"I'm flattered, Captain, but we simply must stop meeting like this."
"Ha, ha," Steve rolled his eyes as Tony swooped in, scooping him up bridal style in mid-air.
Really, he'd been so sure there had been another building beneath him when he'd jumped. To be fair, however, the giant mosquitos were a bit distracting, and, well, let's just say he wasn't particularly opposed to the man he might kind of sort of maybe be in love with catching him. Regardless of the real reason he'd taken the leap, in the year since Loki's first attack, Tony had become quite adept at the art of sensing when Steve was in free-fall.
"I'm serious, has anyone ever told you that you can't actually fly?"
"You," Steve chuckled, "On more than one occasion."
"There are much classier ways to cop a feel, you know," Tony pretended to be chastising.
"Aaand you can put me down now," Steve joked, though he may have blushed just a bit under the hood. It wasn't copping a feel. It wasn't. Really.
"Is that vibranium in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?"
The visor may have been down, but Steve would have bet money Tony was winking.
"I will jump, you know," Steve warned, but he couldn't hide his grin.
"You're a very rude passenger," Tony told him as he released Steve on ground level, giving him one last warning before taking off again, "Incoming on your ten."
"Thanks," Steve let his shield fly.
He spent the next ten minutes or so taking out one, two, ten, twenty of the over-grown, car-sized mosquitos currently invading Manhattan. The bugs weren't posing any horrible danger, not compared to the usual death and destruction anyway, but they were pretty annoying. The Avengers had split up to clear different sections, and Steve quickly worked his way through his. Soon enough, Tony was getting chatty again. Steve should probably chastise him for clogging up the com line…but, well, they were on a private line at least. The others would buzz in if they needed to.
"Loki is seriously getting to be a pain in the ass lately," Tony grouched as he blasted the bugs in his section.
"I don't know…I'm getting a science vibe," Steve disagreed, "I'd bet it's Mr. Sinister up to his tricks again."
"Oh Stevie," Tony clicked his tongue, "Don't you know better by now than to bet against a genius?"
"Bring it on," Steve just challenged with a smirk, "What's the terms, oh mighty 'genius'?"
"Winner picks dinner," Tony grinned underneath his visor, "And just so you know? I am so taking you to sushi."
"In your dreams, shellhead," Steve grinned back, "When I win, we're going for the hottest Indian in this city."
They had an on-going argument about dinner. Steve thought sushi looked gross, and Tony delighted in finding things Steve's usually bottomless pit of a stomach didn't find appealing. Meanwhile, Steve had an endless love of all things spicy, while Tony could only just stand the mildest of spices. It resulted in more than a few bets in which winner picked and loser paid.
They weren't dates, for all Steve wished they were. He was still working on getting up the nerve for that one. There was something about Tony that was just so…bold. He was a hard man to ignore. After working through their initial rough patch, they'd become exceptionally good friends; Tony was probably the best friend Steve had in this new world, and he was well aware he could ruin that if he tried for more.
Yet…he wanted to. It had to be done right, phrased in a way that their friendship could be salvageable if Tony wasn't interested in men, or simply didn't like him in that way, but he wanted to try. What was that saying, something about 'you'll never know if you don't try'? And Tony…well. Tony was most certainly worth trying for.
"Oh, I'm going to have fun with you," Tony snickered over the com, "I'm thinking some calamari to start-I know a place where you can still see all the little fried tentacles, it's totally awesome and completely delicious."
"Calamari is squid, honey bear, keep up now," Tony's voice was clearly smug at Steve's reaction, "After that we can get sashimi, I can't wait to see your face when you try that-"
While Tony was talking, Steve turned a corner and nearly collided into someone. Before he could throw up his shield, before he could even see who they were, there was a blinding flash of green light. An overwhelming nausea hit Steve like a physical blow to the stomach, and Steve interrupted Tony's rambling plans with a garbled, strangled sort of groan.
"Well, that was rude. I know it's not your thing, but it's not going to be that bad-"
"Tony…Tony, no, it's-"
Steve was cut off as agonizing pain ripped through him. He let out a gasping cry and sank to his knees, panic ringing in his ears as the world beginning to spin around him. The pain had him writhing, working it's way though him like a snake, starting curled in his stomach and slithering into his chest, his arms, his legs…
"Steve! Fuck, hold on, I'm just three minutes away…Steve? Steve!"
Tony's voice was in his ears, panicked and strained. It occurred to Steve, somewhere in the back of his mind, that he was still choking and gasping in pain, that Tony could probably hear him. Another time, he might have cared. As it was, the searing pain didn't leave much room for rational thought.
He heard the click in his ear that meant Tony was talking on the team com, then, still in that desperately panicked voice, "Cap's in trouble, haul ass to his location!"
"You're closest, but I'm right behind you, maybe five minutes out," Clint answered, "What happened?"
