Title: Variable Skill Sets
Pairing: Steve/Tony [hinted Pepper/Natasha]
Author's Note: Y'all can read this as being in the same 'verse as Ready, Fire, Aim, or not; to be honest, I haven't decided myself if it is or isn't.
Summary: In which Captain America can do (almost) anything, and Tonk Stark has daddy issues--who's surprised?
When it happens, they're in Macy's.
Well…Tony calls it Macy's, anyway. Steve's not so sure that's really where they are; he'd been to Macy's once, as a kid, snuck around the place with Bucky at his heels. It hadn't been logical--it wasn't like the two of them, flat broke and ten years old, were going to find anything to take home--but Bucky tended to get antsy and Steve tended to get defensive, and both of them, left to their own devices, tended to get in trouble. The chance to ride the subway somewhere (so new, then; it's strange for Steve to ride the trains now, crusted over and often smelling faintly of urine, so much faster than they once were) was a novelty in and of itself, one their mothers encouraged them to save up for, if only to keep them from coming home with bruised faces and bloody knuckles.
The train fare alone cleaned them out, Steve remembers, and Bucky'd stolen a tin of pomade before they left. They'd gotten into a huge fight about it afterwards--Steve, even at ten, had Not Approved of stealing--but he'd found the tin, long since empty, in Bucky's camp pack after he died. Other than his shield, it's the only personal effect that survived the crash and subsequent deep freeze. Tony keeps offering to try to track down legitimate memorabilia, relics scavenged from his old apartment, but Steve figures he's got the important things.
The point being, they're at a store, and Tony says it's Macy's, and the signs say it's Macy's, and the televisions say it's Macy's, and the employee aprons say it's Macy's, and the building's in the right place, but…but…
"I'm pretty sure it wasn't always this," Steve pauses, looking for the right word, "…much."
"Are you having a culture shock moment here?" Tony says, flicking his sunglasses down to peer at him in what he'd certainly deny is worry. "Is that what's happening? Because, look, do I want to find Pepper a birthday present, yes, yes I do, I definitely do, it'll be the first time in ten years I've remembered--hey, hey, don't look at me like that, I get busy, she gets busy, we have an understanding! Only Natasha said she'd pull my spleen out through my ear if I made her buy a present for herself from me again, Steve I said stop looking at me like that--"
"Looking at you like what?"
"Like you're judging me," Tony says, and flicks his sunglasses back up. "I can tell, you know, you have a whole look you get when--oh, wait, sorry, point was, I want to buy Pepper a present, but I've got a whole staff for that, so if you want to go-- "
"I don't want to go," Steve says, and, after a second, takes mercy and gives Tony a smile. "And I'm not judging you, except maybe about the spleen thing."
Tony grins back, enthusiasm and relief and something Steve can't put his finger on tangled up in the expression, and, god, that's so like Tony; he talks enough for six people, and half of it doesn't make sense, but his face always tells the truth.
"Not all of us are genetically enhanced super soldiers," Tony says, and grabs Steve's arm to steer him. "I bet you don't even have a spleen--you probably don't have an appendix either, or you shouldn't, they're both useless--well, the spleen's less useless than the appendix, you know if you just repositioned a few organs and scrapped the ones that don't matter you'd have room for the kind of nonsense Wolverine has going on? I mean, assuming it wouldn't kill you, you'd have to be…well, Wolverine, I guess. I should point out that I mean the general you, not you personally."
"Are you expecting me to follow this?" Steve says, grinning at the back of Tony's head. "Or are you just talking to hear your own voice?"
"Little of both," Tony admits. "Hey, while we're on the topic of you, personally: are you, personally, going to have some kind of modesty induced seizure if I take you into the lingerie section?"
"You're going to buy Pepper lingerie?" Steve says, feeling himself blush on the word, and Tony stops and looks at him like he's crazy.
