In an unprecedented turn of events, we are unable to bring you the weather forecast as the city is experiencing an… unusual weather behaviour in hundreds of thousands of localized areas. The weather seems to be changing at great speeds in very small areas in a way that some would describe as erratic and even impossible.
# # # # # #
“Good morning, Tony. It’s now eight A.M. The weather in New York this morning in your specific location is 70 degrees with scattered cloud cover. You have visitors waiting in the lounge.”
Tony blinked languidly at the floor-to-ceiling windows, watching as their opacity faded away to translucence, providing him with a view of cloudy gray skies and the grassy field outside. He stretched, taking his time to come fully awake before rolling out of bed.
“Visitors?” Tony asked.
“Peter and Harley,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. said, her voice serene as ever.
Tony headed for his bathroom, feeling a little disoriented. Peter and Harley had recently met at the Stark Industries’ R&D labs, where they started their internship. But they had never turned up at the Avengers compound together before. They weren’t friends to begin with, and Peter only ever came here on Spider-Man business while Harley had never been invited to the Avengers facility.
There was something else that F.R.I.D.A.Y. had said earlier which niggled at the back of Tony’s mind. He couldn’t quite work it loose, so he decided to clear his head with a quick shower and shave, run through his usual morning routine. Maybe that would get him back on track.
Half an hour later, he stood in front of his walk-in closet, baffled.
“How exactly did this happen, F.R.I.D.A.Y.?” Tony asked, staring with confused consternation at his completely empty wardrobe.
F.R.I.D.A.Y. sounded a little less unflappable this time. “There seems to have been a malfunction with one of the cleaning bots. It has taken all of your clothing for a cleaning.”
“All of it?” Tony asked, a little faint. He had a lot of clothing.
“All of it,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. confirmed with some worry as well. “Except for that small pile that the cleaning bot had returned with earlier.”
The small pile was located on Tony’s bedside table. He didn’t know why he hadn’t noticed it earlier, but he unfolded the clothing now. Of course, with the way his day was going, they weren’t the best of his outfits. They were so ratty that he wasn’t even completely sure that they belonged to him.
A pair of sweatpants and a hoodie. That was it. Not even any underwear here.
But beggars couldn’t be choosers, and Tony had unexpected visitors to tackle.
“I want to see that cleaning bot later, Fri. Better check what went haywire,” Tony said, voice slightly muffled as he pulled the hoodie over his head.
“Will do,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. confirmed.
Maybe the cleaning bot was pulling a DUM-E. The cleaning bots didn’t tend to have as much self-developing artificial intelligence and personality so it would be a bit of a surprise if one of them had gone rogue. He definitely needed to check what happened and at the very least, reassign it to some other task. He couldn’t have all his clothes constantly disappearing from his wardrobe.
He looked at himself in the mirror. He was wearing a loose fitting dark hoodie and threadbare sweatpants. He could even see a little bit of his knees and thighs through the sweatpants, wow. Not his best look, but he could get some new clothes delivered if he needed to leave the Avengers facility later today.
Tony headed downstairs to the entertainment area, spotting Peter and Harley sitting on each end of a long couch, as far apart as possible.
“There should be an alarm for when we get invaded by teenagers,” Tony said as he walked into the room. “Some kind of whoop-whoop sound that gives us all time to hide.”
Harley rolled his eyes. “It’s not like we wanted to come here.”
Peter raised his hand. “I wanted to come here.”
“Yeah, and why’s that?” Harley asked, slanting Peter a look out of the corner of his eyes.
“Because it’s the Avengers compound and it’s cool,” Peter pointed out, giving Harley a look of his own.
Harley sighed. “What a fanboy.”
Tony came to a stop in front of them. “Don’t front, Harley. You’re a fanboy too. You once said Iron Patriot was cool, which just shows you’re a fanboy with bad taste.”
“I grew out of it,” Harley said, but he was smiling.
Tony clapped his hands together and said, “Alright, one at a time. Why are you here? You go first, Harley, since you’re here against your will and we should address that.”
“It’s not exactly against my will… But I was just meant to go to the labs today, except Mister Daniels told me he needed some urgent paperwork to be delivered to you and sent me all the way here in a cab,” Harley explained, sounding put out.
“Gimme,” Tony ordered, pointing at the low table in front of the couch.
Used to Tony’s eccentricities by now, Harley dropped the large envelope on the table. Tony picked it up and flipped through the paperwork in the envelope with a deep frown.
“Important, but nothing he couldn’t send by courier,” he said. “I’m going to check out your story later, because you’re an untrustworthy scheming kid.”
“Thanks,” Harley replied with a shrug.
“Okay, now you. What are you doing here, Peter?”
Peter sent a quick glance at Harley, which meant this would inevitably be about Spider-Man, and said carefully, “You asked me to come here to debrief about my…internship. I have an appointment and everything. I’m just early by half an hour because Happy turned up at my doorstep pretty early today. I didn’t even get to eat my cereal.”
“Mister Parker is correct,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. confirmed.
“Hey, why don’t I get personal debriefing about my internships at the Avengers facility!” Harley interjected.
“Because Peter needs more handholding obviously,” Tony said. “And I thought you didn’t want to be here anyway.”
Harley grumbled, “It’s not about what I want. It’s about being fair.”
Peter muttered, “I don’t need handholding.”
Tony said loudly over them, “Anyway, now that we’ve got this unnecessary song and dance out of the way, you both go get some breakfast or something while I find coffee. Then Peter and I will talk. I’ll get Happy to drive you back after, Harley.”
