It started with Clint.
Technically speaking, Tony never actually invited him. He would have, given any sort of contact information, but Clint disappeared right after the battle of New York and clearly didn't want to be found. Natasha probably knew where he was, but knowing didn't mean sharing, so Tony never got the chance. Invitation or no invitation, three years later Tony still found Clint Barton sitting on his couch, watching Dog Cops and eating Cheetos in his underwear.
"Shit!" Tony jumped, dropping his mug.
"Aw, coffee." Clint peered over the top of the couch. "Sucks, man."
"Who the—Hawkeye?" Tony stared disbelievingly, making no move to clean up the shattered mug and puddle of coffee.
"I prefer Clint, usually." Clint shrugged, getting a new handful of Cheetos. "But whatever works for you."
"How the hell did you get in here?" Tony couldn't stop staring. Was this some strange sort of dream? "And why aren't you wearing pants?"
"Don't worry." Natasha's voice came from just behind his ear, and Tony startled so badly he nearly slipped in the coffee puddle. "I let him in."
"How the hell did you get in here?" Tony snapped, clutching a hand to his chest. "And would you quit sneaking up on me? I have a heart condition!"
"Had," Natasha corrected.
"You didn't change my access codes." Natasha shrugged. "JARVIS recognized me."
"Thanks for the warning." Tony narrowed his eyes at JARVIS' nearest camera.
"There was no unauthorized access," JARVIS informed him, the little snot, "Both Natasha Romanoff and Clinton Barton are authorized users."
"Ugh. Clinton." Clint made a face. "I haven't been called that since I was born."
"Stop eating Cheetos on the couch," Natasha warned him, "You'll turn everything orange."
"Shouldn't that be my line?" Tony frowned at them. "Since it's, you know, my house and all?"
"Tower," Natasha corrected.
"Place, whatever." Tony waved a hand. "You know, I don't recall inviting either of you."
"You built us suites, I think that counts as an invitation," Clint disagreed, popping a handful of Cheetos into his mouth. "And I'll wash my hands, Tasha, relax."
Natasha snorted. "You haven't washed your hands in so long you probably still have Chitauri blood under your fingernails."
"Dirt gives me better grip." Clint wiggled his orange fingers at her.
"Fascinating as this is, can we please talk about the fact that you two just broke into my house?" Tony interrupted.
"I heard the robot voice say we were granted access, that's hardly breaking and entering." Clint rolled his eyes. "Not that I'd be opposed, but in our business it's important to remember there's technically a difference."
"He's not a 'robot voice'." Tony sighed. "He's an AI, his name is JARVIS. And fine, you can stay, I don't care—but you." He eyed Natasha warily. "No more stabbing me in the neck with things. I like my organs where they are."
Natasha gave a small shrug that was clearly no promise. Clint snorted a laugh. "The way you treat your organs, who the hell would want them anyway?"
"I changed my mind." Tony rubbed his forehead. "Get out of my house."
"Tower," Natasha corrected idly with a little head tilt as she retrieved a cup from his cupboard.
"And come on, man," Clint complained, "I just saved the tri-state area, can't you let me watch Dog Cops in peace?"
Tony frowned. "I didn't hear about anything happening in the tri-state area."
"That's 'cause I do my damn job," Clint muttered.
"Do you even have a job?" Tony raised an eyebrow. "SHIELD was taken out of commission more than a year ago."
"Depends, are we ever gonna get this Avengers thing off the ground?" Clint shot back.
"I built your suites six months after New York." Tony shrugged. "You're the ones who took three years to show up."
"You didn't show up until last year," Natasha pointed out as she reappeared behind him with a fresh cup of coffee that she placed on the table instead of handing to him. He supposed he shouldn't have been surprised she remembered his quirk.
"Uh. Thanks." Tony nodded. She offered him a small smile, then returned to…making herself tea, it looked like. "Any particular reason you know where everything in my kitchen is, or should I just assume you're psychic and stop asking questions?"
"You're predictable." Natasha smiled a little wider. "Everything's in the same place it was in the Malibu house."
"Don't remind me." Tony groaned. "God, I loved that house. That was a beautiful fucking house."
"Rule number eight." Clint shrugged. "Never tell the bad guys where you live."
"Where I lived was public knowledge, I just shouldn't have baited them." He liked to think they'd have attacked the house either way, but he knew full well that had been his own damn fault.
"Rule number six." Clint just shook his head ruefully.
"If that's rules eight and six, what's rule number one?"
"Never say 'at least things can't get worse'." Clint and Natasha recited at the same time.
"That was freaky." Tony shuddered, taking the cup of coffee off the table. "Don't do that again."
Clint and Natasha exchanged a glance, then said together, "No promises."
Tony fled to the workshop.
Sure, he left them with his coffee mess, but they were the ones who'd made him drop the mug in the first place. It wasn't like they paid rent anyway, they could stand to clean a mess or two.
He half expected them to be gone when he came up for air again, a day and a half later. It wasn't like he'd never hallucinated after a particularly long workshop binge before. The kitchen and rec area were empty this time so Tony breathed a sigh of relief and started to make himself breakfast. Lunch? It was four in the afternoon, probably lunch, but eggs were the best thing Tony knew how to make so breakfast it was.
As he cooked, the relief faded a little. He'd built them all suites for a reason, after all, and as startled as he'd been by their unannounced arrival he could admit to himself it might've been nice to have them around. When he'd first moved to New York, he'd still been with Pepper. It'd actually been nice; she worked in the building, just a couple hundred floors up, so he'd been able to bug her at will and sneak her away for lunch and all sorts of things. After they'd broken up he'd let her keep the penthouse, moved into the suite he'd built for himself on one of the communal floors he'd set aside for the Avengers. He didn't regret that—she more than deserved it, and she'd make better use of all the space anyway—but living alone in a space meant for a team made him a little more aware of his alone-ness than he was used to.
He'd tried coercing Rhodey into coming to live with him, with promises that it'd be just like college, but after laughing his ass off Rhodey had reminded him that if they started drinking again the way they had in college they'd be dead in a ditch within a week. Besides that, he was on-duty near constantly now as War Machine—or Iron Kissass, whatever they were calling it these days—so though he accepted the offer of a suite to stay in when he was in New York, he was rarely around to make use of it.
Tony wouldn't say he was lonely, exactly. He and Rhodey talked all the time, even if he wasn't around much, and Pepper was in and out of the workshop at least a couple times a week to pester him about finishing what he'd promised R&D on time this week, or to harass him about missing a meeting again. He was actually doing pretty well managing it all, nothing like he'd once been, but that kind of interaction was most comfortable for them and they both knew she was only really using it as an excuse to check up on him. Bruce dropped by every once in a while too, in between trips. He was busy tying up loose ends in…Mumbai, maybe? Somewhere in India. Anyway, he was around sometimes, for a week or two at a time, during which he made use of his suite and lab space, and Tony got to speak science for a little while.
So no, Tony wasn't lonely. But he wasn't as opposed to the idea of Clint and Natasha moving in as he'd pretended to be. Maybe if he wasn't such an asshole, he'd have mentioned that and they'd still be hanging around—
"If you're making eggs, dibs on first batch."
Tony dropped the pan. "Shit!"
"Are you going to swear and drop things every time I talk to you?" Clint snickered.
"I thought you'd left." Tony eyed him. He was wearing pajama pants this time, at least. Tony bent to pick up the pan, grateful that he at least hadn't started cooking with it yet.
"What? And give up free room and board?" Clint snorted, then gave a half shrug and leaned against the kitchen table as he told Tony seriously, "Look, cards on the table? I could probably get another job, but I don't want to. I barely trusted command as it was, after all that HYDRA shit I'll never be able to take orders from any sort of intelligence agency again. Besides, kicking Chitauri ass with you guys was ten times as fun as any other mission I ever got. You ask me, this Avengers thing got axed way before its time. You agree, obviously."
"Obviously?" Tony raised an eyebrow, spraying the pan before setting it on the stovetop. Clint would not be getting first dibs, but Tony might—grudgingly, of course—let the guy have his second batch.
"You built us all suites." Clint gestured a hand. "And a communal floor. And a killer gym, seriously, if you hadn't given me a suite I would be perfectly happy living there, that place is a work of art. We'll have to talk about some moving targets, but—"
"I designed some," Tony admitted as he started cracking eggs, "Specialized to each of us. Cap's and Hulk's are reinforced, yours can fly, Natasha's are designed for close combat, mine and Thor's fly and have reinforcement, though I'm not sure if there's any reinforcement that'll stand up to 'magic hammer' levels of destruction."
He expected a somewhat grudging admittance that they'd be helpful with training. Most people avoided robots, particularly ones designed to fight them, even if they could be helpful. Instead, Clint's eyes lit up like it was Christmas.
"Now that's what I'm talking about." Clint grinned. "I bet we could convince Thor to do some combat training without the hammer, if you want your bots to hold up. Guy's a warrior prince, I'm sure he understands the value of practicing without weapons every once in a while. Better yet, we could set the Hulk on him; I'd pay money to see that."
"I don't think there's enough reinforcement in the world to contain that match." Tony snorted a laugh.
"We'll drop 'em off in a field somewhere." Clint shrugged.
"First we have to get them to join the team," Tony pointed out.
"Doesn't Dr. Banner already live here?"
"On and off." Tony made a hand-wavy gesture. "He mostly drops by to make use of the labs I gave him before jetting back off. He does a lot of pro bono medical work in third world countries, guy's trying to out-philanthropist me."
