Captain America didn’t panic. Serum-enhanced national treasures usually didn’t, and good for them because Steve Rogers⸺soldier, punk, plucky kid from Brooklyn⸺definitely was. Panicking, that is.
He thumbed tensely through the video feed on his Starkpad. A panoramic view of every common area in the Tower was right there at his fingertips, and some not-so-common areas were just a passcode away. In addition, he had access to satellite feeds and other methods of surveillance that walked a thin line Constitution-wise, but none of them really solved his problem.
“Anything?” he asked FRIDAY.
'Negative,’ replied the AI.
“Oh jeez, still?” Steve asked in a voice that might have been called a whine if someone who was not him were describing it.
“Captain, I’m doing my best,” FRIDAY protested. “A full building scan takes time, y’know?"
“Limit it to my recorded locations.” he commanded brusquely. “Last 48 hours."
“You didn’t authorize me to record your movements within the Tower,” said FRIDAY, and Steve figured he probably deserved the smug undertone behind her serene professionalism.
He closed his eyes and slumped back in his seat anyway. “Goddamn it."
Steve snapped his eyes open at the wry tenor, instantaneously flipping the Starkpad over. He found himself face to face with Tony, much like a deer in headlights. It was not a good look on him, and Tony’s brow rose in predictable confusion.
“What are you doing?” Tony asked, and lightweight that he was, Steve could already feel his face grow warm.
He made a valiant effort nonetheless. “Nothing.”
“Oh, because it totally sounded like you were arguing with my AI,” Tony folded his arms now. He loomed, and Steve really had no other choice but to notice how he was dressed to spar— cutoff shirt, hand wraps, trunks that hugged his waist just right... “And losing."
While Steve battled his sudden case of dry mouth, Tony continued. “Come on, what’s making America’s golden boy swear in the presence of a disembodied lady?”
“I lost my wallet,” Steve admitted.
Tony looked skeptical, but didn’t actually say anything about it. He rattled commands off to his AI instead, “FRIDAY, order replacements for Cap’s charge cards and report his IDs as lost.”
“Already done, boss,” FRIDAY replied, more pleasantly than she’d done for Steve.
“Done,” Tony echoed. He flashed Steve a thumbs up. “Mission accomplished?”
Steve tapped his fingers on the Starkpad. “My wallet is still missing, so no.”
“Then, let’s order a wallet. You ok with leather?”
“Tony, no.” Steve shook his head. “I don’t want a new wallet, I’m going to find my old one.”
And that’s the thing about Steve: he may be a terrible casual liar, but he was made to get out of potentially ruinous situations that might threaten the very structure of the team.
He stood and clasped Tony’s shoulder. “Because I’m a weird old man, remember? Let me live.”
Steve managed to pull off a mostly casual stroll to the elevator to head up to his suite. He smiled genially at Tony through the doors while pressing the button to his floor, and Tony stared back at him with undisguised suspicion.
Steve held his smile for the eternity it took for the elevator doors to close, and slumped back against the wall as soon as they did. Why was he like this?
The next morning, when his wallet was officially missing for 12 hours, Steve commandeered the Avengers weekly standup to enlist some help. It was perfect cover since Hawkeye and Bruce weren’t phoning in; there was no weird raven reporting on Thor’s behalf, and most importantly, no indication that Iron Man was going to break his perfect record of never attending a single one of these. Hiding in plain sight⸺this is why Steve was a master tactician.
Also, since he would be asking them to cancel whatever plans they had at eight o’clock in the morning, Steve let Natasha pick refreshments and agreed to meet in a place of Sam’s choice. Naturally, he found himself wedged between the two in Stark Tower’s rooftop jacuzzi, sharing a box of donuts and drinking sangria before noon.
Sam wiggled his toes and squinted at the sun from behind his sunglasses. “More missing persons?” he asked. “This guy got a metal arm and an attitude, too?”
“Not a person,” Steve corrected. “My wallet.”
“Your wallet,” Sam echoed. “Slow crime day, if the Avengers are assembling for a wallet.”
“No,” Steve replied abruptly, then more calmly. “No assembling; we keep this between us. Need-to-know only.”
“Ok…” Sam grabbed the last Boston creme from the box and licked it to protect it from Natasha. “Hey, do you still carry that picture of Stark around with you?”
Steve sunk a fraction deeper into the jacuzzi so the warm, foaming water lapped at his throat. “Kind of.”
Natasha laughed. “That’s cute. So last century, but cute.”
“Yeah,” Sam agreed. “You don’t even have a copy saved on your phone?”
“I do,” Steve grumbled back. “But the one in my wallet is still out there somewhere, where anyone can find it. Look, I’m not forcing you guys to help⸺”
“Come on, man, don’t mope,” Sam nudged at Steve’s calf with his foot underwater. “We’re just wondering, as friends do, why you haven’t told Stark how you feel. He’s single, you’re single; and now that you guys aren’t measuring dicks anymore, it can’t hurt to go out on a date or two.”
