So this is where it ended. Or began, at any case.
After saving New York, eating shawarma while grimy with sweat and dust, and seeing off a muzzled Loki, Tony found himself standing next to his motorcycle with everything he owned – including the Captain America armor and shield – in a beat-up duffle at his feet. He had seventy-plus years of back pay in his jacket pocket. Agent Hill had wanted to put it in something she called a “debit card,” but ever since the Depression, Tony had had little trust in banks and had insisted on cash.
“Hey,” a voice said, and Tony turned to find Steve Rogers jogging towards him. Out of his Iron Man suit, Steve still had the kind body that used to make Tony green with envy, back when he was a scrawny kid getting laughed out of Army recruitment drives. Not to mention that he was richer than Rockefeller and turned out to be a surprisingly decent leader and strategist. It was enough to hate the guy a little bit, but ever since Steve’s suicide play that saved all of Manhattan, Tony hadn’t been able to summon much more than grudging respect.
Tony stuck his hand out first, savoring the surprise that flitted across Steve’s face. “Good work out there, Rogers. Glad to see you didn’t get too banged up.” Steve had bandages under his collar and a faint scar on his chin. When he reached out to grab Tony’s hand, the sleeve of his suit rode up to reveal the tape on his wrist. “At least not your pretty face,” he couldn’t help adding.
“It was an honor, Captain Stark,” Steve replied, smoothly ignoring Tony’s last comment. Thankfully, he didn’t offer an apology or demand one from Tony for their rocky start.
The handshake was quick, but warm. Steve met his eyes with a small smile that Tony returned. They separated and Steve walked to his steel-grey Porsche – forever conservative, that one – and slid in next to Bruce before driving away. Clint and Natasha loaded themselves into the back of one of the dozen SHIELD vehicles circling the spot where Thor had departed for Asgard. One by one, the black vans pulled off until it was just Tony, straddling his bike with the duffle bag at his feet and no idea where to go from here.
Tony blew all of his money within the first month. It hadn’t been his intention, by any means, but it had been inevitable.
Kids who lived through the Depression came out one of two ways. Either they became obsessive misers and hoarders, using every scrap until it crumbled apart and even then scraping up the remains – or, they became fixated on luxury, compulsively chasing after the rich dream which had been dangled before their eyes for so long. Tony turned out to be decidedly the latter. Besides, it would be a waste not to explore this brave new world.
In New Jersey, Tony booked the most expensive hotel suite he could find and charmed a dozen pretty dames (and some equally pretty fellas) to share it with him. In Illinois, he spent a string of nights in Chicago, hopping between grimy downtown bars, tipping the tired-eyed servers extravagantly and daring anyone to pick a fight. In Oregon, he gave a large, anonymous donation to a veteran’s hospital and slept on a park bench in the warm summer air.
And in some cities in some states in between, he was recognized. Maybe it was the shield-shaped backpack he always lugged around. Maybe it was his devilish good looks, visible even from under his cowl. Depending on his mood, Tony would either preen and milk the spotlight for all it was worth or roar out of town before the press could corner him. In return, he got a … certain reputation. Some people claimed shock and tried to denounce him for being a bad role model. Others wrote editorials gushing about how Tony was the “symbol of the New America” – witty, irreverent, self-indulgent and fiercely committed to his own and only his own brand of heroism.
If Fury could get his hands on him, Tony thought with grim satisfaction, he’d probably claw Tony’s eyes out for so sullying the brand name of Captain America. Personally, Tony saw it as a last fuck you to Senator Brandt and his attempts to make Tony his personal performing monkey.
The 21st century, Tony found, was at odds exhilarating, terrifying, confusing and depressingly familiar. He welcomed with open arms all it had to offer, absorbing information and experiences with a sort of desperate frenzy.
“Do you miss the ‘40s?” was one of the most frequent questions Tony was asked.
“I don’t really think about it,” he always said. Truthfully, too, because that’s why he filled his life with new beeping, zooming, flashing things – so he wouldn’t think about it.
(Think about Pepper and her smile when she finally promised him a dance. Think about Rhodey and the look of his eyes as he fell onto the snowy peaks, still reaching for Tony’s hand.)
Tony managed to run from his memories all the way to Oklahoma, where he woke up in an empty diner, the sun stabbing him in the eyes and his face stuck to the linoleum table with drool.
“’Mornin’ sugar.” The waitress was strawberry blonde, beautiful in spite of the wrinkles around her mouth. “Can I get you a coffee?”
”Please,” Tony replied immediately, and it was only after three cups and a tall stack of flapjacks that he remembered to check if he had any money. Didn’t, unfortunately. Didn’t have any possessions except the leather jacket on his back, the keys to his motorcycle and the bag containing the shield slung over his shoulders. There was blood on his knuckles, but his body already healed the scrapes.
Unfortunately, with Tony’s metabolism, there was no such thing as plausible deniability after a hard night of drinking. He remembered everything that had happed last night – from the ill-advised, back-room poker game to punching a brick wall in frustration. Fuck knows why he’d put up his armor as a bet – or why that guy had wanted it. Pervert.
Well, that accounted for the lack of money. Tony stopped the waitress on her way across the diner with an apologetic grin. “Hello, ma’am, I seem to be in a bit of a tight spot-“
“It’s on the house, of course.” The waitress smiled. “I was figurin’ that you wanted a bit of privacy, but I knew who you were from the moment you walked through the door, and, honey, Captain America picks up no checks in this diner.” She rapped her knuckles against the countertop. “And call me Marie. Your pretty manners are makin’ me feel old.”
“Sweetheart.” Tony grinned with all his teeth. “All I see is a spry young thing less than half my age.”
Marie laughed heartily, drawing the stares of some of the other customers in the diner, who must have been regulars because she managed to wave them off irritably. “For that, Captain, I think you deserve more coffee,” she said, her eyes crinkling in the corners.
“Oh you angel.”
Steve would always remember the first hours after Loki as being so full of noise. There was Peggy – Peggy first, slamming into the SHIELD medical while Steve was getting his post-shawarma checkup and cursing him out in three different languages before squeezing him in a bone-crushing hug that sent the orderlies into a frenzy. Steve could have sworn her eyes were red when she blazed into the room, but when she pulled away, there was no trace of tears and her makeup was as perfect as always.
“I saw everything on the news. This is going to be a PR nightmare,” she said, before her gaze fell to Steve’s bruises and she frowned. This was Peggy’s version of mother-henning, alternating between sharp practicality and thinly-concealed worry.
“It’ll be fine,” Steve said, struggling not to wince as the SHIELD technician cut away the last of his armor. Some of it had gone into lock from the combination of anaerobic conditions and freezing temperatures of space. Steve was keeping a close eye to make sure that every piece was returned to him.
“And how do you know that?” Peggy crossed her arms over her chest. “Don’t think that you’re getting out of a how could you do that you stupid man lecture, because you won’t.”
Steve smiled weakly. “Okay.” It felt so familiar to have Peggy Carter, with her sharp tongue and sensible heels haranguing him about his life choices, especially after 48 hours of godly sibling rivalry, invading aliens and general chaos.
Peggy’s face softened. “I’ll take care of it,” she said, “You take care of yourself.” And for the latest of many times, Steve bemoaned the fact that he hadn’t married her when he had the chance.
The SHIELD doc gave him a clean bill of health (relatively) after another half-hour, and Steve didn’t bother donning the suit that Peggy had brought him, just tugged the sports jacket over his worn wife-beater and quickly claimed his plastic box of armor parts.
Dum Dum pulled the car around and Steve slid in next to Peggy, who was snapping commands to someone over her cellphone as her fingers danced over a Rogers tablet. In a black bag resting at his feet, Steve rummaged for his own.
“It’s good to see you in once piece, Steve,” Dum Dum said, catching his eye in the mirror, and Steve nodded gratefully back.
Out of habit, Steve pulled open the tablet’s design function, but for the first time in his life, the screen stayed blank. He stared at it for fifteen minutes, a tired sense of horror creeping at the back of his skull, before he caught Peggy’s worried look and pulled up the specs for Mark V’s repulsors just to have something to fiddle with.
When they made to the hotel, it was swarming with reporters. Peggy and Dum Dum hustled him inside without more incident than a couple of flashing cameras to the face. Steve had wanted to go back to the tower. Even with Loki’s damage, there were several salvageable floors, but Peggy told him that it had been closed off as a crime scene.
So Steve spent the next few hours pacing the length of an unfamiliar hotel suite, his limbs restless and his entire body jittery as he watched Peggy field call after call and slap the TV remote out of his hand whenever he tried it. He wished he had his workshop, if only to burn off some of this useless energy by banging things into shape. At this point, Steve was ready to break into the R&D department of Rogers Industry to get his fix.
When it got dark, Peggy left with a last, regretful hug.
She would have stayed the night if Steve asked, but it didn’t seem fair seeing as how their relationship had ended with a firm promise to never strike the match again. ”I don’t want to be your on-again off-again,” Peggy had said, which was cruel because Steve didn’t have that kind of reputation at all. He was a one-woman man. He just wished that Peggy had been that woman.
Without Peggy there, Steve finally gave into the temptation and turned on the TV. And the internet. The Avengers were big news - speculations, rumors, videos, opinions, rants, and testimonials circulated wildly, and Steve spent two masochistic hours reading all of it before snapping off the TV in a fit of pique and fantasizing about putting a repulsor beam through it.
He didn’t sleep well that night. Whenever he closed his eyes, the pure, pure darkness of space threatened to swallow him up. It was like the couple of months after Afghanistan, when all of his dreams began in the desert, with grit in his mouth and a car battery wired to his chest. In between sweaty, tortured fits of sleep and staring at his ceiling, Steve thought about where the other members of his team – and at this he corrected himself, no, not his team, the team perhaps – were that night.
At shawarma, Tony Stark had thrown around the idea of a party, but after Thor had said that Dr. Foster was driving up and Clint and Natasha complained about Fury’s mandatory debriefing, that plan had been scrapped. Steve wondered if Thor’s pretty doctor friend had made it, if Bruce had gotten to a bed before passing out, considering the way he had been nodding off at dinner, if Tony was at SHIELD barracks, too, because where else would he go? Of everyone, he seemed as desperate as Steve not to be alone.
Steve laid in the dark in an unfamiliar bed and blinked at the ceiling. If he were at the tower, he would be able to bring Jarvis to life with one word. Companionship at his fingertips. Steve could grab his tablet and boot up the AI program from there, but Jarvis’ voice from those tinny speakers would have only made him feel lonelier.
“Mr. Rogers, what is your take on the controversy surrounding the mysterious Avengers Initiative?”
“There’s nothing mysterious about it, ma’am. A group of people with specific skill sets worked together to save Manhattan from being destroyed by alien invaders.”