"I don't fucking know!" Tony shouted, his voice going just a bit high.
"I'm two behind Hawk," Natasha added.
"I am quick behind you, Man of Iron. Good Captain, are you injured?"
"Yes, Captain, your status?" Coulson demanded. His voice didn't waver exactly-Coulson was as unflappable as always-but the way he demanded it said something.
Unfortunately, Steve wasn't in any place to be reassuring any of them. The pain kept him from talking in any sort of decipherable words, babbling sorts of gasping noises. The other talked over the com, trying to get him to respond, but he couldn't, couldn't do anything, could barely even think. Was this really it? All he'd lived through, and he was going to be undone by some green sparks?
All the things he'd lived through, and he still hadn't learned his lesson. He'd still put off something so impossibly important, let every chance slide by until here he was lying on the ground in some back alleyway, most likely dying from the feel of it, and he'd never even told the man he loved how he felt. He was pathetic.
"Tony," Steve gasped, and Tony's reply was immediate.
"Steve, I swear I'm almost there, I need you to hold on, I know you can-"
"Tony, I don't…don't think-"
"No, do you hear me, no! Don't you dare die on me, Steve, don't you fucking die on me, you're stronger than that, ninety seconds and I'm there-"
"Tony, I should've…told you, should've told you, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," Steve trailed off, the pain sending him into a looping spiral of sorry, over and over, "Sorry, God, so sorry-"
"Don't be sorry, be alive!" Tony wasn't even pretending not to shout into the com now, "Just keep talking, anything, just keep talking to me, it'll be okay, I will make this okay so help me god-"
"Tony," Steve's voice sounded strange, even to him, a sort of loopy peace to it. Tony. He liked that name. It was felt happy and good, a warm contentedness to it, so he said it again. And again. Tony's name rolled off his tongue, easy as it always had, "Tony…Tony."
"That's right baby, just keep talking to me…god, please, sixty seconds-"
"Tony…Tony, I should've…should've told you, Tony, I lo-"
Steve's vision went bright green for a brief second, then everything went black.
"Steve?" Tony's voice, small and strangled with horror, was the only voice on the com. Five seconds. Ten. Fifteen. Twenty, then, with a white hot burst of anger and fear and horrible, wrenching pain, "Steve!"
There wasn't an answer.
Tony finally crashed into the alley where Steve's last signal had gone off, and he kept waiting for the picture to change. To see something different, something new, something…more. Instead, he saw nothing.
The alleyway was empty and silent, no signs of Steve or a struggle.
"He…" Tony's voice, small and lost again, was a bit breathless now, "He's gone."
"охуеть," Natasha's Russian swearing was immediate, along with Clint's stifled inhale and the furious crack of thunder overhead. Coulson said nothing, but that probably said more than anything else.
"No, he's not d…I mean…I don't know, he might be…I don't know, but he's not here. I'm standing where he should be and he's not here. And his com signal is just…gone. Even if it was broken I should be able to track it's last working location, but his just seems to have vanished off the network completely."
"Are all sectors cleared?" Coulson asked at last.
"Yeah," Clint answered shortly for them all, "All clear."
"Good. Then Hawk, Widow, head to the Captain's last known position on foot, work outwards from there," Coulson ordered, rapid-fire, "Iron Man, return to the skies, give us an aerial visual. I'll inform the sweeper agents to watch for him while they clear this mess out. Thor, if Dr. Banner's ready, we're ready to receive him up here, and when you're done with that I want you on aerial visual and Iron Man going in low."
"Indeed, Son of Coul, he is ready," Thor boomed over the com.
"His com going offline doesn't sound like an accident," Coulson noted grimly, "Agents, keep your guard up and your eyes peeled."
"A distraction," Tony spat angrily, "A fucking distraction, this whole god damn thing. Just an annoyance to keep us separated and occupied."
"Keep calm, Iron Man. We'll find him," Clint insisted.
"How?" Tony snapped, "How in the fuck are we supposed to do that?"
"The Good Captain is a man of much strength and valor, Man of Iron; I feel his presence is with us in the land of the living still, and I harbor no doubts that we shall rescue him as he would us," Thor's voice boomed over the com, as stoically reassuring as the Nordic god could be.
Tony ignored their false reassurances, shutting off his com and retreating into the alleyway. He knew he should follow orders and take off into the sky again, but he didn't. He didn't take Coulson's orders; he took Steve's. He stewed in his angry, somewhat passive-aggressive thoughts another moment before shaking himself out of it. It wasn't Coulson's fault. Tony should be the one to step up, the next Avenger to take point, but he wasn't stupid enough to think that others weren't now clearly aware that he was compromised. If their conversation hadn't been enough, there wasn't a single person on the line who hadn't know exactly what Steve had been about to say.
And god fucking damn it all if Tony didn't want to scream.