"It has nothing to do with helping people, I'm sure," Natasha interjected as she appeared in the kitchen. Tony managed not to drop anything this time, though he couldn't help jerking a bit.
"Well, hello to you too." Tony made a face. "Do you people say hello? Or announce your presence, ever?"
"Not really a good habit, in our line of work." Clint smirked, taking a seat at the table and kicking his feet up.
"And here I thought avenging was your new line of work." Tony shot back. "Avengers probably announce their presence."
"Okay, so, question." Clint slapped a hand on the table. "What exactly are we avenging? Because I can't get a straight answer out of anyone. We've been called the Avengers project since before we even knew Loki existed and, collectively or individually, haven't lost a fight yet. So if the name doesn't make sense and SHIELD doesn't exist to push it on us, I vote we rename ourselves while there's still time."
He had a point, albeit a convoluted one. "And what would you suggest?"
Clint opened his mouth, but Natasha spoke first. "We're not going to be Hawkeye and the Heartbreakers. We're not a band."
"And if we were, you wouldn't be lead." Tony agreed.
"Of course I would—"
"You'd be playing triangle in the back row." Tony snorted.
"What, and you'd be lead?"
"Fuck no." Tony grinned. "I'm bass, bass gets all the girls. Cap would be the one belting his pretty little heart out."
Natasha raised an amused eyebrow. "I'll be sure and tell him you think he's pretty."
"Turn of phrase." Tony rolled his eyes, flipped his egg. "Point is, Cap's lead and the whole world knows it. We can rename ourselves all we want, if he goes and tells the press we're Commandos Two Point Oh, they're gonna call us the Commandos Two Point Oh."
"That's no fun, he's a spoilsport." Clint frowned.
"He might surprise you." Natasha smiled wryly. "Though from what I can tell, I think he likes the ring of 'Avengers'."
"What's Capsicle up to these days, anyway?" Tony asked, curious, "I haven't talked to him since SHIELD collapsed. He was searching for his friend, wasn't he?"
Tony slid the first batch of eggs onto a plate while she told him about where Steve had been looking, the trails he and that Sam guy had picked up, the HYDRA bases they'd been taking out in their pursuit. The minute Tony put the plate down Clint was up and moving to grab it. Tony let him. He was already starting to like having them around, it wouldn't be the end of the world if he fed them too. He had plenty of eggs anyway. Natasha liked hers over easy, if he remembered, unless that had been part of the 'Natalie Rushman' cover, but that seemed like a stretch. He started to make an over easy batch while she filled him in. Barnes was in the wind, clearly didn't want to be found yet. She'd be helping them, she said, if she thought they could find him before he wanted to be found.
"He'll come to them." Natasha shook her head a little. "If Steve cracked his brainwashing the way he says he did. Once there's even a crack…your humanity is a hard thing to ignore. Barnes'll get curious. He'll investigate, dig into who he was and what he was like and the history of himself. He's lucky, he's got whole books written on his life, museum exhibits dedicated to him. For now that's probably enough. When he's ready to connect the information to something more real, he'll find Steve himself."
"But of course Cap's too stubborn to stand for that." Tony snorted, joining them at the table with his own breakfast, finally.
"The guy could've invented stubborn, for all we know." Clint snagged Tony's coffee cup, took a gulp before gagging. "Christ, that's blacker than the depths of hell."
"Matches my soul," Tony quipped, stealing it back, "And it keeps thieves like you away. Go get your own, there's plenty more."
"What about orange juice, got any of that?" Clint stood, went to go pick through Tony's fridge. "No juice? What kind of life are you living?"
"One that requires caffeination. JARVIS?"
"Added, Sir," JARVIS responded, "Pulp or no pulp?"
Tony nodded to Clint, who stared up at the ceiling. "Uh. No pulp?"
"Your request has been added to the grocery list for next week," JARVIS informed him.
"Thanks." Clint squinted a little. "Can I add other things?"
"If you're going to live here, it's your grocery list too." Tony shrugged. It was as close to him asking them to move in as they were going to get, but by the grin on Clint's face and the smile on Natasha's, they probably got the message.
"We'll need Captain Crunch," Clint announced, "And poptarts. And like, a hundred boxes of Oreo's."
"Golden Oreo's," Natasha corrected.
"Regular," Clint disagreed, adding, "Heathen."
"First to five." Natasha countered.
"Deal." Clint snatched the coffee pot, downed what remained, then left the kitchen.
"I missed something." Tony stared after him. Natasha took her plate to the sink before filling him in.
"First to win five spars picks the Oreo color."
"Right. That makes total sense. Why not beat the shit out of each other over Oreo's, that what all normal people do."
"We're not normal." She shrugged. "There's pros and cons to that, but at least our debates are easier to settle."
Then she was gone, off down the hall and presumably to the gym to beat Clint into the mat. Although, come to think of it, Tony had never actually seen them fight. He'd seen very little of Clint in action at all—he'd been a little preoccupied with the aliens trying to kill him, back when they'd first met—but for SHIELD to recommend him to the Avengers he had to be skilled. Maybe it'd be a fair fight after all.
"Coming?" Natasha called to him from down the hall.
Tony took one more quick bite of eggs, grabbed his coffee, and followed.
Natasha won, but far more narrowly than Tony expected. Watching them made him glad he'd set JARVIS up to record all training activities, there was no way he'd caught everything they did the first time. They were both fast and agile, far more flexible than Tony had been even in his prime. Natasha was faster but Clint was stronger, and though they couldn't really be taking the spars all that seriously they were definitely leaving bruises. It was intense, and more than a little unnerving to be reminded that these people could kill him in his sleep with one hand tied behind their back. Hell, with both hands tied behind their back. Their bodies were living weapons, trained to perfection, everything was clearly useful to them. Either one of them could probably find a way to kill him with their toes.
They each gave him a lesson or two, in the days that followed. Natasha was more patient, but cut him less breaks and wasn't afraid to rough him up; Clint pushed him a little more, was less focused on making sure his stances were right and more concerned with teasing and goading him into getting an actual hit in. Neither of them were born teachers or anything, but they were helpful and Tony managed to pick up a thing or two in between getting his ass handed to him.
By the end of the first month, Tony stopped jumping when they appeared out of nowhere. He still couldn't tell when they entered and exited rooms unless he was watching, but he figured that since they were quite literally two of the best spies in the world it was a little ridiculous to expect that he ever would. He got used to them appearing though, got used to having them around to demand he make them food or steal the remote or challenge him to a weekend board game marathon that ended with them all screaming at each other and him having to google a whole slew of Russian swear words. They were demanding, sneaky, and constantly in his face anytime he stepped out of the workshop.
He never wanted them to leave.
"I'm not watching 13 Going On 30 again, I don't care how much you think the guy looks like Bruce."
"Tell me Ruffalo isn't a dead ringer for him," Natasha challenged.
"I'm not saying he isn't," Tony allowed, "I'm just saying it's not worth watching another rom-com, and since I beat you at monopoly—"
"—since I barely beat you at monopoly, I barely get to choose the channel." Tony clicked over to Grey's Anatomy. "It's your own fault for letting me pick the ga—"
"Oh my god!" Clint burst into the rec room, laptop balanced precariously in one hand. Christ, was that a Dell? How old was that thing? Tony half wanted to hiss at it. "What the fuck?"
"What's wrong?" Natasha frowned. Tony tore his eyes from Clint's disaster of a laptop long enough to notice that he was pale as a ghost.
"Are you okay?" Tony asked. Clint just stared at his laptop.
"I clicked download…and it just appeared!"
"What appeared?" Natasha's brow furrowed.
"Did you download a virus? Fuck, Clint—"
"I…I don't know, it all just happened so fast…" Clint kept staring at the screen. Tony sighed, standing to go over to him and take the—ugh—Dell away from him.
"Give me that. I'm not giving this back, we've got a hundred SI issue laptops in the building, you're getting one today, transferring your shit, then I'm chucking this thing off the roof." Tony clicked through what looked like an illegal downloading program. "You know I'm rich, right? JARVIS can pay for and download whatever you want right to the TV screen. Or your laptop, if you want, he controls the wifi too. But it looks fine, all I see is the latest episode of Dog Cops. What's the problem?"
"That's an hour long episode," Clint insisted.
"Sure," Tony said, because despite all of Clint's pestering that he had to, that he'd love it, he hadn't actually sat down to watch an episode with him yet.
"It took half a second to download!"
Tony tossed the laptop onto the couch. "All this is about my internet speed?"
"What did you expect?" Tony snorted. "Comcast doesn't exactly do it for me, I modified the wifi myself."
It was at that point that Clint grabbed him by the face and kissed him full on the mouth.
"What the hell are you doing?" Tony shoved him off.
Clint dropped to both knees. "Marry me."
"What? Get off me, you weirdo." Tony tugged his leg away when Clint grabbed it.
"Don't make me leave," Clint persisted, "I can't live without this, Tony, I can't, I've seen Heaven, I can't go back to DSL—"
"People still use DSL?" Tony couldn't help the horror on his face.
"Poor people." Clint finally got off his knees, thankfully. "Okay, fine, don't marry me, just know that we would've been perfect together."
"Somehow, I doubt that."
"You make lots of money, I spend lots of money, you complete me." Clint batted his eyelashes ridiculously. Tony rolled his eyes.
"Am I interrupting something?"
