So this was supposed to be a one-shot. Then people started asking for a sequel with the X-Men, team bonding, and the sentient stove (if you don't know who that is, you should read the first installment). First I was like, this was supposed to be a one-shot. Then my muse began whispering to me again, and I was like, okay. I can swing this. Romance? Sure, let's do it! Tony feels? Yep! Character development? Totally! X-Men? …Maybe.
If you're looking for smut, this isn't the story for you. It's hardcore character development, lots of Tony feels, and team bonding. Besides, let's not get into the fact that if I tried to write smut, it'd probably be an epic FAIL and relegated to my trash folder. So I'm not going to go into that field. Though if someone wants to write smut in this universe, be my guest! Just let me know. ;)
In any case, I've probably blathered on enough. Enjoy the epically long fic!
It's All in the Mind: Tony is not a mutant. Tony is 100% normal. Tony is Iron Man. Tony is an Avenger. Tony...is just fooling himself.
Telekinesis 101 (Or A Guide to Readjusting Perceptions): Tony is a mutant. Tony is Iron Man. Tony is an Avenger. Tony…has some unresolved issues. Namely, the problem called Steve. Or maybe his overactive brain. Pick either.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own The Avengers.
BTW, I will just say that I am THRILLED about the reception this story has gotten. I never expected such positive feedback. Thank you!
Telekinesis 101 (Or A Guide to Readjusting Perceptions)
Tony was impulsive. Anyone you asked who was close to Tony (or even not close – as the board members of Stark Industries could testify) could agree that Tony Stark was impulsive and prone to making life-changing decisions on a whim. Not that this was a bad thing. In fact, many of Tony's best decisions had been made on a mere impulse.
But impulsiveness could be a bad thing. It could be a very bad thing, especially when it came to personal affairs.
Like this right now. Tony still wasn't 100% sure that he was making a good choice here. "Here" being his new relationship with Steve Rogers, aka Captain America. So, yeah, you see his point?
Tony Stark, billionaire, playboy, former weapons manufacturer, and the man responsible for bringing about the deaths of untold millions due to his apathy regarding the final destination of his weapons, was together with someone he'd never even dreamed of. Steve Rogers was too nice of a guy to be together with Tony, which was why he was still so leery of this relationship.
He didn't know if he'd get bombed or if this would actually work out. He knew how he felt for Steve, even if it had come as a complete surprise. He knew how Steve felt for him, or at least how Steve thought he felt for him, but he didn't know if it would last. How well did Steve really know him?
Tony sighed, rolling his head back to loosen the knots in his neck. He leaned forward over the designs for his latest suit, willing his brain to stop fixating on his new relationship. It wasn't helping concentration one iota, and he really wanted to get this prototype finished. If his suitcase armor hadn't been so incapable of holding extra weight, he could've gotten Clint and himself out before getting kidnapped by crazy Japanese working for HYDRA.
"JARVIS, run the schematics for this," Tony said, leaning back in his seat. He flicked two of his fingers in a "come hither" gesture, and grabbed the glass of green smoothie that flew into his hand.
Dummy gave a depressed chirp at the sight.
"Don't give me that," Tony warned, swiveling his chair to look at the AI. "The last time you tried to hand me something it was poisonous."
"Was there anything else, sir?" JARVIS asked.
"Nothing at the moment," Tony said, downing the drink in several large gulps. He sent the empty glass floating to the sink, where Dummy pounced on it. "No dropping—" The glass shattered on the floor as Dummy's pincers failed to grasp it. "Lovely."
"Perhaps a faster reaction time, sir?" JARVIS suggested, meaning Tony's telekinesis.
"Try to contain the snark," Tony said, pulling up schematics for his repulsors. He was looking to incorporate in them the frequency that usually took out Doctor Doom's Doombots. It would make those fights a lot less messier.
A lot less messier and less inclined to end up with broken legs. And heartbreak. The last time Doom had attacked Pepper had broken up with him, he'd gotten drunk, and Steve had let him sleep in his room. Which was still something that made Tony's mind stutter to a stop. He hadn't even been friends with Steve at that point.
Or had he?
Tony blinked as he looked at the designs, sighing exasperatedly as he realized that instead of messing with the repulsors on his suit, he'd redesigned the engine on the Helicarrier. Thinking about Steve like that almost always drew his mind back to that disastrous argument in the air.
He needed to think about this. Impulsiveness was great, but not when he ran the risk of destroying a friendship. And that would happen when Steve realized he could do so much better than Tony Stark.
"Schematics are complete, sir," JARVIS announced quietly, sensing his creator's preoccupation.
Tony looked them over, pleased to see that this updated suitcase armor would be just as compact and – most importantly – be capable of carrying one other person. "Begin assembling it."
"Estimated completion time: five hours. May I suggest—"
"I'm staying down here," Tony interrupted, guessing what JARVIS was driving at. He saved the designs for the newly improved Helicarrier engine and pulled up what he had wanted to work on in the first place.
Steve Rogers was a nice guy. Everyone could agree on that. If he wasn't nice, he generally apologized, even if he didn't know what he was apologizing for. Case in point, his attempted apology right after the Chitauri invasion. Tony had shot that one down, but Steve had apologized later once he got to know Tony better.
In any case, the point was that Steve most likely didn't know what he was getting into when he wanted a relationship with Tony. Even if Rhodey said that Steve was in it for the long haul, Tony suspected that he would be having second doubts once the honeymoon session was over. It wasn't that he doubted his capabilities as a lover (hello, former playboy here!), but rather his capabilities to fulfill the emotional side of a relationship.
Tony was many things, but he wasn't adept at emotions. He tended to stifle most emotions before they got out, as it was less grief that way. That didn't mean that they didn't exist, as could clearly be seen here, since his feelings for Steve had snuck up on him. He'd suspected, but he'd ignored them because of the utter implausibility of such a relationship even occurring in the first place.
Clint had hinted at it, but Tony had refused to believe. Then came this. "This" being two days ago, when Steve had finally gotten Tony to do a bit of soul-searching and realize that yes, he was in love with Steve Rogers, and that the emotion was reciprocated. There may also have been some making out, but that was neither here nor there.
The point that Tony was getting to was his damned impulsiveness. If he hadn't been impulsive, he wouldn't have pulled Steve down into a second kiss (the first having been initiated by Steve himself to persuade Tony) and gotten himself into this emotional soup. Or mud puddle (more like quicksand, really). In any case, Tony was screwed if this went south because he was already too attached. He hadn't told Steve the magic words yet, but it was a matter of time.
A matter of time and impulsiveness. He was pretty sure that the next time he saw Steve would lead to him blurting those words out, or some resemblance of them.
Tony didn't startle when he felt a pair of arms snake their way around his waist to pull him into a embrace. A soft kiss was pressed against the nape of his neck.
"You've been down here for hours," Steve said softly, his warm breath washing over Tony's skin.
"Is there something important going on?" Tony asked, leaning back into Steve's arms. This wasn't impulsive. It wasn't.
"Not as such, no." Steve's lips traced the tip of Tony's ear, making him shiver. "Are you feeling all right? You didn't seem to be doing much."
Tony looked down at the blueprints of the repulsor technology, noting that instead of putting in an electronic pulse to take out Doom's Doombots, he had made them significantly more powerful. At full power, it would probably blow out his gauntlets. It was something he would have to adjust for with his current suit; he'd probably have to reconfigure the wires…
He exhaled slowly, slowly leaning his head back so it was resting on Steve's shoulder. Steve's blonde hair was in his peripheral vision now. "I'm always doing something."
"Have you slept at all?"
"Mmm." Tony didn't think he had, but that wasn't something he was going to tell Steve. "I…wanted to apologize."
"For what?" Steve sounded mildly confused.
"For what I said earlier. Everything you are…it didn't just come out of a bottle."
Steve's arms tightened slightly at the reminder of that argument, though it was offset by how he turned his face into Tony's neck. "I said my own share of bad things, if you'll remember."
Tony chuckled lowly. "Yeah…and you've apologized. I figured it was about time I return the favor."
"It wasn't a favor," Steve said, making a motion as if to turn Tony to face him, stopping when encountering resistance. "It wasn't."
With that uncanny judgment of his, Steve seemed to sense that something was bothering Tony. "What else is wrong?"
It was scary how fast Steve had gotten to know Tony, and they'd only known each other for months rather than the years Pepper and Rhodey had under their belts. And they were likely (not always) to let Tony's crap fly rather than call him out on it.
Steve sighed with a mixture of affection and exasperation. "Is this about us?"
Tony ducked his head slightly, studying the holograms as an excuse not to meet Steve's eyes, which were inspecting the side of his face. He usually had a brain-to-mouth filter. It tended to work very well for him on good days. On bad days, it didn't do so well. Typically, that happened when he was drunk (which wasn't often, as he usually exploded things) or too exhausted to think straight. As he was neither at the moment, he didn't have any excuse for what he did next other than his traitorous heart.
"Why?" Tony could have bitten his tongue when the one word slipped out. He very nearly did, but self-preservation stopped him. As it was, he firmly shut his mouth, not wishing to elaborate any further.
Steve didn't seem to need any further clarification. "Why you? Tony…" He let go of Tony's waist, only to grab firm hold of his chair and attempt to swivel it around. "Let me look at you."
Steve Rogers was a super soldier. He had super strength. In general, he respected other people's boundaries and didn't push if they didn't want something. In this case, he ignored Tony's feeble attempts to avoid looking at him (it'd make the whole thing less personal if he wasn't looking at him) and turned the chair around, meeting Tony's brown eyes with his own.
Met with those blue eyes, Tony found himself blurting something else out. "I don't understand."
"You know I love you, don't you?"
"You're you, Tony," Steve said gently.
Yes, Tony was Tony. Which was why this didn't make any sense.
"I'm best handled in small doses," Tony said, leaning back in his chair. It was difficult to breathe with Steve in such close proximity. "You're getting a wallop if you go through with this."
Steve laughed quietly, a small grin lighting up his face. "I've been living with you for the last so many months. You don't sleep, don't eat, drink too much coffee, fix up the kitchen so no one knows how to use it anymore without setting something on fire or making the stove mad, leave messes behind that we're afraid to touch because it looks too dangerous, and spend far too much time down here to be healthy. I think I know what I'm getting into, Tony."
So did Pepper, and look how that had turned out. Tony had been hurt, but he had (sort of) expected it. This? This was going to hurt and be messy. Pepper and he had years of friendship to fall back on. Steve and himself? Not so much.
"You're over thinking." Steve's thumb was rubbing soothing circles onto the back of Tony's hand.
"That's what I do. I think—"
"Don't. There will always be a million and one things that could go wrong. Don't go looking for every one of them."
"I don't. Since some of them are so implausible that it would be stupid to bring them up. I doubt you'd break up with me over Fury"—Steve's mouth twisted in what looked to be a stifled smile—"but there are other things – mmph!"
Steve's mouth slotted over his own, warm and coaxing. He slid a hand into Tony's hair, angling his head to deepen the kiss.
Something made a shattering sound in the background, and Steve broke away to glance over his shoulder. Tony winced as he saw the destroyed blender, Dummy anxiously hovering over it as if he was responsible. So Tony was still a bit out of shape. This hadn't happened with Pepper, but then he hadn't been consciously practicing his telekinesis at that point either.
Steve let out a low huff of laughter, turning to smile at Tony. "Don't over think this. I do love you, Tony."
Tony smiled warily back, his mind still whirring. Would this feat of impulsiveness pay off? "You know I do, too, right?"
The blinding smile on Steve's face was worth it. It was even worth the bursting sink that erupted during the fiery kiss that ensued.
Tony wasn't anxious. He wasn't. Just because this was the first time he was seeing Pepper since getting together with Steve was no reason to be anxious. They were both responsible adults. He was not anxious.
Pepper looked up from her computer, smiling when she saw Tony enter her office. "Tony."
"Pepper," Tony acknowledged. He smoothly sank into the chair on the other side of her desk. "You called me?"
"This stack of paperwork needs signing." She pushed over a stack of paper about half a foot high.
"If I didn't know better, I'd say you'd want me to get carpal tunnel," Tony said, grimacing at the sight. He nicked a pen from her stash and began skimming through the documents, signing when he came to the appropriate lines.
There was silence for a few moments as Tony steadily worked his way through the files. He speed-read through the contents, making sure that nothing untoward was signed. It wasn't that he didn't trust Pepper. It was just that he'd learned his lesson after Obadiah.
"Are you happy?"
The question came directly out of left field, startling Tony such that he screwed up his next signature, sprawling a line directly across his last name and rendering it even more illegible than it usually was. He looked up at Pepper, seeing that she was expecting an answer.
Was he happy? That depended. Was he happy that he was together with Steve? Yes and no. Yes because he loved him and no because he was afraid of what would happen in the future. It was hard to be unconditionally happy when you feared for what would occur in the future. So maybe the answer was—
"Don't do that," Pepper interrupted his thought processes, tugging the ruined sheet of paper out from under his hand. "Don't over think. Just answer me honestly, Tony. Are you happy?"
Tony clicked the pen in his hand nervously for a few seconds, fidgeting. "Yes."
Pepper's smile wasn't strained in any bit. "Good."
Tony heard the whirring of the printer come to life as Pepper reprinted the document he had inadvertently ruined. He tapped the end of the pen against the desk for a moment before deciding to bite the gun. "Are you okay with it?"
Pepper met his eyes. "I'm happy that you're happy," she said, reaching under the desk to pull out the freshly printed document and handing it back to him. "You deserve him, Tony."
"Our breakup wasn't your fault," Pepper said, speaking over him. "It wasn't."
Tony's jaw worked for a few seconds. "You couldn't handle being the girlfriend of a superhero," he pointed out. "Indirectly, that makes it—"
"It wasn't you, Tony. If I'd been stronger—"
"If I'd been stronger," Pepper continued firmly, "then it wouldn't have mattered. I would've been able to handle it. But I can't just stand on the sidelines and watch you risk your life every time you put that suit on."
"I would've made you a suit."
Pepper opened her mouth and shut it, momentarily speechless.
"I'm not joking," Tony said evenly. "I would've made you a suit."
She found her voice. "I know. But that life…it's not for me. I'm CEO of this company, and while some people are able to multitask, I'd prefer to focus on this one thing." Pepper leaned forward, clasping her hands together as she met Tony's eyes with steely determination. "It wasn't because of you."
"I'm Iron Man—"
"I don't want you to change. I couldn't ask you to give that up just because I couldn't stand seeing you put yourself in danger. It would've changed a fundamental part of you, and I couldn't ask that." She gave a small smile. "That's why you and Steve work. You're able to watch each other's backs. You understand the risks."
"So did you."
"I thought I did," Pepper admitted quietly. "But it was you carrying that nuke into a portal that told me I didn't."
Tony was quiet for a moment, tapping his fingers against his knee. It wasn't Pepper's fault, but she said it wasn't his fault either. That just left outside forces.
"Let's just put the blame on the circumstances, yeah?" He smiled weakly.
Pepper gave a low laugh. "All right, Tony."
Tony's smile became more relaxed at her agreement, and he continued signing the documents.
Pepper's next statement was quiet and free of accusation. "You never told me you were a mutant."
Tony didn't startle this time, finishing his current signature as he considered his answer. "I wouldn't have had any proof," he finally said. "It wasn't working."
Tony gave her a brief smile, lifting a hand and calling over a book from the shelf on the side. He let it hover in the air beside him for a moment before shelving it again. "No problems." Aside from exploding things when making out with Steve, but there was no need to mention that.
