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Speed Dating (Isn't Supposed to Happen in Cars)

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Obadiah Stane is an asshole. That’s not a surprise to Tony, but it is a surprise when the man finally gets his comeuppance. The Daily Bugle article that shows up on the front page one Sunday morning in March is well researched and merciless. Obie had sold weapons under the table to anyone with a couple million dollars to their name and he’ll no doubt rot in prison for the rest of his life. Which is good. What’s bad is that it sets off a government investigation against Stark Industries and Howard (and Tony) and every penny they’ve got is frozen in the bank.

Tony’s rich in name, but flat-busted-broke in reality. He and Howard are innocent so someday they’ll get back what is theirs, but for the foreseeable future, they're poor.

Howard goes to stay with some well-off old woman he’d been seeing since Maria had passed away a few years prior. Tony’s not invited along, which is fine because he’s in his late twenties and has zero interest in moving back under the same roof as his dad.

Tony’s penthouse in Stark Tower is off limits, so he leaves it one snowy afternoon with nothing but a suitcase full of clothes, a backpack with some toiletries and electronics, and Dum-E’s personality chip tucked into his pocket. He isn’t allowed to bring the whole robot, since the FBI insists that Dum-E is an asset of Stark Industries, but no authority in the world can prevent Tony from slipping out that thumbnail-sized piece of vibranium that holds the true essence of his duncey pal.

He can find Dum-E another body. What he will never find, is another Dum-E.

One more thing the FBI can’t take from him, what no one can ever take from him-- is Rhodey. Rhodey’s been Tony’s BFF for more than a dozen years and he is the first (and one of only two people) to offer to keep Tony afloat for as long as it takes for the situation to right itself.

So in March Tony moved into Rhodey’s two bedroom apartment and now it’s the beginning of May and he’s still living there. Tony’s offered multiple times to get a job to help out with expenses, but between the paparazzi stalking his every move, and the scandal attached to his name, it’s just not practical.

Obie’s mess has tainted Tony, but the truth is, even before Obie, Tony was vilified in the press on the regular. Back when Tony was deep in the party scene, he’d made a lot of visible and stupid mistakes. He’d gone to rehab a few times, spent multiple nights in jail, and finally ended up with an upsetting case of Chlamydia.

That’s all over now. It has been for several years but the dark cloud of trouble attached to him isn’t as easy to clear up as an STD, and the press corps in New York has a long memory for scandal. It’s how they make their money.

Because of that, and at Rhodey’s insistence, Tony doesn’t look for work. Instead he tutors online: not for pay, but for purpose.

On the internet, you can be anyone you want, and Tony spends a lot of time as username CallMeIronMan in the MIT engineering forums. When he’s not helping out there, he spends about an equal amount of time in real life tutoring a couple of the high school kids in Rhodey’s building.

He’d met Harley and Peter a few days after he’d moved in, and from the start they were hilarious. Apparently, a couple of the reporters had tipped them off to the identity of their building's newest resident, and in their desperation to meet their science idol, they’d gone door to door, pretending to sell candy bars as a way to find him.

Their first meeting went something like this:

(knock) (knock) (muffled arguing) (rapid knocks)

Tony opens the door. The two boys stare at him with wide, excited eyes.

“Candy bars!” Peter blurts out.

Harley elbows him roughly in the side, and more eloquently adds, “Uh... we’re selling them.”

Tony doesn’t have money of his own, but he does have a couple of bucks from the last time Rhodey’d ordered pizza, so he nods. “Sure.”

The boys look at each other nervously and then back at Tony.

“We don’t have them here,” Harley says, like the expectation that Tony will be given chocolate in that instant is ludicrous. “We’re selling future candy bars. Like Girl Scout Cookies. You know, you pay now and then we bring you the candy bar.”

“Later,” Peter says, nodding vigorously.

Tony doesn’t miss that there’s an absolute zero chance any of this is true.

“You know, we can keep this charade up, and you can see how many types of candy bars you can list off to me, and I can laugh when I tell Rhodey about it later, or you can just fess up. How much is the Daily Bugle paying you to spy on me?”

“No!” Peter protests. “Dr. Stark-- it’s nothing like that. Okay, we do totally know who you are, and the candybar thing is made up, but I promise we would never do something gross like spy on you for a newspaper. We were just excited to hear you moved in, man! I mean-- you literally wrote the book that finally helped me understand the partially observable Markov decision process. I just wanted to meet you. We both wanted to meet you.”

He says the last part with the sort of open innocence in his eyes you usually only see in puppy chow commercials.

“I’d sell you out for a bag of Doritos,” Harley shrugs, “But I wouldn’t want to make Peter here cry, so it’s true-- this isn’t some kind of setup.”

“Cool Ranch or regular?” Tony asks.

“Cool Ranch,” Harley says. “Who eats regular Doritos?”

They both look at Peter. “Not me,” Peter says. “Cool Ranch all the way.”

“I guess you can come in then,” Tony says. “But seriously-- you owe me a Snickers. You got it stuck in my head and it’s not going to magically appear without some intervention.”

“Fair,” Harley agrees.

From there, they pass the afternoon in high spirits. The boys leave for dinner around 6:30 and when Rhodey gets home Tony’s still smiling.

“You look happy,” Rhodey observes.

Tony nods. “Had some company today,” he says. “A couple of your neighbors.”

“I know. Peter texted me,” Rhodey replies. Then he tosses Tony a Snickers and sits down to hear all about it.

*

Tony’s getting awfully sick of staring at the same walls day in and day out. He’s also gotten some shitty news. A particularly vindictive senator has seen to it that the Starks can no longer use their corporate attorneys for their defense during the discovery phase of the investigation. If Tony wants any kind of legal assistance, he’ll have to use a shared public defender or pay for it himself or… well, there aren’t really any other options there.

He breaks the news to Rhodey over the lasagna he makes for dinner.

“What about the car?” Rhodey asks. “I could sell it. It’s got to be worth something.”

Tony knows what car Rhodey means and he’s not talking about the Toyota Corolla that he’s got parked down the street.

“No way,” Tony says. “First of all, it’s yours. Second of all, no. Just no.”

“The money could go a long way,” Rhodey says. “And it’s not mine.”

“You won it from me fair and square,” Tony insists.

“I’m the only person in history that’s ever won a $300,000 race car at a game of Go Fish,” Rhodey says. “You know the only reason I kept the title was so you wouldn’t accidentally lose it to someone else. Anyway, it doesn’t have an engine and we’ve got no money to fix it. It’s got to be worth something scrapped.”

Tony shrugs. “We don’t need money to fix it. We’ve got me.”

“And… what? The fridge? The dishwasher? You’re the best engineer I know, Tony, but you can’t fix that kind of tech with stuff we find around the house.”

“A jet engine might help,” Tony points out.

“No,” Rhodey says. “One, we need my paycheck. Two, it’s the U.S. AIRFORCE. They do not take kindly to thieves. Three-- It’s the U.S. Air Force, jackass. No.”