“What about your teammate, Thor? Is he really a god? What does this mean for Christianity and other major religions?”
“I’m not a theologist, I can’t answer that question for you.”
“Who is going to pay for the millions of dollars in damage?”
“The Rogers Foundation is currently working with the mayor of New York on financing rebuilding projects.”
“How can the man fighting with you be the real Captain America? Hasn’t he been dead for seventy years?”
“Records kept by my father included hair and blood samples, which were matched to Tony Stark’s DNA. It was my privilege, yes, to fight alongside the original Captain America.”
“Has your alter ego, Iron Man’s part in this catastrophe affected Rogers Industries’ stock prices at all?”
“I guess you’ll see as well as everyone when the market closes today.”
“What is the stance of the US Army on the Avengers Initiative? Have you been in touch with Lieutenant James Barnes?”
“Buc- Lieutenant Barnes has nothing to do with this.”
“Where are the other so-called superheroes now? Can’t you admit the danger of having undocumented, uncontrolled super-powered people set free on the country?”
“This press conference is over. Any further questions can be fielded through Ms. Peggy Carter. Good day.”
If anyone asked Steve – and a few reporters may well have, Steve wouldn’t know since Peggy had kept him from answering anything else outside controlled press conferences and faux-casual interviews – what his relationship was with Captain America, Steve would have said something like, “We’ve reached an understanding,” or, “He’s a good guy to have in a fight,” but nowhere in that statement would be the mention of friend, or partner or ally.
The first time Steve saw Captain Tony Stark was about one week after the latter had been defrosted. Fury insisted that the information was a “courtesy” for their most trusted consultant, but after he actually met Tony, Steve suspected that Fury’s motives were more along the lines of get him off of my hands.
It was Coulson who first introduced them. Tony was at the gym, trying to impress a female SHIELD agent with his World War Two heroism. His first words to Steve were, “Rogers, huh? Tell me, how much are you paying them to play superheroes with the other freaks around here?”
“Excuse me?” Steve asked incredulously.
“Stark,“ Coulson cut in, with a look that made Tony back away with a smirk and both hands raised in mock-defense.
“Aren’t I allowed to vet my new babysitter?” Stark asked. “Since that boob General Stryker isn’t beating down my door anymore, and I already refused Fury’s offer of joining the Secret McSecretson Society, I assume that now I’m going to be shuffled off to someone else’s collection of rare and precious memorabilia.” He looked at Steve with a raised eyebrow. “And you’re the high bidder? Lucky chap. You want me to run some laps? Smash some punching bags? Oooh, get me a motorcycle and a couple of USO girls and I’ll show you this trick-”
And the rest of the meeting had gone about that well. It didn’t help that Steve suspected Fury was playing just the kind of game Tony was insinuating, hoping that Steve would take an interest in his former, frozen idol. To tell the truth, he wasn’t that far off. Steve was known for having a soft heart for strays of all kinds, but that was the time when his palladium poisoning was at its peak, when his blood toxicity was at 24% and his relationship with Peggy was falling apart.
Later, when all that was over, he did ask Fury about Tony Stark, but all he received was that the matter was now “classified.”
Imagine his surprise when he flew into Stuttgard to see a man in blue leather trading insults with the enemy. “Glad you got your invite to the sock hop, Tin Man,” Tony said, when Steve had blasted Loki away.
After that was their auspicious meeting with Thor, then verbal sparring: part two with all of the other Avengers in attendance, and Tony calling Bruce and Steve “hard-boiled eggheads” before breaking into SHIELD’s weapons room to find Fury’s true intentions with the tesseract. Then Loki’s real attack, where Steve and his suit were stuck in the equivalent of a gigantic blender before Tony managed to fight his way through the thugs and pull the lever.
It appeared that the two volatile leaders of the Avengers could get along, as long as Tony wasn’t talking. Fortunately, the theory held up on the streets of Manhattan, during their last, desperate bid for victory.
Tony’s was the first face Steve saw when he opened his eyes, startled at the Hulk’s roar. Captain America had taken off his cowl, his expression lined with guilt and relief. In the minutes of light-headedness just after his awakening, Steve imagined that he saw a halo of light around Tony’s dark hair. “Don’t worry,” he had said, a smile slowly stretching over his grime-smeared face. “No one kissed you. Thor wanted to, but I was like, no, big guy, let Sleeping Beauty be.” It was, Steve would realize later, the first real smile without snark or bitterness that he had seen on Tony’s face.
That, and the polite handshake during their last meeting were the sum of positive interactions between the two of them. In a fight, in uniform and armor, they functioned like a dream, but no matter how much certain fans speculated online (it was Bucky who forwarded him those stories, okay, the man had a twisted sense of humor), there was nothing especially significant going on between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.
Which didn’t explain why, at four in the morning about a month after he’d zoomed off into the sunset, Tony was downstairs, outside the tower, abusing the buzzer.
“Sorry,” Tony said, more out of surprise than actual guilt when Steve opened the door. “I thought you could make your robot butler …” He wriggled his fingers by his face.
“He’s not a robot, he’s an AI,” Steve said, as if that would make any difference at all to Tony. He looked harassed, but not rumpled enough to have been interrupted from bed, which led Tony to believe that he hadn’t been sleeping at all. Tony cut a glance to Steve as he walked inside. Steve’s eyes were the eyes of a man with insomnia, something Tony was intimately familiar with, but without Tony’s super soldier serum, Steve was having a harder time hiding it.
“Is there something you need me for?” Steve asked, ignoring Tony’s squinting at his face as they stood in the foyer.
“Let me stay here for a while,” Tony said, slapping the up button for the elevator before stuffing his hands in his jacket pockets.
“What?” Steve closed his eyes. “Why?”
“Are you gonna make me say it, Rogers?” Tony shrugged exaggeratedly as he walked backwards into the open elevator. “I’m broke. Beat. Tapped out. And now forced to rely on” - he bowed exaggeratedly - “your charity, good sir.”
“Okay, okay.” Steve pinched the bridge of his nose. “I have a couple of open rooms.”
“Or twelve?” Tony whistled as the elevator doors opened. The far wall was a floor-to-ceiling windows which revealed a breathtaking view of Manhattan under the night sky. He walked into the room, trailing his fingers on the rich leather sofas, grinning at his reflection in the chrome tabletops and messing up the artfully arranged magazines on the coffee table, just because he could.
Steve made a distressed sound at the disorder, and Tony imagined him sneaking into the room afterwards, straightening everything away. As much as the place was supposed to be a bajillionare’s bachelor pad, there was a subtle sense of lived-in comfort to the place. The pulp novels on the shelves with worn-in spines, the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg in the air, like something had just been baked, and the cabinet of signed baseball memorabilia, situated in a place of honor. There were no pictures on the wall, though. Anywhere.
Tony thought about his old barracks at the SHIELD headquarters, the tiny, grey room that felt so empty no matter how much he attempted to clutter up the place.
“You want something to drink?” Steve asked from the kitchen, although Tony knew that he was straining the last of his hospitality.
“Whiskey would be great,” Tony said cheerfully, his eyes catching on an intriguing painting.
“I thought you couldn’t get drunk,” Steve said, although there was the distinct sound of liquid hitting glass. Good boy.
“Can’t get drunk.” Tony walked over to pluck the glass from his hand. “Doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy.” He drank deeply, savoring the taste of fine liquor as it burned down his throat.
It reminded him of war-time poker games with Rhodey and the men, betting rations and cigarettes and dirty magazines, passing around flasks of some bootlegged liquor – tasting like boot black and strong enough to peel paint.
He mentally flinched from the memory.
When he put down the glass, Tony noticed Steve staring at the whiskey bottle with a look of deep consideration in his eyes before sighing and putting it back under the bar.
“The guest rooms are down this hallway,” Steve said, walking around Tony and gesturing towards the far end of the room, which opened to a corridor full of doors. “Pick whichever you like, they’re all furbished. If you need anything, call Jarvis.”
“Hello, Captain Stark,” an English-accented male voice said from the ceiling, and even though Tony should have been prepared for it, he still jumped, landing in a crouching position with his shield – still incased in the backpack – held in front of his face. Steve’s expression indicated that he took way more enjoyment out of that than was necessary.
“Your robot butler,” Tony said, just to be mean, as he straightened and attempted to salvage what was left of his dignity. “Got it.”
“He’s not a-” Steve huffed, before rolling his eyes. “My room’s at the end of the hall,” he said, and added grudgingly, “Not that I expect you to need anything. But if you need anything.”
Tony didn’t bother pointing out that that statement wasn’t actually an offer of assistance. He could tell when someone had about reached the end of their tolerance for him. “Well, I’m just beat all to shit.” Tony yawned exaggeratedly. “Thank you for letting me bum off of you for a while.”
Steve nodded once, hesitantly. In the soft grey light of night-not-quite-dawn, his arc reactor shone from beneath his thin t-shirt, caught the planes and soft angles of his face. He looked vulnerable and oh-so-young at that point, way too wholesome, too accomplished and too good for the likes of Tony to be staring at.
The truth was that if Steve had been a stranger, someone who came without the baggage of shared history, Tony would have spared no time in charming him out of his pants. Or attempting to, anyway, just to see that fair skin flush in anger and embarrassment.
Idle thoughts. Tony forced a smile onto his face as he backed away from the room. “G’night, Rogers. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite and all that.” Without looking back, he pushed his way through the first door that opened at his touch, only vaguely relieved when he managed to sink face-first into a fine mattress instead of a hardwood floor.
Steve didn’t sleep. There was a strange, buzzing energy under his skin that made him flit from kitchen to living room to the elevator, about to push the button for the floor of his workshop until he realized that he had made Jarvis lock him out just hours before. For five minutes, Steve rested his head against the cool metal and wondered how pathetic it would be to try and negotiate the matter with his AI.
Finally, he settled for sitting on the balcony with his tablet and a cup of coffee, skirting a wide perimeter around the entire hallway of bedrooms as he did so, as if afraid that Tony would wake up at the slightest sign of noise and – what, look at him some more?
If Steve was honest with himself, it was the disruption that he hated most, how Tony’s appearance always, always threw a monkey wrench in the smooth machinery of his life, days of work and quiet design punctuated by the rare exhilaration and heavy responsibility of putting on Iron Man suit. Tony, with his dark good looks and careless attitude, was the antithesis to Steve’s creed of hard work and sacrifice. Not to mention, Steve admitted to himself, fatigue making him candid, Tony was quite physically tempting as well. But only when his mouth was shut.
Most of Steve was still vaguely disbelieving about everything that had happened in the past half hour. Only the whiskey glass on the bar, still gleaming with residue at the bottom, indicated that this wasn’t an insomnia-induced hallucination. Tony had been the first person to sit at that bar, besides Peggy, since it was renovated.