"You look happier now," Pepper said, eyes tracking the book as it floated back to its shelf. She met his eyes, a small smile crossing her face. "I'm glad."
Tony smiled back, a warm, fuzzy feeling nestling itself directly behind his reactor. It meant a lot that Pepper approved of his relationship with Steve. If she hadn't, Tony would be having more doubts than he was having at the moment.
Steve had said not to over think their relationship. The problem was that Tony tended to over think automatically. It came with having a genius-level IQ that was mathematically inclined. As such, his brain was forever running probabilities in the background. It had saved his life more than once.
He finished signing the last of the documents, shaking out his hand as he pushed them over to Pepper.
"Fury is looking to schedule something with the X-Men," Pepper said, flicking through the sheets to check that everything was signed.
Tony couldn't stop himself from making a face. "How come you heard about that?"
"Because he seems to think I still have control over your schedule." Pepper shot him a broad smile. "Since I do, in fact, still have some control over it, I told him to look into next week."
Tony's brow furrowed. "Did you schedule something for this week?" he demanded.
Pepper's gaze lingered over Tony's chest, where the bandages from the failed surgery Tony had gone through several days earlier were still wrapped. "Recovery," she said simply.
Tony couldn't stop his hand from resting over the reactor, reminding himself that it was still there. "I see."
Pepper smiled brightly, stacking the papers together with a loud thump. "Well! That takes care of that! That will be all, Mr. Stark."
"Great." Tony stood up, waiting as Pepper walked around the desk to stand before him.
She had a sad smile on her face now, though Tony only caught a brief glimpse of it before she hugged him. "Take care of yourself, Tony," she whispered.
Tony's throat felt slightly clogged up as he returned the gesture. "I will."
"No, you won't." Pepper chuckled softly, drawing back. She tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "Remember, Tony: don't over think it."
Tony wondered if he was that easy to read.
"Yes, you are. Now get back home. I'm sure Steve is wondering where you are."
Sometimes, it was downright creepy how well Pepper could read him.
Tony didn't meet Steve when he arrived back at the mansion. Instead, he was ambushed by Natasha and drawn into a brutal training session.
He could respect having to train. Even if he did most of his fighting in a large armored suit, he did have to keep in shape. Reflexes were important, and JARVIS couldn't do everything. Most of what Tony did was based on subtle muscle twitches and split-second reactions that were copied by the suit's sensors. JARVIS fine-tuned what happened, but he couldn't run the suit without Tony's input. And Tony's input required a body that knew what it was doing.
So when Natasha kidnapped him from the entryway to bring him to the dark shadowy depths…okay, so it was the gym of the mansion. Anyway, so when Natasha did kidnap him (it happened more often than Tony liked to admit) for training, Tony kept quiet and acquiesced with good grace. He didn't like having his butt handed to him, but that wasn't because it was a woman doing it. It was because it usually ended with bruises, horribly sore muscles, and sometimes bruised ribs.
The latter was something that Natasha had been careful never to repeat again, as Steve had thoroughly chewed her out. Tony had been hidden away in the workshop at the time, being fussed over by Dummy (which was cute, but the AI seriously needed to realize that bruised ribs did not equal having to be carried to whatever place Tony needed to go to; he had legs), though he'd been regaled with the tale from Thor. The god had been proud that the captain had been so protective of one of his teammates.
Okay, getting sidetracked here (over thinker, remember?). In any case, Tony didn't mind being trained by Natasha. It sharpened his martial arts skills (which kind of consisted of dodging for his life, with the occasional punch and kick thrown in that Natasha let through her guard because she pitied him), and told him that one should never ever piss off Black Widow. Ever. It was something he'd put on a banner and have flown over the skies of New York City if Fury would allow it.
Actually, he'd do it regardless of what Fury said. It was just that Natasha would kill him if he did. So, yeah…he'd leave that to someone else.
But back to the point. He was currently getting his ass handed to him courtesy of one Natasha Romanov.
His face hit the mat and his arm was twisted behind him. He could feel Natasha's knee digging into the small of his back.
"How's your chest?" she asked primly.
"Never better," Tony grunted, going boneless as she slid off him. It wasn't his chest that was the problem; his shoulder felt like it had been wrenched out of his socket. Though if it had, he had a feeling that Steve would again be having words with Natasha. In fact, she was eyeing it right now, probably to ascertain whether it was dislocated or still in one piece.
"You've been slacking," Natasha observed disapprovingly.
"On what?" Tony climbed to his feet, rolling his abused his shoulder as he turned around to face her. "I was kidnapped, hospitalized, and then released on orders to stay on bed rest."
"Which you disobeyed by going down into the shop."
"Doesn't count." Tony hastily stepped backward as Natasha moved in. "Besides, it's technically resting because I'm not really moving around much. So—"
"What about sex?"
To his credit, Tony didn't get hit by Natasha's kick. He blocked it with an arm before diving to the side, rolling to his feet before Natasha could brutally punch him in the stomach.
"I had no idea you were such a voyeur!" Tony winked at her, only to have to duck as she aimed a punch at his face. He promptly had to block her second arm as it came in.
"If you have the mental capacity to carry a conversation while fighting, you should focus on the sparring."
"Genius here. My mind runs on several tracks even when I don't think about it."
Natasha gave a disbelieving scoff before doing some weird sort of acrobatic move that swept Tony's legs out from under him before he could even blink. Then he was face down on the mat (again), with Natasha breathing into his ear, her full body weight pressed against him.
"If you hurt him, you will wish you had never heard of Steve Rogers," she said softly, fingers pressing threateningly into his spinal cord at the small of his back.
Hurt him? Why on earth would Tony hurt Steve? He might have been an ass (okay, maybe he was still an ass), but he didn't play around with people's feelings. When he had been a playboy, everyone had known exactly what to expect when falling into bed with him. There had been no strings attached, and no broken hearts (except from the girls who thought they could change him; they usually tended to end up with restraining orders slapped on them). He hadn't been the one to break up with Pepper.
If anything, Tony was scared that Steve would hurt him, even if that wasn't fair towards the guy. Steve would never willingly hurt someone (the incident on the Helicarrier sprang to mind, but Tony dismissed it as he remembered Loki's voodoo staff) unless they well and truly deserved it (and, okay, Tony had kind of deserved it at the time). Now, though, Steve could hurt Tony even he decided to gently break up with him.
That brought him back to Natasha's threat. Why would he hurt Steve? He might sometimes be uncaring (or seem to be uncaring), but he could be a good boyfriend (lover, partner, or whatever Steve wanted to call this relationship). He wouldn't cheat on Steve, abuse him, or do anything else that would merit an instant breakup.
Tony spoke through gritted teeth, his voice muffled against the mat. "I know I seem like an ass most of the time, but I don't intentionally hurt people."
Natasha made a skeptical sound.
"Not people I care about," Tony amended, mentally wincing as he admitted this fact. "If they're enemies, then yeah, I'll hurt them. But Steve? I don't get why you think I'd even consider hurting him. I'm not the one who pushed for this relationship. I would've been satisfied with friendship." He sorta (really) got why Black Widow was such an effective interrogator.
She was silent for a moment, her weight still pinning Tony to the ground. Just as he was considering doing this move Steve had shown him, she got up, leaving Tony lying there.
"Just for the record," she said quietly as Tony warily turned his head around to see her back facing him, "I've given Steve the same warning."
That…was a surprise. And kind of heartwarming.
Tony pushed himself to his feet, wincing as his back protested. He blanked his face as Natasha faced him. "Why, Natasha," he teased, grinning slyly, "you warm me right down to the cockles of my heart."
Natasha eyed the arc reactor. "I'll believe that when I see it."
Tony tapped the blue circle, cocking his head to the side. "What you see is what you get. Trust me, it's nice, warm, and fuzzy at the moment."
He probably deserved the brutal sparring session that followed, though Natasha did make sure not to do anything too harmful to his person.
When Tony entered the kitchen after Natasha's brutal sparring session, sore in places that shouldn't even be sore, he came across the sight of Clint trying to negotiate with the stove.
"I get that you hate pizzas," the archer was saying, crouched in front of him (just because he was a stove didn't mean he didn't have a personality; he was an AI, which meant that he did have a gender…of sorts). "I wouldn't like them either if I were completely splattered with cheese, tomato sauce, onions, and whatever else Thor put on it. But isn't it a bit overkill to declare war on everything else?"
The stove replied with an annoyed beep.
"You won't even let anyone cook on top of you. And trust me, we can't live on takeout forever. Besides, I really, really want this lasagna. Do you think you can manage?"
The stove hissed menacingly, flashing all his lights once before completely shutting down.
"Problem?" Tony asked, catching a sighing Clint's attention. He opened the fridge.
"Yeah," Clint said, standing up. "I have problems with your stove. You know that it won't even let you boil water now? The only person it even lets close is Steve, and that's to use the burner."
Tony frowned at the plastic-covered bowl of penne noodles in white sauce that was standing proudly on the center shelf. It had a yellow post-it note attached to it.
Tony, eat this today. Love, Steve :)
It even had a smiley face on it!
Slightly disconcerted, but also pleased, Tony snagged it and peeled the note off, sticking it in his pocket. He wasn't going to let Clint see it, though he probably already had judging from the pre-prepared lasagna lying on the counter, which had clearly been in the fridge beforehand.
"I'll try talking to him," Tony said, popping the bowl into the microwave and turning it on.
"Our little picky buddy here," Tony said, squatting in front of the stove. "Hey, bud, it's your dad here."
"Does that make Steve the mom?" Clint muttered.
Tony ignored him. "I get that you had a bad first experience with Thor"—Clint snorted at the double innuendo laced in that—"but you can't clock out on us because of that. We can't subsist on sweets alone"—because that was everything the stove would allow in himself—"so we kind of need your cooperation. I'll be right here the whole entire time, and I won't let anything explode in you, all right? And you can trust me, since I made you."
The stove was silent for a long moment, and Tony hoped that meant he was considering his words. Then he lit up and popped open the door, making an agreeable chiming noise.
Tony beamed at him, patting the handle. "Great!" He grabbed the lasagna and popped it inside, making sure to set the cooking time so that there was no possible risk of it exploding.
"Awesome. I'll make sure to call you so Daddy can watch over his baby every time someone needs to use it," Clint said, staring at the stove, who seemed to be happily beeping something that sounded eerily like the Macarena.
"I'm free on Mondays and Wednesdays, from three to five," Tony said, taking out his meal from the microwave and snagging a fork. He took a seat at the table, blowing on his first forkful before popping it in his mouth. Huh…Alfredo sauce.
"You know, I'm not gonna ask you what's going on between you and Steve," Clint said casually, "but a little more decorum would be nice."
"I resent your implication that we've been having sex in broad daylight." Tony didn't even grace Clint with his attention.
"You blew out the plumbing," Clint said, "and my toilet regurgitated everything that it swallowed from the last twelve hours. Do you know how nasty that is?"
"Was it fixed?"
"JARVIS took care of it," Clint said, "but the problem is that it shouldn't have happened in the first place. All I'm saying, man, is that a little decorum would be nice. It's not polite to bust the plumbing just because you're doing the horizontal tango."
Tony didn't bother to correct that assumption. "I thought it was just the sink down in the shop."
Clint groaned, slapping both hands over his eyes. "Oh my God… TMI, Tony, TMI. I did not need that mental image."
Tony shrugged shamelessly. "It's not my fault your mind goes into the gutter."
The stove's beeping had changed to something sounding like the wedding march. Tony wondered if he should accuse someone of introducing the impressionable AI to bad music. Who played the wedding march when cooking?
Clint was eyeing the stove strangely, scarcely able to believe what he was hearing. "Okay, that's a bit much."
The beeping became obnoxiously louder.
"You know," Tony said, making a resolution to ignore whatever else the stove decided to play (though if he began to play cheesy romantic music, Tony was going to have words with him), "Natasha threatened to cut my balls off with a dull knife if I hurt Steve."
Clint cocked his head to the side. "That sounds a bit blunt."
"She didn't say that per se, but it was implied."
"I'm on your side, buddy," Clint offered.
"She also said the offer extended to Steve."
"I'm on his side."
Tony rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "Make up your mind, will you?"
Clint considered that for a moment as Tony picked at his food. "I'm on the injured party's side. And by that, I mean the side whose balls are getting chopped up."
"He's the one doing the hurting."
"He's the one losing all hope of a family."
"Irrelevant." Tony blinked down at his bowl, noting that he'd somehow eaten about half during the conversation and the thought of eating anymore made him feel slightly queasy. "I'd just build a robot son."
Clint sighed as the fridge opened and Tony's unfinished meal floated back into it. "The sad thing is, I can totally see that happening."
The stove's beeping of the wedding march was cut off as he announced with a shrill peep that the lasagna was done. Tony patted him as he took the meal out with a hand wave, setting it on the countertop to let it cool.
"I'll let Steve know that you two have adopted the stove." Clint waggled his eyebrows as he spooned lasagna onto his plate.
"You know those arrows that you wanted that spread mustard gas all over the place? They've just been dumped to the bottom of my to-do list."
"I take it back. The stove is your illegal love child."
"You're not helping your case there, buddy."
"I fully support you in all your endeavors with Steve," Clint said fervently, turning to face Tony. It looked strangely domestic as he had a gigantic spoon that had lasagna clinging to it in one hand and a plate of said lasagna in the other. "Even if you two decide to go deep with BDSM or role-play kinky Captain America and Iron Man scenarios or decide to do villain-hero sex where you're the Red Skull and Steve is Captain America—"
Bruce walked in, caught the latter half of Clint's sentence, and promptly walked out again, muttering something about it being too early for this kind of conversation.
"You," Tony said when it seemed that Clint had been temporarily startled into silence, "have too much of an active imagination. I admire Natasha's tenacity."
"We're not together!" Clint frantically waved the spoon to emphasize his denial; Tony waved aside the pieces of lasagna that threatened to fall on his clothes, directing them into the sink.
"I'll be sure to put a rush order on those Cupid arrows," Tony said, winking. He darted out of the kitchen just before some lasagna hit the doorframe, the stove tooting his exit with a rendition of The Star-Spangled Man.
He would have to give whoever had introduced that song to the stove an extra cool gadget.
"Have you eaten?" Steve's voice broke through the haze Tony's brain had fallen into as he worked on his tablet.
It took him a moment to recognize that someone had spoken to him, that it was Steve, and that he had asked a question that he was still expecting an answer to.
"I've eaten," Tony said, looking up to note that it was now evening. He and Steve were the only two in the living room. "There was a yellow post-it note plastered on a bowl of noodles. How could I not have eaten?"
"You only ate half."
"It was too much." Tony didn't move as Steve moved to stand in front of him, a small frown crossing his features.
Steve reached out a hand, his thumb gently tracing Tony's cheek and under his eye. Oops… He'd forgotten that he probably looked like a patchwork quilt of black, blue, and white, courtesy of Natasha.
"What happened?" Steve's tone was quiet, boding trouble, though the gentle way he was still stroking Tony's cheek (that felt nice) told him he wasn't the one liable to face Captain America's wrath.
"Nothing big." Tony shrugged casually, regretting the motion as his muscles protested the movement after hours of inactivity. Steve noticed, judging from the unhappy slant his mouth was taking. "Just some sparring with Natasha."
"Your face is completely blue on this side." Steve's hand slipped down to Tony's shirt, moving the cloth to reveal another beautiful blue bruise spanning his entire collarbone and shoulder.
