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Always Time for Us

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“J, what’s the time on the Steve clock?” Tony asks as he slumps into the kitchen.

“Approximately two days, 17 hours and 43 minutes,” JARVIS responds. Tony groans and leans back against the counter, staring at the whiteboard hanging on the wall. They don’t need a whiteboard – if they want to leave a message for anyone, that’s what phones are for. If they wanted to make a shopping list, that’s what JARVIS is for. And yet, one day, out of nowhere and much to Tony’s dismay, a whiteboard had appeared, bearing little cartoon caricatures of each of them. Since then, the damn thing and all of its constantly changing doodles have become a permanent fixture in the space, and so help him, Tony loves it.

Except maybe right now.

The current drawing is of a cheerful, tiny cartoon Tony, sitting at a tiny cartoon table, eating a not-so-tiny cartoon sandwich. Above cartoon-Tony’s head is speech bubble reading, ‘Gosh, I sure am glad that I listened to Steve and ate this delicious sandwich.’

“Steve is a jerk,” Tony mutters, glaring mutinously at the drawing but fighting to keep the corner of his mouth from twitching up.

“Steve had to deal with three hours of you texting him from a meeting complaining about how hungry you were. After he told you to grab something before you went down,” Sam points out, sliding into the kitchen himself, his voice full of amusement.

“In my defence, that meeting was only supposed to be an hour, and I didn’t eat because I had planned to take my darling dearest boyfriend out to lunch before he took off to god-only-knows where.”

“He’s at a liaison meeting with the European Union,” Sam reminds him. Tony waves his hand dismissively.

“Exactly my point! Brussels is very definitely not here. Where I am. And where he should be,” he complains.

Except no, okay, Steve shouldn’t really be here. The meeting is important — necessary really, for the team to keep up a working relationship with the Rest of the World. But dammit, it feels like he’s barely seen Steve at all in weeks. It’ll pass, once he’s done with his R&D deadlines, once Steve is finished this round of meetings and PR crap. But it doesn’t help now. All he’d wanted was a lunch date, a few minutes where he could actually see his love, and spend a few minutes just the two of them, holding hands across the table like the massive sap he’s become.

He sighs, and pulls out his phone, snapping a photo of the drawing to add to the library of ‘Steve’s whiteboard doodles’ that he keeps. His shoulders slump a little, and Sam’s voice cuts into this thoughts, a little gentler. “He’ll be back soon.”

“Yeah, I know,” Tony says as he opens the fridge and pauses. There, staring up at him is a plate of food, lovingly assembled and wrapped in plastic to keep it fresh. On top of the plate is a sticky note that reads in precise, blocky letters: ‘FOR TONY ONLY. JARVIS IS WATCHING YOU.’ Under the words is a little cartoon skull that somehow manages to look both adorable and threatening at the same time. God, Tony loves this man.

He grabs the plate and carefully removes the note before popping it in the microwave. His stomach growls loudly, and the few minutes it takes to reheat his meal are an excruciating eternity. The moment the microwave pings, he grabs the plate, barely feeling that it burns his finger tips a little. After years of metal work and welding, a little heat from a plate is nothing. Besides, he is hungry, and he wants food now. Food in hand, he sets himself up in one of the chairs by the large island in the kitchen and pulls his phone out.

“J, call Steve, will you?” The phone rings twice, and half a second later, connects, and and he sees Steve’s face looking at him. “I love you,” Tony says without preamble, his mouth full of a bit of food.

“Sorry, I didn’t understand you,” Steve replies, flat tone and wicked grin. Tony rolls his eyes, but swallows before speaking again.

“I love you, you jerk,” he says again.

“Hm, way to give me mixed signals.” Tony huffs at that, but Steve continues. “I love you, too. You found dinner, I see.”

Tony nods. “Sorry about missing lunch,” he says apologetically. Steve waves him off.

“It’s fine, don’t worry. I know how they get when there are deadlines.”

“It’s not fine,” Tony whines. “I just want an actual date with my boyfriend. Is that so hard?”

“Apparently,” Steve says gently. “It’s okay, sweetheart. I’ll be back soon.”

“Not soon enough,” Tony huffs. “J, time?”

“Two days, 17 hours, 34 minutes,” JARVIS informs him.

Steve stares at him in disbelief through the display. “Do… you have a countdown to when I’m back?” he asks.

“Approximate countdown.” Tony waves it off like it’s nothing. “Can’t account for delays. Of which there had better be none, you hear me? Zip. Zero, Nil. Nada. Roger, Rogers?”

“Roger,” Steve laughs softly. Tony’s stomach does a little flip. Doesn’t matter that they’ve been together for a while now, long enough to settle into a comfortable rhythm with each other. Steve’s smile and Steve’s laugh still make the butterflies in his stomach do their best impression of a cyclone.

Tony’s about to say something else (definitely not something sweet or sappy, because he is not that, thank you very much,) when he catches something out of the corner of his eye, whizzing through the air, past the kitchen and into the common space.

“What the hell?” Tony frowns and looks up just in time to see Clint rush into the space and duck behind a chair. “Clint? What the hell?”

