Tony is on his way to the labs for Doctor Pym’s class when he notices him.
Steve is staring at his WWII Memorial Statue.
Tony sidles up right next to him. He tries to look up, underestimates the scale of the statue, and stumbles back. Tony catches himself, then checks if Steve had noticed.
Steve didn’t even so much as glance at him.
Tony frowns, perturbed by Steve’s laser focus. He looks back up at a now appropriate distance, taking it all in.
Steve’s marble face doesn’t actually resemble him. This Steve looked…harsher. It did have Steve’s old haircut, the one he had when he was just defrosted, and his jaw too. Tony squints his eyes a little. As much as Steve’s constantly glowing face annoyed him, he knew “Marble Steve” lost that brand of optimism. The patriotism is still there, sure. But M.S. looks like some sort of Greek god of AMERICA, all-caps. Tony tilts his head to the side now. It’s definitely Steve if he got hopped on steroids, and was hell-bent on showing the world how great their nation was.
His eyes go back to Steve.
Steve’s lips have thinned to a line. He was definitely not happy with this addition to the campus décor, which is weird to say in the least. He was perfectly fine with Howard’s and Aunt Peg’s.
Tony’s mouth quirks up one side. Shouldn’t this be some kind of immortalized family reunion? He’s about to ask out loud when Steve speaks first.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with this.” Steve doesn’t look away from the statue as he says this. It’s like some kind of staring match to see who’ll back down first.
Tony doesn’t know how to break that truth to Steve.
“Well,” Tony says, turning back to M.S. with a newfound determination to decipher what Steve was seeing. “You’re supposed to give it its few days of glory before ignoring it altogether, like all the other fluff pieces here.” He honestly doesn’t understand how gigantic bobble heads made it to Pepper’s approved list.
“I wasn’t alone in the fight, you know.”
“Peggy’s right over there. It’s hard to miss that other 12-foot statue.”
Steve’s face softens a bit at the mention of her name. “I mean I feel like I’ve cheated.”
Tony feels his eyebrows scrunch up. He looks back at Steve once more.
“Monuments like these are for fallen heroes. The dead. These great figures of history. I’m just—”
“If you’re going to say, I’m just a kid from Brooklyn, stop right there. We’ve all heard the line,” Tony says without heat.
Steve graces him with a tiny smirk. It’s gone as soon as it came.
"I know at least ten men who'd be more deserving of a statue like this. I worked with a lot of actual military ranked captains during the war and none of them ever got the same publicity I did."
Tony thinks it’s probably because Steve was the only one wearing the American flag as an outfit.
"All those reels they play in museums." Steve pauses. "I know the drill. Did enough of those propaganda productions to understand that the main frame was the sock on Hitler's jaw. Not the extras. Not the set pieces." Steve sighs, then finally turns to look at Tony.
Tony doesn't know whether to smile encouragingly or nod in respect for the seriousness of the conversation. He ends up with staring back at Steve like an idiot.
"I guess I should've known better than to expect them to treat the war for what it was." Steve half-heartedly smiles.
Tony was starting to sweat under the intensity of locking eyes with Steve. The guy's spilling his guts here. Jesus, he can't function properly when it comes to feelings. Steve looks away, and Tony immediately sags in relief.
"I didn't notice it until I actually sat through one of those films that they cut everybody out except for me. You’d see Bucky for a few seconds or even Dum Dum, but that’s it,” Steve says, “They’re all there were to the Howling Commandoes, apparently. Maybe even the whole army of men I had fighting beside me.” He laughs bitterly.
“I know I was chosen by Doctor Erskine because he saw something in me. I intended to carry that responsibility until the day I died—sorry, die,” Steve corrects himself.
Tony notices a dark look pass Steve’s face. His own face unconsciously scrunches up in concern.
Steve takes a few seconds before he continues. “Then I ended up becoming the poster boy for hope. I mean I was honored, sure. But I hated all those dumb U.S.O. Tours. A fake soldier who didn’t even get a taste of war, yet he gets to defeat the Nazis.
“I signed myself up for the army before the serum to join the fight to end the war. It was all about fighting for the little guys. I agreed to Project Rebirth because, well, I wasn’t naïve.” Steve scoffs. “I was more useful with a stronger body.
“And then I took up the shield and name, “Captain America”, because it was a damn privilege. At the end of the day, though, I’m just a guy in a sea of brave men and women.” Steve sighs. “They never got a chance.”
Steve closes his eyes. He takes in a deep breath, then gives off a shuddering exhale. Fully turning towards Tony now, he opens his eyes and gives a rueful smile. “I thought I left all that show ponying behind in the 1940’s. I guess it’s still the same.” Steve points to the statue behind him. “Just another dancing monkey.”
Tony does nothing as Steve leaves, heading towards the gym.
Tony thinks about it.
