"Where's Fury?" (Very) Special Agent Tony Stark bounded into the NCIS bullpen. He somehow even managed to throw himself into his chair with a flourish. "I didn't beat the old man into the office, did I?"
Natasha Romanova, liaison from the Russian MVD, snorted. "You? The laziest man outside of Congress?"
"At least I'm--" Natasha's scissors flew through the air and parted Tony's hairline before burying themselves in his cubicle wall. "--not as awesome as you, which I regret daily," Tony finished quickly.
Natasha went back to blatantly ignoring him.
"So where is he?" Tony looked around the bullpen. "For that matter, where's the rookie?"
"Agent Rogers has been off probation for several months," Natasha said.
"Rookie is a state of mind," Tony said grandly.
The elevator dinged; Tony and Natasha both looked over. Steve exited the elevator, listening intently as forensic specialist Darcy Lewis continued an animated monologue. She stopped and planted her hands firmly on her hips, which made her cleavage even more prominent.
Steve's eyes remained firmly fixed on Darcy's face.
Tony's eyes narrowed. He opened his notebook, turned to the page in the back labeled GAY/NOT GAY??, and scribbled down the date and a note. Then he admired Darcy's cleavage properly, along with the fit of Steve's jeans. Being Tony Stark meant getting to appreciate the beauty in everyone, as far as he was concerned. Except maybe Natasha and her terrifying skills with sharp objects.
A slap to the back of his head made Tony forget about anyone's objects, sharp or otherwise. He expertly muffled the yelp of pain and swiveled around to look up at his boss.
Supervisory Special Agent Nick Fury was wearing his usual black eye patch, black duster, and black mood. "Eyes in your head, Stark," he said.
"Darcy and the Rook don't mind, do you, guys?"
"I'm good," Darcy said. "But if we have to sit through Maintaining a Respectful Workplace for a third time because of you, I'll start wearing turtlenecks, and I'll buy Steve baggy jeans. Right, Steve?"
"Um," Steve said, still blushing.
"Did I mention we have a dead Marine?" Fury asked on his way to his desk, setting off a scramble for weapons and equipment and a subtle three-person fight for the car keys behind his back. When he turned around, Tony and Steve were nursing new bruises and Natasha was jingling the keys triumphantly.
"We're all going to die," Tony said under his breath.
Steve had freakishly good hearing to go with his freakishly good...jeans. "You had to irritate her this morning."
"I am the least irritating person in this office!" Tony whispered, and poked Steve in the ribs when he started to laugh.
Tony was still a little green around the edges as they walked into the crime scene, a luxury condo. He stopped short and turned to Natasha. "All that, Mario Andretti, and we still get beat by the corpse guys?"
Doctors Blake and Barton looked up. "Clint was listening to the scanner while we disinfected equipment," Blake said. "As soon as he heard them say 'Marine,' we started out."
"You're just creepy sometimes," Tony told Barton. Barton smiled cheerily and stuck the thermometer in the corpse. Both Tony and Steve flinched. Seeing the liver temp get taken was commonplace, but Barton was so...enthusiastic about it.
"ID on the vic?" Fury asked from directly behind them.
Blake handed over a wallet. Tony flipped through it. "Captain Nathaniel Craddock. License lists this address." He looked around. "This Embassy Row address," he said slowly, "with two Tiffany lamps, enough antiques to choke a roadshow--"
"That's an original Palmer Hayden," Steve the art snob said, pointing.
Tony looked at the dead Marine again. "Boss, I'm begging you, tell me this isn't Senator Craddock's kid."
"Rogers, get the uniforms outside, have them set up a cordon to keep away the looky-loos. Romanov, forensics on everything, then straight back to Darcy. Stark, once you're finished helping, I want a door-to-door." Fury waved his hand around the scene. "They did some damage here. Someone must have heard something, seen something. Find it."
The good doctors had the body bagged and on the gurney, and Blake stepped back, peeling out of his protective suit and down to jeans and a T-shirt. The hammer tattoo that had prompted the nickname "Thor" rippled as his bicep flexed (the bicep had contributed to the nickname, too). "Your time of death is roughly eight p.m. to midnight last night. We'll head back and get you autopsy results."