“Tony what’s going on?” Steve asks, concern edging into his voice. Tony frowns in confusion, and stares into the space. A second later, another projectile comes hurtling in from the opposite side of the room — an arrow with some kind of less than aerodynamic deformity at the end which arcs through the air towards Clint’s hiding spot. Clint must sense that it’s coming because at the last second, he dives out of the way, bow in hand, and grabs the fallen arrow and shoots it back across the room.

“You’ll have to try harder than that, Barnes,” Clint taunts as he darts across the space and out of sight.

“What–” Tony starts,

“–the hell was that?” Steve finishes at the same time.

“Archery tag,” Sam shrugs from across the kitchen, sipping his coffee, complete unfazed. “They’ve been at it for days.”

“You know, I built a perfectly good gym for this kind of thing. State of the art training facility.”

“Apparently it’s more fun when they have the whole tower to run around in,” Sam says.

On the other end of the call, Steve is snickering to himself from the safety and comfort of his seat on the jet. “Don’t you start, Barnes is your fault,” he tells Steve.

“Technically, it’s your fault. You’re the one who suggested we should all live together,” Steve points out.

“I did no such thing!” Tony squawks.

Steve chuckles, and shakes his head. “No, of course you didn’t. You just built a tower with space designed specifically for each one of us, and space to expand in case the team grew. And a dedicated training facility. And everything we could need. You built us a home, but no, of course not. You never suggested we all come and live there.”

“And don’t you forget it.” But Steve is right, and they both know it. Even though it means arrows flying through the house, or someone always drinking the last of his coffee, or the fact that having enough issues under one roof they could have their own subscription series is occasionally a recipe for a meltdown disaster, he wouldn’t trade it for the world. For a fleeting moment, he thinks about how Howard would have reacted to any kind of tag in the house, or how Clint’s father would have reacted, (even worse than Howard, he knows.) The thought stirs some lingering resentment deep inside him — present, but nowhere near as powerful these days.

Steve must see it on his face, because a moment later, he offers a soft “I love you,” which really means “thank you.”

“Just get your sexy butt home soon,” Tony tells him, letting go the resentment, and it fades away, far back into the background.

Faintly in the distance, he hears a muffled thump, a yell and a crash, and he groans, dropping his head against the counter. Very pointedly ignoring Steve’s cackling.

 


 

“Isn’t it like, 2 am where you are, Rogers?” Bucky asks, squinting at the screen.

Steve just shrugs. “Can’t sleep, too keyed up,”

“And so you’re choosing to watch us train?

“Might as well do something useful?” Steve says, though it’s definitely more of a question.

“You need a life,” Bucky says flatly. “Have a bath. Get a drink. Watch porn. Anything, for god’s sake.”

“Well the bar downstairs is closed, and Tony’s there training so porn’s out,” Steve shrugs.

From behind him, Tony hears Clint let out a completely undignified squawk. “Didn’t need to know that, dammit Rogers!” he shouts. Steve looks completely unfazed and unashamed as Tony tries and fails to hold in a snicker.

“Bucky’s the one who brought it up,” Steve said, and Clint turns his glare on Barnes.

“Hate you,” Clint mutters. “I do not need to think about what Stark and Rogers do in their spare time.”

“You’ll live, sunshine,” Bucky says, patting Clint patronizingly on the head. Clint mutters, but he jogs across the room and takes his position. Tony snaps down the faceplate of the lighter model of the suit that he’d designed for practise purposes. The thrusters are less powerful and the repulsors won’t actually do any damage, but it’s enough that he can actually practise his manoeuvers along with the rest of the team without accidently breaking them. Or roasting them to cinders from the vented thrusters. Steve’s call is up on a projected screen where he can see the whole room, but Tony’s also got the audio feed routed through the helmet. It’s not that he’s sentimental, he’s just used to having Steve’s voice in his ear when he’s out in the field.

With a command to JARVIS, the training programme boots up, and chaos breaks free in the room.

From there, reflexes take over. He’s got a whole library of training programmes designed. He and Steve had spent hours together — in the days before they’d stopped dancing around each other, before they’d stopped staring wistfully (and lustfully) across the room at one another when they thought the other hadn’t been looking — taking all the feedback from the team, all the data scanned by JARVIS, compiling it together and designing different adaptive programmes that would change enough to keep them on their toes while still giving them the chance to perfect co-odinated movements and strikes. The results had been a team training regime that has turned them from from a bunch of skilled people fighting alongside one another into a skilled cohesive unit that fights together.

It also resulted in him and Steve both snapping and falling into bed together. Well, falling onto the shop couch together. But they did make it to a bed. Eventually.

“Clint, your left side is wide open!” comes Steve’s voice as one of the little training projections takes a shot at Clint. But Clint is already jumping back, firing a shot, and as another comes up behind, he fires a grappling arrow and immediately climbs out of reach up to a ledge. On the other side of the room, a swarm forms out of seemingly nowhere around Natasha and Sam, launching themselves off the walls to drag Sam down by the wings. Without thinking, Tony shoots forward and grabs Bucky’s raised hand. Bucky is already expecting him and jumps to take hold. Tony flies him right over the walls of debris that separate Natasha and Sam, and drops him on the horde. He goes down shooting, taking out the ones pinning Sam’s wings and landing back to back with Natasha.

