve, who’s looking at him with wide eyes as he wordlessly takes his card and flips it for the rest to see.

 

“You’re Merlin!” Steve cries out in disbelief. Then he adds, “You tricked me!”

 

Tony’s still grinning like a cat that got the canary when he answers, “Nope. I led you to believe that I tricked you.”

 

Bruce’s shoulders shake with laughter as Thor, Peter, and Clint hoot at the gobsmacked expressions on the others’ faces, Sam gaping at Tony and Natasha.

 

“How did you —”

 

“I’m Percival,” Natasha flips her card for them to see. “We figured out who the other was pretty early into the game. So with Steve as Morgana, it was just a matter of figuring out who the other two minions were. I actually thought it was Clint and Wanda.”

 

“What is it with everyone thinking I’m always the bad guy?” Clint rolls his eyes. He holds up his card: Loyal Servant of Arthur.

 

Steve pats his shoulder in comfort as Bruce responds, “That’s because every time we play this game, Clint, you almost always end up being the bad guy.”

 

“It’s not like I chose the dark side. The dark side chose me.” Clint shrugs. Then with a smirk, he adds, “Oh, hey, it’s like Civil War right here! Captain America versus Iron Man.”

 

Nearly everyone snorts, except for Tony and Steve who shoot twin glares at the archer. Clint raises his palms in surrender and says in a placating tone, “Kidding. I was kidding. Besides, there’s a higher chance of you two making love than making war.”

 

Peter slaps a hand over his face with a groan. “Ugh. Images, Clint.”

 

“Oops. Sorry, kiddo.”

 

Tony's pulse jumps at Clint's words. He can't help but notice the tips of Steve's ears turning red, and the thought of the super soldier imagining them making love instead of making war causes Tony's brain to short circuit because holy fuck, that's an image to add to his spank bank.

 

Not wanting to show the others just how affected he is by that comment, Tony snorts instead. “Whatever. Anyway, who’s up for round two? I’ll be the moderator this time so Viz can play.”

 

Everyone agrees and it’s Bruce who replaces Vision’s position on the armchair. Thirty minutes later, they’re still on the third quest with everyone throwing accusations left, right, and center at who’s who.

 

The entire time, Tony’s feet doesn’t move from its position on Steve’s calves. The super soldier doesn’t seem to mind, seeing as he keeps alternating between giving Tony foot rubs and talking to him through morse code.

 

U better make it up 2 me for tricking me like that.

 

Tony grins unabashedly as he quickly taps back a response while handing out Success and Fail cards to the chosen players. Sure, sweetheart. I will give u a long hug. That OK with u?

 

Glancing up at Tony through his lashes, Steve’s smile is bright as he taps back, Sounds perfect, darling.

 

Soon, Tony promises to himself as the last of his resolve crumbles into dust. Fuck the whole observing shit. This is real, and I want him. I’ll tell him soon.

Chapter Text

Naturally, the world needed saving again.

 

“Where are these things coming from?!” Sam shrieks over the comms, the sounds of metal breaking and exploding in the background.

 

“I’ll do you one better,” Tony answers with a huff, firing his repulsors at the crawling bots. “Who the fuck created these? Honestly, can’t they learn from other villains’ mistakes? This is a complete waste of resources.”

 

Clint swiftly retorts, “I’ll do you one better, Tin Man. Why the fuck did they create these things?”

 

There’s a collective sigh over the comms, and Tony shakes his head in exasperation as he takes down another bot creeping towards Natasha from behind. The redhead pivots at the sound, only to see the scraps of the spider bot he hit crash to the ground as Tony lands beside her. The engineer lifts his faceplate to grin at her, Natasha offering a small smile in return.

 

“Thanks, Tony.”

 

“You're welcome, dear. Couldn’t have you be eaten by one of your kind,” Tony quips, and if possible, his grin widens when the redhead rolls her eyes. “Aw, c’mon. You gotta admit, it’s pretty funny.”

 

“It was the first time. But that joke’s getting real old now,” Natasha replies with a pointed look.

 

Tony knows that look, so he knows when to back off when a certain ex-Russian spy is starting to get really pissed. He raises his arms in surrender and says, “Yeah yeah, alright. Don’t hurt me. Please?”

 

“No promises there.” Natasha smirks, much to the engineer’s mild amusement before they survey their surroundings.

 

It’s mid-day in the middle of summer and the Avengers are currently in Midtown, fighting off an army of 4-foot tall spider robots. The creepy crawlies were equipped with sharp, metal legs that has already hurt — and most likely killed — several civilians already.

 

Yeah, this is definitely a step up from those bunny bots back in April.

 

Ha ha.

 

Fuck.

 

The fight has been going on for more than an hour now, with Tony, Sam, and Peter focusing on securing the perimeters and evacuating the straggling civilians from harm’s way. Clint is dealing with the spider bots from a high vantage point, which Tony is thankful for because then the archer can try out the new arrowheads he designed for him. He half hopes that Clint tries the mini-Jericho arrowhead — one hit and it takes down at least a dozen others with it.

 

Wanda and Vision are dealing with the bots in a different street; Tony can see lightning emitting from a few blocks over and knows that it’s Thor lighting them up from the inside out. Bruce, er, Hulk is currently tearing and smashing the last of the arachnids not far from Tony and Natasha. Which leaves Steve, who’s running towards them with scorch marks on his suit and a cut on his cheek.

 

“You okay?” Tony asks once the super soldier reaches them.

 

Steve shoots him a smile as he nods his head. He’s still catching his breath when he says, “Yeah, good. 39th and 40th are cleared. Any updates on your end?” He adds, addressing the rest of their teammates.

 

“We’re almost clear here,” Wanda replies after a few seconds. They hear something explode, and then, “Okay, we’re clear here.”

 

“37th is finally clear,” Sam announces next. “I had some people call 911. We got casualties here.”

 

Shit.

 

Tony closes his eyes and sighs heavily. He may be a superhero, and has been doing this for several years now, but he still has a hard time accepting the fact that there will almost always be casualties. It’s inevitable, really. And though it’s never an easy thing, all Tony can do is strive to improve his armor and create better tech to help protect the people. He’s fortunate enough to not shoulder this burden alone; he has nine other teammates who help carry the weight of the world, and Tony knows he would’ve broken down years ago if it weren’t for them.

 

“How bad is it?” Steve inquires in a grave tone.

 

There’s a brief pause, and then Sam quietly responds, “There are almost a hundred injured, and… more than a dozen killed.”

 

Fuck.

 

Shit, that’s a lot.

 

And that’s only on 37th Street. How many more are injured? How many have lost their lives?

 

A heavy silence fills the air, only to be broken by Peter. “38th is clear.”

 

Steve clears his throat, but before he can say anything, Thor’s booming voice comes over the comms.

 

“I am on 42nd Street, and there are more arachnid robots approaching.”

 

Son of a bitch, will this never end?

 

“Everyone assemble at 42nd,” Steve commands. “Let’s get this done and over with before there are more casualties. Don’t leave any robot standing — follow them if you have to.”

 

“That’s what Hagrid said,” Tony says as he closes his faceplate. “Well, not those exact words, but you get the gist.”

 

“What?” Steve turns to look at him with a frown.

 

Tony knows it’s not the right time to entertain such thoughts, but damn how he wants to kiss that small furrow between the super soldier’s brows away. Instead, he grins and quips back in a terrible English accent, “‘Follow the spiders’.” Then he takes hold of the back of Steve’s and Natasha’s suits and adds, “Buckle up, we’re flying to the Forbidden Forest.”

 

As Tony fires up his thrusters to fly over to where Thor is — the Norse god’s lightning is not hard to miss, after all — he hears Sam grumbling over the comms. “Why’d it have to be fucking spiders? Why couldn’t it be butterflies, instead?”

 

“Oh, I understood that reference,” Steve interjects, pride evident in his tone. Tony shakes his head, thankful that his face is hidden so his sappy grin can’t be seen. “Chamber of Secrets, right?”

 

Tony chuckles in delight. “Bingo, Dorito! Oh, hey, that rhymed.” He adds, causing Clint and Peter to snort over the comms.

 

Shortly after, the engineer gently sets down Natasha and Steve on the ground on 42nd Street, the rest of their teammates following shortly with Clint hanging on to Vision who picked him up from his spot. They survey the destruction before them. Upturned vehicles, broken slabs of concrete, broken windows and uprooted or burning trees, to name a few — and in the middle of all the wreckage left behind lay the remains of the spider bots the Asgardian prince demolished.

 

Clean-up is gonna be a bitch.

 

“What’s our next course of action?” Thor asks Steve once he’s landed beside their leader. There are a few scorch marks on his arms and neck, but otherwise the Asgardian looks like he’s just finished warming up. “It seems that these arachnid bots are coming from the sewers. More of them will appear soon.”

 

“Then we’ll just have to destroy every single one of them,” Steve says with a determined look. “I want all hands on deck. Vision and Wanda, find out where the bots are coming from. If there’s a way to stop them from coming up, do it. Nat, call Fury and alert him that we’ll need SHIELD in on this one — if things start to take an ugly turn, I want us to have back-up in an instant.”

 

Everyone acquiesces and immediately separate to carry out their tasks, Hulk already smashing away happily.

 

“FRI, play me something upbeat,” Tony tells his AI on his private channel. “Preferably from the 90s. We could all use a bit of pick-me-up if we’re gonna keep fighting Aragog’s kids.”

 

“Sure thing, boss.”

 

“Thanks, girl.”

 

Tony shifts back to the team’s communication channel just as the song begins to play. He hears several of his teammates react in surprise.

 

Clint lets out a breathy laugh. “Tony, you fucking genius.”

 

The engineer definitely doesn’t preen at the praise. “Tell me something I don’t know, Legolas.”

 

Peter cheerfully exclaims, “Thanks, Mr. Stark! This is great motivation!”

 

“You’re welcome, kiddo.” Tony smirks as he loops in the air to avoid one bot’s sharp legs before he fires repulsors at the crawling arachnids below him.

 

“He drinks a whiskey drink!” Sam sings as he flies past Tony.

 

“He drinks a vodka drink!” Natasha continues, much to the engineer’s — and everyone else’s, apparently — surprise.

 

“He drinks a lager drink!” Thor’s off-key voice comes next, along with a booming laugh.

 

Right. Who knew the God of Thunder knew the lyrics to a 90s song?

 

“He drinks a cider drink!” Wanda sings next, obviously amused at the current sing-along.

 

“He sings the songs that remind him of the good times!” Clint and Peter joyfully shouts the succeeding lyrics to the sound of explosions and crashes.

 

Over the comms, Tony hears Steve finish the verse a little self-consciously, though it’s clear that the super soldier is just as entertained as the rest. “He sings the songs that remind him of the best times.”

 

“FRI, are you recording this?” Tony asks as the others continue to sing along to Chumbawamba.

 

“Yes, of course.”

 

“Perfect.” Tony grins, electing to ignore the sassiness in his AI’s response.

 

“I get knocked down, but I get up again
You’re never gonna keep me down
I get knocked down, but I get up again
You’re never gonna keep me down!”

 

The fight goes on, and nearing the end of the song on its third repeat, SHIELD arrives to help them subdue the arachnid bots. Before long, Vision and Wanda announced over the comms that they’ve found the sewer from where the bots are coming from. The powerful duo doesn’t hesitate to go underground and start destroying them, a small team of SHIELD agents going after them to help.

 

It was all going well now, especially with the added reinforcements. Tony loses sight of Steve and Peter early on once they started fighting again, his attention caught by a few straggling civilians who were trying to run away from three spider bots. The engineer arrived in the nick of time to save them when one bot was about to impale one of the screaming civilians. But even as he fights against the creepy motherfuckers, he has one ear trained on the super soldier and the young teen as they confidently take down the bots from their end.