Tony practically mulls over it.
He was already late for class during the capital “C” Conversation, which doesn’t explain how he ended up lying on his back on the landing pad of his tower; yet here he was.
Janet’s been texting him nonstop ever since Pym’s class started. It was really unlike him to miss it. Tony groans when a flurry of angry ones arrive. They had a partner experiment and she ended up with Amora. Janet’s threatening to burn the girl’s hair off when he flips his phone face down.
He owes her a truckload of fabric.
He places an arm over his eyes. “JARVIS?”
“Yes, sir,” comes the immediate reply. The JARVIS program was still in the middle of its completion. Tony hasn’t figured out how to configure the A.I. to speak without the prompting of others.
He smiles anyways at the fluid response. “How do you make someone feel better?”
“I am still not able to comprehend human emotions, therefore my answer may not be of use to you, sir.”
“Lay it on me, anyways.”
“The most frequently suggested practice from the available resources is to offer companionship. You can remind the one hurting that he or she is not alone.”
Tony grimaces, imagining how well that conversation would go with Steve, and sticks his tongue out in disgust. “Not my thing. Way too sappy. And even I know Steve won’t appreciate it. How about we narrow it down? How to make a war veteran with self-esteem issues get over statues made in his honor feel better?”
“I do not have information that contains the exact phrase you are looking for, sir. The answer is inconclusive.”
“Yeah,” Tony says, “didn’t think it would work.” He curls up to his side and stares at the holoscreen, where the JARVIS activity feed gets picked up. He notices the tiny hike of electrical activity. JARVIS is hesitant to say something? Well that’s new, Tony gleefully notes.
“You have something to say, J?”
“…Picking out specific words out of your question, sir, I cannot help but cross-reference it with my observations.”
“Observations of what?”
“My observations of your behavior.”
“You favor making light of a situation when you are unhappy.”
Tony chuckles. “Thanks Sherlock, but I don’t—”
“My program’s name is not Sherlock, but JARVIS,” JARVIS interrupts, much to Tony’s surprise. “And you are doing it again, sir.”
Tony, scowl in place, gets upright. “As amazed as I am with your progress—because, wow, my A.I. made an actual joke, suck it, Howard—we’re here to look for ways to help Steve. This is not a psych session for me, JARVIS.”
JARVIS doesn’t respond.
Tony thinks it’s a lag in pathways and sighs. There was so much progress today, too. He startles when JARVIS speaks again.
“I apologize if this was an intrusion of your privacy, sir,” JARVIS says gently.
Well Tony feels like a dick now.
“However, I gather that your coping mechanism is a viable practice in, as you would say, ‘making Steve feel better’.”
Tony’s stares at the holoscreen in disbelief. As unsettled as he feels getting that evaluation shoved in his face, he can’t help but begrudgingly agree. JARVIS never said it was the best, but it was one way. Better anyways than whatever he could probably come up with.
He turns back to the view of the campus and catches sight of the Howard Stark statue by the entrance of the academy. It’s just as gigantic as Steve’s and Aunt Peg’s. Taller, only for the fact that it’s pointing to the sky. It was made in honor of Howard’s donations and Stark Tower; which was probably built as a little shove for admissions to process Tony’s papers faster.
Tony sneers. The man couldn’t get him out of the house quick enough. Howard had no need to worry, really. The day he was recruited, Tony packed his bags and counted the days before he was able to move in the dorms. He’s already miles away from home and he still has to see Howard’s face everyday. What he would give to—
That would be fun.
“Pull up a shopping list.” Tony moves to stand up. “I’ve got some things I need delivered by tonight.”
“And JARVIS?” Tony points his finger up in the air as he makes his way back into the tower.
“I’m a genius, because you’re a genius.”
Steve shifts from one foot to the other. This was not how he had hoped his Wednesday night would go.
Tony basically crashed into his dorm room this afternoon, telling him to meet by the foot of the Captain America statue at 2AM. He’s out the door right after, before rushing back with his head popping from the side of the doorframe.
“And please wear something that isn’t red, white, and blue,” Tony says exasperatedly. Then he leaves again.
Steve was just as confused as Sam, who was on his own bed studying and gesturing to the now empty space where Tony was. Steve shrugged his shoulders, and sheepishly asked to borrow his clothes.
It’s all he could do to make up for that embarrassing capital “C” Conversation that took place this morning. He didn’t know what came over him. And he absolutely did not intend to be vocal about his thoughts. It was just one of those, as Steve dubbed in his head, Very Bad days.
Steve tugs at the sleeves of Sam’s green shirt. Damn, he knew it was too small. But Sam was the only guy in school who was the next size down from him. Lord, now T’Challa’s pants were riding up.
