she goes out and steals the king's english (gyzym) wrote,
she goes out and steals the king's english
gyzym

avengers fic - situation normal: all fucked up (steve/tony, nc-17) [1/3]

Filed under: that awkward moment when you blink and you're 27,000 words into the sequel of Ready, Fire, Aim and you have the sudden, terrible realization that the remaining plot you've got left to write is actually going to have to be a third story, because the whole thing turns out to be a trilogy, who knew? Oh, god, I have nothing to say for myself.

My endless thanks to sheafrotherdon, whose continued willingness to police my increasingly terrible stylistic choices is mindblowing, and postcardmystery, who, in the liner notes of my life, is probably best described as either "arbiter of sanity" or "most beloved." ♥

Title: Situation Normal: All Fucked Up
Pairing: Steve/Tony [Pepper/Natasha, Rhodey/Bucky, past Tony/Pepper]
Rating: NC-17
Wordcount: 27,000
Author's Notes: Again, this is the sequel to Ready, Fire, Aim; it'll probably make more sense if you read that first.
Summary: As it turns out, fighting crime is the easy part.




Tony's on the kitchen counter, spread out on his back across the stovetop, when he hears Steve come through the door. The microwave's gone wrong again; Tony has the sneaking suspicion this is because the Hulk keeps trying to make ramen noodles in the dead of night, though when he tries to get confirmation on this, he's always met with slightly shamed silence. It doesn't really matter anyway--Tony doesn't mind fixing it. It's something to do with his hands that doesn't involve any conscious thought, and after a long day there's nothing quite like mindless mechanics to calm him down.

Pepper tells him some people knit. Tony can't imagine why.

In any case, he's got a screwdriver between his teeth, nuts and bolts scattered in a haphazard pattern that makes complete sense to him, when the sound of the door opening and Steve's heavy sigh filters down the hall. He doesn't stop working--Steve's been around long enough that it won't faze him to see Tony sprawled over the stove--but he does spit the screwdriver out when Steve comes in and starts laughing at him.

"Hey," he says.

"Hey, yourself,” Steve says, sounding tired. “Hulk try to make ramen again?"

"He will neither confirm nor deny," Tony says, which is mostly true; his awkward shuffle and hasty retreat had kind of been answer enough. "How'd it go?"

"Next time you're coming," Steve says. He leans back against the counter, rolling his shoulders. "I don't care where it is, I don't care what you've peed on--"

"Whom," Tony corrects, and gives Steve an apologetic little smile when he winces. "Sorry. It was a really long time ago, if that helps, and it was a really bad night, and, uh, you know what, I'm just gonna quit while I'm ahead. But hey, I've only been banned for life at four--well, six--well, eight places in New York, so the chances of this happening again are slim, that's good news, right?"

"Great news," Steve says. It's only a little dry, so Tony's going to go ahead and count it as a win.

Steve's in uniform; his gloves are off and his hood is down, but the blue fabric's still stretched tight across his chest, white star shining bright in the middle. Tony is used to this by now--Captain America lives with him and sleeps with him, the uniform should probably be old news--but it still makes his mouth go a little dry. He swallows past that, recognizing for once the need for a time and a place, and focuses on Steve's face. It's drawn; he’s pinched around his eyes, his mouth, his shoulders are slumped, and he's frowning in that way he does when he's trying and failing for a neutral expression.

"That bad, huh?"

"Yeah," Steve says, and sighs, running a hand over his face. "Or, no, not really. I just hate these things, you know? I always feel like I'm a cue away from 'every bond you buy is a bullet in the barrel of your best guy's gun!' I'd just…rather not."

"Hey, I would've bought those bonds," Tony says, wriggling his eyebrows halfheartedly, and Steve shakes his head, rolls his eyes.

"Flattering," he says. "Especially since I know how cautious you are with your money."

There's no sting in it, just a little bit of exhaustion seeping through; when Tony reaches out an arm and beckons, Steve comes, lets Tony run a hand along his thigh. He ducks his head down under the microwave and Tony leans in, presses warmth into his mouth because he wants to and he can. He lingers for a minute, right at the corner, until he feels Steve's lips curve up.

"Next time I'll be there," he says, and, shit, it sounds like a promise, he didn't mean that to happen at all. "And I can do all the pandering while you, I don't know, form meaningful connections with nasty old bitches who haven't smiled at anyone in forty years, you've got a knack for that."

"Language," Steve says, but he kisses Tony again, brief but fond, before he straightens up. "God, my head is killing me."

"I thought that was like," Tony waves a hand, sending a few screws flying, "you know, super-solidered out of you.  You should've been able to check some kind of opt-out on that--what's the point in being super-human if you've gotta suffer headaches like the rest of us?"

"High society can give anyone a headache, Tony."

"Truer words," Tony sighs, and frowns up at the bottom of the microwave. "Pretty sure I turned this into an explosive by mistake. You wanna watch a movie?"

"Yeah," Steve says at once; then he blinks and the frown's back, damn it, Tony'd been ahead of the game for a second there. "Wait, explosive? Shouldn't you, uh, fix that first?"

"Nah," Tony says, already mapping out in his head which wires he’ll have to rip loose. "I'll just disable it, tell Jarvis to program a warning if anyone gets close. I can mess around with it in the morning; I probably shouldn't have tried doing it now anyway, I always forget I end up in bang mode when I'm not paying attention. On the plus side, if anyone tries to kill us tonight, just shoot at that and--"

"No," Steve groans, "oh my god, don't even talk about that, I don't even want to think about that. If murderers come for us in the night, it's your turn to deal with it."

"Can't even muster the energy to defend the homestead, you must have a headache," Tony says, teasing. Steve just gives him a flat look, and Tony can't help it; he sits up, sending screws everywhere, and touches the side of Steve's face. Steve leans into the contact before Tony has the chance to be embarrassed at his own ridiculous sentimentality, closing his eyes, and then…well, if Tony rubs his thumb against Steve's temple a little bit, it's not like Steve's judging him for it.

"Shit, you really do, don't you?" he hears himself say. For a second, he doesn't recognize that it's his voice; Tony doesn't let himself talk like that--quiet, gentle--because Steve would probably ditch him for someone less horrifying if he did. But he doesn't seem to be minding it now, just murmurs a soft, agreeable sort of sound into Tony's wrist, and Tony presses a kiss against his forehead, but only because it's right there.

"Mm," Steve says, and blinks his eyes open, smiling a little. "You've got motor oil on your face, just so you know."

"Think there's a pretty decent chance that that's just my face, at this point," Tony says, if only to see Steve's smile deepen a little. "Occupational hazard, you know how it is--sort of like 'if you make that face enough it'll stick that way,' only more, uh, toxic.  Hope it's not too much of a turn-off."

"Nah," Steve says, "think I'll keep you around," and Tony's got an arc reactor embedded in his chest, so his heart definitely doesn't skip a beat.

