After yet another briefing with Fury, Steve signaled to the other Avengers he had something to say. They left the bridge and headed out, planning on taking the Quinjet. In the hangar he turned to the others, wondering if this was how he wanted to do it but knowing he should be honest with them.
“If anyone doesn’t want to take part in this, I understand,” Steve started.
“Take part in what?” Clint raised an eyebrow, keeping his voice low.
Aware of the fact that they might be being watched, Steve looked around, then leaned in closer to the others. “I know where the Voice is,” he started. “I’m… I need to figure out the rest of it, to understand, and you’re welcome to join me.”
“You’re going to meet him,” Bruce concluded.
“I assume Fury doesn’t know,” Natasha cut in, a thoughtful look on her face.
“If that is a problem for anyone, they can stay behind,” Steve decided.
“I said nothing about that,” Natasha quirked an eyebrow.
Sometimes Steve wondered to whom she was actually loyal, and whether she would report back to Fury regardless of what she acted like.
“I want to meet the Voice,” Thor decided.
“You know where I stand on the matter,” Bruce agreed.
“None of you can pilot the Quinjet so I guess you’ll be happy to know I’m jumping into this boat with you,” Clint finished and they all climbed into the aircraft in mutual agreement. Steve wasn’t usually one to break the rules but in this case he wanted to pursue his knowledge before letting Fury in on it, knowing that the Director would be happy to put the hacker in chains and they would never agree on that.
“Where are we going?” Clint asked as they took off.
“Malibu, California,” Steve revealed once they were clear of the Helicarrier.
“Let me guess; Stark’s home?” Natasha mused. Steve looked at her in alarm but she shrugged. “Fury voiced suspicions of your behavior there. Stark has also provided some of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s tech and he has the knowledge of how to breach their systems. It’s always been a risk.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure it’s Stark,” Steve revealed then refused to say anything else during the flight.
When they arrived in Malibu it was late. The house was lit from the inside and out, though, and Clint put the Quinjet down with practiced ease on a helipad by the building then climbed out with the rest of them. Steve looked all of them over, seeing how they must appear to anyone who noticed them; Clint and Natasha were in uniform, Thor wore his usual Asgardian clothes, and Steve and Bruce were in their civvies. Steve had the shield, though, because he felt odd leaving it behind. One never knew what was going to happen.
They walked to the door and hovered there for a moment.
“Should we knock?” Clint asked after a bit with an air of impatience.
“What if no one’s home?” Bruce mused.
Thor lifted his hammer suggestively.
“Let’s not…” Steve interrupted then raised a hand and rang the bell. It suddenly dawned on him that Happy Hogan might answer the door again or that Pepper Potts would be around, which wouldn’t end well and they would probably be calling Fury within five minutes, which would leave Steve with a lot to explain.
Natasha raised her head and everyone else followed her line of sight; there was a very small, hidden camera with a perfect angle of the doorway mounted to the wall which meant anyone inside already knew they were there – or at least the AI knew.
“J.A.R.V.I.S., please let us in,” Steve spoke up. “I need to talk to you.”
“J.A.R.V.I.S.?” Natasha frowned.
“He’s the Voice,” Steve announced. “I heard him speak with Mr. Stark; that’s the voice we’ve been listening to for months, telling us what to do.”
“An Artificial Intelligence has been tracking our missions and giving us helpful hints?” Bruce turned it over in his head. “Well, I’m sure J.A.R.V.I.S. has the means but I’m not sure if –”
The lock on the door clicked softly and Steve pushed it open, leading them in. There were lights on around the house, mounted on the walls, creating a myriad of shadows in a rather tasteful and artistic way. Everything was quiet. “Is there anyone home?” Steve asked. If J.A.R.V.I.S. was alone then they would be in luck.
“Are you going to rob me if I say no?” a voice called out and Tony Stark walked into view, dressed in dark jeans and a tank top, a blue circle of light shining through the material of the tank top as if attached to his chest. He looked at them all while the door closed itself behind them. “What do you want?” he asked then, a hint of annoyance in his voice.
