"And Stark's wedding is at 4pm tomorrow, so--"
Carol Danvers had known Nick Fury for mere weeks, but he hadn't seemed like the kind of man who would actually be cut off by someone coming in through the door of his office. Apparently he was, though, and his eyebrows lowered menacingly at the invader.
She turned to look over her shoulder, to see who Fury was glowering at, and it took her half a second to realize that it was, in fact, Tony Stark.
"Stark, what the hell are you doing here. Aren't you supposed to be rehearsing or something?"
"Yes, pictures, actually. Where's Sharon? I need her. Well, I need a tall blonde." Stark had on a black tux, or most of one; the jacket was over his arm and the tie was undone around his neck. "Oh, hey, didn't notice you there. Are you tall?" He eyeballed her as she remained seated. "Yeah, I'd guess--five ten? You're not Sharon, but you'll do. Come with me." He beckoned her over.
"Five eleven," Carol said, not that it was particularly relevant.
"What do you need a tall blonde for? Don't you have a tall redhead?" Fury said.
"Yes, in fact, I do have a tall redhead, who has a best friend from college who is a tall blonde, who is supposed to be in our wedding tomorrow at 4pm, but whose flight got delayed so she can't be here for the photographer to do light tests for tomorrow's shots," Stark said. "So I need a temporary substitute tall blonde to put on a purple dress and stand in a particular place in a lineup, until the tall blonde, original flavor, actually gets here. So, you, whoever you are, I need to borrow you."
"You know it's possible that I have something that I should be doing," Carol said, glancing over at Fury. She really didn't, not that she knew of, unless Fury wanted her to go back to her hotel room and reread everyone's dossier, but the idea of standing around to get lit for pictures with a bunch of people she didn't know sounded like close to her least favorite way to spend an afternoon ever.
"Stark, this is Carol Danvers. She might be joining your team," Fury said, and now he looked less mad and more . . . amused? Was that Fury's amused face? That was deeply, profoundly disturbing. "She might as well meet the majority of them now."
"Sure, why not," Stark said. "Come on, before the photographer decides to bug out on us."
Carol stood, seeing as she didn't really have much of a choice, and shrugged back into her jacket. "I'll see you later, Director," she said to Fury, her tone letting him know exactly how she felt about the matter, and followed behind Stark.
"We could drive," he said as they waited for the elevator, "or--how do you feel about flying?"
She bit her tongue to stop herself from laughing. "I'm a fan."
"Great," he said, and punched the "up" button on the elevator. "My favorite way to travel, myself."
Once they got to the roof, an Iron Man suit assembled itself around Stark, and he held out a hand. "It's probably easiest if you stand on my foot and wrap your arms around me," he said.
"Oh," Carol said breezily, "no point in that." She bounced up to float about three feet in the air and said, "I can handle my own transportation."
She knew where Stark Tower was, and assumed they were going there, so she could wait on the landing pad a couple seconds before Iron Man landed beside her. "Wait, what the fuck," he said as the suit retracted. "Who the hell are you and how can you fly and when Fury said you'd be joining the team I thought he meant as a SHIELD liaison, even if you weren't dressed right, and--you know what, I don't think we have time for any of this."
"You really don't," said a tall redheaded woman that Carol vaguely recognized; she had to be Pepper Potts, though, Stark's fiancee and the CEO of Stark Industries. "Hello. You're not Sharon Carter."
"No, ma'am," Carol said, shaking Ms. Potts's outstretched hand. "I'm Carol Danvers."
"And she can fly without a suit," Stark said, "but more importantly, she's a tall blonde, so." He made a ta-da! gesture at her.
"Yes, thank you very much, Tony," Pepper said, and smiled warmly at him. She turned to Carol and narrowed her eyes a little. "I don't think that Vanessa's dress is going to fit you very well, but we'll make it work. Come in."
Carol trailed behind Stark as he followed Pepper into the penthouse, which was white and angular and a weird combination of inviting and off-putting. Of course, that also described both Stark and Ms. Potts, so maybe it wasn't that weird. One end of the room, near the windows and a bar, was set up as a sort of photographic studio, with a backdrop and several umbrella lights. There were two photographers and perhaps four assistants, and another dozen or so people milling around, some of whom she recognized. The petite redheaded woman holding a drink in one hand was Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow; the unassuming professorial sort with curly greying hair was Bruce Banner, the Hulk; Carol had read dossiers on both. She was pretty sure the shortish man with the receding hairline was a SHIELD agent, although she couldn't place his name, and equally sure that he was talking to Clint Barton, alias Hawkeye, who wasn't wearing a tuxedo. And standing in the corner, towering over everyone else and broader to boot, was Captain Freaking America, talking to--
--Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes.
Rhodes noticed her about the same time that she noticed him, and instinctively straightened; his hand raised in a salute, and he said, "Colonel Danvers, ma'am."
"At ease, Rhodes," she said, and Rhodes slipped into a more natural posture; Captain America--Steve Rogers, that is--did as well.
"Oh, my God, are you a full-bird colonel?" came Stark's voice from behind her. "Really? Do you outrank both Rhodey and O Captain My Captain here?" He sounded so intensely gleeful that Carol couldn't decide if she wanted to smack him or laugh along with him.
"Colonel Carol Danvers, US Air Force, retired," she said, turning to offer her hand again.
"So when you said you were a fan of flying--"
"Yes, I'm a pilot," she said, grinning. "Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I understand there's a dress I need to change into?"
"Later, Tony," Pepper said, stepping forward with a light purple dress in a bag in her hand.
Of course the dress didn't fit. Thanks to the forgiving nature of the drapey fabric, she'd sort of managed to get it over her, ah, well-muscled hips and thighs, although it looked more like a mermaid dress on her than it did on, say, Natasha. But whoever Vanessa was, she wasn’t nearly as...gifted as Carol was.
"There's no way my boobs are going to stay in here," Carol said to a laughing Natasha, who'd been dispatched to help with the zipper. But the zipper wasn't even remotely happening.
"It's not something that Pepper thought of when she chose the dress," Natasha said, still grinning. "The seamstress had to add some extra reinforcements to my dress, and I think Laurie's dress was basically sewn from scratch. The good news is, you only need to wear it long enough to stand in place for some pictures. Let's see what we can do."
The addition of an extra scarf, a shoestring, and a couple of zip ties, "borrowed" from Stark's workshop, kept the dress on, although Carol pretty much wanted to leave her arms crossed under her chest the entire time, lest she experience a wardrobe malfunction. One of the photographic assistants pounced on her the minute she left the bathroom and covered her in foundation, and then all of a sudden she was standing with Pepper and Natasha and the other two bridesmaids, a dark-haired woman named Maya and a woman with wavy blonde hair and dark-framed glasses, the aforementioned Laurie.
The photographer, a short, curvy Asian woman named Annabelle who was probably famous but Carol didn't know at all, shuffled them around like dolls, or maybe chess pieces. Once she'd found something she liked, her assistants ran around with light meters and moved various lights around until she was satisfied. She snapped a few pictures, took more readings, and then dismissed the women with a sharp gesture before doing the same with the men.
"So how do you know Pepper?" Maya asked Laurie, and Carol turned to pretend to pay attention to the conversation. It was a lot better than watching the men move around, which would probably have devolved into staring at Captain America's ass.
"She and I worked together on some legislation around green building codes," Laurie answered, and probably she said something else but someone laughed, and Carol's attention was dragged elsewhere.
Not to Captain America's backside, surprisingly.Rhodes was grinning broadly, clapping an annoyed-looking Stark on the shoulder, and Carol found herself trying to suppress her own smile. Why would Rhodes smiling make her want to smile? She'd known him professionally for years--it was difficult to get to their respective ranks in the Air Force and not at least have been in the same room a few times--and she didn't think she'd actually ever seen him smile, although obviously formal military events didn't lend themselves to frivolity in particular. She shook her head and angled herself more towards the other women.
"Oh, thank goodness, because I didn't bring a date, either," Maya was saying when Carol tuned back into their conversation.
"Yeah, I didn't think Frank would make the best wedding guest," Laurie said.
"I have a cat, too," Carol said. "He’s staying with some friends right now. His name is Chewie."
Laurie lit up like Christmas had come early. "As in Chewbacca?"
"Yep," Carol said, and she probably would have gone to find her jacket to bust out cell phone pictures, except the photographer called for them to come back over.
This time Annabelle paired them off: Maya with Dr. Banner, Laurie with Captain Rogers, Natasha with the SHIELD agent, Phil Coulson, and, of course, Carol with Rhodes.
"Oh, perfect," Stark said, "all the Air Force in once place."
"Aim high," Carol said.
"Fly, fight, win," Rhodes said.
"What is that, like, a thing? Did you do an Air Force thing? That's so--"
"Tony, shut up and get over here," Pepper said, and, wonder of wonders, Stark shut up and went.
"How did you get roped into this?" Rhodes asked her as they waited for a set of light readings.
"Wrong place at the wrong time," Carol said. "He was looking for someone named Sharon, but I was there first." She didn't add that Sharon, whoever she was, might have fit into the dress better, but she wanted to.
"Arm around your partner, gentlemen!" Annabelle called out, and Rhodes's hand came up to rest in the middle of Carol's back.
She felt more than saw his head tilt, and he said, "Is that a zip tie holding your dress on?"
"Two of them," she said, and he chuckled.
"Engineering at its finest."
"You'd be surprised how much math goes into designing women's clothing," she said, and only once she heard her own tone did she realize she was flirting with him.
And even worse--or better--no, definitely worse--he responded in kind. "Well, I can tell you there's a lot of math that goes into removing women's clothing."
Really, there was no excuse for what she said next. "Oh, is math what works for you?"
"You tell me," he said, and leaned over to murmur in her ear, "The specific angular momentum of any conic orbit, h, is constant, and is equal to the product of radius and velocity at periapsis."