He runs his knuckles lightly along Steve's cheek without even meaning to, does it once more before he gets control of himself and lets his hand drop. "You wanna put on something a little more loungewear appropriate? I'm gonna be a minute with this, I'm trying to beat my no-in-house-carnage record."

"Which is what, thirty-six hours?"

"Forty-eight," Tony says, grinning, "but I was out of town."

Steve shakes his head, head ducked to hide his smile. "Menace."

"Never claimed to be anything else," Tony says, and then Steve's kissing him again, slow and sweet. Tony never knows what to do when Steve does things like this, warm and so easy, a hand resting on Tony's knee with a soft sort of propriety; he just kisses back, resists the urge to take the whole thing deeper, knows without thinking too hard about why that Steve's not up for that tonight.

"Living room?" Steve says when he pulls back, and Tony nods, swallows.

"Five minutes," he says, and Steve squeezes his knee, just the once, before he wanders towards the door.

Tony stares at the microwave for a second; his face is reflected in the tinted glass, and even he can see he's blushing.

"Liar," he tells it, and it beeps ominously at him, which is when he realizes he should probably have unplugged it.

--


Tony beats Steve to the living room, which is probably a good thing considering what he finds there. Clint and Thor are positioned on opposite ends of the couch, a Connect Four board balanced between them. There are several empty beer bottles on the table, and the board seems to be populated with a combination of actual game pieces, quarters, and what Tony suspects are impossibly priceless Asgardian coins.  

"Um," says Tony, "what?"

Thor grins at him. "Tony, my friend! Clint has been teaching me to play this game of Midgardian strategy, but I suspect he has been inventing the rules for the last several rounds. He is a terrible cheat."

Clint doesn't even bother arguing that, just shrugs around a loud belch. "Gotta keep it interesting, right? We were gonna play poker, but Thor turns out to be a card sharp. Who knew?"

"I did," Bruce says, irritated, from the corner. Tony jumps; he hadn't seen him there.

"Jesus," he says, "is everyone in here? Is Natasha hanging from the ceiling, because if she is please do me a favor and warn me this time, unsettling doesn't even begin to cover it--"

"Natasha left to telephone her flame-haired love companion some hours ago," Thor says calmly, and then, with considerably more enthusiasm, "Check-king! Crown me with the glory of the empire, for I claim victory in this mortal contest."

Tony…doesn't even know where to begin with that sentence. Clint, for his part, just blinks, mouth open.

"You beat me," he says, in tones of great astonishment. "How could you beat me? I made up all the rules! I didn't even tell you most of them!"

Thor claps a massive, conciliatory hand on his shoulder. "It was a valiant effort,  well fought on all sides. Alas, you are not so adept at trickery as my brother Loki has always been; the art of beating one at one's own game is but one of the many things he has taught me."

"Really unsettling to hear you sound so fond of a guy who keeps trying to kill us," Bruce mutters. He still sounds irritated, and Tony glares at him, pointing.

"You," he says, "had better calm it down right now. I want to see some tranquility up in here and I want to see it fast, because if you Hulk out and try to make ramen tonight you're going to blow us all up. I…may have made a couple of tactical microwave errors."

It's probably some kind of terrible sign that no one even bats an eyelash at this. Tony will worry about it later.

Bruce says, “I really don't know what it is with him and the noodles," and then, noticing Tony has not stopped glaring, sighs. "No, no, don't look at me like that, I'm fine. It's just been a long week."

Tony opens his mouth to argue and finds he can’t. It has been a long week; a long month, actually, come to that. There was that thing with Ultron, and then the fucking Circus of Crime had come to town, and every time there’s a disaster, they’re forced to do press-friendly follow-up, if only to keep from engendering a public outcry. The Fantastic Four have been hounding them about cooperation, and the X-Men never really stop calling, and on top of that Tony’s been tangled up in meetings with the Stark legal teams, trying to secure licensing rights that his people should have gotten weeks ago.

It’s fallen to Steve to keep everyone in step, to make sure everyone’s eating and sleeping, to go over their battle strategies and field their calls. And Tony’s been keeping him up nights on top of that, tracing his tongue over the muscles in Steve’s thighs, charting new territory with his fingertips; not that they haven’t both enjoyed it, but it hasn’t left a lot of time for decompression. Tony’s used to being busy when he’s busy, to focusing all his energy without really noticing the consequences, but he’s aware that he’s not exactly wired like everyone else.  No wonder Steve’s exhausted; he’s probably been exhausted for days, kept it quiet out of some stoic, duty-bound, nonsensical leadership ideal.

It occurs to Tony, all at once, to wonder who the hell’s been looking after Steve all this time.

“Right,” he says, shaking his head, “everybody out, this room has been re-purposed, you’re all done for the night.”

“Says who?” Clint says. He glares at Tony without all that much malice behind it. “We live here too! We have--”

“If you say the words squatter’s rights,” Tony says, raising an eyebrow, “I will make you actually go out and squat somewhere.  You do know that this is technically my house, right? That I let you live here out of the kindness of my heart?”

“The kindness of your dick, maybe,” Clint mutters, and Tony grins at him.

“Nah,” he says, “that’s just Steve. And really it’s not my heart for you, either.  Only Thor gets my heart--you’re only here because if you weren’t, Fury would never quit calling me.”

“Thank you, my friend,” Thor says, while Clint, mildly drunk and not hiding it well, visibly grapples for a comeback. “Your esteem warms me in the cockles of my soul.”

“Your soul doesn’t have cockles--and, actually, you know what, just scrap that word from your dictionary, it’s really not something you should ever say again,” Tony says, “but hey, if you’re really warmed, you could clear out. Not that this hasn’t been really heartfelt and everything, but this is my living room and I want it back.”

“You’re in a mood,” Bruce observes--which, really, it’s Bruce, he should not be allowed to say things like that. “Did the licensing thing blow up in your face again?”

“No,” Tony snaps, and then...stops. He is, he realizes, in kind of a mood; he’s shifting on his feet, casting nervous glances over his shoulder in the direction of Steve’s room, and there’s this squirming sensation in the pit of his stomach, something that isn’t guilt or arousal or even panic, just--concern, maybe, and affection.  

And then Steve comes around the corner.

He’s fresh out of the shower, rubbing a towel absently against his hair, wearing sweats and a t-shirt that stretches tight over his chest. He looks even worse than before, heavy circles under his eyes, all too human; Tony can’t breathe for a second, though he’s not sure why.

“Oh,” Steve says, stopping. He smiles hesitantly at the room, lets the towel drop. “Hey, everybody. I didn’t realize you were all going to be in here.”

“They were just leaving,” Tony says, glaring. Clint glares back, but Bruce glances from Steve to Tony and leaves without a word; Thor, for his part, just smiles like he knows the secrets of the universe.  Which, okay, he probably does, Tony can admit that, he gets it, the whole god thing, but he doesn’t have to go and flaunt it all the time.  

