The tinny music playing over the hidden HiFi speakers in the Mansion filled the room with Christmas cheer. Tony could hear it just fine, though it missed a certain musical flare when filtered through his suit. He hadn't wanted to miss out on the first annual Avengers Christmas party, but he had wanted to attend as an Avenger and not just their benefactor. It made eating and drinking a little awkward, but... Iron Man clunked over to the wet bar, where he fixed himself some eggnog topped off with a festive little candy-cane striped straw. Maneuvering the straw through his mouth-slit, Tony managed a successful swig of the thick drink. He beamed beneath his mask. Awkward, but feasible. With his genius problem-solving brain, at least.
A knock to one armor-plated shoulder had Iron Man turning back to face the room at large. Captain America--AKA Steve Rogers, secret identity not-so-secret to the Avengers who found him in the ice--stood there, beaming at him from beneath his cowl. Iron Man reached up with his free hand and flicked at one of the little helmet-wings. It made Steve huff, and reach up himself to tweak at the little wing to make sure it was still safely in place. Tony smiled fondly at the other man from inside the safe anonymity of his faceplate.
"Enjoying the party, Shellhead?" Steve asked him.
Iron Man nodded. "Sure thing. Mr. Stark really knows how to treat his employees." Iron Man punctuated his observation by saluting Steve with his eggnog. Steve glanced down at it.
"Not planning on flying under the influence, are you? I had a taste of that stuff earlier so I know how strong it is."
Waving his free hand, Iron Man let it fall lightly on Steve's shoulder. "Going to get out of this tin can downstairs in Mr. Stark's lab. Says he's got a tune-up for me for Christmas."
Steve laughed at that. "Oh, you're in for a treat, then. I was already on the receiving end of one of Mr. Stark's generous gifts."
Inside his suit, Tony perked up. One of his guilty pleasures of his double-life: getting dirt on himself from unwitting acquaintances of both his personae, like Steve. "Oh yeah? What'd our mutual benefactor get you?"
Even beneath the cowl and the cozy lights of the dinning room, Steve's blush was evident. He reached up to rub the back of his neck. "It was too darned much, is what it was."
Iron Man leaned over and nudged Steve, as gently as he could inside the armor. "Come on, what?"
"Well... he bought me a building. Is that... It's too much, right? I tried to refuse it-"
Tony grinned inside his suit. He remembered.
"What am I looking at, Mr. Stark?"
"The deed, if you want to get technical about your definite and indefinite articles. The deed to a brownstone in Brooklyn."
"A... in Brooklyn..."
"Mr. Stark! I... No, Mr. Stark-"
"Tony, I can't. It's too much."
"Trust me, I've got more money than I know what to do with."
"Then give it to charity, Mr. Stark-"
"Tony, please. It's too much."
"Already made my charitable contributions for this quarter. Trust me, Steve: it's not. Just take it."
"A building?" Iron Man asked. He tilted his head a little, expressing himself through movement where he couldn't through expression. "What kind of building?"
"A brownstone. In Brooklyn."
"He bought you a home."
Steve deflated. He looked up at Iron Man pleadingly. "He already gave me a home. All this time, he's the first thing I saw when I woke up, he was my first friend- I mean, outside you teammates, you know. He's done so much, and I could never possibly repay him."
Shrugging metal shoulders, Iron Man hummed. "It's not about repaying him. None of us ever could, after all: Mr. Stark can buy and sell us all ten times over without breaking the bank."
"I know that, I know mathematically it's hardly a drop in the bucket for him. But still..."
"Cap, trust me: Mr. Stark's always been generous with his friends. Just accept it, maybe rent out a couple rooms to some families in need to assuage that good old-fashioned Catholic guilt I know is eating away at you, and learn to live with the love. It's just how he is."
Steve sighed. "I guess. I just wish I could get him something in return... I know he doesn't need any thing, but if I could figure out some sort of... gesture, or..."
It was too tempting. Inside his suit, Tony debated the pros and cons of suggesting a Christmas gift for himself for all of half a nanosecond before he plowed ahead. "Well, you've probably got access to all sorts of old Cap stuff. Money can't buy priceless war artifacts..."
Steve snapped his fingers suddenly. Iron Man thought at first he was agreeing with him, but then Cap shook his head. "No, no: Mr. Stark's already got the biggest Cap collection this side of the Smithsonian. But I've got something he couldn't get, from his own collection or the Smithsonian. Thanks, Iron Man!"
Iron Man shrugged, a little wary over whatever Steve had come up with. He just really wanted the original shield Steve used to have--the Smithsonian had been dicking him around over it, even though he had promised to draft up a lease that would return the shield back to the Smithsonian upon his death. Oh well. There was always next year. Or maybe his birthday.
Clearing his throat--which he knew just sounded like static on the other end but still had the effect of getting someone's attention--Iron Man changed the subject: "Speaking of gifts... I can't buy you a brownstone, but I did get you something for Christmas."
Steve blinked, then grinned. "That's great, Shellhead! Because, well: I got you something, too."
Iron Man snorted. "This isn't going to be 'Gift of the Magi', is it? You didn't sell your shield to get me armor polish, and I sold my armor to get you a new shield holster, right?"
Steve snorted. "Don't worry, I didn't break the bank. Just a little something that I figured... well. Here."
Between them Steve stuck a neatly-wrapped present, glittery paper, perfectly-tied bow and all. Iron Man took it gingerly, careful to use the most dexterous servos of his armor as he unwrapped the little thing.
When the paper fell away--and Steve gathered it up, so as not to leave a mess--Iron Man opened the lid to reveal a framed photo inside. It was only as he pulled it out that Iron Man realized it wasn't a photo, but a painting: a beautiful watercolor, done on a piece of parchment the size of a typical eight by ten. Iron Man's armor whirred as he cupped the frame gently in the palms of his gauntlets. The painting was of him and Cap--must have been done from a photo, because the scene looked familiar. After a battle, Steve's red boot propped up on a piece of rubble, head thrown back as he laughed at something Iron Man said. Iron Man's had one arm flung out wide, gesticulating madly. The other was pulled in, fingertips just grazing at Steve's elbow as they leaned into each other. The reds of Iron Man's armor bled into the blue and reds of the Captain America uniform, somehow, making the two men look like no space was between them. No space of any consequence, at least. Iron Man breathed heavily, the sound of it coming out as a tiny mechanical whine.
"Damn it, Cap. You know I can't cry in this: I'll rust right up."