"Bruce!" Tony turned with a grin. Bruce was standing in the doorway, a bag slung over one shoulder. "You're back!"
"You two living here now?" Bruce asked Clint and Natasha.
"Until this one." Natasha jerked her head in Clint's direction. "Gets us evicted. You missed it, things were heating up a moment ago."
Bruce's eyebrows jumped. Tony quickly clarified, "Clint got over-excited because I have wifi."
"Fantastic wifi," Clint insisted.
"You do have pretty fantastic wifi," Bruce agreed.
"You here to stay this time?" Natasha watched him carefully.
Bruce looked around the room, took in how relaxed they were, how comfortable they'd become around each other. Tony knew he would've been surprised by it himself, just a few weeks ago. "I think I might be, yeah."
"Great." Clint rubbed his hands together. "Now we just need the god of thunder and a living legend from the 1940's. Totally doable."
"Sure, when you put it that way." Bruce chuckled.
"I'm glad you're here, actually." Clint dropped down onto the couch, stretched his arms up and over the back. "Tony and I've got a bet going, we wanna let you and Thor go at it out in like a field or some shit where you can't, y'know, kill people or anything, and see who beats the crap out of who first."
"I don't think that's wise," Bruce disagreed, but couldn't seem to help laughing a little at the idea.
"Sure it is! I'll buy a field, we'll clear it for miles, and we can all watch from one of the jets or something. It'll be great," Tony assured. He went over to greet Bruce properly, throw an arm around his shoulders. "Come on, tell me the scientist in you isn't curious."
"I don't think 'who would win in a match between Hulk and Thor' is a particularly scientific inquiry." Bruce shook his head with a laugh.
"Well, fine, we don't need you to agree." Clint waved him off. "We'll push you down some stairs or something, we can figure that part out later."
Bruce raised his eyebrows, alarmed, but Tony subtly waved off his concern. Clint was a little like Tony that way, he was learning; loud, snarky, and occasionally abrasive, but ultimately enjoyed having people around. He wouldn't do anything he thought would make Bruce uncomfortable, much less push him down a flight of stairs. Though Bruce probably wouldn't know that, since as far as Tony could recall they'd never actually met. It seemed none of them were particularly great at going about introductions the normal way.
Bruce settled in fairly quickly, after that. He and Natasha got along extremely well, to Tony's surprise, since from what he'd gathered she'd manipulated him into the whole Avengers thing. But then, when he'd first met Natasha she'd called herself Natalie and passed herself as a legal assistant, and yesterday he'd agreed to go shopping with her without a single death threat. Bruce and Clint hit it off as well, could play trick shot pool for hours; Bruce had math, Clint had target experience, and neither of them could manage to keep the upper hand for long. Between those two and his research, Bruce clearly wouldn't be leaving again anytime soon, for which Tony was grateful. The team really seemed to be coming together, so Tony shot off an email to Dr. Jane Foster, asked her to extend an invitation to Thor next she heard from him—and to forward him any papers she wrote regarding the Asgardian bridge, since that was apparently his life now—then buckled down and dialed Captain America up.
They'd parted on good terms, the tesseract had been the main influence, they hadn't meant what they'd said, blah blah blah. Whatever. Something about the guy still set Tony's edges off. Wasn't anything personal even, not really, probably just residual daddy issues or what the fuck ever, but something about his old man haircut and his disapproving frown and chiseled-in-stone-looking face was just…annoying. To be fair, he hadn't seen or talked to the guy much since New York; once after the media reported he'd died and he turned out to be alive, when Steve called to say he was glad the media had gotten it wrong, and once after the fall of SHIELD when Tony had called him to ask what hell that all had been about. Still, the guy was their unofficial leader and they all knew it. If the Avengers was really happening, he deserved an invitation to it if nothing else.
"Captain Rogers." Jesus. The guy answered his phone like he expected to be told the world was on fire and he had the only bottle of water.
"Tony Stark," Tony parroted back, and shit, he'd promised himself he was going to at least try not to make fun of the guy, "Hey. Uh. Cap. You still hunting down that friend of yours?"
"Doesn't sound like it's going well."
"He doesn't want to be found."
"So I heard." Tony rubbed his hand over his mouth, a nervous habit. "You talk to Natasha at all?"
"Often. Need me to pass along a message?"
"Not that often, then." Tony couldn't help a laugh. "You know she's living in my Tower now, right?"
The silence over the line answered that for him.
"No," Steve said after a moment anyway, "I didn't."
Shit. The guy clearly thought he'd been deliberately left out, Tony knew well enough how that felt to hear it in his voice.
"That's what happens when you take off for Russia," Tony told him flippantly, "You miss news on the home front. Which is, you know, why I'm calling. To inform you."
"You called to tell me Natasha's living with you?"
God, this guy really thought he was a grade A asshole. "No, I was calling to remind you that the offer's open. For any Avenger, any time. Doesn't even have to be permanent if you don't want, Bruce comes and goes, Rhodey uses it as a place to crash when he's in New York—"
"Iron Patriot's an official Avenger now?"
"Eh." Tony shrugged, though Steve wouldn't be able to see it. "He should be, though I doubt he'd accept it. Military's got their claws in him. He's a personal friend though, and definitely a superhero, no reason he shouldn't have a suite. There's a bunch of them anyway, we're not using them all."
"Clint and Bruce have moved in too." When all he got was silence, Tony cleared his throat a little. "Hawkeye and Hulk?"
"I know who they are." Steve sounded distracted now, and that's when Tony heard the first gunshot.
"Wait, are you being shot at?" He stared at the phone, but the screen was dark. Steve's wasn't StarkTech, it didn't have a videocall feature. More bullets sounded off. "Did you take a call in the middle of being shot at?"
"I wasn't being shot at when I picked up," Steve reasoned. Then he grunted, and Tony heard the reverberations of what he was fairly sure was Steve's shield colliding with someone's head. "It's finished now, anyway."
It was true, Tony heard no further gunshots. "Should I, uh. Let you go?"
"It's fine. You're trying to kickstart the Avengers back up, then?"
"It's a little hard to get ahold of Thor, but otherwise, yeah. I shot off an email to Dr. Foster, SHIELD intel said she and Thor were a thing back during the Chitauri invasion, fingers crossed they still are."
"Thor was on Earth half a week and he got himself a girl." Steve laughed. "Natasha would be proud."
"She try to set you up?"
"Like you wouldn't believe."
"Did it work?" Tony fiddled with his pen.
"Not really. Well. I went out once or twice with Agent Carter."
"Uh. Isn't that—"
"How'd that go?"
"About as awkward as you'd expect."
"Nice woman. Little too much familial resemble—shit."
The line went dead.
Tony stared at his phone.
If he called back, he could potentially give away Steve's position. He had all of zero idea what Steve was up to, other than that it involved gunfire. He shouldn't call back, calling back was a bad idea, but he couldn't exactly just call that 'conversation over' and continue with his day, either. While Tony stared at his phone and tried to puzzle out what exactly he was supposed to do, it started ringing.
"Mr. Stark, sorry about that."
"I thought we agreed you'd call me Tony, but on a somewhat more important note, are you alright?"
"They only clipped me, it'll heal within a day." Steve brushed his concern off. "I just needed two hands for a minute there."
"Sure. Maybe we should talk sometime you're not getting shot at?"
"How about next week? I've got a few more things to wrap up in Moscow, but if the offer's open, I'll be back in the states by then and maybe I could take you up on it?"
"Yeah, sure." Tony nodded, forgetting again that Steve couldn't see him. He really needed to get the guy a videophone. "Come on by. If you give me a call, I can send movers over, you don't need to haul your stuff here yourself or anything."
"Alright." Tony was no expert in tones, but he thought Steve might've been smiling. "I'll call."
"Good. Great. A week, then."
"A week. Bye, Tony."
"See you, Cap."
It was funny how a little perspective could change everything. Ten minutes ago, he'd been dreading Captain Pretentious moving in and breaking up the odd but fun dynamic that had started to blossom between the team. Now…now he was almost excited. The guy was starting to grow on him a little. He tapped the phone to his mouth thoughtfully. Huh.
It took Steve a week and half to call, not that Tony was keeping track. In the meantime, Thor received his message via Dr. Foster and ceremoniously appeared in the middle of the living room with a loud boom and a burst of blue-ish purple light. He incinerated the furniture, but Tony was awed enough by the display and eager enough to test the thunder alien's limits he couldn't even bring himself to mind. As expected, Thor destroyed everything Tony threw at him: punching bags, fighting robots, reinforced fighting robots, everything. The only solution was obviously to throw him and Hulk in an empty field, but Tony figured he could do Steve the courtesy of waiting for him to show up first. Stick in the mud or not, no man alive would turn down an invitation to watch Thor and the Hulk duke it out, of that Tony was sure.
When Steve finally did show up, he had someone in tow. Steve opened his mouth, presumably to make introductions, but the new guy put his hand forward to Tony and spoke first.
"Hey, I'm Falcon. This is my sidekick Captain America, it's alright if you haven't heard of him."
"Do you have to tell that joke every time?" Steve rolled his eyes.
"Tony Stark." Tony shook the guy's hand. "Falcon…Sam Wilson, right?"
"You know about me?" Sam's eyebrows jumped.
"SI designed your wings." Tony smirked. "I put the pieces together when they were stolen from a high-security facility then next seen on public television defending the Helicarriers."
"Not gonna call the cops on us, are you?" Sam grinned.