He was the supposed genius, the experienced playboy, the smooth as ice Tony Stark; shouldn't he fucking know if his best friend was in love with him? Not to mention Tony had been pining for the guy for months now. If only he'd pulled his self-depreciating head out of his ass for ten seconds and considered that Steve might have felt the same…if only, if only, Tony shook his head bitterly.
Tony finally turned to leave, to return to the team, when a strange, squeaking sort of sound caught his attention. He turned back to see a bright yellow blur speeding out of the alley behind him. Tony stopped; the blur didn't. It leaped, propelling itself off a wooden board onto a trash can and then launching itself through the air straight for Tony's faceplate.
"What the actually flying fuck?" Tony deflected the thing instinctively with a wave of his hand, and the yellow blur went sprawling.
Only then did Tony see what it was.
He had hit a puppy. He had actually. Hit. A Puppy. What in the blue hell was wrong with him? Looking at the sulking puppy, Tony couldn't help but feel even worse. The puppy was pawing at the ground bashfully, looking up at him with wounded blue eyes and the biggest puppy-dog-pout to ever grace the planet.
"You attacked me, dog," Tony wagged a finger to clarify, "I couldn't help my ninja-like reflexes."
If Tony had been even remotely religiously inclined, he would have sworn on a Bible that the thing laughed at him. The noise itself was a weird sort of half-snort, but the thing was definitely laughing; Tony could see it in his eyes.
"Well, fuck you too," Tony huffed, vaguely offended, "Now scram, I have more important things to do right now than play fetch with you."
The blonde ball of fur just blinked up at him, bouncing up to him and pawing anxiously at his boots.
"Seriously, not in the mood, dog," Tony snapped. Then with a wave of longing, "You're out of luck, the one who would've fought me tooth and nail for you isn't here."
The puppy quirked it's head quizzically. Tony couldn't help but falter.
"Steve…Steve would like you."
The puppy barked, pawing at Tony's boot with increased urgency. The puppy pawed at itself, then at Tony, then at itself again. The smallest amount of humor seeped into Tony's laugh.
"You're a strange one…yeah, he'd like you."
The puppy looked almost offended at that.
"He likes lost causes," and just like that, it wasn't a joke anymore. Tony gave a bone-weary sigh, collapsing on the curb, "He likes me, doesn't he?"
The puppy immediately went from pawing at his boots to wiggling it's way into his lap, nuzzling against Tony's chestplate and bumping his nose against the visor in reassurance.
"Stop it, dog," Tony complained, but there was no real vehemence to it. He was too tired, too heartsick.
"So you're talking to dogs now," Natasha observed dryly, appearing out of the shadows.
"Jesus fuck!" Tony jumped about a foot in the air, "Natasha, I swear to god you're going to give one of us a heart attack someday."
"Stark," Natasha ignored his half-hearted complaints completely, pinning him with a look instead.
"I don't want to talk about it," Tony shook his head; this was too raw, too painful, "Did you…?"
Tony left the question open, not quite able to keep the hope out of his voice.
"No signs of him," Natasha shook her head.
"Fuck," Tony swore angrily. The puppy in his lap nuzzled his chestplate again, looking sad that Tony was upset.
"Do you know what he was going to say to you?"
"I said I don't want to talk about it," Tony shot her the vicious kind of glare that would have reduced a lesser woman to tears. Being Natasha, she simply continued her line of questioning.
"You knew before all this, then?"
"No, I didn't fucking know," Tony snapped, "Not until about five fucking minutes ago and now he's disappeared off the motherfucking planet and god forbid maybe even dead and you really want to talk to me about my feelings in some god forsaken alleyway right now?"
"No, I don't," Natasha leveled him with a look, "But I want you to get this out before we go back to the team. You're angry and upset and blaming yourself, just like we all are, but right now we need you at your best. Steve needs your best, because god knows if that man has a chance in hell right now, it's you, Tony. So scream at me if you need to, but then you pull yourself together and you find us our Captain."
Natasha squatted down and pressed a hand on the shoulder of the suit. Tony stared back at her impassively. It was the only time he could remember Natasha ever touching him-even though it was technically the suit-in any way that didn't cause him bodily harm; that, more than just about anything else, drove home to him how much the team needed him sane right now.
Without Steve…Steve was more than their Captain. He was their glue. He was the golden ideal they grew up aspiring to, the heroic leader they followed into battle, and the kind, charming dork they'd grown to love. He managed not to not just live up to standards, or even exceed them, but to change them, bend them so that he wasn't an untouchable legend but simply an amazing person. A hero of the people.
The team needed Steve, and Tony was their best shot at getting him back. Tony was the best to lead in Steve's absence, the best to track him down, the best to fight like hell for his return. Tony stood, pushing the still wiggly, clingy puppy back onto the ground; he could do this.
Natasha pressed a hand to her ear for a moment, listening, then,
"Iron Man's with me."