“I’m sorry about the late hour. We’re the Av–”
“I know who you are,” Tony interrupted Steve’s introductions. “The whole world knows after what you did in D.C.” He looked them over once again, briefly stopping at Thor, who surely wasn’t something you saw every day and then at Bruce – and strangely enough, he smiled a bit at the guy, something changing in his eyes.
Steve cleared his throat. “We’re here to talk to J.A.R.V.I.S.”
Tony looked at him, any and all traces of the smile vanishing. “It’s late, he’s in bed.” Which meant he clearly didn’t want them to talk to the AI.
“Sir, the test downstairs has completed but Dummy is attempting to help you along by resuming it,” the ethereal voice spoke around them.
“Tell him to stop!” Tony snapped. “He’s going to blow us all up and that fire extinguisher of his won’t save anyone.”
“Perhaps you should return to the workshop.”
“Right,” Tony grunted and turned, heading for the stairs.
Since he hadn’t told them to stay or go, Steve opted to follow Tony, the rest of the Avengers trailing him down the steps.
Downstairs held the most high-tech area Steve had ever seen, and he had been spending a lot of time in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s most advanced labs after the Avengers were first assembled. There were cars parked along one wall, both old and new models. Holographic images floated around and in one corner slowly rotated an image of something like a crude metal armor. It was transparent, as if they could see each part it would be made of, its faceplate carrying a grim, soulless look.
“Dummy, I told you not to touch the controls!” Tony was snapping at something that looked like a robotic arm on a stand with wheels. It whirred and let out a series of sounds, snapping its mechanical jaws as if protesting. Tony made it move to the side and did something to a device on the table.
“There’s something we need to clear up,” Steve went on when Tony looked less distracted. “J.A.R.V.I.S. has been hacking our comm signals for months, not to mention S.H.I.E.L.D.’s files. There’s a manhunt going on to find the perpetrator and when I realized –”
“Do you think I wouldn’t know if my personal AI was running rampant, playing with superheroes?” Tony snapped, sitting down in a chair. His hand briefly pressed on the glowing circle in his chest, as if he were in pain, then moved it away quick enough for most people to not notice at all.
The Avengers weren’t most people.
“He has been aiding us,” Thor offered. “A most insightful, resourceful ally,” the blond Norse god nodded in approval.
Tony simply raised an eyebrow. “So let me get this straight; you think J.A.R.V.I.S. has been hacking S.H.I.E.L.D. to chat with you and aid you with your problems?”
“He’s been helping us on the field, providing information no one else could,” Clint agreed, although Steve knew the archer still didn’t like that; both Clint and Natasha wanted to be in control of the situation and the Voice hadn’t been the most trustworthy source in their opinion, since they couldn’t verify who it was.
Tony snorted then glanced upwards. “J, have you been babysitting the Avengers in the last couple of months without my permission?”
“No, sir, I have not,” the voice replied.
“Maybe he’s doing it in a way you’re not aware of,” Steve suggested.
“Look here, Cap: I designed him. I would know if he was going rogue,” Tony pointed out.
Steve blinked and noticed a thoughtful look on Bruce’s face. Once again Tony glanced at Bruce and gave him one of those small, almost secret smiles. As if he knew something about the other man the rest of them didn’t.
At that instant Steve recalled how Bruce had told them the Voice had persuaded him to stay, promising protection and information. Whatever they had talked about, it had convinced the paranoid scientist to stay and embrace the Hulk in a way he hadn’t been comfortable with before.
“It’s not J.A.R.V.I.S.,” Bruce started.
“It’s you,” Steve backed him up, looking at Tony Stark sitting there in the middle of his workshop, meeting all of them but Steve for the first time yet somehow treating them as if they had met many times before.
“I should have recognized it the moment I heard J.A.R.V.I.S. talk to you,” Bruce snapped his fingers. “Your speech patterns are different. They are so unlike each other… But you let him talk to us before, didn’t you?”
Tony let out a sigh, looking to the side – to the rotating holographic image of some kind of armor. “Took you long enough to figure it out.”
“Mister Stark insisted on using my voice, to conceal his identity, and he would occasionally let me converse with you – unless you were being too slow on the uptake and he got impatient,” J.A.R.V.I.S. explained. “Which was quite often.”
