Devil Doll (devildoll) wrote,
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FIC: Semaphore (Avengers Movieverse) Steve/Tony (NC-17) 1/4

Like you guys didn’t see this coming after I made this post

Title: Semaphore
Summary: "I’m trying to like you, Tony. You’re just making it very hard."
Fandom: Avengers Movieverse
Pairing: Steve Rogers/Tony Stark (Tony Stark/Pepper Potts, past Steve Rogers/Peggy Carter, past Steve Rogers/Bucky Barnes, miscellaneous other background ships that get a passing mention)
Rating: NC-17
Words: ~39,000
Warnings: Depression. Joking references to suicide. (God, that sounds terrible when I say it like that. Suicide! So funny! But, uh, hopefully the context will make it less awful?) Also, Steve does not like the New York Yankees.
Availability: LiveJournal || Dreamwidth || AO3
Podfic read by crinklysolution: LiveJournal || audiofic || audiofic (audiobook version) || AO3
Translation: Kontakt semaforowy by otemporaetmores (WIP)
Disclaimer: Marvel’s characters do not belong to me. I just borrow them and rub them against each other.
Thanks: This story is for musesfool, because she doesn’t like this pairing and I am a terrible person. Also, I’m really glad I had the foresight to become friends with her ten years ago so she could help me with all the questions I had about New York City while writing this story. Thanks to the awesome girlinthetrilby for beta reading this, even though she's not in this fandom (though she WILL BE), and to the lovely sheafrotherdon, who heroically stepped up and volunteered to be my second beta on astoundingly short notice. Any remaining mistakes in this story are all my fault.
Transformative Works: Remixes, podfics, fanart, covers, podbooks, sequels, prequels, inspired-bys and any other form of transformative work based on my stories is okay with me. You don't need to ask me first, though in the case of sequels/prequels etc it's probably a good idea to check and make sure I'm not working on one myself. Please send me a link and prepare to be adored forever.
Posted: December 21st, 2011

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4




As a child, Tony Stark spent a lot of time thinking about how cool it would be to meet Captain America. When it finally (improbably) happens, it doesn’t go at all like he’d imagined.

He’d pictured fewer insults, for one thing.

~*~

Young Tony had had all the swag—the Captain America comic books, the Captain America sheets. The toy shield and the plastic action figures and the itchy Halloween costume, and a massive crush that he didn't actually recognize as such until he was a lot older.

Present day Tony is with Pepper—very happily and faithfully with Pepper—and Steve Rogers is a self-righteous jerk. There’s no crush, no hero worship at all now, just aggravation and a sincere hope that Steve never finds out how much Tony idolized Captain America as a kid, dreamt of meeting him. Because Steve Rogers is nothing like Captain America.

~*~

Despite the rocky start (due mostly, but not completely, to the lack of warm fuzzies between Steve and Tony), the team clicks. Not immediately, and not perfectly, but it’s a lot better than Tony expected. They all survive the first mission, the second, the ninth. So they’re doing this, then.

Pepper, who was apparently totally serious when she resigned as his CEO, decides to “take some time off.” It lasts about six minutes before she’s being pursued by eleven different organizations who would love to put her in charge. She also gets offered director positions on five different boards, a spot as the spokesperson for a new anti-anxiety medication (which Tony takes extremely personally), and a Playboy spread. In the end she accepts a job as the head of a non-profit that saves orphaned manatees.

"I can’t believe you picked this over Playboy," Tony says, looking at the manatee brochures while they drink a celebratory toast or five. "Did you at least get me a baby manatee?" She quirks her mouth at him and shakes her head. They're already most of the way through the champagne, and her hair is falling loose over her shoulders. "You never let me have anything," he complains, but she’s already unbuttoning her blouse, so that’s a lie.

They kind of move to New York, though some weeks that’s purely academic, given their schedules and the fact that there aren’t many manatees in the Hudson. Pepper won’t stay in the ridiculous bachelor pad at Stark Tower—and Tony does not blame her for this at all—until he replaces every mattress, couch cushion, and towel in the entire place, plus the rugs and the countertops and all the water in the pool, so he blows the dust off the Stark Mansion and they move in, temporarily at first. Then they offer Bruce one of the bedrooms, because he appears to have no friends and nothing but a tattered backpack and a beat up laptop, and Tony gets tired of watching him slouch around SHIELD headquarters like a hobo.

Tony can’t help it, he’s got the "I can improve this!" gene, so it’s only a few weeks before he decides they can totally live in the house permanently if he just changes or upgrades nearly every single thing about it. Within three months it’s gone from being the tomb of his miserable childhood to the most kickass superhero hangout mansion on the planet—screw Xavier and his Westchester bullshit—and one by one the other bedrooms fill up as everyone realizes Tony’s house is awesome.

Clint moves in first, though he just sort of comes over for the weekend and never leaves, but then Pepper says it’s okay, so Tony mentions it to Natasha and Thor. They must have already had their bags packed, because they show up the very next day.

The only one missing is Steve.

"What about Steve?" Pepper asks around her toothbrush one morning. Tony's just out of the shower, and he's naked and vulnerable and trapped in the bathroom with her. Sometimes he hates how smart she is.

"I don't know, what about Steve?" he asks, focusing intently on choosing a towel. Playing dumb never works, but he never stops using it as his default defensive maneuver anyway.

She gives him the side-eye. "Tony, you have to invite him."

He almost says, I don’t have to do anything, but then he remembers who he's talking to and doesn't bother.

"He’s perfectly welcome to move in if he wants," Tony states magnanimously, by which he means if Steve asks to move in Tony will say it’s fine, but Tony’s not going to go out of his way to bring it up. But Pepper hears what he means and not what he says, so she points her toothbrush at him and says, "You need to invite him."

He wraps a towel around his hips and reaches for his own toothbrush, meeting her eyes in the mirror as he squirts the toothpaste. "C’mon, do you really want him here? He’s like the boner killer of fun. And can you imagine what it’ll be like having him and Banner in the same house? I can't live with both the gloom and doom twins, Pepper. I can't."

Pepper waits until he works up a big mouthful of toothpaste foam before she responds (she’s so fucking smart). "You can’t invite everyone but him, Tony, he’s—"

"Yes, I can," Tony insists messily into the mirror. He looks like he has rabies. "It’s my house, he’s not invited—"

"—all alone over there, and he doesn’t know many people—" Pepper is saying, like his protests mean nothing.

"—and that’s it. Case closed." He rinses his mouth and puts away his toothbrush with pointed finality.

When he turns toward her, Pepper takes his face in her hands and kisses him on the mouth, minty, lingering just long enough to make him want another. She pulls back and looks him in the eye. "Tony," she says softly, "you guys are all he has."

