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The Absence of Time

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Clint

The smack to the punching bag was a routine sound in the gym, and Clint had learned to tune it out. A little flick of his hearing aids and he didn’t have to listen to it at all. This time, though as he reaches up to tune down the volume the swing and punch seems off to him. One thing Clint has learned over the years is to listen not only to what is being said and what’s being done but the flow of it. The music of a situation tells a ton of crap that most people ignore. The pop and stumble of the fists hitting the bag draws him over to the side of the gym where Cap heaps on a ton of anger at the punching bag.

But what’s really enlightening and confesses the whole damned story is that his fists swing and strike without precision. He’s missing more times than not, and he staggers his punches so much that the bag keeps ricocheting into his side and then his face. He keeps having to steady it and then return to his workout.

Clint walks up and settles against the line of pads stacked in the corner of the gym. He watches for a few more minutes, to verify that he’s seeing Captain America lose his game. It’s pretty clear so he steps into Cap’s visual field and grabs hold of the bag in time to feel the whack as fists impact the Kevlar reinforced leather bag. Cap only glares at him for a second and then continues his routine, with a quick nod at Clint. After a good thirty minutes he slows down his angry assault of the punching bag and steps aside, breathing harder than he should be considering he’s barely worked up his normal sweat.

“What’s up?” Clint asks as he adjusts his hearing aids.

Steve only frowns and starts to unwrap his hands.

“Come on, I’ve never seen you so off your game.” Clint follows him as he stuffs the wrappings in the bag. “You and Stark arguing again?”

“Can’t exactly argue with him if he’s never around, can I?” Cap says and he zips closed the bag. “He’s out of town this week, working on something for Stark Industries with Ms. Potts, I shouldn’t be angry about it.”

“But you are,” Clint says.

“It’s annoying, no I mean, I’m annoyed that I’m bothered by it,” he says and, in that moment, he becomes Steve and not Captain anymore.

“You’re allowed to be, you know, he is your boyfriend.”

“Oh thanks for the update, I didn’t think I knew that one,” Steve snaps and then slumps his shoulders – if that’s even possible. Clint thinks he does a mean job of pretending to slump. “Sorry, I thought we were going to have the weekend, you know. We haven’t really had too much time together since we started-.” He stutters over the words. Maybe it’s his 1940s mentality showing, or it’s a tad bit of embarrassment, but Clint gets it.

Doesn’t mean he can’t take a shot or two at him.

“Since you started shagging?”

“What?”

Clint thrusts his hips out a few times. “You know doing the nasty.”

“Geez, Clint, that’s rude and disgusting.” He straightens up and finishes packing. “I gotta go to a meeting. See you at dinner?”

“Yeah, see you then,” Clint says and waves him off, but he notices the stress still lining the Captain’s walk. “Shit, my work here is not done.”

Natasha

Pepper should be grateful that Natasha likes her so much, having to deal with Stark with respect to the Avengers team is one thing, having to stand in as his assistant (again) is completely a different story.

Truth is Stark doesn’t have a trained assistant, and Pepper’s too damned busy to deal with the daily irritant that impersonates itself as a human being named Tony Stark. Natasha agreed to tag along with the party because Clint told her a week ago that Cap had seemed off, and so Natasha thought this might be the best way to find out if there’s trouble in paradise. When there’s trouble with Mom and Pop everyone pays.

She didn’t realize that at the same time she would be shuttling the new technical assistant to Stark around the Tower as well. He’s pretty green and a little anxious, but he’s got a glowing resume. A personal phone call from Sharon Carter recommending the technician as a great asset to the Avengers and to Stark sealed the deal. When Pepper told Tony that Sharon referred to him as the technician with the heart of a lion and balls of steel, Tony giggled and said he had to hire him on the spot. Only when Sharon had explained that the technician had been the one who’d refused to launch the Helicarriers when he had a gun to his head because of Captain’s orders did Stark immediately hire the guy and tell him that he’s the new protégé.