"Senators! This is gonna suck," said Tony as he reached for his cameras.
"Could be worse," Barton said. "You could have slept with the vic again."
"One damn time." Tony stomped off, muttering.
Tony was still muttering about Barton's insult as he dug through Craddock's phone records. Natasha was ignoring him as only Natasha could. It made the hair on the back of his neck stand up; frankly, he’d rather have her watching him like prey.
"--a bad coincidence, it's not like I sleep with every petty officer who buys me a drink--"
Tony looked up, blinked, and focused on Steve. "I am not the agency bicycle," he said. "I am a normal, healthy man with a normal, healthy sex life, and besides, it's not like--" Like you have any interest in me. He shut his mouth hard enough his teeth rapped together. Why that got Natasha to look up, he had no idea.
"Not like what?" Steve asked.
"Not like what?" Natasha asked.
"Not like I care what Barton thinks of me. He cuts up dead people and follows Darcy around like a puppy."
“Darcy likes puppies,” Natasha said. “For that matter, so does Steve.”
Steve looked bewilderedly between the two of them. Tony found Craddock's weekly calls for takeout immensely fascinating.
Except, wait. There was a number right there, again. And there, the following Thursday. Tony flipped screens until the numbers blurred. "Hey, Rookie, check this out." He scribbled the number down and handed it to Steve. "Maybe he's just got a close personal relationship with his drycleaner, but..."
Tony watched surreptitiously as Steve's fingers danced across his keyboard. It was a ridiculous thing to find sexy, and yet. He knew, thanks to a weird case a while back, that Steve composed his fiction - short stories about superheroes and time travel and aliens - on an old-school typewriter. He could watch Steve type for hours.
There was something so wrong with him. Tony ran a hand through his hair and made a face at his computer screen.
"I somehow doubt Craddock's drycleaner is a research scientist at the Pentagon," Steve said. Tony craned his head to look as Steve put a driver's license and Pentagon ID up on the screen. "Bruce Banner, M.D., Ph.D."
"He knows he doesn't have to wear his lab coat in Interview, right?" Tony asked, looking through the one-way from the observation room. Banner, after one assessing look around the room, had pulled out a notebook and a mechanical pencil, hello 2005, and was writing - Tony zoomed in with the video camera - equations of some kind. "Hey, Steve, can you read what Dr. Nerd is writing there?"
"Don't write him off," Natasha said while Steve leaned over in front of Tony. "I think the coat is hiding more muscles than your average nerd."
"I’m a nerd and I work out," Steve said defensively.
"Yes, and we all appreciate it," Tony said.
Steve turned his head, making him nose-to-nose with Tony. "What does that mean?"
"Nothing. The usual. Can you read that Greek, or not?"
"Not really. We'll have Darcy take a look at the recording later. Gamma radiation is not my specialty."
Tony patted Steve on the head. "It's okay, Rookie. You’re useful in other ways."
Steve rolled his eyes and pushed away, and Tony let out a long, silent breath.
The door to Interview opened, and Fury stalked in and slammed it behind him.
"Did I mention that the meeting with the Senator didn't go well?" Natasha asked.
Tony winced. "He's gonna eat Dr. Nerd for lunch."
"Nicholas, sit still," Blake said, dabbing at the cut on Fury's face. "What caused this, anyway? Was he wearing a ring when he punched you?"
"He had a mechanical pencil in his hand," Steve said.
Behind them, Barton had a sudden coughing fit and became very interested in the morgue ceiling.
Fury's expression was terrifying, even around Blake's giant hands. "Romanova, book him for assault, resisting arrest, and possibly jaywalking. Rogers, Stark, trash detail."
"This is all your fault," Tony told Steve. "I'm wearing my good Armani, too."
"There's bad Armani?" Barton asked.
Tony looked him up and down. "You wouldn't understand."
"Come on, boys, chop chop!" Darcy clapped her hands together. "I can't analyze what you can't find."
Tony stood in the middle of the evidence garage, hip-deep in the contents of the dumpsters behind Banner's eight-unit apartment building, and put his gloved hands on his hazmat suited hips. "You could help."
"This is me helping." Darcy pointed at another garbage bag with her laser pointer.