“What?” he snaps, and Thor just laughs, putting a hand under Clint’s arm and hauling him upright over his protests.

“Sometimes, my friend, you are very...mortal,” Thor says, shaking his head. “It is endearing, but rather strange, as the rest of the time your behavior is largely predictable. Clint, we shall now retire to the roof, whereupon you shall teach me to shoot the leaves off of the maple tree in the yard, for it offends me in both color and purpose.”

“Uh,” Clint says, blinking, “well, I mean, I guess if I get to shoot stuff,” and he lets Thor haul him away.

Tony stands in place for a minute, staring after them. Eventually, he says, “Wait, I’m sorry, did he just call me predictable?”

Steve laughs around a yawn. “If I say you’re not, can we skip the necessary ego-trip?”

“Now, see, that was mean,” Tony says, throwing himself across the nearest end of the couch. “Affirming the predicable thing and a swipe at my ego, that’s too mean, put the claws up, you’ve been spending too much time with Wolverine--”

“No,” Steve says, “Wolverine has been spending too much time with me. Can we give them a fake number, do you think?”

“Hard to lie to Xavier,” Tony says. Steve sighs and sits down next to him, kicks his feet up on the coffee table, and Tony casts a long look at the line of his body. The strange, warm feeling in his gut has only intensified, and he reaches out and flicks at a lock of Steve’s hair, damp still, before he can help himself. “You showered.”

“Yeah,” Steve says. “Didn’t really feel like spending all night smelling like expensive champagne and perfume. Some of the people at these things don’t have much of a personal space barometer, you know?”

“That’s because they’re hitting on you,” Tony says, rolling his eyes. Steve gives him a look that’s somewhere between doubting and intrigued; Tony would be exasperated if it this particular blind spot of Steve’s wasn’t, horrifically, kind of adorable. “You do know that you’re a superhero, right? An American legend with abs of steel--are you the only person on earth who didn’t get that memo?  You must be, that’s gotta be it--here, look, here it is, hand-delivered: you are attractive to others. There, I’ve said it, try not to let it go to your head.”

“Jealous?” Steve says, and it’s light, teasing. Tony scowls at him.

“I’ll take ‘not dignifying that with an answer’ for two hundred, Alex,” he says, and Steve actually laughs; he’s apparently taken in something from the Jeopardy tournaments Bruce keeps insisting on. “Hey, Jarvis, pick a movie, something I’ll like, Cap’ll probably sleep through most of it.”

“So noted, Mr. Stark,” says Jarvis, even as Steve says, “No I won’t.” It’s not very convincing; it’s even less convincing when he reaches up and rubs at the side of his head, wincing.

“It’s probably some kind of safety hazard, you being such a bad liar,” Tony says. He reaches out and tugs at Steve’s sleeve a little, and Steve sighs out a breath and follows the motion, lets his head land on Tony’s shoulder. “What if it’s the end of the world and everything depends on Captain America convincingly bullshitting? I mean, come on, at least put a little bit of effort into it, this is just sad--”

“Tony?”

“Yeah?”

“Shut up,” Steve says. Tony would take offense, but he can feel Steve smiling against his shoulder, and the movie’s starting anyway.

“Oh, fine,” he mutters, for pretense’s sake, and Steve’s back shifts a little with laughter before it stills.

Jarvis, because he is programmed to understand Tony’s truest and most important needs, has put on Godfather II. Tony may or may not let out a sigh of deep satisfaction; he reaches out with the arm that Steve isn’t pressed up against, pulls up a few schematics on the surface of the side table. For a minute, all is right with the world.

Then Steve says, “Wait, didn’t I see this already?” which, actually, is kind of a problem.

“Right,” Tony says, “okay, so here’s how this is going to work--because I am a good person, and this is for the sake of the team and our, uh--you know what?  I’m just going to forget you said that, out of the kindness of my heart, because no, you have not seen this already, you saw the first one, this is the second one, there’s also a third one, they are very different films.”

“Okay,” Steve says, shrugging a shoulder, and Tony sighs.

“Okay,” he says, and his hand is in Steve’s hair now, tugging a little to emphasize his points, “okay, he says, do you want me to--no, you said you had a headache, I will spare you for today, but tomorrow--and this is non-negotiable, I want you to understand that--tomorrow I am explaining the Corleones to you. There will be a test.”

“I’ll take copious notes,” Steve says. The words are slurred together a little bit, so Tony takes pity on him and doesn’t press; he twitches his fingers absently against Steve’s scalp, and Steve sighs, relaxing. “Feels good.”

“Yeah?”

Steve doesn’t answer, just moves his head a little bit in what Tony assumes is a nod, so Tony doesn’t stop. It’s not like he’s really paying much attention to it anyway--the movie’s a dull roar of white noise, familiar and easy, and Tony pulls up the file he’s tentatively labeled “Quinjet” on the coffee table and loses himself in the schematics.

It’s been fifteen, maybe twenty minutes when Steve starts shifting around; his head bumps against Tony’s neck once, twice, rubs against his shoulder. Tony registers the motion but doesn’t think about it, scrolling down through his notes, flagging the things he’ll need to go back to. When Steve sighs, Tony thinks he should probably engage--then he finds an inconsistency in the math and promptly forgets about everything else, angling himself towards the table a little.

“What’re you working on?” Steve says eventually, and that jerks Tony back to reality enough that he can assess the positions they’re in. His hand is still in Steve’s hair, but he’s twisted his body around, left Steve with an elbow pressed awkwardly between himself and the back of the couch.

“Uh,” Tony says, blinking, “it’s a--you can’t actually be comfortable like that, you should have said something, here,” and he grabs a pillow from the end of the couch, drops it in his lap, and pats it. “That’ll be easier, I think.”

“Oh,” Steve says, and Tony freezes, because he’s just asked Steve to lay down in his lap, and that’s probably really very...much, it’s too much, he didn’t even mean it to be, it just made sense, didn’t it, but Steve probably thinks he’s--

--and then Steve says, “Yeah, actually, thanks,” and drops bonelessly across his lap, so that’s all right.

“Better?” Tony says, trying for nonchalant, and Steve chuckles, twists his head up enough to give Tony a tired sort of smile.

“Much,” he says. “So, what’re you doing?”

Tony had kind of figured, the first time Steve asked the question, that he’d been doing it to alert Tony to the fact that he needed to move. He’d forgotten, of course, that Steve always means what he says, and he smiles back before he can think of a reason not to.

“We need a jet, I realized--because, I mean, the Stark jet’s fine but it’s slow and Pepper needs it, and I can’t exactly carry everyone in the armor.”