Another moment, then she spoke to Tony.
"We heard from the sweepers, they've got nothing on the Captain either, we're to head back to the Helicarrier for a debrief and strategy meeting," she informed him, "And Coulson wants your com back on."
He clicked his com back on without complaint, mostly out of the belated, guilty realization that had Natasha not been with him they might have assumed he'd disappeared on them as well. The idea of there being someone out there that might be able to pick off the Avengers-Earth's Mightiest Heroes, as newspapers across the globe hailed them-was not the most settling thought in the world, and SHIELD was paranoid enough already. Not to mention that the Avengers had grown close; most of them didn't have anyone else. The thought of losing Steve was hard enough, to have more of them start disappearing…
Tony shook his head; he couldn't think about this anymore.
Tony hooked an arm around Natasha to carry her back to the Helicarrier with him. The puppy started whining, barking and chasing after them with wide, alarmed eyes, but Tony couldn't spare so much as a passing thought-he had a Captain to rescue.
"I'm back online," Tony said over the com, "Widow and I are two minutes out of debrief. Any theories so far?"
"Fury's thinking someone got the jump on him, took him for experimentation. That man's like a candy shop for genetic experimentation inclined scientists," Bruce was the first to reply, apparently having retrieved his com from the Helicarrier, "And 'giant bugs' are straight out of Mad Scientist 101."
"Or they're Loki being a little shit again," Tony pointed out, "The problem with that is, who in the hell could jump Captain America and drag him off without a hell of a fight? We didn't hear a fight, we heard…" Tony shuddered, continuing onward without missing another beat, "Something like poison, maybe. I'd say torture but it didn't sound like anyone else was there."
"With his metabolism?" Clint sounded surprised.
"It would be a new development," Tony nodded as he and Natasha landed in the Helicarrier bay, "Every other poison he's encountered, his system just dissolves and neutralizes it."
"I suppose it's in the realm of possibility," Bruce mused, "But it's unlikely. They'd need to be extremely, phenomenally lucky."
"Or have gained access to his medical records somehow," Tony countered.
"Medical records would help, but they'd need blood samples to work with and even SHIELD only has the one. They'd know if it went missing," Bruce challenged, "I don't think it was poison. I find it hard to believe there's anyone out there that has the access, resources, and not to mention the skill required to design an effective poison for him yet."
"If it wasn't poison, then what the hell was that?" Clint asked, "Cause that wasn't a fight, or a beating, and from the sound of it they didn't just snatch him and go. I didn't hear anyone but him."
"A lethal wound would have left blood, but Widow reported the alley and nearby area clean," Coulson pointed out, "Yet, he thought he was dying; he said as much over the com. What else is there but poison?"
Tony and Natasha entered the conference room to see the team seated and waiting. Tony couldn't help but feel Steve's absence like a weight settling on his shoulders as he removed his helmet and took a seat. He pointedly did not look to his right, to the seat Steve always occupied, taking notes like any good Captain. Occasionally doodling in the margins out of boredom like any normal human being.
Fuck, don't think about that.
Tony abruptly cut that train of thought off, turning to eye each of his remaining team members instead; Clint had his bow in his lap, running his hands over it in a way that was decidedly anxious. Bruce had the StarkPad Tony had given him ages ago out and he was tapping away at it, his brow was furrowed in a way Tony knew meant Bruce was deeply concerned. Coulson was Coulson, but just as Tony was about to write him off as being as pulled together as ever, he caught sight of the slightest angle to his jaw, and Tony realized Coulson was clenching his teeth.
"Finally," Clint glanced up at their arrival, wasting no time pulling his com out of his ear.
"Fury will join us shortly," Coulson informed them as they took their seats, "And I've asked Thor to return to Asgard, give us an update on Loki's whereabouts in all this."
"Good," Tony nodded his approval, Loki was a good suspect for this sort of thing, "Though, kidnapping isn't really his style."
"It's somewhere to start," Coulson pinched the bridge of his nose in thought, "In addition to that we've got the usual scans running, so if his face shows up anywhere we should know about it. We're shaking down our usual contacts for any information on a hit, but it's unlikely they'll turn up much. Also, we-"
Tony found Coulson's words drifting to the background as his gaze was drawn back to Steve's chair next to his. How many times had they sat in these stupid meetings? Steve poking him with a pen to pay attention, Tony scribbling Steve ridiculous notes whining about how ridiculously bored he was, trying not to stare too long at the fond smiles his notes earned. Trying to pretend that wasn't why he wrote them in the first place.
"Stark?" Coulson raised an eyebrow, demanding his attention.
"I'm sorry, am I boring you?" Coulson glared.
"Yes," Tony answered honestly, returning the glare, "I'm sorry, have you not read my file? The first time I was kidnapped I was five, okay? I know better than anyone that the longer we sit here, talking and theorizing about what might have happened, the worse it gets for him. He's depending on us, and I don't know about you, but I've let him down enough for one day."