“I was giving you awesome advice and you would just stand there, refusing to take it,” Tony complained. His eyes turned to Bruce again. “On the other hand, some of you were more receptive than I had imagined. I’m glad you took my advice, Dr. Banner.”
“I wouldn’t say I took it, but for the time being it was… good enough,” Bruce shrugged.
“Why would you do it?” Natasha asked. “Play in the shadows. It’s very unlike you, Mr. Stark.”
Tony raised an eyebrow then shrugged. “It’s complicated.”
“Instead of keeping him on his toes for months, you could have just come out and met with Director Fury and he may have let you consult the Avengers,” Natasha pressed.
“Not everything needs to be run by Fury,” Tony snapped.
Steve listened to them while he decided to allow his curiosity to take the better of him and approached the raised stand with the image of the armor. The closer he came, the more details his eyes found; it was hollow, so it wasn’t meant to be a robot. There were weapons, crudely wired yet with a genius to it that he didn’t possess. It was something a man as brilliant as Tony Stark would think of. And then there was the fist-sized round hole in its chest, clearly missing something. His eyes flew back to the man who was still disagreeing with Natasha about why Fury shouldn’t know about his involvement, his gaze once again finding the glowing circle in the man’s chest. Whatever its purpose…
Tony fell silent abruptly, as if alerted that he was being watched. The dark gaze moved to Steve, then briefly past him at the image. It was hard to read his expression – until a strange, nervous chuckle escaped him and he stood up, walking over to Steve and the holograph. The blue of the suit’s image reflected in his eyes as he looked at it. “An unfinished project,” he mused, touching it, lines appearing on his skin.
“If you ever finish it,” Steve started, “I’m sure we can find you a spot in the Avengers. Seeing as you’ve already earned one.”
“I have?” Tony asked, raising an eyebrow. He was shorter than Steve – just like his father had been. They looked a lot alike, even the pained expression in their eyes. For Howard it had been the horror of war. For Tony… Steve wasn’t sure but he was certain it had something to do with that circle of light in his chest – and Afghanistan, which Fury had warned him not to talk about.
Steve nodded, not caring if the other Avengers wanted to protest. “We can hardly keep you from interfering, after all,” he added.
Tony smiled at that – a genuine smile, Steve could tell. “It’s not every day a man gets asked to join a group of superheroes by his childhood hero,” he quipped then turned away, not giving Steve a chance to say anything to that. Sure, he knew the kids had been taught after WWII that Captain America had been one of the greatest heroes in the history of the USA. He was still wrapping his head around that.
“We should go,” Clint said then. “Before anyone starts tracking our whereabouts.”
Tony seated himself again, looking at one of the screens, getting absorbed in his work. Steve felt like he should say something more to him, to talk about him possibly joining the Avengers or helping them, but Tony had been doing just that until now so was there a reason for that to change? Well, there was always the manhunt Steve was supposed to be leading in order to find the hacker and now that he had, he itched to explain it all to Fury. He knew, though, that things might not be that simple; Tony had broken a lot of rules while helping them.
“Think about it,” Steve called back to him as they headed out the door.
Tony didn’t acknowledge he heard him but Steve knew that if he didn’t, J.A.R.V.I.S. did.
It had been a week since the Avengers visited him. Tony had known it was coming, knew he had slipped a few times, especially when Fury dragged Steve Rogers over and the man heard J.A.R.V.I.S. talking to him. Sure, they could have pretended his AI had a mind of his own – which he did – and had done all this on his own, but Tony was too self-centered to let that fly for more than a few minutes.
That Captain America had actually hinted he should join the Avengers threatened to make him drop the mask he had been determined to wear in front of these people. J.A.R.V.I.S. had seen that small twitch and relentlessly pushed Tony to explain it – even when Tony was certain the AI had already calculated it in his super-computer equivalent of a brain.
He spent a lot of time sitting in his workshop, staring at the rotating image of a suit he had planned on building in Afghanistan. He had noticed Steve noticing it, knowing what he was thinking – or at least tried to anticipate it. The Avengers didn’t really need another member. All they required was the help Tony had been providing them thus far. One could be offered without the other.