“Makes sense,” Steve says. He turns his face back into the pillow, eyes closed, voice cracking on a yawn, and Tony’s heart tightens in his chest. He runs a finger over Steve’s jawline, compelled to touch, and Steve doesn’t grab his hand or bat him away; he just sighs and turns into Tony’s hand a little bit, like he’s being drawn up into it unconsciously. “Explain it to me?”

“It won’t make sense,” Tony warns, and Steve’s smile is back, a small, slight thing against the edge of the pillow.

“I know,” he says, “but it’ll put me to sleep.”

“Aww, you say the sweetest things,” Tony mutters, but he’s not really annoyed, and he knows Steve knows. Steve just laughs, a ghosted-out little noise, and Tony switches the exploded view of the schematic to project up off the coffee table, even though he can tell Steve’s not actually looking.

“So that part--no, not that part, Jarvis, rotate it a little, there you go, was that so hard?--that’ll be where you put the people, obviously, as it turns out you need a space to put the people, which is inconvenient, but whatever. Originally I was just going to work it all through with the repulsor technology, like the suit--because the suit can go supersonic, which--I guess you know that, I’ve carried you doing that, which, hey, can we just talk about how much I still think the g-force from that probably turned your brain into scrambled eggs--”

“‘m brains aren’t eggs,” Steve says, half-asleep already, and Tony sighs, ruffles his hair.

“Convincing argument,” he says, “I’m totally sold,” and he moves his hand to Steve’s back, absently tracing the patterns of the engines as he talks. “Because, okay, see, the repulsor tech isn’t going to work at that scale without a massive kick-back, and the amount of reinforcement I’d have to put in the walls to compensate--I mean, the goal is speed, right? So I can’t let it be too weighed down--but then I realized, one repulsor engine, that’s idiotic, it’s too big, and obviously it’ll all be reactor powered but I wouldn’t want it to burn a crater into the ground at take-off, so I thought I’d maybe split it. Five engines, small ones, right, so Quinjet, because, you know, quintet--you get it. And then the feedback from each engine will be routed through the internal power grid, so that’ll actually keep the lights and the nav systems from failing and--did you just snore at me?”

“No,” Steve says, but it’s more an exhale of breath than anything else.

“You did,” Tony says, and he’s not looking at the schematics anymore. He’s looking at Steve, sprawled out over him, breathing gone slow and shallow; Tony pitches his voice low, smooth, tries to ignore the tightness in his chest. “You did, you terrible, terrible liar.  What did I say about you and the lies? No, don’t open your mouth, you’re asleep, I can tell you’re asleep, you just don’t know it yet--your brains are already eggs, Steve, it’s too late.”

Steve shifts again, does something that’s almost a nod, and Tony would laugh at him if he felt capable of it. Instead, because he knows Steve won’t remember, he says: “Sorry, I guess. About the thing tonight. I should’ve done it instead--I know you hate shit like that, but it’s really good press, which is awful.  Is that awful? It’s awful, but I didn’t--I won’t make you do it again, not by yourself, anyway. Not that I made you--if you were awake you’d tell me you volunteered, which, yeah, you did, it’s your team, so really it’s your fault, and wow, okay, I’m officially having a two-sided conversation by myself.  Wow. Wow. This is sad, isn’t it?”

Steve does actually snore at him this time, a loud, full-bodied thing, because, as it turns out, Captain America snores. He snores, and he never puts his toothbrush back in the same place twice, and he sings strange, old songs in the shower; he makes awful coffee and forces the team to watch marathons of Golden Girls, laughing too hard at the funny parts. He spends his 70 years of back-pay sparingly, on weird things like art supplies he’s hesitant about using, looks at Tony’s excessive habits askance, and he insists on eating all the leftovers when they order take-out. He’s kind of a dork, actually, when you get past the uniform and the leadership and the way he can take a man’s head off with his shield, and Tony brushes his a lock of blond hair out of his eyes and sighs.

“This is normal, right?” he says, and he lives in a house of microphones and cameras but at least they’re his; he can delete the evidence later. “Because I'm not…I’m not good at this, and I don't…god, Steve, you know I'm trying, don't you?"

Steve, naturally, doesn’t say anything. On screen, Michael Corleone says, “I’ll change, I’ll change, I’ve learned that I have the strength to change,” and Tony scowls at nothing, doesn’t take his hand out of Steve’s hair.

“Who asked you?” he says, and then he sighs and mutes the thing, and the room goes blissfully quiet.

--


Tony wakes up in Steve’s bed, heavy and loose, and sighs at the ceiling. He vaguely remembers falling asleep on the couch, the half-awake shuffle down the hall; he prefers his own bed, usually, but Steve’s had been closer, so that’s all right.  

It’s not every night, this thing they’ve got between them, just most nights, drifting into one room or the other and waking up like this. A week ago, Tony fell asleep in Steve’s bed alone, waiting for him to wrap up in the gym; when he woke up, sleep-heavy at four a.m., he found Steve in his room, sprawled across the sheets. That had been kind of terrifying, actually, at least until Steve woke up enough to say, “Quit looming and come to bed, Tony, my god.” Then it had been annoying, or possibly warm and fuzzy; Tony isn’t the type to bother himself with labels.

But then, okay, that’s not entirely true, sometimes he is, and they’re dating, probably. That’s probably the best word for whatever it is, this thing they’ve got going, with so many rules and no guidelines at all. It’s not like they’ve put any particular effort into defining it--Steve’s still telling Tony that he likes him, all the time, dropping it casually into otherwise normal conversations, but Tony’s pretty sure that’s just because Steve’s stubborn. It’s nice hearing it, though, makes it easier for Tony to stay calm, to avoid wondering what the hell they think they’re doing, what happens if it ends, when it ends, and what is he supposed to do if it doesn’t?

The team knows, because the team has to know. Steve has a policy about keeping secrets that basically summarizes to, “No, don’t,” and Tony hadn’t argued, hadn’t even really wanted to. And Pepper knows, obviously, because Pepper is all-knowing and always has been, and Nick Fury knows because Clint had lasted two whole days before he made a joke about it in a meeting, and it’s not like Fury’s the kind of man who ever needs more than a hint.

That’d been a weird day, the day with Fury. He’d called them both into his office, given them the evil eye--which, as it turned out, was so much worse when it was just the one eye--and started in about “fraternization” and “professionalism” and “Stark, what did I say--”

--and then Steve cleared his throat, put up a hand, and said, “Sir.”

It was probably the sincerity in his voice that did Fury in. It was so respectful, so completely and entirely without any sort of guile, that it was actually a little underhanded. Fury narrowed his eye, leaned over the top of his desk, and just stared at them for a second.

Which, okay, Tony never, ever wanted him to do that again, that was the worst, Tony talked a big game and everything but no human being could resist the urge to fidget under that stare, it was impossible. He certainly wasn’t up to the task, and he shifted his weight from one foot to the other, waiting.