"You had your orders to work apart, you followed them," Coulson shook his head, "He wouldn't have expected you to stay near him when you dropped him off."
"It doesn't matter what he expected," Tony dropped his head, "It matters that they got him, whoever the fuck they are, and I could have stopped them."
"Damn it, Tony," Clint snapped, "Stop with this self-defeatist crap, alright? Quit blaming yourself. You don't think we're not all playing back the entire battle in our minds? Thinking what we should have noticed, how we could have finished faster, gotten out of there sooner?"
"Steve's one tough Yблюдок," Natasha shot him a rare, non-lethal smile. Tony faintly recognized the Russian word as bastard, maybe son of a bitch, something to do with lineage, "He's going to be okay."
"We're going to find him, Tony," Bruce smiled, gently at first, then the edges turned hard, "And I wouldn't want to be his kidnappers when we do."
This whole situation is frankly ridiculous, Steve thought to himself as he tripped over his feet for what felt like the thousandth time.
Not to mention, his transformation from man to dog had been painful as all hell.
Worse than the super serum even, though perhaps not knowing what was happening this time might have been a part of it. Now, as he ducked and weaved through the crowded streets of Manhattan, he found himself struggled just to stay on his feet-all four of them-as Tony's words rolled over and over in his mind.
He likes lost causes.
Steve gave a little snort of determination. Tony was most certainly not a lost cause, and if he ever managed to get his body back, he was going to say just that. After, maybe, a proper I love you. He wasn't entirely sure if Tony reciprocated or not-though calling him 'baby' over the com in the heat of the moment and the distress he was clearly in over Steve's disappearance certainly gave Steve a small amount of hope-but he needed to say it.
Though, apparently they'd all figured out what he was going to say anyway.
Steve let out an undignified half-squeak half-yip sort of sound as someone stepped on his tail again; New Yorkers were a lot more self-absorbed than he remembered. He powered on though, navigating through the vaguely familiar streets back to Avengers Tower. His sense of smell was fantastically enhanced, and that helped quite a bit. Tony's scent was easy enough to follow, though it did make him feel just a bit like a stalker.
He'd gotten a whiff of it when Tony had sat with him in the alleyway, all grease and metal, musky and masculine with just a touch of expensive cologne. He'd tried to tell Tony who he was, pointed to himself whenever Tony mentioned him, but Tony had been too distracted to get it. Steve appreciated that Tony was busy trying to rescue him, he did. It just wasn't particularly helpful to him at the moment.
It had been weird looking at Tony through a dog's eyes-everything looked different that way, and it wasn't just the colorblindness. True, everything was shaded in mostly greenish hues with a bit of blue and yellow here and there, and he couldn't see red at all, but it was more than that. It was the perspective it offered. Steve was pretty tiny like this, and it was strange not being able to reach out and touch people in the same way.
Like when Tony had collapsed back in the alley-Steve had wanted to reach out, but his puppy form hadn't offered much. He'd managed to wiggle his way into Tony's lap, but Tony had been too distracted to pay much attention.
Steve was adapting, though. He was getting better at moving about on all fours, and he was certainly learning to use his newly enhanced senses to his benefit. He made it to Avengers Tower without much trouble, but he'd have to wait for the others to return to get in; he couldn't reach the door, and even if he could, it would surely be locked for now.
His best bet, he thought, would be Tony or Thor. Tony was distracted right now, but Steve knew for all Tony's rough edges he had a soft spot a mile wide. Thor, well, Thor was Thor. They'd had to stop him from taking home half an animal shelter once; Steve was sure if he batted his eyes and wagged his tail Thor would take a liking to him and bring him inside long enough for Steve to find a way to prove who he was.
Steve settled on the front steps of the Tower, resting his head on his paws with a tired sigh. This puppy business was exhausting…
Steve awoke to a foot in his abdomen. Not a kick, not really, more of a nudge, but it was a strange sensation nonetheless.
"Dog," a familiar voice greeted him.
Tony! Steve barked, fully awake now and scrambling up.
They must have just gotten back from their meeting, and Steve's new canine senses told him that they were all tired and tense. The spies were still in mission gear, Tony was in civilian clothes, and Bruce wore SHIELD issue clothing, but where was Thor? Steve found himself a little worried; Thor was his best shot.
"So," Tony squatted down, examining him at eye level, "Is this following me around gonna be a thing?"
Steve nodded enthusiastically, and Tony looked surprised.
"…I really am going crazy," Tony muttered, side-stepping Steve and moving to open the door.
"That's new?" Bruce chuckled as they filed in.
When Steve tried to wiggle in after them, Tony just used his foot to nudge Steve back and away from the open door.
"Oh no you don't. I have a strict no 'things with hair that'll get on my stuff' policy."
