Chapter 1: identity reveal time loop
Warning for mention of suicidal thoughts.
The first time Tony reveals his identity, Steve’s eyes widen with shock and betrayal, then he punches Tony in the face. His fist lands squarely on Tony’s jaw with the power of super-enhanced muscles and Tony goes down, unconscious before he hits the floor.
The second time happens moments later. Tony opens his eyes and it’s like time has reset by a few seconds. He thinks he must be imagining it. He reveals his identity to Steve once again, and once again Steve decks him.
The third time, Tony opens his eyes and decides something strange is happening. He keeps his mouth shut this go around. It doesn’t help though, because Molecule Man strips him out of his armor and the team gasp when they see his face. Molecule Man takes down the whole team and when he knocks a defenseless Tony unconscious, the loop begins again.
The fourth time, Tony tries to think this through. Clearly, there is something going on beyond the usual Avengers fight with the villain of the week. They’ve battled Molecule Man before and he’s a pain in the ass, but he doesn’t have the power to control time. The time loop is obviously a different issue. Tony tries to explain what’s going on to Steve, but Steve just looks at him strangely and doesn’t believe him. Pretty soon Molecule Man knocks them all out and the cycle begins again.
The fifth time, Tony tries to take control of the situation. He grabs Steve’s wrist, sits him down, and gently tells him that there’s something he needs to know. He explains that he’s had to keep his identity to himself, for the safety of the team, that it’s not a statement about his level of trust in them. Steve nods understandingly. And when Tony reveals his identity this time, Steve isn’t angry. Instead he starts to cry, and it’s even worse. Just as Tony thinks that he’s got it this time, that Steve crying is awful but at least he’s broken the loop, everything fades to black and begins again.
The sixth time is depressing. Tony really thought he’d cracked it last time. This time, he sits back and observes. He looks for clues about what is causing the loop, but everything seems normal. The team are as they always are, the Molecule Man is as he always is, and it’s just another Avengers mission. He wonders if he could use his knowledge of the future to protect the team, to divert events and help them succeed. But things work just differently enough that he can’t predict them, and the moment that he lets his guard down they are knocked unconscious, again.
The seventh time, Tony is starting to fray around the edges. He thinks back to this morning, trying to figure out what could have set the loop off. It had been a regular morning in the mansion, except for the guilt that had been playing around his mind about deceiving Steve. He’d decided that if no one else, Steve deserved to know who he really was. Now he tries to drop hints to Steve, wondering if he can let the truth out indirectly. Steve doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about, though, and then the loop starts again.
The eighth time, Tony recruits Tigra to help him. She doesn’t seem fazed by the reveal of his identity, nor does she seem upset by his deception. She agrees to approach Steve for him, and Tony could kiss her for that. Tony watches them from across the room as she slinks over and whispers in Steve’s ear. Steve looks over at him, staring open mouthed, and then the loop resets.
The ninth time is frustrating. Anger is starting to seep out of Tony’s pores, and he feels he’s being punished for the deep flaws in his character. He wonders vaguely which of Dante’s levels of hell this is. He sits on the floor and ignores the team clamoring around him, fussing over him and his detached mental state. Eventually they leave him, and Tony has a few moments of blissful peace before he opens his eyes back at the start of the loop.
By the tenth time, Tony is starting to wonder if he’s going to be stuck like this forever. He wanders away from the team and finds an open window. It’s a long way down. He strips off pieces of his armor, gazing at the ground far below. He stands on the ledge and breathes deeply. The moment that he steps forward, the loop begins again.
The eleventh time reality resets he realizes this is not a problem he can opt out of. He goes to Steve, eyes downcast, mostly wanting the company more than anything else. Steve calls him Shellhead and swings an arm around his shoulders, and for a moment he feels less alone. Then the team gets back to their mission and Tony gets stripped and knocked out one more.
The twelfth time he reveals his identity to the whole team together. That doesn’t work.
The thirteenth time he goes to Molecule Man, of all people, and pitifully asks for help. Molecule Man laughs in his face and everything resets.
The fourteenth time, Tony runs. He runs from the team, from his responsibilities, from this god awful loop. He makes it half a mile before the blackness descends.
The fifteenth time, Tony lies on the ground in a catatonic stupor. It’s cold and uncomfortable, and the blessed silence lasts only a minute.
By the twentieth time, Tony knows that he is losing his mind. He’s gone through anger and depression and guilt and worry, and now he feels nothing. It all seems kind of funny, actually. When he removes his helmet the team crowds around him, their faces pinched with worry while he laughs himself sick. The loop begins again.