"Nah. Might build you a better set if you ask nicely, though. I wasn't directly involved in that project, which just about guarantees you they could be twice as good after a week or two in my hands."
"Are you kidding?" Sam gaped at him, turned to Steve. "Is he kidding?"
"Doubtful." Steve grinned. "Hey, Tony."
And then he was being hugged. "Oh, uh. Hey."
"Good to see you." Steve released him. Oddly enough, he sounded like he meant it.
"Likewise," Tony offered, and was surprised to find he might've meant it too.
"You mentioned you had more suites than you could fill." Steve gestured his head to Sam. "Sam's been invaluable to me, I was hoping—"
"Your team, Cap." Tony shrugged. "You want to fill the roster, go for it."
"Oh, come on." Clint joined them in the entryway, the others just one step behind him. "You're Captain America and you thought you wouldn't lead the team?"
"SHIELD's gone," Natasha agreed, "We're on our own here. Who better?"
"We're living under your roof." Steve looked to Tony. "Natasha said you've even built us gear, improved our suits."
"That's what I do." Tony shrugged. "I build. Throw money where it needs throwing. You're a leader, a strategist. You called the shots during the invasion and things turned out pretty well, all things considered. Not promising I'll follow orders, but if they're coming from you I suppose I could stand to take a few under advisement."
"I'll take that as a compliment." Steve chuckled. "If you're all in agreement…"
"You are wise and just, Captain." Thor smiled at him. "I would be honored to follow your lead."
"I'd be honored to lead," Steve replied, grinning back, "How long are you on Earth?"
"I feel a responsibility to your realm," Thor told him, as he'd told Tony and the others a week prior, "I will stay as long as I can. Anthony has offered me a place on your Avengers; if you are in agreement as well, I would like to accept."
"If I don't agree, when else will I get a chance to spar with the god of thunder?" Steve joked, clapped a hand to Thor's shoulder. Thor laughed.
"Thank you, Captain."
"Call me Steve," Steve offered.
"Steve it shall be." Thor nodded.
"I've been trying to get you to call me 'Tony' instead of 'Anthony' for a week, and he gets 'Steve' just like that?" Tony complained.
"Anthony is name to be proud of," Thor told him, maintaining a serious, rather stern expression for another second or two, before breaking into a grin again. "It is also possible Clint may have informed me you did not like it."
"You got the god of thunder to troll me." Tony gaped at Clint. Clint did finger-guns at him.
"Payback, bitch." Clint threw an arm around Steve's shoulders. "Now drop your bags and come on, you guys have got to see Stark's TV."
"I've seen a TV before, Clint." Steve's smile from before faded a little. Tony got the sense this was something he'd repeated about a hundred times. He remembered the way Steve had used the touchscreens on the Helicarrier with ease, the way he'd put his number into all of their phones afterwards without hesitation, no assistance needed. He made a mental note to try and give the guy a little more credit.
"Man, I don't care if you were born in the 1800's or the 3000's, you haven't seen his TV," Clint insisted, already leading the way out of the entryway and down the hall, towards the rec room. The sour edge to Steve's mouth lifted a little. "The definition will blow your mind."
"What's the wifi here like?" Sam asked, following after Clint with the rest of them.
"A man of my own heart." Clint grinned. "I like you. The wifi's fucking phenomenal, but don't thank Tony, he's not very appreciative."
"You know what I would've appreciated?" Tony shot back, "A warning, you asshole."
"I was just thankful, no need to get so uptight about it—"
"You stuck your tongue down my throat—"
"Please, you wish I used tongue—"
"Boys." Natasha cleared her throat, amused.
Steve and Sam were staring at them.
Clint shrugged unapologetically. "Told you the wifi's great."
"And what are you going to do if I improve your bow, blow me in the hallway?" Tony made a face.
"Get my wings to Iron Man speeds and I'll do it," Sam offered. Tony half expected Steve to be blushing in the corner, but the other half was already starting to know better. When Tony looked at him, Steve just grinned.
"You want one from me you're gonna have to provide a little more than free wifi."
"Was that a come-on, Rogers?" Tony marveled. Shit, he was actually starting to like the guy.
"Depends, what've you got for me in that lab of yours?"
"Workshop," Tony corrected absently. This could be fun. "And you'll have to come down sometime and find out for yourself."
"Gag me." Clint rolled his eyes. "Congratulations, you ruined my fun. Now check this out: JARVIS, pull up…fuck, I don't know. Cap, what haven't you seen yet?"
Steve considered it, turned to Sam. "What's that one you keep bugging me about?"
"Star Wars," Sam insisted immediately, clearly exasperated, "He refuses to take a couple of hours to watch the best series of all time, it's ridiculous."
"Well, that's easily solved." Tony shrugged, challenged to Steve, "Can't move in until you pay rent, Cap: one movie marathon, right here, right now."
"Fair enough." Steve conceded with a chuckle, dropping his backpack by the couch and putting his hands in the air. "You win. I'll watch your Space Wars."
"Star Wars," Tony corrected, offended up until he caught sight of the little smirk Steve was doing his best to hide.
"Oh please, don't listen to that little shit, he knows what it's called." Sam snorted, confirming Tony's suspicion.
"Wait," Clint blurted. Everyone paused, turned to him. "Wait wait wait."
"We're waiting." Bruce raised an eyebrow at him.
"He hasn't seen Star Wars."
"That would be the point of a movie marathon, yeah." Tony rolled his eyes.
"No, Tony." Clint moved forward, grabbed his shoulders. "He hasn't seen Star Wars. He hasn't seen Return of the Jedi. He and Thor are the last unspoiled people on Earth."
"That seems a little—" Steve started, but Tony blurted over him.
"Oh my god."
"Oh my god."
"What are you two so excited abo—whoa!" Steve was interrupted when Tony and Clint each grabbed him by a shoulder and shoved him forcefully onto the couch. Steve probably let them, supersoldier and all that, but whatever. They moved towards Thor next, but Thor quickly took a seat on the couch, looking amused by Clint and Tony's enthusiasm.
"JARVIS, lights out and film up," Tony instructed, "Everyone, sit down, I'm making popcorn. If any of you spoil him, I'm tossing all your shit off the roof."
"That seems excessive." Steve seemed to be trying to disapprove, but only wound up looking curious and mildly excited.
"Justified," Bruce assured, joining him on the couch.
The rest of them piled in as the opening monologue began to play, while Tony removed himself to go pop a couple bags of popcorn. He would never have pictured himself as the one to play at caretaker, making them food and insisting on movie nights, but though he would never admit to it out loud…it felt kind of good. He liked the way the team was coming together, adjusting to each other; he hoped the others felt the same way, and he'd do what he could to help that good feeling along.
He rejoined them before the opening monologue finished, passing around three bowls of popcorn. He thought he might've been excessive, until he had to get up halfway through the second movie for refills. A supersoldier metabolism was nothing to laugh at, and feeding Thor and the Hulk sure wasn't easy either. He brought back five bowls this time, just as Steve murmured to himself,
No. No no no, how could—no, he couldn't possibly have—
"What do you mean?" Tony asked carefully.
"He's Luke and Leia's father, right? That's such a neat twist," Steve enthused. Everyone in the room swiveled to him. "What?"
"How?" Clint demanded, distraught. "No way you just guessed that, that's the best cinematic reveal in history, how could you just—"
"Uh." Steve cleared his throat, looking almost embarrassed for them. "You know 'vader' means 'father' in German, right?"
"Damn." Sam groaned. "I forgot."
"You're Captain America, what are you doing speaking German?" Tony muttered, more annoyed to have his moment spoiled than anything.
"I spent three years fighting in Germany." Steve shot him an amused look. "I picked up a few things."
"Like how to ruin a movie?" Tony grumbled.
"I'm sure it's a great reveal—" Steve tried, but Tony made a mouth-zipping motion.
"Nope. You ruined it. Not another word, Rogers."
"Sir yes sir." Steve rolled his eyes.
"You're a lot more sarcastic than I remember." Tony narrowed his eyes.
"I've been sarcastic since before you were born." Steve laughed. "It's not my fault you weren't paying attention."
He wasn't wrong.
Honestly, Steve challenged Tony's opinions of him more with every day he spent in the Tower. Tony expected a lot of things from Captain America, the world's first superhero; Steve defied every one. He spent his mornings shirtless and bleary-eyed, no more awake or put together than the rest of them. He cheated shamelessly at anything involving competition, perfectly willing to stick his foot in Tony's face if it helped him get so much as an inch ahead in MarioKart. He swore like the soldier he was, whether he was missing his other sock or shot in the gut. He was fascinated by technology and picked it up faster than anyone Tony had ever met, was on Twitter and Instagram and even Snapchat, all the dumb teeny-bopper websites you couldn't pay Tony to bother with. But Steve was all over them, snapping and gramming and twitting or whatever the hell it was, him and Natasha and Sam like the kids Tony on occasion remembered they basically were. Tony once made the mistake of teasing him about it.
"What are you doing now?" Tony rolled his eyes at Steve, who was tapping away at his phone and not paying any attention to him whatsoever. As the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, Tony found he liked it less and less when Steve wasn't paying attention to him. "Facebooking your latest weather update?"
"Please." Steve laughed. He was sitting criss-cross on Tony's workshop couch, and didn't look up from his phone. "Nobody under thirty uses Facebook anymore."
"Shut up. I know that."
"Aw, you're blushing."
"I am not—" Tony heard a click behind him. He turned, narrowed his eyes, but Steve had already returned his phone to his lap and was looking up at him innocently. "What was that?"
