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The Proper Use of Nicknames

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Steve liked the helicarrier. For one, it was a military installation and thus familiar to Steve. For another, he couldn’t get lost. All the hallways were color coded. If he wanted the bridge, Steve would follow the white lines. If he wanted medical, Steve would follow the blue lines. He’d get there eventually as long as he followed the appropriate lines. Right now, he was in a corridor with green lines and Steve knew that meant he was in the sciences part of the helicarrier. He was walking with Agent Coulson, Agent Hill, and Agent Romanov from a meeting they had just finished with Fury. Er, well, Steve guessed he should think of them as Phil, Maria, and Natasha since they’d all asked him to use their given names. Steve liked the helicarrier and his team. They were all very nice.

The three agents were discussing the reports from the Avengers’ last mission when they heard cries and yelping coming from nearby. They paused in the corridor. A junior agent shot out of the next hallway and raced away like the devil himself was on his tail. “Move it or lose it!” shouted a familiar voice. There was another yelp and a small, football shaped white object came flying out. It thumped into the wall of the T section and then turned toward them.

“And here I was having such a good morning,” muttered Maria. The little object came barreling at their group, the bottom of the football glowing blue, and Steve stepped forward to intercept it.

Of course, it was just as Steve was smacking it to the floor that Tony rounded the corner. “My baby!” cried Tony, looking actually stricken. He raced over and knelt by the little robot as it flopped around on the floor. “What did that nasty brute do to you?” cooed Tony as he gently picked the thing up. The robot made a distressed little warble sound.

Now Steve felt bad for breaking something Tony had made. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was yours, Tony.”

Tony stood, glaring at Steve and cradling the little robot against his chest. “Be nice! Robots are people too, you know!”

Steve blinked. “No they’re not,” he said slowly, confused. It sounded like a reference but not one Steve had any hope of deciphering. Sometimes missing 70 years of pop-culture really sucked.

Tony gasped, kind of vibrating in place with agitation. “I’m telling Jarvis you said that! You’re going to get in trouble! See if he ever helps you work the DVR again.”

“Stark,” interrupted Phil. “What is that?”

Tony grinned and held the little football robot up in front of their faces. Phil and Maria took a step back while Steve leaned in to get a better look. The robot flapped tiny arms up and down, the blue glow around one end sputtering on and off. It gave another distressed warble. “Isn’t he cute?” gushed Tony, fairly bouncing in glee.

“Isn’t that Eve? You know, from that robot movie we saw a few weeks ago?” asked Steve.

Tony directed his blinding smile toward the super-solider. “His name is Tweedledee. I made him this morning. Well, this morning and last night. Bruce helped. I think. I have vague memories of him being there. Isn’t he cute? Tweedledee. Not Bruce. We already all know Bruce is adorable.”

Natasha narrowed her eyes. “Is that the reconnaissance drone Fury was asking for last week?”

Tony blinked at her. “I think so?” he said slowly, as if feeling the words out. That sounded like a question. Why did that sound like a question? Steve knew that did not bode well.

“Please tell me that is the only one and that there are not more loose around my helicarrier,” demanded Phil.

Tony looked at the floor, at the wall, at the ceiling, anywhere but at Phil. “If you want, I can say that.”

“Tony,” chided Steve.

“It’s only Tweedledee’s sister!” exclaimed Tony. “Bruce and Clint are looking for Tweedledum.”

“How did they get free?” asked Maria sternly.

“A Junior Mint opened the door to the lab when we were doing test flights and they escaped,” said Tony with a displeased frown.

Phil sighed. “Please stop referring to the junior agents as candy.”

“Get better junior agents and maybe I will. Right now, they are all a bunch of Twizzlers.” Steve couldn’t completely fight down a smile at that, even if it was a little rude. At least it was a reference he understood.

“Hey Princess!”

Tony turned happily at the call, another bright grin blooming across his face. “Yes, my faithful knight?” Steve gave an involuntary twitch behind him.