The thing about Rhodey is that he’s brilliant but he sees roadblocks where Tony sees open road. Tony lets it go though, because he’s got some research to do. It’s a week later and they’re eating breakfast together at the kitchen counter when Tony slides his phone toward Rhodey, so Rhodey will read his screen.

“This is how we do it,” Tony says. “This is our way out.”

The way out is a race held in the middle of June, just down the road in New Jersey, the Solar City 250, and the fifteen million dollar prize that comes along with winning it.

It takes a minute for his best friend to get through the article, and when he looks up at Tony, there’s a small smile on his face.

“You’re sure if you win this money the government can’t take it from you?”

“You’d be winning this money,” Tony points out. “It’s your car. Then you could split it with me as your team engineer. I looked it up. That money would be rightfully mine.”

“We’ve got no garage,” Rhodey sighs.

“Not a problem,” Tony says easily.

“No solar panels,”

“Not a problem.”

“No pit crew,” Rhodey reminds him.

Tony shrugs. “We’ll figure it out.”

“No driver,” Rhodey says.

“You’re a jet pilot.”

“A jet with no engine if you get your way,” Rhodey laughs. “You aren’t going to give this up, are you?”

“Nope.”

“A sponsor. You find a sponsor-- one real sponsor-- and I’m in,” Rhodey says. “No Grand Theft Thunderbird, but-- you figure out a sponsor who can help us buy the parts and I’ll help you figure out the rest.”

*

Harley and Peter knock just after Rhodey gets back to the apartment for the day. They still come by every evening to do their homework even though there’s only a few weeks of school left and most kids their age are already mentally checked out for the summer.

“What are these?” Peter asks, his eyes scanning over the blueprints Tony has left sitting out on the kitchen table.

“Bad ass,” Harley says, inspecting Tony’s notes.

It’s not often that Harley seems impressed by much, so Tony takes it for the compliment it is.

“Rhodey owns a race car,” Tony says nonchalantly. “These are some improvements I think we could make before the next race.”

“But racing’s not a one man show. Who’s gonna switch out the tires? Who’s gonna fill it with gas?”

Rhodey looks at Tony triumphantly, like these are questions that are super reasonable to ask.

“Dunno,” Tony says easily. “At least about the tires. The car needs to be powered by solar energy though, so at least the gas problem is solved.”

“I’m not trying to rain on your parade, Tony,” Rhodey insists. “I’m trying to be realistic.”

“I’m being realistic,” Tony insists. “C’mon Sour Patch. You said if I got us a sponsor you’d be all in.”

“You get the sponsor, and then I’m all in,” Rhodey reminds him. “One has to come before the other.”

“Could we do it?” Peter asks. “Change the tires and stuff?”

“I wish,” Tony says. “But you have to be 18.”

“And people train for this kind of work for years,” Rhodey adds. “It’s like an art.”

“We’ll help somehow,” Harley insists.

Tony nods. “I don’t doubt it, kid. Why else do you think I’m so sure this is gonna work?”

*

Friday morning, Tony wakes up to knocking at the front door. Rhodey’s already gone for work, and Tony has zero interest in dragging himself out of bed that early so he ignores it. There’s more knocking. Then rhythmic knocking.

Then what can only be described as rapid pounding.

“For fuck’s sake,” Tony grumbles. He drags himself out of bed, and doesn’t bother to make himself presentable apart from patting down his hair a few times, mostly out of habit.

Harley and Peter are all smiles when he opens the door, and they start laughing when they see him.

“Late night?” Harley asks, nudging past Tony to walk into the apartment.

“Early morning,” Tony says, with a glare. “And sure-- come on in. Make yourselves at home.”

“We brought you this,” Peter says, holding out a mug of coffee. The mug says “World’s Best Aunt” so not Starbucks or anything, but it does make Tony feel less like whining.

“Shouldn’t you be on your way to school?” Tony asks.

Now that he’s a little more awake he can see that Thing1 and Thing2 have backpacks slung over their shoulders.

“Don’t have to leave till 7:30,” Harley replies. “And you’re going to want to see this. We found you your pit crew.”

“We told you we’d help,” Peter reminds him eagerly. He slings his school bag onto the counter and pulls out a tablet. A HammerTablet, which makes Tony’s skin crawl, but he doesn’t object. Just lets them start up YouTube and sips at his coffee.

The video the boys want Tony to see is incredible.

It’s a compilation video called “Real Life Gone in 60 Seconds” and as Tony waits for it to load he reads the 'About' summary and gets the jist of what he’s going to be watching. The three guys on the screen were car thieves, got caught, served time, got out and went legit, helping their channel subscribers keep their cars, bikes and various other possessions safe.

But that’s not what this video is about. This video is pure, hilarious car thievery at its best. Or pretend car thievery, since the owners of the cars are standing right there on screen smiling in amazement as they watch the trio at work. The three men hotwire cars and motorcycles, or remove all the tires, in the time it would take most people to get the keys in the ignition and turn the car on.

It’s absolutely bananas.

“Who are they?” Tony asks in admiration.

He should probably dismiss the teens’ ideas straight out of hand but well-- desperate times call for desperate measures and this squad is good. So, so, good.

“Clint Barton, Scott Lang and Luis No Last Name,” Harley offers. “They’re here in the city. We wanted to get your okay and then we figured we could stop by after school and see what they think.”

It might work. It’s totally insane, but it just might work.

“Have at it,” Tony says.

“Now all you need is a back-up mechanic slash engineer and a driver!” Peter says cheerfully.

“And a sponsor,” Tony reminds them. “Rhodey insists.”

“You get the sponsor, we’ll handle the pit crew and the mechanic,” Harley says confidently.

“We already have someone in mind,” Peter says. “We had a teacher-- he… got in some trouble-- but not for anything bad. He was protesting an oil pipeline and he got arrested. The administration fired him which was totally bogus! I mean he was just trying to stand up for what’s right! He went to North Dakota to test the water in a river near where there was an oil leak--”

“It was bullshit,” Harley rails. “And he’s amazing with any kind of engineering and science.”

“You really think he can do it?” Tony asks. “Or that he’d want to?”

“Other than you and Rhodey, Doctor Banner’s the smartest guy we know,” Harley confirms.

“Well, that sells it,” Tony agrees. Anyone who picks up that Rhodey needs to be in the world’s top two, has good taste in smarts. “Call him up. See what he says.”

“Then the rest’s on you,” Peter says. “Do you have an idea about someone who might be a sponsor?”

“I do,” Tony agrees. “Jan’s one of my oldest friends. We’ve known each other since we were babies. But her clients aren’t the type to line up for races. She might say no, and I wouldn’t blame her.”

“She won’t,” Harley says. “Invite her to dinner here tonight and we’ll invite your new pit crew. And Dr. Banner.”

“I’ll make spaghetti,” Peter offers. “With garlic bread and everything.”