Carol burst out laughing and absolutely refused to acknowledge the fact that she was more than a little turned on.
It was a good thing that the photographer was moving them around at double time, because pretty much everyone left in the room, including Barton, who was mostly drinking beer and catcalling, gave the two of them inquisitive looks. The rest of the test session went reasonably quickly, and the other women were leaving to change out of their dresses when Carol said, "Uh, I might need a little help cutting the zip ties."
Natasha produced a knife out of nowhere and said, "I got this."
Changing in a room full of women felt weirdly like the Academy, even though she was a hundred percent certain she'd never changed out of a formal dress quite that ill-fitting. Natasha had to help her untangle the scarf and the shoelace, in addition to the zip ties, and even gave her a hand on getting the skirt over her shoulders.
"You're coming to dinner, aren't you?" Pepper said, pulling a black sheath dress over her head.
Carol looked down at the pile of clothing as she hooked her bra and settled her breasts into the cups. "I'm, uh, a little underdressed." She'd been wearing jeans and a knit shirt to meet Fury, as he'd specifically said it was an informal meeting.
"Oh, we can fix that," Pepper said.
"Not with your closet," Carol said, and then bit her lip, hard. "I mean--"
But Pepper was laughing. "No, I know," she said. "I have resources, though."
She did, and a mere half hour later, Carol was wearing a floral silk cocktail dress that surprisingly wasn't too short for her, and didn't look like she was ten years too old to wear it. She could, in fact, borrow shoes from Pepper, and did; the inside of Pepper's shoe closet was something out of Carol's wildest dreams, and, even though she ended up wearing one of the tamer pairs, it was an experience.
"Thank you so much," she said to Pepper while she was still hoping she remembered how to walk in four-inch heels. "I mean, I'm just a temporary substitute for someone. While I'm really never going to turn down free food, this is a little more than that."
"Yeah, about that," Pepper said. "What are you doing tomorrow?"
"I don't--" Carol said, and then the penny dropped. "You're inviting me to your wedding?" She might be a little out of touch with celebrity news, but one would have to be, well, literally frozen in ice--no offense to Captain Rogers--not to know that the Stark/Potts wedding was pretty much the social event of the decade.
"A little more than that," Pepper said, and she looked over Carol's shoulder at the window for a moment. "So Vanessa can't make the wedding. At first her flight was delayed, and then canceled, and I offered to send the Stark jet for her, and finally she admitted that she'd never booked a flight, even though she'd said yes and had her dress sent to New York and all the other stuff, including twenty years of friendship--" She cut herself off, took off one of her shoes, and whipped it across the room at the wall, where it bounced harmlessly to the floor. "Excuse me. Anyway, so I find myself short a maid of honor, and honestly, I'd promote Laurie, but the pairs look so much better with Laurie paired with Steve and you standing with Rhodey. I've got Neiman Marcus holding a dress that should fit you, and my tailor is willing to fit you before dinner and fix it overnight. That is, if you'd be willing to do that for me?"
"Even though I'm taller than Rhodes in flat shoes?" Carol asked, which was the only part of Pepper's entire speech that she was able to process right away.
Pepper didn't even look nonplussed as she said, "I'm taller than Tony, and you can bet I'm wearing heels on my goddamn wedding day."
"Oh," Carol said. "I mean." There was nothing she could say but yes, frankly. "Sure. Of course. I mean, if you want me in your wedding party--"
"Thank you," Pepper said, and took a step forward to pull Carol into a hug.
It was a little awkward; Pepper was wearing one shoe, which put her off balance, and Carol still wasn't a hundred percent sure she wasn't going to pitch forward and land on her face. She appreciated the sentiment, though. When Pepper pulled back, she said, "Don't worry, you can have Vanessa's appointments at the salon, but we probably should get you to the tailor now."
"Oh, of course," Carol said.
She had to admit, some forty-five minutes later, that even with pins holding parts of it in place, the dress looked pretty good on her, when it was fitted properly. The center twist emphasized the narrowness of her waist, and with reinforcements similar to Natasha's--bra cups and an extra liner in the shoulders--it looked like the V-neck would be able to support her bosom properly.
"Oh, thank God," Pepper said, and abruptly sat down on the chair behind her.
Once Pepper had determined that she, indeed, was not going to pass out--and once Carol had changed back into the cocktail dress and borrowed heels--she and Carol got back into the town car and headed over to meet the rest of the wedding party at the restaurant for the rehearsal dinner. "Um," Carol said, after about thirty seconds of not-unpleasant silence. "I don't mean to be rude, but is there a wedding planner or something?"
Pepper raised an eyebrow, and Carol felt her face grow warm. "I watch movies," she said defensively.
"There was a wedding planner," Pepper said, "but I fired her about half an hour before you appeared."
"The first time Vanessa's flight got delayed or canceled, whatever it was, the planner had already compiled a list of celebrities who roughly resembled Vanessa, that she could call to fill in. I suggested Hillary, since she's actually my friend, and--" Pepper paused, pressing her lips together until they almost disappeared. "The wedding planner said some uncomplimentary things about my choices in bridesmaids, so I fired her on the spot. With luck," she said, looking a lot more cheerful, "not only will I not have to pay her tab, but she'll end up owing me money."
"Huh," Carol said, and then rewound. "Wait, Hillary . . . ?"
"Clinton, yes," Pepper said. "We've known each other for years. And before you ask, the wedding planner suggested that I wanted, ah, fuller-figured bridesmaids to make myself look thinner."
"Oh, it gets better," Pepper said, tone turning dark.
Carol recognized the beginning of a righteous rant by a stressed-out bride-to-be, even though the only bride she'd been around was a high school friend she'd lost touch with more than ten years ago, and settled in.
"Leaving out the fact that I picked my bridesmaids because they are my friends--well, other than Natasha; she's Tony's friend, but the planner said we had to stick with the usual genders on the usual sides unless we wanted the wedding to be all about Tony's groomslady and my bridesman, so Phil and Natasha swapped. Not that I don't like Natasha, but . . . well, anyway, that's irrelevant. I picked my bridesmaids because they are my friends, and I am aware of what they look like, which is why I picked a dress that, well, mostly worked for all of you. Them. You. Whatever. But the thing is, the planner complained about the amount of weight that Maya has gained since the first time they met."
Pepper stopped to heave a couple of breaths, and weirdly, her eyes seemed to be glowing. "Of course Maya's gained weight! The first time they met, Maya had been out of the hospital for approximately ten minutes, and she's still on steroids, so her face is a little round, but the tailor knew that and didn't care at all, so why would the goddamn wedding planner care?" She sank back against the seat and pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes. "I'm sorry. It's just that--augh, if we had enough time I'd swap Natasha and Phil back to the sides they belong on, and damn the media and the fucking wedding planner. It's my wedding."
"No worries," Carol said, after it seemed that Pepper was done.
"Do you have a superhero name?" Pepper asked.
"Uh," Carol said, taken aback.
"Tony said you can fly without a suit or hammer or anything," Pepper said. "I'm sorry, I'm probably not supposed to know that, but I think considering that my wedding party consists of Captain America, the Hulk, the Black Widow, and Iron Patriot, and I'm marrying Iron Man, with Hawkeye and Thor among the guests, the cat's rather out of the bag."
"I'm not a superhero," Carol said. "I mean. Yes, I can fly, and I can do some other stuff, too, but, uh." This whole situation was so far out of her usual that she had no idea what to say, which was normally not a problem.
"I thought Tony said you were joining the Avengers Initiative?"
"Well, maybe," Carol said. That was Director Fury's plan; she hadn't decided one way or another.
"They train together," Pepper said. "You'll get to beat Tony up regularly."
"What makes you think that's a draw? I just met the guy this afternoon."
"I've known him for fourteen years at this point," Pepper said, and Carol laughed.
"You're going to need a superhero name. And, for the record, I really want to know how you got your powers, but I won't ask."
"Hah," Carol said. "There was an accident with a Magnetron. Now I've got Kree DNA fused with mine."
"Ah." Pepper paused for a moment. "This is seriously classified information, but I'm kind of a superhero, too. I'm pretty sure you heard about the incident with Tony's house in Malibu being blown up and the Mandarin and the explosion with the President, right?"
"Some of it," Carol said. The details had been in Tony's dossier, so actually she knew all of it--knew what Pepper was about to tell her--but she was smart enough to know that her job right now was to listen.
"Well, those people who were exploding had something called Extremis, kind of a complicated virus, and I got injected with it. Tony managed to stabilize it, so I don't explode, although I can..." Pepper held a glowing hand up between them. "Mostly I can set things on fire."
"That's awesome," Carol said, and meant it.
"Thank you," Pepper said, beaming. "Now if only I can get through the rest of this evening without burning down the restaurant, we'll be good."
By then, they were at the restaurant, but Carol stopped Pepper with a hand on her arm. "Captain Marvel," she said. “I--the Kree whose DNA got fused with mine, his name was Captain Marvel. I guess I’ve inherited the title."
"I like it," Pepper said with a grin.
The restaurant wasn't one that Carol had ever heard of, which didn't mean anything as she'd barely spent any time in New York. But the food was excellent and actually came in sufficient quantities, and, after watching Captain Rogers plow through three separate entrees, she thought she understood why they were there. She started out seated next to Laurie, who was dressed in a killer black-and-white number, and they could finally exchange cat pictures (turned out they both owned marmalade cats, which was awesome). After a while, Laurie started chatting with Phil about collecting comics, and Carol found herself turning towards Rhodes.
"So I hear you're a real bridesmaid now. Maid of honor, I guess," he corrected himself.
He looked scrumptious in a slate-gray shirt and black pants, and she did her level best to keep her appreciation solely aesthetic. "Yes," Carol said. "This is not exactly how I expected to spend this weekend."