Worst hallucination ever, Steve decided irritably, before it hit him that that Captain America was sleeping under his roof. Six-year-old Steve would have been ecstatic.
Thirty-six-year-old Steve turned up the background light on his tablet to adjust for the rising sun, pushed away thoughts of Tony’s grinning mouth that were decidedly unjuvenile and began, determinedly, to work.
It wasn’t until the brightness level had been turned all the way up and Steve was still squinting at his specs that he realized the sun was high in the sky. The balcony door slid open with a squeak, and Steve turned to see Tony - in the same clothes as last night, but with messier hair and thicker stubble – blinking sulkily at him.
“I think I broke your kitchen,” Tony said, before turning around and walking back inside.
Let it be known that Tony Stark didn’t exaggerate. There were no less than two appliances on fire, three smoking under globs of extinguisher foam, and one robot arm wielding said extinguisher with unfortunate glee.
“I was trying to make coffee,” Tony said, as if that explained anything at all. Steve shot him a look on behalf of all the poor dying machines before sighing in resignation and placing a few calls on his cellphone.
In twenty minutes, a delivery of pancakes, fluffy scrambled eggs, crispy bacon and, most importantly, gallon-sized cups of coffee arrived on their doorstep. Tony reached eagerly for the coffee and turned his nose up at everything else.
“Don’t have to eat because of the serum,” he said, slurping the hot beverage.
Steve gave him another look, with 50% more mother-hennish exasperation. “You broke my kitchen. Eat your goddamned eggs.”
Rolling his eyes as if extremely put-upon, Tony ended up shoveling two-thirds of the food into his face and drinking four-fifths of the coffee while Steve picked listlessly at his own meal. In the kitchen, Jarvis was coordinating a clean-up of the area, sending small scrubber bots to pick up leftover pieces of foam.
Now would be a good time to ask Captain Stark how long he was intending to stay.
“So what are our plans for today?” Tony drawled, crumpling up the last paper coffee cup and throwing it expertly in the trash.
“My plans involve two important meetings and going over the specs for a new-”
“Boring.” Tony drummed his fingers against the tabletop. “Bored already.”
“You weren’t exactly invited,” Steve said tersely, pushing himself away from the table and walking to his bedroom.
“Okay,” Tony’s voice called after him, ringing through the living room. “But do you really trust me all by my lonesome in the city? You saw what I did to the kitchen. What if my old-fashioned sensibilities can’t handle the scawy 21st century?”
Steve hesitated. Turned. “You made it here last night by yourself okay,” he said dubiously. “And what about that past month you spent traipsing across the country? Sure didn’t seem like you were lost or scared in the pictures ...”
“Aw.” Tony grinned widely. “You were keeping an eye on me? That’s sweet. Real sweet.” He walked forward slowly, tossing a crumpled wrapper from hand to hand. “But do you really want to take the chance of being The Guy That Let Captain America Get Run Over By a Car?”
“What do you really want, Stark?”
Tony huffed, backing away. “Your lack of trust in me is galling. I just …” He scowled suddenly, turning on his heel. “Actually, forget it. It doesn’t matter.”
Steve felt a trickle of guilt. His insomnia was making him irritable, usually he had more- well, no. Tony always managed to twist this exasperation out of him. But then again, this was probably Tony’s way of trying to make friends or something. Annoying and destructive, perhaps, but ultimately well-intentioned. “I’ll see if I can take a half-day,” he amended. “I do have a lot of work to get through, though.” At that second his cell phone rang. Steve sighed when he saw that it was Peggy, because it reminded him that he had still yet to tell her about his new, indefinite guest.
“Is that your lady secretary?” Tony asked.
“Don’t let her hear you calling her that,” Steve said. “If you value your limbs.”
“Let me talk to her,” Tony said.
“That’s really a terrible idea,” Steve said, even as the phone was snatched out of his grasp.
Tony fumbled with the small device for a minute, seemingly confused by all of the buttons before he clumsily pressed “call accept” and held it to his ear. Immediately, a stern female voice began snapping at him from the other line and Steve laughed to see even the great Tony Stark struggle to get a word in edgewise.
“You brought this upon yourself,” Steve said, a smile he couldn’t quite squash playing around his lips as he clasped a hand on Tony’s shoulder before walking to the bathroom to complete a shower, shave and change of clothing.
When he returned fifteen minutes later, Tony was on the couch, using Steve’s cutting-edge, not-yet-on-the-market RoPhone to play what sounded like Angry Birds. When Steve walked in, Tony’s eyes seemed to skitter over his body before quickly refocusing on his game.
“Well?” Steve asked, rubbing at his hair with a towel. It was probably the arc reactor. Seeing the glowing plate imbedded in his chest usually made people stare.
“I got you the rest of the week off,” Tony said blithely before failing his level.
“You … really?” Steve said disbelievingly. He was staying for the rest of the week?
“I have my ways,” Tony said, lobbing the phone in Steve’s direction as he walked past. “Guess you get to be Captain America’s own personal tour guide to the 21st century. Aren’t you honored?”
He had even beaten Steve’s high score, the jerk.
“I’m serious,” Tony said. “When I said, “All I have are the clothes on my back,” I literally meant that I have no other clothes.”
Steve rubbed his hand over his face in an expression of anguish. “And when was the last time you laundered your only set of- you know what? Never mind. Just borrow some of mine for today.”
Tony frowned. “But what if I don’t want to look like a trust fund Boy Scout?”
Steve rolled his eyes. “Lesson one of the 21st century, Stark. Cameras are everywhere. And I don’t want to wake up tomorrow to the headline: Steve Rogers Seen with Homeless Man,” he added gloomily, “With my luck, they’ll link it to that one time I shook hands with Robert Pattinson and decide that I have some sort of homeless person fetish.”
“Don’t even bother explaining that reference,” Tony said, holding up a hand.
It was strange having a day off. Steve paced the length of the living room, trying to remember the last time he’d had one. Probably before the Chitauri. Ever since he was released from medical leave, Steve had been pestering Peggy to get more involved with the company, ostensibly to make sure that the stocks didn’t dip again because of Iron Man press. Lord knows how much Rogers Industries has alternately benefitted and suffered from Steve’s alter ego.
One statement: “I am Iron Man,” had effectively shattered thirty-plus years of acting the modest, conservative, trustworthy businessman. It seemed as if that was just what the press had been waiting for. Clean living didn’t sell press: secret identities and air battles over Manhattan did. Now if only Steve could embroil himself into some kind of sex scandal.
“It’s a little loose, maybe.” Tony walked out in the middle of that unfortunate train of thought. It took Steve a minute of staring to recognize that yes, it was his suit Tony was wearing, the one picked out by his quickly-unemployed ex-stylist who had insisted that Steve’s wardrobe make up for the lack of color in the other parts of his life. This particular suit was purple. A dark, metallic purple which had made Steve look disturbingly similar to Willy Wonka. He didn’t think that he had worn it once since he bought it.
Somehow, Tony managed to pull it off. But then again, Steve corrected himself, this was a man who managed to make blue leather look the height of fashion. Maybe that was his real superpower.
“So tell me,” Tony said on the way to Central Park. He was walking on the outside edge of the sidewalk, hemming Steve in like a sheepdog. It was a courtesy his mom had taught him for when he walked with girls, but since the serum, Tony did it whenever he was walking with another person – male or female - since few people were more equipped to stop a car from rampaging off of the street. Especially Steve, who, without his suit, was disturbingly fragile. “You said that the first rule of the 21st century was ‘cameras are everywhere’, and I have yet to see one.”
They entered the park, choosing a relatively abandoned, winding trail through the trees. Occasionally a jogger or a biker would pass on their left. Although it was ridiculously hot, Tony could not really get over how little men and women wore to exercise nowadays. But he definitely approved.
“Believe me,” Steve said with a trace of humor. “They’re there. Later, I’ll show you Twitter.”
“So what would the headlines be this time?” Tony asked in mock-disdain. “Perfect specimen of mankind seen with Ivy Leaguer Square?”
Steve looked down at his shirt, buttoned all the way up too his chin and tucked into his belted khakis, and didn’t attempt a comeback. They passed a pond where two children were feeding the ducks while their parents snapped pictures of them. The little girl gave Tony a suspicious look, but didn’t seem to recognize him behind the sunglasses. Or the purple suit.
“If you don’t mind me asking.” Steve slid Tony a sideways glance as they passed under the shadow of a tree. “Why didn’t the serum make your body …”
“Look something like yours?” Tony asked with a grin.
Steve rubbed the back of his neck, flushing lightly.
Tony faced ahead, keeping his voice light. “They thought it was a failure, you know, when I first came out of that machine. Super strength, super speed, super … reflexes, they didn’t know about any of that because I didn’t look much like a super soldier. It wasn’t until I was, well, running after Dr. Erskine’s killer …” Tony shrugged. “Anyway, I think the serum probably gave me as much muscle as my body was comfortable to handle. I’m not gonna lose sleep over the extra inches.”
“Hm,” Steve said playfully. “So you’re not going to take offense at all when I tower over you, like so.” He puffed out his chest, straightened his spine and attempted to loom over Tony. The effect was ruined on account of Steve resembling an overgrown golden retriever. Tony jabbed him gently in the side with a finger and he deflated, sputtering.
“No offense at all, Gigantor.” Tony said blithely, strolling along.
Steve had finally coaxed Tony into trying Indian food when his phone rang in the middle of the restaurant. “If this is Peggy complaining that I’m not at the office, you’re going to be in big trouble, mister,” Steve said.
Tony gave a generally unconcerned shrug and went back to sniffing suspiciously at his curry chicken.
The caller ID didn’t say that it was Peggy, though. The call was coming from an Unknown Number. Frowning, Steve pressed ‘speak’.
“Mr. Rogers, I am speaking on behalf of SHIELD.” Agent Hill’s voice was at its customary level of amusement: none. “I believe that you have one of our assets in your custody.”
“One of your …” Steve blinked. “You mean Tony?”
Tony looked up at the mention of his name, his mouth full of rice and red sauce.
“Our sources have tracked him back to Rogers Tower.”
“He is not your property,” Steve said heatedly.
“Affirmative. However, until the time Captain Stark reneges his membership in the Avengers Initiative, he will remain an asset.” Agent Hill paused and there was the sound of scattered gunfire. Steve’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “As are you, Mr. Rogers. But this is simply a courtesy call, to inform you that SHIELD will be keeping an eye out on your behalf.” The line went dead.
“What was it?” Tony asked, his plate already clean.
“I feel like I just got the equivalent of a shotgun talk from SHIELD,” Steve murmured, looking at his phone warily.