"Nothing." Steve smiled.
Tony eyed him another moment before turning back to his work. It didn't take too long for curiosity to get the better of him, though; when Steve was back to fiddling with his phone instead of watching him, Tony flicked a hand over his screen and pulled up Steve's Instagram feed.
There was a picture of him from the back, his neck red as a tomato, with the caption "#irondork".
"I'm revoking your phone privileges," Tony announced.
"Feeling ignored?" Steve glanced up at him with a grin.
"No," Tony denied, "It's bad PR for you to post that stuff."
"My account's private." Steve dismissed him. "And the others already know you blush."
"Lies and slander."
"Sure, Tony." Steve smiled at him, the smile Tony was quickly learning to categorize as the 'you're so wrong and we both know it' smile.
"It was the lighting," Tony maintained.
"Sure it was." Steve kept smiling the smile.
It wasn't all light-hearted between them, though. It was at first, jokes and teasing and getting to know each other, but somewhere along the way he became close with Steve. They'd been inching towards it for a while, but Tony knew the exact moment they went from friends by proximity and association to developing a genuine sense of trust.
They all had their rough nights and Steve was no exception. He wound up in the workshop late one night—early one morning, technically—and Tony's technobabble seemed to help ease his mind. He didn't talk about what bothered him, but he did start returning with increasingly regularity. Finally, one night, Tony asked.
"I know it doesn't feel like it," Tony told him out of the blue, halfway through some speech about carburetors, "But it does actually get better."
"Yeah." Steve didn't sound like he particularly believed him. Tony didn't blame him.
"It's not just a meaningless platitude." Tony glanced over at him. "Well, it is, but it's also true. I've had my share of nightmares. I couldn't get a decent night's sleep for almost a year after the Chitauri incident."
"Time." Tony shrugged. "Talking to someone."
Steve shook his head immediately, dismissive. "I don't need thera—"
"I wasn't talking about therapy. I never went, for a variety of reasons, mostly excuses. But I talked to Pepper, and Rhodey. And Bruce, later. He isn't a very good listener despite what you'd think, but it helped to get it out there." Tony turned in his chair enough to actually meet Steve's eyes. "What I'm saying is, if there did happen to be anything you needed to get out, I'd listen."
Steve was silent for a long time. Tony started working again, let him have what time and space he needed. Tony himself had never enjoyed these conversations, whichever end he happened to be on, and Pepper and Rhodey had both had to drag the truth of how he was doing out of him on more than one occasion. He was getting better—better enough to do it for someone else, that was probably a good sign—but he certainly hadn't forgotten how the idea of accepting help could feel like giving up. He didn't take his attention off Steve, not really, but he kept himself busy-looking to give the guy a little space.
"Nothing personal," Steve said at last, running a hand through his hair, "But I don't think…"
"That I'd understand?" Tony finished for him, offered a rueful sort of smile. "You think the people I talked to know what it's like to fly out into space, stare death in the face? Hell no. But I didn't tell them about it because they'd understand. Or even because they wanted to hear about it, because honestly, I know Pepper at least probably didn't. I told them because I needed to say something to someone. Anyone. I was having panic attacks, anyone ever tell you that?"
"I did." Tony twirled his pen between his fingers, keeping his voice easy and off-hand. Steve knew him well enough now that he probably knew he was serious anyway, but lightly was the only way he knew how to talk about this stuff. "You said you read my file. Doesn't tell the whole story, obviously, files never do, but you probably got 'torture' out of it somewhere, I'm sure?"
"I'm sorry, Tony." Steve, as always, managed to look and sound the picture of genuine, despite having nothing whatsoever to do with it.
"Don't be. Never got panic attacks, after that. I got obsessive with the suits, got angry with the world, but I never had panic attacks. There was something…tangible about it all, you know? It was real. It was shitty, but it was real. It was black market guns and dirty money and terrorists waterboarding me in a cave, it was fucking shitty, but it was real and understandable and as soon as I had bigger guns and more money and was out of that goddamn cave I went back and I blew them to pieces. But aliens? Wormholes?" Tony gave a shrug.
"Can't really blow up all of space," Steve finished for him.
Tony shook his head with a laugh. "No, turns out you can't. So, no. I don't know what it's like to think you're going to die and wake up almost a century later. But you know what I do know? Machines. And I know that if you keep pushing and pushing and pushing something without ever stopping to do a little maintenance—check the battery, grease the gears, cool the engine—then you're just asking to crash. Question is, how do you cool your engine?"
"You want to know how I 'cool my engine'?" Steve raised an eyebrow, smiled a little. Tony grinned as he rolled his eyes.
"I got too into the metaphor, it sounded less sexual in my head. What I mean is, what helps? Talking helped me, but I've always liked to hear myself talk. What helps you?"
Steve didn't answer for a long moment. "Touch."
"Now who's trying to be sexual—"
"No." Steve shook his head. Tony shut up. "Not like—I didn't mean it like that. I just need…contact. Connection. Sometimes…sometimes late at night this all starts feeling a little less real."
Tony stood, started removing his gloves. "Roll over."
"Or sit sideways, whichever you prefer. Put your back to me."
Steve did so without hesitating, even as he asked, "What for?"
"Anyone ever give you a massage?" Tony dropped his gloves on his desk, shut down his project screen before moving to join Steve on the couch.
"When I was younger." Steve nodded, head still turned a little to watch Tony over his shoulder. There was something in his eyes Tony couldn't quite piece apart, something like appreciation and hope and a sort of need Tony felt guilty for not seeing sooner.
"Pepper was big on them, I took a class once for her. It's supposed to help with stress." Tony put his hands on Steve's shoulders, started to knead. Steve sank back into his touch immediately, gratitude clear in every bit of his body language. "Relax. Not going anywhere, Cap."
"Steve," Steve told him, "Just…I get enough people calling me Captain America. Call me Steve?"
"Sure. Steve," Tony agreed amenably. He dug his thumbs in just under Steve's shoulder blades. Steve gave a soft sort of groan. "Good or bad?"
"Fantastic," Steve insisted quickly, "You can use more pressure, you're not going to hurt me."
"Fair enough," Tony agreed, putting a little more force into it. He was rewarded with another groan, this one definitely pleased. Tony steadfastly ignored his own reaction to the sound. That was…an awful idea. Not even worth considering.
They stayed down there for what must've been hours. Steve had more knots than Tony would've imagined, but even after he'd worked those out Steve clearly enjoyed the touch—the physical connection, as he'd put it—and it wasn't as if Tony kept human hours anyway. He didn't mind staying up a little later than usual if it would make Steve feel better. If he enjoyed the somewhat more intimate nature of their conversation, well, that was his own damn business.
Steve came to him more often, after that, and Tony found himself seeking Steve out in return. Steve needed touch after nightmares and Tony was willing to sit with and massage him for hours, and Tony needed conversation, someone to listen and talk and ground him, and Steve was more than willing to do that for him in return. It was startling in retrospect how close they became as quickly as they did, but at the time it felt nothing but natural. The teasing, easy-going nature of their friendship stayed the same as it had been before, a new dimension just seemed to develop in what felt like overnight. He could talk to Steve in a way he couldn't remember being able to talk to anyone before, could be open and honest in ways that usually terrified him. But he didn't think about it, didn't even consider what that might mean until it was, quite literally, in front of his face.
It happened after what Tony designated as a "Steve fest" movie marathon, with a queue of Sleeping Beauty, 40 Year Old Virgin, and of course the classic American Pie, which had the double effect of a virgin joke and an all-American joke, as revenge for Steve Instagramming a picture of him yelling at JARVIS and tagging it "old man yells at cloud". Steve, of course, ruined his revenge by liking all of the movies, but Tony had suspected he would anyway. Instead of being offended and traumatized by all the sexual content—though really, Tony knew him far better than that by now—Steve just announced that he was hungry for apple pie now with a wink in Tony's direction.
They did end up making pie afterwards, mostly because it was too early for any of them to sleep and Steve insisted that he baked much better than he cooked and they all had their doubts; the guy burned water, after all. So by 'they made pie' Tony mostly meant that Steve made pie and they lounged on the couch, reading and talking and generally hanging out together. Tony couldn't have imagined it half a year ago when Clint had first appeared half naked on this same couch, but here they were. Assassins, science experiments, aliens, time travellers…friends. Strange world.
"Look, I'm not doubting you—" Clint started.
"That's exactly what you're doing," Steve insisted, "Just try it, that's all I'm asking. I was shut up in the house all day as a kid, my Ma taught me to bake before I was old enough to reach the top of the stove."
"Even if it's heaven on earth, I can't have more than a couple bites," Clint insisted, "I was at the carnival all day, I've already eaten my body weight in cotton candy."
"There's a carnival in town?" Bruce glanced over the top of his book at Clint.
"What were you doing at a carnival?" Sam raised a disbelieving eyebrow.
"Shooting games." Natasha sighed knowingly.
"You play those?" Steve glanced over. "You? That's practically cheating."
"So is stealing soldiers tokens in Risk." Tony shot him a look. "And yet…"
"I liberated them," Steve maintained. Tony snorted.
"You are so full of it."
"If I cheated at Risk." A smile was curling at the edges of his mouth. Steve was competitive and a dirty cheater, but the one thing he absolutely was not was a poker player. He couldn't keep a game face going to save his life. "It's just a board game. Clint cheating at shooting games cheats real people out of real money."