Rhodes saluted her with his beer bottle. "That's basically the motto of anyone who gets sucked into Tony's world," he said. "Out of curiosity, what were you planning on doing this weekend?"
"I understand SHIELD's got some pretty fun aircraft. I thought, if I was lucky, I'd get to look at them."
Rhodes grinned. "Oh, man, yeah. Tony designed the Quinjets, but he let me help with the interior, because sometimes you need an actual pilot."
"So why did he let you help, again?" Carol asked, one eyebrow raising.
"Oh, it's on, Danvers," he said. "You, me, a pair of Quinjets, as soon as Tony and Pepper are packed off on their honeymoon."
"Don't you have a job to get back to, Colonel?" she said.
"Nah, man, I need time to recover from marrying off my best friend," he said, leaning against the back of the bench. "What about you? I thought I heard something about you and NASA."
"Yeah, I was working with them, but I'm working with SHIELD currently," she said. "So, arguably, spending time in a Quinjet could be part of my job."
"Is that what you get with full bird?" he asked.
"Oh, obviously," she said, laughing.
A shadow fell over their table, and, "Can I join you two?" Captain Rogers said. All the men were wearing shirts and tailored pants, and Rogers’s rich blue made his hair glow. As gorgeous as he was, it left her a little cold, no joke intended.
"Do you need us to save you from Tony?" Rhodes asked.
"He's trying to convince me that we need to see if I can get drunk 'for science'," Rogers said, fingers forming air quotes around the last two words.
"Hey, Tony!" Rhodes called out.
"It's not science if you're not writing it down!"
"You need to stop watching Mythbusters!"
"Whatever!" Rhodes chuckled as he settled back into his slouch. "That'll hold him off for a while, give you time to escape if you want to."
Rogers shrugged and sat next to Rhodes on the bench. "I think I'm partially here as security escort, so I don't know if I can escape. But I can hide in the corner."
Carol snorted gently at the idea of Captain America actually being able to hide in a corner, and both men turned to her.
"I'm sorry," Rogers said. "I heard you introduce yourself but I don't think we actually met, ma'am. I'm Captain Steve Rogers." He held a hand out, and she shook it.
"Carol Danvers," she said, even though he knew. "You can drop the ma'am business and just call me Carol, since we're here as civilians. Well, and also, I'm retired. Ditto you, Rhodes."
"Jim," he said. "Or Rhodey, if you want."
"Steve," Steve said, and he relaxed, finally not at attention.
It was easier to relate to Captain America when he was behaving like a junior officer; it meant she didn't have to think about him being, well, a superhero. Rhodes--Rhodey--Jim, as well, although really, she didn't think of him as a superhero. When he wasn't a fellow pilot and marginally junior officer, he was--
--attractive. Altogether too attractive. His fingers wrapped around the neck of the beer bottle carelessly as he smiled at something that Steve said, and she lost a moment or two imagining what they'd feel like against her skin.
No, she really couldn't for a long list of reasons. This wedding stuff, and its attendant romance--visible in the way Tony looked at Pepper when something else hadn't caught his attention, in the way Pepper's smile softened when she turned it on Tony; hell, even in the way that Natasha relaxed fractionally when Barton bumped her with his shoulder--was getting into her head.
"I need more soda," she said, holding up her glass. "Can I get anyone else a refill?"
"I'm good," Jim said.
"Root beer?" Steve said. "The kind in a bottle, if they have it."
"Sure," Carol said, and stood.
While she waited at the bar, the nondescript SHIELD agent whose name she just couldn't possibly remember--Phil, that was it--came up next to her. "Hi," he said. Unlike the others, he was wearing a full suit, and he looked at home in it.
"Hello," she replied.
"I'm sure you don't remember me, Colonel Danvers, but we did meet, about fifteen years ago."
"Oh?" She couldn't remember all the pencil-pushers she'd dealt with. Maybe he was JAG Corps?
"You worked with the Army Rangers on Operation, ah . . ." He looked around, and although Stark was about ten feet away out of earshot, he still said, "Began with a Q."
She remembered it clearly, mostly since she'd only worked with the Rangers at that date on one operation, and also because that had been when she met Nick Fury for the first time.
Who had had a sidekick.
Phil winced. "Yes, that's me, although if you call me that in front of Stark I'll never live it down."
"I could have sworn you died," Carol said, realizing, once she'd said it, that it wasn't exactly polite, but hey, if Phil was ex-military, he'd understand.
"A couple of times," he said lightly. "I got better."
"And now you're personal friends with Pepper Potts and Tony Stark."
"It was a strange road, I'll admit," he said.
Carol's Coke and Steve's Olde Brooklyn Root Beer came out a moment later, and Phil smiled at her. "I'm sure we'll talk more later," he said.
"That sounds like a threat," she said.
"Maybe a little." His smile grew broader, and Carol laughed as she headed back to her table.
She sat down and handed Steve his bottle, which he took with an absent thanks, clearly not paying attention and looking at something on his phone.
"What's the score?" she asked, taking a guess as to what he was reading.
"Mets won, Yankees lost, Dodgers are losing."
"If you're a Yankees fan, you'll have to finish that drink somewhere else," Carol said, pointing to the opposite end of the room.
"Excuse me," Steve said, a look of pure horror on his face.
"Phew," Carol said. "I'd hate to have to hate Captain America."
"Seems fair," Steve said. "I'd hate to have to hate someone I just met."
They both turned to look at Jim, who held his hands up and said, "Don't look at me. I'm from Philly."
"Acceptable," Carol said. "Bah-stan, if you couldn't tell."
"Oh, you mean with your sod-er?" Jim said.
"Let's just all toast to hating the Yankees," Carol said, holding up her glass.
"I'll drink to that," Steve said.
It wasn't even fifteen minutes later, when Carol was standing to demonstrate an improbable catch that she'd seen the last time she'd been at a ball game, that she stepped just to the side and snapped the heel on her shoe. "Oh, shit," she said, stepping out of the broken shoe and looking at it. "Shit, fuck, shit."
"Well, now I believe you were in the military," Stark said, turning around to look at her. "Don't worry; I can totally fix that."
"Yeah, I don't think that's exactly a thing you do to thousand-dollar shoes," Carol said, running her thumb over the sheared-off end of the heel.
"No, actually, he's done it before," Pepper said, coming up behind Stark and resting her head on his shoulder. "Seriously, though, don't worry about the shoes at all."
Carol tried to smile as she said, "Okay," but it felt fake on her face.
"I have a pair of flats in my bag," Pepper said. "It's--over there somewhere." She waved in the direction of their seats; the particular looseness of her movements told Carol that she'd been drinking, not enough to be properly drunk, but enough to have relaxed some.
And for one horrible, aching moment, Carol envied the living fuck out of Pepper.
"Can I borrow them?" she said a few seconds later when she thought she could speak again. "I think I'd like to head back to my hotel now."
"No problem," Pepper said. "Er, well, not your hotel. We, uh, well, everyone else is staying at the Tower, so . . ."
"Yeah, okay, good call, but I still--It's been a long day," Carol said, as apologetically as she could muster, given the circumstances. "Where in the Tower?"
"JARVIS will tell you where, and I can get Happy away from--what is he doing over there?"
"He's playing cards with Clint and Natasha," Stark said. "He'd probably appreciate the rescue."
"Oof," Pepper said.
"No, don't bother," Carol said. "I'd really--I'd rather walk. It isn't far." It wasn't, maybe ten minutes away at most, and if she had flats, it wouldn't be a problem at all.
Pepper twisted her lips to one side, but before she could say anything, Jim spoke up from behind her. "Hey, Pepper, I'll walk with her, although probably you know that if anything happens, she'll be protecting me from harm, not the other way around."
"Oh, well, if you want to punch a mugger, I'll let you do it," Carol said; the words were correct but she could still hear the edge in her voice, like an errant shard of glass.
Jim, wisely, chose to respond to her words rather than her tone, and said, "We'll punch them together. Do you want me to ask the server for a bag for your broken shoes?"
"Oh, I have a plastic bag in my purse," Pepper said, and she turned to rifle through her handbag, which was enormous. "Here," she said, handing Carol a pair of rolled-up black flats and a plastic bag, bunched into a tiny ball. "Don't worry about the shoes; just leave them in the room and we'll get them later, see if they can be fixed. And if not, then we'll just call them the price I paid for getting an amazing replacement maid of honor."
Carol tried a smile again, and apparently it was more successful, as Pepper leaned forward to hug her again.
"Thanks," Carol said, when Pepper was standing --or, really, leaning on Stark-- again. "Um. What time tomorrow?"
"Breakfast at 8:30, stylists start coming at 9:30. Don't worry, JARVIS has control of everything," Pepper said.
"Okay," Carol said, swapping her shoes out one at a time and putting the broken pair into the bag. "See you then. Bye!"
It was a little bit rude of her, she thought, but she couldn't really be bothered to care at that exact moment. She pushed the door open, stood in the cooler night air, and took a couple of deep breaths before she turned to see if Jim had indeed followed her.
He had, and he was giving her a level look, visible even in the multi-colored lights from the street. "You want to talk about what's wrong?" he asked.
"No," she said, and started walking in the general direction of Stark Tower.
"I've been told I'm a pretty good listener, and after almost thirty years of friendship with Tony Stark, I can guarantee, whatever's going on with you, I've heard worse."
"Drop it, airman," Carol said, putting on her best DI voice.
"You know," Jim said after a full minute of silence, "in a civilian setting, you could just ask, rather than ordering me around."
Carol felt her face heat, and she squeezed her hands into fists for a moment before saying, "I'm sorry, Jim. I don't want to talk about what's wrong, please." She sneaked a glance at him, but he was looking straight ahead.
"Okay, no problem," he said.