"I’m not doing it, Pepper. No," he says, and he means it.

~*~

"But I have an apartment," Steve protests, while sitting in his sad little room at SHIELD, with the uplifting all-gray color palette and a bed that looks like a discard from Sing Sing.

Pepper was right (again), Tony realizes. He can’t leave Steve in this bland, awful place while they’re all over on Fifth Avenue living in what is basically the world’s best frat house. He feels kind of bad for even thinking about excluding him.

"First of all," Tony says, because he can’t let this point go unacknowledged, "if you have an apartment, why aren’t you there right now? Look at this, this room is destroying my will to live. Just hurry up and say yes, because I don’t have any Prozac on me." He takes out his phone. "I need to call Pepper and have her talk me down from the ledge."

"It’s not that bad," Steve says stiffly. "I’ve slept in worse."

"But you don’t have to now," Tony points out. "That’s the entire point of this conversation."

"I really don’t need—" Steve starts, but Tony cuts him off.

"Seriously," he says, and he is serious, which hardly ever happens. "Everyone else is there. You should be there."

Steve sighs, more heavily than a guy who's just been asked to move into the greatest house in New York should. He looks like he’s going to say no again.

"Keep your apartment," Tony tells him. "Go there as much as you want. We’re not asking you to join a cult."

When he still hesitates, Tony wiggles his phone at him and brings out the big guns: "Don’t make me call Natasha."

"Okay,” Steve says. “I’ll move in."

~*~

“You owe me, like, thirty blowjobs,” Tony says to Pepper as soon as he can get her on the phone. “That was the most depressing thing I’ve ever seen. He didn’t even have a window. And I still had to persuade him, which was almost beyond my ability to do at that point, because I was about ten minutes away from ending it all. Seriously, Pep, it was like that swamp that kills the horse in The NeverEnding Story.”

By which he means, "You were right and I’m glad I did it," but it’s Pepper, so she hears it anyway.

~*~

It should be a disaster, so many big personalities in a house full of weapons and superpowers, and it would be a lie to say things don’t get tense sometimes, but overall it turns out to be oddly enjoyable.

Clint is a sarcastic smartass, but that’s a personality quirk near and dear to Tony’s heart, so it’s no big deal. Plus he loves to bake cookies—real cookies, not the kind that come in a tube at the grocery store—and that makes up for a lot. His preternatural powers of accuracy must somehow extend to baking, because he never seems to use any kind of measuring utensil, yet each batch turns out perfectly, and each cookie is precisely the same size. The house smells really good all the time.

Natasha is just as stoic and scary when she's walking around the kitchen in yoga pants as she is when she's jabbing Tony in the neck with a needle. She spends about ten hours a day attempting to become even deadlier than she already is, and enjoys ambushing Steve and Thor at random opportunities, sending them grunting face-first into the carpet. Tony thinks it’s kind of cool, like living in a video game. Happy doesn’t find it funny at all.

When Natasha meets Sif and the Warriors Three, it’s the closest thing Tony’s seen to love at first sight in his entire life. They have long conversations about weapons, demonstrate numerous painful fighting moves on each other, and compare battle scars and kill counts with an unsettling level of cheerfulness. He half expects Natasha to quit the Avengers and move to Asgard so the five of them can live happily ever after in polyamory. Strong, sweaty, sexy-yet-terrifying polyamory.

After a while Tony figures out Clint and Natasha used to be a couple, which in Tony's eyes makes Clint the bravest guy in the house, maybe the country.

Thor is, without exception, the happiest and most upbeat guy Tony has ever met in his entire life, but then he has about a hundred and six reasons to be, starting with the fact that he has amazing abs and never seems to do a single sit-up. He's kind of arrogant, but not without basis, and it's not like Tony can throw any stones in that direction.

He’s basically the house cruise director, and no one can resist him when he gets it into his head to have fun, which is pretty much constantly; he never seems to run out of things he wants to do, occasions he wants to celebrate, and drinking records he wants to break. Thor is also an all-around nice guy. He’s often uncomfortably truthful, but he sometimes—Tony is pretty sure of this—expresses confusion over things he already understands so that Steve won’t have to be the one yet again asking for an explanation.

Bruce works even more than Tony does, and does a lot of meditating and other boring crap when he's not. He tends to be quiet, and everyone is in full, unspoken agreement that they will do whatever it takes to help him maintain his Zen. The first time he accidentally Hulks out in the house is a bit of a pants-shitter, but only a couple things get broken. The good news is they inadvertently discover that an hour or two in front of the TV will keep him quiet until he reverts. The bad news is that Hulk's TV preferences run toward cartoons and cooking shows, with the unfortunate side effect that Steve, who doesn't mind sitting with him just to keep an eye out, develops a liking for Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants.

Clint takes about six hundred pictures of Steve and Hulk in front of the TV. "I can’t believe you’re watching this," he says, angling his phone just right, careful to make sure Dora is clearly visible on the television in each shot.

Steve just shrugs. "It's not that bad. All the people on the shows you guys watch are so awful to each other. Plus, you can learn Spanish."

"Me gusta!" Hulk says.

After that, Tony tries to introduce Steve to The Simpsons, but it’s a spectacular failure, because most of the jokes and cultural references go right over his head.

Tony's dire predictions regarding Steve don't really come true. The angry, confrontational Steve of those first days is long gone, and he does seem to be a little less mopey since Tony (Pepper) got him out of that room at SHIELD.

He still has a tendency to spend too much time Eeyoring around the house when they aren’t working, but when he puts on the uniform and they walk out the door, he is on. He’s on point, on target, on message, 100% of the time. He's completely confident of his place in the world as Captain America, and almost absurdly heroic, like he's been brought to life straight out of one of Tony's comic books. But put him in his civvies and give him some free time and he tends to look a little lost.

"Coulson doesn't actually live here, right?" Tony asks Clint one night. He's honestly getting a little worried, because the guy's here an awful lot, and that's where Tony draws the line. Superheroes: yes. Sadistic automatons: no. "Have we checked the crawl spaces, made sure he's not living under the stairs, sneaking into the kitchen at night and stealing our food?"

"More likely the basement," Clint says. "I'm pretty sure he hangs upside down when he sleeps." Which is not funny at all, because for all Tony knows, that might actually be true. He lives in a house with an immortal party planner and a twenty-six-year-old guy who was born in 1917. Anything is possible.