Tony grinned. “She hides it well, but Agent Hill is even more of a fan than Coulson.”
They didn’t end up in the paper, but several cameraphone-quality pictures trended on twitter with hashtags #ironmerrica, #ibelieveinheroes and #capspottings. The last had photos of Tony from all over the country and was immediately his favorite thing ever.
It wasn’t hard to keep Tony entertained. He was enamored of expensive cars, loud music and pretty women. He also had a fondness for art, which he did his utmost to hide. When Steve had mentioned a new exhibit at the MMOA, Tony’s feeble attempt at nonchalance was strangely endearing.
His disinterest was real, however, when it came to baseball.
“Nope. Not if they’re not the Dodgers,” Tony said, refusing to look at the tickets in Steve’s hand. It seemed that he was still holding a grudge over that particular piece of history. A couple of times he had hinted that Steve should buy the teams and switch them, but that was just a joke. Probably.
In bits and pieces they explored the city together. If Steve had ever expected it to be awkward, he had no need to worry. Tony was a charming, talkative companion, almost as if he was keeping his formerly abrasive side at bay. Steve didn’t know why he felt a faint sense of disappointment at that realization, although he should have been relieved.
As they ate hotdogs from what Tony said Clint had claimed to be the best stand on the Lower East Side, Steve realized that for the first time in a long while, he was happy.
The sudden epiphany made him look over at Tony, who was talking with his mouth full, jabbering about something nonsensical and snarky with a smear of ketchup on his chin. Steve’s desk was no doubt piling high with work. He still hadn’t come up with the new cellphone upgrade his R&D had been pleading for for months, not to mention the stack of demands Fury had made in return for his continued lease of Captain America. But none of that mattered.
It was such a strange thought that Steve laughed. Fortunately, Tony thought that it was in response to whatever was saying and grinned back. Steve didn’t tell him about the ketchup smear until they were back home.
Steve decided that if Tony was serious about acclimating to the 21st century, they would have to set up some lesson plans.
“Tell me everything you know already,” Steve said, placing a tablet and a cellphone on the table. Tony eyed them both with good-humored wariness.
“Well in the beginning, God said, let there be light-“
“Since you woke up,” Steve said, rolling his eyes. He turned on the tablet, typing in the URL for Wikipedia.
SHIELD, it turned out, had briefed Tony on major historical events since he’d fallen asleep, although Tony freely admitted that he’d skimmed over stuff that looked “snooze-worthy.” He had picked up 21st century speaking patterns and values through observation and interaction.
They started working through the gaps in Tony’s knowledge in the mornings and evenings, utilizing the tablet and phone that Steve had made a gift to Tony. Although for some reason he took great pains to hide it, Tony was a quick study and obviously very intelligent. When interested in the subject, he absorbed facts like a sponge and asked questions that made Steve pause in consideration.
“I’m guessing that homosexuality is no longer a criminal offense?” Tony asked one night, feigning casualness.
“No, not anymore,” Steve said carefully. His own bisexuality had been a source of amusement in the media for a few painful, teenage years before everyone seemed to agree to ignore it. How much of that had to do with Steve’s father’s influence was up for consideration.
“About time,” Tony said, with such fierceness that the anxious clench in Steve’s chest eased. “Now show me how to play Angry Birds on this.”
Three days flew by quickly. Then, the mysterious not-secretary-lady, Peggy Carter, made an appearance at Steve’s door.
“As much as I appreciate your new lease on life,” she said, her words intended for Steve but her gaze narrowed on Tony across the dining room table, “I’m afraid that you’ll have to make at least a couple of appearances at the company next week. R&D is plotting mutiny.”
“I … of course,” Steve said, surprised, as he set a cup of coffee in front of Peggy, who flashed a beautiful smile in thanks.
She was a gorgeous dame, Tony admitted, great for Steve. Their children would probably be well-disciplined and have perfect teeth
“The invitation extends to you, too, Captain Stark.” Peggy raised an eyebrow in Tony’s direction. She kind of reminded him of Pepper, in the way that Tony couldn’t read her at all. Her blank expression could’ve been hiding anything from polite friendliness to I’ll gut you with a steak knife if you make a play on my man, which, well, Tony didn’t intend to happen to him.
“That’s okay,” Steve said. “Tony probably doesn’t want to-“
“Intrude,” Tony said hastily. “Contrary to what Steve probably says about me, I can handle myself without a babysitter for a day.”
“That’s not what you said when you were blackmailing me to give you the tour of Manhattan.” Steve turned to him.
“Hmph, you were nothing but a wet rag,” Tony said good-naturedly. “This guy,” he told Peggy, “has a garage full of cherry-sweet cars and wouldn’t even let me take out one!”
“You don’t even have a driver’s license valid for this century!”
“Fuck you, I drove tanks.” Tony cocked his head at Peggy and added apologetically, “Ma’am.”
Peggy’s eyes narrowed as she looked between Tony and Steve. “Captain Stark, I would consider it a personal favor you accompianied us today,” she said, her tone brooking no argument. “I make it a point to get to know Steve’s friends.”
The look she threw Steve was unabashedly fond, and even though Tony had a sinking feeling that his body would be floating under the Brooklyn Bridge come tomorrow, he had too much practice caving into the demands of strong women to say no.
In a fitted, navy blue suit with pinstripes (Tony’s fashion choices had made Steve’s tailor weep), Tony stood out from all the business men and women in their conservative clothes like a peacock in a penguin exhibit. He drew eyes everywhere he walked, whether solely due to his appearance or because some of the employees had recognized him as Captain America was anyone’s guess.
But other than the receptionist, who assured Peggy that her conference call was still on-schedule and asked Tony to autograph her coffee mug in the same breath, everyone acted very professionally. The glare Peggy leveled on everyone they passed likely had everything to do with it.
As they walked to Steve’s office, Peggy filled Steve in on the important events that had gone on in his absence. Most of Steve’s questions were met with, “It’s been handled,” or “The Board’s been difficult but I think I’ve persuaded them,” and, once, “I’ll deal with him. With a bullet in the back of the head if necessary.” Not for the first time, Steve felt a wave of gratitude that Peggy was working with him, not against him.
“Why did you need me here anyways?” Steve asked. It hadn’t escaped him that they were taking a long, meandering route to his office, under the guise of showing Tony around, but it mostly seemed like Peggy was parading the two of them around like they were at a dog show.
“Even if you’re not a CEO, you’re still a figurehead of the company,” Peggy said, confirming Steve’s suspicions. “Gives the worker bees confidence that you’re still alive. Also, I wanted to meet Tony.”
“You are a dangerous woman, Peggy Carter.” Steve sighed, just as Tony jogged up to them.
“You,” Peggy pointed at Tony, “need to see the Captain America room.”
Steve sputtered. “We are not taking him to the Captain America room.”
“You made a room for me?” Tony’s eyes grew wide with glee.
“My father made a room for you,” Steve said.
“Oh we’re going to the Captain America room,” Tony informed Peggy, who dimpled prettily.
“Well, I’ll let Steve show you,” she said, allowing the small swarm of men and women who had been tentatively dogging her heels to come into her presence. “I’m sure you two will have lots to talk about,” she added without looking back.
Steve decided to take back his earlier thought. Peggy was working against him.
The “Captain America room” was located in Joseph Roger’s old office, back when the building was ten floors shorter and still featured a prominent Weapons Division. It had been a provision in Joseph’s will that his collection remain undisturbed and undivided, and no one, not the interim CEO who managed the company before Steve had grown old enough to take over, nor Steve’s mother, nor even Steve, had attempted to move it.
A couple of times, Steve had thought about donating the entire collection to some museum, where it could be appreciated by the general public. It never really happened though. The collection remained in a glass-walled portion of the fifty-seventh floor, growing sneakily whenever Steve procured rare memorabilia from auctions or donations.
Now, watching Tony’s eyebrows rise to his hairline as he stood in the middle of hundreds of posters, paintings, comic books, trading cards, lunch boxes and action figures – all with his face beaming out of them – Steve could see this collection for what it really was.
A ridiculously fervent, and slightly creepy, love letter.
“Wow.” Even the perpetually-verbose Tony Stark seemed to have been struck speechless. “I … okay.” A smile broke out on his face. “Although I think they got my proportions a little wrong,” he said slyly, gesturing towards a WW2 propaganda poster which showed the Captain, barrel-chested and standing heads-and-shoulders above all the other soldiers, heroically leading the front line into Berlin. Tony’s eyes softened as he saw the picture in the middle of the table, one of the only ones that existed of Joseph and Tony together. They were standing with the rest of the Commandos, arms clasped around each other.
“My father, he …” Steve smiled hesitantly at Tony. “He never stopped looking for you, you know.”
Tony swallowed as his eyes skidded up to a framed picture of Joseph Rogers cutting the ribbon at the opening of the Captain America Fund for Disadvantaged Children. He looked older, but still painfully familiar, the same face that greeted Tony when he’d stepped from the Vita-Ray, the man who made him his shield.
As memories went, Joseph’s wasn’t painful. He’d evidently survived, married a pretty wife and had … well, Steve. A good life. Tony thought about the few of months they’d known each other during the war. Just short of a year. Was that enough to make a guy spend the next half decade trying to get him back?
“Your dad was a good man,” Tony said, breaking his self-imposed rule on talking about the past. “Taught me how to cheat at poker.” He smiled at the memory. “And how to charm women.”
Steve made a surprised face, his fingers curling around a child-sized metal replica shield. “Oh, I never knew that about him.” He turned away to replace the toy, straightening its stand. “I never really knew him at all. He died when I was so young.”
Tony swallowed, because he knew that Steve was going to start asking him more questions, and as much as he was willing to do for Steve, as much as he owed him, this was a path he was not willing to walk down.
“What about you?” Tony elbowed Steve playfully. “Did you play with my action figures? Dress up like me for Halloween? Oooh, I bet you had one of my recruitment posters in your room when you were a teenager-“
Steve blushed, and really, it was criminal that a man so easily scandalized had such fair skin. “Yes, I’m not admitting anything without photographic proof, and no comment.”
“Adorable.” Tony said drolly, and he didn’t realize how close he had sidled up to Steve until Steve turned his head to glare at Tony and they were suddenly bumping shoulders, wearing the same startled expression and Tony could feel Steve’s breath on his upper lip. At the thought, Tony’s eyes dropped to Steve’s mouth, which looked tempting, pink and soft.
Steve’s breath hitched and he quickly ran a tongue over his full bottom lip. If Tony just leaned in, just an inch, he-
“Mr. Rogers, I’m glad I caught you-“
They sprang apart like guilty teenagers, but although Tony’s super reflexes propelled him clear to the other side of the room, they both must have looked pretty damn suspicious because the messenger hesitated.