Pepper smiled when she related to the story to Natasha and then begged for her to take over for a few hours, just so Pepper could get to some meetings. Natasha had to meet the technician everyone was talking about, and she also saw the opportunity to do some recon work. She agreed.

When she meets the famous technician he’s as unassuming as the next guy. Very polite and awestruck when she extends a hand and says, “Thanks for the delay. It helped out.”

“Hmm, thank you?” he says and clasps her hand. It’s a tight grip, strong but not overly. He releases at the right time too. Perfect.

“You’re in for it, being Stark’s technical assistant. I was his personal assistant, but that’s another story. What do they call you?”

“Isaac Harold Willams,” he says and clears his throat.

“Hmm, three first names, means a little something doesn’t it. How about Potter, you seem like a Harry Potter to me, standing up to adversity.”

He colors at that and smiles broadly. She’s instantly fond of him, which is always a problem when she’s on an op.

Shrugging it off, she turns to the inner lab where Stark works. “How’s it going?”

“He’s a little agitated?”

“Don’t always make everything into a question, state it like you mean it,” she says. “He needs a firm hand. You’re here to bounce ideas off of when Banner’s busy.”

“He’s brilliant,” Potter says with some dreamy look to his face.

Natasha finds it a little endearing, but then again everything about the guy is kind of sweet. She mentally rolls her eyes at herself, she needs a date. Switching gears again, she says, “How’s he doing?”

Just as the words come out of her mouth, a small explosion flashes in the lab and Stark cackles like an insane prognosticator. Potter moves to attend their charge but Natasha grasps his arm, and says, “Let’s see what he does.”

“He’s a little edgy today,” Potter says. “He was complaining about not getting to have a good fuck last night with Captain America.” He swallows the last six words but Natasha figures it out.

“Steve’s on a mission.”

Potter deadpans and says, “Exactly.”

“Definitely a problem,” Natasha says and picks up her phone from the bench she tossed it on when she entered the outer sanctum of Stark’s lab. “Listen, I gotta go, you got this right?” She starts to move away.

“Wait, what am I supposed to do if he blows himself up?”

“Hope Banner’s not back?” she says with a wink and escapes. She has some important meetings to attend herself.

Sam

“Listen, man, you gotta cool your jets or you are going to get us both killed,” Sam says and then mumbles, “Or me specifically, definitely me.”

“You do know I have enhanced hearing, right?” Steve says as he wipes the mud off of his face and picks at the strap on his helmet.

“This is ridiculous, you know you weight a ton, don’t you?” Sam says as he stomps around the tangle of roots and wet leaves in the forest of nowhere. The place gives him the creeps; it reminds him of woods like Little Red Riding Hood ended up dead in. Looking over head into the overcast sky he spots the trail of smoke from the cargo plane they just took out.

“How else were we going to take it out; it was in flight, if it got to its destination a lot of innocent people were gonna die.”

“Don’t use that guilt trip on me,” Sam says. “I’ve been in pararescue for years, and jumping out of our jet onto the tail end of a plane is not a good idea.”

Steve cracks a smile. “Worked didn’t it?”

“Only because I rescued your ass,” Sam says and straightens the holster of the Falcon flight suit. “Damn stupidity, you know. And look, where the hell are we?”

“Cut the dramatics, Sam, this is northern Italy.”

Sam spins around and sees about nothing that tells him exactly where they are. “Yeah, how do you know?”

Steve marches through the forest toward a little village in the distance. “Something’s never change.”

Sam stumbles behind him but follows because, hell what else is he supposed to do? When Captain America enters the tiny village that literally looks like it might have fallen off the world about sixty plus years ago, several of the folks run out to greet him like he’s some kind of celebrity. He is, but this is over the top. Any minute, Sam expects them to start tossing rose petals at his feet or something.