Still, it’s clear that getting them all under the same roof was a good call. They feel like something more than a team now, and it makes the load a little more bearable, being together, even when they get their asses handed to them. They fight hard, get banged up, fight hard some more. Sometimes they’re so tired and battered all they can do is collapse on the big, squishy (steel-reinforced, after the second time Tony has to replace them) sofas in the TV room and hope Jarvis notices and orders fifteen pizzas for them.

Those are actually some of Tony's favorite times.

~*~

Tony’s birthday party that year is the first attended entirely by people he considers his friends (and not a single stripper). All the Avengers are there, plus Jane and Selvig, and Tony sees Betty standing next to a slightly less morose looking Bruce.

Happy spends a futile hour or so hitting on Darcy, while Rhodey and his deathwish are on the couch trying to talk to Natasha. Coulson arrives exactly on time, drinks precisely two drinks, and leaves without ever having cracked a smile, though Tony swears his tie looks looser by at least half an inch. Fury shows up with his wife or his girlfriend or his latest beautiful-woman-he's-training-to-be-a-cold-hearted-assassin; Tony's not sure which and he's definitely not going to ask.

It’s really good to see Rhodey, who he doesn’t talk to nearly often enough. The Stark Industries liaison job Rhodey held is no more, and he doesn't need it anyway, because he still has Tony's suit. Tony isn't sure exactly what he does with it, but he knows the government has him off doing something from time to time. He tries at every opportunity to get Rhodey to at least give him a hint, and it never works.

They manage to sneak down to the shop when no one’s looking, and for a few minutes it's like it used to be, Tony showing him what he's working on at the moment, bouncing ideas off him. The big news is the self-repair nanotechnology for the suits that Tony’s been tinkering with, and Rhodey is suitably impressed and enthusiastic. Too soon, Jarvis informs them they're wanted back at the party, so they dutifully clump back up the stairs just in time for everyone to sing "Happy Birthday."

Thor ordered the cake, so it’s enough to feed two hundred people and has a working volcano on the top, which may have just been the result of crossed wires regarding birthday candles, Tony’s not sure. Pepper takes over the cutting after the first few pieces Thor hands out are the size of bricks.

Sif and the Warriors Three arrive, and immediately and systematically begin to put all of Tony’s partying days to complete and total shame. They drink like fish, toss each other around the room, and burst into rousing song at the slightest prompting. They're way more entertaining than strippers. Even Steve is watching them and smiling.

The four of them, plus Thor and Clint and Selvig and Darcy, are hoisting their drinks in the air and proclaiming their love for a good draught of ale and a good fight when Tony has a brilliant idea, and says, "Jarvis, I think it’s time these guys heard 'Tubthumping,'" and twenty seconds later the Asgardians lose their fucking minds.

Thor comes up behind him and lifts him off his feet. "Tony Stark!" he booms. He sets him back down, spins him around, and clutches him to his extremely broad chest for a second before he suddenly lets go and Tony almost falls down.

"Who is the warrior immortalized in this song?" Thor demands to know. "The one who gets knocked down repeatedly, yet cannot be kept down? We must hear of his resilience again!"

So Tony puts the song on repeat, slings an arm around Pepper, and sits back to watch the show as the Asgardians—and a few people who are definitely not Asgardians—stomp their feet and shout along, fists and beer mugs pumping in the air. Darcy almost gives Hogun a black eye with her elbow. Tony thinks he sees Volstagg weeping into his beard.

~*~

Some more time passes, and Tony still loves being an Avenger, and he still loves being Pepper Potts' boyfriend, and he still loves being Tony Stark, so his life is pretty awesome. He almost dies a few times, but he hardly notices, he's so busy being happy.

Pepper notices, though. One night, they have a talk about risks, about costs. About how much bigger this whole thing is now, about how much she hates to see the scrapes and bruises and the comas (for the record: there was only one coma, singular, and it was super short), and about how Iron Man is taking on a life of his own since Tony became an Avenger.

They’ve been through this before, back in the beginning. Back then she threatened to quit, but they worked it out, so Tony isn’t too worried. They just need to hash it out.

Tony's actually pretty proud of the resulting conversation. He doesn't get defensive, he doesn't try to shut her down, he doesn't turn on some loud music or try to hustle her into bed to avoid the issue. He's supportive and reassuring and suggests ways to compromise, ways they can both be happy with him being Iron Man. They have a calm, productive, rational talk about it—the first such talk of his entire life, actually--and he walks away feeling pretty good, because he doesn't figure out until after she leaves him that it was a warning.

~*~

They break up and it's horrible.

It seems to both drag on forever and happen out of nowhere. Tony notices something is off and thinks (hopes) maybe she's just stressed or tired or—God, this is painful to remember later—pregnant. She gives him no satisfactory answers to his inquiries, so he tries to be around more, tries to pay attention more. He buys her a nine hundred dollar pair of shoes, he takes her to the ballet (something she loves and he hates). Nothing helps. Finally, he cancels everything for an entire weekend and flies down to Florida to see her, desperate to fix whatever is wrong.

But it's already too late, and like a slow-motion collision he's powerless to stop, it ends.

They walk into a hotel in Miami a couple, and they leave as two separate people. Tony’s always hated Miami.

The aftermath is unbelievably painful. Tony had had no idea he could feel this bad, like he's a raw wound on two legs, and for every inch he heals there's something else to tear him open again, slice right down to bone. A pair of earrings in the pocket of his tuxedo jacket, where he stashed them for safety so she could put her head on his shoulder and fall asleep in the limo on the way home. A voicemail he never deleted, the first time she ever ended a message with "I love you." A velvet box nestled in a drawer full of spare arc reactors, holding a ring he'll never give to anyone.

He doesn't mention the break-up to his teammates right away, because it isn't any of their business and also he can't seem to bring himself to say it out loud. For a while no one, Avenger or otherwise, seems to notice. Happy must know, but he doesn’t say a word. Tony assumes Rhodey knows, too, because he and Pepper are friends, so he avoids his calls.

Weeks go by, then a few more weeks, then almost three whole months, and Tony starts to think he might get away with it forever (“Who, Pepper? Oh, you just missed her. Again.”), and then some paparazzi jerkwad snaps a picture of Pepper outside a coffee place in L.A. with, no shit, Ryan Reynolds—who, it turns out, is really concerned about orphaned manatees—kissing her on the cheek, holding her hand, and that’s how the entire fucking world learns Tony couldn't make it work with Pepper, the person who knew him better than anyone and still loved him anyway.

Once the word gets out, there’s no point in pretending he’s fine anymore, because he isn’t. He's a trainwreck, and it feels good to finally stop hiding it. He's a jerk to everyone who crosses his path, and it's not fair to them, but he can't stop. It's like all the parts of him that wanted to be heroic and kind a year ago have now turned small and ugly and mean. His behavior wears on the whole team, and pretty soon even Thor, usually so unflappably cheerful, is giving him a wide berth. The stress slowly starts to show in a dozen different ways until Tony expects to be called into Fury's office any day, and told to get his act together before he tantrums the Avengers right out of existence.