 

The song loops back for the sixth time when things suddenly take a turn for the worse. Tony’s busy firing his way through a cluster of spiders hell bent on crawling up a building when it happens.

 

Tony hears a startled gasp over the comms; it’s followed by the sound of metal hitting against metal, then an ear-piercing screech of a bot collapsing and the loud snap of bones breaking. However, it’s not that that stops Tony’s heart for a moment. It’s the sound of Steve crying out in anguish, the reverberating sound of his vibranium shield hitting against the concrete prominent in the background.

 

Fuck.

 

No. Not Steve.

 

Please not him. Please —

 

He can’t — no. But he is.

 

Steve’s hurt, and Tony wasn’t there to watch his six, as he should’ve done.

 

“Cap, are you okay?” There’s no reply, only labored breathing. Tony’s trying not to panic, he’s really not, but fucking hell his heart is pounding so hard against his ribcage, and there’s a ringing in his ears and why is Steve not answering? “Cap, can y— Steve. Steve?”

 

Again, there’s no response save for the ragged panting of the super soldier. Nobody says anything, frozen on the spot at the unexpected turn of events.

 

“FRI, cut the music,” Tony snaps.

 

The music ceases abruptly, and the engineer is faintly aware that the fighting has also stopped as the rest of the team waits with bated breath for their leader to speak. To say anything. Tony curses himself for letting himself get distracted, for not being mindful enough to see where the super soldier could’ve gone. He should’ve been with him, he should’ve —

 

“I’m nearest to him,” Peter’s hushed voice comes over the comms. There’s the sound of the web shooters as the kid slings his way to the direction where Steve went. “Let me — let me check on him.”

 

Let him be okay. Please please please let hi—

 

“Steve,” Tony repeats faintly. “Can you hear me? Peter’s on his wa—” He cuts himself off when he hears Peter make a choked gasp.

 

“Oh, god.”

 

“Peter, what is it?” Natasha demands. “Talk, kid.”

 

There’s a heavy pause, and Tony is floating in mid-air as he waits for either Peter or Steve to talk. It feels like hours passed before he hears the super soldier’s voice.

It’s weak, frighteningly weak, when he utters, “T-Tony.”

 

Tony feels the breath knocked out of him as his world crashes around him.

 

“Holy shit. Oh, shit. What do I do? Oh, god.” He hears Peter curse softly over the comms. A lump forms in Tony’s throat, but before he — or anyone, for that matter — can speak, the teen rambles on, “Steve’s hurt. Like, really bad. There’s, uh, he — god, there’s so much blood —”

 

No. Oh, no. Fuck.

 

Tony’s throat is so dry he can barely swallow; his body’s gone rigid, he can’t even bring himself to fucking move a muscle — why can’t he move? He’s not restrained or anything, what the fuck? — and Peter’s still talking. He’s still talking, why won’t he stop rambling?

 

“—e’s losing so much blood, we need to get him to medical right now. What do I do? I don’t know any first aid! Can anybody copy? Tony? Tony, what do I do? I don’t know what to do!” Peter’s panic-stricken voice breaks off the trance Tony’s in. Once the kid’s words register in his mind, Tony blinks several times as he takes in a lungful of air.

 

He hears the voices of his teammates overlapping each other on the comms as they bark orders and scramble from their location to get to Steve.

 

“Medic’s on the way,” Natasha’s voice comes through the frantic noise, her tone clipped. “They’ll bring Steve back to SHIELD HQ.”

 

Clint’s curt voice comes next. “I’m on my way to you, kid.”

 

“Me, too,” Sam and Tony say simultaneously.

 

From the corner of his HUD, Tony sees a lone spider bot approach him. The engineer doesn’t hesitate to fire a repulsor at the piece of shit before he fires up his thrusters to follow the direction Peter went.

 

Eventually, Tony finds his voice, and he’s not surprised when he hears himself sound hoarse. “Peter, don’t move Steve. Is he lying on his back?”

 

Peter’s voice is choked with emotion when he answers, “N-no. He’s lying on his side. M-Mr. Stark, one of the bot’s l-legs is impaled through S-Steve’s.”

 

Oh, God.

 

Peter’s hunched form and Steve’s — oh, god, there’s so much blood — bigger figure comes into view. Tony lands ungracefully on the ground as he kneels on the super soldier’s other side. True to Peter’s words, Steve’s lying on his side, a spider bot’s broken leg sticking through his torso. Despite that, Tony’s relieved that it wasn’t the whole leg that went through Steve’s body, only the sharp tip and at least six inches of the leg sticking out of his broad chest.

 

Fuck. Shit. Don’t puke, Stark. Don’t you fucking puke.

 

It’s not a pretty sight, what with Steve’s blood painting the concrete morbidly, his vibranium shield laying several feet from them. Super soldier or not, this is really fucking awful, and the smell of blood and burning metal isn’t helping with his nausea at all. But he has to soldier on, because Tony’s aware that Steve is in excruciating pain right now, and it’s only thanks to the super serum that’s working its magic that he hasn’t died already.

 

God. Tony can taste the bile that’s rising at the back of his throat at that thought, and he clamps his mouth shut and takes a deep breath.

 

“FRI, scan his body and give me his diagnosis.”

 

Several seconds pass before his AI speaks. “Captain Rogers has sustained several fractured ribs, a fractured clavicle, dislocated shoulder, a pulmonary contusion to his right lung, minor concussion, a sprained wrist, and severe blood loss. No other major organs have been punctured, but it’s advisable that he’s attended to within the next fifteen minutes.”

 

Holy shit, that’s a lot of injuries. Serious injuries. Like, the life-threatening —

 

Okay, Stark, shut the fuck up and focus.

 

“Right. Yeah. Okay. Medic’s on the way now. Thanks, FRI.”

 

Tony lifts his faceplate and he struggles for a moment as he wills to dissolve his gauntlets. Once his hands are free of them, Tony leans further down to run trembling hands over Steve’s sweaty face and mussed hair.

 

“Steve, wake up,” Tony pleads quietly. “Steve, please. C’mon, open your eyes for me. Steve. Baby, c’mon.”

 

For the moment, he chooses to ignore Peter’s eyes trained on them, conscious of the fact that his protégé is staring at them with a tearful, heartbroken expression behind his mask. He even ignores the sounds of several feet approaching them, and instead focuses his attention on the blond man before him.

 

Tony swallows through the huge lump in his throat as he continues to stroke Steve’s cheeks while quietly begging him to wake up and open his eyes. After some time — god, it felt like a lifetime — Steve’s eyes flutter open, and Tony almost sobs in relief right then and there when his eyes lock on the baby blues he’s grown to love so much.

 

“Tony,” Steve rasps. “W-what…?” He attempts to move, but Tony shushes him and tells him to stop moving when the blond man gasps and groans in pain. “I — it hurts… s’much… T-Tony, what hap—”

 

“Help’s on the way, Steve,” Tony tries to soothe him, knowing the blond man is going to start panicking if he doesn’t get the answers he wants. “You’re hurt pretty bad. You got, uh. One of the bot’s legs is sticking out of you. You’re losing blood real fast, and you’ll probably go into shock in the next, oh, three minutes. But stay calm and breathe with me, okay? Everything’s gonna be okay, sweetheart. You’ll be okay. I promise.”

 

Distantly, he hears someone gasp and mutter “Oh my fucking god”, while another curses and says, “Jesus, that’s a lot of blood.”

 

He hears Natasha speak behind him, her voice tight with restrained emotion. “Medic’s only a minute away.”

 

Tony doesn’t answer, but he acknowledges the redhead with a nod.

 

“Tony, I…” Steve shuts his eyes as he coughs, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth, and the engineer’s eyes swivel back to him. “I-I’m sorry.”

 

Tony shakes his head. There’s a stinging in his eyes, and he knows he’s tearing up but he wills himself not to break down. Not yet. He has to be strong for Steve. Tony needs to be strong for him.

 

“Don’t be an idiot,” he attempts in a light tone, but it ends up wavering. “It’s not your fault. Don’t blame yourself for something you couldn’t have prevented.”

 

“Could’ve… been… f’ster.”

 

“I should’ve been here for you.” Tony whispers the words this time, but it’s a moot point because his comms are still on. “I shouldn’t have let you out of my sight.”

 

Steve tries to move his head, but Tony is still cradling his face in his hands so he doesn’t do much, but the engineer knows him well enough by now that the stubborn man wants to shake his head.

 

“Not… your fault. Don’t blame… yourself, Tony.”

 

Tony forces a laugh, the sound brittle to his ears. “Sorry to disappoint you, Cap.”

 

Steve’s lips twitch, his eyes clouded with pain, and Tony wants to scream because where the fuck is the medic?! “I’ll heal. Always do. Be right as rain… in no time.”

 

“You’re fucking crazy, man.” Sam’s rough voice comes from behind him, and the engineer can’t help but grin when Steve attempts to roll his eyes.

 

Tony wipes away the blood that dribbles past Steve’s lips. “Don’t die on me. I mean it this time, you asshole. Don’t you fucking die on me, or I — I swear I’m going to play ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ on repeat for a year.”

 

Steve laughs, but he ends up groaning in pain again. “You’re so… adorable. I’m not… gonna… die.”

 

“You fucking better not.”

 

“Tony?” Steve’s voice is fainter now. Tony does his best not to panic when the super soldier blinks and it takes him longer each time to keep his eyes open.

 

“Yeah? I’m right here, baby. I’m not going anywhere.”

 

For some reason, Steve doesn’t seem to hear him. His breathing is becoming more irregular, a ragged sound that doesn’t bring comfort to the teammates surrounding him, least of all to Tony whose composure is slowly crumbling.

 

“He’s going into shock,” someone says to his right. Probably Clint.

 

“Tony…”

 

“Steve,” Tony utters softly. His heart is pounding a painful rhythm against his chest, the fear he’s tried so hard to squash starting to creep up his chest at a terrifying rate. “Steve, keep your eyes open for me, sweetheart. Please.”

 

Somewhere in front of him, someone releases a loud sigh of relief. “Medic’s here.”

 

“Tony…” Despite the pain that’s evident in his voice, Steve still manages to utter Tony’s name reverently.

 

The engineer bites his lip so hard that he can taste the metallic tang of blood on his tongue. “You’ll be okay.”

 

Tony’s eyes lock on Steve’s, and for the briefest of moments, they say the words they’ve been too afraid to say without needing to utter them.

 

I’m scared.

 

I know. But you don’t have to be. I’m right here.

 

I know.

 

Don’t die on me. Please don’t.

 

You won’t lose me.

 

“Tony.” Shaky and weak, there’s an assurance in his voice that the engineer undoubtedly hears.

 

I love you.

 

“Steve.” Tony’s voice breaks. He blinks and two tears fall on Steve’s stained cheek.

 

I know.

 

“Tony.”

 

A raspy whisper, barely heard over the din of voices around them, but the super soldier manages to utter his name with unmistakable warmth and affection — the whole world shining in his eyes as a promise to Tony.

 

Then Steve’s face slackens, his eyes slipping shut as he loses consciousness.

 

Maybe ‘soon’ should’ve been yesterday, Tony numbly tells himself.

Chapter Text

Everything is a blur for the next several hours. Tony, after being forced to let go of Steve to allow SHIELD’s medical team to take care of the injured super soldier, returns to the Tower with Bruce and Peter to set up the med bay. The engineer is determined to have Steve transferred to the Tower after his surgery, and there’s nothing Fury or SHIELD’s competent team of doctors can do about it.

 

They can fucking sue him or revoke his access to the facility for all he cares, as long as Steve gets the best treatment that Tony can provide. He’s a fucking billionaire for crying out loud, he’s hired his own team of medical professionals— hell, he pays them a shit ton of money because they’re the best in their field.