They walked in silence for a block or two more before the noise in her head got unbearable, and she said, flailing around for a topic, "So are you still out at Edwards?"
"No," Jim said, as if the previous exchange hadn't happened. "Because of the War Machine-Iron Patriot thing, I've been stationed out of DC, but I’m all over the place, recently. I can't talk about most of it, obviously, but I'm sure you heard what happened last Christmas."
"Yeah," Carol said. "I'm sure I don't have all the details, but maybe a little more than the civilians, and you looked like a hell of a hero in the reports I saw." Flirting again, Carol? Way to send mixed messages.
Jim's teeth flashed white in the darkness as he grinned, and he said, "Oh, you know, ma'am, just doing my job."
"Saving the president, yeah, that's in my job description, too."
"'And other tasks as assigned’," Jim said, and Carol chuckled. "If you need me to holler at Tony--or Pepper, even--to back off a bit, I can do that," he said, in a much different tone. "They can be overwhelming, separately or together. I don't think Tony even knows it, half the time."
"It's fine," she said. "At least for now. It's probably better that Pepper channel her abilities into moving my stuff around and finding me a dress than any of the other things she could be doing."
"You know, Tony making her the CEO of Stark Industries was probably the smartest thing he ever did, and that includes subsequently marrying her," he said. "But enough about Tony. What have you been up to recently?"
"Um," Carol said. It was weirdly on the tip of her tongue just to tell him everything; she'd already flown in front of Stark, so the cat would be out of the bag shortly, and as Iron Patriot, it was possible he had a higher security clearance than she did. But unlike Stark, he wasn't an actual member of the Avengers Initiative, and she didn't know what she could or couldn't say, so what came out was, "I've been busy with space stuff. I'm a security director for NASA, so you can guess what that means."
He nodded. "Politicking? The joys that come with rank, eh."
"You could say that," she said, shrugging even though he wasn't looking. "Besides, you probably deal with that sort of thing more than I do. Why aren't you a full bird yet?"
"I would say it's because I'm black, but you're female, so I don't know." It was his turn to shrug. "Soon, probably."
"Well, I'm prior enlisted," Carol said, and added, "Means I'm actually useful."
"Hey!" Jim stopped and turned to look at her. "Actually, I didn't know that."
"Yeah," she said. "Walked into a recruiting office on my eighteenth birthday, signed up, came home long enough to tell my dad and for him to kick me out, and then never looked back. Well, okay, no, I looked back a lot, but you get it. Anyway, I only got the last promotion when I retired."
"Ahh," he said. "JAFROTC in high school, MIT early admission, where I met that asshole back there." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder in the approximate direction of the restaurant. "Raced through school, too many degrees in aeronautical engineering, and here I am. Watch your step."
It was sweet, but Carol had indeed noticed the giant puddle in front of her, the giant kind that never quite evaporated and probably had all sorts of life forms attempting to evolve in the bottom, fueled by runoff from restaurants. Jim was wearing nicer shoes than hers, but he walked through the shallow edges of the puddle ahead of her to hold out his hand to assist her in picking her way around the side.
She could have refused his assistance; she could have just levitated an inch or two. She could have ruined a second pair of Pepper's shoes by walking through the puddle. She could have walked into the actual street; it was busy but she'd grown up in Boston and knew the fine art of dodging taxis and bike messengers. Instead she let him wrap his fingers around hers, help her balance on the curb and, when the puddle was behind them, she didn't immediately withdraw.
After a moment of silence made electric by eye contact and also a particularly tacky neon sign, he drew her hand up until it was resting on his arm and started walking again.
Carol couldn't help it; she had to poke a little bit, so she said, "An officer and a gentleman?"
"Always, ma'am," he said, grinning again.
Stark Tower was only a few hundred feet away at that point, and it occurred to Carol--honestly, for the first time, which seemed pretty ridiculous in retrospect--that, with the way their conversation had been going, she could easily invite him into her room for some extracurricular activities.
And oh, boy, did she want to, but the more sensible part of her brain knew it would be a really, really bad idea. She'd be using him to forget, to quiet her thoughts, and really, he deserved better than that.
He deserved more.
Hell, she deserved more.
"I will never tell Tony," Jim said, breaking her train of thought, "but damn, this is not one of his better-looking buildings."
Carol looked up at the futuristic silver swoop of Stark Tower. "Did he design it?"
"A lot of it, yeah. The insides are all him, and that part's fine, but, uh." He gestured vaguely at the building itself. "Did you ever see pictures of the house in Malibu? That was a work of art. This is . . . not."
"I did, but only as it was being blown up," she said.
"I can show you more sometime, or you could just Google," he said with a half-shrug.
He let her go long enough to pull out a swipe card to let them into the lobby. "Hey, JARVIS," he said once they were inside and her hand was back on his arm. "What floor is Carol on?"
"Colonel Danvers is on floor 79, the same as yours, Colonel Rhodes."
"Who's JARVIS?" Carol asked, looking around for a speaker.
"Oh, he's Tony's AI, uh, butler, I guess." Jim looked up at a corner, and Carol saw the tiny camera lens. "Sorry, J. How do you define yourself?"
"Your answer is sufficient, Colonel Rhodes," the AI said, and Carol was rather impressed at the subtle humor in its--his?--tones. "I am indeed an artificial intelligence, and I do serve as Sir's butler, in addition to other capacities. It would be most efficient if you used Sir's private elevator, Colonels."
An elevator door behind a reception desk--currently empty, as it was late enough for any other tenants in the building to have closed business--opened, and Carol and Jim both headed for it.
She hesitated before she got in, though. "If you were planning on going back to the restaurant, you don't have to see me all the way to my door."
Jim's smile was lopsided as he said, "Yeah, I kind of do."
Oh. Carol sucked in a breath as she got into the elevator. There were no number buttons on the wall, but once the doors were shut, it lifted obediently and rather quickly. Before she knew it--before she could figure out something to say--the doors were opening on the seventy-ninth floor, which seemed to contain a handful of suites.
"Colonel Danvers's room is second from the right."
"Thank you, JARVIS," Carol said, daring to address the AI for the first time.
"You're welcome, Colonel."
She stepped forward, put her hand on the doorknob, and hesitated.
"Excuse me?" she said, turning around, her brows furrowing.
"You're about to invite me in, and if you do, I'm gonna say yes, and it'll be a bad idea." Jim's voice was rough and his face serious; she could see in her peripheral vision that he'd clenched his hands into fists. "Not because you and me together is a bad idea, but because right now would be bad timing for a lot of reasons. You know 'em."
She nodded silently.
"But next time you ask," he said, "hopefully by then you'll be able to tell me what had you tied up in knots earlier. And then we're gonna lose a whole weekend together, okay?"
"Yes, please," she said, unable to force her voice above a whisper, and he groaned and leaned in, one hand going to the back of her neck to tip her head down gently for a kiss.
Although if 'kiss' was the right word, Carol wasn't a hundred percent sure she'd ever been kissed before. Here she was, over forty, with enough exes in her past that she'd never even considered herself particularly virginal, not since high school, and kissing Jim was just . . . so far even beyond Frank, who she'd thought was pretty fucking spectacular.
Or maybe it was just timing, and her screwed-up brain. Whatever it was, he'd backed her gently against the wall, one hand still behind her head, the other on her waist, his hips a careful inch away from hers. Although he wasn’t trying to pin her, he had her in place as clearly as if he’d used restraints. She could have overpowered him physically easily, but she didn’t want to. Her hands had landed on his shoulders, and she squeezed just enough to know that damn she wanted to see him shirtless.
And pantsless, if she was being honest.
All of that, though, was just background noise behind his lips on hers and his tongue sliding against hers.
He pulled back first, slowly, eyes still closed until he was about six inches away from her. "No," he said, opening his eyes. "A weekend won't be long enough."
"Not hardly," she said, and dove back in for a second round of kissing.
This time he didn't bother with leaving any room between them; he threaded his fingers through hers and pressed the back of her hands to the wall. His hips came to press against hers and yes, indeed, there was proof that he was enjoying this at least as much as she was. Her breath hitched in her throat and she couldn't keep from making a small noise and squirming a little under him.
"Ngh," he said, or something like, and pulled back, chest heaving a little under his shirt and suit jacket. "Okay. We gotta stop that." Giving her a heated look, he added, "At least, for now."
"Yeah," she said, and gave him a crooked grin. "Are you going to get any sleep?"
"I'm gonna think really hard about baseball statistics," he said, "and then I'm going to go drag my knucklehead best friend home so he can have a possibility of getting some sleep before he gets married tomorrow, and maybe by then I'll have cooled off enough to get some sleep myself."
"Maybe." He let her hands go, finally, and reached around to open her door. "Have a good evening. If you need anything, JARVIS can either help you, or he can get a hold of me. I'm to your left, closer to the elevator."
"Thanks," she said. "Really. It's . . . nice to have someone I know during all of this excitement."
"I can't even imagine what it would be like to come into this circus just today," he said. "Good night, Carol."
"Good night, Jim." She turned and bent at the waist to pick up her purse and the bag of shoes from where it had fallen while they kissed.
Her little demonstration had the proper effect; Jim groaned. "You're killing me, Whizbang," he said.
"That's Colonel Whizbang to you, buddy," she said, straightening. "Go on, into the garbage chute, flyboy." She waved a hand at the elevator.
"This better not mean I'm scruffy-looking," he said, smiling as he turned away.
He stopped and turned back.
"How do you know my call sign? Is it in my file?"
"No," he said. "I've always known your call sign." He smiled, snapped out an absolutely textbook salute, and then stepped into the waiting elevator.
Carol watched him go with only a moderate-sized stab of regret, and then went into her suite, shutting the door behind her.