“Really, Captain?” Fury said finally, and hey, Tony wasn’t even on his radar anymore, that was actually an upgrade. “You really want to fight me on this?”

“Yes, sir,” Steve said. Then, not really sounding it: “Sorry, sir.”

“It’s your fuckin’ funeral,” Fury said after a minute, throwing his hands in the air. “Just try to make sure it’s not anyone else’s. Jesus, they don’t pay me enough for this shit,” and that had pretty much been the end of that.  

So, dating, right, probably. That’s what it’s called, that’s what they’re doing, and--

“Ugh, Tony,” Steve says, a tired groan into the pillow, jerking Tony out of his train of thought, “go back to sleep or stop it.”

“Stop what?”

“Just,” Steve says, and sighs without opening his eyes. “When you wake up you move, and you make sounds, you get all twitchy. I can hear you thinking, and if you’re going to draw on the sheets again, you can go do it on your own sheets, okay?”

“I only did that once,” Tony says, “and anyway, my sheets are sub-par, they do not come with gift-wrapped superheros, it’s a design flaw.”

Jesus,” Steve groans, “what time is it, how can you want to--do that this early, it’s, what, six a.m.--”

“Nine, actually,” Tony says, gleeful. “You overslept. You, Captain America, God of All--well, okay, not of Thor, Thor is definitely the god of you, we’ll go with god-of-all-except-Thor, you should work on that title--anyway, you overslept. And hey, no, I wasn’t thinking, this is a no-think zone, I was just sitting here, gloating to myself, remembering all the times you’d given me shit about morning jogs because, hi, hello, it’s 9 AM, these are normal people hours here, Cap, and now you’re awake so I can gloat at you--”

“Wait,” Steve says, and yawns. He cracks an eye open and fixes Tony with a look, exasperated, familiar, and Tony grins at him. “So what you’re telling me is that you’ve been sitting here watching me sleep. Like a lunatic.”

“Uh,” says Tony.

“For how long, exactly?”

“...uh,” says Tony. “Well. Uh. Now, see, when you put it like that...”

“When you defect to super-villainy I’ll get to say I knew you when,” Steve says, and he’s smiling now, just enough for Tony to know he’s kidding. “Did you already have coffee? You’re really awake.”

“No coffee,” Tony says. “This is why I don’t sleep most of the time.  It’s gross to be this cheerful in the morning, I refuse to be a morning person--’s wrong, it’s evil, it goes against everything I stand for, and also--”

“Stop,” Steve says, “just stop, stop talking, oh my god,” and when he kisses Tony he’s laughing, a little noise just under his breath. Tony hums into his mouth, because he can, and when he pulls away Steve rolls his eyes at him, shakes his head.

“Morning,” he says, “I still like you, by the way. Now please go take a shower or something, I’m not ready to be up yet.”

“Lazy,” Tony notes, climbing out of bed anyway. “So lazy, the laziest, I mean honestly--hey, what?”

Steve’s looking at Tony with his brow furrowed, the way he does when he’s worried, or confused, or...actually about half the time, really, but Tony usually knows what he means. He glances down to confirm he’s not naked--Steve’s a little weird about nakedness sometimes, mutters things about “decency” and “inappropriate” and “not in the kitchen, Tony, people eat here,”--but no, he’s fully clothed, he’s good.

Puzzled, he tries again: “What? Is there something on my face? Is this some kind of horrible, I don’t know, gas...face...thing, oh come on, don’t look at me like that, how am I supposed to--”

“Are you okay?” Steve says, still staring at him. “You’re acting kind of weird.”

“I’m not acting weird,” says Tony, because for once in his life, he legitimately isn’t. “At least, not on purpose.  Am I acting weird? I told you, sleeping too much isn’t good for me, I’m fine--no, really, I actually mean that, stop it.”

“Okay,” Steve says, but he still looks doubtful. “You’d tell me, right?”

“Uh,” says Tony, “yeah?” and then has to grab a towel and flee the room, because wow, he actually would, he didn’t really see that one coming.

The shower helps. Or, well, Tony says it’s the shower, but really it’s the music blasting out of the speaker lodged in the ceiling and the fact that the glass walls become computer screens with a flick of his fingers. It gives him somewhere to put the strange energy he’d woken with, rolling in his stomach, itching under his fingers, and he goes through his emails as he soaps himself up, checks the morning’s stock figures as he washes his hair. There’s an auto-update running on his armor, and there’s a bug, just a little one, two, three minutes to recode with the shampoo bottle clutched between his thighs, and then he kind of forgets what he’s doing and starts manually running the upgrades, because he’s right here, isn’t he, he might as well, and then suddenly the shower is cold.

“Shit,” he says, cheerfully enough, and grins down at his pruned-up fingers. “Jarvis, how long have I--”

“Forty-five minutes, sir,” Jarvis says. “I would like to make the suggestion again that you allow me to set up a timed reminder system.”

“Yeah, no, maybe later, probably not, thanks, though,” Tony says, and climbs out of the shower, grabs the towel off the counter. “At least Steve got the chance to sleep. If you could double check that last code run, though, because Jarvis, buddy, if another idiot from R&D catches an error--which wasn’t even an error, just so we’re clear, he just didn’t understand the code because I invented it, that’s different--but if it happens again, I’ll make you...I don’t know, catalog 4chan or something, you got that?”

“I quake in terror, sir,” Jarvis says.

Tony snorts out a laugh and shakes his head, walks out of the bathroom with his towel cinched around his waist. He goes back to Steve’s room on autopilot, expecting to find Steve still in bed, maybe reading the newspaper on the tablet Tony gave him; he’s getting good with that, even if it has led to a dark, dangerous obsession with The Huffington Post. Instead, Steve’s up and dressed, shoes on, sitting on the edge of the bed with his cell phone in his hand.

“Oh, come on,” says Tony, “that’s not fair, I was only joking about the laziness thing, is this a punishment?” but then he notices the way Steve’s shoulders are slumped, the way he’s staring, eyes fixed, at his hands.

“We’ve got trouble?” he says, regrouping at once. “Alright, give me half a second to--”

“No,” Steve says, and then, quieter, “I...Bucky.”

Tony knows from conversations they’ve had, but more from the nightmares Steve wakes up from sometimes, who Bucky is. He was important to Steve, no question, but he’s been dead since the 40s, since before Steve was iced, so it’s not likely he could have done something particularly new, and Steve isn’t really the type to have emotional breakdowns out of nowhere. Tony thinks back to the mind control thing last week, to the most recent crazed “I will dump amnesia drugs in your water supply and make you forget everything you love!” plot, and raises his hands in the air.

“Okay,” he says carefully, “right, uh, no sudden movements, it’s all okay, Steve, I’m Tony--”

“What?” Steve says. He looks up and his eyes are rimmed with red, but they widen, and he must connect the same dots Tony had, because he says, “No, no, it’s me. I just. Bucky.”