There was a gleam in Harley’s eyes, as he made them really big and stared up at Tony from behind his messy wavy brown hair. “Since I’m already here…”
“Nope, you’re meant to be interning back at the labs, not wandering around the Avengers complex. You eat, then you skedaddle. I’m going to find Happy.”
Tony so did not need another teenager getting involved with the Avengers in any capacity. If he hadn’t been desperate at the time to bring someone with non-lethal but extraordinary stopping and capturing capabilities, he would have kept monitoring Peter from afar instead of bringing him in for that confrontation at the Leipzig/Halle Airport. He turned around and headed for the front door.
From behind him, he heard Peter whisper, “Hey, isn’t it a little weird that Mister Stark is dressed like that?”
“Yeah, it’s not even a band T-shirt. The last time I saw him dressed down like that, he was pretending he was dead and I had to get him my deadbeat dad’s clothes,” Harley whispered back, far too loudly for it to be by accident.
“Wow, he must have been in a pretty rough situation,” Peter said, clearly angling to hear more about this rock bottom period of Tony’s life.
Tony magnanimously decided to ignore them. He opened the front door, because Happy was probably hiding from the teens with the cars, only to run straight into an immovable wall and a splash of hot liquid against his chest. Tony stumbled backwards, hands coming up immediately in an instinctive repulsor-blasting movement only to freeze when he saw who it was.
The immovable wall turned out to be Steve Rogers, who was holding a half empty cup of coffee. Because he had just spilled the other half down the front of Tony’s hoodie.
“What the hell?” Tony said, gaping at Steve. He was so surprised that he barely felt the hot liquid soaking into his clothes.
Steve stared back at him, eyes wide. “Shit, sorry, Tony. I didn’t expect, oh crap.”
He ushered Tony backwards and pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket, because of course he carried a handkerchief around, and started trying to soak up the coffee dripping down Tony’s front.
Tony stepped back, hands up. “Woah, hold it. What is going on here? Am I hallucinating? Can you guys see him?”
Peter jumped up off the couch. “That’s, uh, that’s Steve Rogers. Captain America. I can see him too, Mister Stark. Unless… maybe we’re all hallucinating?”
“I’m calling the cops,” Harley said.
“Wait, why are you calling the cops?” Peter asked, bewildered, before hitting on an exciting new possibility. His voice went up with enthusiasm as he continued, “Oh, do you think someone’s attacking us? Maybe with hallucinogens? Woah, that would be so cool.”
“No, I’m calling the cops because Captain America is a fugitive from the law, and he’s standing right there,” Harley pointed out pragmatically.
“Oh, right. But you know, it’s Captain America,” Peter said a little doubtfully. “And all he’s doing is standing there with a coffee cup.”
Steve grimaced, keeping his eyes on Tony instead of watching the comedy duo at the couch. “I would appreciate it if you didn’t call the cops. Even if I did spill coffee on you.”
Tony sighed. “Belay that cop-calling, Harley.”
“So we shouldn’t call the cops when fugitives turn up now? You’re setting such a bad example, Mister Stark,” Harley said in obvious delight that contradicted his words, because he was a little shit.
“Ignore the background noise,” Tony told Steve, still glaring the whole while. “What are you doing here? How did you get here? Are you trying to get arrested?”
Steve said as he ticked off the points on his fingers, because he was a little shit too, “I wanted to talk. I flew here on a stealth plane. I’m not trying to get arrested.”
Tony crossed his arms, felt the gross wet fabric squish against his chest, and uncrossed them hastily. “What do you want to talk about?”
Without the extra commentary from behind him, Tony could finally focus on Steve who was standing in front of him in all his supersoldier glory. And what glory it was.
Steve was still in the Captain America uniform Tony had made for him so many months ago, and it was form-fitting as ever which Tony could only blame on himself. The uniform was lacking its symbolic star and silver stripes, obviously removed so as to be less recognizable, and the entire outfit had been dyed black like Captain America was going through a Goth phase. It was now dark on dark thick fabric with the sleeves folded up to reveal a broad band of corded forearms. To complete the look, he had on brown fingerless gloves, which Tony had no idea would even be appealing until this moment. Inexplicably, Steve still wore the harness for his shield even though he didn’t have his vibranium Frisbee anymore, although it certainly drew the eye to that broad chest and shoulders. Again, Tony only had himself to blame for this.
Since they last saw each other, Steve had grown a beard. Not just any beard, but a dark lustrous beard that looked soft and well-kept. It had to be coiffed by someone in a salon, no way was Steve’s beard so naturally luxurious and effortlessly tidy. Not a single hair out of place, and all his facial hair seemed to even be pointing in the same damn direction. His hair was longer than Tony had ever seen before, curling at the ends from where they had been slicked back.
He was a sight to behold.
He was excruciatingly attractive.
It wasn’t the first time Tony thought that, but this time, it was a real kick in the gut, with all that had happened between them.
For a moment, Tony also felt uncharacteristically self-conscious, standing there in his coffee-stained hoodie and worn sweatpants. He felt very badly put together in front of Steve, like Steve had spent the last few months away from the Avengers – away from Tony – having a great time, somehow becoming more attractive while he lived the high life in Wakanda and travelled the world, while Tony had been doing nothing but schlepping around in sweatpants, eating out of ice cream cartons.
