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“Look,” (Name) said as she ran a frustrated hand through her hair, “I need this grant money for my final thesis project. If I don’t get it, I can’t finish building. If I can’t finish building, I fail my class. If I fail my class- Do you see where this is going? Because I could go on for a while.” She paused for a moment to wait for a response, but when she didn’t hear one, she asked, “Hello? Hello?!” It was after another long stretch of silence that she realized she’d been hung up on. She angrily set down her phone with a hissed “Damn it!”

“Still no luck with getting the money?” (Name)’s roommate, Anna, asked from the bathroom, the door wide open to reveal her getting ready to go out.

“No,” (Name) sighed as she plopped into the chair by her desk. “What am I going to do? My project is due in two months and I haven’t even started building yet, let alone testing it.”

“Did you at least get the plans for it drawn up?”

“Of course. Do you think I’d be this calm if I hadn’t at least done that?”

“This is you calm?” came Anna’s surprised voice.

“Yes, actually, considering the situation.” She pulled out her plans to look them over, trying to figure out how on earth she was going to build this thing on time.

Anna emerged from the bathroom, dressed to the nines, and went to grab her purse off the table. “Well, you have fun with that, I’m going to go. If I keep the girls waiting any longer, they’ll leave without me. I’ll see you later, (Name). Don’t stay up studying too late. If you’re gonna be up past midnight, at least watch some Netflix.”

“I’ll watch Netflix when I get this grant thing figured out.” She gave her friend a smile. “Have fun. Don’t get kidnapped.”

“I won’t!” She yelled as she shut the door behind her.

(Name) sighed as she slumped back in the chair, looking to her blueprints and various sketches and let out another long and tired sigh. She reached out a hand and put them on the blueprints, tracing the lines on the paper. “What am I going to do with you?”
*****
She’d just arrived from her last class of the day, unlocking the door to her apartment as she looked for her phone. She’d rather get her useless hunt for money over with before two a.m. What she didn’t expect to find when she opened the door was Tony Stark looking through her sketches.

“I didn’t know anyone still did their blueprints on actual blueprints,” he commented as he continued to examine them. “Why not do them on a tablet or whatever the cool kids are using these days?”

After allowing herself a brief moment to get over the shock of Tony freaking Stark standing in her apartment, (Name) cleared her throat and answered, “I like the feel of paper. It allows me to feel closer to my projects, to know the shape of everything. It just feels more personal, I guess.”

“Huh,” was Tony’s initial response as he continued to look at the sketches on her table. “So you couldn’t afford a tablet then?”

“Not at first, no,” she answered honestly. “But then I kind of started to like physically drawing out my plans and so I put the money I saved up toward other things.”

“Well, clearly your thesis project didn’t constitute as ‘other things’.”

“Wha- How do you even know about my thesis project, Mr. Stark?” she asked as she walked further into the room and set her bag down on the couch.

Tony almost physically cringed as he said, “Mr. Stark was my father. You calling me that makes me feel old. Please, call me Tony.” He gave her his most charming smile before continuing on. “As for how I know about your project… When a strange woman calls your facility and asks for a grant aiding in her final thesis project, a man likes to look into his possible future investments.”

(Name) looked at him, confused. “I don’t remember calling you.”

“Well, you didn’t call me directly. Though, you probably wouldn’t remember even if you did.” Tony chuckled, “My colleague told me you sounded drunk. Though I’d venture a guess and say you weren’t drunk, but rather exhausted beyond anything else.” At (Name)’s befuddled look, he explained, “I was a college student myself once. I’ve reached the point in exhaustion where you can’t remember what you did the night before.”

“By ‘exhaustion’ you mean 'blackout drunk’, right?” (Name) quipped.

“Wow. Smart and funny? You don’t see that every day,” Tony commented.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I’ve been through your school records as far back as I can go and all I can say is wow. I don’t think I’ve met someone as smart as you. Well, except for Bruce. He’s pretty smart too. I mean, an almost perfect GPA throughout high school and the same throughout college too? Not to mention the things you’ve made. Ingenious, if you ask me. And this-” he held up one of her sketches “-looks like it’ll be just as good, if not better than everything else you’ve made.”

“Okay… What does that mean?” (Name) asked as she looked at him curiously.

“It means I want to fund your little project and- hell… maybe even lend some advice considering I’ll be lending you a lab at the finest scientific facility in the area, possibly the world.”

She gaped at him, her features contorting into joyful shock. “You’re what?! You’re funding my project?!”