“Yes?” Steve asked, blushing from neck to hairline. Tony squashed a smile and turned to examine a Captain America teddy bear which had an incredible amount of detail.
When Tony was fifteen, this kind of room would have sent him into an ecstatic apoplexy. All he wanted back then was to be recognized, to be valued even though he was a scrappy little brat with a mouth bigger than his sense of self-preservation. It was mostly due to his issues with Howard, who had never found much use for such a weakling son. Part of the reason why Tony had been so desperate to get into the military was to show his father that he could do it.
Now, standing in the physical evidence of his success, Tony struggled to feel as proud as his narcissistic ego told him he should. He couldn’t though, not really. Not when everyone celebrated Captain America, the beefy war hero who punched Nazis with one hand and helped little old ladies across the street with the other, a guy who had little to nothing to do with Tony Stark, the little boy lost across decades, who drank, flirted and talked too much, still a royal fuckup after all these years.
Captain America beamed at Tony from the posters, his smile blindingly white. He had never let his best friend die. He had never disappointed the most important woman in his life again and again. He had never woken up in the 21st century, alone and useless again-
Tony hated the guy.
“Sorry.” Steve touched his elbow, endearingly apologetic as he smiled. “Looks like that mutiny in R&D was eminent after all. Do you mind?”
“Nope,” Tony said. “Run off and earn your keep, you mooch.”
Steve rolled his eyes. “I’ve told security to let you hang out in my office. It’s on the top floor … well, it is the top floor. You can’t miss it.”
“Great!” Tony said, following Steve out of the Captain America shrine without a backwards glance.
Steve’s office was really boring. Tony found it his due to snoop, opening all the drawers - although because he was a nice guy, he didn’t break into the locked ones with his super strength – unlocking the glass cases housing signed baseballs and juggling with them. The view was spectacular, though, a view of Manhattan from the throne of a king. More than once his fingers itched to pick up a pencil, to capture the landscape in sweeps of rough granite, like he used to. In his head he sketched the jagged skyline, a cityscape so jarringly different from his memories.
But he didn’t. The city below him was too beautiful and vibrant and frightening for him to have any hold over.
Tony spun lazily in his chair just in time to see Peggy walking by the glass doors. Her pace was brisk, alternately barking instructions into the cellphone glued to her ear and to the businesspeople in suits flocking anxiously at her heels. She stopped when she caught sight of Tony lounging in Steve’s chair. Tony gave her a wave.
Within seconds, Peggy ended her call and shooed away her little minions before opening Steve’s office door. Tony, because his mama had taught him to do so in the presence of a lady, jumped to his feet.
“Would you come with me?” she said, doing that thing again where she made a request sound like a command. “I’ll bet that Steve didn’t even show you the most important part of the tour.”
“No he didn’t.” Tony sighed into his cup of fragrant coffee.
“Okay, maybe that wasn’t really fair.” Peggy smiled, pressing a complicated series of buttons on her monstrosity of a coffee machine. “This is my personal stash, which Steve is not allowed to touch on account that he wouldn’t know Folger’s from Italian Roast.” She was, Tony decided, not nearly as intimidating as he had feared. Now that he wasn’t reading death threats into every narrow-eyed look she sent his way. And he had actually managed to make her crack a smile once or twice, which was always a treat.
“Heathen,” Tony said solemnly, clinking cups with Peggy. “He doesn’t deserve you. Let it be known that when you get tired of his sorry ass, I’ll be waiting with open arms. I mean, you’ll probably have to bring home the bacon … and also cook it, but at least I can appreciate coffee.”
Peggy snorted. ”Steve and I aren’t together.”
Tony frowned. “Really? Why?” At her hard look, “No, sorry, that came out wrong. I didn’t ask because I think that all working women are hot for their bosses, god knows Pep- uh, ladies I knew during the war would’ve kicked my head in had I made that kind of assumption. I just see.” He shrugs, throwing her a shrewd look. “Well, the way you look at him.” It was, Tony feared, the same way that he looked at Steve.
“Like he needs someone to look after him, even more so because he doesn’t think he needs anyone to?” Peggy asked, looking down at her cup.
“That exactly,” Tony said.
“Well,” Peggy said, leaning back against the counter. “Steve stopped letting me look after him a long time ago.” Her mouth quirked into a smile. “Not that that’s stopped me from trying. Difficult man.”
“I feel like we should clink cups again,” Tony said, and they did.
“Now I have to break the sanctity of our coffee bonding to deliver the customary threat,” Peggy said, her expression growing serious as she looked Tony in the eye. “If you break Steve’s heart, I’ll break several sensitive and necessary parts of your body.” She continued staring Tony down until he made a distressed sound and shuffled backwards.
“Ms. Carter,” he said, holding up both his hands in self-defense. “Believe me when I say that I am nowhere near Steve’s heart. Can’t break what you can’t touch.”
Peggy raised an eyebrow before stirring two creams and a sugar into her coffee. “Here’s some advice,” She said. “The trick to taking care of guys like Steve is to make them think they’re the ones taking care of you.” She smiled sadly. “That’s the one thing I didn’t manage very well.”
Peggy gave Tony the directions to R&D, even though Tony had made no indication that he wanted to visit Steve. It wasn’t a bad idea, though. The office was getting pretty boring and there were only so many of Steve’s possessions that Tony could manhandle.
Tony took the elevator one floor down because he could. The glass walls gave the sensation of free falling, a slow decent into the hive of Rogers Industries. When the doors opened, Tony was expecting something that looked like the motherboard of an alien spaceship, something he’d read about in pulp novels, but the Research and Development floor just looked like any other, a receptionist in a large circular desk, sitting in front of a sea of grey cubicles.
She waved him through before he could open his mouth which was only a little disappointing because Tony had been looking forward to charming her into letting him in.
Following Peggy’s instructions, Tony walked through the first room and through a long, white hallway. It was bound on one side by a continuous row of windows, a ribbon of downtown Manhattan which none of the people rushing through even glanced at. Tony noticed the change in uniform the further he walked down the hall - crisp business suits giving way to white lab coats. Several people eyed him, with varying degrees of interest, curiosity and suspicion, but no one tried to stop him, especially when even the most secure keypads opened at the press of his finger.
Two lefts and three security keypads later, and Tony had found his alien mothership. A large glass tube filled with sparking blue energy sat in the middle of a cluster of machinery, scientists buzzing around it like worker bees to their queen. Tony skirted the entire production with slightly widened eyes, searching for Steve on the floor.
When he found no familiar sweep of perfectly-styled blonde hair, Tony pulled aside a passing scientist. Literally, by the elbow.
“So I might be lost,” he said.
“You’re in a Zone Seven laboratory,” the man replied, squinting at Tony from behind his bushy eyebrows. “People authorized to be here don’t get lost.”
“Okay, smartass,” Tony shot back. “Just tell me where to find Mr. Rogers.”
“In his private workshop in the back,” the man said, pointing. “Hey, aren’t you …”
“Nope, but thank you, helpful citizen!” Tony saluted him and trotted off in what he hoped to be the right direction.
Steve’s private workshop was divided from the general laboratory by a sleek, opaque wall. It was as big of a mess as anything in Steve’s home, which was to say, not much. Small robots in various shapes and sizes whirred along the floor, putting away tools, polishing tables and sweeping the floor to a fine shine. Tony, resigned to picking his way across the room, was surprised when they respectfully parted at his footsteps.
Steve was at the back, working on what looked like five different floating holographic screens at once while the innards of the Iron Man suit lay gutted around him. Steve had broken a light sweat which made his skin glow and his normally-neat hair curl at his nape. The tank top he had stripped down to was stuck to his chest and back with sweat, revealing thick, gorgeous muscles ,The arc reactor shone through the thin fabric, like a beacon of purring energy.
The man already looked mouthwatering enough in his bespoke suits, but Tony was now of the opinion that any stitch of clothing on Steve’s body was a crime. Now if only Steve could get that stick out of his ass, maybe Tony could get the rest of the world to see Steve as more than a billionaire Ken doll. Tony smiled a little at the thought, torn between amused jealousy and the not-so-startling revelation that he was officially Attracted to Steve Rogers, with perhaps all of the emotional complications that came with it. It was a sobering thought.
“Tony?” Steve looked up, a quizzical smile stretching across his face. There was a smear of oil across his cheek. He swiped a finger across one of his holograms and the lady on the news, who was talking about the hot, dry summer they were having, disappeared.
Tony swallowed. “Hi,” he said, keeping his voice casual. “Nice set-up you got here. Why don’t you have one of these in the Tower?” Tony asked.
“I did. I mean, I do,” Steve said, before his face clouded. “Unfortunately, it got … partially destroyed in the fight with Loki. I haven’t really gotten around to rebuilding it.” He gestured around him. “I’ve just been coming here, I guess. Keeps me from being cooped up in my house all the time.”
His painful smile bothered Tony,- He suspected strongly that Steve loved the workshop in his Tower. The only thing the R&D department had to offer was the buzz of humanity but, although his researchers seemed to genuinely respect their boss, they were far from being Steve’s friends. Weren’t there other people he could fill his life with?
Tony cleared his throat. “So what are you doing?”
“Just slogging through my pileup of updates, I’m afraid,” Steve said mournfully, motioning to the screens of gibberish computer code. “But thanks to the joys of multitasking…” His fingers flew over the blue holographic screen and pulled up a half-foot model of what Tony recognized to be the Iron Man armor. It rotated slowly above the table, and Tony, fascinated, reached out to stick his fingers through the light.
At his touch, the hologram suit flew apart, startling Tony. Now it looked like it had exploded, each individual piece separated from the chest outwards.
Steve laughed. “The hologram is touch-sensitive.” His finger caught on a tiny gauntlet and dragged it to the foreground. He zoomed in with another motion. “I just finished tweaking the internal decompressor. It can now withstand pressures of up to 25,000 feet below the ocean or about that distance above the atmosphere.”
So if I get tossed into space again, at least I won’t suffocate to death, Tony read between the lines.
“It’ll be a trade-off with the temperature regulator, though …” Steve said considering, before turning back to Tony. “Sorry, I’m sure I’m boring you.”
“No, no, it’s fascinating,” Tony said, pulling up a chair, “Tell me more.”
Steve raised an eyebrow at Tony, as if he suspected Tony was truly disinterested but was determined to humor him, which was true, but Steve still looked hesitantly pleased at that, as if no one had ever bothered to pretend interest in his tech before. After some coaxing, Steve launched into a passionate ramble about his suit, complete with loving hand gestures and shining eyes.
“Flux capacitors,” he told Tony at one point, the way other men said the name of their lover in the heat of passion. Seeing Steve so lit up was completely worth the nodding and smiling.