“I’ll help clean up,” Harley offers. “You don’t want me near the stove.”

“You know what? Sure. Three ex-cons? Two high-schoolers, an Air Force pilot, an heiress and me. How could that go wrong?” Tony asks.

“It can’t,” Peter says.

“And if it does, at least there will be garlic bread,” Harley points out.

“At least there will be garlic bread,” Tony agrees.

*

“I’m in,” Jan declares.

Tony knows he’s looking at Jan like she’s lost her mind, but he hadn’t expected an instant yes.

“You’re sure?” Tony asks. “You can take some time to think about it.”

“They called me boring,” Jan rants. “Boring! Me!”

“You’ve lost me,” Tony says. “Who called you boring?”

Jan is a lot of things, and boring isn’t one of them.

“The Daily Bugle Fashion Editors,” Jan says, tapping on her phone a few times and then turning it for Tony to read the screen.

He gets a few sentences in and then looks back up at Jan.

“Well, this is just stupid,” he says. “This is like a review about you, not your designs and I know these names. We went to school with them. Jan-- nothing about you is boring. Never has been. You can’t let a bunch of stuffy, jealous, mean girls--”

“Yes I can,” Jan interrupts. “I can do what I want. If I want to let them piss me off, that’s on me. And if I want to prove them wrong by being the most un-boring person in New York City, I can do that, too. So I’m sponsoring your race car and I’m taking you out to lunch at the Savoy, and we are going to day-drink and wear sunglasses inside and flip off the paparazzi and it’ll be like old times.”

Tony lets all that sink in. He hasn’t really been out in public at all, except for today, when he snuck out the fire escape and followed Peter’s instructions on how to get out of the building unseen. He’s wanted to keep his name out of the news and now Jan seems absolutely hell bent on doing the exact opposite.

“You’re sure that’s how you want to handle this?” Tony asks her.

“Sometimes taking the high road is the best option,” Jan says firmly. “And sometimes taking the low road is a lot more fun. Pleeeeease?” she asks. “I’ve sat around for three days trying to figure out what I could do for publicity and then you show up at my door, ask me for a super random favor and it’s one that I can do. I’ve got the money, you’ve got the reputation. It’s perfect.”

Tony really hates the idea of landing in the paper again, but even if he wasn’t asking Jan to fork over a ton of money he would still be saying yes to lunch.

If he’s learned anything from Rhodey, it’s this: When it comes to friends, you say yes.

*

*Group Text*

Harley: They’re in.
Tony: New phone, who dis?
Harley: Nerd. How did it go with your friend?
Tony: It’s still going and she’s in.
Harley: Seriously? That’s awesome!
Peter: We’re really gonna do this.
Tony: Looks like. Shouldn’t you both be in class?
Harley: We are in class. Dr. Banner’s substitute is useless and spends his whole time on his phone flipping through Sextr.
Peter: And we worked fast today. We’re looking for drivers. Might have found someone!
Rhodey: What is Sextr? And why do I suddenly feel so old?
Tony: Nothing new there, honey bear. 6 pm, our place, we’ve got company.

*

If Tony was worried at all about the mix of strangers, he hadn’t needed to be. He’d picked up a bag of salad to round out Peter’s dinner offering, beer for the adults, and red bull for the kiddos. He hadn’t counted on anyone else pitching in, but when Jan shows up she has a giant box of macarons from Laduree (Tony’s favorite!) and Rhodey came home with a bottle of wine and a cheese plate from Whole Foods. Even the new guys walk in with a box of Twinkies and a bag of Cheetos.

“Holy shit, that’s Tony Stark,” one of the men greets gleefully, looking between his other friends in total amazement. “I’m Scott Lang. You don’t know me. Obviously. But you’re TONY STARK!”

“You didn’t tell them?” Tony asks.

“We did,” Harley insists.

“We just weren’t sure he was serious,” the second man of the trio says. He’s handsome, with dark blond hair and a purple band-aid covering the bridge of his nose. He’s wearing a purple hearing aid, too, and a bright smile.

“Yeah, neither was I,” a curly haired man says from behind them. “It’s a nice surprise this wasn’t another prank,” he adds, giving Peter and Harley an affectionately exasperated look. “I’m Bruce Banner and I’ve got to say, it’s really, weirdly cool to meet you. I read your paper on Displaced FTL Energy in AI Transfer Technology and it was just-- incredible.”

“Thank you,” Tony says sincerely. “It’s nice to meet you, too.”

“I’m Clint. And I haven’t read any of your papers. But Scott here probably has. And he’s watched every youtube video you ever made like a hundred times.” Scott elbows Clint in the ribs but doesn’t deny it.

The third man in their posse bursts in behind them and waves. “I’m Luis,” he greets. “And man, I can’t believe you’re really you. Scott, take our picture!”

Luis is two steps toward Tony when his eyes land on Jan and he very nearly faceplants.

“How about we do pictures later, big guy,” Tony says, dodging out of the way just in time. “Don’t want the spaghetti getting cold.”

Rhodey mostly seems shocked that all this really did come together, as they all do a few more introductions once they’re seated around the room. It’s Luis who ends up shedding light on the whole ex-con sitch.

“So anyway, we were totally legit and just practicing all that car boosting stuff to like impress the ladies and such, and that’s when Clint here met Alena, and she was all like “My terrible ex stole my car,” and Clint’s a total romantic at heart so he was all like “It’s not stealing if we get it back for her,” and then Alena was like “Oh Clint, you’re my hero and also Imma sex you for that--”

Peter chokes on his water, and that’s when Tony realizes maybe impressionable ears don’t need the R rated version of this story.

“Maybe keep it to PG13?” Bruce suggests, before Tony can intervene.

“Cool cool cool,” Luis agrees. “So Alena says ‘Oh Clint, you’re my hero and Imma… hug you for that’ and then our friend Natasha-- she’s not in the country right now but you’d like her-- she told us Alena was playing us, and honestly? Game recognizes game, cause Nat knew what that was all about cause she had also played Clint that same way back when they were-- hugging--”

“Can we get to the part where it was all Scott’s fault?” Clint asks.

“So like, fast-forward,” Luis says, “We steal back the car for Alena, and then she and the car disappear and Scotty hears on the street that some mob boss’s car got stolen that same night and all the deets of that car and our car matched and then he puts two and two together that we stole a bad dude’s car and it turns out the mob boss got it all on security camera. So we figured we were dead but then Clint’s brother’s girlfriend’s cousin is the half-sister of a detective in Brooklyn and that guy told his sister that the mob boss was gonna be arrested in the next month or two cause they had a ton of dirt on him. All we had to do was survive another couple of weeks, and so then Scotty was all “Why don’t we turn ourselves in to the po-po?” and I guess we all figured that was better than death so BAM. We’re criminals. But like-- not like real criminals.”