 

The rest of the team went to SHIELD HQ to debrief with Fury and get checked up as well to treat the injuries they sustained after dealing with the army of arachnid robots. Fortunately, with the combined efforts of Vision, Wanda, and the team of SHIELD agents, they succeeded in destroying the remaining bots not long after Steve was whisked away. Towards the end, they caught the guy responsible for creating the arachnid bots, who was apparently controlling them from the deeper parts of the sewer. He goes by the name of Andrei Cornilov, a Moldovan who specializes in robotics engineering and was hailed one of the brightest minds in his home country. Now under SHIELD custody, Tony doesn’t doubt that he’ll be interrogated by Natasha or Clint.

 

Or both.

 

Either way, Tony expects the two to not go easy on the asshole.


Nearly three hours later, the Tower’s med bay is fully prepped, along with the room where Steve will stay for the foreseeable future while he recuperates from his injuries. Satisfied with their work, and knowing that Tony’s doctors will be on-call anytime, the engineer, along with Bruce and Peter, leaves the Tower for SHIELD’s HQ to visit Steve. And also ask for updates on how the interrogation is going.

 

It’s a little after six in the evening when they arrive at the facility. They briefly meet up with Fury, and Tony doesn’t hesitate to inform him that he’ll want Steve to be transferred once the super soldier is out of surgery. The Director looked like he was sucking on a lemon at Tony’s no-nonsense attitude, but ultimately he grudgingly agrees to the engineer’s blunt request.

 

Not long after that, the Science Trio take the elevators to meet up with their other teammates at one of the medical wards where the nurses are tending to their injuries.

 

“Any updates on Steve?” Tony asks without preamble.

 

Everyone looks up as they enter the room, and the engineer doesn’t miss their strained expressions. Nobody speaks for a few moments, even the nurses look wary when they notice Tony’s sharp gaze.

 

Eventually, it’s Sam who speaks up. “He’s still in surgery. But we were told a few minutes ago that they’re almost done.”

 

Tony’s frown deepens. “But it’s been hours.”

 

“They said there was a complication —”

 

Alarm bells start to ring in Tony’s head, his palms sweating and his stomach churning while his heart starts to pound painfully in his chest.

 

Noticing the panic on his face, Vision swiftly interjects in a calming voice, “It’s nothing that SHIELD’s doctors won’t be able to do, Tony. They noticed that his right lung has a small rupture, but they were quick to resolve it. He’ll be out of surgery soon and will be placed in a medically induced coma to help him heal quicker. Regardless of the super serum working in his bloodstream, the doctors deem it the best course of action for Captain Rogers to heal with no difficulty.”

 

“Oh. Okay. That’s… that’s good.”

 

Reassured at Vision’s words, Tony takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. He feels a hand on his shoulder and turns to see Peter looking at him, eyebrows furrowed in concern. Tony tries to smile but it probably ends up looking like a grimace. Peter doesn’t say anything else, except to lightly squeeze the engineer’s shoulder as a sign of support and comfort. Tony’s chest warms with affection for his protégé, and his next attempt at a smile turns out marginally better. Bruce, who’s standing on Tony’s other side, also rests a hand on the middle of the engineer’s back, gently rubbing soothing circles. He glances at the physicist and smiles at him in gratitude.

 

Tony turns his attention to the rest of the team and clears his throat.

 

“You’re all okay? Nobody got injured?” he asks, sounding a bit sheepish at almost having a panic attack in front of everyone, but the concern in his voice is apparent.

 

“We’re okay, Tony,” Wanda replies with a reassuring smile. “Just a few scratches and bruises.”

 

“What about you, Anthony?” Thor asks earnestly.

 

Are you okay? How are you feeling? are the questions that Tony hears based from the looks they’re giving him.

 

Tony blinks and nods.

 

“Yeah, great. Perfect,” he smoothly lies through his teeth.

 

Nobody believes him, but they let it slide.


“Hey. How is he?”

 

Tony looks up from the Stark tablet where he’s been working on designing a new suit for Steve. He’s considering incorporating vibranium in his suit, and is considering getting in touch with T’Challa to buy a few million dollars’ worth of the element when he’s interrupted by Natasha’s arrival. The redhead silently enters the room, her footsteps faint as she walks around Steve’s bed to sit on the empty chair beside the disheveled engineer.

 

Following Tony’s arrival at SHIELD, and after checking up on his teammates at med bay, they receive an update from one of the doctors that Steve’s surgery was a success. It was touch and go for a while, and it didn’t help that the man in question lost a lot of blood. But due to the super serum working in his bloodstream, Steve’s body was able to reproduce new blood cells at a faster rate compared to a normal human’s, much to Tony’s relief.

 

It’s been ten hours since Steve was brought into a private room, and not once did Tony leave his side except to drink some super shitty coffee from SHIELD’s cafeteria and buy a few energy bars from the vending machine a few meters away from the room. Everyone stayed for a few hours, but eventually they left one by one, Peter being the last to leave. Tony, touched at the teen’s compassion and willingness to not leave the engineer alone, managed to convince the young vigilante after further coaxing to go back to the Tower with the others and get his much deserved rest. Peter didn’t want to at first, obviously, but after Tony promised him that he can return later in the day to visit Steve and keep him company, the kid’s features lit up and he finally acquiesced.

 

Apart from Tony, the only ones who didn’t return to the Tower were Natasha and Clint. He’s certain that the two assassins have been interrogating Cornilov in intervals. Last he heard from Sam, the Moldovan barely spoke a word, but Tony’s confident that he’ll break sooner than later.

 

In the present, Tony shuts off his tablet and sets it on top of the table beside Steve’s bed. Dressed in an old pair of jeans and a Black Sabbath shirt, he’s aware that he must resemble the living dead because of his wild, tangled hair and the purple bags under his eyes. Not to mention his paler than usual complexion. Try running on shit coffee and energy bars, plus being awake for seventy hours, and see if you don’t end up looking like a lunatic.

 

Tony releases a long breath as he stretches his neck and back, groaning when his joints pop from staying hunched for a long period of time. He shifts in his seat so his body is angling towards Natasha but still has a good peripheral view of Steve’s sleeping form.

 

“Sleeping Beauty’s still the same,” he replies with a sigh. He smiles wanly and adds, “I suggested True Love’s Kiss would wake him up, but since he’s in a medically induced coma, it won’t work. So, waiting game it is.”

 

Natasha’s lips quirk upwards at his attempt at a sarcastic response, but her smile vanishes as she regards Tony with an inscrutable look. The engineer almost groans out loud because here comes the conversation he’s been keen to avoid.

 

“Are you alright?”

 

Surprised at the question, Tony blinks, and it takes him a few beats to muster up a response. Always, is what he wants to say, but he ends up admitting the truth. “Could be better.”

 

Natasha doesn’t say anything, just nods her head and continues to observe him silently, expression carefully blank so Tony has no way of knowing what the ex-Russian spy is thinking. He remains silent, and so does she. After some time, she releases a sigh of her own and finally allows her body to relax in the seat.

 

“You know,” Natasha starts several minutes later, breaking the comfortable silence. Tony turns his attention from gazing at Steve’s face to meet her eyes. “The whole team knows that you and Steve are crazy for each other.”

 

Tony gawks at her, jaw dropping open in shock at her casual admission. Before he can say anything, Natasha continues, and this time her eyes shift to Steve’s prone form, watching the steady rise and fall of the super soldier’s chest.

 

“Don’t look so shocked, Tony. You two haven’t exactly been subtle about it.” Tony feels his face burn in embarrassment as the redhead glances at him, a small smirk etched on her face before she turns back to observing Steve. “Anyway, you ought to know that we’re aware of what’s happening between you two. Because honestly? The unresolved sexual tension is getting a little bit stifling. And that’s saying a lot considering we live in a Tower and have our own suites.”

 

“Oh, God.” Tony’s voice is muffled as he buries his face in his hands.

 

Shit, this is so mortifying.

 

But then again, it’s not like Tony was blatantly hiding his actions in regards to Steve. Sure, he hasn’t voiced his feelings out loud to the blond man yet, but he’s conscious of his actions towards him. Now, though, he wonders what that must look like to the others.

 

We really were doing a mating dance, he thinks to himself with a snort.

 

“You gotta be fucking kidding me,” Tony voices with a humorless chuckle. “Not exactly the right time to be having this kinda talk, don’t you think, Nat?”

 

Natasha studies him silently with a piercing gaze, a look that she makes whenever she’s reading someone. In this case, it’s Tony.

 

Finally, she utters, “No. But when will the right time be?”

 

Perplexed, Tony continues to look at her, and the redhead rolls her eyes as she mutters “Idiot” under her breath.

 

“Seeing as you looked like you just lost the love of your life when Steve was bleeding to death earlier should be obvious enough even to you, Tony. This mating dance you two have been doing for the past several months has to reach its end at some point. It’s either you stop skirting around each other and resolve the sexual tension and actually be together. Or you don’t. Don’t misunderstand me,” she adds when Tony opens his mouth to protest. He clamps his mouth with a small frown, and he allows Natasha to continue. “I’m not telling you what to do, Tony. I’m only letting you know what the rest of us think. We just want you and Steve to be happy, that’s all. And if having this talk means that you’ll both get your heads out of your asses and confess your feelings to each other, then all the better. Personally, I do believe that you two are good for each other. I haven’t seen either of you this happy in a really long time.”

 

Tony clears his throat, feeling both relieved and uncomfortable at the unexpected heart-to-heart talk.

 

“Er, thanks. I think. I’ll, uh, see what I can do.”

 

Natasha raises an eyebrow at him. “You better. I drew the short straw here, so you better make good on your word.”

 

The engineer lets out a short laugh at the admission, thinking how he’d like to be a fly in the wall to witness his teammates arguing over who gets to share a private word with Tony in regards to his and Steve’s personal relationship.

 

God. That sentence shouldn’t even make sense, yet it does.

 

“Yeah, alright,” he answers, a more genuine smile crossing his face. He looks fondly at Natasha, the woman also regarding him with a warm look. He takes her hand that’s resting on the arm of the chair, Natasha interlacing their fingers together in a firm grasp. Then his smile fades as he turns somber. “Thank you. I — I think I needed to hear that. It’s just… I’ve been terrified this whole time, thinking that if I do make a move then it’ll end up blowing in my face when shit hits the fan. I can’t lose him, Nat. And the shittiest thing is that I almost did.”

 

He bites his lip when his voice wavers, but Natasha squeezes his fingers in comfort and the engineer meets her eyes with a shaky smile.

 

“Fear is good,” Natasha answers quietly. “But letting it consume you like this? Tony, we both know you’re so much better than that. I don’t exactly know the whole story of what happened between you and Pepper to make you doubt a lot of things when it comes to romantic relationships. But one failed relationship shouldn’t stop you from trying again. Don’t let that same fear take over you completely from doing what you want. Or from getting who you want.”

 

“I know, I know,” Tony says with a sigh. “Trust me, it’s nothing I haven’t heard before. I’m just…”

 

His voice trails off, and his eyes travel over to Steve once more. Natasha remains quiet, allowing the engineer to gather his thoughts at his own pace. Tony studies the super soldier’s pale complexion, the bags under his eyes more prominent than usual, and his pinkish lips looking a little dry and chapped. Regardless of his appearance, Tony still thinks he’s the most beautiful person he’s ever laid eyes on. Suddenly, there’s a stinging in the corners of his eyes, and Tony doesn’t bother to wipe away the tears that cascade down his cheeks.

 

Natasha remains unmoving and quiet, save for the tightening of her grip on Tony’s left hand. After several moments, Tony sniffs and wipes his face with his free hand, and he averts his eyes from the unconscious man to meet the redhead’s sympathetic gaze.