A pain burned inside him again, a telltale sign of destroyed nerves, cut ribs and mutilated skin – a reminder of a time when he had been solely focused on surviving. Now that it was no longer necessary to do that, the pain lingered, harder to contain. He popped a pill in his mouth then washed it down with a drink of water. Closing his eyes and waiting it out never worked so he looked at the rotating suit instead – Mark I. He never built it, other than in his head, and sometimes he dreamt what it would have been like to escape on his own. Would Yinsen still be alive? Would Tony himself be alive? Would he have ever gotten home from the middle of the Afghan desert?
Maybe it would have been better that way, to never come home…
“Sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. spoke up.
Tony didn’t reply or indicate he heard him.
He had watched the Avengers struggle through their first battle, reliving the moment in his head where Yinsen told him to not waste his life – the life the man had given him by saving Tony’s life. Tony had wondered how he could do it, ever since getting home; to fulfill the promise and redeem his past ignorance.
Helping the Avengers had been an easy choice. It gave him the means to do good, to ensure they won, that they lived to fight another battle. He kept them together when he noticed the signs that Bruce Banner might be planning on leaving; he knew how important the Hulk was to the team, not to mention Bruce’s intellect. That interaction became personal, too, because they had a lot in common and even when hiding behind another’s voice, Tony and Bruce almost became friends.
“Sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. vied for his attention once more.
“Yeah?” Tony finally deigned to answer.
“The Avengers have been called to Manhattan, New York. There appears to be a group of strange organisms that are both mechanical and biological with advanced self-repair abilities.” A screen was opened before his eyes, so close it hurt, showing him data and live feed from Manhattan. “The Avengers need your help.”
Thor and the Hulk were doing a fine job trying to tear the strange biomecha-organisms apart but they kept piecing themselves back together afterwards. Captain America was calling orders while navigating civilians out of the way and Hawkeye was searching for a weak spot that didn’t present itself.
“Curious,” Tony frowned at the screen, looking at the readout they were receiving.
“Sir, may I suggest –”
“I know what you’re going to say,” Tony interrupted him.
“Captain Rogers said you had a place among them.”
Tony’s eyes didn’t leave the feed. He couldn’t do anything from a distance; this required a very different set of weapons, possibly. A set of weapons he may or may not have…
“Can’t hurt any more than it already does,” he finally muttered and turned his chair around. “J, prep Mark III.”
“With pleasure, sir,” the AI replied and the floor opened, pushing upwards a gleaming suit of red and gold. It was much sleeker than the original version, perfected with hours upon hours of work. Mark II had already been a step forward and Tony had taken it for a few spins around Malibu – yet every time he had asked himself what he was doing. He had lacked the incentive for the next step, working on the designs instead, perfecting them even though they might never be used.
“Let’s suit up and see what this baby can do,” he said and stepped over to the raised surface while mechanical arms reached down to take apart the armor. It closed in around him after he was in place, snug and powerful at the same time. The slight pressure against his chest hurt but the pain pills were still working, keeping the burn to a minimum.
J.A.R.V.I.S. came to life on a Heads Up Display in front of his eyes, doing a final routine check before waiting for Tony’s next move. “Engage thrusters,” Tony commanded and the suit came to life, propelling him up. He would have shot through the ceiling – something he had almost experienced when testing Mark II’s flight capabilities for the first time – but he leaned forward and shot out through the driving ramp. J.A.R.V.I.S. opened the ground level doors, letting him out, and he shot higher into the sky, through the clouds, a grin fighting its way to the surface once again; he had missed flying, the sensation and freedom it gave him, and for a moment the pain in his chest vanished, taking him a step above it as he put full power to thrusters and fully intended to break a few speed records on his way to the other side of the continent.
Steve had waited for the Voice to appear ever since the battle began. It still felt strange to think of it as Tony while it was J.A.R.V.I.S.’s voice he had been using all this time, so referring to it with its old name was easier for the time being.