Clint and Bruce were coming down the corridor toward them. “I’ve got your other tinker toy,” said the archer. He held up the other robot, which was captured in what could only be an animal trap. Why did they have an animal trap on the helicarrier? Steve did not want to know.

“Tweedledum!” Tony hurried over and peered into the cage. “My poor little girl! What did the nasty man do to you?” The little robot was buzzing around the cage like an angry, oversized, and wrongly colored bee.

“Why am I suddenly the nasty man?” complained Clint. “I thought I was your faithful knight? You know, the one who chases down your insane escaped tech?”

“You put my baby in a cage!” cried Tony, hugging Tweedledee like he was afraid Clint was going to snatch him away.

“You are a crazy person, Princess. Like, padded room crazy.” Clint handed over the cage. “Are they going to shoot lasers, or blowup, or something?”

Tony scowled. “No weapons.”

“You make us weapons all the time.”

“Those are for us,” Bruce explained softly. “These are for Fury.”

“Recon drones,” said Tony sourly. He then brightened and spun away. “Come, Bruce! Back to the lab! I need to fix Tweedledee because Captain Muscles is a big meanie and then we’ll see if we can send my babies out to shoot video of the woman’s locker rooms.” Tony went skipping back down the corridor.

Bruce gave everyone a sheepish smile. “I’ll make sure he behaves,” he promised before following.

“See ya, Princess!” called Clint with a wave.

“Goodbye, noble knight!” Tony called back, giving the archer a one fingered salute before disappearing.

Maria sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “That man makes me tired just watching him,” she muttered.

Clint slid up to Phil and leaned against him, a teasing grin on his face. Phil merely lifted an eyebrow, face otherwise blank. Steve frowned at Clint. “Princess?” he asked, disapproval radiating in his tone.

Clint’s grin turned into a smirk. “Aw, don’t be jealous, Cap.”

“I’m not jealous!” exclaimed Steve, feeling his face flush. “It’s just disrespectful and rude. You shouldn’t call Tony that.”

“Nah. He likes it. Thinks it’s hilarious.” Steve’s frown grew deeper; there was nothing funny about being called names as far as Steve was concerned. Clint rolled his eyes. “It’s a bro thing. You’ll figure it out eventually.” Steve blinked, confused. “I’m bored,” Clint said to Phil, apparently done with the part of the conversation that involved Steve.

“I can see that. Why don’t you and Natasha find some Milk Duds to harass?”

“Really?” asked Clint brightly. Phil nodded and Clint gave a little whoop. “Come on, Tasha. Let’s head to the gym and bruise some egos.” Natasha looked slightly pleased as she followed Clint down the corridor.

“Milk Duds?” asked Steve, figuring he was once again missing something rude.

“Probationary agents undergoing skill evaluation and training,” explained Maria. She was already working on her tablet again.

“It’s a regular candy shop around here, isn’t it,” grumbled Steve, feeling annoyed for some reason he could not pin down. Phil gave him a tiny frown and Steve felt slightly ashamed of his comment. Nicknames and slang were common enough in his time, especially in the military. He had no idea why he was being so snappish now. Steve opened his mouth to apologize when they were nearly tossed off their feet as the helicarrier rocked violently to the side. They heard a muffled boom.

“What the hell was that?” snapped Maria as an alarm sounded and red lights flashed in the ceiling. It was quickly overtaken by a shriller beep and the warning glow of sickly green lights. All three of them froze. It was the warning system for when the Hulk made an appearance.

“Containment unit to lab 7! Containment unit to lab7!”

Steve felt cold horror prickle his skin, the rush of adrenaline that made a person lightheaded for a second. “Tony,” he gasped. He steadied himself against the titling floor and broke into a run.

“Rogers, wait!” barked Phil but Steve ignored him. Steve followed the green lines down the corridor, followed the white signs painted at the corners on the walls. Conference Rooms 1-5. Storage Room 3. Labs 1-5. Labs 6-10. He was still several corridors away when he heard the first of the Hulk’s roars, dodging around people running away, running to, running everywhere, his heart climbing up his throat. Lab 7. Lab 7. Tony was in lab 7.