Which didn’t make sense because that really wasn’t what happened. There had been a massive Christmas Eve party, which Tony had thoroughly enjoyed and soaked up all the attention as the charismatic host. Then there was Christmas which Tony had enjoyed on a smaller scale in Pepper, Rhodey, and Happy’s company, along with their family members.
There might have been one instance of eating an entire tub of ice cream while moping, but that was just that one time, and it was months ago anyway. It was an anomaly and its one-time occurrence was to be buried and forgotten forever, utterly irrelevant to Tony’s current line of thought.
Tony tuned back in to their current situation to see Steve staring intensely at him. He had to mentally rewind the conversation to figure out what he had missed. Thank god being a genius meant he never had to awkwardly ask someone to repeat themselves, unless he was being a jerk on purpose.
“You know what I want to talk about.”
“I don’t,” Tony said, a little belated. “After everything that happened, isn’t it obvious that talking is our problem? In fact, any interaction is our problem.”
Steve looked at him with a steady blue-eyed gaze. “Do you really mean that?”
Tony shifted so he was staring at Steve’s beard rather than his eyes. “I don’t think I need to repeat myself.”
The avoidance was enough for Steve to push forward. “Interaction was never our problem. Not talking, not actually talking about what was going on with each other, that was our problem. We’re in this position because we don’t talk enough.”
It was simplistic, but probably accurately portrayed the core that ran through all their problems, through the mess around Ultron, through what happened with the Accords.
But at the moment, fresh out of bed without his usual cup of coffee, dressed in hobo chic, Tony was feeling decidedly unready for any conversation. He wasn’t sure he could face the outcome of an actual honest conversation, to find out the truth that maybe, maybe Steve did all that because he just didn’t give a shit, and he just wanted to talk now to clear the air so they could maybe work together again in the future. The thought was enough to drive a shard of coldness into Tony’s belly, his fears slicing him deep and sharp enough that he almost lost his breath.
“This is kind of awkward,” Peter said in a low voice, but it was enough to cut through the thick tension and remind Tony of their presence, which was embarrassing.
Steve’s gaze flicked to Peter and Harley over Tony’s shoulder, before returning to Tony. “Could we continue this in private?”
Already feeling like he had been caught wrong-footed, Tony’s contrary nature flared up. “Nope. If you’re that serious, we can hash it out here.”
Steve jaw visibly tightened, but he said, “Alright then, let’s do that.”
Okay, that was a terrible idea. “On second thought, let’s not.”
“Look, don’t Tony me, I haven’t even had my coffee yet and you’re— Do you hear that?”
Steve shook his head. “Please, I just want to talk. No more games, no more avoidance.”
Tony rolled his eyes and held up a hand. “I’m not playing or avoiding. I hear something. Is that…is that music? F.R.I.D.A.Y., what the hell, now isn’t the time.”
F.R.I.D.A.Y. said serenely, “While my sensors detect sonic wavelengths, they are not emitting from my speakers.”
The music was getting louder, a swooping instrumental piece with long, sad notes from the violins.
“It’s kind of dramatic,” Peter said in bewilderment.
Sounding tense, Steve asked, “Is this some sort of joke?”
Tony shot him a dirty look. “I thought you wanted to talk, not come here to accuse me of pranking you or lying for some damn reason.”
“If it’s not you, then how can there be music playing in your facility without you knowing where it’s coming from?” Steve pointed out in frustration.
“It should be impossible, but it’s still happening, and I’m not the one doing it,” Tony said in equal frustration.
The music was building to a climax now, all quick thrilling notes.
Steve took a deep calming breath and said, “Alright then. If that’s the case, then we need to find out what’s going on first. F.R.I.D.A.Y., triangulate the source of the sound please.”
Tony almost wanted to cancel the order in a sulky fit, but it was a good idea. If only Tony had come up with it first.
After a short moment of hesitation, F.R.I.D.A.Y. said, “Source unknown. Captain Rogers, the sound seems to be emanating from…everywhere.”
“What?” Tony said, flummoxed.
“I cannot explain it,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. said, sounding uncharacteristically uncertain. “It seems to be emitting from the air itself. It is defying the ability of my sensors to pinpoint.
Harley piped up, “I think she’s right. It doesn’t seem to be coming from just one direction.”
Suddenly, the music passed its climax, and started to ease downwards, plinking piano notes going quieter again. Tony wondered what the fuck was going on, noting absently that at least Steve looked just as flummoxed as Tony felt.
“Guys, I thought I saw something weird earlier today but didn’t really pay attention to it. Ned just messaged me about it,” Peter said from where he was staring at his phone. He looked up with a frown. “I think we should turn on the news.”
# # # # # #
“ —strange reports from all around the city about impossible localized weather events—”
“ —snow around my house, while it’s sunny and hot around my neighbour’s. I don’t know, I think it’s the end of the world!”
“This music, has anyone explained the music yet? It’s really freaking me out.”
“—non-stop phone calls to the police, universities, even to politicians, to complain about the unexplained music that starts and stops out of nowhere. Is New York being besieged by a very dedicated prankster? The Police Chief says—”
Tony stared out of the window as Peter flicked through news channels. That was what had caught his attention earlier. During the morning greeting, F.R.I.D.A.Y. had referred to the weather in his specific location. That had caught at the back of his mind, but not enough for him to really pay attention.
Now, he stared outside at the cloudy gray skies right above and around the Avengers building. Just at the end of the driveway where the Avengers facility started, the sky seemed to have a straight line slashed across it and was a brilliant blue on the other side, all sunshine and not a cloud in sight.