The familiar tone didn’t reach his ears, or anyone else’s. Maybe – Steve didn’t like this idea at all – he had abandoned them now that they had found out his identity. Or maybe Tony was just busy. Maybe there was nothing he could do to help them as they fought the strange things which seemed too organic to be mere machines.
Bruce’s first guess had been either a horrible lab experiment gone rogue or something from outer space – or a mix of the two. The things they had faced since first assembling suggested that anything was possible.
Steve sent his shield flying, almost cutting off the head of one of the creatures, but it merged back into place, hugging onto the tendrils that hadn’t been severed. Hawkeye had tried blowing them up but they kept pulling themselves back together no matter how far the Hulk tossed the parts, and it seemed they just got flatter and flatter beneath Thor’s pounding, never really breaking.
“Cap, on your six!” Black Widow called, giving Steve just enough time to turn and see one of the things behind him. Tentacle-like appendices twined around him, cutting off air immediately, making it hard to fight back when his body couldn’t get enough oxygen.
He heard a roar of engines behind him, hoping it was back-up from S.H.I.E.L.D. and fearing it was one of the news choppers coming too close. Instead he felt something hot tingle against his back and the mechanic organism jerked, letting him go. Steve rolled to the ground, attempting to get back on his feet, and raised his head to see what had happened.
On the other side of the silvery creature he saw a figure of red and gold, one knee on the ground, head slightly bowed. The figure soon straightened up, mechanical body emitting small sounds as it moved, yet what made Steve’s shoulders relax and the corners of his mouth turn up was the glowing circle in the thing’s chest.
“Shield up,” Tony ordered, voice distorted. He raised his hands and Steve did as he was told, then felt a pressure like an invisible field, ending in a sort of a shriek from the thing he had been battling and when he lowered his shield again, he saw the silver creature twitching on the ground as if a dying cockroach. “That should slow it down,” Tony mused, walking over, a bit stiff but clearly this wasn’t his first time in the suit of armor. Steve wondered why he hadn’t just told them when they visited his lab.
“We’re not even sure what these things are,” Steve mentioned, deciding to ask questions later.
“Bio-mechanic organisms. A concentrated EMP blast should shut down most of them, as demonstrated, and after that their self-repair capabilities should be minimized.” He looked up, the glowing blue eyes of his helmet scanning the area.
“They’re all yours,” Steve encouraged him and he wondered if Tony smiled. The armor took off from the ground, soaring into the air, and by the time the rest of the creatures were twitching on the ground – or not twitching after the Hulk stepped on a few in annoyance – they all gathered up in a sort of a circle in the middle of a demolished street.
“Nice suit,” Clint commented.
“Thanks,” Tony replied.
“Why not bring it out in the open earlier?” Natasha asked, gently twisting a wrist that may have gotten sprained in the action.
“It… didn’t feel like the right thing to do. What would I have done with it?”
“I can think of a few things you could do with it now,” Steve cut off any further comments.
The Hulk grunted approvingly.
“You better go before S.H.I.E.L.D. arrives for clean up,” Clint went on. “Unless you’re planning on coming over and explaining all this to Fury.”
“I think I’ll take a rain check on that,” Tony sounded like he cringed then sort of saluted them and blasted up into the air before anyone could get another word in.
“What are we going to call him?” Thor mused.
“Maybe he’ll let us know next time,” Steve said with a faint smile on his lips.
The press dubbed him ‘Iron Man’. Steve thought it was catchy, in a sense, and not knowing how to ask for Tony’s own opinion, he decided on the most obvious way to do it; going to see him in person.
He rode his bike to Malibu when he had time off. Well, his time off would last as long as it took a new threat to rise, but until then S.H.I.E.L.D. and Avengers business could wait. It was getting dark when he arrived at Stark’s estate and rode up the winding path to the house. He slid off the seat, stretched a bit then took his bag and walked to the door, wondering suddenly what he was going to say. He had decided to think of that on the road, but now he was here and he hadn’t landed on any solid idea.
Steve hesitated at the door, not having rung the bell yet. Maybe he should come back when he knew that he wanted to say to Tony, or at least explain his presence here.
The door opened before he could decide either way.