Steve’s explanations began to peter off as he had to concentrate on welding something tiny and, Tony presumed, utterly essential to the workings of the suit. Showers of blue sparks lit Steve’s face, an image that made Tony grin and his fingers itch for a pencil.
He found one on the drafting table, and a large roll of graph paper, which was good enough for his purposes. During the war, Tony had sketched on napkins, ticket stubs, empty cigarette cartons. A nervous habit he’d never really outgrown.
It had been three quarters of a century since he had managed to put pencil to paper, but it still felt like the very first time, the dark grooves he pressed into the table, the smear of granite under his thumb. Tony didn’t really know what he was drawing until the curve of a smile took shape under his fingers. And then he almost laughed aloud, because of course.
Steve was perfect for an unsuspecting muse. When he had metal under his fingers, his entire concentration was drawn to it like a magnet. A thousand years ago, he would’ve been a blacksmith, fashioning swords that sang and horseshoes which made the wearer fly. Tony devoted an entire page to Steve’s hands, shading in every callus and lovingly rendering his long, clever fingers.
Tony almost drew those fingers curved round something very personal and non-metallic, but that would have been highly inappropriate.
The way Steve ran his hands over his armor, though, was sufficiently pornographic all by itself. Never before had Tony been so jealous of an inanimate object. Tony laughed quietly to himself. Of all the unfounded, useless infatuations…
He bent again over his drawing, this time determinedly sketching the doe-dark eyes of Peggy Carter. He thought that she might appreciate it as a present for, you know, not killing him.
Steve was only a small child when his father died. His mother, who had been a much younger woman than her spouse, had assured Steve that his father was a dedicated, brilliant man, but never seemed inclined to say much more. Steve grew up always a bit hungry, always a bit curious about the man whose shoes he had been expected to fill from the day he was born.
Captain America, of course, would have been a perfect person to ask except for the fact that he redirected all questions about his past like they were bullets and his wit was vibratium. For the press, Tony convincingly played up the War Hero act, but even when he was waxing poetic on his past heroics, there was always a sense of vagueness to his answers. Steve had had absolutely no luck in getting him to talk about the war at all, much less Joseph Rogers.
“What’s past is past,” Tony had said once, curtly. “No point in wallowing in it.”
It frustrated Steve sometimes, but he left it well enough alone.
The day after the Bring Your Tony to Work Day incidence, Steve was called down to SHIELD headquarters for a consultation. It would be purely tech business, Agent Hill had assured him, but Steve brought along the Mark IV in a suitcase, because he always believed in being prepared.
Tony emphatically declined to come along. Evidently, he still mistrusted the organization and Fury in particular. Steve could understand that.
Fury, as it turned out, wanted Steve to look at satellite and temperature sensitive photographs of a military base in North Korea called Sector 9, to determine what they were building, and how dangerous it had a potential of becoming.
“If you are asking whether they’re on the road to arc reactor technology, I’d say yes, in about twenty years they’ll just about have it,” Steve said with wry humor, gesturing to the maps with his pen. “Should they shift their focus, however, even unfinished reactor tech could power weapons like you’ve never seen. I would suggest keeping an eye on them.”
Agent Hill joined Steve as he was leaving the debriefing room. “I need you to pass a message to Stark.”
“Why can’t you tell him yourself?” Steve asked warily.
“Captain Stark, as you know, has a talent for being hard to get a hold of when he isn’t interested in being contacted,” Maria said crisply. “Just inform him that if he doesn’t pick up his box of personal possessions, they will be disposed of.”
“Personal possessions?” Steve asked.
“Affects in Stark’s bunk, collected and kept by the army, a few things that survived the wreckage.”
“I could take it to him,” Steve said quickly. “I’m sure he wouldn’t want them destroyed.”
“Very well,” Maria said, inclining her head. “Follow me.”
It made him irrationally annoyed, how they put Tony’s things in a cardboard box. Ninety years of history, a man’s entire life, crammed into something that probably used to hold a microwave. It was closed, but not sealed when Agent Hill handed it over, and that was the point of temptation.
If only the box had been taped up, its secrets sealed, then Steve wouldn’t have ended up opening it at all. But the flaps of the box were such a flimsy barrier, revealing glimpses of papers and occasionally the shine of something metallic. Steve couldn’t stop glancing at the box as it sat by his side on the drive home.
“What is that?” Tony’s question, which started pleasantly curious as he stepped out of the elevator, turned incredulous and hostile as he saw what Steve had, opened and half-packed on his knees.
Steve turned around, a jolt of guilt making his heart thud harsh and painful against his ribcage. “I picked it up from the SHIELD locker for you,” he said, the smile on his face dropping as he saw that Tony had gone deathly still. “There were some things of yours that the army had kept and what you had on you when they thawed you from the ice-“
“Burn it.” Tony’s voice was downright venomous, his face twisted in scorn. “Or add it to your little collector’s shrine, whatever.” He stood abruptly and walked a few steps to the door, his body tense.
“What?” Steve asked faintly, then, angrier. “What’s wrong?”
“Do you think that there might have been a reason I didn’t want to look at that shit?” Tony swept his arm in a wide motion encompassing the box. His shoulders were trembling in subtle little hitches and his mouth was set in a grim line. “You should’ve never ordered it, Rogers. None of this is your business.”
“Hey,” Steve said heatedly, “I did you a favor.” He clenched his hands into fists at his sides. “You’re completely overreacting!”
“Thank you for your favor, Steve.” Tony smiled meanly. “And thank you for pawing through it on the coffee table.”
Steve faltered in his anger. “Okay, I admit that I shouldn’t have done that. Sorry. These are your things.”
“Glad we got that clear,” Tony muttered, turning on his heel to stomp past Steve and, with a rough motion of his arm, like he couldn’t stand touching anything for longer than necessary, he swept everything on the coffee table back in the box. The gold watch, still opened and ticking, spun wildly from a swipe from Tony’s fingertips and smashed indelicately on the floor. Steve stared in horror as the watch face cracked and the lid snapped clean off.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Steve yelled. “It wasn’t enough that you obviously don’t care about the men who served with you or the woman who loved you, but you have to go destroying their memories too? Did you ever give a shit about anyone else in your life?”
“That’s rich, coming from you,” Tony sneered. He shoved the box under one arm and bent down for the watch, only to hesitate.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Steve asked in a low voice.
Tony’s fingers closed on nothing and he snapped up, leaving the watch on the floor. “I don’t want to have to spell it out for the resident genius, but you’re not exactly a people person yourself. It should be impossible that someone so rich and so attractive is as lonely as fuck.” Tony shook his head. “Exhibit One: Peggy. You know why she left you, buddy? That woman loved you and you pushed her away like it was for her own good.” Tony’s voice grew louder as he warmed into his rant. He didn’t notice the way Steve stiffened, his expression growing hurt and stony. “Always have to be the hero. Always act like you’re doing the fucking world a favor.” Tony grabbed his box roughly off of the table. “You’re not noble. You’re just as selfish and scared as the rest of us and too much of a hypocrite to admit it.”
Steve’s jaw closed with a snick as he pushed past Tony and out the door.
Tony went to his room and hurriedly packed his belongings, working under a haze of anger and fear and regret. There was depressingly little he had to bring, since he elected to leave most of the clothing that Steve had bought him and all the little souvenir-y knick-knacks they had picked up from their day trips. The box from SHIELD lay in the corner where Tony had dropped it. Another pile of memories discarded because they were too painful to relive.
He kept expecting that any minute, Steve – or perhaps one of his robots– would burst into the room and demand Tony vacate it. When that didn’t happen, Tony’s comforting haze of righteous indignation began to ebb away, leaving him cold with regret. He didn’t know how long he sat at the foot of his bed, his fingers worrying at the strap of his shield.
He shouldn’t have said that to Steve, who did something stupid but didn’t – didn’t deserve that. Tony’s grip tightened until the leather bit into his palm. He couldn't stop remembering the shocked hurt on Steve’s face, his angry flush and wide eyes.
His current loneliness wasn’t a fault of his character. Steve was … Tony dropped his head and fisted his hands painfully in his hair. Steve was kind and brave and loyal. The shell he showed the outside world made of wary defensiveness was almost laughably easy to crack. His underbelly was soft, and anyone lucky enough to get close should have known to protect it. Only Tony was stupid enough to fuck this up like he fucked up everything.
At least there was still one thing he was good at. Tony grabbed the keys to his bike, slung his shield over his shoulder, and ran away.
The July heat wave was in full force, radiating off of the concrete sidewalks, thickening the air until it became an unbearable, sweltering soup. It made Tony wince, stepping from the climate-controlled cool of Rogers Tower onto the street.
It didn’t help his mood at all, especially when Tony found that the traffic was too thick to ride his bike out of town. He ended up circling the same couple of blocks over and over, trying to eke some measure of relief from the wind in his face. For the first time, the novelty of 20th century New York failed to amuse him, just made him ache in strange, dark ways, reminded him of sitting in the car with Pepper, introducing those same parking lots and alleyways as the one I got beat up in. He had been trying so hard to impress her, to make her look at him like he was good for something.
What was he good for now? Bottom of the scrap heap again, just another failed experiment. Useless.
He heard the sirens round the avenue, piercing the sullen atmosphere. Tony's bike skidded to the side of the road just in time to miss them as they rushed past, blowing his hair from his sweaty nape. The sheer number of emergency vehicles told him everything he needed to know. Alone, armorless, and with nothing to lose, Tony gunned his bike and followed closely behind.
Steve listened to news radio when he is angry. It was a habit he had gotten from his mother, who approached her role of society matron with the same iron-jawed determination other women approached their careers.
If she had been running the company instead of her numerous charities, Steve had no doubt that his mother's reign would have been the most profitable in Rogers Industries' history. As it was, Sarah Rogers made it her life's goal to haggle, coax and shame the rich and powerful into giving back, and she was spectacularly successful.
Sarah loved news radio. Always had it on in the background when she drove, took phone calls or organized her next fundraiser. Steve had grown up on NPR, and even now, cranking up the radio in time to hear the familiar, mellow transition music made the knot in his chest ease.
Only for the frustration to creep back again every time his mind replayed Tony's last words.
Why’d you think I came here? Because I felt bad for you.
“Sir,” Jarvis’ voice broke into Steve’s brooding thoughts. “Police scanners indicate a fire on 59th and Amsterdam Avenue.”
“That’s two blocks from the Tower.” Steve's lips thinned, his hands tightening on the steering wheel. His gut reaction, of course, was to get suited up and see if he was needed. However, his common sense told him that the local authorities would see it as more interference than help if they already had it under control.
“Reports indicate that an unarmed man carrying a shield was seen running into the building.”
“What?” Steve yelled. Goddamn Tony. This sounded exactly like something he’d pull off. Swallowing down his anxiety, Steve called, “Jarvis, prepare the Mark VI.”