Tony and Sam circle around, providing the air support as Natasha and Bucky move around on the ground making short work of the remaining baddies. On his right, Tony sees an arrow shooting past, dragging a cable behind it and fixing itself into the wall. A moment later, Clint is whooping loudly as he ziplines across the training space. He lets go and drops, arrow in hand, landing on top of one of the enemies and stabbing it with the arrow before he stands and shoots it through another. Meanwhile, Tony is back in the air with Sam, circling above and firing shots to keep all the little buggers where they want them to be. Tony's cackling over the comms in joy all the while. Rhodey is going to be pissed that he missed out on this session, because honestly, they're having a blast. It would also be better with Steve here, but at least having Steve on the comms barking at them all is better than nothing.

Tony might have to up the difficulty of the next training battle, because damn, they are kicking ass. They've essentially already won, it's just a matter of cleaning up the stragglers. From the corner of his eye, Tony sees Clint take another shot, and an instant later a bright splatter of pink appears across the training floor.

"What the hell?" Tony shouts as the same time as Bucky.

Clint looks up in wide eyed confusion. "Uh... how did that get there?"

"Clint, why are your arrows suddenly leaving pink–" Bucky pauses and stoops down, running a finger through the pink mess as Natasha dismantles the last couple of creatures. "Oh my god, Clint. Is this paint? Did you make fucking paintball arrows?"

Clint looks around dumbly, but once he sees the practise battle is over, his 'dumb confusion' morphs into wicked, plotting evil. He draws another arrow, and shoots it straight at Bucky. It's non-piercing, but leaves a giant pink patch right on the chest of Bucky's pristine black tac gear. "Pew pew, motherfucker."

"Tony," Steve says in his ear, "what's happening?"

"I think–" he ends up not having to explain, because Barnes is tearing across the space with all his impressive super soldier speed and launching himself at the weapons cupboard. A second later Bucky ditches his practise weapons in exchange for some other gun. He's popping a modified clip in and firing. Clint tries to dodge, but ends up with a bright orange splotch on his pants.

"Oh my god," Steve says, "They're-"

"Paintballs," Tony agreed.

Within a matter of seconds, the training room devolves into a flurry of chaos and colour. Tony parks the suit and steps out just as Natasha throws him a gun of his own and a couple of spare clips. He grabs them, and ducks behind some cover, narrowly avoiding getting hit by the next Hawk-Falcon barrage.

"Barton, you're going down!" Bucky yells as he pulls some impressive dive roll while firing.

"All talk, old man!" Clint calls back.

All in all, it's the most fun Tony's had in training in a long time.

 


 

That night, Tony crawls into bed feeling pleasantly tired and comfortably sore from the training. He presses his face into Steve's pillow and breathes in. He's happy, but once Steve gets home, it'll be perfect. He pulls out his phone and sends Steve a quick message that just says 'Love you, miss you. Kisses,' and drops his phone on the stand next to the bed.

"JARVIS? How much time on the Steve clock?" He asks, pulling the blankets up around his shoulders.

"20 hours 13 minutes, Sir," JARVIS informs him.

Less than a day now. He can make it.

 


 

"Pepper. Pepper, please. Light of my life," Tony pleads over the phone the next day. "Can I just not?"

"No, Tony, you can't just 'not,'" Pepper tells him with extraordinary patience. "This is a huge R&D project for us and the clean energy initiative, and it's going to be an incredible benefit if this partnership works out. They need you, and they need your brain. It has to be you Tony, and he's flying out tomorrow."

"But Pepper, Steve is flying in tonight," Tony whines. "If I have to go to this stupid dinner meeting, I'm not going to be able to be at the airport to meet him. I was going to bring him flowers. And surprise him."

Pepper sighs at the other end of the line. She knows how hard it's been in recent weeks with the both of them having schedules that just don't line up. "If, and I do mean if I can make the arrangements work and the project co-coordinator is amenable, we can maybe look at a breakfast meeting tomorrow before he leaves."

"Yes!" Tony cheers, punching the air with his fist. "That one. I pick that one."

Pepper sighs again, but he can hear the smile in her voice. "You do realise this means you need to be up and functional, and presentable for a 7:30 am meeting. You cannot be late. I don't care how cozy bed is, or how cute Steve looks when he's half asleep. You. Must. Be there."

"I will be," Tony assures her quickly. "Steve has some VA project thing he's working with Sam on tomorrow anyway, he needs to be up at the crack of dawn. That's why I really wanted to see him tonight."

"Fine," Pepper agreed. "I'll have my assistant make the arrangements and forward you the meeting time. Do not make me regret this."

"I owe you," Tony tells her. "Seriously, I owe you so much. Thank you. You are the best. I really, really appreciate it. And I swear, I will land this deal."