Steve stalled behind a long sip of his sangria. It was a good drink even if it wouldn’t get him buzzed, but it didn’t have a magic answer to Sam’s question, either.
“We’re not fighting,” Steve agreed slowly. “But it’s touch and go, y’know? Last thing I want to do is throw off the team...balance.”
Sam didn’t look convinced. “You know it’s creepier to carry a picture around like that, right?”
“Only if Tony finds out,” Natasha said, which Steve gratefully followed up with, “Which is why I need to find my wallet before someone else does!”
They didn’t need to see behind the shades to know Sam was rolling his eyes.
“You two are...so well-adjusted,” he sighed, diving back into the safety of booze and donuts. “Seriously, if I ever call you guys for advice, assume I’m a Skrull.”
“Good morning, kids!”
Everyone startled at the voice coming from the far side of the jacuzzi. Iron Man hovered into view and the faceplate flipped up, so Tony stared back at them in open curiosity. He eyed the nearly empty box of donuts on the hot tub rim, the pitcher of sangria tucked into an insulated floating drinks holder, and finally at the three Avengers. Steve suddenly became hyper-aware of his splayed posture, but naked except for swimshorts and his favorite neck floatie didn’t exactly lend an air of professionalism.
“Tony!” he greeted instead. “What are you doing here?”
“I showed up for the weekly,” Tony replied. “but the conference room was empty and FRIDAY mentioned you all were here.” He smirked at Steve. “Forget how to update the calendar, Captain, or is this not that meeting?”
“Oh no, we’re still meeting,” Sam replied quickly before Steve could make up something painfully unconvincing. Then, traitorously, he moved away from Steve and nodded at the newly cleared space. “Take a seat.”
“Really,” Natasha confirmed smoothly. “We were just going over cyber security protocols.”
Tony grinned. “Oh, just my thing,”
The armor touched down on just beyond the hot tub, and the shining carapace unfurled. Tony stepped out of it with the usual seamless grace that only came from supreme confidence in his own creation. Not for the first time, Steve found himself marveling at the sheer genius, but then to his aroused consternation, Tony began to strip.
His shirt came off first, revealing a tanned torso, one definitely more cut and powerful than it looked under his clothes. Steve understood this because he was an artist, of course, with an eye for form and mass, although that didn’t explain his sudden, perverse curiosity as to whether Tony would be wearing underwear once he shuffled out of his yoga pants.
As it turned out, he needn’t have worried on that end. Tony was wearing briefs. Tight black ones, certainly, but they were there, thank god, because master tactician or not, Steve didn’t have a plan for dealing with a naked Tony lounging beside him in a hot tub.
As it is, he was fighting a blush and the butterflies in his stomach when their team genius stepped in next to Steve with an ironic little greeting of, ‘Capsicle’.
Completely to oblivious to the effect he was having, Tony made himself at home in his own jacuzzi, curling his arms over the rim so his right extended behind Steve’s back and his left behind Sam’s. If Tony didn’t stop squirming so blissfully under the warm water, Steve thought frantically, he was going to have a hard time in more than one sense of the phrase.
Luckily in the meantime, Nat had actually launched into a spiel about secure comms and text messages, which kept everyone’s libido pretty well in check. The problem only arose when she brought up the topic of government email servers and Tony got all up in her face for daring to compare their shoddy security to his.
He did this by leaning over Steve to gesticulate wildly, flinging water everywhere and letting his bare body bump up against Steve’s equally bare flank in the throes of passionate argument. Natasha argued back, but given the lack of conviction in her tone, Steve suspected she wasn’t trying to win more than she was trying to get a rise out of Tony.
Ok, maybe that wasn’t the best phrase to use, but it wasn’t inaccurate as Steve helplessly stared at the side of Tony’s head, where small droplets clung to the dark hairs at the nape of his neck and occasionally slipped down his shoulder and heaving pecs…
“Calm down,” Steve interrupted, hysterically unsure whether he was telling Tony or his own dick. “I think you’ve made your point. Government routers don’t make downloading any safer.”
“Finally!” Tony said. He didn’t sound pleased, but at least he wasn’t practically draped over Steve’s lap anymore, so the chances of a real boner were—
“But what about VPN?” Sam piped up innocently.
Steve stared at his friend in disbelief as Tony swallowed the bait and whirled the other way with an indignant, “Wilson, you know that’s not how it works!”
Another farcical debate began and this time, Steve felt his breath hitch as Tony’s ass directly wedged against this bare thigh and, wow, those were some really form-fitting underwear...
While he suffered in silence, Natasha reached around Steve’s elbow and took the last donut. Behind her, the Iron Man stared back in impassive judgement.