Steve was in the middle of pulling out a wedgie, when he sees a figure from afar. He could feel his face burn as he stiffly goes into a parade rest. He then did a double take. “To—,” Steve starts with an incredulous tone, remembers what time it was, and lowers his volume. “Tony?”
The figure was jogging towards Steve now, with a finger to his lips. The moment he’s standing front of Steve, Tony takes off his sunglasses and lowers the hood of his jacket. “Why were you so loud? I thought you did espionage before!” he whispers hotly.
Steve wasn’t even listening to Tony. He covers his mouth to smother his giggles. Tony practically looked unrecognizable, with his cap, sweat pants and beat-up sneakers. It was ridiculous. “Who did you borrow those from?”
Tony raised one eyebrow in confusion. “These are mine,” he says like it’s obvious.
Steve immediately stops. “Oh, um.”
It’s just that he’s only ever seen Tony in loud expensive clothing. His red and gold motorcycle jacket is still hard to look at when the sun hits it just right. He even wears it to the gym when he uses the treadmill. Steve flicks his eyes at Tony’s outfit from head to toe. He actually thought Tony would never be caught dead in anything that looked older than a year. His getup looked well loved and well worn.
And he made fun of him for the way he looked, much to Steve’s horror.
Steve opens his mouth to start a stream of apologies when Tony cuts him off.
“Anyways, one, you better leave the super spy stuff to Tasha in future missions because you are a walking neon sign.” Tony is already crouched in front of the duffel bag Steve failed to notice at first. He looks up at Steve. “Two, I appreciate the effort in your outfit. I thought you would take the message as an allowance of clothes that are separately red, white, and blue. Sam’s?” Tony points at the shirt.
Steve is thrown for a second before he answers. “Yeah. The pants are from T’Challa and the boots are from Scott.” Steve motions to each item as he mentions its owner.
Tony smirks. “Knew it. I highly doubted you owned anything black too.” He turns his attention back to the bag, unzipping it.
Steve glares at him before deciding to settle on admiring this version of Tony while he wasn’t looking. Despite the lazy monochromatic ensemble, and an intentional attempt to some kind of anonymity, Tony looked nice. Soft, even, especially with his usual barrage of bright colors. It was weirdly endearing.
A can of spray paint is thrusted upon Steve’s face, breaking his thoughts. He moves his head to the side of the can to see Tony’s grinning face.
Tony stands up, and slowly shakes his hand with the paint. “You aren’t saying no!” he says in a sing-song voice.
Steve takes the can without really thinking about it, ignoring Tony’s noise of triumph. His eyes flit back and forth from the red spray paint in his hand to the statue.
Tony is practically vibrating with anxious excitement. He can tell the moment Steve gets it. He just hopes Steve’s game enough to go through with this. They haven’t tripped any alarms yet, so hopefully Fury or Pepper are still in the dark. The clothes were just for safety precautions in case JARVIS still had a glitch in its system and couldn’t maintain the loops for the security feeds of the area. Tony cants his head forward to look for a greenlight from Steve. It’s his statue to deface, after all.
Then, Steve gives him the slyest smirk that Tony didn’t even think Steve was capable of.
His stomach jumps.
Tony is definitely ignoring that.
Steve uncaps the can and starts shaking it with one hand. He assesses the statue like it’s one of his canvases.
Tony hurriedly places his sunglasses back on, and grabs for the blue spray paint he sees on top of the pile.
Steve finally stops shaking the can, and grins.
Tony is momentarily struck by how happy he looks. Steve’s apparently been carrying some heavy baggage the entire time he’s been here.
"I know just what to do with this.”
Steve gives him a shit-eating grin.
loves hates it. He opts to roll his eyes. “Don’t get used to it, Cap. I’ll always be right about the robots.”
Steve smiles and nods like he doesn’t believe him.
“Come on,” Tony huffs, “if we’re going to do this, you need to hide your hair. You are the only blond guy in the student body.” He takes off his cap and adjusts the hood of his jacket. Tony smushes the cap down on….
Steve rights the cap on his head himself and looks at Tony in amusement.
“A cap…on Cap,” Tony blurts. It’s the worst joke ever but he can’t stop the giggles. God, they haven’t even been exposed to the fumes yet.
Steve rolls his eyes heavenward but there’s a smile threatening to come out of his frown. Steve quickly covers his mouth, and starts laughing helplessly.
He huddles with Tony since they’re both leaned forward now, sniggering uncontrollably. They try shushing each other but another round of laughter manages to break out.
Everybody was talking about it the next day. Steve planned on sending Pepper some flowers (“I have a feeling she’d appreciate shoes more,” Tony says. “That’s your apology gift then.”) since she was the first one who saw it this morning, and collapsed in horror.
To Steve’s displeasure, Tony got the brunt of the accusations from everybody. People couldn’t pinpoint a definite culprit since they recruited a few former villains who hated Steve’s guts. However, there was definitely a significant number of questions aimed at Tony specifically.