A grin of relief spread across Steve's face. He huffed a little laugh as he leaned in, knuckling at Iron Man's temple so gently his sensors almost didn't read it. "Don't worry about it, Tin Man: I'll find you an oil can if you do."
Iron Man coughed out a strained laugh, then shook his head. He placed the painting reverently back into its box, then set it aside on the dinning table--well away from the buffet, where it might be caught in an accidental spill.
"Alright, my turn," Iron Man told Steve. A little compartment inside his armor popped open at his touch, where he pulled out a small box about the size of the one Steve gave him. Only Iron Man hadn't bothered to wrap his: he held it out to Steve and shrugged. "Not as pretty, sorry."
Steve grinned as he took the present. "I know you're a man under there, but I can't help but picture you in the armor trying to wrap this little box."
"How's it working out for me?" Iron Man asked, voice smiling.
"Not so well," Steve told him with a chuckle. He bent to opening the box, tugging off the lid with ease. Iron Man watched his face with all the sensors he usually reserved for battle against the Mandarin, studying his every microexpression, his every heartbeat, every hitch in his breath. As Steve examined the contents his expression softened, mouth dropping into a little "oh..." as his eyes opened with... something. Inside the suit, Tony bit his lip.
"It's engraved," he told Steve as he pulled the gold pocket watch out of the box.
Obligingly Steve turned over the watch in his hand. "For the First Avenger-" he read out loud. He stopped, swallowing hard. Iron Man wrung his gauntlets, unable to keep still with nerves.
"-From his Shellhead."
Iron Man had worried about that, the "his". He fretted over it for days, gone back and forth about it, bothered Jarvis about it so many times that he had to give the poor man a raise. He even tried to draw Mrs. Arbogast into the conversation until one steely look from the woman shut him down. When he finally submitted the order, he even called to cancel. Twice. The jeweler himself had to talk him out of it.
"There's a-" Iron Man pointed vaguely at the watch, but Steve was already two steps ahead of him, popping it open. Inside was a picture of the two of them, sitting together in this very dinning room. They were just sitting, heads bent over some schematic or transmission or something. Jan had snapped the picture--she had a tendency to take pictures of all the Avengers in their natural state. Something about eventual plans for a society magazine spread. Iron Man couldn't really complain, since it gave him plenty of pictures of Steve and himself, together.
"Damn it, Shellhead," Steve growled. And then he was wrapping Iron Man up in a hug, squeezing the metal armor as tight as he could--which was pretty damn tight, though the fleshy man inside couldn't actually feel a thing. "I'm gonna end up being the one who rusts you up," he grumbled into Iron Man's neck.
Bringing his hands up, Iron Man hugged Steve back, hands running lightly over his shoulder blades. "Hey, come on. It's nothing, really. I just know you like old-fashioned, and it seemed like the sort of thing you'd like."
"The sort of thing I'll cherish. Dang it, Iron Man..." Steve breathed.
Sighing softly, Tony closed his eyes inside the armor. He rested his head gently against Steve's, one helmet wing crumpling under his armor.
When Steve pulled away it was impossible to miss his red-rimmed eyes and blotchy complexion. Irish skin never cried well--you could always see it. Iron Man tsked softly and reached up, brushing his metal fingers through the tear tracks beneath Steve's eyes, above the material of the cowl. Steve laughed and batted Iron Man's hands away before sniffing loudly.
"Thank you. It means... everything to me. Especially coming from you."
"Don't even mention it," Iron Man told him.
For a long moment, Steve hesitated. His eyes tracked Iron Man's, peering in, looking through the eye-slits. Tony wondered how much he was seeing, how much of his own eyes he was memorizing, comparing with his eidetic memory to all the other eyes he'd seen. Trying to figure it out. But then Steve shook his head and smiled, tucking the watch into a pocket on his belt.
"Now I have to treat you to dinner," Steve told him. He nodded behind Tony at the buffet. "I see some shrimp there. Want me to puree it for you?"
Iron Man laughed and shoved his shoulder into Steve's, not too hard. "I might actually be able to fit those through the slit..." he mused.
"Only one way to find out."
"Hey, got a sec?"
Tony soldered one last connection on the experimental hard drive he was working on, then flicked off the soldering iron and set it on the wet sponge waiting for it. He spun around in his chair, grinning big for his favorite frozen treat.
"For you? I've got a whole minute."
Steve snorted as he approached Tony. "Knowing your going-rate for consultations, that's actually more than generous of you, Mr. Stark."
Steve's lips twisted wryly, but he didn't correct himself. Tony sighed as he leaned back in his chair. Steve kept him at a distance, for whatever reason. It wasn't a hard-and-fast rule for Steve, Tony knew that much: he certainly let Iron Man in. But that was just the exception that proved the rule, wasn't it, that told Tony why his secret identity had to be kept so secret: Iron Man was Captain America-approved. Tony Stark, he was good as a benefactor and not much else.
"So, it took me a while, but with Iron Man's help I think I finally came up with something worth giving you for Christmas," Steve explained. Tony noticed the box in his hands for the first time, a tiny little thing. Tony wondered if he was going to get two original Steve Rogers paintings for Christmas. He kinda hoped so.
"Small box," Tony observed. He mock-gasped, pressing a hand to his chest. "Steven Rogers, did you get me jewelry? Not... no, not an engagement ring, you must know I'm just too free-spirited to be tied down to one man, even one so handsome as yourself-"
Steve rolled his eyes and tossed the box at Tony, who caught it one-handed with ease. "Just open the box you lug," Steve told him.
Tony laughed, eyebrows shooting up at Steve's insult. His fingers went to work on the careful wrapping job. "Mouthing off to the money, are we? Been in the future too long already, methinks."
Whatever banter might have continued between them died along with Tony's good humor as he opened the box. Inside was a photograph, one as old as Cap, nestled snugly in a pewter frame. Tony's shoulders sagged as he looked at a face too similar to his, grinning back at him through decades.
"It's your father and me. I was sorry to hear he had passed long before I woke up. He was a boon to the war effort, and could drink just about any of us under the table, which is saying something."
Tony fought hard to suppress his wince. Steve was doing something wonderfully nice for him, given any other circumstances. It wasn't Steve's fault that his father was an alcoholic jackass who neglected his son practically to orphaning him.
"He could do that," Tony settled for saying. He'd never seen his father look so young. So carefree. He'd never seen his father look... so much like him. Hell, they practically had the same mustache. Tony swallowed thickly before he forced a smile onto his face and looked up. "Steve, thank you. I don't have any pictures this old of my dad." He waggled the frame at Steve. "This is great."