“Please come in, Captain Rogers,” J.A.R.V.I.S. said softly.
“Uh, thanks,” Steve replied and stepped in.
“Mister Stark is downstairs in his workshop. You’re free to join him. I have also prepared a guest room for you. If you want to shower first, or eat, I can show you the way.”
“I think I’ll talk to Tony first,” Steve managed. Okay, so it was late and he had a bag with him, which might have led him to ask if he could spend the night, but having a room already prepared for him seemed a bit too much. He didn’t want to make Tony feel like he had to do this.
He walked downstairs, the door to the workshop unlocking for him. Music was blasting hard and gritty while Tony leaned over a workbench, sparks flying.
The music died down when Steve entered and Tony looked up. “I told you to let him in, not kill my tunes.”
“It seemed polite not to ruin his hearing on purpose,” J.A.R.V.I.S. defended his actions.
Steve smiled at the two of them while Tony slid off the welding mask to uncover his face and peer up at him. “Hey, Cap. What’s the occasion?”
“I wanted to see how you were doing and, uh… congratulate you on your official superhero status?” Steve offered.
Tony grinned and turned off the welding machine. “The name’s not really accurate but I can live with it. How’s Fury taking it?”
“As well as can be expected. It’s ticking him off that we refuse to tell him if we know who Iron Man is – for some reason he seems to think we do know – and he’s also getting highly suspicious of my involvement in the attempt to catch the hacker. He seems to think I might not be as in tune with the idea of finding and catching the culprit as I said I was.”
Tony chuckled then groaned faintly and stepped back from the bench, sitting down in a chair instead, looking a bit pained. “I’m sure he’s in shock that the national icon might actually be lying to his face.” He reached for a metal box on the table, shook two pills out of it and then tossed them in his mouth, chased down by a gulp of water. He looked at Steve after he was done, as if gauging his reaction.
“It hurts, doesn’t it?” Steve guessed.
Tony shrugged, although the motion was almost small enough to miss. Maybe that would have hurt, too. “A souvenir.”
“Is it because of the suit, or was the suit designed for it?” Steve knew maybe he shouldn’t ask, but Tony might be in a charitable mood, who knew.
“I guess the latter,” Tony smiled distantly before his expression froze slightly. “A couple years back I got kidnapped in Afghanistan. A bomb exploded in front of me and embedded shrapnel in my chest. In an attempt to save me, a… doctor carved a hole in my chest and put an electromagnet in it because he couldn’t get all the shrapnel out. This is an improved version of his crude device,” Tony said, lightly tapping the circle of light, “and the suit was supposed to get us both out of there. I got rescued about a month later, though, and never completed the suit.”
Steve could imagine the horror of that experience, yet it seemed to have taught Tony a few valuable lessons – some of which had been put to good use recently. “Well, I’m glad he saved your life.”
Tony looked at him with a peculiar expression on his face. “Me, too, I guess,” he said then, slowly, still watching Steve. “What are you doing here, really?”
Steve looked down at his feet, noting a few stains on the floor but nothing as bad as he might have expected. Tony kept his work space clean, clearly. “I’m not sure.”
“So you just rode almost three thousand miles on a whim?”
Steve raised his eyes, dropped his bag because he felt stupid carrying it around like that, then walked closer. “I guess I wanted to thank you. I know I have, before, over the comm…” Speaking to a mere voice in his ear had never felt as real as standing here, in front of Tony, able to touch him if he just reached out. The voice may have been someone else’s but now that he’d had the chance to talk to Tony, he knew where his appreciation belonged.
“You’re welcome,” Tony replied with a quirky smile on his lips. “Are you going to drive back home now, satisfied?”
“J.A.R.V.I.S. offered me a bed and supper, I believe,” Steve noted.
“He’s such a flirt.”
“You’re the one who created him; you should know.”
Tony regarded him for the longest of times, as if trying to figure something out or testing a theory. Finally he narrowed his eyes, as if shifting his brain into a higher gear still. “Shouldn’t this be strange, somehow?”
“What?” Steve had to ask.
“Us. You and me. We’ve met twice – or three times, if you count me being in the suit. I always imagined it would be odd, meeting you after all the stories my dad told me about you.”