Tony loses count of the loops. Nothing works. This is his hell, he thinks. This is his life now.
He realizes that his actions no longer matter. He tells Steve the truth, in a thousand different ways. Tells him that he had to keep Tony Stark and Iron Man separate for the safety of his friends, for the sake of the team, for the sake of his own mental wellbeing. Tells Steve that he never meant to hurt him, that it wasn’t a question of trust, that it was for Steve’s protection. He explains in every way he can think of that he respects Steve, that he cares about him, that he doesn’t want anything to change between them. Every time, the loop resets.
Eventually Tony’s mental defenses are worn down to nothing. He can’t remember the last time he slept, ate, saw a place that wasn’t these same four walls. All the fight has been squeezed out of him.
Steve notices that he’s not himself and squeezes his hand. “You okay there, Shellhead?” he asks. And Tony can’t help himself: he spills his guts. In one breathless monologue he tells Steve how exhausted he is, how afraid, how he’s been selfish and how he doesn’t deserve any consideration. How he’s tried so hard to be good, to do the right thing, to make Steve proud. How much Steve’s friendship means to him, how he’d be lost without Steve, how he’s been in love with Steve since the very start.
That last part is out of his mouth before he can reel it in. Steve looks shocked, but Tony doesn’t care anymore. It’s not like Steve will remember this next time.
Steve is looking at him strangely, studying the details of his armor with intense concentration, a thoughtful look on his face.
“... Tony?” he asks, eventually.
Tony laughs as he takes off his helmet. Steve always was smarter than people gave him credit for.
He braces himself for another punch as Steve steps purposefully towards him.
But then Steve’s arms are wrapping around him, hugging him tight, and Steve is mummering into his hair about what a good man he is, what a good hero, how he’s the most important person in the world to him.
Tony sags. It’s like water to a man dying in the desert, this outpouring of affection. The cold icy depression that had wrapped around his heart loosens and falls away. He breathes, for what feels like the first time in months.
He waits for the loop to reset. It doesn’t.
They fight Molecule Man, and this time when Tony is stripped out of his armor Steve leaps in front of him and protects him with his shield. They defeat the villain and save the day.
Tony keeps waiting for the reset.
They go back to the mansion and it’s an indescribable relief to be in a new environment. Tony decides he may as well make the best of the situation, puts on his best suit, arranges a candlelit dinner, and invites Steve to join him.
After dinner Tony takes Steve to bed, and it’s sweeter and more tender than anything he could have imagined. Tony thinks he could live with the loop forever now, knowing he has this memory of Steve. This was it: the most perfect day, the truth laid bare, every single one of his cards on the table and his heart in Steve’s hands. He can’t think of a single thing he would have done differently.
He wakes to sunlight streaming through his bedroom window, and Steve’s warm body pressed against his own. It’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever experienced.
Chapter 2: identity porn fluff
Steve snapped to attention as his Avengers ID card blinked with an update. Special assignment from Mr. Stark, it said. Please report to Mr. Stark’s office ASAP.
Huh. Steve hadn’t had the time to get to know the team’s benefactor very well, though he seemed like a stand-up sort of fella. Smart and dedicated to the team. And certainly not hard on the eyes...
He readied himself quickly and headed to Stark’s office. The room was neat and orderly, with Stark himself perched casually on an intimidatingly fancy desk.
“Captain! Thanks for coming.”
Steve nodded politely. Mr. Stark beamed at him and Steve’s pulse kicked up a notch.
“Say, I could really use your help today if you’re not otherwise occupied. Iron Man is, uhh, out of town for a few days and I need a bodyguard for this science conference I’m heading to. Could I persuade you to help me out?”
Steve thought that if Mr. Stark kept looking at him like that, he could persuade him to do just about anything. “Sure thing, Mr. Stark! It’d be my pleasure.”
“Please, call me Tony.”
Tony, Steve thought with a breathless smile. And now they were going to spend the day together. How perfect.
The day after, Iron Man was back from his trip and was ready to resume his regular bodyguard duties. Steve went to see him, to welcome him back and also to update him on the details of Tony’s day.
They meet in the library, where Iron Man greeted him with a warm if clanky hug and they settled into their respective armchairs.
“Everything went okay yesterday?” Iron Man asked, sounding a little concerned.
“It went just fine. No villainous plots or alien attacks or anything.”