Unfortunately, Steve was too perceptive for his own good. He narrowed his eyes at Tony, gaze flickering between the frame in Tony's hands and Tony's forced-cheerful visage.
Tony sighed, dropped the act. Standing, Tony crossed the few feet between them and pressed a hand to Steve's shoulder. "Listen, it's a thoughtful as hell gift. I really do appreciate having a picture of my dad from the war, especially a candid one. He wasn't exactly the kind of guy to keep photo albums of his life." Tony hesitated, then continued: "He wasn't exactly the sort of guy to express any sort of sentimentality, really. He was... I'm sure he was a fine enough fellow when you knew him, a good friend and fun guy to work with. He just didn't make the best dad."
Steve's expression hardened. "Alcoholic?"
Tony smirked. "You said it yourself: he could drink just about anyone under the table. You don't build up that sort of tolerance being a teetotaler."
"He wasn't..." Steve hesitated, question half-formed. "He didn't...?"
Tony squeezed Steve's shoulder a smiled grimly. "Some guys aren't meant to be fathers. But they can be fine friends and colleagues. I get it, it's fine. And thank you, for this. Really. It's a piece of history, and more importantly, it's a piece of our shared history. Any ill-will I have towards my father is easily trumped by that fact. So thank you."
Steve sighed. "Well, I'll have to do better the next time I give you a gift. When's your birthday?"
"End of May. Twenty-ninth."
Steve nodded, jaw set. Tony almost laughed: Steve Rogers was getting his freedom-and-determination face on--just over finding Tony the perfect gift. It was sweet, it really was.
"Well then, by the end of May, I'll have something better."
"Maybe don't ask Iron Man this time," Tony pointed out. "Since he apparently was the one with the bright idea for this gift? Which, again: it's still a very nice gift, Steve."
Steve rubbed his chin as Tony walked away, going to place the photo on his workbench. "It wasn't his idea, not really. He was suggesting... something else... and I was the one who thought of this photo and ran with it. I didn't even tell him what my idea was--maybe if I had, he'd have stopped me."
Tony shrugged. "My relationship with my dad is pretty much public record. Had to be, since we were in the society pages from the day I was born." Tony turned back just in time to witness Steve's jaw tightening over that, like he wanted to have words with his old friend Howard Stark but knew exactly how thwarted he was. Tony snorted.
"May twenty-ninth," Steve told him, nodding firmly.
Tony just laughed. "Alright, alright. And thank you again for this. I actually do appreciate it."
Steve's lips twisted like he didn't believe Tony, before he turned and hurried away. Tony shook his head and sat back in his wheeley-chair, spinning around slowly. He stopped facing the photo, eyes inevitably drawn to it. Leaning forward, he picked it up again, examining the Howard Stark this photographer had managed to capture on film. He was laughing, his face unlined, his hair glossy black without the first hint of grey. Tony knew he took after his mother more, but suddenly he could see it. Could see his father in himself.
Carefully he set the frame down and turned back to his work.
The fireworks forming a picture of his face were a nice touch, if he did say so himself. Tony had one arm around a woman and another around a man, and no one's clothes were leaving anything particularly to the imagination. He grinned as male arm-candy handed him another drink, and female arm-candy lit a cigar for him and then passed it over, tongue darting out to lick the residual taste from her lips. Tony grinned. Not a bad twenty-ninth (for the nth time) birthday, if he did say so himself.
Tony grinned, puffing once more on his cigar before passing it back to buxom babe. He turned and dropped his arms, ushering away all the beauteous skin surrounding him. There was only one voice that could make him send away all the gorgeousness Malibu had to offer, and it was the one that had just called his name.
"Steve Rogers! How nice of you to make it."
Steve huffed as he jogged over, crisp lines of his suit making him look absolutely edible this evening. Tony grinned and sidled closer, alcohol making him bold. Alcohol and seriously, the lines of that suit. His shoulders looked ready to crush Tony's skull if need be. In the Iron Man armor. Tony leaned as close as he dared as he tried to appreciate those shoulders up-close.
"Of course I made it. I owe you a thoughtful present."
Tony hummed, remembering something, as he drained the last of his martini. "That reminds me! I got you something."
Steve's face fell, hands twisting around the tube in them. "Wait, what? It's your birthday."
Tossing the glass at a waiter--it was plastic, don't worry--Tony wrapped an arm around Steve's shoulders as best he could and dragged him along. "I know. And much like my relative in shortness the hobbits, I make a tradition of giving gifts on my birthday rather than receiving them."
"You're six one," Steve reminded Tony.
Tony just squeezed Steve's shoulders as much as he could. "Yeah, and next to you I feel like a hobbit."
"I have maybe two inches on you."
"In your pants," Tony whispered, not at all quietly. He couldn't see it as they traveled away from the lights of the party, but he could feel Steve's blush.
"Mr. Stark, I have to decline-"
"Don't get your star-spangled undies in a knot, Steve, it's not that sort of present. Come on, come on. I've got it in the kitchen. And no, it's not kitchen sex, I promise. Just follow me."
With a reluctant sigh Steve kept pace with Tony, following him into the kitchen. Tony was pretty pleased with this particular gift. He thought he had outdone himself, this time. Opening a drawer that was probably supposed to be reserved for cutlery, Tony pulled out his own rolled up piece of paper and spread it onto the counter.
Despite his obvious reservations, Steve leaned in to try and get a good look at the... "Blueprints?"
"I'll save you the trouble of trying to read them: it's a new VA facility down in Queens. There's a rehab center, just hired all the nurses and physical therapists and doctors, there's a soup kitchen, there's some rooms and whatever if people need them... I don't know, I had someone else draw up all the plans, someone who actually knew what a VA center needs and whatever, but: there you go."
"Oh, and you're in charge. I mean, if you want to be. If you don't have time I have a list of guys and gals who would be happy to take over the job."
"Mr. Stark, you really have to stop spending money on me."
Tony waved away Steve's protests. "Trust me, Steve: if there's a worthier person to spend money on, I haven't found them. Come on, tell me: it's what you'd do if you had my money, right?"
Steve hesitated. "Well..."
Tony grinned. Good old honest-Abe Steve Rogers was his own undoing. "It is."
Steve sighed a long, long time. "Maybe..."
"So I just. Did it for you. Since I have the money, you know. And I know more about New York real estate than you could ever hope to learn, even if you live twenty frozen lifetimes. So I did all the work I know you would do if you were me. Perfect gift, right?"