 

“I love him,” Tony finally admits, and God it feels so good to finally say it out loud, even if it’s not to the man he wants to confess it to. “I’m seriously, absolutely in love with him. I don’t deserve him — shut up, don’t look at me like that. I don’t. We both know how fucked up I am. But that’s the thing. I want to be deserving of him. And that terrifies me, Nat. It really fucking does ‘cos I want this, I want him, so much so that sometimes it hurts to breathe. I feel like I’m always missing a part of myself, and it turns out that it’s Steve that’s, well, missing. He’s, he’s my person.”

 

Then he sighs heavily and ducks his head, his voice lower and filled with guilt. “I should’ve been there with him. It’s my fault that he’s here in the first place. If I hadn’t lost sight of him, then maybe I could’ve saved him in time. I promised him ages ago that I’ll always have his back, and the one time he needed me to be there, I wasn’t. And that fucking kills me —”

 

“It’s not your fault.” Natasha cuts him off, and Tony looks up at her with an indignant expression, but she ignores it as she continues. “It isn’t. Listen, Tony, none of us blame you for what happened, so please stop blaming yourself for something you had no control over. I know that it’s easier said than done, but can you try? If not for us, then at least for Steve. And I’m pretty sure he doesn’t blame you as well.”

 

“But I —”

 

The redhead interrupts him, this time with a pointed glare, and Tony wisely shuts his mouth again.

 

“Look, what’s happened has happened. There’s no point in wallowing in guilt or self-hatred and thinking of ‘what if’s or ‘I should’ve’s. What matters is that Steve’s going to fully recover, and we got the man responsible for creating those robots. Now, what you should be focusing on is your own health ‘cos it’s bad enough that your sleeping habits are non-existent. So if I were you, I’d take a step back, get some rest — and fucking breathe, Tony. Steve’s going to be okay, you told him so yourself. He’s got you and the rest of the team to help him gain his strength back. It’ll be okay.”

 

For once, Tony does what Natasha tells him to do and breathes. He takes long, deep breaths — in through his nose, out through his mouth — and he does this for several minutes until his mind is clear and his heartbeat is no longer beating a samba against his ribcage.

 

“Thanks,” he mutters for the umpteenth time. His hand, the one that’s gripping Natasha’s, is slightly damp with sweat now, but the redhead doesn’t seem to mind for she squeezes his fingers in response. He returns the gesture, and they lapse back into silence.

 

They remain sitting in SHIELD’s surprisingly comfortable chairs, holding each other’s hands in comfort.


An hour later, Tony’s back to working on his design for Steve’s new suit when Natasha stands up and pulls something from her pocket, only to hand it to Tony. The engineer raises an eyebrow at the device in her hand, and then at her, before Natasha rolls her eyes and sets the thing down on the table next to Steve’s bed.

 

Tony’s a bit taken aback when he spots the super soldier’s 8th Gen iPod Nano. He looks back at the redhead with an unspoken question.

 

Natasha shrugs and simply says, “One of the nurses gave it to me earlier. They found it inside one of the compartments in his suit, which they burned and threw away by now, considering the damages done to it.”

 

“Yeah, I’m designing him a new one,” Tony explains offhandedly with a wave of his hand. “That old thing was outdated, anyway. And so is yours, for that matter.”

 

Natasha smiles at him before she places a hand on his shoulder and leans down to press a chaste kiss to his cheek. Tony’s lips quirk into a soft smile, and he doesn’t hesitate to slightly turn his head to quickly kiss the redhead on the apple of her cheek.

 

When Natasha draws back, there’s an impish look in her eyes as she looks down at Tony. She gestures her head to the small device and says, “You should probably take a look at that. Granted, you gave Steve a ton of material that spans decades, but you’ll be surprised at what you may find.”

 

His interest piqued, the engineer raises an eyebrow at her. Natasha purses her lips and doesn’t utter another word. She turns around and is almost at the door when Tony calls her back.

 

“I’ve been meaning to ask, how’s the interrogation going with Cornilov?”

 

Natasha’s expression darkens at the mention of the Moldovan robotics engineer. “He hasn’t talked much, but he’s dropped a few facts on us. Don’t worry, we’ll break him soon.”

 

Tony frowns at the ambiguity of her response. “What did you find out?”

 

There’s a pause, but eventually she discloses, “He was recruited by Hydra a year and a half ago. There’s a research base somewhere in the southwest, but that’s all we have so far. Clint and I will keep you posted.” She adds, and Tony smirks inwardly at how well Natasha knows him by now. If he’s not satisfied with the answer, he’ll just hack his way into SHIELD’s servers and find it himself.

 

He nods his head in thanks and Natasha turns around and leaves the room with a quiet click of the door.


It takes another hour and a half before Tony’s resolve breaks and he shuts off his Stark tablet for the third time in twenty minutes. He sets the tablet on top of the seat Natasha vacated before his eyes zero in on the iPod Nano lying innocently on the table, temping Tony to take it and open it.

 

They say that there’s so much you can learn about a person from the music they listen to, and Tony’s itching to discover what other music Steve has stored in there.

 

He lasts a minute and a half before he mutters “Fuck it” under his breath and reaches out to take the device in his hands. He untangles the earphones from the gadget as he turns it on. The small screen shows a long list of Steve’s music library, and Tony doesn’t hesitate to press the back option to go to the super soldier’s playlists.

 

There’s a lot. He remembers tinkering with this device after Steve asked him (okay, more like begged) to add more memory to it because he’s grown attached to this little piece of shit. So Tony does because who is he to say no to Steven Grant Rogers?

 

Tony finds himself scrolling down, down, down to see all the playlists he gave to the super soldier to listen to in order to catch up to the seventy years’ worth of music he missed while he was frozen in the Arctic. He’s pleasantly surprised to find playlists of different genres — like pop, EDM (what the hell, Steve?), indie folk, alternative, rock, musicals (oh, this should be good), country, blues, and jazz. Some were probably recommended to him, too. Either from Sam or Peter or Clint. Hell, probably even Bruce. The physicist listens to a lot of —

 

Ah, there. Relaxation Music. Definitely screams Bruce Banner right there.

 

He’s chuckling to himself as he continues to scroll past the different titled playlists — Art Inspiration Playlist, Help Me Sleep Playlist, Not In The Mood 1, Workout Playlist 1, Workout Playlist 2, and many, many more. They’re all ridiculously titled and Tony loves every single one of it. He scrolls to the top of the list and is about to select the Albums section when something catches his eye.

 

Holding his breath, he slowly scrolls back up until he sees — there.

 

05.29.74

 

What the..?

 

Call Tony presumptuous or narcissistic (both true, but whatever) but he’s willing to bet his Mark XL that that’s his birthdate right there. Titled as a playlist; specifically, one of Steve’s playlists. He can hear his heartbeat in his ears as his thumb hovers over the small text. The engineer bites his lower lip in hesitation and quickly glances around the quiet, spacious room before his wandering eyes fall on Steve’s sleeping form. It takes another few seconds before he decides that he’s got nothing to lose and he clicks on it.

 

Tony blinks.

 

Slowly, he scrolls down the playlist, reading each and every song. In it are hundreds — literally hundreds — of songs, varying in genre, decade, and artist. Tony recognizes a lot of the songs, but he also doesn’t recognize a lot of them. Sure, some titles and artists sound vaguely familiar, but he knows he hasn’t listened to their music. Which is astonishing, not because he’s shocked that he doesn’t recognize all of them, but that Steve has created this playlist and chose these specific songs for a reason.

 

Tony wets his lips and gulps inaudibly as he scrolls back to the top. All in all, there are well over two hundred twelve songs, and Tony’s aching to listen to them. He briefly looks over at Steve, sleeping peacefully and breathing with the help of the ventilator, and he finally makes up his mind.

 

Plugging the earphones back to the iPod, he slips the buds in his ears and doesn’t hesitate to play the first song at the top of the list. As Tony listens with rapt attention to the song, a heavy lump starts to form in his throat as his eyes burn with tears. He looks at Steve once more, and this time, he shifts his chair closer until he’s right next to the bed. Without missing a beat, he grasps the super soldier’s limp hand and laces their fingers together before he brings their hands up to press a gentle kiss on Steve’s knuckles.

 

Tony sits back, hand clasping the other man’s in a tight grip on the bed, and he continues to listen to Steve’s playlist for a long, long time.


By early afternoon, Clint informs Tony that Cornilov still hasn’t revealed where Hydra’s research base is located, except to tell them that the organization will only create more of the bots he designed. Beyond pissed off, the engineer doesn’t hesitate to hack into SHIELD’s servers to find out where the asshole was being held. It takes him less than fifteen minutes to figure out where his cell is located before Tony gives the man an unofficial and unsupervised visit himself.

 

Twenty minutes later, he comes out of Cornilov’s cell with bruised and bloodied knuckles. He doesn’t react when he sees Fury, Natasha, Clint, and Bruce waiting for him outside with disapproving looks etched on their faces.

 

At the Director’s unimpressed look, Tony shrugs unapologetically and remarks, “Relax, Director Moody. I just knocked some sense into the bastard.”

 

Clint’s expression drops and he guffaws at the declaration. Even Bruce hides a smirk behind his hand while Natasha’s lips quirk in amusement. It’s only Fury who glares harder at Tony. He shoots the two assassins a look before Clint relents and enters Cornilov’s cell.

 

Less than five minutes later, the archer comes out with an incredulous look on his face and an answer to the question they’ve (figuratively or, in Tony’s case, literally) been trying to beat out of the bastard.

 

Ignoring the stunned looks the other three (well, Natasha’s raising an eyebrow) were giving him, Tony nods his head in smug satisfaction.

 

“I’ll call the rest of the team. We’ll reconvene at the Tower in an hour and take the quinjet to the base.”

 

Fury stares down at him, and Tony can read in his eye that the man looks begrudgingly impressed at his less-than-subtle interrogation tactics. Finally, he nods and says, “This will be a covert operation. Leave nobody alive except a few to be kept for interrogation. Gather all the data you can get, and once you’re done, burn the whole motherfucking building down.”

 

Nobody argues with him on that.


“I want to go!”

 

“No, Peter.”

 

‘No’?! You’re not leaving me here. Not again! I want to help!”

 

“Peter, no. For God’s sake, kid, listen to me.”

 

“I am listening to you, Mr. Stark! And I’m telling you that it’s unfair —”

 

“How is me protecting you unfair —”

 

“— and I shouldn’t be left behind, just ‘cos I’m a kid! I mean, I’m Spider-Man —”

 

“— you are still a kid, Peter! Don’t —”

 

“— and I got these super cool powers, but you won’t even let me use them to help you take down Hydra! I mean, seriously —”

 

“— argue with me on this. My decision’s final. You’re staying.”

 

“— Mr. Stark, I’m an Avenger, too!”

 

Tony sighs. “I didn’t say you weren’t, kiddo. This is a covert operation, meaning that it’s something you’re not yet allowed to join in because it’s too dangerous. Your aunt’s going to saw my balls off if she finds out you went with us to the middle of nowhere in Texas to take down a terrorist organization’s base. Look, I know you’re still on vacation, and I know you only want to help — shush, I’m talking — and I get that, I do. But Pete, for the love of God, trust me on this. Please. I need you to stay here ‘cos I want you to be out of harm’s way. I want you to be safe. Do you get that?”

 

There’s a sullen expression on the teen’s face, but Tony remains steadfast in his decision to not include Peter on the mission. It’s true, it’s too dangerous. And he can’t have another person he cares about — someone whom he secretly considers his son — get hurt. Not when he has a say in it; not when he can do something about it. Granted, he also cares very deeply for the rest of his teammates (okay, fine, he loves them), but they’re all grown-ass adults. Peter’s sixteen, for fuck’s sake. He’s still just a kid — a kid who has super powers and frequently saves New York every other week or so. But still a kid, regardless.