Clint burst out laughing. "Please, I was a carnie, I know how that shit works. I promise you, they stole far more money that day than I stole back from them."
"What, like you're Robin Hood now?" Sam arched an eyebrow at him.
"Sounds all noble and shit." Clint grinned. "I like it."
"So because you spent all your day playing carnival games and eating cotton candy, you're too good for my pie?" Steve challenged.
"I've gained like ten pounds today," Clint complained, "You've got the serum to keep you in shape. You guys don't know what it's like, knowing you all just want me for my body—"
Bruce shot Clint the driest, most unsympathetic look Tony had seen in all his life. "Poor baby."
Natasha giggled into her hand. Sam, Thor and Tony laughed so hard they had to grab at the couch to keep from falling off. Steve had to stop baking to get his snickering under control.
"Uh." Clint cleared his throat awkwardly. "Sorry Bruce."
"Mhm." Bruce gave a soft, amused snort, already back to reading his book.
"You know, Clint…" Tony started.
"No. No no no, I know that face, I don't want hear another—"
"If you're really concerned about your weight—"
"—goddamned bird joke, I swear I'll—"
"—you should try eggcersizing more."
"I hate you. I swear I'd throw you off the fucking roof if Steve wouldn't catch you."
"Can you catch someone from that height?" Steve mused. "The speed he'd be falling at would probably kill us both on collision."
"Thanks, Steve, very helpful." Tony rolled his eyes. "Good to know that if I fall to my death you'll step aside and let gravity do its thing."
"I didn't say I wouldn't try."Steve shrugged, unbothered.
"My hero." Tony put a hand over his heart for dramatic effect. Natasha snapped a picture. Tony quickly threatened, "If you post that out of context I'll revoke your phone privileges."
"Relax, I didn't post it," Natasha assured, doodling something on the screen. A moment later, Clint and Sam's phones beeped.
"Right." Tony narrowed his eyes. "Clint, give me your phone."
"Fuck no—" Clint started. Tony dove forward, caught him by surprise and managed to swipe the phone away long enough to glimpse the photo before Clint kicked him in the shin and snatched it back.
He and Steve had squiggly pink hearts over their heads. Tony had a speech bubble he was pretty sure said 'captain of my heart', or something similar, he didn't get a good enough look before Clint got his phone back. Tony told himself the way his mouth went a little dry and his heart felt a little funny was just because he really, really hated this stupid Snapchat fad.
"I hate social media," he complained.
"You just hate not being the one ahead of the curve all the time," Steve chuckled, already back to his baking, apparently unconcerned with the picture.
Later, after they'd finished licking their plates clean—Steve really was a better baker than cook, thank god—Tony retreated to the workshop and tried to put the dumb picture out of his head. It didn't matter, not really. It was out of context, obviously, and—and dumb. Clint and Sam hadn't cared, or even reacted. It was a joke.
Still. It put other thoughts in his head, thoughts that weren't jokes at all. Thoughts about the way he liked to lean into Steve's space, to look at his phone or bump his shoulder or whatever else, because Steve was warm and friendly and being in his space felt good. Friendly good, right? Except he didn't gravitate into Clint's space, or Thor's, or any of the others. Just Steve. And he didn't get annoyed when the others paid more attention to their phones than to him, either. And he certainly wouldn't watch dumb TV shows for them—he still refused to be in the same room as anything called 'Dog Cops'—and yet he spent entire afternoons ignoring work or skipping social functions to drink beer and watch America's Funniest Home Videos with Steve because Steve thought junk shots and toddlers falling down was hysterical and Tony thought Steve laughing that hard was possibly the best sound he'd ever heard.
Tony gave in. "JARVIS, call Rhodey."
The line rang twice before he picked up.
"It's three in the goddamn—"
"I like Steve."
"That's great, Tony, I'm sure he's a good guy. Can I go back to sleep now?"
"And why not?"
"Oh." The line went silent for a long moment. "Shit. Seriously?"
"I usually call him Steve these days, but yeah."
"First Avenger. National hero. Approaching a hundred years old."
"What can I say?" Tony couldn't help a joke. "I like older men."
"You always did have a thing for blondes." There was a soft sort of groan on the other end, then the sound of sheets rustling. "I can be in New York by Friday."
"You're the best."
They'd had a long-standing tradition since their MIT days: whenever one of them liked someone, truly, genuinely liked someone as more than a one-nighter or a crush, they got together and drank themselves stupid enough to discuss feelings. For the most part, they drank to Rhodey's girls, but every other decade or so Tony remembered he was human and contributed to the tradition. Whitney, back in college. Jason, after college. Pepper, before Iron Man. Now Steve.
True to his word, Rhodey showed up three days later. He didn't have much, couldn't stay longer than a few days—military business, Iron Suckup was needed in some classified location, apparently—but after dumping his stuff off in his suite Tony introduced him around. Rhodey had already met the Avengers once, joined them for shawarma after the invasion, and knew Natasha from when she'd been Natalie, but Sam was a new face and he'd never gotten the chance to hang out with them all together at any length.
He got along with them very well—of course he did, everyone loved Rhodey, no surprises there—though he hit it off with Clint and Sam in particular. Tony enlisted them to help try and sell Rhodey on the idea of moving in full-time, but to no effect. Eventually the others drifted off; Tony dragged Rhodey into his suite, pulled out his best scotch, and got them going.
"Y'got," Rhodey was slurring an hour later, "Y'got a good thing goin' here, y'know that? Real good thing, Tones."
"Better with you," Tony insisted, "You could have a good thing too!"
Rhodey shook his head, took another drink. "Conflict'a interest. Got a 'sponibility t'the military."
"Great thing." Tony hummed. Then, realizing with a snicker, "Rhodey. Rhodey, I've got friends."
"'Course you do."
"No, no, I got—I've got friends. Not payin' 'em, they're just…here. Jesus. Why the fuck are they here?"
"Don't get paranoid," Rhodey warned immediately, rocking forward. They were sitting across from each other, one chair on either side of the table that held what remained of their fourth bottle of scotch. "Don't do that. Y'always do that, and y'always screw yourself over, Tones, I'm warnin' you—"
"It's 'cause'a the wifi, isn't it?" Tony moaned. "It's the fuckin' wifi and the rent and the food and—"
Rhodey kicked him. "Shut the fuck up."
"Rhodey," Tony whined, "The wifi."
"I saw 'em, Tones, I saw 'em and they like you and they're your friends an'—an' I will fuckin' beat your ass if you ruin it, I will."
"I'll ruin it though, I always ruin it—"
"You won't, or I'm gonna—gonna fuckin'—fuckin' do shit, Tony, I will fuckin' do shit to you. Military shit."
"Ugh." Tony reached for his glass. It was empty, fuck, why was it empty? He grabbed the bottle instead, took a swig. "They like me."
"Damn right they do."
"D'you think Steve likes me?" Tony cradled the bottle to his chest.
"Damn fuckin' right he does," Rhodey declared, reaching across the table to paw at Tony's bottle. "Share, you asshole." Tony reluctantly relinquished the bottle. Rhodey gulped down enough that it had to burn like hell, made a hissing noise when he finally stopped. "That guy—that's a great guy. Didja know I outrank him? How the fuck d'you outrank C'ptain America? But nah, he goes and fuckin' salutes me like—like—shit, I've had dreams about getting saluted by that guy since I was nine, man. Shit. Fuckin' shit."
"I've had dreams." Tony sighed, more dreamily than he would ever admit to sober. "Lots'a dreams."
"Thought y'just realized you liked him?"
"They were dreams, they didn't—you can't count dreams." Tony waved him off. "Everyone dreams 'bout him. Y'seen him?"
"Got muscles on his muscles." Rhodey shook his head. "Fuckin' asshole."
"Muscles aren't even…I didn't even have a thing for muscles," Tony complained, "Not b'fore him."
"C'ptain A-fucking-merica," Rhodey snickered, "Jesus."
"You're tellin' me," Tony bemoaned, "The world is my league. The world. Then this asshole comes along an', an' he's out of this world, of out my league of the world, an' he—he's fuckin' great. So fuckin' great, plat'pus."
"Great." Rhodey hiccupped.
"Great," Tony agreed, waving his hand vaguely for emphasis, "So great. He's such a—he fuckin' Rick Rolled me, I tell you that? He's such a little shit, I fuckin' love it. I just…I wanna…I wanna give him things, y'know? Like happiness. And blowjobs. All the blowjobs."
"He," Rhodey declared with certainty, "Should give you blowjobs."
"He's not gonna give me blowjobs." Tony sighed, glum now at the thought of potential, never-to-be-had blowjobs.
"You're fuckin' great too." Rhodey moved to punch him in the shoulder. He missed. He tried again, caught Tony in the ear and seemed to find that good enough. "You're fuckin' great, man, I mean it. He knows it. He looks at you like he knows it. An' if he doesn't know it, I'll—I'll take away all his blowjobs."
Tony snickered. "I don't think you control his blowjobs."
"I will control his blowjobs," Rhodey asserted, "Jus' watch me, I'll cut him off."
"No." Tony rocked forward in his chair. "Don't do that. I need those bits. I like those bits."
"Not like that, I mean, I mean I'll cut off his—his—" Rhodey paused to hiccup again. "His blowjob s'ply."
"Has he got a s'ply?" Tony mused, then couldn't help feeling sad. "Is he already getting blowjobs?"