"I'm blue in other places," Tony said, immediately regretting the words. He hastily added, "And I don't mean that in a lewd way."
"I'll be talking to her," Steve promised. His eyes were scanning the rest of Tony's form, though nothing else revealed itself from under Tony's shirt and jeans. There was a beauty of a bruise on Tony's stomach in the shape of boot, but he wasn't about to enlighten Steve as to that. Then there was his back…
"You don't have to," Tony protested. "It's just some friendly sparring—"
"You look like someone beat you over the head with a sledgehammer."
"—and it's meant to improve my reflexes. I'm getting better—"
"Tony," Steve gently cut him off, "I spar with you, and don't bruise you like this. Natasha is overdoing it."
"It's not always like this," Tony said, drawing Steve's eyes to his own rather than his torso. "To be honest, I might have pissed her off."
"She should have walked away—"
"She was just doing the responsible friend thing and saying she'd have your back if something happened."
Steve didn't say anything immediately, instead moving to sit by Tony on the couch. He carefully slung an arm around Tony's shoulders, mindful of any hidden bruises, pulling the smaller man into his side. He pressed a kiss into Tony's black hair, sighing softly. "I know you won't hurt me."
Despite his better judgment, Tony leaned into the solid warmth and weight at his side, tension he hadn't even known was there seeping out of his muscles. As he relaxed, Steve's arm tightened around his shoulder, and he felt another kiss being pressed into his hairline.
"I'm flattered," Tony murmured, "that you think so highly of me."
"It's not flattery if it's true," Steve said quietly, his thumb rubbing soothing circles into Tony's sore shoulder. "I know you, Tony."
Tony turned his face into Steve's shirt, muffling his next statement. "Of course you do."
Steve's laugh shook his entire chest, and ran through Tony's body. "I've spent months with you."
And Pepper had spent years, but Tony wasn't going to bring her up. He was melting even more into Steve's solid frame, his brain dissolving into a foggy haze associated with sleep.
"When's the last time you slept?" Steve asked, shifting so that Tony could curl up more easily into his side.
Hadn't Steve already asked him that?
"Dunno." Tony hummed lowly, feeling warmer and safer than he had for a long while. "What time is it?"
"One in the morning. JARVIS?"
"He last slept thirty-nine hours ago."
"Traitor," Tony mumbled.
"Tony," Steve said disapprovingly. He tugged the tablet Tony was still clutching out of his hands, setting it elsewhere. "You should sleep. You're still healing." A finger stroked over the livid bruise on Tony's face, and he could feel the disapproval radiating from him at Natasha's loving handiwork.
"Mmm…" Tony groaned softly, definitely not nuzzling Steve's shoulder.
"You should go to bed." Steve's hand was stroking through his hair.
"The plumbing in Mr. Stark's bathroom has yet to be repaired," JARVIS said quietly. "As such, the mess in the bedroom makes it uninhabitable."
Steve sounded confused. "He lives in there. How did he not have it fixed? I thought it was days ago?"
"The first incident from a week ago was repaired. Yesterday morning's has not been."
As Tony was half-asleep by now, he wasn't even feeling embarrassed by that loss of control. Nor was he annoyed that JARVIS and Steve were talking about him as if he wasn't even there.
"Okay, then." Steve sounded like he had made a resolution. "Come on, Tony."
Tony made a protesting noise as Steve shifted, dislodging his comfy position.
"You can't sleep on the couch, Tony," Steve coaxed.
His bedroom was uninhabitable, JARVIS said, and he was rarely wrong. So where was he going to sleep?
"Half-asleep already, aren't you?" Steve asked with an affectionate tone in his voice.
Luckily, he wasn't expecting an answer as Tony wasn't in any fit mental state to give one, his abused body finally giving in to the lack of sleep. That also meant that he didn't protest as Steve picked him up from the couch.
He was asleep before they hit the bedroom.
Tony was in an exceptionally good mood this morning. That may or may not have something to do with the fact that he'd slept last night. But it was more likely due to the fact that he'd woken up in Steve Rogers's bed, with a very warm and very solid body spooning him (it was a bit disconcerting to be the one spooned and not the one doing the spooning, but Tony wasn't picky).
So never mind that he was sore as hell and not really up to moving much, Tony was in an excellent mood. And because he was in such a good mood, he was going to work on Clint's arrows.
Clint was an ass. But he was an ass who cared (maybe. Sorta. Tony was kind of still doubtful about that. He might just be in it for his own amusement). He had been the one to first really open Tony's mind to a relationship with Steve, what with his probing questions on the plane ride to Japan. It had gone horribly wrong, but that wasn't the point.
The point was that underneath his snark and crude exterior was a guy who cared (maybe), and Tony did like to please his friends. Which led to what he was doing now in the workshop.
"All right. Make sure the containment field is fully up and running. And, Dummy, if you use that fire extinguisher for this, you will be relegated to kitchen duty. I have a stove who needs mothering." Actually, that was a horrendous idea.
JARVIS seemed to agree. "Sir, I don't think—"
"Scratch that. You'll be fixing the plumbing whenever it breaks. That means Clint's bathroom."
"Sir, Dummy's protocols do not extend to—"
"JARVIS, shush. Just make sure the field is working. I don't want to get a face full of this stuff."
Exhaling slowly, Tony mentally lifted the bow and arrow he had in the containment field. He kept his hands clenched at his sides, determined only to use his mind for this, though that was probably asking for a bit much considering when exactly he'd broken through his mental block (scant days ago). But he was Tony fucking Stark. Pushing boundaries was what he did.
He focused on the target, a bull's-eye painted on the wall, and released the weapon.
He wasn't Hawkeye, but the arrow did hit the target…on the outer edges. When it made contact, the pressure released a sac of yellow gas, noxious enough to make anyone choke on lack of air and fall unconscious. Tony had others in the experimental stages, though this was the first he was going to give Clint. If it worked well (meaning if Clint used it for good and not for pulling pranks; he'd seen the arrows lying around the mansion – in the walls), he'd run ahead with the others.
Noting that the gas had effectively dispersed, Tony waved a hand to let JARVIS know that he could disperse it through the vents and neutralize it. It'd be bad if that got into the rest of the mansion.
He heard Bruce's wary tone from behind him. "Nothing's going to blow up, right?"
Tony turned around, beaming. "Nah. JARVIS is just gonna get rid of that"—he jabbed a thumb behind him—"and we're good to go. You need something?"
Bruce eyed Tony's rather impressive bruises with a calculating glance, but didn't say anything. "Yeah. Could you look at the generator? It's not outputting the energy levels I need."
"That wouldn't happen if you'd let me install—"
"Tony, no. The last time I let you install something, I couldn't figure out where the on button was, and I ended up poisoning the entire area."
Tony called his toolbox to his side, getting in the elevator with Bruce. It specifically led to Bruce's lab from Tony's. "It was that shiny panel on the side—"
"The whole thing was shiny."
"Okay, it was that slightly lifted panel on the side—"
"Which one?" Bruce sounded amused rather than annoyed.
Tony paused to consider that, realizing that to someone not as tech savvy as himself, it would probably be nigh impossible to figure out. Even Pepper got lost with his inventions. Though Bruce was a genius; he should have an easier time of it.
"Point," Tony conceded. "Scout's honor. I won't do anything complicated to it."
"Were you ever a scout?"
"Sorta. For about a week." Tony shrugged amiably in response to Bruce's small grin. "They kicked me out after I complained about the cookies."
The elevator doors slid open, revealing Bruce's lab, which was far more immaculate than Tony's own, which had spare parts, half-completed projects, and gadgets lying all over the place. Tony approached the generator, a standard issue one Bruce had gotten after refusing Tony's offer.
He slid underneath it, opening some panels to work on the wires.
Bruce's voice echoed around him as the scientist stood by his feet. "So how's it going?"
Tony winced as he saw the mess of wires. This was just sad. He began picking at it, pulling apart wires that had no reason to be there. "Just isolating the problem. By the way, you sure you don't want to take me up on that offer? You haven't seen the mess here. I feel like crying."
"Yes, I'm sure." Tony felt Bruce shift so he was crouching by his legs. "And I wasn't asking about the generator. I was asking about you and Steve."
"I promise you, you'll be the first person to hear all the dirty details." Tony reached down, pictured the tool box in his head, and mentally called one of the fine wire-picking tools he had in there. It flew into his hand and he began reconnecting wires.
"I don't want details," Bruce said long-sufferingly. "I just want to know how my friend is doing."
Tony sighed, suffusing it with enough exasperation to be heard all the way in Asgard. "Be that way. If you really want to know—"
"—then everything is going fine."
"Good. I figured, judging from the blown out plumbing."
Tony considered the new wire configuration he'd put in, wondering if Bruce would notice. He probably wouldn't, considering that all Tony had done was fix the initial problem and boost effectiveness. Though he should probably let Bruce know so he wouldn't accidentally blow the thing up trying to run it on the older energy requirements. "What blew out down here?" He put the paneling back in place, sliding out from under the generator and sitting up next to Bruce.
"The sink," Bruce replied, turning his head to a door in the wall that led to a small bathroom. "And the toilet. Trust me, you don't want to go in there. Everything you can imagine came out of that in less than five minutes."
"Even the Sludge Monster?"
"No, not that." Bruce looked the generator over. "Is there something I should be worried about with this?"
"I upped the efficiency levels," Tony explained, closing his tool box. "So you might want to experiment with that before doing anything potentially life-threatening. JARVIS, why hasn't the bathroom been fixed?" He seemed to remember something from last night (or early this morning) about his own not being repaired either.
"It was next on the list, sir," JARVIS responded. "Agent Barton's bathroom has been extensively renovated, and took longer than foreseen."
"Just for that," Tony said, "I'm going to give him a quiver of dud arrows that bounce off whatever he shoots at."
"Please, don't," Bruce said, poking and prodding the newly improved generator. "I'd rather not have a repeat of what happened the last time."
"That was annoying," Tony admitted. "You need anything else or are you all good?"
Bruce looked up, meeting Tony's eyes. "I'd just like you to know that we're both on your side."
"We" meaning the other guy and Bruce. Considering how Bruce usually felt towards the giant green rage monster (whom Tony was on really good terms with much to the mystification of every other Avenger, since this was a rage monster who didn't really get along with anyone, including Steve and Thor, and they practically got along with everyone), this was a huge commendation.
Tony smiled. "I'm touched. You're not gonna extend the offer to Steve? 'Cause Natasha did."
"No. The other guy wouldn't allow it."
"Really." Tony grinned at his fellow scientist, warmed at the thought of Hulk being so protective. "Honestly, I'm touched."
"I know." Bruce quirked his eyebrows. "Just don't blow up the plumbing again. The other guy wasn't happy with the poisonous fumes from the bathroom."
Tony moved Clint's bathroom down to the bottom of the list and Bruce's up to the top. He wasn't going to give Clint his super cool new arrows. He wasn't.
(But he'd refrain from the quiver filled with duds. Because another week long siege of the media room was something no one wanted repeated.)
While Fury had (supposedly) scheduled an appointment with the X-Men for next week regarding Tony's telekinesis because of Pepper's interference, villains weren't so kind as to consider Tony's medical orders that insisted he rest and heal. It was a day after Tony had gotten the plumbing fixed (after talking with Bruce and fixing his horrendous generator) that New York City was attacked by some guy calling himself the Terminator. And he didn't mean Terminator like a terminator of bugs, but rather Terminator like the movie series. That meant he came with robots.
Ordinarily, Tony would be super interested in cannibalizing said robots. Ordinarily, Tony would be admiring the ingenuity of such a villain. However, Tony had already gone up against Doctor Doom, who used cool robots, and he had invented several AIs himself. So needless to say, Tony was bored with the whole super villain robot gig. You'd think that they could use something original.
Besides, these weren't even very good robots. They were cheap knockoffs of what Tony recognized as an early prototype of something he'd made years ago. In fact, they looked suspiciously like the first robots he'd ever designed.
"All right," Tony spoke into the microphone in his helmet connecting him to the Avengers, "who stole my blueprints and sold them to this nitwit?"
"Blueprints?" Captain America's voice filtered into the enclosed space, sounding perplexed.
Tony blasted a couple of robots into smithereens, kicking the debris across the street to nail another that was sneaking up on Steve. "Yes, blueprints. As in, someone stole my original work and sold it to an idiot who isn't even capable of updating the initial designs. Who was it?"
"It wasn't me," Hawkeye said. There was an explosion from overhead as he took out a flying robot. That was the last of that particular type.
"Of course it wasn't you." Tony fired up his thrusters and blasted out of there, moving into another street to see what he could do. "You don't have the brains to break into my shop."
"Just for that, I'm gonna block you in every painful way possible."
"I don't do Facebook." Tony blasted apart several robots that were giving Black Widow problems. She gave him a nod and jumped over a taxi cab to engage several more.
"Focus, team," Steve said, cutting into the argument. "Iron Man, what can you do about the Terminator?"
Tony focused on the information scrolling along the HUD displays. Although they knew it was the Terminator behind it, that was because of a message delivered with the first robot. The actual person had yet to be seen, and Tony was having trouble locating him with all the interference. JARVIS was working on filtering it out.
"Still looking for him, Cap. I'll let you know when I've got something."
It was at that moment that multiple alerts flashed across the sensors, alerting Tony that bombs had been deployed.
"We have a problem," Tony announced. "The Terminator just released a bunch of bombs, and they're headed our way."
"Sir, the readings I am receiving off them are similar to the Jericho."
The Jericho? Tony cursed softly. "I thought we got all of them?"
"The readings are not identical, suggesting that someone has attempted a poor copy of the Jericho. Yet they are close enough to the original to lock onto individual targets."
Damn his ideas. The "fire a weapon only once to end a war" had been a great idea…when he'd still been in the weapons making industry. Since he wasn't, it was one that he deeply regretted coming up with in the first place. Putting that kind of weaponry into the market had given others the capability of sort of replicating the same engineering, though nothing would be as good as the original. Repulsor technology was something that Tony had invented, and something that only he had down to a fine point. But that didn't mean others couldn't copy it…badly.
Yet even badly was enough to pack a wallop. Like now. The Jericho had been meant for multiple targets. That was something even an amateur could program with a basic missile design not belonging to Stark Industries. But the ability to lock onto a target and stay on it? That was something purely of Tony's own design. Heat-seeking missiles came close, but the Jericho didn't just seek out heat.
"And this time someone definitely stole my blueprints," Tony said to the rest of the team, sensors still tracking the badly copied missiles of his Jericho.
"The bombs are of your design?" Natasha asked.
"The Jericho missile," Tony said, his HUD display pulling up the specs as he said the name. He quickly reviewed the stats, even though he already knew them by heart. "Someone either stole and/or illegally bought them, and they're currently targeting our asses."
"They have to be deployed from somewhere," Steve said. "Can you find out where?"
"Give JARVIS another moment to filter out the interference. And, Cap, incoming missile."
Tony didn't bother to worry about Steve after giving the initial warning, knowing the shield made out of vibranium would deal with it. If it had held up to a god's mythical hammer, then it would be able to deal with a manmade missile. Especially one that wasn't even the original.
Hulk was fine, too, since the big guy could stand up to virtually anything. Thor was a god, so Tony didn't spare any thoughts for his safety. It was Clint and Natasha he was worried about.