He drunk calls Rhodey once or twice a week, and Rhodey, God bless him, answers his phone every time.

Everyone who actually lives with him avoids him when they aren’t working, because he's a dickhead and they're all sick of him, which is fine, because Tony's pretty sick of the way no one will call him on his shit. It turns out careening headfirst off the rails of your life isn’t as fun when no one cares that you’re doing it.

He almost calls Pepper fifty times, a hundred times, on the off-chance she might still be interested in telling him to stop being an asshole. He has Jarvis lock down her phone number so he can’t call her, and takes refuge in his workshop. This goes on for quite a while.

It’s Steve who first ventures into the shop, buried three stories beneath the house, and Jarvis, the traitorous bastard, lets him in. Steve looks around for a minute—he’s never been down here—and takes in Tony’s appearance with a small wrinkle of disapproval between his eyebrows. Tony knows what he looks like: unshaven, unshowered, clothes wrinkled and covered with grease and scorch marks, and he doesn’t care, he does not care. He’s about to tell Steve that he knows Fury sent him to talk some sense into him and he appreciates the thought but he could do without the lecture and—

"My phone stopped working," Steve says, holding up his Stark smartphone.

Completely thrown by this turn of events, Tony can’t even call up the words to tell him to go ask someone else for help. “Well, hand it over,” he says finally. “You’re about to get the costliest tech support of your life.”

Turns out it’s just hung, so he plugs it in and has Jarvis reboot and scan it, and the culprit is determined to be a game called Cupcake Avalanche, the point of which appears to be steering a fat pink pig to devour dozens of screaming cupcakes as they roll down a hill, waving their tiny arms and spraying sprinkles everywhere.

Steve looks embarrassed. “Clint put that on there,” he says.

"Hey, what you do with your phone is your business," Tony shrugs, and writes a couple quick lines of code so the error won’t happen again, and also upgrades the operating system while he’s in there, and puts a lightsaber app on it, because Steve has seen and loved all the Star Wars movies (loved all six of them, which Tony forgives him for, because he was frozen for seventy years, his brain isn’t right). Steve seems pleased with the results, and delighted with the lightsaber sound effects. He thanks Tony and disappears back upstairs, swinging his phone in big, Jedi-worthy arcs.

Tony turns away and pretends to not watch Steve leave while actually watching him on the security feed the whole time. He remembers Pepper convincing him to include Steve (Tony never did get his thirty blowjobs, or at least thirty additional blowjobs, anyway) and he remembers how angry Steve was in those first days of the Avengers, and then later how sad. He seems to be coming out of it little by little, doesn’t look quite so gloomy when he thinks no one is watching him (Jarvis is always watching everyone).

Tony, deep in his own misery, thinks he wasn't very understanding back then, because now he’s getting a small taste of what Steve is going through, and he can barely stand it. It’s not like Tony’s life and everyone in it was completely taken from him, he still has almost everything he wants, except Pepper. He still has Happy and Rhodey, two constants in his life for what feels like forever. There is literally no one in Steve’s life who has known him for longer than eighteen months.

He thinks about how Steve must feel, what it’s been like for him to carry around so much grief, and he feels like piece of shit for ever being aggravated with him.

~*~

Steve's back the next week with his iPod—Steve has an iPod?--and a couple days after that with a USB drive full of photos someone gave him that he can’t seem to get into, each time asking for little favors, nothing complicated. They’re actually all things Jarvis could do, but Tony doesn’t tell Steve that.

Tony does decide he should remember to shower every day, if he’s going to have Steve hovering around him all the time, doing a terrible job of pretending Tony doesn’t smell like burnt filament and booze sweat.

The next time Steve visits Tony (who remembered to shower that day), he’s hefting a big blue hunk of plastic across his shoulders, and Tony must be hallucinating because--

"Is that a Slam Man?" Tony asks, walking a slow circle around it. "Didn't they stop making these in the 1990s?" Steve gives him a look that says he's asking the wrong person. "Right, you were. Busy. Being frozen. So why did you bring this horrifying piece of cheap crap into my shop?"

Steve, who is clearly excited about his cheap crap, isn't fazed at all by Tony's criticism. “It's a boxing dummy, with lights!” he says. Tony can’t remember the last time Steve looked this excited about something. “And you can program it for your workout. It's almost a robot, right? And you build great robots." Steve gestures toward Dummy, who chirps at him and spins his end effectors, the flirt. Tony thinks Steve actually blushes. "So...can you build something like this? But better?"

Tony's already got the back open and is looking at the sub-par wiring, the absolute disgrace of a soldering job. "Captain Rogers, if I can't do better than this, I'll have no choice but to kill myself. Jarvis, I'm gonna need you to order a few things for me. What were they thinking, this is one step above vacuum tubes, I can barely look at this, it's so painful."

And that’s the start of something, right there. Because Steve talks about Tony’s father all the fucking time—okay, three times—and he acts like Howard Stark was the goddamn patron saint of Captain Americas everywhere. He’s full of wide-eyed wonder at how smart Howard was and how he built all kinds of amazing things and helped Steve out when he needed to save Bucky and blah blah blah someone pass the bourbon before Tony’s head explodes. And isn't it just great that Steve thinks Howard Stark was an all-around wonderful guy? Because Tony sure never knew that guy.

But now—now it’s Tony’s turn. He takes all the energy he’s been using to miss Pepper and alienate everyone he knows, and he channels it into making Howard Stark look like a goddamn amateur.

He builds Steve a fucking amazing boxing robot that jabs and weaves, and even learns Steve’s fighting style and uses it against him. In a nod to Slam Man, he puts some blinky lights on it, and a program that tracks how many punches Steve lands and either praises him or trash talks him accordingly.

Steve names it Sugar Ray, and when Tony hears that he says, “Sugar Ray Leonard! Great fighter!” and Steve says, “Um, Sugar Ray Robinson, actually,” and Tony says, “Yes, right, of course.”

Steve develops what Tony thinks is a bit of an unhealthy attachment to his new robot BFF, and is heartbroken when Sugar Ray finally meets his match in the form of Mjolnir. Thor is uncharacteristically meek when he brings the pieces to Tony with a plea to “please resurrect our mighty sparring companion, for the Captain’s sorrow weighs heavy on my heart.”