It was disturbing.
“I arrived two hours ago and apparently the weather phenomenon only started an hour ago. I was so preoccupied with my thoughts that I didn’t even look up in the sky,” Steve said from beside Tony, staring out the window as well.
Tony said absently, “You were sitting outside for two hours? What for?”
Steve sounded wry when he said, “I was trying to come up with a good way to start a conversation. It might surprise you but my original strategy wasn’t to start off by spilling coffee all over you.”
“Was your original strategy to soften me up with coffee?” Tony asked, thinking about the coffee that he was wearing which he wished now he had a chance to drink. “Not a bad plan.”
“Except the part where I forgot about the type of crazy things that happen in our line of work,” Steve said with a sigh.
Tony rolled his eyes. “Even you couldn’t anticipate all of this. Anyway, I think my head hurts enough from trying to reconcile the image of the sky doing whatever it’s doing there. We should probably get to the bottom of this.”
Steve raised his eyebrows. “Where are you going to start?”
“Not me. There’s someone else who has probably started looking into this,” Tony said with reluctance, even as he pulled out his phone from his sweatpants.
Two minutes later, he was having a not very good conversation with Doctor Strange on loudspeaker.
“You’re telling me that a wizard who just went through a break-up made a wish on some magical artefact, while high on special brownies. He wished for all the broken-hearted or lonely people in the city to have a happy story, and the spell is now trying to produce happy endings as seen by said wizard hippie…which means Hollywood-style stories, with matching dramatic weather effects and background music in localized spots.”
Between Strange and this pothead, Tony was very unimpressed by the magic community so far. Why did a person like this have access to magical artefacts? Damn magic, there should be some kind of job interview before anyone was allowed to learn how to dick around with magic. Not making wishes while high should be a basic job requirement.
“It was a sorcerer, not a wizard. And the spell is adding embellishments to people’s day based on romantic Hollywood movies, because that was what the spellcaster sees as happy stories,” Doctor Strange explained in that special condescending way of his. “The magical artefact is strong, but the spell is simplistic. There’s no mind control or anything of that sort, and it’s not powerful enough to be dangerous, but it’ll increase the probability of…weirdness.”
“Weirdness. Because of how the spellcaster sees happy endings, which seems to be mostly based on his favorite Hollywood movies.”
“Yes, I think you got the gist of it,” Strange said.
“The gist of it is crap,” Tony announced with a great deal of disgruntlement.
And because Strange knew this kind of comments irritated Tony the most, he said, “We can’t pick and choose the gist of the truth.”
Tony made a face, even though Strange couldn’t see it, and said through gritted teeth, “Alright, how do we solve it?”
“You let it run its course. I know you’re annoyed, but it would require an exorbitant amount of energy to counteract the spell immediately. As it is, the spell will degrade by the end of the day.”
“Well, that’s unhelpful,” Tony said.
“Thank you, I do try,” Strange replied, and then he hung up, because he was the most irritating human being to ever walk the face of the planet.
Tony glared down at his phone. “I hate magic.”
Steve sighed and said, “I guess we have to wait it out.”
They both exchanged an unhappy look, shared exasperation conveyed with a single meaningful glance. Despite their conflict, they could bond over a mutual dislike of magic at least.
“I totally get it now,” Peter announced with audible excitement.
Tony and Steve turned around, but Peter wasn’t even talking to them. He was gesticulating at Harley instead.
“It’s a movie break up and romance!” Peter said.
Harley made a face. “What are you talking about?”
“Haven’t you seen those?” Peter asked, practically bouncing on the couch. “The main character goes through a terrible break up, and they’re really struggling with it, just slouching around the place in stained hoodies and sweatpants, depressed and falling to pieces, like they’ve let themselves go. Then they literally bump into their ex, who looks all well put together and happy with life.”
Steve protested, “We didn’t break up.”
“We weren’t together in the first place,” Tony pointed out the pertinent problem with Peter’s conclusion while shooting Steve a strange look.
“Right, yes, that too,” Steve said, avoiding his eyes while rubbing the back of his neck.
Tony frowned as he processed the rest of what Peter said. “And I’m not slouching around the place depressed and falling to pieces.”
“That’s true,” Steve agreed quickly. “You look fine, a pair of sweatpants isn’t going to change that.”
Tony looked down doubtfully at his stained and rumpled attire, but didn’t say anything because he wasn’t sure if Steve was being a troll or sincere.
“Then what? They get back together?” Harley asked Peter with great scepticism.
That gave Peter a pause. “No, there’s usually more involved. Usually a series of funny, embarrassing and moving events occur, before the main character discovers they don’t need no man and moves on to a fresh start in their lives or gets together with their true love who was someone by their side all along.”
Harley looked distinctly unimpressed. “Sounds boring for a movie plot. And I don’t see how we’re going to get to this supposed happy ending. There aren’t enough people here for this storyline.”
Which was when the doorbell rang.
“Oh, damnit,” Steve muttered under his breath.
Tony threw his hands up in pure irritation. “I didn’t even know we had a doorbell. How is anyone even getting right up to the door without us knowing? F.R.I.D.A.Y., we need our usual monitoring and forewarning system turned on here.”
“Unfortunately, my external sensors have stopped working in a localized area. I’m sure you’re surprised by this turn of events.”
“Fuck my life,” Tony said, pressing a knuckle between his brows.
The front door opened.
“Hello, is there anyone here? The front door wasn’t locked… Oh my god, Tony. What a surprise,” said Tiberius fucking Stone.