He blasted the missile aimed towards Natasha, destroying it and releasing a concussive force that sent him spiraling backward until he controlled his flight. Clint's was trickier because it was closer, but the marksman noticed the incoming figure of Iron Man and took cover, avoiding the worst of the blast as Tony's repulsors took care of the threat.
"Report," Steve ordered tersely.
"All clear on this end," Tony said, receiving an affirming nod from Clint.
"Fine," Natasha said.
There was a lightning strike in the vicinity that told everyone Thor was good to go. Microphones didn't really work on the guy because of the electrostatic interference. And when Tony designed something that did, Thor kept breaking it. Everyone had agreed that it might be better not to give the technology inept god a microphone. At least until he became better used to using the stuff without breaking it.
A loud roar from another building, plus a bunch of robots being torn apart and thrown to the ground reported that Hulk was fine, and pissed that he'd just been hit by a missile.
"Iron Man, what can we expect from this Jericho missile?" Steve asked. Tony saw the familiar shield spiral into the air, robot parts flying off the edges, before it swerved back toward the thrower.
"Sir, incoming missiles."
"More bombs," Tony answered, already tracking the missiles. "Damn it."
Probabilities ran through his mind. Clint and Natasha would never be able to handle those missiles. Hulk could and so could Thor. But while Steve's shield could handle a missile, he didn't want to test it against multiple ones. And if Steve got hit by one?
The calculations ran to about a 56% chance of success for Steve, and about 45% in general if Tony just let it be. But if he reprogrammed the missiles…it ran up to 75%.
Which was good enough for him.
"JARVIS, can you hack into the programming? Key it onto me."
"Sir, the suit was never designed to withstand the amount of force from six individual Jericho missiles—"
"And I'm the one in an armored suit! Just do it!"
Unlike finding the Terminator's location, hacking into the Jericho missiles was much easier, especially since Tony had designed them.
"Find the actual weapon and make sure that any extra bombs that are deployed go at me," Tony said, angling for the open sky. The suit was already blaring warnings at him regarding the incoming missiles. "Better yet, make sure nothing else gets fired."
"Iron Man! What are you doing?"
"Can't talk now, Cap. Got a bunch of missiles on my tail. Deal with the robots." Clear of most of the buildings, Tony was able to note where the missiles were originating from, and calculated the trajectories. (He'd designed this weapon; of course he'd know how it worked!) A few seconds later he had a rough approximation of where the Terminator was likely to be. "Check out the area by Forty-First Street. I've got a feeling you'll find our guy there."
Knowing JARVIS would patch him back in if anything important happened, Tony cut the link, focusing on not getting hit. Though he was the guy in an armored suit, he knew that taking six hits from Jericho missiles would pack a wallop that the Iron Man suit wasn't designed to take. He'd probably survive, but it wouldn't be pretty.
"The missile deployed another set before I could hack into it," JARVIS reported, prompting Tony to let out a foul curse. The chance of success dropped down to 70%, but damned if he was going to let that influence him.
He spun around on his back, aiming repulsor blasts at two of the missiles. The shots hit their marks, and he used the concussive blast as further propulsion to gain distance.
Letting out a slow breath, Tony focused his mind, braking to a sudden halt. He let himself drop, throwing out both hands and slamming them together. The two missiles he'd focused on collided, making an absolutely fantastic fiery explosion.
He didn't have any time to enjoy the sight, already employing evasive maneuvers for the last two (soon to be eight). Flying low into the street, he threw up a car using his telekinesis, blocking one missile into prematurely exploding. The last of the second batch that was deployed met its death due to a repulsor blast.
"Power is running low."
"Awesome. Power to thrusters."
With the extra boost, Tony blasted off to the sky. He had a few seconds breathing room before he caught sight of the last six.
"Please tell me you took care of the actual tank."
"I've put a block on it," JARVIS assured him.
The suit sensor's locked in on all six of the missiles moments before Tony fired his own brand of firepower. The mini-missiles packed into his suit collided with the bigger ones, creating smoke clouds obscuring Tony's view. Only the sensors of his suit showed that the Jericho missiles were still coming strong.
Cursing, Tony took off, frantically going through the analysis of the missiles currently on his tail. He didn't think he had it in him to multitask at the level to telekinetically take care of six different high power missiles. They were all coming in fast and at different angles. Genius he may be, but he knew his limits. Multitasking was his forte, but not with a mutant power he was just reacquainting himself with.
He was running low on power, but that didn't mean he wasn't capable of pulling out some tricks.
Suddenly reversing course, Tony flew straight up, tracking the missiles that followed his movement. Slowing down just a tad, he let the missiles get closer before deploying the brakes and turning tail, plummeting headfirst to the earth. As he did, he hooked onto the nearest missiles he could reach and pulled them toward him, coaxing them to a slower speed as he did.
The gamble worked. Sort of.
The missiles he'd latched onto collided with each other. It was the ones that he'd missed that hit him, sending him into a world of fire and pain. He was momentarily disoriented, barely able to keep track of which way was up, and the HUD was blaring multiple warnings in his face.
Tony had brief thought to spare to thank the fact that it hadn't been six missiles that hit him before he was paying attention to the alarming idea that he kind of might want to start slowing down now, otherwise he'd be creating a crater in the middle of Central Park.
"Sir, flight capabilities are down and will take several moments to reboot."
Shit, shit, shit. He didn't have moments.
The missiles had wreaked more damage than he'd initially thought, messing with the suit's systems. Three missiles had been a bit much to ask the suit to take, though he was going to design the next one to be able to withstand a bit more firepower.
That is, if there was a next one.
He was hurtling toward the earth, only the suit saving him from the g-forces buffeting his body, and had no idea how to stop.
Unless he focused on the suit and slowing it down. That was an option. And it was all he had until JARVIS managed to reboot the flight capabilities.
With an intimate meeting with the grass of Central Park becoming a very promising feature of his immediate future, Tony's mind latched onto the suit, trying to bring it to a halt. It was external; it wasn't part of his body. He should be able to manipulate this.
Milliseconds before impacting the ground, he jerked to a halt, hovering only inches above the grass. Thank goodness for the suit's internal stabilizers, otherwise he'd be having a lot more than just Natasha's bruises to deal with.
Then he let go of the suit, and hit the ground with an oof. It hurt every place that was smarting from the Jericho missiles and Natasha's sparring session from the day before, and Tony just knew he was going to have another collection of bruises to show for this.
Groaning softly, Tony barely registered the chime of the communications network coming back on.
Steve's voice, when he spoke, was deadly even, almost as if he was restraining himself from saying something else. "Iron Man, report."
"I'm good. It's all good." Tony pushed himself to his feet, wobbling slightly as his legs protested the movement. He winced as his torso screamed in pain; the missiles had really done a number by hitting him there. "You get him?"
"We found him," Steve confirmed. "Where are you?"
"Central Park." The flight systems were back online, though low on power, and Tony slowly took off, wobbling as the repulsors crackled and popped. "Be there in a moment. I'll want to take a look-see at that Jericho missile."
Tony's pace back to the rest of the team was slow compared to how fast he had hightailed it out of there to evade the missiles, but he was conserving energy and trying not to blow out his repulsors anymore than they already were. When he landed, he noted that the Terminator, who seemed to be a middle-aged average looking guy in a white lab coat (for shame – why had he taken the name the Terminator?), was under the watchful eye of Hulk and Hawkeye, while the others were grouped around what he instantly recognized as a crudely made version of his Jericho missile.
Even under the cowl, Steve's face was terrifyingly blank. "Are you all right?"
Tony retracted the faceplate, noting that revealing his face seemed to make some of the tension go out of Steve's stance. "Nothing I can't fix with a few hours in the shop." He approached the missile, walking by Steve as he did. "Goddamn it." Sighing, he turned toward the lame turd who'd taken the awesome name of the Terminator and completely defiled it. "'Fess up. Where'd you get the plans from?"
The guy – Tony refused to call him the Terminator anymore, he refused. It was a matter of principle! – kept his mouth shut, eyes firmly on the ground. Not even Hulk's threatening rumble made him reconsider, though he did flinch violently.
"We'll take a look into it at S.H.I.E.L.D.," Natasha said, watching Tony thoughtfully tap his fingers against the metal of the Jericho. "Do you have any idea where he could have gotten them?"
"Stane was double-dealing for years behind my back," Tony said, considering the question. "I know he sold some Jericho missiles to forces in the Middle East, but I destroyed them. And this isn't something that SI made. It's rough – from my blueprints. Then there are the robots. I know I made those up when I was like eighteen."
"Started young, didn't you?" Clint asked.
"They are very ingenious," Thor said graciously. There was a crackle from a demolished robot at his feet that looked like it had gotten the bad end of the god's hammer.
"They were worse than what I designed," Tony said, stepping back from the Jericho. "I'm bagging this one and taking it back to the shop. S.H.I.E.L.D. is not getting its hands on this. Anything Fury needs to know can come from what I get, but he's not going to have his scientists rummaging around in this. I quit weapons manufacturing for a reason."
"Sounds good," Steve said, his voice still strangely even.
Something about it tingled at Tony's senses, warning him that Steve was unhappy. But what about?
"Take the Terminator back to HQ," Steve said to Clint and Natasha. "We'll take care of cleanup."
Tony opened his mouth to protest, then thought the better of it when Steve shot him a warning look.
He had a feeling that there was going to be some sort of an uncomfortable discussion in his near future.
It was several hours before Tony finally managed to make it into his workshop with the bastardized Jericho missile in tow. He was followed by Steve, who didn't move as JARVIS began taking the beaten up armor off.
"You can go and change," Tony said, wincing slightly as the mechanized arm took his chest plate off. His sides, chest, and back were sore, and probably very bruised at the moment.
Steve had his cowl down, and his eyes were scanning over Tony's body, which was completely covered in his black undersuit. Ordinarily Tony would make some sort of lewd joke, especially since they were together, but there was no way Tony was doing a strip tease here, especially what with the fact that he was probably (definitely) black and blue all over. He stepped down off the assembly platform, rubbing a hand over his left side as it sent sparks of pain through his entire system. His right side wasn't any better, but he wasn't going to worry Steve anymore.
"What were you thinking?" Steve's voice was cool and even.
Tony glanced back at him, eyebrow raised. "I'm sorry, I must have misheard." He opened the fridge by the sink, snagging a water bottle and letting it fly into his hand. "I thought I just heard someone ask what I was thinking. Am I wrong?"
"You didn't mishear. What were you thinking, Tony?"
Tony shrugged lightly, taking a deep gulp of water. "I don't know. I was thinking that as the guy with the most technological know-how, I should get the missiles off my teammates' backs so they could find the guy responsible."
"You should have discussed that with the rest of us."
"Of everyone who's on the team, who has the armored suit? And who has the suit that isn't designed to take impacts from weapons of mass destruction?"
"That's not the point. I'm talking about the fact that we're a team, and that you have to discuss it when you're considering taking weapons of mass destruction on your tail and then leaving us without communications. So I ask again, what were you thinking?"
Christ, was Steve seriously going through with this? Couldn't he see that Tony had already thought about all the probabilities before going through with his decision?
"I was thinking that if those missiles made contact, instead of a Capsicle, you'd be tomato soup decorating the streets of New York," Tony snapped. "Your shield is good, Captain, but I designed those missiles. They sneak up on you without warning. If I hadn't warned you the first time, you wouldn't even have noticed."
"And I appreciate that. But my point, Tony, is that you didn't let us know. You didn't let us have any say in that decision. You took off, gave us a location, and didn't respond to any of our calls." Steve exhaled heavily. "I know that this career has risks. But you're not helping alleviate these risks by going off like that."
Tony tapped his fingers against his water bottle, considering how he could phrase this next bit. "I'm a genius, Cap. Have I told you that? No, don't answer that. Some forms of genius come with writing, others with medical breakthroughs, and some – like the great Albert Einstein – with mathematics. I build things. That takes math. And since I'm a mathematical genius, I run probabilities. Constantly. I wouldn't have taken that risk without knowing that I could. I ran all other probabilities, and came out with the best that consisted of the highest survival rate."
"What was it?"
It'd been 75% initially, and then had dropped to 70%, but Tony wasn't going to be exact. "Eightyish. Give or take a few points."
Steve's breath left his lungs in a ragged exhale. "Eighty percent. And that was you taking off with those missiles behind you."
Tony spread his arms out. "I'm still here. Point is, it worked."
"This time." Steve's voice was heavy.
This time? Hadn't Steve been the one telling Tony earlier that as superheroes, they understood the risks of the gig? Hadn't Pepper told Tony the exact same thing?
Screw it. If he was going to get burned, he was going to cut it off now before it got any worse. It was going to hurt like a bitch now, but it was better to rip it off fast like a band-aid than prolong it and end up having even more agony.
Mind made up, Tony spun on his heels, going over to one of his consoles and pulling up the specs for the bastardized version of the Jericho mission that JARVIS had scanned earlier. "If you can't deal with it, Steve, then maybe we shouldn't do this."
It was sad, it was so sad that Tony couldn't even mention their relationship other than the abstract. But mentioning it would solidify the fact that he was talking about it.
Tony barely had time to pull up the plans when Steve's arms wrapped around his waist and pulled him back into a solid warmth. "That's not the point. I won't let you push me away."
"It's more about you taking unnecessary risks," Steve continued, his warm breath washing over Tony's ear. "We both know that our lives are dangerous, and that we'll come away with injuries, but there's risky, and then there's needlessly risky. And what you did today, Tony, falls under the latter."
Tony kept silent, his heart pounding behind the whirring of the arc reactor. He didn't know what Steve was asking of him. What he did know was that he wasn't planning on leaving, not for this. Tony had given him an out and Steve had not only ignored it, he'd taken it and ground it to dust under his heels.
"I just want you to promise me that you won't take unnecessary risks," Steve said softly. "I'll promise the same. Can you do that?"
Tony tugged at Steve's arms, and the embrace loosened enough that Tony could turn around, mouth unusually dry. His hands fell hesitantly to Steve's waist as he ran his tongue nervously over his lips once before answering. "Yeah… I can do that."
Steve smiled in exhilarating relief before moving in to draw Tony into a deep kiss, his hands creeping around Tony's sides to hug him close, the embrace both hurting and soothing sore muscles and bruised skin.
"I love you," he murmured, drawing back enough to whisper the words against Tony's lips. Then he swallowed up whatever reply Tony could have made.
It was one thing to make a promise. It was another thing to keep it. Tony had no issues with keeping promises. The problem was that he wasn't quite sure that Steve's standards of "unnecessary risks" matched up with his own.
So how was he supposed to be able to tell if Steve would be upset with him over something?
He didn't know, and that was the problem. He was terrified that this might be it; that it might be a deal breaker if he couldn't figure it out.
Pepper couldn't be asked, since they'd broken up over this issue in the first place. Rhodey might be an option, though it would have to be done on the phone. That just left the Avengers as people to ask, and Tony didn't think any of them were trustworthy enough to ask.
Thor was a god. Nothing would be risky to him. Clint and Natasha were master assassins. Risky was in their job description. Then again, risky was in all their job descriptions. The key lay in deciphering the difference between "necessary" and "unnecessary".
Bruce turned into an enormous green rage monster with no sense of what was risky and what was safe, beyond the fact that some of his teammates were unusually fragile (Tony). But the scientist might have some input into Tony's problem.
Steve was automatically out because he was the guy asking this of Tony in the first place.
By process of elimination, that just left Rhodey to talk to.
Damn it. Mushy conversations had never been their forte.