Later, Sam finds out from one of the little old Italian ladies that Captain America and his Howling Commandoes bedded down in the village all those years ago during World War II, and spent over a month as several of the members healed up from wounds. The lady, her name is Sophia, pats Captain America on the hand and recalls how he drew a picture of her as a little girl. She brings out the tattered, faded yellow paper with the smudged charcoal picture of a little girl racing through the meadows near the edge of the village.

They all eat and eat again, and eat far too much. Sam thinks he might need some kind of medical intervention after they finish the fourth round of desserts; he thinks maybe Italians might be Hobbits in disguise. They need an evac but Steve doesn’t seem too rushed about it as he listens to the stories and calmly allows the people to crowd around him. He’s surprisingly fluent in Italian.

When Sam questions him about it, Steve only lifts a shoulder. “I have an ear for languages.”

As the evening progresses, Sam catches Steve in the back courtyard of the stone house near the center of the village. He’s huddled close to the empty fountain with its overgrown vegetation and cracked base. Sam realizes Steve’s on the phone and moves back to not interrupt, but he can’t help but overhear.

“Miss you too,” Steve says. “Yeah, everything went fine.” There’s a pause and Steve agrees to something. “I don’t think we’ve been in the same room for more than fifteen minutes in the last month.”

He waits and laughs but it is a low chuckle without much mirth behind it. “God, I’ve missed you, Tony.”

Sam thinks he should leave but he hears the slightest hitch of breath and he thinks, maybe, just maybe Steve might be crying – not hard, but tears.

He presses himself against the stone wall as he hears Steve say, “I need to be home with you, I need to be grounded again. Yeah, yeah.” He pauses between each yeah, breathes, and then agrees. “It’s getting a little chilly out, I should go in. No, I won’t freeze, I promise not to turn into a capsicle again.” He waits as he listens and Sam knows he should leave, so he does.

All the while as he climbs up the stairs to the room they are staying in, he thinks of what Steve has sacrificed over the years and his heart aches a little more. He needs to change things for Steve, someone needs to look out for that boy.

Thor

Finding the customs of Midgard not only quaint but endearing, Thor throws himself into every single one any of the Avengers mention. The idea of Halloween tickles him and he convinces Jane to dress up with him so that they can go to Avengers’ Halloween party (held at the Maria Stark Foundation to benefit the survivors from the Chitauri attack).

He tries to keep his decorum, more for Jane than anyone else as he gets dressed and Jane rolls her eyes at his loincloth. They are ready to leave for the party, everyone is congregating in the main hallway to the communal living room of the Tower.

“You do not find it attractive?”

“Muscles, hey how you doing?” Darcy says as she passes them in the hallway.

Thor winks at her and Jane slaps him, but playfully. “I am Tarzan and my fair Jane is-.”

“Jane, yeah I got that one. You know where Steve is?”

Thor shakes his head and Jane leans into him. It will be a grand night cuddling next to his lady. He kisses the top of her head, relishing her presence beside him, knowing it was right to give up an entire realm for her – even over her protestations.

“Well, Spangley –pants is not going to be happy,” Darcy says.

“Why?” Jane says and reaches for a tablet Darcy holds. She scoops it away.

“I got it,” Darcy says.

“What is it? My shield brother has been awaiting this celebration for weeks. He will be reunited with his love,” Thor says.

Darcy sighs and shows them the headline. There’s a Congressional hearing on Stark repulsor technology and if Stark purposefully and willingly shared the technology with Hydra forces. “He’s been called to D.C.. to testify.”

“Surely this can wait until daylight?” Thor says.

“Senators are creatures of the night,” Darcy replies.

“This is atrocious and vindictive,” Jane says. “We’re going to have to break it to Steve.”

“Break what to me?” Steve walks down the hallway, dressed in a white suit jacket with a maroon silk shirt and tie. He has a light centered on his chest and his hair is dyed dark; he’s also sporting a mustache and goatee.