“And weighing in the suppressed resentment,” J.A.R.V.I.S. piped up – clearly not with permission because the look Tony gave the room in general was scalding.
“Yeah, well, all that,” Tony finally admitted once he was done with his internal monologue at his AI’s boldness.
“We’ve talked to each other for months,” Steve started. “I guess that counts for something. It’s almost like I know you.”
“You thought it was J.A.R.V.I.S. who was talking to you,” Tony reminded him, a flicker of amusement in his eyes.
“Yeah, but it never made sense until we figured out that you just used him – to communicate with us,” he hastily added before Tony could get offended. Could he get offended by using something he had created? J.A.R.V.I.S. felt so much like an actual person that Steve had a hard time determining the difference.
Tony studied him again. “You’re not like how I thought you would be.”
“Is that a good thing?” Steve asked, surprised at how curious he actually was about Tony’s reply.
“Perhaps.” Tony grinned suddenly. “Although it does put sort of a damper on some of my dirtiest childhood fantasies.”
Steve knew he should have blushed and coughed, to signal he didn’t want to hear about that. He did neither – which seemed to be something Tony hadn’t anticipated as a reaction. The brown eyes narrowed again as the brunette regarded him. They stayed like that, Tony’s gaze piercing and Steve just looking back at him, committing to memory each line of his face and body in a way the artistic side of his brain would be pleased with.
Finally he decided enough was enough and stepped forward, closer to Tony, not slowly but not too fast to feel like he was crowding. “As I said earlier, I wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done for the Avengers.”
“And I said you’re welcome,” Tony cocked his head, narrowed eyes not relenting. “You’re pushing it; as much as I love being praised and thanked for things I’ve done, I, too, have a limit.”
“It means a lot to me that you would do that, to go to so much trouble to help people you don’t even know,” Steve went on.
“It was for a good cause, right? And I…” Tony looked to the side. He had probably made promises to a dying man – Steve knew that look. Knew how it could hound you.
“I’m also thankful that you finally put on the suit,” Steve added, now very close to Tony, their knees almost touching.
“I’ve put it on before,” Tony tried to dodge the topic.
“Not for something like this.”
“So now I’m a goddamn hero. Great! I finally know what to do with the rest of my adult life,” Tony grinned although in his eyes… it was hard to tell but maybe Tony didn’t believe it. Maybe he didn’t think he could do it, or that he was unworthy for some reason.
“I’ll talk to Fury again. I want you to be part of the Avengers – if you want. The others agree.”
“You voted?” Tony looked up at him.
“We didn’t need to.”
It looked like Tony had never really been chosen for anything. He gave Steve one of those looks he had been feeling all his childhood, when he wouldn’t be picked for a team unless he had to be. Sure, Tony’d had success in his life, walking over everyone else, one step ahead, but that didn’t mean he had been picked by the right people – the people that actually mattered in the crucial moments of his life. A diploma here and an honor there wasn’t something one needed to feel they were blending in, that they were part of something.
“Thanks,” Tony finally said, shifting his chair back and then standing up, looking at Steve’s face after he had dragged his eyes up his body. The grin appeared again. “As I’m not sure what you mean by this, is that dirty childhood fantasy totally out of the question?”
Steve had a feeling he might regret his answer, but at the same time he knew a large part of him would never look back at this moment with remorse: “I think something can be arranged.”
Steve’s stomach rumbled. He recalled it had been a while since he last ate; some road-side diner outside L.A. where he was just another touristy American out of place, not just out of time.
A chuckle reached his ears and Tony shifted beside him. His skin was warm – Steve usually ran hot but their recent activities had helped Tony to catch up.
“There are snacks available in the kitchen, Captain Rogers,” J.A.R.V.I.S. informed helpfully.
Steve felt for a brief moment that he should feel awkward knowing that the AI had been watching and listening to them the whole time, but Tony didn’t seem to care so it probably didn’t matter. “Thanks, J.A.R.V.I.S. And you can call me Steve.”
“Of course, Captain Rogers.”