"Hello," he says, "Natasha, spleen, did you miss that, not to mention Pepper herself, not to mention you, don't think I don't know that you get jealous, I totally know that. No, of course not, I'm going to buy her a pair of very expensive shoes, she already sent me the details on the ones she wants, they're very nice, I've got great taste. There's just, uh, some things I'd like to…look at."
"Is this going to be like the time," Steve says, and can't finish that sentence. The time he's recalling had involved both garters and orgasms; he'd enjoyed it a lot more than he'd wanted to, but it's not exactly something to bring up in public.
"Yes," Tony says firmly, "exactly like that."
"Maybe I'll just…meet you," Steve says faintly, "in, uh. Another place. That isn't where you're going. Not that I don't, um, approve of where you're going. Oh, god, Tony, please don't make me talk about this."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Tony says, with a wicked grin that means he is, indeed, going to make Steve talk about it. Probably on the drive home. Steve is glad they opted out of having Happy drive them; he wouldn't want to subject the poor man to that.
Well. He wouldn't want to subject the poor man to that again.
"Right," Steve says, and shifts a little. People are starting to stare at them; that's been happening a lot more, lately, when they're together. He figures it's got something to do with the gossip columns, all of which are determined to get the scoop on their hot gay romance. "People are looking, you know."
"Let 'em look," Tony says, and leans up to kiss the side of Steve's cheek. "Page six thinks we're getting married next week, and Us Weekly thinks I'm using you as a cover while I hit on Billy Zane--which doesn't make sense on a lot of levels, but whatever--and I think People's just really confused. Or thinks I'm a flirt. Or something."
"You are a flirt," Steve says, but fondly.
"You won't be saying that after you see what I'm buying," Tony says. He wiggles his eyebrows, and Steve takes a clear step away from him, because the alternative is giving the people a show. "Aww. Killjoy. But fine, you can be that way, I see how it is, you've maybe got a point, I'll be over on this side. You should try that way, I think there's menswear and maybe a bookstore? God, I haven't been here in years, call me if you need anything."
And then he's gone, weaving through the crowd that's forming in that way he has, all smiles and genuine-looking interest until you blink and he's vanished entirely.
Steve grins after him until he realizes it looks dopey. Then he ducks around a corner, pulls out the baseball cap he always keeps tucked up next to his shield, and slips back out into the store in relative anonymity.
He's not entirely sure how he ends up in kitchen appliances, except that it's the least crowded and everything is kind of fascinating in its uselessness. He's looking askance at a sandwich crust remover--which, just, why, what is this obsession with creating things that serve only one purpose, why can't people just use a knife--when he feels a tug on his pantleg.
Horrifyingly, he only just manages to keep himself from kicking out; he's been to enough fights where the enemy comes up out of the sewers, thanks. When he looks down, though, there's a little boy, maybe four or five, staring up at him with wide eyes.
"Are you Captain 'merica?" the child asks, and Steve smiles.
"Uh. Well, yes. Yes I am."
He's not sure what he's expecting, really--usually when people ask that question, they follow it up with "Can I have your autograph?" or "Did you really punch Hitler in the face?" or, lately, "Are you really dating Tony Stark?"
What he's not expecting, at all, is for the child to throw himself on the floor and burst into tears, screaming, "I want my MOMMY!"
"Oh my god," says Steve, staring. The noise is terrible, scrapes every nerve in his body the wrong way--he wants to make it stop at once, feels awful that it's still happening, but has no idea how. He remembers holding babies in Brooklyn as a teenager, mostly in an oh-Steve-look-you-are-breathing-and-over-t
But this isn't even a baby, it's a…toddler, or whatever the stage is between toddler and, and, and human, and oh, dear, that's not a charitable thought.
"Um," says Steve, "can I…help you? Uh. Maybe your Mommy is…here somewhere…although I guess she'd probably have heard you. Um."
"She lost me," the kid wails, "I was s'pposed to stay close and I didn' an' she lost me!"
On second thought, this kid kind of reminds him of Tony.