He winks at Jan. She smiles brightly at him in return, though most of the eyes she’s making are at Clint. Tony’s seen that look on her face before. And no-- it has nothing to do with concern over Clint being a criminal. She’s watching him like a cheetah watches a baby gazelle.

“I’m pretty sure you were criminals once you stole a car,” Harley points out.

“That is-- something,” Rhodey says, though he looks more amused than concerned. “And this is a solid crew. We still need a driver, though. You know anyone? It’s gonna have to be a pro.”

“We do know a couple,” Scott says helpfully. “But more like the-- car thief kind of pro, mostly. And they might all still be in jail.”

“Hitchens?” Clint suggests.

“Jail,” Luis says.

“Big-Bad-Billy?”

“Jail,” Luis sighs.

“Ferdie?” Scott puts out.

Stabbed in jail,” Clint says.

“I’m gonna stop you right there,” Tony says. “Does anyone have a suggestion about a person who is not currently in jail?”

“I might,” Peter says softly. He gains momentum as he speaks up though. “I mean it’s probably a long shot but there is a guy that we found on the internet, who was one of the best in the world till he got in an accident up on some mountain in France, and flipped his car a bunch of times and kinddddd of lost an arm, but is two arms totally necessary?”

“For driving?” Jan asks. “Seems like it? I don’t know. I’ve never driven.”

“Nothing I couldn’t adjust for in the steering,” Tony says with a shrug. “This guy is good?”

“He was the best,” Harley chimes in. “But there’s a problem.”

“What’s that?” Tony asks.

“Do not say he’s in jail,” Rhodey warns.

“He’s not,” Peter says. “It’s just he doesn’t leave his house exactly. Or at least that’s what people say on Reddit.”

“Oh well if they’re saying it on Reddit,” Bruce teases. “Did you check Wikipedia, too, Parker?”

“I leave that to Harley,” Peter replies with a smile.

“So what’s this guy’s name?” Tony asks.

“James Barnes,” Harley says, through a mouth full of Twinkie.

Tony makes grabby hands and Harley tosses him one of his own.

“Huh. Never heard of him.”

“Shit, seriously?” Scott says with wide eyes. “The guy’s a legend.”

“The guy’s a ghost story,” Clint corrects.

“Can you even imagine meeting him? That’d be so cool!” Luis insists.

“You got his number?” Tony asks Harley and Peter.

They shake their heads.

“All we could find was an address.”

All eyes are on Tony. He sighs. They’re a piping hot mess of a team, but they’re his hot mess.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Tony says.

“And the rest of us are taking a field trip tomorrow to visit the car,” Rhodey declares.

“Even us?” Peter asks excitedly.

Rhodey laughs. “Especially you.”

*

Tony’s not expecting the door to open. Like-- that’s part of the whole hermit thing right? So he’d spent the whole subway ride over picturing the wait-- the knocking-- the coaxing. Whatever it took to get James Barnes to open the door.

Which is why when the door flies open on the first knock, Tony’s not exactly at the top of his game.

“You here about the cable?” the guy who opens the door asks.

Tony’s eyes flick to the man’s left side. He’s missing an arm. So-- probably the right James Barnes. He looks up before the arm-looking gets rude but that helps exactly nothing. Tony’s met with the most piercing set of eyes he’s ever seen. It’s corny, but it’s true.

James’s eyes are like the color of thunderclouds, a dark gray-ish blue. And the rest of his face is equally appealing, all confused impatience and gloriously symmetrical.

“Sorry, what?” Tony asks.

He can’t recall what was asked. He’d be hard pressed to remember his name.

“Are you feeling okay?” the man who is most likely James Barnes asks.

“The cable!” Tony says triumphantly.

“So you’re here about it,” James tries again.

This conversation is not at all going Tony’s way, but now that he’s blurted out the words “the cable” it would be weird to not be there to fix it, right? And Tony’s good with tech.

“I can fix whatever’s not working,” Tony agrees.

Which is not a lie. He can. He’s absolutely sure he can.

And James doesn’t seem to hate that answer as he steps aside. It probably should have occurred to Tony that he didn’t actually know this man, and he was reclusive and Clint had called him a racing ghost story, but none of that really landed home until Tony’s three steps inside.

The apartment is spotless. It’s also nearly furniture-less. If Tony was charged with cleaning up a crime scene, it would likely look exactly like what he’s looking at now. He would only be about 10% surprised to find a tarp-wrapped body in the kitchen. He looks at James Barnes again, and James Barnes looks at him with an equal amount of suspicion.

“Where’s your tool box?” James asks. He’s got a definite Brooklyn lilt to his voice but also like the tiniest bit of murder is wedged in there, too. He’s suspicious. He should be suspicious.

“Oh--” Tony says, patting his pocket. “Don’t need one. Just need this.”

He reaches in his jeans and pulls out a swiss army knife. He’s fixed more with less. He can still salvage this. What he can’t do, is see any trace of a television.

“So ummm… if you could just point me in the right direction?” Tony asks.

“Shouldn’t you be wearing a uniform or a company-logo’d polo shirt or something?” James asks.

Tony pauses. There’s lying and then there’s lying. And James is just staring at him like this is the weirdest damn thing to happen to him in a long, long time.

“I’m--”

“Not a cable guy?” James guesses.

“I really can fix it,” Tony hedges. “So like I don’t technically work for a cable company but I’m better than whoever they’d send.”

“This is the third time in a row they said they’d send someone out, and you’re the first person to show up. I guess that’s somethin’. Cable box is in my room. Through there.”

James points at a door and Tony finally takes a second to consider if this is dangerous. If this is how he gets himself killed Rhodey’s never going to let him live it down. Walking into an unknown bedroom like a lamb to the slaughter, pretending to be the goddamn cable guy. It’s either a horror flick or the start of a porno, and with the luck Tony’s had lately it’s probably gonna be the former.

Tony takes a slow breath and then goes ahead and walks into the next room, because sometimes he’s not as smart as everyone thinks he is. It turns out to be a refreshingly normal sight. There’s a bed, and a dresser, and a couple pictures in frames. It’s not exactly homey but it is absolutely a room that a normal, extraordinarily boring person might go to sleep in each night.

“You got a name?” James asks him.

“Tony,” Tony says immediately.

“Now that I’ll believe,” James says. “I’m James.”

“It’s nice to meet you James,” Tony says.

James crosses his arms. He must really want this cable.

For a few minutes there’s quiet as Tony works. He can hear James behind him, still standing in the doorway watching.

“Yesss!” Tony cheers with a happy smile as the cable fuzzes into life, and the picture on the TV sharpens into focus.

“Guess I’m glad I let you in,” James says.

It startles Tony because by the end, he’d been so focus on fixing that he’d forgotten what he was really here to accomplish.

“It’s not every day a Tech Whisperer shows up at your door,” Tony says, as he climbs to his feet.

James is already moving back out to the creepy blank rooms.

“Aren’t you going to ask me why I’m here?” Tony asks.

