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Perception

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Steve frowns at the clock, closing the last file he had filched from Fury’s office on his new teammates. It reads just after seven, which means Tony has been MIA for just over fifteen hours. He chews on the pen, grabbing for Tony’s folder again and scanning the very limited information SHIELD has managed to gather on the man. Multi-billionaire, successful businessman, son of the famous Howard Stark, three month kidnapping in Afghanistan, created the Iron Man suit; all the information is there and yet none of it is relevant whatsoever. He thinks back to their initial meeting and can’t help but wince at his failure to be calm, to immediately prickle at Tony’s brash attitude. He had spent years getting bullied for his mouth, and Tony hadn’t reacted like a bully; Tony had reacted like a wounded animal, forced into a corner and unsure whether to fight back or be cowed.

Sighing, he puts down the file and scrubs a hand through his hair. And he has to take into consideration that they were all located in Tony’s house now, eating his food and commandeering his bedrooms. Steve shouldn’t have mentioned Howard, shouldn’t have taken the weakness he saw and prodded at it. The pain in Tony’s eyes had been all too familiar.

“Steve? Food’s ready,” Natasha says, leaning over the side of the couch. Steve looks back at her and manages a smile. She sighs. “This is about Stark, isn’t it? About what he said?”

“It’s more about what I said,” Steve corrects. Natasha shakes her head.

“He’ll get over it. He’s all about sulking. It’s how he usually brings Pepper around.” Natasha leans back. “Clint made pasta. Come on.”

The kitchen smells of fresh baked bread, spices and herbs, and the usual metallic tang of new machinery. Steve settles beside Thor, who has a plate piled high with fresh pasta and dollops of sauce. Thor claps him on the shoulder in greeting.

“Steven! It is good of you to join us for this momentous feast that young Clinton has made. He is both an excellent marksman and a fantastic cook.” Thor grabs another plate and begins piling noodle, sauce, and bread onto it. “Eat! Be merry! Have you seen Anthony lately? I fear he has been locked in his mechanical room for far too long this day.”

“No, no, I haven’t,” Steve says. He peers down at his food. “I’ll bring him some of this, though.”

Clint snorts. “If he doesn’t want to come up and get the damn food, then we shouldn’t have to bring it to him. It’s his house after all.”

“Exactly,” Steve says, pointing at Clint with his fork. “We’re in his house. He was kind enough to offer it to us. The least we can do is feed him when he gets caught up in his work.”

“Steve,” Natasha starts but Steve cuts her off.

“I’ll do it after. Let’s just – let’s enjoy the meal.” He turns to Bruce. “So, Bruce, what made you want to study gamma radiation?”

--

Balancing a plate of pasta and a glass of milk, Steve descends into the basement that Tony has remodeled into his workshop. His steps are muffled on the carpet and the wall is a solid line of hardwood. It bleeds into three thick planes of glass and Steve gently types in the code that Pepper had given him just after the meeting had ended so disastrously. The door beeps, opens, and a robot comes rushing at him with angry whirs and clicks.

“Okay, whoa, what, stop,” Steve says, dodging around the grasping digits. The robot beeps, waving its one – arm? face? – thing at Steve. Steve backs up. “Now, calm down. I’m here to give Tony some food. He’s been down here for a good sixteen hours.” And Steve realizes he’s trying to explain himself to a robot. His life is strange. “He should eat. And come socialize with the rest of us, but I understand his need to stay down here. Can I take this over to the counter?”

The robot lets out s long whine and lowers its arm, the curious shake of its head indicating it’s still untrusting of him. Steve sighs, turns, and is struck speechless. Before him are layers upon layers of twinkling lights, suspended in the air like real objects. Steve can see through them, the glow of blue and red and white translucent enough for him to pick out Tony’s solid shape in the middle of it all.

It looks remarkable and terrifying all at once. He reaches out and taps one of the shapes, fingers sliding through, but the piece of light reacts. It bends around his fingers and Steve expects to feel it, to note the different textures and pulls of light, but it’s just air. He swipes at it, to see what happens, and it slides harmlessly over to the side, giving him a better look at Tony.

Tony, who is crouched in the middle of his workshop, fingers dancing with shining lights and arms aglow with what looks like numbers. He’s down to his black tank, and Steve can just see the glow of the arc reactor amidst the other bright holographic items. He moves forward, not really knowing what’s happening, just wanting to join in this strange, ethereal beauty, but he’s stalled when there’s a loud screech and something grabs his white shirt and pulls.

“Damnit,” Steve bites out, turning a look on the robot. It tugs on him again, leading him back toward the built in kitchen. “Can’t I appreciate what Tony is doing for a few seconds?”

The robot clicks at him, and Steve can recognize anger in the strange language it uses. He sighs and sets down the plate and glass, catching the robot’s fingers when they curiously poke at the food. The robot whines, tugging away from him and picks up the plate anyway.

“Fine, fine, do what you want,” Steve says. He turns back to watching Tony, raising his hand again to catch at the lights. The curl around his fingers, slip down his hand, and fit his wrist. He gestures and the light gestures with him. Grinning, he reaches up and ‘presses’ the bright blue button shape, watching the contraption uncurl from him and flit back to its original position.

“This is amazing, Tony,” he says. Tony doesn’t answer, just continues to move his lights around. Steve frowns. “Tony?”

He pushes away a few of the lights, and he recognizes an entire engine stretched out in front of Tony’s busy hands. He stops again, afraid to approach, to call out, but tries anyway. “Tony?”

Tony says nothing, just gestures wildly with his hands and mutters under his breath. Steve catches the words ‘engine’ and ‘what were you thinking’ and ‘ninety seven percent with thirteen probability failure’. His fingers move fast and easy over the glowing lights, expanding and contracting, bringing up numbers and other pages of schematics. Steve’s breath catches and he realizes just how beautiful Tony is in his element, grease on his elbows and his cheek, goggles nestled in his hair, fingers alight with technology and numbers flashing against his skin. Steve’s own fingers itch for a drawing pad, but he stays still, let’s the alien feeling of calm wash over him.

Turning, Tony grabs for a bundle of light beside Steve’s leg and Steve gets his first look at Tony’s eyes. They’re bright, reflecting the light of the numbers, alive, and Steve takes a step back. Tony doesn’t notice him, expands his hands and flicks through the array of numbers and equations, searching for something. He finds it, grabs it, and the hologram collapses in on itself when he removes the string of code. He then grabs for another piece, to the right of Steve’s arm, and turns back to his expansive collection of light and machinery.

“What are you making?” Steve asks, peering over the top of Tony’s head. Tony ducks down, grabbing at the bottom of the model and flipping it upward, leaning back to get a better view and Steve stares.

It’s a motorcycle. A motorcycle that Steve is intimately familiar with.

“Oh, Tony,” Steve says, guilt rising in his throat. “You don’t have to. I didn’t – the meeting ended horribly, yes, but we can fix this. You don’t have to make my bike for me.”

Tony, again, ignores him.

Steve steps back, careful of the holograms now that he knows where they are from. He can recognize the outer shell over near the computer desk, and the six different forms of wheel hovering on the ceiling. The schematics for the entire bike are set up just to the right of the kitchen and Steve touches them as he passes, feels nothing but air, but the lights are there, the lights still react, and he smiles.

The robot is situated beside the door, still holding the pasta plate and making a variation of beeps and cues at the wall. There’s a red light flashing in front of it, pulsing whenever the robot stops its chatter, and Steve shakes his head, skirts around it, and takes his leave.

His mind is full of ideas; full of possible ‘gifts’ he can use as an apology. He’s not allowing Tony to be the only one to say sorry.