 

Eventually, Peter sighs heavily and then nods in defeat. Tony finds himself sighing in relief.

 

“Fine,” the young vigilante grouses. In a different situation, the engineer would tease Peter for pouting, but the troubled look in his eyes makes Tony pause. “But promise me you’ll be safe, Mr. Stark. Please? I don’t I think I can — if you get hurt, I’m gonna… I can’t —”

 

There’s a pang in his chest when he notices the distressed look on Peter’s face, so Tony doesn’t hesitate to pull the teen close into an embrace. Peter wraps his arms around his torso and he clutches Tony tightly. He doesn’t have the heart to tell the kid he’s cutting off his air supply, so instead, Tony just closes his eyes and hugs his protégé back just as tightly.

 

“I promise I’ll be safe,” he murmurs against Peter’s temple. “Trust me when I say that I’ll be a lot safer with you here, ‘cos then I won’t have to worry about something terrible happening to you.”

 

Peter sniffles against Tony’s shoulder, and the engineer starts to rub soothing circles on his back. “This is Hydra, Mr. Stark. They — they almost killed Steve, and he’s Captain America! And it’s not like I don’t care about the others. I do, I love them all, but. But Mr. Stark, you’re — you’re so important to me. Not ‘cos of the internship or the suit — which is awesome, by the way — but ‘cos it’s you. You, who saw an awkward, scrawny kid and decided to take him under your wing ‘cos you saw potential in him. You gave me a chance and I — I can’t thank you enough, Mr. Stark. For everything.”

 

Fucking hell, this is too many heart-to-heart talks for Tony to handle. He’s literally running on seven cups of coffee, three chocolate bars, and four energy bars. Plus, he was only able to nap for forty-five minutes before he was woken up by the arrival of Thor and the others who wanted to visit Steve.

 

Tony erases those thoughts and shuts his eyes as he kisses the side of Peter’s head. It takes him a few times to swallow past the lump in his throat before he can speak.

 

“You’re important to me, too, kiddo,” he answers in a gruff voice. He feels Peter bury his face on the crook of his neck, and he doesn’t mention the dampness he feels there. All of a sudden, Tony realizes that the kid must be going through an emotional turmoil following the aftermath of finding Steve critically injured. Then Tony goes and tells him he’ll be leaving with the rest of the team to go deal with Hydra. He feels shame and guilt well up in his chest at the thought of Peter suffering in silence. “I’m sorry if you feel like I’m neglecting you. I didn’t mean to — I was… I got distracted, for obvious reasons. But that shouldn’t be an excuse. Just know that I’m here for you, Pete. I always will be. And if you need anything, anything at all, don’t hesitate to tell me. You can talk to me, anytime. Got that?”

 

“Got it.” Peter sniffles, and Tony continues to rub his back as he presses another comforting kiss to his temple. “Thank you, Mr. Stark.”

 

“Don’t thank me, kid. You’re still not going.”

 

Peter laughs softly, and they pull back from the hug at the same time. The young teen wipes his face as Tony runs a hand through his tangled hair. He’s so in need of a shower.

 

“Do me a favor?” Tony asks once he sees Peter get a hold of himself. He looks at him and nods eagerly; Tony doesn’t bother to hide his fond smile. “Stay here with Steve? For me. I know he’s in a medically induced coma, but I’d feel more at ease if someone I know and trust is here to watch over him.”

 

“Yeah. Yeah, of course,” Peter replies keenly. Then his expression shifts as a playful look crosses over his face, and he slyly adds, “I bet Steve wouldn’t mind if you still gave him True Love’s Kiss to wake him up, though.”

 

Tony definitely doesn’t blush at that.

 

(He does, though. He totally does, if Peter’s laughter was any indication.)


The Hydra research base is located somewhere behind the terrains of Chihuahuan Desert in West Texas. The coordinates they got based from Cornilov’s intel shows that the base is hidden between two mountains. Jeez, Hydra must be spending several million dollars a month just to keep the place running and sustain what it and its occupants needs.

 

Not that Tony cares, because he doesn’t. He and the team are ready to Fuck Shit Up™️, the engineer basically vibrating in his suit from the mix of adrenaline and anticipation.

 

The plan is simple: infiltrate, destroy, and gather data. In no particular order, of course. Based from the schematics the quinjet managed to scan (hello, cloaking function), the facility is comparatively smaller as opposed to the one they infiltrated in Sokovia. The whole area is nearly as long as a football field, the building itself located in the middle. However, the area is narrower due to it being erected between two mountains. Still, it’s a lot of ground to be covered, and though they’re down two team members, they all agree to work in pairs in order to cover more ground.

 

Clint and Vision will take the north side while Sam and Wanda will take the south side of the facility. Natasha and Bruce, as Hulk, will handle the west side of the area while Tony and Thor will deal with the east side. Overall, it sounds very vague, but it’s the most feasible they can come up with to evenly pair off a completely human member to an enhanced one (or in Thor’s case, an alien god).

 

It’s a little after seven in the evening when they land the quinjet not far from the research base and they begin their trek, only to separate once they’ve reached enemy grounds. As always, they announce their presence with a loud bang — or two. They all quickly take down the security guards patrolling the area, and Tony and Thor don’t hesitate to fly to the east side of the building.

 

“FRI, see if you can try to hack into their servers,” Tony says once he and Thor literally blast their way inside the facility. The building is three stories high, and there are already a brigade of Hydra agents running towards them from all directions with familiar-looking weapons.

 

FRIDAY answers after a few seconds. “Negative. Their firewall is pretty tight, boss.”

 

“Mmm, can’t have that,” Tony replies as he fires repulsors at their opponents. ‘Leave nobody alive’, Fury says. Well, ask and ye shall receive and all that jazz, Tony thinks. “Show me the schematics of the building again. Where’s the control room located?”

 

“Fifty meters straight ahead, then turn right, walk for another sixty meters, and then take the second left,” his AI informs him as a small map of the building’s interior shows up on the upper right corner of his HUD.

 

“Great. Thanks, FRI.”

 

Seeing that Thor is occupied with more Hydra agents coming from all sides, Tony quickly informs the God of Thunder where he’ll be going before he fires up his thrusters and goes to the direction of where the control room is located. He takes down another dozen Hydra goons before he reaches his destination. Tony lifts his faceplate and wills the gauntlets to disappear so he can manually take down the firewall protecting FRIDAY from hacking into.

 

“I’m in, boss,” FRIDAY informs him a minute later.

 

Tony grins, pleased. His eyes roam over the room until his eyes land on the electric panels, and an idea then forms in his head.

 

“Guys, I’m gonna shut the lights off,” he informs the team over the comms.

 

He hears them react in varying degrees of incredulity.

 

“Uh, that’s not part of the plan?” Wanda asks, sounding confused.

 

Clint swears. “Whatever the fuck for? In case you forgot, I’m already deaf. I’m wearing hearing aids to help me hear you fuckers! I don’t need to be temporarily blind, too!”

 

Tony rolls his eyes at the overdramatic response, but he patiently explains. “Because, birdbrain, FRIDAY’s got full control of the servers now. There’s an electric panel here in the control room. If we shut them down for a few minutes, with FRI deactivating the emergency lights during that time, those fuckers are gonna panic and run blind. And in case you forgot, we got a Norse god with us. Thor, buddy,” Tony adds, addressing the Asgardian. “Will you be able to light those assholes up in the dark?”

 

Thor gleefully replies, “You need not ask, friend. I have complete control of the situation. In fact, more are approaching and I believe it will be easier for me to take them all down that way.”

 

Natasha hums in agreement. “Makes sense. Less time consuming, too.”

 

Soon, the rest agree and Tony counts down from five before he shuts them down one by one. There’s a deafening silence before the familiar sound of lightning zipping and zapping bodies comes in the distance, quickly followed by the screams of the Hydra agents being literally roasted alive by Thor.

 

Fuck, this is so morbid, Tony thinks, and he’s quick to banish that thought away. Just then, a familiar underlying riff starts to play from the facility’s sound system. Tony blinks and stares up at the ceiling with an intrigued expression.

 

“FRI?” the engineer asks.

 

The AI’s cheeky response comes quick, and Tony arches a brow at the unapologetic tone. “I believe we’re keeping up with tradition, sir.”

 

A huff of laughter escapes past his lips as Tony shakes his head in amusement. “I suppose we are. Great song choice, too. Thanks, girl.”

 

“Always a pleasure, boss.”

 

It goes without saying that it’s the ultimate Fuck You™️ to Hydra, a message to the slimy organization that The Avengers are here, and they’re going to destroy everything they’ve established in the two years they’ve been “in hiding”.

 

“Oh. My. God.” Sam utters in an uncanny imitation of Janice from Friends.

 

Tony hears someone squeak over the comms, and it’s Wanda who gushes, “I love this song!”

 

The underlying riff continues to play on repeat, which Tony finds odd at first, but then the engineer realizes that it’s FRIDAY manipulating the song. His sassy AI is actually, deliberately playing the riff on repeat. Tony doesn’t hide the shit-eating grin that crosses his face as he closes his faceplate and wills his gauntlets to cover his bare hands again. As he exits the control room, the emergency lights come on — a dim, red light that reminds Tony of being in a thriller movie.

 

“The east side is clear,” Thor announces over the comms, pride evident in his tone.

 

“West side is clear as well,” Natasha pipes up, and Tony can distinctly hear the happy roars of the Hulk smashing away.

 

Smirking in triumph, Tony thinks that this is the most badass he’s felt. And that’s saying a fucking lot.

 

FRIDAY plays the signature riff one more time before she plays the song from the very beginning again.

 

“What’s next?” Sam asks.

 

“I'm gonna fight 'em all
A seven nation army couldn't hold me back
They're gonna rip it off
Taking their time right behind my back.”

 

Tony sees a stray Hydra agent creeping in the next corridor. He’s about to take him out when the engineer remembers that Fury wants at least a few of them alive for interrogation. So instead of killing the bastard, Tony swiftly approaches him and slaps the weapon away from his hands before he can so much as raise it at Tony, and then knocks him out cold with a well-aimed right hook.

 

“Time for a lullaby, Nat,” Tony suggests over the comms, dragging the unconscious Hydra agent by the collar of his shirt as he walks back to meet Thor where he left the guy. “I'm gonna need Bruce to help me gather all the data that Hydra’s been storing.”

 

“Can’t FRIDAY do that?” Clint asks.

 

Tony shrugs. “She can, but I’m not willing to risk having Hydra information stored in my servers. Besides, that’s several terabytes’ worth of data. Fury gave us a few drives to store all the information in, so that’s what we’re gonna do. And that’s where Brucie-bear comes in. Could use another extra pair of eyes and hands. And brain.”

 

“North side is clear,” Vision suddenly declares in his usual calm voice. “That was a clever idea to give them zero visual, Tony.”

 

“Thanks, Viz.” Tony smirks.

 

The engineer soon finds Thor who’s leaning against a wall and looking very casual amidst the dozens of burnt bodies strewn across their surroundings. Tony whistles low as he dumps the knocked out goon beside the Asgardian prince. He takes the magnetic cuffs from Thor with a nod of thanks before he binds the poor bastard’s hands and feet.

 

Over the comms, he hears Natasha’s soothing voice, “Hey, Big Guy. The sun’s getting real low.”

 

The sun has already set hours ago, Tony wants to say but he keeps that joke to himself. It was pretty lame anyway.

 

Nobody speaks as they wait for the Hulk to transform back into Bruce. It takes a few more minutes until they hear the familiar groans of the physicist.

 

Jesus, it’s freezing here,” Bruce complains once Natasha’s handed him a comm piece.