What? Tony, no, you have to let me in! Steve meant to bark but it came out as more of a whining, begging sort of sound.
"Quit it with the puppy eyes, would you?" Tony huffed, "I have more important things to worry about than house-training some furball."
I'm not a real dog, I can prove it to you if you just-
Tony shut the door.
Tony! Steve called, and it came out as a pitiful, howling sort of sound.
The door opened, and Steve could feel his tail start wagging. He immediately dashed forward through the opening, expecting to see Tony holding the door open reluctantly. Instead…
Natasha? Steve barked curiously at the superspy, quirked his head at her in question. She must have seen the confused look on his face, because she knelt down.
"Stark needs something to smile about right now," she patted his head somewhat affectionately, "Think you can manage that?"
Steve yipped the affirmative, unable to stop his puppy body from wiggling in excitement. He owed Natasha one hell of a thank you when he was back in his body. For now, he needed to find a way to let them know who he was. Maybe he could spell his name out with something? Still thinking about it, he raced off down the hallway, following his nose to find Tony. Natasha was right, Tony was upset, and Steve could fix it.
"Oh my god, who let you in here?" Tony whined when he caught sight of Steve turning the corner into the kitchen, "Is Thor back, did Thor let you in?"
Steve tried not to pout at that; it hurt hearing Tony continuously want nothing to do with him, even if he didn't know it was Steve. Clint and Tony were at the kitchen table, Tony downing a large coffee, Clint digging into the leftover Chinese, and Bruce was at the counter making tea. Steve reminded himself that Tony didn't know who he was, and bounded over to where Tony was seated, nipping and tugging at Tony's pant cuff. If he could get Tony to let him use one of those touchpads, maybe he could spell out his name?
"Thor's not back, I let him in," Natasha answered, entering the kitchen right behind Steve, "He's cute, and he's staying."
"This is my Tower, you know," Tony frowned, nudging Steve away with his foot, "Stop it, dog."
"Really? I don't see your name on it," Clint smirked through a mouthful of lo mein.
"Low blow, Barton, low blow," Tony scowled, still mildly upset that the Tower no longer had his last name emblazoned across the side, "But fine, whatever, you want a dog, it's all yours. Just keep it away from me."
Steve heard himself whine despondently.
"Christ, what does this thing want from me?" Tony complained, nudging Steve away again with his foot while Steve continued trying to pull at Tony's cuff.
"Love and affection?" Clint snorted, getting up and crossing the room to pick Steve up, petting him with a smile, "You know, that thing most human beings respond to puppies with?"
Steve wagged his tail, and stuck his tongue out at Tony. Fine, he'd just tell Clint who he was then.
"Aw, look, he stuck his tongue out at you," Clint grinned, and Tony snorted.
"He did not," Tony rolled his eyes disbelievingly.
"You're a smarty though, aren't you, little guy?" Clint tapped him on the nose, and Steve nodded enthusiastically, "Wow. Guys, I think he really does understand us."
"Barton," Tony shot him a dry look, "It's a dog."
"But he keeps nodding when we say things," Clint insisted.
"He's probably just wiggling. Puppies that age have a lot of energy," Bruce pointed out.
"Puppy, can you understand me?" Clint looked at Steve, who very carefully, very deliberately nodded, "Hah! Suck it, Stark!"
"Enjoy your 'genius' fleabag," Tony just ignored them, picking up his coffee and walking away, "I'll be in the workshop."
Steve immediately began squirming, trying to get out of Clint's hold to chase after Tony. If Tony got into the workshop, Steve wouldn't be able to follow him.
"Hey, calm down little guy," Clint just held him tighter, "Tony's not in a very nice mood right now, you might want to let that one go."
"I don't know," Bruce looked up from his tea, "Tony probably won't be open to letting any of us cheer him up, but I doubt even he could resist the charm of a puppy for very long."
"That's not a half bad idea," Clint mused.
"Animals have a sixth sense for that sort of thing," Natasha added, "They know when people need comforting. The dog clearly wants to go help Tony; let him."
"Fine, fine," Clint relented, "I'll go put the squirt down in Tony's workshop."
Tony didn't even look up when Clint dropped Steve off in the workshop. Steve wasn't surprised though; Tony rarely noticed when people entered and exited his workshop as long as it didn't affect his crazy loud music. So Steve winced at the music level-his enhanced hearing didn't much appreciate it-but wandered around the lab without bothering Tony. What could he use to tell Tony who he was?
He hopped up on one of the lab benches, and from that up onto the table itself. There were plenty of metal bits and pieces lying around, so Steve used his teeth to drag them around the table until he had "St" and half an "e" spelled out.