"I know you will."

Tony ends the call, grinning to himself, giddy over the fact that in just a few hours he's going to get a chance to see his boyfriend again. It's ridiculous, and it makes him feel like a dumb teenager all over again. But he doesn't care. He's happy.

The only way he manages to get through rest of the day without it feeling like seven eternities is by throwing himself into the energy project work for a few hours to make sure the information he's handing the prospective partner tomorrow is polished, and after that he spends some time playing around with DUM-E and Company, who all seem just as excited as he is that Steve is coming back.

Eventually, when he can't stand waiting anymore, he packs up the shop and goes to make himself ready, swapping out the dirty shop jeans for a clean pair, with a clean shirt. He drives himself out to the airport, taking time to stop to pick up a bouquet of flowers and a box of the pistachio chocolates that Steve can't seem to get enough of. It's cheesy and romantic, and Tony gives exactly zero fucks about that. Even with the stops, he still arrives at the private area of the airfield early. It's agony, having to wait, and he stares up into the sky, watching for the approaching Stark Jet for so long that he nearly ends up getting a crick in his neck. But it's worth it to see the plane make its final approach, and landing, taxiing towards the terminal and spiriting his love to him.

It takes an incredible amount of restraint to not run over before the ground crew give him the all clear. The steps lower, and there, standing at the top just inside the plane is his Steve, tall and strong and perfect. It takes only half a second for Steve to notice him standing there on the tarmac, and Tony watches his expression flicker to surprise, and then pure joy.

"Tony!" he calls, bounding down the stairs. He's in Tony's space in seconds, wrapping his arms up in what will always be the best hug ever. "I didn't expect you to be here. Pepper said you had a meeting,"

"I rescheduled it. I missed you," Tony tells him, and Steve leans in for slow kiss.

"I missed you, too," Steve admits. "God, it's good to see you."

Tony reluctantly steps out of Steve's embrace so he can offer up the flowers and chocolates he's been holding. "I, um, brought you these," he said passing them over.

"You brought me flowers, and chocolate," Steve says, carefully taking them both.

"Yeah, I mean, I had time. On the way,' Tony says, shifting a little awkwardly.

"You met me at the airport, and you brought me flowers and chocolate." Steve is staring at him in that way he always does when he can't believe how amazing Tony is. For a long time, Tony hated that look. It felt wrong, like Steve didn't mean it, or only thought he was amazing because he wasn't seeing the whole picture. But these days, Tony loves that look, he loves being the object of Steve's wonder and attention, and he loves feeling... well, loved. It was weird. But nice.

"Told you, I missed you. Let's go home."

They stop for take out on the way home and bring it back to the tower where they can sit around in their pyjamas eating a late dinner. Steve looks more than a little tired around the edges, and his being awake in the middle of the night watching team training was all the proof that Tony needed to know that he hadn't been sleeping well while away. They sit, they eat, they talk. It feels nice – normal – like his life is in balance again.

"So, nothing too catastrophic while I was gone?" Steve says as he shoves a piece of chicken into his mouth.

"Nope," Tony assures him. "Seems like all the evil geniuses and grad students bordering on ‘mad scientist’ managed to keep it together while you were gone. Turns out the biggest menace was the domestic threat of Clint and his damned paintballs."

Steve bursts out laughing, and hearing it in person is just so much nicer than hearing it over the phone.

"I'm serious!" Tony continues. "Least he stuck around to help clean up the training room."

"I thought the neon rainbow palette was an interesting look for the room," Steve says.

"It looked like a Jackson Pollock reject."

"All artists have their bad days."

"This wasn't art, it was chaos," Tony tells him, and then adds, "really fun chaos. And, as chaotic as it is, Bucky is enjoying himself."

Steve smiles softly, and kisses Tony's temple. "It's nice to see him doing so well. I'm glad."

"He's doing great," Tony assures him. "He's a good fit, he's one of us now. Even if he is a complete menace. I swear to god, he and Clint bring out the best and worst in each other."

They drop their dishes in the kitchen and drag themselves towards the bedroom, stomachs full, and take some time to reacquaint their bodies to one another. Afterward, they snuggle in close to each other, Steve's arm draped around Tony's waist as they face one another.

"I asked Buck if he wanted to come to the VA thing tomorrow with Sam and I," Steve says softly into the dark. "He had to think about it for a while, but he eventually said yes, he'd try."

"That's really good," Tony says with some relief. "I hope he has a good time."

"Me, too," Steve agrees. For a second, Tony thinks Steve is going to say something else, but his eyes slide shut and his breath evens out. He's asleep almost immediately. Tony's also tired, but he can't keep himself from staying awake for a while longer, just so that he can look at Steve and savour the feeling of having Steve's warm body pressed against his. It's still unbelievable to him, that this is something that he has in life. A stable relationship with Steve, someone so amazing and incredible, who loves Tony as much as Tony loves Steve. It took a hell of a lot to get to this point, but now that they're here, Tony feels like he's won the lottery every day.

That night is the best damned sleep he's had in days.

