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The Way to His Heart: A Guide to the Care and Feeding of Tony Stark

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“I think this mixer is getting used more this week than it’s been in the three years we’ve lived here.” Pepper swiped a page on her tablet and scanned through a list of necessary requisitions for one of their Pacific Northwest facilities. “Have you finally figured out which speed is the right speed so you don’t fling flour all over yourself, the counter, the ceiling, the air vents, into the cupboards and also somehow into the fridge?” 

“That was one time.” Tony had a light dusting of flour in his hair, up his arms and all over his ruffled apron but it was far less than the amount of flour he’d left all over the place with his baking escapades earlier in the week. “One time, like three years ago we had a flour related incident and I was so traumatized, I put the mixer away and never tried again. One time.” 

You were traumatized?” Pepper arched a perfectly tweezed brow. “Tony, I was in a meeting when you let out that blood curdling scream and JARVIS’s emergency alarms went off. I thought you’d died in here! I had to tell Rhodey and a General that something terrible had happened and cut the call short only to race in here and find you covered in flour cursing at the mixer.” 

“Yes well.” Tony dumped a cup of sugar in the mixer and huffed loud at her. “I haven’t done it since and you still managed to secure that deal with the Air Force so I don’t see why you’re complaining. Let it go woman, carrying grudges leads to frown lines and no one wants that.” 

“You are personally and entirely responsible for every frown line and gray hair on my head.” Pepper warned him, and Tony retorted, “You have skin like a goddess and hair like a mermaid. Give me a break.” 

“Yes well.” Pepper mocked, patting her always perfectly in place hair. “That’s because every year you buy me a very expensive skin care set for my birthday along with a year’s worth of appointments to my favorite salon and spa.” 

“Do I?” Tony pressed at the butter experimentally to make sure it was softened enough, then unwrapped the stick and plopped it into the bowl atop the sugar. “Well well well, aren’t I generous?” 

“Aren’t you though?” she winked at him. “Oh and while we’re on the topic of being pretty, I got a text from Nat earlier this week profusely thanking me for lending you that apron. Apparently she wholly approves of you in ruffles and thinks we should alter your wardrobe to include at least three different items in that softer pink color and suggested I clear out some of your days because you need more cooking lessons and she would be happy to give them to you.” 

“You don’t say.” Tony set the mixer at a safe low speed and went to peel a handful of overripe bananas, trying and failing to appear nonchalant. “Was uh-- was Tasha the only one who texted you that?” 

“Texted me what?” 

“Things about--” Tony cleared his throat, hoping the heat in his cheeks was just from the preheated oven and not from a blush. “Things about me being pretty. About liking the ruffles. And wanting to spend more time with me.” 

Pepper switched the screen over to her messages, skimmed through the list-- Steve and Bucky, Sam, Clint, Thor, Bruce-- and smiled knowingly. “I had a few. Anyone in particular you were hoping to hear from?” 

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Damn it, Tony was definitely blushing and he hurried to disguise it by quickly dumping the bananas and eggs into the bowl. “I was just curious.” 

“Sure you were.” Pepper finally pushed her tablet away and propped her chin up on her hands, watching Tony scurry back and forth across the kitchen gathering supplies for the banana bread recipe. “Tony… how was this week? Did everything go okay?” 

“Everything went fine.” Tony added the flour to the sifter and gave it a few cranks. “It was just a lot, was all.” 

“In what way?” Pepper already knew in what way the week had been a lot, but she waited for Tony to tell her anyway, knowing she’d figure out how he felt about it all just from how much or how little he was willing to talk about. “It seems like you got some decent recipes. I already scanned the cards and uploaded them so you can read them on your tablet any time you need.” 

“Thanks.” Tony watched the mixer turn for a few minutes, then gathered his courage and admitted, “Nat’s blueberry french toast was really good but I spent half the cooking lesson staring at her mouth and the other half wondering if I was going to vomit up butterflies cos my stomach was a mess.” 

“Oh Tony.” 

“Steve calls me sweetheart.” Tony said next. “Bucky? Bucky calls me sweet thing and I didn’t know I was into old men calling me pet names, but here I am anyway. They argued about which one would impress me better with their muscles. Steve talked about being able to bench press a helicopter, for Christ’s sake. I haven’t been flirted with so much since college.” 

“Mmm.” Pepper made a quietly encouraging noise this time. 

“Clint straight up called me out about my terrible coping tendencies, showed me how to make cake that was bad mental health day easy, at one point I licked cake batter off his finger and then he suggested I look in the Tower for someone to love me.” Tony scraped down the sides of the mixing bowl and added the rest of the flour in. “Then I blew off texts and calls from my boyfriend to watch a movie with everyone.” 