Iron Man didn’t look directly at him. “And, ahh, Mr. Stark wasn’t too much of a pain in your ass?”
Steve had the mad thought that Tony would be very welcome to be a pain in his ass any time that he liked and he felt his cheeks color.
“Oh no,” Steve said far too quickly. “Actually, I had a rather wonderful time.”
Iron Man cocked his head to one side. “Wonderful? Going to a science conference with a square like Stark?”
“The speech Mr. Stark gave about miniaturized communications technology was fascinating. He’s a wonderful speaker, and very charming too.” Steve realized he may have been a little too enthusiastic and attempted to rein it in. “If you’re into that sort of thing.”
Iron Man leaned back and propped the chin of his helmet on his fist. “You really think so? Most people find him to be a total bore.”
“Not at all! He’s delightful! And so interesting. I could listen to him talk for hours.”
Iron Man shifted uncomfortably.
“And, Shellhead, promise me you won’t tell anyone else about this?” Iron Man nodded. “But he’s so handsome! Like a movie star. Those eyes.” Steve sighed dreamily.
He noticed that Iron Man had gone awful quiet.
“Shellhead, do you have a problem with my saying that because he’s a man?”
“Because that wouldn’t be in keeping with the Avengers’ spirit of acceptance and tolerance.”
“I assure you, Cap, I’m definitely not mad that you’re attracted to a man.”
“But you are mad that I’m attracted to Mr. Stark?”
Iron Man spluttered, the sound bizarrely distorted through the voice modulator. “He’s not… that’s not what I meant.”
A thought suddenly crossed Steve’s mind. He leaned forward and carefully placed a hand on Iron Man’s knee. “Are you mad because you’re attracted to him too?”
“It’s okay, Shellhead.” Steve patted his leg comfortingly. “Working with a fella like that all day - so sophisticated and good looking, such a kind person, everything you could want from a man - how could you not fall for him?”
“Uh, Cap, it’s really not like -”
“Don’t worry about it. I understand how you must feel. But we can work this out.”
“It’s okay, really -”
“I won’t go after him,” Steve promised. Romance was nice, but friends were more important. “I wouldn’t do that to you.”
“Why, were you planning on… going after him?”
The blush returned to Steve’s cheeks. “I was going to ask him on a date. But don’t worry!” he cut off Iron Man’s protests. “I would never do that now I know how you feel.”
“You don’t have to -”
“I won’t hear another word about it,” Steve said firmly.
Iron Man’s shoulders slumped. It must be relief that he was feeling. Steve was sure he was doing the right thing now.
“Don’t give it another thought, Shellhead.” He punched Iron Man’s arm playfully. “I’ll steer well clear of Mr. Stark. That’ll give you an opening if you wanted to make a move. Say, if you ever need advice or you want some help expressing your feelings - I’m not much of a wooer but it’d be my pleasure to help you show Tony how you feel.”
Iron Man’s shoulders had slumped even further. The poor fella, he must have it real bad for Tony. “Sure, Cap. I’ll let you know if I need any help. Thanks.”
Steve slung an arm around him and pulled him into a hug. “That’s what friends are for.”
Chapter 3: AA roleplaying silliness
"No way am I wearing that." Tony eyed the cyan and blue cybernetic suit distastefully. "Not my colors at all."
"It's important, Tony," Steve said, exuding calm patience. "We need to learn what The Cabal is up to, and to do that we need to infiltrate the group by going undercover as villains."
"Yeah, but you want me to dress as The Grim Reaper?? Couldn't I be a cool villain like Ultron? I'd even rather dress as Justin Hammer."
"I think The Cabal might notice if you rocked up in one of Hammer's suits. And anyway, I'm facing indignities of my own here. I'm not wild about dressing as Crossbones either."
Tony looked round and took in Steve, face pulled into a frown, unhappily plucking at Crossbones' sleeveless black shirt that he was wearing.
"I don't know," Tony said with a grin. "That outfit shows off your arms rather nicely."
"Tony." Steve sounded exasperated but Tony could see a little blush forming on his cheeks.
"You know I do love any excuse for a bit of roleplaying." Tony held up the Reaper's suit to his chest and waggled his eyebrows. He put on his best ridiculous villain accent: "Ahh, Crossbones, finally we are alone."
Steve pursed his lips and rolled his eyes.
Tony saw an opening and went for it. "I have watched you for so long, admiring how you reign chaos down on those foolish civilians."