 


;

Of course, the peace is short lived. They both have to hit the ground running the next day even though Tony puts off getting up until the last possible second. He's got himself draped across Steve's body in a vain attempt to trap him and keep him in their bed a few minutes longer. It works briefly, and he gets to enjoy a short while of Steve tracing absent patterns on the skin of his bare shoulder.

And then JARVIS cuts in. "Sir, may I remind you that you have a meeting in less than an hour.”

Tony groans, and hides his face against Steve's shoulder. He does not want to be awake. He does not want to move. He wants to lounge in bed and doze with Steve as his pillow. But JARVIS insists. "May I also remind you that it was you who insisted on the meeting being moved to this morning,"

Tony groans again, and under him Steve chuckles.

"Tony, love, why did you move a meeting to this early in the morning?" Steve asks him.

Tony sighs and rolls over so he can sit up. "It's with that German rep for the energy project. He wanted to meet last night. But if I had, I wouldn't have seen you until after you got home and were probably asleep."

Steve stares at him with deep, unbelieving affection. "You pushed off a meeting for one of the biggest breakthrough projects you've done in I don't know how long, just so you could meet me at the airport?"

"No need to get weird about it," Tony says awkwardly, but it's too late, and Steve is kissing his cheek, nuzzling against his neck.

"You're amazing Tony, thank you."

"Worth it to get a few hours with you," Tony shrugs.

"Yeah," Steve agrees. "Unfortunately, we both need to get up. Sam needs my help with the set up at the VA.”

"I hate everything," Tony whines as he reluctantly climbs out of bed and stretches. "Tonight. You, me, dinner date. And clear schedules tomorrow."

"Agreed," Steve says.

"Great. 8 pm. Our place. I'll get a reservation."

He glances at the time. A little over 13 hours and then Steve would be all his, and nothing short of the world ending would get in their way.

 


 

It still somehow manages to feel like the longest day ever – longer even then the day before when he'd been counting down the minutes until Steve's plane landed. Now, he'd gotten a taste of actually having he and Steve in the same place, with schedules that cross paths, however slightly. And he wants more.

He always was bad at waiting.

But, at least after the success at his breakfast meeting, he’s got more than enough work to keep him busy — work that he’s actually excited to be throwing himself into. This energy partnership is going to be fantastic, and the German rep had had some really solid ideas that had sparked all kinds of new plans in Tony’s head about improving the prototype for the next iteration.

But as much fun as he’s having, he’s happy to set it aside when JARVIS informs him it’s time to get ready for his reservation. He dons his suit with a shirt Steve had picked out for him one day, and heads out to the restaurant in Greenwich Village where they’d had their first real date after finally hooking up, and where they’d come back to countless times since then.

Steve shows up, right on time looking tired from the day, but beautiful and content. He smiles, and stoops to kiss Tony in greeting, and takes his seat across the table before reaching over to take Tony's hand. Honestly, Tony would be perfectly content just to stare at him all night, drinking in the sight of the love of his life.

"It's been too long since we've been here," Steve comments as Tony pours them both a glass of wine.

"It has been," Tony agrees. "I'm really hoping that once I have this project up and going, I can be a little more hands off, and have a little more time."

"Same," Steve laughs, the corners of his eyes crinkling. "I missed you this last week, Tony," he says. “I missed being home.”

The server comes by a minute later for their order, and then swings by again with a basket of bread. They’ve been here often enough that no one ever makes a big deal about them, which is one of the many reasons Tony loves this place. As they chat, the tension they’ve both been carrying in the past days bleeds out of their shoulders, and by the time the server returns with their food, Tony feels as though there couldn’t be anything wrong with the world.

Which is of course why, as he’s just taking his first bite of his amazing-smelling dish, something splats against the window next to him. Looking up, he sees a smear of green slime sliding down the glass.

"Okay…" he says slowly. A moment later, another green splat appears on a car parked out on the street. And then another. Tony very deliberately sets down his fork, and pats at the corner of his mouth with a napkin. "I am going to pretend that I did not just see that. If you love me at all, you’ll do the same."

Across the table, Steve sighs, glancing at the window. "I don't think that's going to be an option," he says defeatedly, and nods towards the street behind Tony. Tony turns in his chair, and there, sure enough, sliding their way down the road, are half a dozen large, sentient slime blobs. At least, it looks like six. But then two of them join together and the doubled mass makes an incredibly gross noise as it reaches up to shove its slimy face against a second story window. Out on the streets, the pedestrians are fleeing, and the screams carry inside.

"This cannot be happening," Tony whines, even as he is pushing himself to his feet. "Why can't they just wait until after dinner? Rude of them not to consider my social calendar."

"Well, I'll make sure they know you're annoyed," Steve says, following as Tony races outside.

The slime monsters are approaching the restaurant now, still flinging droplets of gunk as they move. Somehow, that doesn't seem to be diminishing their mass at all. Tony doesn't even want to think about how that's working. Beside him, Steve is studying the one closest to them as it slides around, and then, in lieu of his shield – which is safely tucked up at home – he takes an empty plate he snagged from the restaurant and flings it at the creature like a Frisbee. He doesn't even look fazed when the creature just absorbs it and keeps on glopping around.