The tall blond man in what was likely an overpriced, tight polo shirt and form-fitting, probably tailored jeans stepped into the place like he owned it, blue eyes casually sizing up all the occupants. To make matters worse, a saccharine type of tune on some wind instrument started playing in the background.
“Get out,” Tony ordered, even pointing at the door for emphasis.
Tiberius didn’t even have the nerve to look affronted as he took several relaxed strides forward. “Is that any way to talk to your old friend?”
“No, it’s how I talk to old leeches,” Tony said. “Why are you here and how do I get you to leave?”
Beside him, Steve’s hand surreptitiously went to one of his pouches by his belt. Steve asked in a low voice, “Is he a danger?”
“A danger to society because he’s an asshole, yes. A danger to us, no. Please don’t hit him with anything regardless of what he says, Pepper really hates ceding any moral high ground to him,” Tony said, laying a restraining hand on Steve’s wrist.
“It’s not like I want to be here, you know. I was just following my car’s GPS and somehow, I ended up here. Is this where the Avengers are located? How about a tour, Tony? I was meaning to look you up one of these days,” Tiberius said with a charming, effortless grin.
“Sure, you need a tour right back to your car?” Tony asked, not bothering to disguise his disgust.
Tiberius pointedly stared at where Tony’s hand was still resting on Steve’s wrist, causing Tony to pull back his hand sharply. “It looks like I might have been interrupting something. I didn’t know you had a new squeeze. I haven’t heard anything in the news.”
In jarring contrast to Tiberius’ slimy tone, light-hearted music was still playing.
Tony stared at Tiberius. Did the man not recognize Steve Rogers aka Captain America. He looked at Steve again, and took in the uniform that had been dyed black and his longer hairstyle along with the new, dark beard. He still looked very much like Steve to Tony, except maybe with a deeper frown now, a set to his mouth that made him looked more tired, on edge.
But he still had that beautiful, sharp jawline, the penetrating blue eyes and the shoulders that never ended. How could he be unrecognizable to anyone?
But Tiberius had always been an idiot who could never see what was right in front of him. Maybe without the usual patriotic colours and a star in the middle of the suit, Steve was just any other random tall muscular man to Tiberius.
Tony shook his head. “You’ve only been here for less than two minutes and you’re already sleazing up the place.”
To his surprise, Steve spoke up, “Who I am to Tony isn’t any of your business. He asked you to leave.”
“Oh, as an old, close friend to Tony, I think it’s every bit my business,” Tiberius said with an insinuating tone.
From behind them, Peter said, “Huh, so someone from Tony’s past enters the story…?”
Harley added, “And from the music, it’s supposed to be some kinda cute reunion. But no way is this dude meant to be Tony’s true love.”
“I mean, I guess if he was Tony’s ex-boyfriend, he’s the one who got away?” Peter suggested.
Tiberius latched onto that, turning to Peter and Harley, “Oh, what’s this about true love and the one who got away?”
“He’s not the one who got away,” Steve interjected sharply, which was pretty odd since Steve had no idea who Tiberius was. Then Steve looked to Tony, eyes wide and almost plaintive. “He’s not, right?”
Tony rubbed at his forehead, feeling the frown lines beneath his fingers. “He’s the one I tried to get rid of numerous times, but he keeps coming back like a bad smell.”
“You used to date this guy?” Steve asked, disbelieving.
He knew it couldn’t be homophobia, because Steve had known about Tony’s bisexuality all this while, but he still felt a little judged by the narrow stare directed his way.
“I was young and stupid, alright. And he was…there.”
Steve’s eyes unthawed from icy chips. “No, you don’t have to explain yourself. I didn’t mean anything by that.”
“Oh come off it, Tony,” Tiberius said, turning back to them. “You leapt straight into my arms. You were so eager to please back in M.I.T., and I know you never really got over me. You’ve even replaced me with an inferior model.”
“What?” Tony said blankly.
Peter whispered, “Tony’s true love is kind of an asshole.”
“Yeah, I didn’t expect that,” Harley whispered back. “I thought Tony would prefer being the only asshole in the relationship.”
Steve cleared his throat and said loudly, “That’s not his true love.”
Tony turned his incredulous stare from Tiberius to Steve instead. “What is going on here?” he asked, feeling thoroughly confused and fed up by this point.
“What? He’s not,” Steve said as he crossed his arms and glared at Tiberius.
The ridiculous exchange combined with the dissonantly airy music was enough to make everything seem surreal, like Tony was tripping on some really good drugs.
Tiberius approached Tony, smiling in a way that he probably thought was suave but only came across as smarmy. “I know you miss me, Tony. You always needed a guiding hand and I know you’ve been floundering without me all these years. Just look at this horrible get-up you’re in and the stupid decisions you’ve been making. Stopping weapons manufacturing, this childish superhero pretence, your boytoy here who’s an obvious pale imitation of myself… And what are you even wearing? You must be really upset to let yourself go like that.”
Tony had to fight the urge to fidget with his stained hoodie as Tiberius drew nearer and reached out a hand towards Tony…
…only to have that hand seized in Steve’s own.
Tiberius yelped, a hint to how firmly Steve must have grabbed hold of his hand. Not with any ounce of his supersoldier strength of course, because that would have crushed Tiberius’ bones to dust. But it was firm enough that Tiberius flinched and tried to pull away to no avail.