The suite was... not what she was expecting. The door opened into a sitting room roughly the size of her last apartment, with lovely, homey green couches, roughly the opposite of the penthouse. That didn't mean there wasn't a giant, flat-screen TV on one wall, or a touch-screen built into the wall; the kitchen, on the other hand, had white cabinets and soapstone counters with a vaguely country feel to them. The bedroom was huge, with a king-sized bed and a bear-paw quilt, and what was probably an original Picasso sketch in a frame on the wall. Whoever Stark had hired to decorate the place had done a bang-up job, and Carol almost wished she had more time--or someone else with her--to appreciate it.
No. Really, she should sleep. She hadn't been told not to wash her hair, so she took a nice, long shower in the giant bathroom, enjoying all six showerheads, got dressed in clean pajama bottoms and a t-shirt, and spread her hair out on an extra towel to dry.
It was lovely and relaxing, especially when she found an old movie to ignore on the television. She stared at the ceiling for a while and eventually drifted off, only to jerk awake sometime later. The clock said it was maybe an hour after she'd lain down, which was a good start. She closed her eyes, having every intention of falling back asleep, and she did so.
Unfortunately, the second round of sleep came with dreams. In it, her head was swimming, she had a bottle of champagne in one hand, and she felt great. Really. Only she felt terrible, and then her father was there. Of course her father was there. He was telling her that she was useless, that she would never amount to anything because she was just going to quit her job and have babies, that he wouldn't ever bother wasting money for college on her because she was just a girl...
Carol jerked awake again. 2:54 am. Of course it was three in the morning. Nothing good ever happened at three in the morning. Throwing herself out of bed, she put her socks back on and padded out to the kitchen.
It was empty, except for bottled water, and this was not a night for bottled water. If she found her phone, she could probably figure out if there was a convenience store or something open nearby so she could get some peanut M&Ms.
Or... "Hi, JARVIS, are you awake?"
"As I don't sleep, the answer is always yes, Colonel Danvers."
"My apologies, Colonel Danvers. Sir has unfortunately written too much of his personality into my programming. How may I help you?"
"Can you tell me where I can get some peanut M&Ms nearby?"
"There are peanut M&Ms in the kitchen on the penthouse floor."
"Oh, well, that's private space."
"Sir would not mind," JARVIS said. "In fact, he would likely insist."
"Ah," Carol said. "I, um, this is rude but I wouldn't be, er, interrupting anything, would I?" The last thing she wanted to do was walk in on Tony Stark getting some pre-wedding nookie.
"You would not."
"Okay." Carol bit the inside of her cheek. "You're sure it's not going to be a problem?" she asked.
"Not at all, Colonel Danvers."
She took a deep breath. "Okay." Grabbing a hoodie, she zipped it up just in case she ran into someone, and headed to the elevator.
The building was a little strange while empty, almost vibrating with intensity yet nearly silent. Carol supposed it was because of the arc reactor powering the whole place, but as she didn't really know anything about it other than the fact that it existed, she put it out of her mind. The elevator was waiting for her, and JARVIS sent her up three floors to the penthouse. "I will light the way for you, Colonel," he said.
The doors opened, and she walked out, as quietly as she could, stocking feet nearly silent on the wood floor. Overhead lights lit a small path in front of her, leading her to the kitchen, and she followed them, reaching over the fridge to find a giant bag of peanut M&Ms next to giant bags of several other types of candy. "Ohhh, JARVIS, you're amazing," Carol breathed, assuming he'd hear.
He didn't respond, but the light over her head blinked a couple of times. It then lit up a chair at the breakfast bar, and she pulled it out carefully and sat down to enjoy her bounty.
A good-sized handful later she was starting to feel better--not great, but definitely better--and she was wondering if she should just take the bag back to her suite, when she heard someone whispering in the hallway. Her head flew up, and there was Tony Stark, standing stock-still in the doorway, wearing sweatpants and a ratty t-shirt. "Carol," he said. "Are you--are you eating M&Ms?"
"Peanut M&Ms," she said.
"At, I don't even know--what time is it, J?"
"It is three-oh-seven in the morning, sir."
"Three in the morning. Yeah, okay. You want something to go with those? Milk? Or a drink? My liquor collection is legendary." Stark gestured towards the bar, but stuck his head into the fridge and emerged with a bottle of Vitamin Water.
"No, nothing to drink," she said.
"Hm." He twisted the lid off the bottle and drained half of it in one swallow. "You didn't drink anything at the bar, either. Moral objection?"
Carol blinked, and honestly, she had no idea why she was about to tell the truth, other than the fact that it was three in the morning. "No," she said. "The other reason that someone might not take advantage of free booze."
"All things considered, I'm gonna guess you're not pregnant, so it's probably the reason that comes with one of these." He reached into his pocket and flipped something at her.
She caught it in mid-air, and yes, it was a sobriety chip, although it didn't have the expected triangle and number on it. Looking back at Stark--probably she should call him Tony, if she was going to confess things to him--she frowned.
"Yeah, it's fake," Tony said. "I've never been to a meeting in my life. Well, okay, no, I've been to a handful of meetings, but that was back when I did the perpetual rehab-relapse thing. JARVIS made that one for me, to celebrate five years of being clean."
But she could have sworn that he'd been drinking earlier, and she opened her mouth to say that, but shut it with a click. She wasn't his sponsor, nor was he hers, so his sobriety was his own issue. Tossing the chip back, she watched him catch it one-handed.
He guessed, though, or something, because he answered the question she hadn't asked as he re-pocketed the chip. "Yeah, no, really, alcohol isn't a problem. Well, it is, or it could be, but I've got a lot of reasons to drink in moderation these days. No, the chip is for the harder stuff."
"Oh," she said, and then, because she felt she had to, "It's been ten years for me."
Something about five years, though, rang a bell in her brain, and she counted back--five years ago would have been June 2009, which--
--oh. Afghanistan. He hadn't used since he'd been kidnapped and become Iron Man.
"Ten years, wow, that's really good," Tony said, and finished off his drink. He didn't even sound sarcastic, which was good because Carol might have punched him. "So, Captain Marvel, what can you do other than fly?"
"What?" The transition was a little bit whiplash-inducing. "Um. I can fly at supersonic speeds, I'm pretty indestructible. I can, I guess, shoot energy bolts over a fairly long distance. And I can lift ridiculously heavy things. I don't know how heavy; I've never found anything short of a building that I couldn't lift."
"Cool," Tony said. "You wanna go down to the gym and show me?"
"It's three in the morning," she said.
"Yeah," he said. "And I'm getting married in a little over twelve hours, and I'm kind of freaking out here." He shrugged. "I thought if you were a fellow member of the insomnia club--and please note that I am not asking why you're eating peanut M&Ms in my kitchen at three in the morning, because I am aware that it's none of my business--then we could go do something a little more fun than sit around and talk about how many years we've been sober."
"Oh." She took internal stock; generally speaking, she didn't need as much sleep as she regularly got, and regardless, she probably wouldn't be able to sleep any time soon. "Are you going to get the suit?"
Tony snorted. "What kind of question is that? Of course I'm going to get the suit."
Less than five minutes later, they were in a gym in the basement of the building, far away from anyone who might be sleeping. "Seriously, though, you can go into space? I did once, it kinda sucked, but I need to modify a suit better so I can do it again, if I have to, so maybe you can get me the readings I need?"
"Sure, Tony," Carol said. "Not tonight, though."
"Oh, no." Tony flipped down the faceplate of his suit and went over the corner, pointing to a punching bag. "This bag has been modified to withstand Captain America. Let's see what you can do to it."
"Captain Rogers is about four times stronger than an average human, right?" Carol said, joining him.
"I hope you're getting a video of this," she said, and, not even using her full strength, reduced the bag to a pile of sand and tiny scraps of fabric with a single punch.
"Oh, my God," Tony said, and flipped the faceplate up. "Oh, my God. Where's Thor? JARVIS, where's Thor? Is he awake?"
"He is, sir, but it might not be in your best interest to disturb him and Dr. Foster."
"Ahhh," Tony said. "I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that until much later, and thank, well, me for soundproofing, but--where was I going? Oh, right. Danvers, we are putting you up against a god as soon as we can. And the Hulk, if we can talk him into it."
"Wait," she said. "I haven't decided if I'm joining the Avengers or not, and even if not, why do you want me to beat up your friends?"
"Who says I don't want to watch you get beat up?"
Carol just snorted.
"Yeah, okay," Tony said, looking at the remains of the bag again. "Still. Okay, so, can you do your flying thing and let JARVIS record some data?"
"I'm not a lab rat," she said, nettled.
"I know," he said, and looked directly at her. "I promise that anything that I find out tonight will be stored on a server so secure that no one even knows it exists, outside of you, me, JARVIS, and Pepper. I don't want to use any of this for any sort of gain. I just want to know what you can do so I can work with you, and maybe so I can make you a suit or something. It can't be fun to fly into outer space in jeans and a t-shirt."
"Oh," Carol said. "Well, you don't need to make me a suit. I can do that."
"Yeah," she said, and concentrated for a moment, forming a black spandex suit that covered her from neck to ankles. Her pajamas fell by the wayside.
Tony whistled. "Impressive. The suit, too," he said, smirking at her, and yeah, it took her until then to realize she was all but naked in front of him.
"Jerk," she said, and loosened the suit up a little, until it didn't quite show exactly how many M&Ms she'd eaten. "I hope you're recording." She bounced into the air and flew the length of the room a couple times, coming to alight gently in front of him.
"Excellent," he said. "Now I just have to find more things for you to punch."
Carol was shooting energy bolts at a bucket of tennis balls Tony was launching into the air and they were both laughing when all of a sudden she heard, "What the hell?"
She stopped dead in the air and turned to see Jim, in track pants and a t-shirt, standing at the door to the gym.
"Rhodey!" Tony said. "Yeah, I couldn't sleep, so--oh, God, you didn't tell him, did you."