“What about Bucky?”

“He’s,” Steve says, and swallows. “They--found him. And I’m supposed to go...”

Identify the body, Tony thinks, a swooping crash in his stomach. He’d had to do that, once, for a third cousin he’d barely known, and it had still been awful; he can’t imagine doing it for Rhodey, for Pepper, for someone he really cared about.  He also can’t imagine that a 70-years-dead body is something SHIELD’s going to make Steve look at, but then again, they’ve surprised him before.

“I’m sorry,” he says, sitting down next to Steve, “god, Steve, I’m really--do you want me to--”

“He’s alive,” Steve says, which, yeah, okay, that shuts Tony up.

--


Steve is silent the whole ride over to SHIELD headquarters, his grip on Tony’s hand bordering on painful, and he’s pulled away and led down the hall the minute they walk inside. Tony hadn’t intended on going with him for this part, only came along for the ride to keep Steve from completely losing his shit--he might not be good with people, but he’s not blind--but he still had to quell the strange urge to run after him. Steve squares his shoulders as he walks away, doesn’t look around; Tony watches the flex of his fingers, the sharp edge to his steps, and acts.

After all, there’s no point in being Tony Stark if you don’t abuse it once in awhile.  

The path to the security office is a familiar one, since Tony had upgraded the entire system himself, painstakingly slowly, in the week Fury’d kept him under supervision after Pepper. He knows every guard on every rotation, and no one even looks twice at him when he walks in, stalks around, and finds the monitor he’s looking for.

Steve’s standing over a bed, head bowed; below him, a dark-haired man that Tony recognizes from an old, old photograph stirs under the blanket. He opens his eyes and Steve’s body tenses up and Tony’s got his phone out, has hacked into the system and killed the feed before anyone can see anything else.

“Stark!” one of the guards snaps, “What the hell did you just--”

“That’s not for you,” Tony says. “Sorry, but them’s the breaks, and you’re not going to get it back up again, so don’t bother trying. It’s really, seriously, entirely not your business, and if you’ve got a problem with that, you can feel free to send Director Fury after me, I’m sure he’d like the excuse. Bye bye now.”

He leaves, walks past the dumbfounded guard, past the hallway he could’ve probably followed Steve down, past an oddly non-threatening houseplant and out into the parking lot. He sends Steve a text message--Call if you need anything, I’ll be around--and goes home.

--


Steve doesn’t come home for the rest of the day, which is okay--Tony would worry about it, but he doesn’t have time. There’s an infestation of massive, alien-looking cockroach things terrorizing the Lower East Side before noon, climbing up out of the sewer with pincers snapping viciously, and the Avengers are, naturally, called in. It’s not dangerous, not really, just time consuming and tedious; an hour or so in, Clint swings down next to him on one of his rappelling ropes, shoots a cockroach casually in the side of the head.

“Where’s Cap?” he says.

“Busy,” Tony says, “got a 20 on a big one, by the hydrant, think it’s the leader, Widow, can you grab it?” and Clint shrugs, moves away.

Steve doesn’t come home that night, either.  That’s a little more disconcerting, honestly, but Tony’s not going to push him, he’s not, he’s not. He leaves his phone in his back pocket and watches reality TV with Thor for three hours, laughing at the degree to which he’s invested in the lives of the cast of Survivor.

Thor’s completely unfazed by Tony’s mockery, because that’s just what he’s like.

“When I return to Asgard,” he says, “I shall start this tradition of island horrors amongst my people. I have tried to apply for the show myself, but Director Fury seems quite certain that I will not be chosen. He says that I do not have a face for television, and also that if I try again he will stab me somewhere vital to my continued existence.”

“Can’t imagine why,” Tony says, because, well, he can’t help it. “I think you’d be great, man. I mean, I’d watch that.”  

“Thank you, my friend!” Thor says, sounding honestly gratified. “You do my a true honor with your company, and I am, as ever, deeply thankful for the circumstances that brought us together.”

“You’re still my favorite,” Tony says, clapping him on the shoulder. “Just so you know. That’s a permanent title, I should get you a plaque or something.”

“Plaque,” Thor says slowly, “Clint has attempted to explain this to me, often in conjunction with the brandishing of a small, bristled device. Is this what you mean? I confess, it has long mystified me.”

Then Tony spends an hour teaching Thor about Midgardian dental hygiene, because, well, these are the kinds of things you do for your friends.

By the time Thor goes to bed--after leaving the bathroom covered in ridiculous amounts of toothpaste, because while he was utterly horrified by the taste, he was willing to concede that it made excellent paint--it’s nearly two in the morning. Tony thinks about trying to sleep, thinks again, and is halfway down the workshop stairs when his phone rings.

Unlisted number--Fury, then. Shit.

“Director,” he says, trying to keep the annoyance out of his voice, “look, whatever it is, can’t you call Xavier or something, we spent eight hours with those roaches today--”

“Uh, no, it’s me,” Steve says, and then, unnecessarily, adds, “Steve. Steve Rogers.”

“Oh, Steve Rogers,” Tony says, rolling his eyes, “and here I thought you were a different Steve, good thing you set my mind at ease, hi. Sorry, I wouldn’t have snapped at you if--”

“Hey, did you say roaches?”

“Long story--wait, why are you calling on a SHIELD phone?”

“Oh,” Steve says, sounding sheepish. “I kind of...need a new cell phone.  Sorry, I was trying to teach Bucky about the future, and it...didn’t go well.”

“New cell’s not a problem, we mass-produce them, I’ll have one for you in the morning.” Tony pauses, not sure how to do the next part, and settles on: “So, he’s awake, then?”

“Yeah,” Steve says, and sounds...exhausted. “Or, well, no, not right this--look, I don’t really--I’m sorry, but I don’t want to talk about it. Not right now. He’s sleeping and--.”

“Not a problem,” Tony says. He’s still on the workshop stairs; after a moment’s thought he reroutes, turns around to go into the living room and throw himself across the couch. “What do you want to talk about?”

“Anything,” Steve says. “Anything but this.”

Tony starts at the sound of his voice; it’s a low, tired rasp, aches a little. Steve sounds old, the way he only does when something’s eating at him, and Tony bites back a hundred probing questions, using some reserve of strength he didn’t know he had.

“Sure,” he says lightly, “anything, that’s a bill I can fit, I can do that. You wanna hear about the roach battle you missed? Because, let me tell you what, lucky fucking you--”

He talks, nearly non-stop, for an hour, until Steve says, “Okay, I have to go. Thank you for, uh, answering.”

“No problem,” Tony says. This whole thing has been kind of mystifying, but Steve at least sounds less wretched now. “Have a...good night, then?”

“Yeah,” Steve says, “yeah, Tony, you too,” and then he hangs up.

Tony goes to bed after all.

When Steve still isn’t home the next morning--yeah, okay, that’s when Tony would like to panic in earnest, it really is, except that he’s woken up by a call from Director Fury.