"You should always stay with a grownup," Steve says, which is very wise advice. The kid stops crying long enough to look up at him with doubting eyes.
"You're mean," he decides. "I hate you."
And then he bursts into tears again.
This is…oh, god. This is really beyond Steve's ability to process, and that in and of itself is horrifying. He is Captain America; he should not be reduced to helplessness by a child's tears. He has fought Nazis and invading alien armies and the Norse god of mischief; he has outsmarted Tony Stark in the bedroom; he could probably bench press a Mac truck if he ever felt the inclination and oh god he's still crying, maybe Steve can offer him an autograph or, or an ice cream or--
"Steven," comes a familiar voice, and oh, Jesus, there's Tony, looking at him like he's Christmas come early. "Is it too much to ask that you stay out of trouble? God, I've always wanted to say that to you."
"Iron Man!" the kid says, "you're Iron Man and I want my mommy--"
"Uh-huh," says Tony, raising his eyebrows. He crouches down, takes off his sunglasses and looks the kid in the eye. "Between you and me--and you're gonna wanna take this from someone who knows spoiled brat inside and out, believe me, every last trick in the book, I invented them--those crocodile tears could use some serious work."
"He's…he's lost," Steve says, feeling fairly lost himself. "What are you--"
"Yeah, that's a good one," Tony says fondly. The kid has stopped crying and is looking at him warily; Tony gives him a grin. "Milk a stranger for all they're worth to shut you up, plus the guilt from whoever you ditched when they find you--they catch on eventually, though, buddy, can't really pull that trick more than once or twice without ending up on a leash--not that that ever happened to me, Steve, not a word, not even a guess, don't even think about it."
"I'm not," Steve says at once, and then narrows his eyes. "Wait. Wait. Do you mean that--"
"Played you," Tony says, nodding, "like a sad, sad guitar." The kid is scowling next to him, lower lip stuck out, hands crossed over his chest; he looks older, now that he's not screaming. "Not bad, either--what were you trying to get, an autograph or what?"
The kid mumbles something under his breath; Tony's face freezes for a second, and then he laughs so loud he nearly falls over.
"His shield," he chokes, "oh, man, tell you what, you're a crazy little brat, but you've got ambition. You want a job in--you're, what, six, seven? So ten years or so, give Stark Industries a call, tell whoever you get this story. They always patch the crazies up to me anyway, they think it's a riot, I'll give you an internship for your trouble."
"Rather have the shield," the kid mutters--no lisp this time, Jesus, Steve's been taken by a child, this is humiliating--and Tony grins.
"Yeah, wouldn't we all," he says. "Cap kinda needs it to fight crime, though, and also seriously he never puts it down, I've got a lot more chances at it than you do and I've never even come close, do you know how much vibranium that is, one chunk--"
"Drop it, Tony," Steve warns, and Tony just grins at him.
"Don't think I will," he says. "Maybe I'll just cry, who knew that was the key to turning you into a giant sap--"
"Oh, fine," Tony says, and rolls his eyes. "You got a name, kid?"
"Malcolm," the kid admits at length, and Tony nods, sticks out his hand. The kid reaches out to shake it at once, and something shifts in Tony's face; for a second he looks sad, but it's gone again before Steve can figure out why.
"Well, Malcolm," he says, "I'm Tony, and Cap over there goes by Steve when he's not in costume. I'm gonna go ahead and hazard a guess that you're not really lost; think we can maybe give you an escort to whoever it is you left in the lurch? They're probably worried sick."
"Doubt it," Malcolm mutters, and there's that look on Tony's face again; Steve hates it.
"Well," Tony starts, but he doesn't have the chance to finish; a man rounds the corner just then, wearing what looks to be a half-finished suit. His eyes focus on Malcolm, and he barrels forward, waving his hands.
"There you are," he snaps, "how hard is it to stay out of trouble for ten minutes, I swear to god, do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to have to tell a goddamn shopclerk that you've lost your kid--"
"Sorry," Malcolm says, not sounding it. Tony's eyes are narrowed so far they're practically slits; his hands are shaking a little, but they do that a lot anyway, he really needs to sleep more.