“Wow, you look great,” Jane says and smiles.

“Tony’s idea, he’s going as Captain America.”

“And probably fulfilling every boyhood fantasy he’s ever had in his life,” Darcy says and tries to grab the tablet from Jane’s hand.

Steve’s too quick and he snatches it out of their grasp to see the headline. His expression falls and he heaves in a breath. “Damn it.”

“I am sorry, my dear friend,” Thor says.

“Maybe you can still catch him before he goes,” Jane offers. “You could make a night of it in the Capital, see some sights, you know.”

“Thanks but, we agreed I’d stay away from D.C. and those creatures of the night,” Steve says and hands the tablet back to Darcy. “Have a good time at the party.”

“You may accompany us to the festivities,” Thor calls after him.

Steve tugs off his tie and shakes his head as he waves the offer away. “Thanks but I think I’ve had enough already.”

Thor thinks he speaks the truth, and knows there’s a special mission he must insist upon with the rest of his compatriots.

Bruce

The explosion doesn’t faze him at all. Generally, Bruce has gotten used to the flash and burn happening on that side of the laboratory on a daily, if not hourly basis. He usually looks up to check and verify that Tony is still breathing, isn’t on fire, and hasn’t burned himself bald, and then gets back to the work at hand.

Most days he stays in his own lab, because it’s more peaceful, the music isn’t as loud or upsetting, and he likes the solitude. Today, Bruce happens to be roaming around in the main workshop where Tony pounds on a metal piece of nothing, cursing and grouching as Bruce passes through the doors.

There’s a blast three minutes after this performance and Tony stands at the work bench a little stunned but barely smoking. Bruce glances his way from the cabinet he’s searching through and notes that Tony is back at brutalizing an innocent piece of metal again with no real outline or plan as to what the heck he’s doing.

“Tony?”

“Hmm?”

Are you, are you good?”

Tony raises his hand and shows Bruce his palm. “Talk to the hand.”

“Just trying to help,” Bruce says as he retrieves the small weights to calibrate the centrifuge.

“Not that kind of doctor, as I recall,” Tony says and continues his work to bash just about every metal piece in the laboratory without cause.

“Are you trying to destroy everything?” Bruce says and jumps out of the way as Tony pitches a crowbar across the room. “Hey now.”

“What? Nothing? No big guy, I don’t even see a hint of green anywhere.” Tony trudges over to Bruce stares him in the eye and then picks up the crowbar to toss it aside.

“Are you trying to provoke me?” Bruce says because he wants to get down to the bottom of this before things do get serious. Bruce does not want to be provoked, he wants the big guy to stay where he is under layers of denial until he’s absolutely needed for an alien invasion or a crazed robotic take over.

“It isn’t working so why do you care,” Tony says and drops onto a stool, his whole demeanor screams defeat.

Bruce joins him, leaning against the table, regretting the fact that he has to ask. He doesn’t want a repeat of the whole incident involving not that kind of doctor again. Tony constantly pokes fun at that one, coming surprisingly close to unleashing the big green – luckily Tony doesn’t realize it.

“What’s up?”

“Up, nothing, well something but there’s nothing to be done about that.”

“Hmm, should I ask?”

“No, yes, Steve isn’t home. Again.”

“He went on a mission?”

“No, yes, he went searching down another lead for Bucky,” Tony says and rubs at his eyes. “Sam went with because I ended up delayed in Japan. Been gone for too long, I haven’t seen him since before Halloween. Or some shit and it’s like almost Christmas.”

“It’s not even Thanksgiving yet.”

“You want to know how much time I’ve spent with my boyfriend since his birthday. Appropriately 52.8 hours. That’s a little over two days, and what is it? It’s damn it, it’s November 11th. Veteran’s Day, and I can’t even call him up and say, thanks for risking your life to save mine – Captain Greatest Generation,” Tony says. “We need a break or something.”

