AN: KLS here, I make no promises on the status of Burn, in case you haven't noticed there's a hell of a lot that needs fixing and I never really intended to continue that in the first place but I do have some slight ideas. This was written as a rare gift to zoroluvah22 and Hive Mind.
It has not been beta'ed. Forgive me for the corny lines and crappy ending. There may or may not be a smutty continuation some day.
"You want one." Tony glanced up at Pepper. She hadn't said anything when she walked in, had in fact, wandered around his workroom aimlessly and ignored any prompting Tony had given her until he finally grumbled and returned to his gutted remote. Her eyes were locked on the training room display he'd had Jarvis bring up when he first settled in. Natasha and Clint were testing out some new toys and if there was a malfunction he wanted to see it as it happened. The two agents had been more creative with his gifts than he'd initially given them credit for. So far, he'd adjusted to their preferred styles, but the best way for them to test was on each other. And anyway, no one but the three of them had ever found out about the first, second, and third incidents and no one had any permanent marks anyway.
The agents weren't the only ones occupying space in the room though and Tony quickly looked back down to his mess of parts when he noticed what she'd shifted to. He'd paid attention for the first five minutes of the little bout between the assassins – that was when they went all out and nearly killed each other the sadists – and then Goldilocks and Captain Righteous had walked in. He'd watched Mr. Perfect start to frown as he took note of the agents' brutality but they had wound down to toying with each other at that point. Thor was a good distraction too, the guy wasted no time in joining the excitement of a fight and had practically demanded Steve join him.
And then they'd had very rough and manly sex in the middle of the room. They barely justified it by keeping their clothes on. But Tony could hear them just as well as he could see them. He was a little mad that Clint, at least, hadn't called them on it. Then again, the archer almost lost his head to Natasha's foot last time his attention wandered so Tony could sort of forgive him.
"I don't know what you're talking about, but focus back on the light hitters. I got them toys," he explained. Pepper obliged by widening the picture so that the entire room was visible and Tony let it go. If Pepper wanted to be difficult she could be difficult over there by herself. He was busy.
"I can't order them; they're one of a kind. I've looked. But I could get you a deal, hands down," she continued and Tony took a moment to figure out what she was talking about. He stared blankly long enough to watch her watch Steve and grimaced.
"Not funny," he muttered. Pepper smiled and Tony straightened in his seat, carefully setting down the tiny bits of sharp metal he'd been combining. "Pepper, no, I'm your boss and I'm telling you no." That should have ended it. In the corporate world it would have, probably, if it was important enough. He was the absolute authority when it came to his company. When it came to his life, he was finding that was becoming less and less the case.
"Well," she replied and Tony knew that tone. It was the tone she used when she was beyond convinced. He wasn't getting out of this one. Not without a fight he would never let himself have. Because that would be the day he lost Pepper. "I'm your nanny, and I'm saying yes. Tony this is happening." Except this was kind of going beyond the limits of what Tony found acceptable even in their relationship.
"Pepper," he shook his head. "I know what I want. It's not that." Pepper scoffed in that inelegantly delicate way that only she could do.
"You know what you want," she agreed and crossed her arms as she approached. He leaned back further with every step until he was pushing his chair back into the desk.
"Threatened, I feel threatened, Pepper. This is my space, remember? Remember what doesn't happen in my space? Threatening things," he cautioned. Pepper's smile was growing and it wasn't sweet or pleasing or anything but really satisfied. It was the smile when she closed business deals that start and end as her ideas. It was the smile that usually wrapped up a very nice shit-storm and caused another because she was Pepper-goddamn-Potts and you'd better believe she'd break down anything in her way. She was good at dealing with people; it was why she was his buffer for the real world. Except this time Tony was the target.
"You know what you want," she repeated. "I know what you need. And you need one of those."
"Yeah, okay, like shrapnel to the chest." He grumbled. She leaned back and stared down at him thoughtfully before smirking tapping the arc reactor on his chest. "Pepper," he warned.
"That shrapnel got you something wonderful."
"Yeah, a real pain in my ass," he agreed.
"Pain in the chest," she corrected and for just a second her expression softened to something he almost considered normal. Except Pepper expressed 'true love' for him almost as often as she expressed 'raging hysterics' anywhere else, which was to say rarely ever. "I'm not saying this will be easy, Tony. It will probably hurt. But, long term, you need it. And eventually you'll like it."