“And giving you a lab at Avengers Tower. Were you not listening to a word I said?”

“Oh my god!” she squealed, running forward and enveloping Tony in a hug. “Thank you so much! You won’t regret this. I promise.”

He awkwardly wrapped his arms around her, completing the hug. “I’m… sure I won’t.” They stayed that way for a solid minute before he spoke again. “Can you let go of me, kid? This is my favorite shirt and you’re wrinkling it.”

“Oh, right.” (Name) was quick to let go, going back to standing in front of him.

There was another moment of awkward silence and then, “So, I’ll see you tomorrow at Avengers Tower bright and early.” He gave her a pat on the shoulder before heading to the door.

“Yeah, you will,” she said to his retreating form, an unstoppable grin on her face. Her project wasn’t doomed. She wasn’t going to fail her class. And she was getting to work with Tony Stark of all people. This was definitely not how she thought her day was going to end.
*****
“Goddamn it!” (Name) exclaimed as she viciously set down her wrench. It had been nearly a month since Tony had given her access to a lab for a thesis project and she’d almost finished building. Except the stupid thing would turn on, no matter how much tinkering she did on the stupid thing. And she was getting frustrated.

“Judging by the blatant abuse of your tools, I take it you’re still not having any luck?” Tony said, walking into the room with two glasses of whiskey in hand, holding one out to (Name).

She took it and downed it in one gulp, hoping the amber liquid would calm her down. “No. I can’t even get the damn thing to turn on,” she lamented.

“Alright, kid, lay it out for me,” Tony said as he took a seat on the stool next to her. “What have you tried?” Over the past month, Tony and (Name) had developed a rapport, growing close as they worked together to complete this project on time. After all, spending hours on end in a lab, with no social interaction other than with the person you’re working with… it does a lot for building relationships.

“I’ve tried just about everything. I looked for faulty parts and found nothing wrong with them. I checked for loose bolts and there were none. I checked and rechecked my blueprints to make sure I didn’t forget to put in a part. I did just about everything I could think of and still nothing.”

Tony looked down at her project, looking down at the opening to examine the components himself. It was silent during this time, causing (Name) to fidget as she watched him go back and forth between her blueprints and the pile of scraps that she called a project. It was a good five minutes before Tony spoke again. “Did you check the wires?”

(Name) blinked. Then, “Of course! The wires! Why didn’t I think of the wires?” She delved right in to toying with the wire, checking and double checking wires to see if they were connected or even crossed wrong. “Ah ha! I found you, you sneaky son of a bitch,” she chuckled darkly when she saw that one was, indeed crossed in a way it should most definitely not be. She held her hand out toward Tony. “Hand me those tweezers would you?”

He handed her the requested item and watched her as she worked to untangle the wires. He watched the way her brows furrowed and the way her tongue stuck out slightly as she was deep in concentration. Tony noticed the way her wrists deftly twisted to undo the error. Why was he staring at her in this way? She was his friend, his protégé. Yet, he couldn’t help the warm feeling in his chest when he just looked at her. That wasn’t how friends were around each other, at least not in his experience.

“Okay,” (Name)’s voice snapped him out of his daydream. He could see her pulling her hands out of the contraption. “I think that should have fixed it. I’ll just go ahead and flip the switch.” Her hands hovered as she located the on/off switch and flipped it.

The telltale sound of a machine powering up made a joyous sound spring from her awed and open-mouthed smile. “Yes! It works!” She jumped in her excitement and pulled Tony to his feet and pulled him into a hug. “We did it!”

“No,” he said, pulling her back with his hands still on her shoulders, “you did it. You’ve spent months on this thing. All I did was serve as a soundboard for your ideas and problem solving. Don’t give me any credit. This was all you.” The smile she gave him, the flattered blush that came on her face as a result of his comment, it only added to the feeling in his chest. He’d only felt like this with Pepper. So that could only mean one thing.

It was in this realization that he abruptly planted his lips to hers. His lips were warm against hers. The kiss itself was sloppy, sweet, but short. She pulled away from him once the shock of it all wore off and just looked at him. “Tony…,” she breathed, looking at him. It was in looking at his face that she read the situation. He cared about her a lot, it seemed. She couldn’t help but feel the same way, but was it real or just the buzz from her victory with her project? “I… I got to go. Um… thanks for your help.” Grabbing her bag, she headed toward the lab door and left.