Tony's furious shout startled Steve, who accidentally dropped the piece of metal he'd been maneuvering into a "v". Tony didn't seem to notice though; he was too busy throwing his wrench halfway across the room, shattering one of the glass panels. He continued lashing out, sweeping everything off the tables near him and using the Iron Man gauntlets to blast holes through the drywall in a furious tantrum. He moved to sweep everything off the table Steve was on, when he finally noticed Steve's presence.
"God damn it, dog, why won't you leave me the hell alone?"
Steve quickly tried to point out what he'd been spelling, but Tony just sighed and pushed it all off as he collapsed onto the bench. Steve whined at that, upset that Tony couldn't see the signs he was trying to give him, but in response Tony just clamped a hand over his muzzle.
"Okay, seriously, stop it with the puppy dog eyes, they're as bad as Steve's."
Steve barked at his name, but yet again Tony failed to notice the connection.
"Look, you may be 'man's best friend', dog," Tony glared, "But you're not mine. Go...I don't know, pee in Clint's bed or something."
Steve couldn't help but laugh at that, a sort of half-snort half-yip sort of sound, then he licked Tony's palm and nuzzled closer to him.
I'm not going anywhere.
"Stop being cute, dog," Tony huffed, then warned, "I'm not an animal person."
Fine by me, I'm not an animal.
"If I find a single hair in this workshop, I will put you back out in the street so fast your tiny head will spin."
No, you won't.
"Stop barking at me, no one asked you, dog."
Tony was scratching behind Steve's ear as he said it though, so Steve didn't take him very seriously.
"SHIELD brethren, I come bearing good news!" Thor announced as he appeared in the Avengers rec room.
Natasha and Bruce had been reading, Clint had been watching Die Hard, and Tony had been alternately fiddling with his StarkPad and petting Steve, who was curled up in his lap. Steve had spent all afternoon trying to prove who he was to Tony-he'd tried spelling out his name with various things, tried to lead Tony to his bedroom to help him draw a connection, and continued to bark anytime anyone said Steve, but to no avail. Steve hadn't given up exactly, but he was taking a break. His puppy body got exhausted fairly easily, it seemed, and Tony's stomach was a surprisingly comfortable place for a nap.
Coulson had just updated them an hour ago that SHIELD had apprehended the mad scientist behind the mosquitos-apparently a college kid both too smart and too curious for his own good. He'd simply been out of his depth, no evil inclinations so far as they could tell, since he'd even been decent enough to turn himself in. As far as kidnapping Captain America went, well, the kid hardly had the means, and aside from that seemed to be a pretty big fan of the Avengers in general, so he wasn't exactly a likely suspect.
There were still no signs of Steve on any of their other fronts-obviously, Steve thought to himself-so they'd been informed that for now they were to keep their guard up and wait to see what news Thor brought. So when Thor appeared in their rec room, they were all more than happy to see him.
The green-clad god of mischief at his side, however, not so much.
"What the fuck?" Tony shot up, jostling Steve awake.
Natasha already had a knife unsheathed-dear god, where did she even keep those things?-and was advancing on Loki, while Clint scrambled for his bow, which was tucked behind the couch. Bruce looked on the verge of getting angry and Tony was about to call the suit to him, when Thor called for them to cease their panic.
"My brother comes in peace, to right the wrongs he hath done the good Captain," Thor announced, which wasn't particularly soothing.
"So it was you," Tony seethed, making to charge forward, suit or no suit.
Despite being brought by Thor, there was no telling how Loki would respond to a physical attack, so Bruce was quick to grab Tony by the shoulders. Steve grabbed Tony's shirt in his teeth to help pull him back, and Natasha held out a hand, signaling that Tony stay where he was. Clint simply notched an arrow into place, aiming it right between Loki's eyes.
"You've got about five seconds to explain," Clint narrowed his eyes at Loki menacingly, who only rolled his own.
"When I get my hands on you, you're going regret the day you were born, you fucker-"
"So quick to threaten me, Stark, when I've come but to assist your incapacitated friend?" Loki smirked slyly, knowingly, "Or is the Captain perhaps more to you? Have you managed that yet, or is such sentiment beyond your reach?"
"If you've come to assist, then get with the assisting," Tony growled, "And stay the fuck out of my love life."
"I try to enslave the Earth, and you offer me a drink. I accidentally incapacitate one man, and you spit in my face," Loki mused with a smirk, "Your rationality quite amuses me, Stark."
"Accidentally, I'm sure," Bruce snorted.
"Believe me or don't, I care not which," Loki merely shrugged, "But I had no hand in your insect affair, nor had any intention of harm this morn. The Captain startled me, I reacted hastily. Thor has convinced me it would be in my best interests to rectify this wrong."
"He's alive, then?" Natasha questioned.
Natasha's expression remained emotionless, but Steve's new senses told him that she was incredibly relieved. He could…smell it on her, if that made any sort of sense. It was interesting, seeing the usually so impossible to read Natasha with his enhanced senses.