“Don’t touch him,” Steve said through gritted teeth. “You have no right to come in here and talk to him like that. He’s more than you could ever be. He’s achieved more in one morning than you probably will in your entire life.”
The light airy music made an abrupt shift towards something dark and ominous, the melody lower and more jarring now. It made the tableau in front of Tony seem even more ridiculous.
Steve’s words took Tony aback. It wasn’t that he thought Steve wouldn’t defend him to the likes of Tiberius; he just didn’t expect Steve to say it like that, with the kind of contained fire he usually reserved for murderous supervillains. It was unexpected to see Steve so worked up on Tony’s behalf after what happened the last time they met.
Something in Tony that had squirmed and recoiled when he’d first laid eyes on Steve this morning, that had wanted to hide away from having to deal with whatever harsh and difficult conversations they were going to have, unravelled in the light of Steve’s passionate defence.
Whatever was to come, this reminded him of better times and kindled the faint hope that they could get back to that again.
Tony stepped forward and patted Steve’s hand that was closed around Tiberius’ wrist. “I can take it from here.”
There was a beat of silence, and then Steve let Tiberius go.
Trying to keep up, the background music shifted to light and airy again, something more hopeful…
“Did you see that? This brute assaulted me and I’m—”
“Oh, shut it,” Tony snapped. “Don’t you ever get tired of being a douchebag whose only talent is to hang on to others better than you? I haven’t missed you, I didn’t even know you were still alive until you walked through the door. As for being a pretend superhero, I can guarantee you that there is nothing pretend about my repulsor blasts, so unless you want to get a small taste of it, I suggest you get the hell out of here.”
Tiberius mouth flapped, before he tried, “You— you can’t—”
Tony pushed Tiberius on one shoulder, propelling him around and started herding him towards the door. “I can and I will. This is the Avengers facility, you have no right to be here on private property. Now get out before you embarrass yourself any further.”
He gave Tiberius another light push until he stumbled out the front door. Tony gave him a wave when he whipped around and then said, “Save your breath, Ty. You’re not wanted here. Buh-bye!”
Then he slammed the door on Tiberius’ face.
The playful, cheery music died away slowly into a sulky single flat note before that faded into silence as well.
“I think you’re going to annoy the movie trope magic if you keep ruining its big moments,” Harley pointed out.
“I don’t care about the movie trope magic. I can’t believe it picked Tiberius Stone of all people.” Tony made sure to lock the door this time, wishing he could slam it again to express his frustration.
Peter offered, “Well, Miss Potts isn’t in the country right? There’s probably a limited sphere of influence within the spell’s reach and that guy must have been the closest.”
Tony sighed, and then said, “Fine, you’re probably right. Five points to Gryffindor.”
Peter frowned. “I think I’m more of a Hufflepuff.”
“You guys are such dorks,” Harley grumbled.
“Let me guess. Slytherin?” Peter asked with a cheeky smile.
“If you’re so smart, why are we here then?” Harley said in a challenging tone, crossing his arms.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I ended up here under unusual circumstances, which I can only guess must mean it’s tied to the magic that seems to have targeted Tony specifically. But what’s my role in this so-called Hollywood movie trope? What’s yours?”
“I think we’re probably meant to be the matchmaking children,” Peter blurted out, words spilling forth in a way that meant he had been holding this in through the skin of his teeth for some time.
“What?” Harley asked flatly.
“You know, the precocious matchmaking children either the main character is babysitting or children from the last marriage or something.”
“You’re so full of bullshit.”
Steve interrupted with a question of his own. “But why is this targeting Tony specifically?”
How could Steve betray him like this by taking up Peter’s ridiculous flight of fancies? “Et tu, Brute? Why are you encouraging Nosy Parker on this?”
“Maybe if we better understood this, we can deal with what’s happening,” Steve said, but he looked a little guilty.
He was probably just being nosy as well, Tony thought, sending a glare at Steve who studiously ignored him.
Peter said brightly, “It’s like what Doctor Strange said, the spell is latching onto unhappy people to center the tropes around. The magic is probably focussing on those with relationship issues because the wizard, I mean, the sorcerer who cast the spell just went through a break-up.”
“I’m perfectly happy and I have no relationship issues, so that’s stupid,” Tony said, trying to glare Peter into silence. “In fact, didn’t you want a private conversation earlier, Steve? Let’s go somewhere without a peanut gallery.”
Steve nodded, enough of a strategist to seize the opportunity. “Lead the way.”
“Awww, but I want to know how this ends,” Peter said.
“How could you leave us underage children all alone in a superhero facility?” Harley said, widening his eyes as much as possible as they walked pass him.
“That’s true. F.R.I.D.A.Y., turn on Babysitter Mode,” Tony said, sailing by without even glancing at Harley or Peter.
“Ugh, not this again,” Peter said, flopping back on the couch.
# # # # # #
There was soft crooning music now, barely on the edge of their hearing.
Tony led Steve to the workshop. He didn’t want to take Steve to the office which used to be Steve’s, which Tony had taken over in a fit of sentimentality. He didn’t want to take Steve to his bedroom, which was just too personal, even though he didn’t spend much time there. So they headed to the basements, walking into familiar territory for Tony.
DUM-E whirred awake and rolled out, beeping in excitement at Steve, like he was greeting a long lost friend. Which was probably accurate, since Steve had certainly interacted with DUM-E enough to leave an impression on the ridiculous robot.