And thus Sugar Ray 2.0 is born, and he’s even faster and more of a smart-ass than the first version. Three minutes into the first test run, Sugar Ray catches Steve with an uppercut and launches him across the gym, where he lands on and destroys the elliptical trainer no one uses. Steve bounces to his feet, grinning, and says, "He’s perfect!"

~*~

Tony’s on his way to California (where he used to live with Pepper, he can't help but recall every fifteen minutes or so) for a short, boring business trip when he sees the news story about the auction, described as a "treasure trove" of sports memorabilia, and there's one item that catches his interest. He makes a phone call, and it's delivered to the house in Malibu two days later, which gives Tony something to think about other than how much he hates the house in Malibu now.

He calls Steve as soon as he lands in New York. As the phone rings, Tony amuses himself by picturing Steve pausing Cupcake Avalanche in order to take the call.

"Hello?" Steve says, sounding a little puzzled. That's weird.

"Hey, it's me, I just got back from California. What are you doing?"

After what feels like an overly long pause, Steve says, "Tony?"

"Yes, it's Tony," Tony says, slightly annoyed. "Don't you know about caller ID?"

"Ah, your name didn't come up. Sorry."

It takes Tony only a few seconds to put it all together. "Did Clint help you set up your contacts?"

There's yet another long pause that says it all. "Yes," Steve finally says, with all the reluctance of someone who knows he's dropping the dime on a buddy. "But I'll change it."

"What'd he put in there for me? What comes up when I call you?" And has he really never called Steve before? In all this time?

"It's not important," Steve says hastily.

Tony knows Clint well enough by now to make a couple educated guesses. "Is it a picture of Donald Trump? Richie Rich?"

"I don't know who it is," Steve admits. "I just know it's not you."

Tony decides to let it slide. It's not like he won't have a chance to find out later. "Fine," he says. "Anyway, I'm hungry. You want to get something to eat?" This is a sure bet, because Steve's pretty much always hungry.

"Um, sure," Steve says, but there's no missing that he's a little bewildered by the invite. It probably is a little weird. Tony doesn't think he and Steve have ever just hung out before, the two of them, other than when they happen to be in the same room at the house.

"Great. Where are you?" Tony asks, mind already ticking through dinner options. If Steve’s over at SHIELD there’s a great steak place, but if he’s at home there’s that tapas restaurant…

Steve says, "I'm at home."

Tapas it is. "Okay, I should be there in a few minutes." He's just about to get into the helicopter. "Tell Clint I want to talk to him."

"No, I meant—I'm in Brooklyn," Steve says.

For a second Tony is aggravated and, okay, yes, maybe a little hurt that Steve doesn't consider the house he lives in with Tony to be "home." Not everyone lives there full-time. Thor is sometimes at Jane's and sometimes off the planet entirely. Bruce and Betty seem to be sticking this time, so he's not around as much, either. Tony chooses not to contemplate what Natasha does when she's away. And yet...this bugs him.

Plus, there's little chance there's a helipad on the roof of Steve's building. Tony'll have to drive over.

"Okay, so, what's your address?" he asks, trying not to sigh. He'll deal with Clint later.

The building is on a nice block, a sturdy old brownstone that looks like it was last updated sometime in the 1960s and so probably seems freakishly modern to Steve. He has to climb the stairs all the way to the fourth floor.

Steve answers the door almost before Tony can finish knocking, looking like he just took a shower. He's dressed in scrupulously pressed khaki pants and a button-down shirt, and his hair is wet and combed perfectly. Tony is inexplicably glad to see him.

“Hi,” Steve says, and then stands there for a second like he’s not sure what to do.

Tony doesn’t even try to play it cool. He bounces on his toes and then pulls his hand out from behind him back, presenting the little Plexiglas box with a flourish. "I got you something."

"For me?" Steve reaches for it with a bit of—reluctance? That can't be right. He frowns at it for a second, and then his eyebrows reach for his hairline. "Is this--"

"Yep," Tony says gleefully. "A genuine 1940 Brooklyn Dodgers ball, signed by a bunch of the Dodgers, even the crappy ones." It's yellowed and scuffed, probably was an actual game ball.

Steve's surprised, for sure. But not....happy surprised. "I saw this on the news,” he says. “You bought this? Tony, this cost a lot of money." He stares at it in dismay.

Tony feels his short-lived and very expensively-purchased good mood start to deflate. "What's wrong?"

"I can’t accept this," Steve says, and tries to hand it back to him.

Tony doesn't take it. "Are you giving me back my gift?" He's absolutely astounded. This has never happened to him before. He pushes it away, back toward Steve.

“Yes, I am. Thank you, but I don’t want it." Steve tries to make him take it again. He looks almost angry. Tony pushes his hand away again, a little more firmly this time.

"Okay, what's the problem here? I bought you something I thought you'd like." Tony had actually thought it was a completely brilliant idea. Steve has talked about the Brooklyn Dodgers often enough for even Tony to pick up on it. And the ball is a big deal—he had to outbid two other rich guys to get it.

"It's too expensive," Steve says flatly. “I can’t accept it.”

"And I have a lot of money, so it doesn't matter. I bought it for you because I wanted you to have it. Just take it." Tony can't believe they're arguing about this.

Steve shoves the box up against Tony's chest, where it clacks against the arc reactor through his shirt, and then lets go of it. Tony has no choice but to catch it before it hits the floor.

"You can't buy friendship, Tony," Steve says.

The words are like a slap, and Tony can't help the way he jerks back a little. “That’s an interesting interpretation of a base—“

“It's not just a baseball," Steve cuts in. "You think you can buy people with expensive presents, that you can be a jerk and then make up for it later by spending money, and I guess in a lot of cases that might be true. But not this time.”

Tony is rarely genuinely insulted, because most of the accusations people hurl at him are completely true, but he is offended down to the very depths of being right now. Maybe he has been a jerk, but Steve was a jerk, too, in the beginning. More than once.

"Here's some news for you, Rogers. If I were trying to buy your friendship, I'd say the seven million dollars in boxing robot technology I've built in the last few months means you're mine—signed, sealed and delivered. This," he says, holding up the box, "is nothing. So don't get your red, white and blue panties in a twist about a goddamn baseball."

Steve's jaw drops. Literally drops open. Then it snaps into an angry scowl and he shuts the door in Tony's face.

Tony stands there for a second, utterly stunned by how quickly things went bad, and just how bad they went.

He walks the length of the hallway, which ends at someone else’s apartment door, and then walks back. This is not what he wanted. He’s had a couple of pretty intolerably depressing days in California, all by himself in a house that’s haunted by the ghost of his relationship with Pepper. This was supposed to make him feel better. He’s pretty pissed it hasn’t.