"What did you do to him?" Tony snarled.
"Oh, nothing much," Loki smirked, "A simple charm, really. Have you truly not yet deduced his form?"
"Form?" Bruce questioned, as Clint paled.
"You didn't turn him into a mosquito…did you?"
Palpable fear hit Steve's senses like a wave, as each Avenger suddenly questioned if they'd inadvertently killed him themselves.
"Oh, nothing so morbid," Loki waved their fears aside, "He sits among you now."
"Come, Steven," Loki waved a hand at him, "I shall undo your charm."
Steve paused briefly, before deciding to trust Thor's judgment in bringing Loki here and bounding forward to meet the god.
"Oh you are fucking with me right now," Tony groaned, head falling back as the realization hit him.
"No wonder that damned dog liked Tony so much," Clint snorted while Bruce gaped, and Natasha just smirked.
"You thought not to ask the canine his name?" Thor inquired.
"Thor, man, we've been over this," Clint sighed, "You are the only one with that Allspeak thing going on."
"Change him back," Tony cut through their chatter, a direct order to Loki accompanied with a glare.
"So hostile," Loki mused, "And yet, I find myself expecting no less from you mortals."
He bent down to touch Steve on the head, and a strange sensation coursed through him. The same green light flashed before his eyes, and when he blinked, he was noticeably taller, though still seated on the floor.
He was a bit cold, too, but that might be because he was buck naked.
"Well, this is a bit awkward," Steve flushed, covering himself with his hands. Clint, always one to roll with the situation, wasted no time tossing him a pillow off the couch, "Thanks."
"Have I not earned your gratitude as well, Captain?" Loki drawled.
"You made me like that in the first place," Steve just shot him a stern glare, "Which hurt quite a damned bit, by the way."
"Your first shape-shifting charm," Loki nodded, "They're quite painless after the first."
"I think I'll stick as I am, thanks."
"I'd prefer that," Tony's voice, a bit rough, instantly drew Steve's attention.
"Tony!" Steve tried not to let his voice squeak like it did when he was nervous. He tried not to think about how the last thing he'd said to the other man was the beginnings of a confession, or that absolutely everyone seemed to know exactly what he'd meant to say, or that a few minutes ago he'd been curled up on Tony's stomach, "So, maybe we should, um, go talk, somewhere, not here, preferably, because I know I sort of sprung a lot on you in that last minute on the com but to be fair I thought I was dying and I know far more than I should about regrets and wow hello you're rather clos-mm."
That would be the point when Tony crossed the room, grabbed Steve roughly by the back of the head, and kissed him.
There was a very long moment where Steve didn't think about absolutely anything else in the world but TonyTonyTony. Slowly, the need for air bubbled in his chest and Tony released him, somehow managing to look frustrated and accomplished all at once. Even then, Steve's train of thought only shifted from Tony to Is Tony mad? Why is Tony mad? But he kissed me, so that's good, right? I think? Maybe? I don't know, maybe if I do it again I'll find out-
"I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you," Tony chanted, punctuating each one with a kiss, "And next time you pull a damned stupid stunt like that you give me time to fucking answer, alright? Christ."
"Okay, Tony," Steve couldn't manage much more than a happy, loopy sort of grin, before he pulled Tony back into another kiss.
Clint's wolf-whistle broke Steve's kiss-induced insanity. He pulled away, glancing down at himself, then back up at Tony, blush renewed.
"So, I'm still naked."
"I can work with that."
"Ew, get out of the rec room first, you lovey-dovey freaks," Clint made a face.
"Seconded," Bruce added.
"Mortals," Loki just gave a long-suffering sigh, turning to Thor, "At your insistence I have done my good deed for the century, may we take our leave now?"
"Yes, brother, we shall," Thor clasped a hand on Loki's shoulder, "Congratulations, Anthony and Steven, I am most proud of your joyous union! Is your heart not lighter, brother, at having witnessed such love fulfilled?"
"It is perhaps easier to breathe," Loki smirked, "Though I suspect that might be the sudden lack of unresolved sexual tension."
"Damn it, I was going to say that!" Clint swore, making like he was considering shooting Loki after all, muttering to himself, "Maybe I'll just get him in the knee or something…"
"And with that, we shall take our leave," Thor said hastily, "We are ready now, Heimdall."
The brothers disappeared in a flash of golden light right as Clint fired off an arrow. Natasha shot him a look, and Clint shrugged.
"Relax, I was gonna make it miss, it was a warning shot."
"So, I'm going to go put on some clothes now," Steve piped up, trying to stand up while keeping the pillow in it's proper place.
"You do that. And dress fancy, darling," Tony was unable to resist smacking Steve's bare ass as Steve squeezed past him, and when Steve turned back to shoot him a half-embarrassed, half-curious look, Tony just grinned unapologetically with a wink, "We're going out for Indian."