"Think of all we could accomplish together." Tony stepped closer and put a hand on Steve's ample bicep. "Let the world live in fear of the might of Crossbones and The Grim Reaper, united at last!"
Tony could see a smile tugging at the corner of Steve's mouth that he was clearly trying to repress. He pressed his advantage.
"You know my techno-scythe can be used as a buzzsaw and a stun gun. Don't you want to see what else it can do?" Tony leered to complete the effect.
Finally, Steve cracked and went with it. "Oh, Grim Reaper," he said, stifling a laugh. "I've denied my feelings for too long." He put an arm round Tony's waist and tugged him close. "Kiss me and we can rule the world together."
Tony stood on the tips of his toes to press a kiss to Steve's lips.
"EUGH!" The gasp of horror interrupted the moment.
Tony turned to see Clint standing in the doorway, covering his eyes dramatically. "Bad enough I have to see you two sucking face all over the tower," he said with exaggerated pain. "Now every time we fight Crossbones and the Reaper I'm going to picture this."
Steve gave him a cheeky grin. "Even villains need a bit of love in their life, Hawkeye."
"We're getting in character," Tony said solemnly. "This is important mission prep."
"And now Tony and I need to prep more," Steve said, grabbing Tony's wrist in one hand and the Reaper’s suit in the other and leading him away. "In private."
They left Clint looking stricken and mumbling about needing brain bleach.
Chapter 4: Tony cheats on Steve with Ty
Warnings for infidelity, unhealthy relationships, and unhappy ending.
Tony wakes up each morning and Steve’s there. He’s smiling softly, bringing him a cup of coffee, rubbing his shoulders after a hard day in the workshop. Steve kisses him gently and touches him like he’s something precious, like he deserves to be adored.
He’s everything Tony ever thought that he wanted.
He’s nothing that Tony needs.
Ty is sharp nails digging into his back and cruel words in his ear. He’s pointed smirks and hard slaps, the blood dripping down Tony’s chin from his broken lip. He’s salt in the wound, he’s poison.
Tony can’t get enough.
It started off innocently enough. (Innocent, Tony thinks. Really? Even his inner monologue is full of lies.) Tony loves Steve, loves being with him, loves sleeping with him. He loves the way Steve is so tender, so responsive, so expressive. They make love whenever they can, and every time Steve looks into his eyes like he could live there.
But there’s an urge Tony has, an itch that needs scratching. Sometimes it’s a need for restraint, to be held down and come face to face with the feeling of powerlessness, to see it and accept it as a part of his life. It’s necessary for someone in Tony’s line of work.
Sometimes it’s a need for something more, for punishment. The corporal tethering of his mind to his actions: a fist in his face, a line of whip marks across his shoulders.
Whenever he needs that, he knows he can always turn to Ty.
He wasn’t even aware of what he was doing at first. When Ty had come back onto the scene with some ridiculous scheme to steal Stark Industries, Tony had suited up and fought him like any other villain. Just another day in the life of Iron Man.
But Tony had kept finding himself back there, in a room with Ty, replaying phone messages from him, thinking about what he wants. He told himself he was trying to figure out Ty’s next move, but that wasn’t it.
He kept going back because Ty saw him. Ty knew him. Ty’s words would flay him open and his fists felt like sweet relief.
Steve supports him. He’d never stand in the way of Tony’s job. He knows that Iron Man faces dangerous threats, and he knows that Tony feels responsible for fixing them.
Whenever Tony is running out the door to face down Ty, again, Steve wishes him luck and kisses the side of the faceplate as Tony suits up.
At some point, his interventions with Ty stopped being about protecting innocents and started being about the punishment that Tony knows he deserves. Tony never was good at staying on the moral side of that line.
Ty outsmarts him, captures him, strips him out of the armor and strings him up in some godforsaken dungeon in a basement somewhere, and Tony tries to pretend like he doesn’t let this happen every time.
Ty smiles as he peels pieces of the armor away, pulling down Tony’s defenses until he’s stripped bare and his shame is right there on the surface for everyone to see.
Tony used to try and tell himself that this wasn’t sexual, it was just business. But these days he’s achingly hard the minute he hears Ty’s voice, dripping with disdain.
Ty breaks him down, mentally and physically, using chains or electrodes or drugs or whatever other toy he feels like. Sometimes, Ty uses nothing but his voice. Those times are the worst.
Sometimes he comes, sometimes he doesn’t. Ty doesn’t seem to notice or to give a shit.