Fuming, he paces the hall a few more times, the corner of the box digging into the palm of his clenched fist. But he's never been the type to stay mad, and he doesn't think he can stand working with angry Steve again (he hated that guy), and after a couple more back-and-forths his mind automatically goes into problem solving mode.

He takes a deep breath, squares his shoulders, and knocks on the door. There is no answer. “Steve?” He knocks on the door again. “Steve, can you open the door so we can talk?”

Steve doesn't even come to the door, just shouts, “GO AWAY,” from somewhere in the apartment.

Tony pulls out his phone and punches up Steve's cell number. Inside the apartment, he hears Steve’s phone go off. The ringtone assigned to Tony’s number is “Big Spender," which is the last thing either of them needs to hear right now. That fucking Barton. Tony’s going to--

"AND DON’T CALL ME," Steve yells.

The phone continues to ring, and Tony continues to talk to Steve through the door.

“Steve, come on. We got off on the wrong foot, but—“ in his ear, Steve’s voicemail greeting starts droning away, politely informing him that Steve Rogers is not available (a blatant lie) but sure is disappointed he’s missed Tony’s call (another blatant lie: he is avoiding Tony’s call) “--if you can let me in, let’s just start over okay? Let’s just—“

He hears the beep and switches to talking into the phone. “Okay, come and open the door and let me at least explain or justify my stupidity or dust all your vinyl records in apology or whatever. Because I’m really hungry and would like to get dinner and we have a reservation. Call me back or, or open the door, or…call me back.”

Tony hangs up and stares at the door. Nothing happens. He calls again, and this time it goes right to voicemail, and he never hears a single note of “Big Spender.” Steve has shut off his phone. The phone Tony gave him, with Tony's last name emblazoned on the logo. He won't talk to Tony on Tony's own phone.

Fine. He’ll just leave another message. He waits out the irritating greeting again (Lies! All lies!) and this time goes with, “I’m really sorry. Please let me in?”

He hangs up and stands there staring at the carpet for a second. Should he try again? Yes, he decides, because he’s stubborn and it’s not like he has anything better to do. Just as the voicemail picks up, he hears a noise behind him and turns around, phone still pressed to his ear. The door across the hall is open a crack, a little old lady peering cautiously at him through the opening. Her short hair is brilliantly white, and she's wearing a quilted housecoat of the style Tony hasn't seen since sometime in the 1970s.

“Hi, how are you? Tony Stark,” he says, as Steve lies like a rug in his ear. He holds out his hand.

She reaches out into the hallway and shakes it. Her hand is like a little bird claw. “Miriam Greenwalt,” the old lady says.

“Nice to meet you, sorry for the, uh, disturbance. I'm just trying to call your neighbor, Steve. You know him?” Miriam noticeably brightens at the mention of Steve’s name and opens her door a little wider. Prompted by the beep, Tony says, into the phone, “Steve, Miriam and I are out here and we want to talk to you.” Then he hangs up.

Miriam’s nodding at him. "I know Steve. He’s a very nice boy. He's gone a lot of the time, he travels for business," she says, a massive understatement.

"Uh, yeah, we both do, actually," Tony tells her as he calls Steve’s phone again. “So tell me, Miriam: is he always this unreasonable?”

Miriam looks, Tony thinks, slightly indignant on Steve's behalf. "No, not at all. He’s very sweet and polite. He carries my trash out for me, and sometimes we watch movies together. He loves old movies."

And that is when Tony realizes this woman is Steve’s contemporary and that kind of blows his mind. They probably hang out and reminisce about pushing a hoop down the street with a stick, and how much they love wool mittens and penny candy. Jesus Christ, what is Tony doing here?

Steve’s voicemail beeps again, but this time Tony ends the call instead of leaving a message. “Okay, this isn’t working,” he says, because sometimes stating the obvious helps.

“Maybe he isn’t home,” Miriam suggests.

“Oh, he’s home," Tony mutters. "He’s home. He just won't answer." He rubs his hand over his face. "God, I need a drink.”

“Oh, well,” she says, smiling at him. Her eyes are bright blue and just a little, Tony thinks, mischievous. “You’re in the right place, dear.”

~*~

“I don't get what the big deal is,” Tony slurs, splashing more of Miriam’s homemade hooch into a Ronald McDonald glass, “I like to spend my money on other people. Does that make me a bad person?”

"Of course not," Miriam says, and pats his arm.

"See! I knew it!" Tony barks, and slams his hand down on the table. "He's so full of shit."

He takes a swig from his glass and waits for the burn to pass before he picks up the ballpoint pen next to his arm—A pen! How quaint! Old people are so hilarious!—and goes back to sketching out a couple small improvements for Miriam’s still. Not many, though, because it really is a work of art, he has to give her that.

“Though it depends on what you expect in return, I suppose,” Miriam says, and takes a not-so-delicate sip from her own glass. She’s been pacing him drink for drink, but still looks like she could pass a field sobriety test with flying colors. Tony, on the other hand, is fucking hammered. He has to lean his head on his free hand just to keep it halfway upright.

“Well, sometimes I just want sex,” he admits. He’s been here a couple hours and already knows first-hand very little is going to shock Miriam. “But sometimes I want to help someone, or make them happy.” And then, because that makes him sound a little nicer than he actually is, he adds, “Or piss someone else off.”

Miriam holds out her glass for a refill, which Tony happily and somewhat unsteadily provides. “I think it's very sweet of you to buy things for your friends," she tells him. "But if he doesn’t want you to spend money on him, you can't make him accept your presents. You'll have to figure out what he wants instead.”

He points the bottle at her. "That," he says, "is a very excellent idea." Then his elbow slips and he almost bashes his face on the table.

“The poor thing works so much,” Mabel says. “I think he would appreciate just staying home for once. My husband was always rushing from a meeting to the airport and then to another meeting. I’m sure Steve gets tired of that, don’t you think?”

“Mmm,” Tony says noncommittally. It's become increasingly clear over the last few hours that Miriam has absolutely no idea who Steve is, or Tony either. He finds it sort of refreshing. He can't remember the last time he had a conversation with someone who didn't have any expectations or pre-conceived notions of him.

"I imagine he would like to just stay home and have dinner sometimes," she suggests. "I’m sure he gets tired of eating in restaurants all the time. My husband always said the best meals were the ones we ate at home together."

“I bet they were, Miriam,” Tony says, and he’s not being sarcastic at all.

She holds out her glass again. “Now step to it, you’re falling behind,” and he says, “Yes, ma’am,” and reaches for the bottle again.