James shrugs. “Doubt it matters. Did my ma send you? Steve?”

“Your mom’s name is Steve?” Tony asks. At the look on James’s face, Tony puts his hands up in surrender. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Steve is a great name for--”

“Steve’s not my mom,” James interrupts him. “They are two separate people, equally stubborn, and both set on gettin’ me out of the house.”

“They might be onto something,” Tony says. “There’s a lot to see and do out there. No offense but this place is kind of…”

“Blank?” James suggests.

“Sure,” Tony says. It sounds nicer than creepy. “I did not at all think you were going to kill me in here.”

“Not while I still needed you to fix my cable,” James says. He’s smirking when he says it, and it changes his whole face. His eyes look kind when he smiles.

“And now?” Tony asks.

They’ve made it to the front door but James hasn’t moved to open it and Tony isn’t going to run off until he’s sent away.

“And now I guess I gotta ask what you’re really doing here, Tony,” James says.

“I need a driver,” Tony says, without missing a beat.

“For what? A lift home?”

“For a race car,” Tony says. “My race car. You are James Barnes, right? Can’t be that many James Barneses with…” Tony trails off and sort of waves around his left hand to make a point which-- in retrospect might not have been his most winning move.

Thankfully, James doesn’t seem to give a shit. He also doesn’t seem inclined to agree.

“No,” James says firmly. “Fuck no. You caught on to the part where I’m missing my left hand, yeah?”

“I can adjust for that,” Tony insists. “Look-- I’m gonna be real with you. My life’s all kinds of shit right now. So I get that I’m just some weird guy showing up at your door, fixing your cable, asking for a favor, but seriously-- what do you have to lose?”

Tony gestures around him to the four blank walls.

James opens his mouth to protest but pauses and looks slowly around the room like he’s seeing it for the first time. Like he hadn’t actually noticed that the walls were blank and the room was mostly empty and this was not a place where life was going to be lived to its fullest.

“Join my team,” Tony tries again. “It’s me, an Air Force pilot, an heiress, three ex-car-thieves, two teenagers, their disgraced-hippy science teacher, and like-- at least one robot. What could go wrong?”

James fights a smile and Tony knows he’s won.

“Maybe,” James says. “Maybe I’ll agree. On one condition.”

“Name it,” Tony says.

“That’s all gotta be the truth. No bullshit. Tonight, I wanna meet the Air Force pilot, the heiress, the three ex-car-thieves, the two teenagers, their disgraced-hippy science teacher, and at least one robot.”

If Tony wasn’t sure James was the right man for the job before he recited all that back to him word for word, he is now.

“You like sushi?” Tony asks.

“Who doesn’t?” James responds.

“You want that crowd over here or you want to meet at my place?”

“Your place,” James says.

Tony can’t tell if James believes him or not, but there’s something about the intensity of his expression that makes Tony feel like James wants to believe him.

“Seven PM,” Tony says. “Give me your phone number and I’ll text you the address. The apartment belongs to James Rupert Rhodes. You can Google him if you want to check out the place. Or-- well, I guess it’s probably easier just to Google me.”

“And who are you?” James asks.

“Tony Stark,” Tony admits.

James quirks his head a little to the side, in doubt, and then seems to put the rest of the puzzle together easily.

“Well that explains a lot,” he says.

Tony can only nod. “I’m sure it does.”

*

Dinner Take Two is on.

Once Tony texts Jan, she insists she wants to pay to have the whole meal delivered and Tony has no reason to argue. With Barnes on board (and he’ll be on board, because his one condition was no bull-shit, and Tony hadn’t made up a single member of his bananas!crew) they have a full team, and that means Tony’s got to get his ass in gear with his designs.

Despite the race being only a month away, he’s not overly concerned he won’t be ready. He’s Tony Stark. He’ll be ready. It’s always been the people around Tony who couldn’t keep up.

What’s odd is that usual anxiety-- his inability to trust a team-- hasn’t shown up yet. In the past, Rhodey’d really been the only person who could put up with or keep up with Tony. But now, things feel different. He trusts Jan completely. And even if his dad would heckle his judgement, Tony trusts Peter and Harley, too. And he trusts their ideas.

So… maybe this will be the biggest disaster the racing world has ever seen, or maybe, just maybe, they get on that track, kick ass, take names, and win a whole bunch of money.

Stranger things have happened.

He tells Rhodey all this, over the peanut butter sandwiches they eat for lunch, and Rhodey’s smile warms Tony to his core.

“I wouldn’t bet against you, Tones. It’s crazy, but I know what you can do.”

When they finish eating, Tony slides the sheet of paper he’s been marking on over toward Rhodey, and Rhodey starts to cackle.

“Oh Lord. Are you trying to make the car go fast or launch it off the planet?”

Tony shrugs and smiles. “Whichever wins us the race.”

*

Dinner’s weirdly fun.

Barnes shows up right on time, but Tony’d texted everyone else to get there a little early so the whole gang is there for introductions.

They’ve all heard the story of Tony’s weird encounter so it’s not a surprise to them when he introduces them by category.

“Guys, this is James Barnes,” Tony says cheerfully.

“And James, this is Rhodey the air force pilot,” Rhodey waves, “Jan the heiress and the three ex-car-thieves Clint, Scott and Luis." Jan, Clint, Scott and Luis all wave cheerily, “the two teenage delinquents, Peter and Harley,” Peter waves and Harley flips Tony off then smiles at James, “the hippy-science teacher, Bruce,” Bruce laughs good-naturedly, “and Dum-E.”

Tony gestures to the Roomba.

“That’s not a robot, that’s a Roomba.”

“That’s a housing unit for the personality chip that is my robot. I wouldn’t leave him behind but the assholes who came to claim all my stuff acted like he was SI property and wouldn’t let be bring him along. So for now, this is him--”

Dum-E rolls full speed into James’s foot and beeps victoriously. Tony’s not sure if it’s a challenge or an enthusiastic greeting, but either way, as Dum-E rolls back for another charge, Tony steps closer and puts his own foot in the way.

“Not now, buddy,” he says in a hushed voice.

Dum-E makes a low, disappointed chirp and then wanders back off into the kitchen.

James looks over the entire room and shakes his head. “I can’t believe you weren’t making this up. No offense--”

“We’re too good to be true,” Harley says. “Nothing offensive about that.”

“You showed up,” Peter adds. “You must have believed him a little. Does this mean you’re on the team?”

“Looks like,” James says. “Tony kept his word; I’ll keep mine. And you can all call me Bucky. Everyone who’s ever been on one of my race teams has.”

“Buckyyyyyy…” Luis whispers, like he’s just been handed a birthday gift.

“Not to be a downer or anything, but shouldn’t we see him drive first?” Jan asks.

“We can do better,” Peter offers. “Tony asked me and Harley to queue up some introduction videos for dinner. Of everyone. I mean, some people have seen some of the videos, but we’re the only ones who’ve seen them all. And you should. See them. And then you’ll understand.”