“Oooookay? But how do you--” 

“Sam kissed me.” A bread pan thumped down on the counter loudly, and Pepper jumped. “He taught me how to make cinnamon rolls the same way his Granny did, loudly suggested I have submissive tendencies considering how much I like to be bossed around--” 

Pepper snorted through a highly unattractive laugh because good god did Tony like to be bossed around and how the man had made it to his mid forties without figuring out he was submissive was beyond her. 

“--thanks for that.” Tony narrowed his eyes at her. “Anyway. Sam tagged me as submissive and then when I fussed at him? He kissed me!” 

“Did you kiss him back?” 

“Of course I kissed him back!” the filled pan slammed into the oven. “It’s Sam! Of course I kissed him back!” 

“Alright alright.” Pepper held up a hand to stop Tony before he went off again. “Was the kiss bad?” 

“It was great.” All the dishes went into the sink and Tony set to work scrubbing at them vigorously. “It was a great kiss, okay? Probably the best one I’ve had in months and isn’t that just the saddest thing you’ve ever heard?” 

“I wouldn’t call it...sad.” Pepper hedged. “So it was a great kiss and you’re upset because you feel guilty for kissing Sam while in a relationship?” 

“It actually makes me upset because I don’t feel guilty.” There was the truth of it, whispered soft enough to almost be inaudible beneath the sound of the dishwater. “Because nothing about the last three months has felt like I’m in a relationship. We haven’t talked about moving forward, about being exclusive, about seeing each other more than once every couple weeks. Pep, we haven’t even slept together yet and I’m not saying that sex is what makes a relationship but sheesh, right?” 

“You’re saying that someone like you who loves and enjoys and craves physical affection is struggling with not wanting the physical affection from the person supposed to be your boyfriend.” Pepper finished without hesitation. “Then you get it from Sam and from everyone else, and it’s amazing so you’re understandably conflicted.”

“Understandably conflicted, is that what we’re calling it?” Tony shut the water off and dried his hands, looking exhausted. “Uh Bruce-- Bruce taught me to make granola and we talked about building a quantum processor--” 

“Tony! That would cost hundreds of millions of dollars!” 

“--and running away together on a field trip to CERN so we wouldn’t be around when you got the bill.” Tony smiled a little. “And the idea of spending all that time with Bruce made me happier than any other date has made me in months.” 

“And Thor?” 

“Thor didn’t even try to be subtle.” Tony could still feel the heat of the demigod pressed along his back and feel the rumble of Thor’s voice low in his core. “Called me my love, wrapped his arms around me and pretended he was helping me measure flour. Asked me when was the last time I’d been properly kissed and cherished… it was a lot. Everything about this week was a lot. Part of me thinks this is maybe just how the team is with everyone and I’ve just never seen it. Part of me thinks they might actually like me but then that real paranoid part of me thinks that this is all just some joke and they’re taking bets on who fools me the best? I don’t know.” 

He fell silent and Pepper watched him for a moment, sadness creasing the corner of her eyes. “Tony. Hasn’t everyone on the team asked you out on a date at one point or another?” 

“Yeah.” Tony nodded a few times. “Yeah they have but-- but you know. You know?” 

“I know what, darling?” 

“It’s uh--” Tony huffed out a quick break. “Proximity? I pay for everything for them so maybe they think they owe me? They can’t date each other and I’m technically a civilian? There’s only one girl on the team and I’m the next shortest with the next best butt? Steve and Bucky got tired of only each other after a hundred years to they want to spice it up?”

“Tony, you can’t honestly think that.” she protested. “You can’t honestly think that the team is taking bets and playing a prank on you or is just bored! They spent all week cooking with you! Teasing and flirting and laughing with you! Sam kissed you!” 

“Not to be ‘that guy’ about it,” Tony grimaced. “But I watched Sam kiss a frog one time cos Bucky dared him to. I’ve seen Natasha collect her winnings on bets on everything from what shade of khaki Steve would wear to how many times Thor mentions his hammer in a conversation and to this day, I’m not sure if they meant Mjolnir or his dick.” 

“Oh my god.” 

“Right.” he nodded again. “Exactly. So you can see why I’m a little bit leery to take all this at face value?” 