"Really," he deadpanned. "I like having this stuck in my chest."
"You really do," she confirmed. And if he didn't sound amused, she sure as hell did.
"Pepper," he said and pulled her forward until she was straddling him. She didn't fight him and he grinned boyishly up at her. He knew it worked when she rolled her eyes and arched her brow expectantly. There was no bull-shitting Pepper Potts but if he amused her enough it had pretty much the same effect. "There is only one person I need, and that is you."
"Flattery is nice," she hummed. "The delivery was cliché, but nice."
"Nice enough I promise not to tell Natasha," Pepper replied.
"Right," Tony groaned. "You're dating."
"We're not dating," Pepper answered sounding almost affronted as she stood. "I don't have the time."
"What do you call your weekly lunch dates, then?"
"Brunch," she answered flatly. "Dates last longer than roughly five minutes."
"Since when?" he wisely turned back to his gutted project at the stare she replied with. "You're last one was seven minutes," he offered. Pepper made a noise, dissatisfied, before leaning against his desk. "Stop lurking," he whined, because he knew he wouldn't be convincing her to leave.
"Have you ever seen him blush?"
"No," he answered before the words registered and then, "What?" He glanced up at her, saw the smug look, and glared back down. "No."
"Flattery will get you everywhere, Tony. And by the way, this is lasting more than five minutes."
"I could handle seven," Tony offered hesitantly.
"We'll start with twenty," she answers and she's nearly at the door when the numbers click in a way that makes sense in his head.
"Twenty? Pepper are you trying to kill me?"
"Nope," she answered as she opened the door. "Wake up Tony, I might just be trying to save you."
"I don't need saving." He huffed. She smirked back at him.
"She really called you a princess locked away in a room, trapped by your own evil fear and machinations?" In retrospect, he probably shouldn't have told Steve that. It certainly hadn't worked in his favor when he'd told Rhodey, and he was actually a friend. Not some guy he sort of saved the world with a couple of times. "Pepper did that," Steve continued and really, it shouldn't be so hard to believe. It was like he only saw her nice, calm, and polite suffering through interactions with Tony. Didn't he know that for extended contact people needed to be made of adamantium and have an over-abundance of sass and not a little arrogance, too? It was probably the only way he'd managed to break the ice with Clint.
But damn her she'd always been good on her word. And now here he was stuck with Steve for twenty minutes. There was no way he was going to do any of the things she wanted him to. So talking about the newest source of his unexpected misery was about the only thing he was willing to do aside from stew in silence. And he'd tried that but he wasn't sure how much of the man's distracting fidgets he could take before he completely snapped. So, embarrassing stories it is.
"She's not exactly Little Miss Prim," he grumbled.
"No, I know, I just…" Tony's glare sharpened when Steve's lips twitched upward.
"It isn't funny. Don't you dare," he warned. Steve held his hands up in surrender and they conveniently drifted in front of his face to block the view of temptation from Tony.
"Sorry," he apologized but his hands didn't drift back down until a few moments later. "Sorry," he said again, and the smile was still at his lips but it looked more like one of the ones he threw Bruce when he decided sardonic sass was his new form of coping with anger. That is, he looked more amused and consolatory than anything else. "I don't suppose you happened to be in your workroom when she said all of that," he added.
"Hey," he snapped. "You don't get to judge my space when you do the same thing."
"I do the same thing?" Steve repeated and Tony tried to ignore the wide-eyed blue eyed hero because seriously no one looked like that anymore: all openly curious and innocent and unbelievably stupid.
"Yes, you do," he nodded. "Every single time you decide the best way to deal with your life by hiding away in that gym I built for you and attacking defenseless bags until every single one of them breaks under the pressure."
"You built it for me?"
"And don't act like I don't know what you're really doing. We all do, because sometimes just hitting things is better than thinking about it and as long as whatever breaks isn't you it's all fine." Tony continued. Steve probably should be insulted but he was never one to really deny blatant truths when they were put in front of him.
"Tony," he tried.