"I hope the restaurant doesn't want that plate back," Steve sighs. "That's going to complicate things, we can't punch it, or trap it."

"Think we can just ignore it?" Tony asks, cocking his head to the side and watching in fascination as the things slide down the street, completely uncaring and unhindered by anything in their way.

"Probably not," Steve says. Around them, people seem to either be being smart, and getting the hell out of dodge, or standing around watching with the same horrified fascination that Tony and Steve both are experiencing.

"So, any ideas?" Tony asks as the things draw nearer, dropping and flinging globs of slime all the while.

"Working on it. You?" Steve responds.

Before Tony can reply, he hears a strangled yelp, and snaps around in time to see some douchey looking guy fumbling with a smoke – no, an e-cig of all things – as he jumps back from a slimeball on a trajectory to his face. Secretly, Tony thinks the slime would be an improvement on the guy’s features. The guy coughs out a cloud of vapour at the slime as he finds his footing, and for a second Tony can't believe what he's seeing. The slimeball hisses and recoils, and then promptly shrivels up on the sidewalk.

"What the hell?" Steve asks in shock, and then turns to Tony. "What the hell?"

What the hell indeed. Tony's mind is racing, trying to put all the pieces together. Not like they can just run around the city breathing on slime monsters to make them stop their messy rampage.

The answer slides into his brain a moment later, and he audibly groans. "Assemble the team, Cap. We need all hands on deck. And tell Clint – I cannot believe I am saying this – bring all the paintballs he can carry.

 


 

Once he's suited up, Tony feels significantly better, though he's not sure if getting slime off the suit is going to be better or worse than trying to get it out of his hair. Over the comms, Clint is whooping and hollering in glee. Guy probably thinks he's died and gone to heaven.

The streets, sidewalks, buildings, everything around them looks like a rainbow warzone.

"I have no idea why this is working, but best. Day. Ever!" Clint yells, letting go another volley of arrows. The rest of the team has swapped out their regular weapons for the paintball rifles, and Steve is ordering a perimeter to keep the slime beasts from wreaking anymore havoc outside the city block. All the civilians had either been cleared or shooed inside, and Tony can see that the restaurant window is packed with faces pressed against the glass as diners watch the battle unfold.

His stomach growls, and he takes his frustration and hunger out on a rogue slime ball that is trying to crawl its way up the side of a building in an alley. He’s supposed to be down there, eating dinner with Steve and having a lovely evening with the love of his life. Not out here shooting goddamn paintballs at piles of goop

Piles of goop that won't. Stop. Coming.

"I thought we had a perimeter locked down?" Tony called over the comms.

"Kind of hard when they keep coming from outside the perimeter." Sam yells back.

Good god, not only have these stupid things ruined his dinner, they don't have the good decency to keep their friends corralled. Cursing under his breath, Tony shoots skyward to get a better view. Maybe if he can figure out where they're coming from, he can figure out how to stop them coming.

He hovers well above the battle, the HUD scanning and assessing everything in sight to track the little bastards.

The good news is, he doesn't have to look far – judging from the outpouring of sentient slime creatures coming from one of the University buildings a few blocks away, and the group of terrified looking, safety goggle-sporting, grad-school-looking people trying in sludge-covered vain to stop the creatures, Tony's willing to bet they came from some kind of lab experiment gone wrong. It would be almost funny to watch, if it weren't for the fact that this whole fiasco has ruined his evening, and left way more clean up than he even wants to consider.

The bad news is, the biggest creature yet, King Slime Lord himself, is slowly but surely making his way through The Village, picking up all the little baby slimelings and adding them to his overwhelming mass.

"Clint, are you seeing this?" Tony asks.

"Uh. Yes. Yes I am," Clint confirms, and clears his throat. "I think I'm going to need a bigger paintball?"

"Sam, Bucky, stay on it. Make sure you herd it into the perimeter," Steve orders. "I don't want it getting any bright ideas and wandering off somewhere we can't coral it. Clint, give them support from above. Everyone else, get ready to surround it, and we'll bring it down." Tony's heart skips a beat. His boyfriend is pretty damned sexy when he takes charge and gets all tactical.

"I found the source. Gonna go deal with it now," Tony tells them.

"Be careful," Steve responds. "You still owe me dinner."

Tony takes off towards the group of students, and drops himself right down in the middle of them. One girl yelps and jumps back, staring at Tony with even wider-eyed horror than she'd been staring at the monster with. Which, kind of actually is a little offensive. Tony is much nicer than a slime monster.

"Oh Jesus, this is bad," the girl says, looking for all the world like she wishes the ground would swallow her whole. "Please tell me the Avengers are not out there dealing with this."

"Well, I could say that, but I'd be lying."

The girl groans, and the guy beside her looks like he's ready to burst into tears. Poor kids. He can't blame them. He had experiments and projects go wrong in grad school – and in his adult life, too, honestly – but this one is a real doozy.