On Tuesday evening, Steve signed into his weekly conference call with Thor and Bruce. There was an interesting friendship. Nobody had been surprised when Tony whisked Bruce away to bond over science, but it quickly became apparent that Thor not only had better insight into the kind of science that Bruce liked, but also lent a broad and supportive shoulder when it came to the whole uncontrolled rage monster aspect. A couple stories about berserkers casually slipped in at the right time, and Bruce discovered the one Avenger he didn’t have to worry about Hulk-ing out and hurting.
As he listened to Bruce talk, Steve thought about how, for all that he knew about the longevities and loyalties of friendship, he’d underestimated the virtues of plain old peace of mind.
Behind Bruce, Thor rolled into the frame on a razor scooter, followed by a doughy, defeated-looking man holding a small golden urn. Thor beamed when he caught sight of Steve.
“Aha!” he declared, and pulled a 180 on the scooter so fast that the man trailing him nearly smacked into Thor’s broad chest. “You say I do not have a job? Explain that!”
“My friend from work, whom you know as the Incredible Hulk,” Thor pointed at Bruce first, then he jabbed his finger at the screen. “and that is our fearless leader, Captain America. Steve Rogers, meet my roommate, Daryl. D, Steve Rogers.”
Steve raised a brow, and mimicked Bruce’s tentative wave. So this was Daryl. When Thor first mentioned a flat and roommate in Australia, of all places, Steve admittedly hadn’t given it much more thought than he did stories about wild bilgesnipes or the Ginnungagap, but now, well, it was nice to put a face to the email address from which he’d been receiving irregular and rambling updates about Thor’s life down under.
He should go to Australia, Steve mused, travel for something other than work. He felt himself smile as he pictured leaving the shield to Sam, and foisting Wanda and Vision on Natasha, while Fury and Hill howled in protest at Captain America trading in his uniform for board shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. He’d book a flight with a decent civilian airline and dream about crystal clear waters and beachy sunsets while his Avengelings’ waved their handkerchiefs in farewell.
Of course, the only problem was that he’d be leaving Tony behind, too. Steve’s brow wrinkled at the thought of Tony rattling around in Stark Tower by himself. Who’d bring him snacks in the lab and treats for his bots? Butterfingers especially was growing fond of getting bits of arcane, analog tech whenever Steve visited...
“You took troubled, my friend,” Thor stated. “Your lips are drawn, and your face, pinched like a squalling babe. Is there something amiss in New York?”
Steve watched Thor’s imitation of his face in mild alarm, and considered denying that anything was wrong, but then, Bruce also chimed in. “Not the way I’d have put it, but he’s not wrong, Cap. You’d call us if we need to assemble, right?”
“Of course, I would,” Steve assured them quickly. “And no need to assemble, I just lost my wallet the other day and I’ve had a hell of a time looking for it.”
“That sucks,” Bruce sympathized. “FRIDAY can replace your cards and IDs, right?”
Steve nodded. “Yeah, but that’s not the point, really.”
“It is your cash, then,” Thor guessed. “Worry not, if you require rent money, I shall send you some.” He upended Daryl’s urn so bright golden coins spilled across the desk. “Asgardian gold; each of these is worth a gazillion of your human dollars.”
Daryl looked pained. “I told you, nobody will exchange that.”
Steve made a frustrated noise of his own, not because he was particularly invested in the exchange rate between US Dollars and Asgardian space gold, but because his woes had nothing to do with money.
He said as much, and Bruce put on his thinking face. “I mean, what else is in a wallet?”
“Condoms!” suggested Thor. The coins jumped when he smacked his fist on the table. “A loyalty card for the bar of blow drys? Or a snack of cheese and savory ham!”
“Let’s go with that,” Steve quickly agreed before the suggestions became any more outlandish. Truth be told, he could use a fresh perspective on his missing item, but he knew better than to ask outright. Daryl was listening, and while it was one thing for their close-knit team to know he carried a torch for Tony Stark, but he wasn’t about to spill his business to a stranger and make work for SI’s PR team.
“So, let’s say this ham...has sentimental value.”
At that, Bruce and Thor exchanged a knowing look. Daryl’s expression compounded to pained and baffled.
“You’re gaga over a ham?” he asked in a tone which made Steve suspect he was quite over the myth of superheroes.
“Have a care how you speak to our friend, Daryl,” Thor warned mildly. “Captain America carries a ham in his wallet, true, but he does not eat it because he is afraid that though the ham is delectable and a very fine cut indeed, it still might disagree with him.”
“How…” Daryl wet his lips. “How does he know that?”
Steve watched Bruce scratch his head. “Well, he and the ham kinda disagreed before.”
“So, you’re just going to leave it there?” Daryl frowned. “Won’t it go bad?”
Steve figured the metaphor had gone too far at this point. Thor just shrugged. “We are immortal,” he said. “The pain of…disagreeable ham smarts a long time. Perhaps, it is best to wait for it to cure some more.”
Ok, the metaphor had definitely gone too far. Even Bruce was making his experiment-failed face, but before Steve could change the subject to something less stressful, Daryl stared fiercely into the webcam.