The last part was clearly directed at Carol, who sank to the floor and shook her head.
"You can fly?" Jim said to her.
"Yeah," she said. "There was a--there was an incident with a--you know I was working security for NASA, and--" She stopped, twisted her lips to one side, and said, "There's no way to make this story particularly short, but basically there was an alien, there was an alien artifact, and now I have alien DNA fused with mine, so I can fly, shoot energy bolts, survive in space, and pick up heavy things."
"She can probably punch a hole in the sky," Tony added.
"Not helping, Stark," Carol said.
"Alien DNA?" Jim said, blinking rather rapidly.
"Yeah." She swallowed suddenly, finding that her heart was beating rather rapidly in her throat.
"Okay," Jim said, a good ten seconds later.
Only pure strength of will kept Carol standing upright; if she'd been anywhere near a wall she would have sagged against it with relief. Relief that she had no idea she was going to feel, because she had no idea how important it was that Jim didn't run screaming until the moment that he didn't. Once she was sure she wasn’t going to pitch over, she stepped over to her pajamas and pulled them back on, zipping up the hoodie before letting the spandex suit dissolve.
"Okay?" Tony said. "It's fucking amazing, is what it is. Did you know that she can--"
"Pretty sure I know all I need to, Tony," Jim said, cutting Tony off. "Why are you still awake?"
"Insomnia," Tony said, bouncing a tennis ball up and down in his gauntleted hand. "Obviously."
"You really need to sleep."
"I tried," Tony said flippantly. "Didn't take. Pepper kicked me out, said I was keeping her up. And not in the good way. So we're going to--"
"No, we're not," Jim said, cutting him off again. "You're going to get out of the suit and put it back where it belongs, and then you're going to bed."
"Hold up, Tony, I wasn't done. And then, in my duty as best man, I'm going to sit on that nice couch in the sitting room just outside your bedroom, and you're going to feel safe enough to sleep, aren't you?"
"I don't--" Tony's shoulders dropped in a slump. "I don't know. I hope so."
"Maybe if you're lucky enough, Carol will sit with me, because you know if anything comes anywhere near the Tower, she can punch the ever-living shit out of it."
"It's true," Tony said, "although if she's sitting on a couch with you, I don't think I'm the one who'll be getting lucky." He quirked an eyebrow at them, and Jim sighed and shook his head.
"Never change, buddy."
"Frankly, I'm insulted if you thought I would." The Iron Man suit disassembled from around Tony and reformed itself in the air nearby, which was a neat trick, Carol thought. "Go home, sweetheart," Tony said to the suit, which compacted itself down to a bullet-like shape about two feet tall and headed for a side elevator that Carol hadn't noticed before.
Tony ran a hand through his hair, making it stick up more than it had been before, and said, "Okay, let's do this."
The couch outside the penthouse bedroom was in a small grouping of furniture probably not actually intended for use, but comfortable enough anyway. "Good night, Tony," Jim said pointedly, as Tony stood with his hand on the door to the bedroom.
"Yeah, yeah," Tony said. "Just--" All of a sudden he was hugging Jim, in a way that straddled a strange line between back-clapping manliness and desperation. "Thanks, honey bear."
"You're welcome, but if you call me that again, I will forget that you're going to be in front of a ton of cameras soon."
Carol had brothers; she'd been in the military for more than twenty years. She recognized the affectionate threat when she saw it. Looking away, she studied the painting on the wall across from the couch--she was going to guess Matisse, mostly since her art knowledge topped out at high school art class--until all of a sudden Tony Stark was in her personal space, about six inches away.
The only thing she could think to say was, "Matisse?"
"What? Oh, that. Yeah, I think so. You'd have to ask Pepper, but not now. She's probably asleep. Look. Thanks."
They stared at each other for a moment in some sort of weird standoff that Carol didn't even understand until Jim snickered and said, "He wants to hug you but is aware that you could break him if you don't want a hug. But of course asking is out of the question."
Tony shot Jim a disgusted look, but didn't correct him, and Carol shook her head and raised her arms just enough to constitute an invitation.
To his credit, he didn't linger; it was more of a bro hug than anything else, complete with pats on the back. After taking a step back, he said, "Rhodey, buddy, that rack--you're a lucky man."
"So are you, Stark," Carol said sweetly. "I'm letting you keep your balls after making that comment."
Tony's hands went to shield himself as he backed away, but as he got to the door, he said, "I notice there was no denial in that threat."
"There was enough threat in that threat to deal with anything else." Carol kept her voice low just in case the walls weren't perfectly soundproof, but her tone was enough to make Tony's eyes widen before he disappeared into the bedroom.
The door clicked shut, and Jim chuckled before he sat on the couch. "You're feeling better, aren't you," he said, and it was just barely a question.
"A little," she admitted. "Why?"
"You're acting more like yourself."
"Hey," she said, sitting down on the couch, not too close to him. "Maybe I just have a waiting period before I threaten people."
"Not just that," he said, and ended in a shrug. "Come here." He scooted so his back was against the cushions on the arm rest, and held out his arms.
"Um," Carol said. "That's not . . . really going to work."
"I, uh, forgot to mention one of the other things the Kree DNA does."
"Makes you not okay cuddling on a couch?"
"No, I'm just . . . denser. Heavier than I look. I probably outweigh you by a hundred and fifty pounds, Jim. If I lean against you, you probably won't be able to breathe." It was her least favorite side effect, really, and was one of the reasons she usually stuck to flats. Not all shoe brands put steel shanks in the heels, and she couldn't be sure with anything less.
"Oh," Jim said, and his face smoothed out a little. "Then you're in back." He stood up and looked at her pointedly.
She made a big show of sighing and turned to sit in the same place he'd been sitting, one that allowed a good view of the door to the bedroom but also had their backs to the wall, rather than the large bank of windows. Once she'd gotten comfortable, one foot on the floor and the other along the back of the couch, she gave a go-ahead gesture and indicated the space between her legs.
"Ahh," Jim said as he sank into the couch and leaned against her. "Perfect."
"You're just saying that because you're leaning on my boobs," she said.
"It's a nice bonus," he said, wiggling a little to get comfortable.
For a moment she didn't know what to do with her hands--she could rest one on the back of the couch and the other on her knee, she supposed, but that seemed a little stand-offish. She could catch one of his hands in hers, but that seemed like it might be awkward for him. Eventually she just rested her hands lightly on his chest, and he reached up and put a hand over both of hers.
"So you're superhuman?" he said quietly a few minutes later. His free hand was tracing a random pattern on her thigh, just above her knee.
"I guess," she said. "Does it matter what I call it?"
"It always matters." He shrugged against her. "But if you mean, does it matter to me whether you can bench-press a school bus, the answer is no, of course not."
Carol was caught in a wave of relief that she hadn't expected, and it annoyed her. "Well, I figured, being that you're here," she said tartly.
Jim just chuckled again. "Is that what had you snapping at me earlier?"
"No," she said and sighed. Hell, she'd already told Tony. "I'm ten years sober and occasionally I get jealous of people who can drink socially."
"Oh," he said. "Man, I'm sorry. I don't have to--"
"Not you," she said. "Pepper. You had, what, two beers over three hours?"
"Something like that. Look, do you need me to say something to her?"
"No," she said. "No, no, no. I'm fine. I just needed to get out of there, and I did. I'm fine. Everything's fine."
"If you're sure." He didn't sound convinced.
Frankly, she didn't blame him. "I am." Or, at least, she was sure everything would be fine later, after she'd gotten some more sleep.
"Anything I can do to help?" he asked, and seriously, he had to have a flaw somewhere, right?
Well, other than being best friends with Tony Stark, she thought. "Take off your shirt?" She was only half joking.
He sat up immediately, grabbed the collar behind his head, and pulled the shirt off in record time, throwing it over the back of the couch. "Better?"
"Um," Carol said intelligently, brain effectively derailed--very effectively--by sculpted muscles under dark skin and yes, she was clearly feeling better.
"I like that response," he said, untwisting himself to face away from her. "Here." He took her hands and rested them on his shoulders. "You wanna touch me, go for it."
Almost reflexively, she dug her thumbs into his trapezius muscles, and he let out a soft breath, almost a sigh. "Backrub, no ulterior motive," she said, leaning in to nip at his earlobe.
"If we weren't sitting on a couch at three-thirty in the morning before a really long day, I'd show you my ulterior motive," he said on a groan.
"Is that right," she murmured, finding a knot just below his shoulderblade and pressing it carefully. "You probably should get some more sleep."
"You too--ah!" She'd found another knot. "But not before you finish that."
"Can you ever finish a backrub?" Her hands wandered down to the waistband of his pants, and then up and over his shoulders to massage--okay, no, 'grope' is a better word at this point--his biceps.
"Sex," he said. "Sex, or time constraints, and since we're not doing the first--not right now, at least--we're going to have to succumb to the second."
"In other words, cut it out, Carol?" It was her turn to chuckle; she leaned forward to brush a kiss against his temple and then leaned back, pulling him with her until they were reclining again.
"Just for now." He settled against her and laced the fingers of one hand through hers, leaving her palm flat against his chest. "I'm sure you'll wake up if anything happens. So will I. I think we can nap for a bit."
"Yeah," she said, letting her head fall against the back of the couch. "Jim...thanks."
"You're welcome," he said, turning his head to kiss her. It was awkward and off-center, but she didn't care; it was wonderful.
Less wonderful was waking up a few hours later to hear Tony Stark say, "Well, don't the two of you look mighty comfortable."
"Fuck off, Stark," Carol said without opening her eyes.
"That's a hell of a way for the maid of honor to greet the groom on his wedding day. Back me up here, Best Man."
"I'm on her side, Tony," Jim said, lifting his head from--apparently they'd shifted in their sleep; now they were side by side on the couch, legs tangled, and yes, he'd ended up with his face buried in her cleavage.