 

Tony winces and nearly facepalms. “Oops. Ah, sorry ‘bout that. We forgot to bring you clothes.”

 

There’s a loud, exasperated sigh over the comms as the man grumbles, “You expect me to walk around here in just my stretchy pants?”

 

Clint and Sam snicker while Wanda helpfully suggests, “Bruce, you can always strip one of the Hydra agents and wear their clothes.”

 

"Out of context, that sounds really fucking creepy," Clint quips with a snigger. "And kinky."

 

Tony hums as he grins cheekily. “Wanda's got a point, Brucie-bear. At least you’ll be warm.”

 

Bruce continues to grumble, but he distinctly hears Natasha attempting to cheer him up.

 

A few minutes later, Sam announces that the south side of the building has been cleared.

 

“Perfect. FRIDAY, where are their labs located? Do we have more Hydra people in the vicinity?”

 

“Their laboratories are located on Basement Levels 1 and 2, boss. There are some still alive, however not all of them are armed. Mostly, they’re scientists and engineers working down there.”

 

“Even better,” Clint mutters darkly. “Fury said to keep a few alive, right?”

 

“I caught one,” Tony informs them. “Knocked him out cold, and he’s bound so he’s going nowhere.”

 

“Okay, boys and girl,” Natasha starts. “Let’s get this over with before Steve wakes up and starts yelling at us for dawdling.”

 

Tony’s heart twinges at the mention of Steve. Steve, who’s still in a medically induced coma and will remain so for another day until the doctors deem him well enough to take him out of that state. The super soldier is currently being looked after by Peter, his young protégé undoubtedly bored out of his mind by now.

 

Comforted by the thought that the two most important people to him are safe and out of harm’s way, Tony takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. He needs to focus on the task at hand.

 

“Nat’s right. Let’s get down to business.”

 

Unsurprisingly, Clint, Sam, and Wanda quip in unison, “To defeat the huns!”

 

Yeah, okay. He should’ve seen that coming.


Three hours later, with the combined efforts of FRIDAY, Tony, and Bruce, they managed to secure all the data that Hydra’s been storing for the better part of two years (since their supposed downfall, but then again there’s that saying about cutting its head and growing two more). It’s gonna be like all the joyful occasions rolled into one once Fury gets a hold of the drives containing classified information that could cause at least two world wars in the span of a century.

 

The team leaves together with the captured Hydra members, the research facility burning in the background as they quietly board the quinjet.

 

Pressing on the arc reactor, the suit dissolves around Tony’s exhausted frame as he sits beside Wanda before he leans his head back and starts to massage his temples.

 

“Are you okay, Tony?” the young woman asks him quietly, worry visible in her voice.

 

Tony opens his eyes and turns his head to meet Wanda’s eyes. His lips quirk into a small smile as he responds just as quietly, “Yeah, Wanda. I’m good, thanks. Just tired.”

 

Wanda smiles at him, compassion in her weary eyes. She places a reassuring hand on Tony’s knee, lightly squeezes it in comfort, and then says, “Understandable. Don’t worry, I’m sure Steve will be happy to see you when he wakes up.”

 

Oh, Jesus, Tony thinks, groaning inwardly. Please don’t let this be another heart-to-heart talk.

 

He breathes out heavily and clears his throat, berating himself when he feels his face flush at the blatant comment.

 

“Yeah,” he manages to croak out, and he reaches down to pat Wanda’s hand. He thinks of Steve, and his smile softens. “Yeah. Can’t wait to go home.”

 

Somewhere between striking a conversation with Bruce, who sits on Tony’s other side, and arriving at SHIELD’s HQ, he falls asleep. Tony’s totally blaming Wanda for manipulating him like that, but then again he knows that she’s just watching out for him.

 

The rest of them are.


Two days later, Tony is perched by Steve’s bedside. After they arrive in New York from their covert mission in taking down the Hydra research base, Tony had the super soldier transferred to the Tower, where he’s being looked after round-the-clock by the rest of the team. SHIELD’s doctors took Steve out of his medically induced coma the day before and informed Tony and his hired doctors that the super soldier will wake up on his own once his body’s recovered enough.

 

Kudos to the super serum because then Tony only has to wait days instead of weeks for the man to wake up.

 

Which would be right now.

 

It’s a little after one in the morning, and Tony’s in the middle of working on the finishing touches to Steve’s new suit when he hears the sheets rustle with movement. His head snaps up, immediately abandoning the Stark tablet in exchange for grasping Steve’s left hand. Several moments pass until Steve’s breathing changes and the man lets out a soft groan. Half a minute later, his eyes slowly open and Tony’s horrified to find that familiar stinging in his eyes once he catches a glimpse of those baby blues he’s missed so much.

 

“Steve?” Tony asks in a low voice. Fortunately, he told FRIDAY earlier to dim the room’s lights down to thirty percent. He’s glad he did because he notices the blond man not wince at the light’s brightness. “Steve, sweetheart, can you hear me?”

 

Steve groans again before his eyes focus and he turns his head to meet Tony’s glistening eyes. His perplexed expression melts into one of realization, and he looks around him before he asks, “Y-yeah, I can hear you. Tony… where am I? Am I at SHIELD HQ?”

 

Tony can’t help it, he scoffs in mild indignation. “Can SHIELD afford this?” He sweeps an arm around the state-of-the-art room, but he immediately deflates and quickly adds, “Ignore that, not important. Anyway, no. You’re back at the Tower. I — we had you transferred after the doctors took you out of your medically induced coma.”

 

Steve’s eyes widen at that information. “What—”

 

Tony shakes his head before the other man can finish his question. “Not important. Well, actually it is, ‘cos you scared us all shitless. Which, by the way, we don’t blame you. But anyway. That’s not important now. What is is that you’re awake and you’re going to be okay.”

 

He bites his lip, but as Steve continues to look at him with that goddamn beautiful lopsided smile — the same smile he only reserves for Tony and Tony alone — well, suffice to say the engineer can’t keep his verbal diarrhea in check.

 

“I told you before, didn’t I?” he says, voice low and intimate. “That you’re going to be okay.”

 

“So you did,” Steve replies quietly with a slow nod, eyes warm with affection as he continues to stare at the engineer. He gazes hungrily over his face as if he, Tony, were the one who got injured. As if Steve were the one who almost lost him. In a way, Tony thinks they both almost did. “So I am.”

 

Then Steve looks down to see his fingers interlaced with Tony’s smaller, more calloused ones. Looking up at him, Tony can’t help but flush slightly under Steve’s inquiring gaze, but he doesn’t extract his hand from Tony’s. In fact, he tightens his grip on the engineer’s hand.

 

This is it, Tony tells himself. He’s spent the whole time alternating between listening to Steve’s 05.29.74 playlist and planning on how to confess his feelings to the other man when he just —

 

For once in your life, Stark, just go get him, a voice that sounds frighteningly like Natasha tells him.

 

Right. Yeah. Don’t let the fear consume you. You deserve this. You deserve him.

 

“Steve.”

 

Steve looks up from studying their clasped hands, and Tony’s heart swells at the sight of him. He sees his lips quirk upwards as he says in the same affectionate tone, “Tony.”

 

Tony opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. There’s a lump forming in his throat and suddenly his vision blurs as tears fall traitorously from his eyes. Steve’s expression crumples, and the blond man doesn’t hesitate to raise his other hand to wipe away the tears from Tony’s cheeks.

 

But before Steve can say anything, like apologize because that’s what Captain Righteous would obviously do, Tony meets the man’s worried eyes and beats him to it.

 

“I love you.” Tony’s smile trembles on his lips as he finally, finally, says the words out loud. More tears fall unbidden from his eyes, and he doesn’t mind because Steve is looking at him with awe and hope and love. Love for Tony. “And I know we have a lot to talk about, but we’ll deal with that at a later time. Because right now, I’m officially ending our mating dance. I love you, Steven Grant Rogers. I’m ridiculously in love with you, and I have for a long time now. I mean, it’s practically giving our team diabetes, they said so themselves. And I want — I want to do all those romantic, couple-y things with you — everything. The whole package. I’m ready for that. I’m ready for us.”

 

“I love you, too,” Steve answers with a blinding smile. He’s still gazing at Tony, eyes bright with unshed tears and deep affection pronounced in those baby blues. Tony’s so consumed by the love he feels for this man that he realizes right then that he’s never truly experienced this kind of love before. That is, until he met Steve. “I love you so much, Tony. I already have for years.”

 

Tony’s grinning so wide it hurts. He’s still crying (happy tears this time!), but Steve’s grinning back at him and this is the happiest Tony has ever felt. Wiping his face, the engineer takes a deep, shaky breath before he leans forward to close the small gap between them. Tony raises his other hand to cup Steve’s slightly stubbled jaw, the other man doing the same as he cups the back of Tony’s head. He angles his head and closes his eyes just as his lips meet Steve’s, and both men sigh into each other’s mouth.

 

Oh, yes.

 

Tony opens his mouth, and the kiss deepens from there. Steve’s fingers rake through the small hairs at the back of his neck, and Tony moans into the blond man’s mouth. He feels Steve smile against his lips, and Tony can’t help but smile back.

 

He’s finally home.

Chapter Text

“Tony?”

 

Tony turns his head at the sound of Steve’s voice, rough with sleep as the blond man blearily walks barefoot towards the engineer who’s sitting in one of the couches in the communal living room.

 

Tony smiles adoringly at the rumpled look of his boyfriend, hair in disarray and dressed in low-slung sweatpants and a tight, blue Stark Industries shirt that may or may not belong to Tony (it does). Because that’s an actual thing now — he and Steve are in a relationship. They’re officially together now, and Tony’s so far gone for the man that sometimes he finds himself wondering if he’s dreaming.

 

If he is, then he never wants to wake up.

 

“Hey, sweetheart,” Tony says softly. He pats the spot next to him, and Steve doesn’t hesitate to join him. “Did I wake you up? I’m sorry if I did.”

 

It’s a little after two in the morning, and surprisingly, the engineer has been sleeping regularly for the past week since Steve woke up. But for some reason, he just feels restless tonight. Maybe it’s the fact that he hasn’t been spending time at the workshop recently, or maybe that he’s still on cloud nine from the recent development of his and Steve’s relationship. Or it could also be that he’s had too much sleep this week that his body isn’t used to getting this much rest.

 

Steve smiles sheepishly as he replies, “No, no. I woke up and noticed you weren’t there. Couldn’t sleep after that. Is it weird that it’s only been a week, but I’ve already gotten used to sleeping beside you?”

 

Tony flushes, but he eyes the other man with a coy expression. “I can think of other activities you can get used to aside from ‘sleeping’.”

 

“Tony.”

 

“I’m just saying, baby.”

 

Chuckling under his breath, Steve gently bumps his shoulder against Tony’s before he lifts his left arm to drape it over the engineer’s shoulders. Tony’s heart flutters at their close proximity and he doesn’t hesitate to snuggle closer, resting his head on Steve’s shoulder. He brings up his left hand to grasp his hand, and Tony’s smile widens when Steve laces their fingers together. Craving for more contact (because Tony is so the type of person to get clingy. Yes, he shamelessly admits that fact), Tony lifts his head and noses Steve’s neck before he presses a light kiss to the underside of his jaw. The blond man responds by drawing him closer and tugging Tony’s other hand to rest on top of of his lap, long fingers trailing on the engineer’s calloused palm and the inside of his wrist in a slow caress.

 

“Nat was right,” Steve mutters, sounding mildly amused.

 

Eyes trained on the fingers stroking his hand — it shouldn’t be a turn on, but it is and Jesus, it’s a new kink to add to his already extensive list of kinks — Tony hums and arches a brow.