Sometimes Ty makes Tony suck him off, sometimes he fucks him. It’s all a power play, a way for Ty to assert his dominance. It’s as sentimental as a dog pissing on a lamppost to claim it.
Tony wonders what it says about him that these are the only times he feels truly alive.
When he gets home from his encounters with Ty, Steve is there to soothe him, to tell him it’s ok. Steve washes the blood from his face and tends to his injuries with such gentleness. He wraps him in blankets and brings him warm soup.
Tony’s stomach roils with nausea and he throws the soup down the drain when Steve isn’t looking.
Because Ty’s right, that’s the thing. Tony is worthless. He is unlovable. He sees how Steve tries, but Steve can never truly love him because Steve doesn’t know him. Steve loves the imaginary Tony who lives only in his head, his dear Shellhead who’s strong and brave and always does the right thing.
Tony’s never been that man. He hates Steve a little for thinking that he could be.
Steve loves a simulacrum, and Tony feels nothing but alone than when they’re together. Ty might hurt him, might be cruel and capricious and never ask his consent, but at least he sees Tony for who he is. At least it feels real.
“Don’t go,” Steve asks one night when Tony’s phone beeps with Ty’s location.
Steve never asks that.
“Please, stay with me.”
Tony looks at him, sees how he won’t meet his gaze, sees how his eyes are red and puffy from crying even with the serum. Tony knows then that he knows.
“Let someone else handle the villain tonight. Call one of the other Avengers.”
And that does it for Tony. Steve knows that Tony has been lying, he knows the truth about Ty, and he’s still willing to go along with the pretense that Tony is a hero who selflessly heads out to take down evil villains.
Tony is so disgusted he can’t speak. Steve tries to touch his arm and he recoils, revulsion boiling through him.
Tony walks out of the room and doesn’t look back. He and Steve were a fantasy that was never going to work out.
He goes to Ty.
They deserve each other. It’s better this way.
Chapter 5: 1872 Steve POV
Overseeing a tiny frontier town has its challenges, but often enough all that’s required is the threat of the law to keep people in line. More frequently than you might expect, Sheriff Rogers finds himself with time on his hands.
So the sheriff has a hobby. He sits at the window of the police station, and he watches the blacksmith’s shop opposite. He keeps an eye on the town’s resident drunk and observes how he behaves when he doesn’t know he’s being watched.
Tony is good with his hands. That’s the first thing Steve sees.
He likes to build things: little things, like horseshoes and nails, and big things, like fences and horse troughs. Simple things, often, a few pieces of metal twisted together into a shape that’s perfectly suited to its need.
Steve watches Tony watching the other residents of Timely, and Steve sees Tony taking note when the stirrup on Widow Barnes’ horse saddle is getting loose or when Ben Ulrich is struggling with his printing press.
A few days later, a new stirrup is waiting on the Widow’s porch and a new printing crank is outside Ulrich’s office. Tony doesn’t leave a note, and Steve thinks he takes extra care not to be seen distributing gifts. He’ll let the whole town see him falling-down drunk in the middle of the day, but he’ll go to extraordinary lengths to avoid letting people see his kindness.
Sometimes, Tony will build elaborate things, complex interlocking pieces which Steve can’t fathom the function of. Cogs and gears, wires and leavers, glass pressure tubes and leather straps, all joined together in some unholy mishmash of machinery.
On these days, Tony’s eyes are bright and clear as he works, and his hands don’t shake when he flicks through his notes. Steve wonders what could possibly be more captivating to Tony than alcohol, and wishes that whatever it was, there was more of it in Tony’s life.
Steve sees the dark times too: the days when blackness descends and Tony is physically present but not really there, retreating into the bottle until all sense has left him. The nights when he cries out, reliving some past torment or mistake, and the carefully composed blankness of his face the next morning. Steve knows that feeling well enough.
On other days, Steve sees Tony chatting amiably to the tools in his workshop, imploring the forge to behave itself and his hammer to ring true. It’s charming and surprisingly entertaining watching Tony’s brow wrinkle as he hotly debates outcomes with unassuming inanimate objects, and it’s not like there’s much else worth watching in Timely.
It occurs to Steve eventually that Tony must be lonely. For all his brusqueness when anyone enters his shop and his foul mouth at the end of a heavy night’s drinking, Tony glances longingly at the street when groups of people pass, rowdy and laughing together.
Very occasionally, Tony glances over at the police station. Then Steve bends his head and busies himself with paperwork and tries very hard not to blush when it’s clear he’s been caught staring.