~*~

“I think I need to go,” Tony says, after a few minutes during which he may or may not have dozed off face-down on Miriam's table. "I can't drink any more," he admits, which is possibly something he's never said before in his life—he's never met the bottom of a bottle he didn't like. But he’s already starting to get a headache, that’s how powerful this shit is, it comes with the hangover pre-loaded. He really has to leave now.

Getting his arms into his suit coat proves to be beyond him, and his cuffs are flopping around and getting in the way, so he abandons that idea and shoves it under his arm instead. He manages to fish his tie, still knotted in a loop, out from under the kitchen table, and drop it down over his head. Good enough.

He drains his glass on the way to the door, and he only walks so slow out of courtesy, because Miriam uses a walker. It's not at all because the floor suddenly seems very uneven. He promises to visit her again, and makes her promise to set some of her deadly booze aside for him.

At the door he hands her his empty glass and takes her by the shoulders. He practically has to bend down to do it.

“Miriam," he says, with absolute sincerity, "you’re a treasure. You should be in jail for that stuff you’re brewing in your closet, but luckily I happen to be a big supporter of entrepreneurship, and you, my dear, are a true entrepreneur.” He gives her a loud, smacking kiss on the cheek and stumbles out into the hall.

Steve’s door is still right there, still irritatingly closed.

He manages to shuffle over and prop himself against the wall with one arm while he knocks with the other. Nothing. He tries to get his phone out, but can’t quite remember where it is, and all the movement makes him a little unsteady, so he rolls across the door and slides down onto his butt. God, his head hurts.

He reaches up and tries the doorknob—why didn’t he think of that before?—but it’s locked. He resorts to pathetically flapping his knuckles against the door, because it seems like too much trouble to knock.

"Steve? Steve, I’m sorry, okay? I’m just—I’m an idiot who doesn’t know any better and I screwed up and your neighbor tried to kill me with bathtub gin and—“

The door opens behind him, and he falls backwards into Steve’s apartment. The back of his already aching head hits the floor with a painful thud. “Ugh. Ow.”

"What the heck?" Steve says, which is, hands down, the closest thing to a swear word Tony has ever heard him say.

Tony rolls his eyes upward until he starts to feel the strain in his eyeball ligaments or whatever keeps your eyeballs from just falling out of your head, until he can see Steve, who is standing over him, looking upside down and surprised to see him.

Tony can't help it. His mouth insists on grinning up at Steve, even though Steve is really bad at accepting presents. Even completely awesome, enormously thoughtful presents.

“What are you doing here?” Steve asks. Then the fumes must hit him, because his nostrils flare and the disapproval wrinkle Tony knows so well makes another appearance. “Are you drunk?

“It’s all their fault!” Tony protests, pointing across the hall. Or up at the ceiling or—his orientation is a little off at the moment. “Granny Moonshine and Ronald McDonald. Why are you covering your face? Are you crying? Don't cry—okay, stop laughing, this is not funny, I’m seriously about to die of alcohol poisoning--”

“Shhh. Get in here before you wake up the whole building,” Steve says, and grabs him under the armpits and hauls him to his feet, where Tony sways a little and somehow his face finds its way right into the crook of Steve’s neck, which is a warm, welcoming place, but Steve doesn’t let him stay there. He hustles him into his apartment—which is dark, he must have been asleep—and practically flings him onto the couch, where Tony slouches into the cushions and rubs the back of his poor head. His headache seems to have expanded exponentially since he left Miriam’s.

“I always knew clowns were evil. I'm gonna kick that hamburger-shilling jerk's ass,” Tony says darkly. Somehow that doesn’t seem revenge enough. “And buy all his restaurants.”

Steve walks away for a second to close the door and retrieve Tony’s coat, lying sad and abandoned in the hallway, and when he comes back he turns on the lamp right next to Tony's face.

"Oh, God. Please, don't," Tony whimpers, and flips his tie up over his eyes. He feels like his skull is shrinking and his brain is expanding, and that is a very, very bad combination.

Steve sighs and then there is some more light switch clicking and walking around and finally Steve comes back. Tony can feel him looming over him, even through the tie.

“Don’t stand over me and stare,” Tony says, trying not to slur too much. “It gives me a rash. I’m serious. I’ll start itching any second now.”

"Were you over there drinking with Miriam this whole time?" Steve asks.

"You wouldn't let me apologize," Tony says petulantly, as if that explains exactly why he had no choice but to get sloshed with Steve's little old lady neighbor. He moves his tie enough to expose one eye, opens it experimentally. The light isn't so bright now, just a gentle glow coming from a small lamp on the other side of the room, so he gingerly opens the other eye, too.

Steve's standing in front of him, looking sleepily annoyed. He's wearing old-fashioned pajama bottoms and a T-shirt with a picture of Thor on it. The shirt doesn't really fit him, it's kind of tight and a little short. Too small for him, like almost all his T-shirts, like Steve Rogers has never gotten the hang of buying clothes for Captain America’s body.

“How’s your head?” Steve asks, as he reaches around to check for himself. Tony makes an attempt to push Steve's hands away, but Steve is super-powered and Tony is drunk, so it's a bit like a kitten batting at a Rottweiler. "Stop, let me see," Steve huffs. "You're being a child."

Steve sure is being bossy, Tony thinks. This is how he gets when there’s a problem for him to fix. It feels like Tony’s always someone’s problem.

He sighs heavily, just on principle, but closes his eyes and obediently tips his chin down, lets Steve gingerly feel the back of his head.

“It’s nothing,” Tony says, then, “Ow, stop,” when Steve finds a tender spot. "Unless you've found some bone fragments sticking out of my brain, I think I'll survive."

"This could just be a lucid interval," Steve says worriedly, which is a phrase right out of the emergency medicine class they all had to sit through, which had seemed to only ratchet up Steve’s already exaggerated view of how frail regular human beings are. Tony’s about to remind him that he's not made of spun sugar, but then he remembers Bucky and Peggy and Erskine and everyone else Steve knew who is dead and gone forever, and it suddenly seems a pretty well-founded belief.

“Does your head really hurt that bad?” Steve asks, looking into his eyes. Checking his pupils, probably.

“Yes, because I just drank the little old Jewish lady version of Everclear and then brained myself on your floor," Tony explains, with what he feels is admirable patience. His entire head feels like it's throbbing in time with his heartbeat. "A little sleep and some Advil, it’ll be like it never happened.”

“I don’t have any Advil.” Right. Super healing. Duh. “I’ll see if Miriam has some,” he says, and he’s out the front door before Tony can protest.

He comes back a few minutes later with an old fashioned ice pack, one of those weird rubbery blue bags with a giant lid on the top, and a glass bottle of aspirin that's probably older than Tony. It has three dusty pills rattling in it.