"Yeah, well," the man starts, and then he seems to realize who he's standing next to. His eyes widen, and he straightens up so fast Steve wants to wince for his spine. "Oh. Oh. My wife said she'd heard you were here, but I thought--but clearly you are here, Christ, where are my manners, I'm Tom and this is--"
"Malcolm," Tony says, cold. "Yeah, we've met."
"Right," Tom says, "right, of course you have, of course, you're--well, thank you so much for keeping an eye on him, I'm so sorry about him, he's just a little wild man, aren't you, buddy?"
"Whatever," says Malcolm, at the same time Tony says, "He wasn't any trouble."
"He was a little bit of trouble," Steve mutters, low enough that only Tony can hear him, and Tony makes a soft snorting noise before elbowing him in the side.
"I really can't thank you enough," Tom says, and he's babbling now; Steve normally feels awkward when people get starstruck around him, like he's done something wrong, but he's not a huge fan of this guy. "Really, anything I can do to repay you--"
"How 'bout taking your kid for an ice cream and asking him why he runs away from you in stores?" Tony snaps, eyes flashing. "Do a lot more good, wouldn't it? Maybe it's escaped your attention, you seem like a busy guy, I could see how that would happen, but I'm not exactly a man who needs repaying. Now, you want to go into what kind of man you are--"
"Tony," Steve says, quiet. Tony's mouth snaps shut at once, and he looks away, swallows visibly. Tom looks…well, like Steve would expect anyone to look after a dressing down from a celebrity.
He's not really feeling a lot of pity.
"Right," Tony says, "well, we've got things to do, places to be, crimes to fight--no, wait." He pulls the sunglasses off his head, hands them out to Malcolm. "It's not Cap's shield, but I think you could rock 'em--or sell them on eBay, what do I care, I've got others. And try to keep out of trouble, okay? Stark Industries isn't big on criminal records."
"And…always stay with a grownup," Steve adds. It's just as lame the second time, but it at least wipes the sour expression off Tony's face; he rolls his eyes at Steve, warm and exasperated.
"Yeah, that too, what the hell," he says. "Nice meeting you, kid."
"Bye, Tony!" Malcolm calls as they walk away, sounding much more enthusiastic than he had when talking to his father. "Bye, Cap-I-mean-Steve!"
"Bye," Steve says, waving over his shoulder. Tony flashes a peace sign and then books it around the corner, fast enough that it takes Steve a second to catch up with him. "Hey, slow down--you're not trying to ditch me, are you?"
"That was an excellent use of a 21st century word right there," Tony says, giving him an incredibly fake smile. "Seriously, you deserve a reward or something, and actually I got you a reward, all of my business here is done, I got Pepper's shoes and, uh, the other thing, should probably stop and buy another pair of sunglasses, they've got a decent selection here, maybe you should buy them, that seems fair--"
"Sometimes I wonder how you breathe when you talk," Steve says, light, and Tony's smile firms up a little bit.
"Circular breathing," he says, winking. "Comes in handy other times too, in case you haven't noticed."
Steve feels himself blush, but only a little; he's used to this side of Tony by now, for all it threw him at first. "Yeah, maybe once or twice. You okay?"
"Fine," Tony says. He waves a hand, doesn't meet Steve's eyes. "Why wouldn't I be?"
Steve decides to try a different tack. "You're good with kids."
"Yeah, well, someone has to be, you're bad enough with them for both of us, who knew?" He glances sidelong at Steve, and then sighs and tucks his hands in his pockets. "It's not exactly a skill, you know. They're just, you know, smallish people; pay some attention, talk to them like adults, and they love you. It's not rocket science--which, incidentally, is a skill that I actually have, if we're talking skills I can go all day--"
"Yeah, Tony, I know," Steve says. He lets enough warmth slip into his voice that Tony trips a little bit on his next step; no one but Steve would've noticed it, but Steve's learned to look by now. His left hand slips out of his pocket and Steve steps close, threads his fingers through Tony's. People are already talking; there's not any real harm in giving them something to talk about.