"I don't know why no one ever bothers you about it. Instead I get all the crap. 'Come out of there, Tony.' 'Live a little, Tony.' 'Tony, there's a real world out there.' 'Sir, perhaps a break is in order.'" He mocked. Steve winced a little at the various impressions, was pretty confident he could name every single one of them. He was positive his name was on that list. "News flash: I know all of that. It's a world I use my company to provide for every day. It's a life that I continue to live and I'll damn well live it on my own terms, thank you very much."
Steve figures he should probably try to stop him, but this is a side of Stark he hadn't seen before. Pepper had hinted at it, multiple times when the Avengers had all moved under his roof. Usually Tony's problems were world-wide scandals or tucked into tiny corners that only three other people would ever know about. But Pepper and Col. Rhodes didn't live with them and for all Jarvis was mostly human; the lack of a body was still something they all occasionally felt.
"I mean, Jesus, can't you all just leave well enough alone? It's not like I stop being Iron Man, and it's not like I just ignore my company, and it sure as hell isn't like I just waste away in there. At least the things I do in there are productive. I make things, weapons of mass destruction aside, everything I do ends up benefitting someone. Why can't anyone just be happy with that? So I didn't punch Hitler in the face but why the hell is that what makes me less than you?" Tony made a frustrated noise and crushed his palms to his head. Steve hesitated, surprised by the desire to protect the pieces he saw falling down around the man. He was even more surprised by the desire to see what those pieces hid.
"No, I get it. I'm not a hero, right? I'm the charming asshole not the golden prince. Guess we know which one of us is the dancing monkey this time around, yeah?" Steve winced at that. He could certainly understand that path of thought. Tony stilled then, and Steve tensed at the complete lack of motion coming from the man. He hadn't noticed as it happened, but Tony had been moving as he spoke, hands and expression shifting almost endlessly during his rant. He looked up slowly and Steve bit his cheek to stop himself from doing something stupid when he stared into bright hazel eyes.
"You're perfect, you know," he said quietly and Steve expected the brightness to dim but instead it only shone brighter. And then he realized he was staring at pain and that hurt, because apparently that was exactly what Tony ran on. "You have to be to have someone like Agent put you on such a pedestal." And Steve had never really been comfortable with that, either. He wasn't the only soldier during the War, but here and now he seemed to be the only one they remembered. Not even Bucky had escaped the fate of his shadow, and that realization coming from Tony kind of made him absolutely sick. "Dad never shut up about you, either. You became his life, more or less," and Tony didn't sound bitter so much as resigned.
That should have been you. The thought was depressing in that it was absolutely accurate. When an old war 'hero' overshadowed the importance of one's own son, Steve sighed angrily at his own thoughts but forced himself to tune in. Tony wasn't done yet and Steve was not going to insult him by not having the decency to listen. Because like it or not Tony Stark was a genius, and even when he threw an impromptu pity party it was because everything he said was dead-on.
"I'm glad you're back though," he admitted and his gaze dropped to the sand of the desert they were stuck in. Tony's suit lay in pieces around them in a haphazard circle of metal and sparking circuitry. It was a little fitting, that it was Tony's things surrounding them. Because this had rapidly become Tony's circle and here and now all of Tony's hardships had been laid to bear. "I couldn't handle it before, because I was competing with a ghost. At least now, whenever my name is splashed across screens I'm not being compared to the past so much as a relic in the present." And yeah, ouch, but even if Steve didn't necessarily deserve it he could more than take it. Tony fell quiet and Steve let him, not sure how he could convince the man that he wasn't the worthless image people were apparently painting him as. Tony Stark was plenty of things, and stubborn was near the top of the list.
"Oh, fuck," Tony muttered and Steve looked up half-expecting that the fight they'd wrapped up roughly twenty minutes ago hadn't actually been over. But, no, Tony was staring wide-eyed at him and he froze at the blatant panic he was seeing. "Holy shit, Steve, did you just," he stopped. Blinked rapidly, eyes glazing over before he shook his head roughly, and continued. "Why the hell didn't you hit me?" What?
"What?" because that bore repeating. He'd missed something.
"I mean, Christ, Steve there are reasons people don't let me just go on like that. God, I'm such a dick. I didn't mean that you're not, because you are. Believe me, you really are, it's just," Tony sighed and slumped and nearly fell over into the sand before Steve leaned over and carefully tipped him upright.