Sometimes, just sometimes, when Steve has finished his rounds and the cells are empty and he looks around the deserted station, he thinks it might be nice to have some company. And he’ll peer out the window and catch a glimpse of Tony, making something or mending something or chatting animatedly to himself. And he’ll consider whether perhaps he could invite Tony to sit or talk or take dinner together. Anything, really. A way to pass the time. A way for the two of them to not be so alone.
But that wouldn’t be proper now, would it?
So Steve watches. And he hopes that maybe one day he’ll find the excuse he needs.
Chapter 6: more identity porn fluff
“It’s just,” Steve sighs, propping his chin on his fist, “he’s so dreamy. You know? With those deep blue eyes, and those gorgeous suits, and all he does for local charities. He’s a real-life prince charming.”
“Uhhhh.” Iron Man’s voice modulator sounds like it might be glitching out. “Sure.”
“Don’t you think, Jan?” Steve turns to Jan, who is currently engaging in painting her nails a delightful shade of yellow. “Mr. Stark is a real dreamboat.”
Jan shrugs one shoulder. “Tony’s a sweetheart,” she agrees. Then she bobbles her head, with a little blush forming on her cheeks. “But I’ve got my eye on something else on this team.”
“Oh really?” Steve says, smiling like he can’t guess who she’s talking about. “I hadn’t noticed.”
She flashes Steve a grin. “Just as well. I wouldn’t want to fight with you over a guy. Even one as good looking as Tony.”
Steve giggles and Iron Man makes a strange hacking coughing sound.
“You okay there, bud?” Steve asks, clapping him on the back out of habit, even though Iron Man can’t feel it through the armor. “All this discussion of Mr. Stark isn’t making you jealous, is it?”
His tone is light and teasing, but Iron Man shifts uncomfortably. “No, it’s, uhh, fine.”
“I could understand if you were jealous,” Steve continues, figuring they’re close enough friends that he can get away with a bit of ribbing. “If my boss were that handsome, I’d want to keep my amorous co-workers away from him too.”
“You think…” Iron Man sounds a little choked. “You think I’m after Mr. Stark for myself?”
Steve raises an eyebrow. “Like I said, I’d understand if you were. You must spend a lot of time together, working for him as often as you do. And Mr. Stark is so charismatic and such a charmer! Who could resist that? Not me, that’s for sure.”
Iron Man makes a funny wheezing noise and Steve wonders if there’s something wrong with the armor.
“Don’t worry, Shellhead, old pal,” he comforts him. “Mr. Stark might be prime fantasy material, but I know he’s way outta my league.”
“What? Cap, no, that’s not -”
“It’s not your fault, buddy,” he says, slinging a friendly arm around Iron Man’s shoulders. “Mr. Stark is the world’s most eligible bachelor. He must have folks falling over themselves to date him! With those movie star looks, and the racy cars he’s always driving, and all his jet setting around the world.”
“Cap, I don’t think -”
“It’s a shame that’s all people see of him though,” Steve muses. “I bet plenty of people see his money and his fame, and they miss everything else about him.”
Iron Man had been looking at the ceiling, but he turns to face Steve. “Like…” he starts uncertainly. “Like what? What is it you like so much about m… Mr. Stark anyway?”
“There’s this, for a start,” Steve says, rapping a knuckle on Iron Man’s helmet. “He built this suit with his own hands, from his own design! Most people wouldn’t have the first clue how to build something like this, and the few who do would only use it for violence or profit.”
Even though he can’t see Iron Man’s face, Steve can feel his attention tuned onto his words.
“But Mr. Stark doesn’t care about that. He built the suit and then he put it to use protecting people, and I think that’s very admirable.”
Iron Man fidgets on the sofa.
“Not that you’re not important too!” Steve hurries to reassure him. “However clever Mr. Stark was in designing the armor, it wouldn’t be more than a hunk of junk without you to pilot it, Iron Man.”
Steve knows it can’t be easy for Iron Man, always being in Mr. Stark’s shadow. But he wants his friend to know he is valued too, even if Steve gets a little giddy around his employer.
“And then there’s all the work he does for charity,” Steve ticks off items on his fingers. “And the way he always provides equipment for the team. And how he lets us live here, in his beautiful house, and never asks anything in return.”
“And he lets me use his cars to travel to fashion shows,” Jan interjects. “Never underestimate the alluring power of a woman driving a Shelby Cobra.”