Steve patted DUM-E on the side of his camera, which made him chirrup like the attention whore he was. The background music actually rose triumphantly, like this was a big, touching reunion scene. Was it Tony’s imagination or was the lightbulb over Steve and DUM-E getting brighter while all the other lights dimmed? Were they getting their very own spotlight for their reunion?
“Magic is so annoying,” Tony grumbled.
Steve kept his gaze trained on DUM-E, like patting robots was the most important thing he could ever do, even as he spoke, “It’s a bit haphazard, that’s for sure. I think the spell is focussing on me as well.”
“How do you figure that?”
Steve counted off almost absently, “I’m unhappy, I’m here trying to resolve our issues, I spilled coffee over you like a clumsy teenager, and I just argued with your sleazy ex-boyfriend. Sounds like something from the silver screen.”
Did Steve know how all of that sounded, like he really was Tony’s romantic interest in some Hollywood film? Tony shook his head and decided he was reading too much into Steve’s words, focusing instead on the most pertinent part. “You don’t look very unhappy.” Okay, now he just sounded petty.
But Steve only smiled ruefully as he finally looked up from DUM-E and ran a hand across his own jaw. “Nat and Sam have been giving me so much grief about wearing the same uniform even though it’s torn and frayed. They say I look like a mountain man because I haven’t properly shaved for months. Or gotten a haircut in weeks. Can’t even be bothered.”
Tony said in disbelief, “You mean you look like this when you can’t be bothered? It’s not a look you’re cultivating?”
“I prefer being clean-shaven, you know that. When was the last time you saw me with a beard?” Steve said.
Tony just stared at Steve, complete with the dark, neat beard framing his soft mouth, hair slicked back in a simple look that accentuated his cheekbones. If Tony tried to tamp down on the lust and aching longing that seemed to be overtaking him every time he laid eyes on Steve, then he could see that this was rather unusual for Steve. And at a closer look, Tony could see how the uniform, while still presenting a pretty package, was very worn down and even torn in places.
Steve still looked like something out of GQ, damnit. How was he doing that?
“You’re being very candid about all this,” Tony said, a little suspicious. “Usually it’s like pulling teeth just to find out if you’ve broken a bone, let alone talk about— about uh, how you feel.”
Steve looked away. “Yeah, I know. I’ve been told that a lot. But I did come here to talk to you so I’ve imagined this conversation a thousand times or more.”
Then his jaw clenched and he met Tony’s gaze again, looking for all the world like he was mentally convincing himself to do something astronomically difficult. “I want to fix this, what happened between us. I want to make this work again.”
The background music was starting to rise, shifting from a soft soothing tune to a more uplifting beat.
Steve’s open gaze was a silent plea that Tony couldn’t refuse.
“Okay. Talk then,” Tony said in little more than a croak.
Tony hadn’t realized it was possible for Steve to square his shoulders any further, but that’s what he did. He took a step closer, his spine stiff, facing Tony straight on and not trying to hide anything at all.
Steve spoke, quick and low, like he had to get this out now that he had permission, “I’m sorry.”
Suddenly, Tony couldn’t take it. He rushed out, “Damnit, I’m sorry too!”
“No, I’m the one apologizing,” Steve said, looking a little affronted, before he continued quickly. “I’m sorry, I really am. I should have told you about your parents. You deserve to have been told the full truth from a friend, not find out as part of a manipulative scheme. I was scared, and I didn’t want to face the truth myself.”
“I’m sorry I tried to kill your brainwashed BFF,” Tony jumped in, like this was a competition now for who could apologize the most. “What happened wasn’t his fault, it was Hydra’s, but I completely lost it, and I would have killed an innocent man if you hadn’t stopped me.”
The background music was starting to pick up in tempo and volume, and for some reason, it seemed to be helping drive the conversation onwards. It was certainly working for Tony. Maybe it was his not-so-hidden love for a dramatic flair. Maybe it was just having an external cue to signal that they needed to talk now, because Steve started talking again.
“I’m sorry I assumed you wouldn’t listen to us so I didn’t call you immediately when we realized that someone was manipulating us, I made the decision for you, I thought your hands were tied and I didn’t want you to have to choose, but it should have been your decision and I should have trusted you—”
“Well, I’m sorry I put Wanda on house arrest without telling you or Wanda anything, I thought it was the lesser of two evils where they wanted to deport her immediately so I just assumed I had the best solution and that you wouldn’t agree when I should have at least talked to the two of you—”
“And I’m sorry I immediately assumed the worst once I heard about Wanda and refused to sit down to discuss the Accords. I just stormed off instead of working things out—”
“I’m sorry I behaved like I know better than everyone and that it’s all on me to fix everything on my own instead of working as a team—”
As if compelled by the speed of their words, the music was rushing now too, the notes tripping over each other and getting a little jumbled up.
“I’m sorry I said I wanted everyone to work as a team and be honest but I was keeping my own secrets and behaved like I know better than everyone too.”
“I’m sorry I took your shield, I know you love that thing like it’s your firstborn child—”
“I’m sorry I hurt you badly enough that you’ve taken to wearing rumpled sweatpants and stained hoodies.”
“I’m sorry I hurt you so badly you forgot how to use a shaving blade.”
They broke off, breathing hard after the sudden explosion of words. All the hard words that had been pent up inside, all the shared unhappy feelings were finally released and it was like a hundred tonnes were lifted off Tony’s shoulders. From the easing of the frown on Steve’s face, he must have felt the same too. Just knowing that they both wanted to fix their friendship seemed to be all that was really needed. Slowly, they smiled at each other like the pair of dorks that they were.