"Nah." Rhodey drew out the word long enough to give it a haiku's worth of syllables.
"An' it's not like—like I love him, or anything," Tony insisted, "That's, that's dumb. That's a dumb plan, that's doomed t'failure plan. I jus'…miss him when he's not around an' think about him all the time an' want him t'pay attention t'me only, always, forever. Y'know?"
"Makes sense." Rhodey nodded seriously. "He does pay a lot'a attention t'you, though. I was watchin' him earlier, he couldn't take his eyes off'a you."
"How did the un'verse even come up with him?" Tony wondered aloud. "How's that possible, huh?"
"Blowjobs," Rhodey told him seriously.
"Definitely," Tony agreed.
Rhodey made a pitiful sort of groaning noise. "God I want a blowjob so bad right now."
"What if his dick is like one of those popsicles?" Tony considered, "Y'remember? Ice cream guy by Cambridge used t'sell 'em, all red white and blue and shit. Rockets or somethin', right? We called 'em somethin' else though—"
"Cockrockets," Rhodey recalled.
"Cockrockets!" Tony laughed. "Fuckin' cockrockets."
"You took one t'class once," Rhodey snickered.
"I take lots'a things." Tony sighed. "Been taking his shirts. Stealin' 'em out of the dryer so he'll walk around shirtless. He keeps buyin' new ones though."
"Fuckin' shopper," Rhodey said lowly, like it was a swear word.
"Fuckin' shopper," Tony concurred, "Can't he just—can't he just have the decency to walk around naked already? Asshole."
"Asshole," Rhodey repeated in agreement, downing another shot.
"Or jus' like…" Tony stumbled over his words. "Like, be naked, but only—only t'me. Not t'the others, they can't have him. But he could jus' like, be naked, t'me, all the time. Every day. Every night. Every nightday."
"So you could give him blowjobs."
"Exactly!" Tony exclaimed, "Exactly. You get me."
"'Course I get you." Rhodey cuffed his ear again. "You know what you should get me?"
"Blowjobs," they both said at once, before collapsing in a fit of what could only be called giggles.
Steve had a problem.
No, that wasn't quite right. It wasn't a problem, just a challenge. A conundrum. Something to strategize, figure out, and solve. He could handle it. He'd stormed HYDRA bases and fought aliens and taken down entire organizations, surely he could do this. People were just a little different than battle operations, that was all. And Tony…Tony was something else altogether.
Tony had opened his home to them, built them suites and weapons and a base of operations, always went the extra mile to make sure they were feeling comfortable and at home, settling into the team. He didn't even seem to quite realize how much what he did for them meant to them, brushing off thanks or appreciation and insisting it was nothing to him. And maybe that was true. Maybe Tony had so much money it didn't matter, but it wasn't just his money. He gave his time and his space and his friendship, and that was probably the first thing Steve really noticed about Tony all on his own. He'd had Natasha telling him things back when they'd all been separated, kept him updated on all the potential Avengers' affairs and informed him in little tidbits what Tony was like, but she'd never mentioned how effortlessly kind he was.
Once he noticed one thing about Tony, he couldn't stop. There was the front Tony put on for the press—and, even now, sometimes still for them—of being large and in charge, snarky and unapologetically abrasive. But there was also the side he showed more and more, the side that was funny without being rude or mean, the side that was more sweetly charming than blithely charismatic, the side that Steve could catch off guard, could get to blush or stammer a little if he tried. Though Steve of course preferred the latter, he wouldn't say he disliked the less genuine sides of Tony. He couldn't really say he was 100% Steve Rogers when he stood in front of crowds as Captain America, either; he was one person for the public, another in the field, another when at home with his friends. It was how he functioned, how they all did to at least some extent.
Still, he did have his preference. Who wouldn't prefer Tony the way he was when they were alone? He was more…open, more willing to be genuine, when Steve could get him to himself. It was what kept him invading Tony's workshop, kept him stealing Tony away when he could, kept him finding moments to talk alone or do something together just the two of them. It was what kept him going straight to Tony every time he woke in a cold sweat, hands clenched tight enough to rip his sheets and lips pressed tight to curb a scream. He'd had no ulterior motives in telling Tony touch calmed him, all those months ago—it was the honest truth—but he couldn't say the extent to which he enjoyed Tony's massages now was entirely innocent, either. He knew there was more to it than friendly camaraderie in the way he would do anything to ease Tony's pain on the nights he was the one who sought out Steve's help, more than a friend's concern in the way he was always quick to promise that he was here for Tony, that he'd help him any way he could, that he wasn't going anywhere.
Tony was just as quick to make time for him, though. Not just if Steve needed him but anytime he wanted; he'd seen Tony put aside projects and skip meetings on more occasions than he could count just to do something casual and pointless with him. It could just be Tony being Tony, but Steve hoped it meant his feelings might've been returned.
His dilemma now was finding a way to tell Tony he was bisexual without pressuring him for any sort of reciprocation. Sam had suggested just asking him out, said that would probably get the message across, but Steve wasn't certain yet if Tony would be open to a date or not. Besides, he wanted to tell the team as a whole as well, since only Sam and Natasha knew so far; it wasn't something meant to be a secret, but it wasn't something he could just announce at the dinner table, either. As wildly strange and often sexual as their conversations got, they never seemed to discuss sexuality with any degree of seriousness.
Finally, Steve's mouth got impatient and did it for him.
They were watching the Hangover, the team plus Rhodey and Pepper. Rhodey was staying with them for the next few days and Clint had insisted on this movie in particular after Tony and Rhodey had stumbled into the kitchen that morning looking hungover as dogs. They'd each needed a pot of coffee in them before regaining the ability to speak English, and when asked if they'd gotten blisteringly drunk for any particular reason, they'd just muttered something about traditions and blowjobs. Even now, half a day later, they looked to be in minor pain just at the movie's volume. Pepper had come down to the Avengers floor after work to get an R&D update from Tony and been delighted enough to see Rhodey that she'd stayed, agreed to join them for movie night. Steve had met her a handful of times before in the past few months and certainly liked her, though he wished she and Natasha would quit talking through the movie.
"I met him once," Natasha told her.
"Nope." Natasha shook her head, though neither of them took their eyes off the shirtless Bradley Cooper on-screen. Steve wasn't having an easy time of it himself. "Briefly. Mission related."
"You had a mission involving Bradley Cooper," Pepper repeated flatly in a way that suggested she didn't believe Natasha for a moment.
"I had a mission that I was able to make involve Bradley Cooper," Natasha corrected.
"Whatever," Clint piped up, "I look better than him shirtless, anyway."
"No you don't," both women replied in unison. Then Pepper asked, "Did you get to sleep with him?"
"Ex-boyfriend, sitting right here," Tony complained, but he was sitting next to Steve and Steve could see his face well enough in the dim light to tell he was more teasing than truly bothered.
"No time." Natasha sounded regretful, ignoring Tony completely.
"Oh, I would find the time." Pepper sighed wistfully. "I would create time."
Out of absolutely nowhere, Steve's mouth decided to chime in for him.
"So would I." Everyone in the room turned to him. Sam looked like he was trying desperately hard not to lose it. Natasha was grinning. Steve was mostly trying to watch Tony's reaction without looking like he was solely watching Tony's reaction. It was harder than it sounded. "I like men, too. Surprise."
Clint was the first to crack up. Sam lost it immediately after, the others quick to follow. Tony and Rhodey were busy punching each other, it seemed like. Rhodey kept mouthing something at Tony that Steve couldn't quite make out.
"Quit fucking hitting me, I heard him too," Tony finally hissed, raising his leg to kick-push Rhodey away from him on the couch until Rhodey was practically in Sam's lap. "So. Steve."
"Yeah?" Steve willed his heart rate down.
"Stars and stripes then, huh?" Tony grinned. The joke set off a new round of laughter. Steve couldn't help beaming back like a fool, pleased that Tony had taken it in stride.
"Red white and blue," he agreed.
"What's the third option?" Tony snickered, "Aliens? Better watch your back, Thor, I think Steve's got the hots for you."
"I am taken, good friend." Thor winked at Steve anyway. "Though you are indeed a fine warrior and I would be honored."
"Man, it's like everyone in here is bi," Rhodey announced loudly. Tony kicked him again.
"Don't out people, it's rude," Tony snapped at him.
"You are?" Steve asked anyway, because that was probably the best opening he'd ever get to ask casually and he had no plans to waste it.
"I'm famous, I'm surrounded by gorgeous people all the time," Tony said flippantly, "Am I only supposed to look at half of them?"
"Fair enough." Steve tried to stop smiling so widely and failed entirely. Tony was smiling back though, so Steve figured it was alright.
In the days that followed, Steve focused his efforts on how to ask Tony on a proper date. Steve thought he seemed interested, though Steve could admit his opinion might've been a little biased. He'd never really learned how to "read the signs" or anything, but pretty much everyone he talked to insisted Tony was crazy about him, and Clint and Sam both swore up and down that if Steve didn't make a move soon they would lock him and Tony in a closet. Hoping for a little more romantic of a first date, Steve decided there was really nothing to do but just go for it.
He decided to ask him in his workshop. The rec room was too public, going to either of their suites too presumptuous; the workshop was a very "Tony" area, a place where Tony would be comfortable and they'd have the best shot at being alone for more than a few minutes. Besides, they spent a lot of time here together, it made sense.
"So," he said out of the blue. Great segue, Rogers. Real smooth. "Tony."