“Truth,” Bruce says and Tony looks at him quizzically. “What I can be the cool kid.”

“Cool kid, seriously, Bruce I think you better stay with the sloppy nerd thing you got going there,” Tony says. He sighs. “Damn it, I didn’t realize.”

“What?”

“How much-.” Tony stops and looks up and away from Bruce. “How much I really-.”

He doesn’t finish, but then he doesn’t have to, Bruce knows.

All together now

Tony happens to be home when he gets the call. An emergency situation, they need him immediately. Details are vague but what he hears he doesn’t like. They hurry him out of the Tower, and get him to a Quinjet without much thought. He’s practically numb anyhow.

Steve is in trouble.

He could be dead. No one is saying that, no one is telling him anything. He doesn’t ask, because if he doesn’t ask, it means Steve is alive for that much longer. Clint crates his ass to the jet and tells him to buckle in. They take flight in a matter of minutes. Clint and Bruce are with him. No one tells him anything about Natasha, and he wonders if she’s a casualty as well or if she’s the one who called it in. He can’t remember the voice on the phone, was it her or Hill or Pepper?

It could have been God, it wouldn’t have matter. All that matters is that they told him Steve needs him, immediately. There’s no time to waste. When he asked why, why wasn’t Steve calling, he heard the words couldn’t breathe, couldn’t feel anything.

“He can’t, you just have to get here, now.”

“Can’t?” Tony had asked, he’s almost sure he asked.

“Stark, just come, now, hurry.”

It was Hill, he remembers now. She told him that something happened, Steve needed him, needs him. He doesn’t look up, doesn’t meet anyone’s eyes. He can tell Bruce is nervous, anxious about something. He keeps checking his watch and tapping his foot. It’s a wonder he hasn’t busted the whole jet and turned into the Hulk yet.

The flight takes too long and he’s nearly beside himself as they usher him into a limo near the Quinjet. The car takes off without anyone but him and he finds it curious but doesn’t ask. He plays with his phone, trying to decide if he should call Pepper. He leans on her so much and she never cringes and flinches or even tells him to go away. She’s tender and sweet and he’s lucky to still have her in his life.

When the car finally stops they are in the middle of another airfield and Tony spins around on his heel as he surveys the one jet sitting on the tarmac. The driver points to the jet and briefly Tony thinks he might have been abducted. Instead of questioning it, though, he climbs the stairs and peers inside the plane. It’s one of his, he recognizes it, so maybe he’s not being kidnapped. He hates being kidnapped.

Sitting in one of the pilot seats is Natasha. She raises her brow at him and then lifts her chin, indicating the back. He turns to find Steve standing up as Tony enters.

“Steve, I thought-.”

“Tony,” Steve says and rushes at him, full force. In one swift motion he has an armful of super soldier wrapped around him. “God, I thought, Sam and Thor, told me, they said you were -.”

“That the situation was dire and you needed me immediately?”

“Yeah, yeah, that,” Steve says into the nape of Tony’s neck. He has no idea how a guy inches taller than him can always curl up against Tony and fit in so well.

“You two, ready?” Natasha calls.

Turning, they both say, “What?”

“You’re going on an all-expense paid trip for two to Peter Island in the Caribbean where you will have a quiet get away for two whole weeks. No one will bother you.”

Tony thinks it might be too good to be true and he’s about to quiz her when Steve stops him, dragging him into the back of the plane where there’s a private cabin.

“How long’s the trip?” Steve asks as he opens the cabin door.

“A little over five hours,” Natasha says.

Steve grins, brings Tony inside the bedroom cabin of the private jet. He closes the door, locks it, and as plane switches its engines into high gear for lift off, Steve says, “Just enough time to get reacquainted.”

Who knew that Captain America could have such wonderfully deliciously wicked tastes in bed?

Tony might want to say something about the way the team got them together, but in the end, by the time they arrive on their island getaway, he has no reason to complain, not at all.

THE END