"If you weren't so adorable I'd start tossing empty pudding cups at you." Tony narrowed his eyes at her. "Be less adorable."
"She can't," Steve said from the other side of the pile.
Darcy beamed at the two of them. "Now find something!"
"I cannot believe we went through all that and they played World of freaking Warcraft together." Tony eased himself into his chair, one hand on his back.
Steve sat on the corner of Tony's desk and stretched. Tony appreciated it. "I can't believe they were guild members and talked on the phone. What is it, 1994? And why did he go after Fury like that for asking about Craddock's murder?"
Natasha looked up from her computer. "Well, he has been attending an anger-management support group for two years."
"Hm." Tony tilted his head, then winced when things cracked and popped. "Ow. So maybe Craddock killed his orc or something and Banner went bananas on him?"
"People have done stranger things for stranger reasons," Natasha said.
Tony was working up the energy to find a joke in that when all three of their text alerts went off at once. Tony grabbed his.
G-MAN ALERT! G-MAN ALERT!
The elevator doors opened. Darcy came first, gesturing wildly towards them. Then Fury, and--oh yeah.
"It's Coulson time," Tony said, forgetting every ache and stench, and he and Steve and Natasha made a break for the stairs to the Director's office.
Director Virginia Potts had an aura of authority, the ability to run at a flat-out sprint in stilettos, and a temper that rivaled the M.D., Ph.D. in lockup, although hers was much better controlled.
"Listen, Mister Coulson," she said. "I don't care if J. Edgar himself comes back from the grave with a selection of damning wiretaps. Dr. Banner is a person of interest in an ongoing NCIS investigation. He is also separately under arrest for attacking one of my people. He leaves here when I say he leaves here, and I say no."
"Pep--" Agent Coulson started, only to cut himself off at her expression. He looked around the room. "Do we have to do this with an audience?"
The Director looked over at them. Tony, Steve, Natasha, and Darcy all held their breath. Fury just crossed his arms.
"They can be witnesses at my trial," she said finally.
He lowered his voice; they all leaned forward. "Pepper, I really don't want to have to call SecNav on this."
She picked up her phone and handed it to him.
"Damn it," he said, and tossed it back at her. "You people had better solve this in 24 hours, because I'm coming back."
The door snicked shut behind him, and the agents all started breathing again. Maybe a little too soon.
"I didn't know you were still sleeping with him!" Darcy said.
The Director looked up; Darcy squeaked and clapped a hand over her mouth.
"We'll just--we're just going to go, ma'am," Tony said. He almost fell backwards out of the door, dragging Darcy with him.
"Why would you say that?" he demanded once they were safely out of executive earshot.
"Director Potts isn't sleeping with Agent Coulson," Steve said.
"Yes, she is," Tony and Natasha said together. "But you didn't need to mention it then," Natasha added. "Even Tony has more tact than that."
"This place is full of stuff I'm not supposed to say. The Director is boffing Coulson, Natasha seduced that hot brunette friend of Thor’s in the morgue last week, Tony wants to marry Steve--really, I can't be bothered to keep straight what's secret and what's not."
The three of them stared at her.
"In a nutshell, all of it," Fury said from behind her. "Lewis, with me." He pointed to the elevator, and she led the way, shoulders slumped a little.
"I'm, um--I'm going to go investigate. A thing. And people." Tony grabbed blindly for his gear and sidled out of the bullpen, not meeting anyone's eyes. "Although you and I need to have a long talk, Natasha."
"Tony--" Steve called after him, but Tony wasn't turning around for anything.
When in doubt, search again. It was not only Tony's motto for crime scenes, it had gotten him out of more than one interpersonal wrinkle.
He was in Craddock's bathroom, checking prescription bottles, when the door opened again. "Tony?"
Tony sighed. "Shit."
Steve appeared in the doorway. Back in the day, he would have looked small in it, especially with his habitual slouch. Three years of working out and earning confidence had changed him, and he nearly filled it.
"Nothing new in here," Tony said, and ducked past Steve without looking at him. "We've got to be missing something."
"I see two options." Tony surveyed the bedroom and headed for the nightstand. "Either Banner didn't do it, or he did and we're missing his motivation. I have the finely honed skills of a very special agent, and I can tell you we're missing something."