“Actually, even if I were an immortal, I reckon I wouldn’t wait,” he said, then steamrolled on because yeah, fuck superheroes. “Look, it sounds like you’re pretty attached to this...ham, and yeah, you might find another ham at the market tomorrow, but it won’t be the same as this one, will it? I guess what ‘m sayin’ is: life goes on, but you don’t find a good ham everyday. So, best get your act together before someone else takes this one; isn’t Captain America s’posed to be brave and what not?”
“Um.” Steve stared back speechlessly. Bruce took his glasses off to clean them, which he often did when he witnessed something impressive. Thor beamed proudly, but he still took pity and offered, “And if that fails, friend Bruce has been working on a way to travel back in time.”
Steve must have looked pretty eager, because Bruce was quick to deny it. “Theoretically,” he said. “There is currently no feasible way to actually time travel.”
A notification at the edge of his computer caught Steve’s attention. Someone was requesting access to his office and FRIDAY helpfully tilted the entryway camera to reveal Tony. Steve smiled while granting access, feeling a usual surge of glee at the prospect of spending time with Tony, even if he’d spent the last few minutes referring to the man as a ham.
“Guys, good talking to you, but I have to go,” he told the webcam. Then, Steve smiled kindly at Daryl, “And about the Asgardian gold...contact your local SHIELD office, son.”
The Avengers had been a team for the better part of two years, yet Steve could only count a handful of times he’d seen Tony completely relaxed. The man had a sixth sense for being observed, and he could go from zero to PR masterpiece in no time at all, so it was a rare thing to catch him in ‘off-mode’.
Steve spared one eye to the latest proposal to upgrade his shield, and kept the other on Tony. He was laid out over the length of Steve’s couch--one of those microfiber numbers that didn’t look comfortable to sit on, but was good for a power nap or two. His dark tanktop was wrinkled and his hands were grease-stained as he scratched thoughtfully at his beard.
When he sensed Steve watching, he turned and asked, “Really, a roommate? What, did Thor take an ad out on Craigslist or something? Why didn’t he just ask me to arrange a place?”
“He wants to experience Earth,” Steve replied, swiveling back and forth on his office chair because Tony’s mood was catching. “What so bad about that? He’s not living in the trenches.”
Tony rubbed his eyes momentarily. “It’s bad PR,” he complained. “Thor’s an Avenger, not a broke grad student. And what kind of a name is Daryl? Anyone do a background check on the guy?”
“I did,” Steve answered immediately, unable to help the proud uptilt in his voice. “Daryl buys a few more lottery tickets than he really should, but no signs that he’s a HYDRA sleeper.”
Tony looked skeptical. “Trust no one without a dark side, remember?”
Steve rolled his eyes. “I forwarded it to Nat for a double check,” he said, and wondered if he should be insulted at how quickly Tony brightened again.
“That’s a relief,” Tony said, then shrugged. “No offense, Cap, but FRIDAY tells me you rage quit the CyberSec module I prepared for you.”
“I didn’t rage quit,” Steve countered. “I just...we had emergencies.”
Tony smirked. “You know, there’s no shame in asking for help, Capsicle. There’s a trick to these newfangled encryptions.”
Steve fiddled with a nearby pen and pretended to consider, even if he welcomed the chance to spend more time with Tony in close quarters. “You’d do that?”
“Of course, I would,” Tony replied. “Tell you what, I have a few hours open tonight, so if you wanna come by at 8…”
Steve winced. “I’ve plans tonight. Dinner with Sharon.”
“Oh,” Tony nodded and sat up on the couch. He scratched at an oily smear on his wrist. “Another time then, just have your people talk to my AI.”
He was smiley enough, but seemed more subdued than before. Steve nearly offered to cancel his plans when Tony looked up again.
“Hey, you find your wallet?”
Steve resisted the urge to fidget nervously. “No, I’m still looking.”
“Ok, why?” Tony demanded, pitching forward curiously. “What’s so special about a wallet? Brooklyn diner won’t give you the early bird special without your AARP card?”
“Hilarious,” Steve deadpanned. “I have other important things in there.”
“Analog stuff; not quite up your alley,” Steve gave what he hoped was an easy grin, and stretched in his chair to relieve the jitters. God help his team if their lives ever depended on him keeping a secret under direct pressure from Tony.
For his part, Tony was staring back at him, expression strange. If Steve didn’t know better, he might have called it appreciative, but he did know better, so he braced instead for a retort from a man offended.
But Tony just exhaled through his nose and ventured to ask, “Is it, uh, anything to do with Peggy?”
Steve raised his brow, taken mildly aback. “No,” he replied softly. “It’s nothing like that, Tony, I meant it’s sentimental.”
“So, you can replace it,” Tony prodded.
“I guess,” Steve allowed, biting his lip. “But this is something I got right the first time I went for it-- that makes it rare. Um, for me.”