In no possible way was she complaining, but it was a little awkward to be found that way. Also, the couch was not quite large enough for both of them, and her arm was numb.
"Well, there's an hour until breakfast, so you can finish what you started, or whatever, and still have time to clean up and eat with the rest of us."
"We were sleeping, Stark," Carol said, voice nearly a growl.
"Is that why Rhodey lost his shirt?"
"Tony, if one of them strangles you with his shirt, I'm pretty sure no jury would convict them," Pepper said, coming up behind Tony and poking him in the side.
"Hey! You're supposed to be on my side!"
"I am. I'm just making sure that you still have a side. Come back in here. You need to shower."
"Do you mean shower or shower?" But he followed her obediently, leaving Jim and Carol still somewhat entwined on the couch.
"Probably should get up," Jim said a minute or so later.
"Don't want to," Carol said.
"Me neither, but Tony made coffee before he woke us up," he said.
"Oh, well, in that case."
Jim put his shirt back on before they made it to the kitchen, and Carol was a little sad. Less than a minute later he poured her a cup of coffee, which made it mostly better.
Eight-thirty breakfast was a catered affair, with chafing dishes full of sausages and bacon and a chef there to make crepes and omelets. Carol took a little bit of everything --and a lot of bacon-- and went to sit in the empty chair between Jim and Maya. Jim was working his way through a cinnamon roll the size of his head; he'd donned a polo shirt and khakis, and Carol thought briefly about having him for breakfast before looking back at her plate and seeing the bacon.
"All right," Pepper said, once they were mostly done eating. "Ladies, you're with me. Gentlemen, Rhodey has the schedule, and you must stick to it. Please note that there is, indeed, lab time scheduled between noon and one, and lunch will be delivered while you're down there. Well, while some of you are down there."
The rest of the morning and the early part of the afternoon was a whirlwind of performative femininity, as Laurie actually remarked at one point, but, that having been said, it was impressive to watch seriously high-end hair and makeup artists do their work. All of the women--the four attendants and the bride herself--were pretty to start with, and the makeup people had apparently been instructed to keep it relatively natural. At the end, though, all five of them came out looking . . . more. Not younger, not even more sculpted, really, but . . . highlighted and glowing and somehow more themselves, not less.
Considering Carol's entire makeup kit fit in one relatively small bag, it was a bit of a revelation.
The mani/pedi was mostly just relaxing, although she did enjoy the way the lavender nail polish had a bit of an iridescent sheen to it, and the hairdresser worked some impressive magic with curlers and about eight different kinds of gel to let Carol still have curls, but keep them under control.
By then it was after one, and even though she'd gotten hungry and eaten lunch in there somewhere, she couldn't believe how time had passed. "I know," Laurie said, with the offhanded confidence of someone who had been in more than one wedding. "You just sort of have to go with the flow."
'Going with the flow,' at that point, meant standing for an hour's worth of pictures in the penthouse, then piling into the town car with the other women, to be delivered to the Central Park Boathouse, to wait, apparently.
"Gorgeous weather out," Carol remarked as they drove.
"Yeah, we know a guy," Pepper said.
Oh, right, Thor, Carol thought, and bit on the inside of her cheek so she wouldn't laugh.
It wasn't even her wedding and she was losing time, she thought just over an hour and a half later, when she was standing at the end of the aisle, waiting for her cue to start walking. Jim was on her arm--well, properly, she was on his, but she was wearing four-inch heels again, a different pair, and she could almost rest her elbow on his shoulder. Her bouquet was mostly orchids, lovely and delicate, and she had to remind herself not to crush it accidentally, even though it would have smelled divine, if she had. "Wait," she said, as something occurred to her. "I missed the actual rehearsal. We're not doing the left, together, right, together thing, are we?"
"No," he said. "Just walk normally, but slowly. Follow the music, if you can."
She threw him a moderately-disgusted look. "I went through Basic. I can march to a beat."
"It's a wedding, not a campaign, Colonel."
"I've fought in campaigns less carefully planned, Colonel."
"Oh, my God, the two of you are more nauseating than we are."
Carol had temporarily forgotten that Pepper and Tony were walking down the aisle together, as Pepper was adamantly against being given away by anyone and Tony had some 'new life together' symbolism he wanted to cement, which meant they were standing right behind her and Jim. She looked over her shoulder and threw Tony the dirtiest look she could muster, which at least made his eyes widen, before Jim tugged at her hand and said, "Come on."
The boathouse was astonishingly lovely; Carol had never been there, let alone for a wedding, and she admired it out of the corner of her eye as she plastered on a smile for the photographers, professional and amateur. There were flowers everywhere, purples and pinks and blues; the late-afternoon sunshine was slanting in on the perfect angle, and the three couples who had preceded them in were separated into bridesmaids on one side and groomsmen on the other side, all looking impeccably gorgeous.
Really, she'd had worse weekends.
She and Jim reached the front, and he gave her a warm smile before handing her gently off to her place, to the left. The string quartet stopped repeating the Pachelbel Canon ad nauseum and segued into something else Carol only vaguely recognized, although she thought it was from a Broadway musical.
Pepper looked phenomenal. Carol had seen her at every stage of the proceedings, had even been standing with her just two minutes before, but walking up the aisle with Tony, she'd somehow gone from "gorgeous" to "astonishingly radiant." Her strapless white dress was flowing just right, her bouquet was exactly the right size, her veil streamed down her back along with red-gold curls, and her smile was just a hair short of a grin.
Tony, wearing a tuxedo and a silver vest, mostly looked like he was trying to cover up the fact that he was gobsmacked, until halfway up the aisle when he glanced over at Pepper and went from "slightly plastic Tony Stark publicity face" to "man utterly head over heels in love with the woman next to him." The photographers noticed, because the rate of flashes and shutter clicks increased exponentially, and Carol really hoped for their sake that someone had gotten a good shot before he turned to face forward and walked the rest of the way with something close to a smirk on his face.
The ceremony was short, sweet, and performed by the Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, which Pepper had already explained was what New York had idiosyncratically called its Supreme Court. "We have the same alma mater," she added, because apparently that was how she'd gotten Judge Abdus-Salaam to come to the city.
Carol most certainly did not cry at any point during the proceedings.
Especially not when Pepper burst into happy tears while Tony was reciting his vows, which caused him to have to stop and cough a few times.
She might--might, mind you--have teared up a little when she saw Jim turn to the side and swipe at his face, but that was it.
Oh, who was she kidding. She'd probably have to go get her makeup touched up a lot before the photographers came in, she thought as the string quartet started playing again, a version of, of all things, "Sweet Child O' Mine." Pepper and Tony, introduced as Mr. Tony Stark and Ms. Pepper Potts, held hands and trotted back down the aisle like children. Carol stood next to Jim, ready to take her turn receding; out of the corner of her eye she saw Phil stiffen, and half a second later a trio of people in black tac suits came crashing through the windows.
"GodDAMNIT!" someone yelled, and the crowd scattered. Carol spared a moment of apology to the dress, kicked off her shoes, and hurled herself at the first of them. Something flew by her and, as she sat on top of one of the three invaders, she realized it was Captain America's shield; where he'd hidden it during the reception, she had no idea, but she was definitely glad he had it.
A quick scan of the room showed Tony shoving Pepper behind a column as he frantically made gestures that made no sense to Carol. Phil was yelling something into his cuffs, and Nick Fury, who had been among the guests, was flapping around in his black coat. Hawkeye was still on the roof, apparently, as one of the invaders twisted just right to avoid an arrow to the ear. Someone with short brown hair, wearing black jeans and decidedly underdressed for the occasion, was herding a small group of children back into a corner, and Banner was standing to one side, stripping off his coat and vest and tie and looking profoundly conflicted.
Thor, she guessed, based on his size and the giant hammer that came to his hand through one of the broken windows, had joined the fray and was helping Steve subdue the second of the invaders. Jim and Natasha were struggling with the third invader, who appeared to have a bag of some sort in his hands, and Carol thought, Oh, shit, it's a bomb.
Unfortunately, the two people most qualified to deal with a bomb immediately at the moment were Banner, who was actually indestructible, and Carol herself. Fuck.
At least if she grabbed the bomb and ran, it would minimize the damage.
She looked down at the invader under her, a woman who had almost given up struggling when she realized that there was no way she'd dislodge Carol, and gauged her punch to knock the woman out for a long time, rather than snapping her neck. Half a second later, she stood, pointed the woman out to Fury, grabbed the bag containing the bomb, and flew out through the window.
She managed to open the bag and look at the bomb itself, and it was a fucking pipe bomb, four short lengths tied together, ends capped. She couldn't see the detonator but they were all warm, which meant the stupid thing was going to go off any minute now. She held the bomb carefully and increased her speed as much as she felt was safe, placing herself a couple miles out over the ocean in mere seconds. Looking around quickly, she didn't see any boats nearby, so she dropped the bomb and shot upwards to avoid any explosion.
The bomb did explode seconds later, and based on the spray coming up from the ocean, it would have been a hell of a disaster at the wedding.
Shit. The wedding. She looked down at her dress, mostly a loss, and sped back to the Central Park Boathouse.
Tony met her partway back in the Iron Man suit, and said, "Oh, thank God, you're still alive." Even the quasi-electronic voice couldn't hide the relief in his tone.
"I'm fine," she said. "It was a pipe bomb. I dumped it in the ocean. How's everyone else?"
"You've been gone for less than two minutes," he said, "so probably about the same, plus ninety seconds of terror hoping you weren't dead. Come on, let's go back."