Shamefaced, Steve moved to tuck his tube behind him. Tony saw the movement and grabbed for it, smacking Steve's hands away. "No you don't! You've been thinking about this for five months, I want to see what you came up with."
Expression utterly heart broken, Steve gestured uselessly at the blue prints. "It's nothing to compare to this, dang it. Mr. Stark..."
Popping the top off the tube, Tony pulled out the canvas rolled up inside with a flourish. He unrolled it eagerly, fingertips feeling the oil on canvas before his eyes saw it.
"Oh, hey!" Tony grinned as he saw the finished project. "It's me!"
"And the Avengers..." Steve sighed, running a hand through his blond hair. "I just figured... well, you're our benefactor, and that's how you mean the most to me, the good you help us do. And I think you like doing it, too, I mean you love working in the workshop on the Iron Man armor: I know, I've seen you at it. It's the happiest I think I see you look. So I just... whipped up something, you know. Just a portrait."
Tony examined the portrait with bleary eyes--and that wasn't just because of the alcohol. There he was, like Charles Foster Kane, the benevolent industrialist looking handsome and virile in full portraiture glory. Beneath him, much smaller, were the Avengers: assembled where his chest might have been. Cap and Iron Man were full front and center, right over his heart. Tony's chest ached at the irony of Iron Man positioned just over his heart. If only Steve knew.
"It's not a VA hospital..."
"Come here you," Tony grumbled, pulling Steve in for a hug. Steve was stiff at first, arms hovering out to the sides. But as Tony kept hugging him he relaxed, hands settling on Tony's back as he sighed.
"Is it really alright?"
"It's perfect, you jackass," Tony grumbled.
"Oh well if you're going to be like that about it I can just take it back..." Steve teased.
Pulling back and sniffing loudly, Tony kept his hands heavy on Steve's shoulders. "Seriously: it's perfect. It's thoughtful and original and something I can't get myself."
"That was the idea," Steve admitted.
Tony shoved the blueprints at Steve and rolled the painting back up before sliding it into its tube. He beamed at Steve. "Alright, now that we're done being great big saps, what do you say I hook you up tonight? A second little present from me to you."
This time Tony got to bask in the full beauty of a Steve Rogers blush as his jaw clenched. "That really isn't necessary, Mr. Stark."
"Of course it is. Come on, what do you want? Blonde, brunette, red head? Big boobs, small... no boobs, more dangle, we can hook that up, I hear you. Keep it on the down-low, I know some very discreet young men-"
"Tony!" Steve strangled out.
Tony's laughter echoed through the kitchen as he pushed through the double doors and led them both back out to the party.
The next morning Tony awoke in a pile of limbs, most of which weren't his own, and a fairly mild hangover. He grinned. Good night, then.
When he stumbled to his kitchen Tony was surprised to see he wasn't the first one up. Steve was sitting in there, tall glass of OJ and a pile of breakfast foods that Thor would have trouble putting away in front of him. Tony poked the espresso machine awake and settled down on a stool next to Steve, leaning against him with a sigh.
"Rough night?" Steve asked him, shifting his newspaper away from Tony.
"In all the right ways," Tony hummed happily.
Above him, Steve snorted. His paper rustled as he turned the page and kept reading.
"How about you? Manage to find someone after I 'retired' for the evening?"
"No, and that's just fine," Steve told him.
Tony glanced around the spotless kitchen. "You helped clean up, didn't you."
"... It was something to do."
Tony sighed as he slid off his stool and padded back over to the espresso machine. He stole a bagel from Steve as he settled back onto his chair. "Knowing you, you probably had fun chatting with the staff as you cleaned up, so I'm just going to say that I'm glad you had a good time."
"Thank you, I did."
Tony snorted as he started munching on his stolen breakfast. He moaned as the espresso hit his tongue for the first time--that was good. He would need to put away a pint or two of water, but not just yet. Right now: espresso. Hydration could wait a few minutes.
"By the way, I wanted to ask you, Mr. Stark-"
"-Tonyyy," Tony whined. One day he'd get Steve to call him that. Consistently.
"-when is Iron Man's birthday? I know when Wasp and Ant-Man's are, and Thor... well. He has an entire holiday for himself, if you think about it that way. But I don't know any sort of day for Iron Man."
Tony stiffened. Huh. Should he make one up? Not now, he'd never remember it. Maybe in a couple days when he was more sober... No, hell, he barely remembered his own birthday, and that was mostly because everyone started sending him gifts when it got close. Better to avoid the question all together:
Steve shifted above Tony, then pushed at him. Blinking, Tony lifted his head and straightened up enough to get a good look at Steve. His usually-cheery demeanor was replaced with something a lot grouchier. And Tony had always assumed he'd be a morning person.
"What do you mean it's classified? It's just his birthday."
"Can do a lot with a birthday. Reset someone's online banking passwords, start a search that would narrow down potential identities..." Tony shrugged. "You can ask him yourself, but I can't tell you."
"Do you even know it?" Steve snapped. Snapped. Tony shook himself a hell of a lot more alert, because he was dealing with something he had no idea how to handle.
"I know it," he told Steve, maybe a little sharper than he needed to. "But Iron Man is my employee, his identity is secret, and that information is need-to-know."
"Need to know? No."
Steve frowned, looked away. That muscle in his jaw jumped as he breathed through his nose. Tony tensed. He wasn't used to the side of Steve. More to the point, he wasn't sure why Steve would have such a reaction to him withholding this seemingly-innocuous bit of information. If he wanted to get the guy a present he could wait for Christmas. Or just... pick a date, give it to him then. No reason to get into a huff over it.
"Thank you, Mr. Stark. I will ask him myself."
With that, Steve folded up his paper and left it on the counter. As he walked away, Tony didn't even bother to call out a corrective "Tony!" after him. He was kind of afraid it would get his block knocked off.
Fireworks lit up the sky above Avengers Mansion, dwarfing the Times Square fireworks miles away. Iron Man grinned and flipped down his retina-shades for the finale, blessed with prescient knowledge of the make-up of the show. Mr. Stark had designed it, after all.
Sure enough, the finale lit up the night sky as bright as day, a glorious American flag waving behind the beauteous face of the one and only Captain America. Iron Man cheered and whistled, firing off his own flares in exuberance for the display.
"Quite the show, huh?" The man himself Steve Rogers slid up alongside Iron Man in his full costume. Iron Man thought it was a little unfair that he had to wear his costume for his own birthday, but he also knew the Avengers had thrown him a little intimate lunch a few days before where he had been out of costume. Well, the Avengers and Tony Stark, because Iron Man had been unable to make it. He was here now though, for Steve's big, public celebration.