It was five in the morning (after Steve wrangled the promise out of Tony) when Tony bit the gun and called Rhodey. In retrospect, he probably should have waited, since not everyone kept the same hours he did. He was only up this time because of that damned bastardized Jericho missile.
Rhodey's voice was foggy with sleep when he picked up, and the image Tony had on his phone showed him blinking blearily. "Tony? Is something wrong?"
Tony looked down at the tool he was fiddling with, cursing as he realized what time it must be for Rhodey over in California. "Damn it. I didn't realize what time it was over there."
"You never do, but you usually don't call me like this unless you need something." Rhodey was beginning to sound a little more alert, and his eyes were clearing up. "What is it?"
He sighed, leaning back in his chair. "Necessary risks versus unnecessary risks. What's the difference?"
There was silence for a moment. Then: "I need details, Tony. Did you blow something up? Because that counts as unnecessary. You never need to blow something up—"
"If I want to make sure I don't explode someone else when I use it, yes I do," Tony said. "And, no, I haven't blown something up. In the last several hours anyway. Look…" This was painful to say. "Steve…is asking me to differentiate between taking unnecessary and necessary risks on missions."
Rhodey sighed heavily, and his figure in the image on the phone rolled over so he was on his stomach. "What did you do?"
"Nothing!" Tony slumped over the console, running a hand through his messy hair. He ignored the disbelieving snort over the line. "Okay, fine… Our latest bad guy might have gotten his hands on the blueprints of the Jericho missile, and I hijacked the missiles to go after me while the others went after him. Steve wasn't happy."
Rhodey took a moment to digest that slightly convoluted explanation. "Leaving aside the fact that the guy stole your tech, I can see why he'd be unhappy about that. You guys talk?"
"Days ago," Tony said, flashing back to that night in the kitchen. "That's not the problem. The problem is that I don't know what to do. I've always been solo, Rhodey. I took risks because I was the only man for the job."
"Maybe that's it," Rhodey pointed out. "You're not the only man for the job anymore. You've got a team to rely on. Talking about what to do before acting might be a good start."
"Most of the time we're too busy not getting killed to talk."
"So figure it out. Unnecessary versus necessary. Is it really necessary to throw yourself in front of this bomb? Or is it just a grand self-sacrificing gesture that looks good, but ultimately serves no purpose? If you're the literally the only guy for the job – like defusing that bomb for instance – I'd say it's necessary. But if you've got options – like tossing that bomb out the window to explode in midair – then it's probably unnecessary."
"What if those options carry levels of risk that are too high?"
Rhodey was quiet for a moment. When he spoke, it was softly. "I'm a soldier, Tony. There are always going to be risks involved in whatever decisions I make. The same goes for you."
"I'm not a soldier."
"No, you're not. But you're a superhero fighting on a team taking on bad guys that could probably level the island of Manhattan given a decent chance. I'd say you have risks with every option as well. The question is not if you have risks, but what you're going to do about it."
Tony didn't respond as he considered what Rhodey was saying. It made sense, but ultimately it didn't really solve Tony's problem. Rhodey wasn't looking at it from Tony's point of view, where he could literally see the exact probabilities resulting from every move made. A 75% chance of success was much better than a 56% success rate (or even a 45% success rate), which is what would have been the case if he hadn't had JARVIS reprogram the missiles.
Then again, he didn't think Steve would call a 75% chance of success very good. (He cringed to think what Steve would say if he knew that it had dropped to 70%.)
"Don't over think it too much," Rhodey advised, catching Tony's attention again. "Because when you over think, you tend to go overboard. Either that, or you end up blowing something up because it distracts everyone from the problem. Like I said before, the guy seems to be in it for the long haul."
"I'll let you get back to sleeping," Tony said.
"All right. Good luck. And remember…don't over think it."
Tony gave Rhodey's image a smile, and hung up.
He'd gotten advice from a soldier. Maybe it was time he get advice from a fellow Avenger.
Although Bruce was a scientist, he wasn't as crazy as Tony was when it came to sleeping. For one thing, lack of sleep made him slightly cranky, and crankiness tended to bring out the other guy (though Bruce was usually so Zen, that Tony didn't think anything short of a full-on temper tantrum would cut the deal, and even then it was unlikely). So Bruce kept regular hours, and five in the morning was not a time when he was up. That meant Tony stayed down in his workshop until eight, fixing up the information he'd send Fury about the Jericho missile.
When he came up to the kitchen, it was to find Clint and Natasha both glaring at the stove, who gave a happy beep upon seeing Tony.
"Oh good," Natasha said, her gaze falling on Tony, "you're here. Maybe you can tell it that some of us would like to have breakfast."
Tony's eyes fell on the carton of eggs, the frying pan Clint was holding, and the bacon that was also lying on the side. There also seemed to be a box of pre-made pancake mix.
He looked down at the stove. "I'll be sitting right here."
The reassurance seemed to be all the AI needed, as he promptly fired up the stovetop. Clint hastily put the frying pan on it and began cooking. Tony wandered over to the coffee machine and put it on.
Natasha was eyeing the stove and Tony incredulously, her gaze flickering between the two of them. "I thought it was a joke."
Steve walked in at that point, using a towel to wipe off the water from the shower he appeared to have just taken. His blonde hair was plastered to his head. "What was a joke?" He seemed surprised to see Clint cooking on the stove. "Oh, Peggy's letting you use her?"
"Peggy?" three voices chorused simultaneously.
A light blush suffused Steve's cheeks as the three Avengers looked at him. "Well, she needed a name. I didn't feel comfortable just calling her the stove."
"Why Peggy?" Tony asked.
"You named your robots Dummy, Butterfingers, and You," Clint said, putting a pile of eggs and bacon in the frying pan at once. "You can't talk."
Steve seemed to regret ever saying anything in the first place. "She's stubborn. She doesn't like taking any bad stuff from anyone. I thought it fit." (Steve didn't like swearing; it made some phrases downright awkward.)
"No, no, it's good." Tony blinked, considering the name. He looked over at Peggy (he didn't think Clint was cooking the food properly, but Tony couldn't really comment, as he'd burnt the eggs last time he'd tried). "What do you think, girl?"
The stove played The Star-Spangled Man, prompting another blush from Steve.
"She keeps playing that whenever I'm cooking," Steve said sheepishly. "I'm not sure why."
"Peggy was asking for character references," JARVIS said, catching everyone's attention. "When she was looking through the archival footage of Captain Rogers, this song caught her attention."
"I'm giving you an upgrade, JARVIS," Tony said, beaming up at the ceiling.
"Thank you, sir."
"Hold on." Clint emptied the pan of food onto a plate, which was snatched up by Natasha. As he poured the pancake mix into the frying pan, he continued speaking, "Are you saying that Peggy can look through computers? I thought she was a stove!"
Peggy gave an ominous hissing noise, upping the gas so that Clint yelped and jerked the pan out of danger.
"Down, girl," Tony chided. "He didn't mean anything by it. He doesn't know how smart you can be."
There was a short rendition of the wedding march in response to Tony's praise, and Peggy let Clint put the half-finished pancake back on top of her.
As Tony was considering the ramifications of Peggy playing the wedding march in his presence, he was distracted by a warm hand landing on his shoulder and a kiss being planted in his hair. He looked up to meet Steve's fond gaze.
"Did you sleep?" Steve asked.
Tony thought back to last night. There was a small moment where he might have blacked out due to banging his horribly bruised body on something, but he wasn't really sure that counted since Dummy had frantically prodded him awake. "A little."
"You drank three pots of coffee, sir," JARVIS said. "That amount of caffeine is not conducive to sleeping."
"That was after I slept," Tony said, smiling brightly in response to Steve's disapproving look. He checked the coffee machine, saw that it was finished, and used his telekinesis to grab a mug and the coffee pot, pulling them over to the table.
"You need to sleep, Tony," Steve said, ignoring Clint's muffled curses as Peggy somehow ruined the pancake he had just finished by dousing it with water.
With part of his mind occupied by the question of how the hell Peggy had the ability to spray water when she was a stove, Tony answered absentmindedly, "I'll sleep after I see what Fury has to say about the ripoff stealing my blueprints."
"He apparently got them at some auction," Natasha said, filching the coffee pot after Tony was done with it.
"I don't really understand how he could've gotten those other blueprints," Tony said, frowning into his coffee. "I made those when I was eighteen."
There was a clatter in front of him, and he refocused to find that Steve had deposited a bowl of oatmeal in front of him.
"You're going to eat," Steve said, "and then you're going to sleep. Anything else can wait. You're still healing." His eyes darted over to Natasha, who was steadfastly looking down at her plate.
"Sweet. Health food." Tony poked the oatmeal, found it satisfactory, and began spooning it into his mouth. Eerily, Peggy began playing the wedding march again. "JARVIS, introduce her to some more music."
"No, no." Clint was grinning maniacally, a gleam in his eyes. "I like this. She approves of her 'rents.
Tony narrowed his eyes.
Clint barely had time to react before the entire box of pancake mix was emptied over his head.
Then Thor walked in, hair straggly and unkempt (even more than usual anyway), and Peggy let out a terrified beep before going completely silent and turning off.
Tony didn't get a chance to speak with Bruce after his impromptu breakfast, as Steve dragged him to bed. Before that, though, he insisted Tony take a shower, as he rightfully assumed Tony hadn't done so since facing the ripoff-who-shall-not-be-named.
Much to Tony's surprise (and delight – do not forget the delight) Steve got in as well, even though he'd just taken a shower. A pinched look crossed his features when he saw the expansive network of black and blue covering Tony's body, and his fingers fluttered over Tony's sides, where the bruising was so bad it looked purple.
"It's okay," Tony said softly, not saying that the rush of warm water against his back was simultaneously relaxing and painful (which was an oxymoron when he really thought about it, but there you go). "Just a bit bruised."
Steve's eyes looked up from the bruises (particularly the Natasha-shaped one on his stomach) to meet his. He didn't say anything, except to release a deep sigh of what sounded like utter relief, before moving forward to draw Tony into an embrace, turning his face to hide in Tony's hair.
With a jolt, Tony realized that Steve had been really worried. It was something he should have noticed before, but slipped his mind because of certain troubling reasons (the Jericho for one, but primarily Steve).
He slowly returned the hug, letting himself relax into Steve's reassuring warmth. "It's okay," he repeated in a whisper. His forehead came down to sink against Steve's shoulder. "It's okay."
Steve held Tony like that for a few moments longer before moving, his lips tracing over Tony's ear to whisper "I love you", before they were meeting Tony's lips to sink into a deep, slow kiss.
Determined not to explode anything this time, Tony focused all his attention on the warm lips moving slowly against his own.
He almost didn't notice when Steve pushed him up against the wall, except that the movement readjusted the angle and sent his mind spiraling into another direction than just kissing.
That was when the shower head popped off.
With a spluttering gasp (Tony admired his restraint – he himself would've cursed; in fact, he did) Steve broke apart from him under the geyser of water drenching them. It was still warm, but it was more like a pressurized waterfall than a relaxing shower, and Tony's bruises made their displeasure known. Then there was the sudden panic suffusing his mind, the thought that oh God, he was going to drown, and scrambling, he reached for the knob, only to have the shower turn itself off before he even touched it.
He spent a few precious seconds breathing, calming his mind down. His heart was racing from a mixture of arousal and fright, and he hoped Steve hadn't noticed, what with the shower head literally breaking off.
Sometimes, he really loved his telekinesis. Other times, he wished it didn't give him this trouble.
If this happened when they made out, he didn't want to know what would happen when they had sex. He'd probably blow up the entire mansion.
Groaning softly in frustration, Tony slumped back against the wall, only to straighten when his back protested.
Steve gave a short huff of disbelieving laughter, pressing his forehead against Tony's. "Tony?"
Not willing to look any more embarrassed than he already was, Tony shrugged lightly, moving his hands so they were holding Steve's elbows, bracing himself against the other man. "I'm working on it."
Steve grinned in response to the slightly peevish tone, brushing a chaste kiss over Tony's lips. "Bed," he whispered, the low tone sending small shivers down Tony's spine.
Despite the slight insinuation in that word, when Steve meant "bed", he didn't mean "let's have wild and crazy sex", he meant "go to bed and sleep".
Tony didn't know what to think of it. On the one hand, he supposed it was reassuring not to have jumped in bed together (he meant in the "not sleeping" way) right from the start. But on the other hand, it was beginning to worry him. Why didn't Steve want to sleep (have sex) with him?
"You're going to sleep for at least four hours," Steve told him, watching as Tony got into bed (it wasn't nearly as kinky as that sounded, okay?).
Tony didn't look up from rearranging his bedspread. "We'll see." He didn't think he would be getting much sleep. What had happened earlier with the missiles was too reminiscent of Afghanistan. He'd be lucky not to have nightmares. Then there was the whole shower incident. He'd gotten better with water, but a sudden shock like that was going to bring up memories better left forgotten.
He hadn't even noticed that his hand was covering the reactor until a warm hand covered his own, curling around his fingers.
"You're going to sleep." Steve's voice was gentle. "I'm not going anywhere."
Well, that was…noticeably more reassuring than going to sleep by himself, where the nightmares would take over.
But it was too hard to believe, and it wasn't until Steve was under the covers with him that Tony realized he was completely serious.
He laughed lightly. "I didn't know you slept during the day."
"I don't." Steve's tone was amused. He turned toward Tony, wrapping an arm around his waist. His lips brushed Tony's ear. "But I'm willing to make an exception."
Unconsciously, Tony's body relaxed, turning into Steve's heat and reassuring presence. His mind slowed down, relaxing into the steady pressure of sleep that he had been expertly ignoring. It was almost frightening how quickly he could relax in Steve's presence; he'd never been able to fall into the state of in-between consciousness so quickly before.
There was another soft kiss pressed to his lips. "Sleep, Tony. I'll still be here when you wake up."
Tony turned to press his face into Steve's shoulder, mumbling something that might have been "Love you", though he wasn't sure. He dropped off into sleep moments after, feeling warm, safe, and…(dare he say it?) loved.
When he woke up six hours later, Tony was slightly disconcerted to find himself partly lying on Steve, his face tucked into his neck. Steve had a book in hand, and he spared a small thought to wonder how he'd gotten it before deciding he didn't need to know.
Tony shifted slightly, catching Steve's attention as he did.
Steve smiled at him, putting the book to the side to turn over, facing Tony now. "Afternoon."
"Is it?" Tony couldn't remember dreaming, which was surprising. He didn't feel at all like moving. It was just a feeling telling him that it was probably going to hurt like a bitch when he got to using his muscles. It was another reason why he hadn't wanted to sleep.
"Mm-hmm." Steve huddled closer to him, breathing a kiss over Tony's forehead. "You slept six hours."
Tony blinked in surprise, tilting his head back as Steve's lips drifted down to the corner of his mouth. "Is…that…so?" The last word was partly muffled by Steve's lips, not that Tony was complaining.
Steve kept the kisses slow and lazy, even as Tony adjusted his position to lie more comfortably over him.
"I love you, too," Steve said in-between kisses. "Even if you keep breaking the bathroom."
Tony moved to Steve's jaw, humming slightly in response.
"You said it"—Steve's voice caught on a groan as he was lightly nipped on the ear—"just before falling asleep."
Looking up to ask what, Tony was distracted as Steve rolled them over, pressing on top of him to capture his mouth again. He was heavy, but pleasantly so, and he kept enough of his weight off Tony so he wasn't suffocating.