They do, before long.

Once they’ve all got their sushi, Tony dims the lights and Harley and Peter use their phones to cast YouTube videos that show off all their skills on Rhodey’s big TV.

First up are Clint, Luis and Scott, who really are amazing. The video of the three of them taking all the tires off a van in under 5 seconds is impressive, but when they manage to get all four back on in the same amount of time the room erupts in applause. And that’s with tools they’ve made themselves. With the tools Tony can make them, they’re going to be incredible.

Next is a video of Jan’s last fashion show, and as Tony watches her turn her face away from the screen he knows why. This is the show the Bugle called boring. He nudges her and then tilts his head toward the assembled team. Because they don’t look bored. They’re riveted.

“Oh man Jan you’re so talented,” Luis gushes. “When I get money the first thing I’m gonna do is hire you to make me a jacket and I want it to say my name real big on the back in sequins that flip up in one color and flip down in another. And then I’m gonna wear it over that suit you had on the second lady. She looked so fancy.”

“You designed all that?” Clint asks, turning from his perch on the barstool to look at Jan. He admires her for her talent, and that in itself makes Tony feel a little better about the inevitability of their hook up.

“You don’t think it’s boring?” she asks.

“I don’t think anything about you could be boring,” Clint says.

“Are you two gonna hug?” Harley asks, with exactly zero innocence.

James-- Bucky-- might not understand why the room laughs at Harley’s statement, but it makes Jan and Clint look away quickly enough that, well-- Harley’s probably not wrong.

The next videos are more familiar to Tony, because they’re some of his and Rhodey’s more interesting Bad Robots projects from MIT. Regardless of how ridiculous their robots turned out, there’s no doubt the two of them knew what they were doing, and Tony glances over to see Bucky smiling as he watches. Harley and Peter have a few science videos of their own, featuring Bruce, who gives off a Mr Rogers meets Bill Nye type of congeniality on camera.

Which only leaves Bucky. And yeah-- as Jan had pointed out, Tony hasn’t actually seen him drive. He just trusted that the others wouldn’t point him in the wrong direction. But once the video starts, Tony is mesmerized because damnnnnn…

Damn.

Tony didn’t know watching someone driving a car could be so ridiculously hot.

He turns to peek at Bucky, and he isn’t sure what to make of his expression. Blank maybe, like the walls in his flat. Cold. It’s totally at odds with what he’s seen of Bucky so far at dinner, and Tony doesn’t like it. Yes, the driving is amazing but not worth putting that look on Bucky’s face.

The video ends and the spell is broken. The room breaks into applause.

“Hot damn,” Rhodey says. “You can drive.”

“I’m convinced,” Jan agrees.

“You’re really going to be on our team?” Peter asks.

Everyone is looking at Bucky with loads of hope and Tony claps his hands to pull the attention off of him.

“He said he’d show up and he did,” Tony evades. “But I want to see some more of my own genius. Harley, queue up ‘Bad Robot - No Touchy’. It’s Rhodey’s favorite.”

Rhodey groans because it is absolutely not his favorite, and Tony’s counting on that. It gets everyone’s interest immediately, and Bucky is out of the spotlight.

The rest of the evening goes great. Once show-and-tell is over, Tony pulls out some of his designs and gives everyone the address of the garage they’ve rented for the next month. Jan had deposited the funds the day before so now they’ve got the cash they need to move forward. They figure out a schedule, assign tasks, work like a team who has known each other for ages.

Everything goes a thousand times better than Tony ever could have guessed. It gets late. The teenagers definitely need to go get some rest since they’ve got school in the morning and when Jan declares she needs her beauty sleep, Clint offers to walk her home.

“Dude, you’re our ride!” Scott points out.

Luis nudges him hard in the ribs. “Hugging…” he whispers.

“I’ll drive you home,” Rhodey offers. “My car’s just down the street. Bucky, you want a ride, too?”

“Can we stop for donuts?” Luis asks.

“I’m good,” Bucky says, shaking his head. “Easier to take the subway.”

“Alright then. Let’s move it on out,” Rhodey says, as he takes his keys off the hook by the door. “You good, Tones?”

“As gold,” Tony agrees. “Bucky, can you stick around for a minute?”

Bucky shrugs, and the rest of the apartment clears out. Tony cleans for a few seconds until the door is shut behind them.

“Got some more teammates hidden away somewhere?” Bucky asks, looking a little less tense with the crowd gone. “We’re missing a circus clown, right?”

“Missing a clown, yes,” Tony says. “But we do have the circus part covered. You’ll have to ask Barton for some of his circus stories sometime. He’s got a backstory you’ve got to hear from the source to believe.”

“You like them-- don’t you?” Bucky asks curiously.

“Who?” Tony asks. He stops wiping the counter.

“This team of yours. Ex-cons. Teenagers. Me, I guess?”

Bucky looks down like he didn’t mean to say the last part.

“You’re right. The team means a lot to me. When this was all a dream, it was just about the money. The money for me,” he explains. “But now when I think about what it could do for everyone else-- like it could start that security company Luis, Clint and Scott keep talking about. It could pay for Pete and Harley to go to any school they want. I dunno. Guess this means more than it did before now that I care about the people involved. But not at any cost.”

Bucky quirks an eyebrow. “I don’t get what you mean.”

“You don’t want to drive anymore,” Tony says. “I watched you watch your videos. Your expression made it pretty clear--”

“You’re kicking me off the team?” Bucky asks indignantly.

Tony thought Bucky would be relieved. He’s not expecting the anger.

“No,” Tony says firmly. “Stay on however you want. Manager. Consultant. Ride shot-gun, I don’t give a shit. If you don’t want to drive, don’t drive. You can be on the team in whatever way you think fits. We’ll make it work.”

Bucky doesn’t say anything. Just looks at Tony like he’s trying to put together a puzzle. The silence is awkward but Tony doesn’t fill it. He’s not really sure what the right thing to say is anyway.

“You aren’t anything like how they make you out in the newspapers,” Bucky says finally.

Tony laughs, in spite of himself. If it’s a not-so-subtle change of subject that Bucky wants, Tony’s fine with giving it to him. “I guess that’s a comfort.”

“People must tell you that all the time,” Bucky adds.

“Not really,” Tony says. “I don’t usually let anyone close enough to find out.”

More silence. Bucky uses quiet the way Tony uses words-- to push through awkward spaces until something better comes along.

“You got any beer?” Bucky asks.

“God, yes,” Tony agrees. “That’s the best idea I’ve heard all night.”

Tony’s babbling but the thought of dealing with this conversation (whatever conversation it is) with a drink in his hand makes Tony feel a little more at ease. He goes to the fridge, pulls out two, takes his time getting the caps off and then hands one to Bucky. He takes a swig and the bubbles burn a little going down and it’s probably more comforting than it should be.

Problem for a different day.