Steve ran into a knot of heavy armored people crowding the corridor. “Sir, please back up! This area is not safe!” yelled one of the security personnel. The Hulk’s roars were closer now, as was the sound of things breaking. Steve could smell smoke and the scent of hot metal in the air. He could barely see the edge of the windows that faced outward in lab 7 around the corner. He was so close.

“Make a hole!” shouted Phil. Steve hadn’t even heard him following. Another of the security officers yanked the man who had been blocking Steve out of the way and Steve dashed forward. Lab 7 took up the whole of the next corridor, a long line of waist height windows facing outward into the hallway. It too was crowded with security personnel, all of them holding a body shield that Tony had designed to absorb the force of heavy blows. Steve suspected they were about to get their first real world test.

The Hulk was easy to spot through the windows, currently throwing a metal file cabinet toward them. It hit the glass but the windows didn’t break. Something else that Tony had designed to withstand heavy blows. The lab was a mess, the equipment torn to shreds and blackened with grease or ash. The windows further down were spider webbed with cracks and dark with residue. Hulk was tossing things around, roaring and growling but for some reason making no effort to leave the lab. The green creature was not tearing through the floor or the ceiling like Steve knew the Hulk could. Steve knew how dangerous an out of control Hulk could be.

Fury came striding up from the other direction, his single eye fixed on where the Hulk was tearing a table from its bolts and tossing it to the far side of the room. “What happened?” the SHIELD director demanded.

“There was apparently an accident in the lab. Sensors recorded a concussive blast in lab 7 about 6 minutes ago. My guess is Stark blew something up and it set Banner off,” answered Phil.

Where was Tony? He was supposed to be in lab 7 with Bruce working on those little football robots. Did he get out? Was Tony hiding from the Hulk’s destruction inside the lab? Was he hurt? Was he dead? Steve felt short of breath in a way he hadn’t since given the serum. He twisted between two of the security personnel and went to the windows, ignoring Fury and Phil when they told him to get back.

Tony was easy to spot once Steve had a full view of the room, sprawled on the floor and apparently unconscious. He was dirty with soot and had some cuts on his arms and face that were bleeding sluggishly but Steve could see the steady rise and fall of his chest from where he stood. The two little football robots were huddled against Tony’s side and Steve thought he could see them shaking. He felt slightly bad for them. There was some glass on and around Tony but otherwise the dark haired genius was in a pool of calm. Hulk was destroying the room but the space around where Tony lay was clear and safe. Pride for his teammate swelled in Steve’s chest. He knew Bruce could do it.

“Huh.” Steve turned and found Clint staring through the window next to him. “I owe Princess 50 bucks.”

Natasha was at the door, yanking off the card swiper and fiddling with the wires within. It popped sparks at her. She took exception to this and jabbed a small knife inside the casing. There was a grinding noise and a series of loud clicks from the door. The light above the door blew out. “It’s no good. The door is fried,” Natasha said, shaking glass from her hair.

“Stark needs medical attention,” Phil said. “We need inside. Clint, do you think you can gain access?”

“I haven’t given anyone permission to do anything,” said Fury with a strange calm to his voice. They all blinked at him.

“I could get inside but I don’t know what good it would do,” replied Clint to Phil. “I can’t get Tony back out through the vents if he’s hurt and big green in there doesn’t look like he’s in a mood to help.”

“I’m going to toss the whole lot of you in the brig,” said Fury as if he were discussing the weather.

“Stark designed the brig,” Maria reminded the director helpfully. “It won’t hold them.”

“Sorry, sir,” Steve felt compelled to say. Fury’s eyebrow rose and he looked distinctly unimpressed. Steve suspected Fury just said these things so that if anyone later asked him he could say he tried to stop them with a straight face. Not that Fury ever had trouble keeping a straight face but Steve assumed it was nice to have a record. There was a groan from inside the lab, pulling everyone’s attention back toward the window. Tony was sluggishly moving his head and his legs sort of kicked half-heartedly. Hulk paused in his smashing, head whipping around to glare at the source of the noise. Everyone in the hallway stopped breathing.