 

“It’s Nat. She’s right about a lot of things. But hey, feel free to share to the class what she’s right about this time.”

 

He doesn’t have to look up to see Steve’s smirk as he says, “That you’ll be super clingy to me after we both get our heads out of our asses. Her words, not mine.”

 

Tony is about to make an indignant retort, but the words die on his lips. Instead, he shrugs. “Well, she’s not wrong. Ask Pep — actually, don’t. That’s a bad idea. It’s bad enough you two are conspiring against me—”

 

Steve laughs before he drops an affectionate kiss on his forehead. He lightly squeezes Tony’s fingers, the one that’s draped over the engineer’s shoulders, before he replies, “We’re not ‘conspiring’, Tony. It’s called caring about you. Because God knows you do need looking after, what with your non-healthy lifestyle and still fucked up sleeping habits.”

 

“Hey! I’ll have you know that I’ve been sleeping regularly this week, Rogers. That’s an achievement.”

 

“I know, darling, and I’m happy that you’re finally getting that much rest. But one week isn’t enough to make up for the decades you’ve been treating your body poorly by running on nothing but caffeine, adrenaline, and sheer force of will.”

 

“What can I say, I’m a man who loves a challenge. Besides, sleep is for the weak — I told you so before.”

 

He feels Steve shake his head as he speaks in a softer voice, “I know you did. But can’t we make a compromise? That’s part of being in a healthy, loving relationship, right?”

 

Nope. That is not an adorable puppy-dog pout on Steve’s face right now. No, it’s not —

 

Fuck, it is. Tony’s so screwed. It should be a goddamn crime to look that, that — that endearing.

 

“I can’t believe you’re playing the ‘we’re in a relationship now’ card right now,” Tony whines with a groan. But the way he snuggles closer to Steve and kisses the man’s neck and jaw as a ploy to distract him say otherwise. Steve notices it too, obviously, because he ducks his head to press his lips against Tony’s in a searing kiss. They don’t speak for several minutes, too caught up in reacquainting themselves to each other’s taste. Eventually, they separate for much-needed air. Well, Steve probably doesn’t need it as much as Tony does because of the super serum. But holy shit can the man kiss. “Compro—? Okay, yeah. Fine, I can do that. Compromise. Can totally do that. Pfft, easy peasy. Just, you know, don’t stop doing that. That thing with your mouth. And tongue. Jesus.”

 

Steve’s smirking in satisfaction, his mouth deliciously red and swollen. “Glad we finally agree, darling.”

 

Tony, still a little light-headed from the kiss, just hums in response before he settles his head on Steve’s shoulder once more. He feels Steve rest his cheek on top of his tangled hair (he needs to get a haircut soon, his curls are becoming more obvious), and they lapse into a comfortable silence. Tony breathes in the familiar scent of Steve like a drug as he watches the New York skyline in front of them, his mind drifting to the events that occurred that past week.

 

After they shared their first kiss, it didn’t take long for the rest of their teammates to find out. Obviously, they were all thrilled for them finally getting their shit together — Peter going so far in his enthusiasm as to confess to Tony that the whole “asking for relationship advice” thing was only a ruse to help the engineer make a move on Steve. To say that Tony was embarrassed upon hearing that admission would be an understatement, but Steve found the whole thing hilarious that he didn’t have the heart to rain on the young teen’s parade by giving him a Serious Talk.

 

You win some, you lose some.

 

Fortunately, nothing eventful happened so far. After being given a clean bill of health, Tony’s doctors still recommended for Steve to rest for another two weeks. Super soldier or not, his body still suffered a lot, especially with the blood loss and the small rupture in his lung caused by one of the spider bot’s legs being impaled right through his chest. Steve didn’t protest. Much. Okay, fine, he protested very loudly, claiming that he’s perfectly fine and it’s unnecessary to take that much time off. It wasn’t until Tony promised the super soldier that he’ll stay in the Tower with him that Steve finally acquiesced.

 

Tony shifts in his position, and before he can consider draping his legs over Steve’s lap, he feels a small weight pressing lightly against his right thigh. Suddenly, he remembers why he couldn’t sleep. He reluctantly draws his right hand from Steve’s, who was absentmindedly drawing shapeless patterns on the inside of Tony’s wrist, in order to pull the object from his pyjama’s pocket.

 

Steve’s looking at him with a curious expression, and when Tony holds out his right hand to him, the engineer notices the emotions in Steve’s eyes shift from curiosity to confusion to shock, before settling on joy.

 

“I thought it got destroyed,” Steve utters in relief as he takes the iPod from Tony’s outstretched hand. He shoots him a grateful look. “Thank you.”

 

Tony shrugs nonchalantly, a small smile on his face. “Don’t thank me, it was Nat who gave it to me. She said one of the nurses found it in your suit and gave it to her.”

 

“Still. Thank you.” Steve smiles beatifically at him, and Tony’s heart flutters in his chest.

 

“No problem.”

 

“You — ah —” Steve’s flushing a lovely shade of pink as he flounders for words. “Did you listen to — you know. I mean, it’s okay if you did. Just — curious.”

 

Tony purses his lips, considering if he should tell Steve or not. Barely two seconds pass until he makes a decision. After all, he’s willingly entered into a romantic relationship with Captain America. One of the things Tony promised to himself was that he would do right by Steve by being more honest (and open) to the man. That said, Tony’s practically dying to know the story behind a specific playlist he can’t get his mind out of. In fact, it’s the only playlist he listened to in Steve’s very extensive music library.

 

He nods his head, gulping inaudibly. “Yeah, I did. I hope you’re not mad. That I did listen. To your music.”

 

“Oh! No no, it’s fine. It’s alright. I’m not mad.”

 

If possible, Steve’s face turns a shade darker, and Tony can’t help the grin that crosses his face as he leans forward to kiss the other man’s cheek. He bites his lower lip once he pulls back, and he doesn’t miss the hungry look in Steve’s eyes when he tracks the movement.

 

“Good, because…” Tony pauses, and he wets his lips. He notices Steve’s pupils dilate at the gesture, and the engineer can’t help but smirk. He clears his throat before quietly calling out to FRIDAY, “Hey, FRI? Play the last song from the playlist I was listening to on Steve’s iPod.”

 

The AI silently complies with Tony’s request.

 

The soft strumming of a guitar starts to play quietly from the sound system. Tony, his keen gaze never leaving Steve’s, observes the blond man’s slightly puzzled look melt into one of comprehension. Blue eyes widening in realization at the implication of his request, Steve’s eyes finally lock on Tony’s.

 

“Tony…” Steve whispers. “I…”

 

“When you were still in a coma, I listened to that playlist on repeat,” Tony finally confesses in a hushed tone. “I’ve been meaning to give it to you this past week. It’s been in my pocket this whole time, but I didn’t have the courage to. And I admit, I’ve gotten pretty attached to it — not the iPod, ‘cos I can build you something so much better than that piece of junk, no offense — but ‘cos of this one playlist that has my birthdate as the title.”

 

Steve still hasn’t said a word. Though still wide-eyed, he’s now gazing at Tony with understanding, and there is love and affection in his baby blues that Tony is aware he’s mirroring the same expression.

 

05.29.74,” the engineer continues with a fond smile. “Under different circumstances, I’d tease you for it, but — but I won’t, ‘cos… Steve, there are two hundred twelve songs in this playlist, and a lot of it are love songs. I… I want to understand why. I mean, I’m smart enough to draw to a conclusion, but. A lot of the songs there also don’t even make sense. And I just — I want to know why you chose these songs, ‘cos you sure picked them for a reason.”

 

“Like Bon Iver,” Steve points out, referring to the music currently playing in the background.

 

Tony nods. “Yeah, like Bon Iver. I mean — ‘Skinny Love’? I actually had to google what that meant, and let me tell you, there are a lot of definitions for it. Not all of them are good, by the way.”

 

Steve huffs out a laugh, then he shifts a little in his position before drawing Tony closer to his side, long fingers trailing up and down his arm in a soothing gesture.

 

“I understand what that playlist must look like to you, and I won’t blame you if you get mad. But, please hear me out first?”

 

Tony blinks at him in confusion. “Baby, I’m not mad. I’m just curious. Really curious. And also really flattered.”

 

Steve looks at him from under his lashes and he smiles sweetly at Tony before he clears his throat.

 

“Okay. Um, so, you’re not wrong about those definitions. Not all of them were good, but there was one I found on Urban Dictionary —“ Tony snorts; Steve just rolls his eyes and smiles self-deprecatingly before continuing. “Yeah, I found one there, and it explained the term as a situation between two people who have feelings for each other but aren’t able to express it. It’s either because they fear rejection or are too shy to act on it.”

 

Tony slowly nods his head.

 

“Kinda similar to what we were before — well, before this.” He waves a hand between them, indicating their current relationship status. “Right?”

 

Steve smiles at him and nods. “Yes and no. Yes, I chose that song because it reminded me of how we, uh, danced around each other. Always gravitating towards the other but never doing anything about it. And no, because... well, when I first heard that song, you and Pepper just broke up. I kept my distance then, gave you space to heal. But at the same time, it also made me realize of the possibility that I could, maybe, have a chance with you. Someday.”

 

“That — you — I... what?” Tony splutters as he gapes at Steve.

 

Steve is chuckling under his breath when he leans forward to press a kiss to the tip of Tony’s nose. He blinks in surprise, stomach swooping at the affectionate gesture.

 

“I honestly don’t know what to say to that,” Tony begins again once he’s regained his composure. “I — wait, hold up. Pep and I broke up two and a half years ago. You mean you — you’ve had this playlist for that long?”

 

Steve bites his lip, and after a few beats, he haltingly admits, “Not — well, I added the song recently. Around the time we started this whole ‘mating dance’. But I — ah — I’ve had this playlist for four years now.”

 

Four years?

 

Tony’s jaw drops open in shock. When he doesn’t say anything — how could he? The gears in his brain just stopped functioning at that tidbit, thanks — Steve carries on talking.

 

“I told you before, didn’t I?” Steve says affectionately, a charming smile etched on his lips as he meets Tony’s astonished expression. “I’ve loved you for years, Tony. Those songs are… gosh, how do I say this? They’re — it’s kind of like an ongoing soundtrack about my thoughts and feelings towards you. Each song has a, a memory to it. They remind me of them, of those moments I shared with you. Look, I — I know the whole list is a jumbled mess, but I swear, it’s all there for a reason.”

 

“All two hundred twelve of them?” Tony says quietly, feeling overwhelmed (in a very good way) at the weight of Steve’s words.

 

Steve smiles lopsidedly at him when he answers in an equally soft voice, “Yeah. Two hundred twelve songs for two hundred twelve of my favorite moments shared with you.”

 

Tony swallows past the lump in his throat as he croaks out, “That’s, um, that’s really fucking romantic, if you ask me. Would you, uh, mind sharing those — reasons — with me?”

 

Steve looks at him, shyly at first, before his expression clears, and Tony’s heart soars in his chest when he nods with a blinding smile.

 

“I’d love to.” The super soldier fiddles with the iPod in his hand, turning the device on and scrolling to the playlist. The he frowns slightly and asks, “Wait, this doesn’t have bluetooth, right?”

 

Tony rolls his eyes good-naturedly. “You had me tinker with that years ago, remember? Aside from upgrading the memory, I also upgraded the specs with Stark Industries’ specs at the time. So yeah, it has bluetooth. And before you ask, it’s already turned on and connected to the sound system. Can’t say I’m surprised you didn’t check it before.”

 

It’s Steve’s turn to roll his eyes but he doesn’t say anything. He slowly scrolls down Tony’s playlist, and —

 

Holy shit, it is. Steve made him a fucking mixtape, however unintentional it was, and Tony gushes to himself at that thought. He totally doesn’t squeal like a teenage girl inside. He doesn’t. Before Tony’s overactive mind can wander further, he hears Steve make a noise of approval. He turns in time to catch the blond man smile in satisfaction before he selects a song.