Tony wasn't sure what this would have led to, as they were rudely interrupted by a Thor's booming voice, "Steven! The director would wish to speak with you."
Steve broke apart from Tony, a brilliant blush spreading over his face that had nothing to do with the flush of arousal. He groaned softly in mortification, hiding his face in Tony's neck.
That left Tony free to glare at Thor, who didn't seem at all ashamed (or embarrassed) of what he had just broken up. As Thor opened his mouth again, he was abruptly shut up by the book Steve had been reading earlier being flung at his face.
The distraction was enough that Tony was able to slam the door shut, hopefully hitting Thor somewhere (like his face, but the book had already hit that so chances were that it was a foot).
"Is he gone?" Steve asked, breath tickling Tony's skin.
"Yes." Tony sighed, rubbing his right hand over Steve's back. "JARVIS, you couldn't warn us?"
"My apologies, sir," JARVIS said, not sounding the least bit contrite.
"No, it's all right." Steve pushed himself off Tony, rolling to the side with a heavy sigh. "I should go see what Fury has to say."
"Tell him no," Tony advised.
"Tony, I have to see him—"
"He's going to ask you to persuade me to give up the missile, or some variation thereof. Just tell him no."
For some reason, Steve had a fond grin on his face. "And can I persuade you?"
Tony blinked up at him, disbelieving. "No. Absolutely not."
"Shame." Steve pressed one last kiss to a startled Tony's lips before getting out of bed. "It would've been interesting."
Did he just…? Oh Lord. Tony silently cursed as he threw the covers over his head.
He was so epically screwed.
It took a little bit of effort, but Tony managed to make his way to Bruce's lab, ignoring the pain jolting through his sides (and body. Everything hurt) with every step he took.
He was in the elevator when he tackled the issue of JARVIS. "Explain to me why you didn't tell us Thor was on his way. Or why you didn't tell him we were occupied."
"I have noticed that in moments of high emotion, your telekinesis acts up destructively."
"So you decided to cut me off before I blew up the entire house?"
"I deemed it advisable."
Tony scowled up at the blinking camera, though it lost most of its bite due to the fact he was aware that what JARVIS said was true. "I'm going to figure this thing out."
"I have every confidence, sir."
"In the meantime, don't get anyone on my shower. I'll fix it myself."
"Of course, sir."
The elevator doors slid open, letting Tony into Bruce's lab. Bruce looked up from his work on the computer, saw that it was Tony, and looked back down.
"You need something?" he asked.
"Not really." Tony brushed past some brewing scientific experiments, looking them over with a curious eye. It wasn't his field, but he could always read up on it if it was necessary.
"Weapons aren't my specialty," Bruce said, glancing up to make sure Tony wasn't about to touch anything dangerous. "Nonbiological ones anyway."
"It's not about the Jericho."
"So there is a problem."
Bruce gave a disbelieving hum, finished whatever he was doing, and leaned back in his chair, taking his glasses off. "Really."
"Okay, it's sort of a problem."
"Is it you and Steve? Because if it is, I'm gonna have to take a rain check to cool off."
"Nothing like that," Tony said quickly, forestalling any potential Hulk-outs. He pulled over a chair from the other side of the lab, sitting down backwards in it so he could hug the backrest if need be. "Just…I have a question."
"Is this about the missiles yesterday? Because if it is, the answer is yes. Steve had good reason to be worried and upset."
"I'm not debating that." Tony fidgeted, fingers tapping against his elbow. "How does one tell the difference between a necessary risk and an unnecessary one?"
Bruce blinked, seeming taken aback. "I don't think this is a question you should be asking me. Have you talked to Pepper?"
"We broke up because of that – because I was Iron Man." Tony kept his voice even. "So I don't really think I can ask her about this. I know the other guy kind of takes the whole risk thing out of the equation, but can't you help me out?"
Bruce folded his arms across his chest, looking very much like he wanted a drink (or a cup of tea; Tony's pantry was filled with tea due to his fascination with the stuff). "I can try. Let's start with this: what defines an unacceptable and an acceptable risk to you?"
Thinking about it in terms of "acceptable versus unacceptable" instead of "necessary versus unnecessary" was already doing worlds for Tony's thought processes. No, really. There was a huge difference between using "acceptable" and "necessary".
"That's why I needed to talk to you," Tony pointed out, snapping his fingers. "I was thinking about this as necessary versus unnecessary—"
"That doesn't sound good."
"—but your words fit better." Tony considered it for a beat longer. "But my problem is that my standards probably don't match up to Steve's."
"Probably not." Bruce smiled wryly. "How do you see the problem? Yesterday, what was running through your mind when you took that risk?"
"As probabilities. I took the probability with the highest chance of success and ran with that."
"What was it?"
Bruce raised a disbelieving eyebrow.
"I might've rounded it a bit," Tony grudgingly admitted. "It was more like seventy-five." He wasn't going to mention the 70%.
He hastened to finish. "But the other probabilities had less than a sixty percent chance of working! So, really, it was a bargain."
"I don't think Steve sees it that way." Bruce tapped the frames of his glasses on the desk, leaning forward as he did. "You know on the Helicarrier," he said slowly, "when I told you how I got low…I recognized that look on your face. The look of a guy who'd been in the same place."
With a dry swallow, Tony remembered the palladium poisoning. Sure, he hadn't actively been trying to commit suicide, but he'd gotten pretty damn close.
"You're still a horrible drunk, right?" Bruce asked, going right along Tony's thoughts.
"Always have been."
"I've read your file." Bruce smiled wryly. "Like you read mine. I know that you almost died because someone stole your reactor. You got it back with the suit. And I remember you telling us that if you could've used your telekinesis, you wouldn't have been stuck in Afghanistan for so long."
"I would've busted right out. What's your point?"
"My point is that you're like me. You don't really care what happens to you. Except in my case, I got the other guy, and you have an armored suit that's almost indestructible."
"I care about what happens to me," Tony protested, affronted. "I wouldn't be standing here if I didn't."
"I'm sure you do." Bruce had a strange half-smile on his face. "It's that human instinct that keeps us alive when things get bad. But sometimes…there are signs, you know?" He put his glasses to his mouth, not really looking at Tony. "I went the obvious route. I put a gun in my mouth. You…" He looked up at Tony. "You were a little more subtle. You got out of Afghanistan because of pure human stubbornness and ingenuity. You didn't get out because you necessarily wanted to."
"I didn't know you majored in psychology," Tony snapped, drawing back slightly.
"I didn't. But the other guy has given me some perspective into the human mind. What makes us tick, what doesn't…" Bruce shrugged. "Being drunk lowered all your inhibitions, so your mental block was released. But you don't really care about what happens to you, so your power didn't show up when you had to defend yourself. Now, though, it's really more on you."
Tony's first instinct was to run. That was what he usually did. Then his better sense kicked in and reminded him that he was a tad bit more mature now, and that running away would solve absolutely nothing. He forced himself to focus on what Bruce was saying, rather than his initial urge to flee.
"So I guess if I had to answer your original question, I'd probably say to go only for the acceptable risks when they're above eighty-eight percent. Minimum. That's probably an eighty percent chance for Steve if he thought like you did."
Bruce looked over at Tony curiously. "Why are you asking me this anyway?" he asked.
Tony hugged the chair for a moment, silent. Finally, he just shrugged. "Just wondering."
Bruce studied him for a moment. Thankfully, he didn't call Tony out on his bullshit.
"Well, thanks for the advice, buddy," Tony said brightly. He got up, moving the chair back to where it belonged. "Let me know if you need something, yeah?"
He'd just made it to the elevator when Bruce spoke again, his tone quiet. "You should talk to him."
Tony paused. "Talk to who?"
"Steve." Bruce stood up, walking over to Tony, who was still facing the elevator. "This isn't going to make or break your relationship, Tony. Just talk to him; let him know what you're having trouble with."
Jaw set, Tony turned around. He opened his mouth to give a half-assed excuse, and ended up blurting out, "We haven't had sex yet."
Bruce froze for a moment. "That," he said slowly, "was a little more information than I needed to know."
Part of Tony's mind agreed. The other part was so sick of keeping these things bottled up that it was practically screaming "Screw it!" Bruce was a friend, and he was a friend Tony could rely on.
"I don't know why," Tony continued, noting that Bruce had stopped his fidgeting to pay attention to what he was saying. "And I don't get it. We've made out"—Bruce shifted so his arms were folded across his chest—"but we haven't gotten any further than that. And when we do make out, I usually end up destroying something in the vicinity. It was the shower head this morning."
Bruce looked like he sort of wanted to know the story behind that (since, you know, a shower head), but thought the better of it. "Have you talked to Steve about this?"
"What should I say? 'Hey, can we have sex?' " I'm beginning to think that even though we're making out like teenagers, you don't want me?
"Tony, he loves you. We could all see it."
"Because you're as blind as a bat when it suits you, and sometimes as dense as an ox," Bruce stated bluntly. "Have you considered that maybe he's taking it slow? That he wants this to mean something?"
Tony stuffed his hands down his pockets, thinking that he might just as well go all out. "Steve's known me for months. Pepper and Rhodey have both known me for years. Rhodey's my friend, but even he can only take me in small doses. And Pepper? She must be blessed for having put up with me for so long, but she couldn't manage it. Steve's only gotten to know me over the last couple months."
Bruce had a slightly exasperated tone now. "Tony, I'm not sure if you've realized this, and if you haven't, I'm going to spell it out for you: Steve Rogers is not Pepper Potts. They are two completely different people."
Tony snapped. "I know they aren't the same! But that's the point: no one in my life is the same! Still, none of them stay – hell, Obadiah was only with me for the money! Pepper was my PA first before she became my friend, and that was only through sheer dumb luck."
"Calm down." Bruce reached out a steady hand, resting it on Tony's shoulder. "Please, before you blow something up."
It took Tony a moment to realize that he was so agitated he was practically vibrating, and that also went for most of the objects in the lab, which were sort of floating. Exhaling slowly, he gently set them down, blinking as he met Bruce's calm brown eyes. It was ironic that the man with "breathtaking anger issues" (as Tony had so lovingly described it once to a certain god) was telling someone else to calm down while being completely Zen himself.
"Sorry," he said, looking to the side.
"It's all right." Bruce's hand dropped. "Everyone has their bad days."
He let Tony calm down for a few more seconds before saying, "Tony…" He didn't continue until he saw he had his friend's attention again. "You need to tell Steve what you just told me. Tell him. He needs to know this. If only so he can knock some sense into you."
Tony looked down at his shoes, and then back into Bruce's eyes, seeing nothing but calm reassurance and confidence there. Nodding slowly, swallowing past the lump in his throat, he said, "All right."
Tony meant to talk with Steve after that. He did. His talk with Bruce had reassured him (sort of), so he was totally for clearing the air up.
The problem was that Tony wasn't a guy who talked about his feelings much. He'd talked with Bruce because he was frustrated, scared, and just plain fed up. Plus, he knew that Bruce would have his back and keep everything quiet.
In any case, now was a good time to try and have this conversation with Steve. They were watching When Harry Met Sally in the living room, just the two of them, so Steve could catch up on modern pop culture. Tony suspected that Bruce had somehow arranged it so that it was just the two of them by shanghaiing the others into some sort of activity (he suspected it was strip poker, but wasn't sure).
The point is, Tony was totally for talking to Steve. But it wasn't like he could just spring "we need to talk" on him. He knew that could also be interpreted as "we have problems" or "I'm breaking up with you". So he had to segue into it naturally, by using an opening gambit that already talked about feelings.
Tony kept his eye on the movie as he tapped around on his tablet. He was working on modifications for Natasha's signature bracelets, to give them more of a charge while having them last longer. Ordinarily he'd have done this months ago, but it was Natasha's primary weapon, and he didn't feel comfortable messing with something that important so early in their relationship (Clint was totally different, because he didn't scare the shit out of Tony). Since they were more comfortable around each other now, Tony felt perfectly within his rights to surprise Natasha with an updated version of her Black Widow bracelets.
His head was in Steve's lap, and his feet were propped up on the armrest. Steve alternated carding his fingers through Tony's hair to just resting them, which normally indicated that something startling was going on in the movie. His fingers had been still throughout the entire faked orgasm scene (his face had been rather red, too, much to Tony's secret delight). His other hand rested on Tony's stomach.
Looking up from his tablet, Tony inspected Steve's face for a moment. Sensing that it was probably as good a time as any, Tony jumped the gun and dove into his opening topic. "So…why Peggy?"
Distracted, Steve blinked, looking down at Tony. "Sorry?"
"Why Peggy?" Tony asked again, nodding in the direction of the kitchen.
"You don't like it?"
"No, it's good. I was gonna name her eventually. I was just wondering, though. Why did you pick Peggy?"
Steve's fingers tangled in Tony's hair, his eyes taking on a lost, faraway look. "She's stubborn," he said quietly. "She doesn't take bad behavior. She has a certain humor about her. She's picky about who she likes." He smiled wryly. "She just…reminded me of Peggy. It's stupid, I know, but—"
"It's not stupid," Tony interrupted. "Most people would say that because she's an AI she doesn't have a personality, but I say bullshit. Have you seen Dummy? Class A personality right there. And JARVIS. I can't forget him. Peggy's got her own sense of style. And if she reminds you of a long lost love, then go for it."
Steve's smile twisted slightly in remembered pain, and Tony winced as he realized what had just come out of his mouth. "Long lost love"? Thank you, brain-to-mouth filter. Tony had just epically put his foot in his mouth.
"Forget I said that last bit," he said hurriedly. "Sorry for being an insensitive jackass—"
Steve's hand shut Tony up, fingers lying over his lips. "No, it's okay. It's just…I didn't really know her. Not the way I know you."
Tony's mouth went dry. Okay, so…this would be a great place to segue into that deeper conversation he'd been aiming for. He could point out all the ways Steve didn't know him, and bring up all the other points Bruce had insisted he discuss.
He opened his mouth just as Steve added, "Charles Xavier wants to meet with you tomorrow."
That simple innocuous statement completely derailed Tony's brain. Blinking, he half-sat up in alarm, dislodging Steve's hand. "What?"
"He was at the briefing with Fury." Steve gave a light shrug. "You told me to say no to Fury, not to someone else."
Tony blinked for a moment, digesting that statement. When the words finally registered, he sank back into Steve's lap with a small groan, throwing an arm over his face. "I've corrupted you."
"No, you haven't." Steve sounded amused.
"What time does he want to meet? Where?"
"He's coming over at nine," Steve said, taking Tony's arm off his face to link his fingers through Tony's.
"He's coming here?"
"Is that bad?"
Tony gave him a slight smirk. "He's telepathic. This should be interesting."
Steve smiled back, squeezing his fingers reassuringly. "You'll do fine."
Tony returned the squeeze, though his mind was running over what he'd just heard. So Charles Xavier was coming over tomorrow?
Then…crap. He still hadn't talked to Steve, and he was too much of a coward to bring it up now, when his attempt had crashed and burned.
Well, it wasn't like it couldn't wait another day.
A nightmare woke Tony around 2:30 in the morning. Not the kind about Afghanistan, nearly drowning, or being lost in space, but about Steve. It wasn't frightening or hair-raising in any of the ways Tony had usually come to expect his nightmares to be. It was a nightmare because of the pure loneliness.
Shuddering in remembrance, Tony spent the rest of the night in an insomnia-induced bout of creativity. By the time morning rolled around, he was jittery on too much coffee, drinking his who-knew-what-number-cup of coffee, and working on a model of the suit that he could take into space.