Hulk dropped the cabinet he was tearing in half and stomped over to Tony, settling next to him. Very slowly the green creature extended a single finger and with infinite care, gently nudged Tony’s cheek. Tony groaned again and peeled his eyes open. He looked up at the Hulk crouched over him and winced. “Hey, big guy. How’s it going?” Tony croaked. Hulk grunted, his huge breathe ruffling Tony’s hair. “Yeah, me too.” Tony began to move, trying to sit up, but gasped in pain, his face paling. “Fuck! Ow ow owie,” he hissed through his teeth.

“Hurt?” rumbled Hulk.

Tony gave a harsh chuckle. “Yeah, buddy. Just a bit.” He lifted his right arm to cradle his left elbow. “I’m sorry I blew Bruce up, Hulk. I didn’t mean it.”

Hulk sat heavily on the floor. “Stupid,” he huffed.

“Yeah, sometimes I am,” agreed Tony.

Steve began to breathe again and reached forward to tap at the windows. “Tony?” he called softly, afraid of setting the Hulk off while he was so near to the dark haired man. The words were muffled but were audible through the glass.

Tony turned his head carefully and saw everyone in the corridor. “Hey, Cap. I’m in trouble, aren’t I?” Steve felt himself smile in response. Tony had that effect on him sometimes. Well, all the time really.

“Oie, Princess? We can’t get the door open,” said Clint. “Any ideas?”

Tony gave a slow blink, eyes a little wet, and Steve began to fear a head injury. “Tweedledee? Tweedledum? Door, please,” mumbled Tony. The two little football shaped robots rose into the air and flew toward the door. Two tiny clawed arms emerged from their bodies and for a moment batted against each other, a flurry of beeps sounding. “Oh, don’t fight you two. Be good,” scolded Tony. The robots booped and then started doing something to the key pad. Clint mashed his face to the glass of the window to see what they were doing while everyone waited. Finally, the door swished open and jammed halfway.

“Great,” griped Clint. Hulk got up with a grumble, carefully lumbered around Tony, and wrapped one huge fist around the edge of the door. He then slammed it the rest of the way open and swept away the debris in front of the doorway with his palm.

The security personnel in the corridor shifted nervously. Phil rounded on them like an annoyed parent. “Clear the corridor and let the medical personnel through,” he ordered. And because Phil was a scary, scary man the security personnel left the hallway and a group of nurses and doctors with a backboard took their place. They watched the Hulk warily but the green creature merely went to the far corner of the lab and sat down. To everyone’s relief, he began to shrink down, changing back into Bruce.

Steve slipped around a nurse and hurried to Tony. “How are you feeling?” he asked as he knelt by Tony’s side.

“Like I’ve been blown up,” replied an irritated Tony. He let go of him arm and grabbed hold of Steve’s collar, yanking him down close. “When Bruce wakes up you are not to allow him to run away. Do you understand me? I am not chasing him halfway across the world again. If I find Bruce fucked off to India I’m going to be very displeased.” Steve nodded under Tony’s brown eyed glare and the genius patted Steve’s collarbone in reward. “Good man.” Then in the next second, “No! My arm is broken. My arm! I don’t need a neck brace, you quack! It’s fine!” Tony attempted to kick the medical personnel trying to tend to him. “Get off!”

“Princess, stop whining and let them do their jobs,” said an amused Clint.

“Tony, please be still,” pleaded Steve, grabbing his good hand.

“I am hacking everyone’s email accounts! You are all going to get so much spam for Viagra and penis enlargement you won’t know what hit you!” snapped Tony. And then someone touched his broken arm and his eyes rolled back into his head with the pain and he passed out. Everyone froze and stared at the nurse who had touched Tony’s arm. She paled and let go quickly, dropping the arm back to the floor. Tony whimpered even if he was unconscious.