“‘lo?” Tony slurs, not quite awake yet, and then snaps into action when he realizes it’s not Steve this time, alerted by the sound of intense, scary breathing. Fury even breathes scary; Tony wants to learn to do that before he dies. “I mean, uh, Director--”

“Stark,” he says, “for the record, when you say my name on a call from a SHIELD line, I hear that shit. So to respond to what you said last night: no, I cannot call Xavier, and if you talk to me like that again you will feel it, do you hear me?”

“But I wasn’t talking to you,” Tony says. “Wait, I’m in trouble because of your wiretapping, I mean, come on, what--”

“You thought you were talking to me,” Fury says sternly. “Intent is all I need, Stark, remember that.”

“You and Coulson, it’s like a circus act of terror,” Tony mutters, and then jumps so much he nearly rolls off the bed when Coulson says, “My name gets an alert too, and just so you know, there are...hmm, eighteen items in your kitchen alone I could easily kill you with.”

Christ,” says Tony, getting out of bed because he might as well, now. “Great, okay, thank you, I’ve had my morning panic attack now, much appreciated, owe you a drink, did you need something?”

“No, we called to hear your dulcet fuckin’ tones,” Fury says. “Yeah, Stark, we need something, don’t ask stupid questions. You awake enough to take in details, or do I need to hang up and call back after your morning coffee?”

“I...” Tony stops, thinks about that. He warms. “Hey, that was almost considerate.”

“No it wasn’t,” Coulson says grimly. “No one wants a repeat of the last time you took coordinates straight out of bed; Mt. Rushmore will never be the same.”

“That wasn’t my fault,” Tony lies, “there was an equipment thing, uh, look, what’s up, I can assemble the team, except Steve, I assume you know that he’s still with you guys--”

“That’s why we’re calling,” Fury says, and Tony is so surprised by the sudden rush of panic that he has to sit back down on the bed.

“Is he all right?” he demands. “Was he hurt, what did you do to him, what--”

“See,” says Coulson, “this is why there should be a no fraternization policy.”

“There is,” says Fury. “They just don’t fuckin’ listen.”

“Can we get back to what happened to Steve, please?” Tony says. He doesn’t yelp it; he says it. He definitely says it. “Sooner rather than later, thanks?”

“Nothing,” Fury sighs, “that’s my fuckin’ point. You morons have been busy lately--god knows why, as I am frankly goddamn surprised any one of you can manage to tie your shoes, let alone fight crime--but with Cap occupied, I thought you might need some help.”

Help,” Tony snaps, “hey, no, who are you to decide that, this is Steve’s team, our team, we can handle ourselves, we don’t need any--”

“So I called in War Machine,” Fury says, sounding like Tony is his least favorite person on the planet.

Tony brightens at this. “Oh! Rhodey, that’s different, that’s awesome, when’s he getting here, you didn’t let him book a hotel, did you? I hate when he does that. I thought he was in Afghanistan, you called Rhodey, oh, man, it’s not even my birthday--”

“Agent Coulson,” Fury says, “please give him the fuckin’ flight information so I can go slam my head into the wall.”

“Aww,” says Tony, “you love me really.”

“Believe me,” says Coulson, “he really doesn’t.”

--


Tony drives the Gallardo to the airfield himself, just tells Happy to be on standby, because he knows Rhodey not-so-secretly gets off on driving cars from Tony’s more choice collection. He beats the plane by fifteen minutes, and he’s leaning against the hood, sunglasses in place, when Rhodey comes down the stairs.

He’s in his dress blues, bless his heart, and Tony grins. “Awww, honeybear,” he says, “you don’t have to dress up nice for me.”

“Damn right I don’t,” Rhodey says, “you never write, you never call, you never tell me you’re dating legendary American war heroes--”

“Oh, did Pepper mention that?” Tony says, too casual. Rhodey levels him with a glare, and Tony puts his hands in the air, warning him away. “Hey, hey, don’t be like that, you were busy, I didn’t want a be a distraction, don’t make that face. Come on, sourpatch, golden graham, apple jack--”

“You’re just naming cereal brands now,” Rhodey says. “Can’t even put a little effort into it, has it been that long?”

Tony laughs because he can’t help it, because he’s missed this, because Rhodey’s as grumpy and hysterical as ever.  “For you, cookie crisp, anything,” he says, and Rhodey finally cracks, rolls his eyes to cover his smile, and pulls Tony in for a hug.

“You’re gonna have to tell me about Rogers, you know,” he says against Tony’s ear.

“Yeah, well, you’re gonna have to tell me why there’s a suit-sized crate being unloaded,” Tony says, looking over his shoulder and pulling away. “All that Hammer tech finally bite you in the ass, that why you flew here civilian-style?”

“Don’t call me a civilian,” Rhodey says, “and yeah, actually, now that you mention it, your suit does need some work.”

“My suit,” Tony says.  “My suit, why is it that when it needs work it’s my suit but when I want it back it’s your suit, huh?  You wanna clue me in on the rules there--”

“The rules are, I make the rules,” Rhodey says. Then he eyes the Gallardo and grins. “Rule number one: I’m driving.”

--



They get breakfast, which turns into brunch, which turns into lunch, which turns into six hours in the workshop, and then dinner, and then drinks. Tony introduces Rhodey to the team--minus Steve, of course, who still hasn’t surfaced, Tony’s not worried, he’s not--and watches for their reactions. Natasha, who knows him already, greets him with a warmer smile than most people get from her in a lifetime; Bruce spends ten minutes peppering him with questions about the floral life in the Middle East, much to everyone’s bemusement, and then hurries off to...well, not get angry about anything, hopefully. Rhodey and Clint have a frankly terrifying discussion about the firing pressure of Clint’s crossbow, with Tony occasionally contributing helpful statistics and less-than-helpful comments about Clint’s tendency to hide in the ceiling, and Thor, of course, is his usual charming self.

“Any friend of Tony’s is welcome both in my living quarters and in the bosom of my heart,” he booms, clapping Rhodey on the back. Rhodey doesn’t wince, but Tony can tell that he wants to. “And, of course, in my bath--Tony assures me that I may consider the swimming pool my personal bathing area, as repayment for the fact that I have always been his favorite.”

“Replaced me while I was gone, huh?” says Rhodey, and Tony slants him a smile.

“Jealous? Don’t be like that, you know you’re always gonna be my--”

“Don’t.”

“Just one--”

Don’t.”

Tony laughs--laughs because he can’t help it, because Pepper’s still here and Steve’s not but he will be, and he’s got a team and now he has a Rhodey. He laughs and Rhodey gives him that look, the one that means God, you are seriously a pain in my ass, but also, somehow, I genuinely enjoy your company for reasons that are beyond me, and Tony takes him to a very, very expensive dinner, just for the sake of it.