"Mr. Stark really pulled out all the stops for you," Iron Man confirmed. "I don't think the fireworks for his own party were this ostentatious."
Steve sighed, leaning against the Iron Man armor, arms crossed over his chest. "You can say that again. Mr. Stark really knows how to spoil a guy."
"Speaking of spoiling..." Iron Man segued. Holding out one hand, Iron Man presented Steve with a shoddily-wrapped gift. "I'm sure it doesn't compare to what Mr. Stark got you-"
"He bought me a bike. The bike: with all the trappings and secret gizmos and whatnot," Steve told him as he unwrapped his present.
"You don't seem as upset this time."
Steve shook his head as he balled up the wrapping paper and shoved it in his pocket. "I think I'm getting used to it. Or just learning it's better not to fight it. Plus, at least this time it was on my birthday." As Steve opened the box he fell silent, then shook his head.
"You mentioned it a couple of months ago. After we took down-"
"-the Serpent Society. Yeah, I remember." Steve stayed silent for a moment longer. "Can't believe you did."
Iron Man shrugged. "I was keeping an ear open for gift ideas."
Out of the box, Steve tugged a little blue rectangle. He turned it over in his hands, then tapped the buttons on it. After a moment, music started to play between them. The opening notes of I Wanna Hold Your Hand sparkled in the night air. Steve smiled softly as he turned the rectangle over in his hands.
"I guess it's got all the songs I'm supposed to listen to on here, right?"
Iron Man nodded. "Some of my personal favorites, and all of the important ones. There's earbuds in there too: little headphones you put in your ears."
"I know what earbuds are," Steve protested. He fiddled with the buttons on the iPod again. After a moment, the Beach Boys God Only Knows started playing. Steve beamed down at the iPod, then turned his face up to Iron Man.
"Thank you. It means a lot to me."
"I put my top fifty in a playlist," Iron Man told him. "I get a feeling our taste in music is going to be pretty different, even after we get you caught up. But just so you know."
Steve fiddled for a moment, then laughed: "'Iron Man's Pounding Playlist,'" he read out loud. He scrolled until he saw something that caught his interest. The opening notes to Sabbath's Iron Man started playing. Steve wrinkled up his nose and quickly scrolled away. Yesterday started playing. Iron Man kind of suspected Steve had a thing for the Beatles.
"I think you're right about us having different tastes," Steve confirmed. He shot a naughty glance at Iron Man before he mused: "Namely: I have taste, whereas you..."
Iron Man punched Steve--lightly--in the shoulder. Steve laughed and shook it off.
"When's your birthday, anyway? I asked Mr. Stark, but he said it was-"
Iron Man panicked. "Classified."
Steve frowned. "Yeah, that's what he said. But he said I could ask you-"
Frowning harder, Steve turned fully to Iron Man. With a growl he rapped his knuckles against the golden skull of the armor. "Hey, you having a malfunction in there, tin man? Sound like a broken record. I just want to know-"
"It's classified, Cap. Sorry."
Steve's face screwed up into what on a lesser man would have been anger. He turned, pacing several steps away from Iron Man, iPod still tinkling out the notes ...why'd you have to go, I don't know, she wouldn't say... After a long moment Steve turned back to Iron Man, jabbing a finger at him.
"All I want is to get you a damned gift, Iron Man! In return for everything you've done for me, as an expression of my gratitude-"
"You can get me a Christmas present," Iron Man suggested, as gently as he could.
"But I get everyone a Christmas present," Steve protested. Taking a step closer, invading Iron Man's space, Steve's eyes flickered down, then up to Iron Man's eye-slits. "I want to get you a present. On your day."
Inside the suit, Tony's heart rate picked up, enough that his sensors flashed a quick warning. He breathed through his nose for a minute, forced himself not to take the step back he so desperately wanted to--or the step forward, that he wanted to even more.
"Listen, Winghead, I appreciate you wanting to... appreciate me, but my identity has to remain a secret if I want to continue to protect Mr. Stark. Or be an Avenger."
"At least let me treat you to lunch one of these days," Steve begged. "We'll go to one of those fancy smoothie shops so you can eat. And then froze-yoze for dessert."
"Fro-yo," Iron Man corrected, and it might have been the saddest anyone has ever said the word "fro-yo" before.
"Whatever the damned word salad is!" Steve growled.
"You should ask Mr. Stark out to lunch. Someone who can actually eat lunch."
"You can eat, I've seen you. It just has to fit through that slit," Steve pointed out.
"Someone who's more sociable than I am. Someone you know is charming, charismatic..." Iron Man pressed.
"I know what you're getting at, Shellhead, and Mr. Stark is a playboy, he's not interested. He's a swell guy and he's handsome as all heck, but I know him and I know he's not the settling down type. Doesn't like to stay tied to one partner too long." Steve looked at Iron Man, and Iron Man turned his head away, knowing what he was getting at. "Some guys are better at that. Committing to a partner. Some guys want it. Guys like Stark, not so much."
"He might surprise you," Iron Man insisted.
"I don't like surprises," Steve shot back. He took a step closer, and damn it if Iron Man didn't move away. "I'm a sure-thing sort of guy. I like what I know."
Steve's hand drifted forward, the one with the iPod still clenched firmly in it. Iron Man let Steve's fingertips brush against his gauntlet, sensors flaring up in his hand, relaying back to him the feel of Steve Roger's fingers entwining with his. Inside the suit, Tony Stark ached. Outside the suit, Iron Man's countenance remained impassive as Steve peered into the mask, expression open with longing.
"All this just to know my birth date?" Iron Man finally quipped, struggling to break the tension that was so thick between them he could barely breathe. His suit air filters couldn't filter that out.
Steve huffed, but only drew Iron Man closer, hand tightening around his. "Iron Man, it's my birthday. And I'm asking you for another present, even if it's greedy of me: go to lunch with me."
"You're never greedy," Iron Man promised him. "You could ask for anything in the world, and it wouldn't be asking too much. You deserve it all."
"But?" Steve mumbled, because he knew it was coming. Iron Man's mechanical heart was heavier than the palladium which comprised it.
For a long time Iron Man hesitated, trying to come up with a reason, any reason, besides the truth. But he couldn't lie to Captain America, so he settled for the most of the truth he could reveal: "My identity has to remain a secret. There's a very good reason for this. And if I went to lunch with you tomorrow-"
"You wouldn't have to take off the suit-"
"But I'd want to. One lunch would turn into two, into dinner, and eventually I'd want to take the suit off."