Steve peeled into a parking garage, gunning the engine as his car zoomed up the ramp and slid onto the moon-lit roof. Jumping out of the car before the engine had even stopped running, Steve fumbled with his metal cuff, twisting it until his pulse beat against its battery. Within a minute, the newest incarnation of his Iron Man suit was landing on the roof next to him. It had a call range of five miles, given open air and no major obstacles.
Steve opened his arms and let the suit fold around his body. It felt like coming home, like sliding a hand into an old baseball mitt, leather worn snug. Each separate piece of armor fit together like the pieces of a puzzle, and as the faceplate snapped on, there was a second of darkness before everything burst into illuminant data.
“Feels good, Jarvis,” Steve said. He hadn’t put on the suit for more than a month except to work on it in the lab, and the excitement, the feeling of power coursing through his veins was still the same. With a breath, he took a running start and shot off of the building, airborne in seconds.
“ETA 45 seconds,” Jarvis said. “Captain Stark has been inside the building for two minutes.”
“Push it, Jarvis,” Steve said, and a burst of speed sent him careening between two buildings. Below, people shouted in excitement, pointing at a hero who had disappeared from their streets.
Steve could see the smoke long before he reached the building, a ghastly, dark pillar scorching the underbelly of the sky. He zoomed over the large crowd that had assembled to gawk, the police line trying to keep them back, and the emergency vehicles with their sirens screaming.
“Iron Man!” A woman’s voice yelled, and even the firefighters tipped back their heads in wonder.
The suit scanned the face of the building, warning Steve of hot spots and weaknesses. He burst through a window on the fourth floor, arm thrown out to shield his head.
“Tony!” He bellowed. He couldn’t see anything in the smoke.
“Cooling systems at 100%. Internal temperature at 88 degrees,” Jarvis said.
“Jarvis, all sensors,” Steve ordered, although heat detection would definitely be shot and whether the motion sensor would work was anybody’s guess. He blasted through a door, speeding through it as he heard the sound of rumbling behind him.
“Internal temperature at 94 degrees,” Jarvis said. “Captain Stark at north end of building, third floor.”
Steve swallowed as Jarvis pulled up the floor plan of the building, measuring his distance away from the two stairwells at either end. One was blocked by debris. The other was too far. “Repulsors at 50%,” he demanded, and fired at a weak spot on the floor.
There was a crash of debris, sparks flying through the air as Steve fell through. He felt sweat sliding down the line of his throat, his breaths turning dry and painful. If he got out of here alive (and he’d better, who the hell survived Loki only to die in an apartment fire?), Steve vowed to install stronger cooling systems and maybe a water gun to the suit.
“Internal temperature at 100 degrees,” Jarvis said. “Sir, Agent Hill of SHIELD is calling. Shall I patch her through the comms?”
“Not now,” Steve said, distracted by the sound of screaming to his left. He ran towards it in the smoke, blasting through the flaming timbers as his suit triangulated the sound.
“Steve?” A voice coughed at him from out of the smoke. Steve pushed forward to see Tony, holding the shield in front of him as he dragged along two soot-faced children towards the exit. He was bare-chested, his shirt wrapped around the younger child’s nose and mouth as a makeshift air filter. Steve could see a smattering of burns and bruises, in a flux of healing as Tony’s serum did battle with the new sparks periodically landing on Tony’s skin. “What are you doing here?”
“Helping,” Steve said shortly, ignoring the relief that made his knees weak. He nodded towards the exit Tony had been attempting the crawl to. “That doorknob’s melted. Our best bet is through a window.”
“Internal temperature at 104 degrees.”
Tony nodded grimly, hustling the kids along where Steve pointed, to the furthest room down the hall. With a repulsor blast, the door caved open, and when fire didn’t spit at them from the other side, everyone rushed in. Smoke was growing thicker, dark and poisonous as it rolled around the ceiling. The sound of sirens was muffled under the crack and hiss of flames. They rushed to the window, which Tony bashed open with his shield, the glass raining down on the concrete outside.
“Take them,” Tony told Steve, lifting the younger boy to his chest. The older girl clung weakly to Tony’s wrist, coughing into her elbow. “Fly them down.”
“What about you?” Steve asked.
Tony flashed a crooked smile. “If it gets too hot, I’ll jump.”
“Don’t,” Steve said wildly as he climbed out the window and opened his arms for the boy. “I’ll come back. I promise.” The boy was already unconscious, head lolling as Steve tried to hold him as securely as possible without letting his skin rest on the suit. The metal of his suit was burning to the touch.
The girl was harder to convince. She hung onto the window sill, shaking, as Steve’s repulsors sputtered.
“I-I don’t-“ She sobbed. “I’m scared.”
“What’s your name?” Steve asked, flipping up his face plate.
“Mary,” she told him, her singed hair sticking to her face with sweat.
“Well, Mary,” Steve told her, trying not to let his panic show. “I promise to get you and your brother down to your parents safely, but you have to come with me.”
“Trust him,” Tony’s voice was smoke-rough and painful sounding. He looked at Steve and smiled. “I do.”
Maria nodded shakily and jumped, hissing a little in pain as Steve’s metal plates pressed against her skin. Steve just tightened his hold around her waist and dropped like a stone, flying them down as fast as he could without losing control of the suit.
The children he dropped as gently as possible at a nearby ambulance and immediately flew back up, not staying for the sobbed gratitude of the children’s mother as she broke from the crowd. Below Steve, there were camera flashes, hundreds of eyes following the gold and red suit as it disappeared back into the flames.
"Tony?" Steve called, hovering near the window where he had picked up the kids. "Tony!"
A coughing sound and a hand waving limply. "Don't you fucking dare carry me down like a bride," Tony said as Steve pulled him out.
Tony didn't remember much of the afterwards. It took an hour or two for the smoke inhalation to clear his brain, and until the super soldier serum finally took care of them, the burns were excruciatingly painful.
The one thing he did remember clearly, though, was being flown down to safety, one arm thrown across Steve's neck like a drunk, his entire body limp in Steve's grasp. He remembered the press of hot metal all down his side, the chilled night sky biting into his skin. He remembered rambling in Steve's ear about how his beard and his eyebrows better not have been burned off because he looked really, really stupid without them.
He remembered Steve's face, filled with heartbreaking surprise as the crowd on the ground broke into cheers and applause, the firefighters, policemen and EMPs joining in.
And of course, there were the reporters, screaming from the sidelines and waving microphones in their faces. Peggy was storming towards them from one direction, Maria Hill from the other.
Steve must have seen them too because he muttered, "Clash of the titans." and that, out of everything made Tony laugh, painfully and helplessly, curling against the breastplate of Steve's armor.
Because neither had need for a hospital, everyone congregated at Rogers Tower as Steve’s armor was peeled off of him and Tony guzzled bottle after bottle of water while standing in front of the opened refrigerator. Peggy yelled at Steve ("Your suit wasn't made for this, you could've been cooked inside like a hard-boiled egg!"), Steve yelled at Tony ("You didn't even have protective armor, you irresponsible, self-sacrificing bastard.") and Agent Hill glared very forcefully at them both. Although, she told them afterwards that Director Fury was pleased, for once, about the good press they got so maybe it was just her default facial expression.
Also, Tony's eyebrows survived mostly intact. His beard, however, was singed beyond repair and that was the real tragedy of this evening.
They were finally left alone as the first rays of dawn began to light the sky. Across the kitchen table from Steve, Tony was slumped into his coffee. Although both of them had showered, the smell of smoke still hung thick in the air. Tony hadn't pulled on a shirt, and Steve could see the pink of newly-grown skin all over him in patches.
"I look like a fifteen-year-old again," Tony complained, rubbing absent-mindedly at his chin.
"You look clean cut," Steve said wryly. "Like your army recruiting posters."
"Agh." Tony knuckled his eyes roughly. "Don't remind me. It was a wonder anyone believed I was even old enough to enlist.”
They both laughed, eyes meeting over the half-devoured breakfast, and Steve could feel the exact moment when they both remembered their argument.
“I should apologize first,” Steve said quietly. “I had no right-“
“No,” Tony said. “You didn’t. But you meant well.” He looked intently at the table top, the white-knuckled grip he had around his mug betraying his discomfort. “The memories aren’t all bad, but they are … painful. And no one ever said that I had to have a healthy way of dealing with it all.” He looked up at Steve, a wry smile pulling at his mouth. "Would a, 'I'm sorry, I'm a dirtbag' work on my end?"
Steve rubbed his temples and sighed, every muscle in his body aching like he had been thoroughly beat down. "No need," he said. "You didn't say anything that wasn't true."
Steve could admit to himself this, at least: he held everyone at arm's length. Peggy, because he didn't want her to feel responsible for him - an ex-boyfriend-slash-boss who couldn't keep his life together. Bucky, because he was overseas, and didn't need to be bothered, didn't need to be dragged down by Steve's problems. The populace, because he didn't think they would forgive him for the blood on his hands.
He just wanted to protect everyone. From himself, if necessary.
"I didn't mean what I said," Tony said firmly. "I didn't come looking for you because I felt sorry."
"Okay," Steve answered, placating.
“No, Steve, I came back because I was selfish, I-" Tony broke off with an angry laugh, burying his face in his hands. "God, it's at times like these that I really regret that I can't be drunk.”
"We don't have to talk about this," Steve said, because he was just a little afraid of what would come out. It would be better if they just shook hands and pretended that nothing had even happened, just like they did a month ago. At least then they could salvage their friendship.
"No," Tony barked, a throwback to his army career. "No." He pointed a finger at Steve. "We're going to do this once, and then never again, and that's only because I can't stand that kicked-puppy look on your face." He took a breath, loud in the quiet room. "Look,” Tony started, frowning as if every word was causing him physical discomfort. “When I was … traveling, I met a woman.” Steve’s expression must have betrayed his confusion because Tony quickly added, “Jesus, no, it wasn’t like that.” He ran a hand through his hair. “She was a waitress. Fed me when I was in a tough spot with money. She recognized that I was Captain America and we got to talking.”
Steve was silent, watching Tony’s fingers as he played with the coffee cup.
“She asked me what I was doing, you know, if I was on some secret mission or something. I told her I was seeing the country. ‘Taking a break from saving the world?’” Tony looked up, the light of the rising sun glinting off of his dark eyes. “And I realized that yeah, I hadn’t done anything meaningful … since the whole Loki thing.”
“Even Captain America deserves a vacation,” Steve said. He didn’t realize that he had reached for Tony’s hand until he felt the bony knuckles under his palm. It was too forward, perhaps. He almost took his hand away, but Tony didn’t even seem to notice that they were touching.