“So you’re set on driving?” Tony asks. “I’m not trying to stand in your way--”

“I get it,” Bucky says. He tips his head back and drains half his bottle in two long gulps. “I get what you think you saw, anyway, when I was watchin’ myself race. I just think you might not have known what you were readin’ there.”

“Care to share with the class?” Tony asks. “I’m a lot better at fixing cable than I am at reading minds.”

Bucky laughs, and his smile is so real it hurts. “I can’t believe you pretended to be a cable guy to get in the door. And more than that, I can’t believe you were good at it. I watched HBO all afternoon, and until you showed up I never had HBO.”

“I know,” Tony says, with a smile of his own. “Figured if you were going to do me a favor, I might as well go all in and steal you the deluxe package.”

“Now see-- that doesn’t sound like anything I ever heard about you before but I can totally see it now. I guess meeting someone in real life is weird like that.”

“I never tried to be liked,” Tony says. “I didn’t want to be liked. And in the end, it all worked out like I thought. No one but Rhodey and Jan gave a crap about what happened to me.”

“That’s what you were going for?” Bucky asks.

Tony pauses, trying to think of a better way to phrase it. “My Uncle Obie is a real dick, and sometimes he’d say things to me when I was a kid that I have a hard time not believing, even now. The main one was that I’d never meet a person in the whole world who was going to like me for me. They’d look at me and see money, or a way to the top. So I could learn to make friends using what I had as a Stark, or I could live out my life as a lonely little weirdo.”

Bucky looks up at Tony in surprise. “And you decided you’d rather be lonely than deal with fake friends?”

Tony shrugs. “I was six. I don’t remember my reasoning I just remember the life lesson. But he was wrong. About a lot of things, but mostly he was wrong about the whole world being shitty. I found two friends. Then I found two more. Now I have a room full of possibilities and no one here is hanging around for the money I may or may not get back. It’s-- nice I guess. I don’t totally understand why.”

“If it helps, I was straight up ready to let a pretend-cable-guy-probably-axe-murderer into my apartment cause I thought he was good lookin’.”

“You thought I was an ax-murderer?”

“Well you sure as shit weren’t there from Spectrum Cable,” Bucky points out.

“You’re weird,” Tony says, though his cheeks are feeling warm, because Bucky pretty much confessed to thinking he was hot.

“Well so are you, but I thought it’d be rude to say,” Bucky says with a smirk.

“You want another beer?” Tony asks. “I could make some popcorn. We could put on Top Gear. Or something less car-related if that sounds better to you.”

“Beer and popcorn sounds good, and so that it’s clear, I don’t mind cars,” Bucky says. He takes a slow breath and then meets Tony’s eyes. “I miss racing like you wouldn’t believe. I dream about driving every night. I look at cars and my hand itches for something to do. Then I remember the accident.” His voice trails off a little and when he speaks again it’s softer. “Did you look it up?”

Tony shakes his head. He hadn’t. Once he’d met Bucky, he didn’t think he wanted to see.

“I went over the side of a mountain. At first they said it was driver error but I knew it wasn’t. Driving was as easy to me as breathing and you don’t just forget how to breathe. After about a year of investigation, it came down to faulty engineering. Bad brakes. Cut corners in production. But the designers wouldn’t confess to it. Despite a shit ton of proof, they still say I fucked up. Even if I wanted to drive, there’s not a racing team owner around who’d have me.”

Tony’s quiet as he makes his way to the fridge.

“Well there’s one,” Tony points out. “And for what it’s worth, if you go out there in a car I’ve designed or enhanced-- there won’t be any cut corners. I don’t do faulty engineering. I’d call off the race before I let someone climb behind the wheel of a car I didn’t think was 100% safe. I know accidents still happen--”

“They do,” Bucky says. “M’not worried about the risks. I just-- I don’t want to be the fall guy for some rich assholes who don’t give a shit what happens to me in the end. I wasn’t anything to them, and I thought they were my friends.”

“Then we do this,” Tony says. “And if you’ve got the time, come watch me build it. Give me your input. Show me anything you think could be done better. Dr. Banner is great, and he’s gonna be a godsend in speeding things up, but I think what you know about race cars could be the difference between first and second.”

Bucky looks surprised. “You really think that?”

Tony nods. “I do. And I’m a goddamn genius, so I know what I’m talking about.”

Bucky laughs. “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind if I start to doubt myself.”

“You'd better.”

*

They end the evening so late that it’s almost light when Bucky leaves. Nothing lust-shaped happens, they just talk about anything and everything. Tony learns all about Bucky’s family, his friends, and the reason Bucky’s apartment is so sterile: his friend Steve is allergic to almost everything under the sun, so Bucky keeps the front of the place “safe” to allow Steve to have a place to go where he doesn’t have to worry about triggering his asthma or breaking out in a rash.

“Musta looked real crazy when you stepped inside,” Bucky says, after his explanation.

“Well-- I thought you might be an axe-murderer,” Tony teases, “but between your driving skills, and your eyes, I thought you’d be worth taking a chance.”

“S’good way to get yourself killed,” Bucky teases in return.

“There are worse ways to go,” is all Tony can say, because now that he’s mentioned Bucky’s eyes out loud he can’t stop staring at them.

Anyway, that was hours ago, because now it’s almost lunch and Tony keeps repeating that interaction in his brain over and over. The way Bucky had relaxed little by little over the course of hours and how by the end they’d been talking like friends.

Real friends.

If Tony had spent the morning alternating between race car plans and a super-charged allergen filter for Bucky’s apartment… well, that’s just how Tony’s brain works.

Nothing to do with Bucky’s eyes.

*

The next month flies by in a flurry of activity. It’s crazy how much ten people can get done with the right motivation. Tony, Bucky, Bruce, and a now-back-in-a-bigger-body Dum-E spend every single day in the garage together from dawn till dusk.

Some days the three of them get along great, and some days they do nothing but argue, but Tony always always prioritizes Bucky’s concerns, because that’s what he’d promised he would do. And because most of the time Bucky is right. He’s got an uncanny knack for racing that gives them a huge, unexpected edge. Plus, those irritating moments of disagreement are nothing in comparison to the joy Tony feels when Bucky runs his hand over the solar panels in wonder, or stares at the engine that Tony’s created in absolute awe.

Clint, Luis and Scott join them every evening to test out Tony’s improvements and to practice the kind of ultra-fast maintenance they’ll need to do the day of the race. Peter and Harley come by as often as they can, and prove themselves invaluable as they put together intel on the other teams, and program track simulations that Tony uses to streamline his designs.

Last but never least, Jan and Rhodey drop in as their schedules allow, bringing snacks, Gatorade, and big doses of team spirit. Sometimes metaphorically, but in one instance, physically as Jan presents every member of the team with their very own Van Dyne designed Race Team Jacket.

In no time at all they’ve gone from strangers, to friends, to family.

By the time the day of the race arrives, they couldn’t be more prepared, and instead of waking up nervous, Tony wakes up a little sad. He never wants what they have to end. He’s never felt so fulfilled or so integrally a part of a team.