"You're presuming a lot about me." Steve tried for light-hearted, but his words were heavy.
"I'm presuming nothing I don't know for sure," Iron Man told him.
"Damn it," Steve growled. He leaned forward, just enough to rest his forehead against Iron Man's. "I understand."
With a sigh Iron Man squeezed at Steve's hand, careful not to crush it or the iPod cradled inside it. Take a Chance On Me started playing. Steve growled and pulled away, switching off the player after a moment of messing with it.
By the time he looked up, Iron Man was firing up his rocket boosters and heading away. "Happy birthday, Cap!" he called after him with false cheer. He needed out of this damn tin can. Or a good fight to remind him exactly why it was all still worth it.
The lights were dim and the alcohol flowing freely at the second annual Avengers Christmas party. Jan was already hanging off Hank's arm a little too heavily to be entirely okay, and Tigra appeared to be... licking herself in a corner? Iron Man shook his head and peered at the buffet. He knew he had ordered some little chocolate sticks specifically so he could munch on them while in his armor, he just couldn't figure out where Jarvis had laid them out...
Before he successfully found the little chocolate sticks, Iron Man found himself grabbed by one arm and dragged across the room, then out of it, then shoved into the first side room he reached. It was actually the parlor where the grand piano was. Iron Man shook off the heavy hand that had abducted him, tilting his head at a clearly soused Captain America.
"Cap? You doing okay? Need a bucket or something?"
Without replying Cap surged forward and kissed the face plate, lips pressing hard against the mouth slit. Iron Man was so startled he pushed Steve away, taking two steps back until he was pressed up against the piano.
"Steve, whoa, hey!"
"I know you can't reveal your identity," Steve told him, stalking closer. Iron Man's hands gripped at the piano behind him. He didn't want to run away, but damn it, he might have to.
"You won't even let me take you to lunch..."
Iron Man shifted back again, like there was anywhere for him to go. "You should ask someone like Mr. Stark to go to lunch with you. I'm sure he'd be happy-"
"Do you know what Mr. Stark got me for Christmas?"
"Why don't you tell me?" Iron Man suggested, hoping to distract Steve from what was clearly his mission for the evening.
Steve just kept stepping closer, until they were groin to crotch-plate, pecs to chest-plate. "He showed me an entire training room. Not even a room, it's an entire floor of the Mansion. Hundreds, thousands of simulations, a million pieces of equipment he made just for me. It must have taken months of work, there's millions if not billions of dollars just in the parts and programs alone, not to mention Mr. Stark's consulting fee-"
"Mr. Stark is generous with his gifts."
"And I know it's not just for me," Steve told him, voice getting a little watery. "I know it's for the team, too. But he gave it to me. And there's parts of it that are designed just for me, I know they are, I can tell. And it's incredible, and it's too much. But..." Steve's eyes bore into Iron Man's. "But it doesn't make me feel the way your gift does. Do you remember what you got me?"
"It's nothing, it's not-"
"You gave me about a thousand dollars worth of new art supplies."
"It wasn't just any old supplies. It's like you've been making a list of what I need and what I don't, the tools that were busting on me, the paints and charcoals I was running low on."
"Your gift was just as thoughtful-"
"Damn it, Iron Man, listen to me!" Steve reached up and grabbed Iron Man's shoulders, shaking him. "You've given me a home. Mr. Stark's given me a house, a place to sleep, everything a guy could possibly ask for. He's showered me in more gifts than a guy could know what to do with. But when you give me a gift, when you give me something like those art supplies, so thoughtful, so perfect... Mr. Stark is our benefactor. You're my partner. Mr. Stark isn't out in the trenches with me. You are. You're my right-hand. You're my Shellhead."
"You're my Winghead," Iron Man told him through a dry throat.
"If I'm yours and you're mine..." Steve pleaded, blue eyes impossibly sad.
Iron Man shook his head, not trusting his voice right now, even if it would go through the modulator first. At that, Steve growled and shoved his thigh forward, between Iron Man's legs. Inside the suit, Tony's eyes went wide. Oh. Shit.
"Fine. I don't need dinner and movie, as old-fashioned as you think I am. Why don't we just... Just tonight." Steve licked his lips. His plump, red lips. The suit started to get uncomfortable.
"I... Fuck, Cap, you really don't make things easy on a guy."
"This can be easy," Steve told him, eyes shining in the dim light of the party.
Iron Man gasped as Steve groped at him, too-clever hands feeling for the emergency releases. There were two on his waist, two on the inside of his thighs... Iron Man's hand shot down, encircling Steve's wrist. Steve blinked blearily up at him.
"You're drunk," Iron Man pointed out, even though it sounded like the thickest hypocrisy coming from his lips. Steve didn't know that (and Steve didn't know that, which was exactly the point, exactly why they couldn't do this).
Steve scoffed, batting Iron Man's hand away as he dove in for another try. "Hardly. And this isn't a spur-of-the-moment decision, if that's what you're worried about." Steve's hands swiped at the inside of Iron Man's thighs again. "We can do it so you don't have to compromise your identity," Steve whispered at him. He slowly sank to his knees.
Tony's blood swiftly sank to somewhere a little above his knees.
"No, Cap, no," Iron Man reached down to tug Steve back to his feet, every damn cell inside him screaming out in frustration, telling him to just give in already.
"Damn it, Iron Man!" Steve shook Iron Man's hands off him, taking a step away. His cheeks were pink now with frustration rather than drink or lust. "Is it because I'm a man? That can't be it, because I know, you..." he gestured between them. "I know this. I know how you feel."
"Am I wrong? Tell me I'm wrong." Steve thrust his chin up, a challenge. Iron Man's mechanical heart felt like it was breaking.
"I'm not," Steve said, hint of smugness in his tone. Yeah, yeah: Captain America was always right. Including about this. Iron Man clenched his fist.
"Is it your identity? We can keep it a secret, I told you-"
"I can't," Iron Man said again, unable to come up with a better excuse. Unable to think of one that Steve wouldn't see through with the perception of the world's best tactician.
"Are..." Steve took a step forward, then back again. He swayed a little. "Is it the suit? Can you not... You always made it sound like you lived a life outside it-"
"I do," Iron Man told him. Because although the lie might be easier, he owed Steve as much of the truth as he could. "I can take the suit off. We just... can't."
Steve growled and spun around. He looked like he might punch a wall for a moment there, but then he pulled himself back in and turned back to Iron Man. He shook his head. "I don't see why not."