“Get away from him,” hissed Phil in a cold voice. It was not a tone they had ever heard from the agent. The nurse scrambled away and raced out of the door under Clint and Natasha’s furious glares. “If we could please treat Mr. Stark with the measure of competence and skill members of SHIELD should possess from now on I would be grateful,” instructed Phil, his tone once more calm. The medical personnel all nodded and made short work of their patient, soon lifting Tony on the backboard and promptly taking him from the lab. Steve quickly followed them out.

Tony opened his eyes to see his least favorite ceiling. He squinted. He closed his left eye and looked through only his right. He reversed it. He blinked a few times and then looked again. But the ceiling stubbornly staying the ceiling of SHEILD medical. Tony thought back. Then he thought forward. And back again even further. He even tried to think sideways to see if that got him anywhere. But his last memory was still of blowing himself and Bruce up in lab 7. Damn.

“Are you done?”

Tony titled his head down – and, wow, his back hurt, he must have hit the floor hard - and couldn’t help the grin. “Steve,” he greeted happily. The dark haired genius was lying on a narrow hospital bed, left arm in a white cast – that won’t last long – and an annoying IV stuck in the back of his right hand. His face also itched. Tony scrunched up his nose and then lifted a hand to scratch.

Steve gently caught his arm and laid it back on the bed. “Don’t. The cuts aren’t deep but the doctors put some antibiotic cream on them. Try not to scratch at them or you’ll get them infected.” Steve hesitated for a moment. “Princess.”

Tony’s eyes widened and then narrowed. Steve could feel his head shrinking down into his shoulders as Tony scanned his face. He was beginning to think he’d overstepped some boundary or completely misjudged things. Steve had thought things were warming up between he and Tony, maybe not best friends but at least not hostile. “Nope,” announced Tony, popping the ‘p’ like a piece of gum. “You do not get to call me that.”

“I’m sorry,” said Steve, embarrassed. He had misjudged things then. “That was rude of me. I had no right to call you that. It was disrespectful and uncalled… ”

“Ugh. Stop,” blurted Tony. “Clint calls me ‘Princess’ because he’s making fun of the little rich kid, born with silver spoon in my mouth stereotype. He’s not being mean; he’s genuinely and good-naturedly playing with me. You’re trying to call me ‘Princess’ because you’re an awkward little bunny and are taking your social cues from a person who’s personality in no way matches your own, who has the cultural knowledge to understand why calling me ‘Princess’ is not actually rude but is instead funny, and you are trying to, ick, bond with me in a way that really just makes you uncomfortable, oh overly polite one. Stop. I get that you’re trying to smooth things over with me after that truly, epically bad first meeting and argument that may or may not have been perpetuated by Loki’s Evil Stick of Evil but you need to just calm down and act normal with me because I don’t hate you, despite whatever impression you may have, and seeing you act in ways that are against your nature just pains me. So, stop. Call me whatever you want, Tony would be good, if you have questions, just ask, I promise I won’t laugh too much. I think you’re just adorable the way you are, so just stop trying to twist yourself into however you think you should be acting and just be yourself.” Tony blinked at Steve, the silence holding for a long moment. Then he started to flail his right arm in the air, grabbing for the IV. “Oh my fucking god! What type of happy juice are they pumping me full of? Get it out! Get it out! Before I word vomit any more feelings up!”

Steve jumped from his chair, trying to catch Tony’s waving hand. “Tony, stop! You’re going to hurt yourself!”

“Get it out! You did not just hear me say all that! Erase it from your mind! Delete! Delete!” shouted Tony. Blood began to trickle down the back of Tony’s hand and Steve, in desperation, lunged forward. Tony froze, eyes wide open and staring across the scat inches that separated them as Steve pressed his lips to Tony’s mouth.

“Okay, this officially makes Cap Prince Charming!” giggled Clint from the doorway.

Tony’s eyes narrowed and Steve jerked back, one hand flying to his mouth. “You bit me!”