 

Tony recognizes Looking Glass’s Brandy playing from the speakers. Before he can ask, Steve starts to speak. “This is the latest song I added. Remember our last game night?” When Tony nods, he continues. “This song was playing when we were talking to each other through morse code. I just, I really loved the ambience that night — and it was made sweeter because of you.”

 

Oh, God. I think I’ve died and went to heaven, Tony thinks upon hearing those words. He bites his lip and buries his face in the crook of Steve’s neck, the blond man chuckling low and dropping a kiss on the crown of his head. Tony doesn’t move from his position, but Steve doesn’t mind for he changes the music.

 

This time, a synth-pop song starts to play, and Tony only recognizes it because he’s listened to the entire playlist no less than six times. He’s almost had it memorized.

 

Midnight City,” Steve says, and there’s a wistfulness in his voice that Tony doesn’t miss. “This song was blasting from Peter’s school’s gym when we dropped him off for Homecoming Dance. You were behind the wheel, and I remember turning to ask you something — I forgot what it was — but then, I saw the streetlights illuminating this side of your face, and you just… you looked so beautiful. My fingers were itching to draw you, and that moment — it just stuck with me.”

 

Steve changes the music again, and a familiar disco song starts to play. A giggle (a giggle! Jesus!) escapes past Tony’s lips; unable to stop himself, he starts to wiggle his hips to the beat. He feels Steve’s chest shake with laughter as the man speaks between chuckles, “Yeah. September. This was after we took down Hydra’s last base — or so we thought at that time — two years ago. You threw this lavish party and you even invited everyone from SHIELD. Someone else was in charge of the music, but I remember Rhodey requested for this song.”

 

“I remember that, too,” Tony says, laughing at the memory of his longest and oldest friend drunkenly dancing to the song, along with countless others. “God, I drank too much that night.”

 

“You did.”

 

“So why this song?”

 

Tony feels Steve grin against his temple. “You were pretty drunk already, so I don’t know if you’ll remember this next part. You approached me at the bar and told me, ‘Hey, Capsicle. Did I ever tell you that you have the most beautiful eyes?’” Tony gasps in horror, but Steve presses on, amusement laced in his voice. “I shook my head and you said, ‘Ah, that’s a shame. Betcha can drive a man to his knees with those baby blues. I know I would’. Then you kissed my nose and drunkenly swayed to Bruce next.”

 

Oh my god,” Tony mutters, mortified at his past drunken self. “Fuck, that’s so embarrassing. Why didn’t you say anything?!” He lifts his head to glare at the blond man, who smiles adoringly down at him with a shake of his head.

 

“Didn’t really see a reason to as you made quite a spectacle of yourself that night.”

 

Well, Tony can’t argue with that.

 

Steve plays one song after the other, and each time he relays the memory behind each track. He selected songs by Daft Punk, Coldplay, Backstreet Boys (Tony teases him when the super soldier blushes throughout his explanation). There were also songs by America, The Beatles, a New Zealand band called The Naked and Famous, Elton John, The Killers, Kenny G, The Lovin’ Spoonful, and even from the musical RENT, of all things.

 

Each track had a story behind it, and Tony falls a little more in love as Steve fondly recounts on the small but significant moments they shared over the years in between the crazy, hectic lives they’ve been living.

 

In the end, Tony finally gives in to his urges. He brings a hand up to cup the back of Steve’s neck, cutting him off mid-speak as he pulls Steve closer to press an intense kiss to his slightly startled lips. Steve recovers quickly and he kisses Tony back with equal fervor. Tony lightly nibbles on Steve’s lips, the other man letting out a groan of pleasure before he takes Tony’s lower lip between his mouth and tugs on it just so. It’s Tony’s turn to groan, but after a few minutes he reluctantly tears his lips away before things can escalate further. Though he may be ready to take their relationship to the next level, they both agreed at the beginning that they’ll take it slow for now. Well, at least until Steve’s two-week convalescence is up.

 

Pleased at the dazed look he sees on Steve’s face — the super soldier is panting slightly and his eyes are dark with desire — Tony leans forward and pecks him on the lips once more before he pulls back.

 

“I love you,” Tony simply states, looking absolutely love-struck. “I’ve said that for like, the 32nd time this week — yeah, I’m keeping count, shush — but god. Steve, baby, know that I’m never gonna get tired of saying those words to you. Never gonna get tired of you, period. Just. Shit, I don’t know what to say. Thank you? I mean — yeah, thank you. For this. For — for collecting four years’ worth of music. You made me a mixtape, holy shit, I feel like I’m 18 all over again. Where was I? Oh, right. Thank you for, well, for choosing me. For putting up with me, ‘cos I sure ain’t a walk in the park. But ultimately, thank you for — for loving me. God, I sound like an adolescent, but it’s the truth. I just — you mean so much to me, Steve. You really do.”

 

“For someone who hates talking about feelings, you sure have a way of expressing them.” Steve’s smile is breathtaking, and it takes a few moments for the blond man to continue. “I love you, Tony, so much so that I created a playlist and held it close to my chest for years because it’s living proof of my love for you. And let me tell you, this mixtape is far from complete. Consider it a work-in-progress, babe. It’s gonna go on for the rest of our lives and I’m just gonna keep adding more songs because we’ll be creating new memories together. And,” He adds, an earnest look on his face as he meets Tony’s eyes. “If you asked me six years ago what the best part of being in the twenty-first century is, I’d have said ‘nothing’. But now? Tony, you’re the best part of me and my new world, and I thank God every day for that.”

 

Tony doesn’t cry, but he almost does if the stinging in his eyes is any indication. Honestly, though, what more can he say? Rendered speechless, Tony does the next best thing. With his left hand still intertwined with Steve’s, he uses his thumb to tap a message on the inside of the blond man’s wrist, directly over his pulse point.

 

Can’t speak, lump in throat. Also speechless. I love you.

 

Steve smiles endearingly at him as he taps back.

 

I love you, too.

 

Repositioning his head so it’s resting on Steve’s shoulder once more, Tony taps another message.

 

Carry on? I want to know the story behind that Shakin’ Stevens song next.

 

Steve snorts with laughter, but he indulges Tony and scrolls through his iPod to play the classic holiday song. After exchanging a brief but tender kiss, the blond man settles back and starts to narrate the story from three Christmases ago. Looking back at the moments they shared then following Steve’s recollection of it, Tony finds himself appreciating those memories with a new perspective. He can vaguely recall the memory Steve’s narrating; Peter wasn’t in the picture yet, but the team was already a close-knit group by then. That was the first year they all agreed to do Secret Santa.

 

With a contented smile on his face, Tony allows himself to be swept away by the faint music and Steve’s rich voice, the gleaming lights of New York City’s skyline their only source of light from the floor to ceiling windows of the communal living room.

 

If he had to describe the definition of the word rapture, Tony would use this moment right here.


Summer comes and goes, and before Tony knows it, it’s the beginning of October when the Avengers are called away to save their beloved city once more.

 

They’re in the middle of fighting a pack of hyena bots in downtown New York when Clint speaks up.

 

“Yo, Tin Man,” he says over the comms. “Keep up with the tradition, won’t you? Play us a song from your untitled playlist.”

 

“Number 5,” Peter finishes, the sounds of webs shooting a distinct sound in the background.

 

Tony snorts as he fires up his thrusters to aim a swift jumping roundhouse kick at the 4-ft android who was about to attack Steve from behind. The super soldier turns at the sound of metal crushing before he looks up at the engineer.

 

“You okay, baby?”

 

“Yeah. Thanks, Tony,” Steve says, grinning sheepishly at Tony.

 

Tony lifts his faceplate in time to smirk at the super soldier as he answers, “Anytime. Gotta protect your gorgeous ass after all.”

 

Steve snorts, but he winks at him and Tony’s heart flutters in his chest. They’ve been together for months now, yet it feels like it was only yesterday that they shared their first kiss. He simultaneously feels drunk and high, and Tony’s happy to admit that it’s not ‘cos of alcohol or drugs this time.

 

There’s a collective groan over the comms, and the two lovers exchange shit-eating grins when they hear Peter’s “Mr. Staaaaark!” and Sam’s “Keep it in your pants, assholes! We have a city to save!”

 

“Jesus, just play a fucking song already,” Clint whines.

 

Tony rolls his eyes. “Say no more, birdbrain. I got just the right song for your epic fight scene.” To FRIDAY, he says, “FRI, is the new playlist synced yet?”

 

“It is, boss,” comes the AI’s amused reply.

 

“New playlist?” Wanda voices out in confusion.

 

“Yup.” Steve pops the ‘p’ sound with smug satisfaction. Then he adds, “It’s titled, too.”

 

“But I thought you didn’t title your playlists, Mr. Stark,” Peter asks, perplexed.

 

Steve and Tony exchange a meaningful look before the engineer answers, “I don’t. Well, didn’t. Steve titled it for us.”

 

“Ah! I believe that is called a mixtake, is it not?” Thor’s delighted voice booms over the comms.

 

Vision calmly corrects the Asgardian, “It’s called a mixtape, Thor.”

 

“Yes, that is what I said.”

 

“Look at you, Stark,” Natasha’s voice quips next. “This is a new level of achievement. I’m proud of you.”

 

Tony squawks while Steve laughs out loud, the super soldier knocking down a hyena bot with his shield as he does so. Before the engineer can say anything, Clint beats him to it.

 

“Wait! Wait, hold up. Is nobody going to comment on the fact that Tony and Steve made a mixtape? Together? Like, it’s their thing now? Ugh, that’s so disgustingly cute. Fuck, I need to destroy more of these bots to feel manly again.”

 

The rest of the team, including Tony and Steve, cackles at the archer’s words. Just then, Tony spots a few of the said bots flying through the air in the distance as the Hulk roars, seeming to agree with Clint’s statement.

 

Tony fires a repulsor at one who’s about to leap towards him before he addresses his AI, “FRI, play track number four of The A Team Playlist.”

 

“Sure thing, boss.”

 

“Great choice, babe.” Steve grins in approval.

 

Tony winks at his boyfriend. “That song was your pick, not mine.”

 

In that instant, a familiar stomping and clapping beat starts to play over the comms, and the others react in varying degrees of enthusiasm.

 

“Fuck yes!” Clint cries out in delight.

 

“Now we’re talkin’!” Sam adds.

 

“Awesome, Mr. Stark!” Peter says next, obviously enthused. “And Steve!”

 

“Thanks, Pete,” Tony and Steve answer in unison with matching pleased grins.

 

“Let’s get this show on the road then, boys and girl,” Natasha says, and Tony can imagine her smirking.

 

“Buddy you're a young man, hard man
Shouting in the street gonna take on the world some day
You got blood on your face
You big disgrace, waving your banner all over the place!”

 

Tony and Steve share another significant look before the super soldier leans forward and kisses Tony lightly on the lips, who blinks in surprise before looking pleased. The super soldier winks one last time before he adjusts his hold on his shield.

 

“For good luck,” Steve teases. “The sooner we finish, the sooner we can continue where we left off.”

 

Tony grins lasciviously at him before he closes his faceplate. “No need to tell me twice. Lead the way then, sweetheart. I got your back.”

 

“Got your back too, darling.”

 

Steve shoots him a dazzling smile over his shoulder, and Tony shamelessly ogles the other man’s firm behind.

 

And he’s all mine, Tony thinks in reverence.

 

A warm sensation starts to spread in his chest, and Tony’s grin widens as he allows the unadulterated joy and affection he's become intimately familiar with these past few months to engulf him completely from the inside out.

 

Yeah. Life’s pretty great.