"Cap," Iron Man waited until Steve met his eyes. "I'm going to have to ask you to trust me on this. Do you trust me?"
Steve's expression cracked, because of course he trusted Iron Man. He licked his lips and swallowed, hard. "Do you want this?"
"Do you trust me?"
"Yes," Steve groaned, eyes squeezing shut. "Of course I trust you. I always trust you."
A beat, before Iron Man risked it all: "Yes."
Steve's eyes snapped open. "Yes?"
"I want this," Iron Man admitted, gauntlets clenched into fists at his side. "But we can't. You have to trust me."
Closing the space between them, Steve reached up and stroked Iron Man's golden face. He looked through the eye-slits again, eyes staring so hard, like he could bore straight through the mask if he just looked hard enough. Then his eyes closed, and he stood on his toes to lean in and press a kiss to Iron Man's mouth slit. Inside the suit, Tony trembled as he pressed a faint kiss back, against the other side of that same slit. He didn't dare actually try to reach Steve through the slit, lest he feel the tickle of Tony's mustache.
"I trust you, Iron Man," Steve said as he turned away. And somehow he made those words sound like an accusation. Iron Man's shoulders sagged as the parlor door closed behind Steve on his way out.
Iron Man didn't see Steve for two weeks after that. By the time a call went out that needed all the Avengers, including both Iron Man and Captain America, it was New Years Eve. They dispatched the Wrecking Crew with their usual ease and occasional banter, and Iron Man thought that maybe it was okay, that Cap was okay, that they'd be able to fight alongside each other without too much awkwardness. Until after the battle was over and Cap called out for him.
"Hey Iron Man! Wait up!"
Iron Man powered down his thrusters as Steve jogged over to him, Captain America cowl torn from where a Wrecking Crew chain had caught him across the cheek but still mostly in place. As Steve approached level with him Iron Man landed, footing only unsteady for a moment on the uneven pavement--again, a little gift leftover from the Wrecking Crew.
"I wanted to ask if you were going to be a Mr. Stark's New Years party tonight," Steve told him.
Iron Man hesitated. "I wasn't planning on it. Unless there's trouble, of course. But I figured I'd let Mr. Stark have his party without me hovering around, making people edgy."
"You don't make me edgy," Steve pressed, voice soft.
Iron Man shrugged. "You know what I mean. And anyways, I don't think it'd be the best idea..."
Steve waved a hand. "I understand. And I wanted to apologize for that. Could I ask you to be there so I can do it properly? Not for long, ten minutes."
Iron Man hesitated. He really needed to be at his New Years Eve party as Tony Stark, since it was a party mostly for business associates--incidentally invited Avengers notwithstanding. And the last time Iron Man had been at a party with Steve things hadn't exactly ended well. Still, Cap was standing there with those blue eyes and that little pout, and he didn't seem too put-out: if anything, he seemed back to his usual cheery self. Iron Man sighed static.
"Alright. I can make a quick appearance. Just because you're the one doing the asking."
Cap's face light up like a kid at Christmas. Iron Man winced. Better not to think about Cap's face at Christmas, actually.
"Great! Eleven thirty? On the roof?"
Iron Man snorted. "You gonna throw me off it?"
"Wouldn't do much good, would it?" Steve pointed out wryly.
Iron Man snorted before firing up his rocket boots. "I'll be there. Eleven thirty, rooftop of the Mansion."
He pretended not to hear Steve's whispered "It's a date" as he flew away.
Iron Man landed on the roof at eleven twenty-five: early, for once. Mostly he was hoping Cap would get his little talk over with quickly, because Tony Stark needed to find a pretty date to grab and kiss for midnight. Wouldn't do to have him absent when the clock struck. Not from his own party.
As Iron Man stomped along the roof in his clunky repulsor boots, his sensors swept the area. He was picking up Steve's heat signature just on the other side of the stairwell, plus another itty-bitty heat signature. As Iron Man rounded the small structure, he realized what his sensors had been picking up: the ever-hot Steve Rogers, plus a little tea candle in the center of a table. Iron Man's steps slowed as he looked at the spread Steve had set up: a cliche romantic table, complete with two chairs, a red-and-white checkered cloth, candle and a little bouquet of cut flowers in the center. Steve was decked out in a three-piece suit, a deep navy blue that looked heavenly on him. Iron Man rubbed the back of his helmet before gesturing at the spread.
"Steve, you remember what I said-"
"I remember," Steve replied softly. Then he held out his hand to the table, gesturing for Iron Man to sit. "Now I'm going to ask you the same thing: do you trust me?"
Iron Man sighed. "Of course I do, Cap."
"Then give me ten minutes."
Iron Man hesitated, but finally nodded. "Alright," he said as he awkwardly took a seat at the romantic little table. "You have ten minutes."
Steve sat across from him, looking unattainably beautiful in the dim light of the rooftop, surrounded by the glow of New York City at night. Iron Man sagged forward, metal forearms resting on the edge of the table as he watched him.
"Well, I got you something. A little gift."
Iron Man tensed up as Steve pulled something out of his inside jacket pocket. It was a square box about the size of Tony Stark's fist, wrapped neatly as all Steve's presents always were. Iron Man was hesitant to take it.
Clearly sensing this, Steve sighed and shook his head. "I went on a run the morning after the Christmas party. Took me around the city, cleared my head. Gave me time to think about things, and see them from... a new perspective."
Inside his armor, Tony perked up. Could this mean maybe Steve was going to try his luck with Tony Stark, like he'd been hinting at all along? The ethical question of dating Steve without letting him know his secret identity was still there, but a heck of a lot less problematic practically when it came to sustaining a relationship.
Steve nodded at the box again. "So open it, would you? I think it makes my point better than I can."
Shaking his head, Iron Man tore into the package, snorting to himself as Steve chased after the wrapping paper and balled it up in a neat little stack on the table. "You know, if you're so concerned about littering, you should stop wrapping these things. Or give them to me somewhere where there's a trash can."
Steve's foot jangled under the table. Inside the suit, Tony sighed wistfully. A nervous Steve Rogers: that was something he could get used to. Except he couldn't let himself. Steve huffed. "Just open it, would you, knucklehead?"
"I like Shellhead better," Iron Man commented as he finally opened the lid of the box. Inside was a little comb. Iron Man lifted it out with delicate fingers, twisting and turning it. "Is this a beard comb?"
Steve rocked back on his heels. "Beard, goatee... mustache..."