He wasn't doing it in his workshop either. Rather, he was doing it in the living room on a tablet, muttering commands to JARVIS under his breath so simulations could be run while he completed a set of calculations in his head.
"Under current power settings, use of a such a suit would be considered moot, sir, as there would be no power left by the time you obtained escape velocity and entered space."
"It's hypothetical, JARVIS. What if another portal opens? I didn't have to reach escape velocity then, and I was piggybacking a nuke." Tony drew up the schematics for the arc reactor. "I should probably make this more efficient anyway."
As he was fiddling around with the suit and arc reactor, his mind kept up a litany of worries regarding Steve, and what would happen with Charles Xavier. Tony was somewhat familiar with the man's work after having browsed through S.H.I.E.L.D.'s (and by that he meant Fury's) private files.
Charles Xavier was a respectable figure in both the human and mutant worlds. His intellect meant that he had Tony's respect, and he was somewhat excited to be meeting such a legend. Pepper might point out that since he was a telepath, Tony should be slightly leery around him. To that he had to say several things: one, as a respected telepath the man was very good at keeping secrets, and two, the man was very good at keeping secrets because he was a telepath. Besides, Tony couldn't just turn his brain off. It was going to keep running in the background.
So with that in mind, Tony trusted that whatever Charles found while rooting around in his brain, he'd keep it to himself.
The matter with Steve was a bigger issue, as Tony had chickened out the previous night after Steve brought up the fact that Charles was coming over in the morning. They'd then finished the movie, and gone to bed (sadly, Steve hadn't joined Tony this time, but it was probably for the best given Tony's nightmare).
All in all, where did that leave Tony?
Screwed. Totally, completely screwed. At least, until he managed to man up and talk to Steve the way Bruce was urging him to.
Narrowing his eyes thoughtfully, Tony input the calculations he had been running in his head into the tablet. "Run that."
Several seconds later, the tablet showed the results, revealing a small increase of efficiency in the arc reactor. It wasn't enough, though, and Tony sighed as he leaned back against the couch, considering what other laws of physics he would have to mangle in order to get the finicky piece of technology to bend to his will.
He grabbed his cup of coffee, gulping down half of it just as Steve came in, two people trailing behind him that Tony hadn't expected. Okay, so he'd expected Charles Xavier (that was a horribly outdated motorized wheelchair); he just hadn't expected the very welcome figure of Nick Fury (yes, that was sarcasm; he'd never be happy to see Fury, even on a good day).
"Tony, this is Professor Charles Xavier," Steve said as a greeting.
"Good morning to you, too, sunshine," Tony said, looking down at his tablet to confirm that it was indeed nine. He sat up, going over to shake Charles's hand. "Pleasure to meet you, Professor."
"The pleasure is mine, Mr. Stark," Charles said, his hand firmly grasping Tony's.
"Tony, please. You make me sound like my father." Tony glanced over at Fury. "Steve, what have I told you about saying no?"
"I thought that was just for your Jericho missile." Steve offered a small shrug in apology.
"JARVIS, why did you let him in?"
"I'm checking in on the team," Fury said before JARVIS could reply. "Unless you have a problem with that, Stark?"
"No problem." Tony smiled, though it didn't reach his eyes. "So," he continued, looking back at Charles, "what are we looking at here? Testing?"
"Nothing of the sort," Charles said. "I believe the director has scheduled something for later this week. I simply wanted to meet you."
"And see how I work in my natural environment?" Tony raised an eyebrow, knocking back the rest of his coffee. He let the cup float down to the table, fingers moving over the tablet as he continued talking. "I can't promise I'll be a very good host today – work and all, you know – but I'm sure the others would gladly show you around." He frowned down at the tablet, mentally running over the math that was displayed there. "JARVIS, this doesn't look right for the reactor."
"Those are the schematics for the Black Widow project, sir."
"Why is this open? I was working on that other thing." He looked back at Fury as he kept his words vague, then back down at the improved version of Natasha's weapon. "Actually, keep that. It's better than what I came up with last night. Make sure I don't get sidetracked again."
"How long have you been awake?" Steve's question caught at the edges of Tony's attention as he adjusted the math for the arc reactor.
"Not sure. Lost count after the kitchen." The lines of math flickered as he calibrated one of the equations, only to refresh with the new variables. "That reminds me. JARVIS, coffee."
"I think you've had enough." Steve was tugging the second cup of coffee Tony had telekinetically grabbed out of his hand. "You're bouncing all over the place. How much has he had, JARVIS?"
"Not enough," Tony said just as JARVIS reported, "Four pots, and currently on the fifth."
"You've definitely had enough." Steve put the cup of coffee out of Tony's reach (though he could easily get it back, since, you know, telekinesis). "You've been up since when? And what did you do in the kitchen?"
Fury and Charles were quietly watching this surprisingly domestic discussion with either an amused expression or a vaguely exasperated one (guess who had which one).
Tony (or JARVIS – the traitor) didn't answer Steve, as Clint appeared in the doorway, sopping wet.
Blinking, Tony looked him over. "Why do you look like a drowned hawk?"
"First," Clint said, wringing his shirt out, "stop making jokes about my codename. Second…Steve, Tony, your daughter is misbehaving. She won't stop playing Hound Dog, and keeps dousing me with the sink when I try to get near her. Third, Thor is in the kitchen, and wants to play with her arm, and to that I say – what the hell? Who connects a sentient stove to the sink?"
"So that's what I did," Tony muttered as everyone looked at him. It wasn't a joke; he honestly couldn't really remember what he'd gotten up to in the wee hours of the night. His brain had been too occupied by A) Steve, B) Charles Xavier, and C) what can I do to occupy myself? C had gotten the least attention, since he'd been too busy over A and B. He was an expert at multitasking, but even he couldn't give equal attention to three different tasks at the same time. Something had to give, and in this case it was C, which meant that strange things usually happened that he didn't learn about until the next day, when either he or an unsuspecting Avenger ran across it.
Case in point, Thor encountering a flower pot that seemed intent on serenading him with love sonnets. Tony still wasn't sure what had happened to it. He also had no clue if he'd installed an AI into a flower pot (in that case, how the hell was that possible? It was a flower pot, with nothing even remotely electronic about it) or if it was simply a sort of radio that activated in the presence of very hot gods.
"Would someone mind telling me when you two adopted a child?" Fury asked, catching everyone's attention. "I don't remember this being cleared through S.H.I.E.L.D."
"Good morning, sir." Clint gave him a curt nod, splattering water droplets all over the floor. Not that it mattered, considering he was standing in a growing puddle on the floor as his shoes squelched. "Tony? Steve? I don't care who, just get her in line. I need to eat something."
Natasha suddenly appeared by him, holding an empty cup by the handle with one finger. "We're out of coffee. I find this strange because we still had an entire shelf's worth yesterday morning." She smiled briefly at Fury. "Morning." Her eyes landed on Tony. "Well?"
Steve seemed vaguely horrified by Tony's coffee drinking prowess. Tony couldn't see why; he considered it impressive. "You finished all our coffee?"
"It was in the name of science," Tony protested. He looked down at the (last) cup of coffee on the table, considered hiding it, observed Natasha's dangerously placid face, and offered it to her as a peace offering.
"Thank you," Natasha said sweetly, grasping it as it floated in front of her. "Good morning, Professor," she greeted Charles. Then she was gone.
"Hi," Clint said, apparently realizing his manners had been amiss. "Don't mind me. I'm just trying to get my breakfast."
"Someone better answer me," Fury threatened, referring to his earlier question.
"Or what?" Tony said at the same time as Steve answered, "It's just Peggy."
Fury blinked slowly, settling his hands behind his back. When he next spoke, it was slowly and clearly, as if he was speaking to a bunch of kindergartners. "Who the hell is Peggy? And why was I not informed of this development?"
"She would appear to be an artificial intelligence," Charles spoke up, eyes flickering from Clint, to Steve, to Tony. "A stove?"
"It's a pain in the ass," Clint confirmed. "Or she, since Steve named her Peggy. I don't know why. She doesn't even like to cook."
"Oh, thank goodness." Fury sounded sarcastic. "It's not actually a child, it's just a stove. Named Peggy."
"I repeat, it was an accident," Tony objected. "I was fixing the kitchen on three hours of sleep."
"When someone fixes the kitchen on three hours of sleep, it normally means they paint it neon pink and forget to turn the fridge on. It does not mean they install an AI into a stove. I thought that was supposed to be difficult?" Clint folded his arms across his chest.
Tony didn't bother to grace that statement with an answer, instead sighing and moving past the drenched marksman. He did turn around to look back at the other three men inside the living room, directing his next statement to Charles, "You're welcome to come into the kitchen if you want."
"Please do," Clint said as they followed him. "It might just put some sanity back into the place."
When they entered the kitchen, Peggy didn't pull out the wedding march or The Star-Spangled Man. Rather, the Darth Vader theme song (in beeps) entered the air, causing both Thor (who had a plate of what looked like black Pop-Tarts in front of him) and Bruce (who was nursing a cup of tea while reading a notebook) to look up.
Fury didn't seem amused at the song choice as he sat down at the table, giving the two men sitting there a nod.
"Excellent choice, my young padawan," Tony greeted Peggy, patting the stovetop.
The theme song broke off into a cheerful rendition of the wedding march.
"I don't want to know," Fury said, putting up a hand as Steve opened his mouth.
"I'd refrain from dousing Clint again," Tony told Peggy, "at least until I check that I didn't do anything too crazy by linking you up with the sink. I'm not going to be leaving the kitchen anytime soon either, so you can let him cook something to eat before he decides to kill somebody."
"If I kill anybody, it's going to be you," Clint muttered, shoving Tony aside. "I don't care what Steve says."
"The other guy would have something to say about that," Bruce said mildly, scribbling something in his notebook. If it was anything like Tony's tablet, it probably contained all sorts of crazy ideas that never saw the light of day because they were either too insane or inconceivable with the available technology. Though Tony was far ahead of common technology, so it might not be too inconceivable.
Bruce put down his pencil and gave Charles a small smile. "Hello, Professor. Bruce Banner. It's an honor to make your acquaintance." He shook the other man's hand, reaching across the table as he did. "I wasn't expecting to see you today."
"It was a decision made on short-notice," Charles said, returning the smile. "I've read your work, Doctor. It is truly fascinating."
"I am Thor," Thor said, beaming broadly as he clasped Charles's hand, giving it one powerful shake before dropping it. He'd gotten the general gist of the Earth handshake, though Tony could still remember almost having several people's arms popped out because of his vigorousness. "We must exchange tales of valor. I presume you have much to tell us."
Tony sat next to Steve, wishing he could head down to the shop to get away from the noise. Unfortunately, he'd promised Peggy he'd stay, and he was a man of his word…
Under the table, Steve gave Tony's knee a reassuring squeeze, apparently noticing his discomfort.
Tony dropped his hand below the table to clasp Steve's, returning the gesture to show his thanks. "So," he addressed Charles, "how long can we expect you to stay? I'd offer coffee, but we're out. Bruce does make a mean cup of tea, though."
"No, thank you." Charles gave Peggy a glance, making Tony think that he probably didn't want to impose on a sentient stove anymore than it was already being imposed on.
"She doesn't mind Bruce making tea," Tony said. "He's her favorite uncle."
"And what am I?" Clint called, dropping bacon into the frying pan with a loud sizzle.
"Her estranged cousin," Tony lazily shot back.
An idea hit him at the moment, and he reached for the tablet, pulling up the schematics for the arc reactor and suit. The suit didn't necessarily have to be combat ready (though it would be nice) so maybe a bigger reactor wouldn't be amiss?
"Is telekinesis your only power?" Charles asked.
"As far as I know," Tony said, redesigning the armor to make room for a bigger reactor. He couldn't use the one inside his chest; it'd have to be built into the suit. "Why?"
"You have never heard others' thoughts?"
Tony blinked, looking up from the tablet. JARVIS was picking up the rest of the designing, going off of what Tony had started with. "I think I'd've noticed if Thor's inner voice was suddenly in my head. Or Steve's."
Charles's eyes moved around the kitchen, landing on each individual person's figure in turn before returning to Tony's. "Interesting. You are aware that I would not reveal anything you do not want told to others?"
"Of course I am." Tony smiled lightly. "I know you're a telepath. You're highly respected, which means that you don't use what you hear. You have to be good at keeping secrets. I wouldn't have let you in here if I doubted your intentions." His grin was slightly twisted. "Besides, if you do try to do something illegal or try to blackmail one of us, you would dearly regret it. Hammer and Vanko can back up that claim."
"Tony," Steve said softly, a faint note of disapproval in his tone.
"I'm just giving him a heads up." Tony nudged Steve's ankle with his foot. "Most people don't even have that."
"I remember the guy you tossed to Hulk when he almost tried to blow us up," Clint said, sounding fond of the memory. He sat down next to Bruce, setting his breakfast in front of him.
"Wasn't that when the other guy almost killed you with a helicopter?" Bruce asked.
"Fun times." Clint nodded in agreement, digging into his meal.
"He didn't even piss me off," Tony said, vaguely remembering that the guy in question had tried to make his way to some sort of tank. "Now the one who fired that gun… He did piss me off. What happened to him?"
"You dropped an explosive charge on him," Fury said. "It was in the report."
"Oh, yeah." Tony smiled at Charles. "Sorry, got sidetracked. So, why are you asking?"
Charles studied him for a moment. "You are not purposefully obscuring your thoughts?"
"You can do that?" Tony made a thoughtful humming sound. "I read about that helmet Magneto has, but I didn't know it was possible to do it without something like that."
"And where did you read about that?" Fury asked.
"I picked it up somewhere." Tony gave him a lopsided smile, raising an eyebrow.
"You mean you had JARVIS hack into the S.H.I.E.L.D. mainframe," Natasha corrected, walking into the kitchen after apparently eavesdropping on the conversation. "Again." She perched on the edge of the counter next to Peggy, apparently not caring that there was a sentient stove armed with a sink next to her.
A thought struck Tony. Call him sleep-deprived; he wasn't normally this slow. It might also have been the caffeine; his thoughts were slightly scattered. "Are you saying you can't read my mind?"
"I can read it," Charles corrected, his eyes shrewd. "It is simply difficult to gather a clear picture. You are currently paying attention to this conversation, thinking about Captain Rogers, considering an upgrade to some sort of appliance, and concerned about the television. Yet I cannot get a clear picture on what exactly your thoughts are on any of these matters."
The kitchen was silent as everyone absorbed that.
"No one can think that much," Clint finally said, leaning back in his chair. "No one."
"I can," Bruce said mildly. "Just not all the time. Or the professor would have said something."
"Your thoughts are clear," Charles agreed. "I also register the presence of your other self."
Bruce smiled, the gesture rather self-deprecating. "Really."
"Why are you concerned about the television?" Natasha asked.
"I wasn't even thinking about that," Tony said, garnering incredulous stares. "Well, so maybe I was, since he picked up on it, but I didn't know. So now I'm thinking about that, and I don't know what I did. JARVIS?"
"It is currently linked into Asgardian forms of entertainment," JARVIS answered.
"That is intriguing," Thor said when everyone else seemed rendered momentarily speechless. "We do not have a box of entertainment on Asgard."
Tony rolled his memories back to when he had been in the living room. He had tinkered with the TV, but he wasn't sure what exactly he'd done at that time. If he remembered right, he'd been engrossed in thinking about the newest designs he could put into the Iron Man suit, and had just done some coding in the TV. He'd have JARVIS show him whatever he'd done at a later point.