They did; the three invaders were subdued and being tied to chairs with zip ties and ropes and what looked like a pair of nylons by a couple of nameless SHIELD agents, probably ones who had been working security for the wedding. Nick Fury was yelling into his phone, trying to get police and more SHIELD agents over; the civilian guests were clumped into the end of the boathouse that was set up mainly for the reception. Some looked frightened; a man, six feet of faked confidence with spiked hair and a rumpled gray suit had his arm around a slip of a woman in brown lace, probably his wife, but a smallish woman in a tight dress and super-high heels was making distracting rap-battle-type motions with her friend, an auburn-haired woman in a 50s-esque tea dress, who was laughing a little too hard for the current circumstances.
Carol shook her head and looked for the wedding party. Steve was standing by the invaders, glaring at them with his arms over his chest and his shield resting by his foot. Banner was sitting in a chair in the corner, his eyes closed and his breaths deep and measured. Phil, Natasha, and Barton, down from his perch, were also guarding the invaders; Thor had a tiny brown-haired woman plastered to his side, but his hammer was still in his hand and he glared at the invaders every so often.
Laurie and Maya had been hustled out of the way with the civilians, and Maya was sitting in a chair nearby. Laurie was hovering over her, and a generically-attractive woman with short-cropped blonde hair in a floaty teal dress and probably the most sensible shoes in the room brought over a bottle of water, which Maya took gratefully.
Tony had landed nearby and flipped open the faceplate but didn't take the suit off; he walked up to Pepper, who was glowing faintly all over, and spoke in a low voice.
That left Jim.
Who was standing about three feet away from her, his tux dusty at the knees and elbows and his tie askew. "You left," he said.
"I dropped the bomb in the ocean, a couple miles off the coast," she said, "and I came immediately back." She looked down at her dress, tattered by the wind. "I kind of ruined the dress."
Two short steps and he wrapped her into his arms, holding on a little too tightly, but she loved it. "You're the most beautiful woman here and that includes the bride," he said, warm breath on her ear.
Objectively, it wasn't true. Carol gave exactly zero fucks. "Thank you," she said, and, feeling that was inadequate, pulled back enough to catch his lips in a kiss.
It was all fire and heat and passion, Carol losing herself in the taste of him for long moments, not caring about the people around her, even past the roaring in her ears--
--wait, that wasn't roaring. She pulled away from Jim reluctantly to realize that everyone in the room was applauding.
"What the hell is going on?" she asked.
"I'm pretty sure you just saved the day and got the girl," Jim said with a crooked grin.
"Oh," she said, and then returned the grin. "Yeah, I did, didn't I?"
A cold, metallic hand landed on her shoulder. "So you're definitely joining the Avengers, right?" Tony said.
Carol just laughed.
Someone got a hold of a microphone and kicked everyone out of the boathouse until they could clean up the broken glass. Pepper was adamant that the reception was absolutely in no way canceled, and would resume in a half hour or so. No one had been injured beyond a couple of small glass cuts, and once the invaders had been taken away, there had been enough SHIELD observers to mean that any other debriefing could take place at a later, unspecified date. Overall, nothing was harmed other than the windows, and, of course, Carol's dress.
"Wait a second," Tony said. "You made a spandex onesie appear out of nowhere. Can't you just . . . fix the dress?"
"No," she said. "It doesn't work that way."
"There are multiple extra cars here," Pepper said. "Take one, go back to the tower, change into something else."
All Carol had was the cocktail dress from the night before, but she thought that would probably be good enough.
"I'll go with you," Jim said.
"Yes," Carol said. "Please."
Tony looked like he wanted to say something, but Pepper punched him in the arm hard enough to make his faceplate fall with a tinny clunk. “Aw, come on,” he said as Pepper dragged him away. “I was just going to make a Mile High Club joke, nothing too bad!”
“I could fly us back instead,” Carol said once the bride and groom were out of earshot.
“You know what,” Jim said, “I’d really rather keep my feet on the ground at the moment. But sometime soon, definitely.”
“Definitely,” Carol echoed.
They wove through the crowd and found one of the cars with a driver they recognized, although it wasn't Happy. "Can you take us back to Stark Tower?" she asked.
"Can do, ma'am, although the drive may take a while. Traffic's kind of a mess. It would honestly be faster if you walked. I don't think it would be less than a half hour."
She caught Jim's eyes, and shook her head. "Nah, we'd prefer a ride."
She pulled him into the back seat with her, made sure the partition was up and the speakers were off, and dragged him on top of her before the car even took off.
"I'm so fucking glad you're safe," he said between kisses.
"Me too," she said, untying his bowtie and trying to get to the buttons of his vest.
His hand was traveling up her leg under the remains of the dress, and curved around to cup her ass; she squirmed to press herself a little more against him. "Are we really going to do this in the car?" he asked.
"Yes," Carol said on a gasp as he nipped at her earlobe. "I mean, assuming you want to."
"I was gonna do this right," he said, pulling his hand out from under her dress to lower the side zipper and push the bodice of her dress down past her breasts. "Dinner, a bed, roses . . . Condoms."
"Those are all good things," she said, hooking a leg around his as she finally got his vest and shirt both unbuttoned, finding warm skin under them.
"I don't have any condoms with me," he said. "Not right now."
"I don't either," she said, and while a part of her wanted to yell fuck it and just rely on her IUD, she just couldn't. "Are there some hidden somewhere in this car?"
Jim raised an eyebrow. "If there are, do you want to use them?"
"Well, no," she admitted. "But you've got hands and a mouth, and so do I, and I bet we can have a pretty good time anyway, right?"
"Hell, yes," he breathed. Ducking his head, he took one nipple in his mouth and traced it with his tongue; Carol gasped and cupped his head in her hands, rubbing behind his ears as he sucked.
One hand returned back under her dress, although it skipped her ass and went straight for the damp fabric between her legs, pressing in a little before his fingers slipped under the fabric.
"I appreciate a--man who--knows what he's doing," she said, scratching her nails over the back of his neck.
He chuckled, mouth still against her skin, and pushed one finger inside her.
"Oh, God, Jim."
With his fingers inside her, his thumb on her clit, and his mouth on her breasts, he brought her over in record time, and she shook apart beneath him, his name on her lips as she came.
"Give me a minute," she said weakly as he pulled his fingers out. "No, seriously, just a minute. You can time me if you want."
"No problem," he said, looking ridiculously smug. "I can wait."
Carol heaved a few more deep breaths, and said, "Yeah, but I can't." She took a moment to judge the leverage she'd need, and then flipped him over onto the rear-facing seat.
Jim looked at her, eyes wide, and said, "Goddamn, Whizbang, you’re gonna make me come in my pants."
"Oh, no, can’t have that," she said, and went straight for the fly of his pants, kneeling on the floor of the car, between his feet.
Jim swallowed audibly and rested a hand on her head, stroking her hair carefully. It was a disaster zone from the flying and she'd have to put it in a ponytail anyway, so she said, "I don't care if you mess my hair up more. Just don't try to choke me."
"Okay," he said, and threaded his fingers through the hair by her temples. He found a hairpin, and removed it carefully; she heard the pin hit the seat next to her as she pulled him out of his underwear and fitted her mouth around him.
He gasped, his fingers tightening in her hair, and she smiled as best she could around him in her mouth.
It was a good thing they were both on an adrenaline high, and he was already two-thirds of the way to combusting. Carol would have loved to take her time with him, and find out everything she could do that would make him shudder or call out. But traffic had started moving again, and time was of the essence. She hollowed out her cheeks, used her tongue just below the head, and dragged out every trick she had to get him off as soon as possible.
He was polite enough to warn her that he was about to come, but she didn't pull off. It wasn't surprising at all when he hauled her up for a deep, thorough kiss after she finished swallowing.
"You are amazing," he said, and she dragged him down for another kiss.
Somehow they ended up in a heap on the floor of the car, Jim half on top of her, clothing still vastly askew, breathing hard. The car stopped, and it was only chance that had Carol looking up to see that they'd actually arrived at Stark Tower. "Oh, shit," she said, attempting to yank the top of her dress back where it belonged.
Jim zipped his fly and tried to help her work the straps back up over her shoulders, but it ended up making a bigger mess of the dress. She felt a laugh bubble up in the back of her throat; the dress was a disaster, and she still had to get inside without being seen.
"Here," Jim said, and shucked off his coat, draping it over her shoulders; she put her arms through the sleeves and wrapped one side over the other just in time for the driver to open the door.
Of course, he was one of Tony Stark's drivers; he didn't even twitch at seeing both of them on the floor, Jim's shirt and vest open, and the back of the car reeking of sex. "Here you are, sir, ma'am."
"Thanks, Nathan," Jim said, and managed to get himself upright, holding a hand out for Carol.
She couldn't actually use it, not if she didn't want to pull Jim back into the car--well, she did, but she shouldn't--so she scooted to the edge of the door and stood, using his hand for balance. "This is ridiculous," she murmured when she was next to him, and he huffed out a quiet laugh.
"It's completely ridiculous," he said as they walked into the lobby at Stark Tower. "I don't care. It was worth every moment."
“Yes, it was.”
JARVIS let them into the elevator and off on their floor, and they parted ways briefly to clean up and change. Carol ended up ripping the dress off, and wiped off a layer of grime and sweat before she donned the cocktail dress.
She was sliding into Pepper's flats when a knock came at her door, and she called out, "Come in."
Jim strode in, looking impeccable once again, and he gave her a warm once-over. "That is a great dress on you. Shows off your legs. I wanted to say that yesterday, but I didn't."
"Thanks," she said, and pulled him in for a kiss. It got a little more heated than she had intended, although God only knew why she hadn't expected that, and when she pulled away, she said, "I suppose we have to go back to the reception."
"Yeah," Jim said, his voice rough.
"And stay until the end."
"Good thing it's an early reception," she said.
"Can probably be back here before midnight."
"I'll hold you to it," she said.
"You can hold me anywhere you want, sweetheart."
Carol laughed, pulled him in for another kiss, and said, "Let's go."