She needed to think about this. She needed to think through exactly what she was feeling without Tony staring at her.
*****
The rest of (Name)’s experience spent in the lab could be described in one word: cordial. Sure, the first week was rough, mostly filled with short exchanges of awkward small talk, but they eventually managed to move past it and focus on the work ahead of them. After all, they still had to test the damn thing and fix any bugs that came up.

Things unthawed between them again once they were thrown into the testing phase. They were back to teasing each other and making jokes. It was friendly, but even (Name) could feel the underlying tension between them. It needed to be resolved. But she needed longer to think. And also to finish this damn project.
*****
After countless months of sketching, designing, redesigning, and hours upon hours of building and testing, the project was built. It took her about a week to write the paper to go with it, but it was a load off of her mind.

Though that didn’t last long, as the waiting for it to be graded that drove her more insane than the process of putting it together did. Anna had nearly murdered her during the intense waiting period. Apparently her pacing around the apartment was distracting to Anna when she was trying to catch up on the work she’d heavily procrastinated.

Another month later and the grade came back. She’d gotten an A. Granted, there were a few errors in her paper that her professor recommended fixing, but other than that he was ecstatic about the product she’d produced.

After telling Anna and having a micro-celebration in honor of all her stress finally paying off, (Name) came to a startling realization. She wanted to tell Tony, almost as if she needed to. Her thinking, along with this new thought, allowed her to come to a decision. She needed to talk to Tony.
*****
She knocked on the door to his lab, thanking all the gods above that her badge hadn’t been revoked yet. Part of her didn’t want him to answer because what was she going to say? She hadn’t this far ahead. Hell, she hadn’t thought past getting into the building.

So when Tony actually did open the door, she froze. “Um… hi,” (Name) awkwardly greeted.

“Hi,” Tony responded awkwardly back. “What’re you doing here? I thought you turned in your project.”

“I did. I got it back today, actually. I got an A,” she said.

A grin came onto his face. “No way! Congrats, I knew you could pull it off,” he told her, pulling her in for a quick hug. “Well, thanks for sharing. I- uh- I should get back to work.”

As he went to turn and go back inside, she stopped him with a, “Wait.” When he stopped and turned around, she continued. “That’s actually not why I came here. I needed to talk to you.”

“Oh, really?” He crossed his arms, his eyebrows quirked in surprise. “What’s so important that you had to come down here and tell me?”

(Name) took a deep breath. This wasn’t how she originally planned to do this, but she figured she was just going to have to wing it. “I am… not very good at this. I’ve had a few relationships in my life and they didn’t last very long. Most people couldn’t deal with my dedication to academics. But… I’m going to try and say it as best I can.”

Another deep breath, and then, “I care about you. I care about in a way that’s probably considered more than friendly. I just… When you kissed me, I wanted to make sure of what I was feeling before I did anything. I didn’t want to string you along if I didn’t feel the same. But, I do! I do and that’s what I needed to tell you and I guess I’m just rambling now.” She gave him a sheepish smile as she looked at him, waiting for a response.

Tony just looked at her for a moment before asking, “So, just so I’m clear, the purpose of that long-winded speech was to tell me you like me?”

(Name) took a breath and said her answer, “Yep, basically.”

Tony let out a short laugh. “Well, I must say. It was all very nice, so nice in fact,” he began to move closer to her, “that I’m asking for your permission to kiss you. You know, so I don’t want to scare you off again.”

(Name) smacked him lightly on his chest as he came to wrap his arms around her. “You’re not going to scare me away this time. So… you can go ahead and give me that kiss now if you’d like.”

“Alright then,” Tony stated as he leaned his face in closer, “I will.” He pressed his lips to hers in a softer, sweeter kiss than the one in lab a month prior. It wasn’t rushed nor was it sloppy. He was taking his time, as well as control, and making it right. This is was their first kiss should have been like. She didn’t object as Tony guided her into the lab, allowing the door to slide shut behind them, all without breaking the kiss.
*****
They’d tried to keep their relationship hidden from the press, not wanting it to interfere with (Name)’s reputation and chance at opportunities. But paparazzi are sneaky assholes who have superhuman abilities of their own. Through some means that either of them had yet to figure out, someone managed to snap a photo of the two of them kissing at some little restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

The media was going absolutely nuts. Tabloids were publishing all sorts of headlines, from those that were hailing the couple to those who wish it to crash and burn. Most of them, whether they approved of the relationship or not, liked to point out one particular: Tony was much older than (Name). She was just fresh out of college, about a few years past the legal drinking age, while Tony was two decades and a few years over the drinking age.