“It makes me very sad that you don’t see your worth.” Pepper said softly. “You’re Tony Stark, billionaire playboy philanthropist genius, one of the nicest people I know, one of the prettiest people I know and Tony? You’ve saved the world not once or twice but several times now, from threats most people never even knew existed. You’ve given spies and soldiers and demi gods and the Hulk a safe place to live. You wake up in the morning thinking about how to change the world for the better. You spend all day working on other peoples gear and projects to make their lives easier. You’ve rebuilt Bucky’s arm three different times. You and Bruce regularly create tech that is borderline magic. Tens of millions of dollars go out the door to various charities whether in check form or physical equipment for hospitals and clinics. You’ve created scholarships and sent entire graduating classes to college for free--” 

“Pep.” Tony tried to shake his head. “Pep just wait--” 

“--and the fact that you discount all of that and still find it absolutely ludicrous, literally beyond belief that the group of people that live and work with you every day and get to see all of that amazingness up close not only like you but could honestly full on love you?” she groaned at him. “Tony! It makes me so sad and at the same time, I actually want to shake you until you figure it out!” 

“Okay well please don’t shake me, that seems rude.” 

“I know dating has been hard.” she clicked her tongue sympathetically. “I know before Iron Man everyone was a gold digger and now after Iron Man it’s hard to find anyone who can get through a sentence without asking about the Avengers or wanting to meet one of the team. I know all that, but this is different.” 

“Pep, no one has ever looked at me, at Tony, and thought I was enough.” Another truth, bit out between clenched teeth, Tony’s arms folded tight at his chest and shoulders hunched. “I was Howard’s kid that never really lived up to the standard, I was Obadiah’s ward that would never be ready to take over the company, I was Iron Man who wasn’t really a role model because of all the shit I pulled in my younger years and now I’m just the scarred up mid forties guy who buys the Avengers gear. I have never been just Tony and been enough. I tried to just be just Tony for my partner and all it’s led to is three months of feeling like I can’t breathe or relax or enjoy a kiss.” 

“Tony.” 

“And then this week.” Tony ran a hand through his hair. “This week, I’ve just been Tony and I’ve been flirted with and teased and told I was beautiful and that I could have anything I wanted and I’ve been kissed and halfway to seduced and understood when it comes to my depression and it’s the first time in my life that I ever felt like me was enough. Like just being Tony was enough and not just enough but-- but maybe more than enough! I’ve never experienced that in my life, and then I had this epiphany yesterday with Thor about how I don’t even want to go on the date anymore…” 

Pepper stayed quiet and Tony ended on a whisper, “And I am terrified to look too close at it because what if I’m wrong like I’ve been wrong every other time. Then I won’t just lose a potential relationship, I’ll lose my friends. Can I risk that? Should I risk that?” 

“...I think you know the answer to that already, Tony.” 

“Yeah.” he swallowed. “Yeah, I do.” 

“So?” Pepper reached across the counter and clasped at his hand. “So what are you waiting for then?” 

“Just for the banana bread to be done.” Tony glanced at the timer that was slowly counting down from forty five minutes. “Just for the banana bread to be done.” 

*******

Pepper’s banana bread recipe was tried and true, foolproof and low maintenance and effortlessly delicious. It sliced up easy and gorgeous on a pretty platter and was perfect as a late afternoon snack. Saturdays were easy days around the Tower-- barring some city-state-country-world ending disaster, of course-- and the entire team was sprawled in various seats across the common area sipping their drinks and reading or talking quietly when Tony came from the kitchen with his offering and set it carefully down on the table. 

“Heya sweet thing.” Bucky shoved Steve over on the couch and patted the seat between them. “You wanna come sit with us?” 

“Is that banana bread?” Clint’s nose led him right to the food and he loudly inhaled the sweet bread smell. “Did you make banana bread?!” 

“Mmmm, Tony!” Natasha unfolded herself from Thor’s lap and kissed him on the cheek before peering down at the dish in delight. “Did Pepper help you with this?” 

“I baked it all on my own.” Tony wrung his hands nervously as Sam and Thor crowded in close to see the bread too. “I mean, it was her recipe but I did it by myself.” 

“It looks great, Tony.” Bruce had a brief hand at Tony’s shoulder as he passed. “I’m going to get some tea, do you want some?” 

“I’d love some tea.” Tony sent him quick, grateful smile. “Thank you.” 

“What time is your date tonight, Tony?” Steve snagged a piece of the still warm bread. “You mentioned you bought some land upstate and we were thinking we could take the jet up there, spend the afternoon walking the grounds and you could tell us what you wanted to do with it.” 

“The mortals can take the jet.” Thor winked at Tony. “I could fly us there with Mjolnir if you wish.” 

“What time’s your date though?” Sam echoed Steve’s question. “We’ll make sure you get back in time to get ready.” 

“Actually.” Tony took in a deep breath, then another. “Actually I thought I’d maybe just stay in with all of you tonight if-- if that’s alright?” 

“Huh.” Clint chewed slowly, eyes darting around to the rest of the team. “What about your date though?” 

“I found a recipe for homemade pizza dough.” Tony pulled out a recipe card and held it up nervously. “I thought we could make pizza together and watch a movie and call that a date?” 