“He won’t stop calling you that,” Tony murmured against his side where his head currently lay.
“You programmed him.”
“Oh, trust me, he’s evolved beyond everything I ever programmed him to do, and that’s the way it was supposed to be.” He turned to his side, looking at Steve. His hair was a bit rumpled and he looked so much more relaxed. “My friend Rhodey tried to make J call him something other than ‘Mr. Rhodes’. J.A.R.V.I.S. understands the concept, of course, because he didn’t call him ‘Mr. Rhodey’ for the rest of the time – just for a couple months to make his point.”
Steve decided not to chance it. He sat up, stretching his back, feeling rather relaxed himself. Tony was still looking at him and Steve took the chance to lean down and kiss him. It was long and slow now that the passion had dissipated.
“That wasn’t so bad for a ninety-something-year-old virgin,” Tony commented when Steve moved to the edge of the wide bed and got up.
“Who said anything about a virgin?” Steve shot back.
“Oh, so America’s finest was having relations while in the war?”
“I’m a gentleman; I don’t kiss and tell.”
“If you don’t tell me, I can still call you a virgin,” Tony teased, rolling over, reaching out to touch Steve’s naked skin with his fingertips.
“Not anymore you can’t,” Steve replied, shooting out and catching that hand, pulling Tony closer. “You should eat, too.”
“Then bring me back something.”
“It’s your house. You should be making me supper.”
Tony let out a dismissive sound, regarding him, then finally sighed and rolled off the bed, padding to the kitchen without bothering to put on any clothes. Steve wasn’t quite so adventurous and tugged on his underwear before following him. The lights were already on and Tony had a fresh drink at his elbow. He was pulling things out of cupboards and the fridge, clearly intent on sandwiches. Steve stepped up behind him, flush against Tony’s back and nuzzled his neck, hands tracing his sides, hips and thighs with a minimum of touch.
“So,” Tony asked, taking a sip of his drink then going back to food preparations, “was this a ‘thank you and welcome to the team’ kind of thing or is it going to get really awkward later?” he mused.
“I’m an old-fashioned man,” Steve said although it wasn’t necessarily true. After all, he had jumped into the sack with Tony without even having a proper conversation with him first. Not that he regretted it, not for a moment. One clearly didn’t become a notorious playboy in this day and age simply by boasting of their prowess in bed. “I don’t think I would handle meaningless fraternization very well.”
“We’re not even officially working together yet,” Tony noted.
“So it’s not fraternization. Unless you accept that you’re part of the Avengers whether or not Fury says yes, which means it is very much fraternization and we might have to make it a bit more meaningful to withstand the horrible scrutiny other people are going to subject us with.”
“You’ve really given this some thought, haven’t you?” Tony asked, turning around. He had a dab of butter on his finger so Steve pulled it to his lips and licked it off. There was an underlying taste of sex beneath it and he decided that Tony was the kind of person to not remember personal hygiene when he emerged from his workshop. He also guessed no one ever asked him to cook for them, either, and that’s why Tony’s kitchen was fairly uncluttered.
“While you lay passed out on the bed,” Steve teased him.
“I was enjoying myself,” Tony defended his brief, blissed-out coma. “You rocked my world, Cap, what can I say?”
Steve smiled and kissed him again. He knew this could get weird afterwards, when he actually realized what he had done with a person he didn’t even know. But like he’d said, Tony and he had been talking for months and if this man had tried to help Steve of his own free will, without being told or asked, he didn’t see it as a bad thing.
He was merely saying ‘thank you’ in a rather creative way, and ensuring that his team stayed safe in the future as well – with an added bonus of a new teammate and friend.
Author’s note: The plot and size of this fic took on a life of its own at some point. I hope everyone enjoyed this.
Also, before anyone asks (if said ‘anyone’ is interested) there is a chance of a sequel, seeing as the whole Obadiah-is-a-bad-guy business didn’t get to be included just yet (because Tony never actually built Mark I suit in the cave and killing him after he was rescued would have been too obvious), or the palladium poisoning (using the suit speeded up the his condition according to IM2, which Tony wasn’t doing here). So there is a possibility in the future, of one sequel or more…