At first, it didn’t really bother Tony. He’d had flings with lots of younger women, some a few years younger than (Name) even, and they were only just now calling him out on it? He’d even laughed when the other Avengers started to make old man jokes. But, the more people he heard people ask the question “Isn’t she a little young for you?” the more it started to bother him. He was determined not to let it get to him. He’d let a lot of other things roll of his back in the past, he could do the same with this. Besides, how much longer could this thing stay prominent in the press?

The straw that broke the camel’s back came about two months after they’d gone (forcibly) public. Things were finally starting to die down and they’d gone back to behaving normally in public. Hell, since they were public now, Tony had offered to take her to one of the upcoming charity galas as his date. (Name) had practically jumped at the chance to go.

Dressed up in their most formal attire, (Name) and Tony headed to what was supposed to be a fun evening. Though, it didn’t really start off that way. Getting there had been fine, with a nice, long limo ride where he and (Name) had talked amiably about each other’s day. Entering had been fine, some chatty reporters and annoying paparazzi cameras flashing, but otherwise nothing out of the ordinary. It was about an hour into the event that things went south.

Tony had been approached by an old friend of his father’s, someone he hadn’t seen in years. He was tall, white haired and not exactly up-to-date with current events.

“Is that Anthony Stark?” he’d said upon walking up to Tony and (Name). “I haven’t seen you in years! Let me look at you.” He’d looked Tony up and down before saying, “You’ve grown into a fine young man, I see. So much like your father.”

Tony did not want to be talking to this man. He was nice man, but he had much more interesting things he could be doing. Alas, his mother had taught him good manners and he wasn’t about to shoo the man away just because he didn’t like him. “It’s good to see you too, Chuck. How’s the wife and kids?”

“Oh, you know, off somewhere extravagant and away from business, as usual,” the man chuckled. It was then he’d noticed (Name)’s presence. He gave her his most charming smile as he said, “Speaking of kids, you didn’t tell me you had one of your own, Anthony. When did you have a daughter?”

Tony choked, coughing slightly as he tried to think of what to say in response. “Um, I still don’t have a daughter. This is my girlfriend, (Name).”

“Your girlfriend?” Chuck asked, his expression one of surprise. “Well, you always did like 'em young, didn’t you?”

It was at this moment that Tony had reached his limit. “I guess I did. I’m sorry, would you excuse me?” He didn’t wait for a response as he quickly walked away, needing to get some air.

The night air felt cool on his skin as he leaned against the balcony railing. He hadn’t realized it before, but he was mildly freaking out. His daughter? Chuck thought (Name) was his daughter? Was he that much older than her that people thought that? Did the age gap bother people that much? Or, worse, did the age gap bother (Name)?

“You alright, Tony?” (Name)’s soft voice broke the quiet atmosphere outside, her hand resting gently on his arm. “You just kind of… stormed out of there.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” he said, resting his hand on top of hers. “It’s just… does it bother you that I’m older than you?”

“What?” She was taken aback by his seemingly out of nowhere question. “Tony, of course it doesn’t. Where did this come from?”

Tony shook his head. “I don’t know. I just- Chuck thought you were my daughter. My daughter, (Name). It’s got me thinking… What if those reporters were right? What if this relationship is a disaster waiting to happen? What if I’m not right for you?”

“Since when are you in the business of listening to what others think? They call you old, they me a gold-digging hussy. It’s how this world works. I’d take what the reporters say with a grain of salt.” (Name) sighed before using both of her hands to take one of his, “Look, people are stupid. Or at least, a lot of them are. When people don’t like something, it’s usually because they don’t have all the details. So, it makes me think that people don’t understand what we have. And do you know what? I don’t think I want them to. If they can’t show us the tiniest bit of compassion and be happy for what we have, then screw them.”

She gave his hand a squeeze before continuing. “I love you. That should be all that matters. Last time I checked, you only needed the consent of the two people in the relationship to actually have the relationship. Unless we were into polygamy. That would be a different story.” They both chuckled. When she saw the smile remain on his face, she asked, “Feel better?”

Tony let out a quiet laugh, “After that rambling speech on stupid people with a sprinkle of polygamy? Yeah, I am.”

A smile graced (Name)’s face as she planted a kiss on Tony’s lips. “Good. Are you ready to go back inside or do you want to stay out here a bit longer?”

“Yeah, I’m good.” He held out his arm for (Name) to take. “M'lady?”

She feigned surprise as she looped her arm through his, “Why thank you, good sir.” Together they walked back inside the gala to grin and bear through the rest of their time with the masses.