"Is there a part of you I didn't just insult?" he asked miserably quiet.
"Uhm," Steve hesitated. "My dashing good looks are still in the clear," he offered. Tony slowly looked up at him, squinting.
"You think of your dashing good looks?"
"I read it in a magazine Natasha threw at Clint." And that Clint had paraded around him for the better part of ten minutes like an obnoxious kid, but Tony probably didn't need to know that. Tony scoffed and Steve felt a little better at the normality of it. "It said something about a perfectly symmetrical face and a hot physique. It was…kind of embarrassing, actually." Particularly when Clint started reading it aloud in a faux-falsetto voice, as that had been about the time Steve snatched it from him. He was lucky Bruce had only walked in after the fact and Clint was too busy snickering to explain himself.
"You should know better than to read things Natasha throws at Clint. They're filled with dirty lies."
"You don't think I have dashing good looks?"
"I don't think your face is perfectly symmetrical," Tony corrected. "Your nose is a few degrees off, and one eye is a couple centimeters lower than the other."
"Well, no, not lower but…" Tony shrugged. "Not symmetrical, either," he muttered. Then he paused. "Would you believe me if I told you I didn't ask that just so I could find something else to insult?"
"Yes, I would," Steve grinned, amused. Tony didn't seem to hear him though.
"Because I really didn't mean to," he continued.
"I believe you Tony."
"I actually do like you."
"I like you too, Tony."
"I mean, like, I really like you. And it's not because you're supposed to be some hero. Honestly, the hero thing kind of made me hate you, just a little bit." Steve wasn't sure why but his grin widened at that.
"Not because you're a hero. That's, well, kind of stupid. But I guess I kind of made you my rival. Nothing else pushed me as hard."
"That's, actually really flattering, Tony," Steve said because what could he say to that?
"Yeah, no, seriously Steve, whenever I pushed myself to beat, well me I guess, it was because I always just pictured you being there. And I wanted to impress you because I couldn't really impress my dad and if I did he made damn sure never to let me know." And honestly, knowing Howard Stark, Steve wouldn't be overly surprised if Howard did hide his pleasure. He probably celebrated in his private study with a nice scotch and pictures of the past. Cheers and congratulations and all that fancy stuff, I'm awesome, let's drink. Tony was the same way. They put on a show for the Expo and the media but the stuff they were really proud of? That they kept for themselves or they gave to the world; never just to the highest bidder. And sometimes, as in Tony's case, they managed to do both.
"Tony," Tony stopped mid-word and Steve had lost track of his second confession. He smiled and judging from the look on Tony's face he kind of figured the genius had lost track of what he was saying too. "Believe me, I'm beyond impressed."
"You kidding?" Steve asked. "I've been sent to a future world where things I never even dreamed of are an everyday occurrence. And the one person I've found responsible for nearly all of it has your name printed on the side. Not Howard's, yours," he said because that was an important distinction. It had to be. "You're the best I've got." Tony grinned at him then, a stupid happy grin that Steve hadn't seen before, but if this was what Pepper and the Colonel got to see then he could definitely understand why they stuck around. Because there was something beautiful in Tony Stark when he felt unrestrained, and Steve knew that no one else would ever see it. How could they? They were part of the restraint.
"I am, aren't I?" he asked and Steve knew he didn't need to answer, except he actually did.
"Yes, you are," because if he didn't answer than the mask would come back up. Tony stared at him and Steve grinned openly as continued. "Who else is better suited to bringing a relic of the past up to speed than a futurist in hot rod red armor?" Tony glanced down at himself.
"I'm not exactly in the armor," he observed idly. "And you're not a complete relic," he allowed. "Just a little…"
"Old fashioned?" Steve prompted and he was less surprised than he probably should have been that the comment didn't send much more than an acknowledgement of loss through him. He hadn't known Phil Coulson well, but he had known him, and he'd even liked him. He hadn't dwelled on the loss of the soldier, Coulson wasn't the first to lose his life for a cause, but there was no denying he was a foundation for their little team. The memory was something they all cherished in their own way. But usually, he was just sad at the thought of adding another name to the list of people Steve would never see again. With Tony sitting by him, knowing look in his eyes and warm smile on his face, this time it somehow felt like more.