“But that wasn’t what it was, was it?” Tony asked, his voice sharp. But it all seemed to be directed inwards, self-loathing dripping like venom from every word. “I was running away. Everyone else had their reasons to go but I …” He shrugged, an angry, aborted motion.
“You were unfrozen, what, a couple of months after losing seventy years on ice?” Steve said. “It’s perfectly valid that you wanted to go see what America had become, since you are, you know,” he waved his hand awkwardly, “its symbol.”
“Yeah, Captain America.” Tony’s lip twitched tiredly. “I’m kind of useless without that, aren’t I?” He raised a hand to forestall Steve’s protest. “I mean you’re … whatever, genius, billionaire, Boy Scout, philanthropist, and everyone else are secret agents, doctors or fucking Norse gods. Comparatively, I’m just a kid from Brooklyn.”
They were both silent for a moment, Steve staring at Tony in saddened horror, Tony scraping absently through his breakfast remnants with a fork.
“So after that enlightening conversation, I wandered around a bit, thinking about coming back to New York.” He took a quick breath. “Then one day, I saw your face on TV. You were answering some bullshit accusation about whether the Avengers were heroes or … terrorists or something, and you just looked so tired.”
It spoke to exactly how many of those kinds of press conferences that Steve had been forced to attend that he didn’t even remember the incidence.
“And I realized that we all left you.” Tony’s eyes rose to Steve’s. “Alone. We all went off to our own little corners of the world and only you were left with the aftermath.”
Steve sighed shortly. “Tony, it’s okay. I’m used to being in the public eye. And I’ve kind of represented this whole endeavor from the beginning.”
“Fine.” Tony pulled his hand out from under Steve’s, only to hesitate and curl his fingers around Steve’s wrist instead. “But you shouldn’t have to do it alone.”
They stared at each other for a long minute before Steve sighed, trying hard to keep the smile from his face. “Okay,” he said. “Okay.”
“So,” Tony asked, as their legs pressed against each other, tentative and warm under the table. “Where do we go from here?”
Steve thought about it seriously. The past eight hours had all but gutted him, scraping his emotions out of his body like the pulp of a melon. They were both exhausted, sensitive and skittish, hair still smelling of smoke. They should rest. Take time alone to consider their needs and have a very long, serious talk about things like expectations and compromises.
“Bedroom?” Steve suggested, and Tony raced him there.
Steve pushed him onto the bed, pressing wet, desperate kisses on his mouth as their hands fumbled with belts and buckles and buttons. With an impatient noise, Tony maybe pulled a little harder than intended, ripping Steve’s shirt along the shoulder and earning a heated, disapproving glare. But it got the shirt off faster, and Steve’s skin under Tony’s hands so no complaints there.
When Tony’s hands grabbed his ass, Steve made a soft, helpless sound against Tony’s lips, especially when their bodies slotted against each other, every roll of their hips providing sweet, sweet friction.
“Your dick is so hot,” Tony purred, reaching down to press the heel of his hand against Steve’s erection. That earned him more soft noises and some sloppy tonguing against the corner of his mouth. “I want you in me. Please tell me you’re not a virgin.”
“Who is nowadays?” Steve said with a breathless laugh, yanking down his pants and briefs in one, somewhat clumsy move that Tony wasn’t going to call him on because cock.
“You’re too lovely,” Tony pressed small, stinging bites along Steve’s perfect shoulder blades and down his chest. He paused when he reached the arc reactor, feeling Steve take a hesitant breath. Tony knew that if given the chance, he would happily spend hours worshipping this beautiful blue light that kept his Steve alive. But for now, he merely caught Steve’s eye, pressed a slow, deliberate kiss in the middle of the inverted triangle, and moved on. It was no hardship. Steve’s abdominals were gorgeous. “You should be the super soldier, not me,” Tony muttered, laving his tongue along the cut definitions of his muscles.
“The best nutritionists and exercise programs that money can buy,” Steve said self-deprecatingly. His stomach quivered under Tony’s attention, his cock stuttering as it bobbed along Tony’s cheek. Teasingly, Tony dragged the head along his stubble, leaving a trail of pre-cum and making Steve moan.
Even Steve’s pubes were clipped neatly, a small triangle of golden hair trailing from his belly button to his cock. “Natural blonde,” Tony said with a smirk before opening his mouth and sucking Steve’s cockhead like a lollipop. Steve tasted like clean sweat and salt. Tony imagined Steve scrubbing between his legs vigorously every day in the shower and pressed his laugh into Steve’s inner thigh.
“There you go,” Steve said, irritated but resigned. “Having your own private joke at me.” He pulled Tony up by the shoulders and they shared a long, wet kiss.
Tony moaned encouragingly when Steve’s fingers curled around his cock. He had a large, square hand, roughed up with calluses from the workshop. His grip was exploratory, a little hesitant, but after Tony’s hips began stuttering, helplessly fucking into his fist, Steve gained enough confidence to take long, hard pulls.
“For the record,” Steve tongued along the curve of Tony’s ear. “You’re not so bad looking yourself.”
“Compliments and an orgasm?” Tony batted his eyelashes. “Now you’re just spoilin’ me, mister.”
Steve smothered a laugh on the curve of his neck, inching closer so that their legs tangled. Tony still had his pants and underwear bunched at his ankles. “I mean it.” His other hand swept along Tony’s chest, squeezing his biceps and trailing down his ribs. Tony squirmed under the assault, his cock spurting precome onto Steve’s fingers and woah, was that a new kink? “You’re gorgeous,” Steve said seriously.
Tony looked up through his eyelashes, tongue pressed between his lips. He knew that his body was that of a fighter’s – ropy muscles on a scrawny frame, unscarred and too-tanned and scrappy like a stray dog. “Sure,” he said, and devoured Steve’s mouth.
But Steve was apparently more stubborn than he was horny, a condition Tony lamented. “Tony,” Steve said, pulling away from Tony’s lips. “I mean it. I mean what I said.”
“Okay,” Tony groaned, humping up into Steve’s tragically still fist. “You’re gorgeous, I’m gorgeous, now fuck me.”
Steve stilled, a splash of pink on his cheeks and, oh, there’s the latent fanboy. “You’re sure …”
“Yeah, yeah,” Tony panted, open-mouthed and grinning, “Shove that fat cock in me and fuck me open. Fuck me sloppy, baby, I’ve been aching for it for seventy years.”
Steve groaned, and obeyed.
“You know,” Tony said, rolling onto his stomach. The bright morning light outside their window revealed every dimple, every freckle across his muscles, and for the first time, Steve wished for Tony’s artistic skill, to render it immortal on paper. “You’re not exactly being subtle about the whole convince Tony he’s not useless campaign.”
“You’re not,” Steve said firmly, pressing a kiss to the knob of his spine.
“Yeah, well, grunting it in my ear while you’re fucking me just makes me think you’re saying my only use is on my back.” Tony snickered at the look of horror on Steve’s face. “Which I’m not opposed to, by the way, but as long as we’re shoving self-esteem down my throat, I think it’s only fair to return the favor.”
“Is this an unsubtle way of asking me to suck your-“
“Oooh, I-“ Tony shook his head. “Definitely later. Stop distracting me.” He scooted closer, until their foreheads were close enough to touch and Steve could count his individual eyelashes. “If I’m gonna make myself a place in the 21st century, then you damn well better stay with me.” The crack of Tony’s voice on the last word belied his demand. Steve felt an almost dizzying rush of happiness, his grip tightening around Tony’s waist. “Unless you want out, in which case, tell me now-“
“Don’t even try, Tony,” Steve said giddily, scraping his teeth over a sensitive spot on Tony’s shoulder. “Not getting rid of me that easily.”
Steve could feel Tony’s entire body relax in his arms. “We’re gonna be legendary, aren’t we, baby?” Tony slurred sleepily, “I can just feel it.”
The Avengers found out on the same day they moved in.
“Oh good,” Bruce said. “The weird angry/sexual tension was terrible for my heart rate.”
“Clint owes me twenty bucks.” Natasha smirked.
“You guys couldn’t have waited two more months?” Clint demanded, forking over the cash.
“Congratulations, friends,” Thor said with a wide smile, clasping them both on the back. Then he ruined it by saying wistfully. “I remember when Loki and I had a relationship such as yours. Perhaps it was when I stopped laying him that our brotherly bonds began to weaken.”
“Excuse me,” Agent Coulson said, his placid voice barely concealing his excitement. “I just need to … blog. Things.”
Knowing how well his last surprise had gone over, Steve made sure that Tony was aware that Steve was making him new armor. Not that it was easy to hide, given that Tony was required to come in for fittings.
“And it needs to be so tight because …?” Tony smirked.
“Shhh …” Steve said, taking, perhaps, too many measurements of Tony’s ass. “You’re messing up my concentration.”
The final product: a bright, classic blue suit made of a polymer R&D that was designed just for this purpose. It was breathable, flexible, bulletproof, waterproof – and yes, fireproof. SHIELD input had been invaluable, especially that of recently-undeceased Agent Coulson who, as it turned out, was a fellow collector and had great ideas regarding the design.
“Tony!” Steve called brightly, walking into the living room with the armor under one arm. “Everyone’s going out for pizza-“
Tony was leaning over the coffee table, a box, The Box, Steve recognized with a start, tipped on its side and its contents arranged carefully over the glass surface of the table. There was the sketchbook, the flurry of documents, and all the newspaper clippings and baubles. Tony’s dog tags swung from his neck, and as he looked up, Steve could see a photograph in one hand and a tumbler of amber liquor in the other.
“Do you want, I could…?” Steve gestured awkwardly to the door.
“Get that pretty butt of yours over here with my present,” Tony said with a quirk of his lips. When Steve sat down beside him, Tony wrapped his arms around Steve’s waist, burying his head in the curve of Steve’s neck and just holding him tightly for a long moment. “Thank you,” Tony said finally, in a thick voice, and Steve suspected that it was for more than the new armor.
“Whatever you need,” Steve said, moving so that they were sitting hip to hip, the entire side of his body pressed to Tony’s. He tried to keep his eyes from straying curiously to the photograph.
“Look,” Tony commanded, waving the photo in front of Steve’s eyes. He had curled into Steve, head on his shoulder, and with a deep draught of brandy he abandoned his glass to point to a figure in the picture. “That’s your father.”
Steve had already recognized the fair hair, the achingly similar features, but he nodded in reply, chest twisting painfully.
“Let me tell you about him.”
Later, they would drive to Arlington, and Tony’s hand would be tight in his as they picked their way through the gravestones. Later, Tony would press a broken gold watch into Steve’s palm and ask him haltingly if he could fix it. Later, Steve would teach Tony to dance to a song bittersweet and familiar.
Now, Steve held fast to his lover, grounding him in the present as he finally started talking.