"Your thoughts at unusually clear at this point," Charles said quietly.
Refocusing on Charles, Tony had a small half smile on his face when the professor then said, "Now they are not. That is most interesting."
"Call me interesting," Tony said, tipping the chair slightly back. "That everything?"
"Let me get this straight," Fury broke in, eye fixed on Charles. "You can't read Stark's mind? Or you can, but he just has several trains of thoughts running at the same time, making it difficult to understand?"
"Parallel thinking," Bruce said, catching everyone's attention. "That's what it is. He's just thinking on several different levels at the same time."
"I do it all the time." Tony was steadfastly not looking at Steve, who he could feel was boring a hole into the side of his face (maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration; the good captain was simply looking at him like everyone else was). "Didn't think it was a big deal."
"Not a big deal," Clint muttered disbelievingly. " 'Not a big deal,' says the guy who stumps the world's best telepath."
"Arrows, Barton. Or your quiver. I'm not picky."
There was a small stare-off between Clint and Tony, which ended with Clint thinning his lips and picking at his plate.
Tony looked up at Charles, smiling blandly and dearly hoping that this was it, because this morning had not gone the way he'd hoped it would. "Is that everything?" He intentionally focused his thoughts so that they clearly broadcasted to every telepath in the vicinity – world's best or not – PLEASE SAY YES.
"I think that does cover everything," Charles confirmed, eyes sliding off of Tony's to meet Fury's. "He is unusually adept at using his telekinesis for what you have told me. I will arrange for something this week so we can go over what exactly he has trouble with."
"He explodes things," Natasha said.
"The plumbing namely," Clint added.
"It's getting better," Tony grumbled, sliding down in his seat.
"It was just the shower head last time, wasn't it?" Steve asked.
"How do you know that?" Clint sounded appalled. "No, don't answer that."
There was a faint blush suffusing Steve's cheeks, while Charles appeared slightly amused, apparently reading Steve's mind regarding what had happened.
"I fixed it," Tony said, not sounding peevish at all.
"You know what?" Fury stood up, casting an eye over them all. "I don't want to know. As long as the job gets done, the paperwork filled out, and no one blows up New York, I don't need to know the dirty details. Stark, you'll be getting the details about the appointment. Don't be late. Rogers, make sure he shows up on time."
"I am capable of getting somewhere on time!" Tony protested indignantly.
"You arrived late to our movie night," Clint pointed out. "Twice. Steve dragged you in last time, and you were still half an hour late."
Okay, that was it. Tony was more than capable of holding his own in a battle of wits, but his skin was seriously itchy. Fury was here, and he disliked the guy, and Charles Xavier was also here, and had revealed way too much of his inner workings for him to be comfortable.
Tony stood up, gathering his tablet. "JARVIS knows where to find me. Professor, it was an honor to meet you. I'll be looking forward to our appointment."
"Likewise." Charles's face was inscrutable, so Tony couldn't tell if he was getting the general gist of his thoughts or not. He probably was, considering that every level of his brain was focused on going somewhere quiet and alone.
He made a beeline to his workshop, brain still chugging furiously. Now that he was alone, his thoughts had spaced out again, focusing on the armor, the arc reactor, and whatever the hell he'd done to the TV.
Most of all, though, he was thinking about Steve.
Goddamn it. What was he supposed to do?
Tony was unsure exactly how long he'd been in his workshop building Natasha's new bracelets/gloves and God knew what else when Steve's warm arms slipped around his waist and his face pressed against the back of Tony's neck to place a kiss there.
"You okay?" Steve murmured. "You ran out of there pretty fast."
Was he okay? On a physical level, Tony was getting there, what with all the bruises. Emotionally? Yeah, Tony would have to get back on that. Mentally? Eh…that was entirely debatable.
Tony stared down at the half-finished Black Widow gadget, wishing he could just lean back against Steve and not worry about what would come next.
"I thought it might freak you out a bit," Tony finally said, putting his tools down. "Learning how I think."
Steve pressed his face into Tony's hair. "Why would it freak me out? I already know your brain works a bit faster than the average Joe."
"Most people don't like it if the person they're talking to is thinking about a dozen other things."
"It's not a dozen other things, is it?" Steve chuckled softly. "Besides, I'm not most people."
"No, you're not." Tony exhaled slowly, closing his eyes as he hoped that this bit of impulsiveness would pay off and not bite him in the ass later. If it did, he was so blaming Bruce. "We…" No, don't say "we need to talk", that never worked out well. "I need to tell you something. Actually, I need to tell you a lot of somethings."
Steve's arms slackened around him, and Tony used the opportunity to whirl around. He'd rather do this while facing the other way, but if there was one thing Pepper had taught him, it was to always do a conversation like this face-to-face, not back-to-face (or face-to-back, it was all a matter of perspective).
But he didn't have to meet Steve's eyes to do it. "I still don't get it, you know. How a guy like you could possibly be interested in a long-term relationship with a guy like me—"
"Let me finish," Tony interrupted. "Please. Otherwise I'll balk and pretend everything's fine and dandy, and Bruce will keep bugging me until something gives, and no one wants that."
Steve's eyes were unreadable, and his voice was quiet as he said, "Okay. That's fine."
"Okay, great." Tony smiled weakly. "So, as I was saying, I don't get it. But I don't think I'll ever get it, so I've shelved that problem for the near future. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth and all that jazz." Telling himself not to get sidetracked, Tony took a breath and continued, eyes fixed on some point over Steve's shoulder. "See, the thing is, I don't really know what you consider unnecessary and necessary in terms of risk. 'Cause from my point of view, recalibrating those missiles so they didn't hurt the team wasn't an unnecessary risk. But Bruce told me that I might want to up the probability ratings for success, because on a standardized scale eighty percent for you is probably eighty-eight for me." Tony smiled weakly. "I didn't want to ask you, since you were the one who told me off in the first place for taking that unnecessary risk." He took a couple of fortifying breaths, thinking that he might just as well go all for it. "And, truth be told, I was fucking terrified that that might be it."
Steve twitched as if he wanted to reach out, but managed to refrain himself much to Tony's relief. He wasn't sure what he'd do if Steve interrupted him now. Probably clam up or go running.
"Pepper broke up with me because she couldn't stand it, standing on the sidelines while I went out with you guys or went solo to the other side of the world. Now it turns out that you really can't stand it either, but it's more of a case of what's necessary and unnecessary than not being able to stand it at all. And I don't know. Because I told you that I'm the guy who'll cut the wire. I won't just lie down and take it. I'll go for the option with the best chance of success, and damn if it's only seventy percent or forty percent. I'll take it if I have to."
There was silence for a few moments save for their breathing and the whirring of Dummy's joints.
Steve exhaled once, twice, before his fingers twitched and he reached out hesitantly. He froze in the air for a moment, unsure, before something hardened in his eyes and he took Tony's hand, grasping it firmly with a ferocity that implied he wasn't planning on letting go anytime soon.
"Can I—?" His jaw worked for a few moments. "Can I say something now?"
Tony's eyes flickered down to their clasped hands. "Sure." And because he wasn't a complete asshole, he pulled over another chair for Steve.
Steve took the chair, not relinquishing his grip on Tony's hand. "I'm glad you told me," he started quietly. "It means a lot that you did. This…what I asked of you wasn't a deal breaker. I wouldn't have broken up with you if it turned out that you risked yourself again. I would've been upset, but it wouldn't mean that I'd break up with you."
His thumb stroked over Tony's knuckles as he paused, his lips thinning slightly as he thought over his next statement. "I don't know how your mind works," he said slowly. "And I won't try, since I'd have trouble understanding it. But when it comes to our perceptions of necessary and unnecessary? Just…put yourself in my place. Would you want me to do that if I was in the suit?"
"You couldn't work the suit," Tony murmured, lips quirking into a small smirk.
"I doubt I could," Steve agreed wryly. "But pretend I'm you. How would you have felt if I'd done what you did?"
Oh. It didn't take Tony more than a second to feel ice cold panic shooting through his chest at the thought. Okay, so he could see Steve's point. It had been needlessly risky. Maybe next time he wouldn't cut communications.
Steve felt Tony's hand reflexively squeeze his own in alarm, and he smiled gently. "So you understand."
"Yeah." Tony swallowed dryly.
Their fingers interlaced. "There's something else, isn't there?"
There was no need to bring this up. He didn't have to talk about the fact that not having sex made him feel insecure. It was stupid, and would simply make him out to be a teenage girl (not that there was anything wrong with that, but most people would argue for the other side, but they were idiots).
Yet at the same, this was a big problem. There was still that niggling voice at the back of Tony's head pointing out that Steve had only known for him months in comparison to Pepper's and Rhodey's years, and that he would soon find the one thing about Tony that would push him over the edge and cause him to break this off. And Tony didn't think he could handle that; he didn't.
"We haven't had sex," he blurted out before he could change his mind.
Steve blinked, opening his mouth.
Tony rambled on before the other could say anything. "I don't know whether to be flattered or insulted. But it's bothering me. And it's not because I need to have sex – it isn't. It's more the fact that we haven't had sex, and I don't know why and it's driving me crazy." He swallowed, looking down at their hands. "You say that you – that you love me. But you've only known me for months, and Pepper and Rhodey have known me for years, and look where that got me. I…" A nervous lick of his lips later and he barreled on, resolutely not looking at Steve. "I keep thinking that you're going to realize that sooner or later, you can do better than me. Everyone seems to realize that eventually, even if they say that it's not my fault. But it generally has something to do with me, or what I do, and I'm not willing to change that, because who I was before? I was a mess. I can admit that."
He finally managed to work up the nerve to look into Steve's eyes, and was unable to recognize the emotion in them. That scared him even more. "And I know I'm a bit of a mess now, too. You probably didn't want to hear all this – mmph!"
Once again, Tony was interrupted by Steve pulling him into a kiss. Unlike before, though, Steve had yanked him onto his lap, and the kiss was wet and dirty rather than soft and reassuring.
When they broke apart several moments later, they were both breathing heavily.
"You're a dense idiot," Steve muttered, bumping noses with Tony. "But I love you because of that, not despite it. I'm also a mess, Tony. I have nightmares about crashing into the ocean, and being frozen again. I have nightmares about waking up, and realizing that all this"—he brushed lips against Tony's—"is a dream, and that I'm still in S.H.I.E.L.D., completely alone, and with not a clue about how to navigate the twenty-first century. The nights I wake up with you are my favorite, because I'm not alone." A hand slid up Tony's stomach to rest on the arc reactor.
Tony let out a huff of air, trying to formulate his scattered thoughts into words, only to lose them once again when the hand on the reactor slipped around his back to join the other as he was drawn into a tight embrace.
"I love you," Steve whispered fiercely into his ear.
"Sex?" Tony managed to ask, though his question was really supposed to be phrased "What about the sex?" It just didn't translate well enough from his brain to his mouth.
A warm kiss was planted on his neck. "I was trying to take it slow. They do still do that in this century. If I'd known that it was worrying you like this, I would've told you earlier."
Teeth grazed the lobe of Tony's ear, and he shivered despite himself.
"Don't ever think that you can't tell me something," Steve told him quietly. "I want to know what scares you, what makes you happy, and what makes you sad. I want you, Tony. I've only known you for months, but I know you. I know you don't sleep; I know you drink too much coffee; I know you don't eat enough; I know you're a crazy genius inventor who communicates better with machines than with humans; I know that you're sensitive and thoughtful when it counts, selfless with your time and money, stupidly dense when it comes to anything personal, and incredibly blunt even when you shouldn't be. I know all of that, and I love you because of it. I'm not in love with an idea. I'm in love with you, stubborn, dense, brilliant, mad, selfless, and careless with yourself because you don't know your own worth."
Steve drew Tony into another deep kiss, punctuating it with a ragged, "I love you."
Tony was breathing a bit too fast to be safe, and he buried his face in Steve's neck as he struggled to gather his thoughts. He felt a kiss being planted in his hair, and shivered as Steve's arms tightened around him.
He dimly realized that he hadn't exploded anything during this entire time, even though his emotions had been at an all time high. It was probably the first time in a long time that he hadn't exploded anything when being drawn into a fiery make out session. The last time had been with Pepper; all subsequent make out sessions had been with Steve, and had usually ended with something exploding.
And whenever something had exploded, it ended the make out session, preventing it from getting any further than heavy necking. Was it a self-defense mechanism?
If it was…then it was probably unnecessary at this point, because Steve had reiterated (and reiterated) that he loved Tony, and that he wasn't going to leave. Even if he hadn't explicitly stated it, he had implied it pretty heavily with that speech.
And maybe, just maybe, he should stop over thinking this damn relationship, and just let it be. It wasn't doing him any favors to be thinking about the million and one ways it could go wrong, because he was failing to think about the million and one ways it could go right. It was something he'd failed to do, because it was just easier to think about it failing, then to get his hopes up and think about it succeeding, only to have it fall through and break his heart.
Damn it, he was over thinking it again. But he could tell his brain to go screw itself, because he was going to hold onto this relationship with all he had, and work at it. Because it took two to tango, and a relationship was a two-way street.
Grinning against Steve's neck, Tony let out a low laugh, causing Steve's arms to tighten reflexively.
Tony drew back, pulling himself up to brush a kiss over Steve's lips. "You know what I realized?"
Steve's eyes were dark. "What?"
Tony grinned wickedly, confidence flooding him. "I'm not going to explode anything. So, soldier, if you want to go at it, be my guest."
"And what's more: I love you. I haven't said it enough, but there you go." Tony pulled Steve's head down to draw him into a deep and dirty kiss. Afterward, he didn't let the lack of oxygen stop him from whispering into Steve's ear, "I love you."
Tony couldn't believe the groan that escaped Steve's chest moments before his mouth was once again very busy.
Steve broke it off seconds later when Tony's hands slipped under his shirt, voice heavy and ragged as he said, "Our first time…is not going to be down here."
Tony laughed breathlessly into Steve's ear. "There are other things we can do." To demonstrate, he helpfully stuck his hand down Steve's pants.
There was a half-strangled groan from Steve that he buried in Tony's neck, and yes, this was an excellent idea. Tony was so getting Bruce a brand spanking new generator that the guy could actually work.
In hindsight, it was probably a very good thing that Tony had the workshop soundproofed.
Also, let it never be said that Tony Stark wasn't a genius. Because, the plumbing? It was intact, thank you very much. The same couldn't be said for Dummy, Butterfingers, and You, but that wasn't only Tony's fault.
You know what the problem was? It was smooth sailing with the Avengers, then Charles Xavier rolled in with his wheelchair, and everything went to hell. I knew it was bad when I wrote "Pop-Tarts" for the second time, but I thought I could salvage the scene. Then it turned foul, and I dumped the whole thing, starting over from scratch. Would you guys be interested in seeing the epically failed scene? Because I saved it…in my scraps folder.
As you can see, I've set the scene for another possible sequel with the X-Men. I'm not sure what I'd do with that, though, because I've only watched the animated series and the movies.
I've realized that I sort of skipped out on the whole dating thing. I might do a smaller story showing how Steve took an oblivious Tony out on a date. What do you think?
Other than that, I'd love to hear your thoughts! I always enjoy feedback on my work. Especially with a story like this, which is completely new territory for me. Romance? Yeah…whole new ball game for me. So let me know!
Stats: Word count: 25,402; Pages: 64