"I don't mind a little old fashioned."
"Liar," Steve grinned.
"Hey, I will always be down for some apple pie," Tony sniped back. "Which, by the way, is exactly what the two of us are going to have as soon as Pepper decides to stop being a lurker and come pick us up," he continued.
"Seriously?" Steve laughed. That was slowly becoming a habit too. Tony always ended up demanding some random activity from whoever he was with at the end of a fight. Last week he'd gone to some cheap horror film with Bruce, and the week before that he'd gone drinking with Clint and Thor. He hadn't actually done anything with Natasha the week before that, but he had paid for a very expensive trip, and no one had been able to reach either her or Pepper for three days. If you were separated from the main part of the fight with Tony you could expect to do something on his ticket afterward. He called it bonding, and there hadn't been any disasters so far so no one tried to stop it. Steve was of the assumption that anyone who tried would have to deal with all of the Avengers, not just Tony Stark.
"What, you don't like apple pie? Steve Rogers you are not allowed to be Captain America if you don't eat apple pie. The world will implode." Steve nodded obediently.
"I understand. The people couldn't take it, I'll just have to make the sacrifice," he said solemnly.
"You do that," Tony answered. "And hey, if you can't stomach it, well I'm sure I'll find some way to cover for you."
"You always do," Steve answered. Tony didn't comment on that but if he shifted a little closer and gave an exaggerated yawn before leaning on Steve's shoulder well, Steve had the courtesy to return the favor. Instead, because he knew Tony was keeping track, he asked, "How long have we been out here?"
"Twenty-seven minutes. Pepper's pushing it, if we pass the thirty minute mark I'm going to make a scene. You should play along."
"What?" He asked, and then, "No. I don't even know what you're talking about." Tony scoffed.
"Of course not, Golden Boy," he sighed. "Fine, I'll do it myself."
"I think you're holding Pepper to a standard that isn't fair. We are kind of out in the middle of nowhere. Those creatures were moving fast and we covered a lot of ground while we were on it." Steve met the amused stare with a neutral one of his own.
"Seriously, Steve, some day you're going to see the real Pepper Potts. And I'm going to enjoy watching your terrified self, dancing around her for weeks after." Steve sighed. Honestly, it was like he saw Pepper as some kind of terrifying force instead of the cool and collected professional that she was.
"I don't think it's going to be an issue," he said instead and motioned toward the approaching aircraft. They stood as the sand was kicked around and Steve idly noted the little bits of armor slowly disappear under the sand. By the time he looked back up at Tony he could see the mask back in place. He lamented the loss, but felt something almost like relief when it was Tony that turned and squeezed his shoulder, bright eyes playful but real, before he turned back and started to pick up his things before they completely disappeared under the sand. Steve helped him. He didn't want to lose a single piece to the unforgiving wasteland.
Pepper was waiting for them when they got back and if Natasha looked a little smug off to the side and Pepper was clearing her throat a bit more often than usual well, Tony had enough self-preservation not to comment. Except Pepper was his friend first.
"Need a cigarette?" he grinned. Pepper honest-to-God blushed and Tony's grin grew a little bit wicked. He wasn't sure if it was better or worse that Steve stood oblivious behind him.
"You smoke?" he asked, and Tony decided it was definitely better.
"No," Pepper answered shortly, offering him a quick polite smile before losing it as she stared back at Tony. "What I need is a good drink and a time."
"I thought you said twenty minutes." Tony answered.
"You wanted thirty."
"If you'll remember, I didn't even want five," he replied. There wasn't any bite to his tone though; they both knew he was keeping up appearances. Pepper tilted her head to the side and looked pointedly over at Natasha. Tony hesitantly followed her gaze in time to watch the redhead inspect her nails, tongue running smoothly across full lips before their eyes met. He instantly turned back to Pepper. "I needed thirty."
"I know," Pepper grinned. "Now I need a time." Tony thought about it, glanced back at Steve who stood holding bits and pieces of the suit Tony had unceremoniously dropped, hey it was his jet, and made his decision.
"Now," he nodded decisively.
"Now?" Pepper repeated. Tony stared blankly back, brow arched expectantly.