"Mr. Stark – I. We're sorry, we didn't–"

"Okay, first of all," Tony says, flipping up his faceplate so they can talk face to face, "normally I would tell you to stuff the apology, but, I was just sitting down to a date which got interrupted by all this –" he waves his hand around "– so, instead I'll say thank you. Apology accepted."

"You're not the only one who had shit to do, Stark," Natasha chides him over the comm. He rolls his eyes.

"Accepted on behalf of the Avengers," he says, and promptly attempts to tune them all out.

"We didn't mean for this. This isn't what were were trying for," the girl says.

"But something went wrong, it got out of hand–" Tony starts.

"–and all of a sudden, it's half sentient and self replicating. Somehow."

Tony nods. "Is it intelligent?"

She shakes her head. "No."

"Well, good, that makes it easier. So, what are you doing now?" He motions to her and all her three other colleagues, who are all covered in goop.

"Trying to stop it from spreading," she says miserably.

Tony bites his tongue to keep from making some comment about how beautifully well that's working out for them. There's no place for that, and they really are trying. "Alright," he says instead. "What's your name?"

"Anne," she tells him.

"Right. Okay, Anne. Let me tell you what you did right," he says. Anne's head snaps up and she looks at him, confused. "One, you tried to do something new, and innovative. Were you intentionally trying to raise hell and cause harm?"

She shakes her head quickly.

"Right then," Tony continues. "You were trying to innovate and learn. First thing you did right. The second thing you did right, is that when you fucked up, you tried to fix it."

Her eyes widen, and it's like she can't quite believe what she's hearing. Tony grins and taps her shoulder lightly. "Your slime beasts are making a mess, doing some damage, but last check, they hadn't hurt anyone. And, you're all out here desperately trying to fix what went wrong.”

"Not well," one of her friends laments.

"But you're trying. That's important. You fuck it up, you fix it, and if you don't know how, you ask for help. And if no one knows how, you figure it out together. You with me?"

She nods, her desperation morphing into determination.

"There we go, that's what we need," Tony says, clapping his hands together. "Lucky for us, I know how to fix this."

"You do?" She asks in shock.

"Yup!" Tony grins. "Polyethylene glycol."

"Really?" She asks, surprised.

"Ayup. Got anything that might work laying around?

She nods quickly. "In the lab, yes."

"Good. Go, make things to help stop the self replicating problem. We'll take care of the stuff out here."

"You fuck it up, you fix it," she says.

"Exactly. And you learn from it. So the next time, you get to fuck things up in a new and exciting way."

That gets a shaky laugh from her, and she and her friends turn quickly to leave. But she pauses for a second, and turns back to face him. "Mr. Stark, one more thing. How the hell did you figure that out? With the Polyethylene glycol, of all things?"

Tony grins, and raises his eyebrow. "Like many great discoveries – completely by accident."

 


 

Once they've got the source of the problem dealt with, the rest of the clean up is surprisingly easy. Easy, but messy and time consuming. Tony flies back to the site of the battle in time to see the rest of his team struggling with keeping the King Blob in place. It's not, strictly speaking, necessary. The giant blob, like its smaller counterparts, has proven to be non-lethal, and they could just follow it around its tour up towards Midtown until they'd hit it with enough paintballs to reduce it to nothing, but leaving a trail of slime and paint around the city probably isn't going to win them any favour, and honestly, a messy clean up was going to be more work for him – and for the poor kids who'd landed them in this mess in the first place.

Even as Tony is laying down repulsor fire to keep the things where he wants them, he’s already planning ways to reinforce the labs at the university, and build better containment units for them, so the next time someone's project decides to take a walk and smell the fresh air, it wouldn't make it past the front door. He’s not nearly so delusional as to think an experiment from there will never again go awry.

"Careful, there's a group of three trying to make a break for it down the alley to the west," Natasha calls.

"On it–"

"They're mine!" Clint and Bucky both call dibs, and Tony watches two volleys of fire from two separate directions, leaving the alley in a slime-free explosion of colour. Clint and Bucky are bickering over whose point that was – apparently they'd started keeping score while Tony had been off playing mentor – and he's distracted enough that he misses what's happening in the middle of the street until he hears Sam yell,

"Steve! Watch out!"

Tony's heart plummets, and he turns in time to see King Slime Lord lunge forward in something close to a charge, moving far faster than they'd seen it move before. Right towards Steve. Tony's yells incoherently, but there is nothing he can do, and he watches helplessly as Steve brings his shield up to cover his head, and curls himself into a protective ball as the slime giant slides right over him.

"STEVE!" Tony screams, unleashing repulsor hell on the thing. It doesn't do a damn bit of good, so he swoops in to steal a spare clip from Bucky, and then unloads the entire thing right into what passes for a head. The thing groans as the parts of it that Tony had shot start to dissolve, and it kind of rolls over onto its side. It's not much of a difference, but it’s enough. Tony drops down to the street beside it, and reaches half under, half through the slime until his hands feel a solid body. He pulls, not caring about the way that the goop is seeping into the joints of the suit – that's his Steve in there. Sam hovers above him, and unleashes another few rounds into the thing. It's enough to convince it to let Steve go, and with a final grunt, Tony is able to drag Steve free.