“Wow, I’ve got shivers,” Tony heaved himself off the couch and ran a hand through his hair. “Literally zero clues, but shivers.”
Steve bowed his head in a laugh, then looked up fondly. “I know, but I do appreciate that you care, Tony.”
“Yeah yeah,” Tony muttered, albeit indulgently, and tapped Steve’s shoulder on his way out. “Stay weird, old man.”
Later that night, Steve met Sharon in a modern speakeasy that was somewhat busy for a week night. Still, they’d managed to find a quiet spot in the corner and were hunched over a couple of beers, a basket of fries, and the ugliest mugshot ever taken. Seriously, how was HYDRA still claiming to be a master race when their latest lieutenant looked like a syphilitic thumb with tiny eyes?
Steve dutifully glanced at the entrance, nevertheless, because they were here on good intel and taking this asshole down would make his otherwise shitty week.
“I’m impressed,” Sharon was saying as she munched on a fry. “I mean, yeah, it’s “wrong", but someone successfully pickpocketed Captain America⸺I should be offering them a job.”
“You don’t have proof that I was pickpocketed,” Steve told her sullenly, chasing a bit of sriracha mayo on his fingers. “I probably just misplaced it while distracted.”
“Distracted,” Sharon snickered. “Was a certain billionaire philanthropist flexing in the vicinity?”
“Genius billionai⸺,” Steve started to correct her without thinking, then closed his mouth in panic. Quickly, he inventoried people entering the bar: two guys in sports jerseys, a goth kid, and three women wearing identical red saris and flowers in their hair. Not a thumb among them, thankfully. But still!
“Sharon, you can’t just say that here!”
She shrugged. “And you can’t commandeer SHIELD resources for stuff you just misplaced.”
That...was a fair point, but nobody ever said Captain America never came prepared. “What if the situation compromises the Avengers?”
“How does a crush on your teammate compromise the Avengers?”
“It was one thing when I had Peg’s picture inside my compass; a soldier keeping his best girl close was normal, not a thing wrong with it,” Steve mopped up the last of the sauce with his fries and thought while he chewed all six of them at once. “But with Tony, there’s PR to think about, and you know how little information it takes to ruin someone these days.”
He shook his head as images of lurid web articles and plummeting stocks charts did a macabre sort of conga through his brain. “Tony’ll hate me. The team splits, taking sides, and it’ll be too weird to work together anymore and poof⸺ no more Avengers.”
Steve raised his brow pointedly, only to catch Sharon staring back at him baffled. “What the actual hell, Rogers?”
Before Steve could respond, however, the door to the speakeasy slammed open and The Thumb walked in, flanked by two henchmen.
“Confirming by facial recognition,” Sharon said crisply. “But this is not over, Steve. Wherever you’re getting these batshit ideas⸺ “
“Batshit?!” Steve protested, surreptitiously reaching under the table for his shield.
Sharon readied her gun. “You know what, Aunt Peg always told me two things: don’t put things off, and don’t think for others.”
Steve watched as the Thumb seated himself at a barstool in front of the TV, and sighed fondly to himself, because yeah, Peggy believed in giving people a choice, even if she ended up with the short straw sometimes.
Still, he glanced dryly at Sharon and asked, “Is this where you encourage me to confess my feelings?”
Sharon smirked, hand on her gun and eyes on the Thumb, who was now snarling at the news. “Actually, I can appreciate you being cautious,” she said. “But, Steve. Neighborino. You’d better not be holding back because you already made Stark’s decision for him.”
As if on cue, the TV switched to an image of Tony speaking into a mic. The Thumb shouted something obscene and threw his beer bottle at the screen, which resulted in surprisingly less chaos than Steve anticipated. Mostly because almost all the other patrons had also drawn weapons.
“Stand back!” Sharon barked first. “I’m Agent 13, with SHIELD!”
“You stand back!” the goth kid from earlier countered over his Sig 226. “CIA!”
“Homeland Security,” announced one of the three sari ladies, flowers tumbling over her shoulder. “Sorry, kid, this one’s ours.”
“Like hell,” Sports Jersey man snapped. “FBI’s been on this for months!”
Steve wearily turned to the bartender, “And you?”
The bartender steadied his own pistol and shrugged. “Sir, I am a private, tax-paying business owner with second amendment rights…”
Of course. Steve closed his eyes and cursed inwardly. So much for a satisfying night.
Even after pulling rank, affiliation, and feigning hanger to slip out of the ensuing battle over jurisdiction of the Thumb, Steve still only managed to get home at around three in the morning. The fact that he was already in civvies saved him a trip to the armory, but he did run into Tony as he made his way to the suite elevators.
They stared at each other for a bit, obviously trying to extrapolate where the evening might have taken them. Tony was dressed in expensive business casual⸺ dark jacket and slacks accented with certain pastels he seemed to favor these days. Steve, on the other hand, felt self-conscious in sweat-stained sports bar get-up and messy hair. The skirmish with the Thumb had also left him with bruises, which were still healing in pink splotches across his jaw and neck.