"Yes, Pepper, now. As in, right now, for two hours. Oh, and we need apple pie."
"You need apple pie?" Natasha purred, amused and pleased as she slinked toward them and Tony honestly felt justified when he moved in front of Steve and hid behind Pepper.
"Tony thinks I'm un-American if I don't eat it," Steve said and he looked almost as amused as Natasha. Though he was amused for completely different reasons, judging by the way he was staring down at Tony standing 'protectively' in front of him.
"What else are you going to eat?"
"That's not really your business." Tony cut in, silently cursing Steve in his head for catching her interest.
"I was thinking something expensive." Steve's grin widened and nearly matched Natasha's sharp edge for sharp edge. Pepper cleared her throat and Tony was pretty sure he short-circuited because that did not just happen. "Something only Tony Stark could provide, you know?" And Tony might have shivered at his name, was pretty sure he shivered for some reason because there was no other explanation for the very warm, large, and muscled, arm to wrap around him.
"It'll be a treat, I'm sure," Natasha answered, stopping next to a very amused Pepper Potts.
"You'll forgive me, ma'am, if I don't go into detail."
"Of course," she laughed. "Can't have Captain Pristine going into sordid territory," Steve shifted behind him and Tony huffed as he crossed his arms.
"Okay, fine, you win," he muttered. "Thirty minutes, every day, at least. And the weekends are yours, mostly, unless there's an emergency."
"Emergencies caused by you don't count," Natasha answered and Tony hesitated. Pepper's left eyebrow climbed up, just a little bit, and he folded like a champ.
"Of course," he agreed.
"Deal," Natasha held out her hand expectantly and Tony eyed it warily. Pepper laughed and took the hand in his place, leaning forward and placing a quick kiss on the Russian's cheek.
"Deal," she agreed.
"Tony?" Steve's voice cut in. Tony snapped his attention toward him, grateful for the distraction that he provided. Knowing that Pepper Potts and Natasha Romanoff had a thing and seeing it were two horrifyingly different things. If he wasn't careful he was going to die. "Where do you want me to put these?" he asked. Tony glanced at the bits of metal in the man's other hand, and then down at the floor where the rest of the suit lay.
"He's too cute," Natasha muttered and without the disgusted undertones Tony would accuse her of giving voice to his thoughts.
"Hey, why don't you two go do something important somewhere?"
"New Zealand sounds nice," Pepper glanced over.
"New Zealand?" she asked. Natasha shrugged.
"I'm not feeling the Bahamas,"
"I don't care," Tony snapped. "Pepper, do that thing you do on your birthdays and go. Three hours, minimum,"
"What happened to two?" Natasha asked. Pepper grinned and lightly grabbed Natasha's hand, leading her away.
"We'll take the emergency craft. Have fun boys, oh and Captain?" Steve paused from where he was gently setting down the bits of metal on the ground, muttering about safety hazards.
"Yes, ma'am?" Her pleased smile disappeared and she gave him her best Corporate Bitch look. Tony flinched.
"I want him back by ten. He has a press conference tomorrow, and he is not missing it. I don't want him anything but pristine and it's a short one so no drinks." Steve's 'yes ma'am' overrode Tony's 'But mo-o-om' in terms of initial volume but Tony was still happy to see his whine had made Natasha's fingers twitch. The redhead shot him a nasty look over her shoulder and he waved cheekily back. Pepper sighed and turned to leave but stopped and looked over her shoulder curiously when Tony called to her.
"You were right. I wanted one."
"You needed one," she corrected. "And of course I was right. I'm paid for that," she answered back. And if that wasn't a trademark Stark employee response Tony didn't know what was. He turned back to Steve then, who looked a little skittish but still mostly amused as the women left in his 'emergency aircraft.' The jet was one of the bigger ones; he knew there was an Iron Man model in the back.
"So," Steve grinned, and Tony leaned into the warm arms that wrapped around him in a way he never would've allowed anywhere else. "Apple pie?" Steve asked. Tony glanced up at him, considering, before leaning forward more.
"It'll wait," he decided and closed the gap. And if he hadn't short-circuited before he was pretty sure he did then. But that was okay, because Steve, Tony found, could reboot him.
"Jarvis, send us somewhere quaint. We're going to need a bed."