It’s 6 AM, and he doesn’t really need to be awake until 7, so he just lays there with his thoughts until his thoughts are too depressing, and so he gets out of bed, drinks some coffee, showers, then moves back to the living room to go over the schedule for the day one last time. It’s almost 8 when there’s a knock at the front door.

“Guys I know you’re excited--” Tony starts, because the only people he can imagine visiting the morning of the race are Harley and Peter, and they aren’t supposed to come over until around ten. But it’s not them at his door. It’s Bucky.

“Everything okay?” Tony asks.

He doesn’t have a chance to inquire any further because Bucky wraps an arm around the small of his back and pulls him close. Tony makes a soft “oomph” sound when he collides with Bucky’s chest but it is definitely a happy oomph.

“Is this alright?” Bucky asks, waiting for confirmation from Tony (who nods immediately) (eagerly) (so all right, totally alright, best idea ever) before Bucky leans in and kisses him.

Tony’s pretty sure that never in his life has he flirted with someone, fought with someone, been attracted to someone, and wanted desperately to kiss someone, for a full month before anything physical has happened. Which must be why finally feeling Bucky’s mouth against his and having their bodies pressed flush together is breaking Tony’s brain entirely.

They don’t do much more than kiss, though they do kiss for quite a while, and by the time Bucky pulls away Tony’s a little unsteady on his feet.

“Feel free to wake me up like that, any time you want,” Tony offers, taking a couple of steps back so he can lean against the table.

“Sorry,” Bucky says, at almost exactly the same time.

“Nothing to apologize for,” Tony says emphatically.

“I couldn’t sleep,” Bucky adds. “You don’t know, Tony-- You’ve changed everything for me. And I thought if I waited until after the race-- after we win the race-- you’ll have money again. And I couldn’t stomach the thought of you thinking I waited until you had a couple of million in the bank to want to kiss you. Cause that’s got nothing to do with it.”

Tony almost laughs. “You’re worried I’m going to think you’re after more money? Bucky-- you win the same share as me. You know that.”

“Yeah, I do,” Bucky agrees. “I just want everything to be crystal clear. No matter what happens this afternoon I wanted you to remember that I wanted you before it happened. I wanted to kiss you about a minute after you walked into my house to fix my cable.”

“Or murder you with an axe,” Tony whispers mischievously.

This time he’s the one to cross the distance and he kisses Bucky with all the fondness he’s held back for the last thirty days. He only pulls away when there’s a loud cough from the hallway door, and Harley and Peter both start laughing.

“Oh sorry-- didn’t mean to interrupt your hugging,” Peter says with a grin.

“Pretty sure there’s gonna be loads of time for you guys to get it on after the race. But can we have a little focus here? Some professionalism?” Harley prods. “After all… we’ve got a race to win.”

*

They do win. Holy shit, do they win.

For years, people have said solar racing would never catch on because the cars couldn’t hold the power it would take to go really fast and really far.

Well guess what, doubters? Solar Racing only really needed Tony Stark and Friends to do all that and more.

Tony hadn’t set out to revolutionize the car industry or anything but as the race results post and the media realizes he and his friends had outdone the combined efforts of Every Car Maker in the World by 21 laps with one month of work in a shabby garage… the collective shit hits the fan.

They’re all instant celebrities. Clint, Luis and Scott get offered a Netflix deal within the week, to star in a show that’s sort of a cross between Mythbusters and Gone in 60 Seconds. Tony’s never met three guys who deserve that opportunity more.

The assholes from the Daily Bugle who called Jan boring are eating their words, as she grants interviews to just about every major fashion reporter around but declines to discuss her new racing inspired collection with any reporter who had previously dissed her or Tony.

Plus, she’s dating Clint now, so her life is anything but boring.

Bruce uses the entirety of his winnings to advocate for clean water for all, and job offers come in from big universities by the dozens.

Harley and Peter are set for college and finally recognized by their peers as they walk the hallways at their school, but neither seem overly impressed by fame. They’re way more interested in scaling down Tony’s designs to innovate on their own, and more often than not, they still finish their homework at his kitchen table.

His kitchen table, cause Rhodey’d moved out. The apartment is the first place Tony’s ever felt like was home but Rhodey’s dreams take him further afield. He’ll always have first dibs on the guest room, though, since Tony and Bucky have no need for the spare. They are ridiculously, cozily content sharing a bed every night, and the rest of the apartment every day.

They could definitely move somewhere bigger, or more upscale. They’ve got money enough, even as Tony fights for his share of Stark Industries. When Tony gets back what’s his, all he plans to do with it is sell his half back to his dad. He wants out of the weapons game, and into the environmental field where he belongs. Solar cars and accessible water filtration and air purifiers-- leaving the world a better place than he found it. That’s where he finds his passion. His purpose.

There and in Bucky’s arms.

Hugging.

*18 Months Later*

“You clean up nice,” Rhodey says, as he drags Tony into a bear hug. “And here I thought you’d want your bachelor party to happen at that awful stripclub you took me to when you turned 21. Isn’t that what you told me back then? If you ever got married, I had to promise you we’d spend the night before at The Candy Bar?”

Tony groans into his beer. “I smelled like chocolate for a week after that.”

“Lucky you,” Rhodey laughs. “I was finding pop rocks in places where there should not be pop rocks, for exactly that long.”

“Oh! I’ve heard of that place before,” Luis enthuses. “My cousin’s girlfriend knows a girl who has a roommate who works there and she told me they have a whole room full of--” he pauses and glances toward Peter and Harley, “full of lollipops…”

“We’re 18 now,” Harley points out. “You don’t have to make it G rated.”

“Oh no, man,” Luis says. “They really do have a room full of lollipops and you can buy one for twenty bucks and let the--”

“Nope!” Harley says suddenly, looking at Tony and Rhodey with an expression of horror. “Let’s just forget this place exists, cause if this is how Rhodey got pop rocks in unusual places, I don’t wanna know.”

That gets them all laughing and it’s like nothing has changed since the last time they were all together. Sure, they’ve added a few folks to the mix: Peter’s Aunt May and Bruce had hit it off spectacularly and are dating now, and Bucky’s friend Steve joins in when he can. These meetups feel more like a family reunion than anything else. Last time it had been for the boys’ graduation. This time everyone’s in town for the wedding.

Tony and Bucky’s wedding.

Tony can hardly believe his luck. No matter how many times he pinches himself or Roomba Dum-E runs over his foot, he doesn’t wake up and realize this is all a dream. It’s his real life and no one can take it from him.

All it took to get to happily ever after was a takedown of his Uncle Obie, endless government bureaucracy, an Air Force pilot, two teenage boys, a hippy-science teacher, an heiress, three car-thieves, a robot and one thousand left-hand turns.

Easy-peasy. Coulda happened to anyone.

But Tony’s eternally grateful that it happened to him.