The bar next door is a total dive; they wander into it, overly-full and pleased about it, and Tony doesn’t miss Rhodey’s surprised look of approval when Tony just orders himself a beer. He smiles, lopsided, over the top of the bottle, and Rhodey doesn’t say, The last time I saw you, you were a trainwreck because there’s nearly a year’s distance there; a battle together; a team on Tony’s end and military responsibilities on Rhodey’s, and it’s not like he doesn’t know that Tony knows.

“So,” Rhodey says, “you’re caught up on my life--”

“So not true,” Tony protests, “half of what you said there was ‘Sorry, that’s classified.’  And hey, I know you’ve gotten laid in the last year, buddy, I know it, I don’t care how busy you’ve been as the military’s golden boy--well, silver boy--well, silver man--”

“You’re dodging,” Rhodey says, because he always knows. “What, are you afraid I won't approve? It's not like you went out and bagged yourself a super villain, Tony, we're talking about Captain America here--"

"Steve," Tony corrects absently, and then coughs when Rhodey raises his eyebrows. "And hey, don't give me that, you know you've given Doc Oc a couple of lingering looks."

"He photographs well, there's no shame in that," Rhodey says easily. "Which, for the record, is more than I can say for Iron Man; you've gotta get the pouting under control, it's getting embarrassing. I don't want to have to pretend I don't know you, but I will if it comes down to it, I need you to know that."  

Honeybear,” Tony says, put a hand to his chest, “that hurts, it really does, I thought we had something special--”

“Yeah, yeah,” Rhodey says, laughing, and signals for another round. “You ready to tell me about your love life now? C’mon, spill, I don’t have all night.”

Tony doesn’t really see the point in putting it off any longer, isn't quite sure why he's been putting it off at all. It's just that he keeps saying Captain America, and that's…Tony doesn't even measure up to Steve, does he, let alone to Steve's legendary alter ego, and he can't quite shake the niggling fear that Rhodey's going to tell him to end it before someone gets hurt.

But that's ridiculous, isn't it, because it's Rhodey smiling at him over the table, Rhodey who really shouldn't like him and somehow seems to anyway, so Tony gives in. He tells Rhodey about Steve, about how they met and it was awful, about how they worked together and it was still awful, and then less awful, and then not awful at all. He tells him about late night sparring sessions and making out during Ghostbusters (”Spare me the details, I don’t need to know that about Captain America,” Rhodey says at one point, and Tony can't help it, says, “No, seriously, don’t, he's not Captain America out of costume, that shit bums me out,”), and then about the last month or so of whatever it is, this warm thing between them that Tony’s kind of afraid to quantify.

Rhodey listens to all of it, the look on his face going from interested to surprised to outright shocked,  until Tony finally stops talking and says, “Okay, seriously, what, what’re you looking at?”

“I’m looking at you,” Rhodey says. It’s as weighted as the last time he said that to Tony, but on the other end of the spectrum. He sounds happy--hell, almost proud. “And you know what, it’s a good look on you.”

“What is?”

“All of it,” Rhodey says, waving a hand at Tony. “The Avengers, Steve, New York, all of it. Nice to see you, man. Knew you were in there somewhere.”

“Oh, god,” Tony says, flipping his phone out--no calls, okay, good, that's fine--and shaking his head. "If we’re going to do this kind of thing I’m gonna have to call it a night, I want you to know that right now, I will leave you here, Rhodes, see if I don’t.”

“Now, see, there's that again,” Rhodey says.

"There's what?"

"What's up with you tonight? You’re all jumpy, you keep checking your phone--did I show up in the middle of a fight or something?”

“No, it’s,” Tony says, and sighs.”Right, okay, I can’t believe I’m asking you this, please don’t take offense, I just, really, there's this footage of Coulson at a gas station with a bag of flour and I value my limbs, so, uh. Did Fury mention what level of security clearance they’re giving you when he briefed you?”

Rhodey stares at him for a second. Then he bursts out laughing, loud enough and hard enough that some of the other bar patrons turn to look. Tony shrinks down in the booth a little, because he’s on Rhodey time, doesn’t want to be recognized; that just makes Rhodey laugh harder, and he doesn’t stop for nearly a minute.

“Look at you being all responsible,” he chokes out finally, wiping his eyes. “Never thought I’d see the day when Tony Stark asked after my security clearance.”

“Oh, come on--”

“No, no, it’s a good thing,” Rhodey says. "I mean, unless it's mind control--"

"Rhodey."

“Fury said, and I quote, ‘standard Avengers clearance, with delta-five discretion.' I’m hoping you know what that means, since the SHIELD lingo is so off-book that’s it’s nearly unintelligible. I think they do it just to piss us off.”

“Sounds like them,” Tony says, and then he leans over the table and lowers his voice. “So, uh, you’re fine to hear this, then. They...well, they found this guy, this old friend of Steve’s.  Bucky Barnes--”

“Bucky Barnes,” Rhodey repeats, incredulous, “as in Sergeant James Barnes of the 107th and the Howling Commandos, Bucky Barnes?”

“Guess you’ve heard of him,” Tony says, blinking.

“Heard of him,” Rhodey says, “heard of him, I wrote my thesis on him, he’s a hero, he--Jesus, where did they find the body? They combed those mountains for years!”

“Uh,” says Tony, because he was not expecting this. “It’s not a body. He’s alive, apparently, only--”

“He’s alive?!”

“Keep your voice down!” Tony hisses, “Fuck, tell the whole bar why don’t you, c’mon, man, what’d I tell you about Coulson--”

“Why do you keep saying--”

“Never mind!” Tony snaps, because this conversation is out of control enough already. “Yeah, okay, Barnes is alive, and now you know as much as I do.  They called yesterday and Steve vanished into the bowels of HQ and I haven’t--well, I mean, I talked to him last night, but he didn’t say much about it. Didn’t say much of anything, really, he kept telling me to talk and he sounded awful and--”

“Jesus Christ," Rhodey interrupts, shocked, "Tony, you’re worried about him.”

“Of course I’m worried about him!” Tony says, throwing his hands in the air, and there it is, right there, on the line. “How could I not be worried about him, he was spread too thin as it was and this is a whole other ball game of screwed up and it’s not like I know what to do!”

Rhodey is making a face Tony has never seen him make before; it’s something between a grimace and a smile. It’s not quite judgmental--Tony’s seen all those faces--but it’s not quite not judgmental, either. Evaluative, Tony decides, and then Rhodey sighs and shakes his head.

"Well, that settles it," he says, "never taking another mission that long again. Apparently you went and grew up while I was gone, man, what gives?"

"You know what, just for that, I want my suit back," says Tony, and Rhodey laughs at him until their next round shows up.

Part Two
Tags: avengers assemble, cate i love you, i don't even know anymore, postcard i love you, postcard this is all your fault, steve/tony
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