Steve nods approvingly. He drops his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “One time, he invited me to his workshop for a uniform upgrade.” Jan leans in, eager to hear the details. “I was thinking that maybe, perhaps, it was a pretense. You know, an oh dear, looks like your suit is ripped, guess I’ll have to feel out your measurements sort of thing.”
Jan’s jaw dropped. “He didn’t,” she says, hand at her mouth.
Steve sighs. “No such luck! Mr. Stark was a consummate professional. Polite, helpful, and not the least bit inappropriate with me.”
Jan titters. “Too bad.”
“Too bad indeed,” Steve agrees.
He notices that Iron Man has gone awfully still.
“Hey, fella, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.” Iron Man fidgets more. “I’m sorry. I’ll rein it in.”
Jan waggles her eyebrows. “Like you wish Tony would rein you in, you mean.”
As the two of them collapse into giggles, Iron Man leaps to his feet.
“I gotta go,” Iron Man says briskly. “It’s a, uhh, Stark Industries emergency.”
Steve understood. An Avenger’s work was never done. “Sure thing, Shellhead. Hope it goes well.”
Iron Man was practically running out the door.
“Don’t forget to give your boss a kiss from Steve,” Jan yells after him, and the two of them dissolve into helpless giggles once more.
Chapter 7: even more identity porn silliness
Steve sits opposite Tony’s desk, fidgeting. As nice as it is to see Steve as Tony Stark rather than as Iron Man, Tony had been a little surprised when Steve had asked to speak with him about a personnel matter.
“I’m here for whatever you need, Cap,” he says, trying to put Steve at ease.
Steve lets out a long breath. “Would it be a problem,” he asks eventually, picking at a thread on his uniform, “If I asked a fellow team member out on a date?”
The thought makes something twist painfully in Tony’s chest, but he’s practiced at hiding that sort of thing. He shrugs. “I don’t see why. There isn’t any Avengers policy against fraternisation.”
Steve doesn’t look certain. “Would it be a problem if... the team member I wanted to ask out was a man?”
Tony’s eyebrows raise and his heart skips a beat. He’d never imagined Steve was anything other than straight. Did that mean he might actually have a chance with Steve?
But no, surely not. Steve barely knew him as Tony Stark, and he couldn’t possibly be interested in Iron Man that way.
Tony determinedly pushes his own feelings aside and focuses on Steve’s question. He clearly doesn’t have an issue with Steve dating men -- that would be rather hypocritical.
“That wouldn’t be a problem at all,” Tony says firmly. “The Avengers are all about equality and acceptance.”
Steve’s shoulders slump in relief. “Thanks, Mr. Stark. That makes me feel a whole lot better.”
“I don’t want to pry into this person’s identity,” Tony continues, tactfully. “But I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask: It’s not going to cause any tensions on the team, is it?”
Steve considers. “I shouldn’t think so.”
“Because I know Hank and Jan are close, and getting in between that could be trouble --”
“It’s not Hank,” Steve reassures him quickly.
Ahh. Of course. It must be Thor who had Steve’s interest. No wonder! He was handsome, charming, and -- oh yes -- a Norse God. Who wouldn’t be attracted to Thor?
Tony gives Steve a cheeky wink. “Gotcha.”
Steve remains sitting in front of him, shifting awkwardly in his seat.
“Was there anything else?” Tony asks. He’d normally be delighted to have Steve’s company for as long as he wanted, but he was looking dreadfully uncomfortable.
“I’m not…” Steve is actually blushing. “I don’t really know how to say this, but could I ask for your help? With, you know, how to ask someone for a date? The wooing part, I’m not really sure how to go about that.”
Tony is taken aback. It pains him to think of coaching Steve on how to win someone else’s affections, but he can’t very well turn down an honest request for help.
“It’s just,” Steve starts again, fidgeting still. “You’re a real classy guy, Mr. Stark, and you seem to know all about… wooing and such --” Tony vaguely wondered if Steve was calling him slutty. “-- And I don’t know much about how it works these days.”
Steve hangs his head, and Tony’s heart goes out to him. Whatever his own feelings towards Steve might be, it’s his duty to help his friend.
“Of course I’ll help, buddy,” Tony says, forcing himself to smile. “The first thing you’ve gotta do is figure out what your special someone likes. What are their interests? What do they care about? That sort of thing.”
Steve nods attentively.
“Then you need to find a way to express your feelings that they will appreciate.” He racks his brains, thinking of what Thor might enjoy. “Perhaps you could perform a drinking song for him? Or write an epic poem?”