Tony gave him a once over and commented, “I take it dinner was good?”
Was it? Steve thought about his evening, and bristled at the implication of four intelligence agencies blindly converging on one throwaway henchman and tipping off actual high profile targets in a hundred mile radius.
“It was certainly something,” he said with a rueful smile. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love the action. And Sharon, she’s...well, she and I happen to be very good at action.
Tony raised a brow just as the elevator slid open. “Uh-huh...”
“But call me old fashioned, and you know, you do,” Steve playfully bumped Tony’s shoulder with his own. “but I wish we’d all sit down and talk about what this means in the long-term.”
Tony raised his brow as the elevator doors slid open. “I...that’s,” he took a deep breath while they stepped inside and punched the buttons to their respective floors. “So, it’s really serious?”
Steve snorted, because after his disaster of an evening? Yeah. “I’d say it’s pretty damn serious, Tony. We can’t live divided like this.”
Tony immediately folded his arms across his chest, looking troubled. “Wh...um, what about the Avengers?”
Steve considered. Outwardly, it did look like the Avengers tagged along with SHIELD. Their status was pretty ambiguous internally as well, which meant SHIELD would try to make decisions on their behalf and Tony was right to be concerned about that.
“Absolutely, I’ll have to think about it,” he agreed. “We all know SHIELD’s definition of liaisoning is a bit skewed.”
At the moment, the elevator opened to Steve’s suite. He gave Tony a quick salute as he stepped out, but Tony still held the doors open. “Listen, Steve,” he called, and Steve turned back. “Not saying it won’t be hard, but nobody’ll stand in the way of a good thing. We trust you and, y’know...we’ll be there for you. And all that jazz.”
He couldn’t help it, Steve positively beamed at the thought of seeing to his team’s best interests with Tony at his side. Now more than ever, he was determined to do what it took to clear their path, so Tony’s sharp wit and genius could build great things on it.
“Thank you, Tony,” he said breathlessly. “Have a good night.”
Tony stepped back into the elevator. His smile was lopsided and jerky when he whispered back, “Night, Steve.”
When Wednesday morning rolled around, Steve didn’t see hair nor hide of Tony. He ate breakfast alone and went to debrief with Phil only to find out that Tony had emailed his update instead of attending. Three texts went unanswered, and when he asked FRIDAY to make a call, the AI informed him that her boss was on lockdown in his lab and that a huge chunk of Steve’s own day was blocked off for an outreach engagement.
At 11 o’clock, Steve found himself struggling into his old uniform, which he he was sad to discover had not been mercilessly burnt months ago. It made him look like a cartoon, but the production team deemed it ‘child-and-adolescent-friendly’; not like his current uniform, which was just proficiently hostile, Captain Rogers, we’re talking to kids, not terrorists.
Fine. He’ll wear it, Steve decided, but he wasn’t going to like it, even if nobody seemed particularly concerned about his opinion anyway. As Steve fumbled with his zipper behind the scant privacy screen, producers, technicians, and PA’s scurried about the studio in a chaotically organized
swarm that made the air thick with tension.
On a nearby folding chair with his codename emblazoned on it, Hawkeye lay back, sipping cucumber water through a crazy straw. He turned and peeked over his shades when Steve came out.
“How do I look?”
“You’re asking me?” Clint feigned shock and awe. “Captain America wants my opinion? Gol-ly!”
“Clint.” Steve rolled his eyes and plopped into his own chair. The uniform fabric squeaked and strained, but valiantly held together. “I said I was sorry.”
“Still hurts, Cap,” Clint replied and sipped more cucumber water. “How do you get advice from Thor’s weird roommate before you come to me? I’m an actual retrieval specialist!”
“To be fair, I didn’t ask for Daryl’s advice,” Steve pointed out. “But I am asking you: Hawkeye, can you please get my wallet back?”
Clint made a face. “I didn’t say that.”
Steve sighed and took a sip from his own water bottle, carefully so he didn’t ruin his makeup. “Great, back to Plan A, then.”
“What’s plan A?”
“Praying for it to turn up?” Steve sniffled lightly, and wiggled his fingers inside stiff, scarlet gloves.
Clint aimed a kick at his calf. “Ah, don’t mope, Rogers,” he said. “You asked if I was going to get your wallet back, and the answer to that is no. But I’ll tell you where it is.”
Steve cast a suspicious glance to the side. “How do you know where it is?”
Clint whistled. “So many questions, and all of them wrong. Listen, just promise you’ll go in and get it yourself. No hiding behind ‘Tash or Sam, none of that sneaky-sneaky.”
“I’m not negotiating till I know the intel’s good, Clinton.”
“You had twenty dollars and fifty-nine cents, a visa credit card, a picture of Stark from the Expo last year, and about ten receipts from Fro-Yo Mama,” Clint smugly rattled off the contents of Steve’s wallet, then leered knowingly. “That’s interesting; wouldn’t have pegged you for such a fan of frozen yogurt.”