"I used to play that game with my nannies," Tony says after awhile. They're at the door--he's apparently decided to forgo the sunglasses--but he hasn't let go of Steve's hand. "Used to freak them right out--which, I mean, of course it did, they were probably afraid they were gonna get fired, god, I was a little asshole--but then I tried it with my dad one time. Spent an hour wandering around, he didn't even notice I was gone."
This is one of the strangest things about dating Tony; it's hard for Steve, sometimes, to reconcile the Howard Stark he knew and liked with this jackass Tony remembers. It's not that he can't see how Howard would have grown up into the person Tony's occasionally sketched out for him, cold and unfeeling--hell, that part of it is all too easy, he was always a little on the chilly side--but…well. Steve kind of wishes he'd hated Howard when he knew him, or at least disliked him. His memories of the man are all fond, and that feels wrong, since most of Tony's aren't.
Plus, there's the fact that he'd apparently ignored Tony most of his life. Steve can't even fathom how that would be possible; Tony is, if nothing else, very hard to ignore.
"I'd miss you if you abandoned me to the wildness of modern shopping," Steve says, because he's got to say something. "And then sign over my life's savings to a six year old, apparently. It's probably for the best you got over the habit."
"Yeah," Tony says, distant. After a minute his eyes refocus, and he squeezes Steve's hand, favors him with a real smile. "Yeah, man, you wanna talk about how Captain America got taken by a kid, because you're supposed to make people feel safe on the streets and stuff, but you know what? I'm on the street with you right now, and after that, I'm not sure I feel safe--"
"You're Iron Man," Steve says, "I think you can probably protect yourself, in the event of a crisis."
Tony makes the little motion that means preening, but there's gratitude on his face; Steve sighs, because he's in love with a basket case and there's no clear end in sight.
"You know me," Tony says, "'Crisis Management' is my middle name."
"Thought it was 'Trouble,'" says Steve, as Tony presses the button to unlock the doors of the sleek silver convertible he parked illegally. There's a ticket on the windshield; Steve looks away so he won't actually see Tony shred it. "Or 'Going To Get Towed By New York's Finest One of These Days.'"
"The cops in this city love me," Tony says, releasing a handful of ticket confetti--littering, says the voice in Steve's head that keeps a running tally of Tony's crimes against society--"and, anyway, I've got other cars."
"I changed my mind," Steve says, "your middle name is obviously 'Gross Excess.'"
Tony just laughs, turning the music up too loud as he pulls them out into traffic. Steve doesn't know the song--he almost never does, except when Tony makes a specific effort to accommodate him--but it's not the hair-raising, earsplitting stuff he plays when he's in a bad way. Steve figures they're probably out of the woods on that front, and settles back against the seat to feel the whip of wind against his face.
Just in case, though, he turns his head towards Tony after a minute. "Edward."
"Anthony Edward Stark," Steve clarifies. "That's your full name, in case you forgot--Pepper says you think your social security number is five, so I thought maybe you'd want the reminder."
Tony stares at him, long enough and hard enough that he nearly rear-ends the taxi in front of them. He swears and stops the car with a loud screech of breaks, and before Steve knows what's happening, Tony's mouth is on his, soft, open. Steve kisses back, because he can't help it, sometimes, with Tony; for all his neuroses, he makes himself easy to indulge. He threads his hand into Tony's hair and drags him down, traffic be damned, and focuses on Tony's breath in his mouth until a horn distracts them.
"Yeah, fuck you too, hotshot," Tony yells, gasping a little, but he puts his foot on the gas all the same. To Steve, he says, "By the way, my social security number is five; try not to steal my identity or anything."
"Better keep an eye on me, then," Steve says. He closes his eyes against the wind to the sound of Tony's laughter, warm and close.