Steve doesn’t understand why Tony looks surprised when he rants about it to him. But he waves it off and assures Steve that he’s used to this; and continues to smile at everyone and reply, “I was busy with a blond all night.”
It gets the reaction Tony seemed to look for: a roll of eyes and change of topic. Steve knows it’s a diversion tactic. He’s never realized it until now but it’s what Tony does all the time. Tony tells him to ignore the gossip but Steve can’t help but notice Tony’s smile getting dimmer as another student approaches him.
Steve, on the other hand, hasn’t talked to anyone the entire day. It wasn’t his fault. People were avoiding Steve like he was a breath away from imploding. They were all just as terrified when he bumped into Tony this morning.
The supersoldier serum was barely keeping his migraine down from sleeping at 6AM and waking up two hours later for class. The incident happened right by the statue too. People held their breaths as Steve blearily blinked his way into recognizing the blur in front of him. When he recognized Tony, with the sunglasses from last night (God-early morning), a thermos under his armpit, and who looked just as dead on his feet, Steve gave him a friendly nudge to the side and smiled down at him. Tony just nodded listlessly, and they both went on their ways.
That of course meant whispers about how Steve was too nice and Tony should be ashamed of taking advantage of him. Steve tried telling everyone the truth but no one believed him. Well, besides Sam and Natasha. T’Challa and Scott should have some idea of his involvement, now that he promised he’d give their clothes back after he figures out how to get rid of the paint stains. (Tony’s offered to pay for dry cleaning, but Steve should’ve been more careful.)
Janet’s been the only one glaring at anyone who dares mention Tony deserving some kind of punishment for his actions. Loki’s still nursing his arm hours after Janet’s sucker punch.
So, he’s a bit surprised when Fury asks Steve to see him after class.
"I know you did it, Rogers."
Steve merely smiles.
He knew he liked Fury for a reason.
They continue their stare-down for a few more seconds before Fury opens the folder in front of him. He leans forward and scans its contents. His eyebrow quirks after a moment. Fury lets his eye go back to Steve’s still smiling face.
“I didn’t think I’d have to worry about Captain America becoming a delinquent,” Fury intones.
Steve smiles a little wider.
Fury closes the folder with a snap and gives him a small smile. “Get out of my office.”
Steve doesn’t need to be told twice. He’s about to close the door behind him when Fury calls out, “That statue better be scrubbed clean by the end of the night. Bring Stark with you. No robots.” Steve full out grins.
Tony is already waiting outside with a jaunty wave for Fury before the door completely closes. He gives Steve an expectant look.
“We were nearly let off the hook. But the statue needs to look good as new by tonight.”
Tony opens his mouth.
Tony closes it, then opens it again.
Tony groans, but gives Steve a high five anyways when he raises his hand.
The sun was setting by the time they were almost done with the statue.
Tony’s heard the mumblings. People don’t get why Steve has to clean his statue as well. They think it’s probably the boy scout nature in him. No one's surprised at Tony, of course. It just proves that they were right. Tony doesn’t care. He can laugh at their faces because they didn’t witness Captain America carefully spraying a realistic dick on the crotch of his own statue.
Jan, Tasha, and Sam have already passed by to mock them. Steve officially becomes Tony’s hero
again when he “accidentally” dumps his dirty water close to the three, splattering them all. Steve was smart enough to do half instead of the whole bucket because nothing is worth risking Jan and Tasha’s wrath.
"You know, I really hate how I thought we were going for artfully placed mustaches or dicks but you had to go all out and make it into actual art. This fur looks so damn realistic that I'm seriously thinking of paying you to permanently draw a goatee on me to make up for the pathetic shadow I've got on my face." Tony finally gets on top of the statue’s right shoulder.
“You’ll regret it a week in,” Steve says without missing a beat.
Steve’s already pouring the paint remover on M.S.’s helmet, so Tony waits for it to drip onto its face before he starts rubbing. "You know, if we're lucky, I could shave off some of this dude's nose."
Steve barks out a laugh, but it’s slightly muffled by the face mask he’s got on.
Tony grins, and begins scrubbing in earnest.
Tony stops his violent scrubbing to look up at Steve.
Tony notices Steve's dropped his sponge back in his bucket to give his full attention and (ew, yuck) sincerity to Tony. He feels the sweat starting to come back. "Come on, Cap. I've been dying to get a chance to graffiti your face."
Steve regards him with a split second frown before he smiles like he’s remembering some inside joke. He chuckles to himself and twists to go back for his sponge.
Tony sighs in relief. He continues where he left off trying to smooth down the narrow marble nose. He cackles, ignoring Steve’s amused glance his way. He can blame it on the fumes later.
For now, he's going to make M.S. look like Voldemort.
(Steve doesn’t get the reference.)