Steve pursed his lips. “Where is it?”
Surprisingly, Clint replied without extra commentary. “It’s in the Tower, Cap. Go home after this and find today’s copy of the Times. In it, there’s an article by a Ms. Huggenkiss. Read every third word and follow the clues.”
“Seriously?” Steve groaned. “Why do this?”
Clint shrugged. “You’d be disappointed if I didn’t.”
Before Steve could rattle off all his disappointments, however, somebody called out from the middle of the set. “We’re ready for you, Mr. America.”
Steve leveled a last, displeased look at Clint and took up his cowl. God, he looked even stupider with his glorified stocking pulled over his head. Still, he quickly managed to school his features, paste on a winsome smile and straddle the chair provided because he’d been assured this was how the kids did it these days.
“So,” he compassionately said to the camera. “Your bodies are changing...”
It took a special kind of writer to create a teleprompter spread equating the super soldier experiment to puberty. Steve was impressed, learned a few new things, and yet he still left the studio in polite haste because there were whispers about USCIS wanting in on the PSA action, and he was in no mood to stand before a backdrop of the Statue of Liberty and talk about being an ‘immigrant of time’.
Steve went straight back to the Tower and parked his motorbike in the expansive garage. “Is Tony out yet?” he asked hopefully.
“Sorry, Captain, but no,” FRIDAY replied.
Steve mumbled a disappointed thanks and took the elevator up to the communal floor. As he zoomed up to the topmost floors of the Tower, he wondered if he’d missed something during their conversation last night. Steve had never asked Tony about his evening; he’d been too caught up in the idea of them settling the future of the Avengers together. The thought made him smile even now, but he couldn’t imagine why Tony would go into lockdown all of a sudden.
For a brief, wild moment, Steve wondered if it was because of the wallet situation; if Tony was insulted at Steve keeping petty secrets from him all while proposing that they co-lead the team. His gut clenched uncomfortably, because Tony Stark wasn’t stupid, and he would have noticed Steve whispering with the rest of the team. Somehow, he managed to alienate Tony with the very strategy he was following to not alienate Tony.
Stepping out of the elevator, Steve scratched nervously at the back of his neck. The living room was empty, but bright with natural light, and immaculate from a recent visit by the maintenance staff. Couch cushions were rearranged tastefully, coasters replaced in their holder, and on the coffee table was a neatly folded copy of the Times.
Steve flipped through it skeptically, but lo and behold, there was indeed an article by the person Clint mentioned. Amanda Huggenkiss, hilarious. And to top it all off, it was a critic’s review for a movie about⸺ Steve checked the title twice⸺ mobile phone emojis. Incredible.
Following Clint’s increasingly ridiculous clues led Steve to Tony’s lab, right after a useless tour through the helipad, a server closet, and a trophy room he hadn’t even known existed. Once down there, he stood desperately at the entrance, pawing and waving until Tony himself told him to piss off over the intercom.
“I’m really busy, Steve.”
“That’s ok,” Steve replied quickly. “I’m here to see Butterfingers. Won’t bother you at all.”
Tony didn’t reply, but a good 15 seconds later, the doors whooshed open and Steve hurried in. He spared a smile for Tony, who was watching him curiously, but true to his word, he made a beeline for the bot in question. Butterfingers greeted him with happy, inquisitive chirping. Its arm swiveled enthusiastically in Steve’s direction, clearly hoping for a treat.
“Not today, fella,” Steve told it. “I have it on good authority that you took something of mine the other day.”
Butterfingers actually jerked like it was taken aback at the accusation. Then, Tony chimed in to ask, “You accusing my robot of theft, Rogers? Do I need to get his lawyer on the phone?”
“No, I’m sure it was an accident,” said Steve. He turned back to Butterfingers and looked into the blinking panel that he thought of as its eye. “I didn’t bring you anything when I was here to discuss upgrades last week, so you thought my wallet was a treat, right?”
A moment passed in which nothing happened. In the corner of his eye, Steve saw Tony push his goggles up onto his head to observe, and he really hoped he didn’t look like a complete tool, bantering with a robot.
Luckily, Butterfingers retreated to a corner of the lab and extricated something from a pile of other textile scraps. It came back with Steve’s wallet clutched carefully in its arm, and dropped it in his hands with a series of sad beeps.
“Sorry,” Steve said soothingly. “but stuff in my pocket’s off limits, ok? Promise, and I’ll bring you some nice original transistors next time.”
Butterfingers chirped excitedly at that, and Tony snorted. “You’re a sucker for nostalgia, you know that?” he told the bot.
Steve laughed softly and triumphantly waved his wallet. Tony made an ironic gesture of applause. “Great job, detective Capslock. Guess life goes back to normal now.”
Steve caught sight of his forced smile and deflated. “About that,” he ventured. “Tony, can we talk? I’ve been an ass this week, and I’m sorry, but believe it or not, I thought I was doing the right thing.”