“She offered you some of her prescription arthritis pills, but it didn’t seem like a good idea,” Steve says. That actually sounds like a great idea to Tony, but he settles for the ancient aspirin.

Steve gets him a glass of water, and Tony downs the aspirin while Steve's in the kitchen filling up the ice pack, which he makes Tony put on his head, quelling his protests with a stern look. Tony leans back and closes his eyes and waits for something—the aspirin, the ice, a miracle—to start making him feel better. He's been waiting for that for a long time.

He hears Steve move around the apartment for a few minutes, doing God knows what, shining his medals or whatever, and then Tony feels the sofa dip, and a few seconds later he hears the sound of paper rustling.

When he turns his head and cracks an eye, Steve has a pad of paper on the arm of the couch. He's writing—no, he's drawing--something. Tony remembers that from the comic books, but he'd thought it was just another fictionalized detail, he had no idea it was real, even though he's lived with Steve for months now. Tony decides he's a horrible person for not noticing that. He’s not sure why that bothers him all of a sudden, when he's known it about himself for years.

Steve glances at him, then goes back to his drawing. “You’re going to feel terrible tomorrow.”

“I already feel terrible,” Tony says. “Your 95-year-old girlfriend just drank me under the table. It’s humiliating.”

Steve laughs, though it looks like he's trying not to. “She gives that stuff to everyone in the building. They all know better than to drink it.”

"We need to introduce her to Thor," Tony says. And he means it. It will be unbelievable.

His arm is getting tired from holding up the ice pack. Actually, his whole body is getting tired from holding up his giant, pounding head. He lets himself slump over sideways on the couch. It’s too small to stretch out completely, so his feet are hanging over the arm and the side of his face is mashed up against Steve's thigh. Steve’s pants smell good, like laundry detergent and patriotism or something. Steve doesn’t move his leg, or push Tony away, so Tony takes that as an invitation to stay.

He wiggles until he's a little more comfortable, neck not pinched at a weird angle, and closes his eyes, but he can't get the ice pack right, no matter how awkwardly he bends his arm. After Tony fumbles it around for a minute, Steve takes it from him and gently presses it to the back of Tony's head, and holds it there.

It’s a little thing. A little, stupid thing, but it makes Tony's throat feel tight, and he suddenly misses Pepper so damn much he's not sure he'll ever be able to stop. He waits it out, feels it subside a bit, focuses on the scritch scratch of pencil on paper until it’s gone.

This technically isn't a thing two straight guys would do, Tony thinks, but he's too drunk and miserable to care. Plus, he's only about 92% straight anyway. Steve, on the other hand, is probably 150% straight, minimum, so together they add up to almost two and a half straight guys. When you look at it like that, this is practically the least gay thing Tony's ever done.

Tony feels himself relax for the first time in days, weeks, maybe since Pepper left. He starts to drift, eyes wanting to slip closed, and this is always the most dangerous time, because he feels exhausted and vulnerable, and if he opens his mouth, anything might come pouring out. Which is exactly what happens.

“Why don’t you like me?”

The scritching stops for a second, then starts up again. “I’m trying to like you, Tony. You’re just making it very hard.”

Tony is barely conscious, but he feels the need to defend himself just the same. “That’s not true. I’m a very likeable guy. A lot of people like me,” he mumbles. Then honesty compels him to admit, “Actually, a lot of people put up with me because I’m Tony Stark.”

“You’re probably right,” Steve says, which Tony thinks is kind of rude. He could at least pretend to disagree.

“Sorry about the baseball,” Tony says. What the hell, might as well just let it all out.

“I’m sure you can sell it to someone else. Or donate it,” Steve says. “I bet a charity—“

“I gave it to Miriam.”

Tony kind of wishes he could see Steve’s face right now, because he bets he just shocked the hell out of him. “Are you serious?” he asks after a few seconds.

“Yep. She loved it,” Tony says, and doesn’t try very hard to keep the accusing tone out of his voice. Miriam had been a big Brooklyn Dodgers fan back in the day, even dated a few of them before she met her husband.

“Well. That’s. Very nice of you,” Steve says, like he still can’t really believe Tony gave a $300,000 baseball to a woman he barely knows.

“It’s a new thing I’m trying,” Tony says. He’s just going to sleep right here, he decides, if that’s all right with Steve. So comfy.

“Tony,” Steve says. When Tony doesn’t answer—too busy trying to pass out, sorry—he moves his leg just enough to jostle Tony’s head. “Tony.”

Tony makes a noise that might indicate he’s listening.

Steve says, "I didn't know Sugar Ray cost that much money, I would never have asked you to spend—“

“No, no, I didn’t actually spend that much,” Tony hurries to explain. “It’s just that my time is very expensive.”

"Well, I’m still sorry. I didn’t realize—I just thought it would be a good thing for the team to--"

"I didn't build him for the team,” Tony says. "I built him for you."

Steve doesn't say anything. At some point he stopped working on his drawing. It's so quiet Tony can hear a clock ticking somewhere in the apartment.

Tony, with great effort, manages to shift around so he can look up at him. Steve helpfully lifts the ice pack away. “I mean, they can use him,” he clarifies, because maybe Steve doesn’t understand. “Anyone can use him, whatever. But I made him because you wanted him.”

The look on Steve’s face is sort of the one Tony imagined he’d see when he gave him the baseball. “Well, thank you, then,” he says, and smiles down at him. It's sort of a tentative, restrained smile, but still a smile.

Well. He might have gone about it the really hard way, but Tony feels like his mission has finally been accomplished. "No problem."

Steve’s still looking down at him, head tilted thoughtfully. Then he clears his throat and says, “I better call you a cab.”

"Don’t need a cab," Tony says scornfully. "Happy’s outside."

“Are you serious? Happy’s been outside my building this whole time?” And now Steve is irritated with him again. God. "You just left him sitting in the car for five hours while you got drunk with Miriam?"

Tony flicks a hand. “Eh, he’s used to it. Most of his job is waiting for me. Sometimes he drives me places, but mostly he just waits for me.”

Then Steve does something totally shocking: he shoves his hand into Tony’s pants and starts groping him, and that snaps Tony out of his stupor pretty quickly.

"Yeah, good idea," Tony mumbles. "Though your timing sucks, I’m drunk off my ass and hey, hey, that’s a little rough, and you’re not even close to paydirt—oh, I was looking for that," he says, as Steve pulls Tony’s phone out of his pocket.

Steve puts it in Tony’s hand and says, in his best Captain America voice, "Call him."

Continued in Part 2
Tags: abengers!, fanfiction: steve rogers/tony stark
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