Steve immediately starts coughing, and Tony drops to his knees on the street beside him. "Steve? Honey, talk to me." Steve only manages to continuing coughing in reply, but he's at least breathing. It's the longest minute of his life, waiting for Steve to finally catch his breath.

"I'm, I'm okay," Steve says, panting heavily. "Wasn't actually suffocating. Not fully."

"Doesn't really make me feel better," Tony says, flipping the face plate up so he can see Steve with his own eyes, and wrapping an arm around Steve's shoulders. "Let me look at you."

"Tony, I'm okay," Steve promises. "Messy, but okay." Tony doesn't really want to let go, but he has to begrudgingly admit that Steve really does seem fine.

"Okay, I'll believe you for now," Tony tell him. "But I'm going to have to do a very thorough check over later.”

"Deal," Steve says, giving him a knowing look that makes Tony want to just make out with him here and now, in the middle of the street. He settles for stealing a quick kiss. Steve's mouth tastes absolutely vile, covered in slime residue, but Tony couldn't care less. Any kiss is a good kiss if it's from his Steve.

From there, it's just a matter of time before they wear the slime king down, and Steve and Tony move to talk to the first responders and the police that have shown up at some point, while the others do one last sweep to make sure that they’ve caught all the stragglers. It’s definitely not the evening Tony had planned, but also definitely not the worst date he's been on, so maybe he can count that as a win.

"Home and shower?" Tony asks, waggling his eyebrows at Steve once they'd let the police and the officials take over and do their thing.

"Yes, shower, but alone," Steve says, and Tony pouts.

"Tony, love of my life," Steve sighs, "as much as I love what you're thinking right now, I really just need to get clean. And maybe actually eat. Then I can think about burning more calories."

"Okay, fine," Tony agrees, and holds out his arm. "At least let me give you a ride home?"

"Always," Steve smiles.

 


 

Steve is still in the shower, probably trying to get the goop out of his hair as Tony wanders into the kitchen. is own hair is still damp, and he silently rejoices the fact that he has spare guest bathrooms so he didn't have to wait for Steve to finish up. It gives him time to throw together his plan. He grabs everything he needs, and tells JARVIS to have Steve meet him up on the roof terrace, before dashing off in the suit again. He really hopes Steve takes his sweet time washing up.

Luck is on his side for once tonight, and he manages to make it back before Steve is done. He’s just putting the finishing touches on when Steve steps outside. Tony hears the sharp intake of breath, and turns to find Steve standing by the door, staring in awe and the beautifully done up table, lit up with candles and soft patio lights.

"What is all this?" Steve asks, making his way over.

"The rest of our date," Tony tells him. "You may remember, ours was interrupted."

"I do recall that," Steve nods, and then catches sight of what's sitting on the table. "Oh my god, Tony, is that –"

"The exact dinner we ordered? Yes. Yes it is." Tony confirms. "I flew back to the restaurant. They were packing up for the night after all the excitement, but the chef was more than happy to finish our order. He says thanks, by the way. And not to worry about the plate."

"Oh, thank god. I'd forgotten about the plate," Steve admits, taking a seat at the table. "Tony, thank you. This is amazing."

"We agreed that tonight was date night, come hell or high water." Tony leans down and kisses Steve again; longer, slower, and far nicer than the kiss on the street had been.

"I've missed you Tony," Steve breathes against his lips, tilting his head up so Tony could kiss him better. It’s perfect, and Tony would be quite content to keep it up a while longer. But Steve's stomach has other ideas, and makes its displeasure at being neglected known. Loudly. Steve breaks the kiss, smiling sheepishly. "Food first?"

"Food first," Tony agrees, taking his seat on the other side of the table, and they both dig in eagerly.

"Hey, I have a question," Steve says after he's appeased his stomach with the first few bites.

"How the hell did you know the paintballs would work? I heard you on the comms – Polyethy-?"

"Polyethylene glycol, yeah."

"Yeah. You told the students you discovered the answer by accident?" Steve asks.

Tony nods. "Remember e-cig douche guy?" Steve hums in agreement. "When the thing attacked him, and he coughed out a cloud of vapour, the slime ball shriveled and recoiled. Polyethylene glycol, it's an ingredient in that type of e-cigarette. It is also," Tony pauses for a hint of drama, "an ingredient in the type of paint used specifically in paintballs."

"Huh," Steve said, sitting back and looking impressed. "God, you’re sexy when you're brilliant, you know that?"

Tony shrugs. "Like I said, figured it out by accident. It could have been any number of chemicals in the fluid, I was just really hoping it was that one, and we got lucky and it was."

"Still brilliant," Steve tells him, reaching across the table to take Tony's hand.

"Yeah, okay," Tony agrees. "It was kind of brilliant."

Steve laughs, and raises his wine glass, and hand in hand, they toast. It's not the date Tony set out to have, but he'll take it. Beside, he's got Steve, finally. Everything else is just details.