“...you want to go on a date with us?” 

“I think after this week maybe you all want to go on a date with me?” Tony’s voice squeaked uncertainly. “And I realized I am absolutely into that idea so if you are all into that idea--” 

“We already had a movie picked out.” Natasha pressed herself to Tony’s side and laughed softly when he immediately blushed bright red. “And I’m not saying we were going to kidnap your boyfriend and hold him hostage--” 

“-- but Widow already had a plan that involved ropes and jumper cables.” Clint plonked a kiss on Tony’s cheek. “I call dibs on your booty next to mine. Go snag the big recliner. Steve? Movie?” 

“On it.” Tony had long since digitized every movie he owned so Steve picked up the remote and searched through the JARVIS powered catalog until he found the right one. “And Clint, you can’t call dibs on Tony’s booty.” 

“The hell I can’t, you’re just mad you didn’t think of it--” 

Tony’s phone rang just then and everyone froze when he pulled it from his pocket. 

“Oh.” he grimaced. “I canceled the date earlier this morning and he’s not taking it very well. Keeps telling me I need to just get over my hang ups and try to--ACK!” 

Tony shrieked when the phone incinerated in his hand, a well placed lightning bolt from Thor frying the device beyond recognition instantly. 

“There we go.” Bucky picked up the charred piece and tossed it towards the trash. “Any fella’s gonna tell ya to ‘get over your hang ups’ and date him is an asshole.” 

“Nobody’s got time for that.” Sam agreed. “Good looking out Thor.” 

Thor just grunted and there was a hilarious moment when Tony’s eyebrows shot skyward as he realized just what had happened to several of his previous phones. “Thor! Have you been frying my phones?!” 

“Only when you look sad about who’s calling.” Bruce was back with Tony’s favorite tea, expertly prepared and the perfect temperature. “Movie ready?” 

“I’ve got it.” Steve settled back onto the couch next to Bucky while Sam snagged Tasha around the waist and bundled her into the cozier sofa. Bruce took up his customary chair and Thor wedged his huge shoulders in the space next to the oversized recliner so he could be close enough to share Tony’s tea. Clint wrapped an arm around Tony and cuddled him close while the lights went down and the beginning credits started to roll and when Tony realized-- 

“We’re watching Die Hard? That’s my favorite movie!” 

“We know, Tony.” Tasha winked and blew him a kiss. “We know.” 

“Of course you guys do.” Tony relaxed further into Clint’s side, butterflies in his stomach and a wholly content smile on his face. “Of course you do.” 

******

“Sam.” Several hours later, they were nearly to the credits on Die Hard 2 when Natasha elbowed Sam and held out her hand. “Pay up.” 

“The hell I will.” Sam kept his voice quiet, eyes darting to where Tony had moved to snuggle between Steve and Bucky. “The bet was if Tony fell in love with one of us through cooking. He fell in love with all of us. Null and void, babe. Null and void.” 

“You are not going to get out of a hundred dollar bet on a technicality.” 

“Oh ho I think I will.” He argued back. “You said ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, I bet you a hundred bucks Tony will fall in love with one of us before his date on Saturday’ and I said ‘I’ll take that bet’. Tony wanted a date with all of us, not just one of us, ere-go, you lose the bet.” 

“Ere-go I will stab you if you don’t--” 

“What are you guys talking about?” Tony rotated out of Steve and Bucky’s arms to come for cuddles for the third movie, his cheeks flushed with happiness and eyes sparkling soft after so much affection for the past several hours. “Anything important?” 

“Nothing important.” Sam made room on his lap for Tony and Natasha pressed close immediately after, laughing in delight when Tony turned willingly into a quick kiss. “Just glad you’re here, Tony.” 

“Me too.” Tony held onto Tasha’s fingers tight and hugged Sam with his other arm. “...me too.” 

*********

Fic Notes: 

Cheers to wrapping up five years of writing the same way I started five years of writing: With Tony realizing he is one hundred worthy of absolute buckets full of love, and getting all the cuddles and appreciation and adoration he deserves. 

Thanks for Reading Along! 

***********

Banana Bread: 

Ingredients

1 Stick Butter, softened

1 Cup Sugar

2 Eggs

3-4 (depending on size!) Ripened Bananas 

½ tsp Salt

1 tsp Baking Soda

1 ⅓ Cup Flour 

Directions

Preheat Oven to 350 F

In Mixer, Cream Butter and Sugar

Add Eggs

Add Bananas

Mix Dry Ingredients and Add Slowly to Batter

*Optional: Nuts or Chocolate Chips at this Point

Pour into greased 9x5 Pan and Bake 40-50 minutes