"Steve." Tony twirled his pen between his fingers, before stopping and marking something on the sheet of paper spread over the table in front of him.
"I was thinking." Tony's back was still to him, but that was alright. Took the pressure off, a little. He knew Tony was listening, the music was lowered. "We spend a lot of time together."
"Sure," Tony hummed, tucking the pen behind his ear and lifting the blueprint to examine it.
"And I like that. Spending time with you. I like it a lot, actually, and I was thinking…I was thinking we could maybe start spending more time together, if you'd like."
"What'd you have in mind?" Tony asked as he put his blueprint back down, took the pen and started scribbling again.
"Dinner," Steve said boldly, "Just you and me."
"Trying to make Sam jealous?" Tony tossed his a grin over his shoulder. Steve's nerves eased a little more at Tony's good mood.
"He had his chance," Steve joked, hopes rising.
"His loss." Tony chuckled. "Scratch that, how about late lunch? I'm starving."
Steve couldn't quite contain his smile. Apparently Tony was just as eager to try this out as he was. "You want to go right now?"
"Yeah, I could use a break and a good burger." Tony rolled up the blueprint, put it aside to smile at him. "And of course, great company."
Burgers wasn't exactly what Steve had been envisioning, but he'd happily go to McDonald's right now if Tony kept smiling at him like that. "Sounds perfect."
Steve was caught off guard for a moment but just how much he wanted to kiss Tony then. He'd thought he'd save it for after the actual date, but the urge was immense and he was too giddy Tony had said yes at all to bother with waiting. He stepped forward only for Tony to step away, around him and towards the door. He didn't look apologetic or even like he realized he'd rejected Steve's advance, but that was alright. It'd be better after a proper date anyway. Tony was being oddly blasé about it all, but Steve supposed they'd been moving towards this for a long time now. It was hardly a surprise.
Their date was amazing. Steve hadn't had many, but he didn't need to in order to recognize something special when he was a part of it. He hadn't thought burgers would be very romantic and he supposed it wasn't, not exactly, but it was very them and the casualness of it all helped put his nerves at ease. They lingered in their booth long after they finished their food, talking about anything and everything, conversation coming as easily to them as it always did. Tony swiped what little of a bill there was before Steve could manage to, and when Steve tried to argue, Tony insisted that since Steve had provided the food and company, it was only fair that he paid. Unwilling to go home just yet, Steve suggested they walk through Central Park. It was only a block from the burger joint and since it was nearing dusk they were less likely to be recognized; Tony agreed immediately.
Unfortunately, that was where Steve's good fortune ran out.
They didn't notice the clouds gathering until it was too late, until it was pouring absolute buckets. They started jogging back to Inscope Arch, where they'd just been—better to wait it out there than try and make it to the car, the car was halfway across the park at this point—and Steve tugged off his jacket to pass to Tony. Tony frowned at it in confusion.
"You can hold it over your head," Steve offered, having to raise his voice a little to be heard over the cascade of rain. He gestured with his hands to be sure Tony got the message. "I'll be fine without it, serum keeps me running warm."
"You don't have to—"
"Of course I do," Steve insisted with a smile as they ducked under the arch. "Well. I guess you don't need it now. But you could, uh. Wear it. If you wanted. To keep warm, and all that."
"That's really not necessary," Tony tried to wave him off again, joking, "I can handle a little hypothermia, no big—"
"Tony." Steve stepped into his space, took the jacket back long enough to wrap it around Tony's shoulders. "Let me spoil you a little, alright?"
"Spoil me?" Tony laughed. "I think you'll find most people would argue I've long been spoiled rotten."
Steve paused briefly, then dared to lean in and press a kiss to Tony's cheek. "Most people don't know you like I do."
He was rewarded by Tony going bright red. He resisted the urge to take a picture; he knew it was unlikely he'd ever garner quite the same reaction, and it was an adorable sight on the usually so composed Tony's face. Tony opened his mouth, then closed it and swallowed hard. Steve just smiled, more than a little proud to catch Tony so off guard. Tony didn't say anything for a long moment. Then he blurted, eyes wide,
"Was that a date?"
It was Steve's turn to go red. "Oh. Uh. I was under the impression you…knew that. You didn't know that? I thought…oh."
Smooth, Rogers. God, he was such an idiot, Tony didn't even think about him that way—
Tony kissed him. Steve already had his lips parted in the beginnings of further apology but Tony just used that to his advantage, kissed him with an open mouth and eager tongue, giving a soft sort of gasp when Steve responded with gusto. They didn't part for a long time, not until he absolutely had to, but when he did he realized he'd swept Tony up in his arms a bit. They were pressed close enough it felt like there wasn't any part of them left unconnected. Steve might've been embarrassed about his enthusiasm, if Tony didn't look so utterly pleased by it.
"What?" Steve asked, a touch breathless, when Tony kept staring at him in amazement.
"Nothing, I just…" Tony trailed off, then smirked a little. "It's not every day I get to kiss Captain America, y'know."
"We should fix that."
"All in favor, kiss me."
Steve went ahead and dipped him. Tony laughed against his mouth.
They stayed there long after the rain the stopped, and Steve never would've wanted to leave at all if he hadn't caught Tony shivering. They went unrecognized on their walk back to the car, though every time someone passed them Steve made sure to pull Tony aside and make out with him a little more, just in case. Because public displays of affection made people look away, of course. It had nothing to do with how Tony kissed like drowning men took their first breath of air, or how every time Steve pulled him to the side Tony was already gravitating towards him, head tilted and lips parted, ready and waiting and delightfully eager.
They didn't see hide nor hair of any of their five floormates the entire way up to Tony's suite. Steve started to wonder if that was perhaps a little suspicious, but then Tony grabbed him by the belt and tugged him inside and he forgot everything that wasn't the way Tony's skin looked against crimson sheets.
Steve fell asleep to Tony's breath on his lips and hands around his waist and eyes on his. He woke up with Tony's entire body weighing on his chest and the feel of Tony's drool dripping onto his shoulder. Steve couldn't help but huff out a laugh. Less romantic than he was expecting, maybe, but perfectly Tony in every way. He nudged Tony off him just a little, enough to draw a fuller breath. Tony mumbled something in his sleep and nuzzled his cheek against Steve's. After watching Tony sleep for a little while longer—he was allowed to feel a little starry-eyed, okay, he was dating Tony, he'd just slept with Tony—he wiggled out from under him the rest of the way. He sifted through Tony's bedside drawer for a pen and paper, but found none. In lieu of leaving a note, he dug his phone out of his pants and sent Tony a quick text, getting breakfast, will bring back coffee. He found Tony's phone amidst their mess of clothes and stuck it on the bedside table so Tony would be sure to see it, then went about finding his pants.
He tossed one last glance at Tony before leaving. The sight was impossible to resist, so he went back to bend over the bed and press a kiss to Tony's cheek.
"Back soon," he murmured, though Tony didn't so much stir. He slipped out the door and headed down to the kitchen.
He pondered what to tell the team, if anything. Did Tony care? Did he want to tell the others together? Did he want to keep it to themselves for a little while? Steve didn't know. They hadn't exactly had any discussions about it. In the meantime, he put a pot of coffee on and poured himself a bowl of cereal, thinking it over while the others went about their mornings around him. He wouldn't mind, one way or the other. He liked his privacy well enough and could understand wanting to keep it private while they got used to each other, but he didn't really consider the team anything short of family at this point and wouldn't mind including them in the know, either. Not to mention they were all very perceptive and likely to notice soon enough anyw—
Or, Tony could do that.
Tony had just entered the room in nothing but his boxers, hair an attractive and very obviously sex-induced disaster, hickeys essentially on display. They littered his body, neck to hips, practically like chicken pox if chicken pox were larger and darker and occasionally showed bite marks. He'd feel worse about those if Tony hadn't very literally been asking for them. Well, begging, really.
"Morning handsome." Tony bent down to press a kiss to his cheek as he passed the table, then beelined for coffee.
"Morning," Steve echoed, more than a little dazed by Tony's surprisingly and deliciously attractive appearance.
"You look quite thoroughly ravaged." Thor broke the ice with all of his usual tact. "Congratulations."
"I feel quite thoroughly ravaged." Tony grinned from ear to ear. "Thanks."
Steve stood up from his chair so abruptly he almost knocked it back to the floor. Three steps and he had both arms around Tony from behind and was kissing just under his ear.
"And I've just lost any and all appetite I had or may ever have again." Clint tossed his fork down.
"Shut up," Sam hushed, not-so-discretely vining them, "I'm gonna get like a thousand new followers for this."
"Hashtag thoroughly ravaged," Natasha snickered.
"Hashtag avenge my eyes." Clint groaned. "Can you guys even hear us? Or does your combined sexual tension block out sound?"
"Hearing." Tony shrugged the shoulder Steve wasn't currently sucking a new hickey into. "Decidedly not listening. Hashtag forget breakfast and take me back to bed?"
Steve laughed. "I don't think you understand how hashtags work."
"Hashtag old man yells at cloud!" Sam and Clint blurted out at the same time, both slamming their palms on the table.
"I said it first!" Sam insisted.
"Bullshit, I totally—"
"You're such a liar!"
"I finished first!"
"I started first!"
"Hashtag you could be fucking me right now." Tony turned in his arms. Steve wasted no further time correcting his hashtag abuse, instead taking his hand and speed-walking them both out of the kitchen without comment. The last thing he heard before they were out of earshot was Bruce's contribution, a muttered,