Tony frowned. “What?”
Taking the question as an invitation, Steve wandered closer and lay his wallet on the table between him and Tony. He flipped it open and slowly slid out the polaroid nestled in an inner pocket. It was slightly faded, but it was unmistakably a picture of Tony in a bespoke suit, leaning over to watch something obviously fascinating because his eyes were wide with wonder, and his expression almost loving.
“Is that me?” Tony asked, voice nearly a whisper.
Steve swallowed. “Yeah, um, Stark Expo 2016. You were watching a demo and it was the first time I’d seen you look so..I don’t know, open. I mean, you’re usually watching out for cameras or the paparazzi, but not here and I couldn’t help it, I…um.”
Tony dropped his face into his hands and Steve trailed off. Perfect. He was a creep and Tony was embarrassed. Steve just began to contemplate finding the nearest block of ice to crawl back into when Tony looked up, eyes wide and mildly haunted.
“I thought you were leaving the Avengers to be with Sharon.”
Steve startled. “What? Why would I⸺” he began, then remembered the night in the elevator. Ok, yes, he could see how that might have been misconstrued. He hurriedly shook his head and said, “No, Tony, that was something else. Something we need to talk about, sure, but it has nothing to do with me leaving the Avengers for Agent 13.”
Tony took a deep breath, like a drowning man taking his first gulp of air. He scrubbed his face again and said, “Good. Good, ‘cause I was...not taking that well.”
For the first time, Steve looked out over the workbench where Tony gestured. It looked like a tornado had gone through the place; fragments of tech strewn everywhere, prototypes lay buried under their own electric viscera like someone messily gutted them to painstakingly rebuild again. “Oh.”
“Yeah,” Tony agreed. “Turns out it hurt more than I thought. I mean, do you ever feel something, but you let it lie because why not, you have time. But then, life moves on, and next thing you know, you’re in the fucking elevator at 3AM and the guy you want to build a team with is giving you his 2-week notice, and⸺”
“Tony,” Steve breathed in to steady his own breath, because his brain was having trouble reconciling what Tony said to what he’d convinced himself Tony would say. Nevertheless, he placed his hand over their engineer’s on the table, and felt it shake under his palm. “It’s ok. Really. I understand.”
Tony narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “What, you have a weird obsession with this group of misfits too?”
“Do I⸺ you have no idea!” Steve exclaimed, unable to stop the sheer happiness inside him bubble up as delirious laughter. “The Avengers are my home, Tony, all I want is to make this team the best it can be. With you. God, especially with you.”
Tony stared back at him, possibly for the first time, speechless. “Well, shit,” he managed to sigh. “How did we miss that?”
“Because I’m an idiot!” Steve declared, rolling his eyes. “I’ve been mooning over a picture when I should have been listening to the real deal.”
“And I hid in here to lick my wounds instead of fighting for you,” Tony mumbled. He slid his hand out from under Steve’s and intertwined their fingers together instead. “We’re both hopeless, but we got this far, somehow.”
Steve looked up and met warm, brown eyes that shone just as hopefully as his own. “We did,” he agreed. “We did, and I can’t wait to see how much further we can go, but…well, you should also know that I don’t carry your photo ‘round cause I admire you.”
Tony made a strange noise. “Admire me?”
“I like you too,” Steve admitted. “Very much. I know it’s a lot, even in this day and age, and you’re a public figure, too.”
“Uh-huh,” Tony said. “But let’s get back to the part where you like me...and want to raise the Avengers with me?”
Steve felt his lips pull into a stupid grin again, like this thought would forever fill him with joy. ‘Raise the Avengers’, god, did Tony have a way with words.
“Yeah,” he nodded. “That about sums it up.”
Tony held his gaze and leaned forward just imperceptibly. “And you’re willing to kiss on it?”
Steve immediately felt his cheeks heat. Barely hearing himself over the sound of his own pounding heartbeat, he said, “Yes, Tony, I will kiss on⸺”
Ah. Steve’s breath caught when Tony’s lips touched him, and he closed his eyes, savoring their proximity, the stubble scratching his mouth. Instinctively, he bought one hand up to caress the side of Tony’s cheek. It was a chaste kiss by any standards, but it was happening. At long last, it was happening.
Steve leaned his forehead against Tony’s when they parted, unwilling to give up the touch he’d spent so long pining after. He thumbed at the hairs at the nape of Tony’s neck, then leaned up to kiss the crown of his head.
Tony drew his fingertip down the photo of himself, which had started this whole thing in the first place. “What was I even looking at?”
Steve examined the lines of fascination and reverence etched into the picture. “The future, if I had to guess.”
“Well, wouldn’t that be something,” Tony replied casually.
When he met Steve’s eyes again, however, his skepticism had already melted into something softer, more wondrous and promising.
Whatever it was, Steve was charmed to note that it matched the photo.