Iron Man's mechanical heart felt like it stopped in his chest. He sat back, reeling. "Um..." Maybe he didn't know. Maybe he only knew Iron Man had a mustache, like his employer Tony Stark. Lots of men had mustaches. Tony Stark didn't have a patent on them--much as he had considered it over the years, it turns out you couldn't patent a pattern of facial hair, no matter how uniquely dashing.
"Think of it like a very early birthday present."
"My birth date is classified," Iron Man intoned hollowly.
Steve's eyes were shinning across the table. "Maybe. And maybe that classified date is six months from now. Almost to the day."
Iron Man balanced the comb on metal fingers, wondering what there was left to say. His heart pounded inside the tin can, nearly loud enough that he could hear it echoing around him. Steve was probably fishing. Iron Man couldn't say something stupid and confirm his suspicions.
"Like I said, the run cleared my head. And I kept thinking about what you said, how you couldn't tell me, how I had to trust you. I started throwing myself into the mystery, actually trying to figure it out. I knew you had blue eyes and black eyelashes. I knew you were Tony Stark's bodyguard, and showed up at the exact same time he escaped from his kidnappers. You'd never been on payroll before he invented the suit to save himself. And you rarely showed up in the same place as Tony Stark--or at least, not until after he was gone 'to safety'. There were a couple of times on tape where you two were together, but it was all press-junket stuff: you were just standing there while Tony Stark did all the talking, maybe said a couple lines of monologue. Nothing interactive, not unless that interaction was with Mr. Stark himself."
"That's quite the stretch," Iron Man told him.
Steve grinned crookedly. "...and I felt the tickle of your whiskers through the mouth slit. That was kind of a dead give-away."
"Lots of people have facial hair," Iron Man observed weakly.
Reaching across the table, Steve rapped his knuckles against Iron Man's armored skull. "I'm right. I'm always right."
Iron Man grumbled. He didn't need the reminder.
"It's okay. I'm okay with it. Did you think we were going to... what? Boot you off the team, if we knew? Off the team you made?"
"You don't know all of it," Iron Man explained. "There's a... I... Tony Stark created the suit because of a heart condition. During captivity- rescue, during Tony Stark's rescue, shrapnel landed too close to my heart. His heart? Oh, damn it. The chest plate is a part of me, in modified form. What powers the suit is what keeps the shrapnel from reaching my heart."
"That's terrible," Steve commented with a frown. "But clearly you're fit enough for combat. You're out here with us every day and you've never not pulled more than your weight."
"I'm not a superhuman. I don't have powers like Pym particles or a super-soldier serum or... godhood. I'm just... a man, inside this."
"An Iron Man," Steve pointed out.
Iron Man's heart skipped a beat. "You wouldn't boot Tony Stark from the team?"
"Not if Tony Stark is Iron Man, I wouldn't," Steve confirmed. "Because Iron Man is the best partner I've ever had in the field. He's my best friend. And if all that was Mr. Stark... then Mr. Stark is the best partner I've ever had in the field. Mr. Stark is my best, most generous friend."
"You think you've got it all figured out."
"I don't think. I know."
Inside the suit, Tony's breath came a little faster. "No one can know. My stock prices would plummet, I'd never be able to find investors or broker deals-"
"That's what secret identities are for. I understand. But it doesn't have to be secret from the team. From me."
Pushing up from his seat, Steve stepped around the table to kneel in front of Iron Man's chair. The position was so similar to one they'd been in at the Christmas party, but it felt worlds different. Maybe it was the romantic setting, the planning, or maybe it was because Steve knew, he knew.
Steve's hands reached up to grasp at Iron Man's thighs, only this time he wasn't groping drunkenly for manual releases. He was just holding them there, holding onto Iron Man with his heart on his sleeve.
"In retrospect, it all makes sense now. The playboy parties, the flirting, the presents... and damn it, I'm going to get you back for over a year of double presents, that's just not fair."
The comb clattered on the table as Iron Man set it down. "This was a good start." His heart raced.
Squeezing Iron Man's metal thighs, Steve growled: "Lift up that faceplate, Mister."
"Oh, hell," Tony mumbled. With one quick scan to make sure they were the only people in sight-line of the rooftop, Tony activated the faceplate and lifted it up.
Steve surged up for a kiss almost before they had a chance to see each other face-to-face. Tony pulled him in tight, armored hand clutching the back of Steve's neck as his mouth opened before his assault. Steve grunted, then moaned as Tony sucked his tongue into his mouth, most of his weight pressing forward against Iron Man's chest. Steve's hands came up to cup Tony's face, covering their kiss from any prying eyes, keeping it secret just between them. Tony groaned as Steve bit at his lip, as his tongue probed his mouth before darting out to swipe at their lips, then diving right back in. His sensors were humming around him, letting him feel the pressure of Steve's body tight against his, Steve leaning forward until he was straddling one of Iron Man's strong thighs between his own. Tony pressed that thigh up a little, body shaking as Steve moved with him, grinding up against it.
"Holy shit," Tony's voice shook as he pulled away. He was breathing Steve's air, Steve's nose was nuzzling against his as he refused to put any additional space between them. Tony's hands clutching at Steve agreed with his reluctance.
"Tony," Steve whispered against his cheek.
Fireworks lit up the sky behind them, cheering pouring in from rooftops and streets. For half a second Tony thought the cheering and fireworks were for them, but then he remembered: "Oh. Happy New Year, Steve."
Steve leaned in to delve into Tony's mouth once more, hand caressing the Iron Man helmet. "Happy New Year, Tony."
Tony's hand squeezed at the back of Steve's neck. "We need to get out of here."
"Your place or mine?"
Tony stood after Steve did the same. Tony let Iron Man's faceplate snap! shut. "Well, since we're a matter of feet from my bedroom, I'd have to go with mine."
"After you, Shellhead," Steve murmured as he stepped close again.
"I'll lead the way, Winghead," Tony promised as Steve pressed a kiss to Iron Man's mouth-slit.
Iron Man made sure to keep tight hold on the mustache comb as they hurried down to his room together. Luckily the party guests were too drunk or too involved in their own sex lives to question why Iron Man was dragging a clearly giddy Steve Rogers in Tony Stark's bedroom. Or maybe the guests who noticed just wrote it off as the world's wildest threesome.
Later--much, much later--he had Pepper go out and get a frame for the comb. He wouldn't tell her what its significance was. But when Steve saw it on his nightstand that night, he reacted with enthusiastic appreciation of his gift's prominent place in Tony's bedroom.