But the music was still crescendoing, like an impossible theme that was still heading for unknown pinnacles.
Tony had no idea if it was the magic influencing him, or if some perverse side of him just felt the need to match the moment when the universe was providing a soundtrack for his life. It wasn’t going to get more dramatic than this.
“I love you,” Tony blurted out.
Steve’s blue eyes widened.
“It’s okay if you don’t feel the same,” Tony hurried on. “But in the interest of full disclosure, I needed you to know that I love you, and I have for, oh, I don’t know. Maybe years. I wish we’re closer, and I think it’s made me express myself by needling you because as we all know, I’m kind of an asshole. I was jealous of you and Bucky, I was jealous and I thought you didn’t give a shit about me—”
The music reached an ecstatic peak as Steve cut Tony off in a rush, reaching out to grab Tony’s gesturing hands, “I love you too. I don’t know when it started, but I just woke up one day, and knew. I’m in love with Tony Stark. And sometimes I’m jealous of how easy things are between you and Rhodey, but at the same time, I can’t help but like when you give me a hard time, because I think, I like to think that it means something. And you have to believe me, I absolutely give a shit about you.”
The last startled a laugh out of Tony. “That’s so romantic.”
Steve drew Tony closer by their clasped hands. “I give so many shits about you.”
“That’s probably the nicest thing you’ve ever said about me,” Tony said, but he knew he was grinning like a maniac, holding Steve’s hands just as tightly.
“That can’t be true,” Steve said softly, eyes fixed on Tony’s lips. “I think I said one time that your showy entrances in your armor were good for distracting the enemy.”
“Oh yeah, I don’t think anything can top that,” Tony murmured, not even really aware of what he was saying anymore.
They kissed, warm lips pressed together, a short breathless moment as they hovered over the precipice of a new beginning, knowing there would be no going back from this fall. Then they moved, their soft facial hair a sweet friction between them, the sensation leading to their mouths opening with a shared gasp, hands clasping tighter in response.
The music sighed to an end.
There was nothing tentative about the kiss. All their tension and repressed need poured into it as they pressed closer together, each freeing a hand to grasp harder at the other. Steve’s hand curled around Tony’s jaw, angling his face for a deeper kiss, and Tony’s fingers raked at Steve’s damnably longer hair. Tony broke off to press a kiss to the side of Steve’s mouth, kissing that perfect beard, nipping at Steve’s bearded jaw in a moment of mischief. Steve laughed and then pulled Tony in for another hard kiss. They opened up for each other, tasted one another, groaned together.
Eventually, they parted, still standing too close, still holding hands.
Then Steve said, quite seriously, “Now I have coffee on me too.”
Tony looked down to see that Steve’s hand had been pressed up against Tony’s damp hoodie, still soaked in coffee.
“Well, you spilled it in the first place,” Tony pointed out, unrepentant.
“You should get out of the wet hoodie,” Steve suggested.
“Trying to get me out of my clothes already?” Tony asked archly.
Steve smiled. “Yeah, all the time.”
That elicited another laugh from Tony. He pressed another quick kiss to the corner of Steve’s mouth, couldn’t help obsessing a little at that little dimple, but he pulled back when Steve tried to turn it into a proper kiss.
Tony said with a teasing grin, “Much as I want to take this further, I think we should send the teenage busybodies outside on their way first.”
Steve managed to reel him in for one more kiss before acquiescing. “I suppose you have a point.”
Tony couldn’t stop smiling as he tugged Steve to the door. He paused as he looked down at their joined hands.
“Ready to go out to deal with the hellions?” Tony asked with some hesitance.
“You love those kids,” Steve said with a smile, squeezing Tony’s hand in answer to the unasked question.
Tony grinned and opened the door, hand still held in Steve’s.
# # # # # #
“Wow, the movie trope magic worked!” Peter exclaimed the moment they walked out hand in hand.
“Oh, I thought you guys would be having sex,” Harley said, not even looking up from his phone.
The background music started again, this time with a jaunty tune.
Tony said to Steve, “I think we’re stuck in a comedy now.”
Steve was looking back at him fondly with a touch of heat in his eyes. “That’s not the kind of movie I’m interested in right now.”
“Ooohkay, we’re rescheduling, Peter. I need those under 18 to get out of here now,” Tony said, not taking his eyes off Steve. “Things are going to get R-rated in here.”
“That’s so gross,” Harley said without moving.
“F.R.I.D.A.Y., call Happy, he needs to escort the teenage miscreants to wherever they came from,” Tony said.
“I took the initiative and contacted him five minutes ago. He’s in the car, idling in the driveway,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. said, sounding remarkably smug for an Artificial Intelligence.
“You’re a gem.”
“I’m an Artificial Intelligence, but I get your meaning, Tony,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. said with amusement.
Peter gave Steve and Tony a thumbs up as he walked towards the door while Harley rolled his eyes and grumbled all the way out. Once the door was shut behind them, Tony reeled Steve in by their clasped hands, pressing up close to Steve. Steve obliged by curling his free arm around Tony’s waist.
“So, time for a scene change?” Tony asked.
“No, I think it’s time for the climax,” Steve said with raised eyebrows, eyes bright and inviting.
Tony laughed. “I can’t believe you just went there.”
Steve only smiled and leaned down to press his lips to Tony’s again. The jaunty tune in the background segued into a decidedly more sultry melody and the lights dimmed.
Instant mood lighting and sexy music?
Maybe magic wasn’t so bad after all.