Tony glared at him. “Of course I bit you, you sanctimonious…” Steve had no idea what look was on his face, but it made Tony pause. He went a little pale. “Oh, you were serious!” gasped the dark haired man.

Steve frowned. “Of course I was serious. Why would I…” He was cut off as Tony grabbed the collar of his shirt, again he might add, and yanked him down. This kiss was much deeper, as Tony wasn’t frozen in place, with a gentle slide of lips and a shy caress of tongue and slight nip of teeth at the end. Steve took a deep breath as Tony released him, leaning heavily against the bed. “Wow.” Tony grinned and darted in to place some tiny, quick kisses on Steve’s lips. Steve smiled a big goofy smile, which earned him another peck on the cheek.

“Wow, Prince Charming never kissed like that in the movies,” complained Clint.

Steve blinked at his teammates. “Um, Prince Charming?” he asked, confused.

“I know Snow White came out in the late 30’s. You must have seen it,” muttered Tony. He was fiddling with his IV again and Steve reached down to wipe at the trickle of blood Tony’s flailing had caused. He pushed the button to call the nurse, ignoring Tony’s scowl.

“I saw it but the prince didn’t have a name. At least, I don’t think he did,” answered Steve.

Clint tossed his arms up in the universal score position. “Yeah baby! Disney movie marathon!”

“Thor returns from New Mexico in the morning. We’ll start with Snow White then and work our way up in order,” said Natasha.

“Ugh, I can feel my blood sugar rising from here,” complained Tony. “You know Bambi is going to ruin him, right?”

“I was already in Europe when Bambi came out but I remember reading about it,” said Steve. A nurse appeared in the doorway and Steve waved her in with a smile.

“Ruin him,” stressed Tony. He shoved his hand in the nurse’s face. “Take this out.” The nurse opened her mouth. “Out!” The nurse just nodded at that and went about removing the IV.

“Someone is cranky,” Clint said.

“I’m allowed. People who have things explode in their faces are allowed to be cranky.”

“It’s okay, sweetheart,” muttered Steve without thinking, rubbing at Tony’s good shoulder.

Everyone in the room froze. “If you breathe one word about this to anyone else,” snapped Tony, thrusting a finger into the nurse’s face again. “I will have the Black Widow disappear you. They will never find the body, I swear to god.”

“Yes sir!” squeaked the nurse. She then pushed the box of Band-Aids she was holding at Steve and fled the room.

“Was that really necessary?” sighed Steve, opening the box and gently placing a Band-Aid on the back of Tony’s hand.

“Half the helicarrier is going to know that Steve Rogers called Tony Stark ‘sweetheart’ in the next ten minutes,” crowed a gleeful Clint. Natasha gave a tiny, amused smile.

“You know what? You are no longer my knight, Clint. I demote you. Go find Bruce and keep him from freaking out. I suggest lots and lot of dark chocolate. Now, shoo. I don’t like you anymore.”

“I am hurt. I really am. Now that you’ve found your Prince Charming, Princess, you don’t have a use for your faithful knight. I see how it is.” Clint sniffled and threw his nose up in the air. “I know when I’m not wanted.” He flounced out of the door.

Natasha gave a low chuckle. “Call for us when medical lets you out, Stark. Broken arms count for injury ice cream.” She gave Steve and Tony a nod and left, closing the door behind her.

“Oh god,” groaned Tony, hiding his face in his good hand. He was not going to whack himself in the forehead with his cast. Been there, done that.

“I’m sorry,” Steve said, uncertain.

“No!” said Tony quickly, dropping his hand. “Do not apologize. I meant it when I said call me whatever you wanted. Clint is just being a dick.”

Steve grinned. “Does this mean you don’t mind me calling you sweetheart?”

Tony sighed but couldn’t quite keep a smile from curling his lips. “I don’t mind you calling me sweetheart.”

Steve leaned over the bed again, pausing just as his mouth brushed Tony’s lips. “Sweetheart,” he breathed. Then he pressed their lips together.