Steve squints, apparently unconvinced. “Epic poetry seems a bit… much.”
“It’s not too much! It’ll be great. It’s about knowing the person, see. Not going for some generic expression of interest. Make it personal.”
“Right. And then, after I’ve expressed my feelings?”
“Then you invite them to something they’d enjoy. Take him to Waffle House for bottomless waffles.”
“Waffles? Are you sure?”
“Who doesn’t like waffles?” Tony replies with a shrug. He’d seen Thor put away entire stacks of waffles in the morning. He couldn’t imagine any place Thor would enjoy more than somewhere with literally endless waffles. "You just have to take the plunge and ask him."
Tony could see Steve him steeling himself the same way he did before a battle.
"He's worth it," Steve nods decisively. "Thanks, Mr. Stark."
The next day, Tony doesn’t have time to dwell on Steve’s love life. He’s needed at a Stark Industries board meeting and an Avengers mission at the same time, which is the kind of hiccup that’s tryingly familiar when you adopt two separate identities. He chooses the mission, obviously, making his excuses to the board and running to his office for the Iron Man armor to suit up and help his team.
They’ve been called in to diffuse a situation involving spherical, rolling robots which are terrifying tourists in Times Square. The little bouncy bots are actually sort of cute, at least until they start shooting laser beams at anything that moves.
Tony and Steve set about choraling the frightened crowds of tourists to safety, and Tony admires the way Steve instills such confidence even among people who don’t know him personally. With the help of Jan shrinking down to miniature size to investigate the bots up close and identify their weaknesses, and Thor using his lightning to overload their circuits, the team disable the threat in short order.
A bot rolls to a stop in front of Tony and he picks it up, carefully turning it over with the chunky fingers of the Iron Man suit.
Cap comes up next to him and Tony acknowledges him with a quick nod. “Looks like Latverian technology to me,” he shares.
Steve’s lips twist in annoyance. “Doom.”
“I’d guess so. I’ll need to take it back to my workshop to be sure.”
Steve shots him a strange look.
“To, uhh, Mr. Stark’s workshop.”
Steve squints but nods.
“Listen, Shellhead, about that --”
Tony realizes Steve is blushing under the cowl, and he’s twisting his fingers together the way he does on the rare occasions on which he’s nervous.
“I wanted to tell you how great you were today.”
Aww. That’s sweet.
“And I. Uhh. I’m adding the events of today to the poem I’m composing about your heroic deeds.”
Tony is sure he’s mishead. “The what ?”
“The. Uhh. Epic poem. Telling the tale of Iron Man and his adventures.”
“Oh, Iron Man, truly my heart is full to bursting with my regard for you.”
Tony stares some more.
“For your fine character, and you brave comportment.”
The crowds huddled behind the safety barriers and the SHIELD agents arriving for clean-up are starting to stare at the pair of them.
“Your honed battle skills and your unparalleled selflessness.”
Steve seems to have an entire speech prepared. Just as well, because Tony hasn’t the slightest clue what to say.
“And more than that, your warm friendship and charming companionship, which have been a balm to me in trying times.”
Tony keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“What I’m trying to say is,” Steve doesn’t get down on one knee, but it looks like he’s thinking about it. “Iron Man, will you go on a date with me to the Waffle House?”
Tony can’t help it -- he bursts into giggles.
Steve… likes him? As Iron Man? Steve wants to go on a date with him ? And has decided to express this desire through serenades and offers of waffles?
That’s what comes of taking advice from alleged playboy Tony Stark, apparently.
As Tony is laughing, delighted by the ridiculousness of the situation he finds himself in, he catches sight of Steve. Steve looks like a kicked puppy, and he’s growing more despondent by the second.
“Aww, Winghead.” Tony goes to him, carefully cups a cheek with the palm of his metal glove, and brings their foreheads together.
“I don’t know about the waffles,” Tony begins, because really, how is he going to eat with the helmet on? Steve’s face droops. “But how about we start with a date to an art gallery?”
Steve’s eyes lift and he beams like the sun. “I’d love that, Iron Man.”
“There’s just one thing,” Tony says, and Steve nods earnestly. “I think we may have to do a little work on your approach to asking for dates. I’m not sure epic poetry should become your go-to move.”
“That was Mr. Stark’s idea,” Steve says, a little defensive. “He said it would be appropriate.”
Tony laughs again. “Yeah, you shouldn’t listen to that guy. He’s an idiot.”