"We're definitely missing something," Steve said.
"Right?" Tony checked the back of the nightstand, leaned down to go through the drawers. "Make yourself useful, check the dresser."
Steve muttered something under his breath and started yanking on drawers.
"Check every inch."
"I know how a search goes," Steve said. "I also know how you work, Agent Stark, and what you do when you think you're in trouble. Is Darcy right?"
Tony dumped the bottom drawer on the bed. Porn, porn, more porn. "I know you refuse to believe the Director is dating an FBI agent, and it really is beneath her, but they are absolutely 100% banging."
"And Natasha and Dr. Blake's friend?"
"I hope so. I sincerely hope so. Did you see her? Another hot woman who could take you apart without breaking a sweat. But maybe it's wishful thinking." Tony's hands paused between DVDs. "Darcy doesn't know everything."
"That'll be news to her."
Tony took a breath and turned around. "Steve? Do you--"
Steve turned around, holding up an SD card. "This was taped to the bottom of the sock drawer."
"I'll be damned," Tony said, taking it from Steve and trying not to notice how fast Steve pulled his hand away. "My motto lives again."
At the end of the day, it was Darcy's case to solve, as usual, with an unexpected boost from Dr. Banner when the key to decrypting the late Captain's data files turned out to be related to some secret WoW what-have-you.
"Oh," Darcy said as the screen filled up with bank statements and surveillance photos and memos. "Bribery again."
"We'll be sure to tell the Senator that you're disappointed in his choice of scandal," Natasha said as Fury headed for the lab door.
"Well, he killed his own kid for money," Darcy said. "Unimaginative and pathetic."
"Hard to argue," Steve said as they crowded into the elevator. His breath was warm on the back of Tony's neck.
Tony, for once, didn't say anything.
Fury and Natasha knocked on the front door of Senator Craddock's mansion as Tony and Steve waited by the back patio in case the gentleman from Virginia made a run for it.
"He probably hires people to run from the cops for him," Tony said.
Tony grinned over at him and then turned back to the patio door. He could hear raised voices in there, but nothing else.
"Hey," Steve said abruptly, and Tony tensed. "I don't know if Darcy's right."
The voices inside got louder, and both Tony and Steve shifted to get a better view inside. "Maybe this isn't the time to--"
"But," Steve said, and hunched his shoulders miserably, "I feel--I want--do you want to go out with me?"
"What?" Tony asked, and started to turn just as Senator Craddock came flying backwards through the patio doors. Tony and Steve were just out of the path of the flying glass. They dove for the Senator; Tony kept his gun trained on him while Steve checked for major damage.
Tony looked up to see Fury holding some thug in a headlock, while Natasha kicked another in the solar plexus.
"Seriously?" Tony asked Natasha. "I was in the middle of something!"
"Technically, I was in the middle of something," Steve said.
Fury let go of his thug, who dropped to the floor, groaning. "So sorry to interrupt your conversation with my arrest," he said. "Stark, you did call for an ambulance already, right?"
Tony dug out his phone, grumbling. But he was pretty sure he'd caught Steve grinning while cuffing Craddock, so...
Approximately seven hours later, Tony fell back onto Steve's bed. "Guess you're not a rookie about everything," he said. He was probably oozing smug out his pores right now.
Steve laughed and rolled half on top of Tony, tangling their legs together. "I read a lot," he said into Tony's hair.
Steve moved his hand in idle patterns across Tony’s chest, brushing lightly over the shrapnel scars from a bombing case back in Baltimore. "So when do you think Darcy will figure out she's right? Again?"
"Somewhere between fifteen minutes after we get in tomorrow and a year from now, when you ask her to be your best man," Tony said, and then his brain caught up with his mouth and his eyes popped open. "Um--"
But Steve was laughing, and when Tony turned to look at him Steve kissed him. Tony carefully brought his hand up to cover Steve's, and Steve laced their fingers together. "We'll see if she passes the test."
"Okay," Tony said, dazed, and grinned stupidly at Steve. "Okay."
It took less than ten minutes after they got there, actually, and only